It’s the end of spring, early summer, and though an air-conditioned house staves off the Florida heat, I still find myself sweating. My brother and my annual academic evaluations have begun. To fail this evaluation would mean that my parents had wasted their time homeschooling me. Also, it would mean I’m as dumb as my inferiority complex insists I am.
As such, when Miss Amy comes to the table with the fat folder of school paper, I cringe and flap the edge of my damp shirt.
Amy pretends not to notice and cranks the air conditioning.
Gentle smile, gentle prompts: “I see you’re studying the periodic table. Any element you find interesting?”
“Goodness, you read how many books this year? Any recommendations?”
“Physical science is so fascinating! What was your favourite part?”
I sit there, neck buried in my shoulders; but I prattle on about how Palladium makes me think of paladins and how Nancy Drew is a great detective and that the photoelectric effect boggles my mind—Just how can light shove electrons off metal? So cool.
Amy nods and pens notes. She sends me to her bookshelf, where I randomly grab some book with an alligator on the front. By the time I’ve finished describing a bayou, I’ve become so engrossed, Amy has to stop me, and I have to ask if I can borrow the book so I can finish it. She happily obliges.
And then I’m done. I’ve passed into the next grade, congratulations, I can keep reading to myself while Miles goes through his own evaluation. He passes, too. While we wait for Dad to pick us up, Amy gives us peanut butter cookies to celebrate, shows off her violets in the kitchen window. She gives me a leaf and tells me if I plant it, I can have violets too. How astounding! I learn something new every day.
Someday, I would learn that for all my life, Amy and my parents had been practicing the mandate of 1 Peter 5:1-5:
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (ESV)
Amy and my parents made the choice to homeschool my siblings and me, sacrificing their lives as an act of worship to bring God glory and to give us that example of strong shepherds. Some three decades of work, they’ve watched us grow and steered us in the way we should go, earning their crowns of glory.
This isn’t to say that the public school system has nothing of value or that homeschooling is superior. What it does mean is that this team took on a burden to shape the educational and spiritual growth of the four Marshburn kids in a massive, active way.
For Mom and Dad, that meant researching strong curriculum, managing the timetable of study to make sure we stayed caught up on all the subject we were expected to learn, enforcing said timetable with incentives to keep us motivated through the day, helping with “homework” (it was all homework), and commiserating with us when algebra had us hitting our heads against the wall.
And then there was the life around the school, seemingly neverending: Mom doing the Miami Bridge’s bread shopping while Miles and I sat in the cart; Dad scolding me for being up at three in the morning, watching him play “Disciples II” from the kitchen door jamb; or Dad waiting for me to get off the computer so he can do some work, because I’d gotten up at six in the morning and whipped through my schoolwork so that I could play “Warcraft III” all morning. Then Tamar was born, and then Ian, the juggling of time and duty expanding ever more.
And there was Amy, a member of our church who would worship with us, talk to us, and laugh with us on Sundays. Along with that, every year without fail, she kept tabs on our growth, noting both where we struggled and excelled, pushing us to new heights.
I know we young ones are to be humble, but I admit some pride when I think of the challenge my mentors faced and, by the grace of God, overcame. My siblings and I, one and all, have survived our grade school years. We’ve been left with a sense of achievement and a drive to continue growing in one manner or another: Ian’s looking into video game development
degrees. Tamar’s applied for an art degree and is starting to open her work for commissions. Miles has nearly finished his bachelor’s in Film Production and wants to become a camera operator. I’ve just finished my first semester of my master’s degree in Creative Writing. And again, our mentors have aided in these endeavors, from a stable home environment and emotional support to aid with finding colleges to which we might apply. (I’m apparently horrible at Googling good universities, but it took Dad one search to find the amazing University of Central Florida from which I earned my Bachelor’s.)
All the while, Amy has continued to be here in our lives. When Miles graduated with his GED and needed no more evaluations, Amy still had three other kids to go through. And even when Ian was the only child left in the evaluations, she continued to mentor the rest through her influence on our lives. A spiritual presence in our church congregation, an academic presence as we continue our education. The depths of her influence cannot be fathomed.
Those of you who spend your time mentoring the younger generation, know that you do honorable work that can bring glory to God.
It is a worthy endeavor even if it can feel an unbearable burden at times. The impact you make may very well change lives, whether you see it or not.
Thankfully, in the case of my mentors, their efforts have borne some visible fruit. Thank you, Amy. Thank you, Mom. Thank you, Dad. We chitlins wouldn’t be where we are without all that you’ve done and continue to do.
If it were ever in doubt, let me assure you: You are examples to the flock.