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.