Exposure, Part 2

The transition from my rural Wisconsin upbringing to life in the big city has been incredibly eye opening for me, and in part one of this post I described what I've been learning.   At the end of my last post I left with questions that I vowed to think about in writing here.

What do I do with this new knowledge?  How do I fit in this life?  Was it even a good idea for me to move here and get this job?  Where does the gospel come in?

I've been thinking about these questions since way before I ever moved into the Phillips neighborhood, and I've been learning all I can from the wise people around me at school and in my house.  However, at this point in the game, I feel about as qualified to answer questions about ending poverty as a snail trying to win the 100 meter dash.  So, instead I will recommend to you the books I am reading or that are on my list.

Cultural Anthropology by Paul Hiebert

This book was what first opened my eyes to my desire to understand where people were coming from and address social issues in light of culture and background.  I read it for a class in college, but it was interesting enough that I would have easily read it on my own as well.

White Man's Burden by William Easterly

This is the first book that directly, practically addresses the issue of global poverty that I've ever read.  Although I have a ways to go before I finish it, so far I have to say that Easterly does a good job of making the financial side of poverty understandable to a mathematically-challenged person like me while keeping my interest with interesting stories of aid working around the world.

Awaiting a Savior by Aaron Armstrong

I won this book on Noel Piper's blog, and I cannot wait to read it!  To truly understand poverty, it's not sufficient to only study it from a financial and cultural perspective.  Unless I also know what the root of poverty is and how to address it from a gospel-centered standpoint, I will merely be putting salve on a gaping wound.  This book looks wonderful!

When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert

My dear friend Ellen gave me this book for Christmas, and there are few people who know me better than she does.  It takes a look into different kinds of ways used to help alleviate poverty and what takes a stab at what is really worthwhile in the end.  Another one I can't wait to read.

So, if you were looking for some great answers, I'm sorry.  All I have now is resources.  Someday in the future I plan to write a post about good ways that I've seen people, particularly people in the church, helping to alleviate poverty, but let's face it, these posts can't get any longer.  

Now go read some books!


Exposure, Part I

Growing up among the cows and corn fields of northern Wisconsin (ok, maybe not among  them, but in their general vicinity), I was exposed to plenty of things.  Things like eating grass fed beef and free range chickens/eggs without those fancy titles, watching the life cycle of all kinds of animals, understanding exactly how milk came from cows and feathers were plucked from chickens, and driving on icy country roads from a young age.  My parents outstanding reputation as the honest and hardworking chiropractors in our small town kept me well-fed and happy, and very sheltered from many realities of life.

What my charmed life sheltered me from was racial diversity (though not cultural-- I was taught to love my Norwegian heritage), urban poverty, discrimination, and economic disparity (although many of my friends were farmers' kids or lived below poverty levels, at the end of the day the 53 students in my class stood pretty united and pretty class-judgment-free).

Then this backwards little girl went to college, and her eyes were opened just a crack to the reality of life around her.  The more I heard, the more I wanted to experience urban living for myself.  I wanted to know what it felt like to have neighbors of all colors, and I wanted (naively?) to feel the crunch of barely having enough money to eek out a living.  So I moved to the Phillips neighborhood, the place where I thought I would live just like my neighbors.

And what did I find out?  First, that I will never, as much as I want to, be like the kids I work at school with, not even the white ones.  Why not?  Poverty is complex, and makes my temporary financial situation different from my students' families. I have this network of people bursting with resources who would give their right arms before they saw me go hungry or homeless.  My car tires are bare?  I mention the fact to my dad and he buys me new ones before I have time to decide whether my tiny savings account can handle it.  I have no nice jeans?  Not only can I drive myself to the nice thrift stores to get a cheap pair, I can also wear rich friends' Loft hand-me-downs.  No money to pay bills? Grandpa's birthday check comes just in time.

My students don't have these safety nets to cushion them.  When their parents can't pay rent, they live in a homeless shelter for a month or two.  When their cars break down they walk or taxi to school, and take the bus to buy groceries.  When their clothes wear out they come to school with holes in their pants and their brother's old shirt on.

Their families often have the added challenge of a language and culture barrier.  A parent who could manage a retail establishment in Mexico makes burritos at Qdoba because his control of English is inadequate for another job.  Racial discrimination keeps another parent from moving up in a company.  And a student grows up not knowing whether to identify with her Latino culture or her born-in-America pride, or both.  And I will never know these struggles like they do.

Yet most of these students of mine live in situational poverty.  Their parents have just moved to this country, or they moved to this neighborhood because unemployment forced them out of their old living situations, and they are working two or three jobs to create a better life for their children.  They go without so that someday soon their kids can have new uniforms, or even go to a "better" school.  These families are full of hope for the future.

So the question is, what do I do with this new knowledge?  How do I fit in this life?  Was it even a good idea for me to move here and get this job?  Where does the gospel come in?  I'll think about those questions in Part 2.



I have just returned from what my grandpa deemed "The Kay Stucky Memorial Cruise," and I am spending the evening remembering my grandma by eating her favorite ice cream.

I am sitting in my bed and take the lid off of a pint of Ben & Jerry's Coffee Heath Bar Crunch.  Grandma used her spoon to scrape off the inside of the lid first, so that's what I do too.  Her dentures made it too hard for her to chew the toffee, so I suck on Heath Bar just like she did.  And my mind goes back to my years taking care of Grandma.

I don't have a lot of meaningful memories of Grandma Kay from my young years.  She would sit and smoke her cigarettes and watch golf when we visited her, and I was much more interested in the toys in her basement than who she was.  I remember her generosity-- buying my cousins and I matching dresses and talking parrots for Christmas and birthday gifts.  But I never really got to know my grandma until the end of my senior year of high school when I began to help her.  Her arthritis and an ulcer on her leg gave her limited mobility, so I would visit her once a week or so and do laundry, chop vegetables, or vacuum.  Never one to accept a handout, my grandma always slipped a bill into my hand as I left and refused to listen to my protestations.  When I started college I would drive over once a month to clean the bathrooms and stock the fridge.  During these times she would teach me about "crumbs" on the floor.  "If you just pick up any crumb or fuzz you see on the floor, you can wait much longer to vacuum."  And beets.  "Try boiling them for twenty minutes and see if the skin doesn't just fall right off."  And bookkeeping.  "If you so much as blow on a piece of paper, label and date it."

With three children, eleven grandchildren, and four great grandchildren, she never missed a birthday and remembered to call for friends' anniversaries.  No matter how much pain her ulcer or arthritis gave her, she always managed to sound pleasant on the phone.  Always she had good news about her family to share with a visitor, and always she took care of my grandpa.

She smoked cigarettes all day long and almost never missed an episode of All My Children.  Some of her habits I never want to imitate.  However, as her pain worsened and I began to help her bathe and take care of herself, I learned to appreciate her love of beauty.  She was not ready for visitors without red lipstick on, and the last thing we did before leaving the bathroom after cleaning up each day, after brushing hair and applying lipstick and looking in the mirror, was to dab a little Arpege perfume on her neck.  "For when Grandpa kisses me."  "In case I get visitors."  She was a classy woman, and I want to be classy like her.

And she fought.  When her ulcer covered most of her lower leg and another started on the oppposite leg, she got creative.  She found a remedy that worked, and always we rubbed her feet to get the blood flowing.  Finally the day came when the wounds started to get smaller instead of larger, and in a month there were only scars where there had been decaying flesh.  She always said that she would beat her arthritis, and when the pain got so bad that she needed help with the most routine activities, she kept her sense of humor.  "Barack Obama, Barack Obama, Barack Obama," she huffed as I lowered her into the bathtub one day.  "Somehow, focusing on his name makes the pain more bearable."

And one day as we dried her off after a bath, she confided in me about the growing lump on her body.  "Just never tell Grandpa."  She had vowed to refuse all medical care, and she knew that my grandpa would do whatever he could to see her well.  And the lump stopped growing for awhile, and we all thought that she had beat whatever kind of tumor she had.  

I graduated college (she sent a check that she could just barely sign, but hadn't left the house in years and didn't plan to start leaving with a graduation two hours away), and moved to Bolivia to teach for a year.  And the lump grew.  And her pain increased.  The arthritis with the added cancer was more than even this strong woman could bear.  We knew that time was limited.  When my dad came to Bolivia for ten days, she stopped eating.  Three weeks later, surrounded by her children and husband, she left this world.

And today, seven months later, I let the cold creamy coffee flavor sit on my tongue and remember her.  Not just a passing remembrance, a contemplating remembering.  I remember her life and her person and her spirit.  And I miss her.



There are so many things I've thought about writing in the last week or two, but all of my thoughts failed to turn themselves into words on this blog.  I thought about things like:

- How much I've learned about immigrant culture in the last two months
- My increased understanding about racial discrimination
- My very single state
- How wonderful my family is
- The way I've struggled to find community here
- A very strong pull toward consumerism I am feeling

But I didn't write about any of those things.  Instead, I took a little blog break.  And now... now I am leaving for ten days on a VACATION with my FAMILY.  We are going on a CRUISE.  And I am going to take pictures and show you them when I get back.  I am also committing  to journal a lot while I'm there.  It might just be about my trip, but I might journal future blog posts and then share them with you when I get home.  

One way or another, I will be writing about the above topics when I get home.  So pretty much, I'm saying to my few faithful readers, wait for me.  I'm coming back.  I just need to figure out how to blog in this country.