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patterns of ink

How fruitless to be ever thinking yet never embrace a thought... to have the power to believe and believe it's all for naught. I, too, have reckoned time and truth (content to wonder if not think) in metaphors and meaning and endless patterns of ink. Perhaps a few may find their way to the world where others live, sharing not just thoughts I've gathered but those I wish to give. Tom Kapanka

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

A Place to Grow

It just occurred to me (though I think I calculated it a while ago and then forgot it) that June 2006 marks my 25th year in K-12 education: Upon completing grad school, I taught a year in Muncie, Indiana; then moved to Waterloo, Iowa, where I taught (and later administrated) for a total of eighteen years; and I've now administrated six years (thus far) here in West Michigan.

Two things stand out to me based simply on the math: First, I can hardly believe it’s been six years since we moved to West Michigan (it truly has been a pleasure to live and serve here). Second, it’s hard to fathom that we will live here twelve more years before it equals the eighteen consecutive years we spent in Iowa. That’s a long time to spend in one place by today’s transient standards.

My wife and I began there in Waterloo as young, green teachers. Our first residence was an apartment across the street from the school. Then we purchased a happy “mobile home” beside a picturesque pond for $6,800. Oh, my! Iowa winters brought days of 25+ below zero that passed like slow glaciers over the barren corn fields. TWENTY-FIVE BELOW! That’s not wind-chill—that’s bone-chill!

One cold arctic week, school was closed for three days—not a flake of snow…just a cold that froze your nose hairs before you could walk to a car that wouldn’t start. We spent two winters like that, shivering for months, listening to the drone of a small furnace that seemed to never stop running, and hoping our car would turn over in the morning. Our first-born arrived in our second October of mobile-home living.

After that fun housing adventure (thanks largely to a buyer's market left in the wake of the farm crisis of the mid-eighties), we were able to buy a nice two-story bungalow a few blocks from the school for an unheard of price (and the seller was kind enough to pay all of our closing costs!) . It was an answer to prayer on a fixer-upper that was soon worth three times what we paid for it. That house endeared itself to us for many reasons.

Of all the homes we may ever know, it’s “the little blue house” on Berkshire that will always be our girl’s favorite. It is there that their fondest memories were made and where, I’m told, there dreams still sometimes take them in a mix of past and present and people here and gone that can happen only in dreams. If my former students from those 18 years remember gatherings at our house, or babysitting for us, it was there on Berkshire.

But of course our years there in Iowa are even more encapsulated in another building: the church and school on the corner of Ansborough and Ridgeway. Those were wonderful years in the classroom (and later the office). There I learned that if you invest in students and let them know you care, some of them are able to see past your flaws and foibles and learn something they might just remember way down the road of life—and better yet, down that same road… the teacher realizes he learned a lot from them, too.

As a bonus to that part of my career, about ten years into my time there, it was in the church that I learned many things from a handful of peers and older gentlemen (who understood the need to develop leaders in the next generation). These men patiently watched my exuberance calcify into experience… and, in time, watched a thirty-five-year-old guy become slightly more useful to the Kingdom by the time he was forty-something. I could not minister as I now do were it not for my many mentors and the hundreds of students who taught me during those years in the Heartland.

During most of that time, the state-line welcome signs read: “Iowa, a place to grow.” That was true in more ways than one. Greetings to all of our Hawkeye friends!

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