Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Carpe Diem

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting,
The soul that rises with us,
Our life’s star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar;
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home.
~ William Wordsworth

Years ago a little girl came into the world, the first-born among many.  In the beginning she created the world as she imagined it.  Her birthday signified new beginnings for all.
 Everyone celebrated her arrival on planet earth – as they’d done two millennia before when Christ was born in Bethlehem.   
And, like He, she was the recipient of valuable gifts, having won the statewide baby derby.  Merchants traveled from afar to deliver carriage, cradle, crib, and highchair. 
And a wardrobe fit for a tiny princess, a sterling silver cup and spoon, a gold bracelet and ring, a year’s supply of Gerber’s baby food.
Her birthday was a threshold the world crossed to embark on the voyage of transformation.    A window of time through which sunlight poured in to photosynthesize incomplete lives. 
This was the day where the hope of metamorphosis was fully acknowledged, or at least the desire for improvement realized.  Old habits could be shed like snake skins, new wonders born with the sunrise.  
 As the New Year’s Day parade marched and glided across the television screen she sat in pre-school wonder, mesmerized by it all.  Just to think that the whole nation could be so euphoric over her birthday!  
As the years passed she outgrew the illusion that she was the object of mass celebration.  All those resolutions made by everyone had nothing to do with her.  She was just like the others: in need of redemption and wholeness.  
Then one day, as she roamed through the Mount Olive College library, she stumbled upon some old newspapers on display from the archives.    
There they were in black and white: her mom in bed holding her; her proud father beaming and leaning over them like a guardian angel; and the doctor, also looking down upon them and smiling as though he’d just won the lottery.  
Sometimes I return to the past just to see what I’ve learned from it.  And from this childhood memory I relearned what I’d forgotten.  That I was no accident.  That I was here by design, “fearfully and wonderfully made.”
But like most people I became encultured and lost a sense of identity somewhere along the way.  I went to school and learned to conform to the world’s standards and values.   I learned to follow the herd instead of the Shepherd.  And I no longer remembered who I was.
The world was too much with me.  I was like Simba here in this scene from The Lion King. 
            John Sanford writes in his work The Kingdom Within, “By instinct, man is a group animal.  For hundreds of thousands of years he has existed through the group, and the individual has found his identity and meaning by virtue of his inclusion in the tribe, clan, or nation. 
 “But the Kingdom of God calls us to go beyond this ancient herd instinct and to establish an individual consciousness of oneself and of God.  Being a disciple means following the call in the individual way, and inevitably this will mean the separating out of oneself from the collective psychology of the group.”

One more thing I learned.  To enter this kingdom, I must become like that child I once was.   
 Children don’t worry about tomorrow, nor do they dwell in the past.  They pluck everything they can grab now.  
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may
They seize the day.  Every moment holds new promise, new hope.  They intuit this.    
So do I now.  No longer do I make New Year’s resolutions.  
His grace is sufficient each new day.
His mercies are new every morning.     
But I still celebrate my birthday on the first day of the New Year.      
Happy New Year!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Divine Innocence

Rebecca is a fellow writer friend I’ve known for years now.   
 Her poems have been published in Crucible, Tar River, Bay Leaves and other magazines and several anthologies, including Line Drives: 100 Baseball Poems.
She recently moved back home to North Carolina with her husband Paul, a retired United Methodist minister and writer.     
Last Friday evening after our dinner, she gave me a lovely Christmas card with a poem enclosed that she’d written.   Today I’m passing this blessing along to you. 
 "But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." -Luke 2:19

Consider Mary
By Rebecca Mitchell

A mere girl, fourteen or so,
visited by the Lord himself,
above all others chosen.
How could it be? Who would believe?

Joseph did.  He took her hand
and her heart, kept her and loved her.
Times were hard and treacherous.
There was no room.

Still, she trusted the Lord
to provide for them
and the God-child growing within.

King of kings
Lord of lords
Prince of Peace
Light of the World
The Way
The Truth
and the Life

Consider Mary, delivering a son.
To her, he was beautiful, pink and warm.
She kissed his toes, nuzzled and nursed him,
felt his sweet breath on her skin.

Knowing he belonged to his father
and to all the world
for all time.
Peace and Joy!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Glorious Story

In October I introduced my sixth grade teacher, Ms. Edgerton.  Back then we not only said “Merry Christmas” but we sang “Away in a Manger” in the classroom.  
Ms. Edgerton required us to memorize and recite the glorious story of Christ’s birth from the 2nd chapter of Luke.  When I got home from school everyday I’d march straight to my bedroom and work line by line on committing the Christmas story to memory. 
I thought of these verses as the most majestic and poetic of all literature ever penned; not merely music to my ears but miraculous and awe-inspiring.
“… And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 
And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
For until you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.
And this shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

Has anyone ever connected the dots and figured out that there just might be a direct correlation between dismissing quintessential literature from the classroom and the declining illiteracy rate?   The proverbial baby thrown out and the bathwater saved.  
While our government has banished Christ from its institutions, may we keep His light aflame in our hearts and homes both during this holy season, and always.           

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

History Lessons

I’ll tell you the plain and simple truth.   When I was in school, history textbooks were about as exciting as a wait in line at Walmart on a Saturday afternoon the week before Christmas.   The never-ending tedium of facts and dates made no more difference to me than what the geography textbooks had to offer.

And so when my children came along I was determined to find a viable option to U.S. history textbooks.   

My older daughter Hannah collected American Girl dolls when she was Abi’s age, all of which her younger sister inherited along with the accompanying books. 

The girls learned U.S. history the no-sweat, fun way, connecting time periods with faces.

The American Girl Book Club

A group of fellow homeschool girls sign up and bring their dolls along.   I even develop a curriculum for the selected books.     

Our journey into the past – before we were established as a nation - begins in 1764 with Kaya, a Nez Perce Indian girl.  

My husband, “into” the world of Native Indians, doesn’t hesitate one Christmas to buy Abi the whole kit and caboodle: Kaya’s Appaloosa mare, Steps High, & saddle; her pow-wow outfit complete with beaded choker, embroidered moccasins and feathered comb; her doll and cradleboard; winter cape and hood; the tepee, bedroll…   I have never - never known him to splurge this way before.  Or since.          

It takes a whole spare bedroom to set up camp just for Kaya.   Never mind the other ten American Girl dolls (Hannah’s and Abi’s combined) who have to make do with cramped living quarters.

After Kaya we take up Felicity.  The books, set in 1774, lead us to a study of the Revolutionary War, the life and times of the colonists, the Patriots and the Loyalists.  Later we meet Felicity’s best friend, Elizabeth Cole (1775) and continue learning about colonial culture.   We even have a “proper tea.”

We trace Kirsten’s journey from Sweden to the Minnesota frontier on the map.  Then discuss the dangers and hardships of immigrants who came to America in 1854 and about the culture shock they experienced upon arrival, not having spoken a word of English.   

 In December we read Kirsten’s Christmas story.     

Addy (1864) takes us back to a North Carolina plantation where she and her family were enslaved and living in a tiny, windowless cabin. This was quite the adventure, attempting to escape slavery by traveling through the night with Addy and Momma.  We learn about the abolitionists, the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln, the Underground Railroad (those hiding stations leading north to freedom), heroes like Harriet Tubman, Fredrick Douglass and others. 

From there we venture to more recent history, the Civil Rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr., etc.  We read poets like Maya Angelou and Rita Dove, and check out books on Rosa Parks, and then dramatize the story of Rosa Parks on the bus. 

We line chairs up as bus seats and cast passengers: bus driver (Karen G. is the meanest bus driver in the world!), Rosa Parks (Shelly D.), and police officers on the scene to arrest brave Rosa.  I doubt any of the girls will ever forget the heroism of Rosa Parks.     

In the process of studying history from the perspective of the central characters in the books, the girls learn to appreciate the value of giving, as in Meet Samantha, set in 1904.  The protagonist of this story is a wealthy girl who befriends a poverty-stricken servant girl, Nellie. 

In the end, Samantha goes to her affluent grandmother and pleads with her to help Nellie’s family because, “they don’t have enough food and they don’t have enough coal.”  Samantha then gives her own beloved doll, Lydia, to Nellie because she doesn’t own a single toy to her name.

 Nellie O’Malley (1906), the turn-of-the-century Irish immigrant, had lived a hard-knock life and needed such a friend... but she could dance! 

What was life in America like in 1944?  We enter Molly McIntire’s world to find out…

 Big old radios where you could hear programs like The Green Hornet and I Love a Mystery, and where you may have heard a favorite program interrupted by a news bulletin announcing the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor…
World War Two, Adolf Hitler and the Nazis on a power-hungry mission…
Women entering the work force after men were deployed for battle…
Victory Gardens and a common spirit of sacrifice on the home front…
Giving blood to the Red Cross for wounded soldiers…
Economizing for the war effort by driving less and saving fuel for airplanes and tanks…
Forfeiting canned goods so metal could be dispensed for ammunition…
And a general sense of patriotism.

If I’d been allowed to take this approach I might have actually learned to love American history when I was growing up.  But it wasn’t until my girls came along that I realized the efficacy of literature-based learning.   Amazing how much we (adults and youth alike) remember from these books. 

One night I was discussing with my friend Nancy over dinner how much I’d learned from this series, naming particulars like Victory Gardens and the spirit of sacrifice, when she said, “You must have read the Molly books.”   She too had read these with her niece, Kayley.  

Case in point: connect time periods with faces and we can remember anything.   

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Girl Who Never Waited Too Late

You cannot do a kindness too soon,
For you never know how soon it will be too late.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

There are on earth certain souls that radiate grace and goodness.  Compassion and kindness are second nature to the pure of heart.

There’s the girl who welcomes new faces to the youth group at church.  Receives them with such gladness that newcomers feel a part, are blessed to be present.

She keeps up with news of their welfare, their ups and downs.  Friends them on facebook.  Offers warm hug greetings wherever, whenever they happen to meet.

On Saturday the sky is bleak.  From an upstairs window I see the first snowfall of the season. White flakes drift downward like manna from heaven.

Late afternoon brings a gasp of shock from my daughter in the next room.   Deep distress sweeps over us all, and coats our soul with a shield of ice. 

A deluge of tears.   Death has come to interrupt a precious life.   Rob a family of its Christmas joy.

My Abi sits outside in the dark, shivering on the cold porch, alone.

Remembering the kindness shown her by sweet Caroline,
 the girl who never waited too late. 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Still Growing and Flourishing

It was the eighties.  Ronald Reagan was U.S. President.  The Berlin Wall came tumbling down.   The War on Drugs was declared.   Gorbachev and Reagan signed the INF Treaty.

Natural disasters on the increase: droughts, hurricanes, the eruption of Mount St. Helen’s.  

The Tiananmen Square protests and blood baths.

NASA Space Shuttle Challenger explosion before our very eyes. 

Assassination attempts on Pope John Paul II, President Ronald Reagan, and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

The rise of home computers, video and arcade games, Nintendo, Pac-Man, Super Mario Brothers…

The AIDS pandemic; the trend toward political correctness; punk rock and the hip-hop scene; E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial; Star Wars and more Star Wars episodes; Indiana Jones; Batman; Rain Man; Back to the Future; Crocodile Dundee; Driving Miss Daisy…  

Leggings; leg warmers; stonewashed jeans; denim jumpers; shoulder pads; scrunched perms…

This was the eighties, when there were only three legal alternatives: public, private, or parochial schools.  My firstborn, Jesse, turned five while the court case Duro v. District Attorney was still underway.  

By the time he turned seven in 1985 – the compulsory school age in NC - Delconte v. State became the landmark court case that would officially grant North Carolina parents the right to homeschool their own children.  

Soon we were in good company.  A French-Canadian family from Montreal moved directly across the street from us into the tan stucco house with the sprawling eucalyptus tree in the front yard. They were all bilinguals; the kids spoke both fluent French and English.

The oldest daughter, Sara, with a head full of raven curls, played with my daughter Hannah and frequented our household. 
She always walked in wearing a homemade cotton dress her mother Louise had sewn.

We soon discovered other families in our neighborhood that had abandoned the great Titanic of public education and rowed off to safety in their separate lifeboats.  There were the Lamns around the corner on Conner Street with the white pit bull who seemed like one of their own family members.  Also among the home school cohorts was the Oates family, two blocks over on Nash Street. 

On bright sunny days we gathered at each other’s homes or met for picnics at the Recreation Park and talked shop. We discussed teaching methods we liked or disliked while the kids ran and played together. 

This was the first home school support group in town.  If someone wanted to organize a field trip, teach French or sign language or art, they were free to do so.  Those who wanted to participate did and those who didn't declined.

The movement soon grew and flourished like a rose garden in the heart of spring, and newcomers joined our ranks.

Year by year our homeschool support group increased in number.   New faces showed up at park days every month. Our motives, methods, and styles may have been as diverse as church denominations, but we all had in common a desire for autonomy and freedom from the regimented mandates of government education.  

And no, we didn’t all wear denim jumpers – though some did.   Neither did all of our children dress in camouflage; most blended right in with society.  

Some wore ankle-length jean skirts with athletic socks and Nikes, while others showed up in stonewashed jeans and artsy jewel-studded tees knotted on the side. 

Then there were the mother-earth types in their Birkenstocks and organic cotton sundresses.           
Some registered with the DNPE as religious schools. These families generally used a set curriculum such as Bob Jones or A Beka and fashioned a school room in their home- complete with flag, maps, and desks. 

One family I knew began their school day at 6:00 a.m. and finished all six subjects by noon.  Their motto was God first, family second, church third, respectively.  They were patriots and political conservatives who cheered Senator Jesse Helms on as he fought government waste and obscene, tax-funded art.  

Then there were the Charlotte Mason followers, purists in every sense of the word.  No curriculum, no dumbed down textbooks, just “living books.”   

One family had five girls, all of whom were well-bred and always picture-perfect in their Sundyish dresses that were reminiscent of girls’ attire during Charlotte Mason’s time.

 I invited them over one Sunday afternoon to play with my daughter.  Apparently they never wore play clothes because they showed up in their Sunday frocks, lace-trimmed socks and polished shoes.  

Could they go out and play on the swings?  They asked.  Sure, but watch out for mud, dirt, or anything that could taint your immaculate appearances.  I was a nervous wreck thinking of sending them home all soiled and tattered. 

Back inside I offered them a snack.  Yes, please, they said, a snack would be lovely.  But when I pulled out a liter of coke and a box of Vanilla Wafers, the oldest girl said, “We can’t have any sugar.”  Oh, okay; then could they have water and an apple?  Yes, thank you. 

After the snack I put in a video: The Aristocats, I believe it was.  Again the oldest girl spoke up.  “We’re boycotting Disney.”  I began to wonder if all they were allowed to do was sit around and read classic literature in their sweet dresses.                    
Still others favored and practiced the philosophy of John Holt, author of ten books, including How Children Fail and How Children Learn.  He believed that learning should be a self-directed, purposeful, and meaningful process instead of a coercive and compulsory condition. 

Those with a propensity towards deschooling gravitated toward his views.  Broken-winged birds like me flocked toward his books for fresh advice as to a birdbath in the stifling heat of summer, for his views offered the more natural and relaxed approach many had been intuitively seeking. 

We took the Holt self-directed learning style when the kids were older.   Jesse taught himself Japanese when he decided he wanted to create Nintendo games.  He walked down to the Barton College library, checked out as many books on the Japanese language as he could find, spread them across the dining room table, and proceeded to study.     
Some joined our ranks to free their children from the stigma of failure and labels and to avoid damaging their self esteem for life.  John Taylor Gatto, named New York City’s teacher of the year in 1990, and State teacher of the year in 1991, says in his book The Underground History of American Education,

 “David learns to read at age four; Rachel, at age nine: In normal development, when both are 13, you can’t tell which one learned first—the five-year spread means nothing at all.  But in school I label Rachel "learning disabled" and slow David down a bit, too. 

“For a paycheck, I adjust David to depend on me to tell him when to go and stop.  He won’t outgrow that dependency.  I identify Rachel as discount merchandise, "special education" fodder.  She’ll be locked in her place forever… 
“In 30 years of teaching kids rich and poor I almost never met a learning disabled child; hardly ever met a gifted and talented one either.  Like all school categories, these are sacred myths, created by human imagination.  They derive from questionable values we never examine because they preserve the temple of schooling.” 

There was a young boy, Jerry (I’ll call him), who learned in our home for the last six weeks or so of his 7th school year.  The public school he’d attended had labeled him as “dyslexic,” and because his handwriting didn’t measure up they tagged him with “dysgraphia.” 

We threw away the labels and he began to thrive in the absence of pressure.  The following year, and for the duration of his school years, his mother kept him at home with her and allowed him to pursue his interests.  Today, Jerry has a Master’s in Marine Biology.     

Many parents felt that their children were too immature for institutional life. They weren’t willing to conform to a system that pushes too hard and too fast, and in the process cripples the child’s natural love of learning.

They weren’t ready to compromise their child’s individuality for the sake of the collective.  Since no two children are alike and each learns at his or her own pace, homeschooling allowed the freedom to grow and thrive without government limitations. 

Families who traveled the path of independence avoided bureaucratic straightjackets and offered their kids a more stress-free environment.  Time spent on classroom busywork could be avoided and valuable time invested in more motivating and rewarding activities. 

Our kids were permitted a childhood, space to run, play, explore, and physically release the abundance of energy intrinsic in young children.  

We knew that to force-feed them too soon was tantamount to overwatering plants in an effort to speed their growth.  Drown or overfeed and the plants begin to droop, then wither on the vine and eventually die.  But add just the right amount of water to quench their thirst, proper food to nourish, ample sunlight to spur growth, and the plants will flourish.  

 See how we’ve grown in just the past decade.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Faraway Places

For a moment in time
We travel the world in an evening.

Hit Asia, Europe, North America, the Middle East.
Children share what they’ve gleaned from distant lands.

We journey together, parents, grandparents, siblings, peers.

Taste cuisine from cultures unseen.

Visit places we’ve never been.

Meet those who plan a trip to Japan –

Future missionaries rehearsing the scene.

At the International Fair we travel the world in an evening.

Thank you, Jennifer, for making it happen.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

We Give Thanks

These are the lyrics I wrote to a song some time ago.  Today I wanted to share the music with you, but must confess that I don’t know how to share music on a blog… not yet.  Anyway, here are the lyrics: my song of gratitude.  

We give thanks; we give thanks to our Father up in heaven 
We give thanks; we give thanks for the blessings He has given

For the needed things we seem to take for granted
The harvest in the fields that someone planted

For the pleasures in our lives that made us glad

The friends along the way that we have had

We give thanks; we give thanks to our Father up in heaven 
We give thanks; we give thanks for the blessings He has given

For the simple things we often overlook
A sunset or a gentle flowing brook

For the meals prepared that someone had to cook

The time for us our families often took

We give thanks; we give thanks to our Father up in heaven 
We give thanks; we give thanks for the blessings He has given

For the Bread of Life God gave that we might live
And the Word of Truth He gave for us to give
For the Living Water sent to quench our thirst
For the Son of man who gives to us new birth

We give thanks; we give thanks to our Father up in heaven 
We give thanks; we give thanks for the blessings He has given

From the dawn until the setting of the sun

When the stars appear and night has just begun
Til we drift away on clouds of peaceful sleep
And commit our souls into His hands to keep

We give thanks; we give thanks to our Father up in heaven 
We give thanks; we give thanks for the blessings He has given

Every good and perfect gift
Comes from the Father above

Some things change and fade away
But what remains is love

We give thanks; we give thanks to our Father up in heaven 
We give thanks; we give thanks for the blessings He has given
We give thanks

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