Monday, September 29, 2014

How Public School Looks From Here

Monday morning light filters through the maples. The air bites our noses, but the leaves are still mostly green. And in some ways, it feels like the first day of school. This is the turning of the season, and our toes hug the edge of fall.

We're well into our third year at our "new" school. We've rounded the corner - we've been here longer than there, now. My mind always veers toward balancing the sides, stacking this up against that, or that against another. I think about times and dates and thin stretches of years, believing the weight of the scales holds secrets in its truths.

I should know better.

I should know it's less about growth rings and more about roots. Time is never as relevant as depth.

Flip that coin over, and years are important, too. For us, these two-years-and-counting mark a period of foggy-eyed obedience. I can't say it was blind, but it sure wasn't clear, either. Now, I strain to remember why it ever seemed so hard. But I remember the tears. When pressed, I can still feel the ache of doubt like a tender, half-healed bruise.

One of the questions I'm asked most often, including when I passed my readers the mic, is about our decision to send our kids to public school, specifically this one.

Of all the confusion our decisions incited in recent years, this may have been the most nagging. People weren't as shocked as they were simply perplexed. Had it been a few years earlier, I would have sat with wringing hands, too.

The culture of Cory and I's entire lives - the culture of white, middle-class, evangelical Christianity - favors security and prizes a "good" education. We would have never copped to hiding strands of racism or prejudice in the sturdy, salt-of-the-earth fibers of our upbringing or our life together, as responsible adults and parents. We wouldn't have described ourselves as self-centered or superior. We didn't know what we lacked. We were shockingly fenced from people unlike ourselves. We weren't fully aware that the roots of our beliefs were pointedly wrong. We were simply inclined to huddle up with people like us.

We read the same Bible, but it meant different things, somehow.

Back then, we believed our job was to love God, follow His commands, and keep our family safe and secure. I say this with no measure of sarcasm or irony. This is truly how we would have summarized the Gospel we'd been called to.

So we kept our noses to the stone and worked at building a future where our kids would remain gated in privilege, though we never would have phrased it that way. We imagined a future for them of serving in the stable majority. We looked all around us, seeing many different versions of ourselves, and believed it was the story God had penned for our family. So we jotted our own words on the page, careful not to change the script.

Then, everything shifted. We were turned on a dime.
We knew we had to leave long before we felt peace about going. 

In the span between, we stared at and stumbled away from images locked in our hearts about what it meant to live in a city where, we were told, there were gangs, drugs, crime, poverty, failing schools, and little kids who cussed people out.

Only because of God's goodness, He led us here - to the land of the living. It was entirely in spite of ourselves. He brought us here and quickly proved that all those things we'd believed in fear were true.

He took our hands and walked us into the heart of it.
We have never been safer, never more secure.

What  we weren't prepared for was the prevailing goodness we'd find. The caring and hilarious and soulful hearts of our neighbors and teachers and friends.

The dirt of humanity lives here, yes, as it lives everywhere. It might be more visible here, more in our faces. We choose to see this as an opportunity to talk with our kids about real life, failure, heartbreak, and sin. We talk now, while the stakes are still relatively low. We build the conversation brick by crumbly brick, cringing sometimes at what's yet to come, but doing our best to remember fear and discouragement have been vanquished. (Joshua 1:9)

Now, we work and play and celebrate alongside folks whose walk with God might not look exactly like ours. Theirs might not resemble ours at all. It might not even exist. But we're neighbors now. We belong to them, and them to us. This community is confusing, sometimes. It's annoying, sometimes. It's frustrating and heartbreaking.

Often, it's as easy as a slice of pie. It's the gift of a lifetime, this blending of races, rich cultural heritages, wildly different positions on the ladder.

Where God called us, He sent us. And where He sent us, He went before us.

He equipped us.
All of us.

At every turn, He wows us with His provision.

Our humble church community preaches the word and works tirelessly, imperfectly, without polish or flare, toward its job of loving and serving the neighborhood - our neighborhood.

Our Title 1 public school is building our kids into stout citizens of the world while they also teach them to read and wonder. There have been areas where our kiddos have excelled academically beyond anyone's expectations, as well as areas where they have struggled. Both have left me wobbly, at times. There have been fleeting moments of panic where I entertained the thought that perhaps I was better equipped to educate them.

But God points me back to where He sent us, back to the crowded gymnasium on Science Night where charging a pocket watch with two potatoes overrides language barriers, back to the mountain of box tops carefully clipped each month so our underprivileged student body can go on field trips and see a different corner of the world, back to free school lunches and tamales for dinner and a community grown equally on processed convenience-store food and the belief that health and nutrition belong equally to everyone.

It only takes a nudge, and I see the ways education is about more than book facts and test scores.

"The wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peace makers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness." James 3:17-18

This is our school. These are our blocks. That was our garden where we gathered last night to pitch in covered dishes and learn a little more about one another.

We have claimed these promises as our own, and each one of us is stronger for the choosing.

We care because this is our life, the lives of our precious kids, but we also care for the ones who don't or can't or try, but fail.

We give and we take and we pray we'll get better at both.
We pray we'll become more focused on being peacemakers and less on being "right".

God has called every one of His followers into deep community, the kind that makes us uncomfortable at times, the kind that costs us whatever we have to give. The good news is, the need surrounds us on every side. The better news is, there are people everywhere who belong to Him. We won't be alone when we go. (Acts 18:10)

Your community will undoubtedly look different than ours. (And I hope it goes without saying that your educational calling might be different as well.)

I don't know the full parameters of where he called my family, but I know the front edge is right here, in our little home on 5th St. I know it eases two blocks down to the church on the corner, and across the street to the school on the hill.

We've been planted right here, so we stand. And we live. And learn.
And our roots stretch down.

 *I've organized all my posts on public schooling under one category. To read more, just click here and scroll.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Weekend Cheer

::  Silas had the gall to turn six yesterday. We celebrated with CiCi's Pizza (his choice), cake mix birthday cake (this year I fancied it up a little) and company. Silas's gift from us was a portable cd player "boom box" (haha) and he is officially a DJ in the making. He hosted a rave (not his first) in the toy-room last night with the neighbor kids, complete with strobe lighting and party beats. When I last checked in, the dew point was well into the 80's and it smelled distinctly like a locker room.

:: I keep forcing people to watch this with me so I can laugh again.

:: Danielle's kitchen remodel will blow you straight away.

:: When Meg does a Pinterest round-up, I immediately repin EVERYTHING. This one is soups.

:: I finally read this book. And ugly-cried in my woeful airplane seat. 

:: This little gem of a vid by my friend Chuck is exactly how I feel about community and food.

:: Speaking of which, I'm making this for our annual community garden party tomorrow.

:: The Myth of Effortless by Erin at Design for Mankind. "How do we encourage effort in a culture where effortless is the goal?" I mean, seriously.

:: I like how this mom mothers and I love the poem she shared.

:: I read some foodie blogs. This cracked me way up.

:: This happy art makes me feel alive.

:: Here's an interesting perspective on what the Bible says about alcohol.

:: I discovered a fun, new, small-living blog.

:: We're perfecting the art of low-key weeknights. This article speaks to my mama heart.

:: Listening to this interview with David Platt and Katie Davis will turn your heart.

:: Are you a new mom? You might love this.

Happy Weekending!

PS - THIS from the archives. I just found it again. That kid!


Thursday, September 25, 2014

Oh, Yes, I Did (A Secondhand Challenge Update)

Remember when I casually threw out the idea to only buy secondhand clothing for 6 months?
Well, that was two months ago.

Good news: We're 2 months down!
Bad news: I'm terrible about updating and keeping a routine and maintaining enthusiasm and all related skill-sets. Which means you probably forgot about the whole thing 1.5 months ago.

To make it up to you, I have a surprise.

But because I don't want you to get too spoiled by my intermittent on-top-of-it-ness, I'm making you wait another day. Or two.

But to make that up to you, I'm showing you one of my most outrageous secondhand purchases TO DATE.

I bought an old man's pajama shirt.
For fifty cents.

And then I wore it like it was a thing.

Confession: I'd been eyeing this bad boy old fart for a month or so. But was too skittish to fork over $4. When I stumbled upon the Blue Tag 50-cent sale, I had no choice. No choice at all.

I went out around the town in this get-up.
It felt...a tiny bit scandalous.
I think a Mennonite girl gave me a bad look...IN GOODWILL OF ALL PLACES.

I paired it with The Most Versatile Necklace In the Universe from 31 Bits, my gray tank that covers my bum, my banged-up crops, and the boots I bought back in July when I was in Arkansas.

(Boot details: They're from and I snapped 'em up because 1) I had a gift-card and 2) I got a sweet discount and 3) shopping with friends has that effect.)

Ohmyword I feel like I could segue right into such a boss of a lecture right now, but I'll wait...*

If memory serves me, the boots are the last thing I bought new.
Which means I'm technically 3 months down, suckas!!!!
But now I'm just bragging and alienating everyone.

Fine, fine. Still just two months.
Settle down.

Farmgirl Paints cuff

I dunno.
It always feels right to crop my head off at least one of the shots.

Also, I never, ever, ever, ever, ever know what to do with my arms in these pictures. Ever.
You would think I'd have matured from "hands on hips".


We walked to church that night for dinner (that happens on Wednesdays) and I stood by one of the walls while Cory took some pics.

(I'm realizing in this moment that this was the day I started to put make-up on and then stopped half-way through. I do that a lot. I also stop 1/10 of the way through sometimes.)

Cory scowled at this shot and said, "Nope. This looks totally staged."
To which I replied, "I'm wearing geezer pajamas and posing in them in front of our neighborhood church in broad daylight."

So, the secret's out: I'm not really walking in this picture. It's totally staged.

I won't even pretend this picture taking thing is weird anymore.

I mean, it's a little weird.
But you already know how I feel about outfit pics.
I dig 'em.

I just wanted to remind you that buying secondhand is the perfect opportunity to dress outside the box. And I don't mean that in a, "Skip the fitting room and act European" sort of way.

But look at things twice. Have some fun.
Would I ever have bought this shirt at Target or Old Navy? Heck no.
I wouldn't even buy it for $4, remember?

I know most people won't be clamoring for a pajama shirt. I know you might not "get" this one. It's okay! I liked it, it's soft, and it cost me two quarters. 

When the price is right, take a leap. Try something new.
Work it.
Own it.
Act like it's a thing and people will assume you know what you're doing. (Except for that one Mennonite girl. And maybe you.)

I hope some of you'ns are still with me.
It'd feel chilly and sad on my own.

And to my "unnamed friend" who confessed a recent Target transgression, there is grace and mercy here, dear sister. Lap it up. Swim in its sea. Don't even think about acting like this means you're benched. You can check out any time you like BUT YOU CAN NEVER LEAVE.

At least not for four more months.

*Which reminds me of my earlier-postponed lecture: Don't go to normal stores right now. Just don't. You're asking for trouble, lady. I waltzed into Target today and was alllllmost lured over to some intriguing jackets, but I turned on my heel and marched to the other end of the store. No looking back. Last month, some friends and I had time to kill and they suggested TJ Maxx. I turned them down cold. It's just too painful, that's all. We can't be expected to stay strong in the face of Mossimo.

Lecture over.
(Be honest, does these pajamas make me look bossy???)

Talk soon.
Much love.

ps - I'm planning a mid-point link-up. Stay tuned. And please don't feel like you have to take a certain kind of picture to play along. Use your phone. Take a selfie. Enlist a kid. Crop off your head like I do. Take a picture of a stack of finds on your table. Do what you want. I'm just nosy and nothing geeks me out lately like a secondhand steal.
pss - That was not a subtle endorsement to steal from a secondhand store.
psss - Don't forget, big secondhand surprise coming...soon? (who can know for sure???)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Reads & Eats

When life feels too big for its britches, when I'm lost inside my head or adrift in questions that can't be answered yet, I come back to two things: Books and food.

Yes, my family. And always, Jesus.

But as for tangible things that can be held in my hands, these are what center me.

I've been doing a lot of reading in recent weeks, and a whole lot of food-dreaming. (If that tells you anything about the condition of my heart.)

Life is not especially hard right now. It's actually wonderful. Exciting. Relatively peaceful and ripe with good thing. But it's moving quickly and the days are somehow both too short and too long.

I'm trying to listen to my body when it barks that 6 hours of sleep isn't enough. I'm working on it. I have to think it's helping.

But I might yank this rope around from both ends forever. Sleep-Read-Sleep-Read.
One means rest and the other means a different kind of rest.

I have to believe there's room enough for both.

 And in between it all, I dog-ear recipes and pin All of the Pumpkin Foods. My Wal Mart "Le Crueset" is getting the work-out of its life, bubbling soup, boiling pasta, browning chicken, simmering stock.

We're eating out less than ever, and it's working well for us. These days, dinners are simple. We're into one-pot options that keep us lingering around our beat-up table. We shove the remnants of the day to the far end, and huddle up with mis-matched napkins and tap water.

Dinner doesn't have to be perfect to be meaningful and important.

All of this - the books and the food and the faces gathered 'round - all of it amounts to food for my soul.

Here's what I've been chewing on lately.

This was my first attempt at this recipe and it'll stay in the rotation. It was quick and so delicious. We topped ours with thinly sliced cabbage and my home-canned pickles. For our sides, we had roasted cauliflower and sweet-&-sour sauteed cabbage, because I like all of my side dishes to be colorless, apparently.

I've talked about this soup a hundred times, but it is our hands-down favorite. And this time, it looked a little different because I didn't start it as early. The veggies weren't all cooked down, so there was more texture, which I happened to like. Either way, it is phenom. My people lap it down hard.

“New Testament faith cannot be practiced in private. Either the faith will destroy the isolation, or the isolation will destroy the faith.” - Dirty Faith by David Z. Nowell

"If you are a woman in crisis, there is no better place to seek advice than women. Women are like full, ripe orchards of apple and peach trees. Women are museum guides telling you the hidden meanings. Women are ponds. They look placid and simple, but my gosh*, they teem with life and information an inch below the surface. There are incredible microcosms of information in those waters; there are hundreds of species of information. Women are encyclopedias, they are oracles, they are entire self-help sections of Barnes & Noble. Women! If you have a question or need advice, gather some women together. They will help you." - A Year and Six Seconds by Isabel Gillies (*my edit :) )

"While the parents of black and white boys have many experiences in common - protecting their emotional well-being, channeling their rambunctiousness, dealing with schools that have been structured for the learning styles of girls, protecting them from bullying, and so on - white parents don't have to prepare their boys to deal with a society that stereotypes and views them as dangerous, as black parents do. They don't have to safeguard their sons from media outlets that broadcast violent and self-destructive images of them. They don't have to protect them from others' harmful projections. They don't have to shield them from teachers whose low expectations can undermine their ability to learn. 'Boys will be boys' behavior doesn't get white boys kicked out of the classroom or expelled from school (or even locked up) at the same rate that it does black boys. And white parents don't have to fear for their sons' physical safety in the same way that black parents do. Will he get jumped? Will the police stop and frisk him? Will he get shot? They typically don't lie awake worrying about these issues. Black parents do." - Promises Kept: Raising Black Boys to Succeed in School and in Life by Joe Brewster, M.D., and Michele Stephenson with Hilary Beard

Your turn. 
What are you reading? What are you eating?

I'm all ears. Literally.

*Amazon affiliate links

Monday, September 22, 2014

Camp Create

I have been waiting to tell you all about Camp Create.

Because the world certainly has its wonderful moments, I had the chance to serve with some of my favorite ladies. It's hard to believe I was there, in Kansas, at that house, just over a week ago.

I came home feeling every single way. I was full. Indescribably free.
I'm still holding those things to my heart. I still feel all of it.
So much happened in just 5 days, heart things and things I can reach out and grab.
It seemed like all of them were good, and it still seems that way upon further reflection.

I don't know. It feels risky to be so sure.

Why is unbridled optimism sometimes scary?
No, really, why?

It's hard to shape our time together into just-right words.
I could try, but I'm confident it still wouldn't be enough.

What I can say is that God had plans for each of us.
He used that time to unleash bold visions and chest-thumping, God-sized Dreams.

It took me a little while to sink into the knowledge that even though I was there as a helper, I was also there. I was every bit a part of the design. I was there with purpose, and not just to help with dishes and food prep.

As soon as it sank in I was even more excited. Could God possibly have something to say to me??

He did.

We shared our hearts in a way that only a big, cry-baby group of beautiful women can.
I shared a Big dream and a HUGE dream and then I did a throw-back to high school youth group and cried my eyes out while I shared an "unspoken" dream. (Those were the height of youth-group-culture drama when I was 16.)

I'm confident you'll all be pulled into each of those dreams of mine. It's just a matter of time before I'm ready to talk.

Be ye warned.

For now, I have loads of camera-grade pictures to share. I'll try to make this quick.

First, I won't lie and say it didn't feel good to do my hair and wear proper shoes on a Tuesday.
(Remember when I said I wanted to try my hand at this look? Voila. It looked more "right" once I had properly looped the scarf around.) (And my new favorite t-shirt under my jacket? Secondhand, baby.)
Scarf - fashionABLE , Boots - Country Outfitter, Jacket - Old Navy (last year), T-shirt - Goodwill, Suitcase bauble (spot it a mile away!) - Noonday

{South Bend airport is relaxing and serene.}

{O'Hare has a life-sized dinosaur skeleton and a Frontera Grill next door to a McDonald's.}

Kimberlee * Moi * Meg

These beauties picked me up from the airport and we immediately found food and swan-dived into the deep end. THEY ARE MY PEOPLE.

A few hours later, our resident Crafting Queens arrived - Stephanie Ackerman and Michelle Allen.
(And because I'm irresponsible and rude, I didn't get a proper shot with the two of them.)

But right away, I adored them.

As a display of my adoration, I conned Stephanie into driving the 15-passenger van for me the next day to pick up the rest of the campers from the airport.

I navigated from the passenger seat and snotted my face off.

Let me back up.

I fell ill the week before I left for CC, and though I was well enough to still go, I was in, the, uh... drainage phase.

I couldn't stop honking on my nose and it sounded so ridiculously disgusting but I swear to you, nothing was coming out.

(Is this awkward for you???)

So Steph says to me and the elephant in the van - so politely, I might add - "Doesn't it make you wonder where all that stuff comes from?"

And I yammered on about how really, nothing was coming out.

You know, typical getting-to-know-you conversation.

And then.

Without warning.

Stuff was ready to come out.

(Goodbye forever, kind readers.)

The problem was, WE WERE IN A VAN TOGETHER. I couldn't leave the room. I couldn't do anything at all....except "exorcise" the "demons". So to speak.

So I closed my eyes. And I blew.

Somewhere in the middle, I apologized, knowing in the depths of my soul that Dear Stephanie would have hopped out the window if she knew she'd clear the ditch.

I hated myself so bad.

When it was all over, she says to me with a certain measure of fear/disgust (I'm still not sure), "Well, that sounded...productive."

We awkwardly laughed about it together then brought it up 58 more times that week.

Friends for life.

This is where we lived:


 This is where we ate:

 {Stephanie photo-bombed my French toast pic. I felt like she owed me one...}

This is where we crafted and were led and encouraged by the fantastic Holley Gerth:

{The second day there I was the only one who stayed in my pajamas for the entire day. I should be so ashamed...and yet I'm just not. Do you ever feel like I make it hard to love me?}

"The work of your hands is just as holy as the work of your heart." - Holley Gerth, Camp Create 2014

This is some of the best of Newton, Kansas:

Kellyn, Michelle, Steph and I went thrifting one morning.
(We all went junking at The Barn, too.)

Holley did a signing at the Christian Bookstore in Newton and I LOVED this display inside the door! Some of my favorite books, including Dirty Faith...and Love Does!

And then there was the sunflower field...

 When it was time to head home, I was filled all the way up. Super excited to hug my people, but doing what I could to hold on to the ways my heart had shifted while I was away.

I'm so thankful for Camp Create and all the ways God used it to quiet my heart and tell me the truth about things. The ladies were ALL so much fun. They inspired me by their courage and I can't wait to see what happens next for them.

 *Affiliate links used.