It was an early Monday morning in July when I drove to my friend Moira’s house. Three of us were carpooling to Winkler to set up for the teacher’s monarch butterfly workshop. My half awake eyes were greeted by the sight of Moira emerging from her garden, clippers in hand and a look of wonder on her face.
“I have to tell you something,” she told me with a smile. “It’s the strangest thing.”
Moira works as a resource teacher at several inner city schools. Aboriginal elders sometimes give teachings and a certain bit of wisdom had stuck in her mind lately. She prefaced her revelation with something they had taught her.
“The elders teach that when you are looking for medicine, you need to pray. The medicine is everywhere, all the time, but we need to pray for it to be revealed. When you pray, the medicine will reveal itself to you until you don’t need it anymore.” The medicine she was talking about were the many plants Aboriginal people use to heal various ailments. I pictured someone looking for sage in a meadow, not seeing any, but suddenly seeing it everywhere after praying for help.
This teaching had come to mind not while Moira was looking for plants, but for monarch caterpillars for our workshop. In a summer with such a dearth of monarchs, it has been no easy search for any of us. The act of looking, she decided, was like praying for medicine. What she was astounded by was how these caterpillars kept revealing themselves to her, just like the elders taught. She scoured her milkweed patch, thinking she couldn’t have missed any, and then she’d come upon a huge caterpillar. When I showed up for the carpool, she had just discovered a few more.
Moira probably didn’t notice, but when she shared this teaching, I began to tear up. It was almost a visceral feeling and it struck me strongly that this was a message for me.
Lately, I’d been praying to find hope and a way through the despondency I’d been feeling about teaching. Just the day before, I had asked my community for prayers in this regard at our Sunday morning service. Before heading out to my carpool the next morning, I sat down to pray for a few minutes and I kind of heaped my prayer onto Jesus’ lap. “I don’t know what to do God. I need a way through.” Before even thinking about it, I heard a reply from Jesus. “I’m already on it girl.”
It’s been two weeks since that service, Jesus’ assurance that I wasn’t alone and the teaching about medicine I received the next day. It’s hard to describe, but in these two weeks, I feel I have been receiving the medicine I had prayed for. The medicine, in fact, that those who know me best were also praying for. It has come in small doses, but noticeable enough that I have kept remembering my prayer.
My first dose of medicine was that I met two students from the first classes I ever taught, way back in the late ’80’s. They are both now teachers, and they greeted me with smiles. One woman even told me it had been the best year of her elementary schooling. Were these meetings pure chance, or did they line up with the prayer request for help? I can’t say for sure, but what I do know is that they got me thinking back to my beginnings as a teacher in the late ’80’s.
I was working in daycare at the time, wanting a job in teaching but not receiving one. One evening, I found myself praying for direction, and literally 20 minutes later, I received a phone call asking if I’d be willing to fill in for someone’s maternity leave at the school I’d been volunteering for. At the time, I took that incredible piece of timing as divine guidance. I felt God wanted me there.
Despite a lot of inner angst which seems to be characteristic of me, I have always received encouragement from parents, students and friends, confirming the calling I’d heard. When I was a kid, I used to play “school” with my best friend Doris, and the “teacher name” I gave myself was “Mrs. Penny”. With my married name being Mrs. Penner, it God was giving me another big hint that I was working where God wanted me.
Another bit of medicine God opened my eyes to was meeting a little girl across the back lane from us. Rheanna and her mom live in an apartment close by. One day when I was cleaning the car, Rheanna came to help me and we quickly became friends. Her mom insisted she show me respect by calling me “Auntie Lydia”. Now I often see her and we have brief conversations about her cat or life in general. In a summer where I’ve been wondering how I’d go forward, her open-hearted and joyful approach to life has been a gift to me. She has given me a simple reminder that I love kids.
A scripture verse for our Sunday service yesterday talks about medicine in another way. “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:2) The Message translation puts this in more contemporary language: “Don’t shuffle along, eyes to the ground, absorbed with the things right in front of you. Look up, and be alert to what is going on around Christ—that’s where the action is. See things from his perspective.”
As another school year approaches, I’ve been reminded to see things from God’s perspective. Like the medicine Moira talked about, ever since I prayed about it, I seem to be seeing a way through. Maybe I’m imagining it, but like I heard that first morning, I think God has already been on it, figuring things out. Seen from my perspective, the ground is shaky and my wonky thoughts threaten to topple my best intentions. But seen from God’s perspective, I’ve been called and I’ll be given what I need to keep walking the path of faith.
I may be a fool for thinking this way, but I’d rather pray and look for medicine than walk around with my eyes shut.