Reaching Beyond Our Family

 

By Sheila Campbell

 

I waved as they drove off and Jennifer waved back, with the excitement of spending the day at the corn maze bursting through her beaming smile. Through the van window I could see my boys eagerly looking ahead, already absorbed in the adventure of the day. I turned back with mixed emotions to see Justin, who sat quietly in his wheelchair, and I gently kissed his cheek. I loved my handicapped son and was grateful for a day to spend alone with him, and I was also grateful for homeschool friends who had offered to take my other children on a field trip organized by our homeschool support group, but my heart was torn—I wanted to enjoy the adventure of a corn maze with my kids, and I wished that Justin were capable of enjoying such an adventure too.

As the van drove away, I thought back to the day only a few weeks after my husband’s death, when our homeschool support group had changed the plans and location of our “end of school” party to help my family. Families arrived at our house armed with food and prepared to spend the day working. While the men built fence and completed some outside projects, the women provided food not only for their families and the men who were working but also enough to last our family several weeks. My heart warmed at the memory, and I once more thanked the Lord for the bountiful blessing of friends.

As I turned back to Justin and the quiet house, it was with a twinge of loneliness.  

Justin was nonverbal, and although he might smile at my conversations and the music and audio books that filled the silent spaces of the house, I still felt the silence. I had several friends with whom I often exchanged childcare—I would keep their children in my home when they needed help, and they would offer to take mine to activities so that I did not have to take Justin, who was easily over-stimulated by crowds and preferred to stay home. However, it was only my mother who ever offered to stay with Justin so that I could attend an event with my other children, which meant she missed out on many of their performances.

As a single parent and the parent of a special needs child, I sometimes felt as if I had a double dose of loneliness. When our support group hosted family events, I went with my children, and I never felt out of place as there were always other women whose husbands were either working or unable to attend for some reason. However, when families gathered in smaller, more informal groups, I often felt left out or like a “fifth wheel.”

There was loneliness in that season of my life that was often overlooked, but it was in that loneliness that the Lord drew me ever closer to Himself, so I have no regrets and look back on that season with special fondness. That season of loneliness also opened my eyes to the needs of others that often go overlooked.

My situation was not unique, and as the number of homeschool families has grown, it has become even more common to encounter single-parent families who homeschool; the number of homeschool families with special needs children is even larger. I would venture to say that almost every homeschool family knows at least one family who homeschools under unique or difficult circumstances. There are a number of ways that families can minister to others who may be struggling.

As a single parent, I wanted my children to be surrounded by whole families, since statistics indicate that children from single-parent homes are far more likely to become single parents. I wanted my children to know how whole families functioned and to experience the fellowship of whole families, and the Lord was gracious to answer my prayer.

Although I often hosted gatherings for the ladies in our group, as my children grew I also began to invite individual families to share a meal and fellowship with us. I would usually invite at least two families so that the men in each family would have fellowship with one another and would feel more comfortable in our home. Later, the Lord provided several families who opened their homes and their hearts to our family and included us in their fellowship. All of those families were dear Christian friends from our homeschool group! Over the years there were even a few special families in which the men embraced the opportunity to fellowship with my boys and were willing to welcome our family into fellowship with theirs without the need for others, which made us feel special indeed!

Today, I listen as my boys talk about the men in their lives, and I am moved to tears with gratitude for men who were willing to be surrogate fathers to my boys. I watch with gladness as these families continue to open their homes and their hearts to other single parents and include them in their fellowship, giving their children living examples of whole, complete families.

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