How all this got started...
Our business and ministry started with some simple business-card sized cards, and we continue these free gifts in gratefulness to God, and with encouragement to.... you.
Four days of Driver's Ed. proved to be quite an interesting experience for me as a home educated student. In 1997, it was my first class in traditional "public-school-format”. There were 19 other students; 19 people talked during quiet time, 17 didn't listen to the teacher, and at least half felt the need to add foul language when they disagreed about anything. The instructor had my pity, and for the most part, operated on the same level of communication as her students.
The first day, I was quiet; took notes, drew up a seating map and noted down the other students' names as I heard them, and I paid attention to the teacher. (Driver’sEd hint: don’t be quiet if you want to blend with the crowd.) I was quiet.
The four Driver's Ed. days were spaced a week apart, so I had 6 days at home before my next weekly Driver's Ed course. At least one dinner-time conversation each week was occupied with my retelling of the 4 interminable hours in class. The experience was draining because of the social and spiritual conflicts that began to emerge between me and the children around me. But the 6 days at home would re-energize me for each Tuesday evening's class, and I knew God would protect me. He's been through Driver's Ed before.
On the second day... I arrived a few minutes early and took a seat. A different seat than the previous one. At times, it amuses me to see the world twitch for a moment if you don't sit where you sat last time. It must be an unwritten law in class rooms and church pews that people pick a chair, and it’s theirs for all of eternity. If the unspoken rule is violated, either someone gets rebuked, or the chair's previous occupant gets quite confused. (Driver’s Ed hint: never change chairs if you want to blend with the crowd) I changed chairs, which somehow merited the attention of the rest of the students... In contrast to the first day, the students suddenly took notice of me, as though I had suddenly become an out-of-place puzzle piece that didn't fit in their universe.
I again remained quiet for the most part, except for a few honest questions to the teacher... (Driver’s Ed hint: never ask what D.U.I. stands for if you want to blend with the crowd.) I asked what DUI stood for, and the other 19 students roared in laughter. This opened a floodgate of negative attention from my fellow students. So for the rest of the class that night, I gritted my teeth as the students would quietly...or not-so-quietly, ask me mocking questions:
"Are you Amish?" "What school are you from?" "How old are you?" "You don't drink!?"
I politely answered some questions, but during teaching time, I kept my attention on the teacher and my mouth shut. The students took offense that I was ignoring them during class time, and the questions...shall we say, "deteriorated in virtue and intellect." It became a sport for them to try to put down or embarrass or anger me. (Driver’s Ed hint: don't ever listen to the teacher when she's talking if you want to blend with the crowd.)
When the 10 minute break came around, half the class would simultaneously head for the door so they could smoke outside. Those that remained began what seemed the only entertainment left; interrogate the weird one!
So the questions would begin like a flood. The first one was simple enough. They wanted to know why I so rudely ignored them during class-time. I reminded them of the rules that the teacher had made at the beginning of class. "Oh, those rules were during class time? I thought that was for after we left!" was a typical response. It took some thought to choose which questions to discuss, and which questions were intended to draw me in and mock me.
Their interrogation deteriorated to mocking questions again, so I turned my attention to my notes. I had unintentionally become the center of attention for half the room. One girl swore and exclaimed, "--are those your notes!?!?" I answered that they were, and then several of the students began remarks about how badly I must want to finish this class, or how silly note-taking was in a class so easy. (Driver’s Ed Hint: never take notes, if you want to blend with the crowd.)
As the 10 minute break concluded, the teacher, Norma, who had appreciated my studentship, instructed one of the girls to pass out paper and pencils to each of the others. "For everyone's notes." she said, commandingly, and then threatened that their grades could be impacted by their attentiveness. It was nice to know she had been listening to what was going on, but it also meant the other students would blame me for the new requirement.
Upon returning home, I faced an entirely different -and refreshing- set of questions as my 5 younger siblings would ask what "real-school" was like. But instead of only focusing on “defending” myself from the Driver’s Ed mob, I began wondering what I could do to bless my fellow students. I mean, on one hand, I'd rather leave these conflicts alone, get the class done and get away from my self-appointed opponents... but I felt pity on them. These students were not my enemy; they were children like me, raised with a different set of circumstances, influences and standards, and propelling themselves in a bad direction with some bad decisions.
I was also concerned for the next home educated student they would come across. I didn't want my silent, stern attentiveness to become their definition of what Christian Home Educators are. There's just so much more FUN to us when we're not dropped into a verbal battle zone!
On the third day, I forced myself to again chose a different chair and challenge another mind to think outside the box and the universal laws of public school seating.
This day was a little different; it STARTED with questions about "silent-John." Some honest, sincere questions, like "Where do you go to school?" "What's home education?" "Who do you hire to teach you?" One poor girl honestly, sincerely asked, "But how can you learn by yourself?" And then there was a mixture of... "less virtuous” questions that I won’t bother to type here. (Driver’s Ed hint: never leave insults without an obscene reply if you want to blend with the crowd.) I simply answered only the sincere questions, and ignored mocking ones. It felt a bit like I was a new creature at the zoo, attracting curiosity of people who had never seen a student who did not attend public school.
Getting no rebuttal from me in person, their sport changed from talking to me to talking about me, with whispered... or not-so-whispered insults about the weird one. I sighed and kept my mouth shut, and focused on listening only to the teacher. Two of the girls began to pass folded notes past me to each other, once asking if I would "Hey. —here; pass this over to Carrie." The girls were silenced temporarily by the teacher's reprimand for passing notes. The girl named "Autumn" continued to write on her notepad. As the class continued, she tore off her paper, folded it, and slid it in front of me. "Here.” she whispered.
I left it, my defenses still up, barely taking my eyes off the teacher, and continued to focus on the lesson. I suspected it was merely another joke at my expense.
The 10-minute break came, and half the students again popped up and headed for the door to smoke outside. The girl named Autumn stayed, and asked quietly why I didn't read the note. I told her I didn't realize it was for me. "Yes, why didn't you read it?" "The teacher doesn't want us to pass notes during class" I said, as I reached for the folded paper.
I suspected it was going to be another joke on me, so I placed it in the back of my notebook, and told Autumn I would read it later.
"No. Read it now. It's nothing bad or anything." she said.
The words I found in that torn piece of notepaper surprised me. I had been so careful and guarded and defensive for the days of class, and I suddenly I had to put my defenses aside to honestly consider Autumn’s note. She and her friends had verbally, viciously attacked me as a group on numerous occasions. But her note took on a new tone:
I'm sorry we ("we" was scratched out and "I" was replaced) I interrupted you
while you were watching the teacher's movie. It was really rude of us ("us" was replaced with "me") and I feel badly for calling your attention away. I feel badly for laughing, and I just wanted to apologize. I don't like it when people laugh at me, it hurts my feelings. I'm sure it hurts yours too. I'm sorry, ok?
I read the note and looked up at her. I was surprised. She had a questioning look on her face, and I smiled and told her that I forgive her. A boy named Carl had returned by then from his smoke, and began his verbal assault on me. Autumn reprimanded him sharply, and amazingly, he was quiet! I thanked and commended Autumn for her courage to resist what her friends seemed to think was a game, and sincerely thanked her for the note. Before class ended that day, another girl named Carrie also apologized. Strangely, Carl was silent for the most part, and when he did speak, he ceased to choose me as a target.
The next day, encouraged by Autumn's note and still wanting to bless the students in some way, I asked Mom & Dad how I could get a message across to the students. I wanted to tell them what Christians are REALLY like, and how much fun and goodness we have through Home Education. I really didn't know what to do; only that I didn't want to leave them with the impression I had for the first three days of class...totally defensive. Amidst the family conversations, I included these sentiments, and asked for suggestions. A “speech” was definitely out of the question, but Mom suggested that I look up each of their names, and tell them what it meant. "Better yet," she said, "you own a printing business! Why not print them up little name cards!"
So there was my project. I called the teacher at Driver's Ed, and convinced her to provide me with the first names of everyone, and found Mom's worn baby name books for the name meanings. Two of them took us a little longer to research than the others: One was a Spanish name that meant "Little One", and the other was Autumn, which was found to mean Mature.
On the fourth night, I came early and again took a different seat; this time next to the chair that had been occupied by Carl on the previous four evenings. Previous to that evening, a boy named Andrew had sat next to Carl. He seemed as though a “Carl-Wanna-Be”.
Well, with my back to the door, I could feel Carl come in, walk up, and brashly take his seat next to me. The now quieter girls, Autumn and Carrie, took their seats, and said hello to me. I heard the door open again as Andrew came in. He wasn't a big fellow; he just seemed to want in the "in-crowd", namely Carl. The poor guy came up behind me and stopped in his tracks, unsure about what to do. After all, I was in “his” chair. I wasn’t trying to pick a fight; just trying to help them think outside the box. After a moment, Andrew tapped me on the shoulder. "Um... I was sitting there last week." I quickly looked up at him and said, "Oh, were you? Let me check." I lifted my notes-page, revealing the floor-plan of the room and who sat where, and ran my finger down the page to the square that designated the seat I was sitting in. "Ah, you're Andrew then. Yes, you were sitting here last week, Andrew!"
The fellow didn't know what to do! -He stood there for a few seconds... then walked twenty feet, to the other side of the room, found a dusty chair, and dragged it next to mine, sitting on the very corner of the table. I silently smiled, and tried to make friendly conversation with Andrew. I complimented him on a drawing he was sketching.
The first two hours of class went by smoothly (compared to previous days for me), and I asked permission of the teacher to pass out the name-cards at break time. She thought it was an excellent idea. (And she loved hers). Half the students disappeared out the door for their smokes again, and I began to pass out cards to those inside. Everyone inside was VERY grateful, and I quickly hopped outside myself to find some students amidst the puffs of smoke...
Carl, -of all people- really really liked his card. Autumn was thrilled and wanted to know if the tiny leaf we had laminated into her card was real. The others were very surprised and grateful! One young man looked at his card, read his name, and turned it over to see my business card information, printed on the back.
"Oh cooool" he said. "How did you know my birthday??"
That took me by surprise! My first thought was, “Wow; how did Mom possibly come up with the guy's birth date when we were making the cards!?!” ...and then I thought perhaps he had mistaken the numbers in the Bible reference as his birth date...
I was conscious that some of the other kids had begun to try to "hush" him from his train of thought. Puzzled, I asked him, "What does my business card have to do with your birthday?" "Pisces, man, Pisces! -This is way cool!" he said as he turned the card around and pointed to my Fish/Cross picture. Still puzzled... I started to figure it out as the other children "shushed" him. They offered wincing faces of apology for their friend’s error, and tried to tell him that it wasn't what he thought it was. “Pisces” was an astrological fish symbol for the newspaper fortune-telling column.
He realized his error and his jaw dropped. He was obviously embarrased. I laughed. "No, no, astrology will only get you broke.” I explained. “The fish is a reminder of Jesus, because he used fish in so many of his stories." (Driver’s Ed hint: never end a conversation with mention of Jesus if you want to blend with the crowd.)
We all returned inside to continue the last lesson, and friendly farewells were tossed my direction from several of the students as I left. I don't know where those children will end up. Some crowds will be lost forever, some people will sing in Glory. Never blend with the crowd; be the one person that The Potter shaped you to be. His.
You have heard it said, "Love your neighbour, and hate your enemy."
But I say unto you,
do good to them that hate you, and pray for them
which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven...
This experience etched Jesus' words in my life. Blessing an enemy, stranger or friend unexpectedly and secretly is rewarded by God's favor and secret blessing on you. Shortly after Driver's Ed, I decided "Why wait?" to bless my enemies, strangers or new friends, and so I got a head-start on making 800 NameCards that I carried in a satchel almost everywhere I went. With 800 names on 800 cards, I had a unique, personalized gift for about 80% of the people I met. 99.98% of them were received with surprise, gratefulness and delight! (The 0.02% called the police, but that's another story.)
After printing and giving away nearly 10,000 cards, I began making plaques, coffee mugs, nameboxes and wideplaques, and then taught myself (another homeschool project) professional website design and ecommerce to offer our name meaning gifts online, on this website.
Eventually, I gave a NameCard to a young lady named Katie. The picture above is during our courtship when I accidentally scattered my cards all over the Olive Garden floor, and our parents snapped the picture while we were re-alphabetizing. We married in 2005, and now, 17 years after Driver's Ed, the family business has grown, and my wife and 3 young children help me ship name meaning gifts all over the country as part of their home education. It's a tremendous blessing.
In 2013, we printed our 10,000th bookmark, and have made thousands of plaques & mugs & nameboxes. (we lost count somewhere along the way!)
Related Article: My People, our adventure to the 2009 Homeschool Convention