Wednesday, March 19, 2014

I don't want to raise moralists. (Except I do. But not really.)

As the mother of a 9-year-old, I am acutely aware of the approaching teen years.  The impending steps into independence and development of her very own perspective, plans, and faith.  

This is beautiful and exciting.  But mostly terrifying.
Unlike when Maya was two and three, and our main objectives were to keep her alive and clothed and from becoming a sociopath, I am now fielding daily big questions.  We are unable to skirt difficult topics because she notices everything, and the degree to which our words and actions are influencing hers is staggering.  She is a sponge, and (thankfully) has up to this point been a really obedient kid.

My temptation, then, is to use these crucial years of tween-dom to focus on teaching her to simply do the right things.  And to not do the wrong ones.  If I can just get her through young adulthood without having messed up too bad – or at least not in the ways that are the biggest no-nos in our evangelical subculture – I can breathe a sigh of relief.  Isn’t that what every good Christian parent wants?  A “good Christian” kid?  One who looks to all the world like a spiritual success story? Refraining from drug use and underage drinking; sexually abstinent until marriage; attendance at youth groups and Jesus rallies; a steady diet of only the right books, movies, and music; no major social media indiscretions – these are top on the checklist of the safe, pristine teen life.  And that is what we want, yes?

Except no.  Not really.

I don’t want to raise moralists. I mean, a large part of me does, because it’s safer.  It’s more comfortable.  Everyone makes mistakes, but I want my kids to check all the right columns in those big boxes and just make the little mistakes most acceptable to me.   

When I pull myself back – peel back my fears and my need for control – I know that while I (of course!) want to raise my children with good morals, teaching moralism is not my primary parental goal. 
I don't want to teach them to follow rules, I want to teach them to follow Christ. 

In a time when young people leave the church in droves by early adulthood, I spend a lot of time wondering why, because these could soon be my kids we’re talking about too.  And I wonder if, despite our best intentions in the Church, we are just not emphasizing the Gospel.  The era of Christianity in my youth that gave us ‘True Love Waits’ and ‘WWJD’ produced some lasting disciples but also saw huge numbers of my childhood friends burned and broken by the church.  The purity culture has “worked” in encouraging some teens away from sexual behavior, but has sent the message to many others that they are irreparably damaged.  The focus in Sunday School classes on Heroes of the Bible is meant to be inspirational, but can end up feeling unattainable. “I will never measure up to these people. I’ve already failed. Why even try?”

I just desperately don’t want this for my kids. My dream for their formative years in the faith is not that they would walk the line and be "good".  I want Jesus for them.

I want them to live laid low by God's holiness, and also buoyed by the knowledge that He removes our transgressions further than forever when we turn to Him.  (Psalm 103:12)

I want them to know that true faith is not found in having our checkmarks in the right columns on a few choice matters that we sometimes elevate to the point of near idolatry. But that a consistent devotion to the ways of Jesus means purity in far more aspects than what we typically highlight for kids and teens.  It means dying to our selfishness and greed, our earthly rights and entitlements (Galations 5:24). It means living a life poured out - loving God above all and loving others truly and deeply (Matthew 22:36-40). It means we must decrease (John 3:30).  It means living in humility, because His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

I want them to see that those biblical heroes were not used by God because of the ways they lived their lives, but in spite of it all.  

Let’s show our kids that God loves us … simply because he loves us. In our beastliness. That he loves us before we are good.That his love isn’t vague sentimentality, but it cost him his most precious treasure to turn us into his prized possession; that the storyline of the Bible is God’s Search and Rescue mission to find the dying Beast and kiss him into joyous life.
How Abraham was an idol worshiper and God loved him and pursued him;

How Joseph was a narcissistic boy and God loved him and pursued him;

How David was a murdering adulterer and God loved him and pursued him;

How Esther had sex outside of marriage with a non-believer and God loved her and pursued her.

Our heroes weren’t loved because they were good; they were good because they were loved.

(Sam Williamson - “I Wonder if Sunday School is Destroying Our Kids”,

Yes, I want my kids to know clearly what I believe God says about how we are to live.  I want to be real with them about the difficulties we bring upon ourselves when we choose to stray from the plans of a Father who knows what is best for us, and who guides us out of lavish love - not arbitrary rules.  

And yet I will not shrink back from telling them of His astounding grace.  I will not fear that doing so will give them permission to sin. I will not ever, ever send my daughter the message that if she stumbles, she has forever become a trampled rose or filthy water in a glass - less wanted or less worthy.  No.  Just no.  Because while we have all been trampled and filthy and dead in our sin, our Redeemer lives.  Because when we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive and cleanse us completely (1 John 1:9).  Because I believe that there is absolutely nothing that can separate us from His love (Romans 8:38-39).

I want to be transparent about my own mistakes.  Because oh my word did I make them, and oh my goodness do I still.  My life can be a testimony to them that God heals and redeems and that no teenage transgression or attitude in adulthood has had the power to keep Him from taking our bowed-low brokenness and making us new.  

My primary goal is not to make sure my children do the right things, but to show them how to know and live the true things.

Let me be real:  I look at my kids every day and see my babies who I would like to lock in a protective bubble for all time.  I do hope they do all that "right stuff". It feels so safe and comfortable to emphasize moralism over the wild and wonderful truth of the Gospel.  And so counter-intuitive to my Mama heart to recognize that the worst thing that can happen is not that they trip into sin, but that they only understand a sanitized, pseudo-version of what it means to walk with Christ.  

When it comes down to it, I would much rather see my imperfect child run back to Jesus to be rescued and redeemed, than to see my “good Christian” kid eventually turn away disillusioned and disenfranchised because they just never really understood who He is.

I begin each day of parenting tempted to pursue what seems safe.  But I’m praying that He would help me to take surrendered steps instead, pointing these growing kids into the gloriously dangerous ways of loving Jesus - as broken people constantly being made new.

Image Credit: Flickr

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Thoughts on Homeschooling: The Socialization Question

Image credit:  Flickr

I’ve been thankful to have received very little negative feedback overall in response to our decision to homeschool at this point in our lives.  The most common, subtle concern I hear, though, usually goes something like this:

Person:  “So, are you involved in a group or co-op?”
Me:  “Yes, we meet weekly with a group of other homeschooling families.”
Person (visibly relieved):  “Oh, good!  I mean, for socialization.”

Aaaaaaand there it is.  The ‘S’ word.  One of the most famous arguments toward keeping children in a conventional school setting.  In fact, it’s an issue I had heard raised so often before we had ever considered homeschooling, that when we were agonizing like crazy people over in the process of making the decision I spent quite a lot of time fretting over whether I would be depriving my children of adequate socialization by having them at home.  And I’ve many times encountered a version of this statement from other mothers:  “I would be interested in homeschooling , but my son/daughter is so social!  I feel like I would be stifling him/her by keeping him/her away from a classroom setting.” 

Like most homeschooling parents who have wrestled with the socialization question, my initial anxieties have now given way to suppressed smiles when I sense a hinted concern from a relative, or look back at my own worries.  I now view the whole subject as a well-meaning myth with some real values underneath.  Here’s what I mean:

The socialization myth assumes that the conventional school setting is the way to ensure healthy social development.  However, even putting aside the historical norm of children who did not spend seven hours a day within the modern school model – children who were apparently, by this argument, all social misfits – the present-day evidence is proving that this assumption is unfounded.  Even a quick search turns up several studies showing that homeschooled children are just as socially confident and well-adjusted as their peers – or even more so.  But beyond the research, the frequent interaction I have with teens and young adults who were schooled at home (and are some of the most delightful, creative, polite, confident people I know), assures me that my kids aren’t missing a crucial component of their development. 

The socialization myth assumes that a whole lot of awesome socialization is happening at school.   Something that surprised me a lot during Maya’s two years in public school (during which I spent quite a bit of time volunteering in the classroom) was how little time the kids actually had to interact during the school day.  Examples:
  • Assigned seats on the bus
  • A noise-level rule system (Level 0 is silence, Level 1 is whisper, etc.) that found the kids at the silence and/or whispering level a lot.  A lot. 
  • Such a short lunch period that Maya had to consciously not talk with her friends in order to have adequate time to eat.
  • Far less recess time than what I had as a kid in school.

It’s not that I have a problem with these things, necessarily (other than the lunch thing, which drove me nuts).  And I’m not saying that there was a total lack of social time at school or that playtime is all that makes up the idea of “socialization”, but it was surprising to me when I’d spend a day with Maya at school just how little time she actually spent in playful, or even “regular” interaction with her peers, compared to what I’d assumed.  (Necessary disclaimer:  Teachers, you are awesome and are not the problem!)

But as I said, the socialization conversation has some real values at its heart, and we are actively trying to work out these values with our kids.

There is great value in children learning to play and talk and interact in a healthy way with their peers.  That’s why our kids spend time with friends in different situations several times a week – something actually made easier with our homeschooling schedule.

There is great value in children spending time at work in a group setting – learning to take turns, share information, work as a team, etc.  That’s why we love our weekly homeschool group and value our kids’ time in their Sunday school classes.  They have a lot of fun and build good skills by learning in a small group setting.

There is great value in extra-curricular activities, where children can learn special skills under the instruction of other adults and explore areas of strength and interest alongside other kids.  That’s why we love Maya’s dance lessons with a group of 11 other girls her age, her piano lessons, her scouting troop.  We love Noah’s interactive group music class and his city soccer league.  We love our growing involvement in 4-H clubs and our mornings and story/craft time at the library.  And honestly, we love these things even more now that our school day takes up less time and we aren’t fighting the after-school, after-homework fatigue that sometime took some of the enjoyment out of other activities.

There is value in children learning to interact well with people of all ages, with diverse backgrounds, in different settings.  That’s why I (mostly) like that my kids are with me during the day as we run errands and spend time out and about.  They have opportunities to chat with checkout clerks and store greeters, ask questions, help out, and play with their toddler cousins.  They are learning real-world social skills that I hope will serve them well in their teens and into adulthood. 

So that’s the long version of how I would answer the socialization concern (the short answer being a head-nod and “Mmmmhmmm.”).  I would never say that homeschooling always provides better social interaction than conventional school, because I don’t believe that.  I think involved parents who encourage social values make the biggest difference, regardless of school situation.   I do believe that where I once feared homeschooling might be a hindrance to socialization, I now see it as a great opportunity.  The bottom line is that we are around people a lot – learning, playing, working, serving – and our decision to homeschool has, for us, only been a benefit to building relationships and engaging our society.  

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Thoughts From Others

Boom.  This post from Jen Hatmaker is pretty much everything I'd like to scream when I read through my Facebook feed these days.  And also when I look at my own heart.

The Mythical "They"

I'm one who fact-checks pretty much everything, but this one?  I don't even want to know if it's skewed, stretched, or blatantly false.  I'm just going with it.

11 Reasons Why You Should Drink Coffee Every Day

This made me laugh so much.

Famous Brands Updated with Honest Taglines

I have a minor obsession with weird little life hacks.

18 Everyday Products You've Been Using Wrong

Friday, October 18, 2013

Random Friday Thoughts

                                        Image Credit: Flickr

I have a sick five-year-old.  Poor guy.  The only thing that perked him up slightly this evening was a popsicle.  (Okay, two popsicles.)

Since the kids were basically in front of the television already, I took the opportunity to deep clean the kitchen.  And scrub down the refrigerator.  And sort the pantry.  And clean both bathrooms.  And vacuum/mop all the floors.  It was sort of awesome.  

Zooey Deschenel is so delightful.  

This week marked the time for the yearly tradition in which I bake a pumpkin pie, freeze a batch of homemade vanilla ice cream, take half the pe and roughly chopped it, then fold it into the ice cream.

Parks and Recreation gets better and better all the time.

I would like to know why, every fall, we discover that no one in this house has socks that match or fit.  

It is October 18th, and we have not yet taken our children to pick out their pumpkins.  Parenting fail.

I need to go search Pinterest to figure out what to make for breakfast tomorrow morning!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Thoughts from the Kids

Image Credit: Flickr

(In the van today..)

Me:  "Hey guys, I'm writing about stuff I'm thinking about every day this month.  What are you thinking about?"

Maya:  "Oh!  Well, I'm thinking about how fun it will be to go to piano lessons today.  I love piano lessons!  Probably because it's so fun to play music.  And I love doing the duets with Aunt Diane.  I just think it's so cool that I am actually learning how to play an instrument!  And I'm starting to do whole songs!  Oh, and then tomorrow I have dance class, and I love dance class too, because I feel really grown up when we practice the new moves, and I'm so excited to learn our recital dance, and we'll get to wear beautiful costumes with fur muffs because it's an ice-skating dance!  So I'm learning two things I love for two days in a row!"

Noah:  "I'm mostly thinking about eating stromboli."

(Sounds about right.)

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Thoughts on Homeschooling: What We're Studying

Image credit: Flickr

When I began homeschooling last year, I knew I couldn't just merrily hum along while piecing together a complete curriculum out of my own creativity.  No.  That would not be a gift that I possess.  I didn't know exactly what I was looking for, but here were some of my criteria:

  • Literature-based.  Solid, classic literature that would nurture a love of reading and writing.  
  • Structured lesson plans.  An outline of 180 school days that would give me a detailed plan for how to cover all of the subjects and materials in a way that made sense.  
  • No extensive preparation required.  I did not want to have to spend my evenings doing research and pulling materials together.  
  • Everything included.  Please, no tracking down obscure books at the library or typing up sheets of sample sentences for language arts.  
  • Faith-based, without being defensive, weird, or overly-sheltering.

I looked into every homeschool curriculum I could find, overwhelming myself with the decision, until we finally decided to try Sonlight.  I had heard good things, and from what I could tell, this company's vision fit every necessary line on my list.  I loved their commitment to good literature, and I appreciated their detailed lesson plans as well as the freedom they encourage to make the plans fit your individual needs.  I loved that I'd receive all the needed materials, and I was very impressed with Sonlight's philosophy on solid, non-weird Christian education.  

Ten weeks into our second school year at home, and I cannot say enough good things about this curriculum.  Sure, I've made my own adjustments to their suggested schedules over time, but the overall focuses and the level of education I'm able to provide with relative ease have been a huge blessing.  

This year, Maya (3rd grade) is in her second year of a World History core, with last year leading up to the fall of Rome, and this year picking up with the time of the Vikings and putting us currently in the adventurous Middle Ages.  I am learning right along with her, and as a history-lover, it is so fun to study the people, places, and discoveries that have shaped the course of human events.  

Maya's science studies this year will take us through geology, meteorology, and mechanical technology. She's doing 4th-5th grade language arts, readers,, and spelling and is doing her math through Teaching Textbooks at the computer.  She has weekly Bible memory verses and daily scripture readings and is studying interesting Bible facts as well as powerful missionary stories.  We are learning about world cultures and religions and specific prayer focuses that we can use as we intercede for people groups around the globe.

Noah (Kindergarten) is focusing on reading skills, spelling, language arts, and writing.  He has crazy math skills, so I'm just letting him run with it and when he's done with these workbooks we'll order the next ones.  He's studying basic science subjects like nature, weather, animal groups, etc., and other "world around me" things like typical jobs that make up a town.  He has memory verses as well, and we read from a Bible storybook.

Both of them have been studying art books with me from time to time, and we do some science experiments, crafts, and creative writing too.  

I've contemplated shifting things around so that we're not covering every single subject each day, but having one or two days a week that are heavier in science and a couple that are more history-focused, for instance.  We'll see.  But this works for now.  

And even though there are days when we're all a little off and nothing is going well (oh, hello there, last Tuesday!), we are really enjoying our school time and the things we're learning together.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Thoughts on the Weary and the What IF

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Sometimes I grow weary of Christian culture.

Not the true backbone tenets of Christianity.  Not Jesus...He is is always worth everything.

But the culture we create around our faith.  The fads and the lingo.  The "truths" we adopt that are nowhere to be found in the actual Bible.  The parts of following God that we pour our focus on because it feels comfortable, and the parts we downplay because it doesn't.  The sins we yell about because we don't struggle with them, and the ones we sort of pretend aren't really a big deal because we do.

And I think what drives me the most crazy in it all is that in our zeal to live our lives to please God, we forget that we're called to be brothers and sisters.  We adopt pet theological or political ideas and decide that everyone who disagrees is not just wrong - but our enemy.  We must stay away.  We walk out of churches and lash out on Facebook and break relationship over and over again.

There have been times that I've wanted to step away from the internet forever. Because of the fighting. Among Christians.  Blogs pitted against one another in word wars over gender roles, postmodernism, whoever happens to be president, etc.  Factions forming and labels leveled.

There have been times I've wanted to step away from church forever.  Because of the fighting.  Among Christians. Hurts piled on hurts, rumors and perceptions that wrench apart friendships.  Leaders worn and broken by the impossible burden of expectations.  Differences allowed to irreparably divide.

This would be a good time to point out that I am pointing each of these verbal fingers at myself just as much (if not much, much more) as at anyone else.  I drive my own self into fits of frustration over my failures at unity.  The tension of being unafraid to disagree on issues, but to not allow that disagreement to fracture a friendship or cloud my view or cause me to label another Christian in all sorts of stupid ways. Ugh.

When I first heard about this thing called IF:Gathering, I was more skeptical than excited.  As Sarah said more eloquently than what I'm capable of, I have all the feelings about conferences.  The rah rah emotions and lip-service to real life change.  The intention of inclusiveness that might not really pan out, as we simply form larger circles of same-ness.  I have been there, done that.  And I am done with that. 

But this IF thing?  It grabbed my heart and wouldn't let go.  When I began to hear who formed the planning team, I wondered if maybe, possibly, this movement could really be different.  I'm very aware that these people disagree on some things, but also that each one of them loves Jesus to a depth that puts me firmly to shame.  When they planned the conference, then learned that the cost was prohibitive for some, and so they re-did the whole structure from scratch, threw fees out the window to open the doors and decided to just trust God?  That they really cared more about gathering women in Austin - and everywhere - to seek God together, than on making everything silky smooth?  When I had four friends who said, "I'm in.  Let's go to Texas!"?

When Jen Hatmaker posted this?

I don’t know how else to say it other than this: This feels right. It feels right to say come, come one, come all. Come to this table. Practice dissimilar theology? Grab a seat. Don’t fit a mold of some sort? Sit with us. Cranky about conferences but crazy about Jesus? Pull up a chair. Hungry, tired, hopeful, impassioned, cautious, fire in your bones? You belong here. Starving to see God move in our time? We need you. Old-timer, new-comer, here is your seat. Rich, poor? This is your table.

God, gather us and move. We care nothing for our constructs but only for your presence. Shove us aside, tear down the walls, and build a raging fire. May your fame be declared, your kingdom come on earth, and your daughters set free and set ablaze. Bring us to your table; there are enough seats for all. We are hungry and ready and we await You.

Well then.   Sign me up.  Cranky, tired, cautious, starving.  Burned out on so much, but ready to remember what matters in this whole mess.  Ready to see what happens - what is already happening - when we choose to take the petty dividing lines and the guilt-by-associations and all of the other junk we hold out as shields and drop it all to see each other how He sees us.  To live unafraid again.

Today, IF:Gathering Austin sold out in less than an hour.  My four friends and I, by some small miracle, were all able to register. So, let's do this thing.  

Because when Ann says this...

...and Jen says this...

...and Sarah (the one with the twin-to-me conference feelings) says this...

...and Angie says this...

...and Nish says this...

...and Jennie (the visionary) says this...

...well, then God is moving, people.  And I'm ready to trade fatigue for a movement toward freedom.  To stop living in the weary and start living the what if...?