Wednesday, February 22, 2017

On Parenting and School Choice

Learning about the first
Thanksgiving
My school experience began at age 5; after a mix of babysitters and daycare and preschool, I nervously walked with my mom into the kindergarten annex at my local elementary school.  My first teacher was Mrs. Hampton, who wore dresses with frilly lace collars and had a smile perpetually fixed on her face.  She taught us letters and how to share clothes in the dress-up station.  She showed us how to make goo and get fantastically messy.  Although we were only at school for half a day, we went outside for recess each morning, whether in the blistering Texas heat or the chilly months of winter.

I moved smoothly along, the hall of my elementary school beginning with First Grade at one end, with its tiny toilets and miniature desks, and growing towards Fourth Grade at the opposite side of the building.  Each year, I was taught by wonderful women and surrounded by an assortment of children from the area.  When I recall those years, I am just as likely to think about the Hispanic and Korean classmates who carried the smell on their clothes of their parents' ethnic cooking as I am to remember lessons in cursive and multiplication.  We learned songs for PTA meetings and wore our best clothes for picture days; our happiness was dependent upon how well we did in "Around the World."


My education continued in public schools, through the challenges of middle school (acne! boys! braces! changing classes! moving to a new state!) to the rigor of high school academics.  I was challenged by my teachers, I was encouraged to dream big for my future, I found myself accepting a diploma at graduation feeling as though I had exerted very little effort to arrive at that point.  I even managed to graduate from a public university in my new home of Ohio (a much harder earned degree), and everything told me that life could now begin.

The last thing I expected when I became a mother (nearly a decade ago...) was to put so much effort into my children's education.  My own experience as a student had truly been propelled by an invisible conveyor belt; my parents rarely attended parent-teacher conferences and expected me to handle disagreements with teachers and classmates myself.  But any expectation of self-reliance for my son went out the window when we received a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.  After all, you can't very well expect a child to stand up for his rights when he can't even talk.  Suddenly, I was navigating a world I didn't even know existed in order to find the right classroom, the best teacher, for a child with very different needs from my own.  Once he had a place, then came the endless waves of evaluations and paperwork.  IEP meetings.  Speech therapy appointments.  Progress reports that were often blank or incomplete because my son refused to cooperate with his teachers.

There was no option to take his education for granted, to expect that he would attend school with his younger brothers, or even to rely on a classroom's effectiveness for longer than a year.  As his needs and abilities shifted, I had to re-assess which environment would serve him best.  By the time he was in third grade, he'd gone to four different schools.  Ideal for a child who struggles with transitions, right?

And now we find ourselves at the end of February, observing an anniversary of sorts.  A year ago, I got a phone call that changed everything, a call that determined my next steps as a mother who will do whatever is necessary to make sure her son is able to learn.  It was a Friday afternoon, and I spent the weekend ensuring that he would not set foot in his classroom again.  I kept my son home with me, my son who had transformed over six disastrous months into a ball of anxiety and emotion and couldn't even hear the word "school" without completely melting down.  I took everything I knew about third grade, about my son and his special brain, and I sat with him Monday through Friday, working on Math and Science and Language Arts.  We took a "green hour" each day at noon, a chance to walk outside and look at leaves and animals and lay in the grass.  We watched videos on pbs.org and created experiments in the kitchen.  We called it "work" instead of the dreaded "s" word.  Rather quickly, the sweet child I remembered from the summer before returned.

Doing schoolwork
on the couch
In the evenings, I researched the options.  After meeting with a district representative, it was clear that there was no solution within the district that would truly work for my son, especially given his strong feelings about returning to a school building.  I also weighed my own abilities.  I do not have a teaching degree, nor any sort of para-professional qualifications; elementary education was NEVER on my radar as a potential career.  So an interesting scenario presented itself:  what if my son enrolled in an online school, with my role basically serving as a tutor as he completed assignments and online lessons?  This prompted more research, as not all online and alternative schools are created equal.  We settled on k12 based on its reputation and recommendations from parents who had positive experiences with the school.  I spent several weeks of my summer scanning the extensive documentation for my son and coordinating with the school so that we were prepared for the first day.

It took a few weeks to adapt to the new curriculum and style of education, but with two-thirds of the coursework complete and summer break looming on the horizon, I can safely say that this option has worked well for us.  My son is thriving, both emotionally and academically, learning new concepts each week and pushing himself harder than he ever has (with more than a little prodding from this mama).  We've begun conversations about where he'd like to do school next year, with his emphatic vote going to online school.  It's challenged me in ways that I didn't expect, and certainly takes a huge chunk of time out of my days at a time when I thought I'd be luxuriating in the worst stereotypes of stay-at-home mothers.  But rather than eating bonbons and watching TV all day, I find myself wolfing sandwiches during math lessons and helping my son spell big words as he's writing a persuasive paper.

In the past year, I've become aware that I could have done more to keep my son in his brick and mortar school.  I could have escalated my concerns sooner, I could have demanded that the district enforce his rights as a student to a free and appropriate education.  But I didn't know the intricacies of the law the way educators do, I wasn't able to hold the system accountable for the services they're meant to provide.  And, quite frankly, my son's mind is too precious a thing to languish in a bad situation indefinitely.

A literacy outing
with fellow online students
I know that I did the right thing for him, just as sending my other children to the exact same school district every day is what is best for them.  And this post has been difficult to get out, because I feel so conflicted about the whole thing.  I love public schools.  I wouldn't be able to write this without the men and women who taught me year after year.  I wouldn't be the woman I am today without the experiences of changing in a girl's locker room and dissecting a fetal pig and having a teacher admonish me for talking too much and having my work praised in front of the entire class.  The traditional school system worked for me, as I believe it does for many kids.  But it doesn't work for everyone.  People like my son struggle with a barrage of sensory issues and communication challenges.  It was only because he had such compassionate and gifted educators that he was able to make it as far as he did in the system, because the single variable of being in class with a woman who was not prepared to teach him derailed the entire thing.

I don't know which side to join when people demand that public schools be given proper funding and teachers be permitted to educate their students rather than teach them how to take a standardized test...I fully support this attitude.  But then those same people insist that school choice is destroying our nation's public education system, and pulling my son from his school and switching to an online program is part of the problem.  I cannot agree with those arguments.  Likewise, I find myself nodding along with proponents of alternative schooling options, who say that not every child will do well in a traditional classroom, and having options for those kids is necessary to upholding our country's value of equal access to education for everyone.  Of course they are right!  I've seen this happen in my own house!  But they don't want schools to be held to equal standards, or they want to abolish the neighborhood schools and replace them all with for-profit charters, and I cannot give my support to such a ludicrous idea.

So here I sit in No-Moms-Land, believing in the ability to make alternative arrangements for my child as needed, but also wanting all schools to be held to high standards so that every student can receive their free and appropriate education.  I'm upset by lawmakers who don't seem to know anything about the very schools they are legislating and seem to care so little for the millions of children and teachers preparing for another day of hard work.  I'm disheartened that so many parents would rather homeschool their children than wade into the murky mess that our public school system has become.  I ache for the countless educators who abandon this most important job each year because shifting standards and changing evaluation systems have sucked their joy so they have nothing left to give their students.  And now I have to push all of this to the side so that I can prepare my son for his vocabulary test in the morning.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Today {it happened on a sunday} Day 31

What I believe today, and where my journey has brought me (so far):

1. Embrace Difficulty  I've learned that it is not in good times that I grow.  Not that I don't enjoy and welcome the periods when my life is peaceful, when there is plenty, when I am well-loved by those around me.  But I have come to recognize that difficulty and heartache are the necessary ingredients to change, and out of every hard stage, I have emerged stronger, braver, and more capable of loving others.

2. Live in Community  I wanted so badly to be an island, to accomplish everything on my own, to go through life hidden and unseen.  You guys, that is a horrible way to live.  My journey has brought me into the lives of so many amazing people, and it has shown me how important living in community is.  Of course it is hard at times.  Absolutely I have been hurt, and I'm sure I've done some hurting.  We aren't perfect, none of us.  But we need each other.

3. Be Open  I loved my walls that I put up.  I thought they protected me, kept me safe from harm.  And maybe they did, for a while.  But they also hurt me.  They kept me from truth, from love, from freedom.  Don't live inside the walls.  Live in openness to all that this messy, beautiful, challenging life has to offer.  Never stop learning.  Never stop trying new things.  Never give up.

4. Practice Honesty  My first experiments with lying centered around keeping painful secrets and trying to be someone I wasn't.  But deceit soon became a part of who I was.  Being honest and telling the truth are still difficult for me.  It's scary to offer myself up without half-truths and manipulations.  I couldn't be open, living in community, and embracing difficulty if I continued to be dishonest.

Thanks for joining me this month!  I hope everyone reading has had the opportunity to reflect on their own journey of faith and gained a better understanding of the people and circumstances that have contributed to who they are today.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Soul {it happened on a sunday} day 30


We spent yesterday at a funeral.  It was the first one we took our children in six years, since they spend the first five minutes of their great-grandpa's service screaming and pounding on a window and I excused myself and took them on a walk through the woods behind the church.  To be fair, they were ages 3 and not quite 1 (and the youngest not yet born), so thinking they would be able to sit through a Catholic funeral service might have been naive of us.  But the memory of that day, and my missed opportunity to mourn the passing of my husband's grandfather, and my inability to be there with him during an emotional day, was heavy on my mind.

I spent the past week talking to the boys about death, a concept that they don't entirely grasp yet.  I explained that death is something that makes us sad, because we will miss the person who has gone.  I explained that real life is not like video games, that people don't regenerate (or respawn).  We get one chance at the life we're given.  And I explained that I believe we each have a soul connected to our bodies in life, and that death is the departure of the soul.

I have attended, maybe not a lot, but certainly enough, funerals and calling hours in my life, and the existence of the soul is more evident to me in its absence.  I have looked upon the bodies of family and loved ones, and the strange stillness, the complete absence of them makes it an uncomfortable experience.  Whatever made that person laugh or cry or want to dance is gone; the love that they showed me, that I was able to return, has left.

And what more than these issues of life or death is at the crux of faith, of the major belief systems of our world?  None of us has first-hand experience, concrete evidence of what happens to that soul after it departs.  We are left to imagine, to wonder, to seek out the spiritual when the physical world has failed us.  For me, this is where I lean heavily on the writer of Hebrews, who states in chapter 11, verse 1, "To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see."

My beliefs about life after death, about the existence and nature of heaven and hell, have undergone many iterations, as I'm sure you can deduce from this series.  This is where I stand today, being certain of my hopes that the promises from the end of Revelation are true, and that one day God will bring all of His people together in a new city, where all the former things have passed away.  I long for God to dwell in my midst, to wipe every tear from my eyes, to bring about a place where there is no more death or sorrow or pain.  I cannot see a spiritual plane where men and women come together and worship God for all eternity, but I believe it is there, and I believe some day I will get to live among them.  I believe I will see familiar faces, though they may be altered from how I remember them, clothed in the fullness of who God made them to be.  I believe we won't struggle to understand each other any longer, that the defining characteristic of eternity will be unity in thought and purpose.

It also seems clear from my study of the Bible that some people won't be there, that some will miss out on this experience.  All I can say about that, is how glad I am that I don't serve in the role of judge.  I trust God to know the hearts of all mankind, to know our thoughts as well as our deeds, and to correctly designate the eternal resting place of every soul.  This certainly complicates things here, and we argue with each other and label religious ideas as "hate" or intolerance.  I agree that this is harsh, but I also know that if I claim to believe some parts of the Bible, then I need to own a belief in the whole book.  The promises of God are amazing and sometimes exceedingly generous.  So are God's warnings.

The most closely held belief I have, in regards to the soul, is that God desires an abundant life for every person.  I believe that abundance begins here and now and only grows in the world beyond what we can see.  I have experienced fullness in this life, as a mother, as a wife, as a friend.  I see God's goodness on display in a funeral service with 30 people gathered to celebrate 90 years of life, for the way we care for each other in our grief and continue the love and tenderness practiced by our parents and grandparents.  I feel that abundance in the laughter that accompanies the sharing of stories, the common memories, and the closely protected treasures of family.  With the awareness of life and death so timely, I continue to hope that when my life has reached its conclusion, there will be something worth celebrating by those I leave behind.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Mind {it happened on a sunday} day 29

"Summing it all up, friends, I'd say you'll do best by filling your
minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable,
authentic, compelling, gracious--
the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly;
things to praise, not to curse."  Philippians 4:8

In my youth, I sought to fill my mind with knowledge.  I wanted to read everything, see everything, experience everything.  I thought this would complete me, that somehow information could protect me and elevate me.  I didn't want to be weak, or afraid, or unaware.  When my dad banned "Sweet Valley High" books from our house (because of "mature" content), my sister and I got them from the library and hid them in our closets to sneak out at night.  When some kids from my youth group gathered to watch "Reservoir Dogs," I joined them and forced myself to watch the bloody final scene.  I didn't want anyone to put limits on what I could put into my brain.

Maybe it was a result of the depression I experienced in college, or perhaps it had something to do with my real commitment to God a few years later, but in my adult years, I have cared far more about filtering what goes in.  I confidently state that I don't enjoy scary movies, so now I don't watch them.  I look away if a scene gets too bloody; I always skip the first five minutes of "The Blind Side."  I stopped reading "Sweet Valley High" and Danielle Steel a long time ago, deciding that I didn't need to confuse myself about what love and relationships are actually supposed to be like.

I seek out information that will help me be a better wife and mother and friend, and I look for what is true and worthy of my attention in a world that never stops screaming at me to LOOK.  And I'll be the first to admit that it's hard to know when to listen and when to turn away.  The area of life where this might be the most difficult and confusing right now is online.  There are hoaxes and satirical news sites, and sometimes it takes a minute to realize when something is false.

That's why we need to take a minute.

I got really frustrated a week or two ago, when a bunch of my Facebook friends kept sharing and reposting the same status about how they had spoken to a lawyer and were stating as a legally binding contract that Facebook didn't have permission to charge them for use.  Come on.  Snopes.com exists for this very reason, to debunk myths and falsehoods that are spread online.  So why did none of these friends look there before sharing?  A local non-profit shared a "news story" a few years ago that 7 people had died on the first day that Colorado legalized marijuana.  I clicked on the link, incredulous, since I've never before heard of a single person dying from pot, much less seven.  The website contained titles of other stories, like that Sarah Palin had accidentally flown to South Korea instead of South Africa for Nelson Mandela's funeral.  Come on.  That's obviously a joke, which should bring the veracity of any other stories into question.

Then there are the sites that don't make me roll my eyes, but actually feel concerned for my friends. There are websites that are full of horrifying headlines, predicting economic collapse and poison in your water and identity thieves sitting in your driveway jumping on your unsecured wifi.  I followed a link posted by a friend to an article whose facts were dubious, and I could feel my heart rate elevate just scrolling through list of other stories.  If people are looking at garbage like that every day, they are bound to feel afraid and in danger all the time.  I want better for my friends.  I want better for myself.

Which is why I copied the verse from Philippians onto a card and carried it around with me for a few years, then taped it to a cupboard in my kitchen so I could see it regularly.  I need a reminder to look away from the terrible lies of this world, permission to discern the information I'm consuming, a sign that truth is real and there is a source that never lies.  God serves that role for me.  In the Biblical book of James, we are warned not to be people who are tossed around like a ship in the ocean, for such people who cannot make up their minds will receive nothing from God.  In the first century, readers of this book would have been duped by differing religious practices and false stories.  Today, we are just as likely to be tossed around by internet hoaxes and malicious content.

So let us guard our minds, and focus on God.  Let us ignore the click-bait articles and divisive headlines in favor of eternal truth.  Let us focus on one another, on building each other up, rather than spreading false rumors and scaring each other.  Let us each be our best selves in person and online, rather than the worst.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Body {it happened on a sunday} day 28

Effortless
After I popped out a couple of kids and turned 30, I was faced with a slowing metabolism.  (I know some of my friends will read this and make some sound of audible derision.  I am still blessed by a better metabolism than I deserve.)  For the first time in my life, I have had to actually take care of my body, to think about what I'm putting into it and how that affects what I'm getting out of it.  As a child, and even a teenager, I didn't need to prepare to run in gym class or put my legs behind my head.  I was always skinny, always ate things I liked, always had energy for the activities I wanted to be part of.  Ah, the blissful ignorance of youth.

Now, I have to work at it.  I have to force myself to eat salads and drink water if I want to keep fitting in my clothes.  I have to start running weeks before a race in order to finish in the top third.  I have to sweat to Jillian Michaels if I want to keep carrying my growing children.  And there's a strange payoff that happens as a result of all this effort to take care of my body:  I love it.  I never once looked in a mirror as a teenager and liked what I saw.  I always felt as though I was lacking.  Now, 30 pounds heavier and 5 times stronger, I like my body.  I feel proud of what I can do with it.  I feel good when I run long distances.  I'm glad to be able to keep up with my kids.

That's why it makes sense to me that Paul says, in 1 Corinthians 12, that the church is one BODY.  "God has placed each part in the body just as he wanted it to be.  If all the parts were the same, how could there be a body?  As it is, there are many parts.  But there is only one body."  I am a part of the body.  When I was young, I took that for granted.  I assumed all the people who loved me and took care of me would always be there.  I looked down on people who acted or spoke or believed differently than me.  I assumed there was only one right way to be a Christian.  I felt entitled to that community, though I did nothing to make it better.  I wasn't taking my place in the body.

Now I'm an adult.  I'm learning how to take care of my physical body as I'm also learning to love and care for the spiritual body of which I am a part.  I can still remember, when I had returned to church and began spending time with the youth group, how one of the other adults just rubbed me the wrong way.  I rolled my eyes when she spoke.  I mentally contradicted her.  Initially, I assumed that I was doing something right, and that she was getting it all wrong.  Most of this revolved around me feeling young and relevant, and her, with her ever-present knitting needles and glasses on the end of her nose, seeming old and out of touch.  But then I really saw her, because I saw how the students responded to her.  They loved her.  They liked what she brought to the group.  And they liked me too, so I began to see that her presence didn't diminish mine.  Instead, we expanded each other, the way a hand needs an arm or a foot needs a leg.  They look different from each other, they do different things, but they work together to get it done.  We need them both.

With this shattering realization came a whole second look at the people around me.  I didn't need to feel inferior because someone else was really good at organizing trips or liked teaching preschoolers. I didn't need to feel superior because some people weren't great at talking to strangers or remembering chunks of Scripture.  I could see more clearly my part of a greater whole, and how much better it was for each of us to do the work before us, together, than for each of us to try to do everything alone.

Working for it
I'm still learning how to take care of my body.  I make mistakes, like thinking that blueberry muffins are healthy (because...fruit!).  I make the wrong choice, like drinking that half gallon of Pepsi today instead of water (because...sugar!).  I do what feels comfortable instead of what I know is right, like sitting on the couch and binge watching "Orange is the New Black" rather than training for an upcoming race (because...Crazy Eyes!  Pennsatucky!  Big Boo!  Sofia!  Taystee!  Lorna!  Wow, I love, like, every character on that show).

The same goes with my spiritual body.  I know I'm not getting it right every time.  I know I've made mistakes in the past.  I know I've chosen comfort over what is right.  But I keep coming back to Paul's words, "If one part suffers, every part suffers with it.  If one part is honored, every part shares in its joy."  Our body is suffering right now.  It is hurting, because there are hurt people in our churches, and there are hurt people no longer coming to our churches.  This body isn't just the one building where I attend every other Sunday, or a single denomination, this body is the CHURCH, every single person on the face of the planet who believes in Jesus who is living and who has ever lived.

That's.  My.  Body.

That's who I need to care about.  That's who I need to work with.  That's where I need to get in my place and do my part.  Let's recommit to each other like it's New Year's Day, and this is the year we get in shape.  Let's reach for the water bottle and ride our bikes to work and skip that second dessert by seeing the good in each other, seeing the purpose and necessity in a body with many diverse parts, giving each other permission to use our eyes to see and our ears to hear and our hands to hold.  Let's stop insisting that everyone be a foot or an elbow, or thinking that just because we've never seen the lungs before, that they must not be part of the body.

God has placed each part in the body just as he wanted it to be.  So let's get that body race-ready.
Run your race

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Identity {it happened on a sunday} day 27

Something that amazes me about God, when I spent some time studying the Old Testament a few years ago, is how he would speak to people, or appear in a burning bush, and the first thing they wanted to know is Who are you?  And God would respond "I AM."  No qualifications, no adjectives, no titles.  Just those two simple words to encompass the sovereignty, omnipotence, and eternal nature of God.

When I am asked to introduce myself, an avalanche of words pop into my brain.  I am...mother.  Wife.  Daughter.  Sister.  Friend.  I am...writer.  Woman.  American.  I am...candy addict.  Lover of sleep.  Voracious reader.  Procrastinator.  How is it that I need so many words to describe my own limited nature, and God encapsulates His in two?

Fifteen years ago, there were other words that could describe me, words that were said to my face.  I was not a good person.  The word we tossed around at church to describe someone who stopped going was "heathen."  Another that comes to mind is "lost."  And I've continued to carry those words, long after they ceased to be true.

It was a Sunday not too long ago, gathered with my Village, that someone offered me another perspective.  It was Sarah who pointed out that I've changed from the person I once was; in fact, God promises His people again and again in the Bible that He will transform them, make them new.  And I had to re-evaluate my identity in light of this revelation.  This series, in fact, has helped me see things more clearly.

I am...loved.
I am...creative.
I am...a leader.  
I am...a student. 
I am...no longer ashamed.
I am...a voice for the voiceless.

Perhaps most important, in the words of Jonathan and Melissa Helser, "I'm no longer a slave to fear.  I am a Child of God."  There is freedom in correctly identifying who I am, whose I am, what my purpose is.  This is what I wish for each of you reading these words.  That your identity would be rooted in the truth, that you would see yourself clearly, that you would no longer feel enslaved, but free.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Gathering Women {it happened on a sunday} day 26

I grew up in the Christian culture of conservative evangelicals.  My parents' bookshelves still bear the evidence of their heroes:  Chuck Colson and James Dobson and Francis Shaeffer and Dennis Rainey. We listened to tapes of Amy Grant and Sandy Patti and Michael W. Smith.  We subscribed to magazines published by Focus on the Family and my dad was a Promise Keeper.  In high school, I read "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" and listened to Rebecca St. James and regularly wondered What Jesus Would Do.  When I walked away from church, I left all of that cultural baggage behind too.

I resisted for a while, once I was back in church, the pull of all that extra stuff.  I still listened to the Beastie Boys and 50 Cent (funny to think that once those were my favorite musicians!), although I was starting to enjoy the David Crowder Band and Leeland, too.  I joined a group of friends from church to go see The Passion of the Christ and The Nativity Story, but I'd also seen 300 and The Davinci Code.  I rolled my eyes at the "outrage" over silly conflicts between Christians and the rest of the world (and there have been quite a few), like saying "Merry Christmas" vs "Happy Holidays" or which presidential candidate was most likely to win the White House for Jesus.  It made me wary to get too deep in the Christian culture, and it didn't seem essential to my relationship with God.

I met Glennon on a Sunday. She's amazing.
I'm pretty sure it was Mandy who got me reading blogs, beginning with Lisa Jo Baker, whose words were so encouraging to this stressed out mama.  Then I found Glennon Doyle Melton and Jen Hatmaker, and finally there were people talking about life and Jesus and taking action that actually made sense to me.  I became a nerd about sermon podcasts, listening to at least three different churches each week as I did laundry and went for runs around my neighborhood.  I found voices that made me excited to be a Christian, messages about how I could grow in my faith, diverse examples of how to live a life devoted to God.

One day, I pulled up Jen Hatmaker's blog to find a recent entry about something called the IF Gathering.  There wasn't much information about what it was, just a kind of a dreamy vision of gathering women to unite for God's purpose in their lives.  I didn't need details; I was hooked from the first word.  But I knew that I would never be able to go, I couldn't possibly leave my children for a couple of days or afford a plane ticket to Austin.  There were only 1200 tickets available, and I wouldn't be able to get one.  Then she added...we are throwing open the doors to IF : Austin via webcast to anyone, everyone, everywhere for IF : Local.   Registration to the webcast is unlimited. Gather with your friends, neighbors, church, or others in your community and join us virtually.  My excitement exploded.  I could do THAT.  I could leave my family and drive down the street and sit in a room with people I knew and hear all the amazing speakers and stories of IF, then drive back home and sleep in my own bed!

I immediately thought of two of the most amazing, get it done women at my church:  Mandy and Suzi.  I sent them information about IF, asking if they could possibly do it at our location.  Their responses were positive; IF sounded great, what a cool thing, it would be awesome to do it!  But their responses were also negative; both of them were quite busy already with ministries of their own, and adding one more thing just wasn't going to happen.  Suzi called me with this to say:  if I wanted to attend an IF Local at our church, then I needed to be the one to pull it off.  She said the space was mine, any questions she could answer she would, and then left it up to me to decide what to do.  Her words terrified me, but this is how badly I wanted to go to IF...since no one else in our area was doing it, I said yes.

Suzi's other piece of advice was not to try to do it all myself.  She suggested three other women at our church who might be willing to help, women I had admired from my seat, but never actually talked to.  It happened on a Sunday that I pulled up my big girl pants and approached them one by one, telling them about IF and asking if they'd join me.  My team consisted of Rhonda, Jen, and Ryanne.  None of us knew what to expect, but each of us was excited to experience IF for ourselves.

There wasn't much to do until the weekend of the livestream, just registering our location and responding to emails from women who wanted to come.  Jen handled the food, Rhonda printed out conversation cards, and Ryanne invited her Bible study group to come.  Suzi and her sister-in-law Nicole helped set up tables and chairs, and our friend Jeff showed up at the last minute to solve some technical problems with the computer.

I waited at the church alone, praying to God to help me.  I went back and forth between wanting to fill our room and hoping no one came and expected anything from me.  But come they did, about 35 women over the course of two days, and we sang and listened and prayed together as we watched IF.  In my preparations, a vague idea was percolating that perhaps I could save up and afford to go to Austin the following year, assuming they decided to do it again.  When our weekend was over, I felt a certainty that I wasn't going to Austin, because I wanted to be there again.  In my church, with my people, finding God in Northeast Ohio, because it turns out that he's everywhere.

In the summer, Jennie Allen sent out her mandate, telling us to gather our teams and begin to dream and plan for another IF.  I was joined by new faces, women I wasn't quite so afraid to talk with, women who didn't see themselves as leaders, just as I had been the year before.  It was exciting to come alongside them and say, "We are doing this together."  IF has helped me to feel like I am part of a global sisterhood, reminded me that I am a beloved child of God, and given me a glimpse of the Kingdom of heaven.