Posts Tagged ‘academic


Final Exam

Something I read the other day prompted me to think back on REPORT CARDS.

Remember those?

I was never what you’d call a brilliant student, so I anticipated REPORT CARD DAY with no small degree of anxiety. 

  • Had I done enough extra credit work in English to make up for that test I did so poorly on? 
  • Will the cumulative value of my Math homework help keep me firmly ensconced in the “C” range? 
  • And how about that big History test that the teacher hadn’t finished grading yet? How would THAT factor in to my overall mark?

Report card day was always a day of emotional turmoil. First there was the shock/surprise/delight/embarrassment of opening the envelope and reading your grades for the first time. 

Then came the REAL fun; the torture chamber of taking that card home and discussing it with mom and dad. And there was no evading that part of the process. Somehow, they always knew the exact day report cards were coming out. 

And naturally, they asked about it as soon as I got home. 

I distinctly remember my youthful brain thinking, “When I grow up, I won’t have to do this anymore. Someday there won’t be these stupid REPORT CARDS!”

Well, friends… here I sit at the ripe old age of 70 and I can confidently report to you that that glorious day has still not come. Report cards have continued to haunt me every step along the way.

  • Of course, I had report cards in college.
  • Every job interview after college was a report card… either marked “PASS” or “FAIL.”
  • Semi-annual (or even more regular) evaluations by my work supervisor on the job were just like report cards.
  • Every one of my attempts to call a young woman on the phone and ask her out on a date were excruciatingly nerve-wracking report cards. Again, it was either “PASS,” or “FAIL.”
  • Seminary was CHOCK-FULL of report cards!
  • After seminary I received instantaneous report cards in the handshake line after church for every sermon I ever preached. 
    • (The United Methodist Church also has this group of lay people called the Staff/Parish Relations Committee whose job was to meet with me and issue regular report cards on the entirety of my pastoral performance.)

And here is the startling news I have for you today; even though I am now fully retired and “living the dream,” as my friend Herndon says, the report cards continue. 

Some originate right here in my own brain. Granted, they are not marked “A,” “B,” “C,” “D,” or “F,” but they can have the same effect as if they were. After even a casual conversation with another person, my brain will ask, “So, Russell… how do you think that went? Were you as honest, as entertaining, as compassionate, and as alert as you needed to be?” I grade my driving, I grade my grooming, I grade my health, I grade my sportsmanship, I grade my blogging, and so on. There are very few things about me that escape my diligent evaluation.

Sometimes the report card is issued by Joan… my loving spouse of 21 years. She is usually gentle and grades on a generous curve, but still; I don’t ever expect to get away with turning in slipshod work. 

And so, it is in the harsh glare of that relentlessly evaluative ecosphere I inhabit that I gratefully collapse into the grace-filled arms of Christ. There, I am received… fully, faithfully, lovingly… just as I am. I don’t have a performance chart to measure up to. I don’t have a raise hanging in the balance. There is nothing additional I can earn here by virtue of a superior performance.

Jesus turns to me and says, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven…” (Luke 6:37, NRSV). 

And it is then that I remember – and give thanks for – the words of that old spiritual; “Just as I am without a plea.”

God stamped “A+” on my forehead in invisible ink before I drew my first breath. And even though I fall short of the mark every single day of my life, He does not change my grade – or yours either.

Hallelujah for that!

Abundant blessings;


Someone to believe

“Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life.”
Isaiah 43:4, NRSV

George MarshallIf you know the name George Catlett Marshall, you know him as the general who led the U.S. Army through World War II, or as the man who served as the U.S. Secretary of State, or as the man who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953, in honor his plan to rebuild Europe following the devastation of that war.

You may not, however, know him as a poor student whose academic ineptitude was a source of great shame to his father and older brother. As Marshall wrote in his autobiography, “The truth is, I was not even a poor student. I was simply not a student, and my academic record was a sad affair.”[1]

Marshall had his sights set on following in his older brother’s footsteps and attending VMI – the prestigious Virginia Military Academy. But his heart was broken one day when he overheard his brother Stuart talking to their mother. He was begging her not to let George go to VMI. Marshall wrote his brother did not want him to attend VMI because, “… he thought I would disgrace the family name.”[2]

So how does that happen? How does anyone make the journey from hopeless academic underachiever to Nobel Prize winning diplomat in the course of a single lifetime?

Marshall wrote that one of the things that proved to be the key in turning his life around was the extreme nature of his brother’s negative attitude. It drove him not only to prove his brother wrong, but also to OUTDO his brother’s performance at VMI.

Some of us are wired similarly. We hear aspersions being cast on our ability or character and we respond with a defiant, “I’ll show YOU!” surging on to greatness. Others among us might hear those attacks and cave in, whimpering, “You know, they’re right. I really am a schmuck.”

But Marshall had something else going for him. Although his father was disappointed and embarrassed by George, his mother, “… rejoiced in him, offering unconditional love and support.”[3] She even sold the last of her family’s property – including a lot she had hoped to eventually build a house on – to raise the necessary money for Marshall to attend college.

How about you? Do you have someone like that in your corner? Someone willing to tell you how much they love and believe in you? Someone who will go to extreme lengths to show you just how much you mean to them, even when you continue to fall short and miss the mark?

Before you hasten to say “NO,” go back and re-read the Bible verse at the top of the page. These words were originally spoken by the prophet Isaiah and were intended to convey the heart of God. They were addressed to the Israelites living in Babylonian exile to help them understand – even though their future appeared bleak and hopeless – that their Creator considered them precious and valuable.

George Marshall’s mother gave up a valuable piece of real estate to ensure her son’s future. In this passage, God says he will give up NATIONS for you.

We are in the middle of a time that has become incredibly difficult for many people. You may know people who have lost jobs because of this virus. You may know people who have become sick or even some who have died. As the days of isolation stretch into weeks and months, it is hard to see any light on the horizon.

Even on the bright days a cloud seems to have parked itself permanently overhead.

Today, however, we should all stop and take a moment to remember this unchangeable fact; we each have a very powerful SOMEONE in our corner who believes in us. We have someone who will go to outrageous lengths to give us a future with hope.

That SOMEONE loves you more than you will ever know.


Abundant blessings;

[1] The Road to Character, by David Brooks. Random House, New York. 2015. Page 106

2 Ibid, p. 107

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