Almost a year ago we started considering home schooling. In case you don’t know me, this was way, way off my expected life path. But I was really discouraged by the direction Josiah’s school experience was headed. To be honest, Josiah’s academic needs were the primary catalyst for us choosing to home school. Because he was on an IEP and I started to believe no teacher was ever going to have the time to get around to working on it with him. Because he is a gifted boy with great potential (which, by the way, is what I’ve come to believe about every kid), and I felt that potential was being squandered in a class of 30 students. Because he could have easily blended in and flown under the radar until grade 12 and come out with an average school experience. Because by grade 4 it’s not cool to be smart and he was embarrassed by it. Because he resented his own strengths. And because the reality I saw unfolding for Josiah was what I believed would eventually happen with Abby.
But the thing is, I couldn’t fully define all the reasons we were choosing to home school, yet I knew in my heart that it was right for us, and I believed the rest of the reasons would reveal themselves in time. And have they ever. Seven months into this journey, here are 7 discoveries I’ve made.
1. We stepped off the hamster wheel. The last few years of our family’s life have revolved around the demands of a traditional school schedule. Daily, weekly, monthly, annually. We rushed. We squeezed in. We ran around. I was impatient. I was tired. I felt disconnected from my kids. And it felt like it never ended. Now our life has a new rhythm and an enjoyable pace. By the time we start school at 9:15 or 9:30, I’ve already had 90 minutes of time alone to work out and do my devotions and get my head in the right space for the day. We ease into our work, and we’re done school by 1 or 2 o’clock. In that time we’ve had a recess and lunch break, and when we call it a day, my kids have truly free time. No homework or chores, except the usual family responsibilities around dinner. When I go to bed each night, I look forward to the next day. That’s no small thing.
2. The kids are exposed to a variety of activities. When the kids were in traditional school, our lives felt more hectic, so I vigilantly limited the extra-curricular activities they chose for my own sanity. But now, because our mornings are our own, learning at a good pace, we are ready to head out into the world for fun and activity in the afternoons. I’m happy to have my kids in these activities now and they don’t feel like the burden they once did. This year my kids have taken part in dance, piano, choir, curling, basketball, DI, boys club, and are about to head into swimming, volleyball, and baseball. They can enjoy so many more of these things because we can be more efficient with their school work time in the mornings.
3. I set the agenda. We have a daily and weekly routine that is based on our priorities, but if we need to stray from it, we do. God’s Word and prayer are important to us, so that’s how we start each day. We have a plan, but if it’s freakishly gorgeous outside, we’re going to alter that plan and spend extra time outside. If I get a sense one of my kids needs my undivided attention, I send the other one to play and follow my instinct to invest in that one in that moment. I feel more free to follow the Spirit’s lead in our life. So I guess this one is less about setting my own agenda, and more about following God’s agenda for our days.
4. More meaningful discussion. Countless times in our week, my kids ask questions or topics come up that lend themselves to great conversations. Because we spend unhurried time together each day, we can indulge in these chats. There’s no rush to move to the next thing. In fact, there is no more important thing. One of my biggest values as a parent is to be available for my kids to discuss life and apply God’s truth. I used to have to struggle to create those moments, but now they come naturally, on a regular basis.
5. I’m their biggest influence, and Jesus is mine. I confess, the one thing I used to criticize about home schooling was that it pulled kids out of the real world and away from people who needed Christ. I still believe we have a great responsibility to engage the world and be intentional about being in relationship with people who don’t know Jesus. But this point is different for me. It’s best explained through Abby. Already, in grade 1, I could see that Abby was affected by girl drama. I could see the beginnings of pecking order and cooler kids and how she was starting to behave to maintain her social position. She was learning a lot of social and relational lessons at school, but not necessarily the ones I felt would serve her best in life. The relational lessons I want Abby to learn as a 7 year old are best taught in much smaller groups than 22, and the best person to teach and model those lessons to her is her mother. I’m not perfect, by any stretch. But, I am the best person to teach and model life lessons to my children. That’s how God designed it. So, with all my heart, I seek Jesus, and then I pray they will see him in me every day.
6. We live real life together. Because we’re not running around on the aforementioned hamster wheel, my kids take part in real life with me. They’re more involved in house cleaning and cooking. They know when one of my friends is having a hard time and we need to break so I can listen. We recently had my niece and nephew stay with us for over a week while my sister-in-law was in the hospital, and my kids saw first hand what it looks like to interrupt your life to really love your family. It feels a lot more like we’re living life together as opposed to living our own lives in the same house.
7. We’ve changed. It took a good friend to point out this benefit, which I was slow to recognize. My kids and I all behave differently. We’re more calm. Content, she called it. I’ve noticed Josiah is more involved in grown up conversations. He contributes. He’s not so hard on himself when he makes a mistake. I’ve noticed Abby is less high strung. Less competitive. More compassionate. Throws fewer tantrums. And I’ve noticed that I’m more the mom I want to be. Sometimes I think that reason alone would be enough to continue.
I’ll be honest- things are tight for us right now. I’m sure you can relate. Our decisions over the last couple of years, which we felt were choices of obedience, have brought us to a difficult place financially. So now, in the wake of “giving up” a bunch of things we didn’t really want to give up, we find ourselves in the face of possibly giving up more. And I have moments of wrestling with that. Moments of wishing that obedience to Jesus wasn’t actually hard. Moments of wanting to cling tightly to what I have.
But what is it, really, that we have been asked, or may be asked to give up? Jobs. A home. Possessions. Reputation. Free time. Or the hardest one for me- proximity to family and friends. I like those things.
But then I read this. “Have the same mindset at Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death- even death on a cross!” Philippians 2:5-8.
Jesus left heaven for me. He was separated from his Father. The King of creation became a servant to those he created. The sinless one took all of humanity’s sin on himself. The One worthy of all praise and honor was beaten, cursed, and accused. Jesus died on a cross to buy me back from the devil, whom I had willingly sold myself to. Because I was worth it to him. There was nothing more Jesus could have given for me. I admit, the sacrifices I’ve been asked to make feel so small in light of the One who walked away from everything.
“So I’ll stand with arms high and heart abandoned, in awe of the one who gave it all. I’ll stand, my soul Lord, to you surrendered. All I am is yours.”
I am, indeed, in awe. When I consider how hard it is to give up these earthly things I cling to, I cannot fathom how Jesus gave all that he did. So, daily, I’m surrendering my desires, my plans, my things, my soul. What Lord, can I offer you in the light of all you’ve offered me? I’ll give you all that I am, as small as it is, and pray you will turn this life into a spotlight on your glory.
“If there’s a road I should walk, help me find it.”
Our journey into homeschooling began the day I walked away from Josiah on his school playground, up on the monkey bars, trying to hold back his tears. The story leading up to the tears is a long one, but I had to leave him there and go back to work. I asked myself as I walked away, “Is this really what I want for him for the next 8 years?” That day, for the first time, I opened my mind up to a different possibility. I had always assumed we would send our kids to public school right up until grade 12. I honestly had never considered homeschooling an option for us. Ever.
But this is the vision God gave me instead. A vision of a road we were walking on. A good road, with beautiful trees and vines and bushes. A road we saw ourselves walking on for a long time. Not sure of where it was going, but sure of the road itself. But then, as I looked back at Josiah on the monkey bars, I caught a glimpse of a little light under a wall of overgrown bushes and vines. As if the Holy Spirit rustled the leaves to get my attention, and something compelled me to go over and lift up the leaves, to see what was behind the wall of greenery. Lo and behold, behind the thick, overgrown brush was another beautiful road. I called Dwayne over to peek through with me, and to actually consider what it would be like to walk that road instead. It seemed a little crazy to both of us, but it did start to seem more and more clear that God was calling us to that new road, quite unexpectedly. It was hard to actually commit to leaving our original road. It was hard to turn aside to the new road without reservation. But, eventually, when choosing between two good and beautiful roads, it is best to follow peace and joy. God was changing our desires and our expanding our vision, and suddenly more and more pieces in our life started lining up and fitting together in an “only-God” sort of way.
What began as a homeschooling journey, has now turned into a major shift in all areas of our lives. School, family, work, relationships, service- they have all taken on a new meaning for us. Our mindset is renewed and we love where God is leading us. All because we took one look behind the vines.