Homeschooling and the Gift of Time

Back in 2007, while watching Meet the Robinsons with my family, I got choked up hearing “Little Wonders” by Rob Thomas. Before I knew the actual title, I thought it was called “These Small Hours,” because it was all about time—how we spend it, how we look back on it, how our memories are made of it.

Our lives are made

In these small hours

These little wonders

These twists and turns of fate . . .

For many years, I took time for granted in our homeschooling. We were homeschoolers, we always had homeschooled, and I didn’t know any differently. But when two of my sons entered (and one later left) the public school system, I began to greatly appreciate the gift of time that homeschooling had provided to us. And time, as most of us in the modern world would agree, is precious—precious like gold or diamonds, to be treasured and protected.

Time in the morning and in the evening

This is an immediate, everyday way that homeschoolers receive the gift of time. When you homeschool, morning time and evening time belong to you and your family, not to a school bus schedule or a homework to-do list. Teenagers can sleep in, past the usual ultra-early required rising time of most high schoolers, at a time in their lives when they need sleep the most.

And, glory be—there is no homework. Ever. You might think that “no homework” would be a blessing to the kids alone, but you’d be wrong. It’s a tremendous blessing to parents and the whole rest of the family, as well. Perhaps there are some children who cheerfully and willingly tackle their homework each night, without arguments, without tears, without whole-family stress. I wouldn’t know. I do know that when I pulled my youngest out of school 3/4 of the way through fourth grade, the most wonderful, freeing thing about that decision (for both of us, I think) was never again having to deal with or even say the words “math homework” or “reading log.”

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Six Steps Along the Path to Contentment

How content are you with your life? Are you fully content with …

… your job?

… your relationship status?

… your spouse?

… your children—their personalities, interests, and aptitudes?

… your church?

… where you live?

… your degree of worldly success?

… how much stuff you have and how new it is?

… your personal or household income?

… your health or self-image?

Discontentment has been a part of being human since … well, since Adam and Eve, and every generation since. I know I’ve struggled with it my whole life. I’d like to say that when I became a Christian 25+ years ago, I was able to overcome my struggle and have since conquered discontentment … but that’s not true. I still find myself needing frequent reminders, encouragement, and instruction on how to be fully content and accepting of the life that God has chosen to give to me, in every respect.

Along this lifelong path to Christian contentment, I’ve found much support along the way—people and books that have helped me grow in this area, step by step through the years. I can trace the path I’ve taken, book by book, mentor by mentor, and maybe some of this will encourage or help you along your path to contentment, too:

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What Makes a “Strong Woman” Strong?

“This book is great for girls because it has strong female characters.”

“Vote for her—she’s a strong woman who will fight for your interests.”

“At this college, we prepare strong, independent women for their careers.”

“Strong woman” is a phrase heard often these days, and because I admire both words and women, I’ve been paying attention. It’s used in politics, on campuses, in the media, and even by little girls who know at a very early age to describe themselves as “strong.” It’s made me think about what strong actually means—what is the implication when people say “strong woman”?

The tone used when saying “strong woman,” especially in politics, often sounds as if the speaker is correcting a common misconception that women are generally weak or dependent by virtue of their gender, and that the “strong woman” is an exceptional, out-of-the-ordinary woman. But do people actually view most women—“ordinary” women—as weak? Or even worse, is this the way most women view themselves?

I don’t believe so. I grew up at the height of “women’s lib” in the ’70s, and it’s never occurred to me to think of myself as weak because I’m female. I can’t remember a time when I was ever perceived that way by others, either.

So I wonder sometimes what others’ reactions are to hearing that someone is a “strong woman.” I’ll be honest about my reaction: it grates on my ears. Why is that? Because every time I hear it, my brain has the same reflexive response:

Do I even know any women who are not strong?

But then, maybe my definition and the world’s definition of “strong women” are not the same.

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“I’m So Sorry” — “Thank You”

My mom had just died (this was twelve and a half years ago, but it’s like yesterday to me), and the sympathy notes were pouring in.

By “pouring in,” I mean I was getting two or three each day, which was a 100% increase over the number of sympathy notes I was accustomed to getting. My mom didn’t have many close friends and was from a rapidly shrinking and mostly estranged family, so the total number of cards came to about 25 in all. But still, that was a large number to me, her only child.

In the midst of my grief (randomly intermittent and shocking in its intensity), in the midst of going through all her worldly possessions (not much to speak of but still a difficult and emotional task), and in the midst of adjusting to the new silence in my life (no daily phone calls from her to tell me about the weather, no daily phone calls from me to tell her what her grandchildren were doing that day), I had an ever-growing stack of notes from people who had taken the time to write to me and offer comfort.

I was pretty sure I didn’t have to “do anything” about those notes—i.e., I didn’t have to respond in any way. Still, because I was raised to Do the Right Thing, etiquette-wise, and because the person who raised me this way was my own mother who had just died, I quickly Googled “do I send thank you’s for sympathy notes?”

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Mansions in Heaven

There are some things about heaven that I’d really like to know. For instance, will our pets be there? Will there be people of all ages, including babies and senior citizens? And, very important to the here-and-now me: will there be stories and novels to read?

These and many other questions won’t be answered until Jesus calls me home. For now, I must be satisfied with the things I have been told about heaven, and one of my favorite things is this:

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Give God Room

A difficult person.

An uncomfortable situation.

A frustrating relationship.

An unexpected dilemma.

In our fallen world, these kinds of problems are all too common. And we often react to them in one of two predictable ways:

We worry, or we try to control.

In some ways, these are opposite reactions (worry is mostly passive; control is mostly active), and yet it’s quite possible to do both at the same time. I’m actually quite good at both and often manage to do them simultaneously, over the same problem.

It’s not a skill that I’m proud of, and yet I’m also sure that I’m not alone in having mastered it.

When we’re faced with a situation that seems to have no solution and no end … or with a person who really gets under our skin … or with a sudden problem that’s completely out of our comfort zone … or with a relationship that’s going downhill fast and we see no easy way out … do we react in the way that God would have us react?

In my kitchen, I have many little pieces of paper taped to cabinet doors with quotes that I find particularly important or inspiring. These quotes come and go, but one of them is so perfectly universal in its application that I think I’ll never take it down. It’s this one:

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That Bible Book You Don’t Like and What to Do About It

Here’s a question you may not be asked very often: what’s your least favorite book of the Bible? Which book do you avoid reading, or skim over lightly when it shows up in your Bible reading plan? Which book confuses you, frustrates you, or (let’s be honest) bores you?

Could it be Leviticus or Numbers? What about some of those Old Testament histories? Any of the major or minor prophets? Revelation, anyone?

For Christians, the Word of God is essential for spiritual growth, relevant to everyday life (even in the 21st century), and irreplaceable by other means. This description applies to the entire Bible—all 66 books, whether we like them or not. And let’s face it: those unliked books aren’t going anywhere. Every time you open your Bible, there they are—Leviticus, or Job, or Song of Songs, or Revelation, or Ezekiel—waiting for you to understand and even enjoy whatever God would have you learn from them.

So what’s the best way to learn to like the book of the Bible you like the least? My own answer to this, and one I think would apply to any book, is to study it.

Several months ago, I deliberately chose my least favorite book in the Bible for the women’s Bible study group at my church (I’ll share more about that in a bit). I had a theory that a deep study using reputable resources would give me a new appreciation for why God had included this particular book in his Word. At the same time I was deciding to tackle this unliked (by me) book, I discovered that my friend Sara had been doing a Bible study at her own church on a different book, the one that’s the butt of many Bible reading plan jokes: Leviticus.

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Good Habits from Painful Beginnings

How often does God allow something negative or painful in our lives so that we begin something new—a new habit that is for our own good?

Last spring, I developed shoulder bursitis, a painful condition that required months of time-consuming physical therapy. After my insurance quit paying for the therapy, my doctor and therapist both recommended that I continue going to the training facility on my own, in order to keep my shoulder from getting worse. By this time I had frozen shoulder (less pain, but limited mobility). So for nearly a year now, I’ve been going to the gym two or three times a week.

“Going to the gym two or three times a week.” For some of you, that phrase would roll naturally off your tongue. This was not the case with me. I’ve never been the kind of person who would make a habit of going to a gym, or even try it once, for that matter.

The fact that I am now a person who “goes to the gym” still astounds me. I feel like an imposter every time I say it. But it has, in fact, become a habit. It’s true that I often wake up not wanting to go (I may never get over that), but the minute I arrive, I’m glad to be there. If I have to skip a visit, my body feels it and I look forward to the time I can go back and feel good again.

Against all odds, and much to my amazement, going to the gym has become a habit for me.

Because I’m a Christian, I can’t help but wonder … did God allow that shoulder pain in my life so that I would form a good habit because of it? Without it, I’d never in a million years have gone to a gym—I was too busy, too self-conscious, and too broke. But now that I’m going, I’m pretty convinced that it’s making me stronger, healthier, and likelier to spend more years on this earth with the people I love.

Once I started thinking about my pain leading to a positive habit, I began to wonder how many times God works in this way. How often does he allow something negative or painful in our lives so that we begin something new—a new habit that is for our own good?

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Why I Stopped Paying It Forward in the Drive-Thru

I have what may be an unpopular opinion about paying for the person behind me in the drive-thru. It’s not the “paying it forward” (or is that backward?) aspect that I have problems with. It’s what the practice has morphed into in the past few years.

Quite a few years ago, our local Christian radio station began encouraging people to “spread joy” during the first week of each month. Many people chose to do this by paying for the person behind them in the drive-thru lane (Starbucks, McDonald’s, wherever). My middle son was a young teen at the time, and we spent more than a little time together in the drive-thru lanes of fast food restaurants. When he heard about this new way to spread joy, he was all over it.

“Let’s do it! Next time we go to McDonald’s, we should do this!” The radio DJs talked up what a blessing we could be to others, to surprise strangers with a message that their bill had already been paid. My 13-year-old was 100% on board with this. Who was I to tell him that no, I didn’t want to bless others?

So we did it. While we waited in line, we talked about how the person behind us would feel and the ways that it might truly bless them. They might be having a really bad day, and this unexpected gift might remind them that someone cares, that they are loved by God. Or they might have just lost their job or be down to their last few dollars, and this unexpected gift might be a more practical blessing, demonstrating how God comes through when we need it most. We talked about sharing the love of Christ with a stranger in a tangible way, believing that God would bring just the right person behind us in the drive-thru for this moment.

I remember the first time we did this, the cashier was a little surprised, then happy to participate. My son was really enthusiastic about what we had done, and that meant at least as much to me as the blessing we had given to the man behind us.

At other times, we were the beneficiary of this type of kindness, once at Baskin-Robbins and once at Chick-fil-A. Both times almost brought tears to my eyes at this unexpected and entirely anonymous generosity. It was also a joy to share this with my children, that complete strangers had done this kind thing for us and wasn’t God good?

In the past few years, though, this “paying it forward” has morphed into something else. Today, quite often, when someone pays it forward in the drive-thru, it starts a chain reaction of everyone in line paying for the person behind them, and so on and so on. Cashiers start counting how many cars are paying for each other (we’re up to 8! now we’re at 15!). Customers realize what’s happening and ask the cashier how much is owed on the receipt behind them before deciding to participate in this game—a long chain of “blessing” from car to car.

But is it a blessing, really?

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Be Careful, Little Hands, What You Type

I’ve been writing professionally for more than 30 years. Most of those have been part-time from home—a small vocational and financial miracle from God that allowed me to stay home with my kids.

Nearly two years ago, during the spring of 2020—the Pandemic Spring—I began this blog. I’d been thinking about doing this for a long time, but life kept getting in the way. During the Pandemic Spring, the many plans I’d had were cancelled left and right and I suddenly had the time to consider blogging for real. Everyone else’s plans were cancelled, too, so my tech-savvy and artistically talented daughter was also on hand to help me get this blog off the ground.

The writing hats I wear, often on the same day, are very different. One hat, my professional hat, is 100% dictated by what my clients want me to write. I receive no visible credit for this writing (my name isn’t on anything), but I do receive payment. It’s a good trade. I need to earn money doing something I love, something from home, and something people are willing to pay me to do. Writing is all of those things for me.

The other hat, my blogging hat, is quite different. No one tells me what to write, or when, or how, or for whom. I have no deadlines, no boss, no colleagues, and no financial reward. My motivation to write consists of feedback from readers (all writers have somewhat fragile egos and I’m no exception), my love of words, my desire to help and encourage others, and a conviction that God wants me to use my writing to do that. Also, to be honest, that indescribable feeling of elated relief that comes after having written something (the process itself is a form of mild self-torture; the after-feeling makes it all worth it).

There’s so much freedom in this kind of writing that I sometimes have to remind myself of the most important difference between the types of writing that I do:

The writing I do here has my name on it.

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