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Developing Critical Literacy

One of the aspects of our current cultural conversation, especially in regards to a digital presence, is the observation that many, many, too many people don’t know how to distinguish between a reliable source and an unreliable source. Many, many, too many people don’t know how to search and find multiple perspectives. This is something that impacts our ability to make compassionate connections and conversations with each other as well as our ability to make informed and educated decisions.

For me as a reading professional, this is a heartbreaking reality because this is what my graduate work focused on: how to develop critical literacy. This was a bit of a revolutionary goal for me as a teacher in high poverty schools because there was so emphasis of developing grade-level literacy BEFORE developing critical literacy. But are they really different? I would argue that critical literacy, digital literacy, and researching skills like distinguishing between reliable and unreliable sources are all a part of literacy. If that is the case, then what we have is a literacy crisis.

I appreciate and support parents, teachers, and indeed ministers who are making efforts to include diverse voices into their own personal reading as well as in their instruction and curriculum. While including authors and voices from different perspectives and backgrounds certainly is important, it is not the only tactic we can take to develop critical literacy.

One of the best books, I’ve ever encountered and that is powerful no matter the age of the audience is Voices in the Wind by Anthony Brown. Buy this book. You will see how one day in the park can look so different because of the person who is experiencing that trip to the park.

We love Sandra Boynton books because they are fun and silly, but there are two books that ask readers to look at a story from multiple perspectives by having almost the exact same page in both books.

The top spread is from But Not the Hippopotamus and the bottom spread is from But Not the Armadillo. We can’t read one book without reading the other book now with our three-year-old and then lining up the books just like this to compare and contrast the two pages. This is an amazing critical literacy experience in a fun and non-threatening way.

Our other favorite is We Are in a Book by Mo Williems. This book invites the characters to break the third wall and realize that they are characters in a book. What a powerful way to illustrate that there is a greater story and that it is not only about us.

The best way we can overcome the literacy crisis we have is to work within ourselves to ask good questions and to work with the people in our lives: children, parents, congregants to look at a story from multiple perspectives and different voices with a calm and understanding presence. Sometimes using children’s literature makes practicing that just a little easier and more fun.

On Being an “Experienced” Mom

The last two weeks have been filled with the awe and wonder of new life. Memories of the first days of our three-year old’s life have flooded back in as we get into a routine of feeding and sleeping and being a family all together. Yesterday I took our two-week-old for her two weeks check up and the doctor said, “Do you have any questions?” and I only had one. I can remember that appointment with our son being filled with questions. Is he ok? Is this normal? Am I doing this right?

As the pediatrician was dictating notes to her nurse to go into our daughter’s chart, she said something that struck me: “Mom, is an experienced mom and nurser.” I was caught off guard. I immediately thought: Mom, whose mom, her mom? I hadn’t thought about the fact that I am no longer a first-time mom, at least not of a newborn. I’ve done this before. This idea still hasn’t sunk in.

This week was also marked with the arrival of a parenting book compilation in which I have a short piece. As I reread my own words and my reflections about when I first became a mom five years ago, I realized that five years is a significant amount of time. Five years does mark a threshold that is often called experienced or is listed as a time interval for having experience in a field or profession.

If that’s the marker, then I am also an experienced preacher, an experienced pastor, and an experienced puppy mom. How in the world did that happen?

I guess it happened somewhere in the minutes that made up the 1,825 days of the past five years. The interactions, the challenges, the conversations, the sleepless nights, the minuscule decisions and the time in silence and solitude reflecting, seeking, and wondering if I was doing any of it right.

And all I can think about is all the times that I wish I had been fully present in those moments rather than lost in what ifs and maybes. Because really the challenge no matter how long we’ve been at this parenting thing or this pastoring thing is just that: to be present and to be aware of where we are. To understand, at least in part, that this moment, this conversation, this interaction won’t happen again in the same form or the same place or the same time.

I don’t really think I am experienced at any of this because our daughter is different than our son and our older two girls. This church is different than the other churches I’ve pastored and perhaps that’s where you get labeled as experienced. When you know that you don’t really know and can fully and freely admit that you need all the help you can get from parenting books, from pediatricians, and most importantly, for me, from a partner who is right there beside you traveling the road full of moments with you.

A Seesaw of Awe

This week our summer officially started as we had all three children. We spent our late afternoons in the pool of a generous neighbor who let us come swim and take a reprieve from the summer heat. My heart began to fill in ways it hasn’t in our long Spring of not having all three kids together as I watched them laugh and splash and play together.

Before I left for the pool, I asked Sam if I could wear my Apple Watch in the pool because I had heard that it had been redesigned to be able to keep track of movement and exercise underwater. He assured me that I could and I was amazed to see a notification come in while my wrist was submerged underwater. How in the world could I be getting a signal underwater? I was even more amazed at the fact that I could swipe down to read the notification underwater. Wasn’t submerging electronics underwater once the death wish from which technology never returned? I don’t pretend to understand the innovation that is going on in the world of technology, AR, and VR, but I know there are people much smarter than I who are pushing the limits of what technology can do and the problems technology can solve. I have the same awe for these innovations as I did for the robots that would come by my fifth-grade classroom from the robotics teacher’s students down the hallway who just happened to become my husband.

And then I started reading the news about asylum-seeking families being separated at the border and for the second time in the week I was speechless with awe. This was not an awe of innovation, engineering, and imagination. This awe was a speechless, helpless awe. How can a people capable of designing a device that can be submerged underwater and receive text messages and notifications also be the same people capable of claiming that families seeking safety from violence, abuse, and abject poverty earn the right to be separated from their families?

I will not pretend to understand what asylum-seeking families have already undergone in order to decide to make the dangerous journey to a promise of a better life. There is no way I can possibly imagine the fear, uncertainty, and sheer terror of having to uproot your whole family, your kids, and your life with the hope (not the certainty) of starting something new. I cannot because of my privilege.

Our family has just a tiny taste of separation as we share our older kids, but this is in no way the same separation as what these asylum-seeking families are undergoing. We know our children are going to a safe place. We know that they will have food and they will go to school. We know where they are and yet still many times as we are saying goodbye the separation is unbearable. Just recently our 2.5 was clinging to his older sister begging her not to go and there was nothing I could say or do to make it better. At that moment, I felt so helpless to offer anything that would help except the promise, “We’ll see her again soon, buddy.” But these families don’t have that promise. But these asylum-seeking families can’t offer that promise. They don’t know when and if they will see their children again.

I’ve been pulled back and forth on this spectrum of the awe of our capacity as humans to create and innovate and with our capacity to separate and distance ourselves from the suffering of other people with explanations and reasonings that those people deserve the suffering they are experiencing. Here’s what I know is true: we together as humans are smart enough and innovative enough to do better. We are reducing our abilities and our capacities when we demean and belittle each other. We are creating more tension and strife when we staunchly insist on defending our worldview and perspective. There is no question that we can do better, the question is will we do better?

My hope is that we will.

Because we certainly don’t know when we will find ourselves in need of asylum, shelter, and safety with only hope to guide us.

The Best Books I Read in 2017

For the last two years, I have participated in the reading challenge on Goodreads. I’ve challenged myself to read 50 books. In 2016, I read 23. In 2017, I read 34. And this year, I’ll also challenge myself to read 50 books. It’s good to recognize that sometimes challenges take longer than a year to achieve.

Here’s the list of the books I read. 

While I recommend almost everything I read this year, I wanted to think about the five books I read this year that most impacted me and why. Books change us and challenge us to see the world and our own realitites differently. These five surely did.

  • I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t) by Brene Brown
    • I’ve read a lot of Brene Brown, but this is my alltime favorite. This book describes the inner struggle we have as we wrestle oursevles into the people who can make a difference in the world.
  • Small Great Things by Joci Picoult
    • This one was insanely difficult to read. Picoult tells this story through the eyes of the different individuals’ eyes who are involved in a situation with racism, white supremacy, and love for you children. This was gut-wrenching and eye-opening in the way that makes you rethink the way you see the world.
  • Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed
    • The beauty of this book is the compassionate responses by Cheryl Strayed. It is a compilation of essays by people who are writing into an advice column called Dear Sugar. These writers tell their most intimate struggles and hopes and Cheryl Strayed responds with care and love (albeit sometimes tough love). Everyone is fighting a great battle. Things are never what they seem.
  • The Body Keeps Score by Bessel A. van der Kelk
    • This is the most important book I read this year. As someone who has survived and overcome spiritual abuse, this book was crucial to my understanding how to move towards healing and why I still have such strong reactions to certain situations. The body keeps score of trauma, but healing and wholeness is possible.
  • Simplicity Parenting: Using the Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids by Kim John Payne
    • As someone who wants to raise whole and confident children, this book helped give permission to say no to our kids and to opportunities when it’s just too much. Children have exponentially more stress on them at an early age. Although some would be quick to say this is the connection to the digital world, it isn’t. It’s parents who overfunction and want their children to be successful at all costs. Payne reminds parents the most important thing we can do for our children is to raise them with the least stress and the most security we can provide. It is a struggle to fight against the go go go of our consumerism culture, but a fight worth fighting for our children’s well-being.

I have a stack of books reading for 2018 and close to twelve books that I have started I hope to finish in 2018. Thank goodness that there will always be more books to read!

What We’re Reading with Our Girls

As we were traveling to see family, Sam and I were listening to a NPR interview with the author of Lab Girl. She was talking about the difficulty she has had as a woman in a male-dominated profession.
Tom Ashbrook asked if she would thought that she would ever be able to operate in her profession, after the many discoveries and awards she has been given, without gender being an issue. She laughed and laughed again and then responded, “No, I think gender politics will always be an issue.”

And I wondered about our girls. How are we going to raise girls who are resilient and independent? How are we going to teach our girls that they can pursue and succeed in any profession and field they feel passionate about?

My teacher instincts tell me that introducing them to books that question and challenge gender stereotypes is really important. Here are some of the ones we are reading and we read and read with our girls:

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Stephanie’s Ponytail is a brilliant book that shows how having your own style despite what other people think about you is empowering and often leads to people following you. It also cautions about the power you have when you are a leader and have people who are looking up to you. Powerful message for independence and responsibility.

 

 

Paper Bag Princess falls into the category of fractured fairy tale because while it has the elements of a fairy tale, it changes the roles. The princess is the one who rescues the prince in this story and she does it without batting an eye. The questions and conclusions that have come from our reading this book are certainly worth rereading at every opportunity!

 

MH just got this book and she loves it. It is chock full of nonfiction stories of powerful women who were successful. It also included instructions for knot-tying, camping, and other outdoor activities that some would say were for boys. The content area reading strategies she is developing is an added bonus!

 

The story of a girl who doesn’t judge a giant for just being a giant and who travels to giant country and defeats the giants eating other children? Yes, this is one of our favorites for sure!

 

This one. Matilda harnesses her powers to help those who have been oppressed by an evil headmistresses while also defying and overcoming her family of origin. Wow, just wow. I need this one as much as my girls!

 

The hardest aspect of parenting is that you don’t know how your kids will turn out. You can’t be certain that what you hope you are teaching them settles down into their hearts and souls and becomes a very part of who they are, but we can try. We can read them stories with strong female characters who challenge powerful people and beings. We can reread these stories telling them that their style, who they are, is unique and special. We can talk after these stories about how we can use our power and leadership to do good and to be kind to others.

And we can hope that in reading and talking, we too learn these lessons.

Sometimes You Forget…

Sometimes you forget that what you’ve experienced and been through is not what everyone else has experienced and been through. Sometimes you forget that sharing your story and experiences might be exactly what someone else needs in that moment. Sometimes you forget that you can offer hope and understanding by just sharing who you are.

I hold a Master’s in Literacy, something I forget about in my day to day being because teaching isn’t my profession. I also hold a Master’s in Divinity, something that is more in the forefront of my mind as I prepare to preach and worship with the amazing community of faith, New Hope Baptist Fellowship.

Sam also has teaching experience and theological education and as we journey together as parents, we are trying very intentionally in what we do and say to raise and foster kids who are compassionate, aware of the needs that surround them, and who understand that they each have something they can offer no matter how old they are to offer love and hope.

One way we do this is by what we read to them and in front of them. Here’s what we’ve been reading lately and why we chose it:

I love this book a teaching friend gave us when Ben was born because it teaches kids that even when you have always seen yourself to be a certain way, there is always a chance that you will encounter someone who will change and transform you.

 

Peter Reynolds is brilliant in how he addressed the magical, mystical element of creation for young readers. This one in particular shows that even when the people around you try to discourage you, you shouldn’t give up what you love to do. Also, being the voice of encouragement to someone can change their whole perspective.

 

Not only does Mo Williems write the Elephant and Piggie series incorporating the 100 site words for first graders, he also hits the nail on the head in topics. This is one of our favorites for teaching that waiting and patience often allow us to experience something miraculous.

 

 

We love this one for the way it plays with rhyme and meter, but also for how it reminds us that there is always need surrounding us. When we barrel over other people, they won’t be quite as willing to help us when we need help.

 

Looking for specific age suggestions for your own children or grandchildren? I’m happy to help! I love talking about children’s literature and the powerful impact it can play in teaching our children.

A Week Ago Part 2

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A week ago, Sam called to tell me that he had been in a wreck, which lead to a series of events that took over our week including doctor’s visits, insurance calls, and rental car arrangements. It wasn’t how we were expecting to spend our week and there were many times last week that I asked, “why did this happen to us?”

And then I on Wednesday when I picked Ben up, I got his first ever school craft. A simple reminder of the season of Thanksgiving that we are approaching. I looked at that footprint and remembered in the hospital the first attempt to take his footprints were too bloody to take home because of the glucose tests they had to do by sticking his heels and I remembered the week Ben was born and how I was left speechless by the miraculous power of life and birth and breath in Ben.

And a week ago I was reminded again of the beauty of life and breath as Sam walked away from the car wreck. I breathed deeply as I held this simple picture because even though our lives were overtaken and redirected last week, we were still together as family.

This is not an easy time to be a parent, to be a minister, or to be a family. It is hard work to redirect our thoughts to being thankful and grateful. It is is hard work to try to engage in the important work of trying to speak love into the divisive rhetoric we hear, read, and often repeat. It is hard work to stop and reflect and imagine what we could become together if we are thankful instead of ungrateful, selfless rather than selfish, and understanding rather than defensive. But this, this is the hard work we are called to do as partners, parents, and ministers.

And for a community of people who are working towards these same goals, I am thankful.

Making Grits and Celebrating Eucharist

This Sunday was the first Sunday since January that I haven’t preached or been a part of a morning worship service. I wasn’t preaching because I was in Asheville celebrating an almost 6-year old’s birthday and trying to wrestle an almost 7-month-old through a dance recital.

Before the dance recital, we gathered at the girls’ mom and stepdad’s house and decided to make brunch. I thought about how strange it was to not be preparing to preach as I wandered around an unknown grocery store trying to find some last minute ingredients. I wondered how about the people of New Hope who I’ve been journeying with for the last 10 weeks were doing. I wondered how the people at Emmanuel were doing as they gathered to worship in wake of the loss of one of our members. I wondered about my friends and colleagues in ministry and when the last time they had taken a Sunday off was.

And when we got back from the grocery store, I lost myself standing by a stove in the sacred art of making grits and pulling popping bacon from hot grease when it was just a little past brown on the edges. And I thought, this is a holy calling. And I wondered if the last supper that we have turned into a symbol of solemnity was actually friends who believed that the world could be different who were sharing bread and wine just as we were sharing grits, bacon, and coffee.

It’s Scary as Hell to Be a Parent

Ben and Mama

I did it again.

I went to his room and peaked over the crib railing to make sure he was breathing. He’s been sleeping on his side since he was a day old, but still it scares me to death, especially when he covers his face with both hands, just like he did in all of his ultrasound pictures. I know there are apps and video monitors designed and sold to parents to quell our worries and concerns, but I still have to go and check. I have to see his belly moving up and down with my own eyes or hear his soft snore with my own ears.

It’s scary as hell to be a parent.

Because when you’re not worried about whether he or she is breathing while sleeping, you’re worried about whether he or she is getting enough food or gaining enough weight. And then when he or she stops sleeping and wakes up more during the night you worry about why he or she isn’t sleeping. Is it teething or sickness or a growth spurt?  And then you go to the doctor and they tell you what percentage he or she is in height and weight and head size, giving you three more things to be worried about not to mention the list of developmental goals you are supposed to be monitoring and assessing and encouraging. And then you see other kids around his or her age and wonder if your kid is doing the things those kids are doing. And if your kid is doing something different than the other kids, you wonder if that is something to be concerned about or not.

It’s scary as hell to be a parent.

Because you’re responsible for this mini human and his or her well being. You are responsible for helping him or her grow and learn. And when he or she gets to the point that he or she can do things independently like walk and eat and go to the potty, then you have to start teaching him or her what it means to live in community: to share and do unto others as you would have them do unto you and respect caregivers who give their time and energy and love and support.

It’s scary as hell to be a parent.

Because then you have to walk with him or her when he or she encounters the brokenness that exists in the world. You are the ones who tell him or her when someone they love is sick. You are the ones that have to tell him or her that our bodies don’t last forever and that sometimes the people or pets we love die because people and pets aren’t designed to live forever. And then you have to wonder how to explain the divine to these mini humans whose minds and bodies are really still mostly concentrated and attuned to learning how to be human. And you have to decide whether you are going to tell them what to believe or what we believe or encourage them to believe what they believe even if it’s different than what you want them to believe.

It’s scary as hell to be a parent.

Because you see the worst and the best in your children and you pray desperately that the worst won’t win as often as it wins within you, but that the best parts of you and the best parts of your partner might somehow miraculously be the only parts that this mini human receives. You encourage the good and address the bad trying every parenting method that you’ve read about, sometimes all within one day. And you hope and pray that you are doing something right.

It’s scary as hell to be a parent.

Because then you end up preaching a sermon from John’s gospel and read before a community of faith, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” And you realize that even though it’s scary as hell to be a parent, you are the parcel of peace presented to these mini humans because of the Holy Spirit is dwelling or staying within you. And you remember that even thought it’s scary, you don’t want to teach your children fear, but peace and wholeness in a world of brokenness.

And so you whisper, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you,” as you say goodbye and send your girls back to their mom’s and as you go to peak over the side of the crib railing just one more time to make sure he’s breathing.

I Was Taught to Be Afraid

I was taught to be afraid –

of dying before I knew that I knew that I knew I was saved,

 

of missing opportunities to lead others to Christ,

of not being an example to all the nonbelievers,

of living outside of God’s perfect will,

of being myself.

 

I was taught to be afraid –

of walking in parking lots by myself at night,

of boys with bad intentions,

of talking to strangers,

of the homeless, the helpless, the desperate,

of people different than me.

 

I will teach my children –

awareness to see the needs surrounding them,

compassion for all people,

hope to share with the hopeless and the desperate,

love to heal the broken and those in pain,

confidence in their strength and their instincts,

 

I will not teach fear.