Parents can overcome challenges to homeschool, speakers say

GLORIETA, N.M.(BP)--Neither physical illness nor economic concerns should stop parents who feel called by God to educate their children at home, according to speakers at a homeschooling conference, Aug. 17-20, at Glorieta (N.M.) Baptist Conference Center.

Despite having been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Gina Merrick -- a mother of six children ranging in age from 5 to 24 -- began homeschooling her oldest son when he was in sixth grade in 1984.

Now in a wheelchair, Merrick acknowledges her limitations, though she continues to teach the five of her children who still live at home.

"I can't do cooking or cleaning and I can't clean myself," she said. "I have to be gotten up in the morning and I can't turn over in bed. I've really learned what it means to trust in the Lord."

During a workshop entitled "If I Can Homeschool, So Can You," Merrick said she and her husband, Bruce, assistant professor of Christian education at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., planned a large family.

For this reason, she wanted to become a nurse. "I'm a registered nurse. I went to nursing school because I thought, 'I've got to be able to do something in case something ever happens to my husband, since I have this large family."

But at age 25, her life changed when she learned she had multiple sclerosis.

"I had my life kind of planned out, and then the Lord comes in and says, 'No, that's not the plan I have for you, but my plan is a perfect plan, and it's far better than any plan you might have had.'"

Merrick said her physical infirmities led to a very personal understanding of what the Apostle Paul was told by God: "My grace is sufficient for you."

Without the multiple sclerosis, Merrick explained, "I don't think I would have ever learned and had the relationship with the Lord that I have. ... Before the diagnosis, I longed in my heart to be more of a Mary -- to sit at God's feet, but I don't know that I ever would have, because I couldn't have found the time to do it."

Between 1991 and 1994, Merrick said she spent 13 weeks annually in the hospital as her condition significantly worsened. As she realized she would have to depend more on her children for physical help, she said she considered sending them to public schools.

"There were times when I definitely wanted to send them back to school," Merrick recounted. "But one of my friends said, 'Gina, you gave the best years of your life to these children. Now let them learn to serve you. What can God do in their life (as a result)?'"

Merrick said she believes God has a reason why her children must wait on their mother and teacher. "He's preparing them for something. Through the way we've had to do school through the years, it's still been effective; they're still learning."

For parents who see obstacles to homeschooling but still feel called to do so, Merrick said, "I just encourage you that no matter what you're going through, you're going to make it. You're going to get through it. Your children are going to be better for it. No matter how many mistakes you make, God's bigger than all that."

Darienne Dumas, a homeschool mother from Tijeras, N.M., told conferees they should not let economics stand in the way of homeschooling.

"One conviction I have is if God is calling you to home teach, ... don't give up, no matter how hard things get financially," said Dumas, who has four children. "Instead, ask God not to change your circumstances until you have learned the lessons that he wants you to learn.

Dumas began homeschooling during the 1970s, but she said her family's economic life changed drastically when her husband left them in 1989. "The first couple of years, I felt like it's not going to be a big deal. But as my children got older and their needs got greater, we became more and more financially stressed."

During a session entitled "Homeschooling on the Edge of Poverty," Dumas drew from her family's experience of economic coping and listed several areas in which homeschooling families can save money, including:

-- heating. "Preheat your beds at night with an electric blanket," she said. "The electric company told me the electric blanket is one of the best, low-cost heat sources."

-- electricity. Dumas suggested using low-wattage light bulbs; drying laundry longer on a cooler setting; preparing food in a slow cooker, which uses "far less electricity" than an oven; and cooking several meals of food at once and freezing them.

"A full freezer uses less energy than an empty freezer," Dumas said. "A freezer is one of the best investments you can make.

-- food.Stretching food is important to financial savings, she said. "For tuna salad sandwiches, grate up a lot of cabbage and make it more like a tuna slaw. You'll get six to eight sandwiches out of a can of tuna."

-- laundry. Dumas suggested using cheaper detergents to wash "dark things and blue jeans that don't show stains."

-- clothing. Dumas told of a friend who homeschools her children on a limited income but nevertheless dresses sharply in designer clothes. The woman goes to garage and yard sales in affluent neighborhoods and finds nice clothing at low prices.

Prices at sales in lower-income neighborhoods tend to be higher, because the sellers need the money, Dumas observed, whereas more affluent families may donate the proceeds to charity and sell clothing and other items such as furniture at "rock bottom prices."

-- housing space. Discard the idea that each child needs his or her own room, and make do with a smaller residence, Dumas suggested. Children will more likely go along with such a decision if they are accustomed to sharing rooms from an early age, she said.

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