Yesterday was the first day of 11th grade for my son, David, and the first day of 4th grade for my son, Joshua. Speaking for parents everywhere, the first day of school is absolutely wonderful. The children were dressed in new clothes and their backpacks were filled with new school supplies. Everyone sensed the excitement due to the possibilities of a new year with new teachers. Social media will inevitably be filled with photos of our bright-eyed scholars ready for the commencement of new classes. And, while the young ones are at school, precious hours of peace and quiet returned to homes everywhere.
I have memories (through a thick fog of time) surrounding a number of “first day”s of school: buying Garanimals at Bradlees, writing my name in my new Trapper Keeper, wondering if any of my friends were going to be in my class, trepidation over the navigation of hallways and locker combinations, walking down Park Street (first to the Clapp School and then to the E. A. Jones School). I remember nearly all of my teachers’ names. I can still see the hallway and stairway where one of my first grade classmates (who will remain nameless) had a meltdown of epic proportions due to what we now call separation anxiety. First days of school leave an indelible mark.
These memories, however, are fading as I get older. School days are no longer part of our adult lives. We do not buy new clothes for ourselves at Labor Day sales and we detest the incredibly long lines at Staples. Many of us have not been in a classroom setting (outside of parent-teacher conferences) in decades and assume a mindset that education is only for the young. According to Pew Research, 27% of adults did not read a single book last year. The world around is constantly changing, but, sadly, some of us see no need to hone our intellectual resources.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Acts 2:42
One of the counter-cultural practices of the Christian church is a devotion to life-long learning. This weekend, communities of faith all over the region will be holding, in one form or another, a “Rally Day” to resume Christian Education classes. Through Sunday School classes, Bible studies and C. E. discussions people of all ages will devote themselves to the apostles’ teaching. People of diverse backgrounds will gather in church basements and conference rooms and read the Scriptures together. Women and men of all ages will share experiences and insights, equipping one another to face the challenges of life.
At Calvary, Sunday will be the first day of school. While we will not expect you to have sharpened #2 pencils or matching shirts and khakis, we do encourage you to devote yourselves to learning more about the Lord. Whether it be in Dorchester or wherever Christ has called you, I hope you will get together with constructively curious people this weekend and equip yourselves with the Sword of the Spirit, readying one another for whatever the world may bring.
If you have been reading this blog throughout the last four years, you know that my family has experienced a great deal of change over that period of time. It always seemed to me that change was cyclical; I was under the impression that there were seasons of transition and seasons of tranquility. Through the process of musing about life and ministry on a weekly basis I have come to realize that change is present every moment – we are all continually changing biologically, economically, spiritually, and relationally. Change is not some terrible thing we endure; change is a sometimes good thing that we can choose to embrace.
While change is constant, it is much like the tides in that there is variety in the intensity of the waves. My family’s present two and a half weeks are more like conditions for surfing rather than sailing as we watch the whitecaps wash over us. Last Saturday, we hugged our daughter goodbye at college, knowing that we’d not see her sweet face for more than a month. Last Tuesday, we hugged Jeanine’s brother goodbye as we drove home to Boston and he drove to chemotherapy in Baltimore. Next Wednesday, we will place all our worldly possessions in a moving van and the following day unload them a few blocks away. And finally, on Thursday, September 8, we’ll send David off to tenth grade and Joshua off to third grade.
If I were in charge, I would not have chosen any of these transitions for myself or my family: Rebekah could stay home, Stephen would not suffer from the end stages of cancer (if I made the decision, he’d never have cancer at all), we would have remained in the condo that has been home for the past three years and the boys would never get older. If I had my way, Rebekah would never make new friends or gain new experiences, Stephen would never know how strong he really is, we’d never impact a different neighborhood and the boys would lie on their beds playing video games all day. You see my point: I would not choose change, even if it were good for me.
The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand. Psalm 37:23-24 (ESV)
When we, as a family, go to the beach, the boys and I try to body surf. As I tell them, the best thing to do is follow two rules: First, lean into the smaller waves or they will knock you over; and second, jump just before the bigger wave crests and allow it to carry you to the shallows. In many ways, that is what I am trying to do these days: lean in and then enjoy the ride. So, I will brace myself when the texts go unanswered, when the diagnosis is pending, when the boxes get heavy and the house is quiet. I will enjoy the updates that she is making friends, that the drug is working, that the new house brings new opportunities and that I have another three years before another one leaves the nest.
Lord willing, there will be a stretch of smooth sailing for all of us in the days ahead. Whatever may be lying just beyond the horizon, I trust that God knows how to use it for my growth. And, oh, what an adventure awaits us with Him.
Yesterday was the 1st day of school for my three youngest. According to my calculations, this was the 36th first day of school for one of the kids. There are so many joys in that 1st day: you get to show off your new clothes and school supplies; you get to see your old friends and share what you did during summer vacation; you anticipate new opportunities; and you are one more year closer to graduation. There are also so many anxieties about the 1st day: can I handle the new responsibilities; will I remember the details of my new schedule; who will sit with me for lunch; or can I open my locker?
We all face what amounts to “the 1st day of school” joys and anxieties in every station of life. There is the 1st day of marriage, the 1st day of parenting, the 1st day of a new job, the 1st day of a new home, the 1st day of empty-nesting, the 1st day of grand parenting, the 1st day of retirement and the 1st day of mourning. All these milestones are days of joy and anxiety. It is as if life is a series of photo shoots on the front porch where we put on a brave face and swallow our fears of the great unknown.
As I recall, 1st days are the worst – the anxieties always outweigh the joys. The questions we ask in the 1st days are more numerous than the promises we make to ourselves. But the next day is usually better and the next day better still. Before we know it the new things we worried about become the old things we find comfort in and we settle down into a good place. We stop getting lost and start finding shortcuts. We stop looking at the schedule and start remembering where we are headed next. Life gets easier and we begin to see the benefits of new things…until the next “1st day” arrives.
Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” Lamentations 3:22–24 (NIV)
Hold onto the ancient promise given through Jeremiah – God’s compassions (His aching for our good) never cease; they are fresh every morning…even those “1st day of school” mornings. God is always faithful, He always provides whatever He promises whenever we truly have need. He is ever working out our worries into wonders and our anxieties into amazements. Perhaps you are feeling that your present “1st day” is too heavy; remember that God’s love will be freshly showered upon you when you wake and will continue to shower upon you all throughout the day. This 1st day may be the 1st day of something even greater than you can imagine.
Finally, as we face the 1st day of school, I ask you to pray for the teachers, aides and administrators who are giving their time and (increasingly) their treasures to educate our children. Pray for their wisdom and safety as they work. Pray for them: it is their 1st day of school, too.