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The shaping influence of fellowship and community.

There are boys playing basketball on the school courts this morning. It's been a long time coming, and what a joy to see - and hear!

I have lived across the street from an elementary school for 25 years, and I love living here for many reasons. Schools are excellent neighbors. They keep their lawn green and mowed; they keep the grounds clean, quiet in the evening, never party on the weekends, and are gone for most of the summer. And a super bonus, when my girls were young, they got to walk to school every day and come home for lunch. It was the best of times.

Then covid happened. Suddenly the sight and sounds of kids playing were gone like a sudden alien abduction. The schoolyard was silent, and the basketball court just sat collecting dust instead of memories.

There is an eeriness to a dead school. To look across the street at a playground, a large school building, and find no trace of children playing. It's not natural for the air to be void of kid sounds.

For the 27 years I've lived here, the sounds of kids playing haven't changed. It's like listening to your favorite Christmas carols on the radio. The tune remains the same, even if the artist or rendition has changed. So finally, after months of silence, I heard it again. The familiar sound of boys playing basketball on the outdoor court, a sound I thought nothing of in the past—a sound as familiar as the sound of mowing lawns and cars being driven down the street.

But today was different. As I was working in the yard, I began to listen. I mean really listen. As I cherished and chuckled over the sounds coming from the courts, I stood still. All my focus was on what I heard. I heard structure to the yells, a training ground in the play, a wonderful place to learn.

There was the loud voice of a future leader telling the others what to do. Yeah, he was bossy.

There was another voice, not quite as loud – a young man learning how to be the leader, challenging the bold leader, and jockeying for position.

There was the whiny kid, learning how to play with the others without getting his way.

The bully, trying to intimidate with mean words.

The advocate was telling the bully not to be such a jerk.

There were the peacemakers, just being patient, supportive, watching, and playing quietly.

There was a sideline guy learning to stretch his courage muscle to get in the game.

There was a strategist calmly telling his team the best way to rise to victory.

It was beautiful. It wasn't perfect. There was yelling and screaming and a cuss word or two, but what was happening was wonderfully important. Kids were learning at school but in a different and equally valuable way. I thought about all that has been lost for kids through isolation and zoom classes. There's so much missing in the fake school of tiny screen, computer classes.

And then it made me think about God.

Think about the people and situations He allows into our lives to help shape us into what we will be - including Covid. God has a purpose and design for every moment of our lives. These basketball-playing boys were born to specific parents, in a particular country, in a certain state in a specific town in a particular home, and this happens all over the globe—God's divine design.

Some of these young men will spend all of their school years together and form friendships that will last until death. They will be playing sports, having sleepovers, hanging out, getting into fights, learning to repair relationships, and encouraging each other to higher goals. They are learning to slay dragons together and to rescue damsels in distress. They are helping to shape each other's lives, just like you and I were shaped, for better or worse, by kids we grew up with.

Proverbs 27:17 "As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend."

There is great value in playing at school, with many teachable moments never found in the classroom and impossible to duplicate on a computer. It can be messy, but it works. Friendship, fellowship, relationship, and community are part of God's design for human beings. Welcome back, kids. Today I'm stopping to listening for the heartbeat of God in the sounds of His world.

1 Thessalonians 5:14 "And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all."

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