If we sat down for a chat over tea a few months ago, I would have told you that I sometimes wondered if we did the right thing when we bought our old fixer-upper farmhouse on 14 acres in the country. When considering where to move after receiving my Navy husband’s new orders, we decided we liked the idea of a home in a rural “small town” area where there would be trees to climb, woods to explore, and room to grow. Along with those desires for our children, we also had a dream that we’d find a place we could call “Blessing Farm,” and that we could make it a place our family could use to bless others. We weren’t quite sure what form that blessing would take, but I had a vague idea that I’d like to be able to open our doors to foster children and/or homeschooling families who wanted a taste of the country life without having to care for chickens and horses of their own.
Partially due to my husband’s demanding work schedule and partly due to not having the money we needed for the necessary repairs, work progressed slowly, and nearly five years after moving in, our list of things to do was still longer than the outline for War and Peace. That can weigh on you after a while and over the previous year or so, the strain of there always being something that should have been done three months ago was affecting not only our ability to focus on homeschooling, but was also clouding our positive outlook.
Then a miracle happened. A real, honest-to-goodness miracle. If you’ve ever wondered if God is listening to you when you are calling out for Him to save you from whatever issues plague you, know that He really and truly is. I think for a while, my heart knowledge of that wavered, but He knew exactly when to step in and provide…He knew my strength was failing and that I needed a helping hand. I feel He reached out and provided our miracle because He wanted to enable us to reach out and pass the blessing on to others.
Let me back up a decade or so and fill in how we got to the place where the Lord had to intervene so that you will truly understand where my discouragement was coming from. About thirteen years ago, I was a stay at home mom of two little boys, ages 7 and 1. In my pre-homeschooling life I had been an English teacher. Now I cherished the time I had every morning with my two young ones, and the hours I could spend enjoying the childhood of my second born since I felt I had missed so much of my oldest son’s early years by working and getting my degree.
I had honestly never heard of homeschooling at this point, and when I finally did hear about it, the family who introduced us to the idea was so different (which at that point seemed undesirable), that the idea wasn’t particularly appealing. I wanted my son to “fit in,” not stick out. Besides, I very strongly felt that while I might be able to teach a classroom of 8th graders about The Hobbit, teaching my strong-willed first born was something I could never pull off. I had yet to learn to rely on the Lord to provide all I needed, including patience, because He will.
Well, that’s a lesson in itself. Never say never. One move and another grade later and the Blue Ribbon School assigned to the classroom of the “Teacher of the Year” produced a son who hated school and thought he was horrible at math. I was going crazy trying to figure out how to fix things while my husband was perpetually out to sea on a submarine. The Lord arranged another meeting with a homeschooling mother during that time, and she managed to talk me into attending an ABeka conference. Seeing things laid out so simply made me think I could do this…maybe. If I let the curriculum be in charge, then maybe my son would go along with it.
The deal maker occurred when I confronted my 8 year old son’s teacher about how many books they had managed to read during the school year…one. If there’s one thing I am passionate about other than Jesus and my children, it is books. The idea of an entire year in school wasted (by focusing on teaching to the test) grated on me, and I knew that even if I did nothing BUT read books with my son the next year, I could do better. Besides, I was tired of battling the Lord on this one…He’d finally convinced me that it was time to accept His calling on our family to become home educators. You can read the Top Ten Reasons Homeschooling Works for Us, if you'd like to learn more.
It took us about half a year to get him over the harm the public school had done to his interest in learning and his confidence in his natural abilities and special gifts. When he finally started getting into the groove of homeschooling, his former interest in history took off, he read dozens of historical fiction novels, loved our monthly field trips to local attractions, and really got to know his baby brother and attach to him in a way he had not done before. What a blessing! We used the extra time together to reach out to other families and to help them get their needs met, and doing that with each other forged a deeper bond between us. It was a fine example of being blessed to be a blessing, and then being blessed again.
The years that followed added two more children to our numbers: a girls and a boy. We lost a baby to miscarriage as well, years’ worth of “Daddy Time” due to my husband’s military service, and I developed chronic migraines. But the kids hung in there with me and thrived in our homeschool, in spite of our imperfect circumstances. We had moved away from a strictly “boxed” curriculum, deciding instead to pick and choose from different companies in order to tailor our studies to our oldest son’s interests, allowing the younger ones to join in as they were able.
Our style was eclectic, using textbooks for some subjects, with Unit Studies and Delight-directed sorts of activities thrown in to supplement and keep interest high. We did things together like incubating and raising ducks and chickens for a friend, acquiring a horse and learning how to care for and ride him, building raised-bed gardens and growing our own vegetables and flowers, constructing robots out of kits, and taking missions’ trips. We encouraged our kids to volunteer and to be active in a variety of activities such as Boy Scouts, AWANA, youth group, and Upward sports. We also continued to use living literature (books written about a topic by someone who was both knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the topic) to add a lot of extra learning to whatever curriculum choices we did make. My “mentors” at this point in our home educating journey were Gregg Harris’ home educating family seminar series and Educating the WholeHearted Child by Clay and Sally Clarkson. You can read more about these early years and our oldest son's battle with math here.
Our main goal in homeschooling has always been to raise children who love the Lord and seek to serve Him using their individual gifts and talents. Secondarily, we want to raise children of character and independence, who are capable of taking care of themselves and a family, as well as ready to be a blessing to others when called upon to do so. Even when times were tough for us monetarily, we lacked time, I was exhausted, or we were dealing with personality clashes, those goals gave us something to strive for, agree upon, and focus on. And, of course, we’ve always agreed on the appeal of lots of reading and real life activities. There are many ways to accomplish these goals, which is why I suppose our homeschooling “style” has evolved many times over the years.
Fast forward two duty stations (two moves) and we were back in the city I consider home because my family lives here. We arrived with our moving truck one day and had our second baby girl the next. God was good and provided us a buyer for our house the day we drove off in the moving van...but He has a sense of humor because I had to sign the paperwork to sell the house while I was in labor! We now had the ability to finally search for our dream home, a place we might plan to stay after retirement, and hoped to find something with a bit of land where we could have chickens, horses, dogs, and cats. A place where we could grow gardens, raise children, and cultivate love…and hopefully, be a blessing to others.
Unfortunately, every home we liked with acreage was way out of our price range. Anything that was in our range either needed tons of work or had no land. Finally, we were shown a smallish, bright blue 1930s farmhouse about an hour from my parents’ house. My husband would have to drive over an hour to work and back every day, and it was half the size of our old house, but it had fourteen acres, a huge garage and a shed, and unlimited potential. Before we decided to make an offer, we prayed about it, and my husband ultimately it would be worth it to have the children in a safe and peaceful place where we might someday add to our family through adopting older children who otherwise might be left with no forever families. We agreed it would be worth the effort it would require to repair and to downsize, and resolved to be patient and persevere, growing stronger together. We even came up with a name for our new home: Blessing Farm.
Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Well, sometimes the ideas are grander than the execution. Immediately upon our purchasing the house (literally days later) the bottom dropped out of the housing market. Our hopes for adding onto the house and/or having it repaired professionally tanked when the estimates we were given exceeded our now lowered house value and made a home-improvement loan impossible, and several of the contractors we did hire were dishonest so we lost a significant amount of our limited savings. My husband tried to get it all done, but his job never quits. If you only have a short time after dinner with your kids, and you know the most important thing you can do every day is to spend a few minutes telling them a Mr. Spot story (ones he makes up) or reading them a Bible story, and to pray over them, then things like painting trim, fixing wiring, and repairing fences often fall to the wayside.
This left us with a livable, but not particularly comfortable mess to deal with each day as we tenaciously fit in homeschooling in between attempts to fix one thing or another. After all, home economics and shop count as classes, too, right? Add a sixth baby (a boy) on top of three episodes of flooding, serious health issues for various family members, another miscarriage, two surprise baby ponies, our oldest son’s graduation in 2009 and then his wedding last June, a promotion (and longer hours) for Hubby, forever breaking down cars, and then the everyday issues you run into with having five kids at home whom you are homeschooling, and you are guaranteed to find one overworked and frustrated mama who by God’s daily grace was just barely managing to keep it together.
Yet, somehow I managed to educate five happy, warm-hearted children in a relaxed Charlotte Mason/Delight-directed style with daily Bible lessons, nature studies, reading of living books followed by narration, art and music studies, copywork, personal projects, and a few carefully chosen textbooks for older students. My favorite resource at this time was A Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola. I also worked for over two years on The Old Schoolhouse Review Crew (including blogging regularly), started my homeschool-for-free site, and even managed to learn a few new life skills with the girls like making homemade jam, crocheting, and quilting.
But there was a cost to the constant upheaval and never-ending issues. Things were holding together, but just barely, and I ached for the time when there would be margin to have overflow so we could be more of a blessing to others, both joyfully and abundantly. Sure, we’d had others out to enjoy our place, to relax in the peaceful country setting, to meet the ponies and chickens, and we’d kept on doing some short term mission’s efforts together. Unfortunately, on any given day there was more than we could handle at home to just maintain normal. As my headaches were starting to get worse in reaction to the stress, my ability to hang in there just a little longer was fading. It seemed I always felt I was falling short of what should have been done on any given day. I am no Superwoman and sometimes I felt like giving up. The only thing is, I am staunchly convinced that having once been convicted to homeschool by God, I was not ever going to put any of the kids into public school unless He convicted me of its necessity…and it would likely take words written on the clouds to make me believe it was Him I was hearing and not just my own weak flesh…so I couldn’t figure out what “giving up” looked like. All I knew is that I needed help...and He provided it.
Things had to change...Already feeling behind when you wake up every day is just not good. So we decided to make a few changes. First, I notified the Crew that I’d finish up the current term then step down to give someone else an opportunity to be blessed. We’d received so many blessings from our time on the Crew that kept us motivated and excited during difficult times that it was hard to set it aside, but we knew the time had come to focus on home. We also decided to take a few months off over the summer, to reconnect, regroup, and hopefully refurbish our learning spaces so they’d function more efficiently the next term. Because we usually homeschool year round so that when Daddy has time off we can take time off with him, the plan to forego school all summer for work was a big step for us. But since flexibility in scheduling is one of my favorite things about homeschooling, we decided to make a go of it.
Our summer of 2012 started by us really focusing on getting that dreaded “list” whittled down. If I didn’t know how to do it, I planned to either learn how to do it with the kids, or find someone to help us. I had even saved up a bit on the side to cover a few things we might need a professional to complete. I was tired of not knowing where all of my teaching materials were (we’d never been able to completely unpack our stuff since our new house was so much smaller than our old one, so our garage was one big, out of control mess) and I was frustrated with feeling as if every day did not meet up to my expectations, in spite of my ability to organize and be creative, simply because everything takes a lot longer in a house that’s always in process, and never quite done. Whatever I could do to change this, I planned to do over the summer.
Then our 15 year old asked to go to summer camp. My main source of help was going to desert me! Honestly, though, we never had a second thought about it being the right thing for him to do. He’s a great kid and he deserved a break. He earned the majority of the camp fees himself by doing odd jobs for neighbors, and we very much trusted his youth pastor and liked the kids with whom he would be traveling.
So here is where it starts getting interesting…and crazy scary at the same time. Just remember that God can use the most challenging situations to bring out good things, and if we can simply get through the hard parts by faith, we will be amazed at how well things can turn out. A few days into his camping experience, we received a call that there had been an accident during a soccer game. He’d been injured and taken to the hospital. Since my father was already at our house and my husband was two hours away from home at a job site, we made the decision that my dad would accompany me on the four hour drive to camp to pick my son up from the ER. However, when we got about halfway there, we received another call telling us that there were indications that his small bowel had been perforated and surgery would be required to save his life. What?! We went from picking him up and bringing him home early from camp (disappointing, to be sure) to his life being on the line in the space of a few moments.
They performed the three hour long surgery that night shortly after we arrived, and it took him two weeks at that hospital in West Virginia to recover enough to make the drive home. There was another month of staying at my parents’ house an hour away where they could dote on him full time (without the danger of four little kids, ages 2-8 jumping on him and hurting him accidentally) before he could come home, and then another month before he recovered much of his previous energy and strength. It’s been over six months since the surgery and he’s still having issues, but he is persevering with a wonderful attitude and praying for a full recovery. We were blessed by so many people during that time: my mom who helped Hubby with the kids, the pastor and his family, folks from the youth group, fellow campers, the nursing staff and doctors, and we also had many say what a blessing our son and family had been to them. I feel completely blessed that he is all right. I know God has great plans for him.
I am sure you are saying, “But I was expecting more.” After all, I did say it would get really good...Just you wait…there is more...and it is absolutely amazing.
Check out Part One (specific details about Cowboy's injury and recovery and how God used the difficult situation to bless many people.
Check back for the really good stuff, part three, coming soon...