High School Graduation

Tonight I feel seventeen.

Tomorrow is graduation day. One more project to go: for English, a self-expression slide show of my life—my people, my friends and classmates—set to U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”

We’ve been together a long time, but high school isn’t it. We still haven’t found what we’re looking for. It’s here, and it’s out there, our next step.

If I searched high and low in my mom’s house, my old house, I might still find the old slide projector reel filled with images of me and my peers growing from elementary school through junior high and then high school. We took different paths through adolescence, so I had to work harder toward the end to gather pictures of the people with whom we began. Still, I found them. For a time, at least, I had them.

On my final day of high school, I blared my U2 cassette tape through the boom box speakers in synch with my slides, blasting the darkened theater with familiar sound. Even the classmates who knew us only for a stretch of that time appreciated what came before and after. We were. We were little, we were middles, we were grown. We made an impact.

My presentation ended the class period. Lights up, and we were free until we reassembled in graduation gear. For a few hours, we felt oddly untethered to anything and anyone. We knew it wasn’t entirely true, but we felt FREE.

We went home. We weren’t the same. We might even have been a little crazy. Girls did hair and make-up. Boys did…what? I’m not sure.

When we came back together we were uncomfortably not the same, dressed as we’d never been before. We had worn jeans and shorts and T-shirts and skirts and blouses and dresses and collared shirts–even ball gowns and tuxedos–but we had never before worn caps and gowns.

Here we are, about to be, graduates.

Halt.

Tonight, my son is the soon-to-be-graduate. He is eighteen. He has one last final to go, sadly not the feel-good presentation of my last day of high school, but a hard-core final with a graceless teacher who least likes him.

Still, this is his night, his weekend, his now and not yet.

Time is funny. So slow, so fast. How can my little Christmas elf baby be the six-foot-something rugby-tough-guy almost-graduate? The years have been long, and not long enough.

Tonight friends threw a graduation party for their son and his buddies, including our guy. We swapped stories with parents with whom we’ve walked short- and long-lengths of this journey. Oh, how these kids have extended the high school drama! Nothing like giving your parents heart attacks in the last few hours…

I drove home alone, the long way, on purpose. I rolled down the windows, cranked the stereo, punched the gas pedal. I let the wind rush through my hair, felt my skin energized by its chilling flow. I’m no longer seventeen, but I remember. My adult (responsible) Honda Civic is no match for my once-upon-a-time ’67 Mustang, my ultimate cool car. That long-ago night, I knew I had great friends and I also knew, poignantly, that those friendships could not last forever.

I see it. He feels the same, and everything in me aches: for what was, and what is, and what has been lost. And for this boy: for what is, and what will be, and what will be lost.

This is the beginning, and this is the end. And it will come around again.

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On the Go

To my senior quote in my high school yearbook I included Matthew 28:20–“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” With life as I knew it coming to an end and a future on the horizon I could barely imagine, I relished the comfort that Jesus would always be with me. No matter what happened, no matter the highs or lows of circumstance, I would never be alone.

Fast forward six years to flowers from a friend on the occasion of my being hired for my first paid ministry gig. The card read: “Go and make disciples!” I had prayed so long and hard for this professional opportunity that her words, well-chosen from Matthew 28:19, felt like confirmation: my always-present God would be with me as I shared the good news of His great love with others.

Fast forward another four or so years: Guy and I were married, both working at the same church, both attending seminary part-time. We were also pregnant. During the last months of pregnancy, we were enrolled in a Leadership class. [Funny side note: I wrote the end notes for my final paper while in labor. Sadly but not surprisingly, I had to rewrite them after Teen was born].

Professor wrote a note on that final paper, wondering why I hadn’t reflected more on parenting as leadership. He had taught about it but, as much as that baby-in-belly animated my body and imagination, I couldn’t yet wrap my brain around how much leadership goes into the significant and mundane acts of parenting.hands-1920854_1920

Eighteen years later, I’d like to hit Rewind rather than Fast Forward. While some days felt oh-so-loooong, and I am generally grateful to be done with certain seasons, overall this parenting gig might have been on Fast Forward x4. Now Teen is a high school senior, actively preparing for his own can’t-even-imagine-it future.

As I listened to this morning’s sermon on Matthew 28:16-20, as I pondered the distinction between making Christian converts and making disciples of Christ, I recalled that Leadership class. As a parent, I wasn’t aiming at my kids’ one-time decisions; I hope, instead, that I modeled, taught, and led them into a lifestyle of putting God first; loving Jesus with all my heart, soul, and strength; asking not just what I want but what God wants for me, for us.

So much of parenting happens on the go: in the car, between activities, running errands. Jesus knew that, of course, which is why “Go and make disciples” might be translated, “As you are going, make disciples.” Which means I should always be prepared to give a good and gentle answer to anyone who asks about my faith. To anyone, but especially my children.

As we are going to school. As we are walking the dog. As we are carpooling. As we are on the sidelines at the game. As we are doing homework. As we are making and eating dinner. As we are doing chores. As we are going to church, yes, but in all life’s other moments as well.

I never intended to raise young Christian converts, products of a one-time decision. Instead, I intended to make disciples, young men whose decisions over time will show that they have become life-long followers of Jesus Christ.

Come & See – Matthew 28:16-20

Connect
Reflect on a significant lesson you learned from a teacher/mentor. What makes that lesson stand out?

Study
Read Matthew 28:16-20.
Why do you think Matthew tells us that some worshiped Jesus while others doubted (v. 17)?
Why does it matter that Jesus has authority in heaven and earth (v. 18)?
According to vv. 19-20, what does it mean to “make disciples”?
Why does Jesus reassure His disciples of His ongoing presence with them (v. 20)?

Live
Who was instrumental in your growth as a disciple?
How have you discipled others?
What is the difference between making Christian converts and making disciples of Christ?
What might help those who doubt take steps toward Jesus? What could get in their way?
In an average week, who might you meet in the places you go that God might want you to disciple? What could that look like?
What does this passage communicate about what it means to be Jesus’ disciple?
What is Jesus saying to you through this study, and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that God will direct you to people and opportunities to share His love.

Good Enough

When I was in high school, Good Enough was good enough. We did our best – and sometimes not – and we did well. Most kids in my middle-class high school were on the College Prep track; we knew a few in the “non-College Prep” classes, and we understood they struggled; we knew a few who took Honors/AP classes, and we understood they might just be Too Smart.

College Prep classes fit the majority, and College Prep classes prepared the Super Motivated to take AP tests as available. Those who took and passed AP tests could get a GPA boost, but AP-specific classes were not the norm, as there was no reason to offer college credit to high school students. 3.0-4.0 was A-OK! And most of us went to good colleges.

Fast Forward a generation…6352769082_2fe37679b6_b

It was too late to drop by the time we realized Teen – now a junior with Pressure ON! – was struggling. He could have taken an easier class. Had he wanted to, he also could have taken this class at the local community college. Kids who fail classes at our High School receive A’s at our local Community College. I recently asked Why?, and was told that the High School has to keep up its standards of being in the Top 1% of schools in the country, while the Community College has to pass the Average Student.

Anyone see a problem there?

We signed him up for professional tutoring, and it has helped. On his own – and without our knowledge – he has attended twice-a-week on-campus tutoring. He studied HARD for the last test, and he felt confident.

He failed the test.

Dismayed, he went at lunch to talk to the teacher. She wouldn’t show him the test, wouldn’t talk with him about how he’d gone wrong. She said, “You do work for other classes in my class.” Once, early on. She said, “You come in late.” Last week, his car broke down; this morning, the alarms failed us. He has apologized; she hasn’t accepted.

What to do about a teacher who won’t meet a student part-way with compassion?

Teen has learned that first impressions, and subsequent impressions, matter. Studying matters. Working his tail off in a subject that stumps him matters, and one might expect that taking the initiative to approach a teacher – teenager to adult, no easy match – should matter. He did his best, and he got shot down.

Head hung low he said, “It’s only my future. I guess I won’t go to A Good College.”

His college counselor said that, without a 4.2 GPA, admission to a University of California or California State school will be a long shot4.2 is now what it takes to be noticed and accepted for in-state California colleges? How many students take how many AP classes to average an above average GPA?

The norm is no longer The Norm. Good Enough has died.

Last spring the four schools in our high school district took the Stanford Survey of Adolescent School Experiences, the “stress test.” The goal is to work with schools to create a less stressful and more engaging school environment for students. [Read more here].

The results highlighted the dire reality that our students feel stressed, exhausted, and stuck in a rat wheel. Surprisingly, it’s not that they are so caught up in their daily school work. Rather, students see the hyper-competitive culture in which they are growing up, and they’re grasping at straws trying to differentiate themselves. And yet the college counselor made it clear: the colleges no longer care about differentiation, just that 4.+ GPA.

I’m confident Teen will go to college. He’s a smart kid, inaccurately assessed in the wrong circus arena. Now, if his class took place outside – up a hill, in a tree – somewhere he could touch the subject and explore it for himself; if assignments weren’t one-size-fits-poorly; if high schools had majors and he could focus his interests like he will be able to in college; well, then he’d have that stellar GPA. He will, someday. He’s going to surprise himself.

People move to our town for the schools, and rightfully so. We are fortunate to have access to an impressive educational system. But just as in people, strengths can also be weaknesses. The lessons they intend to teach might, for now, have less to do with English and algebra and history and way more to do with perseverance, conflict resolution, and staying true to self when others apply ill-fitting labels. These lessons are hard-won with plenty of bruises and at least a few scrapes. They hurt. And in the end, they’ll prove to be more valuable than a GPA, more than good enough.