Saturday, January 10, 2009

Homeschooling Through Trials

Homeschooling Through Trials and Tragedies

A friend of mine just lost a baby. The miscarriage happened very early in her pregnancy. In fact she had only found out she was pregnant a couple of days before. However, when I learned that she has lost her baby, I knew her pain was very real and very deep. Memories of the ache of empty arms and the heartache that seemed overwhelming came back to me as I remembered my own eight babies who died before they were born.

In the first thirteen years of our marriage, we experienced one trial after another in rapid succession. We lost eight babies, were burned out of one apartment, flooded out of another, had a son undergo ten surgeries, I underwent six infertility and miscarriage related surgeries, I was on bedrest with problem pregnancies for months at a time and Jeff was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes. Those are only the “main” trials that we went through in those thirteen years!
Though past eight years have not been nearly as traumatic, our family has still gone through some additional trials. As I mentioned in a previous article, we have some children who really struggle in school. Also, in 2006 my husband broke his arm badly and was out of work for several weeks and my daughter’s foot was badly injured a few days later. 2008 was rough, too. A sweet niece was badly injured in a bus accident and my beloved father-in-law had a debilitating heart attack. That only begins to scratch the surface of the difficult year our extended family has had this year!

In our own home, our youngest daughter had a very rough year with many health problems which have been difficult to diagnose. In fact, in the middle of the night on November 20th, I watched as Jennifer hemorrhaged a huge amount of blood and was rushed into emergency surgery (thankfully we were already at the hospital when it happened). Waiting in the lonely, deserted waiting room, knowing there was a chance my little girl might not pull through, was one of the longest, hardest nights of my life.

That night, while I was waiting for Jennifer’s surgery to be over, I paced around the waiting room, unable to sit down, until I saw a Gideon Bible. I picked it up, praying the Lord would lead me to the right passage. I opened the Bible to Psalms, the book of the Bible I have always turned to for comfort when I am most afraid and sad. The Lord led me to Psalm 91. The whole chapter brought me great comfort that night and I would encourage you to read it but the two verses that spoke to me the most were verses two and five.

“I will say of the Lord, He is my refuge and my fortress; my God, in Him will I trust (vs. 2). Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day (vs. 5).”
Seeing your daughter covered in her own blood and having her rushed into emergency surgery in the middle of the night certainly does qualify as “terror by night” and I took great comfort that night in knowing that the Lord is my refuge and fortress and that I can put my trust in Him. No human being, not even my dear husband, would have brought me the comfort that those verses from God’s Word brought me that night.

The purpose of this article is not to make you feel sorry for the Stilwells (though we certainly could use all the prayers we can get!). It is to share with you some of the lessons I have learned along the way as we have gone through these difficult times. I fully realize that many of you could be writing this article and perhaps do a much better job than I can. In spite of the heartaches my family has gone through, many of you have been through far greater tragedies.
One lesson I have learned is that of compassion. While I used to feel badly when people went through difficult times, I can now empathize in a way that I would not be able to do if I had not been through some difficult times in my own life. When I talk to them or send them a note or card, I can speak and write as one who knows how deep a heartache can be. I know better than to brush off their hurt with a cliché or act like everything will be okay when, in reality, it may not.

Another lesson I have learned is to acknowledge the pain that others are going through. If someone has recently lost a loved one, I should not avoid eye contact with them when I see them in the church foyer. If my friend’s husband just left her, I should not avoid calling her. Saying the “wrong thing” is much less hurtful than saying nothing at all. When I went through my miscarriages, it was very hurtful when others ignored the fact that I had just lost a baby. On the other hand, those that sent me a card as if a real person had died (and a real person HAD died) or gave me a hug or told me they were praying for me brought me comfort and encouragement.
I learned not to expect others to understand completely. How could someone who had never had a miscarriage truly understand what it was like? How could someone who has children who are reading by age three understand what it is like to have a twelve year old who can’t read fluently? Yes, they can sympathize and pray, and I have dear friends who do both of those things, even though they have not experienced some of my particular trials. However, they can not fully understand, nor should I expect them to. Just as I do not understand completely what it is like to have cancer or an unfaithful spouse, because I have not gone through those trials, loved ones who have not been through my heartaches will not understand mine. Even those who have been through nearly identical trials will not fully understand because we all react differently and there are variables in each situation. Our Heavenly Father understands each and every one of my heartaches, trials and fears. In fact He understands them far better than I do. It is wrong of me to expect a person to understand or comfort me in a way that only our Lord can. Learning that only God, and no human, could bring me true peace through my trials was an extremely important lesson.

They say tragedy will make or break a marriage. In our case, I am thankful and grateful to say, that the difficult times we have been through have brought Jeff and I closer. We do not always respond to a trial in the same way but we have tried hard to support each other through each difficult time. We have learned to accept that the other one will not always respond the same way we do. I would be less than honest if I said that there have not been tense moments between us from time to time but, over all, our trials have brought us closer and made us stronger as a couple.

I have also learned that no matter what is going on, I cannot neglect my children. After my last miscarriage, I had four children ages eight and under. Not only was I emotionally devastated but that miscarriage had been my most physically painful miscarriage and it dragged out for six weeks. The last thing I felt like doing was taking care of children some of whom suddenly seemed to become clingy and naughty. I am sure they sensed my tension and they were also grieving. Feeding the children, educating them, disciplining them and showing them love seemed overwhelming to me at that point. Yet, looking back, forcing myself to care for the four living children that I had is what got me through the very difficult months following that miscarriage. I have many sweet memories of the four of them curled up with me on the couch while I read to them and having the ache in my heart relieved a bit by the four children I had to cuddle close to me. We had sweet chats about their tiny sibling in Heaven. (The Lord sent us Jennifer a year later and, though she didn’t replace the baby we had lost, she filled an empty spot in our hearts and brought us great joy.)

I have learned that many trials in life come in the form of having to wait. The longest, darkest moments in my life have been when I am waiting for answers. Many times when my body was threatening to miscarry one of our babies, I spend hours and days of agony, wondering of the baby would survive (sometimes I would go on to miscarry, other times I would not). As I mentioned before, Jennifer has had many health issues this past year. Some of the things she has been tested for are horrible illnesses like leukemia and multiple sclerosis. Waiting several days, sometimes a week or more, for the results of those tests was very difficult (thankfully, they all came back negative). Through all the months of her illness, seeing our little Sunshine Girl in so much pain was heartbreaking and waiting to see if anything we tried to do for her would relieve the pain was very difficult. Yet, I also found that with each trial, while waiting, I cling to the Lord like I do at no other time. I find myself praying constantly through out the day and spending time in His Word as often as possible.

I do actually intend to bring this around to homeschooling because going through difficult times in our lives definitely affects homeschooling in our home. As a homeschooling mom, it is my job to educate my children. Yet sometimes, over the years, the trials we have been through seem to get in the way of our homeschooling. This year would be a prime example of that in our home. With Jennifer’s extreme pain, doctor visits and tests, there were days when we have done little or no school. We did not finish our 148 days from the previous school year until late July of this year. (I gave my children two weeks off and then we started this school year.) At times it was very discouraging. Yet, I reminded myself that God is in control of our home. He knows and understands what is going on far better than I do. Apparently the lessons we were to learn from Jennifer’s illness this year were more important than the three R’s at this point in our lives. I need to remember that it is more important that my children learn to be Christ like than that they be scholars. During her illness, Jennifer has learned, at a very young age, to trust in the Lord, even in great pain. Her siblings have learned compassion and patience. We, as parents, have learned, yet again, that our children belong to God and are only on load to us for a little while.

One of the most important things I have learned is to ask myself “What can I learn through this that will help me become more like Christ?” As Christians, when we go through trials, becoming more Christ like should be our ultimate goal. I also have learned to ask myself, “How can I glorify God through this?”

I don’t know about you, but one of the biggest encouragements to me, as a Christian, is to watch someone go through an incredibly difficult time in their life, and seeing them trust God through it all and to see them come out on the other side closer to the Lord instead of bitter towards Him. That doesn’t mean that they won’t have moments when they are in the depths of despair and want to give up. Yet, they trust in the Lord through it all. I could write a whole article on people who have encouraged me greatly in my walk with the Lord by their testimony through tragedies and trials.

Last, but certainly not least, as I go through life’s trials, I need to remember the words from a friend of mine, Christine Scott, who was widowed at a young age and left to parent three little boys all by herself. Her words are simple yet say it all. She told me once that when life brings you to the depths of despair, “Run to Jesus. Run to Jesus. Run to Jesus.”

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