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“What do we plant when we plant a tree…?”

This little poem was part of Maddy’s science reading last week. It led me to wonder…

What do we plant when we plant this Charlotte Mason Education? This “living” education?

Speculation about what goes on in another human being is all that is available to any of us. But since we are all born persons, I can surmise that what happens within myself is likely to hold true for others. (Doesn’t CM write about this in Ourselves?) And so, if you would like to follow along as I trace my thoughts...

It has been a tough year and yet on some level, I feel weak saying it. My life has certainly not been as hard as some and even in the hardships I stand back now and am in awe at the beauty that was woven into the nooks and crannies. God’s grace is boundless and sometimes easiest to see when ease is taken from us. I have been stretched and have grown and through it all God has worked his complex good* in unexpected ways so that in faith I can stand and say that the end will be beautiful regardless. But this truth doesn’t lessen the feeling of a tough year.

Last year we used the life of Theodore Roosevelt as a segue from that year’s studies into this, from the 19th century into the 20th. Over the summer we read an amazing biography** about his family and we fell in love with the Roosevelt family of Sagamore Hill- to say nothing of their larger than life father. Part of our memory work was “The Man in the Arena” and all of those vibrant ideas and inspirations sifted down.

As the year wore on and wore out- the weight and the mundaneness of it all began to show. Do you know what I mean when I say “the grunt work” of homeschooling became heavy? The unseen-ness of what I had chosen, coupled with conflicts in relationships around me and a dysfunctional thyroid worked together to make me feel trapped rather than called. My husband, who is my biggest cheerleader, did his best to encourage - but a chill had settled in.

What do we plant when we plant this kind of an education?

The statement, I am not a dream person, has double meaning for me. First, I don’t dream. Second, I don’t put stock in them as some people do. But in the midst of this I had a dream. I dreamed that I was at an outdoor picnic and Theodore Roosevelt was there. I prepared him a plate of food and took it to him, and he tried to pay me for it. “Don’t worry about it", I almost said. But something inside of me welled up- suddenly I wanted him to know how much his life had inspired me. How important he had been to my family. In my dream he seemed to think of himself- as just himself and not be aware of the mark he had left in the world he had so vibrantly inhabited. Suddenly, in my dream, there were so many things that I needed him to know- and yet all I could say was, “No. It’s an honor to serve you.” At which, he hugged me; not a soft hug, but a hearty sideways hug as he clapped me on the shoulder in true TR style. And I woke up.

I rolled over, flopped my arm onto my husband and told him my dream. He laughed and took my hand saying, “You know you are serving someone even greater than Theodore Roosevelt. And someday you will get to meet Him.”

He knew.

He understood.

He saw in it what I hadn’t.

As I mulled the “meeting” around in my mind that day a passage of poetry we memorized years ago came back to me:

Lives of great men remind us, we can make our lives sublime;

And departing leave behind us, footprints in the sands of time.

Footprints that perhaps another, sailing ore life’s solemn main

A forlorn and shipwrecked brother, seeing them shall take heart again.

Let us then be up and doing with a heart for any fate.

Still achieving, still pursuing, learn to labor and to wait.***

It fit like a piece in a puzzle. It spoke to me. I felt strengthened and fortified. Still achieving, still pursuing, learn to labor and to wait. It wasn’t command or drudgery, but inspiration. Regardless of the fate, the outcome or recognition- I was to be up and doing. The life of a great man had reminded me. We can’t always see the mark we leave. I was that forlorn and shipwrecked brother. All of the encouragement I had received from the outside had been nice- but this thing from the inside, this thing from the past had spoken to me in a deep way. I could feel the cloud lifting. I felt a lightness as a went about my day, a purpose. I was following footprints, but I was also leaving them. Where would mine lead and what would they say and to whom? Suddenly there was purpose in what I was doing again. There was weight. There was eternity.

As the days went on, I became curious about that word – sublime. Of course I had used it and had a functional sense of what it meant. But as the dream and the poem continued with me, I began to wonder if there was something deeper to it. What does it mean to make our lives sublime? I pulled out my ancient double dictionary, the one with nuances of meaning you can’t find on google, and looked it up. Of course there were the usual: lofty, noble, exalted. But as I read the 3 inch entry I came to another definition and it was then that I felt God speak to my heart.

In Chemistry there is sublimation. It is the process by which a substance, when heated, moves directly from a solid to a gas. Certain substances under certain conditions skip the liquid phase. Solid to vapor. Seen to unseen. I felt God whisper sublimation to my heart. The idea that some lives- some duties- some callings are special- that in their offering, they skip the visible phase. Their substance is never seen but moves directly to their Creator as a sweet incense.

The whisper grew stronger. There may not be recognition in this life. There may never be accolades, but that is ok, there is something unique about the substance I am offering in this season. The act, the offering, doesn’t disappear simply because it is in a state not easily apprehended by the senses. There is sublimation.

Lives of great men remind me- I can make my life SUBLIME.

I can expend my energy and joy grasping for the visible liquid state- or I can recognize what is distinctive about this homeschooling life I am offering and cherish it for what it is.

I believe God spoke to me. Spoke to me when I needed it. Spoke not in an audible voice or through a sermon but through our studies, and not even through our Bible or devotional studies- but through what some might tag "secular studies". There is no division between the sacred and secular. It is all His and he uses it all.

What do we plant when we plant when we plant this kind of an education?

As I retrace the path that God used to reach my heart in this instance- I have to answer first and foremost: we plant a way for God to speak. We provide an avenue, a right-of-way. Road building isn’t the content itself - but is does smooth the way for delivery. It requires work and diligence and purpose. This education hasn’t just paved the way in my kids- it has done its work in me. The inspiring people and ideas that resonate with His truth and character have been His tools. I can’t tell you how many times God has answered prayers of question or confirmation via the Student Motto. Still quiet answers that stir up the dust of things read and digested.

What do we plant when we plant this kind of an education?

Of course we are putting our children in contact with the world around them and we are equipping them for the life they will lead- but more than all of that we are giving their Creator a medium through which he will reach their hearts. Conduit. And isn’t that really the most important thing?

S.Timothy 2021

* C.S. Lewis writes about “complex good” in the Problem of Pain ch. 7

** “The Roosevelt Family of Sagamore Hill” by Herman Hagedorn

*** “The Psalm of Life” by Longfellow


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