A God Who Works in the Shadows

Every year the teachers and I have the weighty responsibility of selecting student leaders for our House program. Every year we have somewhere around three applicants for every one position. Students and staff alike take the process very seriously. Through the process we typically make great decisions, selecting the best students for the job; on occasion, we don’t.

A sophomore student applied for leadership: he was bright, charismatic, highly motivated, deeply involved in the House program, a natural leader from a family of natural leaders. Due to a variety of reasons, he wasn’t selected for House leadership; it was one of those occasions where we didn’t make the right decision. The student was terribly discouraged. His disappointment drove him to a dark place, but his response was noteworthy: though he is of a generation that glorifies and embraces victim status, that feels entitled to trophies just for showing up, and demands safe spaces and trigger warnings, this student chose to respond in a better way. He became even more supportive and involved in the House program.

A year later, as a soon-to-be senior, he applied for House leadership again. During the interview, I asked him how he walked through his disappointment from the previous year. His answer was both inspiring and humbling. He said: “I was really disappointed, and honestly mad, so I went outside and played ultimate Frisbee for two hours. And then I made up my mind that I was going to be the best House member I could be. I was going to act like a House leader even if I didn’t have the title. Participate in everything, even take a leadership role whenever I could. I didn’t want to feel sorry for myself and be selfish, but I instead wanted to support my friends.”

And he did just that. The second time around, we not only made him a House leader, but a House president. He rewarded our decision by becoming one of our very best.

Psalm 23:4 reads: “[T]hough I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me.” Disappointments come to us all in one form or another, and they can drive us to dark and shadowy places in life. Those moments often define us: will we spiral further in despair and turn from God, or will we embrace the disappointment as a chance to grow closer to the God Who can sustain us in such times? When we do the latter, God is faithful to work in those shadows and shape us in to the people He wants us to be.

And those people tend to make the very best House presidents.

An Imperishable Crown

Amazing things happen in unexpected places. Just such a thing happened at a Jr. High cross country race earlier this year. The course was laid out through a heavily wooded area, and the path was not clearly marked. Nearing the end of the race, one of our junior high boys was in second place, right on the heels of a runner from Parma. Unexpectedly, the Parma athlete took a wrong turn, and our runner had the perfect opportunity to take over first place.

Only he didn’t. The Archer runner stopped, yelled directions to the Parma runner, and waited for him to come back to the right course and get back in first place.

Stopping wasn’t premeditated. Our runner didn’t do it because his parents were watching or compelling him. He didn’t agonize over a complex moral dilemma for weeks. He just did it because it was the right thing to do, despite a dominant culture that praises winning at all costs.

Our runner was never able to overtake the other boy, finishing in second place. It wasn’t until the Parma runner asked one of our coaches to thank our student that anyone was even aware of what had taken place.

I Corinthians 9:24-27 reads in part: “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.…. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.” I can’t remember who won any other race all season, but I will eternally remember who finished second at that race. That’s an imperishable crown. At The Ambrose School we talk often about rightly ordered affections – loving the right things to the right degree – and this is a particularly poignant example of a student doing just that. Our runner loves winning, to be sure; but there are higher things he loves even more. To God be all the glory.

Against Such There is No Law

It was an administrator’s worst nightmare: 234 teenagers packed in to a gym with no direction whatsoever. I’m not sure there was even another adult in the room. It was Exordium morning, and it was long past time to start the program by singing the hymn of the month. Yet, nothing was happening. The choir was on the stage, looking at me with questioning faces. I made eye contact with a student, and he mouthed, “Piano?” Our beloved pianist was nowhere to be found.

I panicked, and did just about the worst thing a leader could do at that moment: I ran out of the gym. I intended to find the pianist and get her to the gym right quick, but it took me several painful minutes to track her down. Once I found her, I fully expected to return to the gym to find junior high boys having chicken fights in the back, an aerial battle of paper airplanes flying to and fro, and a number of other horrors too terrible to mention.

Instead I entered the gym to the dulcet sounds of 234 teenagers singing All Creatures of Our God and King acapella. No adult led them in it. No one even instructed them to do it. 234 teenagers just did it on their own. It was completely organic: the choir took the lead, and all the other students joined in. I suspect most students were not even aware of what had happened. They just did what they knew to do.

Galatians 5:22-23 reads: “[T]he fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.” That morning was a clear example of a group of teenage students exhibiting the fruits of the Spirit, namely faithfulness, self-control, goodness, etc. – not because they were compelled to, but because those virtues have been cultivated in them by the Holy Spirit alive and at work in their lives.

The cultivation of virtue works, and against such there is no law.