Firsts and lasts

A couple weeks ago I attended the very last preschool program I will ever attend for my children.  Come August, I will send my daughter, the youngest of my three children, off to kindergarten and a new chapter will begin.  Although the imminent onset of a new journey is exciting and promising, the closing of this chapter is riddled with sentiment and sadness.  And as I sat watching my five year old sing silly songs and tender ballads, I found myself grieving much more than her last preschool program.  I found myself grieving all the lasts that I’ve inadvertently missed along the way.  It’s a funny thing about lasts.  They’re so easy to miss.  This is not at all the case with firsts.  Most of the firsts my children experienced were well documented and celebrated.  Their first tooth is tucked safely away in a keepsake box.  Their first words are written in scrapbooks and recalled regularly.  First steps, first days of school, first dances and first friends have all been acknowledged and recorded.  But the lasts?  They have been sorely overlooked and tonight I long to revisit them.  I don’t recall the last time my 12 year old called me mommy or when he lost his last tooth.  I don’t remember the last time my 10 year old let me hold him on the couch or hold his hand as we walked. And I couldn’t tell you the day my daughter stopped mispronouncing her brother’s name or decided she no longer needed me to catch her on the slide.  I wish I did.  I would give a great deal to know those moments and give them the farewell they deserved.  But the truth is, you just don’t see the lasts coming.  How do you know when you send your child out the door one morning that it will be the last time he or she comes running back to give you a hug?  How could you ever anticipate the last flower they will pick for you or silly picture they will draw?  And who would ever be able to predict the last night you read your child a bedtime story?  All these things are milestones and rites of passage I would have liked to record or at least recognize.

As I look back, however, I am deeply grateful for that wonderful group of servants who have shared with our family so many of the firsts and lasts.  Teachers.  They are really a remarkable group.  They are the markers of time and our children’s biggest fans.  Each year they equip, encourage and raise up a group of children and love them despite the reality that their time with them is measured and short.  They love them as their own and do so, not because of obligation or necessity, but because of passion.  I have never once met a teacher who is in it for glory, notoriety or financial gain.  Every teacher I have met teaches for the love of it.  And more importantly, for the love of the children she shares his or her day with.

In Matthew 18:5, Jesus says, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me…”  I wonder sometimes, if Jesus had teachers in mind when he spoke those words.  Frankly, I believe it is the heart and soul of a teachers calling.  They feel a tug on their hearts to become the physical hands and feet of Christ and they lovingly give themselves over to the mission.  They humbly add brushstrokes to a great masterpiece they may never see completed.  They gracefully weave beautiful threads into the tapestries of our children knowing full well they will not witness the finished work.

I cannot accurately convey my appreciation for my children’s teachers.  A simple thank you seems wholly inadequate.  I am profoundly grateful for the unconditional love they display; for their commitment to receive each child that comes their way; for their sacrificial willingness to be Christ to the children around them; and for their unwavering dedication to celebrate the firsts, the lasts, and each remarkable moment in between.

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