Note: This year’s faculty devotions task landed during the season on Advent. Here’s what I shared with the staff.
Lamentations 3:22-23 – The LORD’S loving kindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.”
“No Crib for a Bed“
The preacher said, “Sometimes to understand Advent we need to look back into the darkness in order to look forward to see the Light.”
Harold DeWit, long time teacher of covenant youth, looked out over his wide-eyed 5th graders, just… just looking at him. He had given them lengthy instructions for the “Creation Rocks” project and they just sat there as if waiting for a starter’s pistol.
“What are you waiting for?!” Harold said. “Get going!”
That was several years ago and “what are you waiting for?” became one of those lines Harold used to launch each and every new project. And… for Harold, this year, it became the spark for a grand idea for his Advent bulletin board project.
“Hey, Mr. DeWit?”
“Yes, Abby,” said Harold to his almost daily early morning visitor. He was at his desk attacking a mountain of uncorrected papers he wanted to get done before Christmas break.
“What should I do with this?” Abby said. She was standing by the back bulletin board holding up a picture of a scruffy dog, printed from an animal rescue website.
“Just hang it anywhere.”
“There’s no room. It’s full.”
“Just figure it out,” He regretted his curt reply. But in spite of the season of light, hope, joy and peace, Harold was not feeling any of them at the moment, especially this week … The week, when long ago…
“OK. I stuck it next to Evan’s, whatever-it-is, in the corner. Hey, Mr. DeWit?”
“Yes, Abby,” Harold sighed, his patient professional veneer wearing thin.
“Do you want to know what I’m waiting for?” Abby said.
Trying to move things along, Harold cut to the chase. “A new dog, I’ll bet.”
“Yep. See you later, Mr. DeWit.”
The “What are You Waiting For?” wall was Harold’s attempt at bringing some meaning to Advent and the anticipation of the coming Savior.. Of course, when school was all over before the break, he hoped that the student’s answer to the bulletin board question would be “Jesus.”
At home that evening, he stepped back from his project sitting on the workbench in the basement. “There!” he said dusting off the small wooden toy box. “Just one more thing…” He reached over to the right for the branding iron. “OUCH!”
“Harold?” Maggie called from the other room wondering about her husband’s safety as he worked with power tools.
“Just applying the brand,” he said.
“Hot enough?” Harold could hear her giggle.
“Ya-hoooo! I just need to find my cowboy hat for the branding…”
“You just concentrate and finish up,” she said. “You don’t need twenty-three fifth graders asking you tomorrow, what ‘HDW’ burned onto your hand means.” She giggled again.
“Got that right.” said Harold, not only teacher of covenant youth, but also amateur woodworker with almost average skills. He agreed with his wife who sidled up to witness the branding of the Christmas present Harold was making for the neighbor kid.
“Don’t forget to write the date,” she said, “…and the verse…?” Maggie’s voice trailed off with the question hanging in the air.
The traditional signing of the Harold’s projects included the brand, the date and the reference to a verse in Lamentations. He had written these on his projects since his very first attempts. “OK…” he said. Next to HDW he wrote “for Jake” then the date and, … with a sigh, the letters L-A-M 3:22-23.
“Looks good,” said Maggie. “I’ll bring it over tomorrow, when he gets home from school. ‘S that OK?” Maggie knew that her husband’s long-time resentment resurfaced at this time of the year. It tainted his mood at home and at school when he looked back into the darkness of so many years ago. Then she added, “Doing OK?”
“Sure, I’ll be fine. Thanks,” he said as he headed back to the pile of student work waiting to be graded.
The next morning’s school routine began again. Determined to be able to walk into Christmas break school-work free, Harold arrived at school an hour earlier than normal, the world still cloaked in the morning darkness. He rinsed yesterday’s leftovers out of his mug and poured himself a cup of coffee. He strolled around the room for the morning inspection, nodded at Bob, the classroom skeleton dressed in his holiday finery, and headed to his desk to tackle the tasks of the day.
As he passed the “What are You Waiting For?” bulletin board he noticed Abby’s puppy picture. It was surrounded by other student’s wishes and wants for what they were waiting for that Christmas. Pictures or trinkets with notes explaining their Christmas desires were attached to the bulletin board in the back of the room. A variety of popular toys, visits from relatives and a trip to Punta Cana made the list.
Harold sighed… In spite of his best efforts to show his students that Advent is a time of waiting, of anticipation for the Messiah, the Savior of the world, there was not one mention of Jesus.
But it was there… right in front of him, right in front of his eyes, if only he would see it… there was Jesus.
Abby walked in. “Hey, Mr. DeWit,” she said offering her usual morning greeting. “What’s the problem?”
Harold was sitting at his desk with his head in his hands. He was remembering that day 35 years ago to that very December day when his daughter, Emma was born. Cute, long and scrawny, what a precious gift! He and Maggie had waited so long… so long… Their first child and, as it turned out, the last. She was a miracle child, really.
Blunt Abby again said, “What’s the problem, Mr. DeWit?”
Surprised to see his early morning visitor, Harold looked at her. “What … !?
“The Daily Mystery Math Problem! What is it?” she said. “I’d like to get an early start.”
“Oh,” Harold said. “That problem. It’s over there. I forgot to put it up. Would you?”
Abby sat at her desk and worked on her problem and Harold worked on his. He remembered that birthday, so long ago, so close to Christmas.
One of his first Christmas woodworking projects was a cradle for Emma. He applied his less than average skills and finished the cradle just in time for Emma’s unexpected early arrival. He proudly branded the side with HDW. He wrote the date and Lam 3:22-23 on it, all the while humming the song inspired by the verse… “Great is Thy Faithfulness!”
However, even years later Harold questioned that faithfulness, for within days, their dear, precious, gift from God… Emma, died in her cradle….
Angry at God, needing to vent his anger, Harold hefted the cradle out to the curb and threw it on the pile of debris, waiting for the monthly bulk trash pick up, never to be seen again, never to remind him of that awful day. It seemed he would never forget the sting of loss and the seeming unfaithfulness of God….
“Yes, Abby?” said Harold.
‘Can’t wait to read my paragraph in class today.” she said. “You know the ‘What are you waiting for’ paragraph? Can I read it to you now?” said Abby.
“M ‘uh huh, sure, Abby,” Harold said. He gathered himself up out of his self pitying slouch. He looked the young girl in the eye, giving her all of the attention he could muster, “Let’s hear it.”‘
Abby said. “Oh, and here’s the picture.” She ran to the back of the room, took off the picture she attached yesterday. She handed it to Harold. “Ok, here goes..” Abby took a deep breath and began reading to her early morning audience of one. “What am I waiting for? I’m waiting for a new baby brother.”
“Wait…” said Harold. “I thought you were waiting for a puppy.”
“I was, until yesterday morning, when my mom told me about, Jacob. That’s his name or will be his name, in May, you know what I mean.” Abby said.
“Great news, Abby.” You’ll make an awesome big sister.” Harold said.
“Thanks!” Abby smiled. “Here’s the rest of my paragraph. ‘I’m waiting for a new baby brother. My mom says he will arrive in May. She says that if he’s anything like me he will be a good baby.” Abby looked up at her teacher and grinned.
“He will sleep in the cradle that I slept in when I was little. It’s the same one my mom slept in when she was a baby. My mom says that back then her family was so poor that she didn’t have a place to sleep except for the floor or a drawer in an old dresser, no crib, like most babies slept in.
Harold marveled at the child’s uninhibited openness.
“One day my mom’s mother’s sister’s husband came by and brought them this cradle.”
“That would be your grandmother’s brother-in-law,” Harold said.
“Yah, right,” she said as Harold studied the photo Abby brought to hang on the bulletin board. His gaze scanned the cradle and the precious child in it, while Abby continued. His eyes rested on HDW- December 11 – Lam 3:22-23…
“Anyway, he said he found it on the side of the road. So before the trashman came, he took it and brought it to the trailer. That cradle is where my mom slept and where I slept and where new baby brother, Jacob, will sleep. The End.”
Abby looked at the glassy eyed teacher. “Who would throw away a cradle, Mr. DeWit?”
Harold turned away from Abby. He captured the tear rolling down his cheek before he answered with a lie.
“I don’t know, Abby,” he said. “I don’t know…”
“I think my mom would like to say thanks if she could.”
The morning’s first light peeked into Harold’s classroom. He smiled at Abby. “Thanks for sharing your story. It made my day… and taught me something that I needed to learn again.“
“Thanks, Mr. DeWit,” said Abby, as she bounced out of the room to greet her friends and a new day.