Autumn is just about here, and I am grateful beyond words for so many things. Even as local and world upheavals distress my soul, so I breathe a prayer and turn my gaze to tasks at hand.
What is my part to play in this maelstrom we call life with all its guts and glory?
I wear a number of hats throughout my day: mom, teacher, homemaker, mistress of a critter kingdom that ebbs and flows with old age, sickness, and new life. Two kittens, Cheddar and Bradley, have taken over the house, completely flummoxing our perpetual pup, Misty, who honestly believed she owned the domain. Surprise! There’s always room for one or two more, and she didn’t get a vote. I keep the peace by making sure that all are well fed and housed, though gluttony and sloth serve no one.
I also keep track of the bodies buried at our cemetery and track down gravesites for interested family members when possible. Sometimes, it’s mission impossible. That’s an unpleasant reality. We don’t always get questions answered to our satisfaction. Especially if there are imperfect records and no tombstones. Families beware, if you want great-grandkids to visit your grave, leave a tombstone and a map so future generations can find it.
Tutoring adult GED has been an unexpected pleasure. It’s a fairly straightforward task—helping someone learn the basics that they missed, for whatever reason, along the way. Makes a big difference in self-esteem and job opportunities. An act of kindness that echoes back long after algebra 101 fades into the mist.
I am still writing, publishing, and recently added podcasting to my regular daily do. Since I have managed a challenging schedule for much of the year, I am going to slow production in October. I will continue with Kindle Vella Homestead episodes and podcasting content, but I plan to revamp and, perhaps, reinvent my media approach, praying to God to make it a bit more effective. Marketing has never been my forte, so I am working with someone this time. We’ll see how it works out. Optimism is a tough choice, but the alternative doesn’t appeal much.
I finished writing the fifth novel in my OldEarth series, OldEarth Melchior Encounter this week and have sent it off to my editor and proofreaders. My goal is to get it published with live links before Thanksgiving. The operative word here is goal.
Rain is pouring from a grey sky, shivering the yellow leaves on the cherry trees, while our hyperactive kittens pounce on each other and attack my knitting. Though there is a great deal wrong in the world, there is also a great deal that is right. Focusing my daily goals toward what is good and beautiful, becoming less self-absorbed, and releasing anger and pent-up frustrations in healthy rambles and friend-centered conversations makes for a quality life. After all, despair doesn’t want a helping hand but hope does.
Rather not. Jeremiah slid into his seat at the back of the lecture hall and prayed that the scrawled message on the board referred to a campus cult’s lack of original thinking rather than a preview of his professor’s worldview.
A tall thin spectacle with a man-bun on top, a tie-dyed shirt, bloomers-like shorts, and flapping bedroom slippers sauntered up to the podium.
I should’ve taken the online class.
A young woman, mid-twenties, long brown hair, wireframe glasses, small build but toned legs dropped her bulging backpack by the third empty chair to the right of him.
But then again…
The room filled to capacity and Jerimiah opened his notebook, flipped it to a new section, and tapped his pencil.
The young woman slid a recorder to the front of her desk, then leaned back and closed her eyes.
What’s this? A lazy beauty who gets through class by replaying the lecture when it suits her fancy?
Jerimiah shoved the thought—Wish I’d thought of it—far away.He rubbed his eyes. Between his mom’s recent liver transplant, the store downsizing and leaving managers like him in the dust, and the new graduation regulations, he’d come to think that the Universe was in a sour mood. He wasn’t too Sweet himself.
The professor started—digging into societal ills, cultural concerns, hot button issues, even picking on the front row students like lab rats who couldn’t escape the taunting labels expelled from his gut based on their hyperventilated one-word answers. “When you leave this class, you won’t know yourself! Kiss mommy and daddy’s straightjacket goodbye!”
Jeremiah dropped his head on his hands. “At least online I could’ve muted him.”
“What? And missed all this fun?”
Jeremiah glanced over.
Beauty, still leaning back with her eyes closed, appeared very much asleep.
The professor sucked in a lungful for another charge. “How can you say you know anything—you believe anything—until you’ve heard all sides? I’m here to bring you into direct contact with ALL SIDES!”
Beauty sat up, a frown making her nose wrinkle in an alarmingly adorable fashion. “He’s a circle?”
The gut-busting laugh that exploded from Jeramiah made him clutch his notebook and pencil as he fled the room.
Two days later, Jeremiah hurried down the hall after his last class of the week. He had a ton of work over the weekend, his mom needed someone to fix her end table, which tended to send her books and medicines crashing to the floor by evening no matter how well she propped it up each morning, and he had an interview for a part-time manager position on Saturday. If he could finish the year with the stellar grades he started with, he’d be sure of a full-time position before the year was out.
Only one class stood in his way.
Beauty strode along with him into the library, her bulging backpack pressing her shoulders into a stooped position.
A million introductions flashed through his mind, creating a linguistic maelstrom, not unlike ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs on steroids. Lacking any rational brain cells to call upon, Jeremiah simply stepped in front of the pretty woman, halting her in her tracks.
She looked up and stared blankly.
“He’s a circle?”
Astonishing how long she could maintain that blank expression.
“In class? The professor promised to bring us in contact with all sides…”
Comprehension filled her eyes. Light broke over the mountains. Beauty smiled. Then the gate slammed shut. “It’s an English class! What’s he doing—social engineering?”
The puppy inside every man has moments when he desperately wants to run around in wild circles with his tongue lolling out and a wide grin encompassing his face.
The library would not be the appropriate setting.
“You free? I’m about ready for a cup of—” He shrugged. “You name it, and I’ll get one for you too.”
Three hours later, Jeremiah took the steps to his parent’s house two at a time. He stepped into the living room and caught his mom napping lopsided in a chair and his dad pacing in circles.
“Hey, Dad. Everything okay?”
His dad’s tear-filled eyes glinted in the afternoon light. “She’s slipping away, son. Won’t be long now.”
A day and a half later, Jeremiah finished the arrangements for his mom’s funeral Mass and then ran as fast as his legs would carry him into class.
Well into the first hour, the professor was in his element, extolling the freedom of thought that would lead to well-formed lives and true humanity. With pounding steps, he labored across his personal stage, excoriating the fools who marched in lockstep with old traditions, unmindful of the variety of options available.
Beauty slouched in her seat, one hand covering her eyes.
Jerimiah slipped into his seat and for the first time since his mom’s death, felt the crushing loss that he knew he’d live with for the rest of his life. Only the words of scripture, the hymns, and songs, the candlelight comforted his aching soul. May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God…
“Let go!” The professor hammered the podium like a preacher swearing hellfire to the damned.
“Where? You only offer a void.” Beauty’s face glowered, anger and hurt glaring through her eyes.
His chin up and hand raised, the professor demanded obedience. “Open your minds!”
So low, Jeremiah barely heard her words, Beauty’s spirit screamed, “So, the wind can blow through?”
Snatching her hand, Jeremiah helped her grab her bag, and they hustled outside.
Beauty flopped against the wall. “I need that class. But I don’t think I can stand his rants for another day.”
Jeremiah nodded. “My mom just passed away. All I can think of is how much I wish I had her back—and he keeps screaming that I have to let go.”
Beauty’s eyes reflected from twin pools of grief. “I’m sorry.”
Jeremiah sucked in a deep breath and took her hand. “Perhaps we should take his advice.”
“There are other classes.” He shrugged. “It might mean a summer school, but instead of this—”
“We can actually learn something.” Beauty grinned. “We’re more squares than circles, eh?”
His mom’s endearing smile before his eyes, Jeremiah nodded, took Beauty’s hand, and let go.
Driving into town this morning, passing by the refurbished diner, the town hall—its door wide open to the Coffee and Gab Saturday regulars, a friend heading into the post office, and finally turning into the Glendale Cemetery to check on a recent inquiry about a gravesite, I considered a book my friend Anne DeSantis has written about “ministering to the marginalized.”
Anne and I chatted on the phone yesterday, a hot, humid Friday afternoon when my body wanted nothing more than a cold drink, a whirling fan, and a soft bed. Yet as I listened to her describe the reason for writing her book and her personal mission to be present to the marginalized, I considered—who are the marginalized in my world? And who am I to them?
As Anne describes it, the marginalized are not necessarily “poor people” but rather those individuals who have been left out, shoved aside, demoted to untouchable in our society’s unique caste system. Amazingly, a wealthy man as well as a beautiful woman could be marginalized if they are valued only for their wealth or beauty.
This week, one of my middle daughters asked if we could visit the Volunteer Fire Department here in Fillmore. I asked around, and we were able to stop by on Tuesday evening. We were given a tour of the place, a detailed description of their work, and shown their impressive equipment. Laura, my usually quiet kid, asked a number of questions. Knowing that she volunteers at the Lighthouse in Vandalia and serves in our church, I wasn’t surprised that she wanted to know more about the volunteer fire department. I was surprised when she wanted to try on their gear.
The firefighters seemed happy to answer every question and suit her up. I was impressed. Not only with their kindness in responding to her but in the joy that I felt in experiencing their sincere passion for a such a worthy cause. Though there are hospitals in nearby towns, we live in the rural countryside, so these volunteers are the first to arrive on a local scene and offer immediate assistance—be it to a health crisis, a brushfire, a car accident, a house fire, or other situation where someone calls for help.
I’m reminded of the people of ancient times who maintained lighthouses to keep ships safe at sea, assorted medics who have served well beyond official capacities, service men and women who have protected their country not only in battle but in rebuilding broken homes and lives after battles, first responders who have risked life and limb to rescue victims after a disaster—noble souls throughout all of human history, serving all over the world.
Like a Hobbit in one of Tolkien’s stories, I am not a warrior or a leader. I don’t fight Balrogs or draw national boundaries, but I do encounter human beings every day. Most days my struggle might involve nothing more than a laundry issue or what to put on the table for dinner, but the person who needs clean clothes or is hungry is as important as any before God.
In a world of everlasting crisis, where hate and anger join in mindless destruction, there are both wounded souls and quiet heroes. With the same twenty-four hours in a day and an unknown lifespan, we have opportunities before us. We are not all the same. None of us have the same skill sets, strength, intelligence, opportunities, passions, interests, wounds, or limitations.
David Koelth couldn’t believe his luck. Even if it was well-earned. He deserved it, really. The award had his name on it, after all: The Koelth Department of Welfare and Well Being.
David tossed the green apple left over from lunch into the air and caught it handily. He leaned back in his swivel chair before his Richman Hill Executive Desk and surveyed his dingy office. Granted, he was on the top floor of the four-story building and had a decent view of the east side of town, but still, it was only a lecturer’s office. An assistant had it before him, for Heaven’s sake.
He glanced at his calendar marked in bold colors depicting the various hats he wore each day of the week. Educational Psychology Lecturer Mondays and Thursdays, Assistant Dean of the Health Department on Wednesdays and Fridays, Published Author working on his latest masterpiece—Wholly You—on Tuesdays (his favorite day of the week), and attentive Husband and Father Saturday and Sunday.
A yawn bubbled up from his middle. It was late on Friday afternoon, but he hadn’t been able to get much done. Constant interruptions!
First, Mildred from accounting had taken issue with his taxes. Something about a form that no one told him to fill out and now “they had to take a tiny snippet”—her exact word choice—from his salary to make everything come out “even-steven” at the end of the year. What? Did the woman eat archaic expressions for breakfast? He’d give her a thesaurus for Christmas.
Then coach Max waddled in from the ballfield. How such an overweight guy managed his role as athletics director stumped David. Must have relatives in high places. Or he knows where to get the choice meats and offers discounts for the university banquets. The strange thing about Max was that he never really explained anything. He spoke in eyebrows and syllables.
Eyebrows in the up position. “Eh, you o-kay?”
David spent a half hour of his very valuable time trying to figure out why Max had hefted his way to his office.
Turning beet red and sweeping the floor with his gaze, Max just leaned on the door frame and stared through those bulbous eyes with dreary pleading. For what… Only God and the next empty container of dairy queen’s chocolate chip ice cream would know for certain. He had tossed him his apple. Maybe the guy would get a clue.
Finally, just when he was putting the last touches on his monthly planner, his wife, Ruth, had phoned and insisted that the hot water heater was broken. Lord have mercy. He had called the plumber three times this summer, and he sure as heck wasn’t doing it again. He could shower at work while she figured out what she was doing wrong. No way in hell he’d fork out another hundred bucks for plungers, pipes, or screwed up thermostats. Wait till the season got cold, then he’d think about it. Probably all in her head anyway.
Oh well, time to head to the club and see what was on tap. He didn’t need a drink, but it’d be good to check on the guys and gals. Gossip was a university’s life blood, and he had no intention of becoming anemic anytime soon.
Surprisingly, no one at the club seemed in the mood to chat. Not with him anyway. Had he forgotten to use deodorant this morning? He sniffed. Nope. Nothing wrong with him. Must be a full moon. Everyone was acting weird, like they had been having a con-fab when he arrived but wouldn’t speak again till he left. He’d shrugged it off. If they wanted to get hot and bothered about sport’s team failures, a roller-coaster economy, or the latest-greatest plan to serve the community, he was glad he’d missed it.
Apparently, there were no faculty leaks about his up-coming award. He had looked for silent congratulations or the ever-present green-eyed monster, but nothing of the sort. Just a few head shakes and shrugs.
Who cares about them?
He drove through snarly traffic in anticipation of his wife’s Friday dinner special, his son, David Jr’s weekly school report, and his daughter, Lilly’s cuteness. He’d give David the pointers every high-school kid needed to be college ready and enjoy the last days of Lilly’s childhood since he knew perfectly well that once she became a teen, she’d become unbearable. Inevitably, he’d have to distance himself so that she wouldn’t use him as a cash box.
After arriving at his two-story colonial house with wrap around porch, he parked the car in the attached garage and sauntered into the house.
“Honey, I’m home!”
He glanced around the quiet kitchen in the dim evening light. What’s going on? Where is everyone?
He laid his leather briefcase on the counter and headed to the living room. His heart nearly stopped. Books and magazines lay scattered as if they’d left the room in a hurry.
What a mess! Is this what he’d worked all day to come home to?
David pulled out his phone, ready to give hell to his wife, then order pizza for dinner since clearly nothing would be ready in time for his growling stomach.
The doorbell rang.
Who the—? He charged forward, ready to dispatch the devil himself.
But he didn’t need to. The devil already had plans.
David sat in the emergency room where his wife had just breathed her last, and the bodies of his children were stretched out nearby. The staff had brought them in so he could offer a personal goodbye.
He didn’t have anything to offer. He couldn’t think. Or feel.
A heavy tread paced forward.
David lifted his aching head and tried to make sense of what he was seeing.
Max stopped before him and laid his meaty hand on David’s shoulder. His voice shook with emotion. “So—so sorry.”
That’s all it took, and David lost all power of speech. For once he listened.
“We planned a big celebration for tonight—the guys from the department, Ruth, family and friends from all over were coming tonight. But Mildred—from accounting—fell and broke her wrist so she called Ruth. She and the kids hurried over to get the last details in place—except they never made it. A tired truck driver crossed the line. No one survived.” His eyes welled in tears. “And this was supposed to be your glory day.”
The Koelth Department of Welfare and Well Being echoed in David’s head like a devil’s cackle.
—Five Years Later—
Dave closed his computer, leaned back in his office chair, and stared out the window, grateful for the view of the quiet neighborhood. Friday again. I’ve got a lot to do.
Footsteps padded closer. Max stuck his head in the doorway, tossed David a ripe red apple, and grinned. “I heard the news.”
Catching the fruit with one hand, David smiled back at his friend. “No secret this time.”
After losing sixty pounds, Max could saunter into the room. “You deserve it. I can’t think of anyone else who has dedicated so much time and energy to others’ welfare as you have these past few years.”
David rose, grabbed his threadbare coat from the back of his chair and tucked the apple into the pocket. “What I should’ve been doing all along.” He pointed to the door. “Want to meet at the track? I have a tutoring session at the community center in a couple of minutes, but I could meet you after that.”
“Sure!” Max’s grin widened, his eyes alight with happiness. “See what I mean; you’re always helping people. You encouraged me to give up death burgers and get healthy. The department heads are finally doing the right thing—naming the department after you, a man of well being if ever I knew one.”
David patted Max on the shoulder as he headed for the door. “Thanks, my friend, but I had to refuse the honor.”
Startled, Max blinked, his mouth dropping open.
“Don’t feel bad. Maybe someday. But in the meantime,” David opened the door and crossed over the threshold, “I went through too much hell to forget—it’s best to wait till the fruit ripens to name the tree.”
A poem a day might well keep despair away. I’ve been reading 150 Most Famous Poems published by Poetry House with works by Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, Walt Whitman, and many more. What I find so extraordinary is that while reading, I enter a sort of dreamland, an extra sensory awareness shared by many fellow humans. It’s the strangest sort of community in that we never have to have met or even speak a word to each other, yet we share a fathomless bond.
It’s the images, the juxtaposition of contrary thoughts, even transitions from this world to the other world so smoothly delved that the reader discovers they have entered someone else’s dreamscape, yet, it feels like home.
As William Blake so perfectly states in his poem Auguries of Innocence
To see a world in a grain of sand,
And heaven in a wildflower.
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.
Or as George Gordon, Lord Byron reveals in There Is Pleasure in the Pathless Woods
There is a rapture in the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes…
To mingle with the Universe, and feel
What I can ne’er express, yet cannot all conceal.
Emily Dickenson hits the mark in her poem Hope is the thing with Feathers
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul
And sings the tune without the words…
With shocking insight, Paul Lawrence Dunbar strips our pretense away in We Wear the Mask
We wear the mask.
We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise…
These poems and so many others embrace the sunrise in company with souls alight with mystical spirit. No matter the day or year, highborn or low, city dwellers or country folk, they fellowship in a shared human journey. In a world torn by strife and divided along so many lines, these voices rise like a chorus, reminding me, no matter how painful my steps or proud my goals, I have never journeyed alone.
I don’t like to look back. Only forward. Perhaps one of the reasons why a sunny evening after a rainy day discombobulates me. A shiny-bright sky shouldn’t arrive when my exhausted body is ready to flop onto bed for a well-deserved rest. I like to consider where I am heading. Not where I have been. Can’t fix the past, only improve the future.
But last week, I became the custodian of a box of old letters. My brother who passed away had kept them through the years, and the kids and I discovered them only recently. My first surprise involved the sheer number. So many of the foreign students who boarded at my mom’s—Mrs. B’s—house had loyally written to her even after they had moved on with their lives. Our first renter, Yasushi Fujimoto, wrote from various places including the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies and the International Center for Theoretical Physics in Miramar, which my eldest daughter, a math-chem major, found rather interesting. As a kid, I could never have imagined that I would have a daughter who would grow up to become a scientist in her own right.
There is also the wedding invitation from Miss Ming Chu Hsu to Mr. Yaan Ming Jeffery Chan in Milwaukee not far from where we lived. There’s a thank you card from our Italian renter, Giuseppe, and his new wife, Laura, from their place in Glendale, WI. A sweet letter from Bing from his home in Wuhan, China.
Another letter, written by Bharat from Tanzania, apologizes profoundly for his delay in writing. I can’t imagine what could possibly be as important as writing a letter to us… He’d only had to fly across the globe to see his family. But he promises to return very soon, so his intentions were certainly honorable.
Chen wrote from California. Gustavo wrote from Caracas, Venezuela. There’s a wonderful catch-up with life’s goings-on from Awatif from the United Arab Emirates. A Christmas card from Bangladesh. A note from Said from Saudi Arabia…and that’s only a sample! Now, I’m wondering about those guys who didn’t send letters: Wael from Palestine and Bala from India. And so many more…
I have always considered myself blessed to have known so many people from such diverse walks of life. Not only did they come from different regions of the world, they spoke various languages and dialects, they ate fantastically spicy and exotic food. They practiced a variety of religions yet lived the same nobility of spirit. Hard working and determined, yet generous and understanding on so many levels. I don’t remember one cross word being spoken between the men during all those years.
I look back on my kid-tudes, and I’m ashamed that I wasn’t always as welcoming as I could have been. Being a child of a broken home, I wasn’t initially thrilled to have “my space” taken over by strangers. But those strangers became family in a way few other human beings have since matched.
In our international home, with usually between two to four students living with us at a time, I learned the impossible is possible. We humans can see beyond skin color, learn each other’s languages, discover new facets of God’s reality, and care so deeply about one other that even after thirty years, a yellowed scrap of paper can revive the flame of brotherly love. For, in fact, each of the men who stayed with us was my brother in the truest sense of the word.
Sadly, I have no connection with any of them now. I grew up, moved away, married, had kids, and became absorbed in forming my own little domestic universe. But as time marches relentlessly on, and family and friends pass away, my gaze turns inward. I discover that my heart is not frozen in ages past. Where ever those men have gone, my prayers and well-wishes go too.
I’m not overly fond of Lent. The whole discipline aspect sets my teeth on edge. Isn’t life hard enough? What good is it to offer up a bit of sugar in my morning coffee? Or stifling honest irritation over vexing situations?
Strangely enough though, by the end of the second week, I’ve changed pretty much all my original sacrificial intentions and come to a whole new perspective on what God is asking of me. No voice-overs telling me that He doesn’t need the blood of bullocks to make His meaning clear. Life does that well enough, thank you.
Perhaps the swelling buds on trees, the sun peeking over the horizon earlier each morning, the contrast of melting ice and nesting birds has something to do with my appreciative understanding. Or the natural fact that eating better, getting a good night’s sleep, and sticking to chosen goals actually makes me feel better.
Lent reminds me that I make choices on a daily basis, and if my life feels out of control, it’s on me to deal with it. There are a host of things that I can’t control. But Lent insists that I bear not only the power but the responsibility to acknowledge my part in human affairs.
On the weekends, some of the girls and I pick a television series to watch together. Fun and comforting as that can be, I’ve also found it to be discombobulating to the extreme. Nearly every modern show, no matter the setting or the venue, has heavily accented a homosexual perspective. Apparently, homosexuality is the new crisis of our age. Though not new at all, really. Like abortion, it delves into the messy, dark side of human experience—the oft repeated strangled scream, “No one understands my pain.”
And there stands Lent, refuting the foot-stomping message that no one understands. God does understand. He is our Creator. We are the created. That reality informs and shapes us, our families, friends, and the entire known universe. It’s a sticking point, to be sure.
Our human experience isn’t defined by current cultural crisis: our sexual orientation, when life begins, human rights, or what makes us happy. The crux of human experience—on the most basic level—is a matter of truly accepting God as God, our existence as Created Beings, made in His Image, with the freedom to accept or reject what that means for us, (personally and as a member of the human race) now and in an unseen future.
Lent demands self-discipline. Without some effort at self-control, offering up the silly to the sublime or making an effort at self-improvement, inside and outside, it isn’t really a Lenten offering.
Lent is an opportunity to reflect on what it means to be Christian, a son or daughter of God, the created being of our Creator, who nourishes our lives at the root level, knowing better than we do what we really need.
And there lies the challenge. We don’t get to decide our parental DNA, our family heritage, our sex chromosomes, when life begins, or a host of other realities that we struggle with each day. We fight and argue, insisting that we know best—but do we?
Pushing against known boundaries has literally brought us closer to the stars. But has denying God’s Image at the core of our bodies, minds, and souls led us to the ends we really desire?
This year, when the kids and I plan our garden, though we have a great deal of freedom as to what to plant where, we still have to take into consideration factors that are beyond our control: weather, soil, time, and our own limitations.
Balancing human freedom within God-given realities does not make me less free, it makes sense of my existence. This human journey is not all about me. It’s about God and me and the rest of my human family. Lent reminds me that, like all serious relationships, this journey with my Creator involves sacrifice and self-control.
My coffee is more bitter of late, but beyond all expectations, my life is sweeter.
One day I shared with my university professor father the name of a religious text I was using in my homeschool, and my dad snorted in disgust. “Use books with real material, for God’s sake!”
The I-couldn’t-shoot-through-it-with-a-laser-gun irony was not lost on me.
After all, every choice I made in my homeschooling environment reflected what I focused on vs. what I left out. Could I be faith-based and still be “real?”
I believe so.
The first question I had to conquer—What do I mean by faith-based?
I assumed that meant religious material. A Catholic textbook. A Christine online resource. But then I had to consider all the other elements in my life that take a great deal of faith. After all, I can’t check every resource, follow up on every university seminar and published medical report, read every commentary, click on every supporting link, or completely understand most of what makes the world go around.
Does the study of one or a cross-section of religions fall under faith-based? If so, researching and reporting on the historical significance of Judaism, the Old Testament timeline and stories, the parables of Jesus, the Catholic Church’s rise to power, the Reformation, the history of Islam, Buddhism, or any number of other religions would be not just valid but necessary components of any well-rounded curriculum.
But can anyone tell a story of faith accurately without faith?
Just the facts, ma’am.
If only it were that easy.
As I contemplate my computer, and that I haven’t a clue how it really works, the electrical signals and engineering genius that power my stove and refrigerator, radio waves undulating across the planet, to say nothing of all those powerhouse cell phones, I realize that I take almost every modern convenience on faith.
Educators and scientists insist that facts are repeatable and verifiable. But that’s not what tries my faith. I don’t question that my light switch works or that radio waves travel, or that computers compute. I simply don’t know how it all works and the repercussions each tool has on the human race.
Getting down to the basics, on a micro level, we are astonished every day at new discoveries. Rise to the macro level, and lo and behold; we are again amazed and dumbfounded by the wider universe.
Science and faith are different, but they are not polar opposites. There has to be some reason in faith and some faith in reason.
And it all comes down to free will.
Yes, siree, bob, that ol’ trusted and true bit of reality that everyone likes to question. Hence our active judicial system.
Ultimately, we decide what we believe.
Or we don’t. Then we do really confusing things like calling ourselves Catholic but insist that teachings, traditions, and sacramental graces need to change to match a modern set of credentials. Or we demand that our kids obey us without giving them any other reason than “because I say so.” Or we conclude that nothing much matters, and we’ll just be good because we feel that way. Unfortunately one person’s good might include drinking heavily and driving on the wrong side of the orange line.
I have spent a lot of time trying to discern what I believe in my human journey. I haven’t come to a whole lot of conclusions, but I have come to some. And these I hold dear. I live my faith with every breath of my body. When I deviate from my accepted creed, I’m not only uncomfortable, I am beside myself—untethered and aimless.
I pass my beliefs along to my children with all the generosity of a mother’s love, knowing full well that they have to decide what they will accept or let fall to the side.
Personally, I do not believe a secular system truly exists, though I agree that as a pluralistic nation, we have to make the attempt to remain impartial in public office and positions. Though if anyone wants to argue that our legal system isn’t based on personal, human value statements, I would beg to differ. It just depends on who is writing to the laws, who is passing them, and who is ignoring them.
The gift for me in homeschooling is that—like when making dinner—I use healthy ingredients in the day’s plan. Not that kids don’t snack on the side or aren’t influenced by a myriad of goodies…or baddies. That happens no matter what curriculum is offered. But while they are young and defenseless, I want to give them what my years of experience have taught me are valuable skills, facts, intuitive insights, and understanding. I throw in a lot of love and compassion as well.
I am a Catholic for very good reasons, and my faith has sustained me beyond reason. Most probably because I love and accept it. In a world swirling with disunity, I’ll take my faith in light of reason, chat with my dad, teach my kids, and learn from every experience that God gives me.
I have talked with a few anxious parents who are considering the merits of homeschooling their kids vs. trying to adjust to the “new educational normal,” which might change at any given moment.
Knowing full well that each family situation is unique, and no one is better qualified to make the educational call than the parents, I’d like to share a few thoughts and questions that have helped me in my homeschooling successes with eight kids over the last twenty years.
There are advantages and disadvantages to every system. The very aspects that make homeschooling great can also create nightmare scenarios, depending on how situations are handled. Consider these questions to get in front of problems so that no matter what system you choose, you can make the most of your kids’ educational opportunities.
1) What grade level for each class is most appropriate for your child? Sometimes a child is having trouble and needs an extra year to handle abstract concepts, or he or she may roar ahead and be ready to move on to the next grade after a few months. Perhaps a child is a grade level behind in math but is two grade levels ahead in reading. As a homeschooling parent, you can fine-tune the grade levels for each class to match the child’s exact needs for each subject.
2) What textbooks and materials will you use? Will you pick from an online established site or browse books available through Amazon or other resources? Do the books meet the state guidelines and teach a comprehensive course or are they supplemental material? Will there be extra materials for art, music, sports, and game experiences?
3) What will the curriculum look like? Will the kids follow a subject for the whole scholastic year or take classes for semesters? Or a bit of both—Algebra I for the whole year but Constitutional History for a single semester? Play around with your options and build a curriculum with motivational factors in mind. Kids may hate spelling tests, but they will likely endure those better if they get to include a semester doing something they love—like learning sign language, photography, or how to play the saxophone.
4) In consideration of the curriculum and yearend goals, what does the calendar look like? Each state has attendance requirements, but a homeschool can exceed that. We often had more days built into our year, so we could spend some of those days on less structured, fun activities. Also, illness comes into the picture at some point, and it helps to have make-up time built in.
5) On any given day, how many hours will the parent teach hands-on or lecturing, and how many hours will the student work on his or her own? In general, I found that my kids were more attentive to my instruction in the morning, and I left practice and follow up work until the afternoon. I also tended to leave the more fun/creative classes till later in the day. The kids were ready for outdoor sports activities and nature hikes after they had sat with books and hands-on materials in the morning.
6) What about field trips and out of the house adventures? Even if many places are closed down, there are still creative ways to extend learning outside the home. Pumpkin farms, dairy farms, a visit to a local business, (with the owner’s permission, of course) nature hikes, sketching tours, photo tours, library events, trips to public service sites, visits to elderly neighbors (with safety precautions in place), and other creative outside-the-house experiences help invigorate a child’s educational experience.
7) What will the grading system be based on? Pass/fail? A numeral system based on tests and quizzes? Corrected assignments and parental insight as to how well the material is understood through observation and conversations? Or a combination of all of these? It is a good idea to take notes or have a place to record this information. Also, it helps to pick out an end of the year or semester report card ahead of time so a parent knows what to look for. Do handwriting and attitude count?
8) How will disruptions—like unexpected guests, phone calls, unplanned emergencies—be dealt with? It can be hard to explain to relatives and friends, but homeschooling is a serious endeavor and needs to be treated with the respect of any other classroom setting. No, it’s not okay to extend recess to two hours so mom can deal with a side issue. At least, not more than once. The side issue needs to be put in its proper place as soon as possible.
9) Dreaded question—How will misbehavior be handled? It’s a good idea to set expectations right off the bat. Even though kids don’t usually plan to be “bad,” cause trouble, or give their teachers/parents a rough day, it happens. Bad moods, a poor score, a fight with a friend or sibling, even an unwanted vegetable on the dinner menu can create trouble. Get in front of it and discuss how disobedience and poor attitudes will be handled. Use lots of imaginary examples. Prudy Poortude cried through every spelling lesson and stomped her foot each time a new word appeared on her list… Get your kids to figure out how to deal with Prudy, and you’ll have a few ideas on how best to deal with them.
10) Last but certainly not least, how will excellent behavior be rewarded? Achievement is every bit as noteworthy as troublesome behavior. Reward the good stuff! If a child has excelled in an area, make sure that he or she knows it. That may simply involve a hug or a formal handshake. But tell your child in word and deed that they have done well. Sometimes—for going beyond and above excellence in classwork or extracurricular activities—chocolate chip ice cream is involved. Perhaps a new game? A special dinner? You know what your child loves best. Be sure to celebrate and remember to thank them.
That way, when they graduate, they may remember to thank you.
I’ve been homeschooling for twenty years and with each academic year, I discover new challenges. But that’s the adventure. To meet challenges head-on. Innovation is at the heart of homeschooling. But before I can look any scholastic year in the eye, I have to seriously consider three things.
First—What’s the big picture?
I had taught in private and public schools for years before I began homeschooling. And with any inside look, I knew there were serious issues in schools that needed to be addressed. I figured that, as a parent and an experienced teacher, I could do a pretty good job educating my children while swerving around some of the inevitable pitfalls of system failures.
One of my biggest goals was to give my family a sense of belonging and security. I wanted them to know where they belonged and understand their heritage and culture, as well as the bedrock of their religion. I hoped that academic success would rest on the shoulders of a well-formed secure personality. That also meant I had to reflect on who I was, what I believed, and where I belonged.
I thought this was a one-time research project. Ha!
Second—The Details…Oh, those pesky details!
I started out utilizing a homeschool template from an online Catholic resource that I figured knew more about home education than I did. It took me years and the reactions of several disgruntled kids to understand that I could no more accept a template someone else created than I should hand over the daily meal plan to a fast-food chain. I had to do research and apply textbooks, projects, and goals to each student individually. I also learned that there were a whole lot of online options and none of them were perfect. Picking and choosing became a way of life.
Third—Upheaval is a way of life—Accept it and keep going.
Ten years after I began homeschooling, my husband came down with Leukemia. Through the years he battled cancer, I still had to see that the kids could read, write, and calculate on grade level. It remained important that they measure with proficiency in academic exams. Organizing my priorities meant that though I had to focus on my husband’s needs, that didn’t give me permission to toss out my kids’ educational demands. If I couldn’t do the job I had to pass their academic education to someone or a system that could. I had to find a solution.
Turns out that the very flexibility of homeschooling and the nature of being able to follow an interest in depth allowed us to not only work around hospital visits, our grieving process, and manage our world in a whole new normal, but it gave us the opportunity to grow into our lives together.
The recent challenges involving a worldwide pandemic has only sent ripples along our educational front. Once again, we have been able to adjust as a whole family supporting each other through job losses, graduations without ceremonies, online internships, and bold new adventures away from home.
When I started homeschooling I had two young sons. Those two sons have graduated from their universities at the top of their classes and found productive opportunities for work. My eldest daughter is an award-winning senior, currently studying Math-Chemistry, and would dearly love to discover the answer to medical challenges that plague our human experience. My second daughter is in the Air Force planning on a nursing career.
I have four more kids coming along, two in high school, and two in junior high. They have each done well—at least in my eyes. The world will judge them in time.
Going back to point Number One—The Big Picture. I have realized that the picture changes as we grow. The details come in and out of focus, but we chase them down to find the best way of managing the task before us. And upheavals are a way of life. Like the laundry, I don’t expect to “get it all done.” I’ll die with a to-do-list in my hand.
Homeschooling is a way of life—as much for me as the kids.