High school graduation season arrives this week. When my son walks across the stage, receives his diploma with his left hand and shakes with his right, one era of his life will come to a close and another will begin.
At the same moment, an unwelcome friend called "Age" will wrap two arms around me and whisper in my ear, "Yes, you are old enough to have a high school graduate." My only defense: memories.
Birth. Walking. The bike. Tonsils. Father-son camps. Throwing the football. Learning to drive. And, most vividly, the first day of high school. Anyone in children's ministry will love this story:
Four years ago, God clearly directed our family to move from our home of 15 years in the Chicago area to Michigan. Kingdom adventures always sound so exciting. And then reality arrives.
We unpacked in our Michigan home three days before school started; my son's freshman year of high school. While the timing of our new chapter in life worked great for me, the timing did not work as well for my kids. For a few weeks, Scott did not show the anxiety he felt about attending a high school in which he knew no one. In the town where we moved to, everyone knows everyone because all the students grew up together. For a 15-year old who's new to the town, that's quite a challenge.
I drove Scott to school on the first day, and as our car inched forward in a long line of parking lot traffic, he said, "I don't want to get out of the car."
Hmmm. I didn't see that coming.
As the author of the book Words Kids Need to Hear, I felt like I should have just the right comeback comment. Instead, and to my horror, I remained quiet with no idea what to say. My wife says this was a historical moment—me speechless.
As we arrived at the sidewalk, God finally put an idea simultaneously on my mind and in my mouth. "Keep your phone turned on," I said. "Just turn it to silent and watch for a text. I don't care about the school's rules" (please don't judge me and keep reading).
Upon arriving back home, I sent him a text message (please give me credit for not texting while driving). Here's exactly what I sent him on that morning four years ago: "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid, do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go" (Josh. 1:9, NIV).
I sent that verse because it's one of Scott's favorites. Here's how I know, and here's the build-up to the big point of this article: Starting at an early age, the children's ministry of our church in Illinois gave kids a verse card each week. My son developed a habit of taping key memory verses on the ceiling above his bed (he slept on a loft that was six feet high). For many years, Joshua 1:9 occupied center position.
Late that night before going to bed, Scott and I chatted about his day. "Could you send me another verse tomorrow?" he asked. "The one you sent today really helped me."
If you're in children's ministry, read this statement carefully and let it encourage you about the long term-impact you make: The Bible lessons and truths about God that you teach to 5-year-olds might prove to be the strength needed to make it through the day when they're 15.
One advantage to growing older is the ability to see the timelessness of God's words. Guess what I plan to text my son on his first day of college? And it all started with a creative Bible lesson called "Art Attack" that shared the story of Joshua—and ended with the words that would help start my son's high school years at a new school.
Age might have a good grip on me, but at least I still have my memory. For now.
David is senior editor of the children's ministry area for BuildingChurchLeaders.com; he is a mentor to a first-grade boy and serves as president of Kids Hope USA, a national nonprofit organization that partners local churches with elementary schools to provide mentors for at-risk students;. Prior to this assignment, David led Promiseland, the children's ministry at Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois. David is the author of Lessons Kids Need to Learn (2012) and lives in Grand Haven, Michigan, with his wife, Becky, son, Scott, and daughter, Erin.