Dabney Hedegard on Being a Professional Patient, Author, and Homeschooling Mom

(Elizabeth here! Today I am proud to introduce author and homeschooling mom, Dabney Hedegard. I first met Dabney at a writing conference where she was trying to sell a memoir about her life. Her story is one of the most powerful I’ve ever heard, and the moment I found out she was also a homeschooling mom, I knew I had to have her here on The Journal! She is an absolute sweetheart and one of the most friendly people I know. Please give her a warm welcome by leaving a comment or two. And now, Dabney!)

Dabney & FamilyGarden School: Dabney, can you tell us what made you decide an alternative education was right for your family?

Dabney Hedegard: After battling cancer twice (once while pregnant) and surviving four near-death experiences by my 30s, I honestly didn’t know how many days I’d have left to spend with my children, let alone teach them about life. So the short answer is, my clock was ticking. Homeschooling equaled precious time with my kids.

GS: What has been some of your greatest challenges as a homeschooling mom?

DH: Other than the classic furrowed brow from strangers and the, “Oh,” I receive after explaining why my kids are out of school, walking around CVS at 11:00 a.m. with me?

All kidding aside, I’d say teaching four children with different learning styles.

I assumed that since my first daughter sat for hours while I read aloud her history/geography/science subjects, that my second child would naturally follow suit. When daughter number two began kindergarten, I pulled out my favorite literature-based Sonlight curriculum, and read away. Only she twaddled fingers, yawned, and shrugged when I asked pop-quiz questions.

This obstinacy wouldn’t fly. Not at my Hedegard Academy, where the headmistress prided herself on bringing the child to the Sonlight standard. I reread the paragraph and slowed my speech to be certain my five-year-old daughter (who happened to be adopted from China) heard me.

Again, I got the blank stare and a shrug. It took me a year to realize my China-doll was a visual learner and enjoyed workbooks and DVD tutorials.

What’s that?

This workbook stuff flew in the face of everything I’d researched on how to be an awesome homeschool teacher. “Don’t do what schools do,” I’d always read. “You homeschool to give them a better education, which includes reading living books!”

Well, it turns out that my second child thrives when given workbooks and brightly-colored curricula. Eh, I surrendered my pride, learned from my mistakes, and discovered this child God blessed us with is wicked-smart—and she’s not an avid reader, but a superb memorizer and mathematician.

Sadly, I wouldn’t find out until the end of her first grade year that she had mild hearing loss in both ears. I thought I was a horrible mother until her doctor told me, “Whatever you’re doing to help with her pronunciation, keep it up. Her speech is incredible considering her hearing limitations. You might want to move her to the front of the class in school, though.”

“Well, that will be easy. I homeschool.”

“Oh,” his brow furrowed.

I couldn’t help but smirk.

GS: Conversely, what are some of the greatest advantages in your opinion?

DH: I have the freedom to reinforce that God has a plan for their lives. We all need someone to believe in us, and know that those desires placed on our hearts are there for a reason. Daily fostering that gift and watching it grow is a privilege.

Secondly, my kids love to cook, bake, read (well, three of them), paint, and write. These are activities they see me do, so they naturally follow what’s modeled. I’ve never required them to write at a young age, but since I’m an author, they see me set aside time for what I love most. Writing is fun for them. (Please don’t tell them it’s an academic requirement.)

When God IntervenesGS: You recently wrote a memoir about some pretty miraculous things that happened in your life. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

DH: I could tell you that at age 25 the doctor discovered a football-sized tumor in my chest. I could also tell you that my greater fear of the unknown grew in my belly, inches below this mass: a six week old baby. But what I’ve learned is that life sometimes isn’t in the living. It’s in the surviving. That’s where our eyes readjust to the truths surrounding our circumstances.

10 years and four near-death experiences later, I figured out that life isn’t so much about me. It’s about what He wants to do through me. When God Intervenes (Tyndale House Publishers) is a story about an ordinary girl in search of hope.

GS: I think pretty much every homeschooling mom struggles with time management. How did you manage to write a book and homeschool, and what advice could you give to other moms who are struggling to balance their time?

DH: You can’t hear me, but I’m laughing pretty hard behind my computer screen, because there’s never enough hours in the day, it seems. The bottom line is: you make time for what’s important to you.

In the beginning, I scheduled my days into half-hour increments. I allotted time for school activities and evenings with my husband (if I didn’t pencil my man in, he may have been forgotten). Writing always followed my morning devotions. It had to. With limited freedom to think in silence, I woke at 5:00 am to scrawl the words out. I did this on and off for a little over four years.

Towards the end (the last six months), after my manuscript was picked up, my schedule went out the window. I’d wake a 2:00 a.m. with this spectacular thought (all God) and I’d write until 7:00 a.m., then crash for a few hours. Thankfully, my husband or my mother-in-law had the flexibility to help in the mornings or sometimes in the afternoons when I needed naps to keep up my nighttime habits. But, it was worth the sacrifice of sleep.

That’s what it boils down to: sacrifice. When God puts something on your heart, don’t question it. Run after it with everything you have, and expect Him to show up for the rest. The rewards far outweigh the effort. My kids have a legacy to pass on and the world has the opportunity to read the undeniable power of prayer and the proof that miracles still exist.

GS: What part does your faith play in your role as both a homeschooling mom and in your daily routine?

DH: Without Jesus, I wouldn’t have the patience to teach.

Let’s be honest. I’m human and determined and like things done my way. When you have a house full of kiddos, things typically don’t go as planned. This is when mommy needs an Almighty Counselor to stabilizer her semi-control freakish tendencies.

So the days I wake late and skip my quiet times, my now 10-year-old China-doll can sniff out my spiritless state just by looking at me. She typically asks, “Mommy, have you read your Bible today?”

After confirming that, no I haven’t, she’s said on more than one occasion, “Why don’t you go spend time with Jesus. I’ve got breakfast.”

No lie.

There’s me inside of me and God inside of me. One is obviously more consistently peace-filled. How lucky are we that we can tap into His goodness every single day? Glory.

GS: What’s one thing you wish you would have known when you first started homeschooling?

DH: To chill out and not worry so much about what other people think.

And, that it’s not so much about which curriculum you use, but the time spent investing in your child. I was a die-hard Sonlight junkie. I mean, any chance I could, I sang Sonlight’s praises because my firstborn, who is now fourteen, excelled so rapidly and tested years ahead of her grade. Then when my second child floundered using my pedestal curriculum, we turned to workbooks and other supplementary tools. She still succeeded.

This year, now that all four of my children are school-aged, we switched curriculums yet again and joined a homeschooling community called Classical Conversations. The kids congregate one day a week and learn all of their history, geography, math, English grammar, science, art/music, and Latin facts from tutors. The parents then spend the rest of the week reviewing and delving deeper into each subject. The younger kids use games and memorize information, which again thwarts the technique I so once loved. But so far, this program works, too. Even for my wiggly 8-year-old son. That’s a first.

When tucking my youngest five-year-old into bed at night, I hear her pray, “Thank you God for Classical Conversations.” I know that she loves what we’re doing, and it took much adapting on my part to get there.

It’s not so much about the curriculum as it is about them loving to learn. Find what’s right for your family. Flexibility is the key. That, and lots of prayer.

GS: Any last words or advice for our readers?

DH: Make it pleasurable for everyone.

If the kids hide when you pull out the curriculum, this might be an indication something needs to change. Not that it’s your job to cave to their reactions, but listen to what they love and adapt. This makes for a much more gratifying school experience.

Oh, and do what homeschooling guru Todd Wilson says: “Enjoy them while you can. One day they’ll be gone.”

Thank you so much for coming on, Dabney! It was a pleasure to have you!

Readers: Find a link to my review of Dabney’s book When God Intervenes by clicking on the “Freebies” tab!

About Dabney:

Dabney HedegardDabney Hedegard is an author, speaker, and professional patient whose four near-death experiences are chronicled in a fast-paced memoir, When God Intervenes (Tyndale House Publishers, July 2013). Her journey of uncertainty and miraculous intervention is one she hopes will help others realize that God has the perfect plan for their life, even in the midst of their pain.

Dabney has been featured on In the Market with Janet Parshall, Chris Fabry Live!, and The Bob Dutko Show, to name a few. She and her husband live in West Palm Beach, Florida with their four children. She enjoys interacting with readers at dabneyland.com.


Raising Our Children to be Like Jesus

    by Renee Miller

Image by Stephen C. Weber.

Image by Stephen C. Weber.

One aspect I love most about Classical and Christian Education is introducing our children to the greatest minds of history and the heroes of the faith. Jesus says in Luke 6:40: “A student is not above his teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher.”

I believe this scripture is saying that no one is above Jesus, the ultimate teacher. It is my job as a parent and homeschooler to lead my children to be like Jesus.

The Bible instructs us to raise our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord as we stand up, sit down, and live our lives. This gives me great motivation to continue to grow and learn myself. But it also worries me that I might be limiting my children. So as a humble mother who lives in a small rural town, I try to connect my children with both mentors as well as men and women throughout history who have walked with God and, “it was counted unto them as righteousness.” I’m constantly on the lookout for other mentors who can help my children be more like Jesus.

I find it interesting that who is teaching our children is given so little thought in our current culture. In a study done by the Barna Group Research Institute, upwards of 75% of children will leave the faith of their parents as adults. Is there a connection between who mentors/teaches them throughout their childhood and whether or not they stay faithful? I think so.

I’ve known a number of parents who haven’t left their children with even a babysitter until they turn five. Then they leave their vulnerable child with an adult they don’t even know for 40 hours, five days a week for the next 13 years. Somehow our culture has convinced us this is normal–even desirable–and to question this puts you out of the norm. And, honestly, most kindergarten teachers I know are lovely people, so it seems so reasonable at first.

This leads me to reflecting on comments I heard recently in a lecture by Voddie Baucham. He recounts how people always ask the same questions when they realize he homeschools his children. First, there is always the socialization question. (My answer: “I’m not sending them to school to become a socialist.”) The next question: Is it legal or approved by the government? (“Of course it’s legal and who made it the government’s job to teach my children?”) What struck him was the sameness of the objections. I’ve experienced these questions, too.

When the majority have been schooled by the government, we really do think more the same than we realize. This is in stark contrast to my experience working with our children. They rarely ask the same questions about anything. In contrast to the 75% of children raised in Christian homes but who attend government schools, 95% of homeschooled children will remain in the faith. These are the children who have grown up in the fear and admonition of the Lord, steeped in Biblical wisdom, and nourished by the great men and women of history.

It’s worth noting that the verse before Luke 6:40 reads, “[Jesus] told them this parable: ‘Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit?’” Great mentors and teachers are to be found everywhere: in Scripture, in classic literature, in your community, in your home. These teachers will encourage our children to not only “keep the faith,” but to lead our children to be like Jesus.


    Renee is the founder and director of The Garden School and Cornerstone Classical School (as well as “The Miller Family School”). Though trained in the public school model–she has taught everything from first grade to junior high science–Renee’s first foray away from this system resulted in The Garden School. Renee holds a Master’s Degree in Teaching and Learning from Point Loma Nazarene College. She is a strong advocate for classical Christian education and an accomplished public speaker. The Millers currently live in a busy multi-generational household immersed in classical and Christian ideals and a whole lot of love.

Foundations for Learning


    By Dave Miller

[Dave’s note: What follows is a personal essay for a college application from a graduate of The Garden School. I hope it will encourage parents who have chosen private or homeschool education to “stay the course.”]

I’ve been blessed to be born into a wonderful family (in both the nuclear and extended sense) and to attend a quite extraordinary school from a very young age. My family has always cultivated my education and supported my quest for knowledge, but it was at The Garden School that I eventually understood what learning truly is. The Garden School is a classical Christian private school that students attend twice a week. The students work at home the other three days, following the instructors’ guidelines. The school is based on the idea that there is a Grammar stage, a Logic stage, and a Rhetoric stage. You learn facts, then you learn causes and meaning, and are finally able to communicate your ideas. The Garden School’s foundational principle is teaching students how to think, not what to think. And I thrived in this environment.

At The Garden School, I learned Philosophy from Plato, Chemistry from Lavoisier, Humor from Cervantes, and Poetry from Homer. I learned how science and music and art and government are intricately connected and cannot be separated without losing meaning. I learned to look at the stars and see Pegasus, to look at a snowy field and hear the poetry of Frost, to read a news story and recall a similar event our modern times have all but forgotten. I learned to love knowledge. I found I could dig deeper and understand, follow a path of logic and find a mistake, speak and have my opinions heard. The Garden School instilled in me a deep and passionate longing to know and understand.

[The essay goes on to talk about the writer’s decision to attend Colorado Mountain College to earn an Associate of Arts Degree as well as her desire to transfer to a four-year university. I hope you’ll agree that for this student, the years spent at The Garden School as well as the freedom of homeschooling provided a strong foundation for furthering her education.]

As a homeschool parent, what kinds of things do you do to help your child build a solid foundation for life-long learning?


    A professional educator since earning his teaching credentials at San Diego State in 1985, Dave’s 26-year teaching career has been both challenging and rewarding, often in the same day. He and wife Renee have lived and taught in San Diego, Germany, and Colorado, traveled to dozens of countries and are still raising six great kids. Along with his role as Guidance Counselor at The Garden School, Dave has been reinventing himself as a work-at-home dad and recently promoted to Vice President at Lightyear Wireless. Now he gets to teach people how to live the life of their dreams.

On Being in Community



    By Renee Miller

Over the years many unique and interesting families have been a part of our community: Christian, non-Christian, gifted children, special needs children, above average children, below average children, families with means, families who sacrifice to pay tuition–the list goes on. With so much diversity, how do we handle so many people as they come into our communities? How do we even create community? For those of us who feel passionately called to Christian education–both at home and in the private school setting–one of the most difficult areas in which to find balance is between family and community.

Where is the healthy balance? After many years of homeschooling and private schooling, I can assure you that I do not have the answer. However, I think a continuing dialogue is important.

As we cast about for a vision of Christian community and Christian education, it will likely emphasize rebuilding paradigms around healthy families, raising abysmally low educational standards, and promoting Christian ideals in dress, courtship, and basic civility. Creating this kind of culture is a full-scale battle. So how are families approaching this community-building?

On one extreme, I’ve observed families who focus entirely on their own children’s gifts and talents, and see the community as a threat to raising Godly progeny. These families can be quite critical of the areas where community falls short. Somehow, the community never measures up theologically, behaviorally, socially or otherwise. They tend to have unreachable and naïve expectations of what can be accomplished with a group of sinful, fallen people awash in the sewage of our generation. Jesus can transform us all in amazing ways, but it is hard work on everyone’s part.

In the other extreme, parents rely on and continually seek other people to do the job for them. These families hope that the parenting thing will not be too costly or time-consuming. They are often more consumer-oriented, on board as long as it is working well for their children. Their commitment can be short and fun, and like our general consumer culture they move quickly on to the next bigger or better thing. They’re glad to benefit from other people’s hard work and investment yet very reluctant to sacrifice for someone else.

All families need people who will come alongside them and help create safe havens of community where they can be challenged and nurtured. Families need for us to not simply say we don’t have the expertise, money, or experience to deal with their difficult situations. We are keenly aware of the millstone around the neck story and the incredible challenge to bless children and not irrevocably harm them. So we need to be careful to not whisk by in our minivans with fish on the back and leave families lying bruised by the roadside.

Working with people and being in community is hard but rewarding. It is the very practical side of learning to work with people we can’t stand, who are merely reflections back to us of all the miserable things we don’t like about ourselves. It is about modeling for our children how to resolve conflict and develop the discernment to know what is of eternal significance.

Fortunately, we are mercifully in possession of God’s Word, which has the wisdom to help us navigate the rocky roads of relationships creatively–and sometimes miraculously! It’s in the Word that we can find solutions to the problems that come to us.

Our triune God exists in community. He calls us into community. He calls us into families. When we get it right, however fleeting the moment, it reflects the character of God to the world in a way that few other things can.

You are Invited to Respond: What’s a situation you’ve been in where you’ve seen a true community at work?


    Renee is the founder and director of The Garden School and Cornerstone Classical School (as well as “The Miller Family School”). Though trained in the public school model–she has taught everything from first grade to junior high science–Renee’s first foray away from this system resulted in The Garden School. Renee holds a Master’s Degree in Teaching and Learning from Point Loma Nazarene College. She is a strong advocate for classical Christian education and an accomplished public speaker. The Millers currently live in a busy multi-generational household immersed in classical and Christian ideals and a whole lot of love.

Tell Us Your Story

talk-bubble_17-416124326[1]At this point, you know a lot about us. But we don’t know a whole lot about you.

So we decided to take a break from the usual this week to get to know you, our readers!

So tell us: what made you first decide an alternative education (such as The Garden School, homeschooling, etc.) fit the needs of your family? Was it a hard decision to make? What advice would you give to parents considering an alternative education for their children?

Further Up and Further In

    By Shilo Bartlett

I looked up the phrase “carpe diem” the other day. I was curious since I’d been pondering other phrases such as “live for today,” and “you only live once.” I was thinking about the fact that tomorrow isn’t a given for some of us. Not in the morbid sense of dwelling on loss, but on the prospect of the good that is in store for us once we leave here. That it only gets better!

So the Latin meaning of the phrase “carpe diem” is as follows: Carpe diem quam minimum credula postero – “Seize the day, putting as little trust as possible in the next (day)[/future].” There have been many interpretations of this, one being what I quoted before as the “carpe diem” seize-the-day mentality. It seems to be the concept that “you only live once,” so live now! Because tomorrow might not come!

However, I have a different thought on this.

I have read The Chronicles of Narnia many times, both on my own and with my children. The last book in the series is a type or shadow of the End Times, when the earth will fall apart and we will be with the Lord. As you read this book, there is a phrase that Aslan uses several times when talking about where the children are headed: “Further up and further in!”


They have left the old behind and are heading into the “new” Narnia- i.e. heaven- and can run faster than eagles. He encourages them to just keep going “further up and further in.” When they do this, they discover that the land doesn’t just stop, it literally keeps going as they discover it and unfolds as they go. They can’t see what is beyond, but they trust that they will find the new as they go further in.

This was very intriguing to me. It applies to so many areas of our life. It doesn’t just seem that we should live “for today,” but maybe trust that while we do live today, tomorrow will be taken care of. We can’t see what is over the hill, or around the corner, or over the mountain, but that doesn’t mean we should stop, does it? It just means we run faster at it! That unknown is not a bad thing; it is discovery, life well lived.

It is the challenge of life – when you run up against that unknown of tomorrow, or the next big problem, what do you do? He says “further up and further in”! That in itself is living, isn’t it? You are right here and now, living “the moment,” but yet looking ahead without fear. consciously choosing to move in the direction you are heading without wavering.

With our children it is easy to be afraid, to question ourselves as well as the paths and decisions we have chosen for them. The huge choice of what their education will be like is one that every parent faces. But instead of fearing that tomorrow is uncertain and you should hide from the challenges they are up against, maybe we can gain confidence from the fact that we can choose the path, then go “further up and further in”! Knowing that today we live by what we know, preparing for what we can’t see, and not being concerned that it will bring the unknown with it. Being confident that whatever tomorrow is or will be, we are here today, and we can enjoy that! To enjoy what He has given us right now, and looking forward to tomorrow. Not living as if it won’t come – living knowing it will!

And that to me is very, very “carpe diem.”

What areas of your life could use some “carpe diem”?


    Shilo_BShilo Bartlett is a super organized, over reaching, strong-willed mother of three. She loves having the hands-on time with her kids that homeschooling and The Garden School have allowed her. She grew up in the Colorado River Valley, and went to public school until 6th grade. Her mother homeschooled her and her three siblings through high school, and then she attended CMC graduating with a degree in Applied Science in the Veterinary Field. She has always read voraciously, and written throughout her life for many publications. Her family is her passion. Her driving motivation is to encourage a love of learning.