Thursday, June 10, 2010

Three Fingers Pointing Back

You know, I am guilty of overkill in the early years. =(

I didn't realize it at the time, but I too was trying to raise the perfect Christian children. My daughter was as earnest as I about always doing what was virtuous- thinking, feeling, and acting in Christian love by the strictest standard.

Not only did I use Christian curriculum (which I modified on occasion because it didn't coincide with what I believe to be accurate about Jesus) but at first I used only devotional books for our night time readings.

I don't want to name names, but we often had to disagree with both the story presented and the proof-text scripture they would always have at the end of each story to back it up. I don't mean every time, but at least once a week. As we got into later volumes, it seemed more and more lessons were religious tripe that actually went against the doctrines of salvation by grace and sanctification being the work of the Holy Spirit and not of the believer. There were heavy burdens in those devotionals, ones I couldn't carry and surely didn't want my children to carry. So we chose to lighten up a little with some fun reading instead.

The first fiction we decided to read together at night was Johnny Tremain. Oh, it was so much more enjoyable to come together as a family at bedtime! My children were really taken with the part where young Cilla gets tipsy, and I remember we talked about how different countries have different laws about what age is appropriate for alcohol. I love history and sociology, so I never miss an opportunity to point out that things here were not always the way they are today, nor does the whole world live like Americans. But I digress. Again. *sigh*

So while we were loosening up at night, we were still reading the Bible together in the daytime, though by fourth grade my oldest was reading her One Year Daily Bible on her own. She would write the date in the corner at the end of each day's reading session. I would have my own time with my son while she was reading. We would memorize scripture together, using big muscles groups to act out pantomines to help us remember long passages at a stretch. It was actually pretty fun for all of us.

But while I was earnestly trying to be the total Christian woman, and to raise devoted Christian children, the world kept going on in all its ugly messiness. In middle school it blew up in her face. (I have read that middle school was a time that many home schooled daughters cracked under the pressure.) Here she was, striving to always do the virtuous things, and her friends dumped her anyway. Middle school girls can be so cruel, and a dose of religion makes them worse, not kinder as you would expect.

As these problems would crop up in our life, we prayed together. She was the most loving, tender-hearted child. She had deep compassion for her friends, and when she found out they were cutting, researching Wicca, things like that, she told me and cried and prayed with me. And when she shared her concern with her friends, they dumped her. Mercilessly and without regret. They did their best to isolate her, getting everyone to leave the room when she came in, and if she followed, to run back inside and ditch her.

She's always been introverted, but this almost destroyed her. She became even more withdrawn, almost catatonic, while I was beside myself trying to help her. She wouldn't talk to the counselor we signed up with, and I was desperate to help her.

So I gave her a lot of freedom. I started reading unschooling books, and loosened up on just about everything. (Ironically, the book that inspired me the most during this time was the children's book I'll Love You Forever.)

She found a friend from a family that I didn't approve at the time (embarrassing to admit) and I was so desperate for her to be well that I let the girls hang out together. Her friend introduced her to role-laying on Neopets. I didn't "believe" in letting kids on the internet, but I sucked it up and gave her the freedom to pursue this new hobby. She was hurting, and I was helpless to stop the pain. If neopets helped, then she could role-play on Neopets.

(Neopets turned out to be the best language arts program I had ever utilized! She wrote for hours and hours. She would correct other role-player's grammar, spelling and punctuation. I printed off her story at the end of the year and a lawyer who lived next door was astounded. She felt like it had to have been written by a college student majoring in creative writing.)

She started going to youth group with this other home schooled girl at her church. I still didn't approve of the family (what a snob I was!) though. I was just happy my daughter was being invited places again. She was still a hurt and angry little girl, so no surprise that she got into Goth style clothing. She started wanting to wear lacy black and lime green. I allowed her to express herself with clothing, as long as it wasn't sleazy.

Life doesn't happen in a vacuum and my daughter's broken heart and crisis of faith was not the only heart break I was dealing with. My husband was withdrawn, sullen, unkind. He was not at all supportive of me and the huge problem that I was having with my daughter. I didn't know it at the time, but he was also depressed. He and my daughter fed off of each other, taking turns hurting me in some sort of sick sport. I was too earnestly still trying to be the perfect loving, forgiving Christian woman to get a handle on what was going on. I just cried more and prayed more and tried being more supportive and loving. That didn't improve things any.

Dad was not really a good dad at the time nor any kind of true Christian role model. Oh, he was morally upright but lukewarm in faith- sleeping through church, no personal devotional life- and mean as a snake, but always in sneaky ways. His cruelty was more often expressed in omission and other passive aggressive ways of stabbing people in the back. Raised a devout Christian fundamentalist, he is expert at ways of revenge so subtle that you can't point to and say "That's clearly wrong!".

All this time, my daughter was still very angry and depressed. The sweet little girl I once knew was replaced by a bitter, resentful child. It was clear that she was hurting, but she would not let me or anyone else help her.

And so all my efforts at having the perfect Christian home school family ended in failure. We were still home schooling, but it was plain as day that our life would never be featured in a BJU Press reader! I had followed all the rules. I prayed with sincerity of heart! I read my Bible daily! I was kind and earnest and worked diligently to model Christian charity. But I cracked too.

I did the best I could with what I had. I sometimes wonder if the middle school freeze out would have hurt my daughter so much if we hadn't been SO EARNEST in our love, SO SINCERE in our faith, always striving for the HIGHEST and the BEST. Maybe it wouldn't have been so shocking that other people will screw you over, that other Christians will gossip and ostracize and back-stab. Doing such things would be unthinkable for us, so fervently did we seek to please the Lord at all times. We were totally shocked and devastated.

From my daughters point of view, the whole thing (Christianity) was a ruse. We were the only ones trying so diligently to love, forgive, do good, etc. And because of that, we were the ones getting screwed. She was just facing facts. No wonder she got so deeply depressed. No wonder she stopped trying so hard to do what's right.

She did not walk away from Jesus, but she did walk away from even attempting any works of righteousness on her own. She was mostly rotten to me and her brother. She didn't even try to be cheerful and kind anymore. It was hell living with her during those years.

But in the end, I am glad for the way things turned out. She pulled the mask right off of our gospel of works. I may have talked grace, but I was clearly going about to establish my own righteousness. And not mine only, but my children's as well.

So as a pastor once said, when you point the finger at someone you have three fingers pointing back at yourself. I partook of the dangerous home school vision too, that I could nurture the perfect Christian family. But Jesus loved me too much to leave me in my delusion.

And so here I am in Graceland. =) There are no pat answers here anymore. Everything is up in the air and who knows how it will all come down? I say "I don't know" a lot more. I am living in reality now, where people are messy and inconvenient and sometimes even ugly. I live in the real world where everyone else lives, where people cuss and fight and laugh and only Jesus has to die on the cross for the sins of the world. This world that He loves. I can't add to his work. His work is finished. He is our sanctification.

Thank you, Jesus!


  1. Thank you so much for your wrenching honesty. I have 2 little children, and am contemplating homeschooling next year. Your posts about how things really are help me feel less overwhelmed at the prospect.

  2. Best wishes to you on an exciting learning adventure with your children! But watch out for the subtle pressure to raise uber-Christians.

    And check out I'll Love You Forever from the library. It's sooooo adorable! It was both the art and the words in that book that inspired me.

    I love home schooling, and in spite of all the crap we endured, my daughter is glad she was home schooled. =) It is the freedom she remembers the most! !Viva libertad!

  3. SS--re: the next post that has already been taken down--{{HUGE HUGS}}

  4. Hey shadowspring this is frogla aka Heather here from the forum. I was wondering if you can email me @ cuz I need to ask you a private question having to do with the forum. thnx a bunch!

  5. Thank you so much for this post and for your honesty!!! Much needed!

  6. This is amazingly honest and real. You will help others to be able to be honest with themselves. I think many traditional homeschool families are deceived into thinking that they aren't "works" oriented and yet, what else does "works", in the negative sense, look like? When you said you didn't approve of the other homeschool family, was it because they looked like the world, so to speak?


  7. Oh, the answer to that question is so embarrassing! It will reveal what a self-righteous, circle-the-wagons, self-centered woman I truly was. But here goes:

    They let their kids read Harry Potter!

    They let their kids watch scary movies! (Scooby-Doo and worse!)

    They left their children unsupervised regularly. (Mom was trying to save her marriage by going out with Dad when he left.)

    Later, their son introduced our son to the word "pornography" on the internet, and all my worst suspicions were confirmed! 0.0

    Actually, the mom was a lonely woman battling for her sanity and her marriage. Her husband was a religious fanatic and a control freak. I was the WORST FRIEND EVER and if there was no mercy for the undeserving I WOULD BURN IN HELL for the way I judged that helpless, hearbroken friend of mine and turned away.

    Her husband left her for an adulterous affair, a women who will be a better help to him in his "ministry". But before he left he abused his wife in every way, financial as well. He made her stop homeschooling to support him on a part-time job while he raided the equity in their home and ran up their credit cards. He made her feel crazy and ugly and unwanted and all in the name of God.

    And I didn't want to get involved. Shame on me! SHAME ON ME!

    The young lady in question has grown up with her love for God intact, and is a beautiful talented artist. I am proud to know her.

    I should've been proud then, but I was a mess.

    Can you ever forgive me, mu? *tear

  8. "And check out I'll Love You Forever from the library. It's sooooo adorable! It was both the art and the words in that book that inspired me."

    My mom gave my brother and me a copy of that little booklet for Valentine's day a few years ago. Big ole, gruff and grizzled me, in my late 20s at the time, was reduced to a sobbing, emotional ball of goo. Great little book, and my favorite gift my mother has ever given me.

  9. It is a precious read and the illustrations are priceless! n_n

  10. We have had I'll Love You Forever - well, for forever, and it is a beautiful illustration of unconditional love. As Christian parents (homeschooling or otherwise), we can set all of these standards and expect all of these outcomes (not saying that's a bad thing - necessarily), but we often let the perfect be the enemy of the good, to say the least, and confound and alienate our children in the process, and we confuse them about what grace means, so they are unable to recognize God's grace (just as we often are).

    Thanks for sharing this. Your honesty and vulnerability are so incredible.

  11. Yep, that is a great book. It was the illustrations, especially of the teenager, that opened my eyes to loving my children as they stood in front of me, not as I dreamed they would one day appear. Love that illustrator!