Homeschooling is hard. It is tough for a mother to juggle the tasks of teaching her children, checking their work, supervising the toddlers, driving children to basketball or art class, making meals, cleaning the house, shopping for groceries, disciplining, and all the many other responsibilities of running a household. It is even harder when you have seven children between 14 and 4, including a set of 6-year-old twins.
Getting by is sometimes all a mother can do. But what if Mom gets sick? If she is sick for a day or two, the homeschooling can recover. What if she is sick for an extended period of time? Should the family quit homeschooling and send her children to school?
Our family recently weathered over four months when my wife was very sick and we made it . . . by God's grace.
In 1989, my wife, Tracy, started bleeding through her intestines and was soon diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. Many of the drugs used to control the disease caused her severe allergic reactions. The most powerful drug did nothing. For 8 months, Tracy steadily got worse. Each week she lost weight and blood. Her food passed though her 10 times a day. She could not absorb many nutrients. She soon was down to about 108 lbs. and looked like a prisoner of war. It was hard to watch my wife literally dying before my eyes.
We only had one child at the time and did not homeschool yet. I took care of our 1-1/2-year-old each night because my wife did not have the strength. The doctor thought it was likely that we would not be able to have more children. But then God worked a mighty miracle by having her contract the flu! She was rushed to the emergency room where she was immediately placed on an I.V. and then given two pints of blood. A test was done (something our other doctor never did) and the emergency room doctor discovered a bacteria in her system that was complicating the ulcerative colitis. The combination was causing a dysentery effect that was killing her. As the bacteria was treated and my wife was given blood, she began to get better.
God blessed my wife with being able to get off the drugs within the year and controlling this incurable disease with nutrition. She had periodic flare-ups overtime that we were able to calm down by a nutritional diet.
Yet six more children and twelve years later, the ulcerative colitis became worse again. During August through November of 2001, my wife lost over 35 lbs. She experienced bad cramps, fevers, and weakness. She was passing food through her and she bled from her intestines and colon 25 times a day and through the night. God's people prayed and she was delivered, only to get it back a few weeks later. She was on a roller coaster.
Finally, she became so bad that in late November, I had to hospitalize Tracy for four days. She received two blood transfusions and 48 hours of I.V. fluids. She was allowed virtually no food during this time and the doctors tried various medicines. I took off work and ferried the children back and forth to the hospital. Juggling seven children and work and trying to take care of my own declining multiple sclerosis was a struggle. I always figured that at least one of us had to be healthy in order for us to make it. Now we were both having a difficult time; she was extremely weak and I could not walk very well.
Nonetheless, God continued to enable us to keep on going. He also answered our prayers for help by moving in the heart of a godly homeschool graduate, Hallie Ray, to help us for the most intense two-week period of my wife's ordeal. Our church also constantly helped us during this time with meals and care for some of our children.
During this whole ordeal, Tracy, although extremely weak, still had contentment. She knew the Lord was taking care of her and that He would never give her more than she could bear. Our family was given the supernatural gifts of His peace and joy.
Through it all, God kept us focused on Him and doing His will. Our homeschooling of our seven children, although more difficult because of our health limitations, thrived. We are so glad we kept homeschooling through all our hard times.
How to Keep Keeping On Homeschooling in the Midst of Hard Times
Homeschooling is meant to be flexible. When Mom's sick, you have to be even more flexible to make it through. It is impossible to homeschool as usual. Many adjustments must be made. Many tasks Mom does just have to go undone for a time and many projects must be put on the shelf. All the things we thought were important must be stripped away as we focus on only accomplishing what is necessary.
Concentrate on What Really Matters
Consequently, we have to concentrate on what really matters. The first and foremost focus of our homeschool is the training of your children's souls. When you are sick or a family member is sick, you can practically apply all the biblical principles you have been teaching your children. Now you can show them how to serve others and love their neighbor. They will begin to understand that life is unpredictable and that their only security is in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Tracy explained with her life how to be content in whatever circumstances she found herself. The worse she became, the more we could see Jesus in her. She taught our children how to live by the fruits of the Spirit in the midst of her suffering - she consistently demonstrated patience, self-control, kindness, love, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, joy, and peace - even though she did not feel like it. From her, the children learned that they needed to "accept both good and evil from the hand of the Lord" for "The Lord gives and takes away; blessed be the name of the Lord."
Life lessons are always the best. Take this time when you are flat on your back to reanalyze your priorities, repent from your sins, and commit from here on out to make every day count.
Focus on the Basics
When Mom is sick, homeschooling needs to be focused on the basics: reading, writing, math, history, and science. If the sickness extends for a long time, you may want to consider enrolling your children with a homeschool correspondence course. This will make Mom's job of teaching easier, since much of the work will be in workbooks and self-directed. Or try a software-based curriculum, such as Alpha Omega's Switched On Schoolhouse. It will even do most of the correcting for her!
Assign more papers to your older children. Have them write book reports or persuasive essays on various issues. Have them research and write on a famous scientist like Blaise Paschal so they can be learning science, history, and writing all simultaneously.
Tracy spent much time reading out loud to all the children too. She helped give them a love for literature and the classics. She read many inspirational accounts of God working in the lives of missionaries, our persecuted brethren in other lands, and many others. The children love to hear her read and often sewed or drew while she read.
Be Flexible as to When and Where you Homeschool
Mom needs rest when she is sick. My wife Tracy did most of her teaching on one floor of the house. If she needed books from the basement, she sent one of the children down to fetch them. The kitchen table became the main homeschool classroom. We also set up a makeshift library, stacking all our books on a temporary card table. While she listened to one child read, she supervised another's math, and helped little ones working on coloring, gluing, and cutting. When she got too tired, she lay down on a nearby coach and took a short nap.
Mom can even grade papers and worksheets while resting on her bed. She can have the children come to her for instruction and teaching rather than having her go to them.
Since part of the time while Tracy was so sick, it was comfortable outside, she would sit on our porch and watch the children play. She kept the house cleaner by having the children play outside as much as possible.
Continuing to homeschool helps Mom keep her mind off her health and helps give her purpose each day.
Have Others Do the Physical Labor
When Mom is sick, she should reserve all her strength for nurturing and admonishing the children. She must depend more on the children to do chores, clean, bring her things, and do other time-consuming physical tasks. Bethany, our 13-year-old, began doing much more cooking. Tracy gave her meal lists and was available for questions, sometimes lying on the couch near the kitchen or sitting in a chair. Megan, our 10-year-old, really grew up, waiting on and serving my wife in many ways. I think she might become a nurse when she is older.
Bethany also listened to the younger children read while Megan and Jesse, our 9-year-old, helped the younger children with their Bible memorization.
At the hardest times, our church family watched some of our children, did shopping for us, and brought about a month's worth of meals!
We asked friends to take some of the children to their piano classes or to Bethany's biology class. Some would come for the day to help clean the house or just keep Tracy company. We were blessed. And so were they as they helped us as unto the Lord.
Time for Dad to Shine
When Mom is sick, Dad has to shift into high gear. He needs to be focused on the family, more than ever. He needs to take vacation days, get up earlier, and leave work earlier.
As often as possible, I would bring one or two children to work with me to relieve my wife. They would bring their homeschool books with them and make certain they completed their work.
Tracy needed to sleep a lot, so I got the family going each morning. I continued my habit of meeting with one of my children each morning to shepherd their heart. I woke everyone up and made or had breakfast made. I kept everyone quiet and had them get dressed so everything was ready to go for Tracy when she got up.
My wife often did not have the strength to discipline the children, so she wrote down the incidences of disobedience and I administered the discipline when I came home. I wanted to backup my wife 100 percent.
Even though my multiple sclerosis makes it very difficult to walk, God gave me the strength to go shopping many times, keep the house adequately clean, go back and forth to the hospital and walk down those long corridors, keep up my work and travel, and finish my latest book.
I spent much extra time with my children talking, praying, reading, and wrestling with the difficult times which we faced. We anguished and cried together as we prayed repeatedly for Mom's healing. My nightly devotions with the family became deeper and a time of growing spiritually for all. Our children saw that God was comforting and helping us, but He is also sovereign and would heal in His timing and His way.
They learned that everything we own, including our lives, belongs to God. They learned God gives and takes away. They learned God was in control and still loves us, even if Mom gets sicker or Daddy ends up in a wheelchair. It was okay. God would take care of us. Complete healing would come and all sorrow will end one day when we reach heaven. Our lives on this earth are very, very temporary in the light of eternity.
Suffering is Something We All Experience
Times of suffering in the midst of homeschooling can cause us to give up on homeschooling. Often we are discouraged by the suffering and maybe even question God.
Over these last few years, God has brought my family through major periods of suffering: my car accident, my kidney stones, my wife's incurable ulcerative colitis, the deaths of very close friends, the near death of our twins, and my diagnosis with multiple sclerosis, to name our hardest trials. The Lord has helped us to understand our suffering in light of His total sovereignty. He taught us that God is in control! His sovereignty is our only security because everything else is temporary and fleeting.
Through the fire of our trials, God also helped us understand why we are homeschooling our seven children. Homeschooling is simply the means to an end: bringing our children up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord so they will love and obey God all the days of their lives. Homeschooling is simply the best vehicle we as parents can use to fulfill the commands God has given us to train our children found in Deuteronomy 6, Ephesians 6:4, and throughout the Word of God.
Suffering is a blessing. We must receive it from God as an opportunity to shine for Him. We should not see it as a time to abandon homeschooling or to give up. God uses suffering to shake us and wake us up. Times of suffering are times God draws closest while intensely molding us, shaping us, and conforming us to the image of His Son. It is an opportunity to see our priorities clearly and to set them straight. We learn to concentrate on what really matters: living holy lives, sharing the gospel, advancing his kingdom, and training our children to love God with all their heart, all their strength, and all their mind. Suffering is a blessing. It is OK to suffer. I can say that with my whole heart.
We all suffer. Psalm 34:19 says, "many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers them out of them all." Everyone reading this has suffered in some way. The great man of God, Augustine, being very familiar with difficult times once wrote, "God had one Son on earth without sin, but never one without suffering." As the Suffering Servant, Jesus was no exception. As God's adopted children, we share in that suffering.
The Lessons of Suffering
Through all this, we have learned many important lessons.
We know that "all things [including suffering] work together for good for those who love Him and are called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28). Through the eyes of suffering, we were blessed to see God's power and love so much more clearly. In addition, we saw lost souls saved, believers grow in the Lord, and the struggling conquer problems - all as a result of our suffering! In Galatians 4:13, the Apostle Paul wrote, "But you know that it was because of a bodily illness that I preached the gospel to you the first time." Paul became ill and had to stop in Galatia. It probably was not on his agenda. However, he preached the gospel to the Galatians, many came to the knowledge of Christ, and a church was born. God works all things together for good.
We have found that God answers our prayers, but it is in His timing and in His way. For some of us, that timing will not be until we get to heaven. That is okay; God's will is better than our will. In the case of Lazarus, Jesus tarried for two days after hearing of Lazarus' sickness (John 11). He waited until Lazarus had died so when He did come, He could raise Lazarus from the dead, giving God, the Creator, all glory. In John 9, a man was suffering from blindness since birth. When the disciples asked why he was born blind, Christ answered, "It was neither from this man's sin nor his parents, but it was in order that the work of God might be displayed in him." That man suffered all his life in order for the special moment when Christ would miraculously heal him. To glorify God is our sole purpose!
In other words, God is sovereign; He is in control. Before they were thrown into the fiery furnace, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego told the King: "We believe God will deliver us. But even if He does not, we still will not bow the knee to your idol" (Daniel 3:17-18). Our attitude must be the same. This is the perfect balance: pray for healing but trust God, and want His will to be done. As Jesus said himself, "Not my will but your will be done." (Luke 22:42). Ultimately, we must bow to God's power and sovereignty.
Lastly, we've learned that God's grace is sufficient. No matter how bad the suffering seems, we can be sure that God will enable us to endure it. Although it may seem as if we can't go on, God will never give us more suffering than we can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13). Certainly what Paul says is true:
"My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness. Most gladly therefore I will rather boast about my weaknesses that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore, I am well content with weakness, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake, for when I am weak, then I am strong." (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
We were so weak, yet God made us strong. God honors those who honor Him. God will help you keep homeschooling, even if you are ill, if you are doing it for His glory.