Broadman & Holman
We have just entered our twenty-first year of homeschooling. This is also our last. Elizabeth, our youngest, has just begun her senior year at home. Her junior year was her watershed year. Her academic load was tough and a bit overwhelming. We had designed several honors-level courses for her, and she participated in a very demanding anatomy and physiology course outside the home. She prepared intensively for the SAT (college boards). And she also invested fifteen-to-twenty hours a week in the performing arts.
In August 2003, at the beginning of her junior year, Lizzy (so dubbed by her brothers) interviewed for an internship position at WMHK, our local award-winning Christian radio station. Bob Holmes, the director of News and Information, selected one homeschooled high-school student per year to serve as his news reporter intern. Bob designed this internship to be innovative and cutting edge: he taught his interns how to cover news events, how to use WMHK's sophisticated equipment, and how to write news reports for broadcast on the air. Given Lizzy's strong interest in broadcast journalism, this situation seemed too good to be true. She applied for and received the position, and all of a sudden we were adding at least ten hours a week to a schedule that was already bursting at the seams.
As Lizzy completed her junior year in May 2004, I surveyed the rich accomplishments and the damage. The accomplishments: She did very well academically; she had an exciting year in her performing arts pursuits; and the internship provided more opportunities and experiences than we could have ever imagined. The damage: Her days started early and ended late. In March she was diagnosed with mono, rested some, but refused to rest sufficiently because of her many commitments. By the time the end of May rolled around, she was exhausted. But like a marathon runner, she believed if she could just make it to the finish line, she could collapse, rest for a while, and regroup. She is a real trooper.
In June, Lizzy attended Palmetto Girls State, a one-week leadership/civics program sponsored by the American Legion Auxiliary. While she was gone for the week, I decided to surprise her by giving her bedroom a much-needed makeover. The year had not only taken a toll on Lizzy's health, it had taken a toll on her room. Every evening for a week, when Joe got home from work, we would eat supper and head upstairs. Joe added built-ins to Lizzy's closet, while I cleaned out drawers, shelves, and bookcases. When we had everything organized, we decided to buy her a new dresser to replace the small one we had bought for her nursery seventeen years earlier.
By the time the week was over, Joe and I were exhausted. We had worked into the wee hours of most mornings to ensure that we would finish the room by the time we picked up Lizzy. AlthoughI was tired, I was thoroughly excited about Lizzy's room becauseI knew what it would mean to her. She had a busy summer planned, and I knew that having her room renovated and re-organized would be a blessing for her. She had planned to take out several days to deep-clean her room when she returned home. Joe and I were giving her a special gift by giving her those days back-by preparing her room for her. Besides, we had resources she didn't when it came to solving some of her room's space and organizational problems.
On Saturday morning before I picked up Lizzy from Girls State, I took my routine walk. Over the years I have developed the habit of listening to the Bible on tape as I walk for forty-five minutes to an hour. This particular morning I was listening to the Gospel of John. I stopped dead in my tracks when I heard the familiar words ofJohn 14:2: “In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if not, I would have told you. I am going away to prepare a place for you.”
Preparing a Place
Jesus, in His infinite love and mercy for us, has heavily invested Himself in preparing a place for us. This passage took on a rich new significance for me as I contemplated (for what felt like the first time) how hard He has worked throughout eternity to make sure rooms are completed perfectly for each of His children. Just as Joe and I had put great thought and care into designing and preparing Lizzy's room for her, Jesus has perfectly and carefully designed and prepared a place for each of us. Because He is the Perfect Designer, with unlimited resources at His disposal, I know that my room will be perfectly suited for me-not because I deserve it or have earned it in any way, but because my Heavenly Father loves me and has put great thought and care into every aspect of preparing it. Your room will be different from mine-because your Heavenly Father has designed a place to suit you, not me. But we know that the same love that purchased our salvation has been at work preparing our places in His home. If it were not so, He would have told us.
As parents, we don't have had any loving thoughts for our children that did not originate with God. James 1:17 tells us, “Every generous act and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.” Parental love originated in the heart of God, before earthly parents were ever created. We know how to love our children because He first loved His children. We know how to do good things for our children because our Heavenly Father does good things for us. God the Heavenly Father teaches us how to be parents through His Word and by His example (which we find in His Word).
Just as God the Father has thoughtfully and lovingly prepared a place for us, He has placed within us a desire to prepare a place for our children. Obviously, we cannot prepare an eternal home-a heavenly mansion-for our children. Only God can do that. But I do believe we, as parents, are to heavily invest in preparing a placefor our children here on earth-which in turn will help prepare them for their home in heaven.
Preparing a place for our children obviously involves preparing a physical place-a home. But that is only the beginning. We are to work diligently to prepare a place in this world for our children by carefully cultivating their God-given gifts and personalities. Our goal is to prepare them to fulfill their God-ordained places in this world in relation to their occupational calling, their calling as future spouses and parents, their calling as citizens, and their calling as Christians.
The Process of Cultivating and Educating
Dr. Jeff Myers, president of Myers Institute, is also a professor at Bryan College and the homeschooling father of four children. This summer Jeff spoke at the Glorieta and Ridgecrest Homeschool Family Vacations. During one of his keynote sessions, he talked about Adam's work in the garden, using Genesis 2:15 as a reference: “Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it” (NKJV). According to Jeff, the Hebrew word for tend is dabar, which means “to teach” or “draw potential out of.” Then he noted that the root words for educate are e ducere, which means “to lead out” or “to draw out of.”
In her book Let Me Be a Woman, Elisabeth Elliot tells of speaking at a Christian liberal arts college. A detractor wrote this in response to her speech, “Why is this college educating women if their primary calling is to be motherhood?”1
In a letter to her daughter, Elliot answers the question: “The lady's idea that mothers do not need a college education floors me. What, she asks, is your college educating women for? Surely it is to draw out (the root meaning of the word educate) the gifts God has given, whatever they may be.”2
Isn't it interesting how closely linked these ideas of tending, cultivating, and educating are? When we tend or cultivate a garden, we are attempting to draw out of its soil the best it has to offer. Just as a gardener tends the soil, to draw out the best it has to offer-so we are to tend our children. In the same vein, when we educate our children, we are attempting to draw out the gifts and potential God has given.
The ideas of tending, educating, and cultivating are all labor-intensive activities. As with anything that demands hard work, we need to know why we're doing what we're doing. We need a sustaining vision to keep us motivated.
A Vision for Cultivation
The afternoon autumn sun cast a golden haze over the entire landscape as my son Ty and I traipsed through 250 acres of beautiful rural land in the low country of South Carolina. This estate belongs to Ty's friend Norm and has been in his family for more than one hundred years. While Ty finished his last semester of college, he helped Norm manage and cultivate the land.
As we walked together on that brisk afternoon, I could tell that Ty was absolutely enthralled with the beauty of the land, with its assortment of timber, crops, rolling fields, and abundant wildlife. But even more than that, Ty was captivated by the potential of the land. As we walked the perimeter of different ten-acre plots, he would point out what he was doing and why, explaining techniques of land management designed to support different types of crops and wildlife. Ty could envision ways not only to increase the beauty of the land but also to increase its usefulness and productivity.
I must admit, when I looked at the land, I saw land, not potential. I could walk on the terrain for hours just enjoying the scenery and sunshine, but I was a casual observer, not a student of the land. Where I saw ugly thickets, Ty, with the eyes of faith, “saw” paths covered with canopies of trees leading to grassy knolls. Where I saw fallow fields, Ty could envision sod fields, hunt clubs, and thriving crops. To him, the potential and the possibilities were endless.
My lack of vision did not insult Ty. Instead, he began patiently instructing me in how to look beneath the surface and find the signs that tell the real story of the land. First, he focused on the wildlife-pointing out the multitudes of animal tracks indicating the diversity of the species that congregate there. “Mom, these are turkey tracks. I heard so many turkeys gobbling here last year, it sounded like a convention.” Sweeping away some pine straw, Ty said, “Look at these deer tracks. Just a few yards to our left, the deer bed down-if you're really quiet, we can probably see them.” And, “This is where Drake (his highly trained chocolate lab) and I accidentally jumped that covey of quail last year. It scared us to death.”
Our idyllic walk through the countryside was interrupted by my involuntary screams, as I realized I had inadvertently stepped on a snake. Undeterred by my screams or my panic, Ty worked the snake into his lecture: “As the days get cooler, these cold-blooded animals are looking for all the patches of sunshine they can find.” He informed me that this snake was also looking for water in the Carolina Bays, depressed areas created by meteor activity that occurred a couple hundred years ago. “You always need to keep your eyes open for snakes in this area, this time of year.”
Although Ty forgot to give me advanced warning, he always keeps one eye open for danger. He has learned the hard way to stay on his toes-he has been stampeded by cows, attacked by snakes, and stalked by a hostile buck.
As we hiked back to the 120-year-old homestead nestled in the midst of this beautiful landscape, Ty told me more about the land's potential and how he planned to cultivate it through proper care and development. We also discussed some of the pitfalls, and even the dangers, associated with his work. His enthusiasm, his vision, for this land was not dampened at all by the presence of problems or by his own limitations. He had counted the costs. In his mind's eye, he could see the land ten to fifteen years down the road, and the vision was worth the effort.
During the course of this book, I want to take you for a walk through the landscape of family life. And, like Ty did for me, I want to paint for you a vision of child-raising that is so captivating and enthralling, you will decide that all the toil and trouble is well worth the effort.
Ty taught me not to look at the land only as it is today, but also to look at its limitless possibilities if properly managed and cultivated. When you look at your children, I want you to see more than the present-I want you to see the great potential residing in each of your children. We'll look at areas of your family life or your children's lives that look like little more than overgrown thickets, and we'll discuss ways to turn the seemingly useless land into useful, lovely terrain. You'll learn to look for and recognize the signs of potential in your child's life that are easy to miss, but are ripe for ¬cultivation.
We'll look at each child's life through the eyes of faith and the lens of Scripture, creating a vision of hope and beauty. We will also look to the Master Gardener as we learn to use the tools He has given us for cultivating our child's potential.
The seven tools for cultivating your child's potential are designed to help you in your planning and labor to prepare the best place possible for your child in this world. They are designed to encourage you in your quest to “draw out” the best each child has to offer. They are designed to point out how God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit labor intensively on our behalves as Christians. If we imitate God's behavior toward us, we will be good parents-and our children will have a much easier time believing in a God who loves them and has sacrificed Himself for them.
Trust in the Lord and do good; Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Psalm 37:3 (NASB)