I was reading an article in the May 4th edition of the Wall Street Journal entitled, “A Surprising Way to Stay Resilient.” In the article, Elizabeth Bernstein shared that one miracle technique, more than any other, fortified the “psychological immune system,” a concept mental health experts use to refer to those mental processes that protect our mental health and keep us emotionally resilient, similar to the way the physiological immune system protects us from disease.
What was this powerful technique? Gratitude: reminding ourselves daily of those things for which we are thankful. Says Bernstein, “people who practice being grateful report significantly higher levels of happiness and psychological well-being than those who do not. They are less depressed…they have lower levels of stress hormones, reduced cellular aging. They sleep better. They have more success at work. And they have better relationships.”
I always love when modern science reaffirms what the Author of our minds and bodies has told us for eons—that disciplining our hearts for gratefulness not only honors God, but transforms our lives for God’s glory and our good. It facilitates intimacy with our Lord. In so many ways, gratefulness is the gateway to holiness. It’s why our school theme this year was “growing in gratefulness.”
I have had some particularly holy moments in God’s presence here lately, as I have reflected on what is a personally poignant moment in my season as the head of our school. When I began here, in January 2002, my oldest daughter was already in our junior kindergarten program. I have been a school dad throughout my entire tenure at our school; my “dad run” ends with commencement exercises for the Class of 2020. I’ve spent nineteen years as school parent. When I began, our nation was reeling from the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Now, COVID-19 took the last quarter of my youngest child’s senior year. Think about all we’ve been through as a nation during those years: Presidents Bush, Obama, and Trump; the Great Recession and the longest economic prosperity our nation has known; Survivor, American Idol, and Fixer Upper; the rise and fall of the New England Patriots, the Koby Bryant to LeBron James handoff, and my Dallas Cowboys never being very good.
And, my three little girls who were lost and separated from the Lord God, destined for eternal death, now saved through the blood of Jesus, and brought into a growing, maturing, flourishing relationship with a God who was their enemy, now the lover of their souls—all through the ministry of this school and the incredible, faithful people who have served within it.
Almost everything my wife and I learned about being a parent, we learned from our teachers, our administrators, our peers, and this community. My heart overflows with gratefulness for:
- Sitting in a circle on tiny chairs in a junior kindergarten classroom and praying for the young classmate who was in the four-wheeler crash, that he would survive (he did survive, only to later transfer to a crosstown rival, which led to a series of intense and mostly good-natured basketball games).
- Having my girls’ hair done by the elementary office staff on Picture Day when Mom was out of town for work and Dad was scared, desperate, and hopeless.
- Every word of encouragement I hung onto like a drowning man to a piece of driftwood in the classrooms of every elementary school teacher in precious parent-teacher meetings.
- Laughing with our kindergarten teacher about my kid taking off her socks and putting them in her lunchbox at recess, and convincing all of her classmates to do the same, thus creating a bizarre sock-shedding trend that left all the other parents befuddled as they unpacked lunchboxes at day’s end.
- As young dads, building Habitat for Humanity homes with our daughters on Saturdays; weeks spent floating down the Buffalo River with our girls that resulted in lifetime relationships with godly men that bless me still forged on the river and in the forest; and with little kids who grew to invite me to perform their weddings.
- Standing in the front yard of my house praying in a circle with my child’s friend and her mother as they headed to Dallas to investigate the mysterious numbness in her fingers. Taking my child to the hospital to see that same friend two weeks later, after she had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. The night in that friend’s honor at the Grace football game; reading the Psalms into her ear as she took her last, dying breath; and speaking God’s Word to the school family at her funeral, and again into my grieving daughter’s ear.
- Our cheer coach, and the way she molded and shaped my girls through tough love, teaching them to pursue excellence, holding them fiercely accountable, yet never letting them doubt her love for them.
- The sophomore teachers rallying around my middle child when she had mono from MLK Day to June. We were the vanguards of virtual schooling, five years before it was cool. And, they did it for countless other kids, proving it wasn’t simply because she was my daughter.
- Countless nights at football games, cheering on other people’s boys, and cheering on my cheerleaders and Cougarettes. That was why we thought we were there, but God really gathered us to talk about life, and parenting, and kids with those pesky free wills who just wouldn’t do exactly what we want them to do, instead encouraging each other to rest in God’s grace for all those things we couldn’t control, only to find out years later that God’s grace was the absolute best place for them to be.
- Walking my kid and her classmates through yet another death of a friend, this time by his own hand—once again preaching a funeral for a child.
- Building football stadiums, circuses, Hollywood sets, and trains as auction sets with other dads as we worked hard and late into the night to raise money for our school.
- Watching thousands of games, concerts, plays, and programs, some of which were dreadful (7th-grade girls’ basketball) and some sublime (high school Christmas concerts—crying through the “Hallelujah Chorus” and that one senior’s solo of “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee”). And, always marveling at the excellence our teachers and coaches brought forth from my kids and everyone else’s children.
- Listening to all of my kids recite John 3, God’s Word woven into their hearts, and hearing their first-grade teacher’s voice channeled through them.
- Kindergarten graduations, 5th-grade graduations, 8th-grade graduations, and high school graduations (we are a graduating, celebrating people!)
- My kids coming home and telling me something their freshman English teacher shared with them, or how much they enjoyed Friday afternoon dance party in junior high, or my youngest going on and on about the Congress of Vienna project, or how cathartic the pottery wheel and her art teacher was for her emotional angst, and everything they learned and everyone they learned it from.
- The pain from getting cut from the soccer team and the joy of making the cheer team, and the ecstasy of having great, lifelong school friends, the pain of being rejected by others as will happen in life, and the precious and lifelong lessons God taught all of us through all of that—seasons we’re not aching to repeat, but would never trade for all the world.
And finally, three special elementary teachers who were strategically instrumental in leading my girls to Jesus, and to all of their teachers, coaches, and friends who have discipled them along the way. They will walk and play and live alongside their Savior in the New Jerusalem because of the work of those faithful saints, and for all the many words I have, I just don’t have enough to thank all of them for that.
Like so many of you, our older kids are living with us now during quarantine, in what sometimes seems really annoying but which I know we’re going to look back on as a deep blessing. My wife and I were talking about our girls and what they’ve become, and we were completely cognizant of the fact that we really cannot take credit for any of it. But, these people at this school can, along with all those precious souls who came before them.
It has been a good season to lead, and a good year. And, I have grown in gratefulness.
About the Author
Jay Ferguson, JD, PhD, is the headmaster of Grace Community School, Tyler, Texas. He practiced law for 10 years and, in 2002, joined Grace as development director before assuming the headmaster role in 2003. He’s written extensively on Christian education and training children, including his weekly blog, JaysBlog. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.