Because life is a series of edits

Archive for the ‘Vacation’ Category

Rural Reflections

In Calling, Family, Holidays, Nature, Places & Spaces, Vacation on July 5, 2014 at 11:29 am

IMG_5173

“The chance you had is the life you’ve got. You can make complaints about what people, including you, make of their lives after they have got them, and about what people make of other people’s lives…but you mustn’t wish for another life. You mustn’t want to be somebody else.” Wendell Berry in Hannah Coulter

After our Colorado trip and two days back in the office in Oklahoma City, we’re here in Illinois wrapping up the last of our vacation days. Altogether, it’s been a good and much-needed break from the past 18 months of school merging and managing, and I’m (almost) ready to jump back into things in earnest next week.

In the meantime, I’m making the most of our last few days here in Pike County where I – along with four previous generations of Dunhams – grew up on our centennial farm. Our girls love being here and connecting with their four Pike County cousins (I have two younger sisters who each have two kids of their own), Megan graciously tolerates the latest tales of townsfolk she has never met, and even our dog, Peaches, seems to have an affinity for the rural life (in particular the John Deere Gator rides, as shown above).

I love the farm. For as long as I can remember, it has meant much to me as a place, an anchor, a stopping-off point, a means of provision, a muse of creativity, a home…the list is endless. The stability of associating myself with a particular 600 acres of God’s green Earth is rare in today’s transient world and has always mesmerized me in its value, both felt and perceived. Even when I didn’t want to be here, or thought there was no future in it for me here, I’ve always loved the farm…and I always will.

But then I ask myself, do I love the farm or do I love the idea of the farm? The answer to both questions is “yes,” which transforms the inquiry into one of degrees (i.e. which one do I love more?). That’s when things get confusing.

There was a time  – when, for instance, I would plow the living room for hours on end as a five-year-old – that my family may have expected me to remain on or eventually return to the farm. At some point, though – exactly when, I don’t know – they let go of that expectation most likely because I did. I remember being 16 and chomping at the bit to leave for college, to graduate and move to The Loop in downtown Chicago (to do what, I had no idea), and never look back. The desire did not spring from some dislike for the rural as much as a fascination for the urban; after all, as the post-WWI song goes, “How you gonna keep ’em down on the farm after they’ve seen Paree?”

I can’t say I ever felt direct pressure to “be about” the farm; chores (what little of them I had) never came before studies or school events, and farming was never cause for missing a game or performance or church as long as Saturday mornings were kept open for hog work. If anything, there were times in my early teens when I probably felt frustrated that I couldn’t do more to help out in the fields or on the bigger equipment in a more significant way, but God had his reasons, and my parents – perhaps seeing the writing on the wall before I did – acquiesced to those by supporting (and at times, directing) me in other endeavors.

As I’ve grown older, I confess that my pride in telling others of our family’s fifth-generation farm quickly erodes even before the end of the sentence when, inevitably, I know the next question that’s coming: “So what’s going to happen to the farm?” Many times I have felt guilty at being the only son or (though I would not trade any of my daughters for all the farms in the world) that my Y chromosomes couldn’t figure things out enough to produce a male heir to carry on the Dunham name and take to farming more than I did. Neither feeling is fair, but guilt (in particular the self-inflicted kind) does not play by the rules.

As much as the thought of returning to Pike County can be nostalgically attractive, I’ve yet to figure out how to make it happen practically; it would seem I have very little of what it takes to “make it” in the country. While the urbanite wrongly assumes that those living outside city limits are somehow “less than” because they haven’t made it to the city, he would never survive in rural America, which is why he doesn’t try beyond buying some miniscule weekend/vacation acreage upon which his existence does not depend.

I think of Thomas Jefferson’s words concerning agriculture and those who practice it:

“Cultivators of the earth are the most valuable citizens. They are the most vigorous, the most independent, the most virtuous, and they are tied to their country and wedded to its liberty and interests by the most lasting bands.”

Jefferson’s sentiment describes my father and my grandfather; it does not, however, describe me, a truth that at times grieves my heart and disturbs my thoughts. There is no solution or salve for this affliction, save only the choice to still care and the decision to still visit, both of which seem trite compared to the calling and effort of my forebears to sustain this land over the past 100+ years so that I might still engage with it now.

As predominant a sculptor as any in my life, the farm – as a tool in the sovereign hands of God – seems to have shaped me for something other than itself. It’s no secret that I’m eternally grateful for this, but it is also a reality that saddens me some nevertheless.

Insecurities and the Seven Sons of Sceva

In Calling, Church, Family, Friends, Humanity, Musicians, Places & Spaces, Theologians, Thought, Travel, Vacation, Young Ones on June 27, 2014 at 12:43 am

“But the evil spirit answered them, ‘Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?'” Acts 19:15

This verse (along with the passage from which it comes) has run through my head about a hundred times in the past week. Believe it or not, we’ve been on vacation, but my insecurities are no respecter of calendar dates, locations, or accommodations. I’m never surprised (though never ready) when feelings of unworthiness and personal contempt raise their ugly heads and say hello.

Without boring you with too many details (ask my wife: vacationing with me is about as exciting as watching paint dry), I started off our trip alone, flying to North Carolina to cover for Michael Card, who was teaching an intensive Bible seminar at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville. It’s unfortunate that many folks my age (43) and younger don’t have a knowledge of or appreciation for Mike’s music, writing, and teaching, but the older (50 and above) folks know a good thing when they find it; many of them follow Mike across the country for his concerts or Biblical Imagination conferences or even around the world (he had just gotten back from a tour in Ireland in May and takes a group to Israel every year in January).

Mike’s “fans” tend to have more gray hair, available time, and discretionary funds than most, all of which equate to big expectations when they’re shelling out $429 a pop at one of the premier conference centers in the country to hear arguably one of the best Bible teachers in the world. The topic for last week was the Gospel of John, for which Mike has just finished a new book and album (pre-order yours here). The good news was he was able to teach Monday-Thursday; the other news was, due to a mistaken double-booking, he was going to have to leave late Thursday night and needed a pinch-hitter to wrap up the week.

Overlooking the Smoky Mountains at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville, NC.

As Mike and I have done conferences together off-and-on for 12 years now, he asked me if I would fill in for him. Without really considering the dynamics, I said I would. I flew out Wednesday night, sat in on three sessions on Thursday, and then Mike and I executed a brief baton pass toward the end of the Thursday evening meeting. It went well, but I still had two sessions by myself on Friday morning and 120 folks who, without intending to be evil, had to be asking the demon’s question with a twist:

“Jesus I know, and Michael Card I recognize, but who are you?”

Fast-forward to Sunday morning. After leaving The Cove Friday afternoon and flying to Denver that evening, I met up with Megan and our two youngest daughters and drove to the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park to pick up our two oldest daughters who had just finished RYM Camp with our City Presbyterian Pyretics group (major props to youth director Jarod Mason and intern Laura Parsons for coordinating and chaperoning). From there, we drove to Colorado Springs and up to Eagle Lake Camps, where Megan and I met and invested ten years (1992-2001) of our lives, and where I was to speak at staff chapel on Sunday morning. (As their two older sisters had three years previously, our two younger daughters were also set to attend camp this week.)

With Maddie, Millie, Katie, and Chloe on the deck of Lilly cabin at Eagle Lake northwest of Colorado Springs, CO.

As you might imagine, the crowd was much younger than at The Cove; instead of 120 senior citizens, I was looking down the barrel of 120 wild-eyed high school- and college-aged students who will spend the rest of the summer caring for over 2,700 kids from all over the country. The energy was overwhelming, as was my self-doubt. I had worked weeks in advance on my message, but now that I was onsite, I wondered if it would actually connect; most of these kids would have been in diapers (if they were even born) when I was at Eagle Lake in my twenties, and it’s never pretty when an older speaker attempts to play hipster (which I didn’t) to reach a younger audience.

While many of the staff had apparently heard of me (it’s not hard to be a camp celebrity just by virtue of having lasted ten years at one), I couldn’t help but imagine them saying to themselves:

“Jesus I know, and some counselor I heard a story or two about from twenty years ago I recognize, but who are you?”

Who are you? Luke records that the evil spirit asked the question not of Christian believers but of “itinerant Jewish exorcists” who “undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits” (Acts 19:13). In other words, these “seven sons of Sceva” (great ska band name!) were trying to coast on the coattails of Jesus and Paul, but the evil spirit would not be fooled. The result wasn’t pretty: “The man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded” (Acts 19:16).

The story is a reminder as well as a warning. Whether speaking to a weekend conference or camp audience or to our family and friends on a daily basis, are we doing so as followers of Christ or as Christian posers? Are we ministering out of the overflow of our relationship with Jesus, or are we name-dropping the Savior and his apologists in hopes that – somehow – His power will transfer anyway? As the passage records, there are few more dangerous sins than the sin of presumption.

The question of “Who are you?” is as pointed an accusation Satan and his agents of evil can throw at us, as there is no more powerful attack than one that attacks our person. But this is when we remind Satan (and ourselves) of who the Lord says we are. Peter’s words in 1 Peter 2:9-10 are helpful:

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

In case you were wondering, the two sessions at The Cove went better than I hoped (there’s no more honest compliment than conferees confessing afterward that, yes, they had been disappointed you weren’t the original speaker, but they saw God’s hand in it and were glad and grateful after all). The talk at Eagle Lake seemed to hit home (there’s no more humbling thanks than when semi-awkward 19-year-olds try almost too hard to convince you that your message was exactly what they needed that morning). Whew.

The good news of the Gospel is that, while feelings of insecurities may be frequent and no fun, they can keep our poser potential in check if we confess them to Jesus so He can remind us who – and Whose! – we are. To do otherwise – to “fake it ’til we make it” despite our insecurities – will leave us naked, wounded, and in a vulnerable state that we will only want to hide from others and from God.

The Lord Is Our Refuge

In Calling, Church, Education, Friends, Oklahoma City, Places & Spaces, Travel, Vacation, Young Ones on June 22, 2014 at 5:30 pm

Cross (low res)

(The following manuscript is of the message I gave at Eagle Lake Camps chapel on Sunday, June 22, 2014. It was an honor to speak at such a beloved place from my past.)

I’m going to be speaking from Psalm 16 this morning, so while you’re finding your seats, you can begin turning there in your Bibles. While you’re doing that, let me introduce my family. Megan and I have four daughters: Maddie is 15, Chloe is 13, Katie is 12, and Millie is 10, and have lived in Oklahoma City, where I serve as Head of School of The Academy of Classical Christian Studies. Maddie and Chloe came to camp three years ago, and Katie and Millie will be joining you this week. As perhaps you’ve heard, Eagle Lake is a special place for us. Megan and I met here 21 years ago. I served as a Rez counselor, program director, musician, and Onsite Director from 1992-2001, while she served as a Kitchen staff, Rez counselor, Crew counselor, store manager, and nanny 9 of those 10 years.

If I remember this time of summer correctly, you’ve been here long enough to know what’s supposed to be going on, but that whole “fourth week/first week” thing is perhaps beginning to ring hollow. You’ve probably heard others – if not yourself – begin to grumble, and the idea of six more weeks is perhaps not quite as rosy as it was four weeks ago. There’s no place like camp to discover what we’re capable of – good, bad, and ugly – but there’s also no place like camp to learn to trust God with the good, bad, and ugly we discover.

This is what I want to talk with you about today. If you have any hope of lasting the rest of the summer – of God preserving you – it begins with taking refuge in Him. Look at Psalm 16:1-2: “Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.’” Taking our cue from David, what does taking refuge in God yield? I’d like to suggest four preservations:

Because the Lord is our refuge, we can trust him for godly company. Look at verses 3: “As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight.” Now notice the comparison in verse 4: “The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names on my lips.”

Whether in college at the University of Missouri, when we were on staff with the Navs for 12 years here in the Springs, when we moved to St. Louis to begin seminary, or during the past three years of our lives in Oklahoma City, we’ve always been with good, godly people. But here’s our secret: we’re not the ones doing the surrounding; we just happen to enjoy the providence of God – in his refuge role – doing so.

Whether you recognize it happening or not, God is at work building at least one friendship (though I’ll be surprised if it’s only one) that will continue on with you ten, twenty, even dare I say fifty years as a result of your time at Eagle Lake. I say this out of experience, and I’m not even talking about the yahoos in the back.

We moved from St. Louis to Oklahoma City three years ago, and in doing so, have since reacquainted with Molly – one of my wife’s Rez Campers back in 1994, who with her husband sent their little girl and twin boys to the school I lead. One of my Grammar school principals, Alison, was one of my Program Coaches for two years in 1995 and 1996. We go to church with Brian and Matt, who were former counselors and now are both married to their wives and have a couple of kids. At church, we also get to see our pastor’s wife, Julie, who was a counselor in 1993, as well as a founding board member of our school. And speaking of board members, Jonathan, is about to come on our board, and he was a former camper! (This should give each and every one of you pause as to how you view that camper who keeps throwing rocks and won’t listen.)

These are just former staff and campers living in the same town. All of these friends came through Eagle Lake back in the day, walked with God through their twenties and thirties, and were established in Oklahoma long before we ever got there. The same has been true of every place we’ve lived, and so many places in between. This is what God does when he tells Peter in Matthew 16 that, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Because the Lord is our refuge, he is at work keeping us from the sorrows of those who run after another god and drink the ungodly offerings of blood and take their names. Because the Lord is our refuge, he is preparing excellent ones, in whom will be our delight, not just for when you return home or to school in August, but for the rest of your days and wherever you go as part of his universal church.

But that’s just the beginning. The second preservation is this: because the Lord is our refuge, we can trust him for contentment. Look at verses 5 and 6: “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.”

We need to understand something here: the language used is not of preference but allotment; that is, God – not us – is the one choosing our portion, giving us our lot to hold, drawing where our lines will fall, and the one from whom we inherit whatever inheritance he decides. We are not learning to be content with what we choose; we are learning to be content with what he chooses for us.

I know of no better place to learn a lifestyle of contentment than camp. Notice what I said there – not a lesson, but a lifestyle – of contentment. As our American culture sees generation after generation more and more infected with an entitlement epidemic, we see this illness come to camp in campers and sometimes (I hate to say it) in staff. The plain and reality is, if you’re only content when you’re comfortable, you’re not content but pacified.

I don’t remember what summer it was, but I do remember that one of our counselors that year – I’ll call her Maggie – had no interest in learning about contentment at Eagle Lake. It was about the third or fourth week when she came into my office every day crying, begging to go home. She’d been a little sick the week before, was more than a little homesick since she’d arrived, and when we tried to help her through it by assigning a co-counselor, giving her three afternoons off to rest, and just trying to listen to and love her, she would have none of it. Her heart was hardened and her eyes were angry. She had what I call the two-year-old syndrome: she wanted what she wanted and she wanted it now.

That Thursday evening, she followed me into my office, demanding that she be allowed to leave. I reached into my filing cabinet, pulled out her staff agreement, and told her that if she was going to go home, she was going to have to rip up her signed agreement then and there. As I pushed it across the table to her, I told her I hoped she would think about the worth of her name and what her signature on the agreement meant. Without batting an eye, she grabbed the paper, held it up in front of me, and dramatically ripped it into four pieces. Without saying a word, I took a phone book, placed it on the table, and told her to book her flight out the following morning.

A few years later, I received a letter from Maggie, in which she asked forgiveness for her discontent. By the conviction of the Holy Spirit, he had led her to repentance, embracing what was surely awkward and uncomfortable for her and trusting him – and me – to walk through it with her. It was an amazing privilege to forgive.

Because the Lord is our refuge, we can trust him for our contentment with our chosen portion – lot, cup, drawn lines, inheritance. I’m sure you’ve already recognized areas of frustration this summer – 3-minute showers, uncomfortable conditions, whiny campers, time that’s not your own – but God is sovereign and sovereignly at work in growing you by these means. These opportunities are providential for you to learn in whatever situation – whether brought low or abounding, facing plenty or hunger, in abundance or need – to be content. Confess your covetousness and expose your feelings of entitlement to one another. Admit when you’re acting like a two-year-old and put on your big boy or girl pants and grow up. And trust that you can do all these things through Christ who strengthens you as you pursue this contentment, which is the actual context of this most misquoted verse.

The third preservation is this: because the Lord is our refuge, we can trust him for delight in his constant presence. Look at verses 7-8: “I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.”

At our school back in Oklahoma City, we spend a tremendous amount of time pushing back on a modern culture fooled into thinking that education is all about information transfer. When I talk with parents, teachers, and especially with students, I’m always asking the question posed by James K.A. Smith in his book, Desiring the Kingdom: “What if education isn’t first and foremost about what we know, but about what we love?”

At our school, we don’t want kids to just learn the Law; we want them to learn to love the Law because, as Calvin reminds us, the Law reflects like a mirror the perfection of God; it restrains like a bit in a horse’s mouth evil; and it illuminates like a lamp that which pleases God. But where are kids going to learn to love the Lord and his Law? My friend Andrew Kern of The Circe Institute suggests that, “We become what we behold.” This is why the psalmist can speak in verse 7 about the counsel and instruction he’s received. As verse 8 reads, he has set the Lord before him; he is at his right hand and he is not shaken because what he beholds is not shaken.

This whole “becoming what we behold” idea should sound familiar. What is the goal of Eagle Lake Camp? “The goal of Eagle Lake Camp is to inspire Christ-centered love and commitment, through counselor relationships, in the midst of exciting outdoor experiences.” The worst thing you can do with kids this summer is reduce Jesus to an intellectual idea to be merely accepted, catalogued, or easily referenced. Paul says it beautifully and simply in 1 Corinthians 11:1 – “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Trust in this – and rejoice! – that somehow – by God’s unbelievable goodness – campers might become what they behold in you because you – together – are becoming what you behold in Christ.

The fourth and final preservation I want to remind us of today is this: because the Lord is our refuge, we can trust him for hope of everlasting joy and the path of direction. Look at verses 9-11: “Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

When I consider the story God has written for this place from before the creation of the world, I am blown away. And, when I consider the few pages of that story that happened to include Megan and me, my heart is overcome with thankfulness to the Lord. I think of all God has done here and the thousands upon thousands of challenges He has overcome to ensure the 57th summer of Eagle Lake Camps happens, and my whole being rejoices. Personally, when I consider all that the Lord did in me in my time here, my flesh dwells secure, for He did not abandon my wretched and pathetic soul, nor let me see corruption, but made known to me a path of life by way of His presence and His people.

The Lord showed me here that I had an anger problem…because I had a control problem…because I had a people-pleasing problem…because I had a pride problem. The Lord loved me enough to place me in a beautiful place surrounded with good people through which He taught me the importance of Luke 16:10, “That he who is faithful with very little will be faithful with much.” He taught me to be teachable – to recognize correction from my leaders, my peers, and (gulp) my campers – not as punishment but as discipline for my good, for He disciplines those He loves. Hebrews 12:11 – the first verse I ever memorized – reminds us that, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” These promises have rung true in my life, not because I was always true to them, but because the Lord – our promise-making, covenant-keeping God – always was.

Which is why I can be confident in reminding you of four promises in Psalm 16:

  1. Because the Lord is our refuge, we can trust him for godly company.
  2. Because the Lord is our refuge, we can trust him for contentment.
  3. Because the Lord is our refuge, we can trust him for delight in his constant presence.
  4. Because the Lord is our refuge, we can trust him for hope of everlasting joy.

Let us glory in God’s preservation, reminding each other and ourselves that He is our Refuge, that He is our Lord, and indeed, we have no good thing apart from Him.

What I’ve Yet to Learn on Summer Vacation

In Family, Friends, Health, Holidays, Places, Thought, Vacation on June 23, 2013 at 6:51 pm

Vacation

We're set to go on "vacation" in another week, which only means we're seeing a few friends and family in a few places we've already lived. When it comes to "vacation", we stopped using the "v" word a long time ago; we're always taking "trips" instead. (For the antithesis of our experience, Google "Vacation".)

Our initial plans for a break were to start this week and go through the Fourth of July week for a total of 12-14 days away, but that schedule got thrown out months ago because of a board meeting this Friday, as well as that, summer or not, we've got a limited amount of time to launch a new school two months from today. And that's okay…or at least reality.

I don't know if it's a blessing or a curse, but reality is where I tend to live and move and have my being, often at the expense of my many idealist dreams. I wanted to take Megan to London for a week for our honeymoon; we ended up renting a cabin in Arkansas for three days because we had neither time nor money to do otherwise. I went to Africa and planned for our family to spend six months in Uganda in the fall of 2001 (with an eye to possibly staying years as missionaries); Megan, however, became pregnant with our third that summer and 9/11 happened in September, so those plans changed.

After a nice "trip" back to Colorado Springs (where we lived for 12 years) last summer, we hoped to return this summer so the girls could finally go to Eagle Lake together (the last year it would be possible because of their ages) and we could get some time alone as well as part of a major staff reunion; however, school merger necessities made that trip impossible, especially if we wanted to also get back to the family farm in Illinois, which we haven't been to since Christmas (another "trip").

Our plan next week? We just finalized it this weekend (which gives you some indication of how little it actually entails): see a few friends in St. Louis, spend 4-5 days on the farm, catch Megan's parents in Tulsa on the way back. That's it…and usually what it always is.

I feel like a failure when it comes to the Great American Vacation, largely because I'm not sure I have the courage (among other things – time, money, people-quotient) to actually take one. We've made noble attempts – the aforementioned trip to Colorado, for instance, or an actual "vacation" in the summer of 2009 to Florida so we could take a few pictures and prove to the girls that they, indeed, had once stood on a beach and seen an actual ocean – but in 16 years, that's about it.

I remember one year before we had kids, Megan and I got a phone call from a timeshare company inviting us to make a trip from Colorado Springs to Pagosa Springs for a free weekend getaway if we sat through their presentation. We went, but the only thing I remember from the time was the company representative asking me how "committed" we were to "vacation." Committed to vacation? As a farm kid, I had never heard those words used in the same sentence before. We didn't buy a timeshare.

I get that people need breaks (and maybe it's my pride that wrestles with that fact that I do as well), but taking time off (especially when I love what I do as much as I do) is a very unnatural experience for me. Even when we leave on "vacation" next week, it's going to be a working trip: we're unveiling new uniforms for The Academy that Monday and if there's anything people have opinions about more than what their students are learning, it's what their kids are wearing while they're learning. It's too early in our school's one-month-old existence to make this kind of announcement and not be available (at least by phone, email, or online) should there be any questions.

What is it I've yet to learn on summer vacation? I suppose it's just how and why (not to mention where and when) to actually take one. For those who have figured it out, I welcome your rationales.

And if you're on vacation, well, I guess, enjoy it (somebody has to).

Something of the Marvelous

In Family, Nature, Places, Travel, Vacation, Young Ones on March 21, 2013 at 9:14 am

"In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous."
Aristotle

Few things take my mind off the past and the future like camping does. I've just returned from spending two days and two nights living almost
exclusively in the present, and it was so good I didn't want to come
back.

I'm late to the joys of camping. Some of this is not my fault (I only remember one camping trip my family took when I was a kid and it was eight miles from my house); most of it, however, is (I lived 12 years in Colorado Springs, worked at a camp for 10 of those, and never even owned a sleeping bag, for crying out loud).

Come to think of it, I still don't even own a sleeping bag. I really am (and always have been) a camping lightweight.

Lightweight or not, when I hit my late-30s and felt the need to do something unique, experiential, and (let's be honest) cheap with Megan and our growing girls, camping suddenly became a legitimate option. Megan found a great family tent on Freecycle, we borrowed some gear, and presto – we were campers.

Our girls – all four of them – absolutely love it. This blessing is not lost on me, as it would stink if even just one were only slightly amused or (worse) completely repulsed by the idea of hiking, eating, and sleeping outside. In addition, while I wouldn't say it's her favorite thing as she longs for a Winnebago, Megan's usually good for at least a couple days and nights without a shower, so I've got that going for me.

This most recent trip (our first over a Spring Break) was different for a variety of reasons, most notably the addition of a set of young foster boys (4 and 3) to the mix. While overall a positive experience for everyone (especially the boys), let's just say there's another reason I didn't start camping until after our girls were five and older – taking two little kids camping overnight was a boatload of work for all of us.

We decided to go to the Wichita Mountains
Wildlife Refuge
– 60,000 acres of southern plains set aside to preserve buffalo, longhorn, and elk – about 90 minutes southwest of Oklahoma City.

Cacti

We didn't see any elk, but we saw enough buffalo and longhorn to say we did.

Tatanka 2

Longhorn

We got to the Refuge on Monday late afternoon and promptly set up camp. The girls know our routine and helped the boys find a place within it.

Campsite

Tent Building

Old Blue

After getting set up and taking a walk down to the lake, we cooked some hoboes…

Hoboes & Chairs

Hobo

…then built a fire and roasted some s'mores (the boys' first).

Campfire

Laugh by Light

It was a cold evening (mid-40s) in the tent…

Tent Girls

…but everyone made it up for a breakfast of eggs and bacon.

Bacon

That first morning, we took the boys on a nice little adventure up Little Baldy, which was about a twenty minute hike from our campsite. As it was the first activity of the day, the little guys managed, but the girls ended up carrying them some on the way back.

Little Baldy

Backpacks

We hung out at the campsite some and then grilled some hotdogs for lunch.

Hot Dogs

After lunch, Megan offered to lie down with the boys in the tent so the girls and I could jump in the van to drive six miles to the Sunset trailhead to hike Elk Mountain. This was a longer hike (about four miles roundtrip) and a little more of a challenge, but the ladies love them some hiking, so it was fun.

Hikers

On Top of Elk Mountain

After being gone for a couple hours, we came back to camp and the boys just waking up. We hung out for an hour or so in camp before loading up for a trip to the visitor's center and a drive up to the peak of Mount Scott.

Visitor Center

Mount Scott

Directions

We then headed into Medicine Park to experience a little southwest Oklahoma culture and Ann's Country Kitchen. Good food, lots of local color.

Ann's

Restaurant

After picking up some ice and water, we drove back to the Refuge, built another fire, and had another round of s'mores. We were all pretty wiped and called it a night around ten, though the girls could have stayed up longer playing cards by lantern light.

Lantern Laughs

The next morning, we had a muffin breakfast, broke down camp, packed up (it's amazing how much stuff we brought for a two-night camping trip – again, we're lightweights), and made the drive back to OKC. We got the van unloaded, started some laundry, ate lunch, and then the boys took a four-and-a-half hour nap while I took the girls to see The Hobbit at the dollar theater – a nice end to three days of fun.

On the Road Again

In Family, Friends, Places, Travel, Vacation on July 6, 2012 at 8:54 pm

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Not sure if a roadtrip through these five states – the five in which we've easily spent the majority of our lives* – counts as a true and exotic "vacation," but it will have to do. We're looking forward to seeing some familiar roads, places, and faces these next two weeks.

(*We've never lived in Kansas, but when you've driven across it as many times as we have, it's felt like it.)

Summer 2012: A Preview

In Family, Holidays, Travel, Vacation on June 18, 2012 at 10:23 am

I'm a little behind with my annual "here's what we're planning for summer" post. Truth be told, I'm a little out of practice as well, as last summer's plan was pretty easy: move.

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As the picture above documents, Megan and I already took a trip to New York state for a Biblical Imagination Conference (we also saw Niagara Falls). In addition, I led a day-and-a-half New Staff Induction and Megan coordinated our annual Resale for Veritas, and this past weekend I took part in our annual Veritas Board of Directors Retreat. Good times.

What does the rest of June and summer hold in terms of trips and events? Here you go:

June
20-23 Assoc. of Classical & Christian Schools' Repairing the Ruins Conference (Dallas)
We're taking 46 faculty, staff, and parents to Big D to learn more together about classical Christian education. Megan's attending the conference, and the girls will rule the hotel pool. We're also planning to take in a Rangers game on Saturday before heading home.

27-29 Family trip with the Servens (Ozark, MO)
Between the two families (four adults, eight active kids), it took us almost two months to figure out a three-day window of time that we could all make a getaway work. We're glad to have this one on the calendar.

July
6-21 Family vacation (Tulsa, St. Louis, New Salem, Colorado Springs)
This is the big trip of the summer – both sets of grandparents, friends in St. Louis and Colorado Springs, a Cardinals game, a Rockies game, a week of camp at Eagle Lake for the girls, and hopefully some down time for Megan and me at Glen Eyrie and around town. If history is any indication, there are sure to be some Griswoldian stories from this one, so check back in August.

August
Just about all of the following has to do with school starting, so I'll spare you the details (though I'm very excited about our new two-day parent orientations for both campuses).
2-3 New Staff Orientation/Latin Student Workshops
6-7 Staff Orientation
10-11 WISE Parent Orientation (North Campus)
13-14 Staff Orientation
17-18 WISE Parent Orientation (Central Campus)
22/23 First days of School (North/Central)

Honestly (at least from a scheduling perspective), the summer seems almost over before it's begun. Still, we'll make the most of it, supplementing the trips with plenty of book reading and book writing, backyard pool time, trips to the dollar theater, and some cook-outs with friends. There's also lots of work to be done with both Veritas and City Pres, so we'll hardly be bored.

Glad for the breaks, glad for the work from which I need to take them.

And Now, Melancholy

In Arts, Family, Humanity, Marriage, Vacation, Young Ones on March 20, 2012 at 11:09 am

Melancholy

Every now and then, my melancholy gets the best of me and things go a little gray here on the blog. Maybe it's the rainy weather we're currently experiencing over all of Spring Break (or just the fact that I haven't really been able to take one), but I'm a little down.

No need to feel sorry for me, though (I'm quite capable of doing that on my own). Some things I've heard myself thinking of late (perhaps you can relate and at least know you're not alone):

  • I increasingly find myself chained to my laptop. While I love my Mac product(s), I don't like being inseparable from them. True, all it takes is shutting the lid, but so much of what I do requires time on it that it's beginning to lose its luster.
  • The amount of time spent thinking about life outside these United States continues to dwindle as I get older. Part of this is has to do with plenty of other thoughts occupying my head; part of it has to do with the fact that there is just no way to afford such travel anyway, so why bother? I want to care more about the world, but I don't.
  • Speaking of money, it's wearying watching people throw money at things that don't matter (and I'm not just talking about our federal and state governments), especially when I have so many better ideas of what they could do with it. My heart is living in Psalm 73 these days.
  • Our yard is little more than weeds right now, and after the rain of the past 24 hours, the weeds are all submerged in a big swamp. I want to care about property, but when things happen beyond my control, it becomes more of a challenge.
  • I'm thinking about lighting my desk on fire so as to gain a fresh start there (it's amazing to me how far I've fallen in this area of organization, particularly when I think of past posts like this one).
  • The idea of ever writing a book again is, at best, as or more fleeting as my cluttered attention span. (Sadly, the same could be said for ever reading one again as well.)
  • I continue to see my many failures as a husband and father and wonder how our family is really going to turn out when it's all said and done. Being married and parenting is hard and I wish I were better at both.

So there you have it – a collection of (mostly) first world problems that I'm even embarrassed sharing (yet another contributor to my funk of late). Of course, there are deeper issues beneath these scenarios, so pray I can recognize and offer them to God and regain some hope in my fallen perspective.

That is all.

(Melancholy (1891) painting by Edvard Munch)

Always Pain Before a Child Is Born

In Arts, Calling, Church, Education, Family, Oklahoma City, Places & Spaces, Thought, Vacation, Young Ones on July 12, 2011 at 10:48 pm

I've been listening to a fair amount of U2 the past couple days as part of my preparation (yes, preparation) for the upcoming concert at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. If you remember, we're planning to take the girls on Sunday, and I can't wait for their reactions to all that they will see, hear, and experience at their first-ever rock concert.

I've written before about the band and the fact that their music has served as a soundtrack for just about every major transition I've experienced. True to form, six months before we moved to Oklahoma, we bought tickets to the St. Louis show for July 17th and gave them to the girls for Christmas, not knowing until a few months later that we wouldn't be living there anymore come summer. When I took the new role, the only contingency was that we could take a week of vacation leading up to the concert. I won't say it would have been a deal-breaker…but it could have been.

As it turns out, "vacation" started Saturday, but it's not exactly the one we originally planned. Megan and the girls arrived in St. Louis as of Sunday night, but they've spent the past two days in the dentist and optometrist offices trying to get one last round of check-ups in before our insurance transfers in August.

I'm still in Oklahoma as I felt the need to be at several important meetings yesterday and today. I'll fly up early Wednesday morning to join the ladies for a couple days at the farm before spending Saturday and Sunday around a hotel pool gearing up for the show that night. We'll then drive back to OKC all day Monday (I'm looking forward to the drive, as it will be the first time we all will get to process the concert at length together).

Today, while making the drive up and down I-35, I listened to "Yahweh" from How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb. Below is the acoustic version of the song (the album version includes the bridge and features a more rock arrangement) from the Chicago concert we were actually at in 2005 (don't make fun of Larry's one-finger string arrangement – he's a drummer, God love him):

The song is a prayer – a prayer I prayed with tears today as I wove in and out of traffic trying to get where I needed to go. It's how my prayers to God sound these days – prayers filled with painful self-awareness of my inadequacies as well as angry frustrations at my limitations. As in the chorus, the desperate cry of "Yahweh" was about all I could manage to get out while driving through Oklahoma City, and that was okay.

What's weird is it's been a great six weeks – six weeks that I would change very little about in terms of what we've done and accomplished. But six weeks does not a school build, nor a church plant. Every day has been hard, and from what I can tell, every day is going to be hard for a long time. I'm embarrassed by my impatience, but grateful for it too in that it reminds me I still expect God to do something here (and there is so very much that only He can do).

In looking through the playlists posted from the last few U2 concerts, I don't see "Yahweh" anywhere on them. Still, maybe the Lord will spark Bono to change things up and do it Sunday night, which if that happens, I will break down weeping at the gift it would be while my wife and daughters (once again) wonder what's wrong with Daddy.

And the answer is nothing…and everything – all of which God – Yahweh – cares for deeply.

 

Take these shoes – click clacking down some dead end street
Take these shoes and make them fit
Take this shirt – polyester white trash made in nowhere
Take this shirt and make it clean, clean
Take this soul – stranded in some skin and bones
Take this soul and make it sing

Yahweh, Yahweh
Always pain before a child is born
Yahweh, Yahweh
Still I'm waiting for the dawn

Take these hands – teach them what to carry
Take these hands – don't make a fist
Take this mouth – so quick to criticize
Take this mouth – give it a kiss

Yahweh, Yahweh
Always pain before a child is born
Yahewh, Yahweh
Still I'm waiting for the dawn

Yahweh, Yahweh
Always pain before a child is born
Yahweh, tell me now
Why the dark before the dawn?

Take this city – a city should be shining on a hill
Take this city if it be your will
What no man can own, no man can take
Take this heart, take this heart
Take this heart and let it break

Summer 2010 Preview, Etc.

In Books, Calling, Education, Family, Humanity, Internet, Musicians, Places, Places & Spaces, Theologians, Thought, Travel, TV, Vacation, Web/Tech, Westminster, Writers on May 23, 2010 at 11:00 pm

Sitting here on a Sunday night listening to some Lucinda Williams and doing a little writing. It's been a while since I've done a summary post of sorts, so since Megan and the girls are out of town and we're collectively an entire season behind to really make the LOST finale worth watching, here are a few things I've been thinking about and/or looking forward to:

School: This week is finals week, so I'll be spending most of my time grading. The good news is, unlike the past three years when I was evaluating projects and papers, I'm going into finals week with nothing other than finals to grade, so that should make for a little less consuming week in general.

In other school news, I've signed on for another year at Westminster, but my role is changing a bit as I'll be leaving the world of freshmen New Testament behind for fourth section of sophomore Ethics and one section of senior Worldviews next year. I'm glad for the transition all around.

One last note on the school front (this time the homeschool front), we're going to be entering a new stage of education here at home. This fall, our two oldest girls will be full-time students at Central Christian School in Clayton, while Megan continues leading the Classical Conversations group and homeschools our younger two (here are details from Megan's perspective).

Summer: In addition to writing (more on that below), my primary goal in June is to hang out with the little ladies, read some books, and get a few projects done around here. In addition, I'll help coach our Westminster summer baseball team for a week in June, as well as get trained on some new school information software, as I've been asked to be a mentor teacher to the rest of the staff this fall.

July ups the ante considerably in terms of travel, as we're planning a family trip to Colorado Springs, as the girls are now old enough (somehow) to attend The Navigators' camping programs (Eagle Lake and Eagle's Nest) we helped lead back in the day. I'll try to see as many folks as I can in a few days' time before I jump on a plane from Denver to Portland for my third year as part of Westminster's Summer Seminar. This time, I'll be investing ten days with 25 soon-to-be seniors in Washington state instead of South Dakota, after which I'll fly back to Colorado and then we'll all drive back to Missouri.

August sees staff reporting as earlier as the week of August 9th, but I'll have a few publishing projects to edit and design from the Washington trip, as well as a fair amount of prep work to finalize for my new
Worldviews class. Orientation starts the 12th and the first day of class is the 16th.

Studying: Despite baseball high-jacking my time and energy, I've been reading in a couple areas of interest this spring, not the least of which has been the study of the end times, or eschatology. N.T. Wright's book, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, has been helpful, as has revisiting my notes from seminary (particularly Dr. Dan Doriani's notes from his Epistles and Revelation class). Of the three years I've taught Revelation to my freshmen New Testament classes, I feel like I've done the best job this year.

I'm also finishing up a couple books on education, namely John Dewey and the Decline of American Education by Henry T. Edmondson III, Curriculum 21 edited by Heidi Hayes-Jacobs, and The Secret of TSL by William Ouchi. It seems I've been reading these for a while (and I have), but there's been some good content that's come as a result.

Looking ahead, I have some Worldviews reading to do this summer, including (Re)Thinking Worldview by J. Mark Bertrand; The Compact Guide to World Religions edited by Dean C. Halverson (ed.); The Journey by Peter Kreeft; Total Truth by Nancy Pearcey; and The Universe Next Door by James W. Sire. Should be fun.

Writing: Now that my second book, Learning Education: Essays & Ideas from My First Three Years of Teaching, is finished, I'm turning back to finishing the ThirtySomewhere manuscript this summer. I'm still looking for a formal publisher to get behind it, but now that I've experimented with the self-publishing gig a bit (and am still experimenting), I may go with what I've got at some point this fall and see what happens. We'll see.

I plan to continue blogging here, though I really wonder how much people are interested in anything longer than 140 Twitter characters these days. Speaking of which, I've enjoyed Twitter enough to keep using it, but there again I just have no way of really knowing how far the medium's actual reach is so as to invest more time in it. Oh well.

Guess that's it for now. There's more, but this is long enough. I'll try to post a few more thoughts later on this week (nothing brings out literary creativity like the desire to avoid grading). Have a good one.

‘Tis the Season…

In Books, Education, Family, Holidays, Movies, Places & Spaces, Pop Culture, Seminary, Thought, Travel, Vacation, Westminster on December 6, 2009 at 10:46 pm

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…when Megan bakes cookies and leaves them around for me to pretend to ignore. It's also when we put up a tree and clutter it (and the house) with all things Christmas holiday. Ah, the sights, sounds, smells, and stuff of the season.

But I digress. Lots going on this week. Here's a rundown:

  • The two-year hostage situation of St. Louis' main east/west artery has ended, as I-64/40 is open again. If all goes according to plan, I should be able to cut 10 minutes off my once-25-minute commute to/from school and seminary, which is exciting. All in all, the process wasn't that bad, but I wouldn't want to do it again anytime soon.
  • I'm finishing up the fourth and fifth commandments with my Ethics students, as well as the book of Matthew with my New Testament kids this week. Finals are next week, so I've got a few tests to write and more than a few papers and assignments to grade. Glad to be two weeks away from Christmas break.
  • This week is a big one in terms of finishing my seminary studies for the semester. I have an hour-long group project presentation on Monday, a paper due on Wednesday, and two finals to take by Sunday and then I'm down to my final semester at Covenant (and probably forever, unless some university wants to give me a full-ride to work on a Ph.D.). It will feel really good to finally be finished, both in a week and in five months.
  • Megan and I are turning in our collective resignation letter to Nick at the Covenant bookstore, with our last day being December 30th (Nick's actually known about it for months, so it's not that big a deal). It was a good year-and-a-half at my first real retail experience, but I've got to make room to coach JV baseball in the spring, so something had to go.
  • I'm planning to post my 2009 booklist in another week, so check back soon if you're still looking for readable gift ideas. I was initially disappointed in my list this year, but at second glance it's not that bad (though I definitely didn't read as much fiction as I have in the past). Look for it in another few days.
  • Speaking of books as gifts, TwentySomeone wraps as well at Christmas as at graduation time (just wanted to let you know in case you're still looking for a present for a hard-to-buy-for twentysomething in your life).
  • And speaking of Christmas, in addition to the obligatory family
    roadtrips/celebrations, we're planning to paint another room (dining)
    over the holidays and get some time hanging out here at home. We're also looking forward to seeing the movie Up in the Air with George Clooney, as parts were filmed in St. Louis (and some of those parts right here in our little Maplewood community).

Guess that's about it. If you're
in town or passing through over the holidays, come on by – being the introverts that we
are, we might not answer the door, but you'll enjoy the trip.

Bittersweet Break

In Calling, Friends, Seminary, Vacation on March 25, 2008 at 6:56 am

Due to either brilliant planning or pathetic procrastination, my Westminster Spring Break is turning out to be more about remembering what it’s like to be a full-time student than what it’s like to be a teacher with a week off. On the docket:

  • Listen to seven 45-minute lectures, read five chapters, complete a study guide, and take the mid-term for my Ancient & Medieval Church History class
  • Write a 5-page paper for my Children’s Ministry class
  • Write two CD reviews and a 10-page paper for my Music & Theology class

I’m spending today at Covenant with two main purposes in mind:

  1. To get away and focus (the Catacombs are a bit too chilly and noisy for extended periods of time studying)
  2. To schedule some academic advising in response to Covenant’s publication of next year’s class schedule (if all goes well, I may actually be able to finish my Masters degree in Theological Studies a year from now)

I’m preparing myself this morning for somewhat of a bittersweet encounter, namely going to my first seminary chapel all year. In addition to seeing lots of familiar faces and sitting through an optional mid-week chapel whose participants are actually interested (unlike the mandatory weekly high school chapels I’m used to refereeing), my friend Ronnie is preaching.

Ronnie and I started seminary in the same Beginning Greek class almost three years ago. He (along with Rob, Tom, Mitchell, Josh, Mike, and dozens of others) are graduating this May with an actual Masters of Divinity degree after 36 solid months of ridiculous class loads and more Hebrew than I ever wanted (or was able) to endure.

While I’m happy and proud of all of them for gutting it out these past three years, I confess I’m more than a little sheepish about showing up today in my part-time, four-year, non-language, theological studies kind of way. Though none of them possess a superiority complex because of our divergent seminary paths, I (like the 14-year-old I perpetually think of myself as) am able to provide enough of an inferiority complex for all of us.

Indeed, I’m that gifted.

That said, I’m looking forward to what God will teach me today – about his unconditional love, about his sovereign plan, about the community of his people. I need to learn more about these things today, as they may be the only things that get me through this week of full-time seminary student studies with hope instead of drudgery as my companion.

When Lost Luggage Is the Least of Your Worries

In Vacation on August 5, 2007 at 4:59 pm

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We made it home last night from Chicago, but it wasn’t pretty. Let’s just say you never want to have to go home with luggage tags, but if that was the worst of it, we would have had a nice trip.

Megan has all the details here. I swear to you they’re true and that we’re all alive regardless.

Chicago Regrets (and a Few Takeaways)

In Vacation, Westminster on August 4, 2007 at 10:21 am

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I finally had a break last night from the conference (after two full 12-hour days) and spent the evening with Megan and the girls together for dinner and a couple hours at the Art Institute of Chicago (a few details here). It was a good time, and I was amazed how much more comfortable the ladies were getting around than when we first arrived; they were pros.

Despite my earlier expressed sentiments about the whole work/vacation hybrid, I would say this experience wasn’t quite what I hoped because of my constant unavailability due to the conference. Leaving before everyone was up in the morning and getting home with everyone in or going to bed and hearing little more than a story or two and taking an iPhoto picture tour set to “Chicago” by Sufjan Stevens, I realize I missed more than I wanted and that’s unfortunate. I’m not sure I would/could have changed anything because of the expectations of the conference (and of Westminster, who sent me here), but it makes me a little sad nevertheless.

Still, the trip wasn’t a complete wash: the conference took a turn for the better yesterday, and this morning (though I’m blogging in the middle of it) seems on a good track with more perspective on the philosophy and nature of the independent school idea. Though there hasn’t been a lot of individual process time in the conference (a real weakness in the program from my old conference directing days), I grabbed some time alone at lunch yesterday and gathered up my takeaways from the week. Here’s what I came up with:

Big Picture

  • Think like an assessor and not an activity designer (use more pre-evaluation tools)
  • Work through domains of teaching (planning, environment, teaching/learning, professionalism)

Next Two Weeks

  • Get copy of master curriculum (order/coverage)
  • Create seating charts (with teacher version) and project on screen for each class
  • Look through any existing student files/pray through rosters
  • Determine procedures for classroom activities
  • Create Understanding by Design sheets/files for planning daily objectives

First Day On

  • Teach students how to learn (how to take notes, read books, work in groups)
  • Assign students “before bell” work each day
  • Assign students procedure creation as part of procedure implementation
  • Develop anticipatory/closing actions for class topic set-up/review

All in all, it’s been nice to get away and experience (to a degree) life in the big(ger) city. I’ve learned a couple of things (okay, maybe more than a couple), met some cool people who have done (and hope to do) some really good things in the context of education, and eaten some great local food (Adobo Grill, Flat Top Grill, Potbelly Sandwich Works, and The Signature Room.

As much as I love Chicago, I’m probably more in love with the idea of Chicago than the reality of it; thus, the idea of going home to St. Louis (and a backyard that assuredly needs mowing) is appealing, despite the Amtrak trip that stands between home and me (don’t get me – or Megan – started). And that anticipation (despite the transportation required) is good.

Sorry the blog got hijacked this week, but it’s been good to process things along the way. I have some more conceptual processing I may do here, but for now, I’m clicking my heels three times and saying to myself, “There’s no place like home…there’s no place like home…there’s no place like home…”

Quack

In Vacation, Westminster on August 2, 2007 at 1:27 pm

Buildings

(If you’ve been following along, you know I’m in Chicago for the week. If you’re interested in reading and hearing about all the city has to offer, see Megan’s blog; to experience the thrill and delight of sitting in a chair all day long in a four-day education conference, read on.)

Yesterday was a little rough. Thinking I knew what I was doing, I left the hotel (we’re staying at The Seneca, which is right next to the John Hancock Tower) and caught the Red Line train just as its doors were closing (I felt so urban-cool doing that). I got off at the correct station, but somehow got turned around coming up out of the subway and ended up walking the entire route I had just covered by subway, ending up within eyesight of Chestnut (the street our hotel is on) all over again. Giving up, I hailed a cab, paid $3.45, and went right to the door of the school.

This morning, I walked the five blocks to the Red Line station without my ticket card, which made it interesting trying to get on a train. I’m not sure why I’m having so much trouble with Chicago public transit (other than I’m an idiot), but as it was late (again), I grabbed a cab, forked over another $5, and showed up on time, pretending that I planned to do this all along.

There are about 70-80 new teachers here – mostly young, mostly excited. There are four of us from Westminster, though all of us being new, none of us knows each other that well (if at all). Surprisingly, there are also lots of folks from the other private schools St. Louis (one instructor told me there are 40 private schools in the Lou, which apparently is one of the largest clusters in the nation), so it’s been good to hear more about their schools from them.

The jury’s still out for me personally as to what I’m going to get out of this, but it certainly can’t hurt. I just wish we’d deal with content and stop playing stupid ice breakers and doing collaboration exercises ad nauseum. I understand the goal of trying to model interactive teaching as part of the conference, but a lot of times this “overteaching” swings the pendulum too far back the other way and all we end up concentrating on is the process rather than the content. Both are important, and my thought up to this point is we could do a better job keeping them together rather than dividing them up.

It’s an interesting group/association of schools – religious, non-religious, all independent (and proud of it) – as well as a real diversity of people from a variety of places, experiences, and ages. So far, I’ve enjoyed conversations with first-time teachers originally from Shanghai, Jamaica, and various cities unique settings around the U.S. In addition, as teacher types tend to be open to new things, I’ve met a variety of folks with some interesting stories: one woman taught ESL in Alaska for five years; one guy (a drama teacher) is starring in a play that opens in Chicago this weekend; and one young woman is a “junior rabbi” at a Jewish school here.

When they ask me for my story (farmboy who graduated public high school in a class of 30 caucasians, whose wife homeschools four daughters currently running all over Chicago, and who actually believes and teaches New Testament and Ethics to freshmen and sophomores), you’d think I’m the oddest duck in the pond (and that’s one strange pond indeed).

My Kind of Town (and Trip)

In Family, Vacation on July 31, 2007 at 8:29 am

We’re off to the big city of Chicago today (though a little later than planned). Last week, we were country mice; this week, we’re more of the town persuasion (click here if you have no idea what I’m talking about).

While Megan has all kinds of plans and places lined up to visit, the impetus for the trip (and the bulk of what will fill my time) is the New Teacher Institute put on by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States (ISACS). Westminster is picking up the tab for the travel and accomodations, and I’m really looking forward to spending the majority of the week learning as much as I can in preparation for school starting in just over two weeks.

The conference is going to be pretty intense schedule-wise, including two twelve-hour days and a boatload of information on education topics I’m a little fuzzy on because I’ve never had a formal education class in my life. I’m looking forward to figuring out a lot of important stuff at this conference, and hope it will serve as the beginning of some new momentum leading up to the start of the school year.

Now before you feel sorry for us that I have to “work” while Megan and the girls play, don’t. Believe it or not, we actually “vacation” better this way. I don’t relax well and can make things miserable for the family when relaxation becomes the one and only goal. However, we’ve learned over the course of ten years of marriage that if we can piggy-back some fun and games on top of something else I have to do anyway, it’s better for everyone. We don’t fight it or try to fix it; we just go with it and it works.

So, we’re all pretty pumped about the trip. We’re taking Amtrak straight into downtown and will be hailing cabs and taking the El to get around. Tonight we’re going to see a Cubs game at Wrigley Field with our friends Will and Rose, and our museum and zoo memberships here transfer there, so those are on the agenda as well. The ladies will hit Navy Pier and Millennium Park, and we’ll all have fun pretending like we’re big city mice, at least for four days.

We’re taking the camera, so I’ll try to post some shots and the occasional update.

And we’re off…

Fish

In Family, Friends, Vacation on July 30, 2007 at 6:50 am

Craig and John

My sophomore year (1990) at Mizzou was quite a “friend year” for me. In addition to someone at the University randomly assigning Doug Serven (he of TwentySomeone fame) as my roommate, he or she also put us on the first floor of Wolpers Hall, two doors down from one John Gillman (pictured with me above). We’ve been buds ever since.

“Fish” and I have a lot in common: we both grew up on farms outside small communities; we both played and did well enough in high school sports (though neither one of us was “the star”); we both share a love for teaching and ministry (John was a biology teacher for 12 years and now pastors a small church of about 100 or so folks); we both married spouses who grew up in much larger cities (but somehow share our love for the country); and, we both can point to a distinct moment in each of our lives when we sensed God drawing us to himself, and, while we’ve stumbled at times in following, by God’s grace, neither of us has ever looked back.

Neither one of us was or is the absolute best, fastest, or smartest in anything; basically, we’re just two average Midwest boys who appreciate a clever song (especially if we can play it – we’re both musical, but neither is a virtuoso) and the simple beauty of the rural life.

This weekend, as we watched our families bond through creek adventures and the occasional trip to check the chickens for eggs, both John and I marveled at what God has done and how good he has been to both of us. Though budgets have always been tight and it’s been work to keep our heads above water concerning our callings, it’s been a gift to know someone else about as average as each of us feels is attempting to do a similar thing.

Spring Break Broke

In Family, Vacation on March 25, 2007 at 1:02 pm

Spring Break is over (thank the Maker), so as promised, I’m back. For those of you who enjoy true stories of life going very, very wrong, here’s a summary of the past week.

The break started off well enough: things getting done, papers getting written (and a few graded), pages getting read. This went on through Wednesday and, while there always seemed more to do, the progress was good.

Then Wednesday night hit…and Spring Break broke. I came down with what felt like a bout of gout in my left foot – the pain was so bad that I couldn’t walk on it at all. I thought about self-amputating, but I wasn’t sure our knives were sharp enough.

On Thursday morning, I went to get it looked at an Urgent Care (which was neither). After two hours and three X-rays to check for possible broken bones, I was declared healthy. This, however, did not help my foot, so the doc (who didn’t want to hear any self-diagnosis talk that it might be gout) semi-grudingly wrote a prescription for gout anyway and sent me on my way.

We were due to leave for Branson after lunch that afternoon, so when Megan picked up the prescription at Walgreen’s, she also got a set of crutches in case the drugs didn’t work. Then, in great pain and with crutches in hand (or under arms), we loaded up the van and set out for two days of Spring Break fun (darn it) at Grand Country Square.

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A word on Branson (and this is NOT brought to you by the Branson Tourism Center): I am NOT a fan. Branson is Hee-Haw on steroids; it’s a (very) poor man’s Vegas. The place is one big buffet (pronounced “boo-fay”) line after another, complete with guests attired in thoughtful black T-shirts that read “Save the drama for your mama,” “Rub my tummy for good luck,” and one that Megan (who planned the trip) promised to buy me if we ever came back: “I didn’t say it was your fault, just that I’m blaming you.”

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This (yes, all this) goes on for miles on both sides of Branson’s Highway 76 (Main Street), and its two (count ’em, two) perpetually-crowded lanes that run between dozens of aesthetically-blah theaters with lots of parking spaces all around that look like your local semi-megachurch building down the street (minus the giant billboards and “buy tickets here” signs).

Being the tourists that we aren’t, we decided to play it safe and stay within our little compound at Grand Country. Sure, the waterpark (building, really) was fun for the girls, and I got to watch a lot of the NCAA tournament, but the real highlight (at least for the eight-and-under set) was Grand Country’s Amazing Pets performance, featuring Sean Paul, his wife Julianne, and their “child,” Frankie the monkey. Also featured were Stanley the Usher (who was actually funny, in a “I’m just playing the part of an usher” kind of way), The Amazing Valari (who worked with the cats – that is, the housecats), and Larry the Birdman (who, when his birds didn’t complete their tricks – which was most of the time – did the tricks for them).

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The show was so bad it was good, and the girls thought it was the greatest thing since breakfast (which it was, as we saw the 10 a.m. performance). Thankfully, the drugs worked wonders on my foot, and we made plans to spend the rest of the day and next morning playing in the water, but then two of the four girls came down with some vomit-inducing virus that began taking them out one at a time. It wasn’t pretty.

When we just couldn’t take it anymore, we packed up the van and headed back to St. Louis, stopping every 45 minutes to deal with someone’s puke. It was true family bonding, and Megan and I just semi-laughed all the way home as it was obvious we had done it again – made our best effort to do something fun as a family, only to have it miss by a mile our expectations.

We ARE the Griswolds, and my name is Clark. If we ever invite you to do anything or go anywhere with us, say no and run away…run very, very far away.

What I Did Over Summer Vacation

In Vacation on August 6, 2006 at 9:09 pm

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I’ve never “vacationed” well. This has something to do with the fact that my father (and thus my family) rarely went anywhere when I was a kid (two words of legitimate excuse: farm animals).

Now that I’m an adult, I also have never seen the point of spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars on oneself and family just because one can (not that we can, of course; I’m just speaking hypothetically).

Don’t get me wrong: in recent years, we’ve done a few things that some would consider “vacation,” but as they have almost always involved extended family, I’ve tended to think of them more as “trips” than “vacations.” However, my definition might be changing, at least after this past weekend.

On Friday, Megan and I loaded up the kids and drove across the Show-Me-State of Missouri to my aunt and uncle’s house, 45 minutes south of Kansas City, KS. In addition to our family, my two sisters and their husbands/kids made the trek from Illinois, as did my parents (that’s 18 souls if you’re keeping track).

We met that evening at Kaufmann Stadium, home of the cellar-dwelling Kansas City Royals. The Royals were playing the Minnesota Twins, and the kids did great during the ten-inning game, which ended with a special Friday-night fireworks presentation (when your team is as bad as the Royals, you gotta get/keep fans in the stadium somehow).

It was a late night driving afterward (we got everyone to bed about 1 a.m.), but Saturday was laid back. We had breakfast outside on the deck, played a little baseball of our own (kids against adults, though strangely, the adults never got to bat and the kids got more than their share of strikes and outs), and took plenty of golf cart rides all over the mowed paths in the pasture.

After a simple lunch of ham sammies and homemade ice cream, it was naptime for everyone (I also got a few innings of baseball watched). The kids loved my relatives’ pets (two very affectionate dogs and a “talking” cat), and Megan and I enjoyed the grandparents’ help in looking after the young ones. Dinner was burgers on the grill, followed by a movie before bedtime and some very restful sleep for all involved. The little ones were sound asleep by 8:30 p.m., and so was I.

This morning, we drove back listening to a sermon podcast, wishing we could somehow make the 5-hour drive back to St. Louis in time for church this morning. However, we stopped in Columbia for lunch, and I introduced the girls to Shakespeare’s Pizza and my alma mater, Ol’ Mizzou. Duly (or barely) impressed after our 100-degree mini-walking-tour, we got back in the van, cranked the AC, and rocked out the rest of the way home, with Megan as Podmaster.

It’s the end to a good day and a nice, simple, short vacation (yes, I can actually use the term when it applies). Thanks to my aunt and uncle for the invitation, my family for the time together, and Megan for packing and mothering the girls (and me) on the trip.

And special thanks to my girls, for being so excited by the smallest of things – swings and playhouses and slides and kiddie pools and baseball and dogs and cats and box turtles that we almost ran over on the golf cart and having to share beds with their sisters and watching stupid kid movies that so insult their intelligence and milkshakes and pizza and loud music and hugs and kisses and forgiveness and unconditional love when Daddy gets impatient with them and an appreciation of beauty and morning and blue skies and green grass and humor and God.

Now if they’ll just go to sleep, for crying out loud…

(Note: If you’d like to see the pics from the trip, click here. You’ll need to be a “family and friend” to see all the good ones, so email Megan and she’ll send you an invitation.)