I Love Barn-Schooling
- Timothy Palla
- 2004 16 May
Have you ever been asked that rhetorical question, "Were you born in a barn?" My mother used to ask me that when I'd forget to shut the back door. It never occurred to me to be weary of hearing it, but then, it never occurred to me to shut the door either, for being "born in a barn" seemed like a delightful thing.
I loved my dad's barns; they were architecturally interesting, they were built by his own two hands, they were warm in the winter and cool in the summer, they were both beautiful and functional and beside all this, they were my "home away from home." No, I wasn't "born in a barn." I was born in a hospital. I wasn't even "born-again" in our barn happened years later in the house. However, I will say that my father's barns were a great place to birth fresh, creative ideas, build a solid relationship with him, imprint strong work ethics, nurture a passion for life, find solitude, wonder, weep, vent and meditate. The barn was my school of life.
In the hills of Butler, Pennsylvania, nestled in a quaint farming community, my dad's dream came true. He purchased eight acres of land, built a house and started a family. I was the fourth child of five and I can't remember a time when we didn't have barns, pastures, or fences. >From time to time the livestock would change over, but it seemed there were always eggs to gather, a couple of pigs to slop, cows to feed and milk or crops to tend. Our small farm was a busy place to grow up (and that was a good thing).
Honor thy Father
Have you ever wondered how a parent instructs a child to "honor" them? I can't count the times I've heard someone say, "If they want my respect they'll have to earn it." I wish they knew my mom and dad. Neither of them had to earn it. As a matter-of-fact, my parents taught me that honor and respect were given to people whether I thought they earned it or not. It was the
way a proper young man or woman was raised to behave.
Saturday mornings were usually spent in the barn. My dad and I would feed the animals and clean stalls. I knew he could work circles around me and we could have had the chores done in an hour or so (he never had more than four cows and I never had more than three or four ponies), but it seems I always ended up having to help clean the cow's stalls. I hated cows.
Initially, I did it because of fear. For not doing as my father asked would result in instant correction—which I feared. As I matured, my motivation was not chastisement as much as it was reason Although I hated the cows, my dad was kind enough to let me have ponies (and later, horses), so reason told me that this was an even trade off since he was buying the grain and hay.
Later on in life the motivation to honor my father changed again. This time I complied because of love I loved talking with him, listening to him, and looking at him. Honor, originally motivated by fear, ended up being motivated by the relationship we had, and, in turn, that relationship brought immeasurable joy and fulfillment. In learning to honor him I learned to love him. Talking to him made me feel accepted, listening to him was now a joyfully anticipated experience, and in watching him, although I had seen him every day of my life, I had deep new admiration for him. It was as if he had mysteriously changed from a big, hardened taskmaster into a gentle, loving and handsome friend. In the (sometimes painful) process of learning how to honor my father, the metamorphosis actually occurred in me. That transformation began in the hours, days and years we spent together in the barn. As I look back, it was a wonderful place to begin my real lessons in life.
Learn of me
Now that I am a parent of five children, I use the same type of classroom that my father used. Though I am not nearly as skilled in the art of carpentry (my anemic little excuse for a barn is not much more than a shanty), my boys and I have built stalls that comfortably house two small horses with enough room left over for tack, grain bin and about fifty bales of hay. Insufficient by most standards, the environment remains quite conducive to learning and the stalls still require cleaning.
I do not have a weekly agenda, per se. I don't try to plan ahead what we'll discuss or what probing questions I'll ask my boys. Things just happen. Sometimes I'm prepared for them and sometimes I'm not.
Like me with my disdain for cleaning up after the cows, my boys are not particularly fond of the chores I exact from them. That's okay. For now, they will help me because I asked. They may view me as an inconvenience to their sports time or an obstacle to their "social development," but I know that a little work never hurt anyone. They are gleaning knowledge of how to honor their father that will benefit them for the rest of their lives. As they grow, so will their motivation, and I'm looking forward to some rewarding payoffs. You see, as our relationship deepens, they, too, will change. The "fear factor" will be substituted with reason (it's already started in two of them) and one day, reason will give way to mature love.
It's not book-learnin' as they say here in Appalachia. Rather, it's learning the slow, rubber-meets-the-road, practical lessons in life. It's the day to day application of elementary biblical concepts that Jesus Christ used in dealing with men; the very same principles His Father used. The natural man may initially respond to his Creator out of fear. Then, as he grows in knowledge, his heart attitude adapts with the change in relationship until a fully matured love has emerged. One day his heart dictates a new motive to his will and the result is joyful satisfaction and fulfillment. Well worth the pain. Well worth the time. Well worth the investment.
My dad, Anthony Martin Palla, passed away in January, 1997. How I miss him. He was a handsome, masculine, "man's man." I love what he did for me during those long hours of cleaning up after and caring for the animals. I love the perseverance he demonstrated to me. I love how the Lord used that simple barn as a schoolhouse to instruct me in honoring my father. For not only did I learn to love and honor him, but I have developed a rich love and honor for my heavenly Father as well. My name, Timothy, actually means honoring God I love talking with Him, listening to Him and one day I anticipate looking into His beautiful countenance. Through my earthly father, I have learned to love and honor God as well as His Son, Jesus Christ; who, incidentally, was born in a barn.
Timothy Palla is the pastor of Fairview Baptist Church in the Lucasville/Minford area of southern Ohio. He and his lovely wife, Jennifer, have five children: Drew, Dane, Aidan, Ethan, and Meghan. They have been involved in home schooling for eleven years. You can contact him at: [email protected]