Following Directions

While men notoriously get blamed for not asking directions, I believe we all want to have a go at finding our own way. Our direction is right! We know it! In this insistence, we people have the tendency to behave like sheep. We wander off in myriad directions, blithely ignoring sign posts, advice from those who know us well, and warning signs that we sense ourselves, but choose to mute.

Little wonder the Bible compares people to sheep. Actually, sheep ‘graze’ all over the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. In the Old Testament sheep are fattened, slaughtered, and sacrificed to the Lord. In the New Testament, people deceive others by appearing “as sheep” or “in sheep’s clothing.” 

More often, however, the Lord sees sheep as lost, foolish, and helpless. While they need direction, they fight following the shepherd. Why? Trustworthiness? Indecision? Obstinance?

Since Eden’s debacle, our DNA has been programmed to follow foolishness. Those who know something of the Bible readily see this willful wandering from the Shepherd as sin. That is absolutely true, and Jesus served as the Perfect Unblemished Lamb, the only one who could atone for man’s sin.

“All we like sheep have gone astray;  we have turned — every one — to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.” 

Here, in Isaiah 53, people go in our own direction and God chooses to inflict our punishment on the only person who ever followed Yahweh perfectly — Jesus Christ. Only a perfect sacrifice could fulfill the demand of the law.


However, those God calls don’t instantly join a happy flock and never face any problems. The men who received three years of direct mentoring from Christ fell away like sheep when guards arrested Christ. (Mark 14:27)

Following in one direction means choosing not to proceed  in another. Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken,” is a poetic statement about this. So for today, in what ways well I, as a sheep, be led astray by following my own direction in issues large and small? Will I choose to follow my own way by ignoring another’s need, making a hurtful comment, or sneaking a handful of dark chocolate later tonight? Lots to ponder for this little sheep.



Many summer jobs involve serving the public

Most children learn to serve by making their beds, picking veggies from the family garden, shoveling snow for an elderly neighbor, or setting the table. Those in the military are in service to their country. Many who first arrived on America’s shore came as indentured servants, those who worked for four to seven years to repay their passage. 

I remember both our sons’ first paying jobs. They mowed neighbors’ lawns, cooked at Fuddruckers, and worked 60-hour weeks at a local deli. They got the Latin connection between servant and serf! Public servants, aka politicians, once served a term or two and then returned home to work as citizens. Somewhere, however, the concept of serving is slipping from America’s lexicon and experience. Mike Rowe, former opera singer turned television actor, calls his foundation mikeroweWORKS. For those who seek training to do many service jobs, Rowe offers scholarships. Too many college-degreed people train for jobs that no longer exist or that are already glutted with too many applicants. How many MBAs can this country use? Yet many other jobs, often involving labor and/or serving, need qualified workers. Do we want only shirt and tie jobs? Do we expect a six-figure salary the second year we’re employed? Perhaps the more telling question for our future is this: what attitudes are we planting in the next generation? 

The Chick-Fil-A organization trains its employees to respond with a quick smile and a hearty, “My pleasure.” This fast food chain hires from the general population, but Chick-Fil-A executives realize that employees who offer pleasant responses and cordial service cost nothing more, but bring in tons of good will from loyal customers. It’s the old “service with a smile” concept!

Even three-year-olds can take dishes to the counter at the end of a meal. I know … parents or grandparents can do the task more quickly, perhaps more safely, but don’t miss the golden opportunity when kids want to help. And how about those school backpacks children pose with in first-day photos? Who carries that bulging tote into school and then out of the car by week three? Keep giving those serving tasks to your children. We serve the next generation when we teach them the responsibility and then the joy in serving. We have few years to instill serving before the sun sets.

What Are We Teaching?

I loved teaching English for decades  — whether grammar, usage, writing, logic, or literature. Over those years I watched things like diagramming fall in and out of vogue. Writing sentences and paragraphs morphed into teaching the Writing Process, to group brainstorming, making idea blocks, and Venn diagrams.

Yet, my biggest concern lies with the choices of reading material now being offered to students. I’ve lived through books like Huck Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird being banned from and then reinstated to school reading lists. A former student, aspiring to major in English, endured a mid-90s college course titled Women Writers of the Caribbean. Puzzled, I asked her what published book she had used. “None. Each poem was zeroxed.” Remember that such courses are now 20 years further on the continuum of what I refer to as agenda over education. 

Snarky sarcasm, obscenities and profanities now spew forth from younger children; they have had years of not just poor television, but a decline in literature.

For nine years, Maryland Humanities has sponsored a large book club of sorts, One Maryland One Book. This year’s selection, All American Boys, concerns me as an educator, grandmother and citizen of a country increasingly polarized by extremes. The more tv shows and books rehash stories of hate, and litter their limited vocabulary dialogue with incoherent utterances, the more people go to their respective corners in frustration and anger. Slowly, like plaque building up on our teeth, we begin to take on distasteful attitudes.

Please understand that I’m not an ostrich with its head buried in the sand about pain or injustice. I taught in inner city Little Rock in the late 60s. I also contracted polio five years before the Salk vaccine; I have been the last one picked for many games, the one who fell and got stepped on in the school’s Halloween parade through town. 

What are parents to do about literature choices? They can’t afford to be ostriches about their children’s education. First, make every effort to read with your elementary-age children. Ask questions about what you’ve read together. Make age-appropriate connections with your child’s experiences. 

But what happens at middle and high school? The books  get much longer! If you cannot read the whole book, at least read reviews written by people who have read them. Enlist friends and grandparents to read them and give their input. The Internet makes this task much easier today. Engage your children by asking them about the ideas in the book. “What do you think the author was trying to accomplish? Is the conflict exaggerated? Do you have any personal experience with the situations the book presents? Can you read me one powerfully written sentence? Why did you choose that one? Would you be comfortable reading me a selection from the book due to content or language? Are you being assigned too many books like this? If so, why do you think so?”

These precious years with children pass so quickly. The psalmist declares, “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” That seems like sound counsel.

Teaching Our Children

I have grandchildren in both public and Christian schools now. Though I left the high school classroom in 2015, I care deeply about education. This morning I read a transcript from  WBAL-TV (Baltimore) regarding new grading standards. Once again, the topic of how we will grade and what we will teach is up for discussion. Are we even closer to “Everyone gets an A”? How do we give students an education and not merely an agenda, and do it without an over emphasis on grades? Condoleezza Rice offers her views on the benefits of education…… but the choices of curriculum and the measurements of mastery for any given subject are two hotly debated topics. 

I have met my son’s former Hawaii neighbor, an amazing nurse and home schooling mom of 7 whose husband serves as commander of a Navy submarine. Translate that to his being gone for six-month stretches! I also know of several former students of mine who now homeschool their confident, articulate, socially adept kids. I believe few students are receiving the full math and science, technology, reading/writing/researching, Western Civilization education of many homeschoolers. Another plus is the ability to present material through the worldview lens preferred at home while exposing scions to alternate views.

Ultimately, all parents bear responsibility for their children’s education. And most parents do choose to use the public school system. Doing so places the burden of oversight and worldview upon the parents. This requires time, vigilance, and diplomatic interaction with the schools. Knowing when and how to volunteer or voice concerns is quite a balancing act.

Remembering that “more is caught than is taught,” all students absorb parental attitudes. While I didn’t homeschool our boys, I was painfully aware of any of my attitudes and bad behaviors the boys picked up, particularly in the first five years. I knew the full-time teacher at home all too well! Because I reentered the teaching world, I later became their high school English teacher. We had some less than stellar moments, but they read worthy literature, by my definition since I chaired the department, and mastered expository writing well enough to earn advanced degrees. Both were told they should go back and thank the teacher who taught them to write. They did. 

If your child’s school year has begun, whether in a public, magnet, classical, Christian, charter, on-line, or dual enrollment school, or if in your own home classroom, take time to stay involved and interactive. It’s worth the time to carefully consider all the educational options open to you. Wherever your children attend school, take advantage of processing times with them. You can almost count on those moments coming in their time frame, not your “How was school today?” passing comment! But your kids care about your input, rolled eyes or not! Take some time with those adorable faces; for far more than grades are at stake here.

Roots and Wings

While I did not live on a farm, my roots go back to farm country in Orange County, New York. Digging DNA deeper, my sources of origin include the Netherlands, Ireland, England and Scotland. And the land taught many of my ancestors about the beauty of this earth, about God’s artistry in peppers’ colorings and flavors.

And also about the impermanence of this world and our life in it. On an ATV ride today Dave and I came upon many leaves already turning bright red, harbingers of autumn rains and winds that will pull those leaves to the ground.
So I look at nature and learn the pictorial version of the psalmist’s instruction: “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12 ESV

Put in that light, aging is not a maudlin topic; instead, we all have a calling to seek a heart of wisdom. We don’t simply gather more experiences, check off every bucket list item, fatten our portfolio each year, or earn points in heaven for earthly deeds done.
Instead, we cast a longer look, take a deeper drink of what matters. We may even asked questions we have avoided for decades.

What is a heart of wisdom? Where do I find it? How do I acquire more of it? If I haven’t been numbering my days, have I lost my opportunity? These questions deserve thoughtful consideration.

When Job comes to the end of his complaints and wisdom, not to mention his so-called comforters’ input, God puts many wisdom questions to Job in chapter 38:

“Can you send forth lightning that they may go
and say to you, ‘Here we are’? Who has put wisdom in the inward parts or given understanding to the mind?  Who can number the clouds by wisdom? Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens…”

The heart of wisdom must connect to God, for we, like Job, cannot begin to answer the questions posed by the Almighty. And if we are honest, many of our current day situations confound us just as Job could make no sense of his life. We need God’s help. And graciously, at whatever age we are, God’s mercies are new every morning. So, like the sunflowers, we lift our faces to the skies, and look to the Giver of all true wisdom. The Lord of heaven and earth is still there, seeking to teach us from the Love Letter written centuries ago. From roots grounded in Him, He gives us wings.

Teaching Wherever

When I taught school, I rarely took students outside for class because of the many distractions there. But as the little pitcher above demonstrates his rock-throwing form, we can all acknowledge that much learning occurs in a greater arena: it is life’s school yard.

I distinctly remember two childhood teachings from my parents. My mother’s lesson involved  placing Queen Anne’s lace into various jam jars of colored water. With amazement, I watched science happen as each white flower drew up water and changed colors.

Years later, I understood Tenneyson’s profound God observation made outdoors when he spied a flower growing through a crack in a wall:
FLOWER in the crannied wall,

I pluck you out of the crannies,
I hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower—but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.

My second lesson came as my father and I weeded in our family garden. As a child, I was undoubtedly whining about the repetition of pulling weeds when my no-nonsense, Dutch father made this analogy: weeds, like sin in our life, always pop back up and need to be pulled out. As Dave picked corn yesterday at a friend’s farm, her apology about the weeds took me back to the lesson my dad taught so long ago.

How do we recognize teachable moments? Honestly, I don’t always catch them. Like a firefly’s blink, the light of opportunity appears without much warning and then is gone. The astute teacher must recognize the distraction as a learning diversion, take time when it is usually not convenient,  and give just enough information to pique future inquiries, or cause deeper thoughts later in time. If I sense the moment, I should grab it!

But how do I prepare, especially if the moment might lead to sharing, not just scientific facts, but true spiritual wisdom? While the apostle Paul lay in prison, awaiting his death, he wrote to his spiritual son Timothy. Since I believe we often speak meaningful things as we near the end of life, I hear both instruction and passion in Paul’s words.

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” 2 Tim. 4:1-2 ESV  (emphasis mine)

The “be ready” part implores me to study scripture daily; I must engage with Truth if I’m to impact the mind. The “with complete patience and teaching” speaks to my character; I am called to teach in a way that touches two hearts: mine and my students’.

Although a huge task and responsibility, teaching wherever keeps my eyes, ears, mind and heart open to the One who gives wisdom generously. May He graciously give us opportunity today to declare Him in large and small ways.

Characterizing Students

The retired teacher scrolls through the back-to-school photos currently on social media, smiling back at the scrubbed faces; excited, well, in most cases excited, smiles; first-day outfits; heavy backpacks! After having taught high school and college for 35 years, she pauses to think of hundreds of her former students. The memories form a sweetness akin to the corn she freezes today.

Those students from her first days substituting in inner-city Little Rock and then teaching in Pulaski County, Arkansas, will turn 60 before this school year ends! 

Luther’s impish grin captured her heart. He was the reason she started having students put their names on the back of their compositions! Otherwise she would have graded Luther’s papers by always giving him the benefit of any doubt.

Keeping the students seated when many saw their first snow falling  in December proved challenging, as did removing a switchblade from a student in choir class! 
The only students who caused her distress were the ones who got defensive immediately, while a word or idea had just left another’s mouth. When a short story mentioned blue grass in Kentucky, insurrection nearly exploded! “Ain’t no such thing,” uttered several freshmen! When she asked who had been outside of Arkansas, not one of the 125 students’ hands went up! Sadly, more than one student took issue with Neil Armstrong’s moon walk in 1969, claiming the site was a place in Arizona or New Mexico because the Bible taught there were  four corners of the earth. Rev. 7:1

Credit NASA
As the political rhetoric of 2016 continues to broil, this retired educator prays for wisdom, the ability to hear from many, and not just knee jerk an immediate, defensive response. See, those teaching memories can still instruct the instructor!