The outer space themed backpack hung on the hook by the door. A new water bottle was tucked into the side pocket while an empty lunchbox sat open underneath, waiting for an icepack and a Bentgo box to be set inside the next morning.
Nestled in bed slept Rose, heading to kindergarten the next day.
This wasn’t her first day of school, and it certainly won’t be her last. But it does seem to be the most normal of her first days, in what will hopefully be a remarkably normal school year, at least since 2019.
New school years bring with them loads of opportunities, a seemingly endless wealth of possibilities. We felt that in 2019, when we dropped her off at a little half day pre-K 2 program, which was cut short by pandemic lockdowns. We were hoping for it in 2020, a school year that for us didn’t begin until November due to two major hurricanes.
Her pre-K 3 class moved to three different classrooms in six months. We thought we had it in 2021, pre-K 4 starting with some masking and social distancing, but kept stopping due to exposures and quarantines.
And so, here we are in 2022, a fourth “first day” for our 5-year-old, launching into kindergarten with hopes, dreams and expectations of “normalcy” resting on her little outer space backpack laden shoulders.
But even as I sit here longing for the most normal, ordinary and usual of school years, I can’t help but think that I have no idea what one of those looks like, and to be honest, neither does Rose.
We know nothing but having to adapt to all being at home together, attempting to continue our learning with Scholastic workbooks hastily bought from the grocery store and too many episodes of “Bluey” playing in the background. We are used to last-minute hurricane evacuations and months of repairing homes.
We have learned how to handle quarantines, COVID-19 testing kits lined neatly up in the medicine cabinet, with M&M’s ready to go, the treat for after the uncomfortable nose swab.
We’ve adapted, and that’s become our new normal.
And in that adaptation, in that figuring out what to do to manage the chaos and survive in the mess, we’ve discovered that grace abounds all the more.
The Lord shows up in the most normal, ordinary and usual of circumstances. But it’s become clear to us that the Lord shows off when things are not normal, and when they’re out of the ordinary and we’re swimming in the unusual.
Jesus stands up in the midst of the storms that rage around us and cries out, “Peace, be still!” He enters into the swirling mess and brings comfort and rest, and not just because He can, but because He wants to — because He loves us. Jesus calls us out onto that water, invites us to walk through the storm with Him, even when the ground beneath us is liquid on which we could never stand on our own.
Longing for normalcy and ordinariness is entirely OK. Who couldn’t use a bit of rest and respite after these few years we’ve all had. But embracing that there is nothing but a new normal, and nothing may ever be ordinary again, is just giving God permission to show up in bigger, more beautiful, more grace-filled ways than He may ever have before.
Katie Prejean McGrady is an award-winning author, podcaster and radio host. She lives in Lake Charles, Lousiana, with her husband and daughters.