Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Back to School – A Fresh Start

It’s been years since I boarded a school bus or had to shop for school supplies. But this last month, I became a part of these end of summer rituals because my oldest daughter started kindergarten. She stepped onto the school bus and waved goodbye! Not just to me.. but also her pre-school years.
As she eagerly anticipated the first day of school, I remembered fondly the back-to-school excitement. Each school year began a clean, blank notebook, several shiny folders and sharpened pencils. It was as if my even my school supplies were alert and ready to get started. My mother took the annual “First Day of School Photo” and a new year began.
Walking through my neighborhood one evening before school was in session, I passed a group of kids sitting alongside the sidewalk, in the grass, with their skateboards talking. Not intending to eavesdrop, I plainly heard one boy remark, “This year, I’m in a whole new school. All those rumors from last year? I can leave them behind.” Ah, yes. A new school year offers the hope of a fresh start socially, as well.
My less pleasant “back-to-school memories” are the ones matched with the “low feeling” that would set in by mid-fall. My school supplies were worn out or missing. The 3-ring binder no longer snapped shut perfectly. The coursework was actually work. By Thanksgiving, any fresh start I thought I had was certainly over.
In Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, he writes “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” This lovely line is usually found on inspirational posters and matched beautifully with a photo of a butterfly or a rainbow. As inspiring as that appears, the words are lifeless for anyone who is “in Christ” but feels discouraged with old, reoccurring struggles. If we don’t see the effects of the “new creation in Christ” does that mean we are not fully in Christ? No. Paul says don’t regard each other (or situations) from a “worldly point of view”. The work of Christ in our lives is sometimes hidden, but it is always there.
In education, the best teachers are those who find the hidden potential of a student and call it forth. That is why teaching takes patience and fortitude. At the turn of twentieth century in Boston, there was a child named “Little Annie” whom doctors had determined was beyond hope. They placed her in an asylum where she became so violent that she was given solitary confinement.
One Christian teacher took notice of Little Annie and reached out. Each day, she would read to the child, talk to her, and offer her a cookie. The child never responded. The teacher didn’t give up hope and kept extending God’s grace to her. After two years, the girl was transformed! Little Annie was told she could leave the asylum. However, she chose to stay. Little Annie stayed and worked with patients who were suffering, believing in people when no one else cared. She extended the love as it had been extended to her.
Today, you know “Little Annie” better as Annie Sullivan who worked hard to teach (and reach) a deaf and blind girl named Helen Keller. As an adult, Helen Keller attributed her success in overcoming her handicap to tenacious love of Annie Sullivan, a teacher who could see beyond outward appearances*.
Outward appearances can be deceiving. As Christians, God loved us when we were far from perfect. We are to pass on that grace to others and look beyond appearances.
A fresh start can come at the beginning of a new year – it can come as the calendar rolls over a new page. But the real fresh start is what God gives us through Jesus - and we give each other in His name.

Thanks be to God!

*Story of Annie Sullivan taken from the book Victory Over the Darkness by Neil Anderson.