are we raising slaves?


This idea that children won’t learn without outside rewards and penalties, or in the debased jargon of the behaviorists, “positive and negative reinforcements,” usually becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we treat children long enough as if that were true, they will come to believe it is true. So many people have said to me, “If we didn’t make children do things, they wouldn’t do anything.” Even worse, they say, “If I weren’t made to do things, I wouldn’t do anything. It is the creed of a slave.”  ~  John Holt, How Children Fail

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the hierarchy of schooling

audobon birds


“One evening I was involved in a conversation about education with a group of parents, some homeschoolers, others with children in public education. One of the dads began to talk about his experiences growing up in private school and the awareness children have as to where they rank in reading and mathematics in their classrooms. “We were all birds,” he told us. “I was in the group called the Eagles.” I saw him sit a bit taller even as he announced it. “We all knew we could read better than the Robins and we were all smarter than the lowly Sparrows. The hierarchy of schooling ability began in first grade and continued all through 12th and even beyond. It made us smug six-year-olds and even smugger college graduates. The Robins settled into becoming average and the Sparrows were just smart enough to know they would never be anything but Sparrows.” We all nodded, understanding exactly what he meant, a twinge of that familiar Sparrow pain passing over several faces. Sadly, the rules of formal education based on comparison demand this scenario to be played out in every school. From the moment children enter a formal education setting, they are placed into categories that pit the Eagles against the Sparrows and can influence even their future success throughout life.” from The Joy of Relationship Homeschooling ~ when the one anothers come home

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children and morality


“Parental responsibility for shaping the ideas and ideals of the oncoming generation has priority. The imperative of training a child to walk morally and spiritually (Proverbs 22:6) does not, of course, reduce to ‘throwing the Book’ at the younger generation. The example of time spent in prayer, worship, Bible study and church participation, the reading of quality books and magazines, the nature of social life, the way the family makes crucial decisions, and not least of all open conversation and discussion of cardinal ethical and religious concerns define the character of home life.” ~ Carl F.H. Henry

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the most important aspect of character training



Last week I wrote about the very important difference between character that is reflected in nice behavior and godly character that comes as a result of faith in the life of a believer. This week I am continuing this discussion by looking at the second important element of this process, the truth that character training is part of a mentoring relationship and, as such, the character of the mentor is of tremendous value.

I have shared many times about my grandmother and the godly influence she was in my own life. There were so many, many things to emulate about her life that I now realize have resulted in her multi-generational influence on others.

Following her examples as a mentor and teacher, one of her daughters, my aunt Edith, spent decades witnessing to her classroom full of first graders and hosted a good news club at her house for nearly as long. To this day there are adults who recall the influence these godly women had on their own families and within their covenant communities. I also can remember a high school Sunday school class teacher whose words of wisdom spoken into my own life and the lives of others in our class planted seeds that took root and are a part of whom I am.

I believe that this truth is what should be at the heart of homeschooling. Often we become discouraged or overwhelmed with the day to day things that distract us from the pursuit of the finish line not realizing that it is how we run every single day that really matters. We get bogged down by housework or worry about whether or not our kids are being offered enough opportunities outside the home or if we are doing enough academic work with them. But, in reality, it is who we are as moms and dads that makes the biggest impact in their lives. Our children see what matters to us, how we invest our time and our resources, and whether or not it involves them and their eternal state.

One thing homeschooling families must discover is the importance of becoming the primary mentors in the lives of their own children and those of us who have enjoyed the blessing of being parents to young adult homeschooled children also know the responsibility that this ministry places on us. For, you see, being a mentor, a disciple maker, a parent who is called to be used of the Lord to raise children for God’s glory alone is an awesome task and it is not for the faint of heart. It also is not for those who are unwilling to change their own lives.

At the heart of mentoring is this truth…discipling children and influencing them for Christ requires that we pursue a relationship with the Lord ourselves. Our children are going to be influenced more by the way we live our lives than by the words we speak to them. 2 Corinthians 5:17 tells us that if we are in Christ we are a new creation, a soul of His making. And we are also told that we are a work in progress. Philippians 1:6 reminds us that God began a good work in us and He WILL bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Just imagine that…we have no need to fear that we have been called to be the mentors of our children because Jesus has promised to not only work in the lives of our children but in our own lives as well!

I also want to be certain that moms understand that this calling if for you, too, not just the Dad in your household. Recently I read an amazing statement on a pastor’s blog that included these words: “There is no one more important in a child’s life than the child’s father.” While I agree that dads are important and every bit as important as moms, I also believe that moms are just as important as dads. When it comes to mentoring young people, we must recognize that both mothers and fathers have unique things to share and both are equally valuable in the mentoring process.

So what are some things that moms can do to prepare fertile soil for planting the seeds of faith in the lives of children as we mentor and disciple them? As I thought about this, several things came to mind.

First we have to realize that our children will become a lot like us, for good or for bad. I was reminded of this recently when I read that a kid down the street from us had been arrested for underage drinking and illegal drug use. I was not surprised because this boy had been defying all adults since he was in grade school. But mostly I remember his father lying to the police when he and his son were setting off illegal fireworks one fourth of July.

I have watched young people seek to deceive and manipulate others in just the way their parents do. I have witnessed children being unkind and critical, often using the same mean phrases as their parents in order to belittle others. But I have also known young people who did all they could to minister to elderly people or others in need because that was the example set by their parents in their home. And have you ever listened to a young person who was raised in a family that took a strong pro-life position speak to the issue of abortion?

When we demonstrate what is right and good and based on truth, they will respond and will embrace those values, too.

Secondly, mentoring is just a part of building a great relationship with our kids. There is an old saying that goes “They won’t care what you know until they know that you care.” This may be old but it is a timeless truth. A very real part of the mentoring process is being available, being open, and having genuine interest and concern for all aspects of someone’s life. I love the Scripture passage from Romans 15 that says “therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” This paints the picture for me of opening not only my home but my life to someone else and welcoming them simply for who they are!

One important aspect of a great mentoring relationship is that of parents repenting of sins against their children and asking their forgiveness. This must begin as Jesus instructed it to begin: In Matthew 7:3-4 he said: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?” One of the reasons young people rebel is because they are angry at their parents and, as their mentors and as the more mature ones in the relationship, I believe it is crucial that we make repenting to our children a regular practice. We also need to always be willing to forgive our children for any real sins they have committed against us. We need to have the godly discernment required to be able to differentiate between real sin and any choices they might make that are simply different than what we might have chosen.

The very eye-opening book titled “Unchristian” was written as an analysis of the Barna research that shows why so many young people are leaving the church once they leave home. Among the reasons given were hypocrisy on the part of the previous generation, parents and others in church who were preaching one thing and living quite another. Another reason given was lack of transparency by those who were teaching others. Lists of rules and establishing unrealistic paradigms were stated as contributing factors to their disillusionment. How important it is that we live lives that are real, honest, open, and ones of integrity before our children. We cannot expect them to have character that we do not also model. (For more on this topic, I would encourage you to read the series of articles called Organic Family Life and also those entitled Grace in Parenting.)

Thirdly, all true character training is based on the Word of God. I think we often take for granted the power of the Word of God in changing people’s lives, especially the lives of young people. The so-called experts often encourage bigger and better youth ministries, fantastic activities, and entertaining outings for young people. All of these are a means of allowing down time for getting to know each other, which is part of the mentoring process. But, challenging young people with the Word of God and trusting that the Holy Spirit will use the Word to change their lives and to give them a picture of how they can affect the culture ought to be central to our character building plan.

Scripture speaks to this truth in the wonderful story of Josiah found in 2 Samuel and 2 Chronicles. Josiah was made the king at eight years of age and he ruled in Jerusalem for 31 years. When he was only 16 years of age, the Lord turned his heart to spiritual things and, remembering what he had been taught, he began to seek the God of his father David. Then when he was only twenty Scripture tells us “he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem of the high places, the Asherim, and the carved and the metal images. And they chopped down the altars of the Baals in his presence, and he cut down the incense altars that stood above them. And he broke in pieces the Asherim and the carved and the metal images, and he made dust of them and scattered it over the graves of those who had sacrificed to them. He also burned the bones of the priests on their altars and cleansed Judah and Jerusalem. And in the( cities of Manasseh, Ephraim, and Simeon, and as far as Naphtali, in their ruins all around, he broke down the altars and beat the Asherim and the images into powder and cut down all the incense altars throughout all the land of Israel. Then he returned to Jerusalem.”

Josiah was a man after God’s own heart, as was his father David. He set out to apply his faith within is culture. Then, a few years later hen he was 26 years old he put some men in charge of remodeling the temple. Amazingly, while the men were working in the building, they came across the Book of the Law that had been tucked away. They brought it to Josiah and when he read it he was so moved by the words and so convicted that they had been ignored for so long that he tore his garments and wept in repentance for himself and on behalf of his people. At that point he realized that, in spite of all he had done in the name of the Lord, he still had not kept the word of the Lord. This is what Scripture says: “Then the king sent and gathered together all the elders of Judah and Jerusalem. And the king went up to the house of the LORD, with all the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the priests and the Levites, all the people both great and small. And he read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant that had been found in the house of the LORD. And the king stood in his place and made a covenant before the LORD, to walk after the LORD and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of the covenant that were written in this book. Then he made all who were present in Jerusalem and in Benjamin join in it. And the inhabitants of Jerusalem did according to the covenant of God, the God of their fathers. And Josiah took away all the abominations from all the territory that belonged to the people of Israel and made all who were present in Israel serve the LORD their God. All his days they did not turn away from following the LORD, the God of their fathers.”

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some thoughts on Christian voyeurism and Christian exhibitionism


This piece was originally published in 2008 but I believe it should be reintroduced in light of the Duggar family and the debate swirling around the sexual abuse situation in their home.

Recently, one of my friends told me about a new television show where contestants compete for cash prizes by answering very personal questions while being connected to a lie detector. As he described the premise of the program, I began to feel as uncomfortable as he had been while watching and then when he went on to use the word “voyeurism” to describe the penchant most people have for hearing the personal details of someone’s life, I was intrigued. His comments demonstrated that these interests do not need to be sexually arousing in nature, though they can be and sometimes are, in order for it to be called voyeurism in 21st century vernacular.

How many of us read fiction, watch television sit-coms, and go to movies? How often do we wait in line at the grocery store, scanning the covers of People magazine to know who had whose baby this week? We are all intrigued by the lives of other people. We all love a good story. In fact, the subjects of voyeurism don’t even have to be real people. Look at the popularity of shows like Lost and Survivor. It doesn’t matter that one of these shows has fictional characters and the other has a cast made up of real people. To regular viewers, they are ALL real people.

I have long thought that we have our own form of voyeurism as Christians and especially as homeschoolers. It goes something like this and begins innocently enough. We hear a particular speaker at a conference, we read someone’s book or a magazine article, or we stumble into a blog where a homeschooling family is on display. Since we can relate so well to that family’s lifestyle choices or theology, we read further and before you know it, we have to know the intimate, private, and personal details of that family’s life.

While all the insights we glean might be good, and we certainly can benefit from evaluating the successes and failures of other homeschoolers as they share them with us, it can easily lead to what I call “Christian voyeurism,” the personal satisfaction we can get from knowing the details of “how” another family homeschools, disciplines, practices courtship, or what have you. This voyeurism can lay the foundation for making choices for your own family, choices that might not be what God desires for you and your children, choices that might lead us away from God’s best rather than toward it, choices that lead us into a legalistic approach to discerning how to achieve success with our children. Sometimes those choices even cause us to live vicariously through the life of another homeschooling family, emulating and imitating them through dress, use of jargon, recreational activities, or other practices.

This is a temptation that I believe we can easily fall into as homeschoolers simply because homeschooling is still such a new phenomenon. Though homeschooling is accepted without much ado in most communities, there are still some people, often educational gurus, in-laws, or fellow church members, who question the validity of our chosen means of educating our children. We often become weary of defending homeschooling and we all want to have our choices validated and to be reaffirmed that homeschooling is best for our own children, so we tend to seek out the story behind the successes.

I also believe this can become a trap for homeschoolers because we are so unsure of our own convictions or even what the Scripture might teach about some area of life. Rather than reading and studying the Word of God yourself, it is often simpler to follow the leadings of someone you perceive to be a trusted Bible teacher. And herein lies the other side of the problem: Christian exhibitionism.

There seems to be no shortage of families who are willing to share the most intimate and personal of details from their lives or the lives of their children. Some families choose to talk openly about a daughter’s virginity and a father’s brokering of it. Still others have no hesitancy to speak openly of a rebellious child or graphic descriptions of corporal punishment. Look at the number of “courtship stories” that are now available online. These testimonies often share very intimate details, including an up-close description, or even a picture, of a couple’s first kiss. Some families choose to talk about the moral failures of their own parents. I remember one time listening to a broadcast of Focus on the Family where a well-respected Christian leader and counselor for college youth, shared the private and detailed description of his own mother’s alcoholism and subsequent moral failures. I cringed as he spoke and eventually had to turn off the radio because I knew what he was doing was eliciting sympathy for himself and was not demonstrating the command to honor father and mother.

I love reading the testimonies of God’s goodness and grace in the lives of others. I believe that being transparent and genuine is important. But I think we ought to be wary of becoming Christian voyeurs. Since I think it is a very real part of our human (sin) nature to do so, we must be aware of that temptation and must train ourselves to read with discernment and we must examine ourselves for our own motives.

We also must be careful of falling under the spell of Christian exhibitionists, either by listening to what they share or by becoming exhibitionists ourselves. We have to ask ourselves why some people feel a need to share so openly about very private issues. We also need to discern whether the things we are reading are true, whether they are told appropriately, and whether they are told in the proper context of the rest of a family’s life. We need to be certain to remember that our children’s lives are just that….theirs….and we need to be sensitive when we share about them in public or when we read what others share. We must put ourselves in the smaller shoes worn by our own children and when in doubt, ask them what we can or cannot tell. And, above all, remember that God is not dependent on others to teach us His truth. In His infinite wisdom, He will pour out to us His grace for this journey we call homeschooling.

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bonding and homeschooling

alexander thress


from The Joy of Relationship Homeschooling:

“But there is something else that happens to a mom when parents make the decision to send a child to a formal school: the organic, normal bonding that occurs between parents and their children, especially the mother-child connection, is suppressed, damaged, and sometimes is even dissolved. I am convinced that in order for a mom to cope with sending a child away from home for school, particularly one that is based on a worldview that is in sharp contrast to her own, her defense mechanisms kick in and self-preservation demands that a denial of bonding must occur. It is similar to what is experienced by women who plan to place their infants in daycare six weeks after birth and even, in many ways, comparable to a birthmother who knows she is placing her child for adoption. Anticipating the physical separation, an emotional and even spiritual separation must occur in order to overcome her grief. Then as a mom struggles to deal with her own pain at sending her children away, she naturally has to slip into the “Boy, am I glad they are out of the house” mode, a contemporary mantra that has been successfully propagated in one form of mom peer pressure.

One day I watched a young 30-something mom push a grocery cart stacked high with dozens of donuts and fruit trays. An obvious spectacle, she began to loudly explain to everyone that she was hosting a back-to-school reception where moms could gather to celebrate after dropping their elementary age children off in their classrooms on the first day of school. As she received a few cheers, I noticed the expressions on the faces of her little ones. They got the message loud and clear. “Normal” moms can’t wait to be rid of their children and are more than happy to have someone else take over for seven hours each day. But my guess is that this annual ritual in many local schools is really held to convince moms that they should be celebrating when, in their heart of hearts, they grieve.

And what about the children? Is it any wonder that feelings of worthlessness begin to grow during the early elementary years and children believe they are not valued, leaving the groundwork in place for strong bonds to be formed with others rather than mom and dad? It isn’t long before teachers and friends become the source of wisdom and truth for young people and parents have to work overtime just to have equal time on the playing field. The bonds between parents and children are compromised by stronger connections with peers who are immature and adults whose worldviews are questionable.”

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thoughts on the character training of children

sam gang


A number of years ago, my husband attended a symposium on the employment outlook in our area that was held at a local community college. One of the speakers was a representative of the school and as he addressed his remarks to the business community, his assessment of the future needs in industry and the young people who would be available to meet those needs caused everyone to sit up and listen closely.

At that time, the man said that within the next 10 years, there would be tens of thousands of new jobs created within the multi county area that his school served but that the majority of students coming through their college would not be qualified to fill those positions for one simple reason…they lacked the character required to do well in the workplace.

At the time, we had just started homeschooling and had recently been introduced to the concept of character training. It was an idea that resonated with us on a number of levels. We had grown up during a tumultuous time in history when young people were questioning everything they had been taught by their parents and grandparents. We were old enough to remember when divorce was rare, especially among Christians. We still remembered a time when, though someone might not profess to be a Christian, he still had a sense of right and wrong and, though it was Americanized, his worldview was based upon Christian principles. We had read through the writings of Francis Schaeffer and understood what it means to express your faith in very tangible ways.

But we looked around and saw that the culture we were a part of had changed and was changing. We knew that within 20 years we would have adult children who would be placed smack in the middle of a world that had little resemblance to what life was like in the days of our grandparents and we wanted them to be prepared.

We also realized that our own children were placed into our lives for a purpose and that God expected us to be the primary teachers and mentors of them. We also knew that a very real part of that process would involve evaluating not only their spiritual state as they professed Christ as Savior and Lord but to help them understand what it looks like in real life to be followers of Christ.

A while later, we began to read how various public officials had begun incorporating character training in their offices. Others arranged for character training to become a part of the government school system. Some homeschooling groups were even asked to come into the schools to offer a version of character training that had been reworked so as not to offer an overtly Christian spin on the material.

But, herein lies the problem that is at the root of what is called character training in general,  the confused idea that somehow righteousness can be taught to both children and adults apart from the saving and redemptive work of Christ on the cross and the presence of the Holy Spirit who enables believers to change their behavior. Godly character is the outward fruit of an inward work of grace in the lives of those who are called according to His purposes.

So what about the character development that is being done in homeschools and public schools, Sunday school classrooms, and board rooms across this country and even around the world?

Perhaps it will be helpful to define some terms at this point and to differentiate between secular good works and godly character. I want to use examples of two families in order to demonstrate what I mean. We will call them the White family and the Gray family..

The White family was composed of a mother and father, a son and a daughter and were the typical American family. They were very involved with their local school and the children were excellent students. In fact, teachers often commented to Mr. and Mrs. White that they wished they had an entire classroom full of children who were as courteous, kind, diligent, attentive, creative, tolerant, and humble as Johnny and Susie White.

As they children grew older, their outstanding behavior enabled them to receive scholarships, internships, and eventually jobs that allowed them to achieve even more of their personal goals. They each married and are now raising children who have nearly as much good character as their parents.

In the meantime, Mr. and Mrs. White continued to volunteer in the community and were known around town as salt of the earth folks. When Mr. White wasn’t helping a neighbor in the yard, he was driving elderly citizens to the grocery store. Mrs. White baked every Friday and when she wasn’t cooking in her own kitchen, she was preparing food in the local soup kitchen to share with those in need.

Now, it could be said and was said that the White family was a family that showed exemplary character and it was true. Their virtue surpassed that of many others they knew, but one thing was lacking. You see, the White family had no interest in spiritual things. Oh, they had family members and friends and even some neighbors who had been the recipients of their good deeds and who had often explained the Gospel message to them. They had received copies of the Four Spiritual Laws, which they kept in the desk drawer and they had been known to occasionally open the old family Bible when they were looking up an anniversary date or to read a yellowed obituary. They could even quote a few verses of the Bible and Mr. White never swore or raised his voice. But they had no saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and they had no interest whatsoever in spiritual truth. Their outstanding character, as much as it blessed their entire community and made them model citizens, will be worth absolutely nothing to them on the Last Day when they stand before the judgment seat of Christ. There is value in seeing unbelievers developing good character because of how it profits the rest of the culture, but virtue apart from a saving faith is fruitless in God’s eyes. Good character is not synonymous with righteousness. Unfortunately, the White family, while exhibiting good character, does not exhibit Godly character.

Now let’s look at the Gray family. They are a homeschooling family of four children and they are faithful followers of Jesus Christ. Central to their homeschooling program is the character training curriculum they have been using for several years. On the walls in their kitchen they have charts and graphs showing which traits each of the children have demonstrated during the current school year along with the star awards they each received at the end of each week of practicing one particular character quality. The Gray family is proud of their diligence in how they have faithfully taught character to their children. And if they are anything, the Gray family is diligent. In fact, another way they practice their diligence is by being regular church goers who cheerfully give and who always show up at Awana with their verses memorized and their vests freshly laundered. And besides their verses, they have memorized the whole chart of character qualities and are quick to use their definitions correctly in sentences, especially when pointing out how they put that same quality into practice so as to be sure to receive this week’s star.

Sadly, though obviously this story is exaggerated, the Gray family, as is true of too many parents, has fallen into the trap of thinking that godly character is something that can be achieved through studying a particular curriculum while in their own home and away from others who might have poor character. While, of course, I believe that both of these things will contribute to establishing a healthy environment for children in which godly character can flourish, there are two very important aspects of character training that must be at the center of this important part of schooling our children.

The first thing we must realize is that faith must come before character training. Of course we will begin teaching our young children proper behavior, but godly character itself, the inward motivation that results in right doing, comes about by the working of the Holy Spirit in the lives of our kids. As they come to Christ for salvation, they will be changed inwardly, resulting in the desire to love God and others and to obedience to the Word of God.

2 Peter 2 makes this point very clear:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

The Greek word for virtue in this passage is used only one other time in the New Testament and it means demonstrating excellence, something that is praise-worthy. Peter begins by telling his listeners that through the power of the Holy Spirit, a divine, super-natural power, believers will have ALL they need for life and godliness. He goes on to tell us that faith comes first and THEN is supplemented with virtue, that is, excellent behavior, praiseworthy endeavors and that doing so will keep us from being unproductive in the Kingdom of God.

But how do we learn genuine character? 2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells us that virtue, excellence, and praiseworthy behavior come from God through His word:   “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” Paul was telling the young pastor Timothy that in order to be prepared and equipped to do every good work, that is, to live a life of character and exemplary behavior, it is important that the Bible, the Word of God, be used to instruct believers in how to live righteous lives.

You see, there may be an infinite number of training tools that teach godly character, but apart from both the word of God and the inner dwelling of the Holy Spirit, the only result will be nice behavior.

I would encourage you, moms, to seek first to lead your precious children to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, remembering that faith itself is also a gift. It is not something that can be achieved by works but rather is given to God’s elect children by the power of the Holy Spirit. We ought not to see our children as little pagans and press them to say a rote prayer to confess their sins and become Christians. Instead, we should approach them as brothers and sisters in Christ, showing them our own need for a Savior, sharing intimately with them own journey of faith. We must point out to them the various times when we and they have called out to God and we must be sure to answer and accept their questions. Talk to them about sin and demonstrate how they are to approach God, humbly and contritely. Do not assume that they are not Christians but rather talk openly with them about their faith. Many of us cannot remember a day when we didn’t walk with the Lord and that is certainly our hope for our own children. As they mature they will be able to share a testimony of God’s grace in their lives and it is upon all these things that we are to seek to build their character.

Next time I will be discussing the 2nd most important aspect of character training in part two of this series and I look forward to sharing more thoughts on this important subject. As always, I look forward to your thoughts!

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the treasure of spiritual mothers


why experienced moms are so valuable to the homeschooling community

One year at our annual encouragement day for homeschooling moms, my friend, Sue, told a very personal story from her early days of teaching her three children. While her two daughters were model students, her son had given her a run for her money. Day after day ended in tears, usually her own, until she decided she was going to ship the boy off to the local Christian school. In what seemed like the depths of despair, she wrote a formal letter of resignation to her husband, which she read to us out loud that morning. All around the room, we laughed and we cried. Her story was so real to those of us who had at least one year of homeschooling under our belts and every mom in the room could relate to the idea of quitting motherhood.

That morning, as my friend transparently shared her own struggles, I realized the power of a been-there-done-that homeschooling woman. It has been confirmed to me repeatedly through the years as I have heard so many younger moms lament, “Where are the homeschooling moms who have already done this?”

In spite of the fact that “young and hip” is the progressive standard washing over the church, the high calling of older womanhood as taught in Scripture carries special weight for those of us who have the privilege of encouraging these women. We are admonished to live temperate lives ourselves as an example to them; we are charged with the task of teaching them to love their husbands and children, the very basis for homeschooling in the first place. Our prayer for this season is “And even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to all who are to come.” (Psalm 71:18)

Sadly, I have observed that many “retired” homeschoolers choose to leave this area of their lives on the shelf next to their old curriculum and move on to new interests without intentionally practicing encouragement to newer homeschoolers. I believe this is a great mistake and I would like to challenge you to consider how older moms can be a blessing to younger moms.

Experienced moms can lead by an example of spiritual faithfulness. In his letter to the Thessalonians where the apostle Paul lays out a pattern for spiritual mentoring, we are reminded that we are not to be man pleasers because it is God who examines our hearts. In order to do that, we have to be students of the Word, both hearers and doers. As we become more like Jesus, younger women will be attracted to what we share because it will be a reflection of Him in our lives!

Experienced moms can bring a perspective others don’t have as we share honestly from both our failures and successes. When we are open about our mistakes, it gives moms hope for tomorrow, that do-overs are still possible. When we relate our successes, it gives them hope for 20 years down the road when they, like us, are able to look back and see the fruit of their labors. They need to know that the eternal trumps the temporal, that faithfulness in the day of small things is what matters today. No one can share this truth better than someone with a history!

Experienced moms can paint a big picture while trusting younger moms to fill in the details. We need to resist the urge to tell them what to do, and, instead, help them sort through the thought process of making their own choices. A kind word of encouragement and expressing confidence in their abilities to do what is best for their own children is the greatest gift we can offer. Homeschooling itself has seen many changes since its popularity began in the 1980s. We need to recognize that the possibilities today are endless and the creativity within the homeschooling community grows to the benefit of all of us.

Experienced moms are able to sort through what is important and what is not, ignoring the “ought to” comments and boldly replacing them with “no, that isn’t for our family.” There are so many options for use of a family’s time and seasoned moms know that time for building relationships with our children must take precedence over anything else. Older moms can tell you how they picked and chose ways to spend their time, what was of benefit to their children and what was not, and how they kept all the balls in air at one time!

Experienced moms can run interference when necessary. From nosey church ladies to legislators who want to bring state control to home education to skeptical in-laws, seasoned homeschooling moms are often the first and best line of defense in tough situations. Homeschooling families have special pressures and responsibilities that are often not understood. Unreasonable expectations often lead to conflict, guilt, and isolation for homeschooling moms. Older moms can anticipate these issues and intervene, helping to build understanding and appreciation for one another.

Experienced moms need younger moms as friends, too! We need each other! They need to walk with us through our transitional years of watching our children move into young adulthood, cheering us on! They need to come alongside us to support us with their friendships, giving us any perspectives on our own children we might miss. They need to comfort us as we care for our elderly parents, inspiring them to build relationships in their own families and plan for the future. They need to exhort us in our commitment to long, healthy marriages and applaud us as we make them flourish. They need to hold us accountable in our quest to finish well! In knowing we have such potential for influence in their lives, we are inspired to walk worthy of our callings as older women!

Who are the experienced moms in your life who mentored you?

What lasting truth did they share?

How can you make a difference in the life of a newer homeschooling mom?

Be brave, build friendships with them. Your spiritual daughters will surely rise up and call you blessed!


This article was written by me and was originally published in Family Magazine, Issue 2, 2015

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a seasoned homeschooling mom’s resume


Time seems to have a way of passing very quickly without pausing for any man or woman.  I remember as though it were yesterday, starting first grade, buying two new pairs of shoes, black and white saddle oxfords and a pair of shiny black patent leather Mary Janes for Sundays.  I remember the trauma of riding the school bus and then the even worse trauma of being in junior high.

A few years ago, thinking it might be a good tool for searching for my birth mother, I set up an account at and have marveled at the pictures of people I used to know, the girl in my French class, the boy who took me to the Junior-Senior prom, Clay’s old army buddies, all now grandparents and some barely recognizable.

And then, I did something that doesn’t really seem to reflect the season of life that I am in….I joined Facebook.  The reaction from my children has been varied.  A couple of them had suggested that I might want to do so, even offering to set up the account for me. Others have acted like I was practically dressing in white go go boots and going off to a slumber party.  Truthfully, their reactions and comments were really hilarious and insightful at the same time.  Though being on Facebook didn’t automatically transport me back to junior high, it certainly has made me think a lot about how fast time has gone by and whether or not I am truly a grown up!

Last week I spent some time talking about the things we can do in the earlier years of parenting and homeschooling that will prepare us for the season of life when our children are grown or nearly grown.  I stressed the importance of being spiritually prepared for the changes that are certain to come and resting in the assurance that God’s perfect plan for us IS this change.  I also encouraged moms to become women of contentment, trusting that God’s plans for us are for good and not for evil.

Today I would like to explore some particular steps that homeschooling moms can take to be prepared for the time when our children are grown and the demands on our lives change.  If you have not yet done so, I would encourage you to read those thoughts before you continue.

As Christian women, we often look at the Proverbs 31 woman, as one of our favorite role models.  This icon of biblical womanhood described in detail to King Lemuel by his very wise mother, stands as  the perfect example to us of the woman who could do it all.  She not only brought home the bacon and fried it up in the pan, but she probably raised the pig in a field she bought, made footballs to sell from the pigskin, and could instruct everyone in her household how to do these things, too!

So I find it interesting that in verse 25 we are told that she is a woman of strength and dignity, a wife and mother of godly character who is prepared for the future.  Though we often think that this means she has a pantry full of good things to eat and warm clothing for her little ones when winter comes, I think it also means that the Proverbs 31 woman was ready to face the changing seasons in her life as they came her direction.  One reason I believe this is that no one woman could do all that this woman did all at once and in the same season.  I think that King Lemuel’s mom wanted him to choose a wife who would graciously and wisely move from one season of life to another, bringing him joy and blessings in all the stages that they were to go through together.  In fact, if we do not look at this passage of Scripture in the light of those changing seasons, we are doomed to failure and discouragement.

I think there are many practical ways that women need to be prepared as we face the future and the “fall and winter” seasons of our lives.

First of all, each of us need to determine our own spiritual gifts and do all we can to nurture and grow those gifts during the years we are homeschooling.  I know that this happens naturally within the homeschooling setting, often without our even realizing that that is what we are doing.  For example, those who naturally have the gift of teaching have the propensity for research and are often gifted at communication, becoming excited at every opportunity to use those gifts, whether they are in the home or in a church setting.  Those who have the gift of administration or organization, besides being able to organize and mobilize an entire family, are often asked to lead co-ops or even Christian education programs in their churches.  Other moms who have the gift of mercy usually express and exercise it by leading their children in acts of kindness and mercy toward those outside their homes.  As each of us continue to grow in grace, we will do these things organically, usually without even thinking twice about it. And because we are also discipling our children, they will also, by example in word and in deed,  learn to do these things as well, developing their own spiritual gifts that they have been given.

Sometimes we can have a difficult time identifying our spiritual gifts but I can offer two ways that have been helpful to me.  The first is by seeing how I might overuse or misuse my gifts.  Let me give you an example.  It will probably not come as any surprise to you that I believe God has given me the gift of encouragement.  More than anything else I might do, there is nothing that excites me more than when I see an opportunity to come alongside someone else and encourage them.  It doesn’t matter if it is the hugely pregnant clerk at the grocery store whose face lit up when I told her how she looked more beautiful each time I was in the store, to my neighbor down the street who beamed when I stopped to tell him that the flowers he planted along the fence in his yard made my day special every time I drove past them.  Everyone needs to be encouraged and doing so thrills me like nothing else can do.

But, I have had to learn that sometimes, in my exuberance for encouraging someone else, I can either be perceived as pressuring them or I can let discernment go out the window, often finding myself reflecting on the stupid statement I just made!

Another way I have found that helps us identify those gifts is that others will frequently comment positively when we are exercising them.   An example of this is when we see some mom who repeatedly seeks to serve others, moving in and out of a fellowship dinner, filling coffee cups, cleaning up after the kids, or remembering which dad likes which kind of pie, making sure there is enough for everyone to have his favorite.  If others comment to you about some ability that you have that reflects one of the spiritual gifts we read about in 1 Corinthians, perhaps this is the Holy Spirit prompting you to build up and exercise that gift for God’s glory.

Besides spiritual gifts, each of us has particular natural abilities as well as things that we have learned to do over the years.  Homeschooling has given us many opportunities to learn new skills and to pursue areas of study that we might not have explored on our own.  It has also allowed us many experiences and relationships that otherwise we might not have had.  As we learn alongside our children, which is what we all do, there are things that intrigue us and cause us to dream about doing ourselves and I believe that is what the Lord intends for us, as we pass through each stage of life.

As we grow older and as our children grow up and leave home, we will have more opportunities to use our spiritual gifts and to pursue our natural or acquired abilities, especially to be used for the good of the body and to witness to others.  Doing what we can to develop them through the various seasons will help us be prepared when the time comes that they will be used in a broader context.  Each stage of life with children gives us different opportunities for growing those gifts, too.  One example of this might be the fact that when our children are little, we must take into consideration what they are able to do at each stage of development and we learn to not expect more from them than they are physically, mentally, or emotionally able to do, all the while challenging them to be the best they can be at that time of growth. The same skills we acquire for approaching our children in this manner are necessary in how we relate to our elderly parents as they age and are unable to participate in life in the same way they once did.

As homeschoolers, we also learn how to teach individual children in ways that are unique to each of them and we learn to communicate to them according to their understanding and needs.  This skill is invaluable for those who seek to counsel or offer encouragement to others who are going through difficult times in their lives and is one we can never underestimate we have honed as we have taught a variety of children through many age levels, personality quirks, and temperaments.

Homeschooling moms have also learned some amazing practical hands-on skills that can be used in interesting ways.  Most of us have learned to cook meals to feed many people on budgets that usually needed to be stretched many ways.  In fact, I will bet that most homeschooling moms could each write their own cookbooks and have sage advice for any aspiring young homemaker.  There are many volunteer organizations who could use these skills and your abilities could be turned into a home catering business or even a job as a chef if you have loved this aspect of life during your mom-with-kids-at-home years.

The point I am trying to make is that we should each be aware of the gifts, both natural and spiritual, that the Lord has given to us through homeschooling that we enjoy using and that could be used in a variety of ways once we have more time available.  Some of us will choose to find employment outside of our homes.  Others will volunteer through our churches or other organizations.  Some of us will participate in helping other homeschooling moms with teaching, perhaps even enjoying the blessing of teaching grandchildren.  Others of us will find just the right niche that will bring us that joy and sense of usefulness within the body of Christ during the last half of our lives, our post homeschooling mom years.  We just need to keep our eyes open and be prepared for what the Lord brings our direction.

We also need to see this coming change in our seasons of life as the time when we can enjoy being a couple with our spouses.  Some of us never really had that experience, having a line-up of little ones early in marriage.  Once the children are gone, sitting across a quiet dinner table and looking at that handsome man with silver hair might be startling and even uncomfortable if we haven’t spent those years of homeschooling investing in our husbands, building the oneness that has to take place in a marriage.  Sadly, I hear stories all the time of couples who decided that they didn’t have anything at all in common with each other once the homeschooling days were over.  They were going their separate ways and pursuing separate interests, some of it beginning during their days at home with their children.  Rather than their own interests making each of them more interesting partners, their individual activities caused division and sometimes led to separation and divorce.

I would encourage all husbands and wives to not only grow spiritually as individuals but to do so as couples, to spend as much time together as possible, to encourage each other to become the best each of them can be but to also become the best that they can as a couple.

I have shared before that in the early years as homeschoolers, my husband, Clay, set aside a weekly date night for just the two of us, though we often took along a nursing baby.  Before we began homeschooling, this time didn’t seem quite as necessary as it did once so much of our daily energy was given to time with the children, collectively and individually, and when there was so much to do just to keep our heads above the laundry pile and kitchen chores.

We still try to have a regular date night but we also spend time talking alone every day.  We typically like to start our days with coffee and breakfast together and sometimes our conversation continues by telephone while Clay drives to work.  We have common interests but also separate ones that complement each other and have helped us to appreciate our differences as well as our similarities. Continuing to share common goals beyond the goal of homeschooling also has encouraged us to work together toward those goals and to transition from a large family to one that is growing smaller all the time.

While the harvest season is when we enjoy the fruit of our labors, it is also the time to consider the coming winter months, the time when we will face changes in our lives that bring us considerable grief and perhaps major upheaval in lifestyle.  Our parents will most likely die before we do, which causes each of us to consider our own mortality, especially as we lose the last family members in the generation just before ours.  Perhaps you are the oldest of younger siblings and find yourself in the position of being the ones others in your extended family turn to for comfort or leadership.

This is also the season when you become the older man and older woman in your church, the peer group from which church leaders ought to be chosen.  You notice that your friends are wiser than they used to be, too,  confirming that Job was correct, wisdom is found among the aged and long life brings understanding. You also don’t fret about the same things that used to bother you, you are more settled and content with who you are.  You are more confident.  You also realize that heaven is closer every day and you can rejoice that you know the Lord Jesus as He becomes more precious to you, even though you experience the natural consequences of living in a slowly deteriorating earthly body.

It is also a season when, perhaps for the first time in your life you may live alone.  Statistics show that about 800,000 women become widows every year and that on average, a woman will live for 14 years after the death of her husband.   You once again become dependent on others, sometimes in the same way that you were when you were a child and you can even find that there is a reversal of roles, where your children now become like your parents.

I believe that if we are to accept these changes in our lives, we need to trust in the sovereignty of God who has given to us each and every day as a gift to us to use for His glory alone.  It is normal and expected to grieve the passing of the seasons.  It is healthy to anticipate the next season of life, too.  But our usefulness to the Lord will be measured in how well we embrace the changes God gives to us, relishing each joy that comes in each season, trusting the He will continue to work in us to will and to do all things for his good pleasure, having every confidence that we can hold on to this promise from Psalm 92:

The righteous will flourish like a palm tree,
they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;

planted in the house of the LORD,
they will flourish in the courts of our God.

They will still bear fruit in old age,
they will stay fresh and green,

proclaiming, “The LORD is upright;
he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.”

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welcoming the changing seasons of motherhood

more grands


I love fall and wish that it could last longer. Here in Illinois, it begins in late August when the cornstalks turn a warm wheat color and the soybeans are a beautiful green-gold. The scene is transformed daily as, one by one, fence rows of maple and pin oak trees turn from green to glorious yellows, crimsons, and molasses-browns, changing their clothes as quickly as an actress in a summer stock production. The sky becomes more azure as the days go by and soon sumac joins the parade of color, turning a deep magenta-red, becoming the backdrop for wild black-eyed Lazy Susans and tall, gangly golden rod.

September comes and the days are often cool and rainy. The farmers have to work strategically now, harvesting only when the plants are dry. On those days, there is a cloud of corn and bean powder that drifts across the fields and smells amazingly like fresh-baked bread.

October is right behind with the first frost that means hooded sweatshirts, wiener roasts and hayrides, and the unmistakable rosy pink of the Indian prairie grasses. Pumpkins and mums take their front-row seats at the supermarkets before they come home to rest in the yard among the leaves that start to fall more frequently now.

The colors are even more glorious and distracting through my window. The whole house takes on a warm glow as the trees put on their golden dresses and wave at me to look at them from inside….”See me, see me!” they seem to say, “I will soon be changing my clothes again, and I know this is your favorite dress.” I pull out the pumpkin cake recipe, enticing my children with the smell of cinnamon and nutmeg. The crock-pot takes up permanent residency on the kitchen counter with vegetable beef soup or chili a near-daily tummy warmer for those who must go outdoors.

At last, November blows in and gray and brown are the palette of choice.   I have to blink to be sure I didn’t really see Indians and Pilgrims breaking bread together across the field and along the fence line. Birds come to my feeder, anticipating another sort of feast, often just dropping by for a quick bite before they continue on south to warmer climes. Squirrels grocery shop in my yard, disappearing into the front doors of their homes in my neighbors’ old oak trees.

Yes it is fall, the season of harvest, of enjoying the fruits of our labors, of pulling our favorite corduroy jeans and wool sweaters from storage, sliding our sandals under the bed and donning socks and boots and cozy knit scarves. We long for comfort foods and comfort clothes, sensing that winter won’t be far behind and the days of spring and summer will be only a distant memory as the winds blow.

I have long thought of my time as a homeschooling mom as really days on a calendar, each season bringing with it something fresh and exciting, new challenges and events that will shape both the lives of my children and of me.

I remember the thrill of choosing a phonics program when my younger three children were still small, of looking through catalogs and listening to friends described the various ways they taught their children to read. And I remember excitedly planning unit study projects, loving everything from the paste and glue to the frogs in tiny portable aquariums. That was in the spring of homeschooling, when everything was a new beginning, when I was young and more eager, full of ideas and surrounded by babies and toddlers, just beginning to till the soil and place tender seedlings into the ground. Gently we tended them, fertilizing with love and staking them to what was good and true and right. Strong winds of discouragement and exhaustion threatened to beat all of us down but God, in His mercy, kept us.

Time went by so quickly and had I blinked I might have missed those long days of summer, the season of enriching the soil of their hearts and minds with good things, taking their yearnings and dreams and helping them prepare to see their own fruit. This was the season of toil, of pulling out weeds that encroached on the now sturdy plants, of watching the soil every day for bugs or insects that might destroy, of drawing up a plan for harvest.

And then one day, noticing the blossoms were now gone, amazingly, fruit appeared and it was fall. Our job was to continue to nurture that tiny fruit, watching it grow, trusting it to become mature in God’s perfect timing and by the full measure of His grace. It was now fall and harvest was approaching.

I love to call this fall season of homeschooling, of mothering, the sweater years. It is when we can enjoy our children who have grown into adulthood, experiencing some of the harvest after spending years in the growing seasons that brought us to this point.

But, one of my greatest concerns about moms who have reached the sweater years is that they will not be prepared for the changes that are coming, that they will not be willing to not only accept but to embrace what the Lord has for them in the next season of their lives. In essence, I wonder how many of us have put on that comfortable sweater and are ready for the cold days that are certain to come. How many of us actually look forward to this season and excitedly anticipate even the winter that will be certain to follow?

We know that changing seasons are of the Lord, they are part of His perfect design for His whole creation. In the second chapter of Daniel we are told: “Praise be to the name of God forever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.” This passage reminds us that we serve a God who is sovereign, who rules over all things, including the changing years of our lives.

As women, we are hit right between the eyes with this bittersweet time of life as we experience both our children leaving home and our physical bodies changing, most of us aware that our days of pregnancy and babies are behind us. We should not be surprised when the fall season comes. All of our lives have been spent working toward this time. In fact, the whole world around us is moving in the same direction.  Jeremiah 8 says “Even the stork in the sky knows her appointed seasons, and the dove, the swift and the thrush observe the time of their migration.” Should we, too, not look upon growing older and seeing major changes in our lives as a natural part of life?

I love so much that familiar passage in Ecclesiastes 3 that says “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven, a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build.” It assures us that God gives us just the time that we need to accomplish all that he has for us in each in every season of life. We never need to fret that our childbearing days are gone or that we somehow missed something that he might have intended for us in another season. We don’t have to fear that we might “die before our time” as some foolishly say. We can have every confidence that God has every stage of our lives under control. We can rejoice with the psalmist that “I trust in you, O Lord, You are my god. My times are in your hands.”   We can claim God’s promises that He, the Lord never changes. We can rejoice in the assurance that, as he promised to the prophet Isaiah, “even to your old age and gray hairs, I am He. I am He who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you, I will sustain you and I will rescue you.”

But I have to ask these questions:

What are you doing now to prepare for those days?

Are you investing in the lives of your children in such ways that the harvest season of life, the sweater years, will be ones that brings joy and delight to you or investing in ways that will bring regret and sorrow?

Do you have goals you are working on to bring you confidently into the changes that are inevitable or are you putting off thinking about what might be in the future for you?

How are you preparing spiritually for the coming changes in your life?

Are you dwelling on things on earth or on things in heaven?

Are you pondering the ways God might be able to use you in future ministry, to be a blessing, encouragement, and even a source of hope and joy to others? Or are you spending your time fretting about the temporal issues of life, those things that are truly beyond your control?   It is so easy to be caught up in today because we live in the here and now. Most of us have been living on one income and as such have no retirement plan that comes along with a salaried job. We have invested our time and money into raising and educating children and are a virtual of fountain of information without a sticker price. We know things like the fact that hanging cloth diapers in the sun will bleach out the stains and remove diaper odor and but how does that translate on a resume?

Instead of trying to evaluate our lives based on what the world sees as important or worthy, we must learn to see all the wonderful things that God has taught us about Himself and the blessings and privileges he has given to us, opportunities that have equipped us for the task He gave us in raising children, wisdom and knowledge that we can pass along to others who are still on that same path.

As older moms, Titus 2 tells us that we have an important role in the lives of younger moms, teaching them both in word and by our very own lives, to love their husbands and children. As we become more and more like Jesus ourselves through the years, we will gain both the ability and the credibility to teach what is good. As younger moms, we are to seek out older women for this sort of encouragement, not just the ones who are in the same season of life and who struggle in the same ways that we do. God’s plan is that those who have gone through the seasons of life must be willing to share their joys and sorrows as they have reaped them, with those who are still planting.

As we spent time raising our children, I think one of the things that is often seen as optional is spending time in the Word and really studying what the Scripture has to say to us. Many families see the spiritual nourishment of mom as something that can be placed in a holding pattern, waiting for another season of life. I can remember spending many hours in a nursing mom’s room back in the bowels of the church thinking “one day, I will be able to hear an entire sermon.” I also remember seeing many other moms in the same situation and after 4 or 5 little ones in a row who needed to nurse and burp and walk, before they knew it, years had gone by and their spirits felt dry and their souls cried to be fed. And life and home was full of even more responsibilities that they allowed to keep them from having a quiet time with the Lord.

Moms, the sweater years of your life will be so much more rewarding and full of contentment if you prepare for them by seeking to grow in God’s grace through reading his word, actively participating in worship, feasting on solid Bible teaching that will inspire you to be like Jesus. Do whatever it takes to spend time with the Lord, to hear good Bible preaching, to fellowship with older moms who have experienced many seasons of life. It is an investment you will never regret.

And, are you learning to be content now so you will be prepared for whatever changes come to you, understanding on a deep level what it means to live each day to the fullest and not to worry about tomorrow? The Apostle Paul admonished his hearers that true gain, true riches are godliness with contentment and that ought to be central to any retirement plan we make. Our only true spiritual goal is to know Jesus and to be like him, looking forward to spending eternity in heaven with him. And along with that, we are to seek to take as many people long with us as possible. If we are preparing for heaven and are witnessing to and discipling others, we are on the right path that will take us into our sweater years with grace and confidence.

Genuine contentment means that we will not only accept the changing seasons of life as homeschooling moms but we will recognize how, through homeschooling, God has been preparing us for the next season!

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