Homeschooling: The Girl Behind the Mask
For my family, homeschooling was both a calling my parents felt and a practical venture for a season. I am the only child, in my family of nine children, who was homeschooled from Kindergarten through 12th grade. My parents initially started homeschooling my older sister and I for practical reasons. At first it was because the Christian school my older sister attended did not have room for both of us the year I was supposed to enter – so, rather than put us into two different schools, my mom chose to school us at home that year.
At that time, we lived in California, where my father was completing his Master’s in Divinity with the Master’s Seminary under the leadership of John MacArthur. It was also during this time that my parents befriended and came under the mentorship of Gary and Ann Marie Ezzo, the founders of Growing Families International, the authors of the well- known parenting book Baby Wise, and subsequent parenting curriculum Growing Kids Gods Way. After graduating from seminary, my father took the position of Texas State Director for Growing Families International, which allowed us to move back home to our family ranch in the Texas panhandle. For the three years my father held that job, it required him and my mom to travel all over the state of Texas and to surrounding states for numerous leadership and parenting conferences, often on a weekly basis. Given how extensive their travel schedule was, my parents found that homeschooling was a practical choice to continue.
However, after my Father resigned from that position and settled into life at the ranch permanently, the decision to homeschool moved from just being a practical one to something my parents felt God was calling our family to continue. Some of my parents’ best friends in the area were already homeschooling as well, and through them we had discovered an active homeschool group in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandle area, known as the Santa Fe Trail Homeschool Association. We soon joined this group and met many family friends in the area who also homeschooled. Many of these families were also members of ATI, (Advanced Training Institute, under the leadership of Bill Gothard) so although we never officially joined ATI, we soon began to actively participate in several of their events, programs, and social networks. As we began to get more deeply involved with these homeschool circles, adopting the mindsets, teachings, social norms, and beliefs became second nature. The more time we spent and the deeper relationships we formed, the more natural it became.
Never for a moment did I ever think I would leave that community, much less question it, feel betrayed by it, or have aspects of it haunt me for years after I left it.
One of my greatest struggles in life stems from the fact that I have been a people pleaser from a young age. For a long time I believed my worth as a person and happiness in life were determined by the number of friends I had, making people happy, keeping the peace, and fitting in. I see now how that drive and belief affected everything about my young life. I can even see it intricately interwoven into my choice to adopt my family’s faith at eight years old.
For years, if someone asked me to put Jesus or my faith into one word – it was the word “Friend.” I remember, as a child, watching my friends and other members of my family go to the front of the church every first Sunday of the month for communion, but I was never allowed to go. So one Sunday when my father came back to the pew, I asked him, “Why can’t I take communion?” His response was that communion involved having a relationship with Jesus, and this was a way for those who wanted and lived out a relationship with Christ to remember Him and commune with Him. Of course he put that message in words that an eight year old would understand, but the heart of what I remember him saying was that you had to be friends with Jesus to take communion. That was something I could understand and was something I did not want to be left out of. So that day, right there in that pew I asked my dad if he could pray with me. In my simple understanding, I asked Jesus into my heart and to be my friend that would never leave me. That friendship is what I have clung to for years.
From then on, for many years, prayer for me was talking to my best friend. I could pray about whatever I was really feeling and I was never rejected or admonished for that. This is also what led to my first love for writing, as I began journaling at the age of nine, where I wrote to Jesus instead of in the common Dear Diary format. I have numerous journals saved in a box under my bed telling the saga of my childhood in letters to Jesus. That tradition stayed with me well into college, until I began to doubt whether even that friendship I trusted for so long would survive. Even then the journaling habit remained, while I just left the salutation off and continued writing in a conversation style wondering some days if the God I had been writing to for so long was really listening or had ever actually listened for that matter.
Through these years of being in a spiritual wilderness questioning everything, it has also been that foundational friendship that I keep coming back to. I know from both friends and others with similar backgrounds that, once they found the courage and were willing to strip away every aspect of their faith adopted because of family expectations, the community, a sense of obligation, or a lack of knowledge about any other alternative – for many there was nothing left. For those who have chosen to walk away from faith altogether, I value and respect them just as much as those who I know have wrestled to find new understandings of faith, because I know that, growing up the way we did, to make that decision is probably one of the hardest they will ever make. Choosing to hold up our beliefs to the light of truth and be deeply honest about what we can really stand behind with integrity is no small feat.
It would be so much easier in many cases to just be silent about how you really felt and keep up a mask for appearance’s sake. For me, when I strip everything away that I am holding onto just for loyalty, for loved ones, or for fear of the truth – I could never completely dismiss the relationship I have felt and built with God from a young age. It’s not for a lack of questioning the idea; it’s more that I know now, through countless sleepless nights wrestling over it with gut wrenching sobs, or laying there in the blackness with silent tears coursing down my cheeks, that despite all my confusion, my anger, my deepest fears, or my unanswered questions, I still can not deny that a relationship of a lifetime is there.
What makes me believe that? It’s not the numerous hours I spent in church, reading scripture, memorizing scripture, studying or debating doctrine, or living the quintessential Christian life. It’s the comfort I found as a child in believing I had a friend who actually cared. It’s the peace I grasped for as a teenager, who spent years hiding a paranoid fear of the dark and of rape. I can never forget the number of nights that I spent with a lamp on knowing that God was the only one listening and how prayer was often the only means for finding any sleep. It’s the faith and expression of God my husband saw in me that I couldn’t even see myself. Even though my faith and how I daily experience a relationship with God have changed, and even though there have been many days questioning its very existence – I know it is still there. Christ’s life still draws me with his exemplary compassion to serve and love people around him. There is a mystery, a silence, a peace, a love, and a source of life beyond me that still beckons me to rediscover faith on my own.
When it comes to honestly evaluating my thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and experiences concerning homeschooling, however, I see now that it was a perfect mask. It was a place where my people-pleasing personality, self-doubt, and self-hatred made me readily embrace the more legalistic homeschooling culture I was surrounded by.
I was twelve when I attended my first ATI Basic Seminar, and I went home vowing to never listen to music with a drum beat in it and to memorize all of Romans 6, 7, and 8. Next came the Advanced Seminar, followed by the Anger Resolution Seminar, both of which I came home from with lists of notes and new resolutions to follow. It frustrated me to no end at the time that my dad would never commit to actually joining ATI, and so I did my best to be a loyal follower without actually being a member. My sister and I excitedly signed up for the King’s Daughter Magazine, which we looked forward to every month to read about other girls out there living just like us learning how to be godly young women preparing to be godly wives and mothers.
I lived and breathed teachings on purity, modesty, and courtship, making sure I was a pristine example with every outfit, action, word, and thought. I watched the Character First! videos countless times, memorized the poems and songs, learned how to play them on the piano, and began to dream of the day I could go to a training center to teach it myself. That dream would later come true when I was seventeen and moved to the Oklahoma City ATI Training Center for my spring semester to work with the Character First team. The list of experiences I had and the norms I adopted are too many to list.
So what began as a lifestyle and calling for my parents, for me became a lifestyle and mantra of my own.
Homeschooling was the only right form of education, because even considering the alternative would mean admitting my doubts, questions, and envy of other kids my age that went to school. Those emotions I felt were weak and selfish, so I hid behind judging them for being different and felt sorry that they didn’t have parents who heard God like mine did. Judging them, preaching at them, pitying them, and praying for them became second nature, hiding the honesty of my envy and confusion. Just writing that makes my heart ache, when I think about the girl that I was back then. I think of the friends and extended family that I know who put up with me, while I pushed them further and further away with my arrogant self-righteousness. A girl so desperate to hide the world of fear I lived in. A girl who touted the good girl routine like her life depended on it, because to ever put down that mask was unthinkable.
Emily Freeman could not have worded my life more perfectly when she wrote, “I was a good girl and I wanted to be a good girl, but it often kept me from saying what I really meant.” In fact, my desire to be good even kept me from exploring my own opinion, and I grew up to believe that my opinions didn’t actually matter much anyway. I avoided vulnerability for fear of being rejected or being labeled as needy. Good girls aren’t needy; they are needed. And so instead of living free, I lived safe.
To admit I wanted or needed something different meant I questioned God and my parents. To be myself was something I was convinced no one wanted or cared to even notice. I gobbled up legalism, rules, and doctrine like they were food for my soul. A list to perform… Perfection and routine… I could do that. It would take years before I realized I was on a train headed for nowhere but endless heartache. It would take my entire world being shattered before I would come to understand that not only was God not looking for me to be perfect, but also people who really loved me weren’t looking for that either. In reality, all I wanted was to feel I belonged, but instead all I knew how to do was to try to fit in, and my efforts continually left me wanting.
Brene Brown so poignantly states, “We either own our stories (even the messy ones), or we stand outside of them— denying our vulnerabilities and imperfections, orphaning the parts of us that don’t fit in with who/what we think we’re supposed to be, and hustling for other people’s approval of our worthiness. Perfectionism is exhausting because hustling is exhausting. It’s a never-ending performance.”
This was my world.
Homeschooling for me was a never-ending, exhausting performance.