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A Summer Vision

Do you ever feel you have dozens of dreams begging you to bring them all to life? And you would, if only they might co-operate and become one vision. This is what the Living Room Academy was for me: a culmination of a lifetime of thoughts and ideals. It started out as a flippant invitation that a woman I worked for said, "But why wouldn't you do this?" 
Besides seeming initially impossible to undertake, I didn't want to commit to such a project as opening my home up to other young women for a summer... I love my summers and couldn't imagine forsaking all the things I would normally do to teach summer classes to strangers.  
I won't go into why I decided to do this as I've already written on this in depth, but I do want to reiterate that I'm glad I didn't choose the convenient, lackluster path of complacency. 

I hosted two courses this summer 2023. Six girls came to live with me, although only four of them were able to stay for the endurance of the two weeks. It is an intimate experience, so I tried to make certain the girls were received into a cozy, peaceful lowkey environment. I made the beds in the form with quilts and put lace pillowcases on the pillows (these details make a world of difference) and made sure to have food ready for them and that we spent a lot of time in the living room at first, where one has a gentle long embrace with the natural light and shelves filled with hardcover books. 


My curriculum was meant to be organic and designed according to the personalities of my students. My first students were lowkey and loved to read. My second group of students were teenagers and I had to expend a little more energy, but they were also poets and enthusiastic. about the skills, and even in the exhaustion I felt justified. I wanted all the girls to leave feeling refreshed and encouraged in their femininity, that they understood the gospel better, and that they felt they could be better community members equipped to build lasting treasures for the Kingdom of Heaven through hospitality and skills. 

And so, we started out at a slow burn. We made pillowcases by hand and then embroidered them, and in the evening while we read some work of literature we also knitted. I cooked for the first couple days and asked the girls to observe. We took afternoon walks and naps and got to know each other. In the mornings we stretched outside and read the scripture. At the end of the week, I took the girls on an outing, the first group to a live performance of Fiddler on the Roof and the second group to a poetry open mic at a local teahouse. 

The second weeks of the course were busier. We still read, walked, wrote letters, and had picnics. But we broke the quiet fast and quit our slow living-room activities, pulling out the clunky sewing machines and made skirts from sheets. We spent a day in town and found piles of garments that did not fit properly, took them home, pulled out the seam rippers, and tailored them to fit just as they ought. The conversations stirred deeper and more intimately. There was still peace, but our hands were busier. And yet there's something about busy hands that plants firmer, long lasting contentment of mind... if you allow it, if you give yourself and your hands to the Goodness of God and your neighbor.  

Really, this is a large part of why I chose to share my summer with strangers, instead of spending my summer at open mics, in the mountains, or traveling. We are in such a sad era where community is shriveling up and dying, and somehow Christians, especially women, are largely responsible, from their lack of effort to their absolute coolness toward doing something about it, in fact often preferring to spend time on phones complaining about having no friends, but then, with obsessed snobbery, judging any person that God might send their way. Yes, I want to see more women equipped with practical skills. But I didn't want to add to the pool of entitled, self-serving and self-satisfying identity seekers. I opened my home to teach women how to be community builders, how to love their neighbor, and how to be less focused on their own needs and more in tune with Jesus' instructions on loving. 

Therefore, the letter writing and the hosting and the making of meals. 

Several older women made certain to remind me, "And teach them to use knives!" 
A lot of country families hand their small children their first pocketknife shortly after they learn to take their first step. The idea is: cut yourself once when you're young and you're respect knives with adequate finger agility for the rest of your lives. I like this. It is really hard to teach knife welding to a teenager. But it's also fascinating to think about the mechanisms of cutting potatoes. "Bring the knife toward you. You actually have more control when the knife feels or appears vulnerable. Less space for it to slip, too. In fact, when the blade faces your thumb it's nearly impossible for it to cut you." 

There's somehow disbelief that such a thing is true. One of my students laughed, "Watching you use a knife is like seeing a Studio Ghibli film." 
What a perfect statement for this day and age though... the practical and the whimsical are both such things of the distant almost fairytale past that it's now hard to separate the two, if it's possible at all. 



Of course, I could only determine so much what my students would learn from me. Each woman decided for herself what she might take from the course, how she would receive the values, and if the skills might impact her in a lasting way after the class. Midway through the course, one of my students asked me, so sweetly and sincerely, "How am I going to implement this course into my life so that I don't forget it before having a home of my own?"  

We'd talking about how these skills are meant to bring others together, how we can use our hands to bless and build community in an almost queenly sort of fashion. But how are we to be like a queen if we don't have a kitchen, a woman's treasury, from which to freely work and share? I reminded her that this course was only the beginning of her training. In my home she was a princess in training to be a Queen, and nobody is ready to assume such a position after only two weeks of studies. She must continue on after this, looking for ways to grow and build her skills. "You will retain these skills I've taught you by growing them," I told her. "You may not have your own space yet, but you can still find ways to serve others and practice these skills. You can bake bread for your mother, make deserts when there is company coming over, ask to mend your brother's jeans, sew something sweet for your little sisters. When you might wane away find a way to spend your time doing good things." 



I've stayed in contact with most of the girls through letters and social media and it's sweet to see how each of them have cherished this experience and are finding ways to practice sweet, spontaneous womanhood. This world isn't always a kind place to women, but kind women somehow soften that reality and beautify the ugly corners we find ourselves forced into. These lovely girls are doing just that, and it makes me so proud to have been a part of such a wonderful program, and to witness the rewards hereafter.  It was a summer of much sacrifice, effort, and exhaustion. But I am so thankful to have lived it and hope I can continue to teach similar courses in the future. But if not, I know that these girls will carry on the work of the Living Room Academy, and it will spread through them to many homes. 


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