Sunday, August 29, 2010

My New Favorite Blog

Wow...in the blogging world, not to mention in one's spiritual walk, a holy experience is something to aspire to.  Thanks, Heather for the link.  I'll be busy for the next few days taking it all in.

Friday, August 27, 2010

First Week in Review

Okay, I can say honestly that I hope that we don't start every year like this.  It's been a rough beginning.  Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday it was fingernails and white-knuckles to stay pleasant and keep going in spite of my really-rotton-no-good-cold.  This week was rough starts and working out curriculum.  We introduced a new math curriculum (Math Mammoth) so as to fill in some areas that I feel may be lacking with Math U See (not that I'm not pleased, because I have been up until now).  It turns out we really like this!  We also began a new spelling program (MegaWords), which Matty actually likes! (faint...) and a new Bible curriculum (Apologia's worldview curriculum).  I would have to say that even from chapter 1, this has been the highlight of my week with the kids.  It has stimulated fantastic discussion, and generated questions, prayers, and conversations that I would otherwise not have had.  We have made it a priority to start with this every day, and no matter how bad I have felt, the days have started well because we have started it with God as our focus.

In keeping with the intent of this blog to be "encouragement for the homeschooling life," I will do my weekly report as a reflection of what I learned this week, because I have found that what I am learning in the course of all this is just as significant, but far more humbling.  God uses the process of teaching my children to instruct me more and more and more in his ways.  (I often tell people that homeschooling is far more about the parents than about the kids, if they will submit and allow God to shape them in the process.)

I learned that it is REALLY important to start our day out together in the Word.  Yes, I know this already, but I had allowed summer laziness to kill the habit.  I was truly miserable in my flesh this week.  In my Spirit, however, I was encouraged by the conversations and yes, fellowship I shared with my children through God's Word.  I also learned that even in the first week of school there are times when we need to just admit defeat and take a nap.  Everyone is happier for it.  I also learned that there are times when I don't know how to do this at all...no matter how much planning or curriculum.  These kids are individuals and full of their own strengths and weaknesses.  I have to rely on the One who knows them best to guide me every. single. day.  I am but a steward of these souls.  Lord, show me who they are in You, and how best to teach them...amen.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Since We're on the Topic

I'm reading a book right now that I think everyone who is dipping their toes in the waters of the Emergent Church movement should read.  I also think everyone who is not dipping should read it as well, so they will be well familiar with the non-theology of this non-movement.  Perhaps my appreciation for Mark Driscoll is due in part to a strong reaction against anything "Emergent."

As Christians who desire TRUTH we need to be alert against the repackaging of THE LIE, or, "Did God really say...?"  I think the Emergent / Emerging church is asking this very question.  Anyone who is even a bit discerning can recognize the voice that asked this question at the very beginning of time.  Please...be alert.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Shout Out to Mars Hill Church-the Unvarnished TRUTH

Thanks to my friend Candace for this life-changing introduction to Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA.  I would never have guessed that anybody could, or was even willing to preach like the pastor of this church, Mark Driscoll.  My husband and I first listened to his series on spiritual warfare.  I was both astonished and encouraged by his transparency and frankness.  This man preaches the Word as it is written, and makes no apologies for the TRUTH...the whole, unvarnished TRUTH.  Immediately after finishing the spiritual warfare series, we began listening to the series called "The Peasant Princess" (the first of which I have linked to) together.  It is a frank and open discussion of the Song of Solomon.  Few resident preachers are willing to approach that book from the pulpit on a week by week basis, let alone address the issues he hammers in this preaching series.  He talks about marriage in all that it involves:  the love, the sex, the sin, the hurt, the healing--the reality.  He openly discusses the fact that people will be offended, that they may even leave the church after hearing what he has to say because they will not want to confront their sin.  This is the kind of preaching we need more of--Preaching that talks directly to the heart of the true believer who desires to be convicted of sin and who longs for the TRUTH to bear fruit in their lives.  I would encourage any married couple to listen to this series together.  It has the power to transform your marriage, or at the very least set you on the path.  I love what I see happening between my husband and me as a result of listening to this series.

I'll be honest...I've been in a place for a long time where I do not feel like I've heard a sermon that satisfies the soul.  I've heard a lot of stories, a lot of references to scripture, but related to what, I couldn't tell you.  It has been up to us as a family to feed on the TRUTH of God's Word from alternative sources than our home church, which has been in tremendous transition for quite a while.  I'm hoping that this will change soon, one way or another.  The good thing is that God has provided this TRUTH from various places, whether it be from Mars Hill Church, or books that we've read, or from working through the Truth Project together as a family (they have a kids' series to go along with the adult series).

I felt compelled to write this blog entry today.  I have gained so much from hearing the TRUTH spoken in love, even from a person whom I have never met, I thought that someone else might be hungering for some of the same...link up...enjoy...if you like to be convicted and changed.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

How NOT to Start a School Year

I learned a valuable lesson this week...and it's only Tuesday.  It's best not to start the school year off if Mom wakes in the morning on the first day with a raging sore throat.  It's usually not a good sign--no matter how cute the school room looks with the sunshine pouring in, no matter how cheerful the fresh-faced children look over their breakfast (which Mom could barely cook), no matter how faithfully they have done their chores and dressed after a summer of fostering slovenly habits.

Somehow I bucked up and pulled it off...and a fine array of other cliche phrases.  We had our first day, but by the second day I was just wiped out, gave up, and sent the kids to the neighbor's house to play for the afternoon while I went to bed.  ugh.  I might have to give this another go next week...The best laid plans...

Nevertheless, here are some shots of my scholars on their first day of school 2010 / 2011.  One nine-year-old boy and one five year old girl giving their best first day faces.  Oh, and one cat who loves to get right into the middle of it all.

Jack decides he's going to visit the (Playmobil) vet...and go to school. Annual check-up?
Jack is ready to start school, too!
My fresh-faced students (note to self, have Molly brush her hair as part of the morning routine)
Matty, Age 9
Molly, Age 5

Friday, August 20, 2010

Overheard

A friend of mine from church met another homeschooling friend of mine and her two girls yesterday.  (Hi Lori!  Hi Candace!)  I mentioned playfully to Lori that I was keeping my eye on Candace's (very lovely) girls for my boy someday.  Lori asked if all homeschoolers are into arranged marriages and I said, "No, but many prefer a courtship model rather than promote dating..."  and proceded to launch into an explanation for why we don't prefer dating, will encourage courtship, etc., to which she replied something to the effect of, "well, I was sort of kidding..."

Nevertheless, my daughter has her eye on a couple of guys already.  It used to be that she had eyes only for her big brother until we informed her that she couldn't marry her brother, so she focused on the next-best-thing...big brother's best friend--mind you that Molly is only five.  We're observing this all with a bit of amusement, but all the while praying earnestly for her some-day husband.  He's going to need it!  A couple of weeks ago said friend was over to spend the night.  I overheard the following conversation between Molly and Noah:

Molly:  Noah, I'm going to marry you.
Noah:  What if I don't want to marry you!?
Molly:  I'll marry you anyway!
Noah:  You can't make someone marry you, you know.  You can't just make someone go to the church and marry you!
Molly:  Then I'll marry Nathan! (big brother's other best friend)

Just thought I'd share.  These moments are priceless.  Before we know it she will be marrying her real husband and I'll look back on this with happy tears in my eyes.  The time goes by so fast.

The Value of a Dime

Yesterday I was sitting down at my desk, probably looking at facebook or some other such time-waster, and my dear, sweet little daughter came into the room and said, "Mommy, I have something to give you."  I turned around and she came close and put a dime into my hand, looked into my eyes with her big brown eyes and said, "This is for being a good mommy."  "Oh, thank you!" I said, and she snuggled up close and gave me a sweaty hug and kiss.  Now that is one precious dime.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Finally! The Redecorated Learning Space!


I'm so excited--not to mention a geek. What began as me rearranging the furniture one day turned into a near-total redecoration effort.  We have painted our entire basement this nice cheery yellow, revamped our white-board space with a huge 4x6 ft white-board, some new cubbies, a rearranged play space (unfortunately the kids have to share a bit of space with the elliptical for now), and a new drawing board for Mom's artwork and a computer desk where both kiddos can sit at the same time and not fuss over who has more space in front of the screen.  It took a good month, but everything that needed to go has been thinned out, sold in yard sales, delivered to Goodwill or pitched. The school books are neatly placed in their cubbies, awaiting our first week of school, which will begin Monday.  Last night I enjoyed stocking the kids' pencil boxes with new writing tools, a roll of tape for each of them (why do kids love tape so much?), sticky notes, silly putty (to keep idle hands busy during read-aloud time), scissors and erasers.  I will look back on this week with a certain wonder...I don't think my house has ever been, or ever again will be this clean and organized.  I knew I had better get photos as proof!

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Poison of Comparison

I just had a conversation with an old friend (as in we've been friends a long time, not that she's old--Hi Tracy!)  Her kids are just a bit younger than mine, her oldest being nearly five.  She shared that she was feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of homeschooling her kids, but isn't really seeing an alternative.

I asked her what was making her feel overwhelmed and she immediately gave the "the other moms I see doing it have it all together and are so organized" answer, and my immediate reply was, "It's a facade--we all struggle with keeping things together and being organized" and if you think there is a mom out there who disagrees, or claims to be truly organized and have it together, then I will tell you that you are deceived.  You may be the perfect homeschooler, but if you are, then some other area of your life is a wreck.  Let me see your bedroom closets, or your tool shed, or your pantry--I truly believe that it simply can't all be done.  For myself, I am moderately organized in many areas (moderately means there's a large margin for error at any given point in time in any area).

I have been writing recently about our journey of homeschooling, (here and here) and in each post there has been a resounding theme of how important it has become for me to pull back and not compare myself to other people.  A picture began to form in my mind of a large number of women in a large room, each one looking to some other woman that they admired and following her around, comparing herself.  Meanwhile that woman is looking at another woman and following her around, comparing herself.  The whole room became a swirling mass of women chasing each other around, feeling badly about themselves and accomplishing nothing.

Comparison of one's self to another is a poison that quickly erodes progress.  My example is to be the Lord Jesus Christ, who, "Although he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men...humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross (Philippians 2:5-8 NAS)."  Humility and obedience are the keys, and I can only be obedient to what God is calling me to do, not what I see other women doing in their homes and with their children who are nothing like mine.

When I think about the Godly women who have impacted me the most, there are some common threads that I can identify.  First, these women are not like me.  They are people to whom it would be very difficult to compare myself, because they have more children, they are opposite personality types, or are in a completely different season of child-rearing.  Second, these women are humble.  They have already mastered the skill of keeping their eyes on what God has called them to do and are not comparing themselves to other homeschoolers, or anyone, for that matter.  Finally, these women are bold in what they believe.  They stand for the Truth.  They are not turned to the right or the left by shades of doctrine or others' influence.  They live their lives free from guilt and people-pleasing, but rather, live to please God.

So let me revisit that concept of the "facade." If there is a mom who has it all together out there, it's because she has stopped comparing herself to others and has decided that the Lord is her model--there is no facade.  She'll be the first person to tell you that it hasn't come easily, that she's a work in progress, and that it's the Lord's work in her life, not her own.  That is the woman from whom we should learn, and stop poisoning ourselves with comparison.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Fun Day for Lego-Heads



Our trip to the National Building Museum was a fun day.  The massive, underutilized space in the main part of the museum was a fun place to play with the building materials set out for young visitors.  Our gang, which included my two children and my 5 year old godson took full advantage. When our time finally came to go into the Lego exhibit, we were more than satisfied with the enormous model structures that were there, as well as the enormous number of Legos that there were to play with.  (It's amazing how few things in life can excite a boy as much as a large assortment of Lego bricks.)  I was less than satisfied with the number of people and the SOUND of all those Legos getting shoved around.  Ahhh...the sound of little brains and hands at work.  Excuse me, where's the ibuprofen?

Lots and Lots of LEGOS!

Adam
It's the end of summer, and hot as you-know-where.  The museums downtown are very crowded with people seeking air conditioning.  Today we will be those people, but it will be hard not to be happy because we will be taking in the Lego exhibit at the National Building Museum!  It will be a perfect outing because in the next couple of weeks we will be making a lap book full of everything Lego so as to get the school year off to a fun start.  I found the link to this very cool unit study here.  My nine-year-old Lego-head will be in heaven.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Part 3: Why Religious Exemption?

Link to Part 1
Link to Part 2

As I mentioned in the introduction, one of the questions people ask is, "the homeschool laws are pretty easy here--why would you need a religious exemption?"  The why runs deep--it is this question that is the most difficult to answer, because I believe the reasons go far beyond just exercising religion.  At the core of the issue it IS about practicing my religion, but within that lies an understanding of the character of my God, my belief in what he created human beings to be, and how we as a society are responding to that.  So our reasons are twofold:  First for the more obvious biblical reasons, second, for the less obvious reasons that some would call philosophical, yet I consider a natural outgrowth of the practice of our faith.

I Corinthians 15:33 says, "Do not be deceived: 'Bad company corrupts good morals.'" Put simply, I believe it is in my children's best interest (where their morality is concerned) not to be spending 14,000 hours of their lives in an institution where their morals are being continuously attacked.  We as Christians are supposed to be putting on the "breastplate of righteousness" but at this point in their lives, my children are not equipped to dress themselves in such heavy armor.  It's my job to help them.  Deuteronomy 6:4-8 is taken literally by almost every family who chooses to homeschool for Biblical reasons:
Hear O Israel:  The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.  Impress them on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.
This passage is all-encompassing.  It leaves no area of our lives uncovered--our going out, our coming home, our physical beings, our environment, our children are supposed to bear constant reminding of the truth of our sovereign God.   Romans 12:2 reminds us not to be conformed to the pattern of the world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.  If my child is spending 30 or more hours a week surrounded by secularism, statism, and unregenerate people, the only time that I have with him must be taken up with "bathing" him clean of the things that are harmful to his spirit, only to have him go back and be re-exposed.  I can't help but think his mind will not be easily renewed in that environment.  However, if I never immerse him in that environment, then he has every opportunity for his soul to be nurtured with the truth of God's word continually, if his parents are faithful to the commands put forth in Deuteronomy 6.  I have had the privilege of hearing Voddie Baucham, author of Family Driven Faith, speak.  He has a "line" that he uses, which impacted us greatly.  It was perhaps these words that moved us to close the door to secular education forever.  He says, "If we continue to send our children to Caesar, we need to stop being surprised when they come home as Romans."

"That's fine," you say, "but you can do all of that without needing religious exemption."  That may be true.  However, it is out the next layer of understanding that I come to feel the need for that provision.  My primary relationship in life is with my God.  He is the only authority to which I bow.  If the state asks something of me that causes me to bend the knee to any other, then I must refuse to obey.  Thankfully, however, there is no need for disobedience in this case.  There is a provision made for me to bow my knee exclusively to my God, and I am thankful to live in a state that makes this available.  As long as I am still operating under the state's homeschool laws, I am still acknowledging their authority as protector of my children, as educator of my children, as an entity that has any right to say how I educate my children.  I believe that this responsibility is given by God entirely to my husband and me.  There is no Biblical ground for us to relinquish the rearing of our children on any level to the state or federal government.  Since our basic philosophy of education differs at its very core, there are no grounds for me to acknowledge the state's oversight in teaching my children, if in fact God is my authority.  I do not believe that I need to test to their standards to determine what "success" looks like, nor do I wish to submit my list of curricula to them for their review.  Do I seek the approval of the State, or God?

"So, what is that core you're referring to?" The government has a design for education.  Stated simply, graduates of the system need to be employable.  What exactly does that mean?  Does that mean employable by a factory?  A gas station?  A top government agency?  A hospital?  What does the term "compete in the global marketplace" mean, exactly?  The whole problem with these standards is that the government gets to set the terms, and because we don't know exactly what the parameters are, they could change at any time.  The government looks at my children as a product that they need to help them compete in the world economy.  I have a slightly different perspective.  I see my child as a unique individual created in God's image and capable of reflecting his glory into the world.  I see a free-thinker, a person unencumbered by the need to perform to a standard that does not match his intended design, a point on the bell-curve--someone whose purpose is defined by his relationship with his maker, not his government.  (It is my hope to write more on this in a later post.  There is far more to think about than space allows here.)  Sooner or later, the government may decide that my standards are undesirable and may regulate the homeschool laws to ensure that my child is of use to them.  A blogging friend of mine writes about these standards and follows their progress closely.  She calls it the "Employability Olympics," and it is a very helpful post to get you thinking. Then read her other posts.

"Aw, you're just paranoid...do you really think the government is going to come after you?"  Well, no...not yet.  Call me cautious, but I do see the direction in which our government is trending.  It involves more and more government intervention in the lives of private citizens and more and more "standardization" of education.  Furthermore, there is constant flirtation with the ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child on the part of our elected officials.  In essence, that is tantamount to us surrendering our own sovereignty on matters of family and what we believe to be in the best of interests of our children to an international forum that is entirely secular.  As we see nations like Germany declare homeschooling to be not only illegal but a harmful thing to "inflict" on a child (and these are nations which have already ratified the convention), then it causes me grave concern as to what lengths my own government may go in the not-so-distant future.  By reserving the right to place the training of our children as an integral part of our life of worship, then it is a matter of religion, not education.  Therefore, I choose to reserve that right afforded me by the first amendment and the religious exemption laws provided by the state so that we may teach our children at home, according to God's laws.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Part 2: What is Religious Exemption?

Link to Part 1

In this part of the series, I want to simply lay out as clearly as I can, from a layman's perspective, what the provision known as "religious exemption" is before I start digging into the heart of the matter.


Religious Exemption, simply put, is just that--an exemption from something that the state requires because that requirement infringes on an individual's ability to freely exercise his or her religion, whatever that may be.  In essence, it recognizes that the right of an individual's free exercise of religion supersedes the state's interest in educating him or her. The law in VA states
 A school board shall excuse from attendance at school any pupil who, together with his parents, by reason of bona fide religious training or belief is conscientiously opposed to attendance at school.” § 22.1-254(B)(1). Homeschoolers may receive an exemption under this statute according to § 22.1-254.1(D). This exempts them from all requirements under the home school law. § 22.1-254 (H)(5). (taken from HSLDA's Legal analysis page)
Home Educators Association of Virginia gives the following advice to families seeking religious exemption:
The courts have established that the only true test of bona fide religious beliefs is whether or not a family demonstrates through their life-style that God is supreme in every area. You must have a conviction that it would be a sin to send your child to school, and that it would never be an option to do so.
I will admit that the last line of this tripped us up for a year in our decision to file for exemption.  Perhaps that was good--we did not make this decision lightly. I wrestled with the concept of it being a sin to send our children to public school.  Is that the case?  Do I think that it would be a sin for me to send our children to public school?  What do I think of other Christians who send their kids to public school?  A friend challenged my thinking this way, "Are you saying by doing this that all Christians are sinning by sending their children to school?"  Not at all.  I am not the judge of what God has called any individual to in raising their children, nor am I the judge of where they are in their parenting journey.  Nevertheless, I know what God has called me to, and if I were to ignore the call that God has placed on our family and take the route of putting my children in public school, I would be out of God's will.   This is a question of conviction and commitment.  Am I willing to walk away and close the door on the option of putting my children in school?  This has to work.  Does attendance at public school infringe on the free exercise of my religion in any way?  This I know--that it would certainly challenge our ability to fully train our children according to our convictions, and I do know that I will be held accountable for that when I face judgement before God.  Therefore, for our purposes, we have no desire for the secular state to be present on any level in our homeschooling, and to do so would violate our free exercise of religion.  I will explain why we believe this to be true in the next part of this series.


If when the School board meets in September my religious exemption letter is approved, I will then be exempt from the law which states that I must send my children to school to be educated in a way that the state has deemed appropriate.  I will no longer need to annually notify the state of my intent to educate our children at home, I will no longer need to submit proof of progress, and (if I understand this correctly) I will not even be considered among the statistics of homeschoolers, but rather counted among people who have applied for exemption.  We enter a different category entirely.


Here are some links to other sites that have helped me to understand exactly what religious exemption is.


The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers - a very clear, neutral explanation of how Virginians can utilize this provision.
The First Amendment Center  helps define the challenges inherent in religious exemptions, in this case vaccines, but references the topics of parental rights and compulsory education.
e-notes has a very helpful analysis of religious exemption from compulsory education, and examines different legal case studies which are both very interesting and helpful.
Home Educators Association of Virginia - A Christian organization for VA homeschoolers. Provides very thorough analysis of all of the homeschooling laws in the state.
Home School Legal Defense Association - There is a page / pdf for download that explains the VA laws, but you must be a member in order to access their suggestion packet for people who are actually pursuing exemption.


I hope this is a helpful explanation.  What follows in the next section is the why?  Why do I need this?  Why would someone want to take advantage of this right?  There are a lot of "if's," but if you find yourself resonating with them, you may want to consider religious exemption for your family. 

Friday, August 06, 2010

Religious Exemption Part 1: An Introduction to Religious Exemption from Compulsory Education in VA

When people find out that I have recently filed for "religious exemption" I am greeted with several reactions.  One is, "What is that?" Another is, "why would you need that?" But the most frequent (at least in my circles of contact) is, "Wow, I'd like to learn more about that."  I believe that if more Virginians who are already homeschooling knew more about this right, more would take advantage of it.  It IS a right.  If your reasons for homeschooling are motivated by bona fide religious beliefs, then you are eligible to take advantage of this right.

Admittedly, Virginia is a fairly easy state in which to homeschool.  It is not as easy as Texas or strangely, New Jersey (both have no requirements for notification or testing), but it is not as complicated as in New England or Pennsylvania.  You can see on this map which states are regulated heavily, moderately, or not at all.  In our fair Commonwealth, you may home educate under several provisions, (see the pdf file posted here) but the one most frequently utilized requires the parent to have a high school diploma, notify the superintendant of their intent to homeschool, provide a list of curricula that they plan to use, and submit an evaluation at the end of the school year with proof of progress (either standardized test scores or a professional evaluator's report).  Another provision states that a parent may home educate as a certified tutor, that is, if said parent has a teaching certificate then they only need to provide notification once, and then they may home school their children.  Religious exemption, unlike both of these provisions actually exempts a child from the compulsory education statute, and liberates the parents from any state oversight or regulation.

In this series, I hope to answer the ubiquitous questions I mentioned above:

1.  What is religious exemption from compulsory education?
2.  Why would we need a provision for religious exemption? (Which also answers the primary reasons why our family chose this route)

Hopefully this will be of assistance to anyone who is considering this course for his or her family.  I am not an attorney, so please do not take this in any way as legal advice.  It is merely information that I have gleaned and used in my experience while filing for religious exemption.  It does not make me an expert on the subject, though my convictions concerning this run deep.  My information is well-researched and accurate to the best of my knowledge.  If there are errors at any point along the way, I will do my best to correct them.

This all sounds rather clinical, but our reasons for making this choice for our family are anything but.  In the last part of this series, I will delineate the process that took us from choosing to homeschool in the first place, to our decision to file for religious exemption.  It is a journey of faith, growth, and ultimately deep conviction of how God is calling us as parents to raise and nurture our children, body mind and spirit.

Link to Part 2: What is Religious Exemption