Before They Ever Take Shape

“Many plans are in a man’s mind, but it is the Lord’s purpose for him that will stand.”

Proverbs 19: 21

We all rode together that morning, Dad, David, Cohen and I. Normally our mornings splinter off from each other’s rather quickly. David leaves around 6:30 and then once he and Dad arrive in Columbus, they go their separate ways. Not that morning, though. We all left at 6:30. I was the first dropped off and then the guys rode together to David’s work, where he and Co spent the morning working (David on designer stuff and Co on writing letters and numbers and drawing pictures at David’s desk) and then the afternoon at a Columbus Clippers game.

I enjoyed the ride in, drinking coffee from a travel mug, sitting in the backseat, listening to Cohen’s endless excited chatter (he had been asking for weeks to go to work with dad). Because my drop off and their destination were 30 minutes apart with traffic, I arrived a solid half hour minutes before check in.

I first opted to go into the church lobby, but the last minute bustling around and setting up by those in charge sent me right back outside. Been there, done that. I walked around the front of the building to find a small fenced in playground surrounded by tall trees that the sun was right behind. The light was beautiful, enchanting almost, and warming amid the coolness of the morning. I found a bench and took a seat.

Being a stay at home mom means that moments of such stillness and quiet and aloneness are few and far between so rather than reading or playing with my phone, I just sat and soaked it in.

Thirty minutes flew by and as cars pulled in and parked and parents (mostly moms) got out of their cars with multiple children following behind, I decided it was time to go in and claim my name tag.

The small, crowded lobby opened up into a large sanctuary colored with several light blue tones. The pews on either side of the sanctuary were oddly angled to face the stage, which I would guess unintentionally allowed for a disproportionate amount of leg room on the side aisles. I found my way to the front third of room on the right side and camped out.

The conference started with prayer and a hymn or two and then a speaker. The focus of the conference was on teaching math and also on introducing newbies to the fundamentals of classical education and the specifics of Classical Conversations. Although I was not a newbie, I still thoroughly enjoyed the review and couldn’t help but like the main speaker, who to me was an impossibly likable balance of the kind of homeschool mom I think I am and the kind of homeschool mom I hope I’m not. Her long hair and long, straight dress and glasses reminded me of the co-op I’d been a part of a few years back that left me feeling like a rebel in my jeans and hoodies and flip flops. But then she talked about her four sons and the very real conversations and struggles she has with them, both in education and parenting. I could relate. And then she pointed to something on the overhead screen and I saw a tattoo in Hebrew lettering on the inside of her right forearm. I smiled. Not that I have a tattoo, but I once I had a nose ring. Close enough.

Sometime before lunch, she said something that I have been thinking about a lot in the two weeks since the 3 day conference ended. While talking about preparing her sons for whatever God has for them, she spoke about taking her sons on a missions trip. “You know, we focus so much on our kids receiving a great education– and I want them to!– but who knows? Maybe serving someone on that missions trip was the best preparation I could give my son for God’s call on his life. Maybe even though he’s great a math, God won’t call him to be an engineer. Maybe God will call him to a third world country and a basic task like feeding the hungry. And then, what has better prepared him for his life: Calculus? or learning to have a heart of humility and service? “

She went on further, down the same path of thought I’m sure you’re now too mentally walking. Yes, we do want our kids to have an exceptionally thorough education. Yes, we want them to learn diligence and integrity through the work of learning. Yes, we know that even if God calls them to be a missionary, they still need to master their math skills.  And so on.

And yes, I want my children to to have access to the best education possible which is why I am homeschooling (though I swore I would never) and specifically why I believe in a classical education model. I want my boys to  love to learn, to know how to learn and to understand how the world works. I love that at 6 years old Cohen can overhear David and I talking about an upcoming trip to Washington DC and say, “Hey! I know about Washington!” and then start singing the names of the US presidents, “Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Adams….” I love that while reading 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea it talks about a city discovered in the ocean depths, he says “Atlantis!” before I finish the paragraph. I want him to learn the discipline of learning and what it means to strive for excellence educationally. But I don’t want that to be the only focus I have in shaping who he is. It seems so obvious and simple, but like anything else we can put our hands to, educating our children can become an idol if we let it.

So she moved on, her comment was really an aside, but for me it became a considerable pause in the middle of the discussion on how to teach place value and fractions without pulling your hair out.

So fast forward a week. Cohen and Adler and I have loaded up in the van, with a toddler bed and mattress in the back where the bench seat is normally. David is mulling through the garage to find the right allen wrench and once he does, we head out in two different vehicles.  Five minutes and a couple of miles later we are pulling up to a dated apartment complex. The short drive gave me some time to try and explain a few things to Cohen as well as to set my expectations for him and the rules concerning our visit. “You must stay with me at all times, ok? When we go into the apartment, you are not to go into any of the bedrooms or leave Dad and I. Also, the apartments are not very nice, but no matter what you see or think about them, I don’t want you to say it ok? When we get home we can talk about it, but not while we are there. Understand?” He nodded and asked the normal questions kids ask. Why aren’t the apartments nice? Why are we taking them a bed? Why don’t they already have a bed? And then as I answer the first round of questions, Do the kids have toys to play with? Do they have food? Clothes?

I pulled in and parked and made eye contact. His blues conveyed the curiosity I had expected. “And be sweet ok? You are such a kind boy so be super sweet.” We got out of the van and with Adler on one hip and Cohen’s hand in mine we walked until we found the right apartment number. The screen door was missing the middle section of screen so it was easy to ask if we were in the right place. We were. I saw familiar faces of children and a young mother I had known. I said we would be back shortly with the bed and a husband to put it together.

We walked hand in hand back to where David was pulling the bed from the van. There were a handful of barefoot, unattended children sitting on the steps outside the apartment. I reached down and grabbed a hello kitty doll in the middle of sidewalk and before I could ask whose it was, a young girl snatched it from my hands with her eyes narrowed. “That’s mine!” Cohen’s eyes widened and his expression all but said out loud “you can’t talk to grown ups like that”. I knew that grown ups in his world and in this world don’t fill the same roles. A couple of guys at the next building were arguing loudly and gesturing. An elderly woman in a wheelchair was going back and forth on the one sidewalk, muttering to herself. I watched Cohen’s face as he took it all in. How different it all was from our neighborhood where moms in cute workout clothes push clean new strollers and middle aged people walk their dogs and children wearing helmets bike and rollerblade. I wordlessly marveled with him that we were probably (as the crow flies) less than mile between our daily reality and theirs.

He was sweet and kind as is his nature. David put the bed together in the living room since there wasn’t room in the bedroom at the time. The uncommonness of a husband, let alone a helpful, kind husband, stood out in the room. Cohen played with the little girls. Adler found a toy and pushed it along the wall. In a few minutes, the bed was put together and the boys left with David so I could have a few minutes to become reacquainted the young mother.

Earlier that afternoon, I had wished the boys had somewhere else to be. Not only because of the apartment complex’s bad reputation, but because carrying and assembling a bed is easier without a child on your hip and another to watch. But as I drove home, I couldn’t help but be glad for their accompaniment as I thought of that wise mother’s words at the conference.

Who knows what God will call my children too? I see their gifted areas and their personality, but who knows what God will make of all of that? It may not be that God will be most interested in capitalizing on Cohen’s gregarious personality or persuasiveness or Adler’s strong and immovable constitution. It may be that God wants to work His goodness and purposes and kingdom out of their weakest areas.

Whatever job they have, whomever they marry, whatever their children are like I know that God will call them, like He has all of us,  to love and humility and sweetness. None of is exempt from the call to love our neighbors with the same intention that we love ourselves. None of us gets to skip over the call to consider others better than ourselves. None of us gets a call to turn a blind eye to the least among us.

There are many things I want for my children, but I am coming to see as they grow and as I grow, that my deepest desire is for them is to know Jesus. And not the flannel board Jesus from Sunday school who wears a blue and white robe and has long hair and is one dimensional but the real Jesus…the Jesus who ate with sinners and outcasts, who drew crowds full of needy people, whose heart was moved by children. That’s the Jesus I want them to experience and see and know. That’s the Jesus I want their hearts to be tuned to; the voice I want them to learn to hear; the person I want them to answer “yes” to no matter the call.

As parents, may we not make an idol of anything in our children’s lives– sports, academics, morality– but instead may we seek God’s help and wisdom in preparing them for the days the Lord has appointed for their lives.

“You know my downsitting and my uprising; You understand my thoughts afar off. You sift and search out my path and my lying down, and You are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue [still unuttered], but, behold, O Lord, You know it altogether….

Your eyes saw my unformed substance, and in Your book all the days [of my life] were written before they ever took shape, when as yet there was none of them.”

Psalm 139: 2-4, 16

9 Comments

  1. Kate,

    I’m not a Mom, but I take so many good things away from this post. Thank you for sharing your heart- beautiful as always :)

    —Beth

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