Doors and Tigers and Reading to Children

DSC_0169 One thing about home school I despaired giving up was reading to my kids…until my husband reminded me it just might be possible to still read to them before bed every night.  I love reading to my kids maybe because I love reading.  I also love how good literature sparks conversations we might never have otherwise.

Like the time our home school curriculum told us to read The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli a month after we learned two of the families we were closest to would move…and we would stay.  The Door in the Wall is the tale of a crippled and abandoned boy rescued and taken in by a priest in the Middle Ages.  This boy with real suffering both emotional and physical must find a way.  The guidance from the priest?  “Thou has only to follow the wall far enough and there will be a door in it.”

My kids, one in particular, looked at their future and saw a big wall.  Life as they’d known it would change and the future contained real challenges.  The encouragement to hope and to keep following the wall…to run your hand down the wall…to stay close to, even touch, the challenge, suffering, and pain while looking for a way through resounded inside us.   I had no good vocabulary to draw their hearts into the light of conversation about all this transition in our lives but this book provided the means to talk and I am grateful.  For the other child, the wall is what keeps us from God and the door is Jesus.  Needless to say, I recommend this book often.

After sitting on a shelf for a couple of years, my daughter recently discovered and devoured Tiger Rising by Kate DiCamillo.  Having received the book as a gift from a thoughtful friend, it sat on our adult bookshelf (by the way, what do you call places that you store things for adults but that are not profane…I really wonder this!) after I read and pondered it.  When she pulled it down and began raving and telling me to read it to her brothers I felt compelled to understand what touched her so deeply.

The first chapter describes a boy with tremendous loss in his life that he will not allow himself to grieve.  He stuffs his thoughts into an imaginary suitcase and mentally sits on them so they won’t escape.  He has every reason to cry buckets but not even the mean bullies at school can squeeze a tear out of him.  Hmmm.

As we continue to grieve losses, I see what my daughter sees.  It is the time in grief where it is tempting to just stuff in the sadness and pain and just not remember what Halloween was like last year and the year before that and the year before that.  It would be so easy to not talk about our old friends even as we make and deepen new friendships.  It seems it would be easier to not remember but the need to avoid the pain begins to need something bigger and fiercer to keep all of it in.

In a way, we all as a family need these books to talk about the doors and the walls and the memories and the tigers in our lives.  The books mediate our conversation better sometimes than a one-on-one coffee date.  Something about dialoguing our struggles through the lens of someone else brings up what’s underneath in a way my efforts at direct assault fail.

So, we keep reading and we keep talking.  I don’t know what my kids will treasure about their childhood but this is one aspect I will treasure.

Half the Sky

I wrote on the chalkboard this week.  The one that hangs by the kitchen door I pass through a hundred times a day.  The board I write stuff on so my scattered ideas have a fighting chance to hone onto a task or two…or ten.

“2 boxes” I wrote.  2 boxes to hold my home school teacher’s guides and workbooks used and unused.  2 boxes to clear off at least two precious bookshelves.  I needed two boxes because we enrolled our children in an international school a month ago.

I fully expected to need these notebooks and guides this very month.  But, life overseas sometimes…no…often means rapid change.  In mid-June I began praying about a change for our kids’ education for the coming year and by early July we filled out the forms.  That’s nigh on the speed of light to me.

As I sort out all the factors that go into making a decision like this it slowly distills into a phrase I hear in Asian culture.  Half the Sky.  Women hold up half the sky so the saying goes.  It’s a beautiful phrase and I love it.  But, I saw myself growing weary because I was going to try to hold up the whole sky if I continued homeschooling.DSC02933

Even now I want to say I could’ve done it.  We didn’t have to enroll them.  And those statements ring some truth but I say them because I want people to see me as strong…as someone who can hold up the whole sky not just half.  The phantom rears its ugly head.  The lie that strength is found in toughness and survival and capability rather than in resting on the One who holds everything together.

As a very hot summer month slipped by, I took up a few new and exciting responsibilities for the coming year, I stopped buying the kids winter clothes because they will wear uniforms, and I mentally planned to shop and drink coffee at Starbucks their first day in school.

At home, I looked more and more at those two bookshelves in our homeschool room and the books that laid on top of other books on other overfilled shelves above and I embraced reality in a more physical way.  I began pulling things off for storage.  It is not the time to give them away but it is the time to pack them away in the two boxes I keep forgetting to get at the grocery store.

A new season begins for our family…and I still don’t know what new name to give the homeschool room.

Lost!

20121101-132501.jpg“Mommy! We’re lost!” my son piped up from the back seat. We cruised around previously unexplored sections of our side of town. Our new car made it possible to explore more extensively and I like exploring. As I pondered the intersection I replied, “I’ve never been here before, but we’re not lost.”

How often I feel like him! I sit in the back seat, out of control and my soul is screaming, “I’m lost! I don’t know where I am or how to get home!” I hold no roadmap or sense of direction. I sweat and scramble to make a plan and carve a path in the thicket of life so I know where I stand or how to arrive at a destination, any destination. So I feel secure. I pretend to save myself.

5 years ago a host of friends moved away and I felt abandoned on a road I wanted to abandon, too. I enjoyed the journey before with my friends but now with the space cleared the openness and silence overwhelmed me. The expanse left felt like the valley of the shadow of death to me and I was no happy, contented sheep. Why was I on this road anyway?

I knew little of the shepherd on the next stretch though I learned. By the rod and the staff I learned as I felt poked and prodded through my fears. I learned His voice and His ways more in the coming years. Now, 5 years later I experience the same phenomena, a host of friends moving at the same time.

His peace and His rest reside in green fields and bubbling brooks but before that, and after and all around sometimes, come the valleys of death. I know my weakness and fear. I feel lost and I hear His voice more clearly now echoed in my son’s words.

“You have never been here before but you’re not lost.”

Slop

photo (1)Some men occupy their days and fill their pocketbooks carting slop.  Bicycles carry huge, blue, open vats of slop to unknown places where the pigs live.  It sloshes around, a thick, chunky mixture of food scraped from plates or expelled from woks.  The muck on the containers repels a pedestrian before the smell ever reaches the nose.  No one washes the containers between loads.  I do not ask to know this…I see it clearly.

I never pictured slop in my mind until I encountered it overseas.  America is clean.  Slop travels mysteriously through some opaque tube into a closed truck with some words about sanitation written in green or white on the outside.  Only a few come face to face with this ugly reality of life.

My children, however, grow up smelling smells and seeing things I never set my eyes on as a child.  Slop is one of them.  I say slop and they know…their minds pull up a picture of a nasty blue container crusted with who knows what.  Slop is real to them.  Their faces contort when I talk about slop.

So, last week when I read the story of the Prodigal Son and they listened again…I added some detail and brought it home to them.  I told them that pig food he ate?  He ate slop.  Their faces dropped.  Unimaginable.  How desperate.  How disgusting…eating slop.  Anything is better for dinner than slop…even slavery in your own home.  Going back as slave became a totally reasonable and necessary choice to avoid slop.

photo (2)We walked along puce green for a few minutes as we imagined eating slop.  I hope they remember slop for the rest of their lives.  The smell, the look, the grime…because maybe the grace of the Father offered to them will astound them.  Instead of slop…or slavery…a beef barbecue as a treasured son?

I hope and pray they choose the barbecue because they know a life apart from God resembles eating slop.  I pray they know the grace of the feast that the Lord offers when the best they dare expect hope for is slavery.

And, for myself, I hope I receive the gift daily to enjoy the barbecue instead of trying to earn a meager meal…the best I fear I deserve…as a slave.

Teaching My Boy to Read

I’m teaching my boy to read these days.  Reading is a passion of mine.  If I was not so responsible I’d be up late with the light on to finish a book.  Who am I kidding? I’m not very responsible.

Luxury these days would be reading as long as I wanted rather than only as long as I could manage to put off other things.  I dream of the day when I will be the one at the pool with a book instead of the one with the bag of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

But my boy, he seems oblivious to reading. He’s compliant so he sits and participates in the lessons and he’s learning.  He’s also the one who told me quite clearly from the beginning that “some people read and some people build things.  I am the kind that builds things.” He thought that would get me off his back.  It did not though I’m pretty sure he will pursue a Bachelor of Science degree if he goes to college.

So, I sit five mornings a week and wait patiently for him to remember the sounds, figure out ways to help him blend sounds together, offer encouragement and correction, flash through cards.  It’s exhausting!  He even tells me to back off and not say “good!” after every successfully sounded out word.  Fair enough.  A guy’s got to maintain his dignity. I get it.

Recently, I noticed my son looking at some words and then trying to sound them out in his spare time. Up until that point, he’d been content to just see a jumble of words and let it be. Why try when Legos beckoned? Now, he looks, he assumes meaning can be found and he tries to unlock the code. I smile. It’s clicking. I’ve been waiting for it to click all year.

Perseverance.  That’s what it is my son does with such constancy in his learning that speaks to my spiritual life. Persevere. Keep sounding out what needs sounding out.  Keep reading the next word on the page even if I read it poorly and someone corrects me.  Even if I read it well and someone says “good!” in a way that makes me feel like a child.  Keep going until something about God, grace, and life clicks. Celebrate.  Then, move on to the next word and keep going.

Persevere.