One of my favorite books of all time, A Tale of Two Cities, also begins with one of the best opening lines of all time, describing the era surrounding the French Revolution, but also notably evocative of our own:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period…
What I love about great literature is that, like studying history, it reminds us that no matter how much we think we live in the worst time that’s ever been, we are not. Life as we know it is in many ways both significantly better and more complex and challenging than it was before. As philosopher and author Carl Trueman notes, “the task of the Christian is not to whine about the moment in which he or she lives, but to understand its problems and respond appropriately to them.”
I would also add, to express gratefulness for God’s goodness in all things, whether joyful or hard.
As I look back on this school year, my 20th year of leading Grace Community School, I am thankful for a superlative year in many ways. This year, with 1,040 students in the traditional and Grace U K-12 schools, and nearly 500 on both campuses in Early Education, Grace had the largest number of enrolled students and families in its history. Serving over 1,500 students and their families from diapers to diplomas has been a tremendous blessing, and being a larger school gives us the opportunity to offer services and programs to our families and students that we would be unable to provide in a smaller school. Given the admission season this spring, next fall promises to be another robust enrollment year. At the same time, Grace has not wavered from its mission of teaching Jesus into the lives of our students.
Despite widespread fear and criticism about the lack of faith in our current younger generation, I see God at work. The Lord is stirring the hearts of our children, and, as the Body of Christ in our country, we need to be about the business of stoking that fire. My team and I have been praying for revival in our school for several years now, and God is bringing forth fruit among our students. I have marveled this year at seeing large groups of students actively engaged in worship, Bible study, and prayer, often on their own initiative–on weekends, school trips, and just gathered together as friends. We saw tremendous personal growth in our chapel services and legacy groups this year. Wherever the Lord is working, the devil attacks, and our students have shown signs associated with spiritual warfare–anxiety, fear, and other challenges to their well-being. They need our prayers as they continue to respond to God’s calling on their lives, and I encourage you to join us in praying for protection and continued revival as we enjoy our summer and prepare for next year.
God provided abundantly for Grace this year through the gifts and generosity of his people. God provided over $3 million through generous donors this year, including the largest annual fund ever, exceeding $1 million. These dollars have allowed Grace to continue to provide the excellent education for which it is known, but has also allowed us to renovate our stadium. This summer, Grace will renovate the second floor at the elementary campus to create classroom space that will allow our third and fourth grade classes to move out of the basement. We will also create additional space for our four-year-old students in early education, and make room for an additional kindergarten, first, and second grade in the elementary school. We also expect to expand Grace U into high school for the first time this coming fall. A Transforming Grace master planning task force is currently working on comprehensive strategic master facilities plan for all campuses that we’ll be sharing in the first part of 2024.
Our academics, fine arts, and athletics programs had another exceptional year. Led by an outstanding senior class, our high school expects to enjoy another top-level finish in the TAPPS Henderson Cup competition, despite having six larger 6A school programs becoming declassified to our division this year. This means we’re projected to finish high in the standings as in the past, despite competing against schools throughout the state with around 150 more students than we have. We are positioned well for the future, too, with some of the strongest middle school athletic and fine arts programs we have seen in years.
God has been gracious to us through these successes, but also through many trials we have faced as a school family. We have lost four school parents this year, more than any other year in our memory. Our hearts have grieved for these families and their children in our school. As a school family, we have endured illness, death, and other challenges that have both stripped us bare and united us. As always, the Lord has been good to meet us in our pain and to provide for us, doing so most often through our love for each other. This school family loves as well as any I have seen, and that love is most evident when life is hardest.
And it’s not just the regular suffering of life that we’ve endured, from living in a broken, Genesis 3 world. Because, as Peter says, “If you have done right and suffer for it, your endurance is worthwhile in the sight of God; to this you were called, because Christ suffered on your behalf, and left you an example to follow in his footsteps.”
We don’t just suffer as the world suffers, but we do so as those who live life in a manner distinctly different from the world, as those Transformed by Truth. To love our enemies, to take God at His word that He made men and women differently in His image and established marriage between them, and to advocate for the fundamental rights of his image-bearers to live and flourish–to be His disciples–is to invite misunderstanding, scorn, and ridicule. This is true in this or any generation until Jesus returns, and teaching Jesus means preparing children, not for accommodation and comfort, but to live as those who will always feel as though they don’t totally fit in.
This is what it means to live on mission in a world where we have an enemy opposing our steps, and this year (as every year), our kids have struggled with these realities. This, too, is good, and we embrace our calling as parents and a school to train and prepare kids to persevere and love faithfully as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven living in the kingdom of the world.
As we put the finishing touches on this school year, I pray you’ll use this time to take a few moments to reflect on God’s work in your children’s lives, and in the life of your family. What have been your great victories this year, and how has God shown his greatness by providing what you needed to experience them? Where did you face trial and defeat, and how did God meet you there, providing for you and teaching you through them? Whether your children had their best year ever, or one you’d rather forget, 20 years as a head of school has taught me that God is always actively at work in their lives, refining and readying them for that day you’ll pull back that arrow and release it, watching them fly straight and true. For all of them, and all of us, this year has been one for the record books.