What I Have Learned Directing Challenge A

I sit on our front porch, my favorite coffee cup in hand, reading the remaining few chapters of The Bronze Bow, the last book my students are to read this year. It’s raining and almost 3:00 PM and still my boys have not come in for lunch. The grating sound of the drill rings out over the pasture and I see them by the zip line, immersed in their work, unaware of the time. Their food is laying out in the kitchen, welcoming the flies, just as their school books wait on the table for them. A read aloud I have yet to do with Thadd, Latin to go over with JP. A meeting with Addie. They are working on a new fort they are building all on their own, with their cousin Justin’s help. They’ve already set the posts and built the platform and are starting on the frame. It’s good work. Impressive craftsmanship. And they are only fourteen and twelve!

I sigh as I finish a chapter. This book is so good and I have just three chapters left to read. I don’t want it to end. It hasn’t been this way with every book I’ve taught this year, but Elizabeth George Spear is a master of her craft. How she can write! She makes me want to take up my pen again from the long neglect and writer’s block. How I will relish the conversation my students and I will have on Tuesday about this piece of historical fiction.

This year is our third year with Classical Conversations, a Christian homeschool community that meets once a week to learn and interact with other like-minded individuals. It has been my first year directing a Challenge class, which is the upper level of the community, corresponding to Junior High and High School. My class consists of six students: four boys (one of which is my own son) and two girls, aged twelve through fourteen. They have six classes, or strands as they are called, consisting of Latin, Mathematics, Exposition, Science, Reasoning, and Cartography. We meet fifteen weeks in the fall semester and fifteen weeks in the spring. The kids come to class having already completed their work for the week and we meet for an entire day on Tuesday going over each strand and having rich conversations about them. I am a facilitator, among other things, with my main objective as a director being to engage them in the art of the dialectic. I help them to sort out all they are learning and to synthesize the information so that they can be equipped to learn how to think. The content that they learn is varied and difficult: translating Latin, drawing the entire world from memory, learning the art of persuasive writing, thoroughly engaging in the scientific method through a science fair. But the things that we are learning go so much further than mere academics. These children are learning how to listen to one another, how to have respectful conversations, and how to see the work of God in every area of life.

As I come to the end of a very rewarding and challenging year, here are a few take-aways:

  1. It is possible to learn Latin as a forty year-old.
  2. Some days are better than other days. Some days the conversations seem forced and trite, while other days, I am blown away by the Spirit-led moments and integrations.
  3. Prayer is of supreme importance. In prayer we wait in expectation of what God will do in the lives of those He has entrusted us with. I can do nothing on my own, but I am completely dependent upon the Lord.
  4. Junior-highers are absolutely hilarious and in need of constant correction. Whew! What a class!
  5. Asking good questions prepares the way for fruitful conversation. I am still learning this art.
  6. Rest is absolutely necessary. If I do not take the time to stop and to just be and to fill myself up with what is life-giving, I will have nothing of value to offer anyone.
  7. At the end of the day, what matters most is knowing God. The character of our students is far more valuable than whether or not they can decline a noun or draw the continent of Africa. The spiritual formation of these kids comes as they encounter the Living God for themselves. It is to this end that I strive. And it is a worthy goal.

It has been a good year and I am a bit sad to see the end, just as I am with the book I am reading. But, of course, I must finish both for there are more conversations to share, more topics to discover, more adventures to unfold.

The Good Shepherd

I went out looking for the cows at exactly noon on Good Friday, the time that Jesus was nailed to the cross. I had let them all onto the back pasture the day before because the grass was greener and longer on that side of the gate and we had run out of hay. Being content with the lush and tender spring grasses, none of them made their way to the barn this morning, except the horse, when I called them in for feed. I wasn’t worried about it, knowing they had their fill of grass. But at noon I was concerned that they might find the low part of the fence and hop over onto our neighbor’s property. So I went looking for them.

This is our sixth spring out here on the land and every time, the season dazzles me. In winter I forget what lies dormant and forgotten in the earth. Then the land awakens with a newness that always catches my breath and still leaves me dumbfounded that resurrection is possible following the cold and death of the prior season. The vibrant colors of the flowers, the welcome warmth of the sun, and the bright green everywhere awakens the coldest of hearts. Hope is possible. It is tangible.

As I’d see them in the woods, I’d name the cows one by one. Mocha, Jingle, Shalom. Bobby Sue, Jack, Little Rascal. Around the corner was King, the horse. In the top part of the pasture I found Sam and Charlie, then Sweet Baby Rae, then Squanto. There was Milk Dud. But where was Annabelle? I made my way across the creek a different way than I had come and saw a pitiful sight. Annabelle was lying in the creek. Her head was back and her body was sprawled out. She had a long vine of mesquite thorns wrapped around her body. Having three-inch long, vicious spikes, the kids call them the Jesus thorns. Eery does not begin to describe what I came upon.

I raced to her, knelt in the mud and water, and lifted her head up by the halter that was still on her. Here we go again, I thought. She is the same cow we have struggled with all year. I prayed a brief prayer for wisdom and, knowing I couldn’t lift her on my own, ran back to the house to get some help. I returned with my boys and my in-laws and I instructed them to get behind her and push her to a sitting position. With all of us heaving and pushing, we managed to get her to sit up and begin to get the air out of her system. I had no idea how long she had been down. Whenever she had gone down in the past, we have had to place straps around her and lift her with the tractor. But there was no way we were getting that tractor down the steep bank of the creek and lifting her safely. I Face-timed Jason from work and there wasn’t anything he could do . But, to our utter astonishment, right after hanging up the phone, Annabelle stood up! She got up with her back legs, pushed herself to her front knees, waited a while, and then stood completely up. It was another small miracle. Another resurrection of sorts. Another answered prayer for these animals that I have been entrusted with.

This is the creek where Annabelle was lying.
Standing next to Annabelle after she miraculously stood up on her own. Her right eye is terribly swollen from lying in the creek.
A new perspective of the shepherd’s staff. The boys used it to drive away the other cows from Annabelle’s feed so she could eat.

Leading up to this day, the Lord has been doing a deep work in my heart. I found myself dealing with deep grief from the past that I hadn’t completely worked through. It seemed to come from nowhere and hit with such a tremendous force that it startled me, really. I began to seek out close friends and ask them to pray for me as I worked through whatever this was. It turned out that what I was dealing with were lies that I believed about God. Lies that affected my relationship with Him. Lies that He was malevolent and uncaring. But as I repented of these lies and asked the Holy Spirit to give me the truth about who He really is, He gave me so many scripture passages that speak of His tender love and concern for me. My favorite one He gave to me was Psalm 103:14: “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.”

My care for these animals grossly pales in comparison to my Good Shepherd’s love for me. His eyes are laughing as he watches over his flock. Over me. He loves me and I know it. He holds my hand and gently leads me along the way I am to go. He protects me and stands in my defense. I am his and he is mine. He went to great lengths to redeem me, laying down his life. The Shepherd becoming the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. My sins. And the sins of those who sin against me and against those whom I love. My Good Shepherd is the one who came to seek and to save that which was lost. He is the one who leaves the 99 sheep in search of the one that was lost. He came and he found me.

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside the quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Psalm 23