The seasons are changing. I’ve been able to run outside again after a summer on the treadmill. I’m about to exchange my summer wardrobe for sweaters and boots. My beverage of choice is transitioning from sweet tea to chai tea or a pumpkin spice latte. And we very recently had the last first day of school before my oldest child starts kindergarten. Next year, her picture will be among the hundreds in my facebook newsfeed—she’ll be wearing a backpack that engulfs her tiny body and holding a small chalkboard that says “First day of Kindergarten, 2015.”
Where will kindergarten be? We live in a school district with low ratings. We have two options that I was willing to consider: enroll our daughter in a private Christian school or move to a better public school district than the one we’re in. The first was most appealing to me for several reasons. First—I don’t want to move. I love our humble first home, and wanted to have more equity in it before selling it. This house holds sentimental value, as well—it’s where we conceived our second, third, and fourth children and where we brought our second living child home from the hospital. It’s where I prayed with my older daughter for the first time. It holds the room where I spent countless hours in prayer and studying scripture as I tried to hold onto a faith that was escaping. Next—I went to a private college-preparatory high school, and I loved it. I felt just as prepared for the academic demands of college as my public school peers. My specific school’s SAT/ACT averages were significantly higher than the local public schools’ averages, although I’ve never investigated to see if this is a common trend outside of the area where I grew up. I also appreciate the smaller student to teacher ratio (on average) that private schools offer. Finally, I think I was still holding on to some desire to give my children the Christian education that I know they will lack in our home. If I were wrong, at least they would be getting it somewhere outside of church.
My husband’s closest local friend has said that private schools tend to produce weak adults. I resent that generalization and must resist the temptation to be angry about it—I know that I only hear about fragments of his conversations with my husband, and I’m trying not to take it personally (even though he knows I spent my entire education in a private school). But what does he mean by that? Do my readers care to chime in—do any of you share these thoughts? I’d love to hear your opinions. My husband and I toured a local Christian elementary school this week. As we drove there, I wanted to love it, despite (and maybe even because of) our friend’s opinion—this is comfortable to me, and public school is a great unknown. For the record, I think I’m a strong product of a private school.
As we toured the school, our guide placed significant emphasis on the spiritual mission of the school. I thought that this was what I secretly wanted. I thought that I could hold on tightly to this one last thing that might allow my girls to be covered in prayer and confronted with the power of scripture and the person of Jesus. Instead, I felt sick to my stomach. I felt panicked, like the scripture-covered walls were closing in on me, and I knew I couldn’t bring my girls into this echo chamber. As she spoke of the importance of being “on the same page” with regard to belief, the primary goal of developing Christian leaders (with a secondary goal of education) and of the imperative to be “brothers and sisters in Christ as we offer our children something infinitely more important than an academic curriculum,” I was inwardly gasping for air and longing to return to earth’s atmosphere outside of the walls of that building. I was relieved when we walked out of the school, and even more so when we left the parking lot. What struck me was that I felt in that school what I have only ever felt when I was around what I would previously have described as “evil.” It felt like the time I watched my dad and brother almost get killed in a drug deal that went south. It felt like when my dad was high and abusive. It felt like secret promiscuity, or the bar in London I never should have walked into, or the witchcraft I saw during a summer in Africa. I felt far from home, and I realized—home has moved. Of course this school isn’t evil, and I would never really compare Christian education to attempted murder or drug abuse or child abuse. But just as I didn’t belong in those places, I didn’t feel that I belonged in this school—so I could never take my child there. My feelings of discomfort in the past probably never had anything to do with sensing evil or feeling discernment from the Holy Spirit. If they did, why would I be feeling the same thing in a spirit-filled place?
With time, this is getting easier. My husband commented the other day that this is the longest I’ve gone without exhibiting some sign of despair at my loss of faith. He’s right. Even when my posts have been consistently strong in doubt, he has seen my personal battle—and he’s not seeing it now. I haven’t really even given any of this much thought over the past few weeks, and I certainly haven’t written here. I have not had much time, but I have also not felt the need to convince myself of anything that I wish to believe or not believe (which, in hindsight, seems to have motivated my blogging in the past). So this is at least a new season, and maybe a new era.
I’ve always loved Ecclesiastes 3, even though it’s over-used, simply because I can always find a place for myself in it. Christians and non-Christians alike are familiar with those words, because they transcend the boundaries of religion and time. Sometimes they’re beautifully true, and sometimes painfully true. Over the past couple of years, I’ve had a hard time seeing past the painful truth. I’ve seen a lot of the tragic half of each line. I’m ready for the other half, and that’s partially what this blog is about—finding the other half of the lines of Ecclesiastes 3, or at the very least realizing that I wouldn’t appreciate them so much when they do come if I never experienced the less desirable half.
We lost my husband’s mother two years ago. A time to die—although it certainly didn’t seem like her time. A tragic disease robbed her of life’s quality over the course of hours and robbed her of its breath over the course of the next 9 months. A time to mourn. What else takes 9 months? We conceived our second, third, and fourth children in the latter half of 2012 and early half of 2013. The second and third were early losses. A time to weep. The fourth had a time to be born, and she sleeps soundly in the next room as I write.
And then, of course, there is the focus of this blog. Over recent months and years, so much has changed. At times it has felt like what was planted was plucked up too early, what was built was broken down violently, and that I was cast away or even hated. But the very idea of seasons implies that things are temporary—that this, too, shall pass. That joy comes in the morning—or at least some morning. Ecclesiastes 3 is about life, not about faith, and if I can stop feeling rejected by a God I don’t believe in, I can finally start to heal.
So we’re putting our daughter in public schools, because that’s what feels right to us now. We’re moving away from a terrible school district and our precious first home where I have been convinced of God’s presence, certain of his abandonment, and unsure of his existence—a home where we have grieved death and welcomed new life. It’s what’s best for our daughter, and it’s best for us.
We’re moving on, in so many ways. This is a time to plant—to put down new roots. A time to build up—with new walls that don’t close us in or condemn us or confine our children to beliefs they might not have otherwise chosen. A time to gather stones together—to recover what was scattered and arrange it differently. To keep—to cherish the valuable lessons that faith has taught us and the friendships it has given us. To speak—to converse here with others, even when we do not always share others’ doubts or beliefs. To love—to stay together, even though we’re so different from who we were when we made a life-long promise of loyalty. This is a time for healing.