Thursday, April 26, 2007

Becoming Like Christ

There is not doubt I have a long way to go to be the person and mom I want to be. Instead of walking about with my own agenda, easily tripped up when minor or major infractions occur, I want to smile at every mistake and lovingly proclaim, “It’s okay darling, I’ve made many mistakes, too.” When I see others, I desire to listen to the Holy Spirit’s leading about how I can bless them, with no thought of myself. I want to pray for everyone I see or think of. I so want to be like Christ. I long for the truth that, "I no longer live, but Christ lives in me" to be evident and lived out in my reality.

Yet as I struggle with the person I am versus the person I want to be, I realize that God has done so much work in me already. Though I am not what I will one day be, I am so thankful that I am not what I was a few years ago.

Nearly all the positive changes that have happened in me are a result of the challenges, difficulties, sad situations, and troubled relationships where I or someone else failed. Metamorphosis has occurred through painful circumstances and the trials the Lord has allowed, from cancer to misspoken words.
God’s faithfulness in transforming me through these trials has enabled me to say with the confidence of Paul that, "He who began a good work in me will, indeed, bring it to completion." And this promise gives me faith to believe that I will, with certainty, be more consistently Christlike with each passing year. For it is His purpose and will for me. In fact, He predestined me to be conformed to the image of His Son! Now, we can’t get any more sure than that. I am predestined and marked out to be like Jesus! And I know that one day in heaven, I will be suddenly like Him. But this verse says it will be a conforming work in this lifetime. Peter tells us we are constantly being changed from glory to glory here on earth.

Cherishing these truths keeps me from becoming discouraged about how weak and unlike Him I am today. For when I lose my patience or become discouraged or self focused, I can remember I am yet, still, moving forward in Christ. Though I fail today, I can be certain, by faith alone, that He is using it all to make me more like Him.

As Paul exclaims in Galatians 3:3, “Are ye so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?” I was saved by believing God. His Spirit saved me; I could not save myself. Now I must remember that it's not up to me to make myself more Christlike. No amount of trying, working, rule keeping, or perfectly following a "believer’s checklist" will accomplish this spiritual work. Believing saved me, and believing will sanctify me.  

What a relief to my soul to know I don’t have to try to become like Jesus. I must simply maintain the faith to believe that I will. If I focus on myself and how far I have to go, my faith waivers and I'm left idling until I pick back up my shield of faith. Paul tells us in Hebrews 3:14, “For we are made partakers of Christ [His nature], if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end.” What a joy to know I will be like Him because He is making it so. I can smile at every mistake and continue loving others with the wellspring of living water that flows from within me.

Untying Homeschool Burdens

As an author of homeschool books, I want so much to interact with and bless homeschool moms. It is my heart’s cry to encourage, build up, and say, "YOU CAN DO THIS!" to every mom I encounter with those weary and worried filled eyes. I seek to untie the heavy burdens they have strung upon their backs. Burdens that weigh them down with guilt, shame, and hopelessness. Those rampant lies that say they are inadequate, driving them to do this and that and use every bit of curriculum they bought at the last convention—else they are failures.

I can’t count how often I have heard the question, “Am I doing enough?” seep into conversations, emails, message boards, and e-loops. How earnestly I want to reassure them they are not only doing enough; they are doing more than they need to do.

The question I want to ask is this: Can you remember anything you learned before sixth grade? If so, what was the learning environment like? Was it a rigid school setting? Did it include reading passages or filling out worksheets? Was it under the supervision of a hurried, harried taskmaster? Or was it in an environment where your teacher (or parent, grandparent, or neighbor) showed enthusiasm for the subject and a genuine interest in you? Oh! How I wish we could grasp the fact that it isn’t the curriculum that does it. It isn’t the method of homeschooling: classical, Charlotte Mason, delight directed, whatever. It is the relationship: the peaceful, excited, loving environment that pulls our children in and breathes life into the, sometimes sterile sounding, word “education.”

Studies show that, across the board, children in a school setting excel above and beyond their peers if they have parental involvement in their education. What are we so worried about? Why are we feeling so guilty and inadequate? Why are we beating ourselves up? Why are we listening to philosophies that only add to our feelings of inadequacy?

I think you know the truth. We all do. As I often tell my daughter: I don’t care a thing about purses. But if I spent too much time around people who did, if they talked about which purse they were carrying and showed everyone the great purse they just bought, then discussed the merits and benefits of this particular purse, each person expanding on all the seemingly important details of their purse, over time, I would be sucked in and start caring about purses. I would start noticing purses, then noticing my own inadequate and rundown purse. I would feel insecure because I needed a better purse. My purse isn’t right anymore. I would fall into a slippery pit of caring about what kind of purse I carried and always thinking that maybe my purse wasn’t measuring up. 

Strange how easy it is to miss the big picture. So untie those burdens and free yourself. You are doing enough and ARE enough to fulfill the call to homeschool well. 

Memory Work in the Homeschool

When I first began to homeschool, I read all about a classical and Charlotte Mason education. Soaking up every bit of teaching available, I became increasingly convinced of the merits of memory work. We launched into memory work full speed ahead, memorizing a variety of lists, from poetry to ancient Egyptian kings. My five year old performed the amazing feat of reciting all 43 presidents of the United States of America for our homeschool group’s annual presentations. I was so proud of her and anxiously began searching for the next miracle memory task.

Providentially, a few years into this process, I read an article by a woman who was having her children memorize long passages of Scripture. That was a huge turning point. I simply could not believe we had spent so much time memorizing things that would perish with this world. For what has the power to shape my children? The Word of God. What has the power to transform their lives? God's Word. What gives instruction for living? What gives direction? Hope? Life? Scripture, Scripture, Scripture. Why would I spend such precious time focusing on things that do not have the power to nourish my children the way God's Word does? The goal of memory work is not the items memorized, it's the act of memorization. The list means nothing. The engaging of the mind in memory work is what builds the child's intellect. However, with the time we spend on Scripture memory work, we will not only build the child’s intellect but will fill his mind with life giving manna from heaven.

When a child memorizes lists of ancient kings or modern presidents, the information may very well be valuable. It may very well be helpful in future studies. But it isn't life transforming. It doesn't have the power to give your child peace in this life, joy in this life, purpose in this life, and conviction to lead him on the paths of righteousness. Kings will be forgotten, presidents will be studied later, and lists will lose their importance. But when our children hide the Living Word of God in their hearts, it will never fail them. The Holy Spirit will use those very Scriptures to give them direction, understanding, and conviction throughout the rest of their lives. Remember, one of the Holy Spirit's jobs is to remind us of everything Jesus has taught us, as Jesus told His disciples on the night of His crucifixion.

Memorizing Scripture will arm our children for battle, providing a light unto their path and a lamp unto their feet. Is there anything more important than that? If our children grow up to become professors of ancient history, will we be thrilled if they care not for their God? However, if our children are passionately in love with Jesus, easily moved by the Holy Spirit, and overflowing with the wisdom that comes only from God—pouring forth rivers of Living Water that well up from within—it matters not what career path they choose, for we will be delighted with the person they have become.

Character Training for All

One Easter, after sitting with my children in their fort and telling them the story of Christ, I watched as my oldest child hid resurrection eggs for her three younger siblings. Immediately, I was struck by the preciousness of the lives they live. The relationships they are forming will be a source of support and comfort to them their entire lives. We have seen many dear friends come and go, with relocation and other circumstances taking them from us. But the immediate family God has given us remains a constant. The joy our children derive from one another is in direct proportion to how much we train them to love and sacrifice for each another.

As homeschooling mothers, we are blessed with time to spend with our children. However, making time for character training is a choice that involves daily self sacrifice. It must be a priority in our day or we will find ourselves missing perfect opportunities to point our children to Christ. For it is much easier to reprimand and move on in academic pursuits than it is to stop and faithfully disciple their hearts. Inspiring faithfulness in our little ones requires that we mature in our faithfulness with the time we have been given.

We must constantly remind ourselves that homeschooling is not just about academics. What will constitute success when our children are adults will not be whether or not they can identify a direct object, write a persuasive paragraph, or rattle off the answer to 8x7 before their coworkers can produce a calculator. Though important, these things will not enable them to be healthy, happy adults in the sight of God and man. What will? Is it not learning how to sacrifice their desires for the good of others? Knowing how to love and care for the hurting and weak? Loving those who are unlovable (as their siblings and all people can be at times)? Knowing how to be thoughtful, gracious people who accept their circumstances without complaint—people who have watched their parents model a life devoted to God? These things are not learned in institutional schools, nor can they be. A teacher cannot address every mean spirit exhibited, or every hateful word and deed children commit against one another. No, these events are left unchecked, teaching the children that power and force are king while humility and kindness are weaknesses. And day after day, God is not elevated in their experiences. Even the traits that form healthy academic habits, such as working with diligence, are best learned under the watchful eye of a mother who knows the child well and can identify sloth. Few would earnestly pray for and help our child overcome poor habits. Yet as we seek to train our children in the ways of God, we find that God is training us as well.

When I was teaching one of our children to read, the frustration level I experienced was unbelievable. I would get so irritated when he could not remember the letter I had just spent 30 minutes teaching him. I’m ashamed of how distressed I got with the poor little man. I would throw a miniature fit, exactly the sort of which we do not allow him to have. Why, I had a rotten attitude about the whole thing. One day, the Lord convicted my heart about how I was teaching my son it is acceptable to become angry when things don’t go our way, something that didn't need anymore reinforcement in our home. I was modeling impatience and irritation with one who was younger and weaker, which does not bode well for his younger siblings. I was modeling an ungrateful, discouraging, and selfish heart. I was discipling him to believe academics are more important than character. I was walking out an attitude that was unholy and unrighteous. I had to repent to God and to him. And the Lord began to change my focus. I became aware that how I teach is much more important than what I teach. I realized that all wisdom and understanding comes from the Lord. If my child doesn’t understand, praying for him is more effective than raising my voice. If my child still doesn’t understand, I trust that the Lord will open his or her eyes when the time is ripe. It is imperative that I believe with all my heart God is sovereign over my children. That He will accomplish in them all His purposes and plans. He wants me in a place of resting, not striving.

God is always economical in his purposes, killing the proverbial two birds with one stone, if you will. You see, as we seek to shape the character of our children, we too, are being sanctified. I believe that as homeschooling mothers we have more of an opportunity to be challenged to walk out our faith. Daily, yea, hourly, we are forced to look at our true character and die to that which is wrong. There is little else that brings about the opportunity to follow the examples in Scripture—in the face of unrelenting odds—than homeschooling our own dear children. We must be transformed by the Spirit of God in order that on any given day we remain Christlike toward our sometimes whiny, demanding, opposing, and moody youth. Our children are given all the advantages in life as they witness, first hand, a child of God, their Mom, being shaped into the image of Christ. They watch and listen as we seek to glorify God in our attitudes and actions—repenting, praying, and releasing ourselves to be transformed by the only One who can do it. This is, indeed, true discipleship. As I survey the years of homeschooling, I know I am changed. I’m not where I want to be, but I’m so thankful to be a bit more like Christ than I was in the beginning. When my eyes are on Jesus, the place where they always return when the emptiness of a worldly focus catches up with me, He exposes Truth and He produces the changes in me. All my efforts cannot produce one single godly attitude or thought. It is by ceasing to strive that I release myself to the transforming work of God.

I believe homeschooling is a genuine example to our children of what surrender to God truly is. They will one day know the sacrifices we made for them; and it will minister to their spirits. It will challenge them to choose to do the best thing, even when it is the hardest thing. What a joy it will be one day when we see that our lives and choices actually imparted wisdom and gave our children the tools to live a joyful, abundant life for the Lord. They will one day rise up and call us blessed. And in the mean time, we can simply enjoy seeing the fruit of their lives played out as they open little plastic eggs with one another.

Choosing Curriculum

For today's homeschooler, the curriculum options for every subject are overwhelming. There is so much out there. So many good things to choose from. How do you decide what to use? I believe it boils down to your ultimate goals for your children. What do you want more than anything for your children? To be academic scholars or perhaps devoted Christians? Ideally it’s both, but one will take precedence over the other in each family. When I first began homeschooling, I would have vehemently answered that it was the latter—to be devoted Christians. But if you looked at my curriculum choices, you would have believed that it was the former. Let's just say I could talk the talk, but I wasn't walking the walk.

Over time, the Lord impressed upon my heart some profound truths about His call for me to homeschool. First, that homeschooling was not my idea, nor my own personal choice for my family. It was His calling on my life as His own personal choice for my (His) children. Second, that these were, indeed, His children and I am accountable to Him for what I put in front of them, including which worldview I teach them. Is history the study of man and all that man has done over time? That's a secular worldview—humanism. Or is history the study of God's workings in mankind? If I teach history from a "neutral" text, then I'm teaching history as though it were separate from God; again, humanism. If I teach science as though science was a series of data and facts separate from God, then I am teaching my children science with a humanistic flare. And the old adage “More is caught than taught” becomes true. Consequently, our children come to understand history and science, and thus life in general, as separate from God.

The third thing God impressed upon me was that my choice to homeschool was not about me or my children but about His greater plans and purposes for all of mankind. I know that seems a little dramatic, but I feel strongly that this is a truth from God. He began the homeschooling movement, not because the public school system wasn't working anymore, but to accomplish a greater, more holy purpose. Just as the Hebrews, when forced to dwell in a strange culture, lived separate and different lives than those around them, I believe God is using the homeschooling movement to separate His people unto Himself to be people who are not polluted by the culture. People who are as wise as wolves but as innocent as doves. People who have the law written on their hearts. People who will be used by Him in a mighty and powerful way for whatever His plan is on Earth.

Should we not choose to fill our children’s minds with books and curriculum choices that continually point their hearts to their Creator, to Him who controls every event and everything in the whole world?

Making Disciples - A Homeschool Mom's Great Commission

Like many of you, I spent years in women's Bible studies, growing in my knowledge and understanding of the Lord and His Word. I'm so thankful for that time of spiritual growth, and was loath to give it up for the homeschooling years.

One day, during my quiet time, God impressed a profound truth upon my heart. The Lord had grown me during that season of intense Bible study, not just for my own personal development, but to pass on these truths to my disciples. And disciples are what God has given me in my children and through homeschooling! What a responsibility! Sounds just like the Great Commission. Wow. Is that what homeschooling is really all about? Making disciples? As I became aware of this incredible responsibility, I was instantly awakened to how I had failed. I had spent most of my disciple training time teaching direct objects, how to spell "their, they're, and there," and how to carry and borrow. All important things, of course. But not nearly as important as nourishing my children’s souls with spiritual truths and conveying to them the teaching that was passed on to me.

But could a six year old really grasp the profound implications of our covenant relationship with Jesus? Yes, I soon learned. My six year old had accepted Christ, had the Spirit of the Living God within, and had the ability to discern Spiritual truths. True, he could only respond to the light which he had been given, and only on the level with which his personality and maturity allowed; but isn't that true of all of us?

Worship time with my children became the highlight of each morning. Rather soon after breakfast and chores, we gathered on the couch for a wonderful time of fellowship, prayer, and learning. As with all the things we did consistently, our morning worship was not a big complicated affair. It was easy for me, and thus always got done. We read, talked, shared our thoughts, and prayed.

I utilized devotions from trusted Bible teachers to fuel our discussions. If you’ve already read Leading Little Ones to God, or if most of your students are middle schoolers, choose an adult devotional. Sadly, devotion books for kids are often too elementary or concern issues found in public schools—such as popular kids and bullies. Most homeschooled kids are capable of understanding the deep spiritual truths found in adult level devotionals. I recommend looking for something from someone you trust. When you run across concepts and vocabulary that are too difficult for your children to grasp, stop and explain them in words they can understand. This will foster spiritual closeness and will make the Word of God come alive in your family’s days. In addition, it will bless you as you remember and discuss the glorious nature of God, our relationship to Him, and the many wonderful truths you have learned throughout your walk with Him.

Yes, moms, our time of being taught has come to a temporary closure, and now we have the privilege of training our disciples and living out the Great Commission in our homes, remembering the words of Paul, "Therefore be careful how you walk, not as the unwise but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil."