Multiple fires across the Pacific Northwest have caused this smoky haze for weeks. Recently, three fires about 60 miles away resulted in thicker ash and smoke that blurred everything for a few days. There is this sense of uncertainty when smoke and ash cover everything and blur the lines in the distance. I found walking out to my car over ash-covered ground to be an unnerving experience. I looked back and could see my footprints outlined clearly in the ash. Looking forward, the path was fresh and clean. There was nothing to stop me from going forward. Well, except the smoke. Lines were blurred and visibility was limited. I looked up and the sun was hazy and distant. It hurt a bit to breathe also. And the smell? Not the fresh cut grass or the roses in bloom, but wood smoke. Everything felt dark and hazy. There was a sense of danger, regardless of how far away the real danger actually is — a feeling that it would be easy to go the wrong way.
Like the smoke in the air and the ash on the ground, life is uncertain and can feel dangerous at times. You take a few steps on a path and you can see where you have been, but looking forward you are unable to see what the future may hold. Sometimes even the strongest Christian can doubt God’s guidance and plan. We start to doubt our choices. Worry, fear, and guilt set in, making it almost impossible to move forward at times.
This is the life of a parent. Whether you are homeschooling, after-schooling, or deciding to send the kids to school, there are no guarantees that you are choosing, have chosen, or will choose the right path. It feels like all paths are smoke covered and booby-trapped. And, stopping isn’t an option; you have to continue forward.
I have been there multiple times with my four children. I think we have done most schooling options. My three boys have been in public school, in the local Adventist school, traditionally homeschooled, unschooled during a time of major upheaval with my daughter, in charter schools, and in online schools. My daughter, due to her special needs, was in a local public school until she was 20. Mix in volunteering, part-time jobs, therapies, music lessons, youth groups, church functions of all sizes, Pathfinders, Boy Scouts, and co-op, and you have all kinds of ways to stress, worry, and add guilt.
There have been tears, anger, fights, frustration, slamming doors, joy, love, happiness, pride, laughter, and great discussions. And, before each change, transition, or step, I agonized over making the right choice for my kids. I worried I was doing it wrong. Was I permanently damaging them in some way because I taught grammar the wrong year, or didn’t teach one pre-algebra? Did I start too early or too late? I was guilt-ridden over the years we skipped everything except math and reading, even though that felt like an accomplishment. More guilt came over only doing the core subjects without supplements or even field trips. There was worry about when to start (none felt ready or had the desire), early graduation (yeah, right), and transcripts and record-keeping (uh, where do I start?). I failed them. I knew it.
Any of this sound familiar? Here’s a secret for you … There is no right or wrong way to homeschool (or not) your kids. You are doing just fine. And the kids? Make sure they can read, write, and do math. Teach them how to learn everything else. Teach them who God is. Teach them about salvation through Jesus Christ. Teach them to love others. Teach them integrity, hard work, and discipline. They are going to be OK. (I promise!)
I have another secret for you: You are not alone. Do you know what you see when the smoke clears? The path is full of others just like you and me — dads who are doubting they did the right thing; moms who are looking at going back to work, struggling with depression, or just trying to pick the right curriculum; parents who have been right where you are now. You are not alone in your fears, worries, anxieties, pitfalls, behavior issues, time management problems, special needs, or any other issue you can name. Need help? Need prayer? Just need to vent? Go ahead, we are here for you. That’s what a community does; we support each other through trials and triumphs.
Want to know another secret? Jesus has your back! The phrase “do not be afraid” is in the bible 365 times. That is one for every day. Joshua 1:9 (NLT) says, “This is my command — be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Even at your lowest (or highest) moments, you always have God. He holds you as you cry after a particularly long day. And that “AHA” moment when the children get it? He is celebrating right beside you.
So, look at that ash-covered path, look up at that smoke-covered sun. Look into that smoke-covered landscape and take a step. Look around, we are all here — some behind, some alongside, some in front. We support each other, as God supports us. Do not let fear of the unknown keep you from the path God is calling you toward, whatever that path may be.