I have lived a blessed life. I am the product of middle class America: the middle child in a family with three kids who grew up roller skating on the sidewalk and playing Home Run Derby with the neighbor kids. I was never in want. We had healthy, fresh food on our table every night and a car that allowed us day trips to the beach or the snow. I earned a high school diploma and a bachelor’s degree, yet when God hands me another blessing, I often scoff at the gift because it isn’t on my wish list. Often, I feel like the gift God wants to give me looks more like coal than diamonds, more like dross than silver.
In Episode 2 of Season 1 of When Calls the Heart, titled “Cease and Desist,” one scene stands out among all others. When Elizabeth’s student, Rachel, looks out over the mournful eyes of her classmates, she holds up a small piece of coal – a piece smaller than her palm – and tells her classmates that this was a gift from her father. What’s more, with the gifting of this dirty piece of coal, her father also shared a lesson. “He called it his ‘pearl of great price.’ I didn’t know what that meant. I thought, ‘It’s just a dumb old piece of coal,” Rachel explains to her classmates. With her father now among the deceased miners, she recognizes how hard her father worked and what he sacrificed to pull that one tiny piece of coal from the stubborn earth. That little black rock meant money, security, and love. Rachel almost turned her back on it because the gift didn’t appear in fancy refinement like a glittering jewel.
The first time I remember truly pushing away God’s gift for me occurred during my senior year of college. As an English major, I had the opportunity to take classes in Children’s Literature and Young Adult Literature and Film. Being a fan of books, and a fan of kids, I thought these would be fun supplements to the more challenging courses of Advanced Composition and Drama as Literature. Near the end of the semester, the teachers of each course, on separate occasions, asked me, “So what are your plans after college? You’re going to teach, right?” Being the self-aware and spirit-led young woman that I was, I immediately said, “Of course! What else would I do?” Ummmm…NO! Instead, I looked at each with surprise and disdain. “Teach?! Never! I don’t need that kind of pressure.” I then continued in my own direction, ignorant of the gift God had waiting behind those doors.
It is only now, after having tried two other professions followed by thirteen years in the classroom, that I realize the gift God was trying to bestow so long ago. I thought that teaching was “just a dumb old piece of coal,” a career that was thankless and mundane. What I now realize is that God has gifted me with refinement.
In Psalm 66:10 God promises to “refine us like silver.” Often this process includes heartache and loss (but that is a discussion for another occasion). I believe we often miss the refinement that polishes the spirit and allows us to see our true selves. We dwell on the life-altering circumstances that bring us to our knees, but the daily sifting, settling, and surfacing of the dross from the silver is a subtle process that we overlook.
The struggles of a teacher aren’t often heart-rending or a “blazing furnace of affliction.” The struggles of a teacher are like a slow burning flame of constant heat. Each spark polishes one more facet of our spirits. The students who come to class with more weight on their shoulders than I carry on mine refine my perception of grace. The students who are confounded with concepts I find simple refine my compassion. The students who exude apathy and are reluctant to even pick up a pencil refine my discernment and wisdom. And so that “dumb old piece of coal” job that God gifted me has become a blessing that refines my soul.
It is at this point, right now, that I realize that the gift wasn’t a “dumb old piece of coal.” I am the coal, just as I am the silver. The process of refinement removes the impurities in me, while the pressures of the gifts he bestows transform the coal into a diamond. After all, God’s word does tell us that we will “sparkle in his land like jewels in a crown.”
I am God’s “pearl of great price.” He paid an incomparable price for me.
Now, on those days when teaching is truly a thankless job and I am ready to walk out the door without looking back, I can find the purpose in the daily challenges. I can remember to look deeper than the surface and find the meaning behind God’s gift of adversity. I am God’s workmanship, whether His word compares me to silver, or gold, or clay. He is always working on me, and perhaps what appears to be a worthless path or a fruitless interaction is really just one more spark of refinement that is making us all into silver and diamonds.