Face to Face

Face to Face

I had my best idea of 2020 last week. I bought a paper sack of old baseball cards from the local shop for five bucks and laid them out face down on one of the many, many pieces of cardboard littering our back porch and spray painted the back side. In fifteen minutes, I had created my new calling card.

I’m obsessed. Armed with a Sharpie, I’ve been dropping quick notes to colleagues at work or my students. Sure, they may be wondering why my words of encouragement are there on the back of a 1992 Carlos Baerga card, and mostly, they would be right to wonder. But while the card may remain a non sequitur to them, there is at least a sliver of meaning behind it for me.

Before Thanksgiving Break, I had a sudden conviction. I had let myself give in to self-pity and self-preservation. Don’t get me wrong—all of us are in survival mode to some degree right now and all of us have permission to care well for ourselves in these trying times. However, I had let those feelings turn me inward. I thought of my struggles as unique, and I had disconnected my own experience from the experience of others. I looked around my classroom and saw high school seniors—young men and women who had worked so hard to reach this year and this moment. It should have been celebratory. It should have been marked by rites of passage and honored traditions. Instead, they were here, in masks and behind shields (and on Zooms), the victims of a world in survival mode.

In looking to my own needs, I’d allowed myself to reduce these precious children to component obligations. I wasn’t looking at them. I was looking at their assignments, their grades, the weekly calendar, the bell schedule, the progress reports. It’s not that I didn’t care about them; it’s just that, being stretched so thin, it was so much easier, so much more efficient just to do what needed to be done and move on.

To put it another way, I was focusing on the back of the baseball card—the table of stats and numbers. I had forgotten their faces.

I made the cards and committed to writing these little notes to them as a reminder that my first responsibility to my students, my family, and everyone God calls me to is to see and love God’s image in them. I am called to resist the temptation to view others as obstacles to overcome or units to process.

Advent and Christmas remind us of how God works in the world. He doesn’t work around messy human relationships and frailties—he works through them. In Zechariah and Elizabeth, in Joseph and Mary. Their emotions (and they had plenty) weren’t obstacles to overcome in achieving the divine agenda. God’s patient willingness to let them be part of the story—to discover their place in it—empowered them to be evangelists, as we hear in Zechariah’s song (Luke 1:68-79) or Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:47-55).

This Advent, we are exhausted. But in this season, God still desires to work in us, even though we feel we are in survival mode. It doesn’t take much: just the simple dedication to look at others, really see them, and step into their experience for just a moment. Let us not look past one another and past the opportunity to care well for one another, even if it is by the simple acknowledgement of our shared griefs, our shared burdens. Let us pray for one another by name, send words of blessing and hope to one another. When we do this, we become part of the growing light that illuminates this dark world.

When God came to rescue us, I’m glad he wasn’t looking at the backs of our baseball cards. Frankly, we haven’t had too many good seasons. If he was only looking at our stats, I doubt he would have come at all. Praise be to God, he sees our faces, loves and desires us—and all the mess that comes with us—and came to meet us face to face.