Welcome to the Impossible

The place where “there’s no way forward” meets “God is enough.”

In the rarified air of the unknown, we walk with feet of clay, scale crags on bloodied knees, and reach up to touch the face of God from the dirt.

In this place, every life is precious. Every tear is gathered into God’s vessel, to be poured out upon the feet of the Savior who carries us each step of the journey home. Here it’s okay to be broken. In fact, it’s better, because…

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
And saves those who are crushed in spirit.
-Psalm 34:18

My mother’s strokes in 1989 first introduced me to the world of disability. When a doctor wanted to “let her die” because, he told me, her life was “useless,” I learned the fight for life is as primal as it gets. Her condition wasn’t terminal, just inconvenient.

Those years prepared me for a harder path. In 1997, our son Kevin suffered a near-fatal spinal cord injury in Canada. He was instantly paralyzed from the neck down and stopped breathing. Someone provided CPR and kept him alive until help arrived. It was a miracle he survived long enough to be life-flighted to a hospital in Calgary.

Soon the word “impossible” began to be tossed at us, first at the Calgary hospital as the doctor made his case for euthanasia, then later at the rehabilitation hospital in the States. As God helped Kevin conquered each impossible, new ones sprang up before us. He almost died two more times in the early weeks post-injury. As each stone rolled away from the decree of death, new obstacles littered our path.

That pattern has not changed in the twenty-four years we have journeyed this road. Each day, we face the impossible. Each day, God makes a way.

As we trudge the slopes of disaster, I gather the gems from the muck and put them with my treasures. I’ve learned how much God loves people and seen the intensity with which He invests in life. Whether I’m writing about parenting or caregiving or the stories of the elders, I am blessed to find the colors of life burst upon the dark canvas of struggle.

Whatever your story is, I’m glad you’re here.

Life is a gift. Let’s treasure what we have in this moment and trust God to keep eternity safe for us, for the day when the lame walk and God dries our tear-stained faces.

That day’s coming. Until then, we will conquer whatever comes, together. No matter what you’re going through right now, you can be assured you are never, ever alone. You’re important to God, and you’re important to me.

Freed to Serve

and He died for all, so that they who live would no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. – 2 Corinthians 5:15 (NASB)

Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? -Romans 6:16 (NIV)

Through the wonders of DNA, I’ve learned a lot about my ancestors. I’ve discovered that many of them came early to this country. Some were bond-servants. Some were slaveowners. Others became share-croppers. Members of my family fought on both sides of the Civil War.

From this mixed and messy lineage I have learned a bit of the horrific price our nation paid for the sin of slavery.

One of the most basic human desires is the yearning to live free from oppression. But bondage takes many forms, and it is a terrible thing to be enslaved to our own appetites. Sin creates chains only God can break.

No one has to live that way.

When Jesus Christ was born, the world lay chained to sin. To rescue us, the Creator did the unthinkable. He left the glory of heaven, stepped into His creation, entered time and space, and inhabited a human body. He emptied Himself and purposely became a servant for us, in order to purchase our redemption.

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. – Philippians 2:5-7 (NKJV)

Imagine creating two clay pots, leaving your nice living room to live in one of the pots, and allowing the other pot to break you. For Christ, there was much more. As His creation crucified Him, He suffered the deeper agony of God’s fury poured upon Him in our place. He didn’t have to do it. He cared that much. “For God so loved” is not a trite cliché. It is written in the blood of a God who allowed Himself to be crushed to buy our freedom.

What a great love! What an unthinkable sacrifice! What a gift!

He asks one thing from us: our lives. Because He bought us at such a price, we belong to Him. Our surrender must be complete; heart, mind, body, and soul.

We don’t like this part of the gospel. We want to hold onto stuff. Submission to Christ means giving Him control over everything. It means ridding our lives of those things that dishonor Him so we wear His name with dignity. It means representing Him every hour of every day, serving righteousness instead of our own appetites.

So we streamline our entertainment. We talk to the broken people we usually avoid. We give God our bank account, our home, and our dreams. We serve at His pleasure. Servanthood is like that.

A slave is bound to serve his master. It doesn’t matter how tired he is, or if he has his own needs. As long as his rights lie in the hands of another, he has no say in what happens to him.

Even in this, our God is unique. This sovereign we serve grants us unlimited access to Him. He’s available at any hour to hear our petitions or to just talk. He is always listening. Our God is not a hard taskmaster, though our old nature tells us that when life gets hard. But returning to captivity is never the green pasture it appears. The Psalmist said it best:

For a day in Your courtyards is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God Than live in the tents of wickedness. -Psalm 84:10 (NASB)

All of us will serve one master or another. Christ offers us freedom from the destruction and guilt of serving ourselves. Serving Him brings joy out of this world.

Where does your allegiance lie? Who do you serve?

But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. Romans 6:17 (NIV)

Pioneer Files: Notes from a Homeschooling Veteran

Joshua's majestic challenge stands before us as believers. Will we choose the old paths, new idols, or the Lord?
A man who lives without honor will not gain from education

A Majestic Challenge

Now, therefore, fear the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and truth; and put away the gods which your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.

And if it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: Whether the gods which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.

Joshua 24:14-15

As the nation of Israel stood before the Jordan River, Joshua challenged them as they prepared to cross the river into the land that had been promised them forty years before. Were they going to serve the living God, or the gods of this world?

Three Choices, One Decision

Joshua asked the people if they were going to serve one of these three:

  1. The gods of their fathers.
  2. The gods of the land in which they now lived.
  3. The living God who claimed their souls.

The gods of their fathers were the gods of Egypt, where they lived as slaves. To us, these represent the bondage of the old ways before we met our Savior, the Lord Jesus. To serve these gods means a return to slavery.

The gods of the land in which they now lived were the idols that surrounded them on their journey toward the Promised Land. These represent the pull of the world on us that keeps us distracted from hearing God’s voice.

And so the Israelites were given a bold choice: to serve the idols of this world or the God of the universe. If we are serious about entering the land of promise and destroying all that is raised against the name of Jesus in our homes, we must turn our faces toward the land beyond the river. This means we will pay a price.

We may be “counseled,” mocked, and misunderstood. We may stand to lose our reputations and the admiration of others. We may lose friends and incur the wrath of our relatives.

Our time will not be ours any longer, and some pet projects will fall by the wayside. We may suffer a loss of income for our choice to stay home and care for our children. There may no longer be the money for the best tennis shoes, jeans or video games. We may lose our health.

Of course, none of this may happen. But what would we do if it did? We should be willing to count the cost of home education and be willing to pay the price, should it come due.

After all, any of these things could happen, anyway. Compromise doesn’t guarantee comfort. God intends for us to grow in grace and toward all He has for us. He always has Plan A and Plan B. If we refuse to listen to the still voice of His urging, He will resort to the “bit and bridle” of circumstances to drive us to Him.

Either way, Joshua’s majestic challenge stands before us as believers. Will we choose the old paths, new idols, or the Lord?

Pioneer Files: Notes from a Homeschooling Veteran

A who lives without honor will not gain by education

Skeptics and Critics, Part 2

When we can ignore the skeptics

The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent.

Exodus 14:14 (NASB)

I learned the hard way that it’s useless to try to justify our reasons for homeschooling. The best response is to listen quietly to criticism and swallow that big lump of hurt pride that sticks in our throats. Remember Jesus’ words:

Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.

Luke 23:34 (NASB)

The devil would like nothing better than to use a good thing to force a wedge into relationships and tear them apart. We just have to let go of the urge to defend ourselves and let our actions speak for themselves.

Criticism is a great purifier. It’s one way God gives us a gut check on our motives and goals. After all, why are we doing this? Are our convictions solid enough to live out in the public eye of scrutiny? One of my favorites is last week’s quote from Matthew:

Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.

Matthew 11:19b (NASB)

The best recommendation we can receive is when others see the Lord Jesus doing a good thing in our lives. A godly life, lived quietly before God, can banish criticism better than any argument we can muster. When people see us walk out our faith, they will know our God is real. Then we can rejoice before the Lord when He takes our meager efforts and blesses them.

When we need to listen

Sometimes criticism is rooted in truth. Sometimes it’s the reaction of others to an unhealthy attitude they see in us. If we act smug or self-righteous, or if we carry around an air of martyrdom because we stay at home and care for our own kids, others may feel resentful and probably for good reason.

Perhaps in the past we have been prone to flit from one “ministry” to another without real direction or commitment. In this case, we are going to have to prove we are serious by stepping up to the new challenge in steadfastness and discipline. I’m sure God taught me more through homeschooling than I ever taught my own children.

It’s also important to validate the efforts and love of the many educators that serve in public and private schools. They have a really hard job. We are, after all, co-laborers toward a common goal.

Then there’s Noah

Our work with our children, even if carried out quietly, will spark resentment in people around us at some point. Those who aren’t in sympathy with the homeschool movement may feel intimidated by the homeschooler’s role as teacher. Others may feel convicted by a parent’s commitment to his children. Others are just opinionated and need to share that opinion with us.

By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith.

Hebrews 11:7

What we’re doing with our children flows from the same heart response that moved Noah to lead his children to salvation. The ark he built represented his faith and obedience to God’s word to him. He set his sights on completing the job given to him and ignored the criticism and mockery he undoubtedly experienced. He committed himself to the long haul and kept his eyes on the goal.

In the end, his obedience and toil were rewarded. May God take our small strength and empower us to walk in that same obedience.

Pioneer Files: Notes from a Homeschooling Veteran

A man who lives without honor will not gain from education.

Skeptics. Critics. Everybody’s watching.

Dance with the one who brung ya.

As you embark upon this journey in educating your young ones, you may find dealing with critics and skeptics one of your first and most emotionally exhausting battles (especially if you are a people-pleaser like me and hate confrontation).

Thankfully, the homeschooling movement is now largely accepted in much of this country and enjoys a large following. But when I first considered homeschooling in 1982, I was met with unanimous disapproval by my family and friends. Not one person thought I was doing the right thing. Some of them took pains to pull me aside and try to talk sense into me. Even my husband said the idea was crazy. He was understanding enough, thankfully, to let me try it. Eventually, my family became my most solid support base and source of help.

The real surprise was the amount of resistance I received from my brothers and sisters in the Lord. Prevailing attitudes about homeschoolers have mellowed, and many churches support home education today. But in the early years, my most bitter criticism initially came from God’s family. I was chastised for not committing to church programs and not being at some church functions. I was even told that my life was unbalanced because I spent my time at home with my children and husband instead of being at all the church activities. Although the criticism was well-meaning, it made a hard decision even harder. And it greatly contributed to the stress I was already feeling as a young mom, fairly new in my faith, with four little children to raise. How desperately I needed an older, wiser hand to lead me forward and encourage me!

But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the market places, who call out to the other children, and say, ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.’

-Matthew 11:16 -17 (NASB)

Jesus calls the tune to which we dance.

During these early years, God taught me valuable lessons in resisting peer pressure and striving to please Him rather than people. I also learned, mostly through my own mistakes, not to react personally to criticism, and to never see a critical person as my enemy.

Listen, learn, and respond.

So this journey to educate my own children was the path upon which I have been thoroughly “schooled” in the ways of God. In the beginning, I needed to quickly learn three important lessons: Listen to the concerns of others, figure out what God was trying to teach me, and respond in a Christlike manner – even if the criticism was unfounded. Our efforts with our children will eventually rise or fall on their own merits.

Home education, after all, is just a tool in the hands of God to educate an entire family in His ways.

Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.

Matthew 11:19b (NASB)

Next Week: Part 2 of Skeptics and Critics

Pioneer Files: Notes from a Homeschooling Veteran

A man who lives without honor will not gain by education.

Training in the Sand

The real joy of any job is doing with all our might before our Lord, knowing that every day is a blessed gift we are given to enjoy with Him and our families, whether we are working, studying, or playing. With our “eyes on the prize” of the high calling in Christ Jesus, we choose to ignore the length of the road before us and the potholes along the way.

It’s the finish line that fills our sight.

Our home is on the Nez Perce (Nimiipuu) Indian Reservation in Idaho. The Nimiipuu are renowned for the breeding and training of Appaloosa horses. A tribal elder, a friend and neighbor of ours, once told me that his people used to train their horses by running them along the sandy beaches of the Clearwater River. Running in the deep white sand overdeveloped the horses’ leg muscles. Then when they raced their horses on dirt courses, their animals easily outdistanced their competitors.

If you have run with footmen and they have tired you out,

Then how can you compete with horses?

If you fall down in a land of peace,

How will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?

Jeremiah 12:5 (NASB)

Our families face incredible challenges and trials as this age draws to a close. We must set our hearts on training our young people so that they can run like the wind when they are put to the test.

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win.

Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things,. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.

Therefore I run in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (NASB)

Here is our course. We are to run in such a way, exercising self-control and self-denial, so as to be able to run our race with patience and finish our journey with joy. With our eyes on the prize, we are learning together, both parents and children, to be like our Master.

Pioneer Files: Notes from a Homeschooling Veteran

A man who lives without honor will not gain from education.


Discipline Is a Good Thing

Isaac Newton’s first law of motion states that an object in motion tends to stay in motion, and an object at rest tends to stay at rest. When we educate our children at home, we have to overcome a scientific law just to get going each day!

It’s normal to feel mentally and emotionally spent after a session with our children. Besides the natural inertia that we have to overcome, we are fighting a spiritual battle each day for our families.

So you, dear parent, will be tired and often discouraged, because you are in a marathon. The finish line is in your heart but not in your line of sight. Every day you are fighting the good fight. Many days are just hard. But you’ve moved a bit forward every day.

All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. -Hebrews 12:5b-11

It worked for us to begin each day at about the same time. The length of the study day varied widely, depending on such factors as the difficulty of the assignments, any extra projects, the age of the children, and our own will to concentrate. This time frame protected us from outside demands on our time and gave us a sense of structure. A routine gave us a sense of peace, order, and security. After a hectic weekend, we often looked forward to the peace and quiet of Monday morning.


Pioneer Files: Notes from a Homeschooling Veteran

A man who lives without honor will not gain by education.

It’s Okay to Breathe

The beauty of a home education is in its flexibility. Some days God had plans for us that differed from those I had made. There were days that an illness, death, unplanned visitor, or impromptu field trip invaded upon my neat lessons plans (yes, I made lesson plans) for the day. Then I tried to take a deep breath and flow with God’s plans. After all, this was a good way for my children to get a taste of real life uninsulated by the artificial culture of an institutional atmosphere.

Here, again, were the opportunities for learning as our children watched us interact with others and respond to life’s pressures and demands.

Please have fun.

We loved to occasionally surprise our children with time off for a special family field trip. And yes, we even took days off just to relax at home. It usually didn’t take long to recover lost ground. I just tried to not make it a habit to let trivial distractions consume our days. It took determination to keep going every day, year after year, and to keep moving toward our goals.

Daily experiences are wonderful teaching resources. Often the best lessons emerge from odd moments or spontaneous conversations. A lunchtime discussion of the news or the discovery of a bird’s nest during a morning walk can provide happy memories and direct our attitudes in a life-changing way.

This happened to me.

The Walk that Changed a Life

As a teenager, I was already an avowed evolutionist, well-trained by my public school teacher to scorn as backward anyone who believed in special creation by God. But one beautiful day, my beloved Irish grandmother came to visit us. She and I took a walk in the sunshine, just basking in the joy of each other’s company and conversing in the natural way that sometimes only grandparents and grandchildren can.

That day, we fell into the subject of evolution as we walked. I defended it with youthful egotism; she opposed it gently. At that moment we happened upon a bird’s nest perched in the branches of a dwarf fruit tree, lying low enough for our inspection. Our movement disturbed the young birds, and in unison they raised up their fuzzy heads and opened their wide red mouths for breakfast.

As Grandma Jean and I chuckled over our discovery, she suddenly and urgently cradled the rough nest in her hands, looked at me tenderly, and softly asked, “Now, Pam, can you look at this and tell me there is no God?”

I was cut to the quick. This was no scientific debate, no angry exchange of facts and theories. It was nothing less than the Spirit of God, using a little mousy-haired woman to draw my heart to Him.

To this day, I can’t explain why her simple statement touched me so deeply. I can only say that when I looked at the nest and those little birds inside it, I knew without a doubt that I was wrong. Only much later would I read the first chapter of the epistle to the Romans and learn that creation itself testifies to the reality and nature of the Creator.

For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. -Romans 1:20

It was not many years later that Grandma Jean died. But that one day sent me on a journey to find her God and to know Him as she did. It also taught me to never underestimate the work of the Holy Spirit in the simple things we do with our children.

It’s okay to breathe, take a walk, and let God lead your path through parenting.

Pioneer Files: Notes from a Homeschooling Veteran

A man who lives without honor will not gain by education

Yep, you’re in training, too.

A certain disservice has been done to parents by some who have portrayed home education as a kind of perpetual wonderland. We are given the impression that if our children are not always having fun, it’s because we are two structured, stiff, and formal. While this could be true at times, and certainly there should be time for fun and pure adventure, parents should be prepared for many routine and tedious days. This in itself is not inherently evil. Children need to gradually learn how to stay with a routine job and see it through.

For you, this will take much time, effort, and creativity. It will also require your decision to sacrifice other interests for this goal. Why not let someone else chair the church committee? For our own good, it will be better if we don’t take on too many outside responsibilities during this season.

Commit yourself to doing one thing well.

It’s hard to put our own ambitions aside for the long season it takes to raise a child. Society has told us that we’re not fulfilled unless we work and serve outside the home. But it’s for the welfare of the entire family if we resist the urge to get involved in too much stuff. If we commit ourselves to doing one thing well, we won’t feel so scattered or have torn loyalties.

Throughout the ages, those who have made great achievements in sports, the sciences, music, and other fields have done so by the single-hearted concentration to their goals. Think of the goals you want for your children. Understand the commitment that will take, and be prepared to pay the cost.

When I was homeschooling, that meant that within a certain time each day, I dedicated my energies to my children. Without apologies. People eventually learned that I wasn’t generally available to chat on the phone, babysit, or run a church ministry outside the home during those hours. While it’s healthy to include a broader community in your homeschooling and have time for your own emotional health, trying to “do it all” will do you in. Set your eyes on the prize, commit yourself to the race, and put on spiritual blinders to keep you from getting distracted.

This is a marathon, not a sprint. Prepare for the distance.

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. -1 Corinthians 9:24-27 (NASB)

Pioneer Files: Notes from a Homeschooling Veteran

A man who lives without honor will not gain by education.

Yes, Virginia, there will be difficult days.

It’s a tough to find the right balance of work and fun in homeschooling, but it’s important to have both. Children feel honored and cherished when a grown-up takes real time with them, especially when that time is divided between work and play. Play more with the younger ones; slowly add work as they mature from level to level. But always insist on respectful attitudes toward you and each other.

If the child has never been outside the home for schooling, there may be fewer adjustments for both parent and child. But difficult days must be expected. They will come. Learning involves discipline, and our natures hate the pain of training.

The twin ideas of discipline and learning are so intertwined that the New Testament word for disciple actually means “learner.” The Greek word for discipline is suphronismos, which comes from the root suphron, meaning “to save the mind.”1.

Young children easily incorporate learning and play. They need much play time in an atmosphere that is free from intimidation and stress. Most discipline for them involves learning to do simple duties around the house and learning how to respect others. They should have plenty of room and time to play. Then increase their work load as their need to be challenged grows. Older children need enough work to stretch them without breaking their spirit.

When I was a child, I used to speak as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; When I became a man, I did away with childish things. -1 Corinthians 13:11

Society already has too many forty-year-olds who have never learned how to grow up into maturity. Our job as parents is to guide the growing-up process of our children. Living things do not bear fruit until they are mature.

  1. Vine, An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, p. 308.

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