Monday, February 28, 2011

Our Homeschooling Journey

Many of you have asked me to share more about homeschooling.  Our situation is different than most with regards to homeschooling, as God has brought change to what homeschooling looks like for our family.  I used to teach public school, then I chose to stay home with my children once I had my firstborn.  In 2002, God called me to homeschool (which is one of those things I said I'd NEVER do! teehee).  At that time, we had 3 children (all bio) and I used Sonlight curricula to teach all 3 children together.  Our youngest (Sawyer) was 3, our middle child (Mattie) was 5, and our oldest (Parker) was 7.  When I began homeschooling, I wasn't excited about it.  At.  All.  I only obeyed God when He asked us to homeschool because I didn't want to suffer the consequences of disobedience!  Seriously! 

Since I obeyed His calling, I thought God would bless me abundantly for my obedience.  So, on the first day of school, I was so looking forward to seeing His blessing, even though homeschooling was NOT what I really wanted to do.  Unfortunately, our first day of homeschooling was a complete DISASTER!!!  There was one thing after another that didn't go right, nothing went as I had planned, and Sawyer ripped all of his freshly hung wallpaper off of his walls during his nap time because he was so mad that he wasn't included in the schooling during the afternoon (because it was his nap time).  Everything that I had planned so perfectly fell apart, and the day felt like a complete failure.  I even called our local Mother's Day Out program that day to see if it was too late to enroll our youngest!  I also recall that at 5PM on our first day of homeschooling back in 2002, we were still doing school, trying to check off every item on my agenda, and I hadn't even begun to think about dinner!  Sigh.

Fortunately, God brought me through the trials of learning to homeschool by His design, and now when I look back on the beginning of our homeschooling journey, I just have to laugh.  I so thought that I had control, and God was trying so hard to teach me to let go and let Him!  It took a few months for me to get it through my thick skull that God would orchestrate our days, not me, but eventually He led me down His path where He was the leader and I simply followed.  Once I learned how to let Him lead, homeschooling changed from being a burden to being the BIGGEST blessing in our lives.  I remember how my heart felt when I would see our three children playing together as friends, helping one another, and truly caring about one another.  My heart was filled with joy because I felt beyond blessed to see my children truly enjoying one another's company, and that in itself was all I needed to be hooked on homeschooling.

Homeschooling wasn't easy though.  It was a full-time job, just like when I taught public school, only there was no paycheck.  But I didn't need a paycheck because simply being a part of my children's education, watching them learn and discover, seeing their faces when everything finally clicked, was enough to keep me going.  The best thing for me was that I truly treasured not only being their mom, but also the total blessing of being my children's full-time teacher.  Being able to not miss a single milestone in my children's lives gave me such a thrill, and within the first year of homeschooling, I truly couldn't imagine ever NOT homeschooling my children.  Even with the challenges of ADHD and Dyslexia in our youngest son, God faithfully equipped me to do what He had called me to do.

And then, in 2008, He called us to adopt.  What?!?  My little organized life would be all mixed up again.  I had really become accustomed to homeschooling our 3 children, and the thought of adding another child to the mix was a little intimidating.  Our bio kids were older and more independent, and, frankly, life felt quite easy back then.  Adoption meant that all of that would change. Overnight.

Because God had been so faithful on our homeschooling journey, it was a little easier to commit to adoption with trust that He would provide for us as we walked a new path that we really knew nothing about (just like when we started homeschooling).  In November 2007, God showed us His chosen daughter for our family, and in November 2008, we traveled to Colombia to adopt our first child, a beautiful 11-year-old girl.   Homeschooling enabled us to take our entire family to the country of Colombia for a month, which was an amazing experience for us all.  We had so many unforgettable adventures in Colombia (like hiking through the botanical jungle gardens in Ibague), and it was just awesome to have our entire family together as we explored Meribeth's native country while getting to know our newest family member.  (You can read about our adventures HERE.)  Yes, this experience was definitely a huge benefit to homeschooling.

On December 3, 2008 (I think), we arrived back in Texas after spending a month in Colombia.  We decided not to jump into homeschooling since it was just before Christmas, and I enjoyed being fully available to help Meribeth transition to America.  In January 2009, it was time for everyone to hit the books, and time for me to begin a new chapter of homeschooling 4 children, one who didn't speak any English.  Oh.My.Word.  Can you say DIFFICULT?!?  I ended up spending about 8-10 hours/day working directly with Meribeth, trying to teach her English while I learned Spanish, while our other 3 kids basically taught themselves the spring semester of 2009.  When summer hit, I was so relieved to put away the books (for everyone except Meribeth, as we continually worked on English acquisition).  I was sure the fall semester would be easier, once Meribeth knew more English, and I could go back to teaching everyone simultaneously.

But God had other plans.  In June 2009, God called us to adopt Chrissie from Serbia, who had severe congenital heart defects and would require open-heart surgery.  We weren't sure how I'd be able to homeschool everyone with Chrissie needing to have full-time care, but God had already worked all of that out.  You see, in May 2009, just one month before God called us to adopt Chrissie, He called my friend Stephanie Hall to help me teach our children.  (We just didn't know that He planned to bring more children into our little school at the time that He laid this plan out before us.)  God asked us to build Stephanie and her 2 girls (Emily and Samantha) a place to live on our ranch, along with a one-room schoolhouse (Agape Academy), and Stephanie and I were both super excited to co-teach the kiddos.  It was an amazing plan that God had worked out just beautifully, before we ever even realized He was going to bring Chrissie into our family.  Knowing that Stephanie would be living on our ranch and helping with the kids allowed us to easily commit to adopting Chrissie, without having to figure out how in the world I would do it all.  It was one of those amazing God provisions that He already knew to take care of in His sovereignty.

We began our fall semester of 2009 still awaiting an invitation for Matt and I to travel to Serbia.  Because we didn't know when we'd be invited to travel to adopt Chrissie, I decided I should help Stephanie in the classroom as an aide instead of as her co-teacher.  This was a little different than what Stephanie and I THOUGHT regarding how we'd split up duties, but it was exactly what God wanted.  Stephanie handled everything, and I just showed up as an aide and taught PE!  Wow, what a difference that was for this long-time teacher!  Serving as an aide meant that instead of working on lesson plans and grading papers, I was able to complete mounds of adoption paperwork and medical requirements for Chrissie's adoption and organize travel arrangements.  What a blessing Stephanie was (and still is) to our family, and what a provision the Lord had for our family when we had no clue what He already knew we needed.

Matt and I left for Serbia, in October 2009, and little did I realize that I would never again help Stephanie with Agape Academy.  I had fully intended to come home from Serbia, integrate Chrissie into Agape Academy, then serve alongside Stephanie in whatever ways she needed help.  But God never planned for me to do that.  He planned for Stephanie to be the full-time teacher at Agape Academy, and He planned for me to focus 100% on our family.  Wow!  God knew what He had in store for our future, and He had already figured out how He would provide for our family while we focused on getting Chrissie's medical treatments, her hospitalizations, and eventually her 31-day battle until she went to live with Jesus.  Stephanie was here, as a volunteer, to not only handle all of the educational requirements of our children, but also serve in our home and on the ranch, taking care of all of our kids while we were away so much of the time.

After Chrissie went to heaven, God began to send us more and more children.  In 2010, God sent FIVE new children to our family, two who didn't speak English (Kiefer and Naomi from Haiti) and another special needs little one, along with a severely RAD child who would need many therapies and MUCH time with Mom.  God knew that I would need to be available to serve my family and focus on the home and the everyday needs of my children without having to worry about how to educate everyone properly.  I would need to be gone from the home much of the time, taking children to orthodontic appointments, dental appointments, pediatric visits, international adoption specialist visits (kids from Haiti having multiple health issues), plus therapies (occupational therapy, physical therapy, attachment therapy, and we mustn't forget specialist visits (neurosurgeon, neurologist, craniofacial surgeon), and regularly scheduled MRI's.  Plus there's grocery shopping, cooking, home chores and never-ending laundry.  My teaching the children AND doing all of the other things a large family with many special needs kiddos just really wasn't possible (there are some weeks that I'm gone from our home every single day, ALL DAY, taking kids to appointments and running errands, which just isn't conducive to teaching multiple children the 3 R's!).  But God knew this, and He had a plan to provide for this challenge.  His answer was Stephanie Hall, the fabulous teacher and friend who would devote her life to serving God and our kiddos at Agape Academy!

See, I said our situation is different than most homeschooling families.  I know many families who homeschool.  Some are small families, some are large.  Some are adoptive families, some have special needs kiddos, and some have just as many or more outside appointments for various needs than our family does, and somehow God has a way of making everything work.  Every family situation looks different, and while our situation isn't one that you'll often find, God still has a way of equipping each family to do the tasks He has called them to.  Homeschooling looks different for each family, and our situation is VERY different than most.  I feel like I shouldn't even claim that we homeschool.  Really, our children attend a private school, which happens to be on our ranch, which happens to be free, which happens to be run by the most amazing teacher who loves the Lord passionately and volunteers her time to serve Him and teach the wide variety of children He has placed in our family.

Yes, the Lord provides.  It may not look the way we expect it to, but He does provide.  I feel very unworthy of the situation God has set up at Forgotten Saw Ranch with Stephanie living here and teaching our children.  I wish every family could have a Stephanie, but I trust that God knows each and every family's needs and He will meet their needs in the way He best sees fit.  I praise Him for providing us with Stephanie, and I am forever grateful for His abundant blessings upon our family.

So, there you have it.  WE don't do it all.  HE does it all.  HE provides.  HE equips.  All we have to do is obey.  It's been a long process of learning for us, but He's been so faithful.  Yes, we are forever grateful and so unworthy.  Thank you, Jesus!
Sawyer doing a "sit and spin" activity to help combat ADHD.

The girls on their first day of school in August 2010.

Parker reading (he uses headphones to drown out background noise).

Asher admiring the Bible that Stephanie purchased for him to use at school.

Asher and Ella love to rope during "recess"!
(We have an arena where my husband and some of the kids team rope, so the kids love practicing their roping skills every chance they get!)

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