(Written when Bee was 13, Jo was 12, Atticus was 9 and a half, Logan was 7 and a half, Oli was about to turn 3, Mani was 18 months, and Seven wasn't even on the radar.)
Do you ever notice that the one person who seems to zero in on all of your faults, the one person who gleefully calls you on the mat, the one person who nags you when you stumble is ...
Yeah, it's like that for me, too. I am my own harshest critic. I am the one who points out my shortcomings, who sighs dejectedly when goals are not met, who brings out the wet noodle when things go undone. I am the one who sees that the floor has not been vacuumed. I am the one who tells guests at the front door to please excuse the fact that I have a living room overrun with small plastic whatnots. I am the one who sees the science book lying there, untouched, and chastise myself for failing to make time. Again.
I strive to be the perfect wife, mother, and homeschooler. Of course, I can't be any of those things perfectly. I'm lucky to even be a good wife to my deserving husband, a passable mother to my fabulous kids, and the kind of teacher that I want to be. I constantly walk around with the knowledge that life is a delicate balance. Ample portions must be placed neatly on each platter. This one is for my husband: I'll give him time, encouragement, love, support, respect, and a house that he will be proud to come home to at night. This one is for my children: I'll give them love, cuddles, discipline, gentle words, security, joy, and fun. This one is for my role as a homeschooler: here I place my self-discipline, my creativity, my intellect, the flames of curiosity, and all the patience I can muster.
All it takes it one slight nudge in any direction for everything to swing out of balance. Too much in the way of fun for the kids, and the self-discipline needed to accomplish those school goals can fly out the window. Too much time invested in helping my husband with the practical stuff, and I might just have to shuffle my kids off in front of the television for a half hour. And wait just one doggone minute here! Where's my plate?!?!
It's a balance. It's hard work. And it's heart work.
I really need to give myself more leeway and grace. I need to make sure I'm in line with God's will, and trust that the rest will follow. I need to tune into Him, and trust that He will provide the details as I move to be the woman He wants me to be.
If only I could quiet that nagging voice. "You're doing it wrong. So-and-so is so much better at that than you are. Are you sure you're cut out for this?"
And here's where I'm going to cut to the chase and throw open the doors to my heart:
Sometimes, the voice I hear isn't my own. Sometimes that voice belongs to my fellow homeschooling moms.
At some point, somewhere along the journey, many of us begin to feel like we've figured it out. We hit our stride (even if it's just for a season), and things are working well. Our husbands are madly in love with us and delight in our every word. Our children are impeccably behaved, cute as buttons, and geniuses to boot. Homeschooling is a joy, and we can't wait to begin each day's adventure in education.
And we start to think that we have discovered the secret. You know--The Way To Do It.
So, of course, we tell others.
We pass on tips on homemaking, housekeeping, being the perfect wife, child training, selecting curriculum, selecting a church, you name it. We rattle off reading lists, mention specific scriptures, talk about speakers we've heard. But instead of simply offering granule of life experience, we add a small caveat to our gleanings. It's usually completely unspoken, but it's there. It's judgement.
If you don't wear dresses all the time, you're not conservative enough.
If you don't have a dozen kids, you're not a good enough mother.
If you don't joyfully submit to your husband 100%, you're not a good enough wife. If you don't wake up at 4 a.m. for a 2 hour prayer-time, you're not a good enough Christian.
If you don't do school for six hours a day, you're not a good enough homeschooler.
"Did you see how her son acted at co-op? Awful. You know, I'm so glad that we have a first-time obedience policy. My kids never act that way, because they know we mean business."
"I heard they're having marital problems. If she would just stop trying to run the family, they'd be fine."
"I doubt they even actually homeschool at all. They seem to be involved in every activity coming and going."
For some reason, homeschooling and legalism seem to walk hand in hand quite often. And the truth is, legalism is appealing. It seems to offer the one charted course that leads to the safe, soft-focus destination called Perfection. There are rules and order in legalism. There are Scriptures with very definitive takes on very specific things. There are clear-cut right ways and clear-cut wrong ways. Go this way and it will all turn out. Veer off course and-- you're told--you'll hit the rocks. And really, who doesn't want a guide book that promises to make everything in your life turn out just so?
I have struggled with legalism. I have looked at my own life, with it's bruised apple spots, and thought that maybe the answer could be found in a certain attitude toward my husband, or a particular form of femininity. I have watched as my children have grown, and I have feared life's ups and downs for them, wondering if perhaps erecting certain fences in our family might spare them from future pain.
For a season, those things seem to bear fruit. And then, invariably, I hear that still, small voice asking me the question that never fails to bring my carefully constructed perfection crumbling down:
What about grace?
What about grace, indeed? Pursuing righteousness and holiness is a noble and good task. Bathing your family in the goodness of God, instructing your children in His words, being in the world but not of it ... these are all things that the Lord commands us to do.
But He also asks one other thing of us as we walk the path that leads, ultimately, to His mansion for us:
Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. --1 Thessalonians 5:11
My fellow homeschoolers, we all fight the feelings of defeat and insufficiency that lead us to look at our days and wonder why God chose us. Please, instead of adding to that chorus of pain with more baggage and assumptions, can't we instead give a good report of one another? Can't we look at the harried mom of two kids who is trying to make it work and pat her on the back without pointing out that we have six kids and are getting by just fine? Can't we quit turning up our noses at the wife whose husband has no interest in being a leader of anything, let alone their home? Can't we drop the co-op dress codes that make it seem as if Jesus wouldn't be caught dead in a room devoid of denim jumpers?
Can't we extend grace?
Because frankly, we need it. We need it from ourselves, we need it from our friends and, most of all, we need it from God. The thing is--the Lord offers it new every morning. It's the rest of us who haven't gotten the memo.
I'm working on grace right now--for myself and for those around me. I'm praying that God gives me His eyes, and His love. And maybe, maybe ... just a little bit of His grace and mercy to pass around.