Spring 2021/Jessica Frierson

Have you ever gone through an experience where you look back and wonder, “How on earth did I just make it through that?” If so, then you know just where our family is right now. In the past few months, I have been interviewed by our local newspaper, an out-of-town paper, and NPR radio. Each reporter asked me that question: “How did you make it through that? What kept you going?”

As schools closed this past spring, toilet paper disappeared from supermarket shelves, milk began to be rationed, and the entire world joined together for the first global fashion trend—face masks—our family decided to purchase a new home. Although we had been considering it for some time, circumstances thrust us into this decision at this very strange moment in history.

The next few months were spent house hunting by doing drive-by viewings, signing papers electronically, helping an older child make his first move out on his own, and downsizing to a house half as big as our former one. It was one of the biggest transitions our family has undergone, and it was done during a pandemic.

My first priority at our new house was setting up our school room so that our children could pick up their studies while their father and I worked on getting settled in. Once that was finished, we began constructing a storage shed in the backyard. All of the children pitched in on what was sure to be a memorable learning experience. On day seven of the supposed two-day project, two of my daughters said their throats hurt. I had received air quality warnings on my phone earlier that day due to the Sahara dust storms coming through so I sent everyone else inside and continued working. The following day, I had two strange near-fainting episodes that I wrote off to exhaustion and decided to take a couple of days off to rest. Long story shorter: that was over six months ago, and we still haven’t completed the shed or finished unpacking.

As it turned out, the sore throats were not from a dust storm that drifted over from Africa but from COVID-19 arriving in our household. Its impact on our family will never be forgotten. As one child after another fell ill and then recovered from the initial symptoms, they were about to face a test beyond anything I would have ever planned for them. Both my husband and I ended up being hospitalized with life-threatening complications. Our three teenagers, barely well themselves, were left to care for themselves and their younger siblings. Due to quarantine, they could not go to stay with anyone and no one could come to stay with them. Our homeschool co-op started leaving meals at the door for them, and when I was able to, I placed pick-up orders from Walmart for family members to drop off. Never have I been so thankful for having taught the children how to do laundry, cook, and do household chores!

After being discharged from the hospital, I faced a long recovery. The blood clots in my lungs caused long-lasting lung damage that left me unable to do more than the lightest activity. Talking left me short of breath, tremors made it difficult to hold a book or write, and extreme fatigue drained me after any effort. My children needed reassurance that their mama was going to be okay, but this mama wasn’t so sure of that herself.

After one frightening night of seizures, heart palpitations, and difficulty breathing, I had a good wrestle with the Lord. I pleaded with Him for healing, poured out my gratitude to Him for sparing my and my husband’s lives, and sought His help on how to handle this new world we lived in, both literally and figuratively. As Psalm 121 says, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills, from whence comes my help? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth.” The next day, I woke with the determination to live each day and love those around me to the fullest that I could.

Since I could not speak more than a few sentences, reading history and science lessons was out, and YouTube videos were in. We majored in art, learning how to do watercolor painting together. We minored in whatever wasn’t working out to do at the time. The children took turns planning meals that they could prepare. They spent hours playing games on my bed while I rested. We watched more TV in five months than in the past ten years combined. Oh well, they survived!

That was the most important thing we learned this past year: sometimes all you can do is survive. You put one foot in front of the other. You keep moving forward and don’t give up; you keep trusting and believing that God has this whole mess under control, even when you don’t see His hand or feel His presence. When you are too sick to even walk across the room one day, you get up the next and try again. And somewhere along the path of surviving, you realize you have begun thriving.

A new year has arrived, and COVID was supposed to long be in the rearview mirror. Instead, two of our children are still battling its effects. Our high school-aged son struggles to recall what he just read, writes words backward, and loses his train of thought mid-sentence due to neurological damage from the coronavirus. But he and his fifteen-year-old sister held this family together for months, not knowing if their parents would live or not. Our ten-year-old was at Brenner’s Children’s Hospital twice for post-COVID inflammatory syndrome and is still recovering from those effects. She has hardly left my side, always bringing me an encouraging note or a picture she has painted. Homeschool not only equipped my children to handle this ordeal, but it has provided the freedom we have needed to work our way through it. We can take what each day brings and with the Lord’s help, make the most of it.

So when asked, “How did you make it through all that?” my answer is that you don’t even know how while you are doing it. You just keep on going, hoping, praying, believing. Then you look back and see that somehow you got through it. If you have built your house upon the Rock then when your world gets shaken, after the dust settles you will look around to see that although there may be fallout all around you, you are still standing. Coronavirus may have damaged our lungs, brains, and hearts, but it drew our family together in a way I could never have imagined. Our determination to prevail became the tie that binds us. We will never be the same, and as bad as the doctors see that outcome, we know that it is a wonderful thing. Battle wounds are the badge of courage proudly worn by victors. The lesson plans I had for this year have been traded in for life lessons that will never be forgotten.

Some days, all I can do is snuggle with my little ones and listen to the interminable retelling of a Dude Perfect video for which thirteen-year-old boys have a penchant. In the background of my mind is an ever-present prayer of gratitude that I have been given this moment to hear my son share his amazement at the video he watched or to feel a tiny hand patting my back. Through the haze of doctor appointments mixed with checking math lessons, trying to remember what bills were paid and where we might have stuck the box with our checkbook (COVID brain fog is a monster I have yet to successfully slay), and figuring out what we can put together for dinner, comes a newfound clarity to appreciate the priceless joy of simply being present. I have learned that you can’t place a value on the wonder of being here—alive—together. It is inevitable that we focus so much on the aspects of life—even important ones such as education, healthy food, and studying God’s word—that we fail to grasp what a precious gift life itself is. And the harmony of a family pulling together to take care of each other is the perfect way to wrap that gift. For all that COVID-19 stole from us, our Heavenly Father has returned back to us a hundredfold. Blessed be the Lord, Who daily loads us with benefits, the God of our Salvation! (Psalm 68:19)

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-six 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. Jessica is NCHE’s secretary.