We, as a family, had a busy weekend.
Despite the fact that we were still under a ‘stay-at-home’ advisory, we were blessed on Saturday to attend the college graduation my daughter, Rebekah. We listened to a powerful commencement address by noted scholar and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. (live from his home in Cambridge, MA) and witnessed the conferral of degrees by American University President Sylvia Burwell. We even saw our daughter’s name printed on the screen as her school and degree program was listed. After the digital festivities, we enjoyed cake and dinner as a family. While it was much less than we all dreamed, it was wonderful in its own right.
Sunday was Mother’s Day and we celebrated the mother of 19 Vassall Street, Jeanine, with our family’s tradition of feasting on Chinese food (although this year it had to be take-out). This was followed by phone calls to the grandmothers, Carolyn and Pauline (both being hundreds of miles away), and then we concluded the day playing some family games (namely, Clue and Jackbox). It was a blessing having all six of us together for both these special occasions.
Before I go on, know that I want life to return to some semblance of normal as soon as possible. That said, I am going to look back at these days (at some point in the distant future) and miss some of the repercussions of sequestered living. I am going to miss the sheer amount of time I am engaging with those I love: I am seeing my children and wife more and making more calls than usual. I am going to miss the collective compassion of the community: we are supporting charities and offering kindnesses to a greater degree than any other time I can remember. I am going to miss the ingenuity of so many in celebrating life: the creativity exhibited through the ideas, activities and resources that are being initiated (drive-by birthday parades, apartment complex concerts, miniature golf courses in hallways and back yards, proms / graduations / weddings / recitals held together at home) is staggering.
And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good. 2 Thessalonians 3:13 (NIV)
Can we agree today, before we move on from this horrible season of death and disease, that we will continue to do what is good. Will we agree that we will still check on the vulnerable among us when we no longer need to? Will we agree to prioritize time with loved ones once we can devote our attentions to professional sports or work obligations? Will we agree that we will remain creative and unique in our expressions of joy even after we can once again host a party at “Chuck E. Cheese”? Will we agree that walking and hand-washing is beneficial in every season, not just now?
I am sure I will once again cringe at the suggestion of ‘F.G.N. (Family Game Night)’, a particular delight of my youngest child; but for now, I hope they regularly occur forever. While we await the world to get back to its regular cycles, let us also remember the good of these days and commit to continuing these blessings when might be tempted to do otherwise.
This past Wednesday, my daughter, Rebekah, ‘went’ to her final college class; she walked up the stairs to her bedroom and opened her laptop. As she shared this milestone with the family after the class had concluded, I got a little misty-eyed. I thought about how hard she had worked over the past four years at American University, enabling her to graduate with honors in two weeks, only ‘virtually’ recognized. I thought about all the friends, colleagues and sorority sisters she had made in DC, unable to support one another in these concluding events. It breaks a father’s heart.
Then I thought about all the others – in Rebekah’s class, in other college classes, high school seniors, pre-school graduates. I thought about new mothers, who will not have those precious 3-month or 6-month professional portraits of their drooling, chubby-cheeked cherub. I thought about birthdays (first, fifteenth, sixteenth, twenty-first, fiftieth or eightieth) that will be celebrated in isolation. I thought about silver and gold wedding anniversaries that cannot be held at their favorite restaurants and the life-long dream trips to Europe that cannot be rescheduled. I thought about all that has been lost or taken away.
Then I thought about why. Graduations, proms, weddings, parties, classes, reunions and the like have all been cancelled – nay, postponed or moved to digital platforms – so that we can keep those around us as safe as we can. That being said, we all ought to take time to acknowledge those who are required to sacrifice their personal milestones. If you know someone who is celebrating something in seclusion or going without so that life may go on, reach out and offer your congratulations or your consolation. Call, text or write a note and tell them that you are grateful for the costs they have incurred.
It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: “And this, too, shall pass away.” How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! – how consoling in the depths of affliction! “And this, too, shall pass away.” – Abraham Lincoln, 1859
“And this, too, shall pass away.” Government officials and company advertisements keep reminding us that things will get back to normal. Inevitably, a vaccine will be created and we will all get together again. We will have socials and soirees at some point. Graduations, like my daughter’s, will be held; for her, it will hopefully be in December. First haircuts can wait, photos can still be taken, anniversaries for 25 and a half years of marriage could become the new trend and birthday parties can be rescheduled (can you imagine the new school year for second graders when every weekend will have a birthday party at SkyZone?) I cannot wait to have the social calendar filled again. In the moments between now and then, let us help one another through this season of joys and sorrows.
Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. 2 Timothy 1:4
My family and I missed church on Sunday – skipped church, actually – and did something else that morning. We all still got up early, donned our ‘Sunday best’, shared breakfast together and drive to the Matthews Arena on the campus of Northeastern University. It was there that we remained for the next four or so hours, along with the other friends and family members of the 2019 graduating class of Boston Latin Academy. After a regal processional, greetings from dignitaries, speeches and special presentations from students, and addresses from the Suffolk County District Attorney and the school’s Headmaster, we finally saw our son (and brother and grandson), David, receive his High School diploma.
While it may sound like boasting, the truth is that my children, including David, are (extremely) bright. That being said, education has not come easily for David. In second grade he was referred to and treated for dyslexia at the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute for Health Professions’ Speech, Language and Literacy Center and shortly after that was diagnosed with ADHD. Still, despite these difficulties, David showed sufficient aptitude to warrant acceptance into one of Boston Public School’s exam schools. Throughout his time at BLA, David experienced academic highs (honor roll and advanced placement) and lows (a month-long drudgery called summer school). As I watched he who has become a young man graduate from High School, my thoughts brought me back to the frequently frustrating times we endured together over the past 13 years as a result of homework or clinic work or parent-teacher conferences. Those frustrations seem to have disappeared as I witnessed him hide behind his diploma, victorious.
Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. James 1:12
The Bible says that those who withstand the trials that test us will be awarded the prize. I witnessed that, first-hand, on Sunday. I’d like to think that David’s days of testing are through (I’d like to think that about myself as well), but I know that for all of us, each day brings with it their challenges. There will continue to be peaks and valleys along his path, but now he has evidence that hard work pays off and perseverance has its rewards. He has tasted victory, and I hope that will whet his appetite for the next chapter (pursuing a BS in computer science at Fitchburg State University). I could not be prouder of David than I am right now…he is an overcomer!
We all have things that do not come easy: education, relationships, socialization, coordination, just to name a few. Fight through those things, persevere and battle with all the strength and resolve you can muster, knowing that they may never be mastered but they can be overcome. Remember that there will come a day that we will receive the just compensation for enduring the necessary struggles that accompany our successes. And, after you’ve endured and come out the other side, I hope there is someone there to witness it and cheer for you.
On behalf of my family, we say ‘thank you’ to all who helped David achieve this significant milestone.
Our month of celebrations concluded on Monday at approximately 6:45PM when our daughter, Rebekah, walked across the stage of the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion and received her Boston Latin School High School diploma. Exactly a month earlier we were attending the Baccalaureate service for our son, Jonathan, as he prepared to graduate from Gordon College. The following day was Jonny’s commencement. Between these two graduations we, as a family, experienced, at times vicariously, the final day of classes, Senior Prom, a combined graduation party, “senior sign-out day”, and an awards celebration. This month has included some of the most wonderful days and some of the most wearying days I have experienced as a parent.
The past weeks have been wonderful. My wife and I beamed with pride as we heard our child’s name declared and watched them receive their diplomas, gratified in knowing that his and her hard work have been recognized and rewarded. We all rejoiced as they were surrounded by family and friends celebrating their accomplishments. While we, as parents, had little to do with their success, we are proud of what our kids have become.
The past weeks have also been wearying. As I watched them taking steps across their respective daises, I was overcome with dread as I contemplated their next steps. Will, and where will, Jonathan find a permanent job? Is Rebekah ready to head off to Washington and engage a collegiate culture? Have I sufficiently prepared my ‘adult’ children for what comes next in their lives? While I, as a parent, now have no control of the course of their lives, I am apprehensive about what my kids will become.
My problem is that I want to micromanage my children, despite the fact that I am ill prepared to do so. Jonathan and Rebekah will have to manage their own lives. My only hope is that they will remember what they have heard in their formative years. I hope that they can dwell in the very center of God’s will.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:1-2 (NIV)
If I could offer one final word of pastoral and parental wisdom for all those who are concluding one chapter of life and beginning to write another: trust the pattern of Romans 12. Offer yourself (wholly and completely) to God, allow the Spirit to shape you instead of adopting the prevailing culture, and then, after doing this, trust that you will be able to discern God’s good, pleasing and perfect will for your life. So many want to know God’s will for the future before they surrender their present to the Lord; that knowledge seems to be reserved for those who are first willing to follow God wherever He leads. Know that He will lead you where you need to go.
I am so proud of all my children, those that have graduated and those who will remain under our roof for a few more years.
Photo courtesy of the Boston Globe, June 13, 2016 https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2016/06/13/walsh-commends-boston-latin-graduates-for-fostering-dialogue-race/ACvuJolyaLLGOcmZoV2ZdO/story.html
My, how time flies. It seems like just yesterday that I was posting on this page that we were taking our eldest to college. It is unfathomable to me that it has actually been nearly four years. Tomorrow, my wife and I will watch him walk across a stage to receive his bachelor’s degree from Gordon College. All the papers and tests, projects and presentations have been made; all the notes and classes have been taken. Jonathan is no longer a kid who has gone off to school. There is little doubt now – my son is now an adult.
I thought about writing an open letter to my son, telling him all the things that he still needs to know in order to be successful in the world of the working – there are no small jobs, just small people; those you crush on your way up the ladder to success will also be those unwilling to prevent you from falling back down; if you do your best every time, you will sleep better at night – but I realized that I do not have many pearls of wisdom to offer. As the diploma he’ll receive tomorrow signifies, the days of formal lessons are over and the days of application awaits.
Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6 (ESV)
My hope is that what he learned at the Kenny, the Murphy, Boston Latin School and Gordon – and especially what he learned at home – has been sufficient for him to know the importance of being a good and kind person and not simply successful. My hope is that it does not take him too long to understand that it is not the facts that he gained that provide education with its value; it is the ability to process those facts for the improvement of those around him that counts. He was a smart kid when he began school 17 years ago; I pray that he is a wise young man now.
I asked my wife the other day, “How old will Jonathan be in your mind when we watch him graduate?” For me, I have a feeling that the images will fluctuate. I will see that week-old NICU patient, the six-year old soccer dynamo, the 10-year old baseball player. It will be the kid I ate pancakes with after an emergency room visit, the boy his mother witnessed being struck by a car as he made his way to the school bus and the young man who drove off to camp for the summer. I will see all the birthday parties and Christmases, all the awards and arguments and all the frustrations and fun that has brought him to this point. I hope I can see it all.
Congratulations, Jonathan. I am so proud of you, son, for staying the course, even when the way was difficult and the days were filled with doubts. May the Lord bless your next adventure as wonderfully as He has your last.