Two of our three kids are starting school tomorrow for the first time. Our three and a half year old bio daughter will be in a two day a week preschool program at a local church, and our seven year old son, newly adopted from Africa, will be in first grade at the elementary school just down the street. For both, a whole new world awaits. Their experiences will be different, but they will be much the same. Here’s a letter, a prayer, a blessing that I’m saying over them as they begin their respective journeys out into the world without mom and dad by their side:
My precious Micah and Famous,
I can’t believe you’re going to school. It seems like just a few short months ago that we were hushing you to sleep and putting tiny bows on your head or visiting you in your village and playing soccer with you in the open fields of Ghana. And now, just like that, you’re going to school for the first time. I don’t remember my first day of school specifically. But I do remember the first year well. My kindergarten teacher, my school, my classroom. If I close my eyes, and focus, I can still remember which side of the hallway it was on and how the room was laid out. I remember reading “Spot” books for the first time. I remember our Kindergarten circus (I was the lion tamer…ha!). And I remember my best friend John. So many good memories. So many chances to be light and hope and goodness in a hurting world. So many times I didn’t take advantage of those or even created the hurt instead of the healing. I want to talk to you about that as you start school.
For the first time, you’re going to be making lots of decisions and choices that won’t be overheard by mommy and daddy. Your teacher will surely hear some of them but not all. Much of what you say and do, the faces you make, and the way you treat your neighbor, won’t be seen by anyone but your peers. I want you to remember that good is good, and right is right regardless of whether anyone is watching you. Being kind and loving is always right and good. I wish I could tell you that others will always treat you like you treat them, but I cannot tell you that because it is not always true. You can be as good and kind as possible, and there will still be people who don’t treat you well. It’s okay. Good is still good, and right is still right. This doesn’t mean I want you to be a punching bag or a pushover. I know you too well to think that you will be either of those, but it does mean I don’t want your first instinct to be hitting back or dominating those weaker than you. I want you to remember “hands are for loving” even when we’re not there to mouth it to you on the playground.
Even at a young age, you’re going to see and meet other kids who are different than you. Some of them will be different from almost everyone else in your class, maybe even your whole school. Some kids will make fun of these kids. They will tease them for being short, or tall, or white, or black, or purple, or whatever. They will tease them for being different. When that happens, stand up for these kids. Be their friend. Hold their hand. Look at the teasers in the eye and say, “This is my friend, and I don’t think you should speak to them like that.” It’s going to be hard for you to do this. But it’s good. And it’s right. And it honors that child and God. And those teasers, like me, are going to grow up and wish they had as much as courage as you. Believe that.
School is going to give you a thousand chances a day to do good and right. To your classmates, the lunch ladies, your P.E. teacher, the custodian, the principal, and to your teacher. Even though most of the people I listed are grown-ups, they want and need to be loved just like you do. To really be seen. To be heard. You can do this. At a young age, you can look in their eyes when they talk and smile to show them that you care. Take the extra 5 seconds on the way to recess to do this. You’ll never know how much it means to them. Please pay special attention to the janitors and lunch ladies. They work so, so hard and often go days without anyone telling them “thank you.” Tell them every day, with a smile, and maybe even a hug. I promise it will change both of you forever.
You know those words we have you say every night before you go to bed? “I’m beautiful, God made me, and I’m going to change the world.” Those are true. It’s time to let those words become more than a nighttime ritual. To let them fill you up and spill over into every moment of each one of your days. To live in such a way that those words become a truth that brings an overwhelming light and hope into the world around you.
Love deeply. Love unreasonably. Forgive. Trust. Do your best. And when you get home and it’s been a terrible day, we will be here to kiss your cheeks and tell you how amazing you really are. And we will get up again tomorrow and do it all over again. A beautiful, terrible mess. All of us. Just doing what we can to make the world a better place. We’re so proud of you and can’t wait to watch you change the world at school like you already have in our lives.
Daddy and Mommy
p.s. Wash your hands after you go to the bathroom, please. And don’t pick your nose