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Clarkson Nourishes Homeschool Moms & Champions Children

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By Deborah Deggs Cariker

If there's one thing I can tell you about Sally Clarkson after soaking up two seminars, several books, and an hour's phone conversation, it's that she is nourishing. There's just something about having spent time with her - even sitting on the floor in a crowded room - that made me feel two things: I'd had a booster shot of encouragement, and I'd spent time in the company of Jesus.

Now, nourishing may not be a very glamorous or sophisticated way to describe this woman, but nourishing she is. One Montgomery, Texas homeschool mom-of-three goes farther, calling Clarkson "a pastor for homeschool mothers". Listening and watching the audience during her Conroe workshops, I can tell you that homeschool moms cried and laughed. Many expressed relief - they weren't alone. They felt connected to her and believed that Clarkson understood them.

Clarkson, 48, mom to four homeschooled-since-birth children, nourishes in person and in writing, having co-written Educating the WholeHearted Child in 1994 (updated in 1996) with her husband, Clay. ("He did most of the work but I get most of the credit.") She also is widely known for her message series on the same topic, which is enhanced by her 1998 offering, Seasons of a Mother's Heart. This year (2001) they also reprinted two wonderful, old books The Gold Thread and other stories of young faith and Just David (see EHO reviews of these Clarkson publications). The Clarksons direct Wholehearted Ministries from their new home in Monument, Colorado - where Sally was just back from a walk in the mountains on a 58-degree morning when we spoke weeks after the conference by phone. (Add 30-degrees for where I was that morning!)

Clarkson is not, by her own admission, a perfect woman nor a perfect mother, but she offers a rock-like (or is that Rock-like) perspective on what homeschool moms are supposed to be about.

"Clay and I decided to homeschool before we ever got pregnant," she said. "Our whole background was discipleship and I was motivated by Jesus' relationship with His disciples. That's what I had done and I studied His life of leadership."

The Clarksons met in staff training for Campus Crusade for Christ, whose staff Sally joined upon graduation from Texas Tech University, where she earned her degrees in English and Speech. During her six years on staff, she served on a college campus, pioneered ministries in Eastern Europe, and ministered to executive women and single adults in Denver, where Clay just happened to be attending seminary. Sally told her Conroe, Texas -standing-room-only crowd at an August, 2001 homeschool conference that Clay had been supporting her ministry when she was overseas and he said he might as well continue. They married in 1981.

Sally and Clay came into homeschooling from a unique angle.

"We married when we were older and we said if we have children, that's what we want to do," she shared. "It wasn't about curriculum. It was about discipleship. It was all about teaching our children to have a heart for God."

Perhaps, she quipped in the workshop, if she had met some homeschoolers before starting the task herself, she might have decided differently. But the Clarksons held to their convictions about why they would homeschool, and echo that in Educating the WholeHearted Child: "As their parents, we are raising our children for God's approval."

Flying in the face of culture that tells mothers not to waste their time on baby sitting, but to go out and have a career so they can be fulfilled, Sally Clarkson has real-life encouragement.

"I really think the culture doesn't support traditional motherhood anymore and many of the moms feel alone, overwhelmed, and insecure," she began. "We have a sinful nature and sinful children, and it takes a long time to see results. And then Satan says, 'You're not good enough. You can't do this."

According to Sally, her family is part of a "first generation" of families trying to recapture what God wants them to do."

For me, it's been a very difficult and lonely road with times of loneliness and depression," she admitted. "I'm trying to minister to (other mothers) what I wished I had had. Being a wholehearted mother is such a vital and important task that will impact eternity, but there's no support saying to you, 'Your kids are fine and you're doing great.' Our culture worships SATs and there's no importance given to children being able to think or be kind."

Many women need additional support, Sally said, particularly single moms, those in difficult marriages, or with difficult children, but there are few support groups to help bear that burden.

"I think one of the problems is that moms already feel strung out. Not very many moms feels like they have anything left to start a group or reach out to other people," she went on, sharing her heart. "I had to know that at the absolute bottom, at the furtherest point underneath my heart that I've committed everything to the Lord and I want what He wants. Now, that will sustain a mom. If everything is not laid at the altar, then she won't have the strength that she needs."

Many times, Sally said, moms look for the right thing in the wrong place.

"More friends, bigger house, better support - those are good things but not the ultimate answer," she cautions. "We're looking to culture, church, and activities, but I acquired my security, my affirmation, my peace at the very bottom of my heart where the Lord was. Yes, we need to encourage each other, but the first thing is linking to the Lord. He encourages my spirit ... The whole reason I wrote Seasons of a Mother's Heart is that there is great value in moms getting together, focusing on issues of their heart and having time to be together and discuss and encourage each other. That's when we realize we're not so unusual."

Sally also says to find tapes or books or people that encourage you to be more like Jesus.

"I don't want to put a pile on anyone," she said, adding how that "pile" often leads to condemnation. "This is not a 'do these ten things and you'll know God' kind of thing. There were seasons in my life when I couldn't even have a quiet time, but I knew He was there. I was not alone."

Chuckling, Sally chides that nowhere in Scripture did Jesus give quotas.

"There are times to think big thoughts and then there are times when you don't even know you've had a thought. You just know you've made it through the day," she said in a knowing way.

Having herself been through the various stages, Sally can speak with authority on toddlers and their mess, on elementary-age children and how you never thought you could teach a child to read, but you did. She knows about when those hormones kick in, and then as your children enter their young adult years and begin to own their own views. (I cried in Seasons of a Mother's Heart when she wrote about her 17-year-old Sarah, now reaching into those young adult years and about the preciousness of that last bit of time together.)

And Sally realizes there is a connection between herself and the untold number of homeschool mothers who read her writings and attend her workshops. I watched them line up, speaking in hushed tones about her, saying how she had said just what they had been feeling. They entreated her for wisdom in individual situations, not hesitating to give personal details. Theirs is a unique fastening, one heart to another.

"I really think there is a kindred spirit when someone can articulate what you think," Sally said, deflecting any praise. "The Holy Spirit does that."

In her August workshops, Sally said she had opinions on curriculum but wasn't harping on one or another. Her intent was to get to the heart.

"We have homeschooled from the beginning but, of course, there were many years where I probably idealized what homeschooling would be like and then I had to move into the reality," she said. "But I feel like my vision has grown more each year and my understanding of what God wants me to do has grown. I tend to be more philosophical than practical, and I had far more ideals than what I could accomplish ... I was visionary from the beginning, but I still had to deal with sinful children and messes."

Sally did share a couple of tips for moms that she hoped would not become part of a burdensome pile of things to accomplish.

"Hebrews said not to forsake the assembling. There were times when all I had was the Lord, but when you can be with other moms, there's such a strength there and an encouragement, and then I think moms and children just need to have fun. Too many sinful children in the house too many days in a row makes too much stress. Pack a picnic, go to the park, get out. It's important to have fun time and not all just work and duty."

Her workshop allowed me to go home and look myself in the mirror and, not only repeat, but believe: "My children need me. I'll be enough."

Sally also admonished everyone to remember Who's in control.

"It's easier for me to relinquish control to the Lord now," she said thoughtfully. "When I was young, I had the illusion I was in control and I had to learn I was not. Now, it's easier to go back to Him because I've become accustomed to continually going back to him. I go back to my goals; I go back to Him - and I see the fruit."

And that fruit - in mom and in children - makes the journey easier.

"I really like them a lot," Sally said of her children, Sarah, Nathan, Joel, and newest Clarkson model, Joy. "They are my best friends. They're so interesting and fun and thinking. It's taken years of walking in darkness, through immaturity and messes, and through different seasons. We're seeing fruit."

Sally said your children's foundation is important, as is guarding what is built on that foundation.

"Your soul has to have something to give or you won't have something to give," she said. "I'm careful with guarding my children, singing to them and praying with them before bed, doing devotionals, doing chores and teaching them to be diligent with chores, nurturing their relationship with me and thus nurture their relationship with the God I serve. Those are my children's appetites now. What we started with is what they love now."

Clarkson admonished Conroe conference attendees to consider their task from God's point of view.

Clarkson said she imagines God asking, "What did you do to have an impact on your children, to impact them for eternity?" She continues, "I want to build God's messages into my children, to love and touch and affirm them, cooperate with God's principles, disciple them. Children are born for a purpose and no one cares more about my children than I do ... The strength of my homeschool depends on the strength of my relationship with God. I want to look at my children with their potential in mind ... They are created in God's image and will live up to their potential within them."

I really liked her comment about having a potential George Washington or a little Florence Nightingale in my home, a miniature Paul or Moses. I want to remember, as she directed, that I'm raising them for a purpose.

That doesn't happen by accident. She cautions homeschoolers to clarify their goals, and stay true to their own convictions, not everyone else's convictions.

And, did the mothers' pastor dream of such a life as wife and mother and minister when she was a little girl?

"I really didn't," Sally said, chuckling. "I loved my mom and I look back now and see how she really laid a foundation, but I was a single, young woman out traveling the world and I thought, 'I sure hope I get married someday,' and then we were married and I had never been around babies. I had never really thought much about it. I look back now (at her own mother) and I see that I had someone who loved me and nurtured me. I never thought this is what my life's message would be, but it was all part of God's plan and He led me."

Sally grew up in a home committed to the Lord, she said, but hit college and found she just wanted life to make sense.

"I was surrounded by the drug and sexual revolution culture and was searching for meaning in my life. I was thrown into that culture by the fact of being in a normal college dorm. However, I was a pretty conservative girl looking for footholds of morality and purpose when someone shared Christ with me. I became a believer in college and that was the answer to my deepest needs: to be loved unconditionally and to have a purpose. A week later someone challenged me to teach a Bible study, and to make a difference," she shared.

Certainly, Clarkson has met that challenge. Sally Clarkson makes a difference.

"I found out years later that my parents prayed that one of their children would go into full time Christian work, but they assumed it would be one of their sons," she said. "This is a specific path that God has called me to walk to minister to moms. There's no one fighting for their rights and needs and deepest desires. And, I want to champion children."

You may obtain WholeHeart Ministries products from homeschool suppliers, some bookstores, and by visiting the Clarksons' website at www.wholeheart.org. Read our reviews of WholeHeart Ministries products.

Whole Hearted Mother Conferences
Visit the WholeHeart Ministries website to learn more about these conferences designed to encourage you as a Christian parent, and to equip you to raise wholehearted children for God.

Copyright ©  2001 Eclectic Homeschool Association

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