Monday, January 30, 2012

What Is Your Goal, Part 1 (Our Homeschooling Story)

I got into an unlikely conversation with a magazine editor the other day. I wrote to point out my dismay about her magazine’s use of profanity. This curse word was particularly bewildering to find, since the brand-new publication was being marketed to a pre-existing email list consisting primarily of homeschoolers. When I pointed this out, the editor defensively shot back, “Homeschoolers are a much more diverse group than they used to be.” Oh, really? I didn’t have time to explain to her that I am that diverse, secular homeschooler that is apparently her target audience. Or, at least, I was.

I started out as a secular homeschooler with very different goals than I have now. As the parent of three gifted children, I started homeschooling as The Crazy Experiment. I was at the end of my rope. The ADHD child had already tried public school, and ended up miserable, so I wasn’t going that route again. The six-year-old had arrived at a private school for gifted children, where the teachers had decided to skip her out of the first grade and into the second grade in the first week of school. The four-year-old could read and do simple math, but was not anywhere near ready for the seat work that the gifted school assigned, complete with a first grade math workbook and handwriting sheets. (He was very bright, but he was still a normal four-year-old developmentally, for crying out loud.) It’s outrageous to think about now, I know, but I was desperate, and hoped that throwing money at the problem of my children’s education would solve things.

With a nearly 30,000 dollar yearly tuition bill for the three nerdlets, we needed to be thrilled with the results, and we weren’t. Everyone at this school was well-intentioned, and I appreciate all that they did and tried to do for our family, but it wasn’t the place for us. Which brought me around to The Crazy Experiment.

My husband thought that I had a screw loose. Actually, I probably did. It takes some seriously divergent, and yes, kind of insane thinking for someone like me, with a 3.8 college GPA and an abiding love of school, to even think about taking one’s children out of school entirely. I read, researched, and prayed. Yes, I prayed. I was a marginal, distracted Christian at the time, and I prayed any time that the chips were down. When I prayed, among the things that I requested was the ability to educate these unique children so as to help them to reach their intellectual potential. In this view of education, I was merely the parent, not a qualified gifted educator. I could mess them up, but good, if I wasn’t careful. It was sobering and scary to contemplate.

So, after I read about 20 books on the subject of “how to”, we started homeschooling. I made up elaborate lesson plans and kept meticulous records for my skeptical husband to peruse each day. We needed community, so I joined a list-serve or two (remember those?) for people homeschooling gifted children. I even found a local group for other people trying The Crazy Experiment, which, miraculously, formed on the exact same week in January that I began. The people in my group agreed with me wholeheartedly: Above all, we do not want to be like those religious fanatics who homeschool their kids.

No, we did not, because while we went to church, and called ourselves Christians, we were not fanatics. We even taught Sunday School, for goodness sake, but we were not the type of weirdos who homeschool by reading the Bible for several hours a day. We were going to educate our children. They weren’t going to grow up to be obsessed with religion. These were my wrongheaded assumptions about Christian homeschoolers, formed before I even met the first one.

Be careful what you say. God may have other plans for you. Our goals for homeschooling changed because God changed us.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Pulchritudinous Proselytizing

Sorry for the big words up there, but I had to get your attention. “Pulchritudinous proselytizing”, as I am using it, just means “beautiful spreading of the good news”. “Pulchritudinous” is simply a Latin-derived word (from pulchritudo) meaning, “beautiful”. But has anyone ever called you “pulchritudinous”? My Dad tried this on me once when I was a child, as did the English teacher Mr. Cyr last season on the NBC series Parenthood. In both cases, the recipient of the obscure compliment was not flattered, and in her lack of understanding, felt insulted. Big words can confuse people, and some people consider it great sport to do so. Consider, now, the word “proselytize”.

Proselytize, according to Merriam-Webster, means, “to induce someone to convert to one’s faith”. It is derived from the Greek language prefix προσ- (toward) and the verb ἔρχομαι (to come) in the form of προσήλυτος (a new comer). So, the origin of the word has more to do with approaching a “newcomer”, which sounds nice and welcoming. In Christianity, the original implication of “proselytizing” was positive, but somehow, its meaning has become tainted with negativity. In common American English usage, the word now means, roughly, “to obnoxiously thump one’s Bible at people who would rather be left alone”. It is a fancy word that educated people use to disparage those who speak of their faith, especially if those people are Christians.

Isn’t this the context in which we first heard the word? It is a large missile lobbed at the foot soldiers of the gospel. As a child, adults told me not to “proselytize”. I had no idea what that meant at first, but it was a scary enough word that I immediately knew that it was something I wanted to avoid, if I wanted to be taken seriously by educated, polite people. Oh, and I did. There was an understanding that of course we would go to church, but what happened there was our private business, and we certainly didn’t need to tell anyone about it, if indeed we believed it. And there were plenty of reasons to wonder if these adults actually did believe. 

Now, as a maturing Christian of a certain age, I know better. I know that had these nominal Christian adults of my youth cracked open that thick black book gathering dust on the shelf, they would have found that Romans 10 says, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!'” 

We are unequivocally commanded to “bring the good news”. Yes, Jesus gave us the Great Commission in Matthew 28, which-surprise, hello, and good morning- is to proselytize. How can people have any idea what it means to know Jesus as your Savior unless you tell them? And even if they think that they know, do they really know? They may know what the Bible says, but do they also see how that looks in the life of a follower of Jesus?

Often, I think that I should have more non-Christian friends, because I can get too comfortable in my coterie and neglect the rest of the world.  I have a long way to go as a proselytizer, a good news bringer, a welcomer of newcomers to the faith. I need to have more beautiful feet.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Why This Blog Was Dead, Part 1

Scroll down in this blog. The last post I have here was written sometime in August 2010. I have not posted on this blog for nearly eighteen months. There is a reason. Pretty soon, you are going to know that this isn’t that kind of homeschooling blog. So many of you are sweet, chipper, and upbeat. I can be those things, and they are good qualities in a blogger, but this is the place where I will be real. If you don’t mind that, you are in the right place.

My life hit some roadblocks in the intervening time. I don’t want to go into the details right now, but it did not involve any immorality or substance abuse. No one died, got into an accident, or became seriously ill. All three of my children are doing well, praise God, and so is my husband, our parents, and all of our relatives. I am still married, and after 22 years, that’s pretty amazing. We don’t have any significant money problems, our cars are running, and our house is still the comfy old shoe of a 1960’s colonial that it has always been in the 19 years that we have owned it.
In short, we have much to be thankful for. Yet, in the midst of apparent prosperity and blessings, it is devastating when dreams die or have to be put on hold. This is especially true when you know that your dream’s fulfillment would please God. When you have prayed about it for years, and it’s a desire that you know that you were created to do, it’s not easy to give up and say, “OK, God. I don’t know what you are doing. I don’t know why you have lead me here only to leave me at the side of the proverbial road, alone, without a clue how to find my way back.

So you get up in the morning, determined not to blame God, and move forward, though I am human, and the temptation is great. I want to believe the gooey nonsense that the TV preachers are serving up. I’d love to have “my best life now” by saying the right prayers, “naming it and claiming”, or just believing enough. But the truth is, despite what a few charlatans may have lead you to believe, following Jesus isn’t like that. 

The Bible actually said that our lives will get harder if we follow Jesus. 2 Timothy 3:12 says, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” It won’t be a walk in the park, unless you can imagine a park occupied by angry protesters. People will stand in your way. The rest of the world will not understand your priorities. Don’t pretend that people will think that you are a nice, reasonable Christian, because if you are really following hard after Jesus, you are going to look like Him. You are going to look like a crackpot. And you have only to look at what happened to Jesus to know how the world likes to handle His type. Why are you expecting something else?