Monday, November 29, 2010

Beginning a Journey



More about our journey with Miss Lizzie Anne.


August 2006 saw a new school year beginning. With this year began several changes. First, Sarah came to live with us, but also Elizabeth began Kindergarten. Even though she wouldn't turn 5 years old until August 29th, the school system insisted she must enter Kindergarten.

I truly know that God's hand was on this situation from the beginning, because when I attended the Choices Fair the year before to choose a magnet school for Lizzie, I had no idea what was going to happen or what to expect (For those who are curious, a magnet school is a school that only accepts a certain number of students each year and is often more focused on one specific area. For example: Lizzie's school is a media magnet, they use video camera's, computers, and other electronic equipment to help their kids learn. The year we started though they were a different type of magnet school - their motto at the time was every child is gifted.). We knew something was wrong and that it was very likely she had special needs, but we weren't certain what her official diagnosis would be. I prayed before going into the fair, and that is where I met, Sherry Silveous. As I share more of Lizzie's journey with you, you will begin to realize that God sent Mrs. Silveous into our lives at the right moment. She has been a true guardian angel for Elizabeth in so many ways at her school Sam S. Spaght. I met her there and then we happened to meet again when we attended the Kindergarten Orientation and met Mrs. Silveous again. She and Elizabeth clicked immediately. Lizzie just seemed to know that Mrs. Silveous was awesome and she took her hand right away. Even now as I write this I get choked up, because none of us could have known how important she would be to us.


August saw Elizabeth starting Kindergarten at a new school. She was the smallest in her class, since she was younger than her classmates and she could speak, but not very well. God bless the parents of those children who took my daughter under their wings and just loved her from the beginning. They showed compassion where previously we'd found very little, they loved on her and hugged on her and protected her from the bigger kids. Somehow they knew Elizabeth and I both needed that, that year. I had requested Mrs. Silveous as Lizzie's teacher and it was approved in short order.

August also introduced us to the news that we were expecting Rebekah. After years of struggling to conceive a second time, a few months after undergoing gastric bypass, I found out I was pregnant. While at the time the timing was a bit of a concern (you aren't supposed to get pregnant for at least 1 yr after gastric bypass), it didn't help me with my hormones and keeping them under check.

This year of Kindergarten had it's share of bumps in the road. We had a lot of ups though, more than downs. Elizabeth seemed to flourish with Mrs. Silveous as her teacher. Mr. George was the main Special Education teacher at the time, and working with Mrs. Silveous and Mrs. Holle - her speech therapist, we saw Lizzie go from barely speaking to talking almost non-stop. She began to grow socially and began to learn how to handle challenges. By the end of that year, we were able to agree that while that first year of Kindergarten was a year to help her grow socially, that we could have her repeat Kindergarten again and this time focus on social skills and academics.
This was a year in which people got to know Elizabeth very well. Sometimes in good ways and sometimes in bad ways. She managed to get herself suspended at one point, but I was able to use that to make my point that she needed a little time to adjust to all day Kindergarten. We cut her back to half a day for a few weeks and eased her into a full day over a series of weeks.
She also entertained the students and staff with some of her shenanigans. I'll never forget how hard I had to fight the day I went to pick her from school and Mrs. Silveous called her over to her with "Elizabeth, come here please. Now Miss Monkey, what did we learn today?" As soon as she said that I would probably have difficulty not laughing. I had to turn around so she couldn't see me fighting the desire to laugh until my sides hurt. Only Elizabeth could figure out a way to get from the toilet to the stall door. Imagine Mrs. Silveous' surprise when the kids came out and told her Elizabeth was swinging on the door of her stall in the bathroom. I went home and shared this with Mary and Mom and we all had a good chuckle.
Or the time I was stopped and they told me the office how they loved Elizabeth because she was hilarious. I was a little concerned by this at the time. They explained that during library time Elizabeth had proceeded to climb on the table and do a Tarzan yell. Tarzan was her favorite movie at the time and I was horrified, because as a general rule at home when she would do the Tarzan yell, she stripped down to her underpanties so she was more like Tarzan. They all laughed hysterically when I asked, "But she kept her clothes on, right?" As fortune would have it she did indeed remain clothed that day, however, the next day she got in trouble for trying to strip in class. She'd grown tired of wearing her clothes at naptime and decided she needed to strip to her underpants. On a positive side, they did manage to help us break her of the need to put her hands down her pants and play with her privates in public. Thank you, Miss Rachael! We love you for that reason alone.
This was a year of huge gains for Lizzie - in fact, she made so many gains in her first 9 weeks of school that they nominated her out of all the kids in the school for the "I Earned It!" Award. They had several of these they gave out, but they chose Elizabeth out of ALL the children in the entire school as the most improved. I drove straight to Mom's house and told her and we cried tears of joy together and of course, he had to call Grandma Mary and Daddy so she could tell them all about it. The "I Earned It" gives children and their families free passes to exhibits around town, like Exploration Place (a hands on science museum), the zoo, Cowtown (a historic Wichita museum), and the Art Center. For the entire month of October we were able to entertain the girls for free. They loved it and we put the card in her memory box/baby book to remind us how far we've come from the beginning days when we struggled to understand it ourselves.
By the end of Kindergarten, Lizzie was ready to spend the next year in Kindergarten again, but this time focus more on academics. That year was a good year as well. We saw her make great strides and Mrs. Silveous decided to pursue a Master's Degree in Special Education - so that year Mr. Wade had the privelege of getting to know Elizabeth. She learned to call people by their appropriate names even. At the start of that year in 2007, Mr. Wade was called the wrong name. In fact, she called him SILVEOUS with great vim and vigor. She began to learn how to behave all day long, she learned her ABC's and to count to numbers somewhat higher than 20. It was also the last year she would go without medication, but that is for the next blog.
Both years of Kindergarten were good years, Elizabeth learned how to not cry when she didn't get her own way. Slowly over time, she no longer needed Mrs. Silveous there, constantly watching over her to protect her and others from her. She began learning to express herself in appropriate ways and not hit when annoyed by others. This lesson would continue on and is still a process, but now it's much closer to other children's frustration.
As time goes on, we still face challenges. She is still struggling to learn how to cope and be like other children. Her speak may not be absolutley perfect and she may confuse her pronouns, but she has come so far, I know it will all come together given time.
I hope you all have a good week. God bless you and keep you safe.
Love In Christ,
Maureen

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Godly Wives


I feel it is necessary to point out that I am not an expert. I have 19 hours until I finish a Bachelor's degree in psychology. So while I am not an expert, I am a woman who God has blessed richly with a wonderful husband and some very good examples of good marriages and some not so good marriages.

Growing up I have had the wonderful privilege of seeing some examples of good marriages in my family. My aunts and uncles have offered insight into good marriages, some so so marriages, and some friends of my mom's offered insight into so not stellar marriages that are still going on now. Even now I have friends is similar marriages to my own, some are in the middle of some bumps in the road and some are doing pretty well.
Interestingly enough, Chris and I have found that the tougher the circumstances the closer we seem to become to each other. It makes us lean wholly on God and on each other. As time goes on and as I approach 10 yrs of marriage in January, I also find that those who are new to the marriage game, or even some who have similar lengths we tend to talk a lot about what is a good wife and how do you respect your husband even when the choices they make at the time are not so wonderful.

I thought it was important to find out what the Bible had to say about wives and their roles and the different types of wives out there even today. Proverbs had quite a bit to say about a good wife AND a not so good wife. Proverbs 18:22 says, "He who finds a wife find what is good and receives favor from God." However, in Proverbs 19: 13-14 ". . .a quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping. Houses and wealth are inherited from parents but a prudent wife is from God." The last part of Proverbs in chapter 31 says this though when describing the characteristics of a noble wife: "A noble wife is worth far more than rubies; her husband has full confidence in her; brings him good- not harm and takes good care of him and her family (her family with her husband) often rising before the sun to be sure her family has bread and food to eat; she is prudent and her husband is respected at the city gate and is able to take a seat with the elders; she opens her arms to the needy and the poor; she is clothed in strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come; she speaks with wisdom and faithful instruction on her tongue; she isn't idle - watches over the affairs of her household (she knows what is going on in her house) and she fears the Lord" (paraphrased from the Life Application Study Bible). And we are all familiar with Ephesians 5:22-33 and 1 Peter 3:1-7 which talk about the importance of husband and wives roles in marriage.

Both sections discuss how a wife is to submit to her husband - and while I know there have been many a man who has taken that verse and used it browbeat his wife, I have also seen good examples of men who love their wives as instructed in these verses as well. They are love their wives as Christ loves the church and care for their spiritual health as well as physical and emotional health. So I ask this, if you have a husband who you know only wants the best for you, as God only wants good for you, then how can you not submit to that man? It makes it easy. I think the best summary though for how we should live as husband and wife comes from Jesus and the Golden Rule . . . "treat others the way you want to be treated."

If you are in a marriage where you don't feel you are valued or appreciated, then try valuing and appreciating your partner. If you want your husband to be more loving and affectionate, show him by example: While this might not change things overnight, I have found that if I lead by example after a period of time, Chris begins to show me the same courtesy and respect I ask of him. While Chris is the head of our house, I am the heart. I am also the pragmatist where he is the dreamer. I am the one who allows him the luxury of his dreams, while holding on firmly to his ankle and bringing him gently back to earth and help him see all the different possibilities of what can or cannot be done.

I had a friend who asked me how do you respect your husband when he isn't making good choices? Surely he isn't making all bad choices. I say take it to God in prayer. If need be read The Power of the Praying Wife by Stormie O'Martin. I also ask you to read Ephesians 5:22-33; verse 33 ends with ". . .the wife must respect her husband." Not only is it important for you, but it is also important for him.

In ten years of marriage there are a few things I have learned, some the hard way, some by reading, some from other friends, or Aunt Nina or older women in church and so here are a few things that I think it is important to know about our job as a wife.

1. Be sure you both tell each other you love each other everyday. There are several reasons why this is important. First, it keeps that flame going, even when it is only a small glimmer, because not everyone feels in love every day of every week of every year. We are human and it just doesn't work that way. Second, it reminds you to work on those feelings and on your marriage. Third, It is important to your children to see that you are both working on it. Remember I talked about leading by example, this is often one of those times where you will have to start it and let him slowly follow your lead.

2. Be sure you touch (in a non-sexual way) several times a day. Whether it is as simple as holding hands or sitting next to each other on the couch or putting your hand on an arm, this keeps that connection strong. Intimacy isn't just about sex, it is about connecting with your spouse on a heart level as well as a physical level. I have several friends who notice that they are always touching even at night when they sleep. I thought about it and realized Chris and I are always touching even in our sleep as well. Sometimes, it's our tooshies, sometimes it's as simple as falling asleep holding hands, or spooning, sometimes it is our feet that touch (I have cold feet and he is a lovely furnace that I use to keep my feet warm. :D). It helps that connection - even when you are angry with each other, make sure you touch, although please do not touch in an angry or violent way, be sure it is loving. Because even when you may not like your partner, you still love them and it will help you resolve to work towards a solution more often than not.

3. Tell your spouse how proud you are of him. Don't just say it, have reasons to back it up. Chris comes from an abusive childhood and he works exceptionally hard to break that cycle of violence and to not repeat the mistakes of his dad. I am very proud of him for this. I also try at least once a day to tell him how much I love him, but also how proud of him I am for working so hard to create a relationship with our daughters. I am proud of him for realizing the world doesn't revolve around him. These are just a few examples of things I do, but you will need to find what works for you. I found that as I told him how proud I was of him and bragged about him in public to my friends and fellow believers it made him want to meet that bar and so as he met the goals I would raise the bar a bit higher and he has risen to the challenge very well. The good works God has performed on his heart and soul are nothing short of wonderful and amazing and I am so proud of him as a man who is willing to listen to what God wants for his life.

I know there are some of you who are in situations that are not like my marriage. So please let me encourage you - please go borrow, or purchase (there are second hand bookstores) the book The Power of the Praying Wife. It will change you and it will change him. It won't happen overnight, but when you give your husband and family over to God, it's amazing the things He does.

5. Romance your marriage. I read a great book 101 Ways to Romance Your Marriage. It is a small book, and it is written for him and her. It talks about ideas of ways you romance your marriage for men and women. This is truly a good example of putting into your marriage what you want out of it. Romance is important. Let me say that again ROMANCE IS IMPORTANT! I cannot stress that enough. It is doing little things, like cooking our husband's favorite meal, or going the extra mile for him that we show him our love. Ideas in this book range from decorating your bedroom to his likes (if you don't do this often) to fulfilling a secret fantasy (one woman dressed up as a Geisha after researching her husband's love of Japanese culture and surprised him). There are countless ideas and wonderful poems in this book to help you out.

6. As a wife and mother we are the emotional barometer for our house. We've all heard the saying, "When Momma ain't happy, then no body's happy." This is very true. My friends and I have noticed when we have a bad day our families tend to have a bad day either that same day or the day after. We have many roles we play. We are often a cheerleader, a therapist, a support system and many other things for our families. While I have friends who need to work to be better mom's, for me, the most important job I have is to be home and provide a calm, stable environment for our daughters - especially for Sarah whose life was filled with turmoil and upheaval while living with her mom. This is also important for Elizabeth whose Autism Spectrum Disorder requires that I be available if everything goes nuts at school for her. I am not saying a working mom isn't a good mom, I only know what I need for me. My friend, Lisa though - she needs to work so she can be a good mom, she requires a mental challenge of going to work to help her feel satisfied, thus enabling her to be a good mom when she is at home.

7. You need to be supportive and uplifting to your husband. Just as a woman needs a good bra (okay some of us need a good bra), a man needs a woman who is supportive and her lifts him up. When Chris was thinking about going into the Reserves, he had some terrible issues occurring at work for him. It was severely eroding his sense of self-worth. I hated the idea of raising Elizabeth alone (Sarah still lived with her mom at the time), but I also knew the Army saw his leadership skills and knew how valuable he could be to them. So after prayer and thinking it over, I told him I would back him in signing up for the Reserves.

8. You must love your husband with a 1 Corinthians 13 kind of love. 1 Corinthians 13 is the love chapter - it actually covers several things, but the one it is most known for is its description of what Love is and what it means. "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast; it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking. It is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always perseveres. Love never fails" (1 Corinthians 13:4-8 The Life Application Study Bible). I know it is difficult, and while I assure you I think men should love their wives the same way I am speaking to wives and women everywhere today. This love is the love that comes from Christ himself. Just as God's love for us comes without conditions, without strings attached - He doesn't promise to love us if we do what he wants us. He loves us even when we make poor choices and sees us through it all.

There are some of you reading this, who did not have a good example of a Father's love. Maybe your dad was abusive or absent. God is not abusive and he is not absent and he knows that you struggle to understand the idea of God as a Loving Father. I also know you struggle with the idea of unconditional love or love that comes with no strings. Love keeps no records of wrongs, it does not rejoice when evil happens. Love and loving someone means you want what is best for the person you love, even if it hurts you at the time. In today's world, I realize that idea is foreign and strange, but true love does not hurt you. It protects you, it wants what is best for you, and it perseveres.

7. Sometimes you just have to dig your heels in and refuse to quit. Every marriage has rough spots. Even my aunts and uncles have had rough patches (Dad died 10 yrs into marriage with my mom, so aunts and uncles are my main examples and older married couples in church). There comes a point in every marriage where you have to decide whether this is something you want to fight for. Several years ago we had something happen in our marriage. A woman we thought was a friend developed feelings for Chris and I naively thought I was imagining it, until I walked into a restaurant to meet Chris and found her making a play for him. It was completely one sided, but it also opened our eyes to how much we needed to safeguard our marriage. It also caused me to wonder if being married was what I wanted. I spent several days in prayer about what to do. I would love to tell you that my choice was completely because I was following God's will for our marriage, but there was a part of me that decided I wouldn't leave because I wasn't about to give this person what they wanted, even though Chris would never have wanted her that way. What can I say, I'm incredibly stubborn at times. However, making that choice also meant we had to sit down and have a talk about the dynamics of our marriages and what I didn't like and would like to see change.

8. Prioritize: You need to realize that when it comes to multitasking, we are better at it than men. There are of course, men who are the exception to this rule, Chris is one of them. He can clean the house AND take excellent care of the girls - honestly, he does it better than I do. I can take awesome care of our children, but the house falls to the side. I had to choose a few years ago, what was more important, happy, healthy, well adjusted children, or a very clean house. I decided I can always clean the house when they go to bed, but I couldn't always enjoy the age my children were at a later time. So unless I have company coming, my girls come first. As they get older, we have a tidy up game we play to teach them how to pick up. I think the major point of number eight is to pick and choose your battles. Some battles are important (making sure you get needed girl time so you can recharge your batteries - this is important but also reciprocate that favor), worrying that your children don't match if Dad dresses them - not so important. In this one I also need to stress that communication is key. Men do not have ESP - so you have to tell them what you want, if you don't, then don't expect them to read your mind and give it to you.

9. This is last, but absolutely the most important part of this blog. Give your family to God! When you give them to God and place them in His hands, the rest just sort of falls into place. As a child who lost her father at a young age I used to constantly worry about Chris and the girls. I still struggle with this one of course, but I also know that God has only loaned them to me. They aren't really mine, they are his and once I give them to Him, I am able to remain calm and cool and leave them where they belong - with God. Trusting God isn't always easy, but when you make him the true Head of your house, then you will find it becomes much easier to let the little things go.

Finally I would like to share with you some books that Chris and I have found helpful as well as a movie and a the marriage work kit that helped us a lot. We found the movie Fireproof very good and helpful as well as the book and work kit that you can buy The Love Dare and Fireproof Your Marriage - it comes with a dvd and books for each of you. We each have a copy of The Power of the Praying Husband/Wife. Each is written by a different author for the gender it represents. We also found 101 Ways to Romance Your Marriage helpful as well. However, if you are in desperate need of help and you don't think any of these will help your marriage, let me encourage you to seek the aid of a Christian counselor. There are usually (note I said usually) several licenses Marriage and Family Therapy counselors in each city or near your small town. I also would like to encourage you to find a good church family and pastor if you do not currently have one. Not all pastors, but quite a few of them are able to offer marriage counseling or can lead you to a colleage who can help you.

I hope you all have a good week.

Love in Christ,
Maureen

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Forgotten Women

I was reading an article on AOL Seed by Mollee Harper. She is a woman who is unemployed after spending her life working herself up to the point of CEO/CFO of a construction company who has found herself a social pariah.



After reading about her plight, this is my plea to all who are in ministry. Even those who have no children need our love and support. A woman who foolishly believed her friends would be there for her, has found herself not only w/o friends and very few family, but even the churches don't help her?!



How is this possible? I know we were commissioned to aid the widow and the orphans - but why can't that extend to those who are single, unemployed women? In some ways, they need more than those with children - they are completely alone and isolated and most of them are discovering that those they thought were their friends and even when family turns their back on them, isn't this the time to reach out and offer them the love and support that Christ would give them. Mary of Magdalen (from what history has told us) was single woman and yet, she was a follower of Christ and apart of the inner circle or Dorcas? This also extends to single men who are unemployed - they too are in need of the body of Christ's love and support just as much as a single woman, or a widow, or even a single dad with children.



Sadly, even tonight while working on dinner I had a talk with my girls that somewhere in Elizabeth's school are children who only get to eat when at school. Their parents are in the place of choosing between paying the rent or putting food on the table. Food stamps help sure, but you only get so much a month, and if you make over a certain amount you are penalized.



What has this country come to? We have a system that encourages you to go on it's assistance, but if you make over a certain amount, then you lose that assistance? Or worse, yet, if you are a single mother trying to take care of her children (or even a special needs child), but you receive child support it is used against you, so cannot work over a certain number of hours? How does this help people? How can crippling a woman or man and their family into remaining on government assistance possibly help them in the long run?



It doesn't. It cripples them and leaves them in a place where they must watch each and every penny and sometimes even doing that doesn't cover the bills. Is this the ideal that Jesus had when he told us to go and spread the good news? NO! It isn't. It wasn't his plan for us to harass, harangue and penalize those less fortunate. It was not his plan for us to leave people so crippled they cannot get out from under the government's thumb. This is how socialism starts - reliance on the government.



So tonight, my appeal to you is to pray. Pray for those less fortunate. Pray for the parents of children who are going to bed with empty tummies -here in America as well as the world. Pray that God opens the eyes, minds, and hearts of our leaders in government but also in our churches. If we are the body of Christ, what must he think of us these days? I don't know about you, but I am afraid to know the answer to that question.



Maureen Koeppel

Friday, November 26, 2010

A HUGE TRIUMPH & THANKS TO GOD!


ELIZABETH IS READING!!! ELIZABETH IS READING!!!!
Imagine a woman saying this over and over again in a sing-song voice and you are still not even close the elation I am feeling right now.
Four and one half years ago we put Elizabeth into the loving and amazing hands of Sherry Silveous at Sam S. Spaght Elementary. In the beginning Mrs. Silveous would literally peel Elizabeth off of me and take her screaming and crying down the hall to her Kindgergarten class.
At the time, we were still learning to adjust to the idea that Elizabeth was special needs and we didn't know what to expect. In one year she went from barely speaking to talking non-stop. It actually got to the point where Sarah finally said something, "You guys used to make me play the quiet game. How come you don't do that with Elizabeth?" So I explained to her that she could always talk and Elizabeth was quiet for so long, I was just thrilled to pieces she was speaking at all.
Time went on and Elizabeth began to make progress in areas of social development, her echolalia is mainly a thing of the past, and she is sitting at the dinner table as I write this reading a book out loud. It's a 1st grade primer book, but by golly I will take it. I think it's time to break out the Fancy Nancy books and let her start going to town and read those and practice with some harder stuff. The little girl who started this year barely knowing the sight words for Kindergarten much less her own grade level, only moments ago just breezed through the entire stack of sight words I bought last year and only missed two words: saw and these. I knew she was making some progress, so I already have 1st and 2nd grade sight words put onto index cards to tackle and learn.
I was worried at the beginning of the year -we finally had to concede and allow her to take her tests and do assignments orally, which I will fight to maintain for a while as she catches up and gains more ground. Years of banging my head against the wall with worry and frustration. So pardon me if I sob tears of relief and joy like a pansy, I don't care. Judge me, hate me, call me a pansy I'll tell you to go jump in the lake, my baby is reading!!!!! Something I wasn't sure would ever happen, is coming together.
So excuse me while I go and dance a jig for joy and I take my little girl out for a much deserved lunch with Mommy and Daddy and ice cream tonight as a reward.
Elizabeth is reading, Elizabeth is reading, Elizabeth is reading!!!!!!!!
Love in Christ,
Maureen

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Primping



I woke up early this Thanksgiving morning with a craving for some cereal and started watching 18 Kids and Counting from TLC on Instant Play (we don't have cable - it's too expensive and there never seems to be anything on there we want our kids watching). As I am watching this, I watch as Michelle Duggar is ready to go and trying to help her husband pack for a trip they plan to take - and he proceeds to spend what I would consider an excessive amount of hairspray and time getting ready to fly to California.


As luck would have it, my friend Beth also posted on her Facebook that they were ready to go, but guess what, they were waiting on her husband to show and get ready to go. So this makes me query - why is it that a man who only has to get himself ready to go still takes longer to get ready than a woman who gets herself and three children ready to go to church? Granted at this point in time, I no longer have to get Sarah ready - she's got herself taken care of, but when Beka was an infant, and Elizabeth was still in the process of learning certain skills to get ready, I took care of me and BOTH children and yet we usually ended up waiting on Chris?


So here is my question. Since women change physically and emotionally after having children, is this a sympathetic symptom for men? Is there some unwritten cosmic rule that we aren't aware of that states: Once you have children, it will always take a man longer than a woman to get dressed and ready to leave? Even when Chris and I were both in college, I had to get both little girls ready to leave for the sitter and I had to get ready to go to classes, but we almost always ended up hollering at Chris to hurry up?!


Now in fairness to Chris. Once I brought it to his attention he sped up his toiletry process quite a bit, so we are usually both ready to go a little bit apart now - as opposed to us sitting twiddling our thumbs waiting for him.


I might not have asked this, except reading Facebook and watching that episode got me thinking.


I hope you all have had a good Thanksgiving and have a good weekend.


Love in Christ,

Maureen

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

In honor of Thanksgiving, the holiday that celebrates the fact that the Pilgrims actually survived after plagues, water depravation, and Indian attacks. I am taking a few days off. I will be back next week with more blog entries for your amusement and enlightment (said tongue in cheek).

Happy Thanksgiving America!
Maureen Koeppel

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Happy Birthday, Sarah!

Five years ago July 2, 2010 Sarah came to live with us. We didn't know it at the time, but that was the day she would come into our home and never leave to live with her mom again. Please let me preface this all by saying this: Sarah's mom loves her very much. But sometimes even people who love us hurt us.

Before Sarah came to live with us, Chris and I spent four years waiting and praying for God to open the doors for her to come to our home. We knew that living with her mom was not good. When she lived with her mom, she was a pawn, free childcare and often the brunt of her mom's wraths. Without divulging a lot of details - that's as far as I can go.

For four years, Chris and I banged our heads against the wall and had our hearts broken repeatedly as she was used as leverage against Chris and his family. For four years, we took turns being discouraged to the point of wanting to give up, but we knew we couldn't.

The year Chris was deployed I didn't even get to see Sarah. Her mom would never have let her come visit me and I didn't ask. Fortunately, she spent the entire summer with Grandma Mary - one of her most favorite people in the world. Chris returned and summer loomed and I began praying. I remember telling God that I could not watch Sarah get into the car and drive off with her mom again knowing it wasn't a good situation for her. That was when He began opening doors and ideas for us to help Kate move down to Wichita. We were able to persuade her to move here and as a result she let Sarah live in our house. Kate found a job and a small apartment up the street from us. We even did Thanksgiving together with her, Tristan, Summer and my family and some church friends that year. Sarah loved it, she got to have Mom and Dad together for that one holiday. It helped that at that point in time Kate had a new person to focus her displeasure on - she was getting a divorce.

Sadly, January 2006 Kate sent Summer to visit Carl (her dad and Kate's soon to be ex-husband) and he kidnapped her into Iowa. Kate was left with no choice but to return to Iowa, but she allowed Sarah to remain with us.

In March we went to a lawyer and began the paperwork to gain custody of Sarah. In Kansas, Sarah had to live in our home for six months - we hit that point in January 2006. We waited and waited until the papers came in and Kate was served and then we let Sarah go visit her. We needed all of that in place for Iowa to recognize that we had temporary custody of Sarah.

Our initial goal was to share custody of Sarah, but after coming home crying because they made her feel awful for wanting to live with her Dad, we had some decisions to make. It took, time and prayer to decide, what did we want to do to protect Sarah. As I said before, Sarah's mom loves her, but even those who love us sometimes hurt us. After some prayer and talking we gave the lawyers the instructions she needed and told her what we wanted to have happen.

September 2006 we received papers in the mail. They were the papers giving us custody of Sarah - sole custody. There is visitation for her mom and we try to make sure Sarah talks to her mom weekly if not everyother week. When money permits (which it did until this past year when Chris lost his job) we made it a point to send Sarah to visit her mom. Even when she was angry with her mom and didn't want to go visit or want to talk to her. But that day - that wonderful day when we got those papers - they marked a new chapter for us and for Sarah. No more could she be used as leverage, no more spending most of the year either calling the cops to find her, or banging our heads against the wall because we couldn't find her. No more would Sarah be used as free childcare (she still babysits, but we try to keep it at once a week and when possible I try to pay her so she can earn her own money), no more worries that stepdad's might or might not be harming her or alcoholic grandfathers might take their anger and alcohol fueled rage out on her. No more worries about garbage being fed to her about me, or Chris and the type of man he was.

That all happened five years ago and the child who walked with a bullseye on her forehead and back now walks with her head up high. She is smart, funny, and can give as good as she gets. She had several years where she struggled and she is so a drama queen, but we wouldn't have her any other way. We are so proud of how far she has come - and her relationship with her mom is on the mend. They are talking and working on having a solid relationship and her mom is working to make sure she lets Sarah know how much she means to her and that she misses her -even when life is crazy. With the help of a therapist for a while, Sarah worked on letting go of her anger and is moving into the process of forgiveness towards a lot of things and towards a lot of people. She has come to know Christ - something that might not have happened had she not come to live in our home. She is happy and for the most part pretty well adjusted.

Yes, from time to time we butt heads and she can make me crazy at times, but I wouldn't trade her for all the tea in China or the money in the world. Today she turns 16 yrs old. It's hard to believe when it seems like only yesterday she was braving the icy walk to come into the house and hug me and tell me she loved me. The little girl who used to be small enough to sit on my lap now towers over me and can see eye to eye with Chris. It's insane how quickly they grow up.

I love you Sarah. Happy Birthday Sweetie.

Love Always,
Maureen a.k.a. The Bonus Mom



Monday, November 22, 2010

Co-Sleeping with Your Monkeys

This is not a blog for or against co-sleeping. So do not write to me arguing your point. It's just some observations from one mom to other moms and dads. So please do not make a mountain out of a mole-hill. It will not be appreciated.

This is Beka - obviously from other photos in other blogs you realize this is an older photo. However, as infants, our girls inevitably ended up in our beds at some point in time.

Beka slept on Chris' chest through most of the first few months of her life. This gave me instant access to her so I could nurse her while dozing until I had to turn to the other side. Chris would then either put her on his chest or return her to the bassinet at the foot of the bed. When she was first born she was tiny enough that this was possible. As she grew longer though, it became necessary to put her in the portable crib we purchased and put in the corner of our bedroom.

Each of the girls had their turns sleeping on Daddy's chest. Chris loved to tell me about Sarah falling asleep on his chest and he woke up with hickeys because she woke up hungry and was rooting around for his nipples thinking he might have what she wanted. When Lizzie was little, one of her favorite places to fall asleep as an infant was on Chris' chest or mine. And during Chris' first deployment in 2004-2005 every morning Lizzie would crawl into bed with me and yes, I let her stay there so I could gain an extra hour or so of sleep. Otherwise, I had to get up and play. This might not have been a problem, but I was struggling with insomnia then so anything that got me a little more sleep seemed like a good idea to me.

Beka still enjoys sleeping with us from time to time. I am not against or for co-sleeping. But listening to friends and reading some of their Facebook posts it did make me ask myself a few questions. You know that you wonder these things too. Like how can a child so small take up so much of the bed? It never fails, when your child comes into your bed, they proceed to sleep across the bed with the pillows and you either find them in your bed this way or they join you in the dark hours of the morning. Or how is it that they always plaster themselves to you or sleep with their head in your armpit? How can someone so small wrap themselves around your head? Or come and find the worst possible spot to sleep so you wake up with cricks in your back or knees? Worse is if you are pregnant and they come into the bed at night and you can't get out to go to the bathroom. This might not be problematic if you aren't at the end of the pregnancy when getting your shoes on, much less shaving your legs is a thing you've almost forget you used to do because you can't put your shoes on, much less reach your ankle with a razor. How can someone so small like Beka create so much heat? She crawls into bed with me and not only does she plaster herself to me (even if I move her) but her little body generates so much heat that I wake up in the dead of winter sweating and feeling as if I might die from heat exhaustion? It's nuts the things you discover as a parent.

For example: A child can in fact shove a cheese puff up their nose - no matter how large it is, if they want to do it, they will find a way. How can a kid fit a macaroni noodle up their nose without you realizing they've done it until they sneeze it out of said nose? How is it that they always pick the worst time to have philosophical discussions about God and life at night when your brain has turned to mush and that is not in the cards? Granted it's usually a ploy to stay awake, but still, 8 p.m. at night is not the time to come to me to discuss grave matters about life, death and Jesus. At least not for me. For Lizzie or Beka, they always discover a bug or worse, a spider in their room at the same time each night? Really? Do they really think we are that dumb that we don't notice? And why is it they don't understand why we get so upset when they do a half-done job on the kitchen or bathroom? I actually had to defend myself to Sarah's therapist, because Sarah thought I was too much of a perfectionist and I was picking on her about the kitchen. Excuse me, but leaving the kitchen filthy is not okay - especially when you live in an old house that gets mice easily.

As many of these questions come to you, whether you are a brand new parent or a seasoned parent, I hope they give you a laugh. If you are a grandparent, I know you are probably laughing. . . at my wonderful mother-in-law, Mary is right now. She loves these questions and having a good chuckle over them.

I hope you all have a good week and a great Thanksgiving. If you are out of country - enjoy the week, I hope you get a holiday soon.

Love in Christ,
Maureen

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sarah, Music, and Barlowgirl

Sarah loves the group Barlowgirl - a group of three sisters who have dedicated their lives to God and who have also decided to not date, but allow God to bring them their future husband. The neatest part about all of this is that they are young women who I can encourage my daughter to like and admire. They dress modestly and their main focus is to glorify God and follow His will for their lives.

I discoverd the love of Barlowgirl music during Chris' deployment in 2004-2005 and their song Never Alone had come out on the radio - and Wayfm was brand new to Wichita. That song spoke to me very deeply since being a single parent while Chris was gone was very lonely and sometimes it felt that I was alone. When Sarah came to live with us, I introduced her to Barlowgirl music and Wayfm. It was a wonderful way to also open a door to Sarah's heart for God.

In 2005 & 2006 they came for a concert and of course, we had to go, so in 2005 we went to the concert with Sheri and she loved it. But in 2006 when they came I had just discovered I was pregnant with Beka and so instead of going with Sarah down front, I gave her my cell phone and let her go herself. She was already very excited to be going to her second Barlowgirl concert and having dinner with me, and getting to buy some Barlowgirl stuff was very exciting. We were able to enjoy a great concert and I was able to share Sarah's story with the girl's mom and tell her thank you for raising her daughters to love God with such unwaivering devotion. But nothing could prepare me to see the look on Sarah's face as she came running back to me with a water bottle.

During the concert Lauren Barlow was talking to the crowd and had a water bottle. She tossed it out to the crowd and I heard her tell the person who caught it, "Make sure you wash that." I didn't realize it at the time, but Sarah was the one who caught the water bottle. She was supersonic with excitement as she was waving the water bottle in the air with glee, "I caught Lauren's water bottle!" I knew looking at how excited she was, that sleep was going to be next to impossible that night for Sarah. She got to sing with Alyssa and Matthew West when he was onstage. All of these things were exciting and she still has those memories and talks about them. But that water bottle was the icing on a great birthday cake for her that night.

In case you are wondering - she did empty the water out of the water bottle and she still has it in a plastic ziplock bag labeled "Lauren Barlow's water bottle 2006". It is in her memory box safely tucked away for posterity. She still listens to their albums and has most of the words to every song memorized - she even sang Porcelain Heart for church a few years ago.

So to all Christian artists, who are struggling to sing and glorify God - thank you from a mom who was able to use your music to show her daughter God's heart and that He isn't stupid.

I hope you all have a good Sunday.

Love in Christ,
Maureen

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Illness and Good Husbands

This week we have a pretty and sick little Rebekahboo. I hate this part of parenting, when your monkey is sick and you can't do anything except let their immune system fight it. You push the liquids, give Tylenol/Ibuprofen if needed, and give lots of hugs, kisses and cool baths if needed.

While I am good at doing that part and kissing the owies and booboo's and making them go away. Chris though is amazing at the staying up into the wee hours of the mornings as well as doing all the other stuff. He never loses his temper when they get sick and throw up on him. He soothes, rubs upset tummies, gives tons of hugs, kisses, and snuggles and gets the medicine down with minimal spillage. He's firm but kind, soothing and yet he knows when it's necessary to fight them for their own good. He realizes that I am a morning person and so around midnight I stop functioning. He on the other hand, is good at staying up into the late hours and giving the tlc during this time, letting me get the sleep I need to do it in the morning and during the day.

He is good at having those deep philosophical talks with Sarah at night. Sarah is a night person too and I start shutting down the brain around seven or eight at night. Because he is not like Sarah too much (I am - both oldest, both of us want to run the show, and it makes me nuts that she constantly has to have the last word) he can talk to her in ways I can't - and sometimes I can talk to her from a point of view that she needs. On the other hand, I am better with Elizabeth when she becomes agitated and over-stimulated. I can calm her down and not lose my cool - he struggles with that because he and Lizzie are a lot alike. Beka is in the middle somewhere for now - she's only three years old, so the personality conflicts haven't begun yet. Although, I do think she is going to give him a run for his money as she gets older, she is stubborn and likes to do things her own way - something that will not fly with her Daddy.

No matter the dynamic between you and your husband, I hope you are able to work together and he is as much support for you as Chris is for me. He has grown so much in the ten years we have been married. The man who started off as a pretty good husband has grown into a stellar and amazing husband and dad. So like a wine, he keeps getting better with time and age.
I love you honey and I look forward to the rest of our time together. May it be at least another 50 years or so.

Let me encourage you. If you are reading this and wishing your husband was that kind of man - lift him in prayer. Not in a please, God change my husband kind of way. I mean in a way that you share his trials and struggles to God. I also recommend reading The Power of the Praying Wife by Stormie O'Martin. It's a good book and has some very good wisdom from a woman who has been married for a number of years. Also read 101 Ways to Romance Your Marriage I don't
remember who wrote it, but it is excellent and amusing. You get from your marriage what you are willing to put into it. I mean that for men and women both.

Have a good weekend. It's time to snuggle a Snickerroo and help her feel better.
Love in Christ,
Maureen

Friday, November 19, 2010

Children, Outside Voices, and Decisions

By now you have all realized that I am a mom to three
daughters. And now that I've been doing the mom thing for the last ten years, I think I can say this with a fair bit of accuracy.

No matter how long you've been a parent, people always have an opinion about the job you are doing. If you are a new parent - then you have officially been warned. It doesn't matter how good a job you are or aren't doing someone is always going to have something to say about the type of parent you are and the job they think you are or are not doing.

Some of my more seasoned friends know that I am telling the truth. Here's the thing though - voices from the outside sometimes carry wisdom and sometimes they are right, but just as often there are always people who think you are not doing a good job.

I currently have two sides in my family who want to have a say about how we parent Sarah. One person thinks we are too easy on Sarah because "gasp" we bought her a dress that she considered risque - one dress and this person thinks Sarah is growing up too fast and we should be tougher on her. For the record - we don't allow dating. Even though Sarah turns 16 on Tuesday any boy who wants to get to know her, must do so under our supervision and if they go out of the house to spend time together, we are going to be there too. So if we don't have the cash to go out, they don't go out together . . . period. Then on the other side of this argument I have a person who thinks we are too hard on her and don't give her enough freedom. Never mind, that at 15 yrs of age, Sarah was wearing make-up, and allowed to go to dances at her private school (it's a pretty conservative school and they are closely chaperoned - no boy girl dancing). Sarah has less freedom than I did at her age, but I had also just moved to a small town and there wasn't a lot to do. Sarah is perfectly free to attend all the youth functions she desires, she was able to attend Prom at her school last year (okay, okay Chris was there as part chaperone and part bouncer, but she got to go as a freshman) because all the high school grades could attend the Prom. At this point I have come to this conclusion - with two sides in my family who are total opposites in the job they think we are doing, then we must be doing something right, because we are kind of a happy medium between super strict and super lax. We have taught Sarah the importance of being modest, we still talk to her about the importance of waiting and allowing God to help you meet your future spouse. In truth, we've probably talked about it to the point where she is tired of hearing it. And goodness, knows I have caught myself as she has grown saying things my mom used to say. For example: There are two types of girls boys date - the ones who party and they have fun with or the type they grow up and marry - which one do you want to be?" Or the one I never thought I would use that was Grandma Taylor's favorite - "There are children in Ethiopia starving and who love that food, so you're going to eat it." Sarah was six years old the first time I said that to her about not eating all of her apple skins. Talk about stopping yourself in your tracks, I had to shake my head and laugh at that one.

As parents you are always going to face people who have something to say. Figure out which person is talking to you - the one who loves you and your child or are they one of those who don't have a lot of nice things to say about others. Once you know where they are coming from, it's easier to take a deep breath and say, "Thank you for your input. I'll take that under advisement." There is no law that states you must do what they say. However, remember sometimes they could be right and might have some special words of wisdom to offer to you - like a pastor or an older and wiser mother-in-law or great grandma. Sometimes they might be wrong, especially if they don't have experience with what you are dealing with or if they don't know the whole story.

The bottom line is that you need follow God's guidance and wisdom. He will lead you the right way and help you discern which voices to listen to and which ones to ignore. When you trust in Him and His ways you can't go wrong - even with so many outside voices chiming in.

I hope you all have a good weekend.

Love in Christ,
Maureen

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sick Beka

There will be not blog today and possibly tomorrow. Rebekah is feeling very poorly and needs some Mommy and Daddy love. I should have known when she didn't want to eat last night or this morning. That kiddo never says no to peanut butter and jelly.

Have a good weekend everyone.

In Christ,
Maureen

Self Gratification



I am writing about a fairly sensitive issue that some parents who have autistic children face. . . masturbation impulses. This is not for those who are squeamish and I am writing this in a humorous context, because I need to laugh about it or I might cry. So be warned.
As a parent, we all face a certain point in our child's discovery of their body, when they discover their private areas. You all know what I am talking about so don't act so appalled and prudish on me. It's natural for children to explore and discover things - it is after all one of the joys of being a parent - getting embarrassed by our children and them exploring their bodies albeit without much concern for the time, place, or our mortification.
Never is this more so than when you have a special needs child. Not all special needs children go through this, but I would hazard that a good number of them discover their genitalia and start going to town as they find out it feels good. We began facing this problem after Chris deployed in 2004 and after breaking Elizabeth of the habit to bang her head when frustrated - she turned to self-gratification to comfort herself. Honestly, I think I might have preferred the headbanging to the looks of shock, horror, and Puritanical mortification I saw on people's faces when she would begin to "comfort" herself in public. Obviously, I didn't encourage this behavior, in fact, I would pull her hands out of her pants as soon as they would go in or I discovered them there and we would go wash her hands.
I didn't mind that it was something she did at night, it was that she had no rhyme or reason to when she would take up her new obsession. Usually, when she would watch TV, sit in the car on a long drive, in the grocery store because she was frustrated, you name it, any stressful situation and down those hands would go down the pants.
For the most part I would warn people, but occasionally I would forget. I'll never forget the time that Damion called Sheri and I yelling about her enjoying herself a little too much while he was babysitting her for me. I'd forgotten to warn him - from that point on, Damion insisted she wear pants, and I did my best to remember to warn others.
Once they had a new Sunday School Substitute teacher who was a very sweet woman. She thought it was interesting that she would crawl into the play oven in the room and stayed there the whole class period. I didn't have the heart to tell this wonderful woman in Christ, that more than likely Lizzie was in there enjoying the lesson a little more than this woman would have preferred.
Eventually, with the help of her special needs team and their support staff, we were able to stop Lizzie from this impulse - except in the privacy of her own room. Some children though don't get to that point and so those who love them or who are their caregivers learn to deal with this interesting impulse issue.
I do have to say that after several years of dealing with this issue on my own, it was nice when one evening after we had Beka - Chris and I went out with the baby and left Lizzie with Sarah to babysit. A few weeks before I had purchased a back massager for Chris that had balls on the end that lit up when the massager was turned on. Chris loved this gift and apparently so did Lizzie. Chris took a sleeping Rebekah upstairs to put her in bed, when . . . you guessed it, he walked in on Lizzie in the middle of getting her jollys WITH HIS NEW BACK MASSAGER!!! She came running down the stairs, afraid she was in trouble and Chris followed suit shortly after and after asking me if I knew what "Our daughter" had been doing? He proceeded to explain to me. I had to laugh at this, the horror on his face and after reassuring her that she wasn't in trouble, but that she had to do that only in her room or bathroom in private, I had a good chuckle.
Needless, to say Chris insisted that I throw out the machine, but he was fine with me saving the batteries that powered it. To this day he still shakes his head and informs me there are some things a dad should never find his daughter doing and that is at the top of the list. LOL! He was definitely more traumatized by this than Lizzie was at the time.
Remember I wrote about a lack of impulse control, this is a very good example of an autistic child following their impulses and not thinking about the consequences. Yes, I write about this with humor, but please understand, that humor is going to be one of the things that keeps you sane during the journey of learning to help your autistic child and learning to live with all Autism means for you and your child.
As I write about our journey with Elizabeth more and more, I will more than likely write it from a humorous angle. Please understand this, when I write about our journey and try to make it somewhat humorous, it is like this - you have to laugh or you will cry. If I have to choose between laughter and tears, I will take laughter any day of the week.
I hope you all have a good week and that God blesses you as your walk this path with us.
Love in Christ,
Maureen

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Being Mom

What does being a mom mean to you? What do you remember about your own mom? How has this colored your choices in parenting your child? Maybe you aren't a mom yet, but you want to be one someday?

These are becoming more prevalent questions these days as scientists study what mom's do. According to one study, it isn't really that we mom's are so busy at all. While logically, the math made some sense, it didn't take into account that as women when most of us take care of our families, we put our whole heart and soul into being a mom. We are accountants and bill payers, cheerleaders for our husband and children, we cook, clean, make and keep doctor's appointments, we chauffer our children and for some of us, our older parents around. Good mom's do what they can to stay in touch with teachers and find out how their child is doing in school. I often drop by unannounced and slip upstairs to check on Lizzie and Sarah at times. I call and make sure things are going well - it got harder as Sarah got older, but I also keep the girl's teachers in the loop when changes happen in our home - such as we face a deployment, welcome a new baby, have to take a trip to see a Grandpa who is very ill and might not make it one more year. Sometimes, we are part psychic, or so it seems to our children. I am the maker of muffins, bread, favorite meals just because I know the girls have a bad day. I have watched more cartoons as a mom than I ever watched as a child growing up, because I am doing it in threes. First it was Sarah and her love of princesses and cartoons, then Lizzie (who is still in the cartoon phase but is slowly coming out of it, and Beka who loves all things animated; princess and vegetable and animals. By the time Beka outgrows cartoons, I may never want to watch a singing cat, mouse, swan or vegetable again.

I am the Christmas joy maker. After Thanksgiving we start making decorations. I buy cheap Christmas coloring books, and we color and then paste pictures on colored construction paper, or make snowflakes and Christmas chains and use them to decorate our house. I am the ego stroker for Chris, the maker of his favorite meals and the listening ear when it is needed.

A few years ago I asked Sarah to help me with a chore. . . her response? "It's not like you do anything anyway, so why don't you do it?" Interestingly enough I work harder as a mom than I ever did at my jobs - including the jobs I loved. Never in the work place did I wear so many hats.

I am the soother of hurt feelings and the one who often fights battles when things are not going well for my girls. I am the woman you see who stares down the barrel of a gun (figuratively I assure you) and still stands her ground so her child will get the special needs services she needs and the school system must give to her.

All of these things, I do with love. Why? Because my mom, my aunts, my grandma taught me through an excellent example years ago what it was to be a good mom. I am a good mom and Meg is a good mom because of the amazing women in our family and our church families who showed us to be loving, compassionate, firm, and unconditional love as mothers.

There are some of you reading this, who did not have this example in your own mother. It doesn't mean you cannot grow up to be that kind of mom. You can be a good parent. Is it going to be hard? Yes, it is. Will it make you want to cry sometimes? Absolutely. Will your children break your heart? You bet. However, with these challenges also comes rewards. Rewards when your children come to you because they know they can trust you with secrets, or hurt knees and hearts. Kisses and hugs galore will come your way. But here is the amazing thing about children that still warms my heart to this day. While children can be incredibly selfish, they also have a great capacity for love and empathy for others. Children are born trusting us. It is one of the things that makes abuse such an awful crime. When a child is born they are born trusting that we will take care of their needs and as they grow, they learn that either we can be trusted, or to always duck and cover.

I love that Elizabeth at ages two and three would stand on the fourth step in our house and jump, trusting that Chris and I would catch her. Beka has similar trust, but she is afraid of a lot of things - by nature she is a cautious girl. Farm animals, tornado sirens, loud noises tend to cause her some anxiety. I cannot vacuum the floor when she is at home - she begins to cry and scream because the noise scares her and I suspect it hurts her ears. I love that as a baby Beka would call down at night, "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy." No matter how quietly Chris would answer her calls with "Bekaboooooooooo." She could hear him and would get so excited - it became a game they played until he deployed. He even dreamed about it while he was gone and called out in his sleep to her.

If you have a good mom, I encourage you to tell her how much you love her and what a good job she did today. If you aren't a mom yet but want to be one someday, I hope you read this and take pieces of it with you. I love being a mom and I hope someday my girls will grow up and be good moms too.

Have a good week and Happy Wednesday.

Love In Christ,
Maureen

Monday, November 15, 2010

Decisions

This was Elizabeth's birthday party and Sarah was
she helped out and carried the cake in with the candle's lit for Lizzie to blow out.
Sarah came to live with us in 2005 and honestly, after some of the stuff that went on while she was in 5th grade, I would have left her out of public school for middle school if it had been left up to me. However, we didn't gain sole custody until 2006 and Sarah enjoyed going to Mayberry, so we left her there.
However, after 8th grade we faced a problem. We live near a high school in our city that isn't the nicest or the best idea for our daughter. So after talking it over and praying about it Chris and I decided to take her out of school. Her therapist, who was a nice woman had some input into it, but truthfully if I could go back again and do it over, I would have listened to my instincts and gone with Switched on Schoolhouse.
Sarah is very smart and bright, but I listened to outside voices and I chose a high school online that would mean I wasn't her teacher. This proved to be a disaster. First, it meant she had to be online and she spent more time playing on the Internet than focusing on her studies. Second, it gave me limited abilities to check upon her and if she was working. So after a disastrous first 9 weeks, I pulled her out and put her into Switched on Schoolhouse and that seemed to work better for her and for myself. It also meant I was able to monitor how much she worked on each subject and we were able to schedule time for her to work on each of them so she wouldn't be too behind in one area, while incredibly ahead in another.
Once again I listened to other people's opinions and at Chris' urging I found her a private school. She loved Word of Life and she still loves it, however, we can no longer afford it and there is way more drama going on at school than needs to be happening around her. So after prayer and thought, out of that school she comes in a week. She is less than happy - she is a good student and wants to focus on her studies, but she is also torn between studies and the drama of her friends.
Even in a Christian school Sarah is the odd man out. She is not allowed to date - at all. We are still praying that when she turns 18 years old she will listen and wait for God to send her the right man in her life. While the odds of her waiting til she gets married to have her first kiss is slim, we still encourage her to wait.
So those are some of the decisions we are facing. At this point, unless we live somewhere else, Elizabeth will be looking at homeschooling starting in middle school. And I am contemplating not putting Beka in public school either. It isn't anything against the teachers - it's the parents who use school as free daycare for their children and who do not teach their children respect for those older than them, children lacking in manners, who live a life so filled with upheaval they bring it to school and lash out at other children.
I know I can't protect my children forever, however, I can protect them now and I can teach them to grow in God and to love Him and of His love for us. There are some who would argue it is sending their children to public school to share the Word with others. Good for you, I just don't happen to share your choice. So win or lose, we have several big decisions to deal with soon.
I hope you all have a good week and that God blesses you richly.
In Christ,
Maureen

Friday, November 12, 2010

God's Gift of Healing


Ephesians 2:3-10
"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."
This is my daughter, Elizabeth, a.k.a Monkey.
And as I was reading The Atonement Child by Francine Rivers, I felt it laid on my heart to share something with you.
This is for those who have chosen abortion as a way to deal with an unplanned pregnancy for whatever reasons there were at the time.
God forgives you. He loves you and he knows the pain and hurt you are feeling. He knows that you made the choices you made for the reasons you made them and the pain and anguish you feel and the mourning you feel for the child you lost. I say lost, not murdered because it is a loss, whether through a miscarriage or not - you have lost a child and most of you are mourning the loss. Even those who say they made the right choice, but are filled with venom, hatred, and anger. I will not stand and condemn or judge you because I am not perfect. I am a sinner I have made choices that were outside of God's will and Elizabeth is proof of that.
You see, I was pregnant before Chris and I got married. I was 26 yrs old and my biological clock had begun ticking. I made the choice to have sex for a multitude of reasons, and the biggest one was that I loved Chris. We married shortly after finding out we were expecting her - he had proposed December 30th and the test turned positive January 8th. I too am guilty of sin. And the truth is, that sin is sin, no matter how people try to color it or portray it. When people make choices and do not listen to God's voice, they often make choices that have consequences.
Do I believe that Lizzie having special needs is a punishment - absolutely not. I believe Elizabeth was conceived from an act of love and raging hormones of course. But I also believe that God has a special purpose and plan for her. Being her mother has taught me to be compassionate and to not judge others by what I think are the circumstances, because I usually don't understand them in the slightest.
I want to share with you that at one point I considered giving her up for adoption. Chris and I had gotten married a few month previously and he had traded in his pickup truck for a minivan that we needed. A single cab truck that only seats three people didn't seem practical and so we made the trade. Chris signed the papers and the man gave us a letter stating that we didn't have to pay our first payment until a certain date and yet the man called me that awful morning telling me was coming to take the van. I naively didn't realize he was outside our house getting ready to literally take the van away.
Once we realized what was happening and Chris made a few phone calls to the company holding the loan for the van, they wanted a lot of money. Money we didn't have at the time - it seemed insurmountable to us to come up with that sum. I remember sitting there and I began to cry and I asked him,
"Maybe we should find a lawyer and talk to him about giving Elizabeth up for adoption?"
Obviously, the answer was no on his part. However, my argument was this, if we couldn't even keep a minivan and retrieve it, how could we possibly give Elizabeth what she needed and take good care of her. She deserved to have parents who could not only love her, but take care of her needs. While the idea of giving her away tore my heart in two, so did the idea of her spending her childhood, hungry, cold or going without the basic necessities, much less the things she wanted.
We found the money to get the van back that day, by the way, but that stuck with Chris. He later told me it made him love me more. The point of me telling you that, is that I've been in the place of an unplanned pregnancy, I spent the first six months of my pregnancy dealing with the ramifications emotionally and even for two years after that. I lost my relationship with Christ and only after a time did it slowly return to some semblance of where it had been before I made my decision.
The thing is this. . . despite the choices you are facing, now or have faced in the past. No matter what, Christ is the Great Physician! He can heal all of your wounds and pain. Even the pain of choosing abortion. There is no sin so great He cannot cover it with His blood. God knows your heart and he is standing there knocking on the door. Even though Satan and the world tells you he cannot possibly forgive you - they are LYING! There is no mountain too high, no ocean to wide, and no sin too great that God cannot come to you and cleanse you from that sin. Yes, it is a sin to have an abortion, but it is not so insurmountable that He cannot rain his mercy and grace upon you.
If you are suffering in silence, or even not in silence tonight. I offer you hope - God is there. He is willing and waiting to hear your heart cry out for him. He is waiting - all you have to do is ask and He will come into your heart and transform you as He promised through Paul in the Bible. All things will pass away and you will become a new creation in Christ.
Please know you can seek help at any crisis pregnancy center - many of them offer help in coping with the aftermath of abortion.
May God bless your lives richly and may you feel His love, grace and mercy shining down on you.
Love in Christ,
Maureen

Fall, Rain, and What's to Come


Today is one of those rainy fall days. Driving to the store and looking at the beautiful vibrant colors of nature's swan song for the year I remembered someone tell me that Fall and Winter where a part of death and how it made them sad. So I began thinking about that and how it coincides with life and death.

I love Fall, it's one of my favorite times of year in fact, I love how it comes in after we are done sweating and wishing we could soak in a nice cold swimming pool. I love the beauty of the leaves that begin to turn in our neighborhood the vibrant reds, golds, and orange, the green begins to fade and we know that once again Mother Nature is winding down her year to rest for the winter.

So here is my thoughts on this. Fall and Winter are a lot like our lives. When we are born it's Spring and our lives are full of hope and promise of beautiful possibilities to come. Summer is when we are out of college and living our lives - we are moving quickly and generate a lot of heat because we are so busy with life and living it. However, as we begin to slow down and consider retiring we are in the Fall season of our lives, we still have beauty in us and we realize that while our lives are winding down we still have beauty to share with others. Then we enter the winter of our lives and still I maintain there is beauty. How beautiful is it to have a life we have lived and God willing have served Christ well. We have wisdom to share with the young (if they will listen) and sometimes we get a fresh coat of snow, but it's on our heads and not the ground. We can rest a bit more and enjoy time with friends and family.

Like nature when our winter comes near the end, someday we will find we were merely hibernating. Waiting for Christ to come and awaken us and make us new creatures with fresh new bodies. In Winter with nature, it isn't really death that happens, it is hibernation, waiting for Spring to come and renew the trees and plants. Aren't we doing the same thing - especially those of us who love God and want to have Him as our King at the end? When our winter of life ends, we may die, however, we know this is not the end - life eternal begins.

Eternity? What a concept. . . in fact, it is almost impossible to believe and wrap our heads around isn't it. So the next time you look at the Fall and think of death and life ending, remember we never really end - if we love God and seek Him with all of our hearts, life goes on with Him eternally. What a great thought.

Have a good weekend.

Love in Christ,
Maureen

Freud, Autism and Echoes

Written by a mom of a beautiful little girl with Pervasive Developmental Disorder. I am in
no way an expert, I am just sharing our experiences in hopes of encouraging and uplifting other parents going through the same journey in this crazy walk with Autism Spectrum Disorder.




Dr. Sigmund Freud theorized that human people are controlled by three aspects of personality. The Id, the Ego, and the Superego.





The Id, is the part of our nature that wants what it wants when it wants it and it doesn't care about the consequences. The Superego is the polar opposite of the Id. It is self-righteous, obsessed with doing the right thing no matter what. You could say it's Puritanical almost in it's drive to do the right thing - sometimes to an extreme.

Then there is the poor Ego - stuck in the middle, it is the part of ourselves that finds the happy medium between super morality and complete lack of concern for what consequences there are for having it's desires filled.

All children are controlled mainly by the Id. It is up to parents and their church family to teach them that the Id cannot have complete control. It is a process every parent faces. However, when you have a special needs child who is autistic or has autism spectrum disorder, there is another facet to equation. Elizabeth struggles with her Id like other children, however, add into this her poor impulse control and it means, that as her mom I often keep an eye on her more so than was necessary when Sarah was 9 yrs old. Sarah might want to do something, but she was able to stop and think about it for a few moments before acting or choosing to walk away. This is not always the case with Elizabeth - it's improved a great deal, but it's still a work in progress.

In many ways, I find it necessary to protect Elizabeth from herself. A good example of this, is the bus stop. Elizabeth rides a bus each day to and from school. Her bus stop is within plain sight of our dining room windows, however, when hurried or rushed, Elizabeth will run out into the street to get to her bus even if there are cars coming without looking. Because of her trouble remembering the simplest things (names are hard for her to remember and memorizing Bible verses - it happens, it just takes time) I have to watch that she doesn't talk to strangers - even though we have talked with her on numerous occasions about this very things. Going to Florida in March was fun, but I could not have possibly taken her with us to Disney World without Chris. While visiting some wonderful older friends of mine in Florida, Elveda wanted to take her to see the alligator in the pond where they live. I couldn't let her take her - Elizabeth would have wanted to go closer and without one of us there who is quicker, she might easily have become alligator bait and it would have been too late. These are just a few of the challenges that come with dealing with an autistic or special needs child.

That is one problem. As a young child though, the lack of impulse control also presented another issue. Language barriers. Even after entering public school, Elizabeth had and still struggles with aspects of speech. During her first years at her school, when asked a question, she would repeat the last word of the question. She could not at the time answer what my name or Chris' name were. She can do this now, but for a long time, it was a matter of great concern for us. Until a few years ago, she would have been a kidnappers dream - she might have escaped, but being able to tell the police anything that might have helped her, would have been nearly impossible. I am very relieved now that she can answer questions and give appropriate responses. Also as a young child of 2-6 Elizabeth often would repeat her favorite phrases over and over again. "To Infinity and beyond" was common in our house as well as the Tarzan yell (accompanied by stripping down to her underwear and beating her chest). She also often repeated phrases she heard from us often. A few examples of this are: "Oh Elizabeth" generally used when she did something naughty or "wait, wait, wait." This presented problems, because while she could repeat phrases she heard often, she did not know how to ask to play with other children, how to offer comfort verbally, and she was often picked on and ridiculed by students in her preschool classroom (had I realized the school had no intention of doing anything, I would not have left her there at all).

Having a child with autism spectrum disorder is challenging to say the least, however, it also comes with it some rewards. Elizabeth is still younger than her physical age so it means Daddy is still her "hero" and Mommy can still fix everything. She takes great pleasure in simple things and her imagination is amazingly vibrant and alive to the point when she plays with other children they can almost see what she is imagining. Yes it meant we had to find a way to unlock her from the world in her head and help her learn to function in the world today, but we also allow her to keep it alive inside her head too. We encourage her imagination with books and art in school and at home. Instead of watching a ton of TV, we often send the girls outside to play for multiple reasons. First, it isn't good for children to be couped up inside. Second, too much TV is not good for them, even though Lizzie needs it at times to help her decompress a bit. Third, I want the children and especially Lizzie to know how to entertain herself and play well other children, including her sisters.

Some of you are at the beginning of the path and only starting to walk it with your special needs child. Please, let me encourage you to look for and try to find the silver lining in this. It will be the difference between feeling like you are drowning and taking it one day at a time. This will not happen overnight, look for the positives if possible. At first, we didn't know what to expect from Elizabeth, so finding the nice things was a pleasant surprise. The Lord led us to the right school for Lizzie. Which is good, because without having sought his guidance, I don't know where I would have put her in school.

I hope you all have a good week. God bless you and walk with you today and all the days of your life.

In Christ,
Maureen Koeppel

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Happy Veteran's Day


This is our veteran - not the 3 yr old little squirt, the man holding her silly. This photo was taken at The Animal Kingdom March 2010 a little over a month after he'd returned home from his second tour in Iraq.
For the freedom to speak our minds, boycott, picket, and incite others with our differing views, my husband has been shot at, almost blown up and that is from the terrorists only. From his own people he has endured, hatred, ridicule, backstabbing from his superiors, and other unpleasantries. He has been sold out by an officer he thought he could trust and sent to a different base - why so some other person could cover their butts. He has spent the last 19 yrs serving God and country so that young upstarts can protest the war. The one thing that has not happened yet is he has not been spit on - and it's most likely a good thing - I might have to kill someone if they ever did that to my husband.
We are proud of Chris and his service. I am proud of him for being willing to go - he could have left the country and fled his duty, but he sees it as something he must do and for the most part he has enjoyed being in the Army.
I was not a fan of marrying a military man. I had a bad experience with a previous boyfriend who up and joined. It might not have been that big of a deal, but he supposedly wanted to marry me and yet made this choice without talking to me first. And I stupidly stayed with him through that (I know hindsight is 20/20 right?). But Chris has always talked to me about his choice to be in the military and he even left for a short period of time when we thought we would be moving out of state. While the move didn't happen, it did come to the point later where he wanted to join the Reserves later.
Some people have asked me how is supporting Chris is joining the Reserves different from encouraging him to buy a motorcycle? This is how. A motorcycle is dangerous and yes so is being a U.S. Soldier, but a motorcycle doesn't offer chances to prove what a good leader Chris can be or advancement opportunities. The Army saw the leader my husband could be and encouraged him and at a time in his life where he had a boss trying everything in her power to get him fired, the Army provided a way for Chris to regain a sense of self-worth that was being stripped from him by this boss. As his wife, I am supposed to want my husband to succeed. In fact, I think it is extremely important as a wife, to pray for and uplift my husband on a daily basis. I am not saying I should give him a big head, I am saying I should offer nurturing and support whenever I can provide it. As his wife, I supposed to seek God's will for Chris and yearn to see him succeed. The Reserves offered that to him especially at a time when he needed it the most.
Do I enjoy deployments? No. Do I enjoy being a single parent who is mom and dad to my girls for a year or longer? Not particularly. However, I do enjoy that Chris can hold his head up high and that he grows as a person while at home and while deployed. Deployments are stressful and difficult to go through to say the least, but they also offer us an opportunity to learn something that not every couple has the opportunity to learn - do not take each other for granted.
In truth, being in the Army has more than likely shortened Chris' life expectancy. Being exposed to things that might be hard on his body, being shot at, almost blown up, and thrown around by mortars has not done a lot to expand his life. But I would make the same choice again to encourage him in his pursuit of a life that allows him opportunities and a good retirement package. There are ups and there are downs, but through it all I know God will take care of us while Chris is home. He sends the right people to us at the right time and I have a good support network with my family and good friends (thank you to those who love military people and families).
Thank you to our fellow families and their Veteran's today. God Bless and Have a good weekend.
Love in Christ,
Maureen

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Potty Training

This is Miss Bekaboo - and yes the hair dye was only temporary. Three years old is a little young to be doing a permanent punk rock hairstyle, but for Halloween, why not?



Beka is three and a half years old and already she is older than Elizabeth was when I began potty training her. I opted to wait for several reasons. First, Chris deployed shortly before her second birthday and came home a few months before her third. Second, during the deployment, she was weaned from breastfeeding (she became a biter) and the binky. And finally, I felt that since Chris missed potty training Sarah and Elizabeth (for the most part he missed Lizzie's) that it was only fair he be here for potty training at least one of his children.


I might not have shared this view, had he not acted like such a wise acre when he returned home and one week later, Elizabeth decided since Daddy was home it was time to become a big girl.


I spent nearly a year working with Elizabeth. Of course, when I started with her I didn't know she had special needs, which probably worked in her favor because I might not have tried if I had known. However, I was tired of lugging a diaper bag with me everywhere and we thought about taking a cruise and I wanted her to be able to play with other children on the cruise in the children's program. I know they aren't very noble reasons, are they, but they were mine at the time and I have to claim them as my selfish desires. So Mom and I tackled potty training. We took her potty with us when we would go and when she would potty for us or poop we would clap and say, "Yeah for the potty girl!"


After months of working with her, I came to the conclusion that she must be waiting for Daddy to come home. Imagine his surprise when he came home and as he used the toilet she stood by him and stared at him while he used the facility and at the end, began to clap and yell, "Yeah for the potty girl!" He looked at me and as I laughed I explained, "It's a positive reinforcement thing, just go with it." So a week later she decided since Daddy must be home to stay that she would start using the potty like a big girl. Of course, Chris, ever the smart aleck looked at me and asked, "I don't know why you're complaining. This potty training thing is easy."



I love my husband, but in that moment I could have killed him - months of banging my head against the wall in frustration and he has to be a smarty pants. He still thinks it was funny.


So here we are facing the prospect of potty training another child.


I began last weekend and we had lots of fluid and stayed near the potty chair we have in our living room. We have a princess seat upstairs that goes over the toilet, she is so excited because she helped pick it out. So we started drinking fluids and watching her favorite movies and this week put her in big girl panties. I might not have been this brave, but her teacher Ms. Hadley and I had talked about it and we decided it was time to bite the bullet. So now she wears big girl panties and she has had a few accidents, but they have all been potty accidents. Urine is much easier to clean up than feces. I've done both, and at least she isn't into fecal art. That one nearly broke my spirit with Lizzie. I don't know to this day what Chris did, but the last time she did it, I started crying and he took over. It only happened that one time and after that, it didn't happen anymore.

Beka did a little art, but not like Elizabeth who would smear it everywhere. I didn't know this was something a lot of autistic children go through. I cannot tell you enough, how happy I am that we are past that phase in life with Lizze AND Beka.

I am so proud of Beka - she is doing so well. Yes she has had some accidents, but today we took her with Lizzie out to eat at Taco Shop (they are out of school for Veteran's Day and Taco Shop is very cheap). Daddy took Beka potty before we sat down to eat and then after we got home, she started to dance a little and realized, I have to potty! She pulled those pants down and she used the potty like a big girl!!!!!! So I think we are almost at the end of this part.

I have to share this with some of you. . . I listened to my friends who have multiple children and I listened to Dr. Phil. Dr. Phil hadn't tackled potty training yet with Lizzie, but he is right - when the child is ready it will happen within days or maybe a few weeks. Also Sheri is right - waiting really is better. If you go to www.babycenter.com and other pediatric websites, they have a checklist of how to tell when your child might be ready to potty train. There are quite a few websites like it, but I found that BabyCenter seems to be one of the better ones and so have some of my friends.

I hope you all have a good weekend and Happy Veteran's Day weekend.

In Christ,
Maureen Koeppel.