Fall 2019 / Jessica Frierson
Nine years ago, I encountered an injury to my pelvis that left me barely able to walk or lie down, limited in all other movement, and in nearly constant pain. By January of 2018, I was in a wheelchair and doctors were discussing how to save my right leg. Following five MRI’s, multiple x-rays, venous ultrasounds, and even a nuclear study, surgery was scheduled for June to put my separated and twisted pelvis back together with screws, a metal plate, and more screws.
The recovery period involved two weeks in a surgical rehab center, three months of non-weight bearing as I was confined to a hospital bed in my home, and seven months of physical therapy to regain the ability to walk, all while still facing the damage done to lymph nodes that had in turn destroyed nerves in my right leg and foot.
Did I mention that I had six of my ten children to homeschool through all this, as well as babies and toddlers to care for? I kept looking for the remote control on my life so I could push the pause button until we got past the craziness—but like all good remotes, it could never be found.
As you might have guessed, when I look back over all of the days when it seemed like we could not go on, I am reminded of my favorite two words that are repeated throughout the Bible, “BUT GOD…”. I was in too much pain to make dinner, BUT GOD sent someone to show up at my kitchen door with a hot meal that they decided on the spur of the moment to bring to us. There was no surgeon anywhere around us who knew what to do for me, BUT GOD led my orthopedist to a trauma surgeon in Charlotte, who had a colleague in New York, who had refined a new procedure that just might work. I didn’t know how to teach my children while I spent months in a hospital bed set up in my bedroom, BUT GOD showed me new ways to approach their learning needs and gave my children sweet, courageous spirits to work with the limitations we had.
Here are some of the most important things He taught me about how to approach life by bringing His word alive through the principles I learned to apply in physical therapy.
Take one day at a time. (Matt. 6:25-34) You know the joke about how to eat an elephant? One bite at a time. When the future looks too difficult to handle, or the task is too much to tackle, break it down to just dealing with today. At times, circumstances can be so challenging that we need to take it one hour at a time. This brings me to the second lesson.
Set goals to work toward, both large and small. (Hab. 2:2) I learned the value of this while staying at the surgical rehab facility. My first morning there, each therapist and doctor who would be working with me performed an assessment of their specific area of expertise, then developed short- and long-term goals. When simply balancing for five minutes took incredible concentration and putting on my own socks was a major achievement, knowing that one more goal could be checked off was strong motivation. I implemented this approach once I returned home and to homeschooling. Assess each child’s most pressing needs, as well as my own. Set larger end goals, then establish small steps to work your way there.
View setbacks as opportunities to discover something new. (James 1:2-4) When preparing for my post-surgical period, I envisioned a few weeks of having more time than normal to catch up on lesson plans, individual instruction time, and maybe even reading some of my favorite homeschool books that have been gathering dust on a shelf over the past decade. What I didn’t plan for was requiring medication that made my vision blurred, left me with an inability to focus, and caused short-term memory problems. I had to adjust my expectations to fit my circumstances.
Through that process, we discovered a fascinating nature program on TV, developed a new list of favorite worship songs, and found that finger painting can be done on the end of a hospital bed. My children got excited about fixing Mama’s dinner tray while learning some new recipes that I probably wouldn’t have had them try on their own if I had been in the kitchen myself. We found new ways to get the chores done with mom directing from her bed and each child reporting back after doing their assigned chore for a small treat as a reward. My cell phone was full of before and after pictures of messy bedrooms that got cleaned step-by-step by pointing out the next area to tackle in the photo. We learned the value of working together to conquer the obstacles in our path and turning to the Lord for insight when we could not figure out a problem on our own.
Let the kids help find a solution. (Eccl. 4:9-10) One of the most powerful lessons I learned came about when I was crying out to God one day for help and felt a nudge to ask the children what they thought. I presented the problem I was dealing with to them and asked if they had any ideas for how we could solve it. The sensibility and effectiveness of their ideas amazed me!
This was an approach used by my physical therapy team as well. Before being discharged from surgical rehab, my family had a worksheet to fill out about our home—the dimensions of doorways, height of the chair I would use, distance from my bed to the bathroom, and what obstacles I would have to maneuver around. Then they were asked to spend a therapy session with us to learn the exercises they would help me with once I returned home and make suggestions about adapting them to our family’s individual situation. Making them a part of the solution empowered them in a situation that had the potential to make them feel isolated, frightened, or helpless. Instead, they were able to see that they were valuable assets for my recovery. This carried over into our attempts at getting back into a homeschool routine.
Be honest about your needs—with your family and others, but most importantly, with yourself. (Psalm 145:18) Denial doesn’t fix anything and can lead to discouragement faster than addressing the need that is there. Following each of the three therapy sessions I had each day, the therapist would complete another assessment of my progress. If I wasn’t honest with them about the pain I was feeling or the difficulties I was continuing to have with a task, they couldn’t help me take the next step to recovery.
I believe this is what God wants His children to do with Him. He is waiting to provide our needs and pour out His strength to fill our weaknesses, but we fail to receive the fullness of His grace until we see how great our need is for it. As I planned our school days and attempted to reestablish a schedule that would conform to our situation, I realized that one of the biggest impediments to our success was my underlying guilt at having a ten o’clock breakfast, starting school at eleven, or doing a history lesson in the evening. Once I laid aside the unreasonable burdens I had placed on myself, we began to thrive. It made me wonder: how many times are we held back from doing what will work best for our family because we are trying to keep up with some unspoken “rule” that everyone seems to follow?
Get the tools you need to do it. (Phil. 4:19) One of my favorite things about rolling up the hall to the therapy room each morning and afternoon was seeing all the creative ways the patients were learning to manage with their injuries and the tools they were given to do so. A plastic sleeve to put on your socks when you can’t bend over, a stick with a loop on the end to lift a foot whose damaged nerves would no longer trigger the muscles to do their job. We were not sent home until we could get in/out of the bed, shower, and a chair; do a load of laundry, wash two dishes, and prepare a light meal on our own, whether you had two arms or legs or one. The therapists made sure that each patient had the tools they needed to be successful at the tasks basic to daily life.
The same approach worked when I returned to my classroom there on my hospital bed at home. We got a TV and DVD player for our bedroom. Baskets that would slide underneath my bed where I could reach them with my grabber held our school supplies. A wireless printer was set up for my laptop. Online grocery ordering that my husband could pick up on his way home was one way we utilized technology to ease the burden my immobility placed on others.
Find joy in simple things. (Psalm 145:9, Eccl. 5:20) When we look at life from the perspective of eternity, we are released from the cords that bind us to this earthly prison that places demands on our time and affections. Far too easily we allow the pressures of expectations to steal the most precious jewels of this life. Taking time to snuggle, reading a great book together, sitting still to listen—truly listen to a child’s rambling story, family worship time with five children crowded on my narrow hospital bed because everyone wanted to sit next to Mama, and learning a crafty skill for a family project from YouTube videos are the treasures I gained from the past year of recovery.
Some days, the only school we achieved was watching a movie and having a hearty discussion of it afterwards. Somewhere, somehow, in all of that, times tables were memorized, one learned to read and another was accepted by their first choice college. Many finger-painting projects were colored and I was showered almost daily with sweet get-well notes. We read our way through early American history and wrote about our future hopes and dreams. We grew stronger in our faith and closer as a family. This period in our lives was hard and many challenges felt like they were going to break us. We have not yet reached the end of the road to full recovery, BUT GOD… (to be continued!)
Jessica Frierson is a second generation homeschooler now teaching her own ten children. She and her husband, Ernie, knew from the time their first child was born twenty-two years ago that home education would be their only choice. They moved back home to North Carolina in 2000 to take advantage of the less restrictive homeschool laws here. She joyfully serves the Lord through ministry to her family, serving in her local church, writing and encouraging others with the testimony of the treasure of love she has discovered in our Lord Jesus Christ. Jessica is NCHE’s region 2 liaison.