Last year, on the last day of last summer, we rolled out the red carpet.
Right there, in my brown-grassed backyard, with a dozen families and too-many-to-count kids, we stepped into the school year with dancing feet. And prancing feet. Cartwheeling feet and flipping feet.
We were a marvelous mix of preschoolers and pre-teens; first-graders and fifth-graders, proud new freshman and veteran elementary school students. And when morning came those feet would walk through the doors of public schools and Christian schools, of home schools and preschools. But there was one thing that all those feet had in common. Each pair would step into a new school year covered in prayer.
That’s why we were gathered on the edge of that red carpet stretched out across the brittle August grass.
We’d enjoyed a barbecue and yard games, had exchanged stories and laughter, but highlight of the night was what happened after that.
I’d rallied the kids in a circle on the lawn, and I’d told them about that verse in Philippians 2:15, the one that invites us to shine like stars in the universe. I’d reminded them that when they walked through the doors of their schools in the morning they wouldn’t be alone. The Light of the World would be right beside them.
And because of His faithful feet next to theirs, they could waltz into a new school year like a star, radiant with the love of Christ.
Little ones had smiled. And medium ones had nodded. Even the too-cool teens had met my gaze.
“Hollywood’s got nothing on God’s children,” I’d told my captive audience as the sun started slipping orange and drippy behind the horizon and the mosquitoes began to hum. “Your Heavenly Father is the Creator of radiance, the Inventor of shimmer, the Mastermind of sparkle. And if you stick with him in the days ahead, He’ll shine right through you.”
I’d looked straight into the eyes of those precious faces, children whom I’d held in my arms just days after their arrival, tweens whom I’d mentored and teens who had gathered around my table a hundred times over the years. I’d eyeballed each one, and right then and there as the humid Iowa heat settled thick all around us, I ‘d told them the truth of their identity. And I’d prayed that it would stick to their hearts just like the sweat beads sticking to our foreheads.
“You were made to be a star. You were created to shine for Jesus.“
And just so they didn’t forget, I’d invited them to walk the red carpet.
‘Cause that’s what stars do. And I’ve always believed that living life with Jesus just demands a little gala.
And so, they crossed the red carpet. They strutted and pranced. Paraded and danced. Leaped and loped and frolicked.
And when all had taken a turn, I invited them to slow their feet so we could launch them into a new school year.
They huddled and kneeled and waited, and parents surrounded them in prayer.
With voices lifted high, we asked God to guide their feet, to set holy love aflame within their hearts, to protect them under the shelter of His wings.
We prayed for their teachers and their classmates, their principals and their coaches. We asked that God’s truth would reign in their minds, that their eyes would see Him and their ears would hear Him. We begged God to do immeasurably more than we could ask or imagine. And we pleaded that when all was said and done, these shining stars would not be overcome by darkness, but would carry the Light of Jesus into their schools with courage and joy.
We didn’t use scripts or flowery words. We stammered and stuttered and some stood quiet. We pressed through awkward silences and fumbled to give voice to the cry of our hearts. But we tossed up fervent pleas and we trusted that the One who loved our children more than we did was listening.
We were just a group of imperfect parents lifting up our greatest treasures to our Perfect Savior, moms and dads believing that as we huddled around our children, the King of Glory would encircle our lives.
It seemed fitting that by the time we finished praying, the first star of the evening was twinkling quietly in the dimming sky above, almost as if God was winking at us, His heart beating in agreement with our humble requests.
Fast forward nine months and a thousand steps. Fast forward to a new house in a new state in a new town.
Fast forward to the end of the school year we’d launched in prayer with that red carpet and those hope-filled pleas.
Fast forward to the beginning of another summer waiting to unfold.
On the last day of school before the first day of summer, I am sitting by a window overlooking another backyard far from that grass where the red carpet had lain.
I watch dawn arrive with muted streams of pink, and I study the trees in my new backyard, those emerald arms reaching for heaven. And for some reason, those trees make me think about the hands of all those parents stretching over their children on a sultry August night and the believing words that had spilled passionate from one mama’s mouth as she’d prayed beneath the setting sun.
Lord, we cannot go to school with these children, but we know you can. And you will. No matter where they go, they will never be out of your reach....
The frogs had been singing their nighttime rap, the children wiggling and whispering, but a holy stillness had hovered above the hum as we claimed God’s promises over the precious lives crammed sweaty and squirmy between us.
And a thousand steps later, as the sun rises silent over the treetops out my window, that mama’s old prayer brings fresh tears to my eyes.
No matter where life takes us, we are never out of God’s reach.
Even when life takes twists and turns we hadn’t expected.
Sometimes God’s truth only sinks as deep as the canyon through which we’re hiking. And this year, that truth has submerged deep within my soul.
When we’d gathered on the edge of that red carpet last August, I never dreamed that our children would end the school year in a different place than they’d began. I had no idea that the our family’s promise to follow wherever God led would take us on a road that wound east, far from the place we’d come to call home.
It’s been a wild walk since the last night of summer beneath the orange streaked sky in our backyard bordered by cornfields.
So many steps. So many tears. So many prayers. So many nights of clinging to God’s faithfulness. So many mornings of begging for fresh mercy.
There on the edge of my big leather chair near the window, I waver between pouting and praying. And as I grapple for words to pray on the last day of this momentous school year, I realize that my feet are just plain tired.
I don’t feel like prancing or dancing. I don’t feel like a brightly shining star.
I feel like limping or quitting or at least going back to bed before the day really starts.
A black squirrel is curled up in the nook of that crooked branch beyond the glass, and I suddenly picture my littlest boy curled up beneath the nook of my arm. We were lying in his top bunk just weeks after we’d moved, his pillow soaked with tears. He’d opened his droopy green eyes and asked me one last question before he’d succumbed to sleep.
I’d kissed his hair and murmured, Yes, I remember.
“Well, it was a easier to say that before God asked us to follow Him to Michigan, don’t you think?”
I’d choked on a sob myself, so overwhelmed with the task of helping five children find their way along the new path God had paved. And I’d grown quiet, thinking long about the truth of my son’s declaration.
Finally, I’d sighed and simply whispered, “Yep. It’s always easier to say than to do…That’s why it’s called putting feet to your faith.”
Josh had rolled over, his snuffles slowly ceasing, and then he’d pulled his legs to his knees and confessed with a jagged breath, “Maybe that’s why my feet are so tired tonight.”
I hadn’t known whether to laugh or cry, so I’d just lay there in the top bunk with my littlest boy, rubbing those weary feet of his and begging for strength to keep walking the unexpected road that stretched before us.
My prayer journal lies open on my lap as I perch by the window. And I feel like I should apologize to my Heavenly Father for my sluggish feet. Or my wordless prayers.
But before I wake the kids for their last day of school, I scan the pages of my own scrawl, and I see it clearly in hindsight—There, captured in my own wobbly words are bold leaps of trust and desperate pleas for grace. And a thousand steps in the dark with the Light of the World at my side.
I realize it as the birds trill noisy in the morning light, though my path has taken twists and turns, I haven’t left that red carpet.
His life laid down for mine; His blood spilled red so I can walk in His strength.
That’s my story. And that’s yours, too.
So whether I follow him down the hill in my own backyard or out of town or across the globe, He will always provide exactly what I need for the next step.
Then as I limp weary up the stairs to rouse my sleeping sojourners for their last day of school, I decide to give myself some grace.
Because according to the top-bunk-wisdom of a seven-year-old boy, sometimes tired toes are just a quiet reminder that we’ve been putting feet to our faith.