Category Archives: Homeschool

Rough Air

People not Social Distancing in Paris Airport, after being asked multiple times
to sit down (where there were no available chairs!)

I was intrigued on this trip to see the euphemism “rough air” replace the long used “turbulence.” Probably some focus group somewhere preferred it, but anyway, I thought it was not a bad description of some of the chaos we’re going through these days —whether you see it as turbulent, or merely “rough”. So I promised earlier a description of other bits of chaos, so I’ll try to do that here, but with more pics. :-)

An almost completely empty Red Robin,
normally one of our favorite haunts in the US
Sign outside the address I was given for my COVID-19 test appointment

When I took this pic, I had no idea how iconic it would feel in retrospect. At the time I was just mad, having confirmed the testing center address the day before, to see a slapped up sign telling me to go somewhere else. It wasn’t far, but it just smelled of an “I don’t care to get things right” kind of attitude. But this attitude (even if I smelled that correctly) is, I think, a natural consequence of the chaos we’re in. If testing centers are opening and closing every couple weeks, why change your docs to reflect where you’re actually testing? And why pay for a more professionally printed and durable sign? Investing in things that change this quickly just doesn’t make sense.

I joked to a teacher friend that she should just make plans for the fall on a whiteboard, and wipe off and rewrite as necessary. That is something of a fatalistic attitude, but there is also realism as well. Things are changing, a lot. So we change (via re-thinking, or not) how we invest in our infrastructure and planning, to reflect the fact that it isn’t a particularly long term that we’re investing and planning for.

In my “surgical” mask, which I was required to wear,
despite the fact that it broke as I put it on
No hugging in church

I get why we can’t hug in church, but wow, we must also admit that it definitely changes the interpersonal dynamic. To have our main posture toward one another be a fear of contagion, or fear of offense (for not following rules, or risking someone else’s health) is just not normal in a healthy church. We are there for each other, crying on each other, and yes, hugging each other. Anyway, I’m not arguing against this policy, just acknowledging it as a big change, and hoping we can move back to more inter-personally intimate (and healthy!) church context.

In the midst of all the above, some things remain pleasant:

Hanging out on my couch with a Bible and cup of coffee
siblings fighting over Legos newly handed down from their brother
Beautiful newborn baby neighbor
First day of school pictures

So after all, there is lots of chaos, rough or turbulent, but there are also lots of things to enjoy, as well. A missionary colleague once told us her secret to contentment was finding something she enjoyed in each place she went to —like

yummy fresh avocados

Joel’s Drums

Joel has always been a drummer. I noticed it first in his high chair as a toddler. This past three years he has had his own drum kit in his bedroom (sorry, neighbors!) and he loves to jam out to his favorite songs. He was first chair in Symphonic band percussion all year, and enjoys playing every kind of drum.

We realized in packing up our house to move to Cameroon that he wouldn’t be able to bring his drum kit. It costs something like $14/square foot to ship sea freight across the ocean. And it certainly wasn’t going to fit in a carry-on! I had seen others travel with more compact digital drum kits, so we hatched a plan to sell his real kit & save for a digital kit. The problem came when he only got $100 for his on resale and used digital kits were $400-600.

We went to the music store in May to see if he liked the feel of the digital kit. He started with the highest caliber and played his way down to the cheaper sets. His favorite sound was on a mid-range set – the Yamaha DTX. The used one was priced around $550, so we left empty-handed.

The store had refused to return unopened replacement drum heads, so I posted them for sale on Facebook Marketplace during our garage sale to keep saving up. After a couple days not one person had responded to inquire about the drum heads. Halfway through our garage sale I got a message on them.

A worship band pastor nearby in Hurst needed them for the church drums and asked if I would consider donating them to his church for a tax deduction. My heart sank. Our whole life felt like a tax deduction. I responded with the background – “I’m actually trying to sell them for my son who is raising money to purchase a digital kit to move back to Africa…”

Carl responded, “This is a God thing! We have a digital kit that needs an easy repair that we are looking to get rid of, and I think I’m supposed to pay it forward and give it to your son!” Hope rose in my throat.

I asked for pictures. Sunday morning he sent me pictures of the dusty digital kit sitting in their storage closet. I couldn’t believe my eyes! It was a Yamaha DTX kit! Of course it was! Oh me of little faith…

Joel traded his $80 of new drum heads for a used $500 digital kit. He brought it home, spent 10 minutes fixing the missing piece, and drummed away in the garage (his room was newly painted). God not only saw us and provided for us, but He saw Joel. He saw Joel’s willingness to give up things he loves to move back to the mission field. He sees. And He cares.

Joel’s “Drum Kit from God” is all packed away now to be shipped via sea freight from North Carolina. Pray blessings for Carl and his worship ministry in Hurst. Pray it all arrives safely and quickly on the other side! Praise the God who provides! He is awesome!

Selling All

Over Memorial Day weekend we held the biggest garage sale of our lives, and I confess – I am not a garage sale person. We have never lived in one home as long as we have in Texas, so every closet was full. We have never lived in such a big house as we have in Texas, so each kid had their own room full of stuff too. As we sorted and sorted and sorted, a verse kept running through my head:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…”
Hebrews 12:1

Kent prayed that our garage sale would be a ministry opportunity. I was doubtful. My hopes aimed much lower. I hoped someone would show. I had never conceived of a garage sale that ministered to anyone.

But God had good plans. He not only sent us buyers for hundreds of dollars, but so much more! We had so many neighbors we had never met come by to shop and wish us well. We had a passerby named Samaria stop to shop the first day. She had never seen homeschool books, and asked if she could interview our kids about their homeschool experience.

We answered her questions and talked while others milled around. Suddenly, Samaria felt convicted that she had condemned her sister in Georgia for homeschooling her nephew. She stopped there in our driveway with tears in her eyes to apologize and reconcile over the phone. They hadn’t spoken in weeks and the rift began to heal!

The next day a retired Army chaplain and his lovely family gave us extra cash after buying books & baskets. They stopped in the middle of the driveway to circle our family up and pray over us and our work. It was beautiful. And not like any garage sale I have ever been to!

I had posted some extra drum heads from Joel’s drum set online for sale and had another miraculous conversation I describe here. God provided all the buyers we needed!

Our calling involves moving internationally, and moving internationally requires traveling as light as we can. In order to run the race marked out for us (in Africa), we will cast aside all that hinders. All this stuff will slow us down. We need to run with perseverance.

It can be painful and difficult to let of meaningful belongings. Following Christ in obedience is worth the price, trading temporary comforts for eternal ones. Pray we can wrap up the sorting and selling well, ready to run our race!

Senior Year Abroad

It doesn’t make sense on paper to uproot a teenager for the final year of school. But we were questioned about taking him to France as an infant, or to Congo as a kid; much about our life looks like foolishness to some people.

But there are a number of reasons why it makes sense for us to go to Cameroon at the end of this school year, including the fact that Anna will be starting junior high, and Joel will be starting high school.

But James will be a senior next year, and the school in Cameroon has a policy of not admitting students for their senior year only. We believe this is a good and reasonable policy. However, we also think is a good and reasonable thing to ask for an exception to this policy for James. In this post, I’ll discuss some of the reasons their policy makes sense, and why we think James will do OK.

The policy makes sense

Teenage years are tumultuous enough already, without adding a change of school (not to speak of country and language). I know; I moved high schools after my sophomore year. The transition to a new school wasn’t easy, with new classes, new class requirements and prerequisites. I made the best of it, but I wasn’t changing languages or countries (unless you count California to Oregon as an international move.… :-)).

Added to the above are the transitions particular to life in a cross-cultural context. The school is in Cameroon, which has its own cultures, languages and politics. Language might be the easiest to deal with, since French is a national language in Cameroon (in addition to English). But needing to use French to take a taxi, or to buy or sell in a marketplace, is a different kind of stress than having to take a language class.

Politics in Cameroon is its own thing, perhaps especially right now. I hear (from Cameroonians) the president has been in power for a long time, and many people hope for change. There is talk of succession from the provinces that use English, to the point that at least some expatriates are not living there now. When we were there in 2004 (just after Joel was born), I recall the particular irony of not seeing any campaigning for the presidential election until after the election took place.

Encountering other cultures is one of the mixed blessings of any cross-cultural context. We get to rub shoulders with other brothers and sisters in Christ before we meet them at the throne of God (Rev 7:9̈-10). That said, other cultures have other foods, customs, and expectations of life, and these can take some getting used to. My personal top two “I hope I never have to eat that again” foods (tadpole soup, and fermented manioc) were first encountered in Cameroon, though we also saw fermented manioc in D.R. Congo. These adjustments are not insurmountable, but they do take time and work to deal with.

So when you add changes in language, culture and politics to changes of school and hormones, we get that this is not a small task, and we understand why many students would isolate themselves, come to hate themselves or their new context (or their parents, or God), and ultimately do very badly in a single senior year abroad.

James will do OK

That said, we believe that James will do OK, by God’s grace.

As I have talked to people who survived having missionaries as parents, and as I talk to people who work with missionary kid issues, it seems like one of the biggest indicators of how a missionary kid turns out is how much a part of the mission the child personally feels. Because of this, we have for some time talked our kids through transitions from the perspective that this is something our family is doing together for one purpose —not that dad has a job change and everyone else has to go along.

Another key element in weathering transition well, I find, is talking through transition, before, during, and afterward, to make sure everyone is processing it emotionally. This was a particular issue as we struggled with the more difficult years of Asperger’s, but we got used to talking each of our kids through what we would do when and why, so when we did it, there were fewer surprises for them. As soon as we would have an itinerary, we would talk about which planes we would take where (including which would have bathrooms, and which would have movies). I’m not saying this is something we have perfect, but we as a family have lots of experience weathering transition —enough to feel when things are going well, and when we need to take more time to work through things.

The above has two caveats. First, our kids have mostly been in Texas the last five years. So while James remembers Africa, I’m sure he will be surprised more than he thinks. Second, all of this (as in all things) has been done by God’s grace. When I say “experience” above, what I really mean is having some information in advance, but still screwing things up, and depending on God to make things right. Then spending time processing what happened and how to do better. Which means we have more information for the next time, but we still screw things up, and still need God to work all things to good (Romans 8:28). So ultimately what I mean by saying “James will be OK” is that God has given us a history both of weathering transition, and of depending on him, and we trust that he will show himself to be good in this case, as well.

What does this look like practically, right now? We are nine months out from a potential move to Cameroon at the end of this school year. We have already had a number of conversations, both as a family and individually, about the cost and the value of this transition. I have asked each of us to spend some time considering what the cost and value are for us personally, and we’ve had a number of very productive conversations since then. My goal is that each of us would have bought in to this transition without reservation —well in advance of any family move.

So far, I’ve talked more about our family process than about James. There are also a number of reasons why I think James will handle this transition well —beyond the fact that we have experience processing these things as a family. Basically, James is doing well in school, better than we imagined he would five years go. He takes tests very well, and he has developed friendships with classmates that he wants to see outside of school (something I never did much of in high school ;–)). But despite learning to be social, he is excelling at honors and college prep classes in almost every subject, including AP English; he is taking calculus now, as a Junior. James is in his fourth year of French now, and seems eager to be able to use it. Despite wanting to study math in college, he is also working on an endorsement in engineering. And until recently he insisted on taking (and enjoying, and doing well in) art —something I never managed to do myself.

Outside of school, James has showed a commitment to piano, both in practice and lessons (currently working on Sonata in G Major), and in leading worship at church. He is a very emotive pianist, and has said that playing the piano helps him express feelings that don’t come out in words. His commitment can be seen in that he wakes up at 5:45am to practice before school each day.

I’ll let James himself speak to his own motivation to go to Africa for his senior year (post coming soon), but I am grateful for the growth, maturity and responsibility he’s had to date. I am more grateful to see the man God is making him – especially given where he’s been.

Observations on a Sidewalk (of a Solar Eclipse)

For all our friends in Oregon, who observed a total solar eclipse yesterday, this is what we saw in Texas:


You can see that direct light of the sun shining through just on the edge of my head, but not when you block just a bit more of the sun:


So much for semi-direct observations. The eclipsed sun here looked the same as the sun on a hazy day. Boring.
Then we saw a few other things, which were a lot cooler. Here are the shadows cast by the eclipsed sun on the tree in our front yard:


At one point my ADHD brain decided to see what would happen by focusing light through my reading glasses, and we were rewarded by a nice, clear picture on the sidewalk:


And soon enough, we got other glasses out:IMG_20170821_132918065_HDR.jpg

And because this really is a science class anyway (isn’t everything?), we got to see focal lengths in action, as my 2.0 readers focus closer to the ground (and with a smaller image) than my 1.5 readers…


And when the eclipse was about over, we could see the sun with just a dent in it:

And the same thing was reflected in the sidewalk:


Just to confirm my observations, i went back it after the eclipse, and saw the same images, but not if a full, unobstructed sun:


And again in the sidewalk:


One thing this set of observations did for me is put some perspective on these tree leaf shadows. I don’t know how many times I have looked at them but never saw them as formed by pinpoints where light makes it through the trees, like the pinpoint projectors we were encouraged to make to look at the sun or that you might have made in a physics class.
I had just seen dots of light that made it through the leaves of a tree, which I know can be artsy in and of itself, but now I see that those dots of light in the sidewalk are inverted images of our sun!

Treebeard and Quickbeam

Joel just finished reading the Lord of the Rings, and today he decided to put his love of fantasy into Lego. He had found kits online for $200+, but decided he could do it himself. Anyway, here he is, proud of his creations.   For those that don’t remember Quickbeam, he wasn’t in the Jackson movies, but he took care of Merry and Pippin for the greater part of the entmoot, while they were deciding to go attack Isengard (Saruman’s fortress).

In case you’re worried about him hyperfocusing on one genre, don’t; he’s now reading Jurassic Park. 🙂

The Content of Our Character

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. 
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

Life in the Pacific Northwest basically persuaded me that civil rights and racism were issues argued by academics and politicians for academic and political reasons. Since moving to Texas, however, I’ve found that the issues are more than skin deep, as it were. As in, many people don’t want to talk about race, yet their actions, and things said tangentially or avoided altogether, indicate that tensions are still quite alive.

But rather than to pretend to solve this nations race problems, I’d like to talk about a good friend of mine, and how he envisions the ideals of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Way’s skin is darker than mine, but I’ve never seen that as relevant in our relationship. He is an elder at a church I attended some time ago, and hope to visit again this summer. When he preaches, he preaches boldly and clearly, and with insight. He speaks out against corruption, which has played a large part in keeping his area in poverty. And when he thinks I’m wrong, he doesn’t hesitate to say so.

Yet he was the the one called on to give the sermon at a funeral of several young men killed by those of a rival group. The fact that the community called on him in this potentially explosive moment shows that they trust him to to speak the truth without bias, and in love. In a moment where many called for retribution, Way lived and preached the ideal Dr. King referred to as he said “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred…. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence.”

But not only has he promoted peace when and where others sought violence and revenge, he is also a constructive part of building his community. As head of a development college at a local university, he teaches students about practical and applicable development. He requires and supervises student work that makes a difference in the area. Where there is not clean water, he has built wells. But anyone can dig wells; they do it in a way that the community can pitch in, both financially and logistically, so they have the self respect of having participated in the project (not just receiving a gift). So the well improves the health of the community physically, but also morally, as the people benefiting see that they can be a part of improving their lives. Which brings me to another Dr King quote: “You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.” It is too easy to look at hardship and sit down. But Way has been an example to me of working hard in hardship, to make things better for himself and others.

Which brings me to the most fundamental Dr. King quote, cited above.  While we argue and fight about what each other really think, I yearn for the time where character is the basis of judgment, not skin color. Which is to say that I think that judgment is necessary. Police brutality is wrong, and should be stopped. But I yearn for the day where it is neither vilified nor excused because it was white on black. I yearn for the day that a reporter can talk about the character of the abused before giving a racial description. I think of the “Mom of the year” recipient, who dragged her son out of a mob and beat him. If a man is committing a crime, he should be lawfully arrested and tried, however we might describe his skin. And if he’s innocent, that should be found without prejudice, and he should be left in peace, again without reference to skin. Character is what should count, not skin. But perhaps we’re a ways off of that.