Life Together

As a school community, we love structure, habit, and routine. You as parents know better than anyone, when we stray from our routines it can be a burden on families.

For example, in the last few weeks we had an exciting stretch of success on our athletic courts: our girls and boys basketball teams both played in state tournaments in the valley. Events like these are great for building community.

Except for when the games occur during the school day.

Both our games did.

So, we cancelled a class here and there and moved a few things around so our students could attend the games and support our teams. This works great for some families, but not others; if you are working or on the other side of the valley, it can be impossible to get your student to a basketball game at 1:30 in the afternoon.

Such moments are ripe for the grace that is living in Christian community. I received an email after one of the tournament games from a mom, whose daughter is in Jr. High. The email read:

“[My daughter] really wanted to go to the basketball game taking place today.  We talked about it on Monday and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get away from work to take her.  On her own initiative, she reached out to [an older girl student] to see if she would take her…. The fact that [my daughter] felt secure enough to initiate reaching out to [the older student] intrigued me and made me happy; [that she] happily agreed to take her, thoroughly impressed me!  I’m continually amazed and thankful for the unique culture of Ambrose’s upper school – 7th through 12th graders living together in supportive community.  It’s wonderful!  Truly a very special place in which to grow.”Life Together 2

These students are not related. They don’t even have siblings that know one another. The world would see them as a Jr. High kid and a Sr. High kid, whose social spheres could reasonably be expected to be miles apart; however, at our school they are bound together by the close cords of Christian community. The life we have in Christ is more than enough to overcome anything that might separate them.

In his book on Christian community, Life Together, the German pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote of Christian community, “what is an unspeakable gift of God for the lonely individual is easily disregarded and trodden under foot by those who have the gift every day…. Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living a common Christian life with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of his heart.” He later called living in Christian community the “roses and lilies” of the Christian life; the adornments that make life rich and sweet.

As Bonhoeffer said – and this mom thankfully reminded me – a K-12 school where we live life together in Christian community “is an unspeakable gift of God.” That gift pours out blessings of many kinds: love and support in tough times; joy and celebration in moments of success; a gentle pick up when we stumble and fall.

And, of course, an occasional ride to a basketball game to cheer on the Archers.

New Creations

Our boys athletics programs have experienced a lot of success, and our girls programs are quickly catching up. That’s why it was widely celebrated in our community when the varsity girls basketball team secured a state tournament birth for the first time in school history.

But just under the surface there were developments that were even more worthy of celebration than a state tournament run. The night our girls won to secure a place in the tournament, our coaches received a text message from a mom of one of the New Creationsplayers, quoted below in part:

“Tonight was 100,000 times more amazing than any single minute… in 12 years [of athletics]… because like you told the girls they could play 110% free tonight because they had Christ and… they could sit on the bench 110% free because they had Christ. It wasn’t about a performance it was for Christ. My heart is so full.”

This mom’s heart was full because she watched her daughter experience in a tangible way this powerful reality: her identity was not tied up in how many points she scored, how many rebounds she had, how many minutes she logged. Win or lose, play or not play, succeed or fail, it didn’t matter; she was secure in Christ, and a peace and joy followed. Her mother’s heart was full.

The dominant and secular culture around us is constantly trying to dictate to our students their identity: athlete, fashionista, beautiful or not, success or failure, etc. One of our Goals of a Graduate is to cultivate in students virtue and mature character; central to mature Christian character is a profound understanding that our identity is secure in the person and unchanging love of Jesus.

In his second letter to the Corinthian church, the Apostle Paul wrote, “[Christ] died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again…. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” As Christians, those old things that once defined us – success or failure, popular or unpopular, loved or despised, rich or poor – have passed away. We have become new creations and as such the world can no longer impose its identity on us. We are Christ’s, and nothing can separate us from His love.

May our hearts be full!

Earthen Vessels

On occasion a parent will approach me with the notion that our school is only for the exceptionally gifted. They are concerned that the only way for students to succeed at our school is with a Newtonian intellect or a Faustian bargain. Neither is true.

One of the most inspirational students I’ve met in my seven years at Ambrose is Ana. If you haven’t met Ana, you need to: Ana is from rural Mexico, and she transferred into our school mid-year of her sophomore year. She learned of The Ambrose School through her aunt and uncle, and her cousins who attend school here. In her hometown in Mexico, Ana’s secondary education was limited to vocational training, and her family wanted more for her.

When Ana transferred to Ambrose, her English was really good for someone working in their second language, but it wasn’t at the level of a native English speaker. In her own words, “Thucydides was the first book I read here. It was really tough!” What Ana didn’t know at the time is that Thucydides is a really tough read for a native English speaker – how tough he must be for someone reading him in a second language!

Yet Ana is flourishing in every way. Through hard work and a never-quit attitude – by her own report Ana studies 2 to 3 hours each night – Ana has a gpa far north of 3.0. Her English fluency has grown by leaps and bounds.

While I know Ana has worked incredibly hard to engage with Aristotle in her second language, that hasn’t stopped her from maintaining balance in her life. Ana is a very talented and dedicated tennis player, investing about 12 hours a week in practice and tournaments. She also plays on The Ambrose School varsity basketball team this season, and her enthusiasm and determination on the court have earned her the loving nickname “El Tornado” from her teammates.

Despite all this, Ana’s academics and balance are not the things I find most remarkable about her. What I find most amazing is how Ana has embraced our community. The nature of a K-12 school like ours can sometimes make it difficult for students to integrate; many of our students have known each other for 10 years or more by the time they graduate. Add to that the mid-year transfer and the obvious language barrier, and Ana had every excuse to remain on the fringe.

I was worried.image1

I’ve never been more wrong.

Ana immediately invested herself in the community, attending House every chance she could, going to sporting events and group study sessions, and making friends quickly with her characteristic joy and easy smile.

Our community also invested in Ana. Her homeroom teacher made sure a welcome basket was ready for her on Ana’s first day of school. Students wrote her letters and emails before she even made it to the States. There were movie invites, letters of encouragement, and friendly smiles. Lots of smiles.  Ask her, and she’ll tell you: “My favorite thing at Ambrose is the community. I love how the House program brings us all together. If you walk down the hallways, everyone knows your name and says ‘hi’ to you. I love that!”

Ana is now a pillar in our student body, so much so that I can’t imagine our school community without her.

Paul, writing in 1 Corinthians 4:7, wrote this: “[W]e have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.” Paul was writing of his own circumstances and how the life of Christ was made manifest in his own trials, but the same principle applies to us. So often we fall into the trap of honoring the wrong things: when we get that promotion at work, we honor our own hard work instead of honoring God; similarly, when our students have success in the classroom, volleyball courts, or in their friend groups, we honor the gifts instead of the Gift-giver.

The excellence of all we do is from God and not from us. It took a teenage girl from Mexico coming to our school mid-year to study Thucydides and Chemistry in her second language to remind me of that fact. For that, I am immensely grateful.

Love Thy Neighbor

I’ve become captivated by cross country meets. It seems to me that the entire sport is built around one’s ability to suffer well: “run three miles as fast as you can.”

The essence of the sport is to push your body to the very edge of utter physical exhaustion. Our varsity cross country coach (whom I know fairly well) has a favored saying: “if you get to the finish line and you aren’t bleeding, crying, or vomiting, then you had something left in the tank.”

I have my own saying, “There are two kinds of people in this world: those who openly admit running is miserable, and liars.” (I jest. Mostly.)

As such, the drama involved in a cross country race is compelling. Runners approach the end of a race and they are in the very throes of physical anguish. This makes crowd participation even more important than for most sports. Cheering for and supporting all runners up to the very finish line is essential.

However, cross country is like most sports: there is a wide chasm between the elite runners and those who finish last. As you might expect, there is always a huge crowd gathered at the finish line for the elite runners who are competing for 1st place finishes; when the last runners come through, which can be 10 to 15 minutes later, it is typically only coaches and parents who linger to cheer them on to the finish.

Sometimes they’re not even around.

At the district meet this past week, the varsity girls race was nearing the end. All but 2 runners had finished. The boys varsity race was ready to start, and virtually all the spectators had migrated over to the starting line. Mr. Velasco was headed that direction when he noticed the last two runners from a competing school struggling towards the finish line: none of their teammates, coaches, or even their parents appeared to be there to support their final struggle towards the finish line.

That’s when Mr. Velasco heard it:22519508_10154727157167331_5064391673815005944_n

“Come on! You can do it!”

“You’re almost there! Finish strong!”

“Good job! All the way home!”

Cheers. Love. Support.

A group of ten Archer runners – all Jr. High kids – had remained at the finish line to cheer the final two runners on to the end. Mr. Velasco may have been the only adult to witness it, but I promise you the two runners noticed.

22492017_10154727157202331_5846043773300361182_nMatthew 22:36-40 contains God’s two greatest commandments to us as Christians; the second of those states, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” This cuts against the grain of everything our hedonistic culture tells us to do: “be yourself,” “do what feels right to you,” “have it your way,” etc. This is a hopelessly selfish and narcissistic philosophy, but it provides a powerful opportunity to us to be the lights of the world. When the world sees us first loving God and, out of that, loving them, they will notice.

Especially when that love comes at the very edge of misery, like at the end of a three-mile run.

The Light of the World

The Bob Firman Cross Contry meet is one of the largest high school sporting events in Idaho: 4,900 athletes representing hundreds of schools from nine different states plus Canada descend upon tiny Eagle Island State Park for a single day of running insanity.

Amidst such insanity, there are many moments for our students to shine the light of Christ to people they will not likely meet again. One such story came to me via text message from a friend whose wife works at one of our rival schools:

“At the Firman Meet – 493 middle schoolers – most chanting dumb things, singing songs, etc….”

I work with those lovable middle schoolers fairly often: “most chanting dumb things” sounds like an understatement. But it was the rest of my friend’s text message that was refreshingly rare.

“Then Ambrose chants: ‘God, Family, Team, Self! I have chills.”

There are two things about this story that I would like to draw to your attention. First, this is not something the Jr. High cross country team does in isolation: the idea that Christian rightly order what he or she loves so that the right thing is loved to the right degree is a regular part of our classroom conversation. The chant itself has its roots in a decade of Coach Hosier reinforcing rightly ordered affections to his varsity basketball boys: “The Big Five” as he called it, in order: God, Family, School, Team, and then Self.

The second thing I’d like to point out is my friend’s reaction to our runners’ prerace chant. It should surprise no one that he was emotionally moved by what is really a very simple thing. As the culture around us grows increasingly secular, the opportunity to be a light in a darkening world similarly grows. Something like a simple prerace cheer can become an inspirational moment.

Matthew 5:14-16 reads in part, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden….  Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” At the center of the Christian life is the truth that the world around us will notice as we live our lives for Jesus. The Christ-centered life is in its essence counter-culture. As our students grow in virtue and mature character, they will necessarily be different than their peers; they will be lights in a dark world.

The light will shine in every place, even in the moments before a Jr. High cross country race: “God, family, team, self!”