Searching After Cannas & the Image of God

All three of my children started school this year.   All three.   Thomas is now a proud kindergartner.   Clare is in second grade.   Emmeline began intermediate school which means a locker and schedule to remember.  

My house is nearly silent during the day and it feels very empty and lonely.   I have to stop here and step off any pity train, though.   Every school day, I climb into my car and get to pick up my babies from school.   Then, I get to spend the rest of the evening with them, along with the weekends and holidays.   My house is not always empty.   It's not the same as the seven years we waited for the sounds of children to fill our home.  

The idea of returning to homeschooling has been very appealing to me recently.   It's been appealing because I want my children with me all the time.   I honestly miss them.   My head soon takes over for my heart, though, and I am reminded of the reality of homeschooling for our family.   It did not work.   That is not to say that it will never work.   One of my children has no desire to ever home-school again.   Another might want to one day and it is possible that I could successfully teach at home under the much-different circumstances of having older, independently-reading children.   We will take each year as it comes and do what is truly best for each child.

Best for each child is key here.   I'm not making decisions based upon what I think might be best for me or what would make me feel best.   Thomas has the same incredible kindergarten teacher with whom Clare was blessed.   She is the best teacher, at any level, I have ever seen.   Her classroom is a Montessori one in public school.   She is a child development expert.   As an added bonus for us, she attends our church and is a Eucharistic minister.   I cannot duplicate what Thomas is receiving by being in her class.   I cannot come close.   She can never love him the same way I can, but she can teach him in a way I never can.   It's okay for me to admit that.   I am not a failure as a: mother, a teacher, or as a Catholic.   OR AS A CATHOLIC.

See, I had a hard time fitting in as a homeschooling parent.   I taught eight years before I stayed at home full-time with my oldest child.   I taught three years of seventh grade in Louisiana and then we moved to Texas where I taught sixth grade for two years, third grade for one year, and fourth grade for three years.   My husband has taught public school fifth and seventh grades in Louisiana and Texas, Catholic high school in Louisiana, and university classes in both states.   We both attended public schools, K-12 and graduated with degrees from public universities.   We cannot hate public schools.   We cannot contribute to or hope for their failure.   There is a tremendous amount of animosity toward, and distrust of, public schools in the American homeschooling community.  While there are homeschooling parents whose decision to homeschool has no basis in animosity, fierce, full-bodied hatred of the system is easily encountered.   There is also a disturbing element made up of those who genuinely want public schools to completely fail.   I believe some want the system to collapse so it can be remade according the their wishes, often for monetary gain.   Some just envision a world where everyone should homeschool, following a severe libertarian bent.

The family is the foundation of our society.   As a Catholic, I see the earthly, imperfect reflection of the Holy Trinity, in the family and I understand the basics of that theology in a very rudimentary way.   In the United States, the public school system plays an important role in supporting families and communities.   For some children, it offers the only structures and interactions similar to those found in families.   As we start this third year of public school for our children, I can see all that public school offers.

My children are able to see people as a whole of humanity.   They are not separate from "them."   I'm talking about the Wal-Mart phenomenon, where people will pay more money to shop somewhere like Target so they don't have to be around "Wal-Mart people."   To clarify, they mean people in tube tops and slippers, dirty workmen, the obese in automatic carts, and all the other realities of the world on display at your typical Wal-Mart.    Oh, but let us Christian people who refuse to go to Wal-Mart go on a nice planned, scheduled mission trip.   Let us tie on a clean apron and spend an hour or so dishing out meals at a soup kitchen or shelter.   Oh, the gushing about how beautiful is service to the poor.  How humbling!   How much one learns to be thankful for all one has!   It is so easy to fall into the trap.

Because "they" or the "them" are somehow easier to take, less of an assault on our delicate sensibilities, if they are contained, neatly.   They can be gathered together so we may drop in on them and share with them the benefits of our kindness and generosity.   Heaven forbid we have to stand behind them in the check-out lane, though.   Somehow, a kind smile and conversation just isn't the same as it is from behind a serving window in a food line.    It's up-close and personal, and it might even feel uncomfortable, as if we are somehow the same, part of the same group.   I mean it's all well and good to show off our Ash Wednesday forehead ashes all over social media in #ashtag selfies (and can those stop?!), but to actually admit that we are all from the SAME dust and to the SAME dust we shall return?!

My children notice that some children wear the same pants to school every day.   They notice that one little boy always has holes in his shirts.   They also see the little girl with an iPhone and Vera Bradley backpack who doesn't even seem to enjoy life and must be miserable to be that mean to other people.   They see a lot.   It gives us lots of opportunities for discussions we might never have had.  

You see, poverty exists all around us and within us as poverty in body, mind, spirit, circumstances.   Those who show the signs of their poverty in more obvious ways do not exist in nursing homes or low-valued neighborhoods as some sort of amusement park for the benevolent.   We must encounter the impoverished, so that God may minister to us, through them, as much as God may minister to them through us.   In public school, our children are being tested and I see their faith becoming stronger as it becomes their own.   They are concerned for other students whose parents are in jail.   After a student's outburst in class, my oldest told me, "Who knows what may have gone on at her house last night?   She may just be upset about something else."    They see administrators and teachers working together for the good of students and it teaches them how to react to others.  They also are attracted to those who show kindness and empathy.   Their school is truly diverse.   Within each government-labeled sub-group, there is a range of socio-economic levels.   It's all on-the-job training for disciples of Christ, while still being under our loving direction.  

My junior class

When I first began homeschooling, I wanted to protect my children from everything bad the outside world could offer.   Slowly, as homeschooling just didn't work, I  began to really think about my own school experiences and the encounters I experienced because of my mother.   I attended the same rural school, from kindergarten through eleventh grade.   The summer before my senior year, we moved to a larger town and school district.   I remember the first day of school, as we gathered in the gym.   I was surrounded by strangers with two faces of neighbors' children being the only ones familiar.   For the first time at school, I noticed race only.   At my other school, I had known everyone for so long that I saw names and personalities, not color.   At this new school, I knew no names and had no history.   I remembered thinking, "If I had not gone to school at Jackson all those years, I would be terrified right now."   But, I wasn't, because of my previous experiences in school.   I had become friends with people from varied backgrounds and learned to get to know people.   I learned all the similarities between us, but also, that the differences weren't a bad thing.   They could be strengths, not weaknesses.   It was not theory or abstract.   No ideas were woven with only threads from stories and lectures.    Stories and lessons were bolstered by real encounters with my fellow man, people for whom Jesus died on the cross, the same as He did for me.  

A few weeks after my children's first day of school this year, I found myself driving past our exit after I dropped them off in the morning.   I kept driving to a near-by small town and parked in the Wal-Mart parking lot.   It's a small Wal-Mart with no grocery section or Super aspect to its name.   Locals were stopped in aisles, visiting with each other as they caught up with life's happenings.   Employees talked and laughed as they stocked shelves or priced clearance items.    I smiled and spoke to anyone I could.    I felt so at home, or rather, that I had returned home.   It was a place my mama would have loved.   

I spent untold hours of my childhood standing by grocery carts as she struck up conversations with strangers in stores.    We would stop at stranger's homes, often mobile homes, because Mama admired the flowers and wanted to compliment the owner while she also learned more about the yard.   Most often, it was the bright tropical hues of canna lilies which grabbed my mother's attention.   Cannas were a somewhat elusive plant for my normally green-thumbed mother.   We inherited one circle of them in our large yard, but she had never been able to successfully grow them in any other spot.    She would almost fret over them as she observed them growing in ditches at the other end of the country lane on which we lived.   Those same ditches often contained sewage from poorly functioning septic systems.   You could see the cannas thriving, tall and hearty, along the sides of shacks and forgotten scraps of yard.   Canna lilies drove my mama to encounters with men and women, black and white, often poor as she sought what they had.   She connected with people she met, on equal soil with them.   And I was often right beside her.

 Over the course of my childhood, I was there as a neighbor hid at our house, making contact with estranged family, as she tried to get out of a harmful relationship.   I stood in the house of a grandmother who was trying to raise her grandchildren because their parents were consumed by drug addiction.   In that house, I watched cockroaches, as legion, crawl over and under pictures on walls, unaffected by the daylight or presence of people.   Mama was there to plan a coupon shopping trip and to be a shoulder to cry upon.   She caught my eye as she saw me staring at the bugs.   Her look told me to stop staring because it was rude.   I knew better than to turn down the drink offered to me there and as an adult, I later realized that my hostess was doing the best she could.  

In that Wal-Mart and later, as I reflected upon my now-strong commitment to public schools and a general throwing open of the doors of my heart, I realized what I had truly been looking for.   A month before my mother passed away, my best friend gave me The Story of a Soul, the autobiography of St. Therese of Liseux.   Therese has been with me ever since and the Little Flower, as she was called, helped me through my mother's death.   I realize, as a Catholic parent, I am on my own look-out for canna lilies.   St. Therese once had a vision of the kingdom of God as being like a garden, with all varieties of flowers needed, from hothouse specialties to the seemingly common daisies.   They were all equal in their purpose and necessity and to lose any of them would bring diminishment to the beauty of the garden.  

My mama was a daisy and as much as my romantic heart may wish to be an orchid or rose, I too, seem to belong to the wildflower ranks.   It is not a disappointment, though, as I realize what Therese saw was the equality of creation, beauty, and purpose.   One garden.   Though I might have gifts in some areas, there are things I just don't have and I want to learn from those who do.   I want to seek out the hearty, in defiance of their poor circumstances, and ponder the mystery of how they survive or even thrive.   And I want my children to be there beside me so when they encounter humanity in the faces of strangers, they will not be terrified, but will call upon their experiences and open their hearts to trust in God, who made us all, as they seek His image in the faces of our brothers and sisters.   Spontaneous, organic--not orchestrated-- experiences of cannas in ditches and overgrown yards to the image of God to be found in everyone.   Not as just some act of goodness, but on equal soil.   Especially in our schools and Wal Mart.


  1. Beautiful post, Terri! Just beautiful. Now when are you going to write a memoir? :)

  2. I think it was Archbishop Oscar Romero who said "the poor will save us." When I first read his writings, I thought he simply meant the impoverished. His view was much broader than that though...he meant all those who suffer with poverty in any form. Even the very wealthy struggle with their own poverties. I think it is important for us as Christians to challenge ourselves not to spend time sorting out who we think is worthy of mercy and charity and instead just do what we can, where we can! And yes. To identify with those who struggle, recognizing our own struggles, to be in solidarity with humanity, even when it's "ugly" and "messy." It is a most through way to envision the Body of Christ.

    It is always a humbling meditation for me during Lent to imagine who I would be if I had been there during the Passion. Would I have been bold enough to identify with the broken, persecuted, abandoned Christ? Or would I be a fair weather Christian?

    I never before took the notion so seriously that my children could be vessels of Christ for the world simply by going to school. But they are. And I couldn't be prouder of anything they ever accomplish, if all they do is this. What could be more important? Who knows what the future will bring as far as school decisions go, but I think if we live fully in the moment asking God what He needs of us, we will be guided to His will.

    Your perspective challenges and refreshes me and I thank you for it, always, dear friend!


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