Tuesday, April 29, 2008


In Haiti, 16-year-old Charlene resorts to eating dirt to fill her belly.

Bai was married at five to a 36-year-old, and widowed by nine. She spent her entire life begging for a living. In India, widows do not remarry; their very presence is considered inauspicious, so they are shunned by society. Even when they are nine.

Forced from his home in Sierra Leone at 12, taught to maim and to kill at 13, Ishmael is just one of the world’s estimated 300,000 child soldiers. The atrocities he lived through – and was forced to commit – are hard for us to imagine.

Kamala was cursed at birth for being born a girl. As she grew up, she was constantly reminded that she was a financial drain on her family. The sooner she was married off, the better. But marriage requires a dowry, something Kamala’s family couldn’t afford, so when she was 12, they sold her into prostitution in Bombay instead.

Mende was kidnapped from her village in southern Sudan and sold by her captors into slavery to an abusive Arab family in Khartoum. What she endured at the hands of her masters was beyond cruelty.

These are just some of the stories I’ve read. No, they aren’t tales from history books, but events that are going right now as I sit in my comfortable home. People are eating dirt while I eat ice cream. Widows are ostracized, children are conscripted as soldiers, girls are sold into prostitution, youngsters are kidnapped and sold into slavery.

My heart breaks when I read these accounts. But there’s more, much more.

Lawlessness in Somalia, which hasn’t had a central government for 17 years.

Desperate laborers lured to sell their kidneys.

Leprosy. Yes, today.

Christians thrown in jail and tortured.

Children sold like commodities by desperately poor parents.

I read, and I weep. I want my children to weep, too. I want them to be aware of these atrocities, these injustices, these horrors. Only in this way can they, like I, be moved to action, whether it’s to donate funds to help the oppressed, speak out for them, lend a hand during a mission trip, or devote their entire lives to making a difference.

How will my kids learn unless I teach them?

So next year, I will introduce a new subject into my homeschool curriculum. I’ll call it Heartache.

Once a week, we’ll learn about child soldiers. Street children. AIDS orphans. Those who dig through trash to eek out an existence. And who better to teach my children than I?

I fed the street children in Addis Ababa.

I hugged the orphans in Honduras.

I befriended a woman who digs through trash in a Mexican landfill.

I played with the AIDS orphans in Ethiopia.

I had my heart broken by the starving children in a Kenyan widow’s home.

I saw countless thousands of people sleeping on the streets of Calcutta.

I visited a fistula clinic where women with childbirth injuries are repaired, sometimes after years or decades of suffering.

But I didn’t even touch the tip of the iceberg of the world’s suffering. How can I possibly convey it to my children?

Maybe, God willing, I’ll at least touch a heart.

Friday, April 25, 2008

I can see clearly now

“Put on your glasses and look out this window,” Alexandra urged her younger sister while they were at the optometrist. “Look at the grass! I can see every blade of grass!”

“Wow….” said Larissa. “I think I’m going to get a headache seeing that much detail.”

To me, seeing every blade of grass, every eyeglass frame in the adjoining room is normal. To my daughters, it’s a novel experience. I got a peek into their world by listening to their conversation.

“I thought it was normal that distant objects were blurry.”

I hadn’t realized that their eyesight had gotten bad. They had passed the vision test during their physicals in October. Only recently had each of them told me on different occasions, “I can’t read that sign” or “In school, I can’t see the board.” (They are both still in public school this year while I homeschool their oldest brother.) I made them an appointment at the eye doctor immediately. They both got new glasses a few days later – Tuesday of this week.

So why do I feel like such a bad mom to not have caught their poor vision sooner?

Monday, April 21, 2008

More textbooks?!

“Few skills are more important to Christian students than the ability to effectively communicate through the written and spoken word.”

I came across that statement in Applications of Grammar / Book 4, Principles of Effective Communication by Christian Liberty Press while flipping through the pages.

It makes a lot of sense. So rather than putting off adding this book to Jacob’s curriculum next year, I decided to assign exercises from this book beginning this week. When I was putting together the week’s schedule, I mentioned it to Jacob.

“You’ll be happy to know that starting this week, you’ll have one more textbook,” I told Jacob.

“You’re kidding.”

OK, I wasn’t expecting great glee.

“It’s a grammar book. I’ll give you less reading and a grammar exercise or two every week,” I smiled.

His reaction was not one of delight.

Although I give Jacob a vocabulary exercise daily from the Wordly Wise series, I’ve completely neglected grammar. And because I’ve been pushing classic books on him, forcing him to read more than ever before, I’ve neglected writing as well. Considering he’s finishing up tenth grade, I don’t have any time to lose!

Fortunately, Jacob does have a solid basis in writing and grammar, thanks to our local public schools. I’ve always read and corrected his writing through the years, making suggestions and explaining why I put in a comma or changed a sentence, how to vary sentence structure, and how and when to use adverbs (a pet peeve). But he definitely needs more practice.

English is not Jacob’s forte, so anything I assign him – reading, writing, or exercises in grammar and vocabulary – is painful. But indeed, how will he be able to communicate his beliefs or anything else effectively if he doesn’t have a solid foundation in English?

Monday, April 14, 2008

Why do I have to learn all that?

Ever since I switched over to using biographies and other books for History instead of a textbook, my 16-year-old son Jacob has been – what else? – complaining.

“Why do I have to learn all that? In school, we just had a textbook for history. Why do I have to read about the entire life of Mao Tse-Tung? And Stalin before that! It’s just not useful!”

Useful to Jacob would be how to build something or take something apart. He even volunteered to take a cooking class with his sisters next year. Now that’s useful. But to learn about the life of a historical figure? Not useful!

What could I say to defend my choices? Honestly, how useful is it to know that Stalin once said, “A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic”? Or that when Hitler’s army attacked Russia during World War II, Stalin refused to believe it and locked himself in a room to drink glass after glass of vodka. How useful is it to know that when Mao Tse-Tung was a young man living in Shanghai, the city’s sanitation department picked up an average of 20,000 dead bodies from the streets each year – people who died of starvation and exposure. That China had 1828 famines between 108 BC and 1911. That’s Mao’s Red Army never, ever raped women or stole from peasants. That Mao changed how women were treated in China by banning the sale of brides and arranged marriages, and allowing women to own property.

I could go on and on because I learned a lot when preparing Jacob’s lessons! And frankly, I’d say these are very useful facts. OK, it’s amusing rather than useful to read that Stalin was so incredulous that Hitler broke a treaty and attacked his country when Stalin himself broke his word time and again. Maybe the only useful thing to learn here is not to be gullible. But the other historical facts help explain why there was a revolution, why China is the way it is today, and why Communism was eventually overthrown in the Soviet Union.

So why do you need to know that? Only God knows. Frankly, for me, it’s quite interesting and makes history come alive. I can say that it simply makes you a more educated and aware person. I can explain to Jacob that today’s learning is laying a foundation for the rest of his life - and who knows where his life will lead him? Certainly I did not expect to work as a writer; I wanted to have a job outdoors, like a forest ranger, and had studied Biology in college. I did not know then that the grammar I learned back in elementary school would be my bread and butter one day, more useful even than my college education, and that the only thing my Biology degree is now useful for is to help understand the material I’m teaching Jacob!

But specifically why do you need to learn all that? Only time will tell...

Friday, April 11, 2008


No, it’s not Thanksgiving time. This is the noise that startled me this morning as I sat at my computer.

Only one animal that I know makes that noise. When I slowly peeked out the office window into the backyard, a wild turkey stared back at me! It was 12 to 15 feet from me, but with a window between us.

“Jacob, come quickly! Look out the back window!”

Homeschool lesson on wildlife? Not really. Seeing a wild turkey in the backyard on a weekday when others are in school or at work is just one of those little treats that we have because we are homeschooling.

In the 22 years I’ve lived in this suburban home, this is only the second time I’ve seen wild turkeys in our yard. The other time was when the children were still toddlers. Then we had two turkeys; this time just one came. He (or she) spent an entire hour walking around the backyard, which is bordered by acres of woods, pecking here and there in the lawn, even digging in my garden near those crocuses I photographed a few days ago.

Jacob grabbed his digital camera and took a picture.

The doorbell rang. It was Jacob’s Geometry classmate Danny, who is tutoring Jacob in math. (More on math woes another time.)

Danny and his mom also saw the turkey. Then when Jacob and Danny settled down at the dining room table, our school area, to study math. I took my Kodak EasyShare 7590 digital camera, which has a long telephoto, and pressing the lens against the window, I managed to steady it enough to get a few non-blurry shots of our rare visitor.

The turkey managed to brighten even this dreary, rainy day.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Roller coaster

I went to bed last Saturday feeling more tired than usual, especially considering I’d been getting plenty of sleep. The previous days I had felt “off.” Not right. Not sick, but not normal either.

I dreamt I was on a Global Expeditions mission trip. There was activity all around me, teens getting ready to go somewhere, dozens and dozens of them, but I was in bed in the middle of this outdoor activity. I was unable to get up. I had no strength.

Then I awoke.

I had no strength. I got up and felt chest pains. I tried to get dressed to go to church, but I lay down again, curled up in a ball. After a six-year remission, lupus had struck.

That was Sunday. I spent the entire day in bed or on the couch, mostly sleeping or reading. I’ve been on the couch since. Praise God that I’m not so fatigued that I have to sleep all the time, as I did six years ago. Maybe this is God’s way of getting me to slow down. I called in sick. I have had enough strength to get together Jacob’s schedule for each day, to test him or go over material, and to lie on the couch and read. And then read some more. Or talk to Jacob. I’ve read three books since Sunday…!

I have felt better, then worse. Better, almost well – then not so well. But still, I know God’s hand is in this. I know that He gave me this little bout of illness in order to rest. My only symptoms are chest pains and a little more fatigue than usual. Coworkers urged me to see a doctor. I did. The EKG was normal. I’ve not had a heart attack. All indications are a minor episode of lupus. It’s an autoimmune disease that can be in remission for years – or forever. Or it can kick in at any time, especially after an illness or from stress. Working full-time and homeschooling certainly are stressful!

I have been praying that I get well because I have five more years of homeschooling ahead, God willing.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Suddenly Sixteen

I was warned that this would happen. And today was that day: my firstborn son turned sixteen. Sixteen. How did the time fly by so quickly?

Oh, it wasn’t always quick. Not the nights that I woke up to feed him or soothe him, to comfort him when he was feverish or, perhaps, entertain him when bored. He was my firstborn, and I was new at mothering. I’m sure it was my own fault that he didn’t sleep through the night until he was two years old. I ran to him at the first whimper.

Each year had its challenges. Each year had its accomplishments. Walking, running, talking. Learning to read. Learning to ride a bike. Building his first computer (!!).

Ah, how I beamed when I went with him on his first youth mission trip to Mexico with Global Expeditions and we finally spent quality one-on-one time, just the two of us, during the plane rides, the layovers, and the week that we had at home alone because Dad and the girls were out of town. He was fourteen then, and I could have a conversation with him – finally – without being interrupted.

And then, after that mission trip, he got on an airplane alone and flew to Ukraine. Alone. Yes, unescorted - at fourteen! Then a few months later, he flew cross-country to San Diego, again alone, and went on another youth mission trip to Mexico, but this time without me.

And the next year, at fifteen, he went to Guatemala on another mission trip, again by himself, without a family member or friend. He had been the child who was too timid to go to a birthday party without Mom when he was five. I was awed by the change, by his growth, by reports of how helpful he was on his mission trips.

Today was the big day. Sixteen. And you know what that means: a learner’s permit. Yes, we went to the Department of Motor Vehicles this morning before it opened and stood in line so he could get his permit first thing.

But, no, I did not let him drive home. Yet.

What we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal.”
— Albert Pike, Scottish Rite Freemason (1809-1891)