Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The HSLDA And The Cost Of Fear

When I was 12, I told every adult in my life, charmingly, that I wanted to be a lawyer or journalist when I grew up. I wanted to be a public voice for Christianity, making my opinions known in Washington. One of my inspirations was Michael Farris at the Homeschool Legal Defense Association, or HSLDA. His voice in the conservative world was growing stronger, and I admired his ability to take a stand for what he believed to be right.

Thankfully, God used a series of events in my high school years to change my career focus, and now I not only have my own children, but work with children, so whatever "voice" I have is frequently drowned out by shrieks and giggles.

I still, however, am interested in the HSLDA, but unfortunately with a different focus. I am increasingly dismayed by the lies that I see this organization perpetuating, and it physically pains me to see Farris using his significant power to deceive those trusting him for guidance. Case in point: the Romeike family.

Fear-mongering at its best.
I have actually been interested in the Romeike family's case for close to a year now. I have a vested interest in homeschooling, seeing as I was educated at home through high school. I am also hopeful for immigration reform, and this case touches on both these topics. However, this article--which has gone viral and is currently trending at the top of Fox New's opinion pieces--butchers the facts about the Romeike case and showcases the lies that the HSLDA is willing to tell to further its lobbying efforts in Washington. 

The Romeike family is a German family who left Germany for Tennessee in 2008 because they wanted the freedom to homeschool, which is not allowed in Germany. In 2010, a Tennessee judge granted the Romeikes asylum, but the Board of Immigration Appeals overturned that ruling in 2012, "arguing that religious home-schoolers [in German] don't face any special consequences that aren't applied to other families whose children don't attend school." The case went on to the Supreme Court, which declined to hear it, so now the Romeikes may face deportation in several months if they do not find another legal way to be in the United States.

This is what Michael Farris had to say about the case in yesterday's Fox News piece:

"I think this is a part of the Obama administration’s overall campaign to crush religious freedom in this country. The Obama administration’s attitude toward religious freedom, particularly religious freedom for Christians is shocking. have little doubt that if this family had been of some other faith that the decision would have never been appealed in the first place. They would have let this family stay."

This is a lie, and a harmful one designed to cause fear to conservative Christians. The Romeikes have never been persecuted for their faith. They--understandably--do not like the education laws of their home nation, but they have never been persecuted. US immigration law would have to be massively reformed if any family that disliked the education legislation in their own country were granted asylum. The Romeikes chose to move to the United States knowing that they may not be able to stay long-term, when they could have legally moved to many other countries in the European Union that allow homeschooling. 

It always saddens me to see organizations run by outspoken Christians caught in untruths. It casts a bad light on prominent Christian organizations, and on Christ-followers in general. I believe, due to this case and others, that the HSLDA wants to make Christians, homeschoolers, and primarily Christian homeschoolers fearful. Why? Because the HSLDA profits from fear.

This non-profit organization made 9.4 million dollars in 2011. It makes its money through donations (from people who think that the HSLDA is protecting freedoms that aren't actually in jeopardy), and through membership, where people pay $120 a year for possible legal protection from threats to homeschooling that may or may not exist. If people are not fearful that homeschooling is in danger, the HSLDA does not make money.

I think it is unfortunate that homeschooling is illegal in some countries. I am so glad it is legal in the USA,and I disagree strongly with the conservative narrative that homeschooling is being threatened. Homeschooling has actually increased by 75% since 1999. School options are on the upswing nationwide. These are good things for most of us, but may drain the HSLDA's coffers. 

I saw many well-meaning friends posting about the aforementioned Fox News piece on my Facebook feed, and worrying that Obama could simply send this kind family back overseas to be persecuted. I felt the need to blog about this because I don't believe that fear should trump reason. Companies might profit from fear, but we do not.

For an more detailed examination of the Romeike case, take the time to read this post.

And please...live your day in joy, not fear.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

"Our Interruptions Are In Fact Our Opportunities"

A few weeks back, we made a second attempt at weaning my almost 4-year-old from his (sleep-time only) pacifier.

It was a disaster.

We thought he was ready, and that he understood the terms of our agreement (exchange all pacis in return for a really cool crane toy!), but we were wrong. I imagine that it was a bit like watching an addict withdraw from drugs. There was hysterics, pleading, hyperventilating, bargaining, sadness and fear.

And after doing some in-depth studying (read: frantic Google research) on the effects of preschool paci usage, we gave it back. I cried. We felt defeated.

So now we are waiting, slightly more assured that it won't damage his permanent teeth, and hoping that the maturity that comes between now and an elusive then will make this transition easier.


This is letting go: realizing that some battles don't need to be battles, or will do too much damage if you push too hard at the wrong time. Another constant reminder of this in my life is baby sleep--or, the lack thereof. My daughter often refuses to sleep the way I want her to, right when I want her to. And that is frustrating, for sure. But the hardest part of sleep issues is not always the lack of sleep, or less alone time, or whatever--it is the lack of control. That's what I fight against most.

If I could just let go of the anxiety that questions every sleep decision I make, or let go of my "ideal" of what a one year old's sleep should look like, my life would be so much easier. That's the real battle I'm fighting.
Don't we often look at the many events of our lives as big or small interruptions, interrupting many of our plans, projects and life schemes? And doesn't this unending row of interruptions build in our hearts feelings of anger, frustration and even revenge, so much so that at times we see the real possibility that growing old can become synonymous with growing bitter? But what if our interruptions are in fact our opportunities, if they are challenges to an inner response by which growth takes place and through which we come to fullness of being? (Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out)
By remembering that these "interruptions"--the baby crying during the night, the agonizing over parenting decisions that I am sure will doom my children to future failure--are the stuff of real life, the truest opportunity to show grace to those I love most...that is how I let go.

I'm not very good at it. But fortunately (or not...) I'm getting a lot of changes to grow in this particular area.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Letting Go

Before my first child was born, I began to learn the lifelong parenting lesson: it is all about letting go of control. 

From the moment that I learned of his conception, and felt awash with uncertainty, sadness, and fear. 

From the moment I grew to love him in-utero, and simultaneously realized that love meant scary months between doctor appointments where I'd have to wait to hear that little heartbeat. 

From the moment I was very pregnant and in prodromal labor, desperately begging my body to kick into gear and WHY can't I make myself go into labor?

From the moment we got home from the hospital and realized "Oh crap. It's just us kids with this kid! Who thought we were ready for this??"

From the moment I couldn't get him to sleep, to his first fever, to the first slap of another child, to that time he wouldn't touch any healthy food, to that time when I suddenly had TWO kids to care for, to that time he started preschool, to that time when a friend was mean to him, to that time (all those times) that his baby sister wouldn't take a bottle...and on and on and on. 

I am far from mastering holding them loosely, letting them go, and giving it up to God, but that's alright considering that I will have many many more chances to practice. And fail. And practice some more.

We want to control our kids. Their sleep, their behavior, their mortifying public tantrums. But we absolutely cannot, and I'm convinced the fast majority of our culture's "mom guilt" comes from trying to control these little humans, and utterly failing. Because they are people. Not commodities. Not dolls. Human beings with minds of their own--and don't we want to cultivate that?

That is why Henri Nouwen's words on hospitality and parenting resonate so deeply with me.

 "...It belongs to the center of the Christian message that children are not properties to own and rule over, but gifts to cherish and care for. Our children are our most important guests, who enter into our home, ask for careful attention, stay for a while and then leave to follow their own way...Children are not properties that we can control as a puppeteer controls his puppets, or train as a lion tamer trains his lions. They are guests we have to respond to, not possessions we are responsible for."

This clashes greatly with my sinful need to control, but resonates deeply with what I know to be true of my babies. Nouwen does not suggest letting our kids run wild, but pouring into them while still holding them in an open hand.

"What parents can offer is a home, a place that is receptive but also has safe boundaries within which their children can develop and discover what is helpful and what is harmful. There their children can ask questions without fear and can experiment with life without taking the risk of rejection."

This is what I want for my kids, and what I try to offer them. My next post will be about some of the practical ways I try to offer hospitality to my children: to receive them, to honor them, and to practice my own "letting go."

*Both quotes are from Nouwen's Reaching Out, which I'm halfway through and can't chew on enough.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Books Read In 2013

I read 16 books in 2013. So many less than I could have; so many more than some years (ahem...first year of motherhood!).  This year, for the first time, I kept an ongoing list of the books I read, and I found it so satisfying. Not only are lists just fun, but this one provides me with instant book recommendations for others--and I like giving a great book recommendation almost as much as I like getting one. It is also interesting to see that I unintentionally read an equal amount of fiction and non-fiction. Here are the books I read this year, along with a brief note about them (though many deserve much more than that):


The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls - my favorite of the year; it sticks with you.

Hypnobirthing by Marie Mongan - when push came to shove (literally!), this did. not. help.

The Panic Virus by Seth Mnookin - some interesting information, though I detest fear-mongering.

The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller - very good; not too complementarian and full of grace.

Families Where Grace Is In Place by Jeff VanVonderen - the basics of grace-based parenting (and living!)

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick - another favorite; jarring and educational.

The Liar's Club by Mary Karr - another deeply moving memoir; stick through the first half and you'll be sold.

Coming Clean by Kimberly Miller - the memoir of a child of hoarders, so disgustingly fascinating.


The Baker's Daughter by Sarah McCoy - engaging WWII historical fiction.

Requiem by Lauren Oliver - last of the Delirium series, which is some of the best YA dystopian work.

Finding Clair Fletcher by Lisa Regan - well-written murder mystery.

Skinny Dip by Carl Hiaasen - light and frothy; I read it in two days on vacation.

And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini - A Thousand Splendid Suns is still his best, but this is really good.

Allegiant by Veronica Roth - Divergent started so well, and then...anyway, I liked this one better than book two.

Atonement by Ian McEwen - really good. Now I need to rewatch the movie.

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn - Flynn is the queen of the twisted mystery; I was so absorbed.

This year, I'm diving into more reading on spiritual disciplines. What was your favorite book read in 2013?

Friday, August 9, 2013

The Love of Money

For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.
 - 1 Timothy 6:10

I believe this. You see the insidious tree, growing from money-love roots, everywhere. It is the motive for crimes of all kinds. It forces young girls into the sex trade. It is the main purpose of existence for so many people.

And yet, lately, I think so much about money. I don't want to love money. But when you are teetering on the edge of not having quite enough of it, it enters your thoughts quite a bit.

I don't want to love money. But I quite literally dream about it--or rather, not having enough of it. I woke up panicked a few nights ago, because there wasn't enough to go around and we were living with our parents (both sets at once, strangely?) and those ends just. wouldn't. meet. My real-life anxiety, playing out in my dreams.

We work hard. We have college degrees, and my husband has a freshly-minted Master's degree. We are also young, with two kids, and both in the non-profit world while living in a higher cost of living city. Not to complain, or give excuses, but this is what it is and for that reason I think about money too much, and worry that I love it. Even though I hate it. Simultaneously.

Penelope Trunk has blogged more than once about how $75,000 a year is the salary for happiness. That is the magic number that social scientists came up with for determining maximum salary satisfaction. Of course, that's a bit silly because pegging your happiness on any future event--salary-related or otherwise--is not a good idea. But I do wonder if making that much money (about double what we make now) is in just not having to think too much about the money thing: you have a cushion beyond basic living expenses, but you don't have so much money that it defines you as a person. I don't know.

We are immesurably blessed, and doubtless have more than we need. The possible needs and the helpful wants--that is where things get tighter (though we have a considerable number of those as well). That's where the money-love threatens me, trying to consume me even as I loathe it.

How do you avoid caring about something so necessary? Like food, money is of vital importance, the gift and the curse that means sustenance in the modern world. Sometimes I want to wash my hands of it and give it all away, but I can't imagine that being good for my children. How does one embrace the balance?

I don't want to love money.

I sure think about it a lot.

Is that loving it?

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Hiatus

I've taken 3 and a half months off from blogging.

I wish I could say the break happened intentionally--some sort of wireless sabatical, designed to free myself from the entrapment of the virtual world.

But really, I just got busy. A new baby, a move, and new jobs for both my husband and I. And then in the midst of busyness, I realized that I felt a distinct kind of relief that came from being away from the blogging world. I wasn't writing posts and was barely reading posts, and I felt free. Free to let go of the ever-changing faith blogging issue-of-the-day. Free to develop my own opinions about current events without first drowning in tweeted opinions. Free to live fully in my Chicago-world. And at that point, my writing hiatus garnered an intentionality it didn't originally have.

I didn't know if I would come back to this space or not, but three months in...and I began to get itchy fingers. Writing. It draws me back. It is a time-suck and a gift, because it clarifies my thoughts in black and white in front of me.

So here I am. Unsure of what my blog will look like now, as my weariness of the faith-blog-jabbering combines with the fact that I'm now working at a church with views that sometimes differ, in mostly small ways, from my own. Unsure of how often I'll blog. Unsure of how much I will prioritize writing over every other good thing in my life.

But at those times when writing is clarifying, energizing, and even necessary--I will be here.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Things Learned (And Relearned) From A Week Of Apartment Hunting

This was my home screen for the last week.
1. PadMapper is the shizzle. 
I scoured a ton of apartment finding websites this last week. None compared to PadMapper, which takes listings from Craigslist and its own apartment postings and puts those places on a clickable map. So great.

2. "Cozy" is a common descriptor in apartment listings.
And it means "this garden apartment has no windows and your 6 foot husband will hit his head on every door frame."

3. You can learn a lot about a place through the features most prominent in its ad.
When the Craigslist title says "HOT WATER INCLUDED FOR FREE!!!!" you know said apartment has very little going for it.

4. Your housekeeping skills really aren't that bad. Really.
I cringe at some of the places we saw, because if this is what it looks like when you know someone is coming to see it, then how bad is it the rest of the time?

5. "Vintage" is likely to be more shabby than chic.
Take it from someone who has lived in a (well-loved but quirky) vintage apartment for several years.

6. If it looks too good to be true, it usually is.
Not always (our current place really is an amazing deal). But usually, yes. In one week I've seen crazy slanted floors, possible big mold issues, and a building in foreclosure.

7. Scammers be a'scammin (and they're not particularly good at it).
Yes, I figured the two bedroom for $500 in Wrigleyville was a scam, but it didn't hurt to email, right? "Joe Balls" wrote me back a very long, sweet-yet-frequently-mispelled story about how he was leaving the country and just wants someone to care for his perfect place that includes every luxury perk imaginable for the time being. And unfortunately, you can't see the unit but would you like to rent it any way?

What do you think? Should I write Mr. Balls a check?

8. God can show Himself to you through a totally unwanted move.
I can't resist moralizing a bit here because God has been so, so unbelievably good to us through the craziness of this last week. I've seen Him in the tears shed as I mourned our tiny home by the tracks, in the wisdom of my family members as they counciled us, in the timing of this move that is turning out to be far more perfect then I could have imagined. And I know I will see more of His work in our lives in the little place just a mile from here, which we signed a lease on last night. I want to share His goodness with anyone who will listen right now.

We're getting a yard. Just in time for spring.
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