I stepped outside underneath the porch awning. It was 41 degrees; the rain was pitter-pattering off the metal roof. Nearing the end of my peak week for marathon training, I had 15 miles into work that morning. The spirit was willing but the flesh was worn.
As I took off on my familiar route, much was on my mind. More than any other training prior, this particular course had been marked with intense prayers and repeated healings. Like the rain that was falling on me, the miles had been filled with litanies of gratitude, of adoration, of supplication, and of love. Midst an extremely busy life that was only getting busier, I knew that even when running these distances didn’t feel like a blessing, it was much more of one than I could know.
As the miles continued, I felt areas of familiar weakness “say hello” and even new discomforts emerge. But midst a long week of miles before the taper would begin, I also felt the strength that God had breathed and grown in me. As always, I wondered if I was pushing the training just a little too far, but I also knew that growing to trust and know Him was more important than anything else I desired to come.
Nearing the midpoint of my run, I had planned on walking for a hundred yards or so through the parking lot of Sacred Heart Catholic Church, as sacred to me as they come. It was there my wife was baptized, where we joined our life together, and as the crow flies straight, the point directly in between where she had grown up and I had become a young man in the early days of our life together.
As I took off my gloves and ascended into the lot, I looked over at the old, brick school building. I thought of me entering those walls as a scared, little kindergartner. And then I thought of them. Instantly, I saw all the teachers who had instructed me, who had mentored me, and who had wrapped their arms around me as I started to learn my way.
I stepped out of the parking lot just behind the sacristy of the church, and began to pray. To Mrs. Hillenbrand and Mrs. Blind, you took a timid little boy into your classroom, and showed me that I didn’t have anything to fear. That it was going to be okay, and that I could even begin to learn and have fun in ways I hadn’t known. St. Joe Avenue…Hail Mary, Full of Grace.
Mrs. Cutrell, your radiant smile brought me into first grade, and helped me see the joy that learning could bring. I became more curious, more interested to know just what I could do. Mrs. Burkhardt, you always seemed so steadfast, so grounded. I grew not only in what I knew, but in what I could become. Learning a sense of resolve from you, I really began to love going to school. Columbia Avenue…Hail Mary, full of grace.
Mrs. Stahl, you introduced me to a world of learning and connection beyond the classroom. Long before the internet, I still recall the excitement of being a 3rd grader and receiving the pen pal letters full of correspondence and information from Hawaii. As a little boy growing up in a Midwestern city, hearing from this exotic place instilled a desire see more outside the bubble I was in. And then Mrs. Posthauer, you brought us all into the beauty that our teachers could possess, and swept our hearts into the classroom each day. Bayard Park…Hail Mary, full of grace.
Mrs. Thompson, your infectious laughter and the biggest, best hugs made 5th grade a true treat, even as we anxiously learned about the birds and the bees. Mrs. Feldhaus, your model of faith and fervency in and out of the classroom remains with me today. Mrs. Spillman and Mrs. McGinness, you brought us into a new place of responsibility and focus in junior high, where I began to realize that while achievement was not everything, it was something that opened many doors that would come. And Mrs. Walls, as a grizzled army veteran who loved to sling erasers at children not obeying, we came to see what it meant to be resilient and tough even if we feared you in this way. Highway 41…Hail Mary, full of grace. And to all of my teachers not named here, you provided the stitching for the professional and the person I am today.
As I settled into the final miles of the morning, I prayed and reflected on these and so many teachers that had graced my life, and so many people who had been God’s hands and feet so that a little boy would become a man, and that man could once again become a little boy again, in awe of God’s wonder and love. I found myself praying for those who hadn’t experienced a village that wrapped their arms around them as it had been for me, and for all the challenges that teachers persevered through in answering this sacred call.
The sunlight began to peak above the horizon line. As I made final turn into the grounds of St. Vincent’s, I was suddenly serenaded by countless birds perched in the towering oak trees that stood on the edge of campus. For a second, I thought maybe they were chirping in approval for me. Or on second thought, maybe it was the life song that I had been graced with that they were applauding. Whatever it was, I had come. Spring had just begun. It was time to be done.