Diving In ... to CPS (GUEST POST, Laura Helveston)

Three years ago my husband, Jason, and I moved our young family from San Jose, CA to Chicago, IL. Jason and I are dreamers and community contributors so change is energizing for both of us (most of the time). We are deeply passionate about life as city dwellers, as you may have noticed, so as fresh Chicagoans we were hopeful about the life we would begin in our new favorite city. 

As we unpacked boxes and began connecting to our community, something murky was looming. In several conversations prior to our move, we got the feeling that this thing called "Chicago Public Schools" was "kinda a big deal". And because our family would quickly be met with the grade school years, the CPS conversation was imminent. 

My disposition regarding education has generally been a bit "relaxed". I enjoyed school at a social level and a few artsy classes fueled my creative capacities, but I have always been more intrigued by experience over information and conversation over analysis...I know, its a personal nuance. For me, education is invaluable, but my experience of education was not impactful in and of itself. I had both public and private school experiences. Overall, there was very little distinction between the two after Wednesday morning chapel and confirmation class let out. The social pressures were similar, athletic and extra curricular opportunities were comparable. Both offered plenty of good and a bit of bad, with very little ugly in my fairly conservative Christian hometown. Diversity was neither a conversation or a concern in the majority White pocket of West Michigan. Life was pleasant and I enjoyed adolescence in all its naiveté. 

A fair portion of my mama heart desires this for my children. It was safe. It was good. It was easy. But somewhere between Stevensville, San Jose, and Chicago, God had placed a loving hold on the "EASY" life I had once known. My childhood naiveté had served its purpose. I knew the goodness of protection, provision, and opportunity and have benefited greatly. But a fresh perspective on life, culture, and God's Kingdom was settling into focus. My life on the surface had been lovely. Glittery sunshine bouncing about the gentle waves of predictability and purpose. It was mesmerizing. A part of me wants to remain above the water at all times where visibility, mobility and breath are in full supply. But God had different plans. 

As our Chicago chapter unfolded it was clear that this new plan included one of the more daunting journey's for many city families: navigating CPS. This fall our daughter, Glori, starts kindergarten in Chicago Public Schools. Jason and I briefly discussed and explored other educational options including private Christian education, and homeschooling (for about a minute). It was a discipline for me to explore homeschooling, as brief as the exploration was, because I have never wanted to be my Childs primary educator.  It is a joy to see how several committed homeschooling families are serving their children, families, churches and communities through this educational route. And the endless opportunities available to be incorporated into it are impressive and exciting. But I knew we'd need some solid doors slammed in my face in order to seriously discuss educating our children at home. 

Truth be told, our private school exploration was also incredibly brief. One fantastic school visit, and an understanding of tuition rates led the conversation. It was a familiar and pleasant route, but with a much more diverse expression than my own private education. The Kinder teacher could easily express her understanding of the Gospel, and the classroom was a colorful, creative wonderland. Glori loved her visit with the teachers and children and I was feeling incredibly grown up as we raised questions on behalf of our families limited educational vision. It was like we were standing waist deep in the waters of Chicago schooling...lightly tapping the surface with our open palms and once in a while creating a large enough splash to hit the other in the face. It only caused a brief loss of vision while we squinted the dripping water from our brows. And the cool droplets supplied a brief refreshment before the warm sun evaporated them from the surface of our skin. For me, it was a safe start, with a bit of the unexpected and playful accounted for. We look like we are doing this thing...this is what it feels like to really wade into the educational waters...right?

I learned a worthy lesson in the midst of my limited exploration of homeschooling and private schooling. There is not one right way to do school well in Chicago. Godly city families in my immediate and extended community shared a common thread. God was providing, and the evidence of God's provision for education was absolute. Creativity, variety, and sacrifice were clear markers of these faithful ones. Naturally, different families approach education differently. God's call and provision for each family was good and sometimes even miraculous, but it was not necessarily the same. 

I'm grateful for all who offered care and resources to us early on regarding school in general and Chicago public school in particular. At the time they had something I didn't ... understanding and experience with CPS and the many other school options available in Chicago. This is the gift of community, and I could tell as we began the Chicago chapter of our family's story, we were "in it together" with many who had gone before us into the educational opportunities and options which were stirring. The evidence of God's provision and direction was surfacing through our community of experts--a gift which was invaluable as committed city dwellers. God's presence with our children was not limited by one specific educational route. Moving within God's will for our family's educational path was more about discerning who God actually is than it was about knowing which path would lead to success in life. 

Now, there was a different kind of security surfacing. One that was less about me, and more about my God. When God is present, fear fails. My confidence in the Lord was bolstered. My God would supply all of our needs according to his riches and glory (Phil. 4:19). I was ready to dive head on into the murky waters of public education in Chicago. 

Below the glimmering surface of security, I was met with much that felt uncertain and unfamiliar. The warmth of the sunlight hitting my skin gave way to cool currents swirling about the murk of the mucky bottom. The clear vision of light lit ripples, turned to scattered sunbeams which only highlighted the muck from the downward swoosh my head first entry had created. And the need to gulp fresh air taunted me to break the surface once again. 

How could I not? I had come face to face with fear and it felt like what I imagined death to be. Cold, blurred, and breathless. School ratings, zoning, selective enrollment, neighborhood schools, school tiers, magnet schools, school testing, statistics, and deadlines were this Type B mama's worst nightmare. The unfamiliar jargon had entered my reality, but I was determined not to allow confusion and uncertainty to cloud my vision. In the midst of all the CPS terminology, timelines and testing God was reminding me that he is with me, and my children. And his presence is peace. With God, fear cannot sink me.  With God, death doesn't win.

Our young family began this CPS journey with our heads. But God had better plans for us. He wanted our hearts. Instead of filling our heads with percentages and statistics, he gave us Truth in his word. Instead of drawing up neighborhood school zones, God directs our very steps. Instead of relying on fear and control to lead our school journey, he has filled us with faith and trust in Jesus in whom our children's futures are secure. 

As Christians, we are called to walk by faith, not by sight. Yet, through faith in Jesus our vision is most clearly realized. Faith in Jesus stills the murky waters of fear and control and brings PEACE even where death is looming. Fear is looking at the future and only seeing our purposes, our wisdom, and our hopes. Faith is looking at the future and seeing Jesus' purposes, Jesus' wisdom, and Jesus' as our hope. Seeing a future full of Jesus means enjoying his peace in every present circumstance--even the Chicago public school journey. 

The greatest temptation for our family as we began our conversations regarding education in Chicago was to be led by fear and control. But fear and control tell us lies. In Chicago, fear and control tell us that opportunity and intellect will save our children. And so we settle for educating ourselves on how to navigate the CPS system or use our resources to position our children for the best available education ... but our brightest intellect will ultimately fail us and our children. The one who is all-knowing holds our children perfectly and peacefully in the palm of his powerful hands. If our hearts have not been transformed into those which are full of faith and trust, then not even our greatest efforts on behalf of our children's futures will succeed. By his grace, our faithful God is able to supply faith and trust to the depths of my all too sinkable heart. 

So, rather than trying to position our family in the best neighborhood with the best schools, what if we positioned our hearts and minds for transformation through Jesus? Rather than taking on debt or relying on higher paychecks to secure our children's education and by extension their careers and financial futures, what if we place our faith in the one who paid our debt and makes a fearless life possible (Romans 8:12-17)? Rather than trusting in a private education to save our children from the temptations the world of public school influences offer, what if we offer ourselves as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-4), a display of God's worth, beauty, and holiness as we love the world around us? Rather than hoping that our children test into the most creative or specialized schools the city has to offer, what if we find joy in the testing of our faith, which produces steadfastness (James 1:2-4)?

Turn your eyes upon Jesus. 

Look full in his wonderful face. 

And the things of Earth will grow strangely dim 

in the light of his glory and grace.

I sing this to my children daily, a natural part of our rhythm in this season of parenting littles with nap routines and bedtimes. It ministers deeply to my mama heart. Whether I'm frazzled by toddler tantrums or disillusioned by the glaring monotony that SAHM life can take on at times, it ministers deeply. A sweet reminder that our present reality pales in comparison to the beauty of eternity.

So instead of looking fearfully into the murky waters of Chicago school options, lets look to Jesus, our Prince of Peace. 

"You keep him in perfect peace, who's mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you." Isaiah 26:3



Originally posted by my wife, Laura Helveston on her blog.

Jason Helveston