Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Goodbye, PCS and Thanks for Eight Great Years

The first time I walked through the door of Portersville Christian School, it was June of 2010.  I was in the process of searching for my first head of school position, after more than 20 years of teaching, coaching, being an athletic director and a middle school principal.  Serving as a head of school in a Christian school setting is a ministry calling as much as it is a career goal, and I had been searching for an opportunity for several months when the search committee from PCS got in touch with me.  Though it was a long way from home, as it turned out, both the committee and I agreed it would be a good fit, and sensed that God was leading to the same conclusion.  After eight years, as it turns out, it was.

The school was emerging from several years of economic downturn, staff and parent conflict, and some moral issues.  Enrollment had taken a hit, from over 260 at one point to 186 on the roll for the beginning of the 2010-11 school year, and the re-enrollment of eligible students was under 80%.  There were eight vacant staff positions which occurred over the summer, seven of which still needed to be filled, and the office staff was one person short, with two new employees who had worked less than a month.  The initial year of preparation for the upcoming re-accreditation visit was on the doorstep.  It might have been easy to just say "no," but God said "yes," and that's always enough.

God gets the glory for all that has happened here.  It has been a privilege for me to have been called to serve at Portersville Christian School as head of school through its recovery and restoration from some rough years in its history, and to be its leader as it achieved new heights in its accomplishment and service to its constituency.  The Portersville Christian School that exists today is one that has an optimistic outlook on the future.

The key to what has occurred at PCS has been putting together a team of teachers and staff members who share a common vision for the mission and purpose of a Christian school, and are committed to those principles.  While some might see eight vacant staff positions as a problem, for us it was an opportunity.  Rather than seeing a job here as something for which one is "hired," the Biblical approach to ministry, in which individuals are given spiritual gifts to serve, and are called by God to their position, was used to develop a team of staff and teachers who worked together to accomplish the school's vision for Christian education. 

Many of those who came the first year I did are still here, while others have been called elsewhere, but those who have come since all share the same commitment to Christian school, and the success we have achieved is due to their being free to exercise their gifts, and use the talents God gave them in a way that is unique to them, and beneficial to the students.  Over time, I have been given the privilege of having brought most of the current staff on board, and it has been a real blessing to have walked beside you and support you as you worked each day. The staff conflict, which had been so crippling to the effectiveness of the school, has evaporated.

It is a blessing to celebrate some of the milestones PCS has passed during the past eight years. 

  • Enrollment has recovered by more than 20%, and the re-enrollment percentage of eligible students, which is the most tangible measurement of parent satisfaction for a Christian school, has exceeded 95% for each of the past six years.  
  • The number of new student applications has doubled since 2010.  The school has engaged in a program called "Try Christian Schools" with WORD-FM for the past four years that has provided thousands of dollars in advertising on the radio, and is responsible for getting word out about PCS to the community. 
  • Eight students have been recognized as either commended scholars, National Merit Scholarship semi-finalists, or finalists since 2010, among the top 1% of the nation's high school students.  This is more than at any other time in the school's history. 
  • The class average SAT scores at PCS have shown an upward trend since 2010.  The class of 2012 set a new record, as did the classes of 2014 and 2015.  The class of 2019 has an opportunity to become the highest achievers in school history. 
  • The school established a resource education program.  In 2010, there were 9 students involved in resource-based education, mostly using personnel from the IU.  In 2018, there are over 50 students involved, and the availability of resource instruction has been a major contributor to school growth, retention of students, and stability. 
  • PCS has been innovative in expanding academic offerings for students, with a limited scope of resources and facilities.  We have extended the ability of students to earn dual credit that will directly transfer to colleges and universities.  Through a partnership with the Canyon Christian School Consortium of Grand Canyon University, in combination with on-campus courses from Butler County Community College, PCS can offer students the opportunity to complete their freshman year of college prior to graduating from high school.  
  • At the initiation of the administrator, a development committee was activated in 2011, and trained by a consultant from GraceWorks.  The Warrior Legacy Fund was established for the purpose of supplementing the school's financial aid and scholarship program.  
  • The number of students involved in extra-curricular activities has increased with the addition of competitive archery to the athletic department five years ago.   The athletic program has improved and grown with full administrative support.  Portersville Christian School has become the top athletic program in the SWCAC league, which is an achievement among colleagues in an equitable partnership.  
  • The fine arts department has reached a pinnacle in performances of dramas, plays and musicals.  A stage was added to the gym three summers ago, making the facility one of the nicest and most practical multi-purpose buildings on a Christian school campus in the entire region.  The school has produced some excellent musical productions, including some recent Mancini award nominees and winners.   
  • The school successfully completed a re-accreditation process in 2014, being commended for the Christian atmosphere that the visiting team observed as permeating the campus and all of its activities, and for its academic excellence.  It is this accomplishment, particularly earning the accolades of colleagues for our spiritual atmosphere and academic achievement, of which I am most proud in which to have been involved. 
There are some things I wish we could have achieved along with these wonderful accomplishments.  It would have been nice to have had the ability to renovate and upgrade our facility, or perhaps have established a satellite campus in Cranberry or Mars to expand the school's ability to grow and reach students.  I wish we could have seriously invested much more in the way of technology and advancement.  Though we did expand the current system, enabling wifi to penetrate the school and be used in a variety of ways, I wish we could have invested in a complete refitting and a full, one to one program.  Those dreams will become someone else's dreams to fulfill.

I love this school, and committed myself to take responsibility for its leadership and serve its constituency.  I believe I have fulfilled my mission and purpose here, and the goals which were put in place when I arrived have been accomplished.  I pray God's blessings on the school and its ministry, along with his hand of protection.  There are new goals to be set, and new achievements to be accomplished.   







Monday, February 26, 2018

Portersville Christian School Wins SWCAC Boys, Girls Varsity Basketball Titles

For the first time in school history, varsity boys and girls basketball teams from Portersville Christian School won the SWCAC championships during the same season.

Lady Warriors Top Off Undefeated Conference Season with SWCAC Title
The Lady Warriors got off to a 17-0 start and never looked back enroute to a 38-14 victory over Plants and Pillars Homeschoolers of Beaver Falls in the Southwestern Christian Athletic Conference tournament championship game Saturday at the Beaver Falls school district gym.   PCS finished its conference season with a perfect 14-0 record and capped off an overall 24-3 mark that included a Tri-County conference championship, and two previous wins over Plants and Pillars, who finished as Tri-County runner-up.

The Lady Warriors made good use of a strong defense, holding the Mighty Oaks scoreless until the 1:35 mark in the second quarter, and continued to hold them to just 5 points until midway through the fourth quarter.  The Oaks also played a strong defense that caused eight turnovers in the first half, and held the Warriors below their normal scoring threshold.  In the long run, the Warriors were able to capitalize on Oaks turnovers, and used their height advantage in rebounding and scoring provided by tournament MVP Abby Green, and league MVP Julia Mangiapane to force the Oaks to shoot from outside, and picked up 14 second half points in the paint.  Senior Melynn Dickson was also named to the all-conference team. 

This was Portersville's third straight appearance in the SWCAC title game, and was their first tournament title since 2012.

Warriors Win Third Straight SWCAC Tournament Championship
In spite of a slow start to the regular season, the Portersville Christian School Warriors won a string of conference games to close out the season, and picked up their third straight SWCAC title and trophy with a 43-32 win over The Neighborhood Academy of Pittsburgh at Beaver Falls school district gym on Saturday.  It was the fourth straight appearance for PCS in the SWCAC championship game, and it came on the heels of a string of conference wins during the last two weeks of the regular season which gave the Warriors the Tri-County East conference title, and the number two seed.

The Neighborhood Academy overcame adversity from last year, after being ruled ineligible for the playoffs due to a paperwork technicality, and finished their conference season unbeaten, winning the championship of the Tri-County West, and the Tri-County number one seed.  The Bulldogs defeated the Warriors 41-31 in an earlier meeting this season at home.

The Warriors had to overcome a blistering full court press by the Bulldogs during the entire first half of the game.  In spite of several turnovers, PCS was able to build a lead that they never relenquished.  Foul trouble and shooting problems plagued the Bulldogs throughout the second half, and the Warriors capitalized on some hot outside shooting to extend their lead to as much as 20 points in the early part of the fourth quarter.  After the Bulldogs passed the bonus, the Warriors sealed the 43-32 win with free throws and key offensive rebounds.

The two teams have a great relationship with each other, and met under the basket after the game to pose for a joint photograph.  Following their earlier meeting in the season, The Neighborhood Academy hosted a fellowship dinner for both teams.

Sweep of SWCAC Championships
The two basketball titles are added to previous SWCAC championships this school year in soccer and volleyball.  It is the first time in school history that PCS won all of the SWCAC tournament titles at the high school level.  This is a great accomplishment, and a credit to the coaches, parents, and especially to the student athletes.  We've been in SWCAC for many years, and this is a first for us.  Learning how to be gracious in victory requires being cheerful in the face of defeat, and I hope that our graciousness is visible.  SWCAC provides a great opportunity for all students to enjoy the opportunity to play a sport they might not otherwise try in a larger, public school environment, so a championship represents the contribution of every athlete and coach in the league, whether they win it or not.   

National Christian School Athletic Association National Tournaments
Both Warriors varsity teams will be participating in the NCSAA National Tournament at Mt. Vernon Nazarene University in Mt. Vernon, Ohio this week, beginning March 1.  The boys are two-time defending National champions, and the girls will be looking for their first title since 2012.  The girls play at 12:00 noon March 1, against Shenandoah Valley Christian School from Virginia, while the boys play at 1:30, also against Shenandoah Valley. 

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Insights into School Cancellations and Delays

My Mother grew up in Doddridge County, West Virginia, during the depression.  She had stories, as most parents of that generation did, of long walks to school, regardless of the weather, sometimes in rain, sometimes in freezing cold or deep snow.  It wasn't "uphill both ways" of course, in fact, the road from their house to the four-room school building followed a creek, though they could take a shorter route on a cow path over a small hill.  She was the second youngest of eight, one of three girls and her older brothers had the job of making sure the furnace was stocked with coal and properly lit before school on winter mornings, so most of the time, in addition to a cold walk to school, she and her sisters waited in a cold building until the furnace could warm it up.  If she were still living, she'd probably smile if I told her we delayed school for two hours because of wind chill, or snow, or that we cancel when the roads are bad, or when the wind chill gets below zero. 

But, she would be very appreciative and grateful for the way we treat school students today, and very understanding, because of her own experiences, of many things we take for granted.  Her school experiences were not necessarily pleasant ones, and for her and most of her siblings, including her older sister, were part of the reason that she didn't finish grade school.  That was a decision she regretted for the rest of her life.

Most of our decisions to delay or cancel here at PCS are based on the rules and policies of the school districts with whom we contract to pay for our bus service.  As a small private school, we are blessed to be able to operate our own busses, hire our own drivers, and transport our own students.  Most private schools depend on the contract carriers hired by the school districts that fall within the 10 mile limit required by the state to provide transportation to parochial and private school students.  Operating our own bus system allows us to have a measure of control over the routes, and we have transportation available whenever we need it.  We have high expectations for the care and safety of our students. 

We'd rather not cancel or delay.  Our calendar is carefully planned, and there isn't much room for re-scheduling events.  Instructional time is valuable and interruptions can be counterproductive.  We know that most of our parents work, so a cancellation or delay causes problems with finding someone to watch kids during the day.  But the health, safety and security of our students is a high priority, and those are not things in which there is room for error. Sure, things happen, but the inconvenience of a two hour delay is worth it, if it provides enough time for the bus ride to be much safer. 

Pennsylvanians have been bundling up and dealing with sub zero temperatures and wind chills for a long time.  Everyone has their story of driving in heavy snow, or sliding off the road, or getting stuck.  When you're responsible for students, who are other people's precious cargo, you're more careful than you might be on your own.  A couple of weeks ago, driving back home from Buffalo, I ran into a lake-effect blizzard on I-90 just before I got to Fredonia.  It took almost three hours to drive from there to Erie, at 10-15 MPH in almost zero visibility, on a road where the snow was coming down at a rate of 4 inches an hour.  It was a tough drive, and I had thoughts of times when I'd been told about the experiences of people being stalled for hours, and even days, on the highway in a blizzard somewhere.  If I'd known how bad it was going to be, I'm not sure I'd have risked the trip myself, but I'd never put students in a situation like that.  We can always make up the class time if necessary.

Our decisions to delay or cancel are based on the safety of our students.  They're your kids, and they're our responsibility when they are in our care.  


Monday, December 18, 2017

Merry Christmas! And Thank You!

The snow that fell last week, and cancelled classes one day, makes it feel like the Christmas season is here.  Churches are doing cantatas and programs, and the elementary school here got their music presentation completed in spite of the flu and colds.  Pastors are turning to familiar passages in Luke, but my favorite scripture for Christmas actually comes from the Old Testament--

"How beautiful upon the mountains are the feed of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, "Your God Reigns."  Isaiah 52:7, ESV

Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday this year, and it really sets the tone for the celebration of the day that we honor the birth of our savior, that time when, according to the scripture, the good news of salvation was published.  My home church always did "Carols and Candlelight" on Christmas Eve, you could set your watch by the 6:00 p.m. start time.  At the church we attended in Texas for many years, the congregation, with lighted candles, would process out of the church door and down the stairwell along with the orchestra while singing "Silent Night" to proclaim the birth of the savior to the community.  I hope that whenever and wherever you find yourself this Christmas Eve, it is in the Lord's house, in a time of worship and celebration.

Thank You!  

The generosity of our school community is always shown at Christmas in the offering you give for the staff Christmas bonuses.  This gift is deeply appreciated, and it is a demonstration of your appreciation for the work that is done by our teachers and staff.  As most of you know, the salaries and benefits provided to our staff are not comparable to those of similarly employed professionals in the education business.  It is a sacrifice that our staff is willing to make which keeps the cost of attending a Christian school reasonable, and when it is matched with the sacrifice parents make to send their children here, it causes great things to work together to happen.

Thank you for this gift, especially at this time of the year.  It is deeply appreciated. 


Friday, November 17, 2017

Terra Nova Test Results are in, and it's Good News!

Portersville Christian School uses the Terra Nova Achievement Test as one of the means available to produce student achievement data which allows us to evaluate the effectiveness of our educational program.  Along with the PSAT and SAT results for students in grades 9-12, the Terra Nova is administered to students in K-10.  We chose this particular test because it is updated regularly, based on research and results, and because it provides detailed insights into student mastery of specific curriculum objectives.  It allows us to evaluate the effectiveness of our educational program, and make adjustments in expected student outcomes.  It also allows us to see where individual students may be struggling with objectives and concepts so that we can provide some additional assistance.

Terra Nova provides individual student reports that are pretty easy to read.  When looking at an individual report, there is a bar graph that will show the student's progress based on their percentile rank for each section of the test.  The percentile rank tells you how that particular student did in comparison to all of the other students in the same grade across the country who took the same test at roughly the same time.  The mastery score tells you how the student did based on the expectations of the test objectives for a student in a particular subject on their grade level.  You can look at each section of the test, and see areas in the content where the student excelled, where they were meeting the averages and expectations, and where they may have some specific weaknesses.  Mathematics and Language Arts are broken down into specific concepts and areas of study. 

The bar graph on the home report is the key to understanding the test results.  If the bars for a student's performance extend into the gray areas, their test results indicate that they are performing at the expected standards for their grade level in each subject area.  The gray area is bisected by the 50th percentile line, is divided in to quarters, and reflects the spectrum of possible test scores.  If the bars extend beyond the top of the highest gray quarter, the student is most likely exceeding grade level expectations in that particular subject, and is performing at a level that is considerably higher than their peers in the same grade. Those rankings and scores reflect percentiles that are set in place nationally, by all students who took the test at that grade level.

PCS students generally perform well above the expected outcomes provided by the test, and have percentile ranks that exceed the national norms.  Students in grades 7-12 average in the 75th percentile in Reading and in Language Arts areas, and in the 72nd percentile in Mathematics.  Scores in Social Studies and Science vary, but the overall averages are in the 73rd to 78th percentile across the board.  Half of the students in those grades achieve percentile ranks in Mathematics and Reading which rank them in the top fourth of all students who take the test, and over 90% of our students rank in the top two percentile quarters in Mathematics and Reading. 

Elementary students average at the 70th percentile in Mathematics, and at the 75th percentile in Reading and Language.  Though we don't have major curriculum emphases in social studies or science until students are reading well, scores in those areas also exceed the national norms.  Generally, the scores reflect a curriculum and instruction that is accelerated and advanced.  

Parents should pay particular attention to the scores which show a percentile rank that is below the 25th percentile.  This could be an indicator of a student struggling with curriculum objectives or with difficulties in instruction and classroom performance.  This may be an indicator of a specific learning issue, a physiological problem like impaired vision or hearing, or it may be a developmental issue related to learning readiness. 

We evaluate the test results to make changes in the curriculum objectives.  If we see consistent scores in a particular area of instruction, we re-examine the expected student outcomes and objectives, and rewrite the curriculum guide to address the weakness.  We want to ensure that our students are getting everything they need to prepare them for the next level, and to make their educational experience a valuable asset to their life. 

The scores our students achieve are well above the averages earned by students in the public and charter education system, and rank in the upper half of Christian schools who administer the Terra Nova.  Since ACSI recommends the use of this particular test, the norms and percentile ranks tend to come out a little higher than an achievement test used primarily by public schools.  We are pleased with the results of this year's test. 

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Antigone

Why would a Christian school fine arts department perform a Greek tragedy, like Antigone? 

That's a good question. 

Christian schools have struggled with theater arts performances for a long time.  There are those who feel that Christian schools should only perform plays and musicals with Christian themes.  We certainly understand that view.  The stage provides an opportunity for the school to promote and express its message using the talents of its students and the leaders of its theater arts program.  So it makes sense, to those of us who are Christians, and who have a clear understanding of the gospel of Christ. 

On the other hand, a Christian school education is much more than just an indoctrination into all things "Christian," as a label.  Christianity is much more than a set of beliefs or doctrinal statements.  In fact, to reduce it down to that is to remove what makes it dynamic, active and relevant.  In our classrooms, we don't just teach basic Biblical principles, we teach students how to live their life, and how to encounter the world, through a Christian, Biblically-supported worldview.  The core of that perspective is being "in the world" without being "of the world."  And the stage is one of the most practical places to provide students with visible examples of exactly how to do that.  It also provides them with an opportunity to experience what it means to glorify God with their talent, while gaining an understanding of how the gospel of Christ can be preached in the world. 

Discernment is one of the major goals of an education in a Christian school environment.  Learning how to trust the leadership of the Holy Spirit, and apply that to an understanding of the scriptures is a lifelong discipline of the faith, and is also a daily experience in this Christian school.  The Bible doesn't equip believers for an experience inside of a "Christian bubble," it prepares them for a lifestyle through which Christ can be seen, and preached, and through which God is glorified.

"Antigone" is, perhaps, one of the most relevant and useful theatrical performances in helping students understand the contrast between the world and their faith.  It comes directly out of the cultural background into which Jesus came, about 400 years before his birth.  Not long after Sophocles wrote it, Alexander the Great conquered Palestine, and the Greeks intentionally, and successfully forced their culture onto the Jews.  The Greeks treated the Jews with disdain and arrogance because of their monotheism which they regarded as ignorant and provincial.  Greek philosophy was forced into Jewish culture, with serious consequences, though it was short-lived.

The darkness that is the underlying theme of Antigone was the prevailing world philosophy into which Jesus was born, and to which the Christian gospel was written to address.  The New Testament was primarily written in Greek, and all of the evangelistic efforts of the early church were aimed at the Greek-dominated culture of Asia Minor and the Middle East, including the Jews of the diaspora. The gospel message of Christ directly addressed the kind of darkness of human wisdom and philosophy that is illustrated in Greek tragedies like Antigone, and the performance of a play like this provides a perfect opportunity to show students, and audiences, how the Gospel addresses worldly darkness with perfect light.  And you can be sure that the opportunity to point this out and teach the students this way is not missed here.  If you stayed after for the discussion, you heard this from the students.  Ask them what they got out of it. 

Classical literature is a large part of the English instruction in the classroom here, precisely because it is the literature of the world at the time that Jesus came.  Understanding it is a key component in understanding the context of the New Testament, most of which was written in Greek.  Performance of a classical Greek tragedy like Antigone  provides an active, visible element to this instruction.  Seminaries and theological schools use foundational elements of understanding classical literature to train pastors and Bible professors in the interpretation of scripture.  So do we. 

There are also principles in Antigone that are clearly seen as part of the theme.  Standing up for what is right in the face of evil that has captured the power of worldly authority is the underlying theme.  Christians have been faced with this throughout the history of the church, though most of our students don't have any context in which to understand this.  Acting it out puts it on a different level than seeing words in a textbook, or watching a movie.  Antigone illustrates the importance of affirming the certainly of your convictions before making the ultimate sacrifice of your own life. 

For at least the past eight years, the directors of plays and musicals at PCS have provided students and audiences with a "Director's Concept," a written way of discerning the Christian principles illustrated in plays and musicals, and of interpreting and viewing the production from a Christian perspective.  I think this is an essential part of the performance of works at a Christian school, and I hope that every member of the audience takes the time to read it. 


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Something That Needs to be Said...

"So too, though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts great things.  Consider how large a forest a small fire ignites.  And the tongue is a fire.  The tongue, a world of unrigheousness, is placed among the parts of our bodies; it pollutes the whole body, sets the course of life on fire and is itself set on fire by Hell."  James 3:5-6, HCSB

In the course of a conversation, from my perspective, there are some phrases and words that tend to give some clues about things that are happening, and which raise a level of concern about what might be transpiring.  When addressing an issue at our school, the phrase "I've spoken to several other parents about this," or "I heard from some other parents that..." is an indicator that there is conversation taking place which would be more effective in solving a problem if it were going to the source that could solve it, rather than having it discussed in a forum where there are no answers, and not much accurate information.

Generally, those terms indicate gossip.  Gossip is one of the most difficult things to deal with in the Christian life, because it takes such subtle forms, and because we can easily talk ourselves into some other reason for our conversations.  It is also one of the most harmful, because it leaves false impressions, plants false information, and is usually rooted in selfish behavior.  It divides, and it causes harm to people who are the subject of it.  In a church, and by extension, in a Christian school, it can lead to ruptured relationships and have very harmful effects on the school's ministry and its employees. It results from selfishness, among other motives. 

Our expectations here are high, and they include the integration of Biblical principles to the point where these things are visible in practice, and expected when it comes to operation.  We teach skills, by various methods, including modeling Christ-like behavior and responses to adversity.  We have a very specific way of dealing with all kinds of issues that are going to come from being human beings in a fallen world, and that way includes adherence to Biblical principles for guiding the Christian life.  When there is conflict, and things don't appear to be as they should be, the expectation is to follow the Biblical principles toward resolution. 

There are plenty of people who have both the leadership skills, and the authority, to resolve problems for parents and students here.  This information can be easily obtained as common knowledge by reading the handbook, and by following the instructions found there.  Resting on New Testament teaching recorded in Matthew, Chapter 18, the best way to solve problems is to go directly to those involved, and give enough information so that they are aware there is a problem, and can do something to resolve it.  Put a little bit of prayer and consideration ahead of the complaint, and that should solve the problem.  If not, you go to the next person in authority, maintaining all confidences and guarding your temperament. It is never permissible, from a scriptural perspective, to inform others of your problem and gather support for your side before you take it where it needs to go. 

Don't assume that there's an awareness of your situation without your having provided information to an administrator about it.  Usually, school administrators are not privy to conversations that seem to clue everyone else into what is "going on," and unless there's a compelling reason to look, we're probably too busy to take notice.  It's more difficult to be objective if people have taken sides, and you hear one before the other. 

Things are off to a good start this year.  PCS has gained in stability and productivity over the past few years, to the point where the enrollment is growing, and stable, educational achievement is moving forward and achieving recognition, the building is undergoing much needed repair and replacement, new families are seeking us out to meet their educational needs, the financial situation is stable and healthy, and students are growing in their faith and in their awareness of God's purpose for their lives.  Be considerate of our desire to keep moving forward. 

There's a reason that James compares the tongue to a fire.  A week or so ago, my neighbor's garage, which lies about 40 feet behind my house, caught fire.  It wasn't a big blaze, and the fire department got there within minutes.  It didn't spread, but in just the ten or fifteen minutes that it burned, it did plenty of damage to the garage, and made it such that there are some purposes for which it cannot be used until it is completely repaired.  A few more minutes, and the garage might have been a total loss.  As we serve the Lord here, we seek to accomplish his purpose.  Following his principles makes that possible, and we can do things that are well beyond our own ability.  Help us.  Be careful.  Bless us with your conversation.