Have you ever spoken or chanted a set of words to get yourself through a challenging or frightening situation? Just last week I responded, “I think I can” when someone asked me if I was going to make it through the rest of the school year; and “I can do anything through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13) are words that help me take a deep breath and keep marching forward. My kids also love to say “just keep swimming,” when they are tempted to get off track. Saying such words, repeating familiar truths can help bring us back to a known, comfortable grounding. And sometimes, when you don’t know what to say, saying words you do know can free up the mind to think of new ideas and leave your ears open to what God has to say.
My children, as with everyone’s children, are so different from each other. Our firstborn daughter, Emily, was ready to experience the world the moment she could stand on her own two feet. She is not happy unless she is going and doing…and talking. Three years after she was born, our first son, Kaleb, came into the world. He was born making barely a sound. He was awake, alert, healthy, eyes in every direction, but not much noise; a whimper or grunt instead of a howling newborn cry. As they grew, we watched them experience the world in different ways. When it was time to choose a musical instrument, she chose the drums, he chose the guitar. She painted her room orange, he painted his taupe. In a conversation, she talks, he listens. Two children from the same two people turn out to be as different as the sun and the moon.
We had another son, Micah, and his personality only added to the mix. I have heard it said that the third child is the easiest. And thankfully, Micah was. He was easy-going and happy all of the time. Maybe, as parents, we look at the third differently also. Now we know how important it is to enjoy these days and how fast they will be over. We also know that this child will not break as easily as we thought the first one would, so we are more at ease. But the big question is how exactly do you parent different personalities, meet different needs, and teach the same values to people who literally hear things differently? And did I mention how different my husband and I are from each other? We often have a difficult time agreeing on ways to guide or discipline our children. But along the way, we developed some sayings that we could agree on to help us on our parenting journey. I say we, I mean he. I am sure my husband came up with most, if not all, of our sayings, but they serve in times of confusion, chaos, and questions to bring us back to a center; to remind us why we do what we do. One such saying that would turn out to be a lifesaver is be a student of your child.
Do you remember being a student? Maybe some of you still are students. (I was a student and a mom for about 5 years. You will get through this- “just keep swimming!”) Students spend a lot of time learning their subjects. They read books and learn vocabulary. This is the same concept when you are a student of your child. My guess is you know what their voice sounds like in a room of 20 other children and their cry from a playground away. But do you know what their cares are and what concerns them? Do they get agitated when upset or worried, or is that their behavior when they’re excited and anxious about something fun? Remember how I said our first son was quiet, didn’t talk much, and observed everything? When he was in 4th grade, he was not about to tell us that his life was changing; in fact, he really didn’t know that it was. But because, when we were in the midst of utter confusion God reminded us to say, “be a student of our child, be a student of our child, be a student of our child,” we calmed ourselves in the chaos and our ears and hearts opened to what the Lord was telling us.
My son had always loved school and everything that came with school. Being a pre-school teacher myself, he had been in pre-school since he was two. He would bound out of bed on school mornings ready to be there. He would sing the songs and do the hand motions all the way home. My quiet, thoughtful son became animated and, dare I say it, extroverted when reliving his school day. When he entered kindergarten, he loved everything about every day. From the morning pledge to the teacher’s instruction to where he sat in the classroom, this was his sweet spot. In 1st grade, he had a teacher that allowed him to stand up at his desk instead of sit down, knowing that he learned better on his feet than on his seat. Once again, school had proven to be the reason for existence in this 6-year-old’s life.
When Kaleb was going in to 3rd grade, we were moving across town but our home was not ready yet. Our daughter was entering middle school so her school was set and our youngest son was too young for school, but we could not decide what to do with our middle son. Do we go ahead and send him to the school across town, driving him every day until our home was ready? This seemed like a lot of work on our part, and I went to the Lord to ask for guidance. God swiftly responded showing me that Kaleb would not be happy if he had to switch schools mid-year. When I say swiftly, please know that I don’t mean that he answered me in the moment I asked or even the next couple of days, but when he responded the whole entire idea was laid on my mind all at once. It was like he showed me an entire picture of words all at one time. God also reminded me again to be a student of your child. Observe and see how he handles change. I began doing this and realized what God was saying. We were going to be driving a lot of miles.
Third grade was wonderful. His teacher was exactly what he needed. He and about six other 3rd graders ended up being in a class full of English as a Second Language kids. He was able to help Russian and Chinese and Mexican children learn English. This just might be the best year of school he had had yet. God knew right where he wanted that boy, but he also knew right where he wanted me. I was just beginning to listen to him a little more. And then came 4th grade.
The year began as all school years do. The supply list came out, and we got to the store as soon as we could to fill up the back pack. Joyful kids came home and labeled supplies and set them all by the door – ready to go. School began but by the second week, Kaleb walked home slower than usual. By the end of the first month, he voiced his first ever, “I don’t want to go to school today.” We responded in the way that all good parents do by working our hardest to convince him he actually did want to go to school, telling him some days were just hard, and ended by letting him know he really didn’t have a choice in the matter, and he just needed to find a happy place.
As the weeks went by, he began walking to and from school more slowly, sighing a lot, not doing homework which he had always loved, and getting sick. I don’t mean like cough sick. I mean like bizarre things sick. We were seeing specialists, going to Children’s Hospital to have blood drawn, having x-rays taken, anything to find out what was going on. In rushing him from doctor to doctor and making appointments and driving all over town, the time to stop and pray seldom entered my mind.
No one on earth had an answer. There was nowhere to turn. So I began to pray. Why is that? Why do we wait? God was tapping me on the shoulder for months, and I finally turned around to ask what he wanted. He had put a great doctor in our path, one who was a friend, and he suggested we might have a stressed out kid. We wondered, what does a 4th grader have to be stressed out about? Be a student of your child, God reminded. As I took the next few days and began to study him, my eyes and ears were opened and the Lord revealed to me one thing that stood out above all else. Kaleb’s heart had changed. He was no longer the boy I had known for 9 years. It wasn’t that his actions were different, although they were. It wasn’t that his face looked different, although it did. I could see that what made him joyful just a few months before no longer even made him smile. I could see that the spirit that was lighting his eyes was no longer there. I felt like I was knocking on the tin man and yelling, “It’s his heart. I can no longer hear his heart beating.”
After speaking to teachers and principals, God led us very clearly down the path of finding out the problem. It was school. He was in a pretty troublesome class with an uncompassionate teacher and problems were all around. While studying him, the Lord revealed we still needed to be building his foundation. He was being tossed around and didn’t have a place to stand. And God made it perfectly clear to me that I was about to do some hard things.
Can I stop right here and say that the Lord had never guided me through anything like this before? I am telling you that he revealed and he spoke and he swiftly laid ideas on my mind, but I had not met with God on that level until this experience. I thought it very interesting when I so clearly heard the word of the Lord before Kaleb’s 3rd grade year. Before then, I only knew that God was leading when, as I said earlier, doors opened or closed. And that is his leading. But he was ready to meet me now in a different way. And it took the desperate love for my child to turn wholly to him. The idea of homeschooling came up and although I had toyed with it before, I had never actually been too serious, but God closed every other door; slammed really. So down this path we began. We homeschooled Kaleb the last semester while the other two went to school. At the beginning of the next year, our daughter wanted to homeschool because it looked fun, and I was not about to get up and get just one child off to school, so we homeschooled Micah as well. Year one.
Year two, our daughter was miserable. The boys were happy about every aspect of homeschooling, but she was not. I began to pray about it and swiftly the Lord said, “She is a light. Why would you hide her under a bushel?” (Another way I know the Lord is speaking is when he uses his familiar words.) And because we were a student of our child, we were confident that we would be aware if anything went awry. So we put her into the public high school after Christmas break. There were so many obstacles getting her back into public school, but every last obstacle we met, God smashed. Even down to her finals. She had to take tests from classes that she had only attended half a year, but at the last minute, those finals were canceled, every last one of them. It seems the first case of swine flu in Texas was at her high school and they closed school for a week three weeks before school let out for the summer. Everyone ended up healthy, but in losing a whole week of school, there was no time for tests. In my prayers for her situation, never once did I think to ask for that. She went on to graduate from high school and is doing very well in college. That light that God told me I had is about to spend a month in Honduras, living amongst the orphaned and lonely.
You see, as I look back at this roadmap, I see so much now. There are so many intricate details that God knew were coming. He had all things under control and would have led and guided our children even if we hadn’t listened. No, things would not be as they are today, 10 years later, if that first step of driving our son across town to school had not been made. But God is so, so faithful. But more important than the right school or the right timing, God was after me. He had so much for me to hear. Since that time in my life, the Lord has revealed things to me through scripture, helped me to see beauty and pain in people, and made me physically feel his arms around me. In the still and quiet of a morning, he showed me pain that was headed my way. I didn’t know that’s what he was showing me then, but 24 hours later I did. And I also knew that because he took the time to show me, he was going to guide me through the darkness. There is nothing special about me, there is no magic line I have to God and his words. Once upon a time, I was a desperate mom with nowhere to turn and I promised him then and there that I would always listen.
And one more thing. As I was about three-quarters of the way through writing this article, I had decided to scrap it all. I wasn’t really feeling it anymore, I began questioning this story, wondering if it was evidence enough of God’s movement in our lives. The enemy will always have us question the power of God. As I was leaving my house to take one of the kid’s friends home, I walked out into the garage to the site of this picture. He was playing guitar, she was playing drums. And the Lord swiftly said, “Just keep swimming.”