Homeschool 101 … view all
Not an ExpertIt happened again yesterday. I was chatting with a friend who happens to be a homeschooling dad, when I got The Question. “So, what was your degree?” he asks. “It was in biology, right?” “Actually, music.” Stunned silence. Long, drawn out, “Ohhhhhh. . . . . . . " Time and time again, I’m asked The Question. I’ve even had people ask me for medical advice! Why? Because I teach science classes to local homeschool co-ops and run science camps in the summer. People assume, therefore, that if I understand science and can teach it, I must have a degree and a college-level education in a science field. Let me let you in on a little secret. The last science class I took was AP Biology my senior year of high school. I never even took Physics. But let me share another secret with you: I. Love. Teaching. Science. And I blame it all on homeschooling. I remember it as if it were yesterday. My eldest was five, and we were working through a science activity book. We made red cabbage juice (oh, the smell!) and added different liquids to see what happened. When she realized that the orange juice turned the juice pink, her eyes lit up. “Mommy!” she exclaimed, “I’ll bet the lemonade would make it pink, too!” I was hooked. Seeing her excitement, seeing her wonder, watching her make connections and learn, really learn for herself. That did it for me. From that point on, we worked together. We hooked up light bulbs to batteries, built pendulums, ran cars down ramps, grew plants, dissected various organs, mixed various chemicals, and generally explored the amazing world that God had created. And somehow, some way, over the next few years, I became an “expert”. My story isn’t unusual in homeschooling circles, but perhaps it is becoming increasingly rare. In today’s world of co-ops, online classes, and outsourcing, many parents feel that unless they are an “expert” in a subject, they simply cannot teach it. I beg to differ. When I first started homeschooling (in the late 1990s), all most parents had was access to textbooks, a few curricula, and their local library. But what they did have, and had in abundance, was the firm belief that God had equipped them to teach their children at home, and a willingness to come alongside and learn with them. It wasn’t perfect, nor homeschool utopia, but many of those families provided an excellent education for their children. They weren’t “experts” in the traditional sense of the word, but believed that God had made them the best expert when it came to home education. Hear me: I have no problems at all with co-ops and online classes! My own children currently benefit greatly from participation in these types of educational activities. But what I am concerned about is the trend that I have observed recently in my own circles; parents who are absolutely convinced that, without the help and support of a co-op or outside class, they simply cannot homeschool. This sentiment is not primarily from the lips of parents of middle- and highschool students, but from moms who have first- and second-graders at home. Have we forgotten that homeschooling families before us fought for the right to homeschool, without having to prove to anyone that we were “experts”? Have we forgotten that we can learn alongside our children and show them that the thirst for knowledge and information isn’t confined to classrooms? Have we forgotten that God has promised to strengthen and help us, and to prove Himself strong when we are weak? Parents, don’t miss the blessing. Walk with your children, learning, loving, and growing together. Explore, engage, discover, do. Enjoy this opportunity to “relearn” things you had forgotten, and model for your child what it means to be a life-long learner. You may discover that you end up becoming an “expert” in one of the subjects you study with your child. But more importantly, you will be an expert in that which matters most - the life of your child.
Transparent Homeschooling"You are beautiful. You are designed by God. God has a plan and purpose for you. God sings over you." Mom, what do you think when you read those words? Do you think of that extra 40 lbs? Do you think of your many failures? Do you consider all the ways you've messed up? Recently, I was honored to speak at a homeschooling conference. In the last session of the day I spoke to dozens and dozen of teen girls and their mothers. I spoke on the topic of two of my books: My Life, Unscripted and Praying for Your Future Husband. What an honor to speak TRUTH into the lives and hearts of these young women! First, I have a special place in my heart for homeschooled young women. Three words come to mind when I consider them: innocence, joy, and eagerness. They love to learn, to read, and to experience life. Now, I'm speaking in general terms, but there was a lightness about the young woman in the room. Their faces reflected the happiness that comes from being content in their relationship with their parents and in knowing God. Their shoulders didn't seem to be burdened by the many cares and worries of the world. Their mothers on the other hand ... they looked weary. I'm smiling because it was a long conference. There was much to take in. There's responsibility that comes from being a homeschooling mom. There are many worries that trail their footsteps through the exhibit hall, to. But it was more than that. When I spoke those words too the teens, “You are beautiful. You are designed by God. God has a plan and purpose for you. God sings over you," many of the moms lowered their heads. I saw tears. I saw regret reflected on their faces. Personally, I chose to homeschool because I wanted a relationship with my kids that I didn't have with my parents. Also, because I knew how hard life could be and I wanted to prepare my children's hearts—as well as their smarts. There was another reason too. I'd been crushed by life. I was influenced by wrong people, wrong thoughts, wrong desires. I lost my purity at a young age. I had my heart broken many times, and I regretted not cherishing myself as I should have. As I spoke to these young women, I talked about many of my experiences—of getting pregnant at 15 and having an abortion, of getting pregnant again at 17 and becoming a teen mom. I shared how I was looking for love in all the wrong places, and how I didn't have a close relationship with my parents, especially my stepdad. Many moms talked to me after the workshop, thanking me for sharing my story. Most of them said they had similar, hurtful experiences as mine. They didn't have to confess this—although I'm glad they did. I already knew they had similar stories. I saw it on their faces ... in their tears. The reality is, there are many homeschooling moms who made this choice, who dedicate themselves—give their time, their energy, and their “freedom"—to ensure their kids have a better chance BECAUSE they remember the pain of doing things the wrong way. I didn't realize this when I first started homeschooling. I remember some of the first homeschool meetings I attended. Everyone was dressed so nice, so conservative. These moms talked about homeschooling, and their gardens, and their baking and cooking. They spoke in a different language and shared code-words, things like Abeka, unit studies, Charlotte Mason. “Who's Charlotte Mason?” I wondered. Their kids seemed perfect and their lives under complete control. For a while I doubted I'd been called to homeschooling, too. I thought they had their acts together and worried I wouldn't fit in. I worried they wouldn't accept me into their “club” if they knew my past. Later, I realized their pasts were similar to mine. I saw their motivation to bring up their kids with God as the center of their lives as something that came from their own pain, heartache, regret. As I continue to share my story, I'm encouraged by other mothers who tell me about their past, too. I think it's important to share truth with each other. Homeschooling is hard enough to try to figure out without having to worry about wearing a mask. It's important for us homeschooling moms to be transparent. Nobody has their act together. Nobody has a perfect past. Nobody is doing everything right. And the sooner we share this—what's really going on—the sooner we can join together and support each other. We also need to be transparent with our kids. For many years I wanted to forget my past and act like none of it happened. I did a pretty good job at that until my kids started asking questions. Having our son Cory in our wedding photo gave my kids a pretty good hint that our family's origin wasn't as picture perfect as I'd like to act. At first I hated having to confess my past. I thought it would make my kids feel like they could do the same: “You can't tell me not to have sex before marriage … you did it.” Instead the opposite happened. My kids saw my regret and they made different choices. When they were preteens and teens they were able to come to my husband and me with their struggles because they knew we'd faced many of the same ones. Because of my transparency, they didn't have to hide and try to act perfect. They learned to be real as I shared from my reality. And let's face it, our kids already know we're NOT perfect. Why not explain our struggles and share how they can turn to God for help … and continue to turn to Him? There's another thing I want to mention. Even as I spoke to that room of sweet homeschooled young women, I know not all of them are perfect, either. Yes, they may be more sheltered, innocent, and protected than other young women their age, but they still have struggles. Everyone does. So, mom, while you're pointing them to God and teaching them how to stay on the right path, also remind the young woman in your life of Who they can turn to when they mess up. We all need to know that Jesus still thinks we're beautiful, and still has a design, plan, and purpose for us. He still sings over us, not because we deserve it, but because of His love. His amazing love.
Anchoring Your FamilyOne of the core advantages of homeschooling is the ability to shape your children’s education from a biblical worldview. Anchoring all subject matter in a coherent, integrated scriptural view is simply not possible in public education. It is in fact forbidden by law. Were any public school system to attempt such a thing they would rapidly be buried under an avalanche of lawsuits. The disjointed nature of public education has been noted for decades now. Cogent critiques by Ivan Illich, John Holt, and John Taylor Gatto have pointed out the artificial division of education into separate disciplines with wildly divergent goals and presuppositions. Just as bad, the standard factory model for schooling divides the day into discrete one-hour time periods where all of the students must halt whatever they are doing once an hour, no matter how interesting, and move to a new and almost always completely unrelated subject. Dr. Pavlov would be proud, but the system raises the question of what is really being taught. Gatto says the real lesson students learn is to be submissive, to obey the authorities, and to abandon any subject, no matter how interesting, when someone else’s schedule tells you it is time to move on. Homeschoolers currently enjoy unprecedented freedom and flexibility to shape an education to fit biblical principles and adapted to the particular needs of each child. Homeschooling is much, much more than just doing school at home. As my wife has observed, if all we do in homeschooling is change the location of education then we will have failed. If all we do is change the delivery vehicle of the state-approved curriculum from an NEA teacher to a mom working through a checklist, we will have failed. All homeschoolers need to be aware of how precious our current freedom is. Before the 1980s, this was not so. There is no guarantee that it will continue to be so. A special area of concern is testing and teacher certification. Whoever controls the testing controls the curriculum. Dads, you can be especially helpful in defending the freedom to homeschool. Be ready with an answer to defend your choice of homeschooling to any who would ask. When there is an issue in the state legislature, dads need to be prepared, like minutemen, to respond. A group of quiet, confident, articulate dads in a legislator’s office makes a huge impression. Private schools could, of course, break the public school mold as well, and teach a biblically integrated curriculum, but they rarely do. They’re forced by the classroom, factory model to adopt most of the same methods as the public schools. And many of them wittingly or unwittingly adopt a scope and sequence that has more to do with pleasing accrediting agencies and government regulators than maintaining fidelity to biblical truth. There are notable exceptions. What does an education shaped by a biblical worldview look like? First and foremost, it makes the study of the Bible one of the central subjects. A thorough knowledge of the Bible used to be the norm in most of Europe and the United States. Parents (usually fathers) read the Bible to their family at every mealtime and led their family in daily devotions. Sadly, those days are gone with the wind. But here is a wonderful opportunity for fathers to contribute in a tangible way to the education of their children. It’s really quite simple – read the Bible to them. Secondly, dads have a unique opportunity to help their children think about, review, and integrate the things they are learning into a coherent worldview. Your wife must, almost by definition, focus her time on the details, helping the children learn specifics in each discipline. If dad is not involved in the day to day teaching, it will be hard for him to contribute lesson by lesson (though if you can tutor in math or a language, by all means, do so!). But dad can, from time to time, ask each of the children to talk a bit about what they are learning. Probe. Follow up. Ask your child how what they are leaning in one subject fits with the other subjects they are studying. Ask them what they are finding most interesting. Ask them what they are finding most challenging. And in these conversations, you will almost certainly have opportunities to talk about worldview issues. What do your studies tell you about God? What do they tell you about the nature of man? What examples of the way in which sin has marred the world have you run across? As your students read literature or biographies, talk about the people they are studying. What do they think of them? Do they like them? Do they admire them? What do they think they did particularly well? What mistakes did they make? Did they lead lives worthy of imitation? What do you think God thought about them?A few simple questions may be all it takes to launch a really important conversation. Dad, you need to plan for those conversations and seek to spark them. Another way in which Dad can provide a unique perspective and input is to review with Mom the various curriculum choices from a worldview perspective. Moms rapidly develop their own evaluation criteria for curriculum and usually connect with other homeschooling moms to compare notes. I would caution dads about getting drawn into a debate over which publisher has the best phonics organization or the coolest manipulatives. Gentlemen, we are way over our heads in these waters! On the other hand, dads should put on their to-do list asking questions about how the family’s homeschool curriculum integrates and teaches a biblical worldview. Is God honored in the presentation of all subjects? Is the authority of the Bible recognized? Is Christianity treated with respect or ridiculed? All of this presupposes of course that dad has done his homework and thought ahead of time about what a biblical worldview is. Don’t wait until your children reach high school age to do this. Here’s a list of helpful books for both moms and dads. Read them (at least one or two) before you start homeschooling:
- Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis
- Total Truth by Nancy Pearcy
- The Universe Next Door Basic World View Catalog by James Sire
- Your Mind Matters
- The Place of the Mind in the Christian Life by John Stott
- Rethinking Worldview by J. Mark Bertrand
- Living at the Crossroads An Introduction to Christian Worldview, by Michael Goheen & Craig Bartholomew
Fill ‘er Up!
What are you filling your homeschool with? Is it lots of books? Craft supplies galore? Great literature? Hands on activities? Movies? Worksheets and workbooks? All of these things are a natural part of any homeschool, and of course most are necessary. Yet we need to be careful not to get caught up in filling our homeschool with too much material items so that we are missing the most important thing to fill our homeschools with-Him.
God is the center of our homeschools.
So often we become very focused on the "things" in our homeschool that we leave very little room for focusing on the eternal. We become consumed with finding all of the "things" that we think we need to make our homeschool succeed. The catalogs call us, the websites call us, the books call us; and we answer.
I remember when I first began homeschooling and I thought the more supplies, books, and tools I had, the more successful I would be. Yet those things started to weigh me down. It became overwhelming. I was drowning in the very things that I thought would help me. There was too much clutter, both physically and mentally. I became overloaded with all of the information and with managing all of the "stuff" that became part of our homeschool.
Yet, deep down inside all of that clutter, He had given me all that I needed already. He had called me to this journey, set me on the path, and given me all that I needed to homeschool: His power. Yet, when I didn't turn to my power source first, and turned to the world to help me, I lost focus. I realized that the most important thing to fill my homeschool with was His Word, His power, His teachings, then my children would know the most important things first. The rest would follow, but He needed to be first. All of the books in the world matter not, if they don't know His book first. All of the supplies in the world matter not, if I am not supplied by Him first. All of the activities in the world matter not, if I have not first been still. With Him. Letting Him fill us, and lead us.
So these are the things that I want my homeschool to be filled with first, before adding in all of the "extras."
JesusFilling our homeschools with what matters- not the worldly stuff- is essential if we are to run this race, and run it well. So fill up on Him first...and your homeschool will surely be blessed. Now it's your turn! Is there anything you'd add to the list?
Do you enjoy new beginnings? I most definitely do. When the school year rolls around, I grin with the excitement of New Year’s Day. My mind travels back to memories of new pencil boxes, brand new outfits, and rows upon rows of school supplies, waiting for the ink and promise of a fresh new year. When our family began our homeschooling journey back in the Dark Ages that were the 90s, I looked for ways to create “markers” in the lives of my children. They were never going to need a brand new outfit to impress their friends on the first day, nor a new backpack, lunchbox, or a host of other special things. But what they did need - and what I needed - were tangible markers to say, “This is our journey. We dedicate it to the Lord, and we celebrate it together.” With that in mind, my husband and I established a pattern for our first day of school, which by the Lord’s grace hasn’t been broken in - gulp - 15 years. Here’s a look at how we make our very first day of school special: 1. To start off, I must explain that our first day of school is affectionately called “Orientation Day”. This concept - inspired by my husband’s suggestion - frees me from the tyranny of the stack of books and planned work, and allows me time to just focus on my children. No one does any work on Orientation Day! We may set up notebooks or organize our books, but no academic work is completed. 2. Pictures, pictures, pictures! Here’s where my formerly-scrapbook-obsessed personality shines. I take a picture of each child at their desk, often with their favorite book, and then we all head outside for a picture on the front steps of our home. After printing the pictures, I display them right in front of my desk, where I work on plans and grade papers. One look at my crew brings a smile to my face and often inspires me to keep on when the days grow long. 3. On my eldest daughter’s first day of kindergarten (1997!), I helped her to fill out a questionnaire I developed. Called the First Day of School Questions, this page gives me a peek into the heart and mind of my children. Each child answers questions for me; we start with basic questions along the lines of “How old are you?” and “What grade are you in?” Further down the page they record, “What is your yuckiest food?” “What are you good at?” and “What would you like to study this year?” I’ll never forget the year one of our three-year olds just cut the bottom half of the page to shreds! Apparently she was working on scissor skills that year. . . . . . I keep each list of questions with their permanent records for the year. Yes, I actually have ALL thirteen lists of questions that my college student answered for me! They are a treasure. 4. After filling out our questionnaires, I meet with each child individually for 20-30 minutes. Together, without the pressure of deadlines and timetables, we look through their new materials, discuss routines and schedules, and talk about their hopes, goals, and dreams for the year. We pray together and prepare our hearts for the weeks and months to come. With a family of five children, I look forward to this individual time to listen attentively and prayerfully connect with each child. 5. Finally, we’re on to the fun part! We head out for one special school supply and either an ice cream cone or lunch, as the budget allows. I hope this peek at our Orientation Day spurs you on to think of ways that you can make the beginning of school special for your children. May God bless and guide you as you seek to serve Him faithfully in your homes this next year! Now it's your turn! How do you like to start the school year? Let us know in the comments below. Curious about what questions Heather uses? View and download them here: First_Day_of_School_Questions!
My Friend, Charlotte
There are a few things I’ve learned in my time as a home educator. We all carry some common character traits. We are all rebels, revolutionaries, and innovators. Not one of us decided to become home educators because we were looking for the easy route. Not one of us chose home educating because we were satisfied with the status quo. What we saw available to our children was dissatisfying at best. In the spirit of every great American and every revolutionary we set out to find the best, even going as far as to create it ourselves to meet our children’s needs. This search, this longing for more is what led to my first encounter with a lady that changed the course of education in our home. Her name is Charlotte, Charlotte Mason. I don’t remember the first time I heard her name. Maybe it was in passing or buried in the comment of a friend, but the name stuck. I kept looking and researching and soon found myself simultaneously breathing a sigh of relief and rejoicing that I had found the answer. You see, Charlotte was a rebel, revolutionary, and innovator as well. She saw education trends as paltry not elevating, pandering not exhorting. She was a governess and teacher who thought teachers needed reeducating. It doesn’t get any more revolutionary than that. What made an even bigger impression was that her sentiments (so like the thoughts of home educators of today) and her methods were spawned in the late 19th century. Charlotte, my wise new friend, lived from 1842 to 1923. As I delved deeper into her methods, my eyes were opened! I had always thought that a home educator was essentially the consumer of curriculum. One settled on a publisher, ordered the box set, found an umbrella school, and they were off to the races with their standardized grading sheets included in the set, a seven-hour school day, 180-day school year, achievement tests, and, if they were really overachievers, a tutorial program for fine arts, physical education, and electives. Of course, we had the freedom to call a snow day in October or make a trip to the grocery store a combination cooking class and math lesson. I was fairly certain that home education differed from public education only in location and the ability to impart our family’s values deeply into our children’s souls. I had no idea that a Victorian lady would upset my applecart of beliefs and redefine my job description. Hopefully you are chomping at the bit to know what Charlotte said that so changed my point of view. Her first and foremost belief was that children are born persons! (I know, revolutionary.) They are born to learn and equipped from day one to take all we can throw at them. She detested the trend of dumbing down literature to be at a “child’s level”. Literature that insults a child’s intelligence by being overly simplistic is what Charlotte called “twaddle” which must be avoided because it provides no goal for a child, nothing at which to aim their efforts. Besides, who says you can’t read The Chronicles of Narnia to your preschooler? Imagine the language and creative skills that your child would get a jumpstart on. Charlotte was an advocate of a liberal education. Having nothing to do with politics, this liberal education means a generous one where all things are open for exploration. The arts are not off limits to children and are actually preferred to things we dub as educational such as “Sesame Street”. The liberal education seeks to introduce challenge beyond what we have been led to believe our children are capable of. It seeks to say that spending twenty minutes studying Degas’ Ballet Dancer is as valid at the elementary level as the college level. It removes the ideas we have been bound to regarding arbitrary limits. After I discovered these basics of Charlotte’s teachings, I knew I would never look at curriculum the same. I found my new version of curriculum in what she called “living” books and “whole” books. “Living” books are so named because they are alive and engaging not a droning textbook or something lacking zeal and dedication. The best example of a “living” book is a journal or personal writing. Modern studies have shown that when we are learning about a subject if that subject has a real person attached to it the details stick. Charlotte knew that one hundred thirty years ago. A “whole” book is exactly that – a book wholly on one subject expressed in literary language that awakens the reader. A single book about butterflies is a much better read than a small excerpt in an exhaustive volume. Generally speaking whole books are living books because the writer has passion for the subject. By now you are probably thinking that this is all well and good where subjects like history, literature, poetry, and art are concerned but wonder how this applies to the practical subjects such as math and science. Charlotte was not remiss where these are concerned. She emphasized the importance of practical application and manipulatives. Teaching the value of money by holding it, talking about it, and learning to spend, save, and invest it. Couple that with learning about the mathematician and his theories, the scientist and his science. If geometry is the subject read about Pythagoras to unravel a2+b2=c2, delving into Galileo will tell you why he said Saturn had ears, investigating Marie Curie is definitely on the agenda when you are in chemistry class. Additionally, regular nature study paved a valuable path in a Charlotte Mason science class. Time outdoors was essential to the education and the spirit of the child, so important in fact that she was the first to see the value of scouting as an educational tool. Robert Baden-Powell credits this endorsement, among others, with the growth of the Scouting movement and his book, Scouting for Boys. So deep are her ideas that Charlotte wrote six volumes that have received widespread appreciation in the home education movement. Many books have been written about her books. I am certain many more are yet to be written. Her methods are distinct. She is peculiar among teachers who wish to group everyone into the same age bracket expecting them all to learn from the same dry material. I know that our home school shall never be the same. I will continue to learn about her, explore all that I can in the realm of tangible learning, and raise my children outside someone else’s restraints. If you are so driven as to learn more (because this is just the tip of the iceberg) I encourage you to read all you can about her. Her six volumes can easily be found at online auction sites, online bookstores, and used bookstores. I highly recommend A Charlotte Mason Education, More Charlotte Mason Education, and A Literary Education all by Catherine Levison. If you have the opportunity to visit a convention or fair with a seminar on Ms. Mason, don’t miss it! If now you are feeling somewhat overwhelmed, repeat to yourself Charlotte’s own motto for her students, “I am, I can, I ought, I will."
Homeschool, Faith & Family … view all
Unusual ConflictsIt was a usual day. The weather was perfect; clear skies and warm breezes beckoned us outside. So three eager students and I promptly geared up and headed into the wild outdoors (read: backyard). To the fully-blooming acreage we added our cheerful chattering and smiles and the general excitement of exploration. Yep. It was a usual day, and this was the usual start. If only it didn’t have the usual ending. If only the happiness lasted a little longer. Longer than the usual fifteen minutes—the brief amount of time during which I imagine the peace we began with might just make it to lunch. But no. All too soon, the happy children I sent scurrying into the backyard gravitated back to me, their disgruntled expressions of displeasure reaching me first. Something had disrupted the harmony. Make that some things. It only took a few minutes to hone in on the culprits. Clinging to each set of pant legs encircling me were hundreds of tiny burs. Being pinched and pricked by the unidentified freeloading objects aroused their fears and heightened their discomfort. They stood around me helpless, captive in their own pants. And there they waited patiently (well, they tried anyway) while one-by-one, each barbed little ball was plucked off. Well, I’ll admit: it was our first time encountering the burs together—and it was a memorable “learning experience.” But it certainly wasn’t our first time getting all tangled up in an uncomfortable situation. Unfortunately, that’s pretty usual for us. And I know we’re not the only ones. If you live on the same planet we do, then there’s something we all encounter on a daily basis—and we don’t need to step one toe out the door to find it: conflict. We’d all love to pretend we never find conflict clinging to the fabric of our perfect lives, but if we’re acquainted with any other human beings, then it does. It’s no respecter of persons or ages or places or educational styles. And whether large or small, any occasion on which we “strike against” one another in conflict is going to make an impression. But here’s a secret: while conflict is a usual, everyday occurrence, it doesn’t have to have the usual ending. Instead of the destructive results most of us dread dealing with, the battles you encounter—where ever you encounter them—can be powerful opportunities for protecting and promoting peace, as well as increasing intimacy in your relationships. By clinging to the grace of God, and the Good News we have in Christ Jesus, we can have the most unexpected endings to the most commonplace problems. Here are five steps to get you moving in an unusual direction. Conflicts Come Naturally We don’t have to try too hard or hunt too far to find a conflict; it comes quite naturally to us. In fact, each one of us is conflicted inside. James 4:1 offers this: “What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?” All of us struggle with our own sin—the parts of us that are imperfect, self-seeking, and short-sighted. As we wrestle with ourselves and live among other sinful people, we are certain to find sin issues bristling into us and pricking into others on a continual basis. What issues do you wrestle with personally? Conflicts Can't Be Ignored Conflict can’t be ignored without consequences. It might seem easier at first, but overlooking a conflict can have dangerous consequences. Like the burs, conflict can create unnecessary distance and disrupt harmony—and it holds us captive until it’s properly resolved. Just as my kids couldn’t do much tangled in burs, we’ll be as handicapped if we attempt to push forward with the barbs of unresolved conflict still attached to us. How can conflicts hold us captive until they’re properly resolved? Why does Ephesians 4:26 warn us to deal with anger quickly? Think back on conflicts you’ve encountered. How were they handled and what were the resulting consequences? Stand Still Long Enough Not every conflict is quickly identified or resolved. Just as I had to examine my disgruntled children to figure out what went wrong, it could take time to discern what’s really going on in a disrupted relationship. Don’t be afraid to take time to understand the issues. Remember James 1:19 instructs: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” So ask questions, and listen to answers. Uncover the culprits that are really causing the discomfort. What are some barriers to “standing still” long enough to uncover the heart of a conflict? How might these be overcome? Take a "Hands-On" Approach Once the work’s been done to uncover the source of a conflict, it’s time to do the work of disentangling—and that means taking a “hands-on” approach. Just as every bur had to be carefully plucked off each pant leg, properly handling a conflict may require humbly reaching out to someone—whether you’re reaching to help them or for help from them. Ask yourself: who needs help resolving a conflict and what can I do in this situation? Or, who do I need to reach out to in order to restore our disrupted relationship? Read Matthew 22:39 and consider what it means to love your neighbor as yourself. Produce Good Fruit Handling conflict well can produce good fruit. I may be alone in this, but I didn’t realize that burs have a function, besides being annoying. Imagine my surprise to learn that inside every bur is a precious seed. The prickly outsides protect the seed from being hastily swallowed and help it cling its way to a desirable location in which to grow. Similarly, while conflicts may seem all bristle and pain, they carry the potential to bear good fruit. When carefully handled, guided, and put to rest in the right place, the seed left has the opportunity to grow and produce good fruit. James 3:17 says, “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.” What kinds of “good fruit” can come from a well-handled conflict? Unusual Days, Unusual Endings So today might be a usual day. It may start with perfect weather, clear skies, and warm breezes. And it may all-too-quickly take its usual turn southward. But this time, by the grace of God, we can have an unusual ending.
Easy Streets and Long RoadsThe Bible rings with some serious stories of faith, and the men and women involved become examples to those of us who reach for faith. We admire with reverence the way that these men and women of old dealt with difficult odds and how God accomplished incredible things through them. But what would happen in our own lives if we were given the chance to fight the same fight? Would we rise to the challenge? I'm afraid that in our day, we often live with a glaring contradiction. We want to know God. We want God to be real and we want life to have deep meaning. And yet we want all this without any serious cost or effort. We tend to assume that life is best when the waters are still—that life is best during those times when everything "makes sense." "This is how it's supposed to be," we tell ourselves. But just as soon as we do, the water around us gets rough, our boats are rocked, and we are back in another struggle of one kind or another. What's going on in these times? Why doesn't God just allow us to stay comfortable and content? Are the bad times merely distortions of the way life should be? Should the road of faith be an easy one? Consider some key figures in the Bible and what they went through: Abraham was asked to give up his own son, the prize of his life, and he was willing to do it. Moses could have stayed in Egypt and enjoyed the pleasures of royalty, but instead he led the people of Israel through years of struggle. Because of his faith, the prophet Daniel defied a king, risking death in a lion's den. The three young men were willing to go into the burning furnace because of their faith, whether God rescued them or not. Before he was king, David patiently endured the rage of Saul because he believed God. Esther courageously risked her life to go before the king and beg for his mercy with the strength of these marvelous words: "If I perish, I perish" (Esther 4:16). It was in the toughest acts of faith that these men and women came the closest to God and found life's deepest meaning. It was not the provision of comfort or happiness that led them to a deeper knowledge of God—it was often the lack of it. Is it possible that a life where everything stays calm and unchallenged isn't what we really need? Does peace mean as much if we never experience calamity? Do our hearts ring with gratitude if we are never in want? Does happiness bring as bright a smile if we never taste sadness? Let us not idealize an easy life, or we may find that life becomes hollow. The writer of Hebrews has a much better challenge: "Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us" (Hebrews 12:1). The one we follow, the author and perfecter of our faith, lived a life of similar proportions, who for the joy set out before him endured the Cross, scorning its shame. He now sits at the right hand of the throne of God, beckoning us onward.
Letting Them Be Who God Created Them to BeToday I was blow drying my daughter's hair. It was so relaxing...the dryer drowning out the background noise of boys being boys...the steady up and down, up and down, of the dryer and the brush. I kept thinking of this verse over and over...."Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows." Luke 12:7 With every stroke of the brush, I prayed, "I trust in God's plan for your life..." Her hair is so very thick and long. She has so much hair; and every hair is numbered. God knows every single hair on her head. On my head. On your head. Unfathomable. He not only knows every hair on her head and has them ordered, but he has the plans for her life already ordered and set. Sometimes I worry needlessly about my children. Am I doing the right things? Am I teaching them properly? Am I using the right curriculum? Am I messing them up for life? Yet when we abide in him, and remain in him, and are in close relationship with him, then his will is done. I cannot make her life turn out any certain way. It will turn out the way God has planned for her. My job is to lead her, and teach her to obey him, so that she will abide in him. My main job as her teacher is to teach her to love the Lord and raise her knowing him and to point to him in every situation. The other day she told me she wants to travel to Africa when she is older and save endangered tigers. Great! (Even though I told her I'd rather see her be a missionary and save people! ha!) But seriously, do I ever want to squelch her passions? Never. Do I want to get in the way of her passions? Never. Do I want her to live a full life that is pleasing to God? Yes. If that takes her to Africa, then I trust in HIS plans for her life. After all, her life is HIS. She is mine on borrowed time. It is my job to point her to him. I pray she does do great things, whether it is to live in Africa, or stay at home and be a mom. Whether she is a CEO of a company, a homeschool mom, or a teacher, she must be pursuing him. Ultimately if she is following HIS will for her life, that is all I want. Sometimes our dreams shadow the reality of our children's lives. We must learn to let go and completely surrender to God's control of our children's lives. Who am I to dare interfere with the great works God has planned for my children's lives? When he told me to homeschool, I was fearful. But I knew it was his calling, and I am blessed abundantly for it. So when God calls our children, I pray they answer the call and they don't care what anyone thinks...whether it is what I think or what the world thinks, but only what God thinks. Answering to Him is all they need to do.... Isn't it amazing what a simple act, such as blowing drying a child's hair can teach you? I am so thankful for that lesson today.
Chain Reaction“…we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:4). My children used to build domino chains on the floor of my kitchen. Knocking down the first domino would set off a sequence of falling dominos until the last domino collapsed. In today’s verse, Paul outlines a chain reaction that is put into place when followers of Jesus respond to difficult circumstances in the right way. The chain begins with suffering but ends with hope: suffering - perseverance - character - hope. Suffering (or tribulation) is translated from the Greek word ‘thlipsis’, which means to be under pressure. The term was used of squeezing olives in a press in order to extract the oil, or of squeezing grapes to extract the juice. When we are “squeezed” by difficult circumstances, the Lord is trying to extract perseverance from us. Perseverance is a spiritual fortitude that bears up under, and is made even stronger by suffering. It is like the resolution of a marathon runner to keep running in spite of the difficulties encountered. Perseverance leads to character. The Greek term denotes character of a “proven” nature – like precious metals that have been tested and found pure. This, in turn, leads to a deeper hope in the glory of God. Like a muscle, hope will not be strong if it goes unused. It is in suffering that we exercise hope by persevering and by being tested and proved pure in the midst of seemingly hopeless circumstances. This process results in an even deeper conviction of the reality and certainty of that for which we hope (Romans 4:18-19). The harder nails are hit, the deeper they are driven. Sufferings drive us to a deeper level. When we feel the pain of that first domino’s fall, we can be confident that when the last one falls, Christ will have produced in us a deeper certainty in His goodness and in our destiny as children of God.
~ Dear Heavenly Father, thank You that at the end of my suffering I will have a deeper hope and certainty in You. Thank You for using difficult circumstances to increase my perseverance, character and hope. Help me be strong and endure to the end. Amen.Mary Kassian is an award winning author, popular speaker, and a distinguished professor of women’s studies at Southern Baptist Seminary. She has published several books, Bible studies and videos, including: Girls Gone Wise, In My Father’s House: Finding Your Heart’s True Home, Conversation Peace, Vertically Inclined, and the Feminist Mistake. Mary graduated from the faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine from the University of Alberta, Canada and has studied systematic theology at the doctoral level. She has taught courses at seminaries across North America She is a popular conference speaker and has ministered to women’s groups internationally. Mary has appeared on numerous radio and television shows, including Focus on the Family, Family Life Today, and Marriage Uncensored. You can read more from Mary at GirlsGoneWise.com. Mary was born and raised in Edmonton, Canada. She and her husband, Brent, have three adult sons and one daughter-in-law. Mary has mastered the art of cheering after spending countless hours in rinks, arenas, and gyms: her husband is chaplain for a professional football team, her two older sons play ice hockey, and her youngest, volleyball. The Kassians enjoy biking, hiking, snorkeling (when they can find some warm water!), music, board games, mountains, campfires, and their family pets: Miss Kitty and black lab, General Beau.