We have been homeschooling for five years now. Our three daughters April-16, Erin-13 and Emma-12 have learned and grown so much in that time. We subscribe to the philosophy that education is a life-long adventure, not to be bound by calendars or clocks or textbooks. We have always practiced "Relaxed Homeschooling" to coin Mary hood's phrase.
Little did we know in the fall of '98 that the coming school year would prove to be the biggest challenge our family has ever faced.
   Since the Spring of 1988 I have had ongoing health problems that have had me in and out of dozens of doctors offices. Most doctors had little answers as to what was causing the constant increasing pain I was experiencing in both my legs. I had numerous orthopedic surgeries as a child but still nothing explained the pain.
    Even after we began to homeschool, the pain and the frequent doctor's appointments never seemed to interrupt our daily routine. If I had doctor's appointments or physical therapy the girls would fill their backpacks with their day's lessons and we'd enjoy a picnic lunch somewhere along the way. Sometimes the trip would turn into a field trip when the physical therapist would give us a tour of the facility and share with us about her job.
    But by the summer of '98 my pain began to be unbearable and my legs were getting weaker and weaker, greatly affecting my ability to walk. There were more and more days when I couldn't get out of bed for the pain. But on those days the girls just curled up in bed with me and we would take turns reading stories together or acting out our favorite plays.
    By the fall I was relying more and more on a wheelchair and spending much of my days in bed. We began our homeschool year on the first Monday of September as we always did and by the grace of God were able to maintain an almost normal routine.
    But in December after numerous tests I was diagnosed with a degenerative spinal chord disease called "Syringomyelia". With this disease there are pockets of fluid (called "Syrinx")  that form in the spinal chord. They can grow and move their way through the spinal chord destroying all nerves in its path. The only chance for a cure was a serious operation in which the doctors would open my spinal column, locate the "Syrinx" and drain the fluid from them. There were also risks with this operation. One is that further damage could be done to the spinal chord causing paralysis and the other was that the draining would not be successful and that the "Syrinx" would react to the stimulation by GROWING.
      Our family had a lot to pray about! We were honest with the girls from the beginning. We told them what disease I had, what affects it could have on my future and also about the surgery and it's risks. We spent much time together in prayer. The Lord says that "the prayers of a righteous man availeth much". It wasn't long before we came together as a family in agreement, with perfect peace about having the surgery.
I love the verse in Phillipians 4:6-7 that says, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" (NIV). There is no greater feeling than that peace that passes all human understanding that assures us that we are carrying out God's Will.
   I had the surgery on January 14, 1999. Typical for this spinal chord surgery, I experienced tremendous pain for which I was heavily sedated for the first week. After three weeks I was transferred to a rehabilitation facility where I stayed until April 16th. Here I underwent hours and hours of grueling physical therapy, relearning to walk, climb steps and simply steady myself standing in one position.
    But even through all those difficult months separated from my family God's perfect peace stayed with me. I had long, quiet hours alone when I read the scripture and prayed, drawing closer to my Lord than I had ever been before. It was almost as if I could feel His breath upon my cheek as I prayed or hear His voice replying to my prayers. I know without a doubt that this was His plan all along. In the attempt to be healed physically I was being restored spiritually like never before.

    And our homeschooling? It never skipped a beat! All day on Saturdays and Sundays my husband and daughters spent the day at the hospital with me. The girls brought all their books and assignments and we would look through the week's work that they had done independently. Both my husband and I would work with each of the girls on problem areas such as math or grammar, give spelling tests and read together. My hospital room looked more like a messy classroom!  We would order in pizza's and soda and enjoy the time that we had to be together. Then on Sunday afternoon I would begin making lists of independent assignments that I wanted each of the girls to complete by the next weekend. The children stayed with my sister-in-law and she worked with them each day as they needed help and they were always free to call me on the phone as often as they liked.  

Looking back now I can see how much we have grown as a family and as individuals through all this. My daughters learned the "Three R's" that school year. But they learned so much more! They learned things that cannot be measured or analyzed on a piece of paper or a standardized test. They learned that family's stick together and they take their needs to God. They learned that life isn't always easy but they also learned that God has a purpose even for the difficult times.
    If I had to choose ONE lesson that I would want my family to have learned from this experience, it would be this:

"I am the vine and your are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing."
John 15:5(NIV)

     Our experience could have been much different. But I thank God for the peace that we had to make that decision. And I thank Him for giving us the strength to continue with the tasks at hand. Apart from Him we couldn't have made it through.
   If your family is facing trials now that cause you to question your ability to continue with your homeschooling stop and get on your knees. Seek His perfect peace. And realize that without Him you can NOT continue! But at His side you WILL bear much fruit.

Denice Whitaker©
August 12, 1999

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If you would like to learn more about "Syringomyelia" visit the homepage of The American Syringomyelia Alliance Project

You're listening to a new song I wrote entitled, "You Knew All Along". Music, by Chris Hood. ©2000