Motherhood & Family

Why We’re Homeschooling This Year

IMG_4440.JPG

Someone told me recently they’d never heard anyone talk about bacon like I did. I’d said something to the effect of, “I’m ok with it,” but apparently bacon is polarizing subject, typically drawing strong supporters (“Bacon, every day, all day, on everything!”) or vehement opposition.

My daughter is about to enter first grade (how is that even happening already?) and figuring out her education has been a topic of conversation for Jeff and I for a while now. I’ve read through countless articles through the years and have found that homeschooling can kind of be like bacon. People naturally seem to have strong opinions about why they’ve chosen to educate their children in certain ways, (whether public school, private school, or homeschooling) and, naturally, those who take to writing about it have especially strong opinions.

I have strong opinions about many things, including education, but, like with bacon, have found myself on the fence when it’s come to how our daughter ought to be educated. Though we homeschooled last year and will do so this coming year, it’s not a decision that’s been an obvious or simple choice for us.

Though I’ve scoured the internet for a silver bullet for or against public/private/homeschooling, I’ve yet to come across one. What I’ve found most helpful hasn’t been bullet-pointed articles espousing the merits of public, private, or homeschooling, but seeing how other families have come to their decisions. It’s been helpful for me to see their reasoning and process, even if ultimately, our choices differed.

In that vein, I offer a few thoughts for others in our decision-making process as to why we are homeschooling come September.

First, the following are NOT reasons why we’ve decided to homeschool this year. We don’t think that schools necessarily ruin children’s drive to learn. We don’t think all public school teachers have a hidden anti-Christ agenda or that sending our daughter to our local elementary school would definitely be detrimental to her faith. Our desire is not to shelter her completely from the realities of this world and we don’t have any nostalgic feelings about schooling inside the home or about her mom being her teacher.

Secondly, as much as there are unfair critiques of public school systems, I’ve also found most reasons against homeschooling not to be compelling either. “Socialization” is not a concern for me because firstly, we have other opportunities for our children to interact with people and, secondly, because I don’t see socialization in public schools as an ideal or normative standard. And while I understand and have the desire to serve our communities and being on mission, I’m not convinced about that being the main impetus for making our decision about education.

There is no simple line of reasoning about schooling that universally applies to all families. So why have we decided to homeschool? The two main reasons for our family are 1. The freedom to shape our child’s education and 2. This is what works for our family for now. Both of these reasons are subsets of the orienting question, “What is helping our daughter thrive (academically, socially, spiritually, emotionally)?”

Homeschooling first became an option for us even before our daughter was born, when I realized I didn’t have to take the current public school system as the historical norm. Thinking, for example, about how public schools in America haven’t always been expressly secular or that historically, children have been educated in different ways made me start imagining what education could look for our children if we were building from scratch rather than within an already established norm.

Thus, for us, homeschooling appeals to us not primarily because of what we’d like to avoid in the public schools, but out of wanting to proactively build based on what education could be. Practically, freedom in subject matters means we are able include more music and art in our curriculum and focus on building a foundation not just for STEM but liberal arts. The flexibility to work at each child’s own pace means being able to choose an appropriate level of academic rigor. It meant we could spend time last year on world geography and other countries and cultures to intentionally instill in our girls a more global outlook.

More importantly, homeschooling also means we can teach about the world as it is, belonging to and made for God. I am grateful for the instruction I received in the public school system from grades K-12 and in my secular university, but I’ve also been reimagining what education could be like for our children in terms of the freedom to talk about the world as we know and understand it. This is more than just having a class on Christian beliefs and definitely does not mean unnaturally attaching Bible verses to school subjects. Rather, out of an understanding that all truth is God’s truth because our world is God’s world, we believe learning about and in the world is naturally woven into (and ultimately is founded on) the theological. (So, for example, my daughter asked what she warned us was “a very hard question” the other day. “In the beginning there were dinosaurs. But the Bible says in the beginning there were people. How can that be?”)

The public school system where we are is not just a pluralistic environment, but increasingly committed to secularism. (Not all public schools are like this, but elementary-aged children in our church have told me about being prohibited from bringing in their Bible for free-reading time or talking about God with other students.) And while we respect pluralism in the public sphere, we value the opportunity our children have, at least at a young age, to take in what they learn and think from an adult without needing to compartmentalize (keeping their questions about God and Scripture out of the classroom), or filter (wondering if what they learn is true.) We want our children to learn how to navigate being in the world with wisdom and humility, and don’t expect them to be in a Christian environment forever, but for now we value to opportunity to build their educational foundation in a place where there is more freedom in how and what they learn.

Even more than questions about reconciling certain facts here and there (like about dinosaurs and creation), we value the opportunity to incorporate into our daughter’s education the expressed purpose of her learning. I was humbled and grateful a few months ago when she responded to the question “How can you live for God?” with “Doing school!” (I know this isn’t grammatically correct, but that’s how we say “Going to school” here because, well, we’re at home.) As I probed for another, what I felt more fitting, answer, she explained, “No, like by worshipping him with my mind.” Education is not just about learning facts and skills, but knowing why we learn, having the right attitude of humility and faithfulness in our studies, and seeing ourselves as stewards of the minds we’ve been given by God.

Now you may say that all this could potentially happen in a Christian school, and you’d be correct. I actually started looking into classical Christian education after substitute teaching at a school where I was impressed both with the academic rigor and character development in students. But, though we’ve explored some possibilities, logistically this isn’t yet the best option for us. We do have a great community and program we’re a part of that will support our homeschooling. Hence, our second reason for homeschooling, “This is what works for our family for now.”

We are taking it one child at a time, one year at a time. And while this makes it a bit difficult for me since I’m often wondering, “What should we do next?” it’s taken a bit of the weight off to know we can always reevaluate. And the main question we ask then is, “Is she thriving?”

More personally, I’ve come to see that as is often the case when it comes to decision making, God is sanctifying me through the process of deciding whether or not to homeschool. Our fears, motives, and hopes are exposed when it comes to our children. And parents, we are being refined and challenged to be like Jesus here. As we look for answers regarding our children’s education, our hearts are being searched with questions too. Like, what do I really want most for my children? Are these hopes and ambitions godly?  Am I being prideful in my choices? Am I giving into comparison? And am I trusting God with their future? (It took me being awake in the middle of the night, worrying about my girl’s post-college job prospects to wake me up to the irrationality of my anxiety– I was trying to figure out Pre-K at the time!)

Lastly, thinking about our children’s education is also an opportunity for thankfulness. Thankfulness that Christian education is even an option when, as I heard from a friend in China the other day, there are local believers taking huge risks pulling their children out of the public schools so their children can receive a Christian education. And thankfulness for the gift of education we’ve been afforded. The stress of decision-making is actually a sign of blessing– that we have so many good options available to us when many around the world do not have anywhere near this kind of access to education.

That’s it from me for now and we’ll see what we’ll be doing in a year! Do you have any thoughts about education? Or bacon? (Just kidding.)  Leave questions or comments if you do. I would love to hear from you!

Motherhood & Family, Taking Heart

You Don’t Become Superwoman Overnight

IMG_4363.JPG

My daughters are not good eaters but I can’t complain, because apparently I’ve never been a good eater either. My dad tells a story of when I was an infant, and how my mom called him at work in frustration after I threw up all the food she’d painstakingly fed me over the course of an hour. I like this story because it gives me a plausible genetic-predisposition excuse for how my girls eat, but more so because it gives me a glimpse of my mom as a first-time momma.

If you knew my mom, you would probably agree with the man who stopped me a few weeks ago at church to tell me, “your mom is a superwoman.” Her capacity for working to serve others and enduring difficulty is super-human. That’s why it’s strange for me to imagine her calling my dad at work about a feeding session, and that’s why I enjoy the Faith-was-a-terrible-eater story so much. It reminds me my mom didn’t become superwoman overnight.

Some of you may be in the thick of learning how to keep a home, be a wife, or survive as a mom. You may be looking at the superwomen in your lives— your own mom, a godly older woman, or a friend with more children— and hang your head in shame for being so weak and struggling so much. I know how it is. Today, I want to encourage you to remember, these superwomen didn’t get there overnight and they didn’t get there on their own.

As a mom with three littles, my daily agenda most days is still usually “make it through the day.” So the just-married and first-time mom stages aren’t so far behind me that I don’t remember how hard they were.

I remember, as a newlywed, being surprised at how much time was spent on food. Pre-marital counseling prepared me for a lot, but I did not expect meal planning, shopping, prepping, cooking, and cleaning to be so taxing. Three meals a day, seven days a week– and repeat again with no end in sight!

I remember the terrible morning sickness of my first pregnancy. I remember being sad because I wanted to have more kids but didn’t think I’d ever be able to make it through pregnancy again.

I remember the never-ending day that was in actuality the first few weeks after the birth of our eldest. The theme of my days were “I need Thee every hour!” because truly, I didn’t think I could make it through the next sixty minutes.

And I remember the struggle of figuring out the dynamics and choices involved with having children and being a ministry family. 

A few months ago though, Jeff and I joked about going on vacation with the baby when my parents took the girls away for a few days, and I wondered at the fact that five years ago, we’d never have thought “Wow, we just have one kid at home— how relaxing!” We are still young parents and far from being out of the woods, but even in the last six years I’ve noticed one important theme as a homemaker and parent— God grows our capacity over time. 

Some may see the repeating tasks of homemaking and child-rearing and wonder if it’s monotonous and mind-numbing doing the same thing day after day. Yes, there is an aspect of repetition and it is important to maintain perspective in the mundane everyday tasks that make up our days. (I’ve written about it here and here.) But I’ve also found great satisfaction learning that though the tasks of keeping a home and caring for children do repeat, over time, we get better at them. In other words, in doing our daily tasks of service over and over, we become more effective and efficient in doing them and grow in our capacity to do more good to love others.

Over time, in the kitchen, our hands move a little less clumsily at the cutting board and we get better at throwing together a meal for last minute guests. At the changing table, we become able to wrestle down the squirming poop-er deftly enough to continue our conversation with the two older kids about speaking kindly to one another. In matters of the heart, we learn to engage our children better, and discern more quickly whether they need a hug, a swat, a nap, or all three (not all at once of course). All of this doesn’t happen because some people are born with super-capacities– it comes because of all the time spent each day in the kitchen, at the changing table, engaging the heart.

To use gym language, God is the perfect trainer and the daily tasks involved in housework and caring for children are our reps. Our Trainer knows exactly how to push us a bit (a lot) past what we feel is possible or pleasant, because not only is he enabling us to serve others now, he is preparing us for the good works he’s planned ahead. God increases our capacity not so that we can gain mastery and control, but because as we do our tasks in love for those around us, he has other tasks and training lying ahead.

Day by day, God is training us in the work he’s called us to not only physically but spiritually. In putting us in positions of weakness, he gives us a chance to recognize our need for his strength and grace in our work. He gives us a chance to see his grace at work in the day-to-day and his wisdom in ordering our days and seasons as homemakers and parents. I think one reason he does this is so that we can testify to his sustaining presence and comfort to give courage to others, even after we have moved to the next struggle.

So, for the newlywed fumbling around in the kitchen or the first-time mom wondering how you’ll get through the next day, know that there is grace for you today. Grace from God to sustain you, and grace in how he is teaching you skills and lessons you will be able to employ in the future for the sake of serving others. It may be hard, and in a sense it’s supposed to be, but trust your wise trainer and gracious sustainer. The same One who has given daily grace to those you look up to is the One who is training you today.

And to the one who looks like superwoman to another, would you consider testifying to her that you didn’t get to where you are overnight? Is there a way you can speak grace and truth into a younger person’s life, apart from the “just you wait and see how it gets worse!” the world seems to offer? Would you remember how God showed you grace in the past, as he continues to do today?

“By the grace of God, I am what I am and his grace toward me was not in vain.” (1 Cor. 15:10).

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph. 2:10)

Motherhood & Family

And We Are Officially In Over Our Heads

As I write this, our feverish 2 year old is taking a nap, and our 4 year old is getting ready to shovel 10+ inches of snow with dad. Also, there is a little 18 month old buddy resisting sleep (I just came back from finding him in the crib sitting on a large framed map he’d gotten off the wall) and another 2.5 year old exploring in our family reading room downstairs.

A fly-by of these past few months in the Chang home would include finding out we were pregnant, almost pursuing an adoption, grieving through a miscarriage, Jeff’s ordination and transition to full-time work at GCCSI, and welcoming two new foster brothers into our fold. And with these two precious ones, we have entered into the life of four littles under 5, the foster care system, and the journey of caring for special needs.  Yes, we are officially in over our heads.
Continue reading “And We Are Officially In Over Our Heads”

Motherhood & Family

A Not “Lessons 5 Years Into Marriage” Reflection

Chang426
Yay! The one time a year where it’s legit to post up old wedding photos.

This month, Jeff and I celebrated our five year anniversary. I was thinking I ought to write something reflective, like “Lessons 5 Years Into Marriage” and would have if I had anything particularly insightful to say. But in light of some heavy topics that have been on my mind, I have had occasion again to feel deeply how grateful I am for my husband, and now as he puts the girls to bed, I am blogging about him.

It was twelve years ago this weekend that Jeff and I met. It wasn’t until years later that we’d date, but in the time between, he would have won me over with his kindness and humility. When he led worship or spoke publicly or interacted with me, the thing that would strike my heart most often would be the reality of God’s grace, the aspect of my Christian life that I had the most trouble believing and living in.  It wouldn’t be just words either; it happened enough for me to notice that I’d consistently experience God’s grace tangibly in my life through Jeff. He gained my respect without knowing it as I watched him walk through one of the toughest seasons in his life with godwardness and faithfulness. And as I saw him respond to my frequent unkindnesses, I knew that I felt safe around him.

The respect and affections in my heart grew over years without me consciously keeping track of them, but if there were an Aha! moment, for me if would be during a message I watched. The pastor said something about how we ought to date a man who was like someone you’d want your sons to grow up to be or your daughters to marry.

And so we dated, and God brought healing into my life as we did.

Jeff fought for me; letting me know I was beautiful to him, and still treating me with purity, having vowed never to put himself in a position to take anything from me. He spoke God’s forgiveness into areas of shame and guilt and God used him to shed gospel light on my duty-bound heart. He wasn’t (isn’t) perfect, no, but I got to see up close confession and asking for forgiveness and repentance and change. When I wondered aloud about our relationship and told a friend that I believed that at least “he loved me the best he knew how”, she asked “what more could you ask for?” And she was right. My respect for him only grew as long as we dated and were engaged and now, five years post-I-do, it continues to do so.
Continue reading “A Not “Lessons 5 Years Into Marriage” Reflection”

Motherhood & Family, Taking Heart, Truth & Orthodoxy

Good News for My Daughters

IMG_8807

As a new parent, I remember hearing someone say that our greatest comfort is that the two things we tend to worry about most– our children’s physical wellbeing and the spiritual state of their souls are not, ultimately, under our control. After having visited the ER with our first daughter for stitches, finding a baby at the top of the stairs with an open gate multiple times, an “I did not see that one coming” accident last week, and many more close calls, I have been experiencing how true that first bit is. It’s good to know that God is ultimately in control of the health and safety of my children when I start seeing how, try as I might, there are a thousand potentially harmful situations out there that I haven’t taken into account. (Seriously, after becoming parents, Jeff and I often comment how it is a miracle that any of us have lived to adulthood!) I desire my children to be healthy and safe, and though I may have deep fears about disease, sickness, and accidents, knowing that I don’t control it but God does has brought some measure of peace to my otherwise worry-wired heart.

But Jeff and my greatest desire for our children is not that they would be healthy and live long lives, which is why we may be tempted to worry about that second part– the spiritual state of their souls.  Our greatest desire and prayer for our girls is that they would love God and love people. We want them to know God personally, to trust him with their whole hearts, to taste the sweetness of being in relationship with him, and to count everything else as loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ. We want them to be driven by one passion– his glory– and to commit their lives, with joy, to live, and even be willing to suffer and die for the cause of the gospel. And we want more than anything for this to come out of a heart that is made new by God. This isn’t about being good church going kids, moral people, or having “prayed the prayer” at one point in their lives. We pray that God would work and that we would see fruit of obedience out of love for God stemming from new, Holy Spirit wrought hearts. Hearts that are awakened by the Holy Spirit to put faith in the saving work of Christ and do and desire things that dead hearts never could. We want them to know his love and have their lives marked by a deep experiential knowledge of grace.  Our commitment to the gospel and personal experience of it in life is that it is the good news that God isn’t in the business of making bad or good people better, but dead people alive, and we pray and plead with God that he would bring this about in our children even now.

In recent years as I have come to love this gospel more deeply, I have been made undone over and over again with gratitude for God’s sovereign choice to make me, once dead, alive. I know, not just because of teachings about Biblical interpretation or theology, but in the depths of my being that had not God opened my eyes to see and value him, I would not, and am left with trembling awe at the thought. The sovereign will of God in initiating and bringing about salvation has been a source of great gratitude, joy, and humility in my life, but in recent years as a parent, somehow it shifted into a subtle source of fear, not verbalized even in my mind, but still there. The question lurking there and that if thought about enough would bring tears: What if God doesn’t choose to save my children? And so, the knowledge of sovereign grace that has brought me joyful gratitude considering my own life has started to wear away and burden me as a mom. That is, it did until a few weeks ago, when I was brought low in my own eyes that God’s mercy may be lifted up.

It has been a consistent set of those “fail” weeks, that are not just a general “I’m a bad mom” feeling, but ones where I know what I’m doing wrong, how I’m being unkind, and still have not changed. It’s been a stripping-away week of pride in my abilities to parent and I am, by the grace of God, being brought to the end of myself again and again. With clarity I saw a few weeks ago that I was doing so many of the things I never wanted to as a mom. I was, and still am more than I ought, comparing, speaking out of irritation, overly concerned about the opinions of others (too strict? not strict enough?), being inconsistent, and other things that, if left unchanged, would mean that our family would be on the road to being one full of fear, bitterness, ungratefulness, and hurt. It was in the midst of feeling the weight of my failure and as I thought about the hearts of my girls, anxious and unable to sleep, that the thought came clearly to me: Do I want my girls to be at the mercy of my parenting, or at the mercy of God? That was the turning point for me from anxious grief to joyful trust and rest (and with that, thankfully, sleep).

This was the question that cast a light on my prideful fear and offered me a chance to step into grateful, humble trust. Do I want my girls to be at the mercy of my parenting, or at the mercy of God? In other words: Do I want their futures– and namely the state of their hearts, whether or not they love Jesus, and where they will be for eternity– to be at the mercy of my ability to be the right kind of godly mom? Me, inconsistent at best, and love them as I may, still selfish and still foolish at times? Or do I want them to be at the mercy of God who is abounding in love and mercy, unchanging, able, and willing?

Up until feeling the increasing weight of my own failure to know and do what is right as a mom, I was unconsciously saying I’d rather have the first be the case. This showed in my fear of God’s sovereign choice and of our complete need for him to do the heart change, granting us faith to make us alive in him (aka “monergism”). I’d rather be told and taught what to do and pray, or at least how to have the right heart, attitude, and guiding principles, and then be able to say that through those means,  I’ll know my girls will love God and live for him. It’s subtle because I would never have said that through having right rules or teaching, I could change their hearts. But still, underneath it all, there was a fundamental trust in the choices I’d make as a parent–  my own strictness or non-strictness, in how much I discipline or give grace, in how consistent or how flexible I am, and in my own ability to love God. With trust in self high, my heart says “What?? I could do everything right and my kids still could reject God and be messed up? How scary and unfair.” And though I’d never say that out loud, it shows in my fear that a sovereign, powerful God could “undo” or work against all that I do right and well. His election and grace and mercy in it are begrudgingly assented to, but not rejoiced in.

But with a realistic taste of my own self as a mom, sinner, and imperfect and unable to produce the type of family that I desire– with a picture painted of what my family would really look like were it all up to me– God’s sovereign mercy and grace brings about a completely different reaction. It’s “What?? I can do everything wrong and my kids still have a chance of loving God?? THANK GOD THERE IS HOPE!” Like the parable of the workers, I begin to see myself as one of those who have worked much less in the day but still have been paid more than I deserve, and I walk away in awe of mercy given at the free will of the owner of the field.

It’s not that I think I can do whatever and it doesn’t matter what I do as a mom because, hey, God is in control! I, as a mom and as a person will answer to God one day for everything I do and say. I want to do what’s right by him. I also don’t want my children to have baggage to carry, (too many) issues to work through because of me, or to have a twisted view of who God is because of my inaccurate portrayal of him in their lives. Those things go without saying. But I have seen God work in the family I was raised in to bring about gospel reconciliation and change– he still is doing that now. And one of the greatest witnesses to me and others through our family has been not what was done right by us, but how God is still making us new and how there is hope in the gospel to heal. Through that, one of my core values and hopes in life is that in the same way my family now, with my own children, would be a picture of gospel grace. Not just that we would be known as people who are gracious or that we would experience grace through one another, but that people looking at us would see that indeed that God is a gracious God to have had mercy on ones such as us. To know that he had mercy on us, the worst of sinners,  so that “Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” (1 Tim. 1:16 ESV)  And so, I am needing to repent of the ways I have been standing on my own merit, trusting our own family’s standards or hoping in parenting methods and advice, instead of falling on the mercy of our exceedingly merciful, compassionate, gracious, and sovereign God.

Reading through the Bible about families used to scare me. All these godly people having evil children, especially seen starkly in the lines of the kings. And yet, maybe that’s because I was thinking of myself as on the wrong side? Elisabeth Elliot quotes Thomas Fullerin in her book, Gateway To Joy:

Lord, I find the genealogy of my Savior strangely checkered with four remarkable changes in four immediate generations. (1) Reheboam begat Abijah; that is, a bad father begat a bad son. (2) Abijah begat Asa; that is, a bad father begat a good son. (3) Asa begat Jehosaphat; that is, a good father a good son. (4) Jehoshaphat begat Joram; that is, a good father a bad son. I see, Lord, from hence that my father’s piety cannot be entailed; that is bad news for me. But I see also that actual impiety is not always hereditary; that is good news for my son.

Good news for my children indeed.

So we still plead–for new hearts, for mercy, but not in fear but in faith with gratitude. We put kindling around them– teaching, loving, disciplining, instructing, repenting– and we pray, pray, pray for the Holy Spirit to send fire. If you would, pray for our kids that they would love and know him and be given new hearts to trust him? Praise God for his sovereign grace. There is hope for them and hope for me.