I have met a sweet pen pal, who is a fellow home schooler. We have not known each other for very long, but we understand each other, and it seems as if we were long lost friends. Just this year we discovered that even our birthdays are but one day apart.
My friend has not had the easy life that I have had. Abandoned with four small children to raise, she runs a simple business in her home, with which her children, as they have aged, have had to help. They have chosen to live frugally and work at home, in exchange for the joys of being together and living in a God-fearing manner. They have little money for luxuries, yet my friend makes luxuries happen in a frugal way. I think God helps her with that.
My friend heats with firewood and really cooks real food. Because she does not have a dishwasher, the children have to wash many dishes. She also makes little crafts for people who are less fortunate than she, and works a lot at church.
The children, now in their teens, have to work outside the home to help her make ends meet. They regularly find favor with the townspeople and snag those odd jobs that make all the difference for them. Their simple entertainments include basketball and popcorn - things that do not cost much.
Some of them want to be missionaries.
Her children do not all learn quite as readily as she would prefer, so sometimes she has to try harder than she would prefer to instill education into some of them. Some of them were not born as healthy as she would prefer, so sometimes she has to travel farther than she would prefer for special doctor care. Still, she remains cheerful.
When my friend writes of her life, she is full of thanksgiving and prayer requests. She always needs more business for her income's sake. She always needs help coping with tough customers. She always needs courage to face health issues. Whether it is more food, more clothing, or more patience, she never takes any need for granted, but makes it a matter for prayer. She is not too proud to ask me to help her pray for these needs.
To say that I love her is an understatement. I cannot claim to know her, exactly, yet I tell her amazing story and spread her prayer requests every chance I receive. I have graduated three children and she, only one. Still, she is so far ahead of me in courage, in diligence, and in strength, that I sometimes feel as if she has left me in a cloud of dust. I feel deeply that God is doing a holy thing in their lives.
So why do I relate all of this to you? Because I want you to receive the courage, diligence, and strength that I have received from this friend. I want you to know about her courage to face life as a home schooling mom, alone. I think that if you know of her courage, you will not be so afraid to go on. I want you to know about her diligence in getting those children out of bed every morning, making them wash dishes, chop wood, and get jobs. I think that if you know of her diligence, you will be energized to accomplish more, yourself. I want you to know about her strength to make cheer happen for fatherless kids, and to stick to a tight budget. I think that if you know of her strength, you will not be tempted to back down with the next tiny thing that comes along.
For too long, we have been trying to comfort those who feel like quitting. We comfort them all right, straight into quitting. I want to stop that. I want to challenge you, as if you were one who would quit. I want to challenge you to try something else, first, anything you want, but do not try quitting. Quitting must not be an option.
What should you try? If you lecture all day, you could try skipping the lecture, to make things easier or even just different. If you leave your students to their own devices most of the day, you could try lecturing, once. If you begin the day at 8:00, try beginning at 6:00 or at noon. If you confine yourselves to the house, try studying on the front porch, in a tree, or at Grandma's. If you are lax about schedules, try posting a strict schedule, complete with bells for time changes. Do you get the picture?
If all of those ideas fail, I want you to try just one more thing, before you decide to quit: I want you to try to imitate my friend, who is NOT about to quit. (She tells her children, “Quitting is not in our blood!”) How do I mean you should “imitate” her? Well, begin with pretending that when your husband goes to work today, he will never return. Pretend that you will have to go to court, often, to get every penny of child support that you have coming. Then compound it by realizing that one of your children could be hospitalized at any moment. Add to that a horde of the public entering your house every day, disrupting all pretenses at study (and you have to be glad because these customers bring money with them - at least they are supposed to). Pretend you have to stoke a fire before you can even begin breakfast, and for some reason, you all forgot that more kindling was needed, so you must chop a little even before that. It is cold and windy. Your house is not altogether airtight.
Now you may begin breakfast. It is bacon again, because the pork was very inexpensive, thanks to a friend who helped on the meat bill. Eggs are nearly free because you have taught your children to tend very carefully to the chickens. Bread is expensive, so you are stirring up biscuits, as usual. Quickly, now - almost 6:30 and time to wake the children.
Out they tumble, all starving and happy to see the same old homemade breakfast as yesterday. Why are they happy, when the menu does not change much? Because they have learned from stern reality that all food comes from the mercy of God. It does, of course, but your children really know it. You have told them that if God calls them to the mission field, they will be accustomed to eating what is put before them. They eat gladly and wash dishes by hand, not so gladly: look at all that grease, and the smeary biscuit bowl. Who would be totally glad to wash all that by hand? They do it, though, because they know the alternative is worse: washing those same dishes after all the mess is congealed . . . now that is a big job.
Soon lessons are progressing, in between the needs of customers. You whip out your craft basket and continue where you left off, whenever there is a lull in business. You are working on a baby blanket and this yarn is not very fast-working. Must keep it up and not lose count - oops - another customer needs something. Must remember to be glad for customers, glad for craft supply donations, glad for the strength to work. Must pray for patience with the fussy customers.
One of your children, the oldest, is not at home right now, but is working as a missionary overseas. In these volatile times, it is hard for you to feel that all is well. Another of your children wants to join this mission, the one who is so sick. Actually, the acceptance papers have arrived from the group leaders and you must quiet your heart every time you spy the envelope. You do not want this one to leave, yet. This one needs surgery, if the doctors ever figure out how to do it safely.
Lunch time is approaching. Lunch is usually soup, usually vegetarian; meat is so expensive. Your children love the soups you cook up, though. They know that all soups come from God's merciful hand, just like breakfast. They debate about who is to wash, dry, and put away this new big batch of dishes. You must hurry through lunch, yourself, because of tending to many customer needs and wants. This is good, you remind yourself. You prayed for customers, you remind yourself.
Usually there is a business lull after lunch, and you can help with studies and do more crafting during that time. You begin a letter to one of your pen pals on the pretty paper you found at a garage sale. Very carefully, you include your prayer requests, interwoven with reports of your happy times and funny little things that have come up lately.
Tonight is a church meeting with a dinner. One of your children is working until 5:00, and you all must arrive early with your carry-in food ready. You mentally check off the things you must bring to help with setting up the tables while you quickly throw together a cake to take along. Your children help with it, and with washing the utensils. There is not so much to wash because you found cake mixes on sale; a scratch cake would have made a bigger mess. Suddenly you realize that a spelling test is waiting for you to administer. You quickly pop the cake into the oven and reach for that spelling book and its accompanying student. This one does not spell well; in fact, is best at disassembling mechanical things. You wonder how to instill a sense of the importance of literacy in this young mind. You decide that church night is not a good time to dwell on it much. You attempt to dwell upon the child-support payment that did not come, again, but is not a good time for that, either, so you give up and decide to be happy.
You go to church, uncovered by a husband, as always. You are used to it and it is not too hard, because the folks there are your friends; they need you and you need them. More than once you have received from their generosity and you have done your level best to serve them back, in whatever way you possibly can. Tonight it is preparing tables for the dinner. Other times it is Sunday School or VBS. Work does not frighten you one bit, and your children join you, even in the nursery.
Tomorrow is a day off from customers, therefore, a day without income: You must take your child to the doctor for a scheduled checkup. You pray for courage. You drive a long way, buying gasoline with grocery money. Your children attempt school work in the car, while you thank God that they can come along, because it helps them not to worry about their sibling. In the lounge, you make small crafts for those waiting alongside you. They are pleased, amused, amazed at this tiny display of care for your fellow man. You see the doctor. The prognosis has not improved. You drive the long way back home. You warm leftovers, feed everyone, and drop into bed. You cannot be cheerful, so you slip into sleep. There will be customers tomorrow, and you forgot about kindling again.
And you are not about to quit.
This is the life my friend lives, daily. When I think of her, I feel as if I can do anything. It goes deeper than that, though. When I think of her, I feel as if I must do any and every possible thing to make sure that I, also, am not ever about to quit. I hope reading about her life does the same for you.
It would make her feel more cheerful to know it.
Katharine Trauger has homeschooled her six children for over twenty years. She and her husband, Gerald, live in Arkansas, and enjoy gardening, reading, and Bible study.