Today begins a new school year. I’m always so conflicted on the first day of school. On one hand, I’m completely elated, I mean seriously, summer was long and my patience grew thin. On the other, I’m sad that my babies are off in the world again. For six plus hours someone is guiding and loving and influencing them. I’m happy for it and I’m deeply convinced they need to be in the world but not a part of the world, but good grief— them are my babies!!!!!
Mothering school-aged children is bittersweet, but I had something in my back pocket to temper the aftertaste of letting go.
Last night as we got ready for the first day of school, I thought about my plans and Pinterested the best way to execute them. But my plans were interrupted when my daughter needed a new headband because “I JUST WANT MY HAIR DOWN AND OUT OF MY FACE!” so we rushed to target with the money she saved for sunglasses. When I came home, backpacks were not yet packed and bodies not yet showered. I yelled about not having white Converse cleaned in time and not being in bed by 8. You could say, I was a bit of a wreck getting ready for back to school. But could you blame me? I was planning something so great and I just wanted it to go perfect and I needed the kids asleep to create perfection. Finally, my husband told me to take a chill pill. I said, “whatever, man it’s back to school time.” Then he played the calm and rational husband card: “you’re anxious and you need some space” so he took over the bedtime so that I could rest and get a hold of myself. He’s a good man like that.
Then he came down and we hugged it out and got to work on creating back to school benedictions for our kids.
The idea started back in July on our family vacation. Every year we go to Pilgrim Pines for a week of encouragement, relaxation, and way too much ice cream! This year our speaker was the phenomenal, Judy Peterson. Judy is the campus pastor at North Park University in Chicago, IL. Her series that week was on being a follower of Jesus. Man, I took away so much from that week. I learned to embrace the good names God has for me. I learned to find my calling in being Jesus’ first anything else second. I reflected on the ways I hold back from him and I learned how to let him bless me. This last one, Judy showed me more than taught. At the end of every session, she asked us to stand up, lift our hands, and receive the benediction—a blessing that comes at the end of something, a blessing to send you on your way in peace.
Benedictions are my favorite liturgical practice ever! When the truth is spoken over me as I leave a gathering of believers, I leave knowing I am loved, that I am extraordinary, and confident that am not alone. Even when I leave a gathering of hundreds of people, a poignant benediction leaves me full and connected hours after I’m home.
This is what we wanted to give our babies before they jump back into the fray of school—a confidence in their belovedness even when they’re not with us. School with all it’s expectations, and rules, and drama, and messiness, can really jack a child up. They can become unmoor-ed from truth when we decided to write benedictions for our children, we simply wanted help them find their anchor when they are inevitably tossed about.
Benedictions have a way of helping us become our truest selves and so I took a page from Barbara Brown Taylor when she wrote about benedictions in “An Altar in the World”:
To pronounce a blessing on something, it is important to see it as it is.
I asked my husband to see our children as they are with me and help me bless them as they go back to school.
After we saw each child for who they are, we came up with three blessings for them, then I got to work. I decided to take the ever popular “back to school” signs and make them work for me. No longer would I use them as a notch on my belt to prove my Pinterest-worthiness, they could become a resource to bless and remind my babies of who they are. I made “first day of being (add their benediction name)” signs.
We thought about our oldest, Tyson starting middle school all nerves and brass. We saw through his bravado and saw the fears of his heart, ‘Will I fit in? Who do I belong to? Will they like me?’. Because, seriously what tween entering middle school doesn’t feel like this? But we also knew that he’s a bridge-builder, he’d rush home from a pick-up basketball game with the athletic kids to play D&D with his “geek pride” club. He’s quirky but aware of trends. He’s a theologian and comedian all at once. So, this morning over breakfast pizza, I put my hand on his head and said, “Tyson, I bless you on this your first day of middle school to be a bridge-builder. I bless you to be like Jesus—not pulled into anyone’s group for the sake of creating division and insecurity. I bless you to pull the kids who seem like they wouldn’t get along together and to show them how to learn from each other. I bless you to be the ultimate clique-buster— like Jesus to brought together the tax collector and the zealot.” In addition to his benediction name, we gave him a video of encouragement from the men in his life on middle school. We set him down in front of my computer and let three men offer a different kind of benediction, a blessing that says, “you can do this, you’re made for greatness, and you will be fine” and really isn’t that what we all need—a concert of voices that sing shalom over us?
Then we considered our middle guy, TJ. TJ is still coming into his own. He’s my boy in between and we often worry that he’s not connecting with friends enough even though he’s such a kind and eager friend. Too many times, I’ve had to explain to him that we just can’t bring every kid he meets at the park home with us. He’s my perpetual party planner and he’s always looking for ways to gather people. The thing about TJ is he loves deeply almost immediately. Everyone is his best friend and brother. So this year we blessed him to take that impulse and be a friend-maker. With my hands running through this curls, I said, “TJ, I bless you to go and be like Jesus, looking for the people who need a friend. Like the woman at the well and the leper at the city gates. I bless your eyes to see the kids who need a buddy and I bless our schedule to make time for play dates.”
Finally, we took sometime to really look at our daughter and listen to her thoughts about the second grade. On our way to get a headband, she said, “Mama, there’s a group of kids in my school that just do the same thing. They’re like major followers and I don’t want to be like that because sometimes they do stupid things.”
I glanced over at her and said, “Do you know what a trailblazer is?” She shook her head causing her braid to hit her chin, “Nope!”
“A trailblazer is a woman who doesn’t follow the crowd. She knows who she is. She know what she loves, and she goes after that. She’s really true to her personality. When a woman is really confident in herself, she’s so amazing, so impressive that other people follow her. She blazes a trail towards something new, better, and sometimes more real that what everyone is following.”
So this morning, I placed my hands on her hands (because “Mom! My headband is just right! Please don’t mess it up!!!!) and I said, “Trinity, I bless you to be a trailblazer. Like Jesus who knew who he belonged to, who and what he loved, and passionately chased after that, I bless you to know who you are and go after that. I bless you with confidence. I bless you with courage to not follow but set your path aflame with the brightness of who God made you to be.”
I’m not naive enough to think that one morning of benedictions at the breakfast table will stick. I imagine I’ll need to place my hands on their heads, in their hands, on their faces many, many times and whisper these true names, these benedictions as they go off into the messy and I’m game for it. If the only thing they learn this school year is how to build bridges, make friends, and blaze trails, I’ll consider this a successful year.
So, I hope you pull your babies in and bless them. See them and bless them and watch the Holy Spirit take those words and knit strength into their little souls. But, I hope for you to feel strength, love, and confidence too. So for you my friends, I want to leave you with my favorite benediction:
Ephesians 3:17-19 The Message:
My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.
Go in Peace to be a bridge-builder, a friend-maker, and trailblazer and confident that your are loved, in short a seeker of Shalom,