August 8, 2014

Looking Forward and Not Backward

I found this graphic online this morning. It sums up the way I have been feeling the past few weeks (really, the past few years). I have spent a lot of time thinking about my past, reflecting on the events, and coming to terms with decisions I made (choices I made) regarding my life. Some of those choices were not in my best interest, some led me to hard places, and some caused great pain and sorrow. Some of the decisions were good ones, some actually led me to open doors and new opportunities. Let me explain...

I was over on Facebook this morning (as I normally am), and I read a post from a Mom in the Ambleside Online group page. Ambleside Online is the home school curriculum we used in our home education program. It is a free curriculum, inspired by the teaching philosophy of Charlotte Mason. I credit my experience using Ambleside Online with rekindling my love of classical literature, and with my eventual desire to return to graduate school to study Literature and become an English Professor.

Thinking Backward

As I read this post, I began to think back to when I started home schooling. This Mom was struggling, she was confused, she was new to home schooling, and she asked for help. I wanted to offer some advice to her, just to calm her fears about home schooling. I wanted to be there for her just like so many others were there for me when I was just starting out. So as I began to write my answer to her, my mind traveled backward to the day I made the decision to home school my son.

I hadn't planned on home schooling (well, it had been discussed early on, but I didn't think I could actually do it). I hadn't planned on removing my son from public school. It just happened in an instant, a split-second, and in that moment, I made a decision that altered my life path for the good.

It was May of 2004. My son was struggling with severe bullying issues and academic inconsistencies. The whole year had been filled with trial. I had spent almost every day either meeting with his teacher or in the principals office. I was fed up TO HERE with the lack of support at the school, and I couldn't stand seeing my child hurt and miserable every day. I tried to be patient, to let the school work things out, but in the end, I reacted to his pain. And like a good Mama Bear, I went to school on May 23rd, and did my thing -- I protected my child -- and I withdrew him from school.

I remember coming home and telling my husband that I had pulled him out. Truthfully, we had discussed this option before I went to speak with the principal. I had already been over at school a half-dozen times, and I had already met with his teacher and the principal about the bullying issue. I had patiently waited for them to do something about it, and frankly, I was tired of their unwillingness to address the severity of it. They did attempt to resolve it, but their actions were weak, IMHO, and I seriously doubted that the consequences they imposed would have any lasting effect. In the end, I went to school to calmly discuss the latest incident, and in the middle of the meeting, I blurted out that I was withdrawing my child from the school (a Charter school).

So I arrived home with my 10-year old in tow. I sat down at my desk and wept (emotionally) because I had just made a huge decision, a life-changing decision -- without any plan of action. For an INTJ, a master planner, making decisions without a plan is not done. We do not do this EVER. We plan, we analyze, we test scenarios. Then we re-plan, retest, and finally, once we are satisfied, we implement the plan. I had a month left of school and no idea of what to do with my child. Should I give him three weeks off? How would I keep him engaged? How would I keep him from being bored every day?

I sat at my desk thinking to myself "I cannot do this. I cannot home school him!" Oh, the panic set in, and I began to hyperventilate over what I had just done. How would we afford curriculum? How would I work (3/4 time as a web designer) and home school? It was going to be too much for me, and I would fail my child, I would fail him academically, socially, emotionally. I thought I had made the biggest mistake of my life.

Still, there was this feeling of "you did the right thing" inside my heart. I felt like I had done the right thing, for the right reason, at the right time. I cannot explain it, but I just knew in my heart that somehow I made the best decision of my life.

Thinking back, I did give my son three weeks off. We took a long summer break, and I used the time to figure out home schooling. I met with friends who home schooled. I searched online. I researched curriculum, programs, books, etc. I used that summer to teach myself everything I needed to know about being a home educator.

I found AO, as it is called, one day while searching for free curriculum. I had prayed about curriculum, and I had asked the Lord to provide His choice for us. I had no budget -- there was no money to be spent on books and materials. I needed something that we could do that would be 100% free or at the least, low-cost. I believe that the Lord provided AO to me. I knew the moment I saw the curriculum, the book choices, the approach, that it was the right fit, the best fit for us. It was classical in nature, inspired by a philosophy that placed a love of learning first and foremost on the agenda. It wasn't about hoops or tests or proving this or that -- no -- it was all about individual learning, individual journey. I knew that it was the curriculum for us, and it was a God-given provision in our greatest time of need.

Of course, I doubted using it, and over the six years we did use it, I modified the plans quite a bit. We completed the majority of the readings, and we followed the approach closely. My son benefited from the exposure to classical literature and history. I believe one of the reasons he is the way he is today is because of that rich curriculum. I cannot argue with him when he tells me "Mom, you raised me to question everything, to discover facts on my own, to think deeply about issues, and to come to my own conclusions." Yes, I shake my head in agreement -- I most certainly did do that.

All of this "thinking backward" came to me as I sat there this morning, and I read a post from a Mom who was considering using the curriculum. She had issues with some of the required readings, questioned their worth, their value. I was the only person who responded to her post (probably because I hate the fact that people who need help often sit and wait for someone to answer them). I didn't encourage her to use the curriculum. I didn't say it was the best. I gave her advice on deciding what was most important to her and her family. Ultimately, what each family decides is what matters. Decisions are made based on personal preference, student needs, family perspective, and educational philosophy. What worked for my family will not always work for another family. And, that is the blessing of home education -- it is unique, it is personal, and it provides for each member of the family based on their individual needs assessment.

I cannot tell you how many times I have reached backward to pull bits and pieces of advice, of personal experience, from my home education days. I did it often when I worked as an advisor at UOPX. I have used it in the classroom as I teach college students. I have written about it, my experience, my value of it, for Master level courses in Literature. Home schooling was the best decision I could have made for my student and for my life. I am where I am today because of that one heart-felt decision back in May of 2004.

Looking Forward

There is a time to look backward and there is a time to look forward. Looking backward, being self-reflective, has great value. In many ways, taking the time to accurately assess decisions, to think about the ramifications of decisions, can help you avoid repeating mistakes in the future. We can use the past as life lessons, to learn from them (both good and bad), and make choices based on experience. I believe that self-reflexivity is valuable as a tool, and while it can help us, it can also hurt us. Many people are stuck in the past. They are stuck in hurt-mode as I like to call it. They have not moved on from past hurts. They will relive a decision made 5-10-20 years ago and they will analyze it -- not for a life lesson or to learn from it -- but to sit with it, to coddle it, to soothe the hurt feelings, the emotional wounding. This is the part of self-reflexivity that needs to be checked. It is good to evaluate past experiences, but only to be instructed by them. We must look at them objectively, to consider the facts, and to understand the context of the situation. It is easy to look backward and to place blame on individuals for their role in our pain, our suffering. Yet, we forget that it always "takes two to tango," so to speak. Every relationship has a partnership, and as such, there are two or more individuals involved in the relationship. Decisions are made in context, not in a vacuum. They are made in real-time, in the heat of the moment (often) and without forethought or foresight. When we look backward, we must remember to distance ourselves from the emotion of that decision. In doing so we are more apt to see the truth, to see our part in the event or circumstance. I am not excusing behaviors nor condoning any actions that caused pain -- I am only saying that to find the healing, to experience the relief from the torment, we must always accept the fact that whatever the circumstance, we did play a part in it.

Once we accept our part, we can see our actions, behaviors, language, etc., and we can understand better what we did or did not do in that moment. It is in the reflection of that moment that we find our greatest source of hope for the future. If we can be honest with ourselves and accurately view that moment of truth, we will discover patterns, behaviors and habits that supported the event, supported the outcome. I know this is true in my life. I cannot say that the biggest mistake I made was marrying my husband. I did know better, I did have some red flag warnings about his emotional detachment issues. I made a decision, I made a choice, and I did it with the information I had in that moment. In hindsight, I see the mistake I made. I hindsight, I see all the mistakes I made (communication, expression, unwillingness to defend my position, unwillingness to walk way early on, and so forth). Yes, I can see everything I did in reflection, and through that lens of exposure, I can learn a lot about myself.

Now that I am looking forward, I want to make sure that I don't repeat those same mistakes. I want to make sure that I don't settle for something that is not right for me. I want to make sure I am always moving forward, and that I am focused on the plans the Lord has for my life. In doing so, I make sure that every decision I make aligns with His will for me. I keep my eyes focused on Him, and I submit every decision to Him for His approval. If He says it is so, then it is so. If He says no, then I agree with Him. In this way, I am assured that the decisions I make will be blessed, will be approved, will be good. I may still make mistakes -- I know I will make mistakes -- but by washing every single decision through the Lord's filtering system -- the likelihood of those mistakes being catastrophic is limited. I am well-covered because I choose His way first, His way as my only option.

Looking forward is exciting when you know that you will not make huge mistakes. Looking forward becomes a process of anticipation because you are no longer thinking "what if I do the same thing again?" and instead you are saying "I know who is guiding my steps, who is leading me onward." Yes, the Lord directs our steps, He makes our plans, and He guides us through the course of our life. That is, of course, if we let Him do so. We must be fully surrendered to Him, fully in agreement with His plans and with His authority in our life. We must not be thinking "our way be blessed" when the Word tells us that it is only "His way be blessed." If we have chosen to follow the Lord in every area of our life, then we have full confidence that we will be guided into good choices, good opportunities, and that our steps will be well-covered with His grace.

Today, I look forward with great expectancy and anticipation. The Lord is Good to me. He covers me well, and He provides for my every need. I rest in His sufficiency, and in His provision. He is good, He is good, He is so very good to me.

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