A potential and difficult challenge any homeschool mom may face is isolation. I am tempted to personify that term—Isolation, written like a name or proper noun. Make it a character as in John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress, like Obstinate, Prudence, Faithful, or Talkative. Their name messages their impact, character, and role with a clear signal if the companion helps or harms Christian on his journey to the Celestial City. Isolation isn’t necessarily that forthcoming.
Sometimes isolation is precisely what one desires. A day away to recharge sounds nice, doesn’t it? Going for a long walk on a lovely spring day, only you and some fresh air, would be ideal, right? Some jobs are better done alone. I remember the days of little helpers. They loved to help clean our shower. On the surface, that sounds great; until you learn our shower is less than three feet by three feet square. That is just enough room for an adult to make a half turn to lather, rinse, repeat! It does not easily accommodate an adult, a toddler, and a scrub brush. I’m guilty of having said, “It would be nice to just have five minutes alone for a change, so I can think!” In all these examples, alone is a good thing. It’s a positive contrast to the isolation of being left to oneself and produces a refreshing or refocusing.
Of course, there is at least one other side to being alone. Moms serve their family day in and day out. There aren’t margins to the role, only seasons. Moms who embrace the season of homeschooling their children seem particularly vulnerable to the destructive power of isolation. Often wondering if she’s chosen the right curriculum, juggling the learning ages and stages of her children, somehow keeping them all fed, clothed, and in some semblance of order, many moms feel deeply alone. This isolation is not helpful. In fact, in my case, once I was “here,” it was not long before I was short with my kids, sloppy with home school, emotionally ragged, and lonely.
I had been round this lonely mountain of Isolation before, several times in fact, when Classical Conversations came into my life. I’ve written earlier about how perfectly timed its entrance was and how I eagerly embraced its classical Christian approach. I’ve shared with you the very practical and measurable benefits I’ve experienced as a Director. I’ve saved the beautiful testimony of community until now.
We all know we need to belong. Our lived experiences testify to the unshakable desire we all possess—to be in a relationship. Made for togetherness, we all have stories of when we fit right in and times when we struggled to know our place. Belonging to something or with someone is fundamental.
Parents make a place in their homes for their children to belong. Spouses make marriage the place for their husband or wife to belong. Siblings naturally exhibit characteristics of their birth order, and they know how they belong. College friends maintain ties through the years, knit together by the common experience of belonging to a class. We all know it—social media would be a flop were it not for our natural desire to connect and be part of something!
Classical Conversations embodies this truth as it establishes its programs in local communities. Parents gather weekly and practice presence with one another, and families get connected. We nurture children in the care of a tutor as their parents are equipped to successfully homeschool. CC Directors lovingly oversee the program’s integrity, and families receive the support they need and the content they expect. Friendships come to life. Communities form a healthy identity, and the negative power of Isolation moderates. In this context, ministry happens. Needs are known and met.
As a Director, I was looking for opportunities to express this to the families in my care. I love to meet parents for coffee, a walk at the nature center, or their student’s recital and make personal connections. Praying for my students and their families has been a holy experience of entering their lives in a sacred way. Calling parents to repentance when they’ve held onto anger, gossiped, or allowed bitterness to take root has been a ministry of reconciliation. And let’s not overlook the obvious. Academic progress and classical education are occurring! CC ministers to families by providing a proven method and gives support and guidance along the way.
I could not have known how my local CC community would be a ministry to my family and me. I am profoundly conscientious and entered my agreement to Direct with the narrow consideration of how I would meet needs. I’m embarrassed now to admit; I didn’t even consider how I, too, might come to belong.
When painful and extended trouble came upon my family, my fellow CC Directors took up my needs as their own. Notes in the mail, rides for my kids, and meals were frequent gifts. They extended hospitality in the form of afternoon study groups where my kids could get work done with their CC peers. Meanwhile, I found a soft place to land on someone’s sofa, grown-up conversation, and a time and space to get a break from it all.
During years of illness and unemployment for my husband, my fellow CC Directors literally paid some of our bills for us. Unsolicited bank checks would arrive in our mailbox right when our mortgage was due or when Christmas was upon us. As a Director, the families on whose behalf I directed ministered to us as well. I regularly received gift cards for our local supermarket, slipped into my Challenge guide during community day. One snowy day we came home from church to find a complete Thanksgiving-style meal in a cooler on our back deck, waiting for the time and place we would want to have a feast.
Gifts of service were freely given. During one annual Parent Practicum, I shared my son was to be married shortly. We had so much work to accomplish on our hobby farm, as some critical events for the wedding weekend were to take place at our property. Directors and tutors from my local community and other area communities rallied around me. They offered their help, time, energy, and presence. They cooked, served, strung party lights, decorated, made centerpieces, set up tables and chairs, and even washed all our dishes! When I tried to find words to express my gratitude and overwhelming thanksgiving, they just hugged me, told me they had fun, and reminded me that, “This is what friends do.”
I find this story particularly compelling about my son’s wedding because only a handful of Directors knew my son. He had graduated from our homeschool two years before Classical Conversations established a community in our town. The Directors (really by now, shouldn’t I simply call them my friends?) had mainly been ministering to me. I belonged to them, and they belonged to me.
I am reminded of another book, The Four Loves, by C. S. Lewis. Filled with a gripping discussion about love, relationship, and friendship, I’m drawn to this quote:
“In friendship… we think we have chosen our peers. In reality a few years’ difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another…the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting—any of these chances might have kept us apart. But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking no chances. A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,” can truly say to every group of Christian friends, “Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.” The friendship is not a reward for our discriminating and good taste in finding one another out. It is the instrument by which God reveals to each of us the beauties of others.”
He has said it better than I ever could. My experience as a Classical Conversations Director embodies the discovery, reward of friendship, and belonging that Lewis so eloquently expresses.
My fellow CC Directors, my friends, have tempered the problem of Isolation in my life. It no longer takes up residence in my homeschool. I am known, loved, and belong. Rather than personifying the word Isolation, as I originally suggested, I would instead give the terms Together, Friendship, Belonging proper names. In my years as a CC Director, I’ve come to realize that “Friendship … is born at the moment when one man says to another “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself…” (Lewis, The Four Loves). I am not alone.
Laura Kooistra, the wife of Kent, mother to six, belongs body and soul to her Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. A decades-long home educator, she has always employed classical learning tools but found her people and place in community when she joined CC as a Challenge B Director in 2012. Her two youngest daughters are enrolled in local Challenge programs. A hobby farmer in Southwest Michigan, she enjoys both sunrise and sunset from her open property. Laura collects big words, loves challenging books, drinks strong coffee, devours podcasts, grows flowers, overuses commas, and enjoys time together (her love language)!