erin f. wasinger

stories of loving our neighbors, discernment, & other hard things

Tag: Lansing

How we respond here to the refugee crisis

I watch my friend in her sparse kitchen.

She uses a small saucepan to scald milk for us to drink. Dave used to do the same when he baked bread in our kitchen, and the sweet-sour smell reminds me of home. She pours two steaming glasses and then sits on the folding chair, the only piece of furniture in the living room besides the loveseat on which I sit. And their new television.

This is our third visit with this refugee family we’ve begun to mentor through a local resettlement agency, and formalities of hospitality come first.

“We drink,” she smiles, motioning to the plastic tray she’s carried out. It has a bowl of sugar and two true tea spoons: petite and beautiful. “Then we go?”

I nod and try to sip the scalded milk before a film forms on top. Our kids, all six under the age of 9, bat each other with balloons we’ve just blown up. Their bare feet slap the laminate as they run. Incense she lit smells like spices whose names I don’t know. Home.

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My husband and I have been paired by a local resettlement agency to help the newcomers with bus routes, library cards, and their questions. A big percentage of their questions center on snow, and how deep, again, will it get? (A week later, we will stand outside while the children watch their first snowfall. Alice will make a snow angel and Violet will throw a snow ball. Our friends’ children will be terrified of the whole experience. But that’s next week.)

On this particular day, I’ve agreed to help the mother learn how to drive. I’ll be helping the family of almost-six acquire a different kind of freedom than they first received in July, when they arrived from a country in west Africa. Like another family we’ve mentored before, their choices and goals speak to an eagerness to start: quick to get jobs, quick to master English. 

For my American family — whose perspectives are the only ones I can write about — we feel eager, too. The world is breaking apart in places we can find on the maps that fall from the pages of my old bible. Our country is screaming in anger or horror about these things. More loudly are the Americans not screaming in anger at all. The void, the inaction, howls.

Yet, here we are, the lamenting. We sit in this living room, practicing being Boaz.

Remember him? Boaz, the man who married Ruth the Moabite in her Old Testament book, didn’t keep with public opinion about foreigners, either. Plus, Moabites were the sworn enemies of Israel (think of this warm-and-fuzzy life-verse option from Isaiah: “The Moabites shall be trodden down in their place as straw is trodden down in a dung-pit,” v. 25:10 NRSV). Boaz, as an Israelite, was supposed to hate Moabites. Instead, he marries one. Ruth the Moabite. 

He marries Ruth, the community finally embraces her and celebrates the baby that God gave the couple. She’s in Jesus’ genealogy: all evidence that this story’s more than a happy tale. It’s a message. God probably cares more for people than the boundaries we put between us and them.

One person: Boaz was one person who didn’t care for majority opinion. God blessed that.

We’re five people (but three are under the age of 9). We don’t care for the alleged majority opinion either. And God’s here, too.

***

So, here we are on that Saturday, the last one without snow. The mom has her state of Michigan learner’s permit, though in a few moments when we get in my van it will be clear our lessons will start at Point A.

For now, in her living room, her tray holds two spoons and a bowl of sugar. She scoops two heaping spoonfuls into her cup; I mimic her. Her spoon clangs like someone would do in their own home, where they’re comfortable.

“We’re going driving,” I remind Dave. He and the father are messing with a TV antenna that looks like a flyswatter. 

The woman finishes her drink, then moves through the obstacle course of our children, sprawled now on the floor in the spartan living room. She comes back moments later in jeans and a plaid flannel scarf draped around her head.

We’re all ready.

{Part 1 of 2 / Next post}

Consequences of a commute to school (that’s not carsickness, I promise)

The sounds of the neighbor’s air conditioner, a cardinal’s cry, and a big yellow bus’s “pfssht” all congeal in my last-minute dreams during those minutes just before I have to get out of bed. Those sounds are native to Alpha Street at 7 o’clock on any weekday.  

Our windows are open, the blinds are up. From our bed under the window sill, I prop my chin on the pillow to watch the world awaken. The bus turn on its flashing lights to stop. Neighbors start cars, dogs bark. A minute later, I abandon my post to brush my teeth in our attic bedroom’s half-bath.

Usually, I think about my kids sleeping downstairs. How they were supposed to be on that particular bus; how the Lansing school district assigned them to that route as late as last month. How I put that letter in the recycling bin.

That letter was our latest “Instead.”

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It’d be all out of context, this future-knowing stuff

 

 

Louisa was hiding under a blanket on the couch. “Where’s my Weezy? Where’s Weezy?” I called from the kitchen. She giggled. I came in and tickled the foot that was sticking out. I scooped her up: “Weeza!” And in a moment, looking into her eyes, I remembered how impossible this moment seemed four years ago. And I thought, “Wouldn’t it have been lovely to have this snapshot then? Wouldn’t I have slept better? My God …”

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The three thousand who learn somewhere else, and we who live here anyway

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I lugged a ladder around my house Monday morning, spraying vinegar water on the windows and wiping them clean with newspaper. It was the Sunday paper, and that matters because it wasn’t just the paper in my hands that left its ink on my fingers. I kept the front section on the front stoop under a cup of tea. I wasn’t ready to let those pages go.

Those stories, that topic: Schools of Choice. Here she goes, Dave said as I read through the stories with a pen on Sunday. Here I go.

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Take me out for a cup of tea and we’ll dissect the gaps and flaws in the reporting, the story that wasn’t, the story that should’ve been. Take me out for dinner and dessert and we can talk about the war in my soul over participating in Schools of Choice and living in Lansing. Stay for a weekend and we can maybe start to talk about what’s right for your family (and for good measure, maybe start praying about next year now).

Come move into my neighborhood and we can start to do something about these things here, though.

And maybe most of those filling-out-school-application-level choices should happen around dinner tables or coffee tables with your most trusted people.

Because there is no right answer: there isn’t. There’s only what God’s doing in your life and how you’re responding to that. But, so as not to let you off the hook: know that your choices — they have implications. Lansing know this. Lansing lost 3,171 of us to the Schools of Choice program. It has 11,525 left. That’s a big number.

This matters. This hurts someone. Lansing is not the blameless victim, either. This is complex. Let’s get tea.

So … come to my church (or go to yours); worship with me (or your community) and then — then we might get a hint of what we’re to do about the tension between living in a place and really wanting to be in this place all the way: work, play, worship, school.

I chose (with my church family, my real family, and my prayers) to enroll my kids in a suburban district’s schools. Why? In a few seconds: Sycamore Elementary offers a balanced calendar (I love the stress-and-rest rhythm; it mimics Sabbath rest). Its superintendent is a dynamic leader. Everyone’s warm, quick to communicate: teachers, secretaries, principals. My kids know what’s expected of them and they feel challenged academically. The student body’s diverse and economically equivalent to my neighborhood (free- and reduced-price-lunch-eligible students’ figures are about the same as the school across the street from us).

But I can still lament that the school district in which I reside — the one from which I took about $15,000 in per-pupil grants — isn’t all these things I care about. (And I can lament that I’m not there anyway. Much dying to my own privileged ideas can still be done.)

We got this broken-urban-schools thing, friends, because of all the big reasons: suburbs were born; people fled city districts to escape “city problems.” Those who stayed aged or didn’t have as many children, or their children moved out. Those who stayed were often poor.

(And … schools of choice programs often mimic previous generations’ city-flight patterns, I’d wager. Maybe the schools-of-choice program was the grace that let me move into this adorable, affordable, established city neighborhood? Again, let’s get tea. This isn’t prescriptive.)

The only prescriptive, must-do from this whole holy disdain: be as much as you can where you are, and watch for God. Then join Him there.

 

Maybe this moment is merely a bench along the path where I rest my disdain, my frustration, my lamentations before rising to ask some tough questions. What are we doing about it? What are we who live here going to do about it? Are we just going to leave, or is there something we can do? How far will our lamenting carry us?

How’s your neighborhood school? If you don’t know, find out. Start there. How can we learn to love these schools – not love “on” them like they were mission cases, but really know them and advocate for them? How can we, church? I’m asking because I don’t yet know all the way and I’m asking you to join me in figuring it out.

We’re all figuring it out: my teacher friends. My school psychologist friend. My pastor friend, my author friend. Their new monastic friends in Durham, N.C. My other pastor friend. My priest friend. My social work friends and my jobless friends and my journalist husband.

Our common ground is lament: Our crying to God in anger and despair: our complaints. Then our impatience as we wait for a response.

And we trust one’s coming, because this Guy comes through. We can trust This Guy, this God character.

And of course, God’s already at work here. When we show up, we’re just participating in what He’s already doing. The neighbors of what is now Mt. Hope STEAM Magnet School in the Lansing Public School District have pulled weeds, bought basketball hoop nets, and mentored kids for years.

When Sycamore Creek moved into the vacant church building across Mount Hope Avenue and asked to meet the school’s principal, we were only joining those small efforts. A few of us on staff toured the fourth- through sixth-grade school last month. We met the principal, an energetic and passionate woman named Liz Jones. She’s dynamic. She’s struck me as a connector in the Malcom Gladwell meaning of the word, talking about partnerships. Our church is probably going to partner with the school this fall for a one-day service opportunity, and a few of us are pursuing some mentorship stuff, too.

It’s a small thing (hey, that’d make a great book idea – oh wait, that’s in the works).  But it’s something, and who knows what that something will lead to. (Man, we Christians love that theme, don’t we.)

Maybe we start small because we don’t know what else to do and doing nothing is scarier. Me.

***

Local folks & the interested: the Lansing State Journal links: (1, 2, 3, 4).

Disclaimer: my husband works at the LSJ, and my opinions aren’t necessarily his. He has no public opinion. #journalismethics

The refugee images that won’t let us go

This morning, Louisa stood by our gnome, Christopher Robin, and smiled for a photograph. She held her lunchbox and wore her monkey backpack, all ready for the first day of day care. Her knobby knees, her cheese-ball grin: she’s so 3.

She’s not a baby. She’s a little person.

I held my cousin’s third baby last week, sweet baby Cora. For two hours I held that squirming, sleepy baby on my shoulder and in my arms. Her elbows and knees poked from beneath the gauzy blanket in the same way Louisa’s did from my belly. I didn’t want to let her go: all the warm fuzzy hormonal feelings flooded over me in a way they never did when I had my own babies, thanks to depression and sleep deprivation. (Plus, it’s compelling being an honorary aunt.) Sweet baby.

Memories of the first weeks of Louisa’s life came back, in and out with the news last week: refugees. Refugees, and a two-year-old drowned, washed up on a Turkish beach, and I cried more over that story than I have over news stories ever. I cried because the boy’s body reminded me of Louisa’s knobby knees, and because just two years on earth isn’t enough, and he spent his years in a dangerous place.

 

Oh, sweet baby.

It’s horrific, and holding a baby in my arms who is just as loved as the Syrian baby in his or her mother’s arms tonight, right now — it’s too much. God, it’s too much.

I cried, too, because it’s a home they were after: a safe place. Oh, sweet baby.

***

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The start of a beautiful relationship (with a place)

 

“We’re home! We live here now!” my 5-year-old said as Dave and a friend hauled our couch into our new living room. Later, Dave read library books to wet-haired girls under blankets on that couch while I sat on the love seat, day-dreaming about the Oreos I was about to eat as soon as they were in bed. Later still, a lamp post outside made black-and-orange striped shadows on the bare walls as I ascended the red-shag-carpeted steps to our attic bedroom.

After midnight, the rain pit-patted above me. “Thank God: I’m home,” I thought.

Home. What’s different about this one, and why does any of this matter? Am I making more of this than necessary? How many Oreos are we talking?

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