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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Reflections from Archenland: Some Thoughts for Leaders

The Horse and His Boy, the third book in The Chronicles of Narnia series, tells of Prince Cor’s return to Archenland.  The long lost prince began his nostos in Tashbaan, proceeded through the desert, and finally arrived in Anvard, the Archenland capital.  But, much like Odysseus, the celebration of Cor’s return is delayed by fierce battle against enemies who threaten his home and kingdom.

When the dust of battle settles, Cor is more properly reunited with his father, King Lune, and hears the news that he will one day be king of Archenland.  Cor’s reply is one of fear and even apology to his twin brother, Corin.  “Oh dear,” said Cor.  “I don’t want to at all.  And Corin – I am most dreadfully sorry.  I never dreamed my turning up was going to chisel you out of your kingdom.”

Corin, however, immediately rejoices, saying, “Hurrah!  Hurrah!  I shan’t have to be King.  I shan’t have to be King.  I’ll always be a prince.  It’s princes have all the fun.”

King Lune, who is previously described as “the kindest-hearted of men” answers Prince Cor with both honesty and grace: “And that’s truer than thy brother knows, Cor.  For this is what it means to be a king; to be first in every desperate attack and last in every desperate retreat, and when there’s hunger in the land (as must be now and then in bad years) to wear finer clothes and laugh louder over a scantier meal than any man in your land.”

Some long for leadership positions for what it can give them.  Others understand leadership.

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!

“Beauty in the Word”: A Brief Review

A reprint of my post for the CiRCE Institute.

Stratford Caldecott’s 160-page new book Beauty in the Word has proven difficult for me to finish, and I mean that as a sincere compliment.

Serving as a sequel to his 2009 work Beauty for Truth’s Sake, in which Caldecott offered a study of the mathematical arts of the Quadrivium and called for an education that reintegrates the arts and sciences, Beauty in the Word examines the Trivium – the foundational arts of grammar, logic, and rhetoric – and calls for their application in ways that recognize and honor the human nature of both child and teacher.

Far from a simple (and all-too-familiar) regurgitation of the Trivium as three “stages” of learning that corresponds to natural child development, Caldecott’s work examines the Trivium in more human terms – as Remembering, Thinking, and Communicating.

He argues that “education is not primarily about the acquisition of information.  It is not even about the acquisition of ‘skills’ in the conventional sense, to equip us for particular roles in society.  It is about how we become more human (and therefore more free, in the truest sense of that word)…Too often we have not been educating our humanity.  We have been educating ourselves for doing rather than for being.”  His exploration of the Trivium in that light is truly inspiring.

Beauty in the Word is an inspiring, challenging and even convicting book.  Perhaps that’s why it has proven so difficult to finish.  Stratford Caldecott has done us a great service.  It’s my hope that Beauty in the Word will be widely, but slowly, read by many others.

Group Therapy

For my Rhetoric II students, the class of 2013 at Covenant Classical School:

I have taught rhetoric for years.  My syllabus is detailed, my scope and sequence nearly memorized.  No braggadocio intended, but I can teach much of the course without notes.  And, while in writing I try to avoid clichés like the plague, you could say that teaching rhetoric is “old hat” to me.

Or perhaps it would be if not for my students.

Our Rhetoric II course leads to the annual senior thesis in May and though I have been through it year after year, my students have not.  It is all new to them and so is the anxiety.  And, when combined with the pressing deadlines of college essays, college applications, scholarship forms, campus visits, part-time jobs, and the workload of a typical senior year, they are feeling overwhelmed – and understandably so.  After all, if modern education has perfected anything, it is the production of anxiety in students, parents, and teachers.

So, on occasion, the lesson plans are set aside for what I affectionately call “group therapy.”  The years have taught me to sense when it’s coming.  Some seniors trudge into the room, coffee in hand, bleary-eyed from lack of sleep or crying (sometimes both), unable to speak above a mumble, dragging along so low I don’t have to open my classroom door.  Others arrive, bigger cup of coffee in hand, jittery, still sleepless but wide-eyed, and nervous.  But the real telltale sign comes with one question: “So, how is everyone?”  The response, so far from overwhelming that it could scarcely be called “whelming,” speaks of so much more than that particular morning.

Sometimes they need a speech.  They need to be inspired.  They need to hear that all their hard work is preparing them to fly, even to soar, from the nest into the next stages of their lives.  At other times, they really need to talk, to ask every stabbing question that keeps them awake.  They need me to be quiet and listen, to vent about the seemingly mountainous demands on their time, to express how unprepared they feel for what’s in front of them.

Frankly, it’s nothing new for me.  I hear these questions, rants, and emotions come out every year.  But they come from different souls, so I receive them all as brand new.

Adults tend to view the problems of youth through the lens of adulthood and, while that can provide some needed perspective, it can render us unhelpful or condescending.  My students have never had this much responsibility.  For years, they have asked to be treated like adults and now they wish they could take it back.

know that countless others, me included, have been precisely where they are.  I know that the joy on the other side far surpasses the work they now face.  know the success stories of those who felt what they now feel.  I know that the “to do” list they now face is infinitely smaller than the ones they will have later in life.  I know they will sail through their thesis, get into college, and be miles ahead of their contemporaries.  I know they have little to worry about.

But they don’t.

So I listen, knowing they will be just fine and that, one day soon, they will know it too.

Reposted from my weekly CiRCE column.