Friday, June 17, 2011

The Home School Convention

The home school mom walked into the annual convention, thinking she was prepared for the weekend. The schedule of workshops she wanted to attend and the list of curriculum she needed was all tucked into her bag. So filled with expectation of what she'd hear and what she'd find, she attended the first session, then, another, then, another. Oh, this was going to be great! She knew she had to continue in this calling that God had placed on her and her husband to disciple and teach their children in the Lord, but it had been another exhausting year. She wondered if she was doing enough. There were days she struggled with thoughts of failure, contemplating if she really had the ability to persevere. Some days, she was simply tired. But, to hear speaker after speaker giving passionate talks on why we are to be diligent, why we should continue in this journey of home schooling was such an inspiration. She learned so many other things, too, like reasons one child may be struggling in certain areas and how to solve those problems, new strategies for putting life into their studies and realizing once again that she was not alone. Other moms have their frustrating days, too! What a wonderful weekend this was going to be! Suddenly, it dawned on her that she had not eaten lunch, but this was not a problem. Being the prepared home school mom that she was, she had packed a sandwich, some fruit and a bottle of water. The first day was moving along nicely.

Then, she stepped into the vendor hall. Each year, she would take a deep breath and quietly remind herself of her small list of books she needed, but each year it happened. Her head felt like it was spinning, her shoulders sank, her knees became weak. She thought she heard strange music as if from a movie. She pushed herself to begin walking, looking straight ahead, not looking any vendor in the eye, even though she felt like every vendor was staring at her like a bird of prey. Occasionally, she would hear one calling to her, sounding far away, asking if she had heard of their curriculum before, but she continued on and on. She suddenly couldn't seem to find her list anymore. It was still tucked into her bag, but something prevented her from reaching for it. "What books did I need? Where do I need to go? Wait, how many children do I have? Oh, no, what's my name?" Oh, good. Her name tag was hanging from her neck, so she could at least answer the last question. Finally, she gave in. Another vendor called out to her and she felt this incredible force pushing her to their table. She ended up buying books she felt she couldn't live without, and yet felt a tinge of guilt. She put her self talk into practice again. She miraculously found her list and scolded herself for purchasing items that were not on it. This time, she was going to be disciplined, but it wasn't long before it happened again. She kept hearing promises of yet another book or curriculum that would revolutionize her home schooling experience. She did buy most of the books she needed, but added many more.

The guilt wasn't a comfortable feeling anymore, so she decided to replace it with excitement. "Wow, look at all these things we can learn this year!" Of course, when the children saw the weighted down cart and the mysterious smile and glazed look over their mother's face, they weren't sure what to do. Play along and get excited over the new found treasures or run away screaming? What really took the cake was when this home school mom began laughing in a rather sinister way. "Oh, kids. There is so much to learn. We have our work cut out for us, but boy, this is going to be fun. Even if it means that we won't finish home schooling until you're 30, we can do it!" More laughter to follow. A look of terror came upon their faces. And, remember, this was only the first day of the convention.

Every June, we look forward to our home school convention. For the first few weeks of the month, we continue to home school until the day before the convention starts. Going to this big event is a reward for us after a long year of schooling. We really don't ever finish school, but the conference is the beginning of a nice break for us before we pick up again later in July. Every year, we are greatly encouraged by the speakers, by seeing old friends, meeting new ones and of course, finding some great books and other items to enrich our home school. However, I have to admit that during the first couple of years, I was a bit overwhelmed. So much information. So many choices! And, even now, it is still easy to get carried away and to lose my focus.

One of the beautiful things about home schooling is that I am learning things I never learned in the public school system or sometimes, I'm simply relearning concepts that were a struggle for me when I was younger. I love books and I love learning and one of my desires is to instill that same love into my children, but at what cost? This is a noble cause. It is wonderful when children really want to learn and want to obtain a rich education, but if I'm driving them and myself crazy in the process, spending too much money and losing sight of the most important reason to home school, then, it is a waste. The truth is that I'm never going to be able to cover everything. I won't be able to read out loud to them all of those books on my shelves, just like they probably won't be able to read all of those books on their own, but I will read what I can and I can steer them in the right direction, so that they can read for themselves and research information on their own. None of us stop learning in this life.

At this time of year and at other times throughout the year, we must keep ourselves in check. It is good to evaluate where each of our children are in their learning process, seeing what works and what doesn't. Going to the home school convention is an excellent time of renewal and encouragement for us moms. Yes, we will need to purchase books, sometimes spending more on extra things, but we have to ask ourselves why before we go full speed ahead. Do we remember how many books we still haven't used from previous years? Do we remember that the library is always a viable option? Or how about sending those kids outside and having them explore the world around them? Books are great, but they aren't the only tool that we have. Most importantly, do we remember that these children who really belong to God, will get what they need and that if they love and serve Him that everything else will fall into place?

Here are a few suggestions that I'd like to share with home school moms who are either new to this convention thing or even seasoned home school moms that may drift from the right focus:

First, pray before you even go to the convention. Pray that God would show you what workshops would be of the greatest benefit and what books would help you in teaching your kids. Secondly, always consult your husband before handing over the money to any vendor. You are his help meet and spending without talking to him can be very disrespectful. Deciding on a budget ahead of time is helpful, too. If you are a single mom, go back to the first suggestion and pray for wisdom. Thirdly, do not compare what another home school family is doing. Your family is unique. God made you that way. Fourth, have a list before stepping into that vendor hall. Sometimes, it's okay to add to that list when you see something new, but use common sense. Be kind to the vendors, maybe even listening to what they have to say about their curriculum. They're there because they really believe in their product and after all, they have families, too! Fifth, know that we are discipling these children for God's glory and that He will give us what we need to accomplish this task. He is more than able to give us strength and courage to keep up the good fight. Joshua 1:9 says, "Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." Finally, rest. Rest in Him. Do not worry and do not forget that He carries you. "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest." Matthew 11:28

May you be blessed during this convention season. Have fun and keep your eyes on the Lord.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Garden

It seems we've had some major setbacks to planting our vegetable garden this year. In May, we had a record amount of rain and storms which rendered our ground useless to till. In between the rains, we'd check the soil, but it needed more time to dry out. The garden would have to wait again. Then, the rain stopped. We had a stretch for several days of good weather and our good neighbor came and tilled the garden for us. Finally, we could begin planting. Another setback was lurking on the horizon. Our family contracted a nasty cold virus. *Sigh*. I'm happy to say that we are on the road to recovery, so we began the planting over the weekend. There were two more potential setbacks on Saturday, however, when first, the temperature rose to 92 and I, being with child, could only handle short increments of time in that heat. Returning to the soil in the evening helped, but then, we heard distant thunder. I felt a prayer rising within me that said, "Please Lord? Can you hold off on the storms just a little while longer?" Of course, whether we got the storm then or later, it ultimately was in the Lord's hands. We would get planted what we could and just have to rest knowing we did our best. To our delight, we only had a short rainfall and some thunder.

We were able to finish the planting of the main vegetable garden the next evening with only the herb garden left to plant. I like to add to my herbs every year. This year, I'm adding peppermint, sage and chives among other things. I am so thankful that even with all of the setbacks, we were able to plant the garden.

The work has only begun, however. Yes, we've tilled, dug our rows, planted the seeds and watered, but there is still more watering and weeding to be done before we can enjoy the harvest.

Gardening always reminds me of our children. I referred to this concept of planting, watering and weeding when speaking of why we've chosen to home school. It is imperative, no matter what the setbacks are, that we put in the extra effort and "prepare the ground" for planting. We need to take the time to plant the seeds and to water and then, we have to continue these actions while they are living under our roof. This is obedience to God. In Proverbs, we hear again and again the importance of training our children, of children following the instruction of their parents and of seeking Godly wisdom. "My son, observe the commandment of your father and do not forsake the teaching of your mother; bind them continually on your heart; tie them around your neck"(Proverbs 6:20-21). The Deuteronomy passage is always timely in this admonition to teach and to train the children God gave to us. "You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up"(Deut.6:7). Paul reminds fathers, "do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord"(Ephesians 6:4).

How do we tend this "garden" that God has given us? To me, preparing the ground is praying. Praying before we ever have children and then, praying every morning before those little ones awake. Praying every moment of the day, while correcting a behavior, changing diapers, fixing meals, teaching division, diagramming sentences or reading a book out loud to the children. We have to pray continually. And, then, we need to read and meditate on God's Word. We should be reading it so much that those words of life and wisdom are fresh on our hearts.

We plant the seeds by living out our faith in front of our children. When we fail, we need to confess that before God and share with our kids how loving and patient God is with all of us when we take our eyes off of Him. We plant seeds when we read the Bible. This should be the most important subject in our curriculum. It should be the first thing we reach for before any other book. In our home, we begin each day with a Psalm and another chapter of the Bible. The kids watch "Picture Proverbs" on DVD which gives them a Proverb each day. Daddy reads the Bible at dinner time and the children that read, spend time in their own Bibles during our afternoon quiet time. I still feel as if we're only scratching the surface when it comes to Bible reading, but it's a start. We're planting seeds when we pray with our children, worship with them and answer questions about God and why our hope is in Him.

We water those seeds by continuing that training each day, persevering when times get tough and remembering the important instruction, "Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary"(Galatians 6:9).

We "hoe between the rows and weed" when we lovingly correct a child, when we say "no" to something that may seem harmless to them, when we take away a privilege or give a painful consequence because of disobedience.

A long time ago, I had a unique opportunity to plant a garden in someone's life. There was a little girl whom I babysat during my summer days. I was a little girl myself, but even at a young age, God placed a desire in my heart to sow seeds of truth into that little girl. We took walks together and enjoyed picnics at a nearby creek. We sat on her porch, singing praise songs, reading the Bible and praying together. I had no idea at the time what those seeds would do later on. I just knew I had to plant them. Today, that little girl is a grown married woman who loves the Lord. It didn't end with her. Her parents love the Lord, too.

It's important to point out, however, that whatever seeds I planted in that precious girl so long ago or what I'm planting now in the hearts of my children will only grow and flourish because of the grace of God. It is God that draws these little ones to Him. It is God that causes the growth. And, it is God that changes lives. "So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth"(I Corinthians 3:7). We are to be obedient and train our children in the fear of the Lord. We need to pray for them unceasingly. We have to live a life of faith, so that we can be good examples to them. But, if we try to do all of this without Him, we not only will fall flat on our faces, but the focus will be on us and not on Him.

Just like I desire to faithfully work in that vegetable garden, I'm going to be faithful to the calling of pointing these precious souls to the Savior, knowing full well, that it is God who is ultimately faithful. He will cause the growth in each of my children and will guide them through this life. What a bountiful harvest that will be!