Mamas worry when their children don’t know everything the mama thinks they should know at a certain time. Sometimes it is hard to remember that learning happens step by step over a lifetime. Lessons and experiences build on one another over time. In Deuteronomy 11, God tells the Israelites to impress God’s words on their hearts and souls, to teach His words to their sons and talk of them when they sat in their houses and when they walked along the road and when they lay down and when they rose up.
This educational method that God described works beautifully. To use it, though, you have to trust that God and time are on your side. This educational method is how I learn and it’s how you learn, too. We learn as we sit and walk and lie down and rise up. Children learn that way, too.
I learned fascinating history lessons last week in an unexpected setting. After Ray, our son John, and I arrived at the American Legion building in Columbia, Tennessee, we met Kim Smith, who manages the building. When he saw Ray, he asked, “Were you in the class of ’70? Weren’t you the valedictorian?” With these words of reminder, Ray recognized Kim, too.
Soon we were enjoying Kim’s wonderful stories.
Kim moved to Tennessee from up north (as we say) in 1963 when he was ten. His father worked for his uncle whose business was natural gas. The uncle gave Kim’s dad a choice of working in three specific southern towns. When his dad visited Columbia, Tennessee, he decided that that nice, southern town with good potential was the place for his family.
In the fall of 1963, another uncle, Kim’s father’s brother, contacted Kim’s father from Texas. The uncle thought that now that the families were living close together, his brother should bring his family to Texas for Thanksgiving (November 28th that year). I don’t exactly think of Texas and Tennessee as close neighbors, but Tennessee was much closer to Texas than their former “up north” home had been.
Kim’s uncle suggested that they come a few days before Thanksgiving since President John F. Kennedy was coming to Dallas. Kim’s dad told him that they would wait for Thanksgiving. That’s how Kim’s family missed being in Dallas when an assassin killed President Kennedy on November 22. Kim’s uncle did take them to the area of the crime though, where investigators were still looking for evidence.
When Kim grew up, he served for a time in the military. His job as a medic gave him the opportunity to be stationed in Natick, Massachusetts. Kim was happy to allow himself to be tested in medical research in exchange for the opportunity to spend time in the area. He enjoyed living where Puritan missionary John Eliot taught the local native tribe, became known as the “apostle to the Indians,” and worked to translate the Bible into Algonquian. This Bible, sometimes called the “Eliot Bible,” was the first Bible printed in America.
Ray’s high school was strong academically, so Kim went to New England well-prepared for the history and literary opportunities available to him. He enjoyed visiting Lexington and Concord, where the first shots were fired in the American Revolution. He also visited Walden Pond, where Henry David Thoreau spent time in a cabin and which he described in Walden; or, Life in the Woods.
Kim decided that if Thoreau could spend time in a cabin by Walden Pond, he would like to spend a night there, too. He laid down branches and pine needles for a bed and slept in the open. About 11:30 p.m., Kim heard the rustling of young people nearby. When Kim heard one of them say, “Is he dead?” he let them know in a hurry what he was doing, assuring them that he was having an adventure and was not homeless.
Kim told us a story his father told him. Kim’s father was the valedictorian of his high school graduating class. In his valedictory address, he encouraged his fellow classmates to do better in their town than the current administration was doing. He condemned local officials for their corruption. When the speech was published in the local newspaper, the mayor went to Kim’s grandfather and threatened to ruin his son’s chances in life. Kim’s grandfather told the mayor that if he did that to his son, the mayor would never be elected again. The mayor backed off. Reporters at The Chicago Tribune learned about the valedictory address and published it in their newspaper. That publication resulted in a college scholarship for Kim’s dad.
What a powerful lesson Kim’s dad learned. He learned to speak the truth no matter the consequences. He learned that his father would back him when he stood up for what is right.
The old adage “Live and learn” is a good one. That’s what we do — if we are wise. Giving our children time to live and learn with us right there to guide them is a wonderful way to live and learn as a family.
Let’s look at that passage again:
You shall therefore impress these words of mine
on your heart and on your soul;
and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand,
and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.
You shall teach them to your sons,
talking of them when you sit in your house
and when you walk along the road
and when you lie down and when you rise up.