Once a Homeschooler, Always a Homeschooler

“An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge.” Proverbs 18:15

There are a few subjects that spark passion in me, often resulting in talking excessively and saying my signature phrase, “I am so excited about (insert subject)”.  These subjects include God, books, history, and homeschooling.  I was recently introducing myself to our new pastors and realized I was still defining myself as a Home Educator, although I relinquished that role four years ago.  My daughter chimed in saying, “Once a homeschooler always a homeschooler”.  I realized at that moment how passionate I still am about homeschooling and how it has defined my life.  I thought I would share with you some lessons I have learned from homeschooling that have shaped me as a person.

First, be careful about labeling something weird and strange because you never know how God may challenge your perspective.  I had never heard of homeschooling until I met a wonderful family in Aurora, Illinois who had made that the educational choice for their children.  Although their children were polite, social, and intelligent, I still told a friend, “I will never homeschool.”  Typically, like all naysayers, I was concerned about the quality of their education and socialization, even though the evidence right in front of me contradicted the stereotypes.  Yet, God was already doing a work on my life, changing my priorities and life ambitions.  Over the course of time, He also changed my mind about homeschooling.  Eight years later, my husband and I made the decision to home educate our son and daughter.  My “never” became one of the best things I ever changed my mind about!

Second, home educating is less about imparting your knowledge to your children.  Instead, it is the rediscovering of the joy of learning.  I geeked out about subjects I had never shown any interest in before, including the unique traits of a platypus, learning how Native Americans hunted buffalo and the history of architecture.  I discovered the basics of drawing, uncovering a small artistic ability that had lain dormant.  I shared my passion for history and literature with my children, reading new favorites. This joy of learning continues even now, making my life richer every day.

Third, children’s books are the best!  They gently impart truths about life that can impact you even as an adult.  Charlotte’s Web gives you hope as an underdog and teaches you the value of friendship.  Olivia teaches you to be confident in everything you do, even how you accessorize your outfit.  My Side of the Mountain shows you the importance of solitude and learning to live off the land.  The Little House demonstrates that value of contentment.  Miss Rhumpius reminds you to make the world a little more beautiful by giving something back to it.  Even though my children are grown, I still look for opportunities to read children’s books to little ones.

Fourth, I also have learned about the different philosophies on how to educate children.  One of my heroes in the home education community is Charlotte Mason.  Miss Mason was not a home educator herself, but an English educator and reformer in England at the turn of the twentieth century.  She treated children as whole people and believed in creating an environment that promoted learning by surrounding children with materials to explore.  She also believed in the importance of cultivating good habits.  She emphasized that science and history should not be just a list of facts and dates, but that the knowledge should be acquired by reading whole books, including biographies about famous scientists and leaders.  Rather than dry textbooks, these should be “living books” that inspire children through the gift of story.  She was the impetus behind my five-year project of learning about American history by reading a great biography of each president.  She also believed that children should explore nature around them through observation and interaction.  As I taught my children to observe nature, I too, slowed down and found delight in the intricate designs of moss, melodious bird calls, and the painted sky during sunsets.

Fifth, I have also learned you do not always need to defend yourself but let the fruits of your life speak on your behalf.  Rarely is homeschooling a neutral subject in people’s lives.  Instead, it often evokes opinions on both sides of the fence.  Often, people would share with me the horror stories about their relatives who home educated, pointing out how deficient their kids were in spelling or how much they lacked social skills.  In the beginning, I would defend my choice and point out the statistics that proved that homeschoolers were successful both academically and socially.  As the years went by, I realized that I did not need to educate everyone on the virtues of homeschooling.  Instead, I listened to their critiques and concerns, and made the conscious decision not to try and change their minds.

This brings me to the final lesson I learned through homeschooling.  Even though homeschooling produced good fruits in my children’s lives, it did not lead to salvation for my children.  Jesus was the only way of salvation for my children, through a regular relationship that restores and refines them.   Homeschooling is a tool that Terry and I used to help bring about relationship, but it’s only a tool.  At one point, I made it an idol in my life.  I tried to appear humble when others talked about my children, but in my heart, I was prideful about all the time and energy I had put into our education.  God has a way of pointing out the idols in your heart and humbling you to the point that you realize any good in your life is due to Jesus.  I am so thankful the idol of home education was removed.

I am still passionate about home education.  I love to share my journey with people and point them to resources to get them started on their own journey.  I am thankful that both my children intend to home educate their children, and hopefully they will invite Mimi to attend the conferences with them.  I also realize that this is personal decision that every family needs to make for themselves.  But for me, I am so thankful that God used home education as not only a tool in my children’s lives, but also a tool to refine me and bring me into a deeper relationship with Him. So my daughter was right, “Once a homeschooler, always a homeschooler.”

Supporting Front Line Workers

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2

Maggie had an incredible imagination as a child.  She created “Mr. Bear” stories that amused her brother at bedtime.  When she was learning to read, she added adjectives to add color to the simple stories.  Pretending to be a spy, she kept a notebook full of observations of potential criminal activity in our neighborhood, including a sketch of a “suspicious” neighbor.  Her favorite pretend activity always involved serving others, whether it was taking an order on her waitress pad, or pretending to be a children’s librarian, reading a story to all her stuffed animals.  This desire has carried on into her young adulthood, serving whenever there was a need.  With her servant’s heart, we were not surprised when she chose a career in nursing.

After three and a half years of classes, case studies, clinicals, and validations, Maggie has completed nursing school and has been hired as an RN at the local hospital.  Her endless days of studying, viewing Nurse Blake videos, and taking practice NCLEX-style questions are over.  She is now doing what she felt called to do: assess patients and provide care and comfort for them during a medical crisis.  Yet, if you had asked her at the beginning of nursing school what the first day of her career would look like, she would have never anticipated working in the middle of a raging pandemic!

I have a lot of friends who are nurses or who work in some sort of health care capacity.  Although I have heard a few of their stories, I had no idea of the challenges they faced during the pandemic until my daughter returned home after her first shift.  These front-line workers are going beyond the call of duty to take care of patients.  Daily, they are putting themselves and their families at risk, especially if they work on a floor with COVID-19 patients.  In addition, the amount of PPE (personal protective equipment) they must wear adds to the challenges of their job, making it uncomfortable and hot.  Even the simple act of staying hydrated is challenging, when the only safe place for their drinks is in the break room.

Beyond their physical challenges, healthcare workers have had to change they way they do care.  They must assess the urgency of the needs of their patients and prioritize their responses to preserve the limited amount of personal protective equipment.  They also must speak louder through the various masks which, by the very notion of raising your voice, may overshadow the sense of compassion they are trying to convey to their patients.  Due to visitor restrictions, they are having to soothe angry and confused family members over the phone instead of in person.   Finally, they watch patients die surrounded by only two of their loved ones.

I know a lot of this weighs heavily on my daughter, and some would argue, “well she is a new nurse, that is to be expected.”  Yet, surveys and personal interactions with nurses who have been working in the profession for years indicate that they are all feeling the same weight.  They leave work exhausted and, in many cases, have anxiety when they return to work.  One survey indicated that 93% of healthcare workers were stressed, while 86% reported feeling anxiety.  A different survey indicated that 48% have considered either retiring, quitting, or changing careers!

These statistics are alarming and, not only as a concerned mom, but as a Christian, they should challenge me to some sort of action.  It is not enough for me to say, “we are all in this together.”  I do not face the same challenges that they face on a daily basis.  So, I have been thinking about some things I can do.  First, I need to pray for healthcare workers, not just a simple sentence, “God bless all the healthcare workers.”  Instead, I need to bring the names of those individuals that I know personally and pray for their strength and that God protects their physical and mental well being.  I need to pray that they feel a sense of peace, both as they go to work and as they leave work.  I can pray that in the times they find rest, they find it restorative.  Besides prayer, I can also take the time to write cards, send texts and make phone calls, offering them a few words of encouragement.  Finally, another way I can support them will also help support small restaurants in the area that have also suffered from the pandemic as well.  Many restaurants are providing healthy meals for healthcare workers during their shifts.  For a small price, I can purchase a few meals to offset the cost of the meal for the restaurant.  These meals let the healthcare workers know that the community is supporting them, which can help boost their morale when they are feeling stressed.

“We are all in this together” should be more than just a hashtag we add to our Instagram feed.  If I am really a part of the body of Christ, I need to share the burden of those around me who are in the midst of directly battling the pandemic.  This is not just limited to healthcare workers, but includes grocery store employees, package delivers, teachers, ministry staff, and anyone else who has had to change the way they do life.  I may not be on the front lines of this pandemic, but I can offer prayer and kindness for those who are!

If you live in the Chambersburg area, you can buy meals at Falafel Shack for Health Care Workers by clicking on this link, https://falafel-shack.square.site/product/share-pay-it-forward-falafels/431?cs=true&cst=custom. Go ahead and buy yourself some of their hummus as well, you won’t regret it!!!

It’s Puzzling!

“When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.” Psalms 94:19 ESV

When our children entered their teens, Terry and I were looking for new ways to connect with them.  They were no longer content reading stacks of picture books or gluing pompoms on construction paper.  So, one year, we bought a one-thousand-piece puzzle as a family gift.  During the Christmas season, we set out a tray of cookies, made homemade hot chocolate for the four of us, attempted the Herculean task of putting together this puzzle, and created a new Christmas tradition!  Typically, Terry and Ethan would conquer the frame, while Maggie and I would jump to whatever spot of the picture inspired us.  It might only take an evening, or a few days, but eventually we would finish the puzzle.

Along with yeast and toilet paper, ordinary cardboard puzzles have been flying off the shelves during the quarantine.  According to some articles, sales of puzzles have increased 370% across the industry, forcing companies to boost production to meet the demand.  Ravensburger, a prominent German puzzle company, was selling seven puzzles per minute in April 2019.  A year later, this had increased to twenty puzzles per minute.  Some companies became more innovative, appealing to a more diverse public by creating puzzles featuring minority groups.  On a personal level, my Facebook and Instagram feeds were blown up with friends and influencers showing off pictures of completed puzzles!

Photo Credit by Margaret Collins

Terry and I jumped on the 2020 puzzle bandwagon a little late.  In November, we started breaking out a new puzzle on Saturday evenings.  While listening to radio dramas, we would start sorting pieces.  A few hours later, with our middle-aged eyes buggy from straining at patterns, we would set the puzzle aside, hoping to complete it the following afternoon.  For Christmas, we even bought a boxed set of four puzzles, 200 pieces each, all shaped like snow globes.  As a family, we competed to see who could put theirs together the fastest, with Terry taking first place, and Maggie coming in a close second!

What is it about puzzles that has captured the world’s attention during the pandemic and subsequent quarantine?  Putting a puzzle together takes time, commitment, mental effort, and money.  With modern technology, it would be easier to numb ourselves by binging on Netflix or scrolling through endless Facebook feeds.  So why were families choosing to put puzzles together over watching YouTube videos?

The answer to this question might be related to the physical act of putting a puzzle together.  Whether it is 500 or 1,000 pieces, every single piece has a specific place.  Through trial and error, eventually you place it in the right position.  The individual pieces, despite what looks like random patterns and colors, make a complete picture whether it is an outdoor scene, assorted vintage breakfast cereals, or cats.

It has been said repeatedly that the pandemic has thrown the world off kilter.  Like all news, we get immune to the pandemic and have now accepted it as status quo.  We wear masks, making them stylish accessories to our wardrobe.  We accept that restaurants will have social distancing guidelines, we no longer expect to try on clothes in a store, and we have adapted to working from home.

These are all surface-level adaptations that do not deal with how our bodies and minds have changed during this crisis.  All reports indicate that depression and anxiety have increased.  Suicide, domestic abuse and drug/alcohol abuse numbers have risen.  Some mental health professionals have argued that the mental response to the pandemic is mimicking post-traumatic stress disorder!

The Gallup Poll, with its annual mental health survey, reported a nine-point decline in the number of people who rated their mental health positively from 2019 to 2020.  One group that stayed the same or, in some cases, made slight improvements in their mental health, were those who attended religious services regularly. This might indicate that being a regular part of a church community has helped people successfully cope with the pandemic!

For Christians, the ability to worship together is an important part of the Christian experience.  Corporate worship helps affirm our faith, the preaching challenges us to grow in our understanding of God, and the individual believers encourage and minister to one another.  Amid the pandemic, corporate worship has not only provided stability in our Christian walk but has also provided a safe place to voice questions and find answers to the chaos around us.

I believe we are using puzzles for the same reason.  As we look for the edge pieces, we are trying to provide a stable framework for the confusion around us.  As we fit individual pieces into the puzzle, we are trying to make sense of our world as we navigate new COVID-19 strains and vaccines.  Finally, we desperately want to finish the puzzle, with all the pieces intact, completing a beautiful picture.  We all want our world to be back to the pre-COVID normal, or at least the new normal, with a measure of consistency and no new global challenges.

Recently, I donated a puzzle to Goodwill.  I carefully taped the sides of the box, so that no pieces would fall out.  I wanted to ensure that the buyer would get a complete puzzle.  I have always been skeptical about buying used puzzles.  I imagined spending a few hours of my life putting it together only to come to the end and find that a piece was missing.   The potential frustration prevented me from ever purchasing a used puzzle.

But just maybe, this post-COVID-19 world is a bit like buying a used puzzle with some missing pieces.  This may sound depressing and hopeless, but I really believe it is an opportunity for God to do His greatest work.  If we look at some of the biggest miracles in the Bible, they all happened when a piece of the puzzle seemed to be missing!  Think about the destruction of the world after the flood, the Egyptians in chariots on the banks of the Red Sea, and Jesus’ death on the cross.  At these moments, everything seemed hopeless.  Yet soon after these major trials, God stepped in with rainbows, a dry seabed, and a miraculous resurrection that forever changed our world, dropping that last missing piece into place!  Dear friends, be encouraged!  Even if it feels like we are still missing some pieces, God is doing a good work!

170 Pounds of Potatoes

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” John 6:35

I love to plan trips.  After picking a destination, I start researching like a mad travel agent.  I look in the obvious places, like a city’s tourism website, but I also connect with travel bloggers, reading their recommendations for a trip.  I create a Pinterest board for the destination, including hiking trails, coffee shops, museums, historical spots, bakeries, and bookstores.  Then, based on my research, I create an itinerary that results in mostly successes with the occasional disappointment.  For example, in 2012, our family spent a long weekend in Philadelphia, jam packed with my researched itinerary.  We walked the cobblestone streets of Rittenhouse Square, and explored the Rosenbach Library, where old manuscripts of favorite authors were displayed along with Herman Melville’s desk where he wrote Moby Dick.  Later that day we ate the creamiest avocado gelato at Capogorio, which was considered the world’s best ice cream according to National Geographic in 2011.  Unfortunately, Capogorio has since closed its doors.  On that same trip we spent a lot of money to explore The Franklin Institute, which ended up being a huge disappointment due to the signs stating “Closed for Maintenance” on many of the exhibits.

Two and a half years ago, I started on a journey that has forever changed my life.  I had no idea of my destination, or how I was going to get there.  I only knew that my life needed a change of direction.  I did some research on how to start, and what changes I needed to incorporate into my life.  I created a Pinterest board on healthier living and read some other women’s blogs, trying to gain some insight on what helped them be successful.  Unlike trips I had planned before, this time I did not calculate the cost because I knew this was a journey that I had to take no matter the cost.  I took baby steps, set reasonable goals, celebrated small wins, hit some obstacles and, sometimes, changed direction.  As time went on, I became more confident in my direction and determined to keep pressing forward.

It’s hard to remember what it was like being 170 lbs. heavier than I am, now.  The mental imagery of attaching seventeen ten-pound bags of potatoes to my body and dragging that extra weight around daily is mind-blowing.  I cannot imagine how slow I moved or how that extra weight hindered me.  On family trips I remember having to rest during some of the museums while the rest of my family continued to explore.  I remember taking a taxi in New York from one destination to another while Terry and my friends walked ahead.  I sometimes made my Rheumatoid Arthritis an excuse for these rest breaks and taxi rides, but looking back, I wonder, was it really my RA, or was it the extra pounds?  I avoided climbing the stairs in my home, often asking my kids to grab something I needed as they were coming down the stairs.  I tried not to inconvenience my family, fully realizing, now, that I did.

The weight I carried affected not just my activity level, but everything I did.  I was nervous about sitting on fragile-looking furniture.  I never sat in a porch swing because I was over the weight capacity.  I tried to sit towards the middle of picnic benches, afraid I would fall if someone else got up too quickly.  I did not swing with my kids because I was too wide for the swing, and the chains pressed painfully into my hips.  I was embarrassed that I had to ask for a seat belt extension when flying, afraid they might charge me for a second seat.  My wardrobe was minimal because trendy, attractive clothing was expensive and difficult to find in my size.  I tried to position myself in photos so that most of my body was blocked.  I never owned a belt or anything that was tailored.

One of the most horrifying experiences of my adult life was getting an MRI prior to my shoulder surgery.  The doctor, in a kind but matter-of-fact tone, warned me that I might not fit into the MRI machine at my local hospital and I may have to consider going to another location.  I smiled understandingly, but inside I was stressed.  I remember sliding onto the MRI table and being rolled into the machine, paranoid that I would get stuck, trying to not breathe at all, and praying they would be able to take the needed pictures.

Recently, my daughter took a picture of me for my new Facebook Public page.  When I posted the picture, two of my former teachers commented that they would not have recognized me in this photo.  I could not agree more because I don’t even recognize myself!  I catch a glimpse of myself as I pass a mirror and I am startled by the reflection.  I hang up clothes in my closet astounded that I fit into them.  When I am walking and I pass someone, I move far to the side, unaware that I take up much less space than before.

In addition to not recognizing myself, I am astounded at how full and complete my life is now!  Despite my morbid obesity, I want to acknowledge that I still had a good life before the weight loss.  I had an incredible marriage, wonderful children and great lifelong friends, who all loved me for who I was.  I had a relationship with God and was involved in meaningful ministry.  But despite this good life, those additional 170 lbs. had a strong hold on my life that kept me from fully being who God intended.

Today, I have the energy to sustain a full life of activity and ministry.  I have a greater appreciation for God’s creation because, through walking and hiking, I see more of the world God created.  I feel stronger and less physically dependent on those around me.  I regularly accomplish more in a day than I did previously.  Mentally, I am sharper, and my emotional levels are more stable.

The greatest change has less to do with the amount of physical space I inhabited, but more with the amount of shame and unworthiness I lost with each pound.  The shame of being overweight was not just the fear of being made fun of in public or of not fitting into the MRI machine, but of what the weight covered up.  It masked a woman who desperately wanted unconditional acceptance, so afraid that if people knew the real Sherry, they wouldn’t like her.  I was still the little girl trying to conceal the ugly secrets of childhood sexual abuse.  I was still the young girl hoping to be stylish when her fat clothes made her feel ostracized from her thin classmates.  I was still the wife afraid of exposing the flawed person underneath the layers of fat, terrified her husband would leave.  I was the mother trying to overcompensate with lots of activities and family fun so my children wouldn’t be embarrassed by their morbidly obese mom.  I was still the woman trying to please God by giving 100% to every new ministry that came my way, afraid that God would reject her if she gave anything less, or if she said “no” to anything.

Underneath the layers of fat, I discovered a vulnerable woman who has not only learned about herself in this journey but has learned about herself in relation to God.  When I no longer devoured bagels, French fries, and pasta to satisfy my hunger, I hungered for the word of God.  When I no longer craved Sonic limeades and Starbucks Frappuccinos, I thirsted after God’s righteousness.  When I didn’t fill empty, stressful and difficult moments by nibbling on a pan of Magic Cookie bars, I found fulfillment in the arms of God, resting in His strength.  When I stopped feeling ashamed by loading up on burritos, bacon, and ice cream, I had room to deal with my emotions in a healthier manner, pouring myself out to God. 

All this hunger, thirst, rest and lack of shame has brought me to the best place I have ever been in my life.  Although I am close to entering my fifties, I feel stronger in my spirit, body and mind than ever before.  This journey has enriched my life in so many ways.  Yes, I have a new wardrobe!  Yes, now I can hike!  Yes, now I can sit on a porch swing!  However, the biggest enrichment is not the before and after pictures, or what can be seen in my closet.  It is the complete comfort and rest I have in being fully known and fully loved by God.