Tips for Talking to Students About Tragedy and Loss

While our country continues to pray and mourn for the grieving families and their unspeakable loss in the Las Vegas shooting, I encourage you to consider how best to share this tragedy with your children (if age appropriate). Numerous resources are available online that discuss ways to help your child cope with tragedy—from the National Association of School Psychologists to the American Psychological Association:

Your child may also have questions about why God would allow something like this to happen. I highly recommend the blog post below which contains excerpts from Pastors Tim Keller and John Piper’s responses to the 9/11 tragedy.

While we face evil in this world, we can take comfort that absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. I pray our Central students — and students around the country — will take this promise to heart as we prepare them to be lights in their world—pointing to the One True Light:

“The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”  Isaiah 9:2

 

Perseverance Despite Adversity

I want to take this opportunity to share with you excerpts from my May 2017 graduation charge to our sixth graders at Central Christian School.

Class of 2017… As I reflected on our three 2017 graduate speakers’ essays (A Passion for God, A Love of Truth, and A Zeal to Serve), I couldn’t help but notice how they all had a familiar theme—perseverance, despite adversity—one of the overarching themes of your 5th grade year.

As I was praying about this topic and the importance of faith in Jesus during difficult times, I remembered a story that I learned during my time in Washington, D.C.

This May marked the anniversary of one of the greatest communication breakthroughs in world history—a feat achieved through perseverance despite adversity by putting trust in Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith. I hope the story of this individual blesses and inspires you as much as it did me.

Take Sam.

As a young Christian, Sam entered Yale University at the age of 15.  Although he studied electricity and chemistry under two of the top scientists of the day, Sam surprised his parents after graduation by choosing his true passion—painting.

His father, a well-known pastor and “Father of American Geography,” supported his son’s vision to study in London.  While learning from a renowned painter, Sam nevertheless epitomized a starving artist—bringing in little income and barely making ends meet.

Sam returned to America eager to apply his maturing talent.  During this time, he met and married his wife, with whom he would father three children.  But his search for commissioned work up and down the East Coast greatly reduced the time he would spend with his family.

Sadly, the death of Sam’s young wife occurred while he labored miles away on a portrait in Washington, D.C.  In what would later be a sad ironic twist, he would not arrive until after her burial because of the time it took to communicate the news.

“Oh, is it possible? Is it possible? Shall I never see my dear wife again?” Sam wrote, “But I cannot trust myself to write on the subject. I need your prayers, and those of Christian friends, to God for support. I fear I shall sink under it.”

Although painting a number of respected pieces, the next 12 years saw Sam struggle with finances and discouragement.  He attained an art professorship at New York University and soon sought the commissioning of one of the planned historic paintings in the U.S. Capitol’s Rotunda.

Experiencing rejection yet again, Sam collapsed into despair. “The blow I received from Congress … has almost destroyed my enthusiasm for my art…. I have not painted a picture since that decision…. When so unexpectedly I was repelled, I staggered under the blow…and [it] would goad me to death were it not for its aspect in the light of God’s overruling providence. Then all is right.”

Sam decided to return to his science skills and gave his full attention to the development of a device that could communicate over long distances.  Petitioning Congress to test the invention, his funding request was ignored—causing him to seek a patent and financial support in Europe.

To his surprise five years later, both Houses of Congress approved his large grant request.  And on May 24, 1844, Sam tested his invention before some of the most powerful leaders of the day.

The invention?  The telegraph.

Using a verse from the Bible–Numbers 23:23—suggested by a friend’s daughter, Sam, or I should say, Samuel Morse delivered the message “What hath God wrought!” using what became known as Morse Code over the first electric telegraph line from the U.S. Supreme Court Chamber in Washington, D.C. to Baltimore.

To Morse, these words were an exact expression of how the telegraph had come into being.

As he would later write to his brother Sidney: “You will see by the [news]papers how great success has attended the first efforts of the Telegraph… ‘What hath God wrought!’  It is His work, and He alone could have carried me thus far through all my trials and enabled me to triumph over the obstacles, physical and moral, which opposed me.”

Reviewing the impact of Morse’s creation in recent years, The Economist Digital Editor Tom Standage dubbed it The Victorian Internet: “It allowed people to communicate almost instantly across great distances, in effect shrinking the world faster and further than ever before.  A worldwide network whose cables spanned continents and oceans, it revolutionized business practice…and inundated its users with a deluge of information…Does all this sound familiar?”

With Morse’s invention came the growth and transformation of the Associated Press, the New York Stock Exchange, and many other communication breakthroughs in the United States and around the globe too great to list here.

Thus, after decades of trial, Morse became a worldwide celebrity—receiving honor after honor over the next 25 years—culminating in 1871, when a bronze statue of Morse was dedicated in Central Park.  That evening at the Academy of Music, many luminaries witnessed the following message sent to Washington, D.C., using Morse’s original telegraph: “Greeting and thanks to the telegraphic fraternity throughout the land. Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good-will to men.”

As The New York Times reported, “Morse, with trembling fingers, touched his key and signed his name to the above dispatch—the entire audience rose…with cheer after cheer.”

He would die a year later, embodying the words of St. Peter, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

A charge worth considering again today.

Remembering Dr. King

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Several years ago when my family was living in the Washington, D.C. area, my son Andrew was assigned a freshman history project that required him to write about several famous quotes on key monuments in the city. One of the monuments Andrew and I visited was the newly built MLK Jr. Memorial. What came as a great shock to us was not the discovery of what was included in Dr. King’s quotes over his career, but what was missing.

Click here to read this USA Today article of mine (that was published during the 50th Anniversary celebration of Dr. King’s March on Washington and his “I Have A Dream” speech) to find out what we discovered.

Wise Men and Wise Women: Epiphany and Hidden Figures

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Across the Christian church today, a number of faithful believers will celebrate Epiphany.  But how many will consider the cultural similarities of this holy day to the stories featured in the national film release of Hidden Figures this weekend?

To believers in Jesus, one of the most powerful messages of Epiphany is the mercy and love demonstrated to all humanity through the revealing of the Son of God to the star-following, foreign-born wise men, who fell down and worshiped the Christ child upon finding Him.

Regardless of race, social status, or gender, God’s grace is given to all who come to him in faith in Jesus–what Manhattan pastor Tim Keller refers to as “the only hope that matters.”

To continue reading the article originally on January 6, 2017, visit FoxNews.com

My “New” Title

St. Louis native and Nobel Prize winning author T.S. Eliot once stated, “It is self-evident that St. Louis affected me more deeply than any other environment has ever done.” I, too, can say that the LORD is using St. Louis and its people to affect and change me more than any community I have ever experienced.

When I accepted this position over two years ago, I was thrilled to lead this amazing school. Even before visiting, Central’s reputation as an academically strong and culturally diverse school made it an exciting opportunity for my family and me. Having lived all over the country, I could confidently say that I enjoyed and appreciated diversity.

I arrived in the city one month before the Ferguson conflict erupted in 2014 to lead this community. It was then that I began to realize how much I still had to learn about the impact that racial differences have had, and continue to have on our culture. The unrest in our city opened the opportunity for conversations that I’d never had before, and realizations that I’d never experienced. I was so grateful to God for opening my eyes through these encounters.

Then, in an unexpected conversation this summer, a good friend of mine revealed to me how the title “Headmaster” might be a stumbling block to our African American families. The word “master” could bring a flood of negative connotations with the cruelties of slavery.

 

That was humbling to learn.

I have used the title “Headmaster” for fifteen years, and this had never crossed my mind. As a matter of fact, when I was introduced to the Central Christian School community two years ago, I discussed how the title came from the British school system with the idea of a “master teacher” serving over a group of highly qualified teachers. Thus, Headmaster.

No title is worth being unnecessarily hurtful or divisive. So this year, I shared with our faculty, staff, families, and Board why I would no longer be using this title, but instead “Head of School.”

The most important concept I shared with our school community, however, was not the changing of my title. The important message of my story was that if I were not in a loving, diverse community where friends with different perspectives could gently challenge me, I would still be using a title that could impede unity in our school.

Given the headlines over the past two years—from Ferguson to Baltimore to Charleston to Dallas to the events this week, I have experienced and observed emotions ranging from hopelessness and despair, anger and frustration, sadness and grief, confusion and defensiveness, apathy and avoidance. And while this is not my first encounter with pain or controversy, something about my proximity to Jesus-followers with different perspectives and experiences than my own has made this time different. The clarity of Scripture as the foundation of a diverse, just community has never been clearer to me.

I am convinced, more than ever before, that the grace of Jesus Christ should compel the Body of Believers to pursue justice for and unity with our neighbors.

Speaking of unity, our chapel theme this year is based on the Book of Ephesians, Chapter 4. Why unity?

First of all, we believe this theme aligns well with our previous two years’ themes on Courageous Conversations in 2014-15 and what it means to be true Peacemakers in 2015-16.

Secondly, with the most recent turbulent events in our nation, we believe the body of Christian believers needs to be unified now more than ever to present the only hope that matters—Jesus Christ.

Thirdly, this election year has found the U.S. greatly divided. Consider these statistics and analysis released this summer by the Associated Press entitled “Unity Not Seen As Likely”: “Some 85% of people regard the nation as more politically divided than in the past; 80% view Americans as being greatly divided on the most important values…The time is so unstable, its impossible to see the future.”

Given the current state of our country, we chose Ephesians 4:15-16 to be our annual school verses: “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”  

My prayer is that the LORD will use our school to impact the hearts and minds of our students, faculty, staff, and families in unanticipated and palpable ways as we seek unity in the name of Jesus.  Please join us.

Student Guidelines for Texting and Social Media

Several years ago, when my oldest son Andrew turned 13, I made the decision to purchase him a cell phone.  Wanting to provide some guidelines for navigating this new world, I came across a wonderful article by Toronto Pastor Tim Challies entitled, “Solomon on Social Media.”  Building upon Tim’s (and King Solomon’s!) wisdom and insight, I put together a list that has become a guide not only for my son, but my three daughters too, as they each received their phone in 7th grade (my most recent daughter being this summer!).

As I have shared with my four children over the years, when we rely on God’s wisdom, not our own, our choices will be much more responsible. But if and when those difficult lessons come and we fail to heed Scripture’s guidelines, we must learn to accept the consequences and allow them to be equally instructive.

For that is when God’s wisdom and grace are most needed.

I hope that you will find the below list helpful, as you discuss these issues with your children as well!

Top 10 Rules to Guide your Texts, Emails and Social Media Posts

1.  Always think through what you write before you send a text/email and make a social media post.  Realize that anyone and everyone may view/read what you write!

“Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Proverbs 29:20).

Corollaries to #1 (a.k.a. “The Murray Rule”):  

  • Do not email/text/post embarrassing pictures or videos of yourself or our family to other people without our permission. Once it is out there, you can never retrieve it. It may even make it to YouTube!
  • Do not forward email/text conversations with Mom or Dad without our     permission. Realize that anyone and everyone may view/read what we write!  “Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise”            (Ephesians 6:2).                        

 

2.  Build others up—do not cut them down. Not only is that biblical, but you must realize that anyone and everyone may view/read what you write!

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29)

 

3.  Avoid gossipers and gossiping about others. Realize that anyone and everyone may view/read what you write!

“The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body” (Proverbs 29:22).

 

4.  Avoid spreading rumors. Don’t always believe what you read!

“Like one who binds the stone in the sling is one who gives honor to a fool” (Proverbs 26:8).

 

5. If someone writes something you disagree with, sometimes it is best not to respond. Don’t be afraid to seek our advice!

“Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself” (Proverbs 26:4).

 

6.  However, if someone is spreading lies/rumors and hurting others, sometimes we need to prayerfully respond. Don’t be afraid to seek our advice!

“Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes (Proverbs 26:5)

 

7.  Avoid creating problems.

Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling” (Proverbs 26:27).

 “As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife” (Proverbs 26:21).

 

8.  Avoid other people’s problems.

“Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears” (Proverbs 26:17).

 

9.  Don’t brag about yourself! People like humility 🙂

“Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger and not your own lips” (Proverbs 27:2).

 “One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor” (Proverbs 29:23).

 

10.  Protect yourself.   Don’t give your number/information to people you don’t know!

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matthew 5:17).

 “And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)

 

 

 

How Treating Others As Image-Bearers Saved My Daughter’s Life

I want to take this opportunity to share with you excerpts from my recent graduation charge to our sixth graders. Given the challenges facing their generation [and now in light of the tragedies this summer], I hoped to inspire them to see the impact they can have in the world when they treat others like the image-bearers they are. 

Class of 2016, …Reflecting on our chapel theme this year from the Beatitudes, I want to share an illustration that will remind you of the importance of being peacemakers and treating others as image-bearers— regardless of our differences. Dr. Brian Lindman, a Central parent, shared the following story with me— one I later read in The Washingtonian magazine (which I share from below).¹

I hope this charge inspires you as it did me.

“In 1930, Vivien Thomas, a 19-year-old carpenter’s apprentice had his sights set on Tennessee State College and then medical school. But the [great] depression, which had halted work in Nashville, wiped out his savings and forced him to postpone college. Through a friend who worked at Vanderbilt University, Thomas learned of an opening as a [medical] laboratory assistant for a young doctor named Alfred Blaylock—who was, in his friend’s words, ‘[hard] to get along with.’ Thomas decided to take a chance, and on February 10, 1930, he walked into Blalock’s animal lab…”

“Face to face on two lab stools, each told the other what he needed. Thomas needed a job, he said, until he could enter college the next fall. Blalock…needed ‘someone in the lab whom he could teach to do anything he could do, and maybe do things he couldn’t do.’ ”

“Each man got more than he bargained for. Within three days, Vivien Thomas was performing almost as if he’d been born in the lab, doing arterial punctures on the laboratory dogs and measuring and administering anesthesia. [Amazingly] within a month, the former carpenter was setting up experiments and performing delicate and complex operations…” A carpenter performing surgical operations?

When we treat others like the image-bearers that they are, God uses us often in ways we can’t even imagine.

“By 1940, [with the help of Vivien Thomas], Dr. Blalock’s research had put him head and shoulders above any young surgeon in America. When the call came to return to his alma mater, Johns Hopkins, as surgeon-in-chief, he was able to make a deal on his own terms, and it included [a paid position for] Thomas [to work with him].”

At this point, I should mention that Mr. Vivien was African American and Dr. Blalock was Caucasian— and “they did historic things together that neither could do alone.”

“[For] Together they devised an operation to save what doctors refer to as ‘Blue Babies’—infants born with a heart defect that sends blood past their lungs—[an operation] that Vivien had worked out in the lab, long before Dr. Blalock [operated on] Eileen, the first Blue Baby.”

Before this surgical innovation, Blue Babies died not long after they were born. So it should be no surprise that “almost overnight, Operating Room 706 became ‘the heart room,’ as dozens of Blue Babies and their parents came to Hopkins from all over the United States, then from abroad, spilling over into rooms on six floors of the hospital…One after another [these] children, who had never been able to sit upright, began standing at their crib rails [no longer blue but] healthy.”

In addition to this surgical innovation, Vivien also “found a way to improve circulation in patients whose great vessels were transposed. The problem had stymied Blalock for months, and now it seemed that Thomas had solved it…

“‘Vivien, are you sure you did this?’ Vivien answered in the affirmative. After a pause [Dr. Blalock] said, ‘Well, this looks like something the LORD made.’”

When we treat others like the image-bearers that they are, God uses us often in ways we can’t even imagine.

One of your classmates turned blue 12 hours after she was born with her great heart vessels transposed. She, and thousands of babies like her, would not be here today, if Vivien Thomas and Alfred Blalock had not defied the racial prejudices and injustices of their day to develop these medical breakthroughs together.

For when men and women like Blalock and Thomas treat each other like the image-bearers that they are, God uses them in ways they can’t even imagine.

As you go forth, know you have been greatly blessed by the biblical foundation you have received at Central—echoed in your classmates Stuart, Sarah, and William’s wonderful words tonight on what it means to have a Passion for God, a Love of Truth, and a Zeal to Serve…

I conclude my charge with the challenge from Matthew 5 which directly follows the Beatitudes we learned each month in chapel this year: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Amen!

P.S. For those who did not attend the graduation service, the Blue Baby with transposition of great arteries was my own 6th grade graduate, Sara Cate Murray, pictured below before her surgery and at graduation (on the right).

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¹Katie McCabe, “Like Something the Lord Made,” The Washingtonian, August 1989.