I was fifteen when I finished my last high school textbook. I set it down with a huge sigh of relief. School was one of the greatest drains on my time. There were so many things I wanted to do—write books, travel, plant gardens, teach children…who has time for schoolwork?
My parents, however, weren’t quite ready for me to be a free-agent. So, instead of getting me “working papers” to allow me to get a full-time job, they extended my schooling. “You can graduate at sixteen,” my dad told me, “but until then we want you to enter the School of Servanthood.”
I’m sure he made the name up on-the-spot. He’s just like that.
The next day we went through our church directory and picked out four families with young children. Phone calls were made and my parents offered the families my help one day a week. I still had weekends and a weekday to myself, but the rest of my time would be spent helping and encouraging families in the Body of Christ.
As my father hoped, the experience was life-changing. That season of serving eased me into adulthood. My understanding of the world, and family, and life, deepened.
I did whatever was needed most. For one family, I usually mopped their floors and caught up on their laundry. For another, I watched the children for the day so the mom could go grocery shopping without having to unbuckle any car seats. Another family had newborn twins, and the mom struggled with postpartum depression, so I helped with the babies, told her jokes to make her laugh, and kicked her out of the house to go for long walks in the sunshine to help her hormones regulate. Another family had many health problems and had to be careful what they ate, so I helped grind flours and cook meals and bake special breads to keep in the freezer so they had quick things to eat for the week to come.
But it wasn’t just about what I could do for them, though hopefully I was an encouragement. It was also about what I learned from stepping into the homes of people from all different walks of life.
From one family I learned quick and efficient cleaning tips, how to organize a home, and homeschool children in a simple and structured way.
Through another family I learned ideas for healthy (and delicious) things to eat, and how good nutrition can help strengthen our bodies.
Then there was couple with the twins who had struggled for years with infertility. Many of the things she shared that she had learned on her journey would come back and comfort me when I, too, would find myself unable to conceive.
And one home was unstable, falling apart during that season. It was filled with little babies who cried for their daddy, who had left. I snuggled them tight and understood in a bone-deep way why God says He hates divorce. I also saw, firsthand, how things build up over time and the irreparable difficulties that sin leaves—and understood, deep inside, the depth of the promise from God that He will someday return and “heal the nations.”
The season came and went. I played one last year of basketball, and graduated in the spring after my sixteenth birthday. Soon I was off and running, flying to Alaska the next summer, and never really stopping until my marriage—though even then, we still traveled.
It’s in my blood to see new places, meet new people, ride trains, and sleep in airports…I believe in giving and going and doing—using everything to encourage and bless those around me in the name of Christ.
But I treasure that slow season, when my parents recognized my need to learn to have a servant-heart, and held me close long enough to teach me the things that really matter.