The Hundred-and-Twelfth Letter: A New (Home)School Year

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Dear Daughters,

We started school this week, so I guess this is the requisite back-to-school post.

I knew this year would have a different feel to it since both of you are home every day and officially “in school.” The past two years, the Goose has always been at preschool two or three days each week, but now she’s in Kindergarten, and the Bean is in second grade.

I realize it’s only been two years since I led a child through Kindergarten curriculum, but apparently I’d managed to forget just how hands-on it can be. Still, we’re making progress each day with figuring out how our schedule will (or won’t!) work. All I can say is, I assume parents who homeschool a half-dozen kids at home are significantly more organized than I am.

I spent a lot more time planning this year, knowing that homeschooling two would be considerably different than homeschooling one child, especially when the first child was an independent and focused child like the Bean. This summer, I worked on a daily, subject-by-subject schedule, printed off our state’s academic standards by subject for each grade, and wrote a report about what we accomplished during our last school year, organized by subject and addressing the surpassed academic standards.

I’ve even read a few books about classical education to get my mind kickstarted, and let me tell you, I would never have imagined spending my free time reading philosophy of education texts would be something I would choose to do.

I also spent time this summer considering what I want our homeschool goals to be—not according to academic achievements or tasks I want you to be able to accomplish, but rather related to the larger, grander life pursuits I want you to reach for, and of course the habits we need to cultivate to get there. So I thought I’d include that here, in this letter, so that years from now, that doesn’t get lost in the abyss of school files.

But first, this week:

It’s been tiring, and I guess I shouldn’t be surprised I’ve ended up with a summer cold.

Our days felt long, and each afternoon, I needed to hear the nudge I felt: whatever you do is enough.

Just because we don’t check off every box, every day, doesn’t mean we aren’t rocking this thing called homeschool. What it more likely means is that I have too many boxes on our to-do list. (I should probably apply this principle to my “real,” non-homeschooling life, too.)

This week, in addition to homeschooling, I was also working on an exciting project for a local nonprofit and also spending time brainstorming plans for what an afterschool reading program for public school students might look like this fall. I was also thinking about our church involvements, mowing the grass, sucking on cough drops, and buying school supplies. I was also getting up early to run with our neighbor… or getting up early to not run with my neighbor, like this morning… or not getting up early at all because this cold is kicking my butt. This week I was also checking in with friends and family in far-flung places, and checking in with friends right here in our little town, and making plans to spend time at the library with your new homeschool co-op teacher in order to assuage some of your fears.

I was also evaluating what it is I should be spending my limited time on, but also offering myself a lot of grace.

Because, let’s face it, this week I also lost my temper too many times, wanted to run and hide too many times, and drank too many cups of tea. (Just kidding on that last one.)

I’ve said this before, and I’m sure I’ll say it again: at some point every day, I want to quit this homeschooling thing. (Of course, at some point every day, I want to quit this motherhood thing, too, but that’s an issue for another day!)

I want to quit, but I don’t. And part of the reason I don’t is because I have not just all the feels but all the conviction: conviction about educational philosophy, conviction about how I want you to spend your days, conviction about cultivating your habits of attention. I love hanging more knowledge on your pegs of learning, making connections between the various subjects we’re studying, and giving a big-picture education.

I want you to work hard and rest well and you yourself see the connections between what you’re reading in books and what you’re seeing in the world.

And yes, I want you to see me juggling a thoughtful life with the tug of Kingdom work always refocusing me. I want you to see how much grace we need to get by, offered to one another and to ourselves. There are so many things I love about homeschooling that are unexpected surprises to me.

I started out with practical reasons to homeschool: because you were an early reader, because I wanted art and music to be central to your curriculum, because the public school schedule doesn’t line up with the college schedule, because we travel to see family and I want a portable education.

But now, it’s all these other things, too.

Girls, do you want to know what it is I hope and dream for you on this homeschooling journey?

These are the goals I typed up this summer and tucked into our daily schedule binder that (I hope) are shaping how we do school this year:

to cultivate

            compassion & empathy

            courage & wisdom

            wonder & curiosity

to love

            God

            one another

            other people

            beauty

            books

            learning

to foster a joy (and proficiency) of reading all things: all subjects, all genres

to nurture an interdisciplinary worldview by making connections between disciplinary knowledge, especially as connected to the “pegs” of our classical curriculum

to incorporate creative expression through music and/or art every day

to develop the ability to converse with others, especially those different from us

to exemplify how Kingdom-work is incorporated into daily life and rhythms

It’s a list of ideals, I guess. But you know what? I’m okay with that.

At the very least, it’s where we’re headed on this homeschooling journey.

Here’s to another year, girlfriends!

Love, 

Your Momma

 

The Seventieth Letter: Taking Off the Sunglasses

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Dear Daughters,

Last week, at breakfast, the three-year-old announced, “When you wear sunglasses, it looks like rain. But when you don’t wear sunglasses, it looks sunny.

She was referring to our walk home from preschool pick-up the day before, which was a relatively sunny day with a few whispy clouds scattered across a bright blue sky. She had looked up from her stroller to say that it looked like it was going to rain. Since this was clearly not the case, I told her it only looked like that because she was wearing sunglasses.

A few hours after her profound announcement at breakfast, I was pushing that stroller again on a run, and I began to hear those words as a metaphor:

When you wear sunglasses, it looks like rain.

When you don’t wear sunglasses, it looks sunny.

I started thinking about how, sometimes, when we wear sunglasses to protect our eyes, to protect our vision, our skin, ourselves, we mis-see. We see the sky as threatening when it isn’t.

Apparently I get philosophical as I’m pushing forty pounds of kid up hills during my running intervals.

I started wondering: How often do I innocently attempt to protect myself and my children and my world–in the guise of what’s best for the girls, what’s best for our budget, what’s practical or impractical about the radical command to love our neighbors when there really isn’t anything practical about that kind of love? When I do that, when I try to be safe, well, then I end up seeing a threat where there is none.

Sometimes we see stranger-danger instead of who-is-my-neighbor. We prefer to see friendship with likeminded folks rather than awkward conversations with those who are hurting. We prefer to see a cheery “I’m fine” instead of an honest answer to how-are-ya’ll-today. We prefer to see new and glossy rather than hand-me-down or recycled. We prefer to see how expensive that local organic tomato is rather than the slave-industry-riddled cheaper off-season tomato in the grocery store.

We see and we do not see, while we are protecting our eyes.

Yes, this feels like a metaphor. And now I find myself preaching.

Sigh.

This week, your new baby cousin was born. She came early and quick. She’s a beauty. Sunday will be mothers day. Yesterday, a friend told me she was unexpectedly pregnant. Also yesterday, another friend told me she was disappointingly not pregnant.

There is so much depth and pain and joy wrapped up in these things. So much sunshine. So much rain.

This week, I dropped my iPhone–gently! It barely fell from waist height!–and the back of it splintered into myriad pieces. I shouldn’t have felt so broken inside when I saw the damage, but I did, I’ll be honest. I felt the frustrations of things and accidents and what-the-heck. And then a friend told me her daughter is unaccounted for this week, and my annoyances are put in perspective.

But loss is hard. It weighs us down. And there is so much heartache. So much brokenness. So much frustration of living in this broken world.

This weekend we went to IKEA and ate meatballs and bought some shelving and stuffed animals and water pitchers. While there, I got a text from a friend with a history of trauma and mental illness. It’s striking to be so #IKEAFORTHEWIN and yet so utterly grounded in conversations of brokenness and sadness and pain.

This week, the college students wrap up their semester and some of our sweet friends are graduating. And these young people give me hope. They are strong in their convictions. I know a twenty-something about to leave for the Peace Corps. These friends don’t just think they might change the world–they actually are changing the world. They inspire me, with their offerings to the broken world.

This week, I got overwhelmed by world events and national news. As I do a lot these days. It seems to be compounding. And so this week we once again turned to late-night television (that is, a day after it airs, on YouTube, because ain’t nobody staying up that late in this house), and your dad and I laugh together because we might otherwise cry, but laughter is good for the soul.

Girls, sometimes the problems seem so big.

And sometimes they don’t.

Sometimes I think all I need to do is take off the sunglasses.

And sometimes I can actually see the world the way it is.

The way it was meant to be.

Created. Holy. Pure grace.

Well, I think I can see that sometimes. That grace. That voice of God.

I can hear it in your words, for sure, as they echo in my heart when I’m still enough to listen.

I can hear it in my friends’ voices shared in mom groups and Bible studies, over texts and e-mails and Facebook messages. Sure, it’s easiest in the laughter and joy and friendship and wholeness.

But I want to be able to see it in the broken places.

I’ll confess that I’m not there yet, not this week. I’m struggling to see it.

But grace is there, too, in the struggle. That’s where it is most evident, I think.

So I’ll keep looking. And, of course, I’ll keep listening to your voices.

I definitely need to hear them.

Love,

Your Momma

The Sixty-Fifth Letter: Enough to Go Around

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Dear Daughters,

Last fall, my women’s Bible study group at church began working through the Gospel of Mark together. I particularly enjoyed reading N. T. Wright’s Mark for Everyone commentary, guiding the group’s discussion, and unpacking the tricky passages.

I’ve read Mark before, both in snippets and straight through in one sitting, and I’ve certainly heard a lot of sermons preached on it. In fact, Pastor Bob preached through the book of Mark over the course of one liturgical year in recent memory. Your dad even translated it when he was studying Koine Greek as an undergraduate.

So it’s very familiar to me. And at 16 chapters, it’s the shortest Gospel. It’s all in a rush, it seems, especially when you read straight through it.

But reading Mark as a group this time, especially with all of the summarizing and re-hashing of the themes every week last fall, really illuminated the Gospel for me in a way that caught me off guard. It’s not just short and speedy and simple. Nope, it’s downright radical, girls. Seriously. It’s upside-down Kingdom, challenge the status-quo, packed-full-of-symbolism radical. This is powerful stuff, this Word of God.

It’s always good to be reminded of that.

My group took a break from Mark to read a different book this spring, but we picked it up again during Lent, starting with Mark 10. To kick off our discussion, I asked my friends to think back over the first nine chapters of the book and reflect on what stood out to them.

I’m sure it was no surprise when I told them the three things I had been carrying in my heart these last months because, quite honestly, when I’ve got something on my heart, I preach it. All the time. You’ll know this about me someday.

The first was the radical pull-back-the-veil, reveal-things-as-they-really-are nature of Jesus’ baptism scene. How radical would it be for us to hear God’s message to Jesus as a message about our own calling as God’s beloved children? “You are my beloved child,” God says. You are. YOU.

The second was the Gerasene demoniac’s healing. This has always struck me as a strange one, the focus often on the demons requesting to go into a herd of pigs—talk about crazy stuff in the Bible! —but N. T. Wright points out something I had never thought about before. This man, this Gentile who had been tearing his body apart because of possession and illness, is not just healed by Jesus, but commissioned by Jesus. Jesus tells him to go back to his community—most likely a Gentile community, given the location—and tell what God has done for him. This man, this nobody, is actually the first apostle to the Gentiles. How powerful is that?

And then, lastly, the bread. Oh, the bread. I’ve been preaching about the bread every time I can.

God’s message throughout the Gospels is a message of abundance and provision. It’s the message throughout Scripture, of course, but it comes up powerfully in the life of Jesus.

Here in Mark, the disciples see Jesus perform radical miracles of the body and spirit, they hear him teach and explain a radical Kingdom of God, and they are sent out and tasked with doing miracles themselves. Mark tells us they do it. They actually cast out demons without Jesus there with them.

Then they witness Jesus doing another crazy thing for a crazy big crowd of people. They even help him do it. God transforms a measly amount of bread and fish into enough food for over 5000 people, and there are twelve baskets of bread leftover. Leftover, post-miracle abundance.

But then, and this is what stays with me: a little while later, the disciples are freaking out when a storm comes up and they’re on a boat without Jesus. But Jesus, once again being his radical self, comes walking out on the water to them. Mark says Jesus “intended to pass them by,” which evokes a lot of things, including Moses being permitted to see the full revelation of God from behind as God passes by him in the cleft. The disciples here are seeing something they cannot believe, and it scares them. When things calm down a big, Mark says, in passing, that they were scared and confused because “they didn’t understand about the bread.”

They see God in the flesh, but they did not understand about God’s provision. They saw bread multiplied for the masses, but they did not understand that God had sent the true Bread of Life who was big enough, strong enough, enough enough. They were themselves able to cast out demons, but they doubted the ability of God to cast away their fears.

If only they had understood about the bread.

If only they had understood about God’s provision.

If only they had understood about God’s abundance.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the last few months.

Do I understand about the bread?

Do I recognize the message of abundance the Gospel announces to the world? This is not a name-it-and-claim it abundance. This is not a reward-for-good-behavior abundance. This is not a give-and-you-will-be-blessed abundance.

This is the sheer, undeserved, over-the-top abundance of grace.

And it is for everyone. Not just you, girls. Not just me. Not just other pew-dwellers.

This abundance is offered to the most ornery of political leaders.

This abundance is offered to the shut-in across the street.

This abundance is offered to the registered sex offenders in our neighborhood.

This abundance is offered to the mom of the kid at preschool that kind of grates on your nerves.

This is radical abundance. There is enough to go around. It won’t run out. And offering it to others does not lessen the value of it, the generosity of it.

We Christians say we believe in the grace and love of God, but I worry that we don’t act like we believe in it.

I don’t think we act like we believe that it applies to others, that much is darn sure as far as I witness Christian behavior in my own community and on my own Facebook newsfeed, but I also don’t think we act like we believe it in our own lives.

And still I wonder:

Do I understand about the bread of heaven? Do I understand that this life is not my own? This house is not my own? That you are first and foremost daughters of God more than you are my daughters? Yes, I think that is the message of scripture.

This world is not ours. Our lives are not ours.

Everything we have is undeserved. And there is enough to go around.

If only they had understood about the bread…

I don’t know, ya’ll. I might still be preaching this message when you’re grown-up and reading these letters.

If I’m not, remind me.

Love,

Your Momma

The Fifty-Eighth Letter: Holy Ground

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Dear Daughters,

I’ve been thinking about this calling to a sacramental life—a calling to seek the holy in the everyday humdrum and monotony of raising small children, of serving our neighbors, of loving our community or at least trying to, and in finding the cracks to shine the light in. This search for the sacramental keeps pulling me forward and revealing itself to me as the vocation that gives my life meaning.

Don’t get me wrong.

I like my—what should I call it?—“day job.” I love writing poetry and making art. I feel called to it. Most of the time I like proofing and writing articles, and I even know the joy of a nit-picky copyediting job well done, of the intense focus needed for InDesign formatting and layout. And, of course, many days, I love raising you and seeing you grow and learn and create and ask difficult, insightful questions. That’s part of my day job too. I even love chopping vegetables. Sometimes.

But all of these pieces of my life, as much as I am called to them, make up what continues to feel like the larger picture that is my vocation: seeing where the sacred breaks through.

Maybe that’s everyone’s vocation to some degree or another, I don’t know. But it feels real to me, this calling.

Your dad and I are making an intentional effort this calendar year to cultivate a habit of morning and evening prayer. The book we use, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, has already walked us through some well-known Old Testament passages this first week of January.

A few days ago, we had Jacob discovering that “surely the Lord is in this place.” And he wasn’t even aware of it.

We had Moses being told to take off his sandals before the burning bush because the land he was standing on was holy ground.

The Lord was in that place.

That place was holy ground.

That place.

This place.

I remember learning in Introduction to Christianity, one of our required undergraduate courses at Houghton College, that a “sacrament” is a visible sign of invisible grace. (Google tells me that this definition is attributed to Augustine. Maybe so.)

A visible sign of invisible grace.

So the thing is, Jacob’s dream and his wrestling with the angel sound like exceptional moments of God’s interacting with humanity. Serious exceptions to the general, widespread experience of being a human being in the world.

And Moses before the burning bush sounds like a crazy thing that only happens in the Old Testament. It’s unusual to say the least. Even for the Bible.

History tells us that these are sacred stories. These are sacred stories of sacred places. Moments when God’s presence broke into our world. These are stories worth telling precisely because they are exceptional. The people of Israel told and retold (and still do tell) these stories to their children.

But you know what?

I’m not convinced these stories are exceptional, at least not in God’s presence breaking into our world, our time, our lived experience.

I’m convinced that God breaks through and reveals God’s grace to us all the time. It’s us. We’re the problem. We’re in the way. The stuff of life is in the way. The clutter is in the way.

I’m convinced that even our everyday mundane moments can be conduits of God’s grace, can be sacraments, can teach us something about God and the way God works and will continue to work in the world.

What we have to do is look for it.

What we have to do is see it.

What we have to do is proclaim it.

There’s an old-fashioned word for you. Proclaim.

Surely the Lord is in this place.

The place we are standing is holy ground.

Girls, I don’t know how else to say it.

That’s what living sacramentally means. That’s what I want you to see, to know. It might be one of the most important things I teach you. This place is holy ground.

It’s what enables us to love our neighbors. To welcome the stranger. To see that those who drive us the most crazy and make us the most angry are made in the image of God. Just like us. To understand that we aren’t special or privileged but as deserving of God’s grace as everyone else. Which means we are undeserving of it. And yet, God’s grace breaks in.

So I will proclaim it. Over and over and over again, I will proclaim it.

This place where we are learning to do life together? Yes, that’s what I mean. This place. It’s holy.

This community.

This neighborhood.

This shared driveway.

This dinner table.

This couch.

This swing set.

This dollhouse.

This snow-covered sidewalk.

All of it.

Holy Ground.

Love,

Your Momma