socialization outside the box

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My boys, now grown, enjoy model rocketry with my grandchildren!

 

It all began during a conversation over dinner one night.

“And so,” concluded Clay, “That is how I started building model rockets when I was a kid.”

“What are model rockets?” both brothers asked at the same time, leaning in with great anticipation.

Clay, in his best Professor of Aerospace Dynamics voice, explained the process, the science behind it, and the amazing results, finding himself promising a trip to the hobby store for supplies the next weekend.

In the weeks that followed, all three of them labored for hours assembling, gluing, painting, and balancing their miniature rockets. The first launch came and went; rocketry enthusiasts had been born.

As with all children who have discovered their newest passions in life, the boys were excited to talk about it. Hurrying into Awana one Wednesday night, they described model rocketry, with much detail, to the elderly couple that led their Pioneers group. Later that night when I picked them up, they declared, “Mr. and Mrs. Tuckey were so interested in our rockets that they want us to be model rocketry teachers at the special needs school!”

I was skeptical at first, but after speaking with Mrs. Tuckey and hearing about the school’s need for volunteers to teach hands-on skills, I helped the boys plan out a schedule for working on a project with her students with the goal of Clay overseeing a launch in a few weeks.

Each Thursday, we arrived at the school building and while I attended to the baby, the boys and our daughter worked around the room with individual students, patiently answering questions and helping those who struggled with fine motor skills. Every Sunday I heard a report from the Tuckeys and as they enthusiastically talked about our project, many of their elderly friends from the church were also intrigued. My sons soon started answering their questions, too, and one WWII veteran, who had been an airplane mechanic, said he wanted to come to the launch.

Apparently he wasn’t the only one.

On the afternoon of the launch day, as we pulled into the remote park area, perfect for sending and retrieving rockets, I was dumbfounded to see not only the school bus full of the students, parents, teachers, and the school principal, but the Tuckeys sitting in their green and white stripped lawn chairs, surrounded by another 50 or so elderly people and one of the pastors and his wife from the church.

We walked through the crowd, greeting all we could, as Clay prepared the launch pad and the boys began instructing the students on the safety procedures. “Ooohs” and “aaahhhs” were offered after each lift off, followed by applause as the students warmly received each accolade when it came their way. The school principal and the Tuckeys publicly thanked the “teachers” from Homeview Academy who volunteered their time for the students!

As I remember that sunny fall afternoon in the park, I think fondly of each of those people who contributed to our beginning years of homeschooling. Nearly all of those older church folk have gone on to be with the Lord. The principal has long retired. Occasionally I see some of those students around town and, of course, my children have grown up and are building model rockets with their own homeschoolers. The value of what we learned in that process still inspires me:

Great passions often occur when we share them with our children. Our boys loved science because Clay did!

Sharing our interests as homeschooling families can be contagious. Others see our joy of learning and find their own passions!

Offering service to others will be multiplied and bring many further opportunities for ministry. Our willingness to embrace an unexpected invitation opened other doors to be a blessing, especially within our church family.

Stepping beyond your comfort zone, whether it is in outreach to your local school, elderly people, or those with special needs who appreciate your friendship can bring great joy and a sense of life purpose. This one experience opened our hearts and minds to new ideas and new people, which I still see in practice in the adult lives of my children.

Homeschooling families need to experience life outside the four walls of the home with a variety of ages, not just peers. Let me encourage you to look for ways to integrate academics, friendship, and service as part of your homeschooling lifestyle. What a great way to bring true meaning to “socialization!”

 

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(This article was originally published in Family Magazine, 2014.)

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the God who keeps His promises

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The intense July sun beat down relentlessly as we huddled under a faded green cemetery tent. Surrounded by simple grave markers, each one bearing the name of a little child, we sat in silence, wondering who they represented, how their lives had ended, if their moms and dads had been able to go on.

Since my children were small, I had daydreamed about the important and anticipated milestones in their lives: birthday parties, graduations, weddings, the births of their own children. I used to hold their tiny hands while nursing, imagining wedding bands on those sweet baby fingers! And I pictured myself during those events, too. I was the young mom decorating the Star Wars cake, the proud mama standing next to a smiling young man in cap and gown, the mother-of-the-groom, clutching a lace-trimmed hankie. But not once, in any dream, was I the grieving grandmother. That morning, I felt overwhelmed and unprepared. There had been no dress rehearsal for this moment.

The past few days had been painful. Instead of learning the gender of their new baby during an ultrasound, my son and daughter-in-law were given the heartbreaking news that their much-loved baby had died. Labor was induced and a perfect but tiny child was delivered into the arms of his grieving parents. I boarded the next plane and three hours later was greeted by both details of funeral arrangements and excited little grandchildren who were happy to see me. We talked, we cried, we tenderly held the tiny hospital treasures that had been tucked away in a special box.

So my mind raced as I sat under that tent. If I was not prepared for this time, how had I equipped my son? In all our years of homeschooling, there was no curriculum package that covered how to properly lose a child, how to comfort a grieving young mother, or how to explain the realities of life and death to little ones. Honestly, my perfect writing program and my award-winning math textbooks, once so seemingly important, didn’t even come to mind.

Slowly, a long white hearse wound its way through the field and stopped at the end of a narrow walk. My son carefully lifted the baby-sized white casket and brought it to those of us who waited. I could barely look at this dear young man; his heart was broken, his life would never be the same. I looked down to see, inscribed on the side of the miniature coffin, the words from Job 1: “The Lord has given and the Lord has taken away: blessed be the name of the Lord.”

It was then that the Lord gave me the precious gift of a memory from long ago. I pictured my wiggly and exuberant children gathered around a paste-and-crayon-covered table. They were memorizing Scripture from their Awana workbooks, serious but silly, engaged but daydreaming. I wondered how anyone could learn Bible verses, let alone understand them in the midst of such chaos. On the floor next to us was a giggling toddler and my own pregnant belly allowed me to barely reach the table. Loving and honoring both a sovereign God and His unchangeable Word was the greatest priority in our home. Loving one another, born and unborn, were simply part of who we were, day in and day out. These were the organic threads that held the tapestry of our lives together.

In those early years of homeschooling, I claimed a promise from Scripture. I didn’t pray for my children to achieve success as the world knows it. Rather, I prayed the truth found in Isaiah 55:10-11: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return there without watering the earth and making it bear and sprout, and furnishing seed to the sower and bread to the eater; So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.” ~ Isaiah 55:10-11 (NASB)

In that moment, sitting in a dusty field and overwhelmed by grief, God showed me that He had, indeed, answered that prayer!

(This article originally appeared in Family Magazine, 2016, Issue 1)

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the “yes” face

My cousin Mary Edith, my grandma, me, and my horse, Blackie, when I was in my Zorro phase.

Looking out on a lawn full of freshly fallen snow this morning, I am remembering how much I loved snow days as a child. They often meant that I could pack a bag and spend the day with my grandma, enjoying her undivided attention, not to mention the bottomless cookie jar.

My grandma owned a “yes” face. From the moment I walked in the door to the time I had to leave, she was a positive person who looked for ways to tell me “yes” about life. Never one to stifle creative thought, I can’t remember a time when she wasn’t encouraging or positive about my ideas or my projects.

One afternoon, while I was going through my hairdresser phase and dreaming up all sorts of new ways to arrange hair, she agreed to be my live model. She pulled out all her supplies: combs, rollers, clips, and a wonderful treasure trove of hair accessories. While she sat patiently in a chair at her dining room table, I curled and teased and bouffantted to my heart’s content.

As I stood back to admire my creation, sort of a salt and pepper colored version of Marge Simpson’s upsweep adorned with small felt bows, a literal tower of hairsprayed loveliness, the doorbell rang. Not hesitating for a moment, my grandma said “Excuse me, honey girl,” her special term of endearment for me, and opened the door to Mr. Simmons, the chairman of the church deacon board. Then I heard her ask, “Won’t you come in and join us for tea?” A bit taken aback by the sight of this woman in front of him, Mr. Simmons uttered a “Thank you, don’t mind if I do.”

My grandma took me by the hand into the kitchen to arrange three tea cups and saucers and a plate of cookies on a tray. No one mentioned her hair, though poor Mr. Simmons had a difficult time diverting his eyes. We had a lovely visit with enjoyable conversation and my grandma sported her new do and her “yes” face for the rest of the day, smiling and telling me that she just knew I would be the best hair stylist ever when I grew up.

Sadly, my growing up years were full of many people who wore “no” faces. There was the older lady who glared at children from the choir loft, her voice conveying disapproval even when she sang about the glories of heaven. There were the two third grade teachers who made Matilda’s Miss Trunchbowl look like Miss Congeniality contestants as they stomped around in scary black shoes and thumped disruptive boys on the head with their knuckles. There was the Sunday school teacher who refused to let any of us do our own crafts for fear we would make a mess in “the Lord’s house” so we were forced to sit perfectly still as she cut, pasted, and glitter-sprinkled, ever so carefully, while we longingly watched. There was the woman who worked in my dad’s hardware store who scrutinized every customer who came in the doors, pronouncing only a rare soul as “neat and clean,” and always examining my clothes for wrinkles or spots. There was the junior high principal who brought his “board of education” into the classroom upon occasion, slamming the 3 inch thick paddle on the desk of some innocent bystander and warning us we all deserved to meet with that board personally. I would be certain that all of these poor souls wore the “no” face as they entered their eternal rest, their pursed lips and scowls frozen forever in time.

I have several trophies in my Hall of Shame and one of them is engraved with “The “No” Face Award ~ She Said No Once Too Often and Didn’t Even Have to Open Her Mouth.” If I could climb into a time machine and wend my way back to 1975, the beginning of my mothering gig, I would try my best to not win that prize. I would say “yes” far more often, hand out supplies to make lots of messes, put away school books and pull out the roller skates. I would serve more cookies and even allow someone to make me look like Marge Simpson. I would enter the race for the “yes” face gold and I would win.

(This article was a originally posted in January, 2011.)

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becoming a true friend

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“Why did you do all this for me?” he asked. “I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.”

“You have been my friend,” replied Charlotte. “That in itself is a tremendous thing.” ~ Charlotte’s Web

 

I have always loved this sweet exchange between Wilbur the pig, and Charlotte, the ingenious spider who saved his life. E.B. White’s insight was profound: true friendship is a treasure.

Often we consider what attributes we are seeking in a relationship and purpose to find someone who will meet our needs and match our requirements for friendship. But what is most important is to become a friend who is worthy of someone else’s affection. Obtaining the qualities that will shape us into true friends should be our goal.

True friendship reveals itself in times of crisis. We once had a terrible house fire that put us out of our home for seven months. During that time we were amazed at the people who came alongside us and offered to help us in so many ways. It inspired and humbled me, challenging me to be more aware of the true needs of others; it allowed me the privilege of knowing what true friendship looks like.

True friendship expresses itself through kindness. Each of us has rough edges that need to be polished off as we grow in grace. Genuine friends will welcome those foibles, seeking to confront and encourage each other to change while always doing so in a kind way. Cinderella’s admonition to “have courage and be kind” is never more apply applied than between friends!

True friendship always seeks the best for another and never allows jealousy to rule the day. So often we are tempted to not only want what someone else has but we also do not want them to have it. Beauty, success, and talent can become snares that will keep us from enjoying the other good gifts God gives to us. Scripture warns us that Wrath is fierce and anger is a flood, but who can stand before jealousy?” (Proverbs 27:4)

True friendship will bring us together with another person on a number of levels but for a Christian, the deepest experiences will be with those who share a spiritual connection to us. While we can enjoy relationships with all sorts of people, those things that matter most in life can only be truly shared with another person who is also committed to Jesus.

True friendship is a gift orchestrated by God. While we can work toward the goal of becoming women of character who can be wise and dear friends to others, we must remember that God, in His sovereign plan for our lives, is the one who places true friendship in our path. C. S. Lewis said it so well: “In friendship …we think we have chosen our peers. In reality a few years’ difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another…the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting–any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking, no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” can truly say to every group of Christian friends, “Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.” The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.” ~ The Four Loves by C.S Lewis

(Originally published in Dear Magazine, 2015)

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