“It’s the relationships,” my dad said into the microphone, his voice quivering as he fought back tears. “They’re what matter most.” As he spoke, I looked over at my son watching his grandpa. Spring Canyon, a place where relationships flourish, was the perfect setting for His words. All of us in the audience needed that reminder to start off our summer—every relationship God provides should be celebrated. Dad was right.
The summer ended, and continuing our spartan tradition, every teacher, counselor, and administrator at Doherty High school met in the gym to welcome the freshmen. Dressed in blue and green, we formed two lines from the spartan helmet painted on the middle of the floor all the way to the main doors.
“Here they come!” someone shouted, and the music started. On cue, our two lines became a tunnel of smiles and thunderous applause for every freshman walking through the doors.
Jason, a giant math teacher with a barrel chest, stood at the beginning of the tunnel.
“You’re here!” he yelled with a smile reaching out for fist bumps. Kids bumped his huge fist and nervously looked away.
Seth, one of the seniors, wore shiny pants, sunglasses and a crazy feathery boa wrapped around his neck. He met the freshmen in the middle of the tunnel.
“Let’s go!” he shouted. “Are you ready for this?” and then he’d dance the rest of the way with them.
In the spotlight, covered in all that celebration, the kids we welcomed didn’t know what to do with themselves. Some stopped at the door in awe of what they were seeing. Some stared down at the floor, avoiding eye contact. And others couldn’t stop giggling.
A few different times, I looked back through the tunnel and watched my colleagues give high fives and pump their fists in celebration. The moment felt sacred. It felt holy, and then I remembered what God had given me a few days before.
I’d been reading through Matthew, and in chapter 18, Jesus can’t stop talking about how crazy He is about kids. “Whoever welcomes one of these little ones in my name,” He said, “welcomes me,” (vs. 5).
Reading Jesus’ words that day, I felt known. He knew in just a few days I’d be welcoming kids into my classroom. Rather than offering ordinary “hellos”, He wanted me to see the sacredness of welcoming. It was a pep talk I needed, one very much like my dad’s, and I closed my Bible with a smile.
The sweet memory of reading my Bible uncovered the reason the tunnel felt so sacred. God was cheering right along with us. He loved those kids more than all of us put together, and our little tunnel of welcome—our hellos—welcomed Him.
That afternoon, just after saying hello to the freshmen, my family and I piled into our minivan for a goodbye we knew was coming. Boxes of Hope’s clothes, bed sheets, and fake plants were stacked in the back. The trip was great, with scattered conversations in between naps, laughter, and one sushi stop in Hayes.
When we finally got to JBU, registration was quick, so we had plenty of time to set up her room and eat. Everyone sat down at lunch, and I went to wash my hands.
“You’re okay,” I said to myself. “This isn’t all that bad.” I was excited for Hope. She was already making new friends, and the campus was amazing. God was taking care of her. I dried my hands and pushed through the door, smiling at people as they passed.
We finished lunch and walked the path to the chapel for “Worship and Welcome”. As the worship band played, I sang with all my heart, trusting God would hold Hope when I couldn’t. People spoke to us about facing change, and then a woman got up to pray.
“After I pray,” she said, “it’ll be time to say goodbye.”
Ugh, I grumbled to myself, did she have to say it like that?
Her prayer ended, and all the families represented in the chapel just sat. Nobody wanted to move. But there was no stopping the goodbyes that had to come.
“Where are you off to first?” Deb asked, forcing a smile. Hope mentioned something about her orientation group. I looked up and saw a daughter hug her dad with tears in her eyes.
“Can we pray for you, Hope?” I asked. She nodded, and I held her hand. All of us leaned toward each other, crouched in our pew.
“God, you are so good. . .” I whispered, and then a wave of emotion hit me all at once. I couldn’t finish.
I waited to recover, but it was useless. Tears were streaming down my face, and when I tried to continue, the words tumbled out of my mouth trembling and weak.
“You’ve been our help,” I whispered, catching my breath and squeezing Hope’s hand. “And you’ll be Hope’s help in this place.” When I finally said “Amen”, we looked up at each other; there were tears in all our eyes. We made our way to the courtyard, and when Joy reached out to hug Hope—little sister to big sister—the tears came again.
We finally walked away, and then I looked back. Hope was searching for her orientation group, wiping her eyes. My heart leapt into my throat, like I was so full of something that my heart was being forced upward; there was sadness for sure, but there was also something more—something wonderfully good.
The pain of leaving Hope was evidence that God had given us a gift, and not only that, but He had done what He said He would do 18 years earlier in a hospital room. He helped us shape that precious gift into something beautiful. As I watched Hope disappear into the crowd, I realized in God’s eyes, ordinary hellos and sad goodbyes aren’t just ordinary and sad. They’re sacred because He’s in them. Like my dad said, it’s the relationships that matter. When we welcome people, we’re welcoming Jesus; when we cry saying goodbye, He cries too; and when we consider the reason we’re crying, we discover, more than anything, that we’re loved.
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