She stood in the kitchen, expressionless, as I piled her belongings beside her. Our friends greeted her cheerfully, but she did not respond. She was confused–tired, maybe–but mostly just wearing the same blank stare we had seen so many times before, her curly hair hanging in her face as she looked at the floor. It was crushing. After ten months, we had hoped for more progress. And surely there was some. We saw light in her eyes for stretches at a time. We experienced separation anxiety that was nothing short of miraculous in a child that was so unattached. But disruptive visits, foster sibling rivalry, and the growing exhaustion in our home had worn us all down. Were we back to where we started?
I kissed her goodbye and walked out the door. We had left her like this before, for a weekend or a few days respite, but this time was different. We would see her again, yes, but she would never come home with us again. There was no more hope that she would one day be ours.
Choosing to close our foster care license was one of the most difficult decisions I’ve ever made. Despite knowing the time had come, I continued to fight it, desperately clinging to the ideals which had caused us to pursue licensure to begin with. But as the rivalry built between our two almost-three-year-olds, and the onset of my mother-in-law’s unexpected illness and the certainty of more difficult days ahead, I finally had to accept what we had known for quite some time: it was time for our foster daughter to go.
Though the decision was bitter, it was not without the sweet–close friends of ours had recently become a licensed foster home. They knew our foster daughter well, had provided respite care for us, and were eager to welcome her into their family. As painful as it was to let her go, the relief of releasing her to a family who loved her and loved Jesus at least helped. As difficult as it was to see her growing into a new family, it also offered sweet assurance as we heard of continued progress and saw her beginning to thrive.
Over the past eight months since our foster daughter moved to this new home, I have found comfort in the God who works all things for good. I imagined how we’d tell the story–how it was necessary for her to come to our home first because our friends weren’t licensed yet…how helping us prompted our friends to pursue licensure for themselves…how it all worked out so that little A would have a family of her own, and we would be close enough to watch it all work out in the end. See, God was working, I would say. He arranged everything according to his timing, working all things for A to have the family she was meant to have.
A few weeks ago, our friends learned that A would be sent to live with biological family. This is the goal of foster care, yes, but in this case, a devastating turn of events. After abandoning her as an infant and remaining absent during her 18 months in foster care, this biological family continues to show little interest in her beyond claiming what is “theirs.” Why, God? This was not how it was supposed to go!
And here is where my heart is exposed–where my faith is shown to be that shallow belief that trusts when I think I know where He is going–when I think I know best the “good” that will result from all that is broken and painful and confusing.
In J.I. Packer’s Knowing God, he writes of God’s wisdom–of the ways in which He sovereignly ordains all things for the good of His people and the accomplishment of His purposes for His glory. And then he follows with a chapter on the wisdom we receive from God. In it, he writes of our misperception that receiving wisdom from God consists of “a deepened insight into the providential meaning and purpose of events going on around us, an ability to see why God has done what he has done in a particular case, and what he is going to do next” (102).
“The truth is,” he goes on, “that God in his wisdom, to make and keep us humble and to teach us to walk by faith, has hidden from us almost everything that we should like to know about the providential purposes which he is working out in the churches and in our own lives.” (106)
How can we be sure?
I am in the midst of studying Romans 8, home of that oft-quoted platitude, Romans 8:28: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
With Paul’s declaration of 8:28, we are left with questions: How can we be sure? When we look at all the brokenness and pain and confusion of this fallen world, how can we really know God is working all things for good?
And what I’ve found as I’ve studied is that verse 28 must not be removed from 29-30:
“For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
He answers our doubts not with examples of circumstances fully explained, but with reassurance that God is trustworthy–that He “has always been doing good for [us], starting before creation (the distant past), continuing in [our] conversion (the recent past), and then on to the day of Christ’s return (the future)” (ESV Study Bible notes).
“What underlies and sustains [wisdom]? Why, the conviction that the inscrutable God of providence is the wise and gracious God of creation and redemption. We can be sure that the God who made this marvelously complex world order, and who compassed the great redemption from Egypt, and who later compassed the even greater redemption from sin and Satan, knows what he is doing, and ‘doeth all things well,’ even if for the moment he hides his hand. We can trust him and rejoice in him, even when we cannot discern his path.” (107)
Walk by faith
We often cannot discern his path. And more often we kill ourselves trying to figure it out. Will we walk by faith nonetheless? Will we trust him even when we don’t understand? Will we believe He is good when what we see before us only seems bad?
His ways are higher than our ways.
I don’t know what the future holds for sweet little A. My heart breaks as I think of her standing confused in another kitchen, surrounded by her belongings. I am angry at a broken system that would allow this ending to her story. But even as the indignation burns, I am humbled before the one who is truly her Advocate. He is not a victim of the system. He is not surprised by this turn of events. He goes before her and He brings comfort and peace to those of us left in the wake.
We do not know what her future holds, but we do know that the future is certain. And the one who wrote the ending? He can be trusted.
“For what is this wisdom that he gives?…It is not a sharing in all his knowledge, but a disposition to confess that he is wise, and to cleave to him and live for him in the light of his Word through thick and thin.” (108)
So why do we homeschool? In case you missed my previous post, please note that I do not share this list as what I believe is the universal standard for all Christian families. Rather, my hope is that hearing our process can in some way help you in yours.
Jordan and I spent some time over the past year developing a list of family values. We wanted to have a framework for evaluating decisions together. Making large purchases, planning big changes–we wanted to be able to look at this list that we’ve made together to help us align as we moved forward. We summarized our family values with four words: We want to be a family marked by conviction, courage, curiosity, and contribution. We homeschool because we have determined that at this particular season of life, this is the best way we can foster these values.
We homeschool because we want to teach our children to know God and love Him, to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever. We want them to know the content of our faith–what we believe and why we believe it–and we believe that, right now, the best way we can do that is by investing in our children’s hearts through daily, life-on-life discipleship.
We homeschool because we want to help foster a love for Scripture. While we do not believe the bible is a textbook, we do believe that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and that all learning ought to find its way back to the creative God who designed it. Therefore we want to learn alongside our children every day, pointing them to the source of all knowledge.
We homeschool because we want the opportunity to remind our children and ourselves of the gospel as often as possible. Through the messiness of homeschooling and living and learning in such close proximity, we are bound to sin against each other often, so we anticipate many opportunities to celebrate God’s gracious provision of Christ in light of our many weaknesses and failures.
We homeschool because we welcome the daily opportunity to help foster in our children a gentle and quiet spirit that is held upright by a backbone of steel. We want to teach them courage that can only come from an unrelenting belief that God is good, that He keeps His promises, and that He has given us everything we need in Christ.
We homeschool because we want to help our children grow into being comfortable in their own skin. We want to teach them their identity in Christ and help them discover their place in our family. We want to help our children find the courage to live their lives before the face of God and not for the approval of people, and we believe, right now, that homeschooling is the best environment for them to practice and grow in this courage.
We homeschool because we want to cultivate a love of learning–to help our children become lifelong learners, that they would “search for God with childlike curiosity, wide-eyed and eager to discover who He is and the world He has made.” We welcome the opportunities homeschooling affords for us to be the ones leading the way calling out, “Oh, children! You must know the Lord!” Together, we want to watch for opportunities to wonder, to see God’s hand in the present moment and surroundings, to enjoy and be grateful. We want this to flow from our learning and our time spent together.
On a more pragmatic level, we want the opportunity to explore the world together and homeschooling allows us the greatest freedom because we are not tied to a particular calendar.
We homeschool because part of teaching our children what it means to contribute is to contribute ourselves. We homeschool to share ourselves with our children–to pour goodness, beauty, and truth into them.
We homeschool because we want to come alongside our children as they learn how God has wired them and what their interests, passions, and gifts are. We want to know, enjoy, and celebrate each of their unique contributions to our family.
We homeschool because we want our children to see themselves as part of a whole. We want to teach them about more than school subjects–about how the world works and what it means to contribute to family, church, and society. We want to help them see that all that we have has been given to us for the glory of God and the good of others.
We homeschool because we believe that learning as a family will help us to learn how to be gracious and patient with ourselves, with one another, and with others.
We homeschool because of the discipline and hard work required with self-paced and self-motivated learning. We want to value faithfulness over achievement and celebrate hard work over perfectionism.
Why We Homeschool
These values are not exclusively pursued via homeschooling. In fact, these are not new values. When we started Hadley in public school, we hoped and planned that we could be very intentional with the time we got with her before and after school. But we didn’t have a realistic picture of the nature of those two hours after school–the pre-dinnertime “witching hour.” We didn’t think about how fast the evenings fly by with suppers and baths and bedtimes. We didn’t think about how full our evenings and weekends could be. And so, as it goes, that time slipped away week after week. There was a growing distance between Hadley and I, between her education and our responsibility to train her up in the way she should go.
Our hope is that by choosing this educational method in the younger years, we will lay a foundation of relationship and trust that we can build upon in the years to come, even if it involves public or private school. But, I will say it one more time just to be a clear, a homeschool is not the only way to foster these values, and it is not the best way for everyone.
Doesn’t our dream for homeschooling sound lovely?
Let’s just put it out there: I am an idealist. This all sounds very wonderful written down and proofread. But real life is messy. I can be lazy and selfish. I do not homeschool because I will miss my kids if they go to school; sometimes missing them sounds glorious. So before you read a list like this imagining what a happy home we must have, let’s be clear that this is all theory. Theory which we are very awkwardly and imperfectly trying to turn into reality.
As I said before, we are not prepared to declare an undying commitment to homeschool. My wavering commitment is the very reason I need to write this down, so I can return to it throughout the year. But we are thankful for the process of getting here and the continued opportunity to grow and learn as a family. And we welcome insight from those who have gone before us (who have lived to tell about it).
We have just embarked upon our first full year as committed homeschoolers. We made our first attempt after moving last December, and while life for those few months was filled with crisis and chaos, our homeschool experience was generally pleasant. We’re not ready to give up quite yet.
As part of my preparations for the year, I spent some time writing down why we homeschool. It’s a question I am asked often, but, more importantly, it is one I am sure I will ask myself as we go throughout this year. I need to write it down so I can revisit it on those days I am ready to pull my hair out. (Every day?)
But before I offer our list for why we homeschool, I need to preface with a list of things that are not reasons we homeschool.
We do not homeschool because we believe it merits us favor with God.
The only way to merit favor with God is to be united by faith to Jesus Christ, accepting his righteous life and atoning death in our place. We do not in any way believe that homeschooling makes us extra-special-holy. We are not banking any bonus points. We have determined that, right now, this is what it looks like for us to obey God in faithfully parenting our children. We do it messily and imperfectly, desperate for grace and overwhelmingly grateful that Jesus paid for our every failure in full.
We do not homeschool because we think it is the only way to be faithful, obedient parents.
Please notice that I said this is what it looks like for us to obey God in faithfully parenting our children, right now. As Christians, we have this obnoxious tendency to form a conviction and then try to impose that conviction on everyone else. We elevate opinions to laws and then look with contempt upon those who do not live up to our standards. I am certainly guilty of this, both in thinking my way is the only way, and in trying to live up to the standards of others. This is sinful self-righteousness and Jesus condemned it over and over again in the Pharisees.
I firmly believe that educational decisions for your children fall under the area of Christian freedom. In sharing my family’s decisions to homeschool, in no way do I seek to bind your conscience to my conviction. I share our decision because it is a common question I receive, and if hearing how we landed where we are is helpful for you in making decisions for your family, great! If reading about my decision to homeschool makes you feel condemned, please stop reading! Who am I to condemn you? It is God who justifies both you and me in Christ (see Romans 8:33-34).
We are all messy, sinful moms trying to figure out this parenting thing together. Let’s not let homeschooling (or health decisions, breastfeeding decisions, disciplining decisions, and a million other things) be reasons we stand over one and another in judgment. “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.” (Romans 14:4)
We do not homeschool because we think the public education system is evil or because we are scared of what our children will be exposed to in public school.
Paul wrote to the Roman Christians, suffering harsh persecution at the hands of an evil government, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Romans 13:1). Isn’t that staggering? God can accomplish his purposes even through a jacked up government institution. And in the case of our education system, I’ll admit I’m not even totally prepared to call it “jacked up.” Yes, we know it is not just possible but likely that in a public school (or even Christian school) environment, our children will be exposed to sin and to ideas that we may disagree with.
Here’s the thing: they are exposed to sin in our home. Hello, have we met? I’m Kendra. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15-16).
But even more than having sinful parents, siblings, neighbors, and friends who will do our fair share of sin-exposing, Jesus taught that it is not what’s outside of us that defiles, but rather what’s within. Our children were born with sin in their hearts. And no amount of sheltering will keep it from making its ugly debut.
Yes, of course we seek to protect them from being sinned against, from being exposed to that which exceeds their age and maturity. But what I value more than sheltering is discussing. Jen Wilkin had a great blog post awhile back where she wrote about teaching her children about swear words. In it, she wisely observed that if she did not welcome her children to come to her with their newly-learned bad words, they would go to their friends–or worse, Google.
The same can be applied to topics that may be taught in the public school. We want to foster conversations with our children regarding science, social, and political issues where they must learn and practice discernment. We can tell them what to believe, but if it is never questioned in an environment where it is safe for them to question, to disagree, to ponder, to explore, then they will not stop asking the questions, they will simply go in search of a more welcoming environment.
We do not homeschool to protect our children from the evil they will inevitably face, nor do we homeschool to keep them from hearing things with which we disagree. We homeschool to build a relationship with them that will help them to come to us when the evil and the questions arise. Homeschooling is not the only way to build such a relationship, but it is the way we have chosen for us, right now.
One year at a time
Because these things are true of our decision to homeschool, we are committed to evaluating this decision year-by-year, child-by-child. We are not prepared to declare an undying commitment to homeschool forever and ever, amen. We know we may change our minds or our methods, and so we pray for wisdom as we seek to know our children’s unique personalities and needs and we trust the Lord to make level paths for our feet.