Thursday, October 16, 2014

To the Kind Stranger Who Praised My Little Family

Dear Sir:

I'm afraid I'm a little slow to say thank you, but that doesn't mean I haven't been incredibly grateful for your kind words from the day you spoke them!  What a blessing you were to me, and to all of us! And what a blessing your words have been every time I've thought of them since.

We didn't have a chance to explain, but maybe you noticed our license plate.  We were far from home, over 800 miles from it, in fact, and just passing through Arlington on our way from Fort Worth to Shreveport visiting family.

We hadn't even intended to stop in Arlington.  We were just looking for an In-N-Out Burger, because  we had heard the burgers were amazing, (and they were,) and that the company is Christian-owned, (which is always a plus.)  We actually missed our intended exit, a mistake I think must have been God-directed, and from there our GPS led us to Arlington where our tired little family tumbled out of an over-stuffed minivan to take in a little lunch.

We ordered, taking advantage of the "secret menu", of course, and we got everyone's drinks and found a table.  I think it was one of the kids who first noticed the scripture references on the cups, and when we got our food they spotted them on the fry boxes and even the hamburger wrappers.

It became a bit of a game, I suppose.  The kids found the references and my husband looked them up on his phone and read them and then we talked and laughed and enjoyed a little break in a yearly trip that is always long and wearying.

But I didn't feel like our family did anything especially beautiful.  We were all very tired and a little disheveled and if the kids seemed particularly well-behaved, (and I'm not sure that they did,) it was really only because they were so drained and so happy for a brief reprieve from the confines of the minivan.

But you took the time to stop by our table on your way out.  You smiled approvingly and spoke cheerfully, complimenting my bedraggled, in-every-way-imperfect little family, even calling us "Family of the Year", and I think we were all a little stunned by your kindness and your praise.

So stunned, in fact, that we didn't even ask your name.  A gray-haired woman who had been in your party approached us after you had gone and told us how impressed you had been.  She said you were a pastor and also her son, and yet it still never occurred to us to ask your name or the name of your church.  She, too, walked away and we were left touched and humbled by the kindness of perfect strangers who, sadly, we will likely never meet again in this life.

Such a simple gesture, to stop and speak kind and encouraging words to people you didn't even know, but what a tremendous blessing to me.

You see, I am overwhelmed sometimes with the knowledge of my own inadequacies.  I know I need to be a better wife.  I struggle with self-doubt in my efforts as a mom and I constantly battle the fear that, whether we're talking about setting a good Christian example, homeschooling, or just parenting in general, I'm not good enough at any of it.

Sometimes I struggle to keep our family as the priority it should be.  I never mean to, of course, but our lives are busy, often too busy, and it's easy to get distracted from the things that matter most.  Sometimes I lose my temper.  Sometimes I say the wrong things or I handle conflict the wrong way or I realize I've simply erred through neglect.

And while I wish I could find my validation in the virtue of my own children, I'm afraid I can't always do that.  I have good kids and I love them dearly, but they're just as faulty and mistake-prone as their mother and, whether it's completely fair or not, it's easy to see their mistakes as further evidence of my own woeful inadequacy as a mom and Christian.

And though I don't look to society to help me raise my children, (I believe that's mine and my husband's responsibility alone; there will be no "village" in the raising of my kids,) it would nonetheless be nice if the culture could at least offer some support.  It doesn't.  More often it bombards my children with filth that is destined to wreck their lives if they follow after it, at the same time telling me my faith and my morals and my completely respectable, but "small-minded, judgmental Judeo-Christian views" are detrimental to their healthy growth and development.

I don't look to the world for affirmation, but I don't need its discouragement either.  I get tired of the way it demeans stay-at-home moms, frowns on anything larger than a family of four, and seems suspicious of anyone so crazy as to educate their children at home.  I get frustrated with the sentiment that says children are a bother.  And I find it all the more discouraging when I encounter those same attitudes even among other believers, which happens very, very frequently.

I adore my little family.  With all its imperfections, I think it's beautiful.  But sometimes it's easy to get discouraged.  It's easy to doubt my impact for good and be fearful for the future success of these little people I'm trying so hard to nurture in faith and in character.

But that's why your words that day were such a blessing.  A stranger thought my family was beautiful, too.  A man I'd never met and will probably never meet again affirmed my feeble efforts and reassured me in all my labors.

You don't know how you helped me that day.  You didn't have to say much.  It just confirmed to me once again that I'm doing the right thing, that pouring myself into my little family is the right thing to do, no matter how many distractions there are or how many people may be telling me I should look for fulfillment elsewhere.  You lightened my heart a little and encouraged me to keep trying.  To keep praying.  To keep teaching.  To keep plodding on to fulfill my calling as a mother to the very best of my ability, knowing, of course, that God in His grace is able to fill in every gap this oh-so-imperfect mother is sure to leave behind.

We're not the perfect family.  But you talked to us that day as if we were.  It was kind.  And flattering.  And a little overwhelming.

And I needed to hear it.  Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us that day.


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Thursday, October 9, 2014

What Coupons Cost You

Maybe it's just me, but it sure seems like there's a lot more talk about coupons than there used to be.   I listen to folks brag about their coupon deals and sometimes I'm left in utter disbelief, not necessarily at the size of their savings, but at the thought of them using coupons at all!  People who wouldn't have bothered with a coupon 10 years ago, (let alone bragged about it!) are suddenly all wrapped up in the magic of couponing.

Chalk it up to the bad economy.  Desperate times call for desperate measures, as they say, and I'm sure a nation short on jobs and long on debt has proven fertile ground for the growth of couponing/money saving websites and some of these "extreme couponing" shows I've heard so much about.

Coupons are nothing new.  It took me about two minutes' worth of research to learn that one of my favorite companies in all the world produced the first known coupon. In 1888 Coca Cola launched what for its day was an innovative, (and pretty risky,) marketing technique--coupons for a free Coca Cola!  Soda fountains across the U.S. were supplied with the syrup and within the first 20 years Coca Cola gave away around 8,500,000 free beverages.   It was promotion of a product on an epic scale. And it was a gamble.

But I think it's safe to say it worked.  Worldwide, Coca Cola now delivers 1.7 BILLION servings per day.  (And just to show my appreciation, I'm doing my part to up that number as much as possible. ;))

Here's my issue: While the benefits of coupons are talked about a lot, the drawbacks of them aren't. Granted, the money saved at times can be pretty impressive.  Once on a trip to Walgreens, for example, I purchased $80 worth of merchandise for $43.  Not too shabby, eh?  And while that kind of savings isn't exactly typical for me, with coupons I can usually save at least $10 every time I make a trip to the grocery and, hey...ten bucks is ten bucks!

Saving money is awesome!

But blowing time isn't.

And to be a committed and successful coupon shopper, you have to blow a lot of it!

Now I've learned some organizational tips that can save a few minutes here or there and I've heard about and even tried some of the websites designed to make couponing easier and less time-intensive, but none of these things negate the sad fact that couponing takes a lot of time!  The clipping takes time.  Matching the coupons with the sales ads takes time.  Organizing the coupons you plan to use right away and saving the ones you'll use later-- all of it takes time!

Now no doubt the dedicated, even obsessive coupon shopper will read this and shout at me, "But think of the money you save!"  Yes, but think of the time you lose!  And you know what they say; Time is money!  Especially when you consider that, let's be honest, a lot of the stuff we're buying with coupons are things we probably wouldn't buy otherwise and don't necessarily need.  Around our house, we're trying to eat healthier and 95% of the coupons I find are for processed foods I don't buy anymore.  That gives me even less reason to coupon!

Now I'm not saying couponing is a bad thing.  I know for some people clipping coupons and keeping it all organized is a hobby they enjoy just as much as I enjoy writing or reading.  And saving money is a wonderful, often needful thing.  But the savings is really only beneficial if it's not at the expense of my time.  That's exactly why, though I was an ardent coupon shopper when I was newly married, couponing went down the tubes as child 3 and 4 came along.  It's not that I didn't want or need to save money, but I struggled to find time to bathe and brush my hair, let alone sit down to clip $.25 coupons out of the Sunday paper!  Even now I only use the most basic coupons and only when it's convenient and usually only when they offer a fairly substantial savings.

So I think it's important to weigh the pluses against the minuses and then make the decision which is more valuable to me--my time or my money?  And when shopping with children in tow, the question is often more like--my SANITY or my money?  Sometimes I'd rather pay more money if doing so would save me some time and some wear-and-tear on my nerves!

In the days before price-matching, I remember my mother driving all over town to take advantage of the sales at various stores.  Looking back now I can't imagine that!  My mom meant well, but she probably burned more gas running from place to place than she ever saved!

To me, sometimes the extreme couponing mentality is much the same.  Save money, but burn time. Of the two, generally I find my time to be far more valuable.  I'll coupon happily, but only so long as the savings aren't costing me more than they're actually saving me.

That's just my never-to-be-humble opinion. You die-hard coupon junkies just clip to your little hearts' content and if you find yourself with leftover time, feel free to come on over and organize some coupons for me.  And maybe you can do a load of laundry while you're here.  Believe me, that would be appreciated!

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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Disturb Us, Lord


I confess.  My knowledge of Sir Francis Drake was limited.  Really limited.

And I'm still no expert on his life and times, though I certainly know far more about him than I did a few weeks ago.

I recently got my hands on a used copy of the audio theatre drama Under Drake's Flag and, just as I expected, the story was incredibly good and the production quality was amazing.  We're huge fans of audio dramas like Adventures in Odyssey, Focus on the Family Radio Theatre, and Lamplighter Theatre, so of course I was excited to hear another story created by some of the same talented people.
But knowing this was a G. A. Henty story stirred my interest as well, since I've heard and read so many things about the English writer whose novels are so popular among homeschoolers as "living" history books.  It was my first introduction to his writing and I'm certainly intrigued.

But printed on the inside cover of the CD set I had purchased was a prayer, written by Sir Francis Drake himself in 1577, some 437 years ago, and its words spoke to my heart in the most amazing way.

Drake, like many of the great explorers and adventurers of the past, is mostly excoriated by modern historians as little more than a money-hungry pirate.  But I tend to believe that he, like Christopher Columbus and so many of the others, was simply a man of his time.  To try to pass judgement on him with very limited testimony as to his deeds and actions and based mostly on current cultural norms, I think, is both unreasonable and remarkably arrogant.

Honestly, Sir Francis Drake probably was not always the paragon of Christian virtue Henty portrays him to be.  But he probably wasn't the pilfering villain the modern historians paint him out to be either.  It's likely the truth falls somewhere in between and heaven will set all things right in time, without the aid of our conceited, though often ill-informed opinions.

Whatever the depth and maturity of Drake's faith, there was faith there and I tend to believe he was blessed for his humble acknowledgment of God if for nothing else.  His words here are beautiful.

Disturb us, Lord, when We are
too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when 
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;
Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim;

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.
We ask you to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.

This we ask in the name of our Captain,
Who is Jesus Christ.

--Sir Francis Drake, 1577

Disturb us.

Are there any words used less in the prayers of the modern church world?  We don't want to be disturbed: we want to be comfortable. We want to be contented and complete and satisfied in all that life has to offer.

We want to be happy, not to learn through hardship.  We want to be healed, not to draw nearer to God through sickness.  We want to be blessed in this life, not to spend our days preparing for the next.

We want God to bless us.  Fulfill us.  Satisfy Us.  Load us daily with benefits.  Protect us from all pain and sorrow and suffering.

And then, God, having blessed us, do us a favor and leave us alone.

We would never say that, but it's what we want.  We want the fringe benefits of Christianity without the discomfort of following Christ.

But I'm praying, "Disturb me, Lord."  Disturb my stubborn tendencies and my preconceived notions.  Disturb my contentment in temporal things and my longing for ease and comfort.

Disturb my satisfaction in self, my confidence in my own goodness and moral character, and stir in me a desire to be more like Christ in every thought and word and deed.

I need to be disturbed, and to push into the future with strength, courage, hope, and love, with Jesus as my Captain.

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Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Road that Led to Homeschool: Where I Failed At Homeschooling

(I've been sharing some older posts with you, ones I felt needed some revisiting.  I wasn't entirely new to homeschooling even when I wrote these, but I was still in wonder of the things that had brought me to that educational choice.  Now into our 6th year of homeschooling, the 'wonder' is mostly gone, but I'm more delighted now than ever to have taken this direction with my children.

But you should understand that failure came first.  In this post I talked about our daughter whom we suspected early on had some learning disability.  Earlier this year it was finally confirmed to us that she is dyslexic and has a language processing disorder.  While of course that is a daily challenge, I also see it as such a blessing.  As contradictory as it may sound, without the difficulties and my resulting failings as a homeschooling mom, I may never have found the joy inherent in homeschooling.)

We can learn a lot from our successes, but it's often our failures that prove to be the greatest teachers.  I've learned, (and am learning,) to accept the lessons they have to teach me.

My very first venture into homeschooling came when my daughter was a preschooler and we started working on some basics together, simply because I noticed she didn't seem to know many of the things other kids her age knew.  I never called it 'homeschooling' however.  Of course that's exactly what it was, but I had no intention of I wasn't even going to use the term if I didn't have to!

But necessity can be a powerful motivator.  Our oldest child was enrolled in our church's small Christian school and she was doing very well.  When it was time for daughter #2 to begin Kindergarten and our school didn't offer K, we found ourselves faced with a dilemma.  I had already decided public school wasn't an option, but from a practical standpoint, neither was another Christian school.  For one thing, it was going to be a logistical nightmare getting two children back and forth to two different schools with two different schedules while I still had two small boys at home.  There was also the issue of tuition for my Kindergartener at a larger, far more expensive school.  The extra funds simply weren't there, so....very much against my will, I decided to homeschool my daughter, even to call it homeschooling this time!  But I would do it only for Kindergarten.  Just this once.

And I wish so much I could tell you that this intentional effort at homeschooling immediately began to break down my defenses, to challenge my preconceived notions, to overwhelm me with joy and fulfillment in God's purpose and plan for my life of home educating my children.

Instead, let me pause a moment and laugh hilariously.

Because my first attempt at homeschooling was, in my mind at least, an abject FAILURE.  Maybe not entirely from an academic standpoint, but definitely from a personal one.

I blew it!  I mean, I really blew it and by the time that year was over, homeschooling one child, I was more convinced than ever before that I never wanted to homeschool my children.  Never.  So let me explain...

While daughter #1 was the kind of kid who just "picked things up" with hardly any effort on my part, who knew all her letters and numbers before she even started preschool, daughter #2 was vastly different.  I knew she hadn't learned as many things as early as her sister and that she was easily distracted in comparison, but I chalked it up to some ADHD and maybe some immaturity and I thought we'd overcome it in no time.  Once we focused in on schooling, the wheels of learning would begin to roll and she'd be on the level of #1 in no time.

But I was terribly, terribly wrong.

My sweet, creative, imaginative little girl is dyslexic.  I didn't realize it at the time, of course, as it doesn't reveal itself until a child begins tackling written language, but I quickly knew something wasn't right in her learning.  My daughter was drawing pictures with startling detail at an incredibly young age and she amazed me by knowing all of her shapes by name almost as soon as she could talk, yet she struggled desperately with something so simple as learning letters and numbers and stringing letters together into words.

Coming to understand what was wrong and seeing letters and words through my daughter's eyes was a slow and very painful process.  We struggled together for months.  Even as an older Kindergartener, (she turned 6 just after we started school,) for the longest time she could not seem to tell her letters apart or learn their names.  Some days she would do relatively well and I would be encouraged.  The next day we would review letter flashcards and she would miss nearly every one of them.  My 3-year old would often wander into the kitchen and blurt out the names of letters and numbers my 6-year old could not remember to save her life.  It was always disheartening for us both.

I can't begin to explain how long and painful those pitiful efforts seemed.  I didn't know what I was doing wrong as a teacher and my daughter didn't know why she couldn't get it or why I stayed so frustrated and I can't tell you the times both of us finished school in tearsI was incredibly stressed.  My patience was shot.

By the middle of February in our school year, I was desperate for some kind of progress and even questioned if I had no choice but to put my daughter in public school where perhaps someone could give her the help I could not.  I was at a total loss for what to do and I was more convinced than ever that homeschooling was not an option for me. 

But I had made some egregious errors from the very beginning and I look back now, knowing well that had I had these issues in check, my homeschooling experience may have been very, very different.  But...

1.  I homeschooled that year totally against my will.

I agreed to educate my child at home, but I did it resentfully, frustrated that this was my only option.  I viewed homeschooling as a burden instead of the wonderful opportunity it truly was. No wonder I was frustrated when things didn't go smoothly!  No wonder I spent the year stressed-out and aggravated with myself and with my daughter and with a disability I couldn't understand!

2.  I went at homeschooling with totally unrealistic expectations.

I didn't want to homeschool, but I figured we'd have some beautiful learning moments together just the same.  My daughter would be anxious to learn and fascinated by the things I taught her. All the distractions would easily fall away with a little one-on-one time. When she read her first word, dramatic music would play in the background and together we'd bask in the magical glow of learning.  (Okay, I didn't really expect to hear music, but you know what I mean.  It was really supposed to be that magical.)  When homeschooling didn't go anything like that, of course I was discouraged.

3.  I hoped for homeschooling success for mostly prideful reasons. 

I realize I'm not painting a lovely picture of myself here, but I'm trying to be truthful.  I wanted my daughter to learn quickly and seemlessly and with as little effort on my part as possible. I wanted her to excel and amaze her peers and mine with her incredible abilities, not for her benefit or for God's glory, mind you, but for my own pride.  When it didn't happen that way and I not only felt inept, but was sure I looked it, too, it was simply more than my dignity could stand.

So, failing miserably and overwhelmed by feelings of helplessness and complete inadequacy, I began to pray.

I know, I know.  I was way late on that one!  I should've been praying and praying hard about teaching my daughter from the very beginning, but I'd gone into homeschooling with this dissenting arrogance, convinced I could do it on my own and mad I was having to do it all.  Sadly, it never occurred to me I might need to bathe my attempts in prayer. 

But desperate times call for desperate measures and, no doubt about it, incredible things began to happen as I prayed.  My daughter did not excel, but she did begin to learn her letters and by the end of the school year was reading very simple words, though it seemed to happen in spite of me more than because of me or any brilliant efforts of mine.

So at year's end we closed our books and I finished my first attempt at homeschooling.  Or just gave up on it maybe, but either way the summer passed and I breathed a sigh of relief as I sent my daughter off to Christian school for 1st grade.  I wasn't sure she was ready for it, but I hoped for the best and thanked heaven I didn't have to homeschool again!

But unbeknownst to me at the time, something had begun inside of me that school year.  My failures nagged at me.  The miserable helplessness I'd felt, the horrid, humiliating inadequacy I'd experienced was painful, yet fertile soil for a "homeschooling epiphany" to begin to grow. 

I wasn't willing to homeschool, but in the slightest, almost indiscernable way I think I began to be willing to let God change my mind on the issue, if indeed that was what He wanted to do! 

Now, I don't think I really believed He wanted to change my mind at all, or maybe I didn't believe He could.  But it didn't matter.  All God needed was a little willingness, a tiny crack in the door of my heart.  It wasn't much, but it was enough.  And then one day I prayed that half-hearted prayer I mentioned before.

"God, if you want me to homeschool, you're gonna have to change my heart."

Bam.  I think that's all He was looking for -- the slightest willingness.  It was very slight, mind you, but God in His mercy and love took hold of that prayer and was kind enough to answer it for me, even when I wasn't sure I wanted it answered at all.  He didn't change my mind all at once, but slowly, through circumstances and through prayer and through gentle, but frequent proddings in my heart. 

And when I decided to give homeschooling another try, this time with multiple children, I was so uncertain and so afraid.  Surely I'd be stressed again.  Surely my patience would be gone by Christmas.  Surely I would be completely burnt out by the spring.

Yet here I am, more passionate about my decision to home educate than ever before.  It's been amazing.  Miraculous.  Something so far beyond myself I can't even begin to describe it to you.  It's been a gift of grace, one as readily available to you as it has been to me.

"Oh, not me!" you say.  "I could never homeschool!" 

Yeah, I said that, too.  Yet here I am.  And thank God I'm here! 

It's my rallying cry, the daily mantra of my heart, and only in remembering it am I confident in this thing called homeschooling. 

"My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is
made perfect in weakness."
--2 Corinthians 12: 9

And I'm all weakness.  I admit it.  But I've learned, through my failures, that it's not MY strength I'm depending on anyway. Thank God He daily gives me HIS.  

And thank God for the road that led me to homeschool. 

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Thursday, September 11, 2014

The Road that Led To Homeschool: Four Reasons Why I Didn't Want to Homeschool

                                                                       Photo Credit

(I'm vacationing from blogging....kind of...and resurrecting some older posts in the meantime.  Like last week's post, this one was originally part of a series that, when I wrote it, was more or less half personal diary and half 'homeschooling manifesto'.  The things I wrote back then still ring true in my heart and mind today.  And while my blog is still unassumingly small, it has nevertheless grown ten-times over since the days when I wrote these things, so I thought it might be time to share these posts again...)

They say confession is good for the soul.  Well my soul will be experiencing lots of goodness in this blogpost!  And hopefully you won't think worse of me by the time it's all through...

Like I told you, after being practically anti-homeschool for the better part of my life, I slowly and reluctantly came to recognize that homeschooling could be a good thing and that public school rarely is.  But realizing that did not mean I was ready to consider homeschooling my own children!

There were several excuses I would throw out on those rare occasions when the subject of homeschooling came up and, to some extent, I suppose there was validity to each of them..  But it's time to be honest!  All those excuses were just a cover-up for the real reason why I had no intention of homeschooling.

I always insisted I didn't have the patience for it.  I was concerned about the day my children reached higher math.  I feared I couldn't possibly cover everything I needed to cover and do so with multiple children, all at the same time.  They were all legitimate concerns.  Maybe. 

But the real reason, the underlying motive behind my decision, the one I was so careful to conceal with all my meticulously designed excuses was this:  I would never homeschool because...I JUST DIDN'T WANT TO.

That doesn't sound very profound, I realize, but stick with me here because that truth was the biggest obstacle to me homeschooling my children.  Once the complete unwillingness was overcome, it's amazing how my entire perspective of education and childrearing and even motherhood began to change.

Now some of the things I'm about to say here sound ridiculous to me now.  I've had the time to do a lot of soul-searching and I think I'm seeing much more clearly the things that matter in life and the things that really don't.  And some of these things definitely do NOT!  But humbling as it is, I'm determined to share with you some of the messed-up thinking of my past, no matter how petty I sound in the process.   So here you go....

I didn't want to homeschool because...

1.  I wanted a clean house.  I am by no means a clean freak, but I honestly did look forward to the day I could ship all the kids off to school and clean and do laundry and decorate and have the cute, (and CLEAN,) mazagine-cover-worthy little home I knew I could have if I really had the time to devote to it. 

2.  I wanted the freedom to come and go at will, (at least during the daytime.)  I wasn't looking for the chance to travel to distant, exotic locations.  I just wanted to be able to go to the grocery store on a whim!  I wanted the opportunity to run errands, do volunteer work, visit a friend, or check out the big sale at Dillards without having to drag four children along with me or go to the trouble of finding babysitters.

3.  I wanted to enjoy silence and solitude in my home, at least every once in a while!  I wanted more opportunities to think and pray and just be alone on occasion without the noise and chaos of having children in my company 24/7.

And this is the biggie:

4.  I wanted the time to pursue the dreams that having children has pushed to the wayside.  Some people look forward to the day they can go back to school or have time for a beloved hobby or pursue entrepreneurial endeavors.  Well I had some things I wished to do as well and I was smart enough to see that homeschooling was going to be a significant time-vaccuum.  The only hope?   Get those kids out of the house so I could do the things I wanted to do!

So, truth be told, as much as I adored my children and as much I felt ready to give the world for each of them, I also viewed them as a considerable inconvenience.

Ouch.  There goes my Mother of the Year nomination...

I never admitted my feelings to myself.  In fact, I'm not sure I even realized I thought that way!  But I don't believe that kind of thinking is unusual.  Sadly, it's all too common and I never realized I had fallen prey to a mindset of the world.  Society itself in subtle and not-so-subtle ways teaches us that children are a bother.  They disrupt our plans.  They try our patience.  They limit our abilities.  They can be like a ball and chain that weighs us down, hindering our success and robbing us of fulfillment.

Society teaches us we can't handle our children.  We can't manage them.  We can't deal with the stress they add to our lives and we certainly can't teach them!  So the best thing to do is send them off to school as early and as often as possible.

But while society is teaching that attitude, the Bible teaches something very different.  Nowhere in scripture is there any indication that God hands out children without also providing parents everything they need to handle them, provided they tap into the supply of grace so readily available to them.  He said His grace is sufficient, did He not?  And nowhere does scripture indicate parents are incapable of teaching their children either.  In fact, we are commanded to do it!  This passage from Deuteronomy is the homeschooling mantra, but only because its message is so powerful.

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might. And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:  And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. 
--Deuteronomy 6: 4-7

I am not commanded in scripture to have a spotless home.  I'm not instructed to allot myself plenty of "me time" or to pursue my every dream or even to volunteer my services to worthy causes.  And while there's nothing inherently wrong with any of those things, it is wrong to focus on them while also ignoring what the Bible plainly tells me; that I am to teach my children.  Now granted, that scripture speaks of teaching children spiritual truth and not merely transitive verbs and the pythagorean theorem, but, unfortunately, when kids spend such a huge portion of their time outside of the home at school or elsewhere or sleeping, there just isn't a lot of time leftover for imparting spiritual truth!  

Does that mean a person is disobeying scripture if they don't homeschool?  I don't think so, but I see how easy it can be to pursue other things and then shrug our God-ordered responsibility to teach our children off on the church or on the Christian school.  And while both of those can and should reinforce Christian values in our children, they can never and will never take the place of our teaching them.   

I have been blessed with four beautiful children whom I love with all my heart.  And while there are those days when it seems they'll be little forever, the days when they fight constantly and create one mess after another and wreak havoc on my plans, I also realize they will be gone from our home and out from under our protection in an incredibly short amount of time.  In the scope of time and eternity, the window of opportunity I have to influence them for good is terribly, frighteningly brief.  I had better make these years count!  I won't have a chance to repeat them.  

Now...I was determined I wouldn't draw this subject out again, but I have more to say and I'm afraid it just can't be helped!  I haven't explained the things that helped conquer that unwilling, (and selfish,) attitude of mine when it came to homeschooling.

God has such a sense of humor, I think.  And it never ceases to amaze me the things He can do through our circumstances, even through our utter failures....

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Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Road that Led to Homeschool: Why Public School Just Wasn't an Option for Us

                                                                            Photo credit

(This is an old post of mine written back in the days when I blogged because I needed a writing outlet, mostly just to clear my head from time to time.  I decided to rename and share it again, first of all, because I'm taking a very temporary hiatus from blogging, but also because this post and a couple of others I'll share were gushings of my heart that I feel deserve some revisiting.

I had been homeschooling for a while when I wrote this, but was still baffled, I think, to find myself doing so.  For years I had insisted I would NEVER homeschool, which I thought at the time somehow made me unique among homeschooling moms.  I've since learned how wrong I was in that department, but now that the oh-my-goodness-how-did-I-end-up-homeschooling?? feeling has long since faded away, I still like to look back and remember the road that led me into an educational choice and a way of life I never dreamed I would experience.)

My "homeschool epiphany," as I like to call it, didn't happen overnight.  I never saw an angel, I had no supernatural dreams, and I never heard the audible voice of God directing me to homeschool my children.  The process, (and notice I said process,) was a slow one.  Through time and careful research and diligent prayer and one interesting "happenstance" after another, my opinions evolved over time into what they are today.

You see, my less-than-favorable view of homeschooling goes way, way back.  Not many people were homeschooling when I was a kid in the 80s, but I knew a handful who did and, if I may be honest, they weren't exactly stellar examples of what homeschooling can be.  And, unfortunately, those first impressions were lasting impressions for me.  Even as a child I understood the importance of a good education and I just didn't see homeschooling providing that. 

I'll cut myself a little slack here because I was a child when I came to that conclusion, but, sadly, the anti-homeschooling mentality stayed with me for years to come. 

Add to it that I myself was a product of the public school system.  I went to public school K-12 and graduated with what I considered a very good education.  And I didn't sacrifice my Christian testimony in the process, either!  By the grace of God I lived my faith throughout my public school years and had many opportunities to be a light and a witness for Christ.  And in the years immediately following graduation, I clearly recall insisting that my own children, (who didn't exist yet,) would go to public school just as I had done.  There they could receive a fine education and have an opportunity to show the light of Christ to others. 

But my ideas and opinions have been turned upside-down since those days!  First of all, just because somebody I knew way-back-when gave their homeschool a lackluster effort does not mean homeschooling can't be done very, very well.  Some people are awful basketball players, but that doesn't make basketball a terrible sport.  Even an unathletic, uncoordinated, out-of-shape person can learn to play a decent game of 3-on-3 or H-O-R-S-E, provided he's willing to invest some time and effort into honing his skills.  In the same way, with the proper investment of time and effort even an uncertain, inexperienced, feeling-anything-but-qualified parent can hone their homeschooling skills until they're an adequate, if not exceptional teacher to their children!

And I know there are those of you thinking, "Okay.  Maybe it can be done well, but that doesn't mean it can be done well by me."  Save that thought.  I'll get to it eventually...

Once the bloom of high school graduation had fully faded and especially as I had children of my own, my view of those public school years began to change. I began to realize that the good education I received had far more to do with my own motivation to learn and my love of reading than it had to do with any of the public school methods.  And that's no insult to any of my teachers!  I had some very good teachers who did the best they could with the class sizes they were handed and the cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all education they were expected to provide.  My high school biology teacher taught me to love science for the first time ever in my life.  Though I had struggled for years with even the most basic math concepts, an extraordinary math teacher somehow helped me grasp trigonometry so well I excelled at it and even found myself loving it!  That was pretty amazing.  And I appreciate these teachers' contributions to my education.

But that said, it would be unjust not to also mention some of the very bad teachers I had in the course of my school years, like the angry 3rd grade teacher whose constant yelling left me terrified of her and constantly faking illness so I didn't have to go to school.  Then there was the 7th grade history teacher who always seemed lost in class and one day couldn't read a graph until I finally went in my frustration to her desk and explained it to her.  I can't forget the angry algebra teacher who only got frustrated when people didn't understand, so students stopped asking questions and learned to hate algebra and not do algebra.  There was also the 9th grade World Civ teacher who spent every class period telling us about the evils of political conservatives and the 12th grade English teacher who ignored English and taught moral relativism to the point we questioned if murder was really always wrong.  I could go on and on. 

But what about the issue of being a light for Christ in the public school?  Oh, how my mind has changed on that one, too!  Granted, by some miracle of grace I survived public school with my faith intact, but it was a dangerous gamble I refuse to take with my own children.  We all hope our kids will stand for Christ when put in a situation where they must choose, but to ship them off to school for hours every day in hopes they'll be salt and light might actually be more like throwing them to the lions and hoping they know how to run!  To expect a child or even a teenager to stand for Christ in circumstances that may be far beyond their spiritual grounding and maturity, especially when their faith comes under fire from adults placed in their authority, is an awful lot to expect. 

And even if that child manages to be a light for Christ, like it or not, at least some of their innocence will be sacrificed in the process. 

I was exposed to absolute filth at far too young an age in the public schools.  My parents could monitor the children who came to our home and limit the playtime we had with neighborhood kids, but they had no control over who sat behind me on the bus or who I met in the hallway at my school or who sat beside me in class.  Pornography regularly made its rounds on the school bus.  Bad language started in the elementary grades, but was rampant by middle school.  I would be embarrassed to share here some of the discussions that went on openly in class as early as 6th and 7th grade. 

I had to listen to classmates spew the details of the music they listened to and the movies they watched and was sometimes even expected to listen to it or watch it right in class.  We watched an R-rated movie in the 5th grade, one so gory I only made it about 2 minutes in before I asked the teacher if I could leave the class.  My classmates later informed me I missed full nudity as well.  I still remember those bloody images some 25+ years later. 

In middle and high school, particularly around holidays or testing periods, movies with horrible language, extreme violence, or graphic sexual content were allowed to play with no regard from a teacher busy grading papers or reorganizing their supplies.  Sometimes such movies were hand-picked for their "educational benefit" and shown to the class.  Looking back now, I don't even know why I never protested, except that it seemed pointless.  It was an ungodly place:  It didn't surprise me they were watching ungodly things.  And while it was offensive, it was also incredibly common and not much different from the trash I heard in the hallways or saw on the bus, so rather than make a scene, I would quietly ask to be excused from the room.  To their credit, I never had a teacher refuse me when I asked to opt out and go to the library for the class period, though I had friends who were not so fortunate at their particular schools.  

I've been out of school 18 years now.  No one can convince me its gotten better and most people will agree it's far worse.  And urban, suburban, or rural school district--it really doesn't seem to matter.  My husband graduated from one of the top school districts in the state of Texas, a rural district with top-notch schools and some of the best teachers in the state.  He insists his school was no different from mine.

But remembering all of this the way I do, seeing my own public school experience for what it really was, I don't want to put my child in that kind of environment when there is an alternative.  I can't speak for anyone else and I don't try to tell anyone else what to do, but I just can't.

So what is the alternative?  Christian school is the obvious choice, but Christian schools aren't cheap and for far too many people they just aren't a financially viable option.  And while there are many fine Christian schools out there, sometimes I feel many parents are all-too-eager to enroll their children in schools where the term "Christian" actually applies very loosely.  A school filled with delinquent public school outcasts cannot provide a good environment for Christian education, but neither can one filled with students and teachers who all claim Christianity, yet live lives that demonstrate absolutely no difference from the world.  Sometimes a school filled with blatant sinners can be less dangerous to a young mind than one filled with religious hypocrites who have all had an "experience with Christ," yet in no way has it affected the way they live their lives.

I know, I know.  I'm too wordy.  But you have no idea how much I've brooded over all these things.  My decision to homeschool is not one I've taken lightly.  And no, I'm still not done with the subject here.  Even when I had decided that homeschooling could be done effectively and that public school absolutely was not an option, I had yet to conquer my greatest objections to homeschooling my own children. 

And that's where the real epiphany began...

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