Sunday, January 25, 2015

Are You Weary In Doing Good?

Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? ~ Galatians 3:3

I am a very organized person. I love processing, projecting, planning and performing what I’ve planned. Give me a messy house and in five minutes I’ll have a plan for cleaning it – and I’ll do it too. Give me a complicated project and I’ll enjoy simplifying it and accomplishing the goal. The idea of homeschooling my own children someday inspires me with all sorts of ideas for organizing schedules, laying out curriculum, planning field trips, and so on. I like to help, organize, be of service and generally make things easier for people.

But every time I try to do this, I hit a snag. I run smack-dab into the realization that I am human, not superwoman. I can’t organize all my problems away. I can’t plan everything perfectly, and even if I do, the unexpected always seems to crop up. I can’t always complete projects promptly due to my own physical weakness. I find this very frustrating at times.

I have often prayed things like, “Lord, you told us in your Word not to grow weary in doing good. But how can I do good if I’m too exhausted to go on? How can I serve others if my own weakness requires that they have to serve me? What good am I to Your kingdom when I can’t even complete a normal day’s work?”

Recently God has been answering these prayers for me, and I thought I’d share with you the encouragement I’ve received.

We Need More Than Human Effort
The first answer God gave me was through a friend talking with me about Galatians. The book of Galatians is basically the Apostle Paul’s thesis for why we should pursue Christian living through the strength of the Holy Spirit, rather than through our own strength. The crux of the argument is in Galatians 3:3 where Paul asks the question, “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?” Good question.

I think we all agree that our salvation and subsequent spiritual growth are due to God’s grace, not our own efforts. And yet, so often we humans seem to forget that when it comes down to daily living. We stress over things not going according to our plans, we fume when the kids don’t seem to be responding to our teaching, we huff when others don’t do what we want them to do – and we feel discouraged when we can’t make things happen the way we planned. Basically, we forget that God is in control and we can only accomplish good things through His strength.

As Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” God has planned our good works for us and He will provide the strength to accomplish them.

We Need Help From Friends
The second answer to prayer that God gave me was through another conversation with a friend. This friend has spent his life in mighty service to God, and is now experiencing physical problems. He mentioned the difficulty of swallowing his pride and asking others to help him. As we talked, God showed me the important truth that, in reality, everyone needs help. Some people need help in obvious ways, like a person in a wheel chair. Some need help in a less obvious manner, like the mother who needs someone to help her catch up on laundry. But no one in the world is exempt from needing help.

For some reason, we often tend to think that because we have God’s grace to rely on, we are self-sufficient. We can manage to live a cheerful, serving, abundant life without the help of anyone else. But often the way God gives us His grace and strength is through the help of others. The man who is a pillar in his church has a supportive wife encouraging him behind the scenes. The couple who raises eight godly children has some prayer warriors uplifting them each day. The college student who not only keeps a 4.0 grade point average but also continues to be active in ministry has a helpful parent or sibling in the background. Behind every godly Christian is usually a group of other Christians who care enough to pray for, and help the person. This is one of the ways God sends His strength to us.

Suffering, weakness, and plain old inability are facts of life – even the Christian’s life. Look at the great men and women of faith in the Bible. David’s own son turned against him, Job lost his wealth and his children, nearly all of the prophets struggled against a perverse and unbelieving nation, Esther lived in exile at the mercy of a pagan king, and on it goes. Even Christ suffered as His own disciples misunderstood and even abandoned Him.  Sometimes I get a little amused at myself for thinking that I can somehow be exempt from the ranks of suffering Christians who have gone before me.

In summary, God has been teaching me lately that it’s only in His strength that I can accomplish good things. And often His strength is brought to me through the help of others. As you go forward in your school year, I pray that you also can remember these same lessons.

When times are good, the children are learning and life is going smoothly, thank God for His mercy! But when the tough times come (as they will) and the washing machine breaks, the dog throws up, the kids get the flu or the car runs out of gas, remember that you are part of a great cloud of witnesses who have also suffered in doing good. Ask God to give you His strength for the job, and remember that sometimes His strength can come through others’ help. It’s okay to admit you’re not perfect! Call a veteran homeschooling mom for advice. Ask a godly friend to pray for you. Tell your kids that you’re having a rough day and ask them for their help.

And most of all remember – we cannot attain our goal by human effort. We must rely on God’s grace and mercy. Remember the word of the Lord in Zechariah 4:6: “’Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.”

Written by Heather Sheen

Monday, January 19, 2015

Do What’s Right Because It’s Right

I once heard a Christian pastor explain how he tries to persuade young people who prefer the pleasures of the world over Christ. “When they tell me that they don’t want to become Christians because they would have to give up their fun sinful lifestyle, I tell them that my fellowship with Christ is sweeter and more fulfilling than anything else in life I’ve experienced,” he said. Good argument, right?

I also recently saw a discussion on Facebook between some homeschoolers and some government school proponents. The homeschoolers cited a recent study that indicates that homeschooled young people remain in the church as adults in a far higher percentage than their government-schooled counterparts. They believed this was an excellent reason to homeschool. Another good argument, right?

What do these two anecdotes and arguments have in common? In both cases, a key element was missing. Yes, it is valuable to compare the joy of fellowshipping with Christ to the pleasures of the world and to realize that Christianity does in fact provide satisfaction and delight. Yes, it is helpful to point out that homeschooled youth remain in the faith in higher numbers than public schooled youth. 

However, when trying to decide what to do, the key question to ask is, “What is RIGHT?”

Christianity is not a matter of comparing the joy of the world and the joy of Christ, weighing the pros and cons, and eventually opting for Christianity because it seems like the most satisfying choice to you personally. Becoming a Christian is about recognizing truth. If Christianity is true, then whether it is the most satisfying or not, we must believe it. If Christianity is true, then whether we feel like it or not, we must obey God’s command to turn to Him. Scripture says that God, “commands all people everywhere to repent.” (Acts 17:30, emphasis added). Following Christ is not optional. God commands us to follow Him and to do otherwise is simply disobedience. Becoming a Christian is the right thing to do, based on the truth revealed in Scripture.

Likewise, educating a child is not a matter of weighing pros and cons and deciding which option is most affordable, convenient, academically successful, fun, or likely to keep the child in church. It is a matter of doing what is right, whether it is easy or not, enjoyable or not, most likely to keep the child in church or not, or most likely to land the child a scholarship to an Ivy League university. It is the duty of all Christian parents to diligently search the Scriptures and see what Biblical principles apply to the education of children and then to act on those principles.

For instance, Scripture says to raise one’s children in the “nurture and admonition of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4). That is a command, not a suggestion. Parents must weigh which schooling method allows this nurture and training in the Lord. Is it the one where a child is with his Christian parents during the day? Or the one where a child is sent to a secular, blatantly anti-God, government-run institution 7 hours a day, 180 days a year, for thirteen years of his life?

Scripture also warns us to not be deceived, that “bad company corrupts good character.” (1 Corinthians 15:33). Do we honestly believe that? We should—it is an unarguable Scriptural truth. That being the case, which schooling method puts a child with good company? Homeschooling, which places the child alongside mature Christian adults? Or institutional schooling, where children are placed with young, foolish, and often ungodly peers all day?

“But wait!” someone will say. “Scripture also commands us to be salt and light!” Actually, it does not. Scripture says we already ARE salt and light and then immediately warns us not to lose our saltiness. You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. (Matthew 5:13) 

 Christian families are already salt. It is every parent’s duty to make sure that they do not cause their children to lose their saltiness. When it comes to education, we must also remember there is no Scriptural command or precedent anywhere for impressionable and vulnerable children to be sent out alone as missionaries every day. None. Not only that, Christian families have more than ample opportunity to be godly witnesses to their friends, family, neighbors and community without having to send their children to a government school. “Being a missionary” is not limited to “being inside a school building.”

I could go on, but my point is simply this: We should not choose a path based on how we feel, or because it seems to best suit our goals, or because someone else says we should do it, or even because we like the outcome. Rather, we must seek the truth and then obey it because it is true and because obedience is required. Obeying truth is not optional. Interpreting truth to suit our preferences is not acceptable. Truth is truth and we are obligated to seek it out and follow it, period, stop. May God give each of us the grace to do so!

Written by Raquelle Sheen 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

12 Tips for Parents

It’s not that I consider myself a tremendous fount of wisdom (although I sometimes do, particularly when I’ve eaten too much chocolate and feel invincible). It’s simply that by dint of keeping my eyes and ears open, I occasionally Make Astute Observations. I am now going to share an assortment of these Astute Observations with the amazingly lucky parents who are reading this column. And yes, I am humble, thanks for asking!

In no particular order. Here we go.

1. Make your children take music lessons for at least two years. Stay on top of them to make them practice. Weigh the future carefully when deciding to stop music lessons in favor of another activity. As a music teacher, I have heard so many adults lament that they wished they had stuck with music lessons as a child. I have never heard any adult lament that they wish they had spent more time as a kid playing volleyball or learning mime on the church drama team.

2. Apologize when you do or say something wrong. It is better to err on the side of apologizing too much instead of apologizing too little. Even if what you did was completely right, if your child comes to you and says you hurt their feelings, tell them you are sorry that you hurt their feelings. This is not an admission of guilt on your part. It is simply a statement of fact, because you are sorry that their feelings are hurt. You weren’t trying to hurt them. You were simply trying to do what was best for your child and you are grieved to know that their feelings were wounded in the process. Finish by giving your child a hug.

3. Throwing money at a situation is not a substitute for parental involvement. I have seen parents enroll their children in expensive specialty classes, pay for extra-long lessons with a private instructor, or buy an abundance of pricey learning materials and tools in an effort to turn their child into the perfect child. That’s fine, but if what is really needed is parental accountability and enforcement, paying more money doesn’t fix the problem.

4. Grammar matters. No really, it does. In this age of online communication, how you use the written word can greatly contribute (positively or negatively) to the impression that people have of you. Your children might grow up to be little Einsteins, but if they cannot spell or construct a sentence properly in writing, they are going to be marginalized. Barring legitimate learning issues such as dyslexia, every child should receive extensive training in spelling, punctuation and grammar.

5. Turn off the TV. Really. Turn it off.

6. Skip the boyfriend/girlfriend stuff. Boys and girls have been interested in each other since time began and they often start noticing each long before they’re old enough to consider marriage. Why encourage it? Your 13-year-old daughter and your friend’s 14-year-old son might have a crush on each other, but that doesn’t mean you have to take it seriously or legitimize the “relationship” by winking indulgently at them, referring to “my daughter’s boyfriend,” or letting them talk on the phone for hours. There is no point in pre-teens or teens having a “special” relationship with someone of the opposite sex unless they are old enough to seriously consider marriage. At best, it either adds needless emotional complexities to their lives or calls out a tremendous amount of silliness in them. At worst, it can lead to temptations that they do not have the maturity to resist well.

7. Praise your children in public. Don’t criticize or belittle your children in public.

8. Don’t pass the buck. Your child is a child and therefore needs accountability and oversight. He is not magically going to become a perfectly thoughtful, responsible and self-disciplined adult by himself. Yes, if he is not acting in a mature fashion, he is usually responsible for his actions (depending on his age). However, as the parent, you are responsible if you do not intervene and help him to behave better. Parents who do nothing but sit back and blame their child for acting like a child are being just as irresponsible as the child himself.

9. Teens and pre-teens should read an etiquette book every couple of years. The advice contained therein will help them relationally and professionally their entire lives.

10. If you are unhappy with the choices your children are making, take action. If they are not yet old enough to vote and they are living in your home on your nickel, you have every right to step in and set boundaries when you see them making unwise decisions. While you should be sure to have some heart-to-heart philosophical conversations (where you do as much listening as talking), at the end of the day you are the parent. Don’t be afraid to act like it. You are the gatekeeper. If you don’t like what they’re watching, get rid of the TV and put a password on the Internet connection. If you don’t like what they’re listening to, clean off their iPod or take it from them for awhile. If you don’t like who they are hanging out with, stop chauffeuring them to places where they encounter the wrong crowd. If you don’t like what they’re reading, throw it away. This may not make you very popular, but your job isn’t to be popular. It’s to do what is best for your children.

11. Teach your children to value and appreciate the differences between men and women. Many women grow into adulthood and fail to appreciate masculine strengths. If a man isn’t “sensitive” enough or can’t read their mind, he’s off their list. Many men grow into adulthood and fail to appreciate feminine strengths. If a woman isn’t athletic or outdoorsy, she’s off their list. This is foolish. Men and women are different and it is foolish to expect a man in a woman’s body or a woman in a man’s body.

12. Put Jesus at the center of your household. Some people prioritize rules and fall into legalism. Some people prioritize “Christian liberty” and wander off the path. Some people prioritize family relationships and neglect the most important one of all, Jesus Christ. Some people prioritize good works and lose connection with the Source of Life. Only when God Himself and your relationship with Him is the cornerstone of your household can you and your children truly walk in the light. 

Written by Raquelle Sheen

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Readin’, Writin’, ‘Rythmatic, and… Chores?

It’s the beginning of the year and whether you make New Year’s Resolutions or not, you’ve probably got some plans for the year in mind. Especially for your homeschooling!  PLANS! Lesson plans, day plans, field trip plans – planning is the most euphoric time of school work because anything seems possible when we make a plan for it!

Perhaps your Perfect Day Plan looks something like this:

7:00 am – wake children and eat breakfast
8:00 am – everyone recites the Pledge of Allegiance and sings “My Country Tis of Thee”
9:00 am – all children peacefully seated at the table, doing book work
12: 00 pm – lunch break
1:00 pm – the afternoon free for field trips and science projects
6:00 pm – dinner with daddy
9:00 pm – children in bed

Doesn’t that look so possible and doable and ideal?  There’s only one problem, my friends (aside from the fact that Utopia will not be attained in this world).  A very key activity is missing from the above schedule.


Yes, indeed!  Those of you who opt for realism over optimism were probably picturing the problem as you read the schedule.  “Not in MY house would that happen!  The kids wouldn’t be able to find their books, I wouldn’t be able to find the kitchen table and my husband wouldn’t be able to find us!”  That’s because chores need to be included in this list! 

“Aw, shucks,” you might say.  “They’re just kids.  Why should they have to do chores?  I want them to have a fun childhood!”  If that is true, then why are you bothering to educate them?  They would probably rather be playing in the yard anyway. 

Of course, you are educating them for the same reason you should have them do chores – it prepares them for adulthood and Real Life.  It is actually a kindness to teach your children the basics of cleaning a house and preparing a meal.  Here are both the short and long term benefits.

Short Term
If you start your day with a one hour cleanup time, then the rest of the day will be less confusing and chaotic.  The kitchen table will be cleared, there will be room to sit on the couch and everybody will hopefully know where their books are.  (If not, check under the bed!)  Tidying the house every day minimizes such problems as lost library books, dog hair in the sandwiches, forgotten commitments, overlooked mail and lost keys.

Long Term
By teaching your children how to run a house, you are teaching them to survive on their own some day.  How many of you mothers wish your mother had passed on her homemaking skills to you?  How many of you fathers ate out a LOT before you got married?  Raquelle and I are constantly amazed at our friends in their 20s and 30s who don’t even know the basics about cooking a meal, washing their clothes or vacuuming the floor.  Their parents have done them a great disservice by allowing them to skip household chores.

How To Do It
These chores don’t have to be onerous or majorly time consuming.  For instance, in our family, Raquelle and I were each responsible every morning to make our beds, tidy one of the bathrooms and tidy the living room and school room.  In the kitchen, we helped with meal prep and took turns washing the counters and vacuuming the floor.  Once or twice a week we had an extra chore like folding laundry or scrubbing a bathtub.  Usually, our whole chore time lasted about 1 hour.

It was worth it.  The rest of the day flowed much more smoothly as everything was generally in its place and we had room to work.  Meal prep and cleanup went much more quickly. Colds and other contagious ailments were not automatically passed to everyone in the family since the bathrooms were cleaned every day.  Unexpected company was not the Disaster of the Century.  In fact, our whole family continues to reap the benefits of Raquelle and I being able to help run the house. 

So this year, as you make your day plans, think about adding some chores to teach your kids Real Life Skills.  You will love the ultimate benefits of a tidy house and responsible children!

Written by Heather Sheen, a Chore Expert

Monday, January 5, 2015

Fallacies and Final Authorities

There’s a fallacy in that argument somewhere.

Have you ever said that to yourself?  I have.  Usually my next thought is, but I don’t know where! 

I'm feeling verbose today so I have decided to hold forth on how to tell where the fallacy is. The fallacy for today’s lesson: Ipse dixit.  (True verbosity should always include Latin, right?)

Ipse dixit simply means, “He said it himself.”  The ipse dixit argument is an appeal to an illegitimate authority to settle an argument.  For instance, someone says to you, “Of course evolution is a fact!  Scientist Joe Schmoe said so!”  Now, Joe Schmoe may be a very good scientist, but he was not alive millions of years ago when evolution supposedly occurred.  Therefore, he cannot conclusively prove that evolution is a fact.

Homeschoolers run into the ipse dixit argument often.  “Your child should be reading by the age of ten.  The Experts say so.”  Well, the Experts may be able to say that about some children but they cannot say that about your child.  Probably the only person who knows for sure when your child is ready to read is YOU.  That is because you, as the parents, are the only Experts who have all the relevant data on your child.  Only you know how far along your child is developmentally and how much training he’s had in the alphabet and phonics.

Let’s consider another example.  “I should use XYZ curriculum.  My homeschooling friend Mrs. Smith uses it and says it’s wonderful!”  Now Mrs. Smith may be able to give you very valuable first-hand knowledge about XYZ curriculum, but only YOU know whether that curriculum is best for your child.  Mrs. Smith’s children may have different learning styles than your children.  Or Mrs. Smith may have a different teaching style from you.  Either way, the fact that Mrs. Smith says XYZ curriculum is wonderful for her children does not mean it is automatically wonderful for yours.

One final illustration.  (This one always drives me crazy.)  Your friend, Mrs. Flake, says to you, “Listen, dearie.  Homeschooling is much too hard for you.  I know, I tried it last year.  It’s just way too much work!”  Unfortunately, though Mrs. Flake may be an authority on her own ability to homeschool (or an authority on what’s most convenient for her), she is not an authority on your ability to homeschool.  Not only that, but with only one year’s experience, she is hardly qualified to be a final authority on homeschooling anyway. 

Does this mean we should never listen to Experts, Mrs. Smith and Mrs. Flake?  Not at all!  (To plug your ears would be rude, after all.)  We simply need to consider this important factor: Is this person a good authority on this subject?  If not, take their advice with a grain of salt.

I, of course, being a Verbose Homeschool Graduate, am automatically qualified to be a funny authority on anything I talk about.  Er, wait, make that final authority.  

Written by Heather Sheen