The Gift of Firelight

My thoughts on this blog often focus on God’s grace in the face of brokenness. I talk a lot about our struggles with our son’s sensory processing disorder. I reflect upon my own failings, my tenuous confidence in my transition from the hospital to the home, and the idols with which I struggle. I too infrequently use posts to revel in joy and praise for the Lord.

I’m changing that today.

This past week the kids and I ventured to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.  This wouldn’t seem momentous,  especially as I’d always envisioned exploring the city’s riches with the kids. But for the last year, we’ve avoided Boston altogether because Pip usually can’t handle it. The crowds, the noise, the lights, the busyness — all of it means disaster for a kid who can’t even tolerate a grocery store, for whom a typical shirt feels “full of spikes,” and who can only slog through a church service with noise cancelling headphones.

This month, however, we’ve been reading lots of storybooks about artists. (Here are some others.) When Pip and Bean learned that the MFA housed pieces by Degas, Monet, and Van Gogh — all names they recognized — they were giddy. Add the promise of real Egyptian artifacts, after we’d just been reading about the pyramids, and the kids were hooked.

So, after giving Pip some intensive therapy, we braved it.

As expected, it was hard for him. (Check out the fingers in his ears while viewing Monet’s waterlilies!) With visual input tangling in his brain, his eyes glazed over and he struggled to focus on any particular piece, even when I pointed it out. He shuffled his feet and spread out on a couch to give himself proprioceptive input. He clung to me for the entire trip with a vice-like grip of my finger, his default maneuver when he feels overwhelmed and anxious.

But he made it through. He struggled, but he never had a meltdown. He didn’t bolt into the parking lot. He didn’t devolve into nastiness and irritability, or shrink away from a gentle touch on his shoulder.  And with that success, he allowed his little sister to blossom.

Bean was enthralled. She cried out, “Mum, there’s Marie!” at the sight of Degas’ Little Dancer sculpture, which she spied from across a corridor. She asked about a dozen questions about an Egyptian statue. She pleaded to return to view a giant painting of the stoning of Stephen a second time. After 2.5 hours, she didn’t want to leave, and repeatedly asked to “see another painting.” All this. . . and she is three.  Her passion had come afire, lit by pastels, oils, and relics of the ancient world.

On the way home, both kids independently dove into the books they’d brought on the journey, all of them replete with paintings and Egyptian images that took on depth and realism after the trip.  And as I drove past a familiar skyline, it’s curves and edifices as well-known to me as my own palm, I fought tears. Not of frustration, or desperation, or despair, as I’ve cried so many times in recent years, but of gratitude. Of thanks that washed over my heart like a sunlit tide.

Homeschooling was never “the plan.” I loved my job, and ten years ago would never have envisioned the life we now live. I felt compelled to leave practice because I knew I couldn’t infuse my kids’ days with a knowledge of and love for the Lord (Deut 6:7) while I was working 90 hours a week. I knew I was too consumed with my job responsibilities — with agonizing worry for my patients that enslaved my every thought — to focus wholeheartedly on my kids’ needs. But it was never my plan.

Thanks be to God, His plans are so much greater than my own. I had no idea what a blessing homeschooling would be for these two kids. For us.

Pip could never handle the clamor of a brick-and-mortar school, the noises, the crowds, the medley of primary colors littered across walls. Homeschooling allows him to flourish, in an environment he can handle. He explores dark matter, atoms, and electrical circuits. He reads chapter books in his hammock.  He manipulates multiplication and fraction problems in his head for fun, without the frustration of written work on days when he can’t control a pencil. He takes rock-climbing lessons. And when he’s having a rough day, he can stay in his pajamas if he needs to. We schedule “cozy pajama days” every week, when he can decompress from the stresses of daily life, and learn in the quiet of home, and in the serenity of our backyard. Homeschooling allows him to challenge himself as much as he can, but gently, at his own pace, according to his unique needs.

And then, I see Bean’s wonder at the sight of Degas’ Little Dancer, a sculpture she knows from her books and greets like a beloved friend.

I thank God today, and praise Him, for guiding us along this unforeseen path. I recognize that not everyone can homeschool, and so am all the more grateful that He has made it possible for us in this season, when it is so clearly the right thing for the two, unique kids with whom He’s entrusted me. It may not be possible forever. But right now, it is a point of grace that we walk this road.

And I thank the Lord for the magical glimpses of learning, for awe in the shadows of centuries-old paintings, and for the privilege of witnessing these sparks.

W. B. Yeats is credited with the saying, “Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” To see those fires flicker and glow, is to witness God’s glory at work. Although finding the right job and meeting the state standards are important, to make these the focus of education misses the richness, the vibrance, and the gift of learning.

Our goal is not to check off boxes. Our goal is to nurture children to grow into the people God intends them to be. To ignite in them a wonder for God’s workmanship, and in so doing, to point them toward Him.

To be a part of this process — to fan those flames — is a profound privilege. A privilege, and a joy.

Thank you, Lord, for the blessing of this firelight, for the gift of its radiance. To you be all the glory; you, the God who loves, the God who redeems, the supreme Artist above us all. You painted the heavens. You crafted our children. You gave us Christ so we might rejoice, and raise these little ones to gaze with wide eyes upon your splendor.


6 Comments Add yours

  1. jsmith1054 says:

    I rejoice with you. Homeschooling was a gift in our life also though I too believe that not all are called to it. What a sweet day.


    1. Katie Butler says:

      Blessings to you, friend!


  2. Kathee says:

    Praising the Lord with you, Katie – thank you for sharing your joy and the the hope it gives!


    1. Katie Butler says:

      Thank you Kathee!


  3. Paula Kancianic says:

    Love this!


    1. Katie Butler says:

      Thank you so much Paula!


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