Community and the “S” Question

The question I was most often asked by other kids growing up as a homeschooler was, “Do you do your school in your pajamas?” No, we usually did not. The question most often asked by other adults was most definitely, “How will you be socialized?” *sigh* About the 900th time you’re asked that, I’m sure there’s a bit of a robotic tone to your answer. It’s like asking a family whose children attend a public school, “How will you keep them from doing drugs?” Yes, there are kids who are homeschooled who could have used more training in people skills, just as there are kids in public schools doing drugs, but to ask either of those questions as a first response to someone’s education decision is a bit ridiculous. The answer to both is the same. You will make decisions to equip your children, train them, develop positive relationships, and give them opportunities to avoid that negative scenario.

I always had to laugh a little to myself about that concern because I might have been the most socialized person I knew. First of all, I lived with seven other people. People that God in His infinite wisdom specifically chose to be in my life to sharpen my edges, smooth my rough spots, and be a part of molding me into the person I was created to be. And those people are in your life for the remainder of your life. Second, the ability to have flexible scheduling allowed for many opportunities to be with friends, and not when we were supposed to be getting something done, but when we could wholeheartedly throw ourselves into playing with reckless abandon. My friends and I played with dolls until we were thirteen, and then we probably only stopped because we were too busy with other activities, not because we didn’t love our dolls. My mom and the moms around us put forth great effort to encourage our relationships and to help us build friendships, and every one of those dear friends I had growing up (some starting as young as age three), I am still in contact with today. We have been in each other’s weddings, held each other’s babies, and continue to love and pray for each other today. They are lasting, beautiful friendships. Some of them are ten years older, some are ten years younger, two are my sisters-in-law, and those families are a part of who I am. As a teenager that socialization turned to traveling and opportunities to teach in other states and countries through our homeschooling program. I met even more precious friends in Mexico, New Zealand, Australia, and while living in Oklahoma City and Dallas.

One of my loneliest struggles was sadly at church. This had to do with many things, and certainly did NOT have anything to do with the fact that there were not wonderful kids there to know. I was the only one of the six of us who did not have close friends at church. There were many factors that played into this, but I simply could not fit in with my peers during my teen years, and at church everything was so age-specific that I was required to be only with those exactly my age. I was self-conscious in that setting because I had acne, braces, glasses until I began wearing contacts, and certainly did not dress trendy to put it mildly. I was NOT cute at a time when being cute seemed all-important. I was trying not to be interested in boys, was a bookworm, thought history was a blast, and loved playing the piano and doing jigsaw puzzles. You can imagine how that would play out on a “do you want to be my friend” questionnaire in the 8th grade. I tried being friends with other girls who also seemed to need friends, but even they had their less popular school circles and I didn’t belong. They were never, ever mean to me, not even once that I can remember. It was just awkward and we couldn’t get past the surface where there simply wasn’t commonality. However, I was very blessed, because in “my world” those things I didn’t do and the way I didn’t look weren’t very important. The people around me loved who I was and I was quite secure in those circles. I probably seemed like a different person. I knew how much I was loved and I belonged. I always feel a bit nauseous when I watch a movie about high school struggles because I know that could have been me if my parents had not made the choices they did. I am so grateful for the protection I received during those difficult years while I grew into a hopefully more balanced woman. But during that time when I begged to go to church with my friends or just dissolve into a puddle of tears in the depths of despair (way too much Anne of Green Gables, you see), my parents gave me one of the greatest gifts of my life. They taught me that escape wasn’t the answer and to cry out to God to fill my loneliness and meet my needs for companionship as I looked around me to see what He could be calling me to do. They said that things happen in seasons and that there would be seasons of less loneliness, but I had to ask what this season was for. Oh, how many, many times since then I have been grateful for that lesson! How many times when I have struggled through a circumstance or situation have I been glad that they taught that awkward teenage girl that first response is to see what great thing God is doing. It shaped my life. So after unsuccessfully attempting to reach my peers, I began to realize that my ministry was elsewhere and I began to teach. I started with two year olds and from there spent the next decade in ministry with the kids of our church and in other places around the world. Joyous, beautiful, training years. I loved them so much. Out of that came my job in children’s ministry and relationships with the most incredible children and families. Some of those kids are having babies now which is crazy to me. And now at this season when it is difficult for me to help and give in that way, I feel grateful for those years and that I was able to give in the way that others are now giving to my children.

Community is crucial to a homeschooling family because it is an important part of any family! We all need to be investing in the lives of those around us, seeing how God might want to use us to love someone else. When I was younger it seemed more difficult to develop community between those homeschooling and those attending public or private schools. There were many reasons for this challenge and that rift was certainly caused by both groups of people. One reason for that was that we tend to respond badly toward an idea that we are reacting to – hence the homeschoolers who were leaving schools and were making choices out of reaction and fear instead of love. Another reason we can respond badly toward an idea is out of that level of fear that comes with the unknown and misunderstood – thus explaining those who were confused and put off by the idea that families would want to reject the way of life they were choosing for their families which of course made their choice for traditional schooling “bad,” right? The fact that we ever made decisions to pit ourselves on opposite sides of a battle is very sad to me. Such missed opportunities to support, grow, learn, and experience more life opportunities by being open to God doing different things in our lives. Fortunately, today this problem has greatly diminished. There tends to be much greater mutual respect between those choosing different education methods as we realize that while something might work well for us, it may be a very poor fit for another family. Homeschooling has been given its rightful place as a valued and respected educational choice (just check into the efforts colleges make to recruit homeschoolers), and many homeschoolers have come down off their defensive walls as their successes have been acknowledged. I also feel that some of this success lies in Christians of this generation seeking after a God Who does not fit into boxes and does not authorize a cookie cutter Christianity that only allows for one family’s choice to be “right” and all others who disagree to be “wrong.” We are allowing Him to do what He does best – write the story of each, individual family in a beautiful, awe-inspiring way. My precious friends have shown genuine and loving interest in what we are doing whether it mirrors their choices or not, and I am always thrilled to hear how God is working through their schools, jobs outside of the home, or anything else He is doing that may be taking them down a different road than mine.

Here in Austin our community up to this point has mostly been made up of neither homeschoolers nor people from our church. We have met people through sports, classes, and at our neighborhood pool, through a Super Bowl party down the street or someone at John’s office. I have loved this season of being pulled out of my comfort zone and challenged to seek out people around me. I love the diversity of those God is bringing us to serve and the many opportunities in our lives. In spite of the fact that the majority of John V’s friends attend the same school and he does not, those families have welcomed us in as a part of their community. Here in the small town we’re close to community trumps school and baseball trumps everything. 😉 I will continue to seek out families from all different situations and teach my children that the main reason we seek relationships is to give, not to receive. That God takes care of our needs as we strive to be like Him and shine His love to those around us. That He put our family together to meet many of our needs for fellowship and love. That precious friends come from the most unlikely sources, and that whenever we put God in a box we MISS OUT!

Today we had our first big homeschool activity with a group in our area that does P.E. The kids were so excited and within minutes of sitting down a boy of about eight or nine put his hand out and politely introduced himself to John V and then two other boys quickly sat down and began chatting. Kailey was perfectly content snuggled up at John V’s side as the little sister, and I knew he would be taking care of her since it was all ages playing together. I quickly realized I was not needed for the moment as these homeschool youngsters began “socializing” their little hearts out. God is so good to give us community all around us. Everywhere there are people, and wherever there are people there are hearts that simply need to be loved. May we reflect His heart to them!

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