Ten-year-old Secilya Tomplait has a clear sense of her God-given purpose even though she's rarely been to church or Sunday school. She's learned it from her pink children's Bible, her Christian homeschooling mom, and that most unwelcome of teachers: tragedy.
Secilya, the eldest of four, lost her younger brother, James, in July 2009 when he drowned in his grandparents' pool. Now she carries on where he left off, she says, whether she's praying her favorite psalm (Psalm 91) to allay fears before bed or preparing to "keep good people out of jail" when she becomes a lawyer someday.
"Since James's accident, I've seen life in a certain way," Secilya says on a lesson break. "God plants a seed. It grows into a beautiful flower. Then the flower withers away and leaves many seeds behind it, so that more flowers can grow." Does she feel like one of those seeds? "Yes, sir, I do."
Readiness for heaven has become a family priority since James's accident, says the children's mother, Meshele Coleman Tomplait. Today, Secilya and her 8-year-old sister, Ellie, are learning how to get to heaven. At the kitchen table, they copy Romans 10:9: "If you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved."
Even as they grieve, the Tomplaits find spiritual meaning in the home, not the church. Each of the children was baptized at home by their Cajun, Roman Catholic great-grandmother. The family tends not to trust local churches, Ms. Tomplait says, because they find preachers in this rural area often emphasize adherence to man-made rules. Example: When this family of modest means hears that righteousness requires regular donations, they don't believe it's God's command.
With her electrician husband, Timothy, Tomplait guides her children to live by the day's opening prayer: "Teach us to think like You think, to see with Your eyes, to speak with Your words, and to feel with Your heart."
In Tomplait's view, God is the sovereign force of the universe, revealed through the Bible and active in daily human events. In her understanding, God guides and protects, such as when Ellie survived a Rottweiler attack with only a couple of scars on her face: "God is the reason she's still got an eye."
Here, as late fall turns barren fields brown, the Tomplait family has God and each other, but not much more. Their cozy three-room ranch house is home to the family of six.
Food is organic when the budget allows, and cookouts with nearby grandparents can be resourceful affairs with alligator and raccoon on the grill.
The Tomplaits' lessons blend the intellectual and spiritual: The Christian curriculum renders subjects, from science to history, through a biblical lens.
They're also taught that evil lurks in mundane things like TV commercials. On a recent day, Secilya and Ellie watch an episode of "Gospel Bill" on TV. Ellie says it teaches her that "[the devil] makes you want to be mean to people. But Jesus helps you be nice to them instead." Mom reinforces this after a cereal commercial: "Did you see how Satan just tried to make you think those Apple Jacks were good?"
Tomplait also teaches the kids "impulse control" to help them lead "a good, successful life." To this end, the family tries to eat only organic, sugar-free foods that she says help the kids concentrate, avoid sickness, and control their high energy. They learn to eat as an act of faith, she says. When they can afford to eat well, they consume what God made in nature and shun processed foods, she says.
Beyond school, the girls bring Christ to mind, for example, when they pray with other homeschooled families at extracurricular events and when helping to stock a community food pantry.
When feeling especially blessed, they offer praise to "Daddy God." For instance, when the family found $10 on the ground at the zoo, they couldn't find who'd dropped it. It was just enough to ride a train that they couldn't otherwise afford. They immediately bowed heads in the parking lot and offered thanks.