Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Bible Anxiety

The following is a post that I was honored to write for Shanna Noel's blog at

I was raised in a traditional, conservative, Southern Baptist household by two parents who love the Lord and who both love books. I was raised to love the written word, to love the books that hold them, to respect and honor the men and women who had given themselves to the practice of putting pen to page. The Bible is the Word of God, and is therefore the ultimate book deserving our love, honor, and respect.

In our home, respecting a book means taking care of that book: not breaking the spine, not folding the corners down to mark our page, and ABSOLUTELY, POSITIVELY NO WRITING IN THE BOOK. The goal of reading a book is to ensure the book looks as pristine after you finish reading it as it did on the shelf of the bookstore. There should be zero sign that the book has been touched, opened, or manipulated. If we were required to underline or mark up a text for school, my parents would buy two copies of the book: one for me to 'ruin' and one for us to preserve on the shelves of our home. Any and all underlining must be done with a straight edge (what my Dad has always called rulers) in a blue or black ballpoint pen that is used throughout the entire book so that the book's appearance remains consistent. Notes should not be taken in the margins. They should be written in a separate notebook with a reference to the page, line, and quote being discussed. Doodling is strictly forbidden.

Some of you may find this a bit obsessive-compulsive and a bit odd, but it is what I grew up knowing. Not crunching and marking up books is how we showed our respect to the books. This was especially true of God's Word. Our family has one Bible that is the designated Family Bible where births, deaths, and baptisms are gently recorded. One year for Christmas, my parents gave my brother and me Bibles with their favorite verses carefully underlined for us to know where God had spoken to them, and this remains one of my most priceless possessions.

You may be wondering what this has to do with art journaling and using our Bibles for art and meditation. If you have seen my Instagram feed, you'll know that my first artsy page in my Bible caused me physical pain. I was nauseated, jittery, and anxious. I had goosebumps, and the hair on the back of my neck tingled. I had thought that by using one of my older Bibles, I would be ok with the art and not worry that I was defacing and messing up the Word of God. I was wrong. My goal was to not spend any money for this new-to-me art form. I would only use what I already had, and that included my Bible. I love scrapbooking. I enjoy art journaling, and the concept of combining these creative outlets with my daily Quiet Time called to me (I mean, seriously...making an inky mess and calling it worship and prayer? You had me at 'Hello").

My art journaling has developed over the last few years as a way for me to cry out to God. I play with color and scriptures and song texts when my MS-brain fog prevents me from forming coherent thoughts and making complex decisions. My art journal is a place where I call out to God and meditate on His Word without fear of messing something up. In a separate space (my art journal), I am not afraid to try new things. I do not worry about what will bleed through and ruin the page behind it. I focus on the words, the colors, the textures, and it is all good.

I admit that after my first anxiety-ridden page in my favorite large print Bible, I set that Bible aside and ordered an OFFICIAL journaling Bible from amazon. I did this not because I wanted to spend the money, but because I knew that this Bible art journaling 'thing' has me excited to study and read God's Word again. I knew that if I invested in a dedicated Bible that I gave myself permission to write in, then I could enjoy the freedom of prayer and worship in my Bible without the anxiety, and that my precious Life Application Bible could return to its honored place on my shelf. I knew that I would have a place where I can make mistakes, where I can make a mess, where I can ruin a page just by covering the back with gesso. I knew that I could be free to use whatever supplies I have, be it pen and pencil today, or watercolor and stamps tomorrow, without the fear of ruining God's Word. I admit that there are some entries I like more than others. I admit that I have made mistakes. I admit that I have ruined a page or two. But that is ok. God is happy with my work. He is happy that I am spending time with Him. He is happy that I am creating and meditating on His Word. For every verse and passage that I read and study and personalize, I am growing closer to Him and abiding in His love. And that is a good thing.

If you take nothing else away from reading this post today, I hope you know this: God loves YOU. He wants to spend time with you. He wants you to know Him. If giving yourself permission to draw in, write in, or paint in a Bible is what it takes to encourage you to spend time reading His Word and to draw closer to Him, then please do it. We are all different. We all create art differently. We all have different handwriting. We all have different supplies and talents. We all have different budgets. None of that matters. All that matters is that you are reading and praying and worshiping God. This is your relationship with Him, your learning, your creating, your time. And in the end, the only One whose approval you need is His.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Why Do We Homeschool?

We have now been homeschooling for 8 years. In some ways, our reasons for homeschooling have changed. In other ways, they have remained exactly the same as when we started.

1. My husband and I are self-professed academic snobs. We met at and graduated from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. Before that, I attended a wonderful, independent private school for high school that is consistently ranked as the best in our state and one of the best in the South. We both attended graduate school: medical school for me, business school for him. I have done post-residency fellowships, while he has excelled in the world of computer geekery. We want our children to have the gift of a superior, academically-challenging education.

2. We do NOT want to remove God from the classroom. We believe that Jesus is the only Son of God, the Savior of the world. We believe that God created the world out of nothing. We do not believe the world is a happy accident or a coincidence. We want our children to know God, to have a relationship with Him, and be free to learn about and study Him in a safe environment. We do believe in science. We believe that science is a way to understand this world that God made. We believe in literature. When studying poetry and prose, we want our children to be welcome to compare passages from A Midsummer Night's Dream to verses in Corinthians. We want all of our studies to reflect God and His creation.

3. Our Girls thrive on individual attention. Our local schools typically have 30-35 children in each class.

4. We want SCHOOL on OUR LIFE schedule, not LIFE on a SCHOOL schedule. We want to travel when we want, where we want, and for as long as we want. We want the freedom to explore museums and battlefields and mountains and streams, to amble across the country for months at a time without having to worry about how many days of school our children are missing, or to spend spontaneous long weekends at Disney World just because we crave a Mickey fix. We like to travel.

5. We want our children to have the freedom to be children. They are currently 8 and 12 years old. One of my governing mantras in life is 'The Joys of Childhood.' I want kids to play, to explore, to experiment, to build, to invent, to pretend, to make just be kids. There is no need for our children to grow up too soon, to have boyfriends at age 9, to dress like 20-somethings preparing for a night out at a club, to worry about being too fat or too thin or not good enough.

6. We want to encourage them to be themselves, to thrive, to discover what interests them. Our eldest is a dancer. She loves art and creative writing. She sings her way through life. Our youngest is our engineer. She spends hours building cities out of Legos and printer paper. She thrives on math. She begged to study chemistry and physics this year instead of plants or animals (remember, she is only 8!). She is methodical and solves problems like her Daddy. A one-size-fits-all curriculum does not allow them both to thrive. When buying curriculum for the oldest, I had to choose literature-based, project-based learning with minimal textbook use. She has always preferred to write stories than to color in the lines or fill in the blanks. I had planned to reuse all of her curriculum with her sister. Boy was I wrong. The Little Person was a reluctant reader and remains an extremely reluctant writer. She prefers textbooks with absolute answers and freezes when asked to write from her imagination. She has to be forced to write more than one-word answers. She adores rocks. She collects them everywhere we go and spends hours studying them and reading geology books for fun. Her favorite parts of our summer road trip? Any day she got to spend outdoors searching for unique rocks and rock formations and then comparing them to what she had collected the day before. Could a public school teaching a Common Core curriculum encourage these two to pursue learning what they want and how they want? Sadly, no.

7. Last, but certainly not least, we love to travel. Our goal is to travel to all 50 states and all 7 continents with our children before they leave home. So far, they have both visited North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Antarctica, as well as most of our beloved United States. We are slowly but surely exposing them to life outside of our Southern, suburban bubble. They recognize how blessed and how fortunate we are to live where we live. They are developing a heart for missions and a desire to tell others about Jesus. The are learning to give what they have to those who are less-fortunate, be it money, time, skills, or just a hug and a word of love. They are learning the heart of the Great Commission:

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. And lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Matthew 28:19-20

Photo: My Kid and her friends making aluminum foil hats while enjoying Weird Al Yankovic's conspiracy-theory-based song, Aluminum Foil.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Homeschooling and Standardized Testing

We have recently begun our 8th year homeschooling. I look back, and I wonder how it has flown by so fast. If you had asked us when the Kid was in 1st grade (or 2nd grade or 3rd grade) if we would still be doing this, our answer would have been a resounding NO. We fully intended to send the Kid (and her sister) eventually to real school. Our plan had been to send her in middle school so she could be adequately prepared for high school, but reassessing every year to determine if would continue for another year.

We are a family of testers. We may not agree with all the tests in this world or the questions and biases they present, but we recognize that they are necessary evils. They exist in our world, and they are a part of our country's educational system. They are a way for colleges and schools and governments to objectify the thousands of students learning every day. They provide data that compare our children to others, enabling elite colleges to have an easy YES/NO for their applicants. Do these tests tell anyone how unique our daughters are? No. Do they say anything about their talents and God-given gifts? No. Do they measure even a fraction of the light and compassion in their spirits? Absolutely not. But they exist, and schools require them. The End. 

Our Kid is not the world's greatest test taker. She has anxiety. Anytime she is required to do anything on a time limit or 'by a clock,' she freaks. She melts down. She is unable to function. Her stress levels have improved over the years, but only because we have worked with her extensively. We do multiple practice tests with her and talk about how the time limits are designed to work. We have taught her stress-management - everything from yoga to fun reading to 20 jumping jacks as mental and physical breaks to help her refocus.

Our cover school requires its students to take the Stanford Achievement Test every other year starting in 3rd grade. The students are proctored live in an online classroom. The test is taken online, in our homes, and is untimed - completely opposite from how the local public school students take the same test. Stress is minimized as much as it can be. The goal is for our children to succeed and to do the very best that they can.

In addition to how the schools use the standardized test scores, we use them as a personal grade book. My husband and I use the test as a gauge that we have taught our children what they need to know. Math is math. 2+2 is 4. There is no why. It just is. Knowing that most 3rd graders know this fact and that our child has proven via test that she knows this, as well, reinforces to my husband and I that our children are meeting (and hopefully exceeding) the knowledge base of the local schools. Bottom line? We are academic snobs and want our children to have the absolute best education possible. Acing standardized tests tells us that we have taught them how to take a test as well as the underlying required facts. Is this the way we should think? I don't know, but we do. If our children do not excel on the tests, we use this as a reflection of our teaching. If they don't know something (especially in science or social studies), then odds are we have not taught that material. We then use this information to guide our curriculum choices and learning for the next year.

Is this ideal? I don't know. It works for us, and it has for 8 years. Hopefully, it'll continue to work, and our Girls will be able to attend the colleges of their choice, knowing that they have been properly prepared for the testing to face them in the future.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

How We Started Homeschooling - Part 3

Recap: We homeschooled 5k, fully expecting to send our daughter to 1st grade at a local private school, and then we moved to another state and decided to homeschool the fall semester and send her to school in January.

We moved to our current home that summer. I started work at my new hospital. My husband church shopped and found us a new church home. We found a dance studio for my artsy girl to pursue her dream of being a ballerina. We found an art camp for her to make art for a week and (hopefully) make some friends. We drove the 4 hours back and forth to my parents' house a lot. We enjoyed being near the beach. We soaked up our new environment and learned everything we could about this new place we called home. Our goal? To NOT relocate again for a looooong time. This had been our 4th major move in 3 years, and we were tired. We had not lived in one place for more than 5 years our entire marriage (4 years medical school, 3 years residency + 2 years as staff and part of fellowship, 1.5 years for more fellowship in an apartment then a house, 1.5 years in Florida, and now back to my home state).

We researched the local schools. We read about them online. We drove past them at various times per day. We visited them. We asked about them with anyone we could find. We even filled out an application or two, but when the time came, we just couldn't send our Kid to school. We realized that we liked having her around. We liked being together as a family. With my crazy work schedule, if she had attended school during normal school hours, I would not have seen very much of her. I wanted to know my Kid, and I wanted her to know me. When we asked her what she wanted, she asked if we could continue homeschooling. It was unanimous. We all wanted to continue this homeschool life we had been enjoying.

Over the next few weeks and months, we worked out a system. The LoveBug (our little one) was walking by now and was a major distraction during school time, so we put her in preschool from 9-1 at our church down the street. She is a homebody Mama's Girl, so forcing her to separate from me and be with others was good for both of us. I was free to focus on her sister. She was able to learn that Mommy would still be there when she came home for all the snuggles she wanted. My husband works from home as an uber computer geek. When I needed to work or sleep, the Kid would either do some computer-based learning or continue her lessons that I had assigned her to do. She read a lot. She painted a lot. She danced a lot. She did what she loved most, and she learned while doing it. And THAT is what made us decide to continue homeschooling.

Photo: An assignment for the Kid's current online art class at

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

How We Started Homeschooling - Part 2

RECAP: We homeschooled our oldest daughter for 5k so that she could attend 1st grade at the local private school with her friends that are only 3 weeks older than her.

And then life changed. I have always believed that God has a plan for all of us. We just need to figure out what He wants us to do, then do it. During this year of the Kid attending 1/2-day preschool and homeschooling 5k, I was randomly flipping though a pediatrics medical journal and saw an ad for a teaching position in a university-based Pediatric ER IN MY HOME STATE. Now I already had a good job in a nice town making decent money. Our youngest daughter had just been born. We had only lived there for about a year, but I missed home, and I missed teaching. I missed having medical students and residents around and the learning environment that comes from various levels living and working together at all hours of the day and night. So what did I do? On a whim, I picked up the phone and called the 'If Interested, Please Call' phone number in the ad, and I may have forgotten to tell my husband that I had done it.

2 days later, I received a phone call from the University's Peds ER Medical Director. We chatted for over an hour and bonded immediately. It was obvious to me from that one phone call that this guy had the same medical and teaching philosophy that I had. He invited me for an on-site interview, which I eagerly agreed to and scheduled for when I would be in the area a few weeks later. I just knew in my heart that this is what God wanted me to do. I just had to tell the husband and convince him.

He was not pleased (since we were just starting to feel fully settled in our Florida home), but he humored me and agreed to allow me to go on the interview. I loved it. He was skeptical about relocating again so soon, but even he recognized that this hospital was more Me, more What-I-Love-About-Medicine. I was offered a job on the spot, before I even left the interview. After hours of prayer, he agreed to let me uproot our family once again.

So how does this relate to homeschooling? Well, now instead of finishing her 5k so that she could start 1st grade at the local school, I had to research new, unknown schools and decide how to best educate her in the new city. According to real estate agents, our new public schools would be 'among the best in the state,' which was fine and dandy until I dug deeper and found out that while yes, they are good for the state, they are still 'C' schools on a national scale - NOT acceptable in our educational snob household. My next step? Researching and calling and investigating private schools. Over the next few weeks, I called and left messages with several of the local private schools. None of them ever called back. EVER. God's input? I think so.

As our move rapidly approached, we prayed and decided to continue homeschooling the first semester of 1st grade. We were moving over the summer, and that would give us a few months to settle in and get a feel for the local schools. We would actually visit the private schools, schedule meetings, fill out applications, and send her to 'real' school in January. That was our plan. We liked our plan. We all (even the Kid) thought this plan would work. Obviously, God had other plans...

Thursday, August 28, 2014

How We Started Homeschooling - Part 1

I can't remember if I have told y'all about our reasons for homeschooling or how we do it, so that is what I thought I would start rambling about today.

We lived in Central Florida when my oldest daughter was in preschool. She is our Christmas baby. Most of her friends were born in October and November. Our local schools would not let her start kindergarten with her friends, because her birthday fell just after their December 1 cut-off. She was as smart as her friends. She was as physically developed as them. She could already read. She was ready for kindergarten, and she really wanted to go to school with her friends. None of us wanted her to have to wait another year for her to start school just because she was born 3 weeks too late. I had to do something.

First, I called the private schools. My thought: If the public schools won't let her start due to a birthday, surely the private schools would want my money enough to let her start with her friends. I was wrong. To quote the school administrator, "We have enough families wanting to send their children to our school. We do not make exceptions for any reason, especially not for birthdays." Several of my in-laws had homeschooled for several years, so I asked the private schools that if I homeschooled my daughter for kindergarten, would she be able to start 1st grade the following year. Their response? A resounding YES. And so I began my research into homeschooling.

Over the next several weeks, I read everything I could find on homeschooling. I searched online. I read blogs. I went to teacher supply stores. I called my sisters-in-law. Absolutely everything available. I read and read and read some more...and then I reviewed and reread my notes.

Finally, I ordered curriculum. My family has always been a family of readers. We have books everywhere. My father raised me with the mantra, "There's no such thing as too many books." Our stacks of books have stacks of books piled on top of them. Flat surfaces in our home beg for books to be placed on them. I was nervous about what curriculum to order. Since I was new to this, I wanted a complete curriculum that laid out exactly what I needed to teach my child every day. My husband and I are also self-professed academic snobs. We both graduated from Vanderbilt University and have always wanted our children to have the best education available. If we were going to pursue homeschooling, we would have to find an academically rigorous curriculum that would challenge our daughter. After hours and hours of research, I finally chose Alpha Omega Publications LifePacs for math and language arts and Moving Beyond the Page for science, social studies, and art. Each of these curriculae told me exactly what I needed to adequately teach a complete year of kindergarten to my child. Alpha Omega LifePacs are traditional textbooks - my kind of schoolwork - absolute answers, fill-in-the-blanks, etc. Moving Beyond the Page is developed for the gifted student. The curriculum is unit-study based and dives deeply into the material, requiring your child to creatively figure out solutions to various concepts and to generate a unique project for each topic. My child loved it, every minute. I discovered very rapidly that she is a nontraditional student. Workbooks make her miserable. Art projects and creative writing excite her. School-wise, she is my opposite. I LIKE textbooks and workbooks. She hates them. I forced her to complete the kindergarten LifePacs, but that was the last year that we used traditional textbooks for her schooling.

We started the 5K curriculum after Christmas. I was working full-time in a Pediatric ER at the time, and our Kid went to preschool in the mornings. When she came home from preschool, we would 'Do School' until time for me to go to work (usually either at 2PM or 9:30PM). We easily finished the year of kindergarten curriculum within a few months, and our daughter was on track to start 1st grade at the local private school the following fall. Little did we know that God had another wrench to throw into our lives and that we would be relocating before she could actually start her real school. And that, My Friends, is a story for another day...

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Gluten Free Travel

Let me start by saying that road tripping on a gluten-free diet is challenging. Difficult. Hard. Not easy. Not fun. But it can be done.

Step 1: Plan ahead. Pack lots of your favorite gluten-free snacks in your backpack. Download the 'Gluten Free Me' app. Be prepared to cook a lot. When we travel, my family likes to explore new foods and new restaurants. We have a standing rule to not eat anywhere that we can eat at home. No chains. No fast food (except those rare times when Bill doesn't want to stop for a meal and wants to keep driving and get miles covered). We look for local hangouts, diners, local cuisine, and Mom&Pop places that are filled at lunchtime with a non-tourist crowd. We like to immerse ourselves in the local culture, both overseas and within the US.

Step 2: Know your standby go-to places where you know you can eat. Defying our no-chain rule, there are certain chains that are gluten-free friendly. Chipotle, Noodles and Company, and Mellow Mushroom are consistently edible. I wish I could say we never ate at these chains while traveling, but I would be lying. At least we ate them instead of giving up and eating my beloved wheat.

Step 3: Explore local grocery stores. My mom and I never tire of wandering, photographing, and picking out samples of local brands. We randomly found the most amazing little grocery store outside Glacier National Park. It was small. It was locally-owned. It was the most disorganized grocery store I've ever seen (Ummmmm, Hello? Do you really need 3 different freezer sections, 4 meat sections, and 2 dairy areas, none of them within sight of each other?) BUT it had the biggest selection of gluten-free foods I have seen anywhere, including halibut fish and chips, cinnamon rolls, and fresh breads and rolls. It was fabulous. I completely filled the refrigerator and freezer in the camper. I even met the owner while I was perusing the aisles, and was able to discuss the pros and cons of the various brands he carried. Amazing experience.

Step 4: Take the time to cook. Part of why we planned an RV trip and not a hotel-based vacation was so that we would have our kitchen with us. On days when we didn't need to cover a lot of territory and drive long distances, we had the time to cook. We grilled out. We made pancakes. We baked muffins and brownies. We ate cereal out of cups. We enjoyed just being together, sharing meals together as a family, 3 meals a day, with no TV or cell phone or schedules to distract us. It was glorious.

And lastly,
Step 5: Be flexible. Know that no matter how hard you search, you may still be stuck eating your protein bar and almonds for lunch while your family eats a sandwich. It's going to happen. Accept it now, and focus on the fact that you are exploring a new place that may become your new favorite place. Enjoy the ride, and thank God for creating such an amazing world for you to explore with the people you love most.