Last night we had friends for supper for a “visioning session” of sorts for our new non-profit. To be honest, going into the evening I was quite overwhelmed by the prospect of having a vision for anything other than my pajamas and a Netflix binge. Everything within my life has seemed to become a monumental project of epic proportion.
Down to one car, we are struggling to share a commute spread apart by 30 miles and the sprawling city of Atlanta. It is Noah’s senior year and there is much to do to ready him for his next transition – not to mention securing him a vehicle for purchase so that he can participate in a work-study program after the new year. Everything at our rental home is broken, leaking or caving in. It doesn’t seem the wise time to begin another project of any size.
Thankfully, it didn’t take very much discussion to be reminded of why The Sparrow’s Nest needs to come to be. Because everyone around the table has decided to live a daily life tightly connected to their value system, we could laugh at being called “a liberal” for taking public transit to work. We bemoaned the impact poor nutrition, as well as food deserts, are having on communities. Then we confessed how many times a day we might actually make a grocery store run simply out of convenience. As we practiced our faith out loud around our supper table, many of the conversations I’ve had with my students replayed in my mind.
While playing out on the playground – “Ms. Vangie, where do the weeds come from?”
At Farm Day when seeing a goat – “What kinda dog is that Ms. Vangie?”
When inspecting a fresh chicken egg – “You mean they come from inside a chicken?”
As we reviewed farm animals – “Are chickens just ducks with fancy hair or are they different all together?”
And my favorite – “So what do worms do anyway?”
More than just “curious by nature,” these children are seeking understanding so as to make something a value of their very own. Their questions belie a need to desire to more fully comprehend and experience the world around them. But the platform for these conversations doesn’t naturally exist – it must be intentionally created.
I want to explain the life cycle of seeds and plants as a part of God’s continual renewal of this good Earth. I yearn to have the time to really look at dogs, goats, ducks and chickens and talk about the wonderful differences of creation. And I want to show them what worms do, what healthy soil is and tell them about our role as partners in creation.
My friends reminded me that I want to build a place for our kids to play in nature, learn about their role in creation care and discover what it means to “live justly.” I want the sparrows to have a nest. It is my dream that at The Sparrow’s Nest children will…
- Have a safe place to learn and grow.
- Learn to care for creation through sustainable agricultural and consumer practices.
- Learn the value of small things, such as small acts of love, kindness, and justice.
- Experience being part of a membership with one another and with creation.
- Develop and practice tools for peacemaking and reconciliation.
Gathering a group of kids together a few times a week won’t reverse climate change, but it might help shape a worldview toward peaceful living alongside creation. I suppose my Netflix binge can wait after all.
Liberalism: The Bible was originally written by a bunch of primitive, misogynist, violent, greedy, superstitious, Jewish slave-owning men who wrote about an awful, bloodthirsty, tribal god who requires ritual killing because people displease him. Conservatism: We agree! (We don’t actually know we agree, but that actually sounds pretty good.) Liberalism: Therefore the only parts that […]
“A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared, and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each other’s lives. It is the knowledge that people have of each other, their concern for each other, their trust in each other, the freedom with which they come and go among themselves.” ~ Wendell Berry, A Long-Legged House
I’ve come upon a new chapter in my life. This chapter is set in a new place. A place I have never been before. It is a very old place with history dating before my birth. My place of work is housed on a city block that looks as if Main Street grew around it. I enjoy driving through the Main Street district each morning just as the sun is rising to watch keepers of the revived store fronts hosing down their sidewalk or setting out large easels telling foot traffic about the daily special.
The church in which I work houses a school that is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. As I’ve met staff and other members of this community, I’ve noticed a longevity in this here. Many of them are people who came to this place, raised their families here, and made it a permanent home. Within the facility itself, I’ve already come across many sweet peculiarities that make working in an old church building such an adventure.
There are hallways that end abruptly and stairwells that are surely haunted. I’m often the first person in the building each morning and more than once I’ve wondered at a particular sound, creak or bumping in the night. It is kept fastidiously clean and has more character than any place I have recently worked or worshiped for that matter. There are pieces of furniture that have caused me to pause and wonder.
Today I needed to show love to an old wooden kitchen set from one of my preschool classrooms. While it is not usually my practice to paint over natural wood, this piece needed more refinishing than I could manage on my timeline. A fresh coat of paint will brighten up the corner of the room where children will be cooking their imaginary meals this year. But as I began wiping down the surfaces to begin priming these pieces, I couldn’t help but do some of my own imagining about the nicks, scars and well-worn spots I found.
Who was the master carpenter behind this small domestic playground? These pieces are so rare now in a world of press-board playthings so conveniently crafted to look like replicas of the real thing. And whose hands created all of these scars from use and play? How many children have played at life here? What were their real kitchens at home like? Where are they now?
I am realizing there are many stories of this place that I have not yet earned the right to hear. As I share in the daily life of this place in coming months, gaining the trust of the people I am here to serve, I hope to come to belong a part of this place too. Until then, I am remaining attentive to the many witnesses of this place that surround me each day. I pray I will be a good steward of this place and its story.
I just wanted to hide out. That was basically my career goal two years ago when I took my current position as a Pre-K teacher at a nationally accredited daycare. I even remember saying, “This will be a good place to just lay low for a little while.” I’d been hurt or burned or whatever you want to call it just one too many times in 3 years. So I took a job for which I was eminently overqualified. It seemed kind of like my penance for being a failure at things I love to do.
It’s been a long two years. Don’t misunderstand, I’ve made some wonderful friends. I’ve given it 100% every day and I’ve been successful. But I haven’t been fulfilled. I haven’t really “shown up” the way I am capable of. Then a few months ago I stumbled on someone that I probably should (and would) have had on my radar if I was really living life.
God bless Netflix!! After binging for a few hours on some mindless sedative to desensitize myself to the horrors of daycare, I finished my show. The next recommendation/preview was for Brene Brown’s The Call to Courage. I had only gotten a few minutes in when I realized this woman has been stalking me. More research would only convince me that it is truly creepy how she nails my dysfunction.
The more I listened to her and read her work, the more I came to terms with the failures I have endured. She described my pain and act of receding into myself better than I could have ever done so. If you haven’t read Rising Strong or watched her Ted Talks I highly recommend them.
***DISCLAIMER*** If you aren’t a big fan, that’s fine – we can disagree. However, I’m not interested in debating any of her research or theories. I’m feeling pretty confident for the first time in a long time so don’t ruin this for me.
Doing this work and owning my “difficult story,” has been a life changing event for me. So much so that I am stepping out again to lead, dream and minister to others.
I’ve accepted the position as Director of Main Street Preschool at First Baptist Church of Tucker, GA. This half-day program is celebrating its 50th year of ministry to Tucker and the surrounding area. I’ll be training, caring for and mentoring around a dozen teachers. I’m beyond excited to finish my time in my current position and start this new chapter of my life. Now let me answer some questions…
Are we moving to Tucker? Nope. It’s going to be a 30 mile commute one way. You heard me right. 60 miles round trip.
So this must be a pay raise right? Wrong again. I’m cutting back to part-time and accepting a 1/3 pay cut.
Have you lost your mind? I really don’t think so. Sometimes something just feels right and now is one of those times. We’ve always been committed to living authentically and simply. While I’ve been embracing part of that equation, I don’t think I’ve really been practicing my values because I’ve definitely been choosing comfort over courage. Hiding out to prevent being hurt again hasn’t worked. If anything, the hurt and shame of failure has putrified. Only by working through the story, owning it and risking the arena again can I be made whole.
I’m sure we’ll have more exciting things to share as we enter this new chapter of living courageously and authentically. I appreciate your support and prayers as I begin this new part of my story.
Dreaming is dangerous business. When one dreams, a risk is taken to open the mind and heart to possibilities unknown. Dreaming most usually requires embracing uncertainty. And dreaming can mean failure. The last time I took a chance on a dream it ended in failure.
For this reason among others associated with it (unwrapped through years of counseling) I have made it a habit not to dream. Instead, it had become my goal to be one who would “live quietly in the land.” (Psalm 35:20) Living a simple, low profile life seemed the safest option for a soul so scarred and afraid. I took a simple job that I am most over-educated and over-qualified for. I work an hourly wage with no benefits and live hand-to-mouth. I abandoned all ambition and goal-setting in favor of subsisting on as little as possible in order to draw as little attention to myself as required because dreaming proved too dangerous a proposition.
But something has awoken a part of me I thought long dead. Recently, as I have been driving my bus full of children along the semi-rural west Cobb County roads in the early morning, I find myself lost in a dream. Maybe it is due to the picturesque landscapes or just due to necessity to drown out the din coming from the seats behind me. I tend to think it happens when I become focused on what I am teaching when I return to the learning center where I instruct Pre-K students until early afternoon.
As the sun is dawning on grassy fields, I try to recall the day’s lessons and skills. My favorite times have become when I am teaching our units on conservation and environmental awareness. I find myself imagining being able to go further than the constricts of my classroom and curriculum allow. I wonder what it would be like to teach these things on the land, alongside creation. And in my mind, suddenly, I am teaching “creation care” together with conservation.
I imagine a group of rowdy four and five-year olds wrist deep in a worm farm. I think about what it would mean to have them compost their food scraps from snack and lunch – or put them aside to feed them to goats, sheep and a pig. I envision teaching them where their food comes from and how to care deeply for that place. I can picture guiding them through planning, cultivating, planting, caring for and harvesting vegetables. I realize in my mind all the real life skills I would be teaching as I did this thing. Before I know it, I am driving the bus through the center’s driveway and it is time to stop the dream.
I still know that it is dangerous to dream. I am happily embracing living simply, quietly and peacefully in the land. However, day by day I feel myself detaching from reality more often so that I can re-enter this place of my imagination. In that place, I feel peace, happiness and purpose. There is not really an “ambition” attached to this place – only that it be a place of safety where “even the sparrow has found a nest.” (Psalm 84:3)
Very recently, we found a small nest snugly constructed in the corner of our raised herb garden. In it we found five round, pink eggs and a sweet mother bird who has chosen our place of refuge as her own. While some might find this a nuisance, we took it as a high complement from creation that we had been found worthy of such honor. She trusts us. We must be quiet enough, simple enough, peaceful enough for her to find faith in our space.
It feels as if the world at large needs more places for sparrows to find a nest. Maybe it isn’t wrong to dream of becoming that place.
Our Individualized Education Plan turns 15 years old this year. While most of my time now is spent looking toward our immediate future and how we will transition out in just 18 months time, I always get reflective after our annual meeting. This year was no different.
I was surprised to find, as we were cleaning up old language and editing parts of this adolescent document, that many of our goals are no longer needed. We no longer need mathematics goals. His writing goal that was once in place because of such weak expression is obsolete because his teacher notes that he now “writes with voice.” Because he is reading at or above grade level, reading goals could also be deleted. In general, Noah’s 3.5 grade point average has marked him as a success of the Special Education System. This child who was once predicted to never read, write, or speak is now expected to receive college scholarships.
But some of our goals still go unmet. Objectives are still in place to assist with general anxiety in the classroom. Articulation goals may stay in place for Speech because the “r sound” still eludes. And the ever-daunting Social Skills Objectives remain as they have for longer than I can remember.
Among them, “Noah will initiate conversation with peers….”
As the team honestly assessed Noah’s lack of interest in this area, one of his teachers spoke up with a story that still has me pondering. It seems that not long ago Noah witnessed an accident in the hallway. One of his peers accidentally tripped another student as they knelt in the hall to adjust their books. The boy who fell became immediately angry and moved toward the other with raised voice, ready to fight.
Noah’s teacher said, “Before I knew what was happening, Noah stepped out between them and began to try and diffuse the situation. Noah said, ‘We all need to relax. He didn’t do this on purpose. I saw it; it was unintentional. This was just an accident so we don’t need to fight about it.’”
Noah the Peacemaker, unwilling to “initiate a conversation with peers” (a.k.a. small talk), is completely willing to speak into the middle of conflict to stop violence and make amity. Everyone smiled and a silent understanding was reached that perhaps this unmet goal wasn’t the tragedy it seemed.
Noah will speak up when it is necessary. He will speak truth. He will speak reconciliation. He will speak harmony. He will speak resolution. He will speak compromise. He will speak peace.
But he doesn’t do small talk. This goal remains unmet. And I think I am good with that.
via I am a pallet
Let us ask no more of this world
Or it’s institutions and empires.
Let us only seek the One who
Gathers the wind and wears the waters as a garment.
Let that Truth be our only shield and refuge
From this place of exile.
We will speak of it carefully but boldly,
Our hope and redemption.
Let us only ask that we be faithful,
So we may know neither riches nor poverty.
Together, let us believe that our daily manna
Will sustain and nourish.
In this place of humility we can trust
And be faithful to the promise of Resurrection.
Our poverty will keep us mindful of the needy,
That we may be His hands alongside them.
Let us speak Shalom into our lives as Enough,
So that we will not consume mindlessly as
The grave, barren wombs and drought blighted land.
Let us not burn through our lives thoughtlessly like fire.
Instead, let us dwell on the splendor of Creation
And on our part in its care.
Let us be given to one another fully,
Even as we are fully known.
Let our lives always be attentive to the
Allowing mustard seeds, sparrows,
Bees, and hummingbirds to occupy our ambition.
In this way we will live in the palaces of kings.
I never really knew how old she was. I never wanted know her like that even though no part of her inspired fear; her gentleness was evident to all. What my sister and I did know was what we had been told – that she was “special,” and “more like a little child.” We spoke to her each Sunday at church, more because of her friendliness than our manners. Once we grew to be teenagers, the topic of conversation would begin to follow a single thread for the remainder of our years together. On The List of Things I Wish I’d Known to Do, stopping to really spend the time with her makes the top ten.
Her name was Sadie and she was probably about 10-15 years older than me. Through her thick glasses she would scrutinize us happily as she made conversation each Sunday after services. I confess that sometimes we avoided her, not having any experience or education about how to communicate with people like Sadie. But when I approached driving age, she sought me out each week to ask the question that seemed to burn in her consciousness: “Can you drive?”
I would answer according to the circumstances of the time. “No,” before I was permitted or licensed, and then “Yes” later. This was her conversation starter each week: “Can you drive?” I remember thinking that this must be all she knew to talk to me about. I now know the reality of how defining the answer to that question is for people like Sadie.
When I began to accept all the things my own child, who is affected by disability, would probably never do, driving was at the top of the list. This isn’t just because it is another rite of passage for young adults, which I would miss out on. It wasn’t until I started my life as his advocate that I understood how the ability to drive delineates every opportunity open to them for their very precarious futures.
Driving means potential employment, independent living, a bank account, and all the amenities thereof. But not being able to drive, well, the options suddenly narrow to a trickle. It means living near or with family. Or, it can mean living in a city center so you can have access to public transport. For some, the easiest answer is early placement in a group home with employment in a sheltered workshop. The answers of how to live as a person with a disability when you can’t drive are varied (and possible), but our potential was definitely limited.
My sister and I used to laugh on the way to Sunday afternoon lunch at the Piccadilly Cafeteria as we chanted, “Can you drive?” Then it seemed like such a silly question. But on this side of life, I hear her saying “Can you drive? Because I can’t and it has changed everything for me. Tell me about driving. Is it fun? Do you like it? Can you go places? What kind of places do you go? Would you take me?”
When Noah announced that he wanted to learn to drive because he knew it would be important to being an independent adult, we realized that he knew the limitations he would face without a driver’s license. It’s been tough. It’s a very social activity (more about this later) that taxes his mental muscles each time he gets behind the wheel. But we’re 8 months into the process and Noah is driving.
But each time he gets behind the wheel, I see Sadie’s giant smile and kind pair of eyes hidden behind thick glasses. I see her awkward stride making her way up the aisle, or through the streets of our town. And I hear her plaintive plea – “Can you drive?”
And I whisper, “Look Sadie, we can drive.”