In the Valley of the Shadow

Mrs. Shannon Vowell
“Yea, thou I walk through the valley...”

Choosing a school for one’s child rarely begins with questions of life and death. When our family settled on Coram Deo for our daughter’s middle and high school years, our decision was based on the combination of rigorous academics and Christ-centered pedagogy offered here. Veteran parents who’ve invested in a broad range of diverse educational options with our older children, we saw in CDA a special blend of intellectual excellence and spiritual integrity.
Our first year as a CDA family confirmed that both the rigor and the Christocentric focus were real! We were delighted to see our daughter being stretched and refined, in particular in her Latin and Algebra classes; we were pleased that faith was woven into curricula of all her courses.
But then began a season of loss in our family – an intense, anxiety-and-grief-riddled sequence of months in which two grandparents suffered acutely with different terminal conditions before dying, and a third lingers, close to death, as I write this. In an unanticipated gift of grace, this time has made clear that the blessings of CDA go well beyond the classroom.

First, the faith foundation of CDA’s approach to all subject matter has provided a solid basis for hope even as our daughter has mourned her grandparents. The routine revelation of God’s goodness and all-sufficiency (even in algebraic equations!) has turned her class time and homework into a surprise-source of reassurance that God is sovereign, even now.

Second, the passionate Christian witness of our daughter’s teachers has been voiced in their words of comfort and encouragement to her. This has translated into an ongoing demonstration of the relevance of faith in all circumstances, especially hard circumstances. And this has given our daughter multiple examples of adult faith-in-action as well as access to consistent testimony to the comfort found in Christ alone.

Finally, and perhaps most significantly, my husband, my daughter, and myself have been absolutely overwhelmed by the blessing of the community of Christian peers which is the CDA student body. To read their notes of encouragement – heavy on the scripture, light on the platitudes – is to be given a glorious vision of the future of our faith! Our daughter has found in her peers at school an embodiment of the New Testament description of the “ecclesia,” a called-out and sanctified community, centered in the risen Christ.

This blessing, as emphatic as it was unanticipated, has made me ponder the spiritual power of CDA’s unique format. As an ecumenical Christian body, what are the priorities which we hold in common, and how have those priorities produced such luminous personal faith in our children?
While this line of questioning is ongoing in my mind, my initial responses are these: All of us have a commitment to the orthodox heart of the faith – those doctrines articulated in the Nicene Creed. This commitment is partner to a commitment to our children’s formation (intellectual and spiritual), at a depth that makes us willing to invest not just finances but also that even more limited resource, time. At-home days keep parental influence and the home environment central to our students’ weekly rhythms, so parental faith gets to work in partnership with that of teachers and administrators in the school setting. This intensive working partnership of school and home specifically reflects the template outlined in Deuteronomy 6: 6 – 9:  
“Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

It is in God’s nature to make all things work together for good when His people love Him and strive toward His purposes. Our family’s season of loss illustrates the Lord’s faithfulness and ingenuity in bringing that good to bear. Of course, our grief process continues; but in the midst of our grieving we have new appreciation and gratitude for the blessing of Coram Deo and the magnitude of God’s intentions to use the school to grow our daughter into His image.

When we chose Coram Deo for our daughter, we did not have any idea of how much suffering was just ahead for us. But God knew. And God’s perfect vision and provision have turned these trials into something brighter and better than endurance. Indeed, God has empowered us to declare with new confidence that, even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil – for He IS with us, and His rod, His staff, and His people, they comfort us.

Shannon (Summers) Vowell works alongside pastor-husband Mark, teaching and writing about the faith. Shannon has worked in radio, print media, and academia; she holds degrees from Yale College and Cambridge University. Daughter Maggie is in 8th grade at the Collin County campus.
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