Editor’s Note: Three weeks ago our middle child required surgery to repair a badly broken leg. Our lives were turned upside down with what turned into an almost-week-long hospital stay. Needless to say, lots of things fell by the wayside and one of those was our blog. We’re back on track now (we think!) and look forward to continuing to journey together as ministers and mothers. Grateful for your grace and patience–Alicia Davis Porterfield.
Confession time: I don’t like change. And I truly, deeply mean I don’t like change. I have spent a lot of my life trying to establish security and predictability, only to be foiled every single time by the ways of the world, and the ways of our God who never fails to invite me to consider the unconsidered.
But there is one change I always loved as a child, and still love as a mother. That change is the beginning of the new school year. There’s just something about the smell of a freshly opened box of crayons, the stark possibility of a piece of ruled notebook paper, and the blissful emptiness of a spiral notebook before it is filled with numbers, letters, words and stories. Unsharpened pencils and pens full of ink and unused watercolor paints can create ideas that change the world.
At the beginning of a school year there is endless possibility in the smirking mischievous first day of school grins that are posted on social media. We don’t yet know what our kids will become over a school year, but we know they will finish somehow changed. Now that’s a change I can live with and celebrate.
On the last day of my first child’s Kindergarten year, he came home with a mostly empty backpack and a pencil pouch containing the remnants of his year. It was such a striking image for me that I snapped a picture of it.
Broken crayons, glue sticks that were one use away from empty, a popsicle stick that didn’t quite find its place in that art project all stared back at me. They were far from the shiny new pencils and whole crayons that brought me such joy.
But the more I looked at that used up, torn up, almost good-for-nothing pile of school supplies sitting on my countertop I began to realize that they were even more beautiful than what I sent in that first day of school with my Kindergartner, full of my own tears of grief as he grew, my fears for him, and my hopes for his future. They were used up, and he was the better for it.
Living this life uses us up. It can take us from shiny new fresh-faced optimists to the realists with crow’s feet and spit up stains and an earful complaints about the terrible dinner we had the nerve to put on the table yet again. It can take us from the idealism of seminary completion to the rugged and dirty terrain of the church or the hospital or the homeless shelter, and the real-life-redeemed people we are called to serve.
In it, God asks us to take out our shiny new crayons and our blank canvases and use them. We are asked to begin, to commit to discipleship, and to be willing to let the crayons break and the pencils dull as we serve. Over my time in ministry,and watching my children grow I have learned that all of it-the beginnings, the endings, and everything in between- matter. They mold us and shape us into more of what God calls us to be. Sometimes the most broken places and the most used up places are the places that God makes into our greatest stories—our greatest masterpieces.
Those broken crayons and used erasers were the beginning of my sweet boy’s journey into not only an academic education, but a much deeper learning about who he is, and who God is calling and will call him to be in and for the world. And every single time I’ve found myself with broken pieces, somehow God and those around me seem to help me put them back together, or give me something altogether new.
So enjoy your beginnings, and honor the good work that brings the endings. And when you are stuck in the jagged edges in between, not sure how to move forward, remember these words from Philippians 1:
I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.
Jeanell Cox is a Board Certified Chaplain serving with Glenaire Continuing Care Retirement Community and as Administrative Coordinator for the North Carolina Chaplain’s Association. She is also mom to three amazing boys and is married to a local church pastor.