Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Best Laid Plans....

Have you ever noticed that, when it comes to homeschooling, you can spend weeks planning, organizing, purchasing materials, making a schedule, but that those plans may change in the blink of an eye? This has happened to us many times and has already happened to us this year. I planned to start school in early August so that we could get a head start this year. We had four days of school and then woke up to a flooded basement.

Instead of plunging ahead in our school books as I had so carefully and meticulously planned, we spent the next week drying, cleaning, sorting, throwing away ruined items (thankfully nothing too important!), tearing up carpet and hauling away trash from the basement. This was not in my plans. Here, I had decided, quite wisely, in my opinion, to get a good ten to fifteen days of school done in August as a “cushion” in case we had to take time off during the school year for any reason. Instead, we were already taking time off…a mere four days into the school year!!

However, as I prayed about my frustration, and, trust me, I was frustrated, I was reminded that God ordains our days. My well thought out, well planned schedule is not my god. While I, personally, find that our school day goes better if we have a loose schedule, God is ultimately in control of how we spend our days.

I also realized that my children received another kind of “education” that week, one they would not have received through textbooks. My sons spent many hours helping us clean out the basement and tear up carpet. My daughters kept the upstairs running by folding laundry, making meals and doing the dishes, among other chores. They learned the value of hard work. They learned the importance of working together and of everyone doing their share. They learned that sometimes life sends things our way that we neither expected nor desired.

Over my thirteen years of being a homeschool mom, I have learned that I need to remember to allow God to work in my children’s lives (and my own) in ways that did not go according to my careful planning. When we have to give up part of a school day to make a meal for someone who is sick, my children are learning so much more than they would from a textbook or a worksheet. They are learning to care for those in need and to sacrifice their own time. When we babysit a child whose mother is on bedrest with a pregnancy, my children learn that some thing are more important than getting all our school work done that day. They are learning how to care for younger children. They also learn to be put others first.

I am certainly not saying that we should go looking for reasons not to do our school work. Day after day of “I am sure that going to the park is more educational than school books” would not help our children and their education in the long run. But when the Lord sends specific circumstances or people into our lives that change our plans, we need to accept the fact that His ways and His plans are infinitely better than ours. The Lord loves our children even more than we do. The plans He has for them are even better than our well thought out plans for them. Everything that the Lord allows or brings into our lives will help us to grow in Him and to better to able to serve and glorify him, if we allow Him to work in our lives through the circumstances.

So, the next time you wake up to water in your basement, or some similar circumstance, and your carefully laid out plans for the week are completely changed, try not to stress and get frustrated (much easier said than done and I know that from personal experience). Instead, remember that His Plans are infinitely better than our own and that we can trust Him and rest safely in His Loving Arms as we go through life, both the planned and unplanned part of life.

Monday, May 10, 2010

A Servant's Heart

For those of you who are interested, this is the devotional I gave at our church's mother/daughter tea:

A Servant’s Heart

One of the best words to describe a mom is “Busy!” Meeting our husband’s needs, taking care of our children, homeschooling, cooking, laundry, cleaning, running errands, trying make a dollar stretch, making necessary phone calls…all of these things can seem overwhelming at times.

While preparing for this devotional, I read through Proverbs 31. I don’t know about you, but the Proverbs 31 woman has always seemed like an ideal of wife and motherhood that I can not possibly ever attain. Yet, if I set aside my insecurities and truly study this passage, I always learn from it. The verse that spoke to me the most this time was Proverbs 31:31. Give her of the fruit of her hands; and let her own works praise her in the gates. This just shows me, yet again, that the Proverbs 31 woman was not lazy. Her time was spent caring for and meeting the needs of her family.

At times life can seem overwhelming to us moms. At least that is how I feel sometimes. I have learned that when I try to do everything on my own strength, I fail miserably.

Everything we do should be for the purpose of glorifying the Lord. As mundane as these tasks may seem, this includes washing dishes, teaching fourth grade grammar and wiping runny little noses. When I have the attitude of doing these things as unto the Lord, these tasks become a joy instead of drudgery. When I think of all that the Lord has done for me, sending His only Son to die on the cross for my sins, how can I not do these household tasks with a joyful spirit?

This does not always mean that I am happy and chipper. Sometimes I am but not always. Often I am tired and often I don’t “feel” like doing these tasks. But when I remember that I am doing them “unto the Lord” I still have the joy of the Lord deep inside.

It is important that we go about our tasks with a joyful spirit instead of acting like a martyr. I think sometimes we moms relish the role of a martyr. “Oh, I am so overworked and underappreciated.” Again, if we remember why we are doing our wifely and motherly jobs, it greatly helps us to do them with joy.

Our husbands would much rather come home to a cheerful wife than a grumpy one. I have noticed that my mood often sets the tone for the whole family. And a joyful spirit goes a long way with our children, too. Simple gestures like a friendly, “Good morning!” or an “I love you” or a pat on the arm as they walk by or a “How is your day going?” mean the world to a child. And, as with our husbands, it is much more pleasant for a child to spend the day with a cheerful, content mom than it is to spend the day with a grumpy or distracted mom.

Another thing that took me awhile to learn is that my plans for the day may not be the Lord’s plans for me that day. I may want to clean out the hall closet that day but I may need to deal with a child who is having an attitude problem instead. One good way to tell whether the Lord wants us to change our plans is to ask ourselves, “What will truly matter in light of eternity?” A cluttered hall closet will not matter, but a child who goes into adulthood with a rebellious heart certainly will matter.

When one of my children come to me with a problem, however large or small, I need to take the time to truly listen, to make eye contact with them and to respond in a loving manner. When two of the children are having a disagreement, I need to take the time to help them work through it in a Christ honoring manner. As a parent, I need to make sure I am teaching and edifying my children in the things of the Lord. This is part of having a servant’s heart.

I feel that I would be remiss if I did not mention that, as precious as it is to spend time with our children, the Lord and our husband need to be the two priorities over our children.

We will be much better wives and moms if we spend time in God’s Word and prayer. I know this is very difficult to fit into our busy schedules but I can sure tell a difference when I am not spending time in the Word. I think of the story of busy Martha, who wanted a perfect meal for her guests, and Mary, who listened at Jesus’ feet. Luke 10:40-42 tells us which of these sisters pleased Jesus the most:  But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.

I don’t know about you but I tend to err on the side of being a Martha instead of a Mary in this area.

We moms do not have hours and hours to sit and study God’s Word and pray. I have found a tool that really works for me is to listen to the Bible on CD. As I am doing different tasks around the house, I will put a CD in and listen to it. I really like this because often my children will listen, too. I have also found that a really good time to pray is when I go for my walks. There are no distractions and I can just spend time talking to the Lord. A side benefit is that it distracts me from what ever pain I may be having as I try to increase my walking time.

We will also be doing our children a great disservice if we do not make our marriage a top priority. Children who grow up in a home with constant tension between Mom and Dad will have a much harder time in life. They will feel more insecure and they will have a difficult time having a Godly marriage if it was not demonstrated for them while they were growing up.

I want to add something else here, which is a side note, but has been important for me in my marriage. I think sometimes we, as wives, can get bitter when it seems that our work is never ending and our husbands have set hours to work and then they are done. I really used to struggle because it seemed that my work was never done and Jeff seems to have more time to spend in the Word, exercise and pursue other passions. However, the Lord has really spoken to me about this over the years. I came to realize that I am Jeff’s helpmate and not the other way around. I have learned not to nag or give Jeff the silent treatment into doing jobs around the house. Basically, I expect nothing from him in the area that are traditionally the wife’s job. This goes against what the world and many believers teach. Jeff does help me around the house, quite a bit actually. But I am now grateful when he does this instead of upset when he does not. And a huge side benefit to this is that, if I expect nothing from Jeff when it comes to helping with the household jobs, when he does help, which is actually fairly often, I am very thankful instead of feeling bitter when he does not help.

At first this next point may not seem to go along with the theme of the servant’s heart but another thing that has been important to my marriage is to really, truly get to know Jeff and his preferences. In the ideal world, when the husband comes home from work, the house is neat, supper is nearly ready, the children are clean and quiet, the wife looks her best and greets her husband at the door fully prepared to devote the next twenty minutes to just him. This might have happened once at our house. I have learned that the most important things to Jeff is that I am available to him for a little while when he gets home. He really doesn’t care if we don’t eat for awhile or if the house is spotless. However, he loves it when I am there to greet him and spend a few minutes with just him when he gets home. I have come to really look forward to that time of the day as well. In other ways areas, as well, it is important to know what is important to our husband. As wives, we need to make his priorities, our priorities. We are having a servant’s heart by putting his desires above our wishes. From a human perspective, this does not seem fair but I have learned that the rewards are great. It makes our relationship with our husbands closer and, most importantly, it is pleasing to the Lord. And, not that we should do it for this reason, but I have also found that when I desire to please Jeff, it goes a long way towards his desiring to please me in every way he can.

If we do all these wifely and motherly duties to look good to others or out of obligation, it is going to go for naught. Our hearts need to be right with the Lord when we do it. We need to do it for the right reasons which is our love for Christ and our desire to glorify Him.

Having a servant’s heart is not always easy. When I was talking to Jeff about this devotional and asking him for ideas, he suggested the story of the women who ministered to Jesus while He was here on earth. Mark 15:40-42 says, There were also women looking on afar off: among whom was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the less and of Joses, and Salome; (Who also, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered unto him;) and many other women which came up with him unto Jerusalem. And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath. The phrase “Who also, when he was in Galilee, followed him, and ministered unto him;” really stood out to me when I read this passage. These were women who chose to be servants to Jesus. In the same way, we as moms are choosing to be servants to Jesus when we care for our families. One interesting thing to note is that these women were the ones who were with Jesus when He was crucified. Unlike the disciples, who with the exception of John, had run away when Jesus was arrested, these women, who had basically been “just” servants to Jesus and His disciples, had more courage and a greater trust in Jesus than the men who had been taught by Jesus for three years. In my opinion, the reason the women were at the cross was because they had a servants heart. The reason most of the disciples fled was because they did not have a servant’s heart yet. Remember, they were the ones who argued about who would sit at Jesus’ Right Hand in Heaven.

Being a servant does not mean that you have lesser value to the Lord. If you are a servant as unto man than it is going to appear that you have lesser value because mankind sees servants as having lesser value. But when you do it unto the Lord, you are serving the King of Kings of Lord and Lords and it can’t get any better than that. And it has eternal values rather than earthly values.

If we are going to do anything of eternal value it has to be of service to the Lord. If we do it for ourselves or to impress others, it is not going to last. So what ever you do here on earth, do it for the Lord. However big or however seemingly small. However important or however seemingly unimportant. Significant or seemingly insignificant. Whether you are praised or not praised. Do it all unto the Lord and the rewards will be great.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Letter to a Brand New Homeschooling Mom

Dear Brand New Homeschooling Mom,

I can’t tell you how excited I am that you are joining the ranks of homeschoolers. When I read your letter asking for the advice of a “veteran” homeschooling mom, it caught me a bit by surprise. In many ways, I certainly do not feel like a veteran homeschooling mom, much less an expert one. However, my oldest child, whom we have homeschooled from the beginning, is graduating this year so I suppose that does make me a veteran!

The first thing I would suggest is to pray, pray, pray. Pray about what curriculum you should order. Pray about your schedule or lack thereof. Pray before you begin each homeschooling day. When you and your children are having a less than perfect homeschooling day, stop and pray about it.

If at all possible, try to attend a homeschool conference and attend as many workshops as possible.  That is what inspired, encouraged and motivated me in the beginning.

The other advantage to going to a homeschool conference is that you can actually look at the curriculum you are considering. It is often hard to tell from catalogs exactly what the material is like. I know I have been disappointed more than once when I thought the curriculum I was ordering was a certain way only to find out it was very different than what I had envisioned. If you are not able to go to a homeschool conference, it might be a good idea to borrow the books from a friend to look at them before you place your order.

There are a lot of good programs and curriculum out there.  It can be overwhelming.  I would suggest doing research and then sticking to what you choose for the whole school year.  Contrary to what the venders may tell you, there is no "perfect" curriculum/program out there. They all have their pros and cons. 

For your first year, it might be better to stick to one company (such as ABeka or Bob Jones) because it is easier to learn one system than several.  Also, complete curriculum programs like that are really teacher friendly and tell the mom exactly what to teach each day and how to teach it.

It is great to listen to the advice of others but what works great for one family may not work for your family at all.  And what they consider a flop, may be perfect for your family.  Just because something that is supposed to be “perfect" doesn't work for your family doesn't mean you are doing something wrong. It simply means that it did not work for your family.

It is better to err on the side of  being too laid back than being too uptight.  Mom AND the children will be happier.  If you miss grammar one day or only do half the math problems on some days, life will go on and your children will still be well educated.

A schedule is a very good tool. We follow a loose schedule in our home. However, be careful not to let the schedule become your dictator. There may be teachable moments that are not scheduled. There are also days when attitude issues will arise (both in Mom and in the students) and need to be dealt with in a timely manner. That is far more important than making sure math time starts at 10:10 AM.

Treat each child as an individual. In some families, every child learns differently. What works perfectly for your oldest child, may not work at all for your second child. And when you finally discover what works for your second child, you will find that your third child is completely different than either of the first two. This has been very true in our family. Some of my children have the “just give me the workbook and let me get this done” mind concept while others want to explore, research and have more hands-on activities.

On the other hand, I have many homeschooling friends who use the exact same curriculum for every single child in their family and that works great for them. Every family is different in this area and I suspect it will become obvious to you fairly quickly if your second child learns well with the material you use for your firstborn. While it is certainly cheaper when you can use the same curriculum for every child, it just doesn’t always work for every family.

It is also important to keep your husband abreast of what is going on in your homeschool. As the head of your family, he needs to know what is going on. Let him know if your son is really struggling with math or if your daughter is having a grumpy attitude about school on a regular basis. Also, be sure he hears the positive, too. Let him know when your child finally grasps a concept she has that has been a struggle for her. Your husband doesn’t need a “blow by blow” account of each of your homeschooling days, but it is good that he knows about the “main events” in your homeschooling. A side benefit to keeping him informed is, that since he is part of your family, but not necessarily as involved in homeschooling as the mom, he may be able to give objective advice or suggestions. Sometimes we moms are so heavily involved that it is hard to see things clearly and objectively.

Proverbs tells us that there is wisdom in many counselors. Therefore, I have sought the counsel of other homeschooling moms in writing this letter and I want to share with you some of the things they have told me

One veteran homeschooling mom (who has actually graduated all of her children) sent me this letter when I asked her for advice:

1. Be flexible! You don't have to do every subject each day.

2. Take advantage of different learning experiences that might come along. Teaching/learning doesn't always come from a textbook.

3. If your child is a little older and is struggling in a subject. Think about "throwing out" the textbook occasionally (or for a while)
Struggles with reading? Pick out a few library books at their reading level that are about something they ENJOY!! Make up your own worksheets.
Struggles with Math? Make cookies for measuring, double a recipe for fractions. Go grocery shopping and help your child determine which is the better deal?

4. Love your kids and HAVE FUN!!! AND don't feel shy about asking other homeschool mom's for help or ideas! :)

Other Moms suggest:

Many new homeschoolers try to get as much "socialization" as possible to counter that argument before it even comes up.  It's a good thing to get together with others, do co-ops and field trips but I really recommend that you try to be home the bulk of the week.  Aim for one day to be the outing day.

Be flexible and go with the kids interests and learning styles. There is no one curriculum for all kids. Enjoy, don't stress.

Relax and take it easy. Don't sweat the small stuff. Be flexible and remember you can teach anywhere at any time. We had a science lesson last night after supper about probiotics. Don't think you have to do every problem/question on every page in every book. Pick and choose. Have fun!! Learning is fun. Do non-traditional things with learning. Studying about earthworms? Instead of the dictionary and internet go LOOK for worms. Find out what your kids are interested in and learn about that together. We tried to find a certain kind of bird my daughter saw, never found it but we had fun looking!

RELAX. Your children WILL learn what they need to, and often, on their own time-table. I have always been astounded when my oldest has done formal testing - I had no idea he was picking up so much. I would imagine it's true for the younger boys, too - I just have never had them tested.

Be willing to make school a way of life. Your house will not be as clean as it used to be, you will not be able to go out to lunch etc. like your friends whose kids are in school. But, you will be spending your day with your kids and enjoy them.

Try to keep it simple!!! Look through different styles of curriculum to see what will work for you and your kids. Don't give up! Put on some soothing music!! Get fresh air often!! Vitamin D is essential! Coffee, coffee, coffee!!!!!!

Avoid buying different curriculums each year. Also, do not push a child too hard when they are not ready. When they are ready for whatever you are teaching, it will come easier.

Don't spend your whole time looking for the "greenest pasture" in curriculum.  Consistent work in one math curriculum is worth much more than jumping all over in search of the best curriculum.

You are the expert on your own child.  Everyone and their sister will give you advice on what curriculum to use, what approach to take, but remember that you know this child better than anyone else. 

Do NOT judge your homeschool experience on your first year.

Sit down and figure out what your goals are for homeschooling. These goals will help you refocus when you need to. They'll encourage you to keep going when it gets tough. When you can't decide on something, they'll help you decide.

Think about what you are like. Do you like everything spelled out to you when it comes to how to do things? Or are you the type that is a natural teacher? Do you have the ability to find something educational around you everywhere you go? Or do you need more organized learning situations for your children? Do you like crafts and hands-on projects? How many other children do you have? How many other responsibilities do you have (work, cooking for a special diet, caring for a sick family member, etc.)? Are you introverted (meaning you need time away from people - especially children - to recharge)? All of these things will determine the sort of curriculum you might use. My needs are completely different from an extroverted someone who has one to two kids, who loves crafts and who has a husband with an 8-hour workday. Your teaching style is just as important as the child's learning style when it comes to choosing curriculum. Chances are you'll need to compromise both somewhat.

Does all this advice seem overwhelming? Please do not feel that you need to remember all of it or even most of it. Did you notice that one of the most common words in the suggestions these homeschooling moms have made was “relax?“ Every family, every homeschooling mom and every child is different. If you are able to glean one thing from this…if even one tiny piece of advice written in this letter makes your homeschooling journey smoother for you…then it has been worth writing.

God bless you as you begin the exciting adventure of homeschooling your precious children.

In Christ

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Days are Long but the Years are Short (Feb/March Niche article)

“Mom, can you play Apples to Apples with me?”

“Mom, I can’t find my other snow boot!”

“Mom, I was heading towards that chair and he jumped ahead and got it first and he KNEW I was going to sit there.”

“Mom, will you read me a story.”

“Mom, will you help me reach the paints?”

“Mom, my finger hurts.”

Does any of this sound familiar? These are all things that I heard today. How many times a day are we interrupted by our children? Usually more often than we bother to count. However, even though our children often interrupt us, we should not view our children as interruptions. Spending time with our children, whether it is to teach, correct, or just to develop a closer relationship with them, is so much more important than all the other things that may seem huge to us on a daily basis.

I certainly do not mean that we need to be a slave to our children’s whims and wishes. The children’s desires, activities and school work need to revolve around what is best for the parents’ schedule and not the other way around. The parents are the center of the family. The children are welcome additions but a family is not a democracy. God placed the parents to be in charge of the family unit, though of course God is ultimately in control.

Sometimes we have to tell a child, “I can’t read to you right now because it is time to start supper” or “I am sorry you can’t find your boot. I don’t have time to help you look for it right now so you will need to find it yourself. Next time put it back where it goes and it won’t be so hard to find it.” (Of course, if the dog is probably the one who ran off with it, the last sentence can be omitted.)

However, far to often I think we brush aside our children for far less important things. You will never hear the moms of grown children do you hear say, “If only I had kept a spotless house, had a huge garden and made gourmet meals every evening!” Instead I have heard older moms lamenting not spending more time with their children during their growing up years.

If the computer, the phone, television and even much more noble activities, like housework and church activities, are causing us to spend very little time truly interacting with our children, then it is probably time to do some praying and rethinking of how we spend our time.

By “spending time with your children,” I do not necessarily mean that it will work out to sit down and play a game or read to each child every day. It is fun and special to do those things whenever possible, but with all the other demands on our time (such as making time for our spouse, homeschooling, laundry, cleaning, and cooking) it's just not always possible. Though children should be a priority over household tasks, those things do still have to be done.

However, we need to make the most of each moment. When one of my children come to me with a problem, however large or small, I need to take the time to truly listen, to make eye contact with them and to respond in a loving manner. When two of the children are having a disagreement, I need to take the time to help them work through it in a Christ honoring manner. When a child needs my help briefly, I should take as much time as possible to help them.

Another thing I try to do is to have my children work along side of me instead of sending them to the other side of the house to do a chore. Obviously, this is not always practical, especially as they get older and can do more to help around the house on their own. However, when possible, I have my helper and me work together.

Simple gestures like a friendly, “Good morning!” or an “I love you” or a pat on the arm as they walk by or a “How is your day going?” will mean the world to a child. On a side note, it is much more pleasant for a child to spend the day with a cheerful, content mom than it is to spend the day with a grumpy or distracted mom.

I feel that I would be remiss if I did not mention that, as precious as it is to spend time with our children, the Lord and our husband need to be the two priorities over our children. We will be much better moms if we spend time daily in God’s Word and prayer. We will also be doing our children a great disservice if we do not make our marriage a top priority. Children who grow up in a home with constant tension between Mom and Dad will have a much harder time in life. They will feel more insecure and they will have a difficult time having a Godly marriage if it was not demonstrated for them while they were growing up. Though I try hard to spend time daily with my children, they know that when I am reading the Bible and praying or spending time with their Dad, it had better be pretty serious for them to interrupt me.

I am sure most of you have heard the quote from the title of my article. “The days are long but the years are short.“ Any woman who has been a mom any length of time at all knows that, even though the individual days may seem very long, the years fly by. My oldest child will be graduating from high school in a few short months. Wasn’t it just “yesterday” that he was a tiny, four pound, premature, long awaited, much prayed for baby boy? To say that the years have flown by is an understatement.

While writing this article, I have been interrupted three times. Once was to deal with a disagreement between two of my children. It was tempting to ignore it but I could tell they were not going to work it out on their own and parental involvement was needed. The second time I was interrupted was to talk to a son about something near and dear to his heart. I nearly missed that opportunity by being tempted to brush him off and telling him I was writing an article right now. The third time was for a more practical manner when one of the children needed to know where something was located.

Trust me, as I write this article, I am talking to myself as much, or even more, than I am talking to you. Making a conscious effort to spend time with our children is something most busy homeschooling moms need to make a daily effort to practice. May God bless you as you enjoy these “long“ days and “short“ years.

Monday, November 2, 2009

November 2009 Niche Article The Comparison Trap

The Comparison Trap

Do you ever find that you compare yourselves to other homeschooling families? I know that I certainly have!

I have several friends who manage to be all done with school by late morning (and all of them have more children than I do). I have now accepted the fact that school takes us until mid and sometimes even late afternoon, for several reasons. However, for years I struggled with how efficient they seemed to be and how lacking our family apparently was in that area.

When I walk into a homeschooling family’s home and their house is perfectly neat and orderly, even when they are not expecting company, I start feeling very insecure about my own house, which never seems to be completely clean and uncluttered all at once.

Perhaps there are completely different ways that you compare your self to other homeschooling families. My friend, Donna, gave me a completely different perspective, one I needed to hear because I had no idea! I was amazed that a clean, neat, organized homeschooling mom would feel inadequate at times, too. This is what Donna shared with me:

“I am a very clean, neat, organized house keeper. I cannot tell you how often when reading home school articles or talking to other moms that I feel I come under attack because I like my house clean. I know this must sound crazy, but even when I felt that it was right to keep my house clean I began to doubt and to believe that all of the other voices must be right! After all, they all seem to be saying the same thing. I was a failure at home educating my children if my house was clean, and the laundry was done! My priorities must not be correct if my house is in order. I have struggled with this dilemma for several years. Believe it or not I even went through a period where I purposefully let my house become a mess because I was called to a ‘higher good‘.

I can report that it did not work well for me. I could not function. School and time with my children actually fell farther down the ladder because I was unable to function in this type of environment, so I just kind of gave up on all of it!

God created some people to be very neat, clean, and organized. I can give a first hand testimony as to how listening to other people's opinions about things can really mess you up! I finally went back to cleaning. I HAVE to start my day that way. If things are not in order, I cannot function. Call it a flaw if you all want to, but my God made me this way!

As I said, this was new to me and something I really needed to hear. When I read Donna’s email, I felt convicted because I had not only envied, but perhaps inwardly judged, homeschooling moms who keep a home like the one she describes.

When I was preparing this article, I wrote several homeschooling friends and asked them about their struggles in this area. I received so much good input that I feel that I should put their names on this article, too.

One mom who is having some difficulty right now, shared her thoughts with me. This mom has children who are struggling learners and I can fully relate to her fears. She wrote, “I am fearful of their not being able to get a job or have a recognized diploma. I tend to just not be involved with other homeschool families whose children I know are excelling and mine aren't as I don't want them to feel inferior. I know God is in control and that He will direct and guide us as we wait on Him, hopefully with more faith than I am feeling right now.”

Some moms shared how the Lord helped them get past their “need” to compare themselves to other homeschooling families.

Laura Lee wrote that she has struggled because she does not have her children in nearly as many activities as other families do. However, she concluded by saying, “I pray about it and ask the Lord to show me if that is something He wants me to do with our family. If I don't hear from Him, I just take that as a no. I know I can't do everything, that God has a definite path for my family, and it doesn't necessarily have anything to do with what others are doing.”

Sarah Duckstein wrote, “ I have to realize that we are not accountable to others' expectations or their own personal standards. It is God who called us to teach our children, so we are accountable to Him. Just as most of us have realized that different children have their own learning style that works well for them, I think different families have different "family styles" that shape how their homeschool works.”

Teressa Edwards wrote, “I spent many of the first years of our homeschool journey caught up in that "comparison trap." Basically, I never felt secure in what I was doing, so when I would see something other families were doing that looked better, I would switch gears and give it a try. Of course, trying new things in and of itself is not a bad thing, but I was doing it for the wrong reasons. I was trying to "keep up with the Jones" more than anything else. I did not have my children’s best interests at heart. Well, there came a point when the Lord convicted me that there was no other option but homeschooling for our family. The Lord used my dear husband to make me see that I needed to do things within our homeschool that were best for our family, not what was best for someone else. It has been a hard lesson to learn, and at times I still look longingly at the stories in the homeschool magazines, or see creative things another family is doing and am tempted to veer off of my set course. Keeping my eyes heavenward, and my heart with my children helps me stay on the path.”

One of my wonderful editors, Sarah Heywood, shared quite a bit from her heart with me about comparing ourselves to others. “Probably most moms fall into this in one area or the other. It starts in the nursery when we compare the development of our babies to others'. But as we get more experience with motherhood and more children, the comparisons tend to decrease. The same thing happens in homeschooling. It's in the early years of homeschooling, when we're the most insecure at what we're doing, that we tend to compare ourselves most to other homeschool moms. Confidence and experience take care of a lot of that. But, that's not to say it completely disappears.

I also find myself comparing myself to other moms who don't homeschool. I find myself envious of their always tidy homes and the time they have to themselves once all their children are in school. Often, they return to the workplace and are financially better off than we are, as a result. That's difficult for me. Their children seem to be doing well and I find myself wondering if I am sacrificing unnecessarily.

In the early years of homeschooling I spent a lot of time watching other moms. I looked at their teenagers and knew that was what I wanted for my boys once they reached that age. Their teens seemed extra polite, able to talk easily with adults, and had an innocence about them that I didn't see in other schooled teens. So, in order to have that down the road, I studied these moms. If they made a curriculum suggestion, I checked it out. If heir kids were going to a certain activity, mine were there too. Down the road, I wanted what they had, so I felt like I needed to do what they were doing.

That wasn't a completely bad idea. Example is a powerful teacher and as a new
homeschooling mom, I needed to learn by example. But as the years went by I began to feel more comfortable in my own homeschooling skin. I learned not to feel guilty about the things I couldn't provide for my boys, knowing that I was giving them something more valuable - my time..

It's a good idea to watch other moms as we learn how to homeschool. It doesn't hurt to implement some of the same things they do. That's how we find out what works and doesn't work for our own family. It's when we think that our family, our children, and our homeschooled days need to mimic others' that we run into trouble. God has never asked that of us. He has simply asked us to obey His leading in choosing to homeschool. The Bible instructs us to ask for wisdom if we lack it. In light of that, it's a good idea to pray about things we'd like to see in our children and in our own homeschool. Ask the Lord what He would have us to do. His plan for us is individual and much greater than anything we - or somebody that we are comparing ourselves to - could ever come up with.”

No matter how much others may think we have it together, most of us moms will, at some time or another, compare ourselves to others homeschooling families. The truth, however, is that God made each family as unique as He made each individual. No two families will homeschool exactly alike. God choose our particular children to be in our particular family. And it goes without saying that God is infinitely wiser than we are.

On the flip side, we need to be very careful not to make others feel inadequate for non-sin issues. Perhaps there is an area of our homeschooling where we feel that we really have it together. While, it is wonderful that something is working so well for our family, we need avoid pushing the idea on others and making them feel that they don’t measure up because they don’t do things our way.

Obviously, if we have sin issues in our life, we need to correct them. If we are watching television or on the computer all day instead of schooling and interacting with our children, we need to make some changes. If we are grumpy towards our children all the time, we need to work on our attitude (and perhaps get more sleep!). If we are not spending time in God’s Word and seeking Him for guidance in our homeschooling, then we need to recognize that our homeschooling life would go much better if we lean on Him for direction instead of trying to do it ourselves.

Sherry Newman shared several verses with me that were very helpful in preparing this article. One was,“God has promised to equip me for what He's called me to do (There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it. I Corinthians. 10:13).

While we want to avoid the comparison trip, that does not mean that we can not learn from others. Another verse was “Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend. Proverbs 27:17” God can and does use our sisters in Christ to sharpen us. However, after we pray about it and talk it over with our husband, if we do not believe the Lord is leading us in that particular direction, we need to be content. James 3: 16 tells us, “For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.”

While I was preparing this article, my pastor, Doug DeFord, shared something in a sermon that I thought was very applicable to this article and so I quoting him as best I can remember, “There is always a place for self evaluation. However, if we focus only on our failures, we will not run the race well. We should not compare ourselves to others but only to Christ.”

I would like to conclude with something Christine Scott wrote. Christine’s husband, Jim, went to be with the Lord a few years ago and she is raising three little boys by herself. “My first thought was a quote Jim once told me, 'Comparison is the root of discontentment.' I know that when I begin to compare, I get too hard on the boys, I get easily frustrated and the atmosphere in our home in not peaceful. I move away from what God had instructed me to do and try what worked for someone else instead, I know it makes me feel like I am not good enough and this attitude passes down to the boys. Comparison is flat out dangerous for I begin to meditate on lies. And one lie leads to another and before I know it, I am ready to give up my freedom to homeschool. How I avoid it? Check with my principal, My Lord, before I try what another homeschool mom does. God hand-picked me for to be my children's teacher and God hand-picked them to be my students. Another thing I catch myself at is comparing the children to each other. Then God brings to mind an article I read about each child being a different kind of arrow in a quiver. In Ladies Bible Study, we have been studying about being vessels of honor and we learned that some of us are made to be waterpots and others delicate vases but each of us has a purpose in His divine plan. I am trying to teach the kids this too as they compare themselves too.”

May God bless you as you homeschool your children in your own unique way.

(A big thank you to all you wonderful homeschooling moms who helped me write this article!)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Back to DC by Josh Stilwell

We arrived at the Leadership Institute in Arlington, Virginia, after an already long day of traveling. I was looking forward to chilling, eating supper and going to bed…I should’ve known better. That night began a crazily jam-packed, but amazing, week of TeenPact Back to DC. After the introductions and getting to know some people, the leaders informed us that sessions would begin that very night.

All of the speeches that week were very good. They diffidently made us think. Christopher Stio did the first session on the real nature of politics. He talked about the presidential campaign between Johnson and Goldwater. He stated that being right in and of itself does not guarantee victory or change. The second session followed right after that. We had some really deep discussions about the purpose of the law and other issues. It was really amazing, but it didn’t take long before I was ready for bed.

I was a part of the group that has to stay at a hotel rather than the dorms at the Leadership Institute. Thought this meant we got a little less sleep, it turned out to be a great experience. Traveling in Metro with all these amazing guys and girls turned out to be some of the best and more memorable parts of the week.

The week was very intense. After getting to bed around midnight, we were up at 6:00 am and enthusiastic to start the day…at least that’s what we told people. Right after breakfast, we began our tour of the D.C. area. We assigned into different travel groups. I was in Group 1 (we had very original titles for our groups) and Jonathan Showman was our fearless leader.

We were able to see the Supreme Court Building - with the Ten Commandments engraved in stone on the walls. We then got a tour of the Capital Building. That was a lot of the fun. We oohed and aahed at the statues and painting of our nation’s leader and scenes from our history. Our guide told us that there were several paintings above several doors in the building. When the original artist painted them, he knew that America’s history was not yet over. Therefore, he left some blank. Some still remain blank to this day. It got be think about what will be put in those empty frames.

Next, we went to the Library of Congress. It was an amazing place. You could feel the history that was in that building. I don’t see how anyone going into the Library could deny our nation’s Judeo-Christian heritage. Mosaic architecture was everywhere. Pictures of angels guarded the building.

We returned to LI to begin our campaign activities. After being told some the fine points of campaigning, we read the biographies of five candidates. We were all assigned a candidate and charged with trying to get that person elected. I was assigned to Congressman Edward Edwards (his name’s so nice you gotta say it twice.)

The biography said that Edwards was veteran, a pro-life activist and an advocate of gun control. It was actually kind of fun getting to play devil’s advocate on some of the issues. We had an awesome campaign team. We all worked really well together and got to build relationships as we campaigned.

We had a blast coming up with slogans, writing speeches (I was the speechwriter), making press releases and the like. One of our team members couldn’t make it for part of it because he wasn’t feeling too good. But that was no big deal. Yet.

After a wonderful supper, we learned a little bit about public speaking and communication. We then studied the Lincoln Four Step system of targeting voters. We learned how to connect with and affect voters.

I believe that some of the best parts of TeenPact are not on the schedule. For me, one of the most enjoyable parts of the week was hanging out with all the people who stayed at the hotel. Because there wasn’t enough room at LI’s dorms, some of us had to stay at a hotel about 45 minutes away.

It was so much fun just hanging out with those guys and girls. One night, while waiting for a shuttle to the hotel, two of the guys treated us to some brake dancing. We would talk and swap stories at the Metro stops. Because we were dodging crazy Washington taxi drivers, Lydia Shanks established a no-death policy for the week. We strictly prohibited from dying.

Friday was particularly special because we got to spend all day at the Family Research Council’s Value Voters Summit. We got to hear some amazing speakers, including Governor Mike Huckabee, Cerrie Prejean, Major Blackwell, Star Parker and others. Then, on Saturday morning, we got to listen to even more speakers. These included Mitt Romney and Lila Rose.

After listen to all those amazing communicators, I was ready to jump out of my seat and take action. It was very motivational for me. We also got to hear from conservative filmmakers and veterans. It was fascinating to hear their opinions on their particular field.

We spent Saturday clad in our newly issued Back to DC t-shirts, which featured the caption, “We came. We saw. We walked. A lot.” That was a very accurate statement. After listening to some more wonderful speakers, we got to go on a monument tours.

That night was very emotional for me. Maybe it was just because I was so tired, but the beauty of those monuments hit home with me. We first went the Washington Monument. I was actually separated from my group on the way over. They claim it was my fault, but it was clearly theirs. Obviously.

At the Washington Monument, we took part in tradition by kissing the monument while everyone sang kiiisss the monument. We then linked arms and created a giant ring around the monument. It’s one thing to see pictures of the Washington Monument, but to be at its base and staring up at it is pretty special. Before leaving all of us mounted the marble benches and simultaneously jumped off as cameras clicked.

Then we went to the World War II Monument. For me, this is when the emotions started to hit home. It was a beautiful setting. The sun was just now setting. The white pillars stood there as a reminder of those who had died for my freedom. I found the Iowa pillar and just got me thinking about all the young men - people my age - who had died for this nation.

One of the intern girls reminded me that these monuments were built for a reason. Just like when the Israelites built the stone monument after crossing the Jordan, these structures were built so that the next generation would never forget what had happened.

Then we all marched over to the Korean War memorial. By that point, the sun had set and darkness had encompassed the monument. When we turned the corner, a silence gripped the group. Ghostly white figures of soldiers frozen in time met us. Their faces were filled with emotion as they stood amongst green shrubbery and tiny points of light.

Beside the ghostly figures was a small pound guarded by dark walls. The scene was both peaceful and haunting. Everyone started speaking in whispers. I just stood there, trying to take it all in. then we got to a sign, which pointed out the fact that these men had died for a country they did not know and people they had never met. It took me a moment to grasp the magnitude of that statement.

As I pondered those words, the Lord began to speak to me. I realized that as amazing at that was - and it is very awe inspiring - it was nothing compared to what Christ did. He died for His enemies. He died for me. At that point, I was overwhelmed. I literally got on my knees and thanked God for all that He had done for me.

Next, we went to the Lincoln Memorial. Our friends from the south relished the fact that the profile of Robert E. Lee could be seen on the back of Lincoln’s head. One the coolest parts of the night was getting to go the lawn outside the monument and have a worship service there. That night was defenently a highlight of my week.
Sunday we were treated to a special “home church service.” There was a special worship service. The last song we sang touched on the holiness of our God. This was followed up by a brief devotional from Lydia Shanks. She read from Isaiah 1 and stressed the importance of having a proper focus on bringing God glory as appose to ourselves. I found it very convicting.

Jonathan Showman gave the main devotional. It was on the subject of temptation. He brought out a lot of very good points. After he was done, he had us each write down some verses and then go to the rooftop to study them.

After I had finished studying those verses, I got out my notebook and wrote down all the things that my God had been teaching me during Back to DC. I wanted to make sure that I didn’t forget all that the Lord was going in my life.

We then divided up into groups based on which sites we had selected to see. I was with the group that went to the Holocaust Museum. One of the wonderful things about touring Washington with a group of TeenPacters was that we did everything from a Biblical worldview. Before we event left the Leadership Institute, we all gathered around and had a discussion on the sovereignty of God.

Visiting the Holocaust Museum was, of course, a very sobering experience. The magnitude of the onslaught against God’s people was shocking to the point of breath taking, even for those of us who had studied the Holocaust before. However, one girl in our group described the whole experience as an honor. And, in a way, it was. As we left the museum, the last thing we saw was a sign, which read, “Think About What You Just Saw.” We did.

After we left the Holocaust Museum, we had some slightly more upbeat adventures. We briefly visited the Smithsonian of American History. Though we only got to stay a few minutes (fifteen to be exact), the visit was memorable in its own respect.

When we returned to LI, we got busy on our campaigns. The elections were that night and we had a lot of work to do. There was going to be a two-hour debate that night and we still had letters to write and voters to interview. And an unexpected twist complicated things further.

Our candidate became very ill. He wanted to go through with it, but the rest of us decided that it was wasn’t a good idea. Therefore, we took some time to pray and then went to as the program director, Aaron Watson, if we could get a substitute. Aaron came back with an evil glimmer in his idea.

Grinning like a kid who had just been given fireworks, Aaron laid out a strategy for us. He said that we should hold a press conference and announce that Edward Edwards had tragically died and that his widow would now run in his place.

Naturally, we all loved the idea, but we had to move fast. The press conference would be in just a few minutes and we had to select a “Mrs. Edwards”, write the press announcement, put together a new biography and write a speech for our new candidate. This was harder because we were understaffed. Two of our people we sick and another had to leave early.

However, we managed to get it all together. We were still writing notes as the press conference began. Of course, our announcement woke everyone up. We were informed amidst the laughter that we had just made Back to DC history.

Our “Mrs. Edwards” did a wonderful job in the debate - as did all the candidates. The questions asked were not easy. There were times when I certainly didn’t pity the people who had to give answers. But everyone held their own and it was fun to watch.

Of course, the hour came when we learned how had won the election. Unfortunately, we did not win. But that didn’t really seem to matter to anyone. We had had a great time building our campaign.

After the excitement of the elections, things began to cool down as they gave us airport instructions. We then made our final trek to the hotel. When got there all the guys gathered in one of the rooms and we prayed for each other. We prayed that the decisions made that week would be long lasting. We prayed the fire that had been lit would never die. And we prayed that our God would be glorified through it all.

We woke up the next morning bright and early (which was no longer a big deal to us) and headed back to the Leadership Institute for the last time. From there a shuttle would pick us up and take us to the airport. At LI we ate breakfast amidst a stream of goodbyes. The morning basically consisted of hugging this person, shaking this person’s hand and promising to keep in touch with this other person.

It was so great getting to me all those wonderful people. And later that morning, Aaron gave us an excuse to tell everyone just that. We all taped pieces of paper to our backs and wrote each other notes on them. This was all done under the stipulation that we couldn’t read them until after we got on the plane.

Before long, it was time for my group to head out to the airport, but only after a stop at Starbucks. I had fun fellowshipping one last time with the people in the van. Before we knew it, we were on the plane. After a brief delay in Chicago we made back home…and into the real world. Now it’s my responsibility to act upon everything I learned.

October 2009 Niche Article

Lessons Learned While Camping

Recently, my family spend twenty-four hours camping at Lake Aquabi near Indianola. While we were technically not “doing school,” God taught us so many lessons over that brief period of time that I almost thought I should be able to count it as a school day!

Lesson #1: “Remember there are still chicks in our nest even when one chick is missing.”

At first I did not want to go camping because Joshua, our oldest son who is seventeen, was in Washington DC for a TeenPact event. I knew it would not be the same without the whole family there with us. However, the Lord gently reminded me that I had four more children who would enjoy the family time together. He also reminded me that my oldest is now a young man and as he goes to Bible College, and even eventually gets married, he will no longer be part of many of our family activities. Josh believes the Lord has called him to be a pastor and, as a mom, it is my job to step back and encourage him to pursue the goal God has given him. As it turned out, we all missed him very much on our camping trip, but we had a very nice time with our younger four children. It was also exciting to see Joseph and Josiah rise up and help their Dad with many of the things that Josh would have normally helped Jeff do, such as put up the tent and gather firewood.

My five children will not always be in our home. Someday God may give them homes and families of their own. As they leave our nest, I need to learn to adjust and to remember that I need to continue mothering the children still in our home and trust to the Lord those He has led elsewhere.

Lesson #2: “Trust God when scary things happen.”

We had no sooner packed our van, pulled out of our driveway and gone half a block when my worst nightmare occurred. My husband Jeff very calmly said, “The brakes just gave out.”

Since Jeff has quite the sense of humor at times, I thought he surely must be joking so I asked incredulously, “Are you serious?”

His clipped “Yes” and the look on his face told me that he was very serious indeed.

The next minute or two, until Jeff was able to maneuver the van to a stop, was one of the scariest of my life. The children in the back seat were scared, too, but thankful they stayed silent as we all prayed. Praise the Lord that no other vehicles came through the two intersections we went through and that no child ran out in front of us. As frightening as it was, though, throughout the whole thing, I had peace that God was in control.

We still ended up going camping. We took another vehicle and managed to arrive safely at Lake Aquabi only three hours after we originally anticipated arriving.

Lesson # 3: “Just because we go on vacation doesn’t mean we leave our sinful nature home.”

Even though we had a lovely time together at Lake Aquabi, there were moments when our sinful natures reared their ugly heads. Two of my children argued several times while we were on our camping trip I wanted to just overlook it and distract them instead of dealing with their hearts on the issue. After all, we were on vacation, even it if was a twenty-four hour one! But then I realized that just because we were on vacation did not mean we could overlook and ignore our children’s sins.

Likewise, I struggled with my own sinful nature several times over the weekend. I became impatient with different member of my family more than once. I nagged my husband (more on that later). I ate s’mores to the point of gluttony. Several times I found myself needing to pause to ask the Lord’s forgiveness.

Lesson #4: “We can be nice and show respect to others even if they don’t treat us the same way.”

We had to have had the nosiest camping neighbors in the whole place! They laughed and talked loudly long into the night. Even when the DNR came at 11:50 PM and asked them to quiet down, they continued to be loud, oblivious to all those sleeping in tents just a few feet away from them, including us. At one point I turned to my husband on the air mattress next to me and told him, “I want to go home” and, at that moment, I meant it with all my heart. I was ready to take down our tent, pack up and head home in the middle of the night. They were very loud into the wee hours of the morning.

The next day, we had several opportunities to interact with these camping neighbors. We chatted several times and shared sharpened sticks with them (for roasting marshmallows). Our children learned the valuable lesson that just because someone annoys or irritates us, that is not a reason to be unkind to them. It was basically an opportunity to 'return good for evil,' although "evil" seems like too strong of word to use for their lack of consideration for us

Lesson #5: “Hiking is a lot like life.”

I almost subtitled this lesson “Contrary to popular belief, Iowa is not flat.” On Saturday morning, the six of us walked around Lake Aquabi. The hike itself was only a little over three miles long. However, keep in mind that the trail went up and down steep hills. The trail was also uneven and had many roots and stones along the way. Towards the end, Jennifer, our youngest, and I were getting really tired. The last mile felt like it would go on forever…and ever!! But we had to get back to our tent and so we had no choice but to keep going. Even though we were tired, Jennifer and I encouraged each other along.

Joseph, Josiah, Jessica and our dog Pooch enjoyed running ahead and they were back at the tent resting by the time we arrived. Jeff went much slower than he needed to because he made sure that Jennifer and I were always in his sight. He looked back often to make sure we were okay and often dropped back to walk with us. Jeff jogs several times a week and could have easily been the first one back at the tent. However, he chose to stay with the slowest ones in our little group to make sure we got back safely.

Life is like that, too. Often the trail of life gets long or steep or bumpy or narrow and we want to give up. Yet we, as Christians, can and should encourage each other to keep going when the trail gets extra tough. The faster, more “fit” Christians can edify and encourage the younger or more “out of shape” Christians along life’s often difficult road.

Lesson #6: “Nagging my husband puts a wedge in our relationship.”

Sigh! I try hard not to nag my husband but sometimes that part of my sinful nature rears its ugly head. When we arrived at our campsite, it was warm and I had my window down. I forgot to roll it up before Jeff turned the vehicle off. When I noticed this, I became concerned that a raccoon or some other critter would get into our station wagon in the night and into our food supply. Since Jeff had the only key, I wanted Jeff to turn on the car again so I could roll up the window but every time I asked him, he said he would do it later. I asked him at least ten times throughout the afternoon. Looking back, my timing was often terrible. I kept asking him when he was busy putting up the tent or gathering firewood or some other needful activity. Eventually, he himself rolled up the window but I put a temporary wedge in our relationship, however small it might have been. It is very hard for a husband to feel very loving towards a wife who is constantly nagging him to do something that he just can’t or doesn’t want to do at that moment.

When I am tempted to nag my husband, I try to ask myself, “What is the worst case scenario?” Usually, it is not nearly bad enough to justify my nagging. In this case, the worst case scenario, if the car window had not been rolled up, would have been that a critter could have gotten into our food and we would have had a bit of a mess to clean up and we would have had to go into the nearby town to buy more food. Neither of those things are worth me becoming a nagging wife.

Lesson #7: “God’s creation is amazing!”

Since we love nature, we truly enjoyed the fact that most of the weekend, we were outdoors. The whole weekend we marveled at God’s creation. What human being could possibly come up with so many shapes and sizes of trees? And who could imagine that there would be so many shades of green? The wild flowers were abundant and colorful. The lake was beautiful, especially in the morning when a light fog drifted across it. There were so many different kinds of birds. The chorus, “What a Mighty God We Serve” kept going through my head as we looked around at God’s creation. If, for no other reason, the camping trip was worth it just to be able to admire the beautiful world God made and to stand in awe of our Creator.


I could include a few more lessons like not bringing one’s dog on a camping trip and watching out for tent stakes sticking out of the ground but since those don’t necessarily have spiritual applications, I decided to leave those out. I am thankful for the opportunity our family had to go camping and for the lessons we learned, or were at least reminded of while we were camping. I praise the Lord that He is faithful to teach us these things as we go through life, even on a family camping trip