Thursday, April 1, 2021

"Rounded:" A Note to CCS Teachers and Staff

 "Whenever you’re feeling worn out, remember that’s how broken things get smooth."  TK


It's only the God who knows all time

(and not the man who, at best,

may catch a glimpse of grandeur)

who truly understands the rhyme

and reason of things at rest

against the rhythm and allure

of things in motion.

Like rounded boulders

broken in some distant age

from cliffs along the ocean

by a merciful shrug of God's shoulders,

we, too, will weather the rage

of wind and waves against the stone…

we, too, of flesh and bone.

© Tom Kapanka 4-1-2021

Dear CCS Faculty and Staff, 

Rounded stones in nature always fascinate me. We’re told by geologists that smooth boulders and rocks are rounded by wind and waves and the constant rhythm of time that gradually wears them down.

The beaches of West Michigan are nearly 100% sand and rocks are scarce, but I grew up on the beaches of Port Huron, and they are stony. I’m not sure why, but the good news is the stones are all rounded so you can walk on them down to the waves for a swim. (Though for some, the walking looks painfully awkward until they are waist deep or find the comfort of a sandbar).

We see the same stony beaches on Mackinac Island where it has become a tradition for tourists to make little rounded rock towers between the beach and the bike trail. Some of these little monuments ("Ebenezers" if you will) stand for several weeks, but mostly they rise and fall in a cycle of renewed remembrance by many helping hands.

I feel like the team at CCS is sort of like rounded rocks. We all know that we are small representations of “The Rock” of our salvation, but our vertical relationship with God and His Son (the Cornerstone) does not mean life will be easy, and in fact, scripture says that the same trials (metaphorically: wind, waves, etc.) come to the just and the unjust. As believers, however, we understand that God intends for the trials of this life to purify us and strengthen us—or to stick with this metaphor—to make us well-rounded for his use. So… whenever you’re feeling worn out, remember that’s how broken things become smooth. 

CCS is blessed by a team of more than 40 well-rounded faculty and staff, and by that I mean, you all have so much different life experiences and gifts that make CCS a better place for students to get a rock-solid foundation of life.  

A donor called me two nights ago and said, “I’m thinking the teachers and staff at Calvary are feeling pretty worn out about now. This has been a tough year hasn’t it?” I assured him that it has been, and in fact, it has been a tough couple of weeks, but God is good and Spring Break is almost here. “That’s why I called,” he said, and through my cell phone I could picture his smile as he spoke and explained his desire to give all of you something to prompt taking a break at a quiet local place over Spring Break and sip a hot beverage and savor some delicious food. “I’ll leave the note to you,” he said.

Enjoy as we celebrate the Sunday when the stone was rolled away!

Tom Kapanka


The last two weeks before Spring Break have been exceptionally difficult as Covid-19 numbers in our state and county have seen an uptick. Our school protocols have been well-documented at this blog, and yet even here at Calvary, over half of the grade-levels in our K-12 program have gone to "virtual" mode due to a few positive tests among students and staff. All of the work involved in taking calls, tracing and updating parents, staff, the board, and the County Health Department is draining. 

Most teachers would much rather be in the classroom with their students than in slipping into BBS on Zoom. (BBS is a term I just made up: "Brady Bunch Syndrome." It's that feeling you get when your face is in a box with many other faces in boxes on a screen.) At any rate, we're all feeling pretty worn out and the image of this sonnet came to mind at my desk this morning as I wrote the note above to our Faculty and Staff in a Thank You card which also contained a gift certificate to Grand Traverse Pie Company.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Focusing on "A Front Porch Frame of Mind" During Re-Enrollment Time 2021

There was a time when more folks 
 had a “front porch” frame of mind, 
and they’d sit out hot nights sippin’ tea— 
makin’ most of a melon rind. 
They knew the beckon of a breeze 
that made ‘em lean back with a sigh 
and say, “Maybe five more minutes…” 
to some silhouettes passing by. 
“Just out for a walk,” a voice responds, 
“Till the house cools down a bit.” 
And by and by, more friends were there 
than there were places to sit. 
It was natural as a cricket’s chirp 
or the smell of a new-mowed lawn 
to gather there like window moths 
(when an inside lamp’s left on). 
Just neighbors visiting neighbors 
in the kindness of the night… 
where differences are dimly lit 
and love needs little light.
© Copyright 1995, Tom Kapanka, June 28, 1995, Patterns of Ink

It's re-enrollment time at Calvary, and we have been walking several prospective families around our building each week (up until this unusual week). Due to lingering pandemic protocols that limit mixing of cohorts and the number of guests in our building at one time, Open House and "Friends Day" is quite different than years past. 

This year's re-enrollment response has been fantastic. Most of our current families have returned their forms, etc. In light of our recent transition to virtual in grades 6-12 from now through Spring Break, we are extending the incentive deadline through next week. If you cannot make it to the building in person, please send Chris Stewart a note of confirmation at Then just bring in the forms as soon as possible the week after Spring Break.

Please read on as our goal this spring if for our whole school family to adopt a "a front porch frame of mind" as we welcome new families to our building this spring.  Some families have already returned "Family Referral Forms" filled out for both them and the family they have invited to CCS. 

I wrote the poem above twenty-six years ago. My mom liked it so much that it hung framed by her front door for years. (Even as an adult that meant a lot to me.)  She said it reminded her of summer nights on her front porch as a kid in Port Huron, MI. That's my mom's front porch in the picture (circa 1939, when the house was only 20 years old). To me, it was Grandma's front porch--nothing fancy but big enough for a glider and a few chairs.

That house still stands on the corner of  Forest Street and Riverview (a few blocks from the Blue Water Bridge) The sidewalks in that neighborhood are only about six feet from the front porches. People passing by often stopped to talk. I remember sitting there as a child and listening to the grown-ups talk about old times. 

Many years later, in 1985, when my wife and I purchased our first home, my parents came to share in the delight. The front porch was enclosed by a white wrought-iron railing and barely big enough for guests to stand aside as the front door opened. On the last night of their visit, Mom and I sat together on the top step, and when my dad and daughters came to join us, there was no room for them. "I wish this house had a bigger front porch like at Grandma's house," I sighed.  

Mom smiled and said, "You don't have to have a big front porch to have a front porch frame of mind." 

She had no idea that her words would tumble in my mind for years and end up in a poem. 

Think about this with me. I've never read or heard anything on this topic,* but the features of houses (and neighborhoods) say a lot about human relationships. At the beginning of the 20th Century, front porches were a prominent part of most houses. I like porches. They say, “Our house is your house. Sit a while and visit.”

In 1920, when my grandmother's house was built, cars were just coming on the scene, and they did not yet own one. By the Great Depression, those who could afford a car sometimes built a small shed in their back yard to keep it out of the weather. It was not until after WWII, as new homes multiplied that the garage was not an afterthought. By the end of the century, cars had became part of the family, and the most prominent feature of a house was no longer a front porch but a huge garage door that open and closed automatically behind the driver. The attached garage marked the beginning of the end of the "front porch frame of mind."

This was not just a design change in houses, it was literally a social change that came with the car as people walked less and stores, schools, and churches moved beyond walking distance. The attached garage meant neighbors could enter their confines without so much as a wave to others (depending on whether their mailbox is also attached to the house). 

As natural neighborly interaction declined, people became more selective with their social time and designed social space moved from the front porch to rear decks and patios (often behind privacy fences). There is nothing wrong with privacy. I'm merely pointing out the difference between back yard gatherings ..and the spontaneous welcome of a front porch near a sidewalk. 

There is another modern convenience that ended "the front porch frame of mind:" air conditioning. My grandma’s house with a the porch had no air conditioning (AC) nor did my childhood home. In fact, I did not live in a house with AC until that one in 1985. I'm a fan of AC, but we must pause to consider the unintended consequences of that comfort and how it has changed the social behavior of neighborhoods. 

Before AC, hot nights drove people outdoors for walks or to their front porches to sit and hope for a breeze. There they were… outside...till all hours of the night with folks strolling by. It was unthinkable not to speak. Hard to stay strangers for long. All that happened on the front porch. Over time, and the cycles of the seasons, neighbors introduced kids (and grandkids). They all knew of graduations, weddings, and the passing of loved ones. In short, the neighborhood shared life face to face—no invitation needed—all because it was a hot night and no one had AC. Once AC came along, however,  a part of us closed off from each other along with our closed doors and windows. Sadly, today's neighborhoods have replaced true conversations with a nod of the head from passing cars.

Think with me about front porches just a moment longer. Are you more of a back deck, privacy-fence kind of person? Or do you have a front porch frame of mind? It’s not a "right or wrong" answer. Most people are a blend of both, but knowing how you lean socially may help sweep off your “front porch,” figuratively speaking. How about your family? How about your church or “small group,” or the school or your choice? 

We've been giving walk-throughs of our school almost every day after school in recent weeks. These prospective observers to the school mention that there’s an inviting atmosphere even under the protocols of a pandemic. Imagine if they could see our school under normal conditions:

Typically, the front office counter is a hub of neighborly chatter; my office door is wide open whenever possible, and drop-ins are frequent; teachers are accessible; volunteers feel at home and at any given time there may be a dozen throughout the building; the front rotunda is often  a gathering place for talking parents who lose track of the time. Oh, how I miss those days, and we look forward to their return. 

Even before Covid-19 protocols, CCS operated a "closed campus” for security reasons, but even so, the tone of our school is welcoming and inviting. People comment on this through the years. What’s our secret? How does this feel like a neighborhood in a 60 -acre woods? Why does the UPS man smile as he waits in line for a signature? Why do parents who no longer have kids in the school still stop by to purchase SCRIP? Why do alumni come back whenever they can? Why do teachers and therapists from the public sector enjoy their assignment to CCS (and often continue to serve here after retirement)? There are many reasons, but I think the main one is...

CCS has always had a front porch frame of mind.  
Let's let it show this spring!

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 

*UPDATE: My mom first used that phrase in 1986, and I first wrote the poem and these thoughts (less the part about CCS) in the early 90's. I mention this because while re-writing this post recently, I thought about the fact that I had never heard or read anything on what I consider a significant topic. I'm pleased to say that if you do a Google search with the words "front porch / community" you may find at least three related articles that I had never read. This one, provides the history, cultural significance, decline, and reappearance of American from porches--there's amazing agreement in our thoughts. (He tends to give more credit to the arrival of cars and television to the decline of the front porch. I still hold that AC is the biggest factor, because had cars and TV, but without AC, we spent evenings out on the porch and front lawn. This second article is shorter, but strongly underscores this post. It begins with this quote from a Tracy Lawrence song: "If the world had a front porch like we did back then, we'd still have our problems, but we'd all be friends." Get this... the author describes "Neo-traditional" communities that are going back to front porches: "The streets are designed to encourage walking and socializing among the neighbors. ...The neo-traditional neighborhoods have sidewalks and trees lining the streets for pedestrians. Front yards are shallow so that neighbors converse easily between the sidewalks and the front porches....The porch is a symbol of community, offering an invitation with its front steps reaching out and meeting the sidewalk, drawing passers-by to the comfortable chair or swing. The porch encourages family and neighborly communication." So there you have it. These articles were written AFTER I wrote this poem and essay twenty years ago. I'm not the only one who believes a "A Front Porch Frame of Mind" can still work in the 21st Century.

Friday, February 5, 2021

Once Upon a Snow Day

Today is our second snow day of the year, and I hope you all enjoy the beauty of Michigan's Winter Wonderland.

It's because CCS has worked so hard to provide as "normal" a school year as possible that we have confidence in saying, "Enjoy the snow day!" Most of life/s most important lessons come without lesson plans. 

But I do have two easy assignments for you and your family on this snowy weekend: 
1.Enjoy some time outdoors if safe, then find a way to get cozy so you can do the second assignment...
2.Read this post about a story that began on a snow day about thirty years ago. If I had not gone outside to play with my daughters on that snow day, the story "Finding Cozy" would never have been written. 

This past fall, my daughter Natalie (CCS Class of 2013) and son-in-law Colton Wilson (CCS Class of 2010) helped me illustrate and publish the book. It's available on Amazon (about 3 days delivery) and at The Bookman in Grand Haven. More than 200 copies have been sold since the week before Christmas. 

March Reading Month is just a few weeks away, and our CCS librarian, Mrs. Anhalt, is organizing a book signing event (in accordance with our building Covid protocols) at CCS. (Details TBA) I will be donating half of the author's proceeds of pre-purshased books (or purchased at that event) to our CCS library fund. Pre-purchasing your book(s) will help ensure that yours is waiting for you at the event. If you already own a copy of "Finding Cozy," feel free to bring it to that event for signing, etc.

Click on this link to read the  backstory of "Finding Cozy." It happened once upon a snow day.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Winter Wonderland Weather: A Gift From God

When I was nine, the license plate on our family car said: "Water-Winter Wonderland," and I was sure it had something to do with the song we sang at Christmas. My mom went along with it, but decades later I learned that the song was written some thirty years before the Michigan slogan was adopted. In fact, the lyricist was describing the city park in his home town of Honesdale, Pennsylvania. Nonetheless, to me, that song and my state were inseparable throughout my childhood. I must admit that I had forgotten that feeling since the Covid thing hit. That is... I'd forgotten until this past Thursday.

The week before this video was made was supposed to be Homecoming Week at school, a January tradition going back more than twenty years. Such events are part of the rhythms of school like holidays and the change of seasons, and when they don't happen, an inexplicable void gets everybody out of step. It's not just the fun that is needed, it's the marker in time. You see, Homecoming brings "spirit days" (where the kids dress according to fun themes like super-hero day, etc.). Then there's the big pep rally, lib synch and poster contests, the big game, "Fifth Quarter" Pizza Party for alumnni afterwards, and then the banquet on Saturday. None of that happened, however, due to the shut-down of sports, social distancing, and no banquet facility being available. Then the teams learned that their basketball seasons were delayed another month. School spirit was noticeably low. I'm glad we were having school in person at the building, because we were able to see just how sullen the high schoolers were (since Homecoming Week affects them most).

What do you do when you know your students need some wind in their sails? Well, in anticipation of these doldrums, we made made arrangements for an afternoon at the Muskegon Winter Sports Complex just 20 minutes away. We originally had it booked for Friday, but changed it to Thursday so we could have the entire place mostly to ourselves. That was important to our Covid cohort protocols. It was fantastic!

I cannot describe what happened to two bus loads of kids saw this Winter Wonderland! They began being risk takers who laughed at their mistakes. They defined the word PLAY. The three hours can be summed up in three words that applied everyone (including my wife and me). These three words brought hope in a time when we all need hope. I thought they might do the same for you:

"Being kids again!"

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Good News in Hard Times

There is an encouraging brief video at the end of this post.

Our "12 Days of Giving" was launched this past December to help bridge the GAP between our annual operational costs and regular income. The need was especially great due to the challenges of these difficult times (e.g. no Fall Fund-Raising Banquet). Our total fiscal year (July 1-June 30) "GAP" need is just over $200,000, but our stated goal for December (year-end) was an ambitious $120,000 ($10,000 for each day though giving continued to the end of the month).  

[click on images to enlarge]
After processing all of the year-end gifts, WE ARE THRILLED ANNOUNCE THAT WE EXCEEDED THE $120,000 GOAL--a new record by far! This essential help puts  the budget of this educational ministry on firm ground as we continue to raise the remainder between now and June. 

The response was so good that a third "Leaving a Legacy" tree has been ordered for the extra gifts and continued participation from our school family. ($500=bronze, $2,500=silver, and $5,000=gold). The display above was installed in the State Flag Foyer last week.

[click on images to enlarge and read]

Speaking of donors, during the recent Covid-19 shutdown, a CCS donor gifted us with a steel flag engraved with "Pledge of Allegiance.". It arrived over Christmas Break and we hung it this week.  Today, our First Grade, made it official. In times when we see others burning the symbol of this nation under God, it is encouraging to see tender hearts looking up to an indelible reminder of God's gift of LIBERTY. 

(Encouragement in 90 Seconds from CCS First Grade.) 

Thursday, January 7, 2021

In 2021: We're in God's Hands in All States

 Dear CCS Family,

[Click on Bible references in this post]
As you remember, the year 2020 was the 40th Anniversary of Calvary Christian Schools. The student body printed “spirit shirts” that spoke of “20-20 Vision,” we had a great banquet in the fall of last school year, an unforgettable outdoor Commencement Ceremony for the Class of 2020 complete with an impressive fireworks display. In many ways, it was a great year, and we have so much for which to be thankful. For instance, our donors provided over $65,000 in essential Covid-reopen funds last August, and an additional $110,000 in needed year-end gifts came in December. Thank you, donors, for your generous support.

Let’s admit it, however… most of us were ready to stick a fork in 2020 a week ago tonight. Many of my friends didn’t even stay up to watch the ball drop that night. Who can blame them? The year 2020 for some was a time of sorrow and for others a parody of living. Those four digits became an adjective: If something was inexplicably senseless or defied all odds, people said: “That’s so 2020!” 

Like many of you, I hoped 2021 would somehow change the trajectory of the previous year God brought us through together.

The unexpected turn of events yesterday afternoon, January 6th, in the Capital Building in Washington DC was troubling at many levels. Though many facts remain to be learned, the difference between the peaceful assembling (in the morning) and what a smaller group of instigators later did inside the capital building is an important distinction.  I know of no one who is not disheartened by the images being flashed on TV and social media from yesterday's late afternoon events. 

The reality is this: we live in a broken world and the snippets being looped by networks are echoes of similar events through the centuries (and other events this past summer). What was true in the last days of Christ remains true in the last days of man: whenever human nature reaches a boiling point and is driven by fear rather than faith, it is most in need of our Savior’s words: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

So when people of faith are understandably anxious about political and social upheaval, they should take heart in the words of Psalm 112:7 addressed to believers: “They will have no fear of bad news; their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.” The Psalmist doesn’t deny that bad news is bad. He rather implies we can expect it in the midst of sin, evil and brokenness. So whether the bad news is a troubling diagnosis, a lost job, the death of a loved one, or bad behavior of people, our focus and hope cannot be in men—“Our HOPE is in the Lord.”

Why can we trust the Lord? He is good (Psalm 106:1). He is our help (Psalm 115:9). He reigns (Psalm 96:10). He is sovereign (Psalm135:6). He is unchanging (Hebrews 13:8). He is near in the midst of trouble (Psalm 46:1). He cares for you (1 Peter 5:7). He loves you and His love never ends (Romans 8:38-39). Take a few moments to look up these comforting verses. Think on them. Rest in them.

Simply put, we can trust the Lord for He is supremely trustworthy, unlike our circumstances, our health, our relationships, our politicians or our finances.

So, what is God’s will for us today?  While much more could be written, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 certainly gives us a great place to begin: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” We're in God's Hands in all states.

It is a joy to be a part of the CCS Family.

Tom Kapanka

Note: I would like to thank my dear friend Pastor Stephen Schultze who shared the encouraging words and references at the end of this post in a letter this morning.