Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Dear Newly-Elected Officials...

Dear Newly-Elected Officials,

Congratulations! You've worked very hard for what you have achieved. You have inexhaustibly stumped your way across your states in an effort to get your constituents to believe in you, and your hard work has paid off. Take a break and enjoy your likely-a-bit-neglected family before you start picking out curtains for your office.

Before you pack your bags and head to Washington, or your capital city, or wherever the center of power is for your individual office, I want to remind you that you were chosen because you appeared to display a willingness to respond to your constituents. I don't think the results of yesterday's elections were necessarily a mandate for Republicans. More than anything, I think they were about policy (finally!) and a rejection of a legislature and executive office who don't seem to care about the will of the people. We will not accept that same treatment from you. If you do not listen to us, we will - oh dear, how should I put it? - vote your butts out just as quickly.

So...have a good time in the big city. But remember that 'we the people' employ you. Govern with prudence. Don't spend money we don't have. Enjoy the perks of your office - but not too much. Be sure that power and prestige are false gods. Always keep in mind that you are civil servants, elected as our peers to represent our views. Remember that we believed in you in 2010. And we can just as quickly stop believing by 2012.

Love and all those other niceties,
Nikki B.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Who Shouldn't Vote Tomorrow

With the 2010 mid-term elections upon us tomorrow, I thought it fitting to offer my commentary on the stupidest thing I hear people say around this time of year.

Drum roll, please...

"Everyone should vote."

No, really, they shouldn't.

The fallacy of this statement couldn't have been more clear than observing the elections of 2008. During that election cycle, I had many conversations with people who planned to vote for our current president. When I inquired further as to why, this is how the conversation often went:

Me: "Why are you voting for Obama?"

Voter: "Change."

Me: "Change of what?"

Voter: "I don't know. Just change."

Me: "Do you know anything about Barack Obama?"

Voter: "No."

Me: "Nothing other than that he wants to change things?"

Voter: "Yes."

Me: "But you have no idea what kind of change he wants?"

Voter: "No, not really. I just think change is good."

Me: "So you've never read anything he's written, dug further into his political philosophy, investigated the people he claims are mentors or friends, researched who his favorite political philosophers are, or developed or formulated an opinion on any of the policies he espouses?"

Voter: "No."

Me: (proceeds to bang head against wall)

I wish it were not true, but I think that this is how a good portion of the American electorate functions at election time. We hear buzzwords spewed by candidates, we swallow what we hear our peers saying, we allow ourselves to be impressed with what celebrities say about candidates. And it shouldn't be.

What has happened to that independent American spirit? What has happened to being able to discern public policy and its effects on society? Why won't we invest the time necessary to know more about the people who are representing us and what kind of job they are going to do? These elections are like a job interview for a $174,000 per year job (what the average congressman makes.) Why do we act like it's for a minimum wage job that has no bearing on our everyday lives? These people we are electing are our employees. We need to treat them judiciously and with the utmost scrutiny when hiring them to do such critical and important jobs.

So how can we know if we're prepared to vote? If we've done our due diligience? If we should disqualify ourselves from this greatest of American privileges? At the risk of sounding elitist, here's a simple list to help you decide whether you should vote on Tuesday.

Please don't vote if any of the following apply to you:

1) You get all of your political news from Comedy Central, MTV, Stephen Colbert, or Jon Stewart. This alone pretty much just knocks you out of the running for voting. No other requirements need to be met.

2) You have no idea if you are a conservative, liberal, or libertarian and WHY. (Notice I didn't say a Democrat or Republican or Tea Partier.) Determining this may require some further reading on your part, however. Here's a reading list from my former employer that might get you started (and, admittedly, my own reading list just got much longer.) If you're not willing to invest some time into determining your own political philosophy and delving into the same of the candidates you support, it's probably best to stay out of the game for now.

3) You have ever asked or even wondered of a candidate, "Boxers or briefs?"

4) You walk into a voting booth and just pull the "R" or "D" lever without any forethought.

5) You typically make voting decisions according to how your profession, race, union, church, or family thinks you should. It amazes me how many people choose a candidate or party affiliation based on what their family has always done, how their union tells them to vote, what their professors tell them to believe, or what they think the rest of their peer group is doing. Think for yourselves, people. I believe in you.

6) And if these reasons aren't enough, here's a little video illustration for you of who should not vote.

Please, America, take time to be informed. The blood that has been shed, the risks that have been taken, the courage that has been displayed over the last 234 years so that we could have this privilege demands at least that. Please vote. Or maybe not.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Your Last Birthday

Dear Judah,

I've been joking with you lately that this is your last birthday because you simply can't turn double digits. You, of course, know I'm joking (most of the time) but every once in awhile you cock your head and hesitantly try to read my face and seem to wonder, "Can she do that?" No, sweet one, I can't as much as I wish I could. You will continue to charge forward year after year into what God has for you and there's nothing I can do to stop it. And about that, I'm glad.

What a year this has been! We started second grade at our house in Lake Land'Or, sold that house, hit the road thinking we were heading to Vegas, hung out in the Promised Land, visited our friends up and down the East Coast, spent over a month in Florida with Uncle B, and then finally settled into our new house here in Richmond. Whew! What a crazy time that was, but, all the while, you persevered and were flexible and were a huge help during what I'm sure was a crazy time in your mind. You are a leader and child who is willing to take on any challenge set before you. I can't wait to see what God is going to do with that. It's going to be good. Really good.

I was just telling Dad about how much I enjoy talking to and relating with you. Our conversations over the last year have changed from a mother bossing around her son to a mother relating her son in a new and different way (though I know I'm still plenty bossy for your taste. :)) I am excited about what this next year is going to bring us. New challenges, new learning environments, new friends, new dreams.

So, while this isn't your last birthday, I am going to do my best to live like it is and enjoy every last second of you over this next year. You are one cool cat (with a lot of this and a lot of that...)

Love you. A lot,

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Having a Birthday Sister - How Sweet It Is!

On August 22, 2006, the obstetrician decided to induce me (my third induction - my babies really like me apparently) and began the Pitocin drip at Mary Washington Hospital. Well, that Pitocin dripped. And dripped. And dripped. For 10 hours. I had full-on, wretched Pitocin-induced contractions. Tons of pain. And still, the little girl inside me was just not interested in coming out. Fearing a c-section was in my future, I quickly agreed when my doctor suggested stopping the Pitocin drip and trying again tomorrow. I was ELATED. Not because the pain was going to stop (though that was great.) And not because I had avoided a c-section (though that was reason for celebration.) I was thrilled, overjoyed, ecstatic because "trying again tomorrow" meant:


I mean, really, how cool of a birthday present is that?! Some people tell me that they don't think they would like "sharing" their birthday with someone so close to them, but I love it! All year long, Cana and I call each other birthday sisters. We even have a little chant we do. It is a joy to have her to celebrate and plan with! Before her, my birthdays were really not a big deal. No one made much of them. It was really just another day. But then Cana came and it was a reason to be excited and sing and get "birthday secrets" and just enjoy one another. It is so fun!

I have absolutely loved these last four years with a little girl in my life. She is fun and charming and loving and smart. She gives her brothers a run for their money and doesn't take much grief from anyone else either. She absolutely adores having me as her birthday sister/mom (most of the time) and I appreciate her gentle spirit and kind heart. She softens me.

So, today, I celebrate the day that my birthday changed for the better.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Our Precious Five Year-Old

Today my little Simeon turned five. Five! I can hardly handle it. Wasn't I just pushing that blue-faced child out of me last week and watching the doctor gently unwrap the umbilical cord from around his neck? Wasn't it just yesterday that I was praying for that same stinking cord to fall off after it stayed attached for five weeks and could have been nominated for an award for the longest lasting umbilical cord ever? Where did five years go? Someone tell me!

I often joke with people when they comment on how much Simeon likes his momma that he thinks he is still attached to that umbilical cord. He just really likes me. He always has. If that child could crawl back up in my uterus, he would. That kid and his cord. I guess its been obvious from day one.

Thank you, God, for Simeon. Thank you for the joy that he brings to others. We named him after the Simeon in Luke 2 who Your Word says was "righteous and devout." May he be righteous and devout out of love for You. Thank you for giving him to us. Our family is better because he's in it.

Photo of Simeon on his first ever sleepover at his best buddy Declan's house.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The D Word

I am beginning to think that today is the absolute worst of all days to share the number one reason (of many) that I choose to educate my kids at home. In regard to learning, today has been a day of frustration, impatience, and anger for my students. Unfortunately, they are only modeling what they see in their teacher. And maybe that's why today of all days is the best day to share why I homeschool.

Discipleship. Theirs, and unbeknownst to me when I started, mine.

When I made this long and arduous commitment to be solely responsible for the education of my children, I could never have envisioned how hard it would be. Yes, finding the time to plan lessons is hard. And trying to keep the little ones busy while I work with the big one is hard. My kids being quizzed by friends, family members, and sometimes strangers to see if they are learning anything is hard. Constantly being judged for the decision I made to do it is hard. And the fact that I will not likely be home alone until I am at least 52 years old is hard (and horrifying!) But none of these come close to how hard it is to have my children with me 24/7 watching every move I make and imitating many of the worst ones. It's like having your spiritual weaknesses under a magnifying glass. If ever I think I've arrived spiritually, I have three little people right there behind me reminding me that I still have so far to go.

In his book Sacred Parenting, Gary Thomas asks the questions, "Do you believe that parenting is a sacred enterprise? What if one of God's primary intentions for you as a parent isn't about successfully raising perfect children, but about your becoming more holy?" I think perhaps when God led me into homeschooling, He realized that His holiness in me was still so far off the mark that perhaps it would take this much effort to refine me. Either that or I'm a glutton for spiritual punishment. Perhaps a little of both.

As for educating my kids at home and what this has to do with their discipleship? Everything.

Here's where things get sticky. People who send their children to public or private schools immediately feel like I am saying that they do not disciple their children. That could not be further from the truth. Some of my closest and dearest friends, people whom I respect more than anyone else in this world, send their children to public or private school. And disciple them well. So if your fingers are poised to start pounding on the keys in defensiveness, would you hear me out? I am challenging us to shift our thinking about discipleship and how it relates to our children. And, yes, that might sometimes mean shifting our educational choices and our approaches toward our children's learning. But as with other topics this week, I am trying to get us to boil down some philosophy and apply it directly to our own families. I'm not talking about the kid down the street or the countless numbers of children whose parents could care less about this stuff or your child's school or teacher. I am talking about you. A parent who loves their child deeply and desires God's best for him or her and who has been entrusted with a very precious gift for a very short period of time.

Discipleship is not just about communicating one's thoughts and ideas and wisdom to a student. It's also about time. And lots of it. I think our society sells us the myth (and mostly to alleviate our guilt) that quality time is more important than quantity time. It's not. (Nor do I think the converse - there must be a balance.) I think we are so prone to believe that lie because in so many areas it makes us feel better about putting our work before our family. Or putting our families before God. Or putting the state before our children. Thinking that we can throw in some good quality spiritual conversations with our children or take them to church on Sundays for a quality program takes off some of the pressure. Discipleship, especially of children, is a commitment that is long and tedious and hard. It takes hours and hours of sometimes mundane and monotonous work.

As Christian parents, we need to be aware that if our children are under the educational instruction of a public or private school, they will spend more than 14,000 hours under the tutelage of someone else. 14,000 hours. 14,000 hours under the care of complete strangers who, if we're honest with ourselves, we know very little to nothing about and some we've never even met. 14,000 hours learning about the world and life from a culture that directly opposes God's wisdom as revealed in Scripture. 14,000 hours learning from people, the majority of whom do not care about their souls and their eternities. 14,000 hours in an environment where we are expecting them to be "salt and light" after we've only trained them at home for a mere five years (three of those during which they pooped in their pants and couldn't talk.) 14,000 hours.

If we examine our child's day closely, who spends more time discipling them - us or their teachers and peer group? Who gets the best of them and who they are as learners and people? For the majority of children whose parents are Christ-followers, the answer is not the loving and gifted parents that God has chosen for them and who He desires to teach them in a Deuteronomy 6:4-9 kind of way. Why are we willing to settle for less?

Jesus taught a parable in Luke 6 about the blind leading the blind right into a pit and ended with the statement, "A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher." There's no escaping it. Our children will be like who they are trained by. For me, I read that and think, "Oh, dear God, please don't let these children end up like me." But then I remember that I am pressing hard after my Savior. That I am passionate about who God made them to be and cultivating His heart in them. And while I am totally screwed up and sometimes horrible at it (like today), I am also learning and exhibiting grace. And if that's what they walk away with at the end of the day as my little disciples, that's enough for me.

Homeschooling dad, author, professor, and pastor Voddie Baucham writes some thought-provoking (and, be prepared, searing) truths on his blog about this topic. If you would like to read more:

or this:

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Institutionalized Education Can Be Baaaaaa-d for Children (sorry, I couldn't help myself)

A few years ago, my husband and I went through a four-day psychological and abilities assessment (think "The Apprentice" for pastors) for people in ministry who plant churches that evaluated whether we should be doing just that. We were tested and interviewed and challenged on all things ministry and personality. On the final day, we knew we had to sit in an hour-long interview with an assessor who would fire questions at us about things that could be hot buttons for us or potentially damaging to our ministry or churches. I went into this thinking that since my husband was the actual pastor and he was the one that would actually be working for the church that it would mostly be about him and that I could just sit there listening.

I was wrong.

For fifty-five minutes of the interview, the assessor wanted to talk about my reasons and motivations for homeschooling. He quizzed me about whether I was trying to shelter my children, what I thought about the public education system, the "socialization" issue (insert eye-rolling here), and whether I actually knew what I was doing.

Let's just say that by the end of the interview, he was completely convinced that I knew what I was doing.

As we talked through all of those things, one of the points I kept hitting home with him and that is one of the biggest reasons I homeschool is this: I am not a fan of institutionalized education. Especially one in which the institution providing oversight and funding is the government.

Too many teachers, too many administrators, too many government bureaucrats have educational - not to mention social and political agendas - that are way far removed from my own. People often laugh when they hear my children spout off on something that they surely must have overheard from me (just tonight my very wise eight year-old was telling me how stupid it is that the government spends more money than it takes in and how concerned he is for the future of our government. Out of the mouths of babes...) I often joke with people that if I don't brainwash my children, someone else will. And I'm only half joking. If anyone is going to set their worldview, teach them about the sacredness of sex, and educate them with the end goal of preparing them to make a difference in this world for Christ, it's going to be me.

Not to mention that I cannot think of even one government agency that is run efficiently and effectively. Not one. So, why would I want an entity whose effectiveness is poor, whose production is meager at best, and who continues to waste money hand over fist to be in charge of educating my kids? Not a chance.

Wouldn't a private, religious school fix my problem then? While a fabulous alternative for many, not so much for me (gosh, it stinks being so picky) because of the other reason I'm not so hot on institutionalized education: I cringe at the idea of putting 25 children who are uniquely created by God in a classroom for seven hours a day to receive the exact same training and conditioning. It goes against everything their Creator celebrates about them. Just this week, my three very different learners have explored Abraham Lincoln and his role in ending the Civil War, practiced their multiplication tables, wandered through the botanical gardens "blindly" trying to imagine what it was like to be Helen Keller, read endlessly about the history of Nascar, watched videos of killer whales and dolphins giving birth, have been read to about dogs, hiked and looked for letters naturally made in nature, and discussed government spending and budget deficits...and it's only Wednesday! I love that their minds can explore and examine anything they are interested in and that their desire to learn isn't curtailed so that we can stay within the government's guidelines.

I hurt for students who are forced to follow one mold for learning and who are stripped of independent thinking, discouraged from having a more diverse worldview, and encouraged to follow the flock that is blindly leading them through the supposedly hallowed hallways. They are like sheep being led to and fro both academically and socially. They are conditioned to ingest information from textbooks that are questionable at best , oftentimes from teachers with agendas far different than our own, required to regurgitate said information, and then are often penalized if their ideas do not fit in with the mainstream. Been there. Done that. Been ostracized - not to mention penalized - for it. (And only made stronger because of it.)

Finally, I'll leave you with yet another wonderfully written piece by someone other than me that reflects my heart for kids and education:

"The School for the Animals"
An old story tells of the creation of a school for the animals. In this school, everybody took the same four courses: flying, swimming, climbing, and running. Among the students were a duck, a flying squirrel, a fox, and an elephant. These four were highly motivated, and wanted to get good grades, so they all tried very hard.

The duck did fantastically well in swimming and flying, but he lagged behind his classmates in climbing and running, so he focused special attention on those two subjects. However, his feet became so sore from trying to run and his wings were so bedraggled from trying to climb that by the end of the year he not only failed both those subjects, but made C’s in swimming and flying, which had once been his two best subjects.

At the beginning of the school year, the squirrel was first in his class in climbing and running and was second only to the duck at flying. But as the months wore on, he missed so much school from catching pneumonia in his swimming class that he failed everything.

To make matters even worse, because the squirrel constantly squirmed and chattered in class, and had difficulty paying attention, he was diagnosed with a learning disorder. The squirrel eventually was placed in remedial classes and had to be medicated in order to continue with his school work.

The fox was a natural in his running class and scored well in climbing and swimming, but became so frustrated at his inability to get good grades in flying that he began assaulting his classmates. He even tried to eat the duck. His behavior was so disruptive he was expelled from school. He fell in with a rough crowd and eventually wound up in a center for animal delinquents.

The elephant, meanwhile, developed low self-esteem because he couldn’t do well in any of the subjects. When he sank into clinical depression, his therapist persuaded him to try a different school that focused on subjects such as lifting and carrying. The elephant was disappointed, because careers in lifting and carrying were not as prestigious as careers in flying, swimming, climbing, or running. Even though he always felt inferior, he managed to make a decent living and support his family.

The point of this silly story about a school for the animals is that modern education sends every child through a program of study that is targeted toward a “generic” child. It expects every student to be able to follow the same course of study in the same sequence, without considering innate aptitudes or individual differences that are crucial to children’s abilities to learn. Schooling does not take into account differing personality types or temperaments.

Parents who understand learning differences can be more sympathetic with the frustrations their children face in school and more helpful in finding alternative approaches. The two major learning differences among children have to do with learning styles and learning readiness.

© Copyright 2006. Home School Marketplace, 1053 Eldridge Loop, Crossville, TN 38571.

Now go and separate those sheep (and ducks and squirrels and foxes and elephants) from the rest of the flock. By the grace of God and under the influence of the Holy Spirit, you will be a way better shepherd than anyone else ever could.

P.S. I

f you're interested in another homeschooling mama's fine words on this same topic, I think this mom does a great job explaining the hearts of many home-educators when it comes to this issue.