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Back to School 2020

Some of my favorite memories with my mom revolve around back-to-school preparations.  Shopping for my "first day of school" outfit and wandering aisle after aisle of unblemished notebooks and unused crayons always felt so exciting.  I helped my mom, a teacher, with her classroom setup and bulletin boards full of inspiration and organization.  Even when I was no longer a student, I worked in schools and found an excuse to buy blank composition books and bright new pencil boxes at the start of each year.  When I had my own children, I carried on the same back-to-school traditions.  The bargain prices were a bonus but, really, I was drawn to the hope and promise of new beginnings.

To say that this year is different is a gross understatement.  I have not been to wander the aisles of school supplies.  I have not purchased a single notebook or pencil, much less a shiny new pencil box.  With online, remote learning there is simply no need.  There were no hours of frustration and laughter out shopping for new "first day" outfits either as stores are no longer the same.  And the frenzy of opening packages and putting names on everything with permanent markers while the girls giggled about teachers and classes was replaced by more serious conversations about anxiety and safety.  The global pandemic has now left its mark on another of our family traditions and I am wondering how to refresh that hope in our family.

For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
Romans 8:24-25 NIV

Yes, I am reminded yet again of these statements about hope, penned by the imprisoned Apostle Paul in the first century; ancient words of wisdom, inspired by God himself.  Hope is not in what can be seen--not in notebooks and crayons or new shoes and backpacks.  And hope is not in what we already have--virtual classrooms and best efforts.  Hope is in that sense that there is something more, something different, something beyond our current circumstance where we are just trying to make the best of things--something that really is the best.  I am reminded that longing for things to be better is part of knowing God, because we are all meant for more than even the best we can imagine.  But waiting patiently is a challenge in and of itself.
Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God's Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don't know how or what to pray, it doesn't matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans.
Romans 8:26 MSG

Oh, Lord, you know me so well!  Sighs and groans have become a second language in this season, one I am so glad God speaks fluently.  I need to be more gracious with those around me speaking mostly in sighs and groans (can someone say teens?).  More important than any other school supply or emergency preparedness kit or stockpile of hand sanitizer or N95 mask, is a relationship with the living God.  Though I cannot supply that to my family as easily as number two pencils, there are ways I can help them to find and follow Jesus, reminding us all that he is number one.  Here are a few suggestions to help build hope and relationship with the Lord in your own families, along with my prayers for you this school year...though it is a strange new beginning, I pray it is one filled with the promise and presence of God.

mealtime conversations: Sharing the highs and lows of our day help us feel connected to one another and cared for at any age.  We can use this time to listen well, celebrating and grieving everyday events together as Paul would also advise (Romans 12:15).  In addition, this is an opportunity to share Biblical wisdom and encouragement for managing life's challenges (1 Corinthians 2:7).

bedtime prayers: Unlike the mealtime conversations, try to refrain from offering advice at prayer times.  Instead, we can listen to feelings and concerns, then restate them as prayers to God, modeling what the Holy Spirit does for us and demonstrating our trust in God.  As we do so, we teach our children to trust and depend on God, not just on us or even on themselves (Proverbs 3:5).

life lessons in everyday stuff: One of my girls recently reflected that she understands more about how God loves her because she loves her cat even though he is needy and moody and doesn't make good decisions.  In the care of a family pet, the wonder of nature (Psalm 8), mundane chores (Colossians 3:23-24), and even sad losses (2 Corinthians 1:3-5), we can help each other to see God or learn from him or teach about him.  These lessons go beyond what any other classroom can offer to our families.

church together as a family: Our kids will know what we value by where we spend our time and our money.  Church together as a family helps communicate how much you value God and family at once, and it provides an opportunity to build into them the ideas of worship, serving, and giving as you have those natural conversations that stem from the questions kids will ask after (or right in the middle of) church.  In this time of gathering on our own couches with the kids to watch online we have a unique chance to pause and have these conversations!

helping kids find their fit: Even though church all together is a great place to start, everyone must eventually have their own faith.  Since each child is different, they will begin exploring individual faith at different ages.  Younger kids may complain about being bored in Sunday school class while teens may become interested in social justice issues, both of which may indicate that a child is growing in their faith.  Other children may need help understanding that their passion for dance or science or befriending the new kid are expressions of God's character in them.  When children are free to relate to God in ways that make sense to them, their faith is able to grow and mature along with their bodies and minds--and they may even outpace us.

2020 will become a part of all of our stories, just as previous generations have the Great Depression or a Great War or any other hardship.  God was around long before any of these challenges and promises that we have an eternity beyond them.  While we are here, let us learn what we can from God as we all are schooled in something new this year.

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