Monday, April 16, 2012


My daughter Elizabeth began walking, without the aid of a toy stroller, outstretched hand, or furniture of knee height right before Christmas 2011. In the three plus months since, she has taken to running. I'm a worried parent anyways; her first steps were, for me, coupled with nervousness and anxiety. What was even more nerve racking was that right after she took her first steps, we went on a two week trip up North to visit family for the Holidays. Stints in three different houses, none of which were baby proofed, luckily ended with neither Elizabeth nor myself any worse for the wear.

Fast forward to the end of February and Elizabeth can run. In being so able, my worries have also increased and accelerated. Elizabeth runs when she's excited (which is frequent). She runs when she's outside (which given the beautiful weather as of late has been often). She runs when she has something that she shouldn't (which is also quite often!).

She runs, and in being so able, she falls. She trips. She slips. She collapses. She takes turns too fast for her little feet and legs. She veers toward walls and doorways. Edges of tables and chairs jump out at her. And sometimes, she falls for absolutely no (apparent) reason. She gets bumps, bruises and just this past week, bloodied lips (thanks to a face plant on the sidewalk!). As she's learning how to run, she is simultaneously learning how to fall, how to put her hands out, how concrete is a lot harder than grass, how she needs to step over lips in doorways or subtle changes in the height of her walking surface. She's learning how to avoid obstacles, maintain her balance and when to slow down and take a seat.

As her parent, I have been learning how to both let her run and let her fall. I have been learning how to support her. When does she still need a hand to hold? When does she need picked up and held after a stumble and when should I give her some verbal encouragement? When do I ignore her tears? When do I help her get back up, dust her off and give her a pat on the tush?

I am learning how to surround her without smothering, how to support her without suffocating, how to simultaneously give her roots and wings.

I'm learning how to let her learn.

St. Paul, in his letter to the Hebrews (12: 1 - 2), alludes to how such support can be liberating:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.

We aren't able to "run" in any facet of our lives as we otherwise could without support. We aren't able to persevere in that "run" without support. With a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us, we can do great things.

We can run.

Hopefully, my (and Emily's) parenting is allowing Elizabeth to run today and in years to come.

Hopefully, our Catholic schools are places where such support is also apparent, allowing students to run, too. Catholic schools should be places where students, teachers, parents, and administration feel so supported that they run. Catholic schools should foster a community of Christian support for all of its members to be their best selves. A strong community equals a strong school. Strong schools equal strong Catholics. Strong Catholics equal a strong Church.

What does a cloud of witnesses look like? Teachers reaching out to students and combining high standards with even higher support. Teachers treating students, colleagues and parents with respect. Teachers getting to know each student as an individual and taking an interest in their respective interests. Teachers making difficult phone calls before they become impossible conferences. Teachers basing instruction on assessment evidence and sound educational practices. Teachers modeling their teaching after Christ. Teachers teaching about Christ. Teachers being Christ.

A cloud of witnesses also looks like parents believing that their child(ren) are imperfect and being okay with this fact. Parents taking an interest in their child(ren)'s homework without actually doing it for him/her/them. Parents attending parent-teacher conferences, Back to School Nights, and Home and School functions. Parents setting up conferences out of concern instead of out of a chance to attack. Parents putting the safety of all of the school's students first and not just their own child(ren). Parents taking their child(ren) to Mass on Sundays and praying together as a family at mealtimes, bedtimes and any times.

A cloud of witnesses is a group of students who are committed to learning. It is a group of students that respect their parents, teachers, and peers; a group of students who do what is right. A cloud of witnesses is a group of students who hold each other accountable and stand up for others when they are getting picked on or even bullied. It is a cloud that takes pride in their school and understands their two-fold purpose for attending: salvation and education. It is a group who are open to being disciplined so as to become disciples of Christ. Students praying together and for each other.

Finally, this cloud involves administrators who are fair, consistent, visible, good stewards, accountable, firm, understanding, and committed to ensuring that this support is fostered and maintained by all of the various aspects of the school.

Of course, other members of the "cloud" exist - pastors, parishioners, school board members, staff, alumni, former employees. Basically, anyone with any connection to the school makes up this cloud. The bigger the cloud, the greater the support. The greater the support, the better the school...

Together everyone accomplishes more. "What we dream alone remains a dream, but what we dream with others can become a reality" (Edward Schillebeeckx). Individuals win games, but teams win championships.

With support and with a focus on Christ we can persevere in running the race, no matter what it entails, that lies before us.
We could move mountains. We could walk on water. We could run on water. We could do anything.

Because with a cloud of witnesses surrounding us we have roots, wings...and running shoes.