This post is written in response to those who have asked me to share more about my nine children and their experiences. It is easy to present an unblemished presentation of our family on social media. And, to be honest, I would rather not air our family’s challenges and failures for all to see unless others can learn from what we share or be encouraged by realizing we aren’t all perfect! This article will share experiences that include college, military, discipleship programs, entrepreneurship, rebellion, divorce, and more. Below is the good, the bad and ugly.
Having nine children is challenging when it comes to figuring out how best to help each individual child pursue the path they should take. We made a few mistakes. One of these mistakes was to push our dreams upon our children, hoping they would live out the life we wanted for ourselves, but had not achieved. At first we weren’t aware we were doing this and, unfortunately, our oldest suffered from this. We did prayerfully consider options and choices, but who knows if our hearts were always pure and our motives were right? It ain’t easy being a parent. We were also more legalistic with our older children (although we were not as legalistic as some), yet I think we found a balance (eventually) between guiding our children versus giving them total freedom in all things or micro-managing their lives. Letting that leash out a little-at-a-time, until the child is able to handle his/her independence is the goal. That looks different for each child.
Here is a brief summary of each child, followed by a more detailed description of their journey.
#1 One year of college, marriage, missionary in Brasil, returned to TN, full time mother of 3 (whom she homeschools), working on a patent and marketing plan for a product.
#2 Spent two summers with Keynote ministry (performing in a band), one year in a women’s discipleship program, marriage, full time mother of 4 (whom she homeschools)
#3 Left home at 18 without our blessing. Had a few rough years making poor choices. Has received numerous certifications, but no college classes. Self-employed in construction and makes knives from scratch. Hard worker, responsible husband and father. Married with 2 boys.
#4 Joined the army right after high school. Has been an entrepreneur since age 14. Finished his degree at FSU. Is a real estate agent who sells, flips, and rents properties. Co-owns an Engineering firm. Married and is a father of 3 who are homeschooled.
#5 Attended two gap year programs, Impact 360 and Summit semester. He’s still working on his degree as a husband and father of 2. He taught worldview classes while still in highschool. He took part in numerous opportunities while in high school (he’s the first child we did not allow to have a steady job in high school). He staffed at three camps: Camp Charis, Worldview Academy, and Summit. He’s a natural speaker and a gifted teacher. He works full time in Colorado Springs while taking classes.
#6 Took part in two video internships after high school. Staffed at Summit in Colorado where she met her husband. Married with one 2 year old daughter. She and her husband are full time videographers. They were voted “Best Videographers” in Colorado Springs in 2016.
#7 Attends Bryan College, mostly because he loves to play baseball and college allowed him to continue playing. He will graduate this year with a degree in Communications. He will, more-than-likely, get a job coaching baseball or he will work for one of his brothers. He is quite skilled in lawn maintenance, and is a skilled helper in all things construction.
#8 Spent her senior year at a public school (taking 3 math classes and maintaining a 4.0 GPA) and is in nursing school in Florida. She wants to travel after graduating and, at this time, wants to live on a houseboat somewhere.
#9 He attends Bryan College and wants to double major. He loves learning and he’s a gifted teacher. Who knows where he will end up. He also is quite skilled in lawn maintenance and is a jack-of-all trades in construction. He is a blessing to have around when he’s home because he is willing and able to take on my many projects. He wants to develop multiple streams of income so he can be free to do whatever or go wherever he wants.
Now for the details, for those who want to know more. I will start with the oldest and go down the list.
Information on the first born will be the longest post since, as the oldest, this one was our guinea pig (poor thing). Our first child was born after seven years of marriage. We desperately wanted a large family and for a while it looked like it would never happen. By the time our daughter was born we were so ready to be parents. She was the first grandchild on my side of the family and she immediately melted the hearts of aunts, uncles, and grandparents. She has not just one, but two entire photo albums (don’t even has about the 9th child and his photos). We were determined she would be the brightest and she cooperated with our plans by memorizing over 50 Bible verses by the time she was 4 years old. As a child, I always wanted to take gymnastic classes, but was not allowed. So what did we do? We enrolled our daughter in gymnastics at a very young age. At age five a coach saw that she could do a press and suggested she join a competitive team. For years gymnastics was a part of her life. She went to many practices each week and to many competitions over the years.
She loved the Lord and she would line up her stuffed animals and preach to them. She was active, fun, and obedient. She was a joy to raise. What I didn’t learn about my daughter until years later was that she and I are quite different in our make-up. She’s a perceiver and I am obtuse. She sees life as black or white, with little gray. Because of this she demanded perfection of herself and never felt adequate. It wasn’t until I had her take the test in the book Discovering Your Children’s Gifts that I realized what made her so different than myself. All of my friends loved this child and would have been thrilled to have her marry their sons. She had a rather small number of close friends and that was due to the fact that she was as demanding of her friends to be righteous as she was of herself, and that limited her friendships. The friends she did have were great friends and they were loyal to each other. In high school she played volleyball and basketball with teams at a local Christian school that allowed homeschoolers to join their teams. She played quite well (it was always all or nothing) and she received an invitation from Bryan College and Tennessee Temple (both in TN while we lived in FL) to try out for basketball scholarships. Don and I were ecstatic. We had gone to a Bible college and loved our years there, but that college was defunct so we were hoping she would attend a sound Christian college. We assumed, at this time, that every child should go to college. Those thoughts changed later. She tried out for both teams and was offered a scholarship from each school. By this time, she had heard Jeff Myers speak multiple times (he was a professor at Bryan College at this time) and she had attended Summit at Bryan College. We decided this was the best choice for her. She was not as convinced. She wanted to go to Word of Life for a year, but that did not come with a scholarship and we felt that the Lord was directing her path by what we could afford so Bryan was the choice. Looking back I wonder if we limited her choices by our lack of faith. Who knows? We were not willing to go into debt so we did not really give Word of Life serious consideration.
Another regret is not preparing her for college tests. We homeschooled co-op style so until she entered college she had never taken an exam until she took the SAT and then the ACT. She is a smart child, but we did not prepare her well for those exams and she was embarrassed by her score. I did not put much emphasis on these test because I felt like they are not good indicators of whether a student will succeed in college, or not. Once I finally realized (it took years) the importance of preparing our students for these tests I made changes accordingly.
We moved our family from Florida to Tennessee so that she could live at home. This was partly selfish on our part. Having never lived outside of Florida, coupled with the fact that the cost of living in Dayton was so low that we could live there for about the cost of room and board for our daughter, we decided to live in Tennessee. Moving to the mountains was an exciting adventure. That first year of college was difficult for this daughter for many reasons. As the oldest, we put a lot of responsibility on her (probably too much). She was contributing financially to the family in addition to being a full time student and a sister to 8 younger siblings. I had an emergency hysterectomy that year and she and my next oldest daughter helped me recuperate afterwards while my husband was in Florida working. She was a great student and she enjoyed her classes. That year she met her future husband and she exchanged her college degree for her MRS. After marriage she and her husband joined Wycliffe as missionaries (her husband was raised in Brasil where his parents were missionaries for more than 40 years) and moved to Brasil. They have since have moved back to Tennessee and they have 3 children whom they are homeschooling this year. She has had several business over the years and right now she is in the process of patenting and marketing a product idea. If there were a homeschool graduate who could write a blog entitled, “What My Parents Did Wrong,” it would be our oldest. But, fortunately, she’s understanding and forgiving.
Our second born is married and lives in Colorado with her husband and their 4 boys whom she homeschools. She, too, was a competitive gymnast and she played basketball and volleyball in high school. When we moved to Tennessee she lost all opportunities to play sports as a homeschooled student and she was devastated. She begged us to let her go to high school her senior year. We began the process, but had our doubts that this was a good decision. The night before the final paperwork was due my husband and I both realized we should not proceed with this plan. We were about to drop the news on her when our oldest daughter called her sister and said, “You can’t go to high school this year. It’s our last year to spend time together before I get married. Don’t do it.” So, before we had to tell her that we had changed our minds, she informed us she wanted to be homeschooled that year. This part of the story is a wonderful example of how the Lord works in the lives of our children to direct their paths.
No longer able to play the sports she loved, she picked up her guitar and began writing music. She wrote beautiful songs and we love hearing her sing. She found out about Keynote, a ministry with CRU, and traveled with a band performing all over the United States the next two summers. By this time we were not pushing college like we had with our oldest. On one of her trips with the band the students were sharing where they were going to college and many shared that their parents insisted they attend college, taking out loans to pay tuition. When our daughter shared that she wasn’t planning on going to college and that we were supportive of that decision the students were both surprised and a little envious. We were more than content keeping her at home when she wasn’t traveling with the bands. She began looking at different programs and options and came across a one year women’s biblical discipleship program in Denton, Texas. When she shared their information with me I noticed that they only accepted college graduates. Calling the lady in charge, I asked if they would consider allowing our daughter to be a part of the program even though she was not a college graduate and they said they would consider that, but that they wanted to interview her in person. We were in Florida, this was in Texas. We looked at her band traveling schedule to see if the band was going anywhere near Denton, Texas. Not only was the band going to Denton, but they were performing at the church where this program takes place (Denton Bible Church). She was interviewed and accepted into the program.
Here is another regret we have. In our zeal to be great parents we decided that rather than letting this daughter live with other women in this program, with total freedom, we would have her live with a Christian family. We thought she would become like a member of the family and have surrogate parents. The family was quite nice, and they rented our daughter a room in their home. Unfortunately, and this is not their fault, our daughter was mostly left to herself so now, outside of the classes and work, she was alone in a room. This was difficult for her. Having come from a family with 9 children, she was rarely alone. Having some alone time is nice, but being alone all the time is not-so-nice. If we could go back we would have allowed her to live with the other girls in the program. She met her husband while in Texas and, as mentioned above, they now live in Colorado and homeschool their boys. She has worked several times at jobs where her children could be with her and she has worked from home as well. Right now she’s a full-time wife, mother, and chauffeur as 3 of the 4 boys play soccer. She has also begun writing her own curriculum and I am encouraging her to publish it when she is done so that others can use it.
Our oldest son is strong willed, independent, yet also sensitive and kind. During high school he worked at a steady job, but he also attended co-op. One day his work schedule changed and instead of having to work he was available for co-op. By the way, we eventually quit allowing our high school students to have steady jobs and I wrote about that here. He informed us he was not going to co-op but was going to hang out with his friends. We told him that while he was living in our home he would do what we asked. He had just turned 18 and so he packed up and moved out. The first night he slept in his car and then he found a bedroom to rent in a trailer with a senior citizen. The next few years (maybe more than a few) were filled with concern, worry, and anguish. Our son became friends with less-than-wonderful young men and begin making choices that were not wise. He got into trouble numerous times and, except for the grace of God, could easily have been killed or sent to prison. He did spend time in jail and that was quite hard on this mama. During these rough years we loved him unconditionally and always welcomed him home.
He heard me repeat an H. G. Wells quote to him more times than I can remember. The quote is this, “If there is no god, nothing matters. If there is a God, nothing else matters.” By this time our son was not happy with God. He did not want conviction for his actions, and he wanted God to be Santa Claus, granting his every wish. Fortunately, he made it through these years and is now in a good place. His first marriage produced a son, who is now 11, but that marriage dissolved. His second marriage did not even last a year. He’s happily married now to a wonderful gal and they just had a baby boy. Our son has always been a very hard worker. He is not afraid to try anything, he’s quite skilled in all things construction and he makes knives from scratch. For a few years he was probably the highest paid sibling, working in the oil industry in Colorado. He and his wife moved back to the south so he quit that job and he now owns his own construction company (still making knives on the side). Although he never has taken accredited college classes, he has taken numerous courses to become certified in the industries in which he has been employed. He is quick to see opportunities and will do what it takes to take part in those opportunities. He won the Florida alligator lottery and has caught and killed one ten foot gator (and he has one more chance for a second gator). He is our family comedienne and during reunions he keeps us all in stitches. He is also quite the cook.
Next is son number two (4th child). This son is the entrepreneur in the family. During high school he was flipping cars, trailers, and scooters before he could drive. His construction experience is extensive and impressive and he could practically rebuild an engine in a car while still in high school. He loved all things mechanical and disdained books. He attended co-op (because he had to), but loved working with his hands. It wasn’t until he became involved in Civil Air Patrol that he cared about books. Because he wanted to advance in rank he began studying like crazy. The Civil Air Patrol loved having him involved because we allowed him to go out on search and rescue missions at all times of the day and night. After all, he could catch up on sleep and school work later! (Never miss out on opportunities simply because you are concerned that school work will be neglected. Opportunities often provide a much richer learning experience than any text book could provide.) When four hurricanes hit Florida one year he was the commander of his unit and so he was asked to go out with the Governor’s Task Force to assess damage. He saw that the guard could do so much more than he was allowed to do and so he asked to join the army.
Before the army we took him to an entrepreneur conference in N. Alabama. Rhea Perry put on this conference. At first he was not real happy with us because the conference took place during the weekend of his 16th birthday and he had to miss a Civil Air Patrol event and a youth group event. However, as soon as the speakers began speaking he was excited and became convinced that this event was well worth his time. Later, he joined the army and began training in Special Forces. He knew how to iron, sew and polish boots so he was often paid by the other soldiers to take on those tasks for them. He jumped out of a plane and broke his foot. He is not one to sit around idle so during his recuperation he studied to become a real estate agent in Florida and when he was allowed to return home one weekend he took and passed the test and became an agent. (He also took it upon himself to cut off his cast and he left it laying on my bed. Crazy boy.) He bought his first house while in the army for next-to-nothing and began renting it out. He would find items on the side of the road and post them on Craigslist, not for money, but in exchange for fast food meals or to trade for other items. His stories kept us spellbound and in stitches. When he got out of the army he finished his education at FSU. He pursued a degree because he knew he would be better respected (silly, but true) and the army paid for it. Now he’s married and a father of three who continues to buy, flip, sell and rent real estate. He, too, has won the Florida gator lottery and last Christmas his wife and his siblings received a gator wallet, belt, or purse. He co-owns an Engineering firm and dabbles in many different businesses. I love when he visits because he likes to stay busy. At Easter he changed out one of my toilets and took all the men present (including my 2 youngest sons) in the bathroom with him to show them how it is done. This past Labor Day he came up for a wedding nearby and put in a sink and cabinet in my basement Airbnb. He is generous as is evidenced by his quick response to anyone in need.
Son number three (5th child) is the middle of nine. He has always loved learning and teaching. During high school he took part in many activities. He spent six weeks in Papua New Guinea while in high school. He attended two gap year programs after high school. The first is Impact 360, developed by Chic fil A family members, located in Pine Mountain, Georgia. At this program he read great books, listened to many amazing speakers, took part in the Chic fil A leadership program, and flew to store openings on the corporate jet with Dan Cathy and went to Europe. He received college credit from Union University while at Impact 360. After that he attended the Summit Semester gap program in Colorado. He had attended Summit Leadership Camps numerous times and staffed for them as well. He taught worldview classes while still in high school, so attending this program made sense. He met his wife while in Colorado and they live there with their 2 children. He is still working on his degree. It has been a slow process due to births of babies and the death of his mother-in-law after she was diagnosed with cancer fairly recently. He is now employed at a video advertising agency in Colorado. At one time I suggested he CLEP out of classes in order to finish sooner (and affordably) but he loves learning and he loves sitting under professors so he did not want to take that route. Unfortunately, he soon learned that not all professors are great at teaching and some classes are more laborious than they are educational or entertaining. More regrets come along with this son’s story. He had such an amazing portfolio that I knew colleges would want him to apply, and they did! Unfortunately his top choices were expensive colleges and their largest scholarships were tied to college exam scores. At this time I had not been convinced of the value of high test scores. Unfortunately, this hurt him. His scores were okay, but they were not high enough to earn the large scholarships so his choices were limited. Had I been aware of the importance of high scores I would have encouraged him to take an entire semester preparing for the college entrance exams in order to increase the score so he could earn larger scholarships.
Next is another daughter (child #6). This daughter wanted to be a videographer and photographer after high school, but she told me she wanted to go to college. When I asked her why, the best response she could give was that her friends were all in college. When we visited local schools and found out how limited the classes in videography and photography were, coupled with what the classes would cost, she was quick to agree that an internship might be better. After asking our local homeschool friends if they could recommend any local Christian videographers, I was referred to two different companies. Both hired my daughter. They taught different types of videography which was great for my daughter. One man did not pay my daughter in the beginning and, in fact, may have taken slight advantage of her having her clean his garage and babysit his daughter. However, once he had trained her enough to be helpful to him he did begin paying her. She learned a lot and does not regret this internship. The other company began paying her $10 an hour immediately so not only was she learning, she was earning money. She staffed at Summit in Colorado one summer and was on the video team. She met her husband while there and once they were married he joined her in the videography business and that is what they do full time. In 2016 they received the best videographer award in Colorado Springs. They have a two-year-old daughter and hope to enlarge their family via birth and adoption. They also own an Airbnb and hope to purchase additional rentals in the future. They plan to have multiple streams of income so that they are free to travel and visit family and friends, and take part in ministry opportunities as they arise.
Next is the fourth son (7th child) who will graduate Bryan College this year. When he was in high school we were living back in Florida. After discovering that if a senior in high school completes his senior year in Rhea County he can receive a substantial scholarship to Bryan College we decided to move back to Tennessee with this son for his senior year. In addition, if a student has lived in Tennessee for a year or more he can qualify for the HOPE scholarship which provides college funds from the lottery. Between the county scholarship and the HOPE grant, most of his tuition at Bryan would be covered. Also, by this time homeschoolers could now play sports with the public schools in Tennessee (finally) so he could continue playing baseball with the local high school team. He played baseball and we spent his senior year studying to the college exams because the scholarships he needed were tied to test scores. (It took me a while, but I finally admitted that test scores are key to making college affordable.) He was one point short of the score he needed at the end of his senior year so, upon the suggestion of a counselor, I kept him in high school one more semester and he spent most of his time taking dual enrolled classes at Bryan while studying to increase his score on the test. He made the score he needed and began full time at Bryan mid-year. His only passion, at this time, was baseball so he was okay with going to college since it meant he could continue playing ball. The academic degree is a bonus. Last year he red shirted so instead of playing he helped coach the JV team. His coach recently told me that he has quite the coaching skills and that he can easily get a job after college as a coach. In the summer of 2016 he went to Colorado for the summer to be with siblings and, while there, he worked for my daughter’s in-laws on their lawn crew. He saw batting cages at a high school and called to see if he could use the cages. They said he could use the cages if he volunteered to help coach the baseball team. He was also asked to join a summer college team and play ball while there! He interned with his brother’s company this past summer and found he enjoyed that experience as well. Who knows what he will do after college. It will be exciting to see!
Our fourth daughter (child #8) is next. She wanted to attend public school her senior year for many reasons, including feeling inadequate as a homeschooled student and because many of her friends had done this and had great experiences. Although I did not think it was the best choice (it meant 3 hours a day on a bus), I knew if a child could handle this well, it would be this daughter. When I first turned in her transcript I gave her a 3.85 GPA. When she argued that she should have a 4.0 I realized she was right so I called the counselor and sheepishly asked her to throw away that transcript so that I could replace it with a transcript showing a 4.0 GPA. The school required my daughter to take 3 maths to graduate that year so she took Geometry, Algebra II, and Physics. By the second week in physics I could no longer help her study unless she provided me with an answer key. (My hat is off to physic majors.) She graduated with a 4.0 and attended Bryan College for one year.
Let’s go back to the high school experience for a minute. The teachers and the boys befriended her. The girls, on the other hand, were very stand-offish to her. The geometry teacher offered candy to students who caught his mistakes. She received a lot of free candy. She was shocked (small country town) that students had chew in their pockets and many were already parents. The students were surprised to found out how little worldly experience my daughter had. They were first surprised at my daughter’s lack of dating experiences. Then they asked about drinking and were shocked to hear that she had never been drunk. Then they asked about her driving record and couldn’t believe she had never had a ticket. (The education she received at public school this year was far more than academic.) When she would complain I would say, “I have a solution…” and she would say, “I don’t want a solution, I want empathy.” To be honest, it was a hard year for both of us.
During her first year at Bryan she realized she wanted to become a nurse so she moved back to Florida and is now in nursing school there. After becoming a nurse, Courtlyn worked with midwives for several years before moving to Uganda where she is now a full time missionary.
During nursing school Courtnlyn was in a near fatal car wreck in Amarillo, Texas. She was cut out of her small car that was t-boned by a semi and life flighted to a hospital. My husband and I went out immediately as did 7 of our children (the oldest couldn’t make it). She was in ICU for a week, followed by a week in a regular room after surgery. Her recuperation is amazing and all of her injuries will heal, eventually. Meanwhile, she struggled to keep up with school, but she did it! Most students probably would not even try after going through all she’s been through, but she’s a fighter. Of my four girls, she will be the first (and perhaps the only daughter) to graduate college.
Bringing up the end of the line is son #5 who is a Sophomore at Bryan College. This son is a jack-of-all trades and a master of several. In addition to working with his hands, he loves to learn and he is a natural teacher. He is also a deep thinker and conversations with him can last for hours. He wants to double major in philosophy, and psychology. He hopes to earn a free Master’s Degree at Bryan when he graduates with a 3.5 GPA or higher. Right now he has a 4.0 GPA. He is skilled in many aspects of construction, and wants to be a master electrician. He is also well trained in lawn maintenance. In addition, he owns a Harley Davidson motorcycle and he would like to become a Harley mechanic. He has also taught himself to play guitar and piano and his written more than a few songs (which we love and want him to record). His writing skill is quite impressive and he’s begun writing two books. There are not enough hours in the day for this boy. He should graduate college with several majors unless he is drawn away by one of his many interests. He, too, would like to have multiple streams of passive income so he can be free to travel, continue learning, and take advantage of programs when available. Anytime I mention a project I need done, he is on it. One day he mowed my grass, changed out 3 outside lights to motion sensor lights, added 4 new outdoor outlets for my Airbnb and took care of a few smaller projects too. He is one of the favorites of all of the nieces and nephews because he is willing to be chased, caught, and pummeled for hours on end.
As you can see, each child is different and each has enjoyed a variety of different experiences. Most of my children worked at a camp beginning at age 12. Most attended TeenPact, Wordview Academy and Summit Ministries Leadership Camps. Many dual enrolled. Many have worked in political campaigns. Most have enjoyed sports and most have had their own businesses. They participated in many ministry and community projects over the years. Several own Airbnbs and/or rental properties.
One of the best things I can say about my children is that they love each other and they love children. When the college kids have a break, what do they do? They go and visit siblings. When a new baby is born into the family (15 grands so far) they fight to be the first one to hold the baby. When a need in the family is shared, they all come to the rescue. One time we heard that a son, out-of-state, was out of money and had his phone cut off. This was not accurate information, but before we found that out, many had deposited funds into their brother’s account, including one son who was only about 14 and he donated $100 to his brother. My kiddos are quite generous and when needs arise, they respond. They hold their money loosely. I could not be more proud of them and, this is in spite of our mistakes. So, take heart. Even if you do make mistakes (and you will), God can lead and guide our children to the place they should be in spite of us! The road may be bumpy and it may take twists and turns that are hard to traverse, but it will be worth it in the end. So, hang in there! Pray for your children and help them discover their gifts and talents so that they will end up being blessed and being a blessing to others.