Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sound the Trumpet

On November 20, 1989, the United Nations adopted a treaty titled 'The Convention on the Rights of the Child'. This treaty, which has since been ratified in 193 countries, effectively removed from parents in member countries the right to determine how to raise and educate their children. Only two nations have not ratified this treaty, which would make it the supreme law of their respective lands--Somalia, and the United States. Nevermind the obvious irony of our own nation standing beside another so ravaged by violence and corruption in ANY issue, much less the raising and education of children. The more pressing issue is, where does the United States government stand with regard to this treaty? And what are We the People willing to do to prevent this latest assault on our Constitutional privileges by an international community that does not have our interests in mind? Perhaps you noticed right away that I used the term 'Constitutional privileges' instead of 'Constitutional rights'. This was purposeful. While we are theoretically protected by our Constitution from certain invasions on our persons and property, I am increasingly concerned that resting on the laurels of these 'rights' has made far too many Americans, including Christians, far too complacent. One need only look to recent elections and Supreme Court decisions to realize that a when a citizenry comes to believe it is permanently endowed with certain entitlements and privileges, and looks to government for that endowment, then it becomes easy to abdicate personal responsibility for our choices, leaving it to someone else to pay our bills, decide what truth really is and isn't, and defend the defenseless. Too late, we find that precious freedoms are permanently lost.

Such is the case with treaties such as this 'Convention on the Rights of the Child'. Steady pressure is being exerted by the UN and its surrogates for our legislators to adopt this treaty. Among the many decisions that the convention's ratification would take from parents is the right to educate their children at home. Standing U.S. federal and state laws that allow a parent to homeschool would be rendered immediately null and void, with no redress as national sovereignty is trumped by international law. According to Michael Smith, President of the Homeschool Legal Defense Association, "...if Congress ratifies the treaty, it would give the United Nations authority to object to federal and state laws that it thinks violate the treaty and give Congress the power to pass laws to make the country comply with its tenants. This would be one of the most invasive things we could do as far as the sovereignty of our nation."

Would that I had more time and space to present this issue, but I don't. The future of homeschooling hangs in the balance, and I am not overstating the case. Whether we will continue to enjoy this privilege depends on several things--prayer, faith, and action. God knows our deepest needs and desires, and all things are in His hands, but He is also a God who expects His children to speak truth and not be lukewarm in our worship and service to Him. As we pray up, we also need to speak up. This is done not only with words, but with dollars. To start, join the Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) and its local partner, Christian Home Educators of Colorado (CHEC). For about a hundred dollars a year, you will be linking arms with other homeschooling parents and a network of gifted, faithful attorneys and advocates who work tirelessly to defend our ability to educate our children according to the dictates of conscience. But the work doesn't end there. We the People must pressure our elected officials to represent our God-given parental authority according to the Constitution, and we must not let up. This goes for you homeschooled kids, too. If you wish to be able to educate your own children someday, you are profoundly obligated to do something about it TODAY. While generals like Joshua bravely blew the shofar to alert God's people to threats and call them to battle, it was up to every Israelite to join in the battle and put their faith in God into action. This remains the case today for all of God's people, and for such a time as this have we been called to take up that shofar and sound the alarm for this and future generations. Parents and children both have a stake in this battle, and we must use our voices while we still have them.

"Blow the trumpet in Zion, sound the alarm on my holy mountain." I'll be a watchman. How about you?

Friday, January 4, 2008

Call me Bob!

I'm inviting everyone who knows me, or even those who don't, to call me Bob from now on. That wouldn't seem so odd, except that I'm not a guy, and my name isn't Robert. It's Mary. So why Bob? That's easy. You see, I've had to spend the last several weeks explaining to virtually everyone I've come into contact with that I am unusually discomBOBulated. Or addled, so maybe I could just as easily change my name to Addy, but I digress. In this, our fifth year of homeschooling, I'm finding myself in the midst of a very challenging time in my life. Not bad, just challenging. With a 9th grader, a 4th grader and a toddler in the family, it's felt as if I'm looking at life through a three-lensed pair of binoculars. Or should I say, trinoculars? Anyway, it's definitely been an adventure. After a couple of quarters with our teenager attending two classes at the high school, we have brought him back home on a full-time basis after watching our family schedule careen like a burned-out Yugo into a time-management abyss. Our ten-year-old has yet to come out of a rather lengthy 'phase' (at least I'm praying it's a phase) of responding to every parental command and request with something spoken in the accent of Mr. Toad of the 'Wind in the Willows'. And for the past three nights I've gone sleepless, between a flare-up of my frequent migraines and our baby's bout with a particularly nasty stomach bug. On top of this, I'm hip-deep in a wonderful but time-and-labor intensive online organic bath and body business and international Gospel ministry that requires more than a few late nights of internet correspondence and website work. And you know what? I'm thankful for all of it! But I have not exactly been the picture of the organized and efficient superwoman. That's okay, as long as I remember I'm neither obligated, nor by any sane standard allowed, to be that superwoman. I mean really, what business do I have pretending to have it all together when one child is in braces and getting his driver's permit, one is not sure from one day to the next whether he wants to be a stand-up comedian or an international spy, and one is just learning the difference between his high chair and a potty?! Just the thought of pulling off the perfection sham is enough to send me straight to a fainting couch with a case of the vapors. So, aside from consuming extra multi-vitamins and learning to operate on the sleeping schedule of a barn owl, what's a gal with a zillion things to do, to do? It's simple. She takes a deep breath, looks to God for the grace to both prioritize and have a bit of a giggle at herself, and pares down the must-do list. It's not all that 'must', when you take a minute to really think about it. I cringe when I watch the world, including people I love, run around like gerbils on Prozac pursuing some revved-up version of the American dream, while all that is precious and sacred is frittered away on endless acitivities, work and the building of bigger barns. I can't, thankfully, operate on that kind of adrenaline and the thought of even trying to just grieves me. More than that, for my family's and my own sake I flatly refuse to buy into it. There are too many roses to smell, including the three little boys that God in His grace chose to bless my husband and I with, and I want nothing more than to enjoy strolling among them and watching them bloom in His sweet, perfect time. We're just coming off of a couple of weeks time-out for the holidays, and are looking to the coming quarter as another of the Lord's signature new beginnings. I'm so very grateful for those, and they are His specialty. Last quarter feels a bit more like a distant memory all the time, and the newness of our coming studies and projects is exciting and fresh to everyone in the household. Our two big boys are already studying with zeal to reenact for us Shakespeare's Henry V. I'll be making costumes, red for the British characters, blue for the French, and brown for the bishops. Dad will help them make wooden swords that will lend credence to the most dramatic of war scenes, but thankfully won't actually disembowel anyone. Henry and Charles VI will have glorious golden crowns, courtesy of the neighborhood Burger King. (Oh come on, you must admit that's a brilliant touch!) Our oldest is looking forward to taking on much of his younger brother's history teaching, and in turn that younger brother will be teaching his elder sibling how to draw. I'll welcome the help from both of them, but will no doubt be supervising to make sure no one gets overwhelmed by too much Magna Carta or becomes overly frustrated by the challenges of working with those messy smudgers and charcoal pencils. And best of all, the toddler will always get an A+ and rousing, Elizabethan-style cheers for being so fantastic on the potty! It's not glamorous, but it's my life. And thank you, Lord, for reminding me to slow down and savor it all. It is sweet.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Much ado about...much to do!

By now, I suspect it's fairly obvious that I'm not exactly a blog-everyday-blogger. I admire people that can do that...at least, I think I admire that. As long as it's not a daily exercise in self-absorption. That gets not only unproductive, but wierd. So to those readers who can give me a courteous tip of the hat for a once or twice-a-month post, I send a heartfelt THANK YOU! I'm a passionate person who longs for my life to make a difference, but because of that I do have a tendency to rack up a must-do list that feels like the Sword of Damocles dangling over my head! One of the things I do to combat that is to occasionally pull out my favorite homeschooling books. I try to find a few moments every day to sit quietly and talk to God, and read a Psalm or two to bring my thoughts back to Him and His heart for my children. Those things remind me that while information and activities have their place, our primary motivation for educating our children at home is to provide them with a God-centered, family-focused and peaceful and enriching environment in which to grow and learn. Surrounded by classic literature, biographies, God-honoring music and opportunities to explore nature and science in their own backyard and home, we believe our boys are indeed getting just that. They're also getting what I think is a bonus extra in education, by helping me with my natural bath and body web business. They're learning about the blessing of serving others, glorifying God, and the joy of making beautiful, pure items from His creation that make people's lives better and healthier. And while it's not necessarily the funnest part of having a business/ministry, they're also learning the value of organization, time management, meeting deadlines, and bookkeeping and inventory. And perhaps just as importantly, I'm learning those things, too. :) It's yet another way the Lord has shown us how much he values keeping families together and using our gifts to bless others in His Name.

We seem finally to have settled into a basic routine around studies, too. Our high schooler is by far the busiest of the boys, with his schoolwork, Jr. ROTC and a part-time job to balance. We're determined to keep his schedule from getting too crazy, but we also see the value in teaching him the meaning of healthy occupation and productivity. Because he loves history and literature, we're able to include both of those areas of study in a pretty casual way by daily periods of quiet reading. Our 10 yr-old is an even more eclectic and voracious reader, and is content to snuggle into one of the rockers in our library and lose himself in book after book. Our 2 yr-old loves books, too, though at the moment he's just a bit hard on them. But when I'm tempted to keep them all out of his tiny little hands, I can imagine Charlotte Mason looking at me and saying with soft understanding, 'he must touch books in order to love books.' I agree, Charlotte. So I remind him that books are wonderful, and that we must be soft with them, and I'm rewarded by the happy twinkle in his eye when he sees that Mama thinks he's very special to allow him to look at them like his big brothers. A torn book here and there is surely a small price to pay in order to nurture our tiny little bibliophile.

Our 10 yr-old has brought a very special surprise into our homsechooling mix. It seems that almost from birth he was an artist extraordinaire. He absolutely has to be doing something creative almost all the time--drawing, making puppets, sculpting, cut-and-paste, you name it. Just today he discovered a giant piece of brown wrapping paper from a box of supplies that UPS delivered, and immediately unrolled it and started drawing scenes from The Charge of the Light Brigade by Alfred Lord Tennyson. When he asked several questions about the event chronicled in that book, we went to the bookcase and pulled it off the shelf, and enjoyed a very interesting discussion about such concepts as honor, sacrifice and the meaning of a pyrrhic victory. It was fascinating, sweet and I was immediately humbled and thankful that such moments are a frequent part of being a home schooling family. It wasn't planned, but it was rich and beautiful. When those moments arrive in coming months that I feel fatigued and out of ideas, I'll look back on that moment as affirmation that the boys are exactly where they need to be. And so is Mama. Praise the Lord!

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Oh my goodness, where did summer go?

Woe is me, I woke up this morning and (BOOM!) it was August! Well, we're already 7 days into it, so I guess I'm behind the curve in having just figured this out. But honestly, it feels like summer just started yesterday! Sigh...I feel more than a little nostagic already. I mean, wasn't it just June a few days ago? I think part of the problem is that we've been having some seriously gray, drizzly weather on the heels of a four-week (or so) heat wave. And the real kicker, our teenager's job required him to be at work at 5:30 am...so I (not a morning person by any stretch) was up at 5:00 each weekday to get him there. So in numerous ways this summer has been a little off tempo. We made the best of the heat wave with the kids' pool, and I eschewed most of my usual gardening activity so that was definitely different. Then the last couple of weeks have been very autumn-like, and I could swear fall is already in the air. We plan on starting back up with homeschooling next week, so it's not as if I expect summer to last forever...but...oh my, I do believe I'm whining. I don't mean to...I guess I'm just a little, I don't know, off?
We've got our textbooks and curriculum basically ready, and now it's just a matter of me getting my brain back into schooling mode. I do think that as much as I am looking forward to getting back to it with the kids, it's going to be a bit challenging at first. Yeshakem Soap Shoppe has really picked up in business this last couple of months, including an increase in large wholesale orders, two of which I'll be working feverishly to fill in the next two weeks. It's exciting to see God blessing the ministry and business this way, but it will definitely require me to work extra hard at balancing the needs of mommyhood, home and business concerns...it will be good for me, and I'm not one to shrink from a challenge. God's brought me through waaaaay bigger challenges than 'me oh my, how do I balance my blessings'!
So, I'm not sure exactly what the purpose of this post is...I suppose just to fill everyone in on where I've been and what's ahead for me in the next few weeks. God is good, life is full, and I am a blessed woman in many ways. Thanks for keeping me company on this end-of-summer ramble.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Summer is still for learning!

Summer...aaaaahhhhhh. It feels so good to have put aside the 'heavier' book learning and take a few deep breaths. We've set up the kids' pool, caught up on (most of) the weeding, and stocked up on sunscreen. So does that mean we stop any efforts at learning for the next few months? Well...sort of. I mean, the effort is much less conscious than during the official school year, but most of us who homeschool know that learning doesn't stop simply because we've set aside the transcripts and course schedule for a while. I believe with all my heart that the essence of home schooling is that 'life is a child's laboratory'. So we do relax, but the gaining of knowledge and indulging in our innate fascination with the world around us doesn't really take a vacation.
With a high schooler, though, we have nonetheless found that it's necessary to view summer as 'classroom light'. It might not seem like a necessity to many people, but with a particularly motivated and ambitious child like our 14-year-old, it is a necessity for us. With plans to attend a military academy such as West Point of Air Force Academy, he's got some fairly lofty academic goals to meet in the next few years. Mathematics through Calculus, Physics, foreign languages like Hebrew and Arabic and the like, require that we take a somewhat 'use it or lose it' approach to his study schedule. It's a fine line between taking a break and letting the mental cogs and wheels rust! So while he'll have lots of fun this summer, he'll also be studying Algebra so that he'll be able to move onto Algebra II by the middle of next school year. He'll need Trig by the next year, so a schedule is critical. He's actually excited about it, which is further evidence that his mathematical proclivities do not come from his mama! I marvel at it, though, and it brings a smile to my face to realize that God designed him and knows him best, and that it never really was all up to me. He'll also be keeping up on his music and Hebrew, just to keep those juices flowing and stay in practice. He has a job at a local golf course, too...but in addition to getting a paycheck he also gets to play all the golf he wants! That's just plain cool!
Needless to say, our younger boys (10 and 2) get to take a much more casual approach. At these ages, learning is very much accomplished by simply observing the creepies and crawlies in the yard, microscopic pond critters, and enjoying the simple pleasures of splashing in the pool water and laying on their backs as they marvel at the blueness of the sky. Lazy afternoons spent swinging, reading and even enjoying Flintstones DVD's round out their days pretty well, and provide me with much-needed downtime and catch-up time around the house. Dad brings his own special gifts to the summer dynamic. A couple of free pallets and some salvaged siding became a tree house, turning a giant willow tree into the perfect venue from which to reenact Civil or Revolutionary War battles. The nights they spend camping with Dad and the dogs in our pop-up each year are already turning into a treasured tradition. The days go by quickly sometimes, but they feel so satisfying in their simplicity that it's hard to be anything but thankful at the end of the day. I watch the world rush by at breakneck speed, with little or no time to spend simply being with those they love, and I am mindful of just how much I do NOT want that for myself or my family. Thankfully, the Lord planted deep within me an inability to fake-function in such a fashion. I used to think it was a weakness, after all it made my quite different from virtually everyone around me...now, I consider it a mercy.
I'm so proud of these children, and so thankful that they are ours for a time. These summer days are hopefully a tribute to God, in thanks for this precious gift. I relish their childhood, and plan to spend the next couple of months enjoying it with them. May God bless all the families out there who are investing so much love and effort in their children, and letting life be a simple and quiet adventure apart from the madness around them. I honor them for laying themselves down to obey the call of God on His people to be the ones to raise up and train their children according to His ways---all year long.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Okay, I'm a little late but I'm here!

I think I mentioned in my last post that I'm not exactly the picture of domestic organization. But that's really not why I'm a few weeks behind on keeping up this blog. Not entirely, anyway. But the last few weeks actually serve to illustrate just why homeschooling and its inherent flexibility can work so well for families! Our oldest son, an articulate and delightfully motivated 14 year-old, caught the whooping cough virus that has been circulating through the local high school. He attends Jr. ROTC classes there several mornings a week, and I guess that's all it took to come down with it. In the simplest terms, it was pretty awful. It's alwasy disconcerting to see our young ones wiped out by illness, and this is a nastier one than most. I'm so thankful the other boys (almost-2 and 10) didn't come down with it, as this was enough to bring a lot of the usual, somewhat streamlined homeschooling activities to a halt. Not to mention the housework, etc. but let's face it, homeschoolers need to get over the myth of the superwoman even more than moms who choose not to homeschool or who work outside the home. It's just not rational. Really, does the world need another wanna-be Martha? Anyway....
Weeks of rest and recovery, antibiotic therapy (may I just say how much I hate those things, but how much I also love them in a case like this?) and innumerable puffs on an inhaler later, our boy is back on track and once again taking life by the horns. I'm so thankful, and a little amused that now that he's better and we're all back in the swing, I still haven't caught up on the housework or organizing the school room. Who was I kidding? Another precious lesson in self-acceptance for Mom. That's not a bad thing.
So, what was I saying about flexibility? Oh, yea...Charlotte Mason's 'method'. It's important that I spell something out from the beginning: It's really not a method! It's a way of life, focused on the simple truth that children know inherently how to learn, and that it's our privilege and responsibility as parents to simply surround them with opportunities and materials with which to do that learning. The freedom this 'method' allows is incredible! Charlotte believed that children were already inquisitive and hungry for knowledge, and to see themselves and the world through God's eyes. She loved Jesus Christ and the children He so graciously lent her through her educational career, and the 'gentle art of learning' that she espoused proved time and time again to be perfectly suited to a child's growing spirit and intellect. Not only did she teach children in this fashion, but she also trained future teachers at her Ambleside school to use this method. She believed that an education filled with dry, fact-filled textbooks and subjective testing robbed children of the joy of learning, and made them desperately unhappy and unfulfilled in the process. History has proven her to be completely correct in this philosophy, and will continue to do so when its simplicity is applied in the home. Think about it, does a child need to be trained to observe the world around them, or is it something that we see in them very early, only to see the world (and TV and educational bureaucracy) gradually beat it out of them? Why is a 2 year-old automatically enraptured by dandelions and pollywogs, and filled with wonder and questions that lead to more questions about these tiny fascinations? It's because they are molded in the image of their Creator, and as such are designed to marvel at everything He has set in this world to turn their hearts and eyes to Him. That is the true essence of learning: to observe and question, so as to understand who we are and why we're here. As the Westminster Catechism puts it, 'The chief aim of life is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever." And who has God put on earth, to this end, as the primary teaching and guiding institution for children? None other than the family, with parents at the helm to answer those questions by seeking Him themselves. I submit that siblings and extended family members also play a key role in this dynamic, in being there to remind little ones of who they are in His eyes, adding to the cohesiveness that God fully intended for families to demonstrate. Every family member is, in some way, a teacher of younger children. While it may offend some that I say this, there's really no basis for arguing against these facts: family is the primary unit of civilization, by God's design, and as such bears the responsibility for the upbringing, education and safety of children. Not a government institution, and in fact the only time you see in the Bible the transferrance of that role to government institutions is when God's people were in captivity or under occupation. It was certainly never His best, or His command. Quite the opposite, but enough said. It's not necessary to belabor that point, as it wouldn't be such a prickly issue if it wasn't already hitting home on some level with those who get so upset at the idea. My job is simply to correct and encourage where God gives me opportunity, and to do so with conviction and love. I do not judge those who choose not to home educate, but I do grieve on some level for what they are missing out on by not doing so. I have seen it transform our family, deepen our bonds with each other, and foster a deeper relationship with our Heavenly Father by placing our family in right order in His established hierarachy. It has to be a personal choice based on willingness to die to self and sacrifice, and to let go of worldly arguments. I can only live out the example, but can not finish in the flesh what God begins in the Spirit.
As a writer, I cringe at the thought of rambling, but I suspect I've done it here today. I'm simply reminded by recent events that God is gracious in the face of life's interruptions and challenges, and that He did not give us more than we could handle in the last few weeks. He's seen us through so much, from tragedies and illnesses, to financial and other challenges that would have made it easy to throw our hands up and agree with the world that 'homeschooling is just too hard!' But that would have been a sad choice to make, and I'm glad that once again He gave us the strength to put one foot in front of the other, to leave the books closed for a few days and be content with watching lots of educational videos and listening to music, and calling that school for a while. It fed our spirits and minds just as much, and actually provided a nice respite from what at times can feel like pressure to cram the brain with facts and test scores and what have you. Charlotte would have approved, but more importantly, the Lord approved of how we handled it...we trusted Him, we rested in contentment despite our circumstances, and we waited on Him to renew our strength as His Word promises He will always do. Our dependence was fully on Him, as it should be, and He provided all we needed without distraction. I couldn't ask for anything more.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

How our homeschooling journey began...

I used to be a vegetarian, then I got hungry. I used to be type-A, then I got sick...and tired. I used to be a lot of things, and thankfully I've outgrown a few of them. After all, what good is one more stressed-out, neurotic overachiever to this world? By the grace of God, I've come out of a life careening toward the precipice of self-indulgence and self-destruction to find myself staring straight into something I never thought I'd experience: a satisfying and simple life. It looks nothing like anything I envisioned at the wizened age of 17...or 27...or even 37, for that matter. And all I have to say is, 'Phew! That was close!'.
I'm so glad I didn't get what I thought I wanted. Adulthood, for as long as it really took me to get here, has been an interesting journey. Throughout it I've learned that the things the world says are important--recognition, material indulgence, money and more money, self and more self--are nothing compared to the blessings of a life shaped by a desire to serve those I love. This came first and foremost out of a newfound relationship with Jesus Christ, which opened my eyes to an entirely different way of looking at my life than I'd ever known. It was no longer about living a basically good life, being a basically good person, yet still living essentially for myself based on what I thought 'good' meant. It was about God, and about serving others, first and foremost my husband and kids. I wanted our children to know who they were in the eyes of their Creator, yet every message they were getting from the world and its institutions was absolutely contrary to who He said they were. They were not random wanderers through an impersoanal cosmos, or the product of some chemical blip in the primordial ooze. They were created by the God of the universe, who loved them from the foundations of the world and breathed life into them. They would never get even a hint of that unshakeable truth in any of their textbooks!
It took my husband and I about two years to arrive on the same page where the subject of homeschooling was concerned. I was ready long before he was, and I had to be patient as this good man wrestled with all the standard objections to homeschooling that most people voice at one time or another. Heck, I'd had those same objections, and it was more than a little ironic. You know, 'What about their socialization?' or 'They'll have to get used to the real world sometime'. Oh, and of course there's the mantra of, 'We went to the public schools and we turned out just fine.' All I have to say to that last one is, 'Uh....yeah.' But that's for another post, another time.
But arrive on the same page we finally did, and our journey as a homeschooling family began. Since by nature I am not exactly an organized and structure-minded individual (I can hear my husband laughing hysterically as I say that), I turned to the one person who could tell me just how to make learning joyful, rich and fruitful for all of us, not just my kids. That person was Charlotte Mason, the 19th-century British teacher and educator who truly pioneered the modern homeschooling movement. In my next post, I'll share how this wonderful woman has affected not only our educational plan as a family, but our hearts as well. She has touched mine perhaps more than anyone's, and if you have even an inkling of homeschooling your children, you, too, can benefit from at least incorporating her philosophies and techniques into your plan.