Hands Full of Good Things

“I am in a season of my life right now where I feel bone tired almost all of the time. Ragged, how-am-I-going-to-make-it-to-the-end-of-the-day, eyes burning exhausted … I have three boys ages 5 and under. I’m not complaining about that. Well, maybe I am a little bit. But I know that there are people who would give anything for a house full of laughter & chaos.”

– Steve Wiens, in his article “To Parents of Small Children”

My dear wife, Shannon, and I have three children (ages 6, 4, and 2) with our fourth on the way.  We are truly excited and blessed, but sometimes we forget it. The eternal pile of laundry that swallows rooms like an avalanche, the Lego land mines that bruise your feet in the middle of the night (every dad knows what I mean), and the constant reckoning of all things broken, tend to temporarily overwhelm any parent.

My wife serves as a homemaker while homeschooling our daughter. If one wished to assign our day’s greatest misnomer, we could say that she does not “work.”  Hilarious, I know.  True, she does not have a “job”; she has a calling, a vocation.  As Chesterton once noted, a homemaker’s “function is laborious, but because it is gigantic, not because it is minute. I will pity Mrs. Jones for the hugeness of her task; I will never pity her for its smallness.”

Strolling through the grocery store with my family, I became aware of a meaningful tradition that my wife had established. Inevitably, when she would go shopping with the kids while I was at work, some well-meaning soul would smile and say, “My, you sure have your hands full!”  Though Shannon understood that the comment was innocent enough, she wanted to make sure that no one pitied her for her blessings or that our children somehow developed the idea that they were simply “too much to handle.”  So, the tradition was set.  Every time someone comments on her “full hands,” Shannon smiles and answers, “Yes.  Full of good things.”

Too often, we trip over the innumerable blessings God has given us, only to complain, “Great, now my toe hurts.”  We are profoundly skilled at being frustrated with the never-ending goodness of God.  Among the blessings of God are the labors to which He has called us.  For those of us laboring in Christian classical education – at home, in a school, or in some other context – we would do well to remember that, while our hands are full, they are full of good things.  Nurturing the souls of students on truth, goodness, and beauty is a high calling indeed.  Sure, it would be easier without students, but it would also be non-existent.

Certainly, I do not mean to imply that genuine problems will not arise or that they should not be addressed.  But, I assume that you all need the same kind of encouragement that I need; a little help in sorting out the mole hills from the mountains, some encouragement that the headaches are part of something bigger, a reminder that full hands are not a bad thing.  Thank God for busyness, for meaningful work, and hands full of good things.

Originally posted by The CiRCE Institute.

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“Jabberwocky” & the Value of Nonsense

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought —
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

“And, has thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!’
He chortled in his joy.

`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Reflection:

“Jabberwocky” finds its original home in Lewis Carroll’s 1871 book Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There.  During an early scene in this sequel to Alice in Wonderland, Alice discovers a book written in a sort of backwards type, forcing her to use a mirror to read it.  Of course, even with the mirror, the verses make little sense to her.

Though largely nonsensical, “Jabberwocky” still manages to delight the imagination through Carroll’s playful and strangely vivid language.

Only a few nights ago, I read this poem to my own children for the first time.  I must admit that I only read it to take their minds off my previous reading of Shel Silverstein’sThe Giving Tree.  That, by the way, is a horrid idea of a bedtime story; way too emotionally charged.  Word to the wise.  So, I quickly picked up a book of poems in desperate attempt to undo my moment of terrible fathering and began reading “Jabberwocky” to stop the crying and painful questions about stumps and seemingly thoughtless boys.

I had them at “slithy toves.”

As the poem progressed, my kids laughed at the silliness of the words, but I could see their minds trying to grasp what was going on.  What is a Jabberwocky?  Is it dangerous?  Was it like a dragon?  Should the “son” have killed it?  Should the father have celebrated this?  They are used to stories about knights and dragons that need slaying, but they also know that sometimes dragons are Eustace in the midst of repenting.

Though only a small part of a larger story, it is easy to see how “Jabberwocky” took on a life of its own, outside of Through the Looking Glass.  I have seen it enjoyed by little ones, high school students, groups of teachers, and other folks of varying ages and backgrounds.  I have witnessed its usefulness in teaching parts of speech and their function (An excellent idea!  What does “mimsy” mean?  Is it a noun or an adjective?), to start a debate (Should the boy have killed the Jabberwock?), to stir the imagination (Could you draw a Jabberwock?  What would it look like?), to cause a laugh (He said “frumious”), and to delight.

Sometimes a little nonsense goes a long way.

My post, reprinted from The CiRCE Institute

A Conversation about Standardized Testing

I recently had the privilege of recording my first Quiddity podcast for the CiRCE Institute with David Kern.  We had a conversation about standardized testing and classical education.  Take a listen HERE!

The Real “St. Nick”

Today, December 6th, is the feast day of St. Nicholas.

Nicholas, the bishop of Myra, lived during the tumultuous fourth century, when both false teaching and the Roman Emperor continually assaulted the Church. Fascinating stories swirl around the life of Saint Nicholas, and while we face some difficulty in distinguishing the tall tales from the true tales, they all combine to create the portrait of an inspiring man.

Orphaned when he was young, Nicholas’s wealthy parents left him a small fortune. As Nicholas grew older, he developed into a man after God’s own heart, passionate and compassionate, zealous for truth and mercy. His passion and zeal for truth compelled him to slap Arius the heretic across the face at the Council of Nicaea (“You’d better watch out…Santa Claus is coming to town”), but his compassion and mercy are the foundation for the more well-known tales of his life. These stories gave rise to Nicholas’s “alter-ego,” Santa Claus.

Santa Claus stands as a centerpiece of the Christmas season and though the feast of Saint Nicholas lasts but one day (December 6th), the Santa frenzy will continue through the holidays.  Children around the world will find it hard to sleep, anxiously waiting for him to swoop down the chimney, leaving presents under the tree. But, where did the idea of gifts from jolly ole Saint Nick come from?  The tradition stems from an event that vividly displays the “gentler side” of Saint Nicholas.

When not assaulting heretics, Nicholas ministered as a bishop with a true pastor’s heart. One night, while walking through the village where he lived, Nicholas heard a girl crying. He stopped to listen and overheard the girl lamenting the fact that her family was too poor to provide dowries for her and her two sisters. In those days, dowries were given from a father to the suitor of his daughter and young ladies had little prospect of marriage without one.

Unable to bear the girl’s sadness, Nicholas filled a bag with gold coins and tossed it into the poor family’s house, providing enough for the girl’s dowry. The following two nights, he did the same for the two younger sisters. All three girls were married the following spring, thanks to the mercy and generosity of Bishop Nicholas. The family never knew who provided the money.

Details of the story vary. Some say the bags of coins were thrown down the chimney, giving rise to the idea that Santa Claus comes down the chimney to leave presents. Others suggest that the coins landed in shoes or stockings left by the fireplace to dry, inspiring the practice of putting out stockings or shoes for Santa to fill with gifts. But all agree that Saint Nick’s stealthy delivery skills continue to thwart those trying to catch him in the act.

May the warm and generous spirit of Saint Nicholas inspire the same in us all.  Merry Christmas!