My 62 birthday is approaching. I’m still not used to having a 6 at the beginning of the number that marks my age. That’s a good thing, though, since I don’t really feel sixty, at least not most of the time. I’m around pre-schoolers, elementary aged children and middle school students five days a week, so every day has a lot of variety that comes with it and a lot of fun. I love what I do. I’ve spent almost an entire career working in education, most of that in Christian schools, some of it leading short-term mission projects for teenagers and college students, some of it in either vocational ministry or as a church member volunteering for service. For me, the sense of inner peace and fulfillment is very high, because I’ve spent most of my lifetime doing something I genuinely enjoy and which I believe has fulfilled the will of God in my life. Oh, He’s not done yet, and neither am I.
There were a lot of things that I dreamed about doing when I was a kid. I remember when the “mini-bike” came out. Small versions of motorcycles capable of hitting speeds of 35 MPH, it was a big desire to have one for a 13 year old who was longing for a driver’s license and it seemed to represent personal independence that a bicycle just didn’t allow. Everyone at school talked about owning one and when the local Western Auto put one in the display window, I made sure my Dad saw it. My parents had the wisdom to realize that what I saw as a new level of independence was actually a heightened level of danger. Minibikes weren’t allowed on the roads, and the backroads and trails in the desert surrounding the community where we lived weren’t exactly a good place to turn kids loose with a motor vehicle. Though my friend next door and I dreamed up a minibike adventure trip to Disneyland, few of our classmates ever actually owned one. Neither one of us ever did. My Dad did let me ride the Yamaha 100 motorcycle he used to ride to work until he got in a carpool, but he never let me ride it to school.
My dreams of travel did materialize, not only in family trips across the country to visit relatives that allowed me to visit 20 different states by the time I graduated from high school. My interest in short term missions expanded my travel to different places during college and I spent summers in West Virginia and Missouri as a result. Now, after more than 30 years of short-term summer missions projects or involvement of one kind or another, I’ve been in 32 states and seven foreign countries. Not all of that involved short term missions, but most of it did. Those short-term missions experiences have been among the most meaningful spiritual experiences of my entire life. The presence of God is very real in an atmosphere where there is a need being met and there is a group of people gathered together for the specific purpose of meeting that need. Spending the day in ministry that is difficult and requires focus and commitment is supported by prayer which leads to experiencing the presence of God through his Holy Spirit.
Growing up in a small town in Arizona was, for the most part, a good experience. Of course, it had its limits but we were fortunate enough to be close to the larger cities. Tucson was less than an hour, Phoenix just under three hours driving time. I went to college in Phoenix which afforded the experience of living in a large city and being exposed to all of the things, good and bad, that life in the city encompasses. My travels heightened my interest in experiencing life in different places. That’s been an adventure in and of itself. We live in a day and age where technology advancement brings experiences to your computer screen, but there’s nothing like the cultural education you get when you get to live in different places.
I’ve been blessed by being able to do work that I love and to which I feel called to do by God and to have been able to live in six different states from the Southwest to the Deep South, the Mid-South, the Northeast and the Midwest, in Arizona, Texas, Missouri, Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Illinois. I’ve lived in the desert, where it’s “a dry heat” and where it’s rare to find a stream that runs when it’s not raining and on the gulf coast through three hurricanes and several tropical storms where I’ve seen four inches of rain come down in an hour and as much as twenty inches in a 24 hour day. I’ve experienced “polar vortexes” when the temperature dropped to minus 24 below zero and summer afternoons when it was 122 in the shade and the airport had to stagger the landing of airplanes because the heat rising from the runway played havoc with the radar. On two occasions, because of work, I drove through blizzards that put down 30 inches of snow.
There’s nothing like having cool, comfortable evenings night after night during the fall and spring in places like Missouri and Kentucky, where the leaves turning in the fall create some of the most beautiful scenery that exists on earth. Never having seen that kind of scenery while I was growing up, I would catch my breath almost every day when I would head home from work when we lived in Western Pennsylvania and crested the hill in late October, as the scene of yellows, golds, oranges, reds and purples unfolded in the valleys below. We’d take a Saturday drive down the Ohio River from Beaver, Pennsylvania to Wheeling, West Virginia just to look at the fall colors on both sides of the river. I’ve seen a frozen-over Lake Erie in winter and have driven the shoreline in spring as it begins to thaw.
I’ve now lived in the third, fourth and fifth largest cities in the United States. Chicago, Houston and Phoenix, respectively, as well as within half an hour’s drive of Pittsburgh and an hour’s drive of Nashville. All of those places afford a rich variety of cultural experiences and for someone who is a history teacher at heart, they are loaded with their own stories. I’ve lived close enough to Philadelphia and Washington, DC to visit there frequently and my work has afforded opportunities in legislative advocacy on behalf of Christian schools that has allowed me to find myself in hallways of the Capitol Building on both sides where tourists don’t get to visit. There’s a feeling that you get, as an American, that can’t be explained when you are standing in that room in the National Archives in Washington where both the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence are kept, and in that room in Independence Hall in Philadelphia where they were written.
I’ve also lived in a large town with a university three blocks down from my house. That was an interesting experience. Bowling Green, Kentucky is one of those places that is just the right size to avoid some of the headaches of big city life, like traffic, but also to have the kind of shopping and medical services so that trips to the city were infrequent and mainly for enjoyment. Having the university meant that there was Division 1 football and basketball and when we lived there, Western Kentucky University had one of the best women’s basketball programs in the country. We moved there after living five and a half years in a small town in the Missouri Ozarks that was a two hour drive from Springfield, the closest city of any size. That was a whole different experience, but one that we also enjoyed. High school football on Friday night as the weather turns crisp, the serene beauty of the fall colors on the mountains, or at least, what passed for mountains in Southern Missouri, and a place where church was community, when you invited “everyone” over after church on Sunday night and thirty people showed up and stayed until 11.
For most of my career, I’ve been able to teach children in a school setting where the learning objectives were connected to Biblical truth because the philosophy of education of the school for which I was working recognized that you can’t separate the truth that God has revealed through his word from any educational experience. Without an understanding and belief that God exists, that he created us in his image, and that he is the power that created and sustains the entire universe, knowledge is learned in a vacuum that doesn’t provide students with a way to develop wisdom based on objective standards that provide a solid foundation for life. It’s been a privilege to serve students and families in Christian schools where we teach students to combat ignorance with truth, where hope rests on the understanding that we have a God who loved us enough to provide us with “salvation” that we can’t achieve without his strength so that they can face the world with confidence and be part of the solution to problems instead of creating problems.
Social media has permitted me to keep up with many of my former students and it has been very encouraging to see how most of them have embraced their life by turning to their faith in God and answering his call for their life. There are no guarantees that any student in a Christian school will grow and mature in their faith experience. Some students pursue their own goals and interests and don’t give much consideration to faith in Christ, some wander without a sense of purpose or direction. But most of them find their way to Christian maturity at some point in their lives. I consider it one of the highest privileges of my life to have, at some point, come into contact with them and served them as a teacher. I’m well beyond being able to count them. You don’t always get much of a hint, when they’re in your classroom, about what kind of impact you might be having in your life. I deeply appreciate those who have found a way to let me know now, that I did indeed have an impact on their life. More than anything else, that is a dream fulfilled.
Remind them to be submissive to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle and to show perfect courtesy to all people. Titus 3:1, ESV