Friday, August 29, 2014

A Curriculum of Compassion

As you may or may not know, we are a family that has chosen to "do" school here at home (and in the car and on the road and in the grass and under trees...). As you also may or may not know, this endeavor has been the source of both great joy and personal angst. 

Throughout this journey (officially seven years but, in reality, twelve) I have struggled with maintaining autonomy in our learning practices, all the while not succumbing to the demon of comparison, approval from others, or a general yet, ginormous, fear of failure.

It is true--homeschooling is not for the faint-hearted. But neither is parenting so I'm not so different from any other person who has chosen to walk with young people.

Oh, how I need these hands to hold.

Additionally, I bring to this educational endeavor all of my mixed up, conflicted selves -- The good girl who likes to please those who are watching as well as the rebel who will do what she wants anyway. I want structured chaos. I want to disciple and detox. I want to set a course and then take the fork when it presents itself. I want to showcase and shelter. I want good behavior and wild abandon.

But most of all?

I pray that my scattered deposits into the lives of these gorgeous people will be my gift to the world. I hope that our journey in loving and learning will be a polestar for my children and that its light will always fall across their paths.

Generally, we are very relaxed and eclectic in the way that we do school. I've always shied away from curriculum in a box and, if pushed, have just let go and handed over the reins to my boys. My oldest son prefers that approach anyway. He has declared, on more than one occasion, that he would rather "just be in charge of [his] own learning", thank you very much. But then time will pass and I will look around me and I will wring my hands over the fact that we haven't mastered times tables or spelling and suddenly I become all business.

It is this hemming and hawing that feeds the angst. This has been the cycle.

And then last October I had a baby and in April my mom died and suddenly I find myself staring down an entire year that has spun wildly off its axis. Navigating the last eleven months has been like stumbling around in the dark and all I want is someone to turn on the light and point the way. But here we are, almost to September, and I need to hunker down and lay down some semblance of a map for us to follow.

Even if all I have are some crumbs.

And then #Ferguson happened and, once again, there is that wild spinning...

And I am forced to lay it all before the One that knows it all. Because, if I know anything at all, it is this:

I cannot, and will not, 
separate our slow steps forward 
from the truth that is #Ferguson.

This "learning" that we do?

If it is to be all that I desire it to be, if it is to leave marks that cannot be rubbed away from the hearts of my little men, if it is to offer anything to the globe upon which we dance--then it must open space for the suffering and lament of others. Because, in the end, all we have is each other, friends and so we must enter into the hard places. Together.

It came to me in the quiet of the morning, in that corner of space that gives birth to light and dew drops and revelation.

From now on, from this day forward, in this spot of a place that houses boys and weeds and love, we will study a curriculum of compassion. It will be the sound of our feet stepping into the suffering of others that will tune our hearts to what changes the world. It will be our willingness to hang everything of value onto the framework of brokenness that will cut open our shuttered hearts and make us open vessels for renewal.

This must be. I know this with a certainty that belies my usual conflicted self. This must be because this is the way to glory.

The truth of my heart doesn't want to walk that way. Not really. But the desire of my heart is to walk in this way and I want my boys to walk this path. I want to grab those hands of theirs, squeeze tight and confess that I have no idea what I am doing--what we are doing--but here we go anyway.

Because to continue on as if #Ferguson was just an anomaly and not indicative of a greater experience for an entire group of people is to purposely choose the garb of privilege. I'm ready to risk my position and call out the Emperor. I will no longer pretend that the clothes fit.

Instead, I want us to choose threads colored by sacrifice and suffering, humility and hospitality, love and loss and weave them into new wineskins.

I want my boys to learn that nothing in the Kingdom is earned. Not a single thing. Life together is about grace upon grace and mercy untold. The value of a person is not based on how forcefully they pull up their boot straps or under whose roof they are born. No, this Kingdom living? It is directed by how well we share our weaknesses, how willing we are to reveal that which we do not know, how empty we are willing to get. This is where we must begin. This is where love is born.

So this weaving we will do? It will begin small.

The weft and the warp threads will be set through the silent and often unseen actions. We will fill the bird feeders and water the zinnias. We will continue as a family to read aloud books like Wonder and A Long Walk to Water and then sit with the difficult questions that stir up from their truths.

But my prayer is that we will keep walking forward, into the foggy valleys. I want us to hone our vision so that our eyes become keen to the needs of our community. I hope to move closer to an "us" mentality rather than one that hisses "them." May it come to be that we seek to grow smaller so that others can grow taller. We will study History by listening to all of the voices--Bauer, Zinn, Douglass, Steinem, AND Schweickart--no matter how uncomfortable they make us feel.

But most importantly--I need your help. I need your voice. Every last beautiful one of you. Because this course of study is a river and it is fed by many sources. You and your life? Please speak into ours. Let us ripple into each other.

"It is from the numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal or acts to improve the lot of others or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance." 
-- Robert F. Kennedy

For such is the way of peace.

Photo credit: Andrew Hyde


  1. This deeply moved me, on many levels. I was educated largely at home, due to health issues. It was an advantage, in every respect, though I think children who are homeschooled need a course of exercise, and not just play. Again, the homeschooling parent has the strong hand, as PE is seldom offered anymore, in public schools.
    But I was more touched by your commitment to teaching your children about the minority community, which is separate and unknown to most caucasians. Virtually every African American over 60 is a living witness to the history of the Civil Rights Movement. And young Black America is focused on reparations as the means to balance a ledger out of balance since slavery, and a base for an independent economy, nationwide and an alternative to a corporate America that all Black Americans know is tainted, wholly, by racism.
    Frederick Douglass' s Autobiography has never been bettered as a source, but to know the minority community, one must go there, across railroad tracks where steeples are thick as woods. The Black community is conservative, spiritual, education- oriented, and fueled , often, by rage. But it welcomes the deep- souled. The family that chooses to worship with it during the nation's most segregated hour, is never turned away.


  3. YES. Oh, a thousand times yes. What a manifesto and a light by which to see. Thank you for courageously naming your path, dear Holly, both for your family -- AND, I suspect, for countless others of us (whatever our different manifestations may be).

    Your quote at the end reminded me of another gem by another of the Kennedys - JFK: "Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought." And YOU, my friend, are raising thinkers. A noble venture, indeed. ... I'm so glad I know the Granthams.

  4. Kelli dear, I am walking forward into this desire completely buoyed by the strength of those who come alongside of me. It is folks like you, friend, who teach and shape me, who live out these truths in their simple, beautiful, every day lives. This is a movement of togetherness--nothing less. Thank you for linking arms. Always.

  5. Charles,
    I am so thankful for your perspectives here--that of your own homeschooling experiences and, perhaps more importantly, that of learning about, and from, those who are different from us. I have been thinking a great deal these past few weeks about how very little I know and that the best way to remedy that reality is to commit to listening. I want to stop assuming that I understand and, instead, I want to come from a place of emptiness. I want to make room for the voices of others instead of the ones I have on repeat--the ones that have perpetuated a comfort that I can live with and by which I need not change. For a time in our early marriage, my husband and I worshiped with a predominantly African American congregation in the city of Atlanta. I cannot fully articulate all the ways that I was changed while sitting in that sanctuary. But I can say this--it always felt like home.

  6. I cannot stop thinking about this post and the three words "curriculum of compassion." I'm praying for the practice of such a study to be a reality. I will return to your words, dear Holly, often over the weeks to come.

  7. Beautifully said, Holly. Although I know myself well enough to know that I could not have done this 35+ years ago, I do believe it is the best possible answer for many families today. Blessings as you craft this curriculum and learn together.

  8. Holly, I love your ideas and your heart! I want to teach my kids a "curriculum of compassion" too! My first reaction to reading anything about kids is a feeling of inadequacy and that I am already screwing them up, but I know that to be a lie! God gave us our kids with our particular strengths and weaknesses and we are enough. God never beats us up with what we aren't doing, just gently encourages us onward. And this post is definitely an encouragement to me.