Most of the time, I write blogs based upon some particular topic the Lord has given me for that week, or something that’s happening in the world around us. Mark Batteson once called writing, “praying with a keyboard,” and so much of my blog-writing is just about something the Lord has shown me that week, or the process of just trying to make sense of something with God. Sometimes, like this week, I write based upon a special request. Consistent with the theme of our annual report, a colleague from work asked me to write on why I choose to work at Grace. At this stage in my career as a head of school, however, a better question might be why do I choose to stay here?
After all, my youngest child graduated last year, and many heads of school leave for different places and different challenges after their kids are grown. Most heads of school around the country are like pastors in many places (though not, blessedly, like most of those in Tyler): most pastors and heads of school tend to move around a great deal. The median tenure of a head of school is five to six years, over a career of twenty-five to thirty years. There was honestly a time when I wondered whether I was also that type of head.
I’ve moved past that era in my life, and the simple answer to why I stay is that, no matter how difficult it gets or how much it wears me out, I love it. God has given me a lifelong love for this place, but mostly for all of you, and I am asking the Lord to allow me to stay for as long as the board and the Lord would allow, as long as He has me in the role as head.
I choose to stay for the relationships that I’ve built over the years. I have had the privilege of working here with the finest people I have ever known. Being an educator is a hard, thankless job, one that will infuriate you, rip your heart out, and have you crying tears of joy, sometimes on the same day. Doing all this in the face of spiritual attack, as one does in a Christian school, bringing the gospel of Jesus Christ to children every day, heightens the effect of living in the emotional washing machine on spin cycle. And, yet, these people with whom I work love so well and are so passionate about preparing the next generation of Christ’s church for mission. I’ve seen it repeatedly throughout the years, but it was never made more real for me than this past fall. It was awe-inspiring to me to watch our teachers and leaders commit to do whatever it took to get and keep kids in-person in school this fall, even when teachers around the country were refusing to return to school, and even when our teachers were, at that time, understandably nervous and didn’t know what COVID would hold for us as we entered the year.
Even now, we still don’t know all that it holds. Yet, to watch our people show up to work every day, demonstrating tremendous flexibility as we have to move the ball on them day after day as circumstances are constantly changing in a way I’ve never witnessed in my years as head, is truly a spectacular thing to behold. It is the body of Jesus Christ, living and active, united around love for Him and love for His children. Even though it’s really hard, being around these people and learning from them, now, as in the past, makes me love coming to work each day.
Being a head of school is a pastoral gig. This is the part I didn’t know when I was a lawyer first coming to work here. If I had known that, I would have run for the hills, terrified and screaming. I simply wasn’t qualified. But, God was gracious. And, I’ve had the privilege of holding hands and putting my arms around moms and dads who have just lost the love of their lives, and who didn’t know from where their next breath would come. I got to watch my students make a love-pile on top of the kid who just lost his daddy, a bunch of knuckle-headed teenaged boys who couldn’t articulate an emotional thought if you gave them Shakespeare’s sonnets, just lying there with their friend, loving him, doing the only thing that could possibly heal him. I got to be present at the hospital when our GCS family’s babies were born, or when they got sick, praying for God to heal children and spouses and parents and grandparents, attending hundreds of funerals when God chose that healing to be ultimate, doing several of those funerals myself and grappling for words that would comfort. Sitting in stands together and watching our kids play, and building auction decorations side-by-side, and going on canoe trips, and celebrating milestones, and raising our children together and praying and providing for one another. Some of you care for my family and me professionally; we are in deep community; you will be at my own children’s weddings (Lord willing) and my own funeral. God has joined our hearts together as we have served the Lord, this community, and our children and teachers arm-in-arm.
And, the kids. Oh, the kids. The hugs from the little ones that can completely transform the most vile and wicked day. The hilarious wit of teenagers as you see their sense of humor and intellect develop before your eyes. The awkwardness of a middle schooler that is simultaneously tragic, adorable, and beautiful, a majestic image-bearer in the ungainly process of transition. Sitting in the principal’s office and having to discipline a group of boys while struggling to keep a straight face over something they’ve done that needs correction, but is actually pretty darn funny. Watching their games, their performances, and their competitions, and seeing their faces light up when you catch them in the hallway the next day when you compliment them on something you saw the night before. Listening to them struggle through a fledgling faith in a profoundly-challenging world, loving them more than you love your hopes for them, because that’s how Jesus loves. Giving them their diplomas, and beaming with pride over the men and women they are becoming.
I choose to stay so I can beg the Lord for the revival of their hearts, and grieve over their failures and apathy, and watch as, for many of them, years later, the things we and their moms and dads and pastors wove into them bear spectacular fruit, through God’s grace and in His timing, often by awful pain, yet feeling my heart soar again as I watch their beautiful, glorious lives rise like a phoenix from the ashes, as only Jesus can do for them. Then, I get to attend their weddings, performing some of them, seeing them become godly whatevers God calls them to be, and godly moms and dads who have babies that sometimes come back to our school and become my babies all over again, God working out His magnificent cycle of faith and life over and over. And, I get a front-row seat, praying and cheering them on.
The average tenure of a head of school is five years. Are you kidding me? And, miss all the good stuff? You’ve got to be out of your mind.
I choose to stay at Grace because these are my people, and I love them.
Jay Ferguson, Ph.D., Head of School at Grace Community School, writes regularly on his blog, JaysBlog.org.