Live-Streaming Grace (or Dispatches from Homeschooling Abyss)

“Children, have you caught anything to eat?”
They answered him, “No.”
So Jesus said to them, “Cast the net over the right side of the boat
and you will find something.”
So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in
because of the number of fish.

John 21:1-14

According to the church calendar, today is “Friday in the Octave of Easter.” But I’d wager for many parents across America, today is “Day 28 in the Homeschooling Abyss of COVID Quarantine.” Same day, two very different imaginative frameworks. What might be gained by learning to read one reality through the lens of the other?

For the third time since being raised from the dead, Jesus in today’s Gospel has revealed himself to the disciples. “Come have breakfast,” he says, as if his sudden appearance at the shoreline is as ordinary as the great haul of fish he seems to have conjured from the previously barren lake. “One hundred fifty-three large fish,” to be precise, and even so, “the net was not torn.” 

For about the twenty-eighth time since we began homeschooling our special needs son Henry, I have ended the day in near despair. “Come let’s have a drink,” my bruised ego says, as if my old pal Jim Beam could fill the net after what feels like another barren day. Two disastrous lessons in math, to be precise, two reading and two writing exercises, and four live Google Class sessions – yes, four! – trying to approximate some kind of meaningful connection between a handful of heroic teachers and a bunch of restless and bored eleven-year-olds, all through a tablet screen.

Though acutely aware of how enormously privileged I am to be able to self-isolate in a comfortable home, in a quiet suburban neighborhood, with clean water and full cupboards, and with an amazing spouse who shares every burden, I’m still finding these days difficult. On Day 28, what do I see? A few rather unpromising looking fish thrashing about in the bucket, and a weary net that is badly torn. But Jesus invites me to look again. What is there that you do not see? Lord, I want to believe, please help my unbelief. (Mk 9:24)

Though my net is torn, I haven’t caught nothing. My son is learning that his mom and dad are here for him, day after day after day. I am learning that I can be fully present to him, if quite imperfectly, even when things aren’t going so well and nerves of both father and son are frayed. And perhaps we are both learning to appreciate the small stuff. Like the fact that a handful of generous teachers and a bunch of beautiful, restless kids who sorely miss each other are staying connected through a tablet screen. Surely one of the imperfect miracles of these strange times.

On Day 28, I can see that despite the many frustrations and technical hiccups, just as many moments of genuine learning, laughter, and grace have broken through. Like the morning one of Henry’s classmates brought his tablet into the toilet so he could finish telling the story he really wanted to share without interruption, one unrepentant eleven-year-old giving “live-streaming” new meaning. Or the moment Henry told his teacher that he couldn’t share his story because “My Papa wrote it for me and I can’t read his handwriting.” (That was day 17, and I swear I hadn’t visited the liquor cabinet.) Or the afternoon his teacher gazed through the screen, smiling ear to ear, and said, “Henry, I’m so proud of you. I can’t wait to see you again tomorrow.”

In the midst of these barren-seeming days that stretch into restless nights, what miracles of grace are there that we do not see? “Cast your net over the right side of the boat,” says Jesus, “and you will find something.”

Lord, in this season of resurrection hope, we want to believe. Help our unbelief.

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