Hither By Thy Help I’m Come

I’ve gotten a few new subscribers recently (thank you so much!), which is super fun, and I’m wishing I would have posted more in August and September.   A LOT has happened.

Hospitality implies process.  You don’t know what the guest will do, you can’t control the situation, and there’s always give and take.  The guest is supposed to bless you as well as receive from you.  The guest can be, must be, loved by you without needing to be just like you.  The joy and blessing of hospitality, the truth of hospitality, comes not from some end result, but from the experience itself.  In the actual process, koinonia [fellowship] happens, Christ is present and the gifts multiply.  Surprise.

–Michelle Hershberger, A Christian View of Hospitality

So if you follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed that a fourth little girl is often tagging along with us on homeschool mornings.  We’ll call her K, and her presence in our home the last month is nothing short of a miraculous, specific and utterly thrilling answer to prayer.

In my post about living in Detroit I shared that we live a scant four miles from the only official Charlotte Mason school in the state of Michigan.  We almost enrolled by oldest daughter Ellary this fall, but last spring, when we were praying through the decision and working out the financial details, I began to sense that something wasn’t right.  I imagined all the narrations I wouldn’t get to hear, all the connections I wouldn’t get to watch snapping into place, all the books I wouldn’t end up reading.  It’s a tremendous school that we love and support, and I would have been extremely involved there as a parent and maybe even more, but in the end, we decided not to move forward with it.

It was God’s decision, it was a financial decision, it was a decision Kevin and I made together–but truly, it felt like my own selfish decision.  Our number one reason for considering this school was our belief in the benefit of its presence in the community.  It is a radical alternative to the rather bleak (but improving!) educational landscape in this city.  We want to be apart of that kind of thing.  We want to send our kids to an excellent school with their neighbors.  Integration and multi-ethnicity are often missing links when it comes to education reform.  What’s more, I don’t want my big old house on a little city lot to become a place of isolated privilege, which only directly benefits my nuclear family.  And homeschooling is an immense privilege that should never be taken lightly (I particularly like Lindsy’s post on the subject).

I was a bit befuddled.  When we started the enrollment process, it had felt like a done-deal in my mind, and then all of a sudden, we were strapped in for another year of homeschooling.  I was pumped, of course, because if we were just talking about what I want, then everything was lovely.

But we’re not just talking about what I want, and after the final decision was made, I began to feel so ill at ease, so heavy, as I thought about my place in this city.  So many people are moving back into Detroit, buying foreclosed homes, flipping them, making everything pretty.  A lot of those people are going to make ridiculous amounts of money on their investments.  If we were to sell our house right now, we would make an obscene (and I do actually mean obscene) amount of money on it.

I know that’s not why we’re here.  But do my neighbors know that?  Am I doing anything at all to show people that I’m not here because it’s trendy and lucrative?  Are we making things easier for our neighbors who’ve been here for 30 years…or making it harder?

These are the questions that haunted me when we re-upped for another year of homeschooling.  So I started praying.  Well, first I staggered around blindly, groping for some sort of action step to make me feel better.  Then I gave up on that and started praying.  Praying that I would meet more homeschooling families IN the city, praying for a chance to share my passion for education with someone somewhere…anything.

Three weeks into our new homeschool year, I met a woman (we’ll call her M) that had recently moved in across the street.  My jaw dropped when she told me she homeschools her 7-year-old.  I was ecstatic.  I practically squealed, “We should be friends!”  She smiled serenely and agreed.  She also told me that she was having major problems with her health–a concussion from 4 years earlier hadn’t healed properly and she was having chronic nerve pain and migraines.  On top of this, she is a single mom with a new (old) house to care for and a 5-month-old baby boy.  I knew when I walked away from that conversation that I was going to offer as much help and friendship to her as I could.  I took her daughter K on a field trip with us a few days later.  By Labor Day, M had asked if K could tag along with us during our homeschool days while she heals. homeschool

K will be with us Monday through Thursday mornings at least until Thanksgiving, and her presence in my home is nothing short of an ebenezer for me, “a commemoration of divine assistance.”  She is proof that God cares about me, He cares about M and K, He cares about our homeschool, He cares about Detroit, and He is involved.  We’re offering some stability and friendship and reading lessons to K in a difficult time, but she is offering us real relationship in this city.  Her mom and I keep saying to each other, “Thank you…no no, thank you.”  I just keep marveling at what God can do in six months.

Repentance Everyday

Kierkegaard prays:

You that gives both the beginning and the completion, give your victory in the day of need so that what neither our burning wish nor our determined resolution may attain to, may be granted unto us in the sorrowing of repentance: to will only one thing.

We’re in the final countdown to the first day of our new school year.  I am chock full of burning wishes and determined resolutions.  I have thought so much about my will in the last six months.  I have been praying fervently for this new year.

But Andrew Kern also said it: “The only thing we should worry about everyday is repentance.”

I repent that I have not willed only one thing.  I can tell that as I have diligently planned and purchased and prayed, my grip has gotten tighter and tighter on my vision for my homeschool.

Truly, the only thing that I need to do everyday is repent.  I need to will everyday to seek first the kingdom of God, and when I fail, I repent.  Put this on repeat and keep moving.

WWW ladydusk

The Hard Road

The main theme behind this blog is wisdom-driven action–the places where the rubber of grand principles meets the road of my daily life, decisions and priorities.

With this in mind, I have to go ahead and dive into what is absolutely the hardest “road” for me to take these tires too.

It’s the road toward racial reconciliation* and acknowledgement of white privilege, both in my neighborhood, in my church and in my homeschool.

More About Me

I grew up in a suburb of Detroit and then lived in Ann Arbor (an extremely nice middle class college town with everything a nice white girl could want) for twelve years as an adult.  I went to school, got a job, got married and had two babies there.

I grew up with an awareness of and fondness for the city of Detroit, attending games at the old Tiger Stadium with my dad and brother, volunteering at the Rescue Mission and going to concerts downtown.  My dad was a suburban pastor who had gone out of his way to build relationships with several black pastors in the area.  Our church had built an incredible relationship with a church in Russia that was trying to rebuild after the fall of Communism, and I traveled there with my parents when I was 10.  Later, when I was 15, my family spent three weeks in Côte d’Ivoire, West Africa, interacting with Christians from a wildly different background than mine.  Two of my cousins are multi-racial, and I have participated in several bi-racial weddings.  My husband grew up in Flint, MI (now of water-crisis fame) and was, ironically, bullied in elementary school because he was white.  Nevertheless, some of his best friends were/are black, and his parents placed a high priority on building relationships across ethnic lines.

When my husband and I moved into Detroit proper in 2013 as part of a campus church plant team, I knew I’d have a lot to learn and that I’d probably be a little uncomfortable.

Here’s the thing: despite what some might consider a decently balanced cultural upbringing, probably devoid of most racism, I knew nothing.

Nothing of the truth about what it is like to be a person of color, particularly black, in America.  Nothing about how I got to be where I am.  Nothing about my own deep underlying prejudices.  Nothing about my own fear and shame about my own ethnic background.

The last three years in Detroit have called for a steep learning curve.  We have been loved and accepted by our black neighbors.  We have been accused explicitly of racism by strangers.  People smile, wave and chat with us; others glare or even yell.  Most of my white friends in the city are light years ahead of me in terms of understanding this issue.  A whole multi-racial group of Christians in our neighborhood meet regularly to dialogue openly, pray and seek healing.  I’ve read some books.

I could get away with engaging half-heartedly on this topic.  I don’t know how long we will live here, and the next place we live may not be an epicenter of racial fracture.  If I’m honest, I don’t want to engage all that much, because I am scared.  But I know that of all the things God has been teaching me–about Himself, about my children, about Charlotte Mason and homeschooling, about our nation–the one thing I would most regret not acting on is what I’ve learned about racism and God’s call to healing and reconciliation.

Still On the Fence About This Blog?

This humble spot on the internet is in its infancy.  It exists as a processing space for me, but I also desire readers.  When I think about my potential audience, I think about homeschooling moms, because you are the people I interact with most online and with whom I share so much in common.  I think about those who homeschool classically and/or according to Charlotte Mason’s guidance.  Are you interested in this topic, or is it a little too outside the box for a homeschool blog?  Are you skeptical? Maybe I am someone who swims downstream of the culture, only talking about this because it’s what everyone is talking about on social media?

I’m asking these questions of myself.  But I’m also asking:

  • Are there people out there who have already found all the living books about people of color or about the dark underbelly of our nation’s history?
  • On that note, how do I teach my girls about that dark underbelly without moralizing?
  • Am I perpetuating white privilege by keeping my daughters at home, isolated from the kids in our neighborhood?  (The only Charlotte Mason school in the state of Michigan is four miles from our home and is beautifully diverse).
  • Might God put some under-served kids in my path whom I could welcome into my own homeschool?
  • Who else is talking about this in the online homeschooling world?  Do people believe it is an issue at all?
  • Why does it seem like some homeschoolers are patriotic and political to the extreme?  This is a genuine interest.  I really want to understand.

These are not the only questions and topics I want to write and dialogue about in this space, but it is a major area where I need to take action.  So it fits.  I hope other people are out there, homeschoolers or not, who want to take action with me.

*I recently learned that the term “racial reconciliation” is received by some as an offensive white construct, but I have yet to hear a term that is more appropriate as well as universally understood.  Racial implies that white and black are different races or species, which perpetuates racism.  A better term would be ethnic/ethnicity.  Reconciliation implies that there is a relationship to be healed, when for many, no relationship ever existed in the first place.

 

 

 

 

Closing the Book

I’ve just established my first blog category called “Closing the Book.”

Closing the Book Graphic

In the last few years, I’ve developed a semi-neurotic way of reading that has multiple steps and ends with a celebratory (but always temporary) shelving of a book.  Depending on the genre and difficulty of the reading, it can take me anywhere from a day to two weeks to actually close the book down once I’ve finished it.  I’m not suggesting these steps to people as practical advice; just thought some might find it interesting, and I wonder if anyone else has practices in this vein?

I read How To Read a Book by Mortimer Adler and learned about Andrew Kern’s highlighting technique during the same summer.  This brought my reading speed from rapid to…tortoise…paced, and also made my books neon.  That highlighting technique seems to be something each person must make their own.  I started out trying to closely follow the guidelines and realized that my brain was working against that rhythm.  I use pink for proper names, phrases in other languages and words I don’t know.  I use green to mark out the basic structure of the prose.  I use blue for passages I like, as directed.  The main difference is that I highlight in pink and green as I go, not during a pre-scan.  For fiction, I still only underline in pencil, which has always been my way.  (I’m pretty sure that same summer I indexed Gilead like a total freak).

Photo Jun 05, 3 10 09 PMAround that time, I also started commonplacing again.  I have had a commonplace book since 2002, but I didn’t know that’s what it’s called until I started homeschooling.  It had been years since I had made an entry, and it has since become one of my favorite and most refreshing activities.  I’ve noticed that a lot of people commonplace as they read, stopping to add a quote just when they find it.  I prefer to finish the whole book and then go back to find the passages that I feel most exemplify what I learned from the book or enjoyed about it.  (That’s where the blue highlighter comes in handy).  With a non-fiction book, I usually have absolutely TONS of stuff highlighted, and sometimes I take the time to type all of those passages into Evernote for future reference.  Only the most important passages actually make it into my handwritten commonplace book.  This, as you can see, is why it can take a ridiculously long time for me to “close the book”!

BeFunky Collage-close the bookI have also been known to reach the last page of a book and then promptly start back over, because I didn’t think I understood it well enough the first time.  Sometimes I think I’m pretty crazy, but every time I officially shelve a book, I feel that it has been my companion and has taught me much and that I have listened to it and interacted with it to the fullest.  And every time I read through my commonplace, the connections between one quote and another are extraordinary.

In terms of quantity, I ingest probably 50% less content than I used to.  I can guarantee, though, that I’m digesting far more of it than I ever have!

keeping company

Answers

This poem has been getting to me lately.

Answers

If I envy anyone it must be
My grandmother in a long ago
Green summer, who hurried
Between kitchen and orchard on small
Uneducated feet, and took easily
All shining fruits into her eager hands.

That summer I hurried too, wakened
To books and music and circling philosophies.
I sat in the kitchen sorting through volumes of answers
That could not solve the mystery of the trees.

My grandmother stood among her kettles and ladles.
Smiling, in faulty grammar,
She praised my fortune and urged my lofty career.
So to please her I studied—but I will remember always
How she poured confusion out, how she cooled and labeled
All the wild sauces of the brimming year.

-Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems, v. 1

Sacred Canopy: Reflections on The Abolition of Man

abolition of man

Last year, I had the privilege of contributing to Jennifer Dow’s Summer Classical Reading series.  Here’s an excerpt:

My mom and I had a conversation a few weeks ago that surprised me.  We’re very close, but I’ve been busy with little ones, and let’s be honest, pretty self-absorbed.  So I was genuinely surprised when she told me she’s been struggling for at least three years with significant doubts about the existence of God, a true “dark night of the soul.”  It began for her when my paternal grandmother, a life-long atheist, died without any indication that she had ever changed her mind about God.  It took the wind out of the sails of my mom’s Christian faith and forced her to confront what she termed “the siren’s call of atheism.”

To read the full post about how C.S. Lewis has given me historical perspective, visit Expanding Wisdom.

They won’t let me read.

“You have been given questions to which you cannot be given answers.  You will have to live them out–perhaps a little at a time.”

“And how long is that going to take?”

“I don’t know.  As long as you live, perhaps.”

“That could be a long time.”

“I will tell you a further mystery,” he said.  “It may take longer.”

Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow

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I have a vivid image of myself, sitting in the comfy blue striped chair in the kitchen, reading voraciously with highlighters and pencil in hand.  The table to my left holds a stack of books and my steaming coffee.  I am in my element.

My two-year-old finishes breakfast and climbs into my lap.  She’s squirmy and loud.  She may have a book for me to read to her, or she may just want to climb on me.  “Let me finish this section,” I say, not that she cares about my agenda for the morning.  There’s no way I can write notes anymore, and drinking my coffee is awkward and probably dangerous, but I trudge forward and my irritability starts to heat up.  I just want to grasp something new, tuck away an insight for future study.  The odds are good that it’s a book on educational philosophy or a Bible study.  Just a little more quiet time to think!

How many times has this scene closed with a sturdy plunking of the toddler on the floor and an enraged stalking from the room, because THEY JUST WON’T LET ME READ?!

The ridiculous irony here is that I was absolutely reading something that could teach me to be a better mother, if I’d let it.  But letting it involves putting it down and putting it into practice.  Finding out if my fine-sounding rubber can handle the reality of my road.  The only way I can test out any of these questions is to live them.

“Will God give me the energy I need to love my children today?” Put the book down, look your children in the eyes, and PRAY.

“Does narration really work?  Will Ellary make her own connections if I read living books to her?”  Turn off the podcast, turn off the cartoons and read to her.

“Does God want to use me to encourage others?” Exit the blog, stop thinking about exactly what to say and say something.  

Stop avoiding life.  Move toward relationships.  Be uncomfortable.  Choose and act.  These are the words my heart is speaking to my mind.