Saturday, August 27, 2011

My Homeschooling Essentials

Lessons plans are prepared, books have arrived, the kids have had their last summer pool parties, and it’s time to begin the school year! As for me, excitement and dread mingle as I face a new year with challenges that I can’t anticipate, the ever-present insecurities related to giving my two bright sons a good education, and second-guessing myself almost every step along the way. (For starters this year, it took me three tries before I actually purchased the right compass for Matthew’s geometry class....)

So every year at this time, I forcefully focus myself on these three homeschooling essentials, which shine like beacons across the ominous stacks of books and papers on my schoolroom floor. They remind me of what really matters:

1) Every summer, God gives me a passage for our school year to focus on in parenting and teaching my sons. It is of great comfort to me, reminding me that He’s the one who holds their destiny in His hands, even as I am the one teaching and role modeling and parenting. We memorize this passage the first week of school. This year, it’s Psalm 25:4-5:

Show me your ways, O LORD, teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are my God and my Savior;
my hope is in you all day long.
2) Time spent with God is the ultimate necessity for me. No matter how long the previous day has been, I have to roll out of bed early and get face-to-face with the Lord! I will never persevere in doing this overwhelming job without continually centering myself on Jesus, listening to His wisdom and direction through His Word, telling Him the thoughts and questions on my heart, soaking His life into my soul every morning. This is top priority, a nonnegotiable for every day, whether it’s a school day or not!

3) And, getting to the heart of the matter, I need to remember why I am homeschooling in the first place. This list (below) goes near the front of my school notebook, so I can find it quickly when I start to wonder why we’re doing this. For those days when the algebra equations look like they are written in Sanskrit instead of English. Those times when a son’s sullen expression makes me want to throw the history book on the floor. For those moments when I see spindly, misshapen trees, and not the beauty of the big-picture forest that is our family. Why am I homeschooling? These eight reasons top my list:

Why I am Homeschooling Middle School & High School Sons
1 • I want to know & understand & enjoy my children to the fullest as they grow & mature into the men they will be. (This means also dealing with their moods, attitudes, arguments & angst!)

2 • I want to invest all that I have in the training of the sons God has entrusted to me, for these relatively few years that I have with them.

3 • I want to make the most of every opportunity in teaching them & learning from them, exploring Truth & God’s world together.

4 • I want to teach & demonstrate God’s goodness & faithfulness & extravagant love toward my sons. (Who better than a mom to do this?!)

5 • I want them to experience and understand the priority of family as the primary relationships through which God encourages us, teaches us, grows us in Christ-likeness and develops deep, lasting relationships.

6 • I want to take my sons, their dreams & goals & thoughts, SERIOUSLY — not condescending to them simply because they are not yet adults.

7 • I want to give them time & opportunity & encouragement to explore their interests & gifts, regardless of whether they falter or excel.

8 • But even as I want to do my best for them for God’s sake and for our family’s sake, I want to trust God with developing their hearts & minds. I am not the one in charge of their lives & their days. He alone knows the plans He has for them, and those plans are for their good & His glory!

What essentials help YOU persevere on your journey (homeschooling or otherwise)?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Snake in the Grass

Fat puffy clouds adorned the pale-blue sky on a beautiful if oven-hot day. I sent Ben out to gather black berries from our bushes on the hill. What a gorgeous day! I mused as I looked past the hot haze toward the mountains.

Ben returned in only moments, empty-handed, a bit pale. (Normally, he would have spent an hour: picking berries, eating them, being distracted by every bug and leaf in his vicinity.) "What’s wrong?" I asked.

"I heard a snake rattle in the leaves." I believe I went a bit pale at that point.

"It rattled? As in rustling through the leaves?"

"No," Ben said. "I heard a rattle and looked down and saw a rattlesnake next to the bushes, by that old railroad tie. So I didn’t pick any berries. I just slowly walked away from it."

I breathed a loud and relieved "thank you Jesus." Lord, thank you for a son who can spot a rattlesnake! And for giving him the wisdom to walk away from it. Slowly.
 Bowing to Ben’s naturalist inclinations, we hopped online and identified the snake as a Timber Rattler. We learned that juveniles like hunkering down in shrubs (like, say, berry bushes) while the adults, in the absence of rocky cliffs, prefer holes in rotting wood (like, say, neglected railroad ties). We also learned that, while they are not typically aggressive, their venom can kill.

(Insert respectful, stunned silence here.)

I considered my options. We could abandon the berry bushes to the snake and start visiting the farmstand up the road. I could banish all children from that hill for the foreseeable future. I could . . .

"I"m going to call Dad!" Ben decided, his excitement mounting as he thought further about his dangerous discovery. When he hung up, he announced: "Dad wants us to use the zoom lens on the camera to take a picture, then email it to him."

(Insert second stunned silence here - not so much of respect this time, but of sheer incredulity.)

My husband, the cloth from which Ben is cut, thought it would be a good idea to go back outside, seek out a venomous snake, and take the time to get a clear photograph. Whereas I — a relocated Yankee suburbanite — was wondering why on earth I was living on a hill in the middle of the woods, sharing my habitat with things like rattlesnakes and scorpions.

A lesson on wifely submission (more likely, a shock response): Ben and I put on our sturdiest sneakers, grabbed the camera, the phone and a big shovel and headed out. (In hindsight: did I really think I would have the wherewithal to hit a snake, should it strike at us? Remember, I’m the one who searches the bedsheets at night with a flashlight, for fear of a 1-inch scorpion waiting to strike.)

I crept down the hill, Ben with camera close behind, my rusty shovel raised, ready to beat that snake into pulp, should we see it. Which we never did (see it, I mean). Ben sighed with disappointment; I exhaled with relief.

Who knows how many rattlesnakes we’ve strolled by in the high grass on this hill, ignorant as to the dangers lurking beneath our feet? The thing is, were I still back in my Boston suburb, I’d be facing different potential dangers: violent crime, traffic accidents. Isn’t this the stuff of life? Every day holds hidden risks that we don’t even know enough to be anxious over.

In the end, the God who made us also keeps us and protects us. My fears and worries are not what guard my children; God Himself does. He has numbered our days. His sovereign hand holds back the rattlesnake, the drunk driver, the dangerous criminal, the deadly disease (unless He allows otherwise). Wherever we wander, our God walks with us and knows the next step. Snakes in the grass are no surprise to Him, never have been.

I entrusted my son’s life to the Lord before he was even born, and have done so a thousand times since. Today, I will entrust Ben to God once more.

(For that reason, and that reason alone, I may let Ben pick blackberries again. Some day.)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Two Kinds of Mountains

Ever since we moved into our hilltop home, Psalm 121:1-2 has been very special to me:

I raise my eyes up toward the mountains; where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

As I watch the changing seasons and weather through my windows, I see the mountain ranges in the distance, standing firm, unchangeable to my human eyes. And I think of the Lord, the one who made them: how He stands faithful, firm, unchanging through all time. How his mercy to me and to my family is faithful and unchanging as well. I raise my eyes to those mountains in great hope, because they are a reminder of the God who is my unfailing hope.

So when we turned to Psalm 121 in our Summer Bible study, I was looking forward to thinking more about God’s steadiness and unchanging nature. Instead, my eyes were opened to what’s really behind those precious verses:

This psalm, along with the other Psalms of Ascent were written to be sung as the Israelites made their pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the most important feasts of the Jewish year. As they raised their eyes from the dusty desert road to see the mountains that lay before them, they wouldn’t have been feeling comfort and hope, as I do when I look out my window. On the contrary, dread and hopelessness probably stopped them in their tracks, as they faced crossing those mountains in the midst of shifting seasons and weather conditions. In short, lifting their eyes to the hills probably brought spine-tingling fear, not heartfelt hope.

I imagine these weary travelers singing to God, reminding themselves of Who He is, the one who will carry them across! No obstacle — not even the mountains themselves — could stand between them and their worship of the One who created those mountains. The Psalm goes on to remind these pilgrims of God’s presence with them on the journey, through hot days and bitter nights, in the face of any danger they may meet along the path. Their God would not let them fall but would carry them through to their destination.

After studying this Psalm, I looked again at the mountains outside our window. I thought about the daunting obstacles in my own life, two mountains in recent years that appear, quite honestly, impossible to traverse. I’m confused about how to walk! I have no idea what lies on the other side. How easy it is for me to tremble at the sight of these towering peaks!

But I know the God who ordained these mountains in my life. I know that He will change me in this messy mountain-climbing process, even as I struggle and gasp and sweat. I know He goes with me each step of the way. My prayer is that He would transform these looming peaks from crushing loads that I dread, into great monuments of hope. The toughest terrain, the most discouraging obstacle, is no match for the God who walks with me, who shelters me by day and by night, who gives me strength to persevere on the path He's laid out for me.

Lord, I’m not asking you to transform those mountains into soft grassy fields. I know you have a purpose for them. But I do ask you to transform my heart as we trek this path together, that they would no longer be objects of fear, but of hope and confidence in you.

Postscript: I wrote this blog in June and never did post it. Since that time, I am overjoyed to report that, while the "mountains" in my life remain, God has cleared the confusion in the air, made the sun shine brightly to light my way, and turned my trembling fear into joyful hope in Him. As I looked back at this blog today, I realized that He has already answered this prayer. I may still be gasping and sweating as I go, but it is with full confidence that God is accomplishing His purposes with both of these "mountains." To God be the glory! My Help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A New Name

In the past 24 hours, I've had two conversations that have reminded me of this devotional I wrote many years ago. In it, I reflect on the new identity God gave me (as He does with every adopted child in His family) when He brought me to Jesus at the age of 24. 

To him who overcomes, I will also give...
(Jesus, Revelation 2:17)

In the Old Testament, God calls a person to Him and then changes his name — Jacob is renamed Israel ("wrestles with God"); Abram’s new name is Abraham ("father of many peoples").

In Hebrew culture, a person’s name defines the person. While my name is still Heidi, God’s call changed my identity as much as if God had changed my name, too.

I remember it so clearly. I was 24 years old, and I had just returned home from a Christian retreat. Something was very different in me. I didn’t recognize what it was at the time, but somehow, God had opened my eyes that weekend to what was in the Bible.

I read it, as I had done for years, and it suddenly was alive with meaning; Jesus seemed to leap off the pages, declaring Himself to be God’s true Son, who could transform my life, if only I would listen to Him, trust  Him, follow Him.

This change had profound practical implications. Until then, I had been living in reaction to my experiences with my family. You see, my parent’s divorce had led me to the conviction that I would never marry and CERTAINLY never have children! Making such a commitment with possible heartbreak in the future seemed so foolish to me. I set my mind on my career and "played the field," looking for only what would satisfy me at the present time.

But my identity was no longer shaped by the family I’d been born into. Instead, the primary influence was God Himself, the One who made me, and the One I lived for.

I was a member of His family now. I was no longer a "child of divorce" or even a pianist or a writer or a social worker, or any of the other things that had previously defined me in my own eyes. No, all these things paled in comparison to my relationship to God, and those things which had previously "defined" me became ways to serve God: I played piano and sang in church; I wrote articles for a Christian newspaper; I taught others about God and self through the Bible instead of trying to teach them about themselves through psychology.

I no longer feared following in my parents’ footsteps... I had new footsteps to follow in, and I knew that the One who led me would also give me the strength and grace to love a husband "till death do us part" and to raise children to serve God, too.

Many today believe that their past determines their future, that a "dysfunctional" childhood will likely lead to "dysfunctional" relationships in adulthood. In their minds, identity depends upon dealing with a past that cannot be altered. But my identity was made new when I became a child of the living God, and nothing can overshadow or remove the name He has given me.

My name is still Heidi — but don’t let that fool you! For my God has given me a new name.