L'Abri, Rebecca St. James and homeschooling

(Updated with photo November 2009)

The dream of participating in a season of study and fellowship at L'Abri has strongly appealed to me for decades. Not to undermine the truth that with God all things are possible, for obvious reasons, it is a dream that is not likely to become a reality.

 Dr. Gregory J. Laughery is an American/Swiss theologian who currently lives and teaches at L'Abri in HuĂ©moz, Switzerland. Every now and then I comment on one of his blog posts at Living Spirituality, and Dr. Laughery is kind enough to acknowledge every comment. Conversing, as it were, with Dr. Laughery at Living Spirituality probably exposes my intellectual weaknesses, but it is a risk I am willing to take. 

I also delight vicariously in the stories and experiences of others who have lived and studied at L'Abri. Yesterday, I read with interest as Tullian Tchividjian (On earth as it is in Heaven) described in "Learning from L'Abri" what it was like for him as a little boy to hear Francis Schaeffer preach and to listen in on the conversations in the home of his paternal grandparents, who lived in Switzerland only a few miles from L'Abri, when Francis and Edith Schaeffer would visit for afternoon tea. 

Reading Pastor Tchividjian's comments reminded me of our interview with Rebecca St. James. Emily and I had the opportunity to meet and interview Rebecca, as well as her very talented brother Joel, a little over a year ago. In preparation for our interview, I had read that Rebecca had recently spent six weeks studying in L'Abri, and I was particularly anxious to ask her about that experience. Unfortunately, not enough space was provided to publish most of our interview with Rebecca, including a proper introduction and her comments about L'Abri. (Scroll down for the interview as it was published.) 

Rebecca is one of the most delightful young women we have met in the Christian music industry. She is not only talented and beautiful, but humble, gracious and mature beyond her age. The initial interview was conducted over the phone a few days before we met her at a concert. After brief informal introductions, it was Rebecca who offered to pray before we began the interview. 

Rebecca's publicist had granted us twenty minutes to complete the interview and I was (foolishly) concerned that we had already used up too much time in informalities. We needed to prioritize our questions with the initial intended audience of homeschooling families in mind, so I accepted the fact that my questions about L'Abri needed to be brief and to the point, if I even had time for them at all. 

Pastor Tchividjian's comments also reminded me that I have intended for quite some time to post parts of our interview with Rebecca that were not published last year, and this is the perfect time to begin:
Patricia - Rebecca, thank you so much for taking the time to let us interview you for The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. This is an honor for my daughter Emily and I to be interviewing one of Christian music’s most loved, appreciated, and celebrated artists. We want to congratulate you on your recent Dove award nominations for your contributions to WOW Christmas Green and Music Inspired by the Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Both of those CDs are part of our personal music collection.
Later in the interview...
Patricia - I was intrigued to read about your retreat to L’Abri. Can you tell us about that experience? Rebecca - Yes, it was a real amazing time in my life. I went to L’Abri just wanting to be renewed and to be refreshed knowing that I might be filled up so I could continue to give out in ministry and I felt that at the beginning of my trip that God promised me that time would be like a sunrise in my life. I was praying at the beginning … I was outside on my walk and just sort of praying and I was watching the sunrise and felt like God was saying that a similar thing was going to happen in my life through this trip and that is exactly what happened, it was like a sunrise and a new day in my life spiritually. It was kind of a time where God was just teaching me who I am in Him and teaching me that I am loved just as I am. I felt that He was just loving on my life, loving on my heart and just really treasuring me through that time. The new album and the new season of ministry that has come from that time has a lot of joy in it and shows how renewing my time with Him was there.
I cannot seem to find it in my notes, and would need to listen to the tape to know for certain, but I remember that Rebecca also told me that her experience at L'Abri changed her understanding of the meaning of Christian community. I grieve that I did not have more time for her to elaborate. The interview as it was published:


Rebecca St. James is the oldest of seven children in a homeschooling family originally from Australia. At 28, she is one of Christian music’s most loved and respected female contemporary Christian artists, lyricists, and authors, having received a Grammy and multiple other recognitions and awards. This spring, Rebecca received a Dove Award for her song “Lion” on the Special Event Album of the Year: Music Inspired by the Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. We recently spoke with Rebecca about her music, her writing, and homeschooling. 
EMILY: C.S. Lewis and his writings are very popular among homeschoolers. What was your first exposure to him, and how has he influenced your writing and music? 
REBECCA: C.S. Lewis has influenced my life quite a lot. I’ve read a lot of his work and really appreciate the challenges he issues. I love that he is so honest, but so profound—aspects I want in my music and in my writing. I want to be profoundly led by God’s Word and also very real. I have a song on my new album called “Shadowlands” that ties into C.S. Lewis and the movie about his life. We all go through shadowlands where it is like we are surrounded by a fog and don’t know what is coming next. It is a scary, fearful, and dark time and yet God is working with us through those times where we cling to Him. He will walk us through and back into the sun and into the new day and the new season. Sometimes when people are in the middle of a dark or hard time, they find it hard to see how God is going to bring good out of it. “Shadowlands” encourages people to see the hope in the midst of their pain and know that God is with them. I read [the Chronicles of Narnia] as a child and again as an adult, probably 6 or 7 years ago. I love the richness of the symbolisms throughout, and when I wrote the song for the Chronicles of Narnia soundtrack, I wanted some of that symbolism— to look at Aslan the lion who is so powerful, so strong, and yet so gentle, the same as Jesus—strong and powerful but also loving and kind, and that is what draws us to Him. 
EMILY: What motivated you to add writing books to your already very busy schedule? 
REBECCA: Writing books is something that happened quite naturally. It wasn’t this big huge dream, but one of those things that God opened up the doors for me and I walked through them. When I was about 18 or 19 I had an opportunity to write a devotional book. The amazing thing is that God had already prepared my heart that that might happen. Even though it was not a huge consuming dream to write books, it was something that God had prepared me for and something that He contin- ued to lead me into, so I wrote a second devotional book, and a book about purity. SHE, a book for women, was after that, and SHE Teen. Then Sister Freaks, which I was involved [with] more on an editor level. 
EMILY: You once stated, “A big problem with our generation is that we don’t have mentors. We surround ourselves with our peer group.” Can you elaborate on that thought and share with us who you consider to be your mentor(s)? 
REBECCA: Yes, I think that mentoring is a lost art. It is something that generations before us naturally knew was important— older men and women speaking into the lives of younger men and women, giving them wisdom they had learned. I think that saves a lot of young people from having to learn the hard way, but our generation seems to want to do stuff on their own … largely because they don’t know there is a better way. Mentoring is something that we need to recapture. As young people we need to be asking for it, and the people in generations above us need to be available to mentor those of us who are younger. I prayed for [a mentor] for a while—I saw the need in my heart to have a mentor. My parents have definitely been mentors, but there came a time in my life when I needed wisdom outside all the wisdom they had imparted me so that I could have even more life wisdom. God provided Evie [Tornquist] through a friendship I built up with her. Through a series of pretty miraculous events, He opened up the door for her and me to have that mentoring relationship. I am on the road so much that it is hard to be involved in meeting regularly with young girls, but there are a couple that I do feel I am an informal mentor to, especially two in Christian music.
PATRICIA: Does your family travel with you on tour? 
REBECCA: Yes, they come out most of the time—not all of the time, but when we do a tour like we are on right now with BarlowGirl and Jadon Lavik. All the family except for two brothers—three brothers, my sister, and my parents—are all involved in different areas, from merchandise to accounting to background vocals. They are a huge, huge part of the team— the show couldn’t go on without them!
PATRICIA: Are your parents still homeschooling your brothers or sister?
PATRICIA: How do you feel that homeschooling prepared you for adulthood? 
REBECCA: It taught me a lot about the importance of good family relationships, and I grew in closeness to my family just spending so much time together. I also think that spiritually I grew because the books that I was reading were all encouraging me in my faith. [Homeschooling] definitely allowed me to live out my calling. I was signed at 15 and my first album came out when I was 16, so I was able to travel and do schoolwork as well. Also, my family went through some financially hard times when I was homeschooling, and we pulled together and prayed together as a family, so it really enriched my life both spiritually and relationally. 
EMILY: Do you feel that you missed out on more traditional activities by being a homeschooler? 
REBECCA: My life was so different anyway. Being on the road kept me from being involved in traditional teenage activities like hanging out with friends, going to prom and dances … so it wasn’t really homeschooling that kept me from things like that. You know, my brothers and sister have really good friends from church, and my sister rides horses, so she has friends through that. [Homeschooling] can keep you from being able to do some things, but I think that if you are intentional about being involved in other groups where you are meeting people or you are involved in sports or other extracurricular activities, you can make up for it. 
EMILY: Do you have any advice for homeschooling teens? 
REBECCA: Appreciate the joys and the blessings of being homeschooled, like the closeness to your family that you are achieving. And being able to get done with school. Homeschooling generally takes about half the time that you take in school. You can then devote your time in other things like training for your future. I think often that the education is better, but I think also that the spiritual value of what you are being taught in the home— making sure that what you are hearing is solid—is great, too. Just value the blessings of homeschooling. Also, I have spoken a lot about purity and the importance of honoring God in this area of waiting for marriage. Sometimes we think, “I’m in a Christian community or high school, so I don’t need to worry about that,” but there is so much pressure on young people in this area to compromise. All of us need to be encouraged to wait and save sex for marriage and be honoring to God in that area. I have a book, Wait for Me, and a song I wrote to my future husband saying that I was waiting for him and praying for him, and that is a very important part of my message. 
For more information about Rebecca, her music, and her books, please visit her website: Rebecca St. James.
Originally published in the Summer 2006 edition of The Old Schoolhouse Magazine.

Rebecca St. James and Emily

Emily and Rebecca, November 2009

Emily and my daughter in law Kristin (Nick) with Rebecca's brother Joel Smallbone, April 2006