SOUDER: Back to school: It’s all about the ‘who’

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By Chuck Souder

Early one morning, a mother went in to wake up her son. “Wake up, son. It's the first day of school.”

“But, Mom, I don't want to go,” he said.

“Give me two reasons why you don't want to go,” his mother demanded.

“Well, the kids make fun of me for one, and the teachers don’t like me either!”

The mother was unconvinced. “That's no reason not to go to school – now get ready!” Pulling the covers over his head he said, “Give me two reasons why I should go to school today.”

“Well, for one, you're 52 years old. And for another, you're the Principal!”

The first day back to school can be a traumatic time for everyone. Our oldest child began middle school this week. It’s hard to believe that my baby girl is in middle school – it’s enough to make me feel old (well, that and the fact that my wife reminded me that our 25th high school class reunions were this year).

This week I thought back to the time that I was in middle school (though in those days we just called it junior high) and tried to remember the nature of that transition.

Going to a different class every period. Going from being the BKOC (big kid on campus) in elementary school to being low man on the totem pole again.

Puberty, which often arrives in conjunction with these years, can be a traumatic experience, especially for those who are either first or last on that train.

And  – worst of all – lockers with locks on them! It may be every kid’s recurring nightmare to not be able to get his or her locker open.

In fact, I still have those dreams from time to time, and I haven’t been in school with a locker for quite a while (yes, yes, I know – 25 years – quit reminding me).

Last week was the new student orientation at East Middle, and anticipation and anxiety were practically dripping from our sixth-grader-to-be.

This was the night she was to find out what team she was on, what her schedule would be and who her teachers were. More importantly, it was when she would find out if any of her friends were in her classes.

I say “more importantly” because my daughter didn’t really care what teachers she had or the order of her classes. She really didn’t care if she was on the Blue Team or the Gold Team.

All she was concerned about was if she would be sharing her classes with her buddies or not. There were two friends that she especially wanted to have in her classes, and the possibility of neither of them being in her classes was enough to make her more than a bit nervous.

The orientation was to begin at 6 p.m., but my wife went an hour earlier for the parent association meeting. She called as she was going in to that meeting to tell us that we should perhaps leave a little earlier than we had originally planned because a garbage truck was on fire in the parking lot, and so it might be harder to find a place to park.

Now, as our friend Amy observed, “Nothing says ‘welcome to your new school’ like a burning garbage truck in the parking lot!”

By the time we arrived at 5:45, there were plenty of emergency personnel on hand, and the fire had been safely put out, though the smell was still heavy in the air and the garbage was still strewn about the parking lot.

Once inside the building, the actual orientation went smoothly. The new principal was very nice, well-spoken and informative, as were all of the others who participated in the program.

And even though they had to start 10 minutes late because of the fire, the program was over in a timely fashion, even earlier than advertised.

This was fortunate because by then my seat in the bleachers was definitely tired of me sitting on it. Best of all, my daughter was lucky enough to bat .500 – one of her two best buddies was on her team and in most of her classes.            

When I think about it, my daughter’s outlook on middle school is not really all that different from how many of us look at life.

Generally speaking, we’re not as concerned with the “what’s” of life as we are with the “who’s,” And rightly so.

If we have the right “who’s” around us, we aren’t nearly so anxious about the “what’s” that come our way. Give us a good friend or two, and we can handle nearly anything that life throws at us.

In fact, that is how God created us.

We weren’t designed to operate as “Lone Rangers” (though even he had Tonto) but rather in community. Life is best done together.

This principle gave rise to the Starbucks phenomenon, and it is why the Bible puts such a strong emphasis on meaningful relationships according to God’s design.

This is a large part of why God established marriage, and a part of why He established the church – to be a place where everyone can know and be known, love and be loved, and serve and be served in an environment that acknowledges each of our strengths and weaknesses.

Let’s face it: life, like middle school, can be a little scary.

Economic uncertainties, family struggles, health concerns and an occasional garbage truck fire can leave us feeling anxious or even afraid, but with the right companions (and God), we can make it through.

And at least we don’t have to worry about those pesky lockers.  


Chuck Souder is on staff at Shelby Christian Church. He can be reached at csouder@shelbychristian.org.