Monday, November 7, 2016

Chapter 11: Thankful for Courage



I'll let you in on a little, tiny secret: I'm working on self-publishing a book. It's about all the ways we're thankful in each season of this journey. Here's a snapshot...




Chapter 11
Thankful  for Courage
            Courage is a deep word. I think if you were to hold that word in your hands, it would feel round, like a stone, and heavy. Very weighted. It would press deep your into your palms, and you would need to summon the strength of your fingers to flex and hold it firmly, but it would not be so heavy that it could not be fully held. And when I think of the word courage, my mind pictures its physical state to be round. Never-ending. No real definite beginning, and no real ending. Not abstract or jagged. Not distorted or complex. Smooth, round, heavy, yet able to be held, and felt, and experienced. I believe the very act of holding this word would cause your heart to flutter and knees to be weak enough to still stand, but at the same time you would know that you were meant to hold it.
            I’ve been reading through the stories of Kind David recently in order to get a better grasp on just who this king was whose line would be included in that of Jesus. While reading 2 Samuel, I came across the section titled, “David ‘s Prayer of Gratitude” at the beginning of chapter 8. As I read through the lines of text that reveal how King David went before the Lord in prayer and thanked and praised the Lord for all of the mighty ways that the Lord had protected, guided, led, and redeemed David and all of Israel. At the end of this prayer, David basically says that yes, he will build a house for the Lord, just as the Lord has asked. To clarify, this is not technically a house for the Lord, so much as it is a line for Jesus to eventually be born into. What the Lord was really saying was that He had included David into the line of Jesus and that Jesus would inherit that role of King over the eternal kingdom, just as David was king over God’s people here on earth. Incase you’re a bit lost: God was going to use David for something mighty and BIG.
            And instead of backing down, David showed gratitude to the Lord for finding such favor in him to be chosen for this.
            Scripture says in 2 Samuel 7:27, “For you, O Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, have made this revelation to your servant, saying, ‘I will build you a house.’ Therefore your servant has found courage to pray this prayer to you.”
            I love that prayer. I had to read it a few times for it to sink in. When God asked David to do something, David answered that call with courage. I looked up a few other versions of the Bible, and each one I found used the word courage. Courage is defined as the ability to do something that frightens someone, and in biblical terms, that can also mean the ability to do what the Lord is asking them to do, regardless of what earthly men would say. I’m thankful to see the vulnerability of David as he confesses that he needs courage to do a task that the Lord is calling him to.  God placed a calling on David, and David responded, with courage and thankfulness. That calling was the Lord using David in the great lineage of Jesus. I think David recognized such an enormous calling was before him to keep his eyes focused on the Lord, and to continue to be an example of one living for the Lord. Did he mess up? Yes. Did he make bad choices at times? Yes. But did David stay true to the heart of the Lord and keep Him in focus? Yes.
            I guess that’s how we responded when we first began to discover the pieces of the puzzle that was Chloe’s diagnosis and then plan of delivery and treatment. We knew that God was placing a calling on our hearts to give this child life, and with that meant clinging hard to all that God had already taught us and all the way’s He had already led us and protected us in order to give us the courage that it would take to accept this calling. God did not just ask us to do this suddenly. I think that the Lord led us gently into this season.
We did not even take the time to consider alternative options when faced with the news of our first ultrasound with Chloe because we already had the knowledge that the Lord creates us each to be fearfully and wonderfully made, and our daughter was no exception. In our hearts, we already knew that God doesn’t make mistakes, especially when He is designing a child, a person in His own image. To say that Chloe, or any other child born with a deformity or abnormality or trisomy or anything that man believes is deemed unworthy of life, is to say that God made a mistake and didn’t get this one right. But when you stop to consider that God makes us each fearfully and wonderfully in His own image, then perhaps His own image is beautiful enough to be perfect even if that image is different than what society says is normal. Perhaps that image is still His, even if it bears a Hypoplastic Right Heart and a mosaic trisomy. What if it takes a broken heart to be used to remind us that God is in control, that He is beautiful, that He can teach us compassion and love and grace and wisdom through this tiny heart? I don’t think Chloe’s heart needed to be perfect to teach us that. I think the Lord has taught more about who He is and what He is about and how to love and live more like His Son through the seasons we’ve traveled with Chloe.
            But it took courage for us to embrace each of those things. It took courage to look death in the eye before her heart surgeries and heart cath and say that our God was still good. God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness. In our darkest moments with Chloe, we felt the closest to the Lord and in the surrendering of our will to His. Courage to be vulnerable with this journey. Courage to live out each day fully, even the fearful ones and the messy ones, even the lively ones and joy filled ones.
            And all of that started slowly, gradually circling around the same truth, that God was good and for us and for this child that was being designed intricately in the depths of my womb. That’s where the roundness of the word courage comes in. We didn’t see it coming when God allowed me to conceive Chloe. Our breaths slowly echoed that word as we watched the screen on every single ultrasound over four long months. We wouldn’t know the extent of it until we met her upon her entry into this world, when she drew in air to her lungs through that cleft lip for the very first time. This same courage grew with each surgery, each time we’d face uncertainty, and each time we would learn to stand up and advocate for our daughter. C.S. Lewis wrote that, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality.” The courage itself has always been building, always circulating with strength, and always will be, even to the day that Chloe might go to be with the Lord, because the Lord has called us to this task, and we choose to follow Him.
            That brings me to the most courageous part of all. The courage to let go. With our daughter, she’s a grey zone baby, as I’ve mentioned before. We simply do not know, based on all of her unique set of circumstances and rare trisomy, how many days we have with her. In the words of one of her NICU doctors, “It could be three days, three weeks, three years, or thirty years.” There’s this sacred, secret dance of grief that we play in the background, always wondering and fearing quietly if today is the day, or is this week the week? Not every day. Not every week. But it’s there. That’s the part of courage that I dread the most. The someday saying goodbye. For now, we learn to accept the small bits of grief. That she can’t quite yet sit up on her own. That we can’t hear her voice or the word mama with her trach in. That she’s half the size of her peers. That she’s developmentally very far behind, and that only time will tell how far she will advance. At this point, she cannot crawl, or walk. We know there’s a bigger grief that will one day come, and we pray for courage to accept that day, whenever it is for her. But for now, we choose to embrace each moment, and pray for the courage we’ll need to face more in the future.
            We’re thankful that He is our guide in this. Our family is grateful that we have a God who is bigger and mightier than we could ever imaging, and that the Lord is the one equipping us with the courage needed in this task to raise our medically fragile daughter, and allowing us to be brave enough to love her without any guarantees in the face of this calling.  



Thursday, October 6, 2016

To Abide



Yesterday I decided on a whim to throw away the afternoon to-do list and get some lawn work done before more rain and busy comes this weekend. I managed to get the front lawn mowed and while in the process of mowing, discovered that the giant bush//plant//tree-thing in our side lawn by the fence was growing a wicked creature whose limbs were entwined and entangled around the bush, over the fence, and through the wooden slats. From the scientific wording in the previous sentence, that should tell you the extent of my knowledge of plant life, but even with the lack of skill in describing correctly the massive greenery before me, I still knew what a vine that didn't belong looked like, and that it was taking over the beauty of that bush, slowly suffocating the life out of the once vibrant branches.

Having just cleaned the garage, I found my husband's leather work gloves, the kind that only cover the palm but leave your fingers bare to the elements and presumed sawdust. I think this is because the genius minds behind the glove design assume you'll cut a finger off so they save the good leather for the rest of the hand. Either way, they were huge on me, and the leather felt awkward as I'm not a carpenter and do not wear these type of gloves on a routine basis, but I figured they'd help protect my hands from thorns.

With my oldest kids in tow, we started cleaning out the vines that had tangled the bush. I take that back. My son helped while my middle child decided to take a nap on the family swing in the yard, gazing off and daydreaming with the clouds. She always manages to get out of the hard work. My son, the helpful child, decided to wear some of his sisters latex medical gloves, I suppose because to him a glove was a glove. He had yet to learn that just because it was on his hand, that didn't mean the thorns would protect him and not poke through, though as our work got under way my son slowly discovered that these were not the right gloves for the job. Surprisingly he stayed beside me and continued to help, just being more careful with where he reached for the vine at to avoid more thorny thickles (as he calls them).

Somewhere in the midst of yanking vines and untangling branches and feeling all of the tiny thorny thickles prick my fingers, I was reminded that my life is like that giant bush, and the vines taking slow residence are like the world, slowly creeping in to fill the gaps where I let my guard down or I let life in general take over without keeping my eyes on the cross in the process. Often this life with not just Chloe and her needs, but raising our young family in general, leaves those gaps open these days and I'm left to summon the strength to reach in and pull those thistle strewn vines out and away, trying to be cautious and aware of their presence so that they do not fully overcome me.

And then sometimes, I'm learning that I cannot be the one to pull all of those weeds away. No matter how much I reach and stretch, there are still weeds at the top of that bush that are sitting up there, dancing in and around each delicate branch without care as to how much life it is taking from the bush. I stood on the curb beside the wooden fence and tried to hold the fence with one hand, balance on one foot, and lean in and reach through the thorny bush to get to the prickly vine, and when my fingers finally touched the edge, only a sliver of the vine was I able to pull down. I didn't even care that I was reaching through thorns in order to do this, but I was determined to get that vine out one way or another. I could have gotten a ladder, but it wouldn't reach them all even still. I could have asked another person to help, to intervene but even they would not have been able to reach the top weeds.

I pondered the fact that try as I may, only He can reach the weeds that are wrapped around my heart and need removed. Only the Lord can then breathe new life into me and grow me again. And only with God can I even be willing to reach my hand into thorny territory of what is in hopes of cleaning out the mess that is within in order to restore the richness to this plant that once was. I could leave them there, out of sight//out of mind strategy, but as with any weed, they'll just continue to grow more. Although it'd mean more work, more effort to ease them out, it would be the better choice in the long run. I could try to protect myself in the process and do it on my own but that was proving too big of a job. I could carelessly just try to fix it, just like my son thinking that any piece of material covering his hands would surely do the job and protect him from getting hurt by the thorns. I knew better for him. I knew those latex gloves were nothing but a single thin layer, ready to break the instant a thorn speared through them, and was able to explain that to him so that he was more careful with how he untangled the messy vines. Likewise, my Father knows what will best protect me and what will help me to carefully remove the tangled mess while still keeping the beauty of the plant intact.
 
So I choose Him. He gets the bid. He gets to do the job of restoring the delicateness that is beneath the tangles. And then
He reveals the blossom of a new flower. Life again. Breathed back in, no longer choked by the weeds of this world. Yes, it hurt to pass my flesh by those thorns in order to accomplish the work before me, but I'm finding the more I abide in Him, and He in me, the more beautiful those blossoms are, and how much more often they're in bloom.


Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Messy Devotion

I spent last night trying to find a sitter for child #2 so that I could take child #1 to an appointment today. We raise the stakes high when it comes to finding a sitter as they need to be of the utmost health. We stress the importance of, "Well do you think it's just sniffles or a cold?" Because Chloe. I thought of one more person to message at {cringe} midnight, and they responded this morning that yes it'd work!

And then my son threw up. And has a temp of 100. And a few other unmentionable bodily happenings. 

And so began my day. Text friend, "Oops, nevermind." Call and reschedule appointment. Inform nurse of a bug in our home and suggest she wait this one out {so yep, I'm the nurse today!}. Firstborn is nestled snug in his Disney Planes fleece with iPad and headphones and barf bucket nearby. Child #2 ate sugar for breakfast. Child #3 is pooping. Seriously, she has about 4 morning diapers, each of which are intense for her to make, so it's kind of a thing for everyone to endure her morning diapers. 

This is not the day I had planned out. This set of circumstances was not scripted onto my daily planner. Just like flying Chloe to the hospital last weekend for possible seizures was not on the family calendar either (we're home now, she's OK, update to come). Our days can only be planned so much, and today was one of those days. I sat down with my steaming small cup of Apple Cider Donut Coffee and had one simple revelation: If I was going to survive this day, I needed Jesus. I parked myself in front of my home office, complete with organized bins from Target home section and a beautiful fall bouquet, the blooms of which were catching the morning light streaming through the window above my daughter's white IKEA crib.


I added the sun glare so that one of the statements above was true, and by adding it, it somehow managed to disguise my Dove chocolates that were consumed last night while editing photos from a recent session. Why yes, that is a Yoda mouse pad. Nope, that's an average 6oz coffee mug. And doesn't everyone have a pill crusher on their desk? 


Turning to my friend YouTube, I searched from a quick video devotional to kick start this day in the right direction, then ten minutes later posted this plea to Facebook:

Trying to find a quick 5 minute video devotional to watch to jump start my day. Needs to be video so I can listen while helping with Chloe or I'll never get through reading it. But alas, alack. Just once I want to see a woman sharing a devotional video where there's a poopy baby in the background, sounds of a screaming child, and her sitting on her bed surrounded by piles of dirty laundry. Bonus points if she has old cups on her nightstand and a few fruit flies flying around the screen for good measure. I don't know if I can take any of the devos where there's a picture perfect room flooded with trinkets and frames from Hobby Lobby and the host has perfectly cut hair that doesn't move from the pound of hairspray. 
Ok. Rant over. Now whatcha got? Any good video devotional sites? Cause I got nothin' but all I know is I need Jesus and refill on the coffee.

So there it was. I laid it out. I needed real. I needed someone to relate to the messy.

As I was taking temps and changing diapers, replying to responses on my FB rant, and commiserating with other mamas about messy houses, I realized I wasn't sure if I'd done something on my morning checklist, so I quick google chatted my hubs to ask his opinion on something. Conversation as follows...


Yes. Truly. You see it, don't you? "Can you send me a pictures of the master bathroom..." {awesome grammar by the way}. In the middle of my muddled messy morning, he's asking for pictures of my bathroom. We rent from the church where my hubs works, and the secretary was requesting images of the bathroom so they can order new tile. Great reason. Bad timing. Here's what I sent back, after I laughed out loud and said, "You're kidding me, right?" {To which my husband responded, "Well she asked if she could just come over and look, and I said no."}


You'll notice my husband just didn't have words to respond with on that last one. And no, not a real Squatty Potty, just a five year old who refuses to put her stool back after she's used it to stand on and steal my jewelry. And yes, that's TP that made it 2 inches from the trash can. It compliments well the  TP in the other picture on the counter that made it 2 inches from actually going on the roll. 

Want to hear the punch line? Want to know something funny? This week's bible study challenge was to think on who God is and that we should rely on Him. What it looks like to rely on Him. Which was exactly what I tried to do this morning when I sat down at my IKEA desk next to my daughter's crib. And then proceeded to fumble through the pre-lunch hours. 

I think this happens so often with young moms, and others as well. We have these good intentions of spending time in the Word and with the Lord and then chaos ensues and we're left hours later in the aftermath of the day wondering how it passed so quickly without us taking much time to spend with Him. We give. To everyone. We answer the kids, answer the phone, answer the emails, answer the oven when it's beeping, answer the beeps when they're ringing off {in our house at least}. We answer the door in our sweats and unbrushed hair and unbrushed teeth to receive the package of daily injections for our daughter. I really wonder what FedEx Man thinks of stay at home moms, who answer the door often disheveled with bags under our eyes. That, my friends, is why they run back to their trucks. It's not because of some time schedule. It's because of us scaring them off. Try it next time. Try striking up a conversation with FedEx Man at your door. I guarantee he'll run off. {And I had to look up how to spell scaring or scarring. Typing scaring into Google results in scaring goats, which is actually a really funny thing to watch. You should try it sometime.} 

So here I am. Reflecting deeply, obviously, about my day and how in the midst of answering to everything, how do I rely on Him? Because as a mama, it's hard to sit still and focus for any amount of time. And all I can come up with is that I rely on Him because He is my only source of strength and support. At the end of the day, the coffee didn't truly fill me up. The chocolate didn't truly fill me up. The kids and husband, even with all their fun joy and laughter and moments do not fully fill me up. I need Jesus. I need the One who made me and knows me better than myself to fill me up. "He hems me in, behind and before," says Psalm 139. He knows me enough to know what I need. I'm preaching to the choir here when I say all this because I need reminded of this daily as well or I'll stray away. I need a tribe of women to text me and keep me grounded in the Word and in Him when I feel like I'm floating and drifting into the sea of overwhelminghood and the waves of the daily mundane. 

If you scroll back up, closing your eyes past the pictures of our master bathroom, and open them again on the image of my office, you'll see the image on the far right screen as that of the Sea of Galilee. I Googled that image specifically because my children didn't believe Jesus really walked on water or calmed the storm. They're in that phase of asking if actors and stories are really real. No, Tinkerbell is not real. Yes, the Wild Kratz brothers are real. No, not the cartoons of them, just the real people of them at the beginning and end of the show. Then I put that image up as my desktop wallpaper, because I need reminded too that Jesus is real. 

So yes, kids, Jesus is also real. He did calm the storm and walk on the water of that very sea. Because when His people called out to Him for help, He showed up. Regardless of the fact that the Miracle Man was just. trying. to. get. some. sleep. (can we all relate). He still woke up and showed up and calmed everything. When His buddies in the boat tried to save themselves before waking Him, it was to no avail, but when they called upon His name, He made the seas to still, the lightning to cease, and the thunder to stop roaring all because He is God. And lest we forget, there was indeed a storm first. It wasn't all just dribbles of rain. We're talking downpour. Illustration for life, perhaps? Just because they walked with Jesus doesn't mean they didn't have storms.  But they had the Calmer of the Storm with them. 

In response to my bible study question, I rely on Him because I'm broken and tired of relying on myself or others. I rely on Him because He shows up. When everything and everyone else lets me down, He shows up. If the number on the scale in that bathroom image lets me down, He shows up and reminds me that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. If I lose it with the kids, He reminds me to forgive myself and show more grace to my kiddos. If I have a crazy day, week, month or year to the tune of F*R*I*E*N*D*S, He shows up and reminds me that He is good, and that He works all things for the good of those who love Him. Because He is bigger than me. 

And in that truth is where I find rest. 



*Sea of Galilee image as desktop image credit: shalomholytours.com 







Saturday, August 20, 2016

Back to School




Back to school routines started tonight. After a couple weeks with a grandma filling the house with joy and loud, crazy bedtimes, there was instead a peace filled stillness that crept through our house around 7:30 PM as the wind-down began. Bubble baths, soaped up kids who used the entire bottle of body wash, squeaky clean bodies curled up beside us, my chin resting on the damp locks of a redhead who's about to turn five. Storytime, prayer time, then rest.

Well, before you think we're rockstar parents at this back to school routine, that's about the 3rd time all summer that this event occurred, and my guess is we'll keep it up for about 4.2 weeks then return to getting to bed too late and night time tantrums. On that note, there was one of those this evening as well.

Somewhere wedged between bath time and reading time I realized that this is our first ever actual back to school bedtime routine. Three years ago we had a not-quite four year old who I was teaching bits and pieces of letters and numbers to, a one year old just two weeks shy of turning 2, and was about fifteen days away from a positive pregnancy test. Two years ago we had decided to homeschool preschool due to our youngest's NICU stay and germs, and were kissing and crying our kids away as we drove the two hours back to the hospital where we'd hold and rock our sweet four month old to sleep the eve of her first heart surgery {that she wasn't expected to survive}. And last year we were once again living in tight quarters at the Ronald McDonald House of Kansas City, watching the days on the calendar play a game called wait out the virus and get to the next heart surgery before her shunt closed off. While other parents were dropping their kids off on their first day of Kindergarten, we were dropping ours off at the O.R.

So this is the first year, I guess, that we get to tackle this back to school routine thing. The first year that I get to purchase school supplies, bring them home, and disperse of them in the correct cubbies, nooks, and crannies of the homeschool room instead of shoving all the books plus two colored pencils and one broken pencil sharpener into the Thirty-One tote(s), haul it to the van, and try to figure out what subject isn't worth the weight in gold, or in carrying strength, once we arrive at our temporary second home. This is the first year that I get to have all three kiddos in the same house as we read aloud and sing songs, learn to write our full name and full sentences and full wean off the vent. Learn more about counting our ABC's and numbering our alphabet to twenty-six. We wrote out a schedule and are starting new routines.

Routine is a strong word in our household, but also a mysterious word. Routine means meds at 8am//9am//9:30am//2pm//3pm//4pm//8pm//9pm//12am. Routine means daily trach cares and physical therapy and cuddles. Routine means we all ate a breakfast//lunch//dinner without a minor {or major} medical issue. Routine means we're home and thriving.

But routine around here means it can be broken at anytime. Take the kids to the park? You bet. What? Chloe needs an emergency trach change? Sideline that park time, but I'll make it up to you with a movie tonight and popcorn. Help you clean your room like I promised? Well, we need to wait a bit until Daddy is home so that Mommy can keep helping Chloe in the front room. Date day Friday with the hubs all scheduled while the nurse watches Chloe and the kids watch the sitter. Scratch that, sitter sick, no back ups on short notice and nurse doesn't work the weekend so we'll reschedule for one, maybe two more weeks out due to appointments and therapies the following week. It's OK, that date day only took three weeks to plan out. Family vacation? HA! Oy. Not even gonna go there...

It's so weird, this juxtaposition of actually being home and having routines, yet at the same time needing to be so incredibly flexible. But in all honesty, our kids rock flexible. Then again, this life is all they've ever known since the ages of 3 and 1. They don't really understand that this many therapies and appointments and phone calls to the doctor and pieces of medical equipment aren't usually found in the common household. While most parents worry that they locked the cleaning supply cupboard, we try to hide the sharps container out of sight and reach.

I was standing over the kitchen counter last week was hovering over the steaming coffee pot last week (the one that I forgot to fill the water in before turning on), half awake after a long night that could rival a newborn on day four at home when that surreal thought just washed over me for the umpteenth time.

I didn't sign up for this.
I didn't see this coming.
I didn't know this was in the realm of possibilities when I accepted my college diploma and thought about where I want to be in ten years life plan. This sort of stuff happened to other people. Not me.  Meet handsome man: CHECK. Serve the Lord and hope our household honors Him: CHECK. Have adventures with handsome man: CHECK. Have this type of adventure where we allow God to walk deeper into our lives, ironically the life He is allowing us to breathe in each day in the first place, and let Him interrupt it for His glory and kingdom and let Him call the shots: Whoa. Check, I guess? Yes. Check. YES. CHECK.

We're there now. We get it now, three years into this path, this unexpected twist in the gravel road of our almost-perfect little American life, the reminder of whose life this really is, and how much more there is to this life if we let God direct it. We've learned to trust God that whatever this is He's walking us into, that He will see us through it. Daily. Each moment. The scary chest compression//purple baby moments. The celebration of the end of summer reading moments. The weaning off the vent moments. The joy in seeing my child read moments.  The learning to have a flexible routine. And when we're weary, we go back to Him. Again and again to fill our cups. Because we get drained often on this adventure. But He continues to fill us up. And it's worth it.

Taste and see that He is good, and that He works all things for the good of those who love Him.

And ask yourself if you are willing to let God interrupt your routine//life for His glory.

{And if you're already on one of His adventures, then we pray for endurance and strength balanced with the utmost of joy.}




Saturday, August 6, 2016

Restoration





Through the tall dusty door that hung below the home made basketball hoop, paint chipping and falling as my fingers touched the wood, sliding it to the left on its worn and rusty track, would slowly appear before me a playground of rusty metal, vintage signs, tin containers, bike parts, metal cabinets, dirt covered empty feed sacks. Piles of old window frames, buried beneath layers of rusted tools and nails. 

I would sneak in quietly and stand among the dust that floated in the light coming through the broken glass of the window pane in my grandfather's shop and pretend to be a statue. If I moved, then the kittens would scatter and hide in the debris of farm life. But if I stood as still as possible, moving only a few inches every few minutes, then I was better able to catch a glimpse of the calico fur hiding inside the hallow tire. And maybe, just maybe, if I was still enough, they'd come out of hiding so I could scoop them up and play with them. Sometimes I was lucky and still enough for this to happen, but most of the time was spent being that statue that wouldn't blink as to spook the kittens. As I stood still, I'd take in everything around me and think through the layers and piles of metal and wood that sprawled out haphazardly before me. 

I'm still in love with that scene. I still decorate with a balance of wood and metal. Tin and worn, distressed furniture. Perhaps its because it takes me back to my childhood spent on my grandparent's farm. Or perhaps it's simply because I love the distressed, time-worn pieces. They have life to me. I can picture what my grandpa must have been trying to fix when he probably dropped that tin can on the floor and dented the side in. Mason jars lined his workbench, filled with nails and screws. I can smell the sawdust whirling around in the air as the wood was stripped from its original glory and created into its new glory, like the little wooden trailer that would be hooked to the old rusty red truck and toted around the fields carrying cousins and friends through the corn under the harvest's heavy orange moon. 

Judging from the home products featured in stores these days, and popular home shows that teach how to take old furniture or old homes and restore them to a new glory, I'm guessing I'm not the only one who likes the vintage farmhouse look. There are those who love the thrill of the pick as they sort through piles of someone else's junk to find that one piece of treasure that they can redeem and make new again. I recently watched a show on Netflix where a team of guys goes around to old homes or 19th century warehouses and takes history from that building-things like mantels and original hardwood floors, Victorian lamp posts and old makeshift cupboards, then they put a little string through a marked-up price tag and sell that piece of history for profit. Because people will buy it. They'll buy the marked up and scar covered old church pew. They purchase the 1859 original bay window seat and work it into the floor plans of their new construction home. They take the old battered hardwood floor and lay it carefully into their home and walk into the future while stepping on the past. 

One particular scene struck me. The team took a large, elaborate bay window out of a house built around the mid 1800's. It was a delicate step by step process as they first sawed off around the window while another set of guys hoisted straps around the window. Outside the house there was a forklift waiting for the window. The idea was to gently slide the window out of the house standing all around it, a team of men on the inside and a team on the outside having a tug of war with the straps so that the window balanced straight up, while at the same time allowing the fork lift to slowly lower the window down to the ground, hopefully in one piece. I was in awe of how careful of a process it was to remove this tattered yet beautiful piece from its original location so that it could be restored and made beautiful once again in a new location. 

Let's apply that same principle of restoring something worn but beautiful to our own lives, which God takes, no matter how messy and torn, and He restores them. Like the team of eight men that carefully lowered that window without breaking a single window pane, God gently pulls us out of our current location of pain or affliction or selfishness or wherever our heart might be, and kindly and carefully restores us back, but this time refining us each step of the way. He takes something that was already beautiful and He sees past the scars and marks and scratches, and He restores it into something new. There might still be physical scars, but our hearts will be changed. He restores to us the joy of our salvation. 

Can we let the Lord toss us and turn us toward Him, even if it means temporary affliction and tattered dreams? Will we be able to hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant," if we don't have a single scar to show because we were more concerned about a life of perfection, than recognizing our sins, repenting, and allowing the Lord to graciously refurbish us again? Do we allow Him to restore us often enough, or do we seek the world to do so? Do we trust the original carpenter of our life to make us new, over and over again, refining us through fire and flood? God's word does not say that the flood waters won't ever come or that the fires will always stay without flame. No, God's word says, "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned and the flame shall not consume you," Isaiah 43:1-2. 

Sin and suffering will enter our lives, at least as long as we're following the Lord. But the question is if we will allow those times to make us more beautiful in His eyes? Will we rejoice and dance at a life lived with risks and leaps of faith and seasons of waiting and tears of sorrow and wrinkles of understanding and scars of faith? 

Whatever the trial or affliction, or even small and temporary pains, whether it's just a gentle rainstorm  of a rough patch in a friendship, or a massive thunderstorm of illness or loss of job-press into it and find what it is that God is trying to rebuild in you, how is it that He is working to refine you in order to make you even more beautiful than you already are. 
Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A Letter to New Homeschool Parents (And Reminder To Myself)




It's 3:30am, and I'm sitting here by the glow of the computer screens {my husband has three monitors, so by glow I mean broad daylight} waiting patientlyish for my littlest to decide if and when she'll be going back to sleep, and my mind is racing about all that I didn't get done for tomorrow.

Because tomorrow, well, today, starts Homeschool Review Camp!! Yay!!! {Slightly forced excitement}.

To my kids, HRC is two weeks of jumping back into school, reviewing some of last year's things they learned, and getting to finally use our new homeschool room while sitting at the big table with the new bench that their daddy just made for them.

For me, HRC is a chance to introduce routine and discipline of schedule back into what was our first lazy and quiet summer in a long time. The break was good for us all, but we're realizing the kids need more structure again. I really am excited to teach my littles again this year, but there's a part of me that longs for summer to not end.

So we call it review camp, and my son tells me that since it's camp we'll need tents and to sleep in the basement by the school room. By all means, son, go right ahead, but I will just glamp upstairs in my comfy bed. The bed that I am currently out of even though slumber should be overtaking us all.

I'm sitting here realizing all that I forgot to prep for tomorrow's first day of camp. I had this plan to make little name cards and put at the table by the new bench, welcoming the kids back to school. I needed to print off those math review worksheets. I looked three times at our theology school book on my daughter's floor thinking, "Gee, I really need to see which chapter we're going to start with tomorrow morning during breakfast," but was always in the process of another chore and never went back in to the enemy territory to get the book. If you saw her floor you'd consider it as such as well. Maybe that's why I didn't venture back into her room for the book: fear.

Speaking of fear, we got our letter today officially recognizing Cedar Crest Academy as an accredited private school. No pressure. You know, just the state of Kansas, future universities and everyone my children will interview with for a job one day will need to know this...

Realizing all I did not get accomplished like I'd hoped paired with all I hope to accomplish this year made me realize just how far I've come in my long two year stretch of teaching. We started haphazardly with one foot in the NICU and the other foot at the Ronald McDonald House teaching preschool to our oldest. I'd never planned on homeschooling, but we were realizing that with the delicate care of our youngest, life lived in hospitals and appointments, that we might not have another option.  The Lord wanted me to teach, but I did not. It was a work in my heart that He had to do to get me here, with ample amounts of tugging and pulling, but by the end of the preschool year, I was ready to dive into teaching Kindergarten.

You know that saying, "Ready or not, here I come!" Yep, that was me. I never knew if I was ready or not to teach my children their schooling, but we dove in nonetheless. I've been blessed with many friends who also homeschool and who have mentored me, but it's still just something I had to learn on my own by being hands on with the whole idea. So here's a letter, written to the new homeschool parent, or as a reminder to seasoned ones, or just a letter to me from me, as a pep talk for the coming school year...

Dear Homeschool Parent {Me},

You're here. You've arrived. Or arrived again. And your mind is already excited about pencils and fresh lined paper. The smell of a new book just waiting to be opened and read to eager kiddos who are aching for adventure to begin. The dust of the chalk (because I'm vintage like that). The stain of the marker. The tape. Oh the endless tape.

There will be days where you've prepped to your heart's content, fully responsible and ready to steer this ship. And other days you'll think you're not even the captain of this ship. This usually happens when a child gets you off topic in something called a rabbit trail. Or a scissor attack. Or a tantrum of the highest magnitude. Or when you're trying to teach a concept to a child less than half your height and wondering if you're even forming the right words to express the meaning you're trying to convey. Either way, your heart is in the right place with your mind focused on helping these littles to learn.

There will be days you feel guilty. That you slept in more before school started because the baby was up in the night. That you didn't get all of that chapter read yesterday. That you didn't prep and believe that lesson planning is best planned at 9:04am when your mind is fresh and focused and class started three minutes ago. That you only did four days of school this week instead of five because you just. couldn't. handle. it. all. That you took that week of fall break because the weather was beautiful, but feel guilty because public school is still in session right now. There are so many guilt traps. I got stuck in many of those last year. The last two years. Let them go. Let the guilt wash away while realizing that the reasons for the guilt are actually replacing the very joy that comes with schooling at home. No you are not lazy for starting school at 10:30am if it's what works best for your family's schedule. No you are not behind if you took one day off because your family needed a day of life and no stress in your current season or situation. No you are not in trouble if you plan for random week long breaks in months like October and February. No you are not a failure if your child is not picking up on the concept by the time the workbook says they should. Guilt is the robber in the bank of joy. Wow. Crazy metaphor there. Blame it on 4am. But it's so true. Pick your stride with schooling, and roll with it. Change things like schedules and start times as needed until you find your groove. Give yourself grace. Daily. Give your kids grace as well.

Remember that there's no right way to school. I struggled with this. Before even fully deciding on schooling my son's preschool, I was already scared of doing it all wrong. After all, his education and future dreams of being a Lego Engineer do rest fully upon my shoulders. No pressure. And my daughter wants to be a doctor and artist. Again, no pressure. {I'm sure in five minutes they'll change their minds anyway. I wanted to be a country singer when I was their age and looking to the future. That obviously didn't pan out so well}. I digress. The point is that you can study up on homeschool philosophies, attend conferences, read the latest book on how to best school at home, but ultimately, it comes down to the simple fact that there's no right way to do this. There will be days you didn't quite get it right, and days when you feel a sense of accomplishment and pride in what you do. And either way is OK. I still remember the day my friend looked at me and said, "Oh, so you do the Charlotte Mason philosophy!" The whu-huh? I'd never thought about my teaching philosophy before. I just went with how I knew to school my kids. I have to answer the what curriculum do you use question with my own because I'm still piecing it together myself. It's just what I've discovered works best for my children's current school year, though it took me a full year to say that with confidence. I also referred to sounds made by two letters (oo, ou, ow) as double letter sounds until a friend said, "Um, those are called blends." I felt stupid for not even knowing the correct term. It was little things like this that at first made me think I wasn't cut out for all this teaching stuff. But the Lord was gentle to remind me that He will give me the knowledge I need to help my children to learn. James 1:5-6 says, "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind." If I earnestly seek the Lord for His wisdom and knowledge, He is good to grant that to me. I'm not saying neglect researching teaching methods or any sort of planning or such because He'll just fill my head with what I need to know. What I am saying is that if I seek Him on this topic of schooling my children, He has been and will be good to provide me the insight I need to know what to research, where to study up on things, bless me with mentors, and so on. Ask for wisdom. Pray for wisdom. Ask others for their wisdom on the topic. Then choose which way works best for you and your family.

The rewards are bountiful. After days, or weeks, maybe months of working on a particular skill, task, subject, there's this light up moment in your child when everything clicks and they get it. That thing that was so hard to grasp is now fully in their grip. That concept that they just couldn't wrap their mind around is now known. That word that they struggled to read all year is suddenly so effortless to read. There will be rotating seasons where it's hard and it's grueling at times, but to see that child glow when they finally accomplish what was set before them is nothing short of amazing. And as the teacher, you have the front row seat to this show. You get to be the first one to listen to them read. To hear them count to twenty. To line their letters up in order after weeks and weeks of struggling with letter recognition. But it'll come. The joy of homeschooling is that I've learned it comes with no stone timeline. There are areas where my children will leap with knowledge and understanding, and other areas where it'll take more time, but the joy is that we can choose that time together and learn at their own pace. I can let go of the guilt of thinking we're not measuring up or meeting the standards that their peers are meeting and instead focus on my children alone and their successes and needs, access it together, set a plan to work, and then watch them begin to grasp it well in their own way. On the days that are the hardest, and I feel I'm pushing the most against a wall {aka child} I need to remember that in time, there will be a sweet reward when it all finally comes together. I need to remind myself now of the patience I'll need then, to be steadfast in this good work because eventually it will pay off. I might need a few extra coffee breaks and hide-in-the-bedroom-breakdowns, but it will pay off. Note: I don't say this all wishy-washy as someone who just knows my child will grasp the concept easily or in time without regard to the parents out there who have children who might struggle with learning disabilities and such. Please know this comes from the heart of a parent who has children on the spectrum of anything from gifted to a child who has a serious developmental delay. I'm the parent who has a talented child who is doing 2nd grade math before he starts first grade. I'm also the parent of a sweet girl who is 2.5 years old and has just now learned to grasp something with both hands at the same time. I've rejoiced greatly and equally in both rewarding moments. Yes it takes perseverance, and strength, and character to push through the hard days, but it's worth it.

Finally, support your fellow parents who send their children to public or private school. You'll also find that they support you. We're all in this for the common goal of educating our children to a brighter future. I know that sounds cliche, but it's true. And that whole it takes a village thing? Yeah, that one is true as well. This year let's take down any divider wall between our beliefs in homeschooling vs. public schooling and instead choose to support the parents and teachers on both sides. Encourage the mom who works and sends her son to school early. Ask if you can help her and drop him off to school even just once a month so she can feel less rushed. Encourage the homeschool mama who's got a plate full of crazy before her and drop her off a coffee before a long day of lessons.  Encourage and support the moms who are teachers in the home, and the teachers who are moms but teaching a classroom full of students that aren't their own children. Teaching our littles is a community effort, not an individual one.

Let's recap: There's no right way to school. Give yourself grace. Let go of any guilt and comparison. Ask the Lord for wisdom to help you grow in your teaching. Remind yourself of these things often. Daily if need be. Persevere through the hard subjects and difficult lessons.  And rejoice in the little ah-ha moments.

Happy New School Year. {Now go buy those supplies before they're all the Frozen folders are gone!}


Monday, June 20, 2016

Diving In



Our oldest kids started swimming lessons for the first time today. We arrived at the pool a good wholesome five minutes late because A) that's just how we roll, and B) because someone couldn't find their shoes. My son jumped with enthusiasm the very moment they blew the whistle to begin, my daughter took that as a sign to start her freak out. She was scared because she didn't know anyone there, and because she didn't know what to expect. I tried to calm her fears and began telling her things like, "Well the Lifeguards are our friends, not strangers, and they are here to help keep you safe in the water. And in order for you to stay safe in the water, you have to take lessons where they'll teach you how to swim."

She wasn't buying it. She continued to freak out, began to cry, and then started in with, "Well what happens if..." She does this lately. She takes in the situation and then immediately thinks of the worst that could happen and then asks a million "well what happens if" questions.

For example:

"Well what happens if the lifeguard isn't my friend?"

"Well what happens if I get water up my nose?"

"Well what happens if the fly comes into the water?"

"Well what happens if I can't swim yet like they tell me to?"

Some questions are legit, and others are simply her little mind racing against any possible positive thought. I tried to calm her down again and reassure her that they won't ask her to do anything she hasn't learned to do yet, that they'll be her friends and be kind, that she can do this even though she thinks she can't.

My son's lesson finished up and he came to dry off by us. Our daughter knew immediately this meant it was her turn and her nerves started to get to her again. Meanwhile, I began scanning the next crew of little swimmers that would be in my daughter's class, quietly hoping she'd know someone in her class, but alas, all new people, which I knew wouldn't help her nerves at all.

I also noticed that a lot of the moms came wearing their swimsuits. I was perplexed as to why they'd want to wear their swimsuits to sit in the hot sun watching their kids from the side of the pool. Maybe to work on their tan, I assumed. Or to show off their cute swimsuits.

The whistle blew and the new group of little fishies gathered around the lifeguards, including our own little redheaded mermaid, though her fins were shaking from fear. It was then that I heard the lifeguard call out, "And parents remember for the preschool class that you need to stay in the pool right by your child for the whole lesson!" Mothers in cute swimsuits and their mini-me's took to the zero-entry baby pool while I froze.

"Excuse me, did you say parents must be in the pool with their child if they're a preschool swimmer? Because I didn't know that, and well, I'm not exactly wearing my swimsuit."

"Well, can you wade in the water up to your knees then at least?"

Right. Yes. OK.

Not OK. Somewhere between moving out of one house and into another this week, and dealing with Chloe's trach plugs and appointments, and unpacking countless boxes, I missed the fact that I was supposed to swim with her.  I was wearing shorts, flipflops, and the mommy dress-code classic grey V-neck from the Target clearance rack. Admit it-you own like five of them too.  And I had an errand to run after lessons. But here I was, suddenly not thrilled with lessons, while my daughter's anxiety and fear diminished rather quickly now that she knew I'd be beside her the whole time.

If you've ever seen the show Gilmore Girls, there's this scene where the mother drops her daughter off for her first day of prep-school, but she overslept and ends up rushing out of the house wearing short shorts and a less than modest shirt because it was the fastest thing to throw on. She arrives at the expensive school, where teachers are wearing suits and ties, and feeling really out of place she tries to just drop her daughter off at the door, but her daughter insists that she needs to come in with her to sign something and get her all checked in. She knows she's not dressed properly, but none-the-less she goes inside with her daughter, pretends she doesn't see the awkward glances from other parents and faculty, and does what she needs to do for her daughter.

This was me today. I felt really out of place, and it was clearly obvious that I had not read the fine print on the swim lesson sign-up. I was that mom today. I realized quickly that wading to my knees wasn't an option if I wanted to really help my little girl do good on her first day of swim lessons. So I waded deeper and deeper, feeling more and more as if I'd just wet myself because of the awkward feeling of the wet, soaked shorts clinging to my body.

This wasn't the first time lately that I have had my own fears and anxiety about something new get the best of me, only to realize that the only way to do it was to just dive in and try. Recently we had an occupational therapist come to our home to visit Chloe and see about some new equipment. I was not prepared for this person to then roll into our home this beast of a theraputic, hydraulic, fifty-thousand adjustment-position chair. I nearly cried. Mostly because it took my breath away to realize that in order for my littlest girl to learn to sit and explore and thrive and grow, that this chair was going to help her do that properly, but also because I simply wasn't prepared to see a special needs chair like this in my life. I'd just never imagined it. It's taken ever since her five-month ultrasound to accept that our daughter isn't normal as society often reminds us, but it feels at times like just when I'm getting used to the idea and comfortable with all of her equipment and gear, that something new is needed to help her. And I cringe. I'm all for something to help me daughter, but it's just simply hard to accept this life sometimes of needing more and more things and therapies.

"Well what happens if I can't figure out all the gears and gadgets?"

"Well what happens if I don't get her strapped in good?"

"Well what happens if I break something on this crazy expensive on-loan looking piece of equipment?"

"Well what happens if I have trouble getting her in and out of it with all of her cords?"

"Well what happens if I just plain don't like having this beast of a chair in our living room as a daily reminder that she needs more help and that she can't do the things a normal child can do? Like sit?"

It's kind of like being at the pool and hearing that I have to get in the water fully clothed in order to really help my child have a great swim day, even if I missed the memo on this and am not comfortable with this or didn't choose this, or live life on the edge of the pool watching everyone else learn and grow, and hold my daughter back from that, simply because I wasn't ready.

I camped out here for nearly two weeks. I let anxiety, and let's be honest, grief that my daughter can't learn developmental things the way normal children can sink in during that time. I let our nurse work with her in this new chair instead.

But then I saw how Chloe loved the chair. It allowed her to be higher, to see new things. It allowed her to touch and explore things in front of her because of the tray attached. It could move and be adjusted so that she could either work her little body for PT, or to be relaxed back for her to just sit and enjoy time out of her crib and off her back. She loved it and wasn't afraid of it. She smiled the moment she was in it for the very first time.

So I dove in and tried it on my own with her one day, and we figured it out together. And none of the what if things happened. And I accepted that this intimidating special needs chair was something to be thankful for. At first I was reluctant towards any huge piece of equipment for her, but now I find myself longing to receive a grant we're working on applying for to get her more equipment like this.

Diving into something new is hard and intimidating, but I'm learning that when it comes to teaching our littles, be it our older daughter who's learning the joy and safety of swimming, or our littlest to simply sit, as a parent, you do whatever your child needs you to do in order to best support them.

And I'm thankful that the Lord is like that for me. He's constantly reminding me that I can do whatever it is that he's asking of me, if I let go of the fear and anxiety that fills my mind instead of His Word that fills me with wisdom and peace.

So we went swimming today, fully clothed and awkward as can be, and Chloe had fun in her therapeutic chair watching out the window at the blue skies and cars passing by with her sister sitting by her side.

We soaked up another new-normal hot summer day.

And apparently we left this sitting outside after lessons, for all of our new neighbors to see a glimpse of the personality of the crazy family that just moved in.The minion pretty much sums up how I felt in my shorts in the pool today.