On the Homeschool MFA

Sometimes I forget the words and how to say them, how to write them, how to even start a blog post or finish a conversation. I forget what I read in my morning devotions, what insight or epiphany I thought was from God last week, or what important issue I was going to talk with child XY or Z about . I forget how to use words to communicate.

This is the clean slate God keeps giving me.

I still write the words and say the things, when they come. Communication is becoming more important than ever to me, and it happens in more ways than I ever thought possible. This learning to talk is part of my continuing education, part of the stripping down and rebuilding I cycle through with God.

I wrote the following article for Fathom Magazine and I hope you’ll find something in it to spark your own educational endeavors:

I just spent half an hour reading an article about reading. It probably should have taken me fifteen minutes, but looking up words and re-reading whole paragraphs takes time. I had to muscle through. 

It was an article linked on Twitter by someone far brighter and more educated than myself—someone who probably read it and fully comprehended it in ten minutes or less—and the premise was this: our brains are changing due to our highly-digital reading diets, and the skimming we learn to do online is diminishing our capacity for empathy, insight, and discernment, not to mention our aptitude and appetite for long-form reading.

None of this was surprising or entirely new information, but reading it (and the irony of my struggle to read it) was just one more reminder of my need for continued education, with real books and slow work. 
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Memory and Imagination

Whenever I hear Matt Redman’s “Blessed be Your Name” I am on I-84 headed east through the Columbia Gorge, past the giant windmills, towards our favorite eastern Oregon camping spot. Our kids are all small, all strapped to booster seats, all packed in with snacks and blankets and books. Though the drive is excruciatingly long, these are the best of times. 

That song is a soundtrack to a memory. 

Our youngest son wasn’t on those trips. Born almost four years after his nearest sibling, he missed out on some of the memory-making of those summers when we camped a lot. We try to be careful when we remember. Sensitive. 

None of us have memories specific to his first year and a half of life. He spent them in an orphanage in India, surrounded by other babies and rotating staff. A great deal of that time he also spent in the hospital with recurring bronchial infections and pneumonia. Our first sighting of him was on a DVD, narrated by a lovely woman who gave us the phrase, “Shashwat is feeling sleepy” in her heavily accented english, and who told us Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star was his favorite song. 

But he came with no birth story, minimal history, and no shared memories from 17 months of his life. 

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Memories are so pliable. My husband and I both have stories from childhood that we remember a certain way, while those around us have a differing version. Grievances can seem larger and punishments more harsh than they were in reality—we've learned this from our own children's memories. Likewise, the joys of certain events can grow over time and repetition, making a small act of kindness or privilege seem like an extravagance in our minds. This is the power we have, in shaping memories.

Our solution has been to make memories for our son, using our own experiences of India and its culture, and threading in the emotions and trauma common to any young woman giving birth. We tell him how loved he was by his tummy mom, how hard it must have been to give birth at sixteen in a tiny hut in a tiny village, and how, for eight days, she and his grandma struggled to keep him alive. He was tiny and frail when he arrived at the orphanage. We tell him how so many people worked to sustain him and get him healthy. 

We tell him he was wanted, because there are ways to “do without” a pregnancy, and we pray for his tummy mom together on Mother’s Day and on random nights when questions arise. They are hard questions—ones we can’t answer without imagination—and we tell the best and truest version we can. 

Some might call this lying. I prefer to call it Imaginative Redemption, because remembering is redemption, and the past lives in the stories we tell about it. We can tell any kind of story, avoid all kinds of truth, or settle for answering all the questions with “I don’t know"—but a child needs to know. We’ve chosen to make the best memories we can imagine for our son. 

God commanded Israel to set up memorial stones and called them to imagine a day when their children would ask, “What do these stones mean to you?”—a day when they would be far removed from the crossing of the Jordan and they would help their children imagine all the ways God cares and will care for them, by remembering all the ways he’d done so in the past. He unites curiosity with remembering, giving us an open-door for telling a good story.

I don’t remember anyone ever warning us about the questions our son would have when we were in the cumbersome process of adopting. I’m sure it came up in our training classes or our home visits, in the reams of paperwork we read and videos we watched; but until you are in the thick of the moment, until you have context for something, you don’t fully grasp it. We tell his story and answer his questions with all the redemption we honestly can. We try to create the healthiest memories for each of our children by telling them the truth—bad things have happened, mistakes have been and will continue to be made. But here is the redemptive imagination that keeps us going: God slipped on skin and flesh to buy back your memories and do more than you could ever ask or imagine (Eph. 3:20). When circumstances are beyond any we can control, God asks Is anything too hard for the LORD? and then delights in blowing our minds. 

A "true story”—which is not always the one we tell ourselves—roots us in a past experience of God’s goodness, because he is always behind, and gives us an imagination of his future goodness, because he is always ahead. We live in the moment with these memories and this imagination, and for every pleasure remembered, every memory forgotten, every blank space in a life we know was full of goodness, there is a redemptive story to be told.  Our kids will develop their own soundtrack to their memories and they'll exaggerate the stories and miss some details, but we hope a redemptive imagination will help them with the lyrics. 

Building. Tending. Praying.

Summer is doggedly hunting down its ending, turning on me just as I was settling in. I flipped the calendar and caught the sun still sleeping at 5:30am, caught the grass refusing to green and the tomatoes all of a sudden blushing overnight. 

My current summer routines are not what I thought they would be. Shocker. I had big plans for the “extra hours” summer would give me and the wide-open mental space I would have. (It would be humbling to go back through the summers on this blog and see myself learning this lesson again and again.)Turns out, summer keeps the same hours as winter and just adds extra light, and I distract myself with the same things, get caught up doing the same things, and tell myself the same things.

I forgot to project reality into my visions of summer.

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The kids in my home who are mostly adults are coming and going with their own schedules. If I still had some semblance of control over their lives, I’d plan for all their jobs and activities to coordinate better. Instead, they leave on the half-hours between 6:30 and 8:00 a.m., each needing more coffee or food and each deserving a little conversation, and they return at all hours of the day and night. Dinner for two? For three? For seven or eight?

Flexibility is the new “consistency”, because nothing is consistent except the need to be flexible. 

My routine is not a routine anymore. The schedules do not follow a pattern. I need the ability to dive deep into my own work at a moment’s notice, to surface intermittently on demand, and dive back in again as soon as possible. 

On top of the staggered stop and start times of the majority of the house, I still have one child who needs summer and fun and someone other than mom to stare at all day. I gave him the option of listening to me read-aloud a book from his curriculum this coming school year, or playing a game with me. He chose cards, which is fine and normal and good. I could have insisted on the read-aloud to make myself feel better, but summer-life needs the freedom of childhood. 

Gone are the days of my schedule-making. Gone are the days of my dictatorship. Everyone here has opinions and preferences and a life, and this is exactly as it should be, I remind myself. 

As summer winds down, so does our summer with them, which is what I'm really thinking about. I love fall. But the changes that are coming this fall are ones I can't fully anticipate, different than all other falls before, out of our routine and even my ability to plan for.

Last week, our oldest daughter was feeling overwhelmed by her impending fall schedule and by all the loose ends she is unable to tie up in her life.  The solution for her was to go back to that tree she fell not far from and get herself a planner.  She found one under the shining glory of a display in Marshall’s, all decked out in scripture and tabs and spiral binding. “I know the plans I have for you…” the cover declared, a play on words of biblical proportions, but also a comfort to her. She is not so jaded yet as to see the cliche. 

A hope and a future is not a cliche, but I see it twist before me like it’s a promise of perfection here on earth. I get it mixed up. Build houses and plant a garden and live and pray for the peace of the foreign land you live in (CURRENTLY. RIGHT NOW.), because you’re going to be here for awhile —  my paraphrase of Jeremiah 29.

Make order and beauty in the place you are.

Deal with what you’re dealt.

Stop looking for the next thing.

Don't listen to the prophets-for-profit who tell you God couldn't possibly intend for you to have hard times, difficulties, disordered plans.

The order we’re seeking is continually following the laws of nature and descending into chaos, only to be ordered again. That’s the cycle. The future and the hope we are given might not be as entirely orderly as we think, might not be all about ducks-in-a-row and predictability, seeing how God has fitted us to be chaos-managers and those who seek order. 

We are led to disappointment by the false prophets of perfect planning who would tell us that once everything is ordered, we’ll sail smoothly. Building and tending and praying all involve the ordering of things that are out of order, and this is our unending vocation here.

It could be a long captivity in this chaos. 

The future and hope of Christ is all things ordered in Him and by Him. I live in small seasons, up close to chaos. I stand in summer and see it fleeting. God stands in summer with me and sees all things working together, chaos filling in the larger borders of a pattern that might one day be clear to me. 

He knows the plans.