One of the reasons I titled this blog “our life” homeschooling was because I wanted to share, not only our family’s life homeschooling, but because I wanted to share “our life” collectively as homeschoolers. That is why I regularly post interviews with everyday homeschoolers just like you! Be encouraged by this interview with Cheryl, a homeschool mom, who tells her story of homeschooling when life is hard.
Hi, my name is Cheryl Lehman. I’m a farmer’s wife and homeschooling mom in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Keith and I have been married for 20 years and I’ve given birth to 12 beautiful babies over those years. And yes, like we’ve all been told, they grow up very quickly! Somehow, even with many days that feel like they will never end, the years fly by. We have been officially homeschooling since our oldest started learning to read in 2008, have graduated two, and have approximately 16 more years to go! (Since our youngest is 2 years old.)
Homeschooling as a Farm Family
We have the unique opportunity to raise produce together as a family which we sell at my family’s produce market. The summer season is intense but it has been such a good experience for teaching our children responsibility and hard work and learning to trust God with things we can’t control, like the weather, which impacts growing food so much!
As a farm family we have appreciated the flexibility that homeschooling allows us. Because September is still a very busy month of produce harvesting, we don’t start our academic homeschooling routine until October and don’t finish the school year until at least the end of May and often into June. I do maintain a very relaxed schedule of year-round schooling with my set of boys that are learning to read.
This means that throughout the summer we’re getting in about 1-3 days of school with my younger crew.
We count lots of real-life activities as part of their education- Science includes all the hands-on experience of raising and harvesting different kinds of vegetables, recognizing destructive insects and invasive weeds and monitoring plant health. Home Ec involves cooking and baking and canning projects.
There are lots of opportunities for Physical Education in a family our size and summer evenings are often spent in group sports or games in the cooler temperatures. As our children get older they all begin to pursue interests and hobbies that lead to a lot of self-motivated education. In a family our size we have a great variety in interests and pursuits. These range from writing and filmmaking to hunting and cooking wild game to arts and crafts and bird-watching.
What attracted you to homeschooling?
When I was entering seventh grade, my parents pulled me and my siblings out of a Christian school and began homeschooling us. Although it was an adjustment at first, ultimately I came to love the education I was given and the opportunities I had through homeschooling. I feel like it birthed in me a deep love for God and His truth because that was the central focus of all our learning.
I wanted to pass that same foundation on to my own children. My husband was in full agreement because he wanted to protect our children from the negative influences he had experienced in public school. Homeschooling isn’t easy but it has been the best choice for our family, allowing us to disciple our children and develop a business that incorporates the whole family.
When Life is Hard
This year we walked through the difficult loss of our twelfth child, Isaac. Mid-way through the pregnancy we received the devastating news that our son had Trisomy 18 and there were multiple abnormalities that deemed his body incompatible with life.
We were blessed to have him part of our lives for 37 1⁄2 weeks. Sadly, he passed away during labor and was stillborn on May 28.
This loss is now part of our story and the grief we carry impacts daily life. Learning to walk in this new normal is part of our homeschooling goals for the new school year. Our children have been impacted to varying degrees. Helping children process grief has a way of making one feel very inadequate and unprepared!
But the reality is that I, as the one who carried this sweet boy in my womb for 9 months, am the one who has suffered the most pain in his death. My husband mourns his loss too, but for me it is something I think about almost constantly, albeit subconsciously.
How has the Lord used challenging circumstances/tough times for good in your life?
Losing Isaac isn’t the only difficult circumstance I’ve faced. Life has been full of situations that have stretched me, overwhelmed me, and broken me. I’m sure your life has carried its share of these types of challenges as well.
Though initially unwelcome, hard times have actually nurtured my relationship with the Lord. What my head knew about God through reading His Word, my heart now knows through experience. Though I may not actually feel it or understand it during the hardest moments, I can look back and know that my God was good and faithful and present in my suffering.
Isaac’s birth was traumatic but in hindsight I see how Jesus carried me through it. During dark times of tragedy and loss, many days are survived moment by moment, consciously making choices to believe what I don’t feel. But during these times God’s Word, especially the Psalms, come alive and touch my soul in a way that they don’t when life is easy. I have learned that when I’m at the end of myself, when life feels too hard, that there is only one place I should run to truly fill and restore my heart…not to escape in social media or mindless entertainment…but to run into the arms of Jesus, my Shepherd and King.
How do you practically keep homeschooling when going through difficult times?
I think the realization that learning happens in real life can be freeing. We found out about Isaac’s condition in February and from that time on life was not normal. I went to more appointments than usual, seeing my midwife as well as having regular ultrasounds at Maternal and Fetal Medicine. We actually started the grieving process then, much like when one receives a terminal diagnosis.
Grief is physically and emotionally exhausting. It is always simmering, but not always forefront in the mind. When it does come to the front burner it must be processed and it doesn’t always come at convenient times. Not only did I hold the grief of losing my son, there were so many unknowns. There were concerns for my own health as I had a severe level of amniotic fluid and was at risk for preeclampsia. We held hope that our son could live at least a short time after birth so there were contradictory preparations to make- for example, we planned a funeral but we also purchased a Moses basket for him to sleep in by my bed. All of this was very heavy emotionally.
Acceptance and Living Day-to-Day Life
Isaac was born at the end of the May and we hadn’t quite completed all of our schoolwork for the year. Not only did we have grief to process but I also was postpartum and had to recover from a birth. The reality is that I had to accept that our school year was not as productive according to my original goals and plans for the year. We kept up with the academics as best we could but lowered our expectations, especially beyond the basics. I had to surrender and rest in knowing that God had other, more important, things He wanted to teach our family.
Our children watch how we handle life and I learned through this experience how critical that is. We set the example for how they will face challenges and sufferings in their lives. I know I don’t always do it right, I make mistakes, but I trust that they are witnessing me growing and turning to God during these times. The funeral that we planned for our son was intentionally for our children’s sake. We wanted them to be impacted by everything they saw and heard and felt during that service. From the time of worship where we proclaimed the praiseworthy attributes of our God to having the children release doves at the graveside, we wanted it to be a memorable time, something they look back on that was spiritually formative in their lives.
As I approach our next school year I am keenly aware that my grief journey is not over. I know it will pop in from time to time and I can’t plan for it or schedule it in. There will be times when it will be far better for everyone if I process my heartache than if I try to ignore it and just power through. So I am determined that we are going to go gently this year. Our relationships are going to be the top priority.
First, our relationships with God and then our relationships with each other. We are going to start our day with Bible study and prayer because ultimately this is the most crucial thing my children need. I read The Insanity of God by Nik Ripkin this summer and he learned through talking to people who have endured and survived persecution, the common theme that enabled these people to make it through with faith intact was the Scripture they knew and the songs they had retained.
Facing death has a way of stripping us of all that doesn’t matter and leading us to cling desperately to all that does. Beyond the focus of spiritual growth, we will seek to just enjoy learning as a family. This probably doesn’t mean I’m going to let my kids off the hook from things they don’t want to do (ha ha!) but my goal is to release myself from any unnecessary expectations and to truly enjoy my children and make memories. Sensitivity to helping our children process thoughts and questions and emotions in their hearts will take precedence over accomplishing everything on our list.
I started out homeschooling getting most of my satisfaction from checking things off the list. Over the years I have learned what a slave driver a checklist can be! But I still struggle to break free from that. There are so many great homeschooling resources out there and so many voices giving us good advice and great ideas. But if we’re not careful, our checklists can grow beyond what is humanly possible! I’m learning that the first voice I need to hear from about parenting and what my children need, is God’s. When I’m overwhelmed with all I think I should do, I go to Him and take His yoke and learn from Him and He gives me rest for my soul.
What advice do you have for a mom who is in a difficult season?
Difficulty, suffering and challenge come to us all at one time or another. The birth of a new baby, moving to a new home, marriage struggles, the range of sickness-from the flu going through the brood to a major health crisis, the loss of a loved one…There are seasons of life where homeschooling and maintaining a productive routine are just hard.
My advice is to slow down and pay attention to relationships. Embrace the learning experiences that happen naturally. Enjoy your children. These are precious years that won’t be repeated, don’t miss them.
Lean into your relationship with God as your anchor and accept what He is doing in you and in your children. Prioritize your relationship with your husband and keep your marriage healthy. And, don’t be afraid to ask for help. We have really benefited over the years from having different young women come and help us with household work once a week or so.
Cheryl’s Favorite Resources
*This post contains affiliate links which means I may make a small commission at no cost to you.
I Will Carry You: The Sacred Dance of Grief and Joy The story of Todd (from the group Selah) and Angie Smith’s loss of their newborn daughter. It encouraged us to make the most of our son’s life even before he was born and to celebrate the significance of him as a person made in God’s image who is now restored and whole and worshipping God in heaven!
Holding On to Hope: A Pathway through Suffering to the Heart of God Guthrie, Nancy An excellent, easy-to-read book based on lessons from the life of Job. I found this incredibly helpful in processing our grief and loss and the chapters are mercifully short for when your brain is tired and overwhelmed!
Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing After Loss: Pat Schwiebert, Chuck DeKlyen, Taylor Bills A picture book that is great for all ages that describes the journey of grief in a creative way.
Journey: Life-Transforming Conversations with God | Bible Reading Plan (journeyeveryday.com) A simple Bible-reading plan to do with your children that involves listening, reading, and responding by journaling.
God’s Big Story Collection – Generations My favorite Bible story books that can be used as a reading curriculum from first or second grade all the way to fifth or sixth grade. I really appreciate the emphasis on God’s redemptive plan that is in every story as well as the emphasis on faith as the appropriate response to God rather than a moralistic, works-based emphasis found in so much children’s material.
Leave a Comment!
Everyone can relate to homeschooling when life is hard in some way or another. If Cheryl’s story resonated with you, leave a comment to let her know!
Also, check out the gallery of Mom Interviews on various homeschooling topics!
Hi, I’m Sheri! I am a Christian saved by grace, married to my high school sweetheart, and a thankful mom to ten incredible kids. I’m a former public school teacher who never thought I would someday be a homeschool mom! Drawing on 13+ years of homeschooling experience, follow along to find help for getting started, tried and true homeschooling advice, life skills learning, simple Morning Time ideas, and interviews with everyday homeschool moms just like you!