My Last Day of School

May 7, 2016, was my last day of school. After 20 years of homeschooling four daughters, our youngest finished her last day of senior year. It hasn’t been easy, but it was the best educational choice for our family and I have absolutely no regrets. I have learned so many lessons.

What I consider a lack of provision is often God’s direction.
When I began this journey in 1996, I thought I was homeschooling the oldest for only one year until we could afford private school. During that Kindergarten year, I discovered that teaching my daughter to read was ten times easier than potty training! Her love for learning opened up new possibilities for her and she declared a love for the nation of China that remains to this day. Her younger sister listened to our studies and she began reading at the age of four, though she was not yet in Kindergarten. We still didn’t have the money for school so I continued schooling them at home. 

Just because something is hard doesn’t mean I should stop doing it.
Homeschooling was incredibly hard in the early years. I felt alone. I felt lonely. I felt exhausted. I had a lot of “yellow bus” days—“Yellow bus, please come get my children!” At night, I tried to devise some good excuse not to do school the next day, but my OCD side took over and school almost always won. During the day I yelled and threatened and pulled out the phone book to call any school I thought would take them! In my heart, I sensed that I was supposed to keep homeschooling, so I did. But I wasn’t too happy about it.

Commit to the present and wait for the future.
In those early years, I was so focused on the future options for my children’s education that I had missed the present opportunity before me. I didn’t realize that indecision and uncertainly were robbing me of mental and physical energy. After much prayer, I committed to homeschooling every day of the school year and to reevaluate our options at the end of the year.

Change in my school started with me. 
My short temper and yelling was not helpful to create a good atmosphere of learning. Often my kids responded in the same way I responded to them. God revealed to me that if I wanted them to talk respectfully to me that I needed to model it to them. Little by little, day by day, He grew my patience and grace—for myself and for my children. Gratefully, the younger ones don't remember the yelling years.

I don’t have to have all of the answers.
Although my husband was supportive, I really needed to process and brainstorm with a fellow homeschooler. In His graciousness, God sent me a dear friend and ally who was as “iron sharpens iron” in my life. We discussed curriculum options and learning styles, individual learning challenges and how to challenge our kids to greatness. For ten years, we had our own two-family co-op where we partnered together to cover topics both academic and extra-curricular. She inspired me and challenged me beyond my self-imposed limitations. I was a better teacher because of her friendship.

Don’t underestimate what my children can do. 
In the course of our homeschooling, one had significant learning challenges. After years of working with a speech therapist, then a reading specialist, then a vision therapist, and then a tutor, she was still struggling. During the summer after eighth grade, she discovered Ben Carson’s autobiography, Gifted Hands, and set a goal to attend nursing school at Johns Hopkins. We discussed what it would take and I told her that she would have to “up her game.” At the end of her first semester of freshman year, that student had all A’s in her average to advanced high school level courses. Later, she decided on a different school, but continued her focused attention. During her high school career, she earned a total of 29 college credits with nearly all A’s. She is amazing.

Comparison kills joy. 
No matter what we did in our homeschool, it always seemed like someone else was doing something better, more creative, more academic, more something. As I began to plan each spring, I would ask God what He wanted my kids to learn and I planned accordingly. But many times I doubted that our school was academic enough, fun enough, thorough enough, challenging enough, etc. Instead of trusting God, I second-guessed my decisions and found myself frustrated as I tried to achieve the perfect homeschool. Eventually, I realized that the perfect homeschool is as unique for each family as each of the uniquely created students who are being educated.  

And so this is the close of one chapter and the beginning of another. Homeschooling was not easy, but it has been worth every minute. I “sail into the uncertain future surrounded by the faithfulness of God.”

 

Purity Is about More Than a 3-Letter Word

Pure: without any extraneous and unnecessary elements, free of any contamination

In a culture saturated with sensuality, it is a gargantuan challenge to raise children who are pure yet are also “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). There are many scriptures that call all believers, no matter what age, to live a life of physical purity, but there are also scriptures that call believers to have a pure heart and to think about that things that are pure.* 

Nothing Ever Changes

You may feel that purity is an impossible goal in the current world we live in, but truly our culture is not so different from the culture New Testament describes. Galatians 5:19-21 provides a warning to the believers in Galatia who engage in certain behaviors, a list that sounds very much like the challenges for Christians in our 21st century. Satan’s schemes haven’t changed, but neither has God’s call for us to live free from the contamination of sin.

In the scriptures it is clear that God calls His children to be physically pure, but there are also many scriptures that call us to be pure in heart—in our thoughts, intentions, and attitudes. God’s idea of purity includes being free from contamination like jealousy, anger, rivalry, envy, and anything else that doesn’t reflect who He is. Raising pure children in a pleasure-driven culture isn’t easy; it requires intentional parenting. 

Set a Standard

When God entrusts us with His precious little ones, He is asking us to be His agent, one empowered to act for or represent another, to raise His child as He would. Since Satan masquerades as an angel of light and children are not born with the wisdom and experience to recognize evil, it is our responsibility as parents to establish boundaries that reflect God’s standards. 

Setting a standard is important, but it is equally important to explain why the standard is important and to connect it to God’s expectations so that someday they will be able to set their own wise guidelines. It is our responsibility to educate and maintain standards in areas such as  interactions with friends, management of money, and use of media, just to name a few, but it also means that we need to hold our children accountable for impure actions or attitudes by confronting the sin and bringing correction—an infinitely more challenging role than merely enforcing rules.

Set an Example

When I was studying to be a teacher, I learned the saying, “More is caught than taught.” I believe there is some truth to that. Our children are observing us every day and learning about acceptable behavior for adults. If we have one set of guidelines for our children and another set for ourselves, it makes us hypocrites but it also demonstrates to our children that standards of purity don’t matter as much or at all when you’re an adult.  

If we want our children to be adults who live pure lives, then we must show them the way. If we want our children to grow to be adults who love God, then they need to see us loving God. If we want them to speak respectfully to us, then we need to speak respectfully to them and our own parents. If we want our children to be free from anger, rivalry and envy; then we must lead the way. When we set an example of godly character, we are saying, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (I Corinthians 11:1). We need to be the kind of adult we want our children to become.

 

*For specific references, please see: http://www.openbible.info/topics/being_pure. Click on the scripture to change to a different version.

How Our Family Celebrates Valentine's Day

heart with hands.jpg

Our family likes to celebrate. We celebrate holidays and people and babies who haven’t yet seen the light of day. Valentine’s Day is no exception. In the course of homeschooling, we taught our young girls about St. Valentine and the historical basis for the celebration, but we also focused on Valentine’s Day as a day to celebrate the love of God and the love of family. 

Love is Giving

Our sweet little ones grew up and somewhere along the line, our gift of miniature heart-shaped boxes of chocolates morphed into bags of Lindt truffles and Valentine’s cards carefully chosen by Dad and signed by both of us. But that’s not what my girls are looking forward to this Valentine’s Day. 

Love is Sharing

I’m not even sure when our tradition began, but I remember thinking that girls want valentines. They want to feel special and valued and loved. I figured that if they didn’t get that at home, they would search for it elsewhere. So 10-plus years ago I decided to share my valentine. 

Love is Faithful

Yes, I think it’s important that our girls know that their dad and I are in love and that I am his #1 woman, but celebrating Valentine’s Day with overpriced restaurant dinners and red roses isn’t the only way to show our love. The girls see how my husband honors and prefers me every day of the year, how we serve each other, how we have faithfully planned date nights every month for the past ten years, and how we want to be together. Just the two of us. As much as possible. So I don’t mind sharing for a few years, because after that he’ll be all mine.

Love is Honoring

Since my birthday falls during the week of Valentine’s Day, we have a date to celebrate both occasions and then we celebrate Valentine’s Day as a family. We try to honor the girls as we would someday expect their husbands to, by making it a special evening with dinner served in the dining room on china or our nicer plates. The menu usually includes a new recipe of something elegant, sometimes several courses, and always concludes with a delicious dessert. Sometimes the girls dressed up, sometimes dad cooked, and sometimes we moved a table into the family room. But the best is what happened after dinner. 

Love is Belonging

Every year Harold turns on the same CD, one that he and I often listened to while we were engaged, and then he takes a turn dancing with each daughter—yes, I get a turn, too! I love to watch the whispers, the giggles and the smiles as they each have their moment feeling special, and treasured, and loved. Sometimes the daughters went back for a second dance, sometimes they dressed up in my old bridesmaid gowns, sometimes sisters danced with sisters since our family is sorely lacking other male dance partners. But at the end of the night, each girl knew that they belonged to a family who loved them dearly.  

Love is Preferring

This year we were honored to be invited to participate in a special dinner event at our church on Valentine’s night. Of the two daughters at home, one was working late and we considered having the other join us at the event, but we realized that our youngest would probably only have two more Valentine’s Days with us. She was overjoyed to learn that we had chosen to stay home and that we will be continuing our Valentine Family Celebration tradition.  

Love is Timeless

Life changes so quickly but we never outgrow love.  Last year we celebrated with only the youngest. The other daughter living at home had chosen to be a part of an amazing regional event of Christian young people who were gathering for prayer and worship, another daughter was settled in Dallas, and another was serving as a missionary in Mexico. In April, our missionary daughter returned and that night, her Dad put on the “dancing CD,” held out his hand and said, “We missed our Valentine dance.” As I type this, I am still teary-eyed as I remember the love in his eyes and the tears on her face as she was once again reminded that she was special and treasured and loved by our family. Some would say that it was a little late, but love is always on time.

The Perspective that Changed My Parenting

A water-damaged picture beside my kitchen sink, taken Mother's Day 1999   

A water-damaged picture beside my kitchen sink, taken Mother's Day 1999 

Once upon a time, I was a mom of four girls, ages six and under. My life goal had been to be a mom, and I wanted to be the best one ever. But no one told my girls that. They argued and fought and screamed and cried and complained to go to church and said unkind things to our adult friends—all things that normal children do to embarrass their parents. I read parenting books, prayed, cried, and disciplined—sometimes for the same repeated disobedience many times in one day. Their character wasn’t growing, but my anger sure was. I considered myself a failure before the oldest was even 10.

Man looks on the outward appearance but the Lord looks at the heart. (I Sam. 16:7)

God showed me one day that I was trying to raise “trophy children” so everyone would see that I was a good mom. Truly, my primary goal was that their outward behavior would be socially acceptable and make me look successful. (That sounds so selfish and ugly, but it's the truth.) I repented, and God changed my perspective. This time my goal was not a temporary behavior change for a particular situation, but a forever heart change that would cause them to make godly choices for a lifetime.  

When I asked my girls to do something or to change their behavior, I tried to connect my request to a Bible verse which helped them understand that it was God’s request, not just mine. This perspective had some unexpected benefits. First, it caused me to carefully consider each request and align it with God’s Word. I also tried not to ask the girls to do something that I could do myself, like retrieving an item. I also realized that when the girls chose not to obey, I didn’t take it personally or get bent out of shape about it, because I realized that they were choosing not to obey God. That perspective disarmed my emotions of failure because their obedience was not about me personally.

Doing the right thing for the wrong reason doesn’t make it right.

God calls us to “Train up a child in the way he should go…” (Prov. 22:6), but it isn’t so that we’ll look like successful parents. That would be all about us. He wants our children to have pure hearts so that they will “shine among them like stars in the sky.” (Phil. 2:15) Our goal is to train our children to love God and to make wise choices that honor Him when no immediate reward is involved and no one is watching, to be bright lights that lead the way for others to encounter Christ. That change in perspective of parenting has made all the difference in the world for me and my family. Tomorrow we PREPARE.

#IntentionalParenting2015

Happy 2015! 

For the past week my email box, Facebook feed, and online advertisements have been filled with systematic plans for meeting new year goals—Couch to 5K for the running enthusiast, a 12-month plan to organize your home, a 30-day menu and shopping list for clean eating, daily email assignments to declutter your brain, and the list goes on. This morning, it occurred to me that I haven’t seen one article about one of the most important goals in my life—raising godly children. 

Achieving a goal doesn’t just happen. 

Achieving a goal takes a plan, behavior changes and lots of hard work. After talking about losing weight for the last 20 years, my husband finally achieved his goal in 2013 and lost 80 pounds. (Yep. 8-0) He made a plan to use the My Fitness Pal app to chart a course and record everything he ate. Finally, he bought a used bike with a comfortable seat and disciplined himself to ride. Nearly every day. In about 6 months, he had lost 50 lbs. A year later he had reached his goal weight. Eighteen months after that, he has kept it all off.

One bite at a time.

The saying goes, “How do you eat an elephant?” “One bite at a time.” When you have a big goal, it’s easier to achieve when you break it down into smaller goals. Raising a godly child is huge goal and sometimes overwhelming, so I’ve made a 12-month plan broken down into various character traits. I am not promising to blog every day, but I am committed to post at least weekly to provide some ideas for you and your family. I welcome your questions, but I hope you’ll post your suggestions for the others who are also following this series. 

As with any goal, it always helps to have someone who is walking beside you in the journey. If you are married, I highly recommend that you and your spouse decide together what this will look like for your family. If you’re a single parent, you may want to find another parent who will act as a sounding board and an encourager. I may not live in your town, but I hope this series will be a source of support for you, too. You can do it!

During this year, I plan to post ideas and our own family experiences on Facebook and Twitter with the hashtag #IntentionalParenting2015. I hope you’ll do the same so we can share experiences and encourage each other.

Big goals require big changes. 

If you are serious about raising godly children, it will require planning, change, and incredible dedication. I believe that the goal is worth the sacrifice. Tomorrow I’ll post the plan, but the behavior changes and hard work are up to you.