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Homeschool Mom, You Don’t Have to Be Perfect: An Interview with Lea Ann Garfias

February 6–10, 2017   |   Vol. 129, Programs 56–60

If we’re being honest, most of us struggle with perfectionism to some degree or another. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Today on Homeschool Heartbeat, author Lea Ann Garfias tells a story about two simple words that could change your perspective.

“My message to homeschooling parents is: You’re already a success. You don’t see it, you don’t recognize it . . . but you are.”—Lea Ann Garfias

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Are you struggling to keep things together in your life as a homeschooling parent? Then you won’t want to miss today’s Homeschool Heartbeat, as author Lea Ann Garfias opens up about her crazy homeschool journey and her battle with perfectionism.

Mike Smith: I’m joined today by Lea Ann Garfias. She’s a professional violinist, a choir director, and a homeschooling mom of four, and that’s not all! She recently published her first book, called Rocking Ordinary: Holding It Together with Extraordinary Grace.

Wooh, Lea Ann, when do you find time to do all this?

“You’re already a success” [0:35]

Lea Ann Garfias: It is hard, but you know what? All homeschool moms are busy. I don’t think I’ve ever met a homeschool mom who is looking for another hobby for all of her spare time. But at the same time, we all are really desperate for encouragement—some kind of indication that what we’re doing matters in eternity. So I wanted to give that same encouragement, that same hope, to my friends, that I knew I so desperately needed myself.

Mike: Well, let me ask you this: What inspired you to actually write this book called Rocking Ordinary?

Lea Ann: Yeah, I needed it. I needed some kind of tangible indication that all of the frustrations of daily motherhood, the constant trials, even, of being a homeschool mom, the difficulties and the discouragement that we battle every day when we try to get out of bed and do it all again—no matter what the learning difficulties, no matter what behavioral or character issues are that we’re working on, no matter the other external trials that we’re going through that can really burden us down from this work, we still need—I need and I know my friends needed—this encouragement that it all matters for God; that what you’re doing in these small, ordinary moments makes a huge difference to God.

Mike: If you had to boil down Rocking Ordinary to one message for homeschooling parents that are listening or maybe even for some that are considering homeschooling today, what would that be?

Lea Ann: My message to homeschool parents is: You’re already a success. You don’t see it, you don’t recognize it, your children are not giving you medals and trophies at the end of the day. You’re not necessarily going to witness the change in their hearts and character, you can’t see the far-reaching effects that your teaching is making, how you’re changing minds and changing hearts and affecting the course of history by how you produce just this small sample of the next generation—but you are. God has promised that everything you’re sowing is going to be reaped, and that these small moments, even the cold cups of water—just every single small lesson that you’re giving in character, in loving the Lord, in loving others—it all matters to God. You’re already a success, so just keep going with patience.

Finding significance in obscurity [3:00]

Mike: Lea Ann, how can homeschool moms make an extraordinary impact with their seemingly ordinary lives?

Lea Ann: It’s by how God is working out grace in our lives and allowing us to demonstrate that to those around us. It’s these daily intimate relationships that we’re living out in our marriage, in our parenting, in our friendships, in our relationships with our neighbors and those in our community. That’s what real discipleship is all about; that’s what real influence is about. It’s how Jesus himself worked. He was interested in changing the lives of these close friends that he spent every day with, day in and day out. And that’s what God has given us to do: to keep living out God’s love and forgiveness and grace and hope and the fruits of the Spirit right there to our husbands and children. And that is changing their lives for eternity.

Mike: Lea Ann, how did you figure this out?

Lea Ann: It was a long process, because I grew up thinking that I had to achieve some kind of recognition or a title or I had to be some kind of famous missionary and lead an entire murderous cannibal tribe to the Lord in order to achieve success. And when God closed those doors and gave me a life of obscurity, I was wrestling with God: “How am I going to do something that matters to you?”

Then He opened my eyes to how He was actually working in my heart through my relationship with my husband and my husband’s sacrificial love towards me every day, and the ways that He was changing my heart and my life through motherhood itself. And then I realized, that is the greatest purpose that he’s called us to—it’s actually in these day-in and day-out relationships.

Dysfunction and forgiveness [4:47]

Mike: So you were raised in a Christian home, I can tell that. Right?

Lea Ann: Yes, but it was very troubled. Dysfunctional.

Mike: Was it really?

Lea Ann: Yes. I was actually abused by my mother growing up, and really had a crisis of faith when I ran away and eloped with my husband.

Mike: Oh you ran away? How old were you?

Lea Ann: I was 19. On paper, it looks like it was just a horror story. But it was for the absolute best.

Mike: Isn’t that something?

Lea Ann: I would not have the relationship with God that I do if it hadn’t been for God’s grace through that situation. And I’m living happily ever after! I have a marriage my parents never did and a wonderful home life. I love being a mother, which my mom, obviously, was very conflicted about her whole life. I feel like all the things I was afraid about in adulthood, God showed me something way greater than I ever imagined, and I’m so grateful for that.

Mike: Now, how’s your relationship with your parents today?

Lea Ann: I was reconciled with my mom just a couple of years before she died.

Mike: Oh, wonderful.

Lea Ann: And that was just a beautiful, beautiful testimony and I share a lot about that in Rocking Ordinary because I know a lot of my readers have painful relationships that they’re scared to talk about, to give them hope.

With my dad, it was . . . we are reconciled [and] we communicate, but we’re not close. We just have different lives.

Mike: But you’ve forgiven him, right?

Lea Ann: Yes! Oh, absolutely.

Mike: Yeah. ‘Cause that’s the key. See, that’s what I’m worried about with a lot of these young people today that had a rocky relationship with their parents growing up. There can be a bitterness even toward God: “Well God, if you’re so loving, why would you have allowed me to be raised by these people?” You know what I’m saying?

Lea Ann: Exactly. Or “Why would you allow Christians to behave this way?” And “They said that they are demonstrating God’s love, but they really aren’t.”

That is really hard to get over. And sadly, we see that in the homeschool community a little bit with this generation. So it was my prayer by sharing some of this, [that] I can share that kind of story, but from a different perspective: that God actually uses that to draw us close to Him and to establish a sincere relationship with Him, and then to [help us] be able to live out that forgiveness to those around us.

Mike: Well that’s important, because whether you can restore the relationship or not—you have to do whatever you can—but if you can’t, at least you can’t hold a grudge, because that will hurt you. People don’t realize that, but it does.

Two simple words [7:10]

Mike: Lea Ann, in your book, you talk about the value of saying “Me too” as opposed to “Why don’t you . . .” or “You should have . . .” Tell us about that distinction and why it’s important.

Lea Ann: I think a lot of us, when we grow up, if we get the idea that Christianity is all about a list of “dos and don’ts” or maybe if our upbringing was really strict, then we can have this personal goal to be the best and think that that’s how God judges us—by our performance, or by our appearance, or by our list of dos and don’ts and how well we keep them. And I really struggled with that in my 20s, trying to reconcile my own inadequacies to be perfect.

But I was scared to open up to anyone else, and to confess this struggle within me, because I thought everyone around me had it going on so much better than I did, and that they wouldn’t like me, wouldn’t respect me, wouldn’t want to be around me if they knew that I really am a failure.

But while I was really struggling with depression around this issue in my late twenties, I had a friend at church who was just the opposite of me. She came to church not to impress anyone but just to worship. And she would just give a smile or a word of encouragement and lead. And she didn’t make a name for herself, she didn’t draw any attention to herself; she was just a regular person. But she consistently would leave a voicemail on my answering machine, or she would leave a note in my church memo box, or a small gift on my back porch to say “I’m thinking of you and praying for you.”

So one day when I barely hinted at the fact that I was struggling in front of her—I was at her house for lunch one day, and she just poured me another cup of coffee, reached across the table and said, “Me too.”

And that was really the M.O. of her entire friendship—her relationship with me and with others around her. It was not to give a word of condemnation or even advice—she was loathe to give advice. But she would always, if you would tell her that you were struggling, that you need prayer, that you just don’t have the answers, she would just say, “Yeah, me too. I’m there, too. That’s exactly the same struggle that I face.”

And it really opened my eyes to God’s compassion and God’s forgiveness. And I recognized what a powerful friend she was, because she knew the power of those two simple words, of just telling me that she’s on the same Christian walk that I am; she’s not an expert or know-it-all. But she’s right there with me just doing her best and looking for God’s grace every day.

The perfect-driven life [9:52]

Mike: Lea Ann, have you had any major setbacks or failures that really shaped you and caused you to grow into the person you are today?

Lea Ann: I think this struggle I had in my 20s, trying to be a perfect Christian wife and mom, really undid me. I just couldn’t keep it all together all the time. I was a failure at housekeeping, I would make terrible, terrible dinner mistakes in my cooking. But even worse, I couldn’t get my kids to always sit perfectly and keep their hair slicked down in church. And my husband didn’t always want to wear the super-awesome outfit I would set out for him and say exactly the spiritual things that I thought he should be saying in church.

And then when I was leading ministry, I would constantly say the wrong thing to the wrong person, and just never, never quite have this huge revival with everyone getting saved and millions of people liking what I said—nothing like that happened. I was just a complete failure to make any kind of super-Christian impact on the world.

And that’s what completely changed my focus on Christianity and on my walk with the Lord, and of course for my relationship with others. If I don’t expect them to be perfect, then why am I trying to expect myself to always be a perfect wife and mother? I have to realize that God’s grace in my life is greater than that. And it’s really about Him, it’s really about God’s greatness and how He can use one ordinary mom to effect change in the lives of those around her.

Mike: Lea Ann, I’m going to ask you a question: one thing—if you could say one thing to folks listening out there that are living the perfect-driven life, what would you tell them?

Lea Ann: Stop it! Like that old routine Bob Newhart says, “Just stop it. Stop it right now.” Because you can’t [do it]. This is what our salvation is about: when we came to a place, when we realized that we are not good enough, that we are sinners, and that every day we fall short of God’s glory—that is how we stop the hypocrisy, by recognizing “I’m a sinner,” by confessing our sin to our children, to our husbands, and letting them know, “I’m so sorry—I completely blew it. Will you forgive me?” That is the only way we can be genuine in the Christian life.

“A home we didn’t have” [12:19]

Mike: Lea Ann, what was your experience like growing up being homeschooled, and how has that influenced the way you teach your children at home?

Lea Ann: It’s a lot different than now, because I was homeschooled back when it was almost illegal. And we were in hiding in Michigan to try to keep the authorities from dragging us into court. And now it’s way different. I live down here in Texas where every other person you meet is already homeschooling, practically. So it’s much different from that perspective.

But my home life is a lot different too. I think that the Lord has done a really wonderful thing in allowing my husband and I to create a home that we didn’t have. We both grew up with Christian parents who got divorced around the time that we became adults. So we saw our families fall apart, we saw the difference between how our families behaved at church and at home, and the pain of dysfunction and abuse and addiction in our homes. And that was a real challenge when we were first starting out: to try to weed through what is truth and what is hypocrisy. What does the Bible really say, and what is God truly like? If he’s not exactly like my human father, then what is God’s character really like? And can God do something different in my life, in my marriage, in my home than he did in my Christian home when I was growing up?

I think that was one of the biggest acts of faith. My husband had to talk me into homeschooling, because homeschooling was so wrapped up in my idea of being controlling and authoritative with my children that I really did not want to have any part of that. My husband really had faith, though. He said, “I really believe that God is going to do something different in our home than either one of us have ever seen before. So I want you to just do this for me. Have faith and do it one year.”

And you know that one-year fateful trial that homeschoolers do—I was like “Oh no, this is going to do bad for me.” And I did it anyway, and he was right. After one year of spending day in and day out walking grace and forgiveness with my 3-year-old, very, very strong-willed son—he gave me a run for my money—but having that relationship with him and being able to see on a day-by-day basis how God was working in him and how God was changing me through that relationship completely addicted me to homeschooling. And even through the hard times I never questioned that that was God’s will for our lives: for God to do something new and beautiful in our home, that we had never seen before.

Mike: Well Lea Ann, I can’t thank you enough for being willing to be transparent and sharing your insights and your experiences with us today. And of course there will be hundreds that will be blessed because of it. So thank you, and God bless you, and until next time, I’m Mike Smith.

Lea Ann GarfiasPhoto of Lea

Author Lea Ann Garfias helps women recognize the extraordinary impact they make with their seemingly ordinary lives. A homeschool grad and homeschooling mom of four, Lea Ann fuels her roles as author, professional violinist, choir director, and soccer mom with a whole lot of coffee.

Connect with her at lagarfias.com and facebook.com/lagarfias, where she shares the Rocking Ordinary message through Facebook Live chats.

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