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A Crucial Crossroad

by Claire Novak

There comes a time in every young person’s life when a crucial decision must be made—to pursue a college degree, or to circumvent traditional education? I’m not going to tell you which path is the best—I believe that’s a decision that should be made with a great deal of prayer on the part of both student and parents.

But I am going to tell you my testimony of how God worked in my life, enabling me to pursue my dreams at a very young age through very untraditional methods. My life has always been multi-faceted, fueled mainly by two interests—journalism and equestrian skills. I also play the piano, a talent that would provide valuable earning potential around the time I turned sixteen. I’m the firstborn of five homeschooled children, and I always joke about being my parents’ guinea pig, but I have to give them vast amounts of credit for supporting me and allowing me to pursue my dreams. There’s a fine line between complacently giving a child too much freedom and unreasonably restricting his activities out of fear, but it’s a line my parents walked with relative grace on my part, and continue to walk as respected mentors in my adult life.

Shortly after I turned 13, our family moved to a large farm in a suburb of Chicago. At that time we were publishing a magazine, The Girlhood Home Companion, for which some of my first work was done. Our move followed the birth and death of my younger brother, Nicholas, who was born with a chromosome disorder called Trisomy 13. His life sparked a deep compassion for children with special needs in my heart, and that compassion would ultimately blossom into my founding of the Hopeful Farm Foundation, a non-profit organization for families impacted by special needs. But that was a long way down the road.

I’d always been interested in horses, but my family had never had easy access to a stable, nor did we have the means to pay for lessons. Now we were surrounded by horse farms—but the financial prospects of an equestrian education remained daunting. If I wanted to become a horsewoman, I’d have to figure out an affordable way to go about it. Thankfully, there’s always work around a barn, and the best way to learn is through doing. I began to trade labor for lessons—grooming, tacking, feeding, turning out horses, and, of course, mucking stalls. I had a great advantage as well, thanks to the flexibility of my schooling schedule. I could get to the barn much earlier than some of the other girls who hung around, which gave me a little bit of an inside edge. Before long, I was spending hours in the saddle, all at no cost to my family.

As I said earlier, my love for journalism is also very strong, and this became an increasingly important part of my life. My foray into the magazine world, launched with writing for The Girlhood, soon expanded to include publications like The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine. I formed my relationship with editors there by querying for a piece on Dusty Rogers, son of cowboy legend Roy Rogers, and his relocation of the Roy Rogers and Dale Evans Museum to Branson, MO. Our family took a trip to Branson for the new museum’s grand opening and I was able to arrange an exclusive interview with Rogers. At sixteen, I was the only reporter who got one! Throughout my journalism career, this has been a key factor—getting the story before anyone else does, or getting the “scoop,” as we journalists call it. A few years later, because I had “scoop” on a breaking news situation, I was able to develop a relationship with a national magazine that would blossom into two years of correspondent work and eventually lead into a full-time position as a staff writer.

To this day, it’s something I strive to develop; a slightly different perspective or angle than the mainstream or average. And that comes right back to my encouragement to you, dear reader. Just because everyone else takes a certain path doesn’t mean it’s mandatory—or right—for you or your student. For example, I was able to obtain my registered certification as a Therapeutic Riding Instructor with the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association at the age of 18—one of the youngest instructors ever to be certified— because of the freedom my parents gave me to volunteer hundreds of hours at a local therapeutic riding center. In the same light, my reputation as a savvy and reliable journalist has been built on hours of hard work, experience, responsibility, and practice, not because I graduated Journalism 101.

I am not knocking the benefits of a college degree for some people in certain situations. However, I would strongly encourage you and your student to review the gifts and talents the Lord has given and plan to wisely steward those gifts—and the financial gifts—for His glory. I have seen nothing more disappointing than my talented friends who have drifted through “general” courses at college because it’s “what you’re supposed to do.”

Discover your student’s talent. Work hard to shape it. If this requires making sacrifices, make them. If it requires taking risks, take them. Think outside the box. Live by faith in this area and you will be rewarded by the knowledge that your child is setting out on the right course, the one God has planned for his or her life all along. Recently, on a trip home to help with some Remembrance Press projects, I stopped to visit with a good friend. “You know, Claire, you’re the only person I know who actually is what she said she wanted to be when she grew up,” she remarked. That’s not where I can take the credit; God has graciously allowed me to experience some of the greatest joys—and tested me with some difficult trials—as I’ve learned to walk with Him in every area of my life. I’m a work in progress, that’s for sure—a testament to how fulfilling life can be when walked hand-in-hand with Him.

Claire Novak (22) is an award-winning journalist who credits her homeschool education with launching her successful career. She is also a registered Therapeutic Riding Instructor with the North American Riding for the Handicapped Association, and is the founder of The Hopeful Farm Foundation, a non-profit organization and retreat center that ministers to families impacted by special needs. She lives in Lexington, Kentucky.

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