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History Days

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That is what the life of Jesus shows us. His greatest victory was hidden in his darkest moment. Our redemption flowed from what looked like irredeemable discredit and defeat. When it seemed like the end, it was actually just the beginning.

Jaymie Stuart
Wolfe

"When I was a kid...." You know you're in trouble when you start anything that way! But lately, something I once hoped would happen--and had pretty much given up on--finally did. One of our kids is participating in National History Day.

History Day was a big part of my life. From eighth grade through my Junior year in high school, it was the focus of my competitive energy. Of course, it was a local, and not a national, contest then. Dr. David VanTassel, a Professor from Case Western Reserve University near where I grew up in Cleveland, initiated the project in anticipation of the American Bicentennial celebrations. He envisioned a competition that would inspire an interest in history the way Science Fairs encouraged kids to be physicists and biochemical engineers. When I saw the poster near the door of Mrs. Miele's Greenview Junior High classroom, I was instantly sold.

Thirty-five years later, I'm still pretty proud of how I did. As the contest expanded to include all of Ohio and then grew to a Tristate competition for students in Indiana, and Kentucky as well, I was the undefeated champion of the "individual performance" category. Now, with participants from all over the country and even the world, and the capabilities of digital technology, my little slide carousel projector presentations and dramatic monologues probably wouldn't fair too well. But then they helped get me into the college of my dreams, and I like to think that what I did helped pave the way for the over half a million students who now participate every year.

When our youngest daughter came home with the essay assignment, it all came flooding back. The yearly themes, the ten minute time limit, the research, and my taste for competition: I couldn't help but smile. And as Marjeta began to talk about potential topics, I immediately went to our bedroom closet and opened the plastic box on the shelf to dig out my old History Day Tristate medal. She took it into school the next day to show her history teacher.

Coincidentally, this year's theme is Leadership and Legacy. Growing up, I used to think that my legacy would be a list of what was left after subtracting my failures from my accomplishments. Now, I know better, and am somewhat more able to let go of the things I never managed to achieve.

The history of one's life and the quality of one's life, after all, are not equivalent. And while not everyone is a leader per se, each one of us leaves a legacy. National History Day is Dr. Van Tassel's legacy. Because he had an idea forty years ago--one he was willing to both work for and share--I had the chance to develop some of my gifts, and now the joy of sharing that experience with our youngest child.

Leadership and Legacy. Watching Marjeta search for sources, frame and reframe her topic, and write and rewrite her paper was pure joy for me--whether or not it was for her. In examining the career of General Robert E. Lee, she came to the very powerful realization that the value of what someone leaves behind is not at all dependent on victory or success; that extraordinary leadership can be exercised even in surrender or defeat.

The same can be said of our spiritual pilgrimage here on earth. As Mother Teresa was known to say, Christian disciples aren't called to be successful, but faithful. Results don't weigh nearly as much as we may think they do, and the real "bottom line" is often written below the ledger we keep or can see. That is what the life of Jesus shows us. His greatest victory was hidden in his darkest moment. Our redemption flowed from what looked like irredeemable discredit and defeat. When it seemed like the end, it was actually just the beginning.

The dreams we have, the inspirations we follow, matter--and not just to us, but to those who come after us. Sure, our victories make for sweet recollections. But what we do in the face of adversity, and how willing we are to sacrifice our own glory for the welfare of others is what endures.

JAYMIE STUART WOLFE IS A WIFE AND MOTHER OF EIGHT CHILDREN, AND A DISCIPLE OF THE SPIRITUALITY OF ST. FRANCIS DE SALES. SHE IS AN INSPIRATIONAL AUTHOR, SPEAKER, MUSICIAN AND SERVES AS AN ASSOCIATE CHILDREN'S EDITOR AT PAULINE BOOKS AND MEDIA.

Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.

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