Tuesday, October 3, 2017
Beka tonight began singing, "You're Here" by Francesca Battistelli a song about Mary and her song to Jesus as a baby. And I began wondering. What kind of mother was Mary really? Was she jolly? Was she a lax mother or a strict mother. Did she laugh if Jesus accidentally got her in the face during a change of clothe diaper? Or was she incredibly strict and in control constantly?
Keep in mind I only speak from experience I've seen several types of mothers.
1. The mom who is in control of every single aspect of their child's life. They are so in their child's life, the child has no real identity of their own.
2. The mom who is strict and in control, but only for some things. I tend to be this mom - we are cautious about what we allow the girls to watch, they can listen to different types of music, but not without us talking about the lyrics and then once they have the information they make an informed choice, but we are cautious about books, with Elizabeth this is a necessity. However, the girls can walk to the library, the park and around our neighborhood because children need to be independent to some degree. As they grow older we give more freedom. We buy things that are needed, anything extra is for Christmas or birthdays. The one exception to this rule is books. I will buy my kids books all day long if I have the money to afford to do so.
3. The mom who only creates rules as needed. Leanne Tuohy is a good example - she allows her kids to live their life, but will create rules if it is needed because they made a poor choice.
4. The inconsistent mom who issues a punishment for some random rule she's made up and then a day later forgets all about it and the punishment ends. This is not a good strategy really - and it leaves a child wondering where they stand and they have no moral compass.
5. The parent with no rules, but they care about their kids. They just don't realize that rules are needed and would rather their kids like them than risk being unpopular or dealing with unhappy children. This parent also usually spends money on their child for things they don't really need but gives them whatever they want whenever they want it. These children are terrible to attempt to entertain - I speak from experience here. I've seen parents who actually fit into 4 and 5 together and then I've seen parents who are one or the other.
6. The parents that have no rule, and don't even meet a child's needs at all These are often the parents you read about in the news.
7. Parents who abuse their child - not because they don't love them, but because they don't know how to love and it is often a cycle of abuse being repeated. My late ex-stepdad, Jim fit into this . he made sure we had food and clothing and medical care, always made sure we had what we needed. But when you weren't raised by mentally healthy parents who are either mentally ill or a raging alcoholic and then in foster care or boys homes, it makes being a good parent tough. I can forgive Jim because I know he didn't want to be that man, he just didn't know how to be any different. And really, how can you hate a man who is miserable and whose brain is sick?
8. People who should just never be allowed to have children ever again. I'm sure we have all seen a few examples of this.
Anyway as I was thinking over the lyrics of this song, I decided we won't know while we were alive. We only have a few clues really. Somehow I don't think Mary was an incredibly strict mother who never allowed Jesus any independence, after all, they were three days away from Jerusalem before they realized he wasn't with them. But I don't know how joyful she could be either? After all, it's very hard to be joyful when your country is under Roman rule and you are at the mercy of soldiers and a roman governor and his whims. We know she loved Jesus, she was there at the cross as he was dying. We know Jesus cared for her because he asked John the Beloved to watch over her. Maybe she was in the middle of uber strict and a lax mom? We won't know really until we get to heaven.
I hope you all have a good week.
Monday, October 2, 2017
1. Croupy, barky coughs. After spending years racing for a nebulizer, to the urgent care of worse, the Emergency Room, that sound makes my hair on the back of my neck raise, my heart starts racing, I'm immediately vigilant and watching Lizzie or Beka like a hawk. I hate croup, hate is not a strong enough word for how I feel, really.
2. Three letters. I. E. P. I think we'd discussed this one ad nauseum.
3. When my girls don't come home on time. Elizabeth was a little Houdini from birth. She had three separate ankle and wrist cufflets in the hospital and she consistently managed to find a way to remove them as 2 days old. I wish I were kidding. I had no idea that it was a portent of things to come.
By the time Elizabeth was six years old, she had shut down the Kansas Visitor center on I-35. She literally had a dress that blended with the neighbors of friends we visited swing set - I'm not kidding - it was the exact same pattern and colors. Then she shut down both levels of Wichita's Towne East Mall because she decided to play hide and seek in the clothing racks. And then let's not forget the debacle of 2013 when she gave me the wrong child's name and was upstairs while we all frantically searched for her throughout Everett.
And then there is Beka and her six-hour adventure in which she decided for some unknown reason to walk from our house to Burlington and see the Best Buy, stopping for popcorn along the way and seeing the chicks at The Country Store. Six hours of police, Chris, Sarah and the search and rescue team looking for her while I was trapped in the house because I had second-degree burns and couldn't go outside without covering up. I won't even paint a picture of how traumatic it was for Chris searching through the creek for Beka. And people wonder why I have gray hair?!
So today Lizzie missed her bus, instead of calling us from the office at school, she decides to walk home instead. So about the time, I began worrying and getting anxious, she walked into the house. I knew she was coming because Lily heard her first and began going to the door looking for her. Having a dog has proved very helpful. One of these days the girls will be grown and out of the house. Even Elizabeth will eventually have her own place and hopefully her own family and when those days come I will miss my girls. I won't miss the moments when my hair became grayer faster.
And yet in these moments, I have learned to stop, pray and listen for God to prompt me. When Elizabeth went missing the last time in 2013 praying told me I should head home. When Beka went missing, it was a prayer that kept me calm and praying for Sarah and Chris to hear God speaking to them that helped find Miss Beka - walking downtown.
I hope you all have a good week.
Friday, September 29, 2017
As we drove towards home, I glanced over and then stared a bit longer. It's been raining here off and on all day and as I looked at the sunset I was amazed. The clouds met the skyline as a large black mass, but not an ominous mass, it was just there. The sky we could see was colored dark blue, deep orange and some pink and we could see the rain coming down from the clouds and I was in awe. These are those moments when I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that God is real.
Those moments when you see the ocean waves coming into the shore and going back out again. When it is worked up and tumultuous and the waves are topped with white caps and you wonder if anyone could ever survive on an ocean like that. When I see babies or people when I hear my girls laugh and giggle. When the stars come out at night and they are so vibrant, I feel as if I could almost touch then - those are those moments when I know absolutely 100 percent that God is real.
Tonight the house is quiet for the night. Sarah is at work, the girls are sleeping, the dog is laying nearby and softly snoring. I hear Chris snoring softly in our bedroom and I know that God is real.
It hasn't always been so. I still even occasionally ask myself What if I'm wrong and God isn't real? Even Thomas doubted and so did the apostles after Jesus arose from the dead. They wondered if it were really possible he was alive. But I find as I grow older and see God working in lives and intervening more, I know He is real. I have seen him take my brother from death's doorstep and turn it around so that he is still with us. He has healed me from emotional scars and worries and self-doubt. I've seen him do amazing things in the lives of others and heal them in ways people would never dream could happen or intervene. Like when Beka was missing for 6 hours. I was praying that God would help Sarah and Chris hear Him speaking to them and guide them where to find her. Sarah was ready to come home when something told her that she should go back through downtown one more time and voila, there was Beka. Or when after a year of financial hardship within two weeks time everything fell perfectly into place so we could move into a nice apartment complex while we waited to begin house hunting. Seriously, it couldn't have happened that way by coincidence and the manner in which it all happened, I knew it was God at work. And for some reason, he seems to really like February for our family.
Tonight as you go to bed, I pray you rest well, have sweet dreams and that you find answers for your doubt.
Sunday, September 24, 2017
Growing up as a girl, Tricia's dad had abandoned her family when she was just a little girl and her stepdad was emotionally distant. So Tricia did what girls without a stable and positive father figure do - she looked for love in all of the wrong places. But after an abortion at 15 and teen pregnancy at 17 Tricia found God and he began to slowly transform her life. As you read the book, she will share her story with you.
Walk It Out is a call to the church to begin being the hands and feet of Jesus to a world in desperate need to see his light. It will challenge you to get off your tush and reach out to help those in need. And let's be honest in today's world, there are many who need our help. But it also acknowledges that we can change the world for Christ, one person at a time. We just need to be open to listening to God's voice and allowing him to use us.
Walk It Out is coming out October 1st and you can pre-order the book here today at this link.
Don't wait, it can change your life and help change the world.
Elizabeth can cook, clean, take care of her basic hygiene needs, sometimes make her own decisions depending on the situation. Her deficiencies are dimmer than when we started. She can speak now, although not always with proper grammar, she struggles with social skills, she lives in her own fantasy world - and truthfully after listening to her when she talks to herself I can see the appeal - imaginary friends don't judge you and you can do anything with no struggles. If only life worked that way. She is trusting to a fault - although I'm unsure if that is her ASD or just because she is my child and believes the best of everyone. She struggles with money - as in not spending it or giving it away. She loves to buy people gifts or little things. We often hold her back from going overboard. She also really, really, really, really struggles with impulse control - yes I used that many reallys and it isn't even close to the number it should be. Thinking things through sometimes happens, but more often than not - it doesn't and if we aren't vigilant it will get her into trouble.
The neat thing is, she loves children and she has been wanting to babysit for some time now. Tomorrow she gets her first chance. And from this point forward, I'm going to unapologetically brag on my girl. Elizabeth is going to babysit tomorrow while our interim pastor and I are interviewing a potential pastoral candidate for our church with other committee members. Chris will be in the house as a safety net so things should be safe. The biggest issue may be whether or not Dakota gets enough licks from Lily and has enough toys to play with from the toy box (not a problem, I assure you, we have a plethora of toys). Today at church, Elizabeth took it upon herself with zero prompting from me to find Pastor Paul and ask him what she needed to know about babysitting Dakota his daughter. She asked about food, likes, rules, and I couldn't be prouder of her!!! These are those moments, I live for when I know she is going to be okay. She will still need a safety net, but I can see a bright future ahead of her.
In the beginning, we didn't know if we would have these moments where we could be proud. It was tough, I won't lie. Friends would brag about how well their kids were doing in school, and I was just thrilled if Lizzie made it through a day without a call from the school or a teacher's note. When she began to excel in school and do better, it felt as if we should be throwing a parade. It would have been a one family parade, but it deserved one nonetheless to me. When she was given the Tiger Pride Award for most improved in 9 weeks of school, I wept tears of joy. When she began reading, I cried off and on for a week because until then I wasn't certain if that was going to happen for our girl. The battles have been hard, but slowly we are winning them. Yes, we face new challenges sometimes, but it doesn't negate the victories won to get us to this point. Someday Elizabeth may get married, she could even have children she may even go to college and have a steady job, we don't know what God has planned for her future. But I know that no matter what, she can succeed and that is a huge win for this mom's heart.
Have a good week.
Thursday, September 21, 2017
Cold and flu season has arrived as usual with the dropping temperatures. While a cold or round of influenza isn't a big deal to someone who is relatively healthy for Elizabeth this means we need to be careful. This year we are getting a reminder of why.
When we homeschooled, Lizzie was insulated from the majority of the typical illnesses that kids share with each other. Now that she is back in public school though and so is Rebekah they are both being exposed to a lot of new things we haven't had to deal with for a while. This may seem like typical kid stuff for everyone else, but for Elizabeth, it means a lot of watchfulness and making sure she stays healthy and she isn't even immunosuppressed.
Last week, Beka wasn't feeling well. She had a sore throat and stuffy nose and a slight cough. I figured it was allergies and still sent her to school. Now I know it wasn't allergies, it was some virus and now Elizabeth has it and began showing symptoms Monday evening. I kept her home on Tuesday so she could rest some and her color improved enough that I felt she could return to school on Wednesday. I should have kept her home an extra day and I'll be kicking myself for that a while. We are approaching Friday and I know Lizzie will be remaining home. She is coughing deeper and deeper from her chest, so tomorrow we go to the doctor's office and get her checked out, but more importantly, she is staying home and will spend the weekend resting, drinking plenty of fluids and trying to get her well.
I hate asthma. I hate that it means her respiratory system is weaker than others. I hate late night ER runs and frantic calls to doctors when medicine and inhalers don't cut it. But what I really hate is sitting by watching her struggle and being unable to do more for her other than trying to soothe her and keep her calm. I feel so helpless when these spells come.
I will pray, always, and it really does help. I know that God is with her and He knows my fears and worries. It soothes the fear and feelings of being out of control. Because in truth, life is short. We do not have control, we have an illusion of control and daily, I take my hands off the wheel and give it to God. Sometimes this is once a day, sometimes it is hour by hour, minute by minute and quite a few times second by second.
So tonight, I will probably sleep in the living room, listening to make sure she doesn't go into distress. Tonight, I will pray and give my daughter to God, because he is the Great Physician and tonight, I will trust that come what may, He has a plan and someday I will hopefully get to see it.
Tonight, I will read, I will journal, I will blog, I will pray and pray and pray. I will pray for blessings on my family, I will pray for healing for Elizabeth, I will pray for Sarah and James and his little girl Victoria. Tonight, I will pray that tomorrow Elizabeth will be feeling much better or that we can get her some extra support to help ease her breathing.
Thank you, Papa, that we can give you our burdens and worries. Thank you that you know our needs even before we come to you but that you like to hear us give them to you anyway. Thank you that ultimately you are in control and you know the bigger picture.
This morning started off ringing - literally my phone was ringing at 5:30 a.m. It was a friend on the East Coast, she had accidentally called me. So I fell back to sleep for a whole whopping hour before it was time to wake and get the girls moving. As a rule, I struggle with going back to sleep, but today that was not the problem at all. YEAH!!!!
Then Beka went to the bathroom to brush her teeth. The problem was she closed the door. We knew the knob would need to be replaced shortly after we moved into the house. The knob likes to stick and the girls all share one bathroom. It's nice having a separate bathroom so Chris and I can keep our bathroom cleaner than the girls keep theirs. Today, however, I heard the familiar sound of someone wrestling with the guest bathroom door. Usually, after a few tries, I hear a familiar click. This was not the case this time around. Instead, I heard it become more frantic as Beka realized she was trapped in the bathroom. I quickly went to go help her, but alas, it would not budge. So I grabbed a butter knife and went to work removing the knob so I could see inside and figure out the problem.
The problem is that the doorknob and it's mechanism are older, so the inside mechanism is breaking down and it got stuck in the position to keep the door secured. It took a little finagling but I finally got the mechanism to move into the position to unlock and we were able to free Beka. Chris will be buying a new knob and system on his way home from work today.
Like the doors knob that became worn after years of wear and tear, our spiritual life can become stuck sometimes. Years of trials can wear us down and we can become stuck. It's easy when we have spiritual valleys or even deserts to wonder if God cares. We know he does, Jesus tells us it is true. Remember we read in Matthew 6 yesterday, we learn from Jesus that God cares for the animals, and how much more must he care for us?! Sometimes in the middle of the storm, it is hard to feel God's presence, but He is still with us. I love the Casting Crows Praise You in the Storm and the new Mercy Me song, Even If , here are the words to the chorus:
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don't
My hope is You alone
Wednesday, September 20, 2017
If you follow my blog, then you know of my love for Fall. More to the point, I love all things Fall, except for Halloween, I can take or leave it. I love the colors and so many other things about Fall, but one of my favorite things is Thanksgiving. I love finding reasons to be thankful and I find that especially in times of trial or exceptionally awful times that making a list of things to be thankful for, keeps me humble, and it helps me keep my eye on the fact that even though tough times come, so do good times, it's really all about waiting out the storm.
I also find that in listing my reasons to be grateful that it helps me stay positive. In a world with constant headlines and negative press right and left that can be a daunting task. It takes an awful lot of energy to find good things in bad situations. It also doesn't take as much energy to find the negative, but in reality how we view tough times is about our perspective.
Right now, money is tight for us. We are managing, but there isn't a lot of wiggle room for extras really. I can choose to be pessimistic or I can choose to remember that God is always providing for our family and that He is faithful. I choose the latter of the two. And I have noticed that it helps me sleep better. Before I would have been a mess, I would have had awful insomnia and struggled to stay positive. It's easy to default to that, but I choose instead to be thankful that we have food to eat, a roof over our heads and enough money to pay the bills. It sounds odd I know, but it is still important to keep that positive attitude because it also means I am doing several things. First, staying positive means I am trusting God to take care of us. As someone who came from instability that isn't an easy task for me to accomplish. However, I know that in Matthew Jesus himself said, "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drinks; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?" Matthew 6: 25 & 26 You are more valuable than the animals God created? He takes care of them, so how much more is he going to take care of us?! That's an awesome thing to think about. Those verses have comforted me more often than I can tell you. Secondly, I am slowly giving up control. Believe me when I tell you that giving up control is not easy. I like being in control, but I know that when I am in control that I mess things up. And when I give God control, I see a much more favorable outcome. So as I age, I am more willing to let God have control. And when God has it under control, I know I can be thankful.
What are you grateful for today? I will share my list, feel free to share your reasons to be thankful in the comments section.
1. I am thankful that God always takes care of our needs and that he is patient with me when I struggle to have control.
2. I am thankful that Chris really likes his job and he gets to chance to travel for work from time to time. He enjoys traveling and seeing new places and things.
3. I am thankful that Lizzie and Beka are both feeling better today after needing a down day yesterday.
4. I am thankful that we have phones now so we can stay connected to other people. Can you imagine how lonely people must have been before phones came along?
Those are just a few things I have for today. I would like to challenge you to find reasons to be thankful this Fall, yes, I said Fall. Make this a season of being Thankful, not just for the holiday but for every day and see how it changes your perspective.
Tuesday, September 19, 2017
Today is one of those days when I have two out of three sick children at home. I am one of the fortunate few who gets the privilege of being a stay at home mom. It isn't something I take lightly because I have friends who don't have that option. And I happen to like being a stay at home mom.
So what do I do when my girls feel under the weather? It isn't a ton of fun, but it's our method. When I was a little girl, if I was sick there was no tv until Mom was certain I was really sick. Given how often I was home sick (it wasn't often), it didn't take long for Mom to realize that I was truly sick. Once I began feeling a little bit better, I was allowed to lounge on the sofa for a bit, maybe watch TV, depending on if I felt well enough to do so.
1. Lots of fluids. Hydration is important and given that the average American is not properly hydrated, to begin with, I would be surprised if remember this one. So drink up when you are sick, water is always best, but juice, tea, something fizzy if you have a funny tummy, I think you get my point.
2. Jello. It sounds weird I know, but I add fruit juice into my Jello Knox Blox so they get calories and it's soft and easy on the throat.
3. Lots of rest. Even now, the girls are snuggled up on the sofa with blankets and pillows resting and reading for now. Depending on how they feel throughout the day, I may have them spend time on their school work.
4. Snuggles: Snuggles help make everything seem less bleak. In fact, it's often one of the orders I give, you need snuggles twice a day prescribed by Dr. Mom.
5. Doctor's visit: Depending on the severity of the illness a doctor's office visit may be in the cards. Two years ago Beka was dreadfully sick near her birthday and actually on her birthday. She even took naps snuggling with Chris or I and she was 8 years old at the time, so snuggles weren't usually something she enjoyed doing when she could run outside and play instead. She lay listless and lethargic, it was scary to see her that way. I am not especially fond of seeing Elizabeth sick either, but Beka is so rarely ill that is was especially scary.
6. Stay on top of medicine. If your child is sick enough to visit the doctor, the odds are good that they will tell you to give Tylenol and ibuprofen or some kind of medication. Stay on top of that medication - it eases your child's suffering AND it eases your suffering as well. I don't know about your child but mine tend to be whiny when they don't feel well so medication helps with a lot of things, but especially the whinies.
7. Be patient. This one sounds simple in practice, but in truth it is tough to be patient when you have things to get done and you can't leave the house because your child is sick. I usually can send Chris or he gives me a break so I can run to the store or do what I need to do to grab what we all need. But I admit even I get antsy if the girls are confined to the house for too long, but you want them to get better quickly, so be patients and rest with them.
8. Last but certainly not least. Pray. It is a privilege to pray for our children. Never is this more needed than when they are sick or facing challenges. Plus you can slip in a prayer for yourself as well if the illness is prolonged and let's be honest here, by the time our kids feel better we are just as ready as they are for them to feel better.
I hope you all have a good week.
Monday, September 18, 2017
I see you. I have felt your pain. And I want you to know you are not alone. All of us who are on this roller coaster ride with Autism have been at the beginning of the journey struggling to remain strong while wanting to fall apart. All of us heard those words, Autism or Autism Spectrum.
My journey started in 2006 when my daughter was four years old. Eleven years later she has come a long way. The child who could barely speak now talks non-stop. The girl who would bang her head when she was frustrated now can somewhat tell me what's going on, at the very least, she has found a less self-destructive way to express her frustration and angst. It won't always be an easy road, but it can come with amazing blessings. The first time your child talks to you when their therapy begins to do what it's designed to do if you are fortunate enough when your child hugs you. These seem so small to other families, but to us and those living with Autism, they are huge. So again let me share some of the lessons I learned as we live with an Autism Spectrum Disorder.
1. Some people will strive to be awesome and supportive - keep those people. Some people won't get it and more importantly they have zero desire to get it - walk away now while you can, it won't get better or easier and honestly, you will expend enough emotional energy advocating for your child so save that extra energy instead of wasting on people who won't be supportive of you. Some people won't get it, but they want to get it. You need to keep these people, give them a few extra measures of grace and mercy when they say something stupid because we are all human and we all say stupid stuff from time to time, Heaven knows I sure do.
2. A good team can be a huge asset. Speech therapy, occupational therapy, ABA, the list goes on, but all of these are designed to help you and your child grow and meet the challenges he or she faces daily.
3. It's okay to have bad days. First, you are not alone on having bad days. When we first began the journey with Elizabeth we had a lot of bad days. Change would set her off, sugar set her off, food coloring set her off, anything really could set her off. Some days she woke up and was all over the place, so I closed up the house, called her in to school, let her watch Veggie Tales until I thought I'd lose my mind if I heard the theme song again (and it's a catchy little song, but not 20 times in one day). Thankfully, because she had a great team, they understood that when she was off, she needed to stay someplace safe and familiar. School at that time was not that place. It became that place slowly though with great teachers and team members who helped Lizzie adjust.
4. You didn't do anything wrong. If you are like me, when you read this, it will take a while before it sinks in that really nothing we said, ate, drank or did caused our child to have Autism, it wasn't vaccines, because Autism is in the brain, all of those neural networks are working on overdrive, a vaccine did not cause that, something else did, but it wasn't you. I say this as the mom who beat herself up for a year because I felt as if I had failed my daughter in so many ways. I still occasionally struggle with those feelings, but really there isn't anything we did. It isn't our fault and it's okay to give yourself time to get your heart and head to catch up.
5. It is okay to mourn. In some ways a diagnosis, no matter if it is health related, developmental related, or mentally related means a death of our dreams. All parents have dreams for their children when they are born or expecting them (at least the parents I know did and do). You will dream again, but first, you have to let go of what you thought your journey would be with your child - that is like a death of sorts. It's normal to grieve, even be in denial, or struggle with acceptance and just as the cycle doesn't really end for those who lose a loved one, it doesn't really end for us either, it just shifts and changes as time goes on.
6. It's okay to be scared and uncertain of the future. It's also okay to research like crazy. Goodness knows I researched everything and anything. I even had a period of time where I shut down for a little bit. It was too much, and we had too many things happen in our family and I just couldn't keep on keeping on anymore.
7. Be patient with your spouse, they are grieving too and it is also hard for them. Men compartmentalize things more than women. Not all men, but a good chunk of them. So Chris didn't talk to me about his grief over Elizabeth's diagnosis and I didn't talk to him and then we came together and started talking and discovered we weren't alone. It helped a lot.
8. Be your child's advocate. If you can't do it, find someone who can help you learn how. You are the difference between your child falling through the cracks versus your child getting the services and the help they need.
9. Listen to your instincts. If your intuition says something isn't right at school, I find that unexpected visits help a lot. I am a big fan of dropping in unannounced. I have been fortunate to never find a problem, but not all parents have been so lucky.
10. Work with your child's team, not against them. This one is important, they need to know what is going on at home because if something is off at home, it makes for an off day at school. Keep them in the loop, talk to them. Let them know you are on their side. Being a parent of a child with special needs isn't easy, but neither is being a teacher and you don't have to constantly attend seminars or conferences and classes to keep your license to be a parent. Teachers do, so it's tough to do your job if parents are working against you. In our house we have a strict rule, if you get in trouble at school, you get in trouble at home.
11. Know when to fight and when to let something slide. Some battles will be big and need to be fought, like whether your child should join a self contained classroom or not - that is a big battle. Especially, if you feel that it isn't the best place for your child. Other battles are small, so let them slide, like clothing choices. Decide what is important to you and go from there.
12. It's okay to tell your child no. This one is tough because I think as we are adjusting to our new normal, it is easy to over indulge our children. Chris and I certainly fell into this trap after Lizzie was diagnosed, then once the shock began wearing off, we got back on track and insisted on better behavior. So if you have fallen into this trap, just know you aren't the first parent and you won't be the last parent to slide for a little while.
I hope this helps you as you start your journey. You can do this, it will be tough, but it doesn't mean the world is ending. It may feel that way for a while, but it isn't really, it's just going to take some time to grieve and adjust.
I hope you all have a good week.
Friday, September 15, 2017
I am thrilled right now. It is Friday evening, the mornings are wonderfully cool and I have a song to sing.
To a conga tune sing with me if you want.
I am wearing flannel
And it makes me happy.
(Repeat as often or not as you prefer)
I am loving this beautiful cool weather. I love how it smells. I love seeing leaves on the ground, I love it all. But this year I have even more reasons to love the cooler weather.
Since not everyone who reads my blog is my friend on Facebook. I will share on here. In early June I was lighting our grill and used too much lighter fluid, I also unwisely closed the lid to the grill and went to light the charcoal and whoosh, flames shot out. I lost my eyebrows, and some of my hair. I also sustained second degree burns on my lips, hands and arms. I am feeling better and stronger now, but as a result I must wear gloves for one to two years while my burns finish healing completely. Have you ever tried wearing gloves when it's hot outside? It is unpleasant to say the least. It is why we cancelled our trip to Vegas, gloves in arid dry hot climates are not fun and if I am truly being a stickler I should probably wear long sleeves, but I couldn't quite bring myself to do it during the warm season.
So now, I can lower my electric bill, wear the flannel I love so much, and sip hot tea inside and outside. It is marvelous! And then tonight I found a huge maple leaf that had turned yellow and was on our deck. It was a sweet sight and made my heart sing with joy. It made me equally happy to hear we may have another winter like last year. I would dearly love another winter with snow. I love how it looks when it's all freshly fallen and clean. I don't even mind when it's dirty (Nope, I am not a neat freak).
Enjoy your weekend and I will see you next week.
Thursday, September 14, 2017
Monday, September 11, 2017
As she walked in the door I performed several different things. First, we snuggled. Then we giggled a bit. Then we talked about why she felt her day wasn't so great. She is bored in Math - I can see that she is used to being constantly challenged education wise. But she isn't proficient in her multiplication facts and I pointed this out to her. So she is bored for now, but she won't be bored for the whole school year. Then she complained that her teacher made her sit up and didn't care that she was sulking. So we covered that Mrs. Forslund has other students who need her attention and she will have to get used to not being the sole focus of her teacher. This one is going to take some time. Somewhere along the way, we seem to have inadvertently sent our youngest the message that the world revolves around her. Newsflash - it doesn't so she's sucking it up. Then some kid took her headphones off of her ears and purposely screamed in her ears. Now this one, I can get involved in and will tomorrow. Beka doesn't know that is my plan, but doggone it, it isn't okay.
Once I was satisfied that I had addressed her complaints, we had a chat. Today's chat was about perspective and perseverance. Perspective, to help her look for the positive stuff in the day instead of always looking for the bad stuff. Perspective so that she can find a way to not feel quite so gloomy. She was so excited to attend school and it is entirely too early for her to hate it right now.
Now for Perseverance. We read James 1: 2 -4 "2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, and sisters,[a] whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything." (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=James+1&version=NIV). We even looked up the word perseverance - which is a fancy way of saying being determined, or stubborn, in short, it means you don't give up easily and keep trying even when it looks tough. Life will be full of difficult things, it will be full of trials and obstacles that come our way, but we must persevere or remain determined to finish what we start. I admit I struggle with this one a lot, especially lately. It isn't that I don't want to finish what I start, it's that illness or injury stood in my way this year. I am very ready for 2018 to start. I reminded Beka that she promised to attend school for the entire year. And I stand by that. I don't necessarily like seeing my daughter unhappy, but it's time that she learned to stick with her commitments. For that matter, I think it needs to be my New Year's Resolution as well this coming year to start a project and finish it.
Today wasn't so great for Beka, but tomorrow is a new day and I think it can improve and that she has some great lessons to learn this year. I look forward to watching her grow as a young lady and see the growth it will bring in her.
I hope you all have a good week.
Saturday, September 9, 2017
Today's verses were John 15: 9-14. Great paragraph, but the two verses that stuck out to me are verses 12 and 13, "This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you. There is no greater love than to lay down one's life for one's friends." New Living Translation (NLT)
As I read through those verses I felt compelled to visit several different translations and each time I saw that the words remained remarkably similar with only a few differences. Each time Jesus is commanding that we are brothers and sisters in Christ love each other the same way God loves us.
What exactly does that love mean? Well, lets take a look. We see examples of how much God loves us in many ways throughout the New Testament. John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
1 John 4:9 says something very similar "This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. But perhaps one of the most famous verses that talk to us about what love is, in 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8 "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no records of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, trusts, always hopes and always perseveres. Love never fails. . . " Jesus even takes it a step further than Paul in Corinthians, he tells us to love our enemies. Luke 6: 32 "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who loved them." verse 35 carries on, "But love your enemies, do good to them and lend to them without expecting anything back". He continues on about mercy and extending it because God extends mercy to us, even though we don't deserve it.
Then I began thinking about whether or not we love others as we should often. I admit it, I am guilty of failing to love those who aren't kind to me. I struggle with wanting them to pay. I want justice, sometimes I want to be the one who dishes it out. Is that normal for me as a human being? Of course, it is. However, it is not what God wants me to do. He wants me to love those who hurt me, who are my enemy or who persecute me. Let's be honest, that is a tough pill to swallow for many of us. Do you tend to love others who hurt your feelings or harm you? Probably not because like me, you too are human and flawed. Can God change our heart so that we still love others when they harm us? ABSOLUTELY!!!
Now for the real rub. Do we as the Body of Christ, truly love each other the way we should? In all honesty, often times no we don't love others as God loves us. After all, would we love others enough to sacrifice our own children to save other lives? As a mom, I am uncertain if I could do it.
My mother in law and I were discussing it the other day and admitted to each other we would most likely be unable to sacrifice our own child. This brought us to the story of Abraham and God asking Abraham to love him (God) enough to offer up the son he and his wife had waited almost a century for as the sacrifice. Let's stop for a second, and let me point out, this is a story that took place in the Torah, before King David, before the years in which Israel flaunted their lack of obedience, eventually earning them many years in exile in the country Babylon (or Persia). And I would like to point out how Abraham, who loved Isaac so greatly, obeyed God and laid his son on the altar and had the knife raised to sacrifice him before God interceded. Do you see the parallel? A man who loved his son greatly would have sacrificed his son to atone for sin. God gave his only son to atone for our sins - a son who did nothing wrong. And he showed us this act years before prophets began predicting the Messiah would come. That is an amazing love. Just as Abraham would never have another son, God only has Jesus as his son. Just as Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son for sin, God did actually sacrifice his son for us so that we can be free. If someone told you today that if you sacrifice your child that you could save the entire world from sin, would you sacrifice your son or daughter? I'm pretty sure most of us are unwilling to do that. I know I would deeply wrestle with that decision if God asked it of me. In fact, I am pretty sure I wouldn't have the strength to sacrifice one of my girls even if it would save the whole world.
Think about that level of sacrifice and what it calls for. Then think about how much that means Jesus loved us that he was willing to be the sacrifice of all sacrifices. Even if he did know he would come back from the dead, his death was far from an easy one. The fact that he survived the flogging from the Romans is amazing, then the shock and exhaustion he was already facing from lack of sleep and excruciating pain of being beaten, flogged and then nailed to cross. The fact that he survived at all to make it to the cross is fairly miraculous to me. That is love.
God tells us of his love over and over again, but nowhere more clearly than in 1 Corinthians 13, the love chapter. That isn't just how we are to love others, but it also is how God loves us! So now let me ask you a really tough question. Do you live this command out? If not, are you willing to ask God to help you live it out? Will you be real love? Not the lie the world is attempting to sell to us these days that says you must agree with others if you love them, or you give them your body if you love them. Will you be patient, kind, will you not boast, lose your pride, be willing to be self-less, slow to anger, will you always protect, never give up and always persevere? Will you love each other enough that you put aside the petty things? Will you show them grace, mercy, and forgiveness just as God has shown you?
Thank you for your Word. Thank you that you love us even though we are hopelessly flawed. Thank you for sharing with us how you want us to live daily in the Bible.
Help me to love my fellow human beings as you love me and to remember how much you love me, you forgive me my faults, sins, and stupidity and to extend that same love to others. Make me a beacon of light and hope into the darkness surrounding our world and may others see you instead of me.
Have a good weekend.
Wednesday, September 6, 2017
Today is a big day in the Koeppel household. Today the girls began school. For the first time in six years, I am sitting in a house without laptops pulled out. This year there are no notebooks, pencil boxes scattered in the morning routine of learning at our kitchen table. This morning, I am sipping hot tea and trusting in the verse in the picture.
"Trust in the Lord with all your Heart and lean not on your own understanding, In all your ways acknowledge Him and he will make straight your paths." Proverbs 3: 5 & 6. Talking about trust is easy when the words are coming out of your mouth. Trusting when the bank account is overdrawn, groceries are dwindling and you aren't certain how to get through the month is a lot tougher. Trusting when you allow others to help you after being hurt and let down, is exponentially tougher. But that is a part of this journey as we seek a deeper relationship with God. Allowing God to tear down walls and soften our hearts is scary. After all, isn't our fear that maybe what we hear isn't right and God won't love us. In truth, God already knows our hearts and whether they are loveable or not. By the world's standards, we may seem like good people. But God expects more from us. He sees past our hurts, wounds, and scars and knows all that we can be now and in the future. Our walls don't fool God, he can see past them and through them already. He knows every wound, every betrayal, he also knows our weaknesses and strengths and He loves us anyway.
My prayer for today is that God speaks to your heart and soul, gives you healing where you need the healing. Let us pray together.
Thank you for new school years, new teachers, new students, and new adventures. Lord, please be with our teachers as they work to engage and excite our children to learn. Please bless them with an extra measure of strength and stamina. Bless our teachers with giggles and smiles. Bless them with parents who truly wish to see their children learn and work with teachers instead of against them.
Please be with our children as they go to school with new teachers. Calm their fears and concerns, ease their minds and help them sit still and pay attention when needed. Help them to see that teachers are meant to be their friends. Help them make friends and have a good year as they learn.
Be with special needs children and teachers and parents. Bless them as they struggle and strive to aid our special babies in growth and moving towards the goals set before them.
Shine your light into the darkness, protect our children and our teachers and staff. Keep your hand on this school year and all who bravely go into public school.
I would like to say this prayer is just for you, but in truth, I am a bit nervous about leaving the girls in the hands of public schools. There are some great things about public schools, but for me it is about giving up control and that is tough aftering being Mom and teacher for six years.
Have a good day.
Tuesday, September 5, 2017
Today was M Day. World War 2 had V-Day for victory, but for me, it's an M-Day, because M stands for Meeting. Graduation for Elizabeth will be V-Day and a huge day to celebrate in the Koeppel household. But that day is still four or five years away because Lizzie gets more time to finish due to being diagnosed with special needs.
I went into the decision unsure of what to expect from the school. I worried that the teachers would be like the ones I met at Madison Elementary school (apathetic) or they would talk like they came from backwoods Oklahoma (or how people think all Oklahomans speak), poorly and not up for the challenges of teaching my daughter. But I met this team and I was impressed, very impressed. Instead of eye rolls or excuses, I was met with thoughtful and insightful ideas to help Lizzie succeed. That is always my goal for her - success. We will face failures and setbacks, but if I have learned anything in raising this amazing young woman is she is tenacious in all the good ways. She is also determined and willing to meet our challenges. People will sometimes mistake her kind heart for weakness, but it is one of the things that make her strong and make her doggone amazing!!!
So the school has a psych/social group - which is designed to help her adjust to the changes happening. They also have English labs which she will have everyday unless they assess her and feel she can go up a level. Ironically, their green day/white day part of school is more confusing for me than it will probably be for her. I had to have them explain it to me several times. But this is how I understand it. This week they start school on a Wednesday so Wednesday and Friday will be one schedule then Thursday will be the classes she takes for a White Day. Each class is 84 minutes long (please, Lord let them give the kids a break to stretch?!) and each day is different. Next week, they start opposite so Monday, Wednesday, and Friday will be White Days, and Tuesday and Thursday will be Green Days. If you are scratching your head, please don't feel bad. I needed it explained a couple of times myself to fully catch on. She also gets speech therapy, and we will wait and see how things go before we continue to progress.
So here is my personal challenge. I know Lizzie is smart. I never worried about her intelligence, not ever. However, I struggle with patience. I am a terrible wait on God person. It's a character flaw, God has been talking to me about for quite some time now. So now I get to wait. I wait to see how Lizzie adjusts, wait to see how well the school does what they need, wait to see if I don't lose my mind because a part of the reason I am not good at waiting is that then I am not in control. Growing up in upheaval has a tendency to make one be a bit of a control freak. I'm not type A or anal retentive, but certain things I prefer to be in control of (driving the car, for example, I am a terrible passenger) in life. So now the waiting begins, and I will wait, trust God that He is watching over each of the girls, and try to remain busy working on this blog, my book and reading for publishing companies, finally decluttering the house without people in it, and working on a small side business I am working on with a friend.
So here we are. Tomorrow begins a new season for our family. A season of letting go of control, a season of trusting in God and a season that is saying, I choose to believe that the people in our small town have taught their children well or at the least, the teachers will help somewhat protect my girls.
I hope you all have a great week.
Friday, September 1, 2017
Growing in Christ is not always easy. Especially in today's world. The Bible is met with skepticism, following some of his mandates mean we hear that we hate people, even though we actually feel the opposite way. And then comes along a book that transforms how you look at God's mandates to care for those who need our care and kindness.
My friend, author Tricia Goyer has a new book coming out October 1st. I am privileged to be a part of the launch team and I have been given access to a free pdf copy of the book. I've taken to reading a chapter a day and it has been transforming. But first, I should share with you some of Tricia's story.
Tricia grew up in California. Her dad abandoned them when she was very young and her stepdad struggled with being emotionally available. Tricia began looking for love in all of the wrong places and at age 15 she found herself pregnant. Her boyfriend at the time encouraged her and helped her obtain an abortion. The guilt was consuming for her so when she discovered at age 17 she was once again pregnant, she refused his suggestion of having an abortion a second time. She completely dedicated her life to Christ while 6 months pregnant and later would go on to marry John - and become a pastor's wife. They have raised three children and adopted seven more and she is an amazing woman of faith - she is also transparent about her struggles.
Walk It Out is Tricia's way of sharing how God lead her and her family to walk out the directives from God and Jesus in the Bible and how it has transformed their lives. Reading it has been a breath of fresh air. It has also helped me listen more closely to God's word and direction for me. Ironically, He has been telling me I am where I am supposed to be and I have been feeling led to start a woman's Bible Study.
The pictures I have shared on here are quotes from Tricia's book, Walk It Out. If you are interested in seeing how much it speaks to you, you can go to this link and pre-order her book. http://www.triciagoyer.com/walk-it-out/ It has been a true blessing to read this book and I hope it blesses you as much as it has been blessing me.
Wednesday, August 30, 2017
I remember during my Developmental Psychology class that our instructor talked about the different stages of life. She got to the time of life, some call the Twilight years and how often people look back and they are okay with the choices made or they regret the choices they made. I remember how it really stood out for me that it was important to make good decisions. Even more so as a parent.
Enter 2005 and we sat in the office of a behavioral pediatrician and heard the words Autism from a professional. It one thing to suspect something in your mind, but to hear someone whose credentials bear more weight than your mother's intuition that you were right? There are no words to describe how much that hurts or how devastating it feels for a while after. At first, I felt relieved. After all, we had answers finally. And in some ways, it was great news. But mainly it meant that things were going to change for our little family. It was about figuring out what this meant for our family.
From the moment she was born, I saw Elizabeth as my beautiful baby. I watched her grow and thrive even with health issues and all I saw were the good things. I disciplined her when she was naughty, I loved her when she was hurt and I knew she was smart. I still know this, you could see it in her eyes even as a baby. The wheels were working on all of the cylinders - what I didn't realize was her cylinders were hyper charged and working faster than a jet plane. Hearing Autism, meant several things. First of all, it meant I wasn't a bad parent. I was vindicated from the gossips and judgemental folks around us. That part felt good, I needed that. I was tired of people whispering and saying awful things about her. Couldn't they see how amazing she was? Then came the crash - the second part; we had a lot of work to do and where exactly did this leave us? The worst was the guilt I felt afterward. Logically in my head, I knew I hadn't done anything wrong, but my heart took longer to catch up. What if I hadn't eaten tuna? What if I had been less sick (it was my gall bladder - so while this wasn't logical, it still ran through my head)? What if people never looked and saw what I could see? What if, what if, what if? I was plagued with the feeling that somehow, somewhere I had failed her as a mother and so it must be my fault because what mom falls apart when her spouse is unexpectedly deployed? What if I had been stronger emotionally? The list went on and on. It took a while before I began to realize several things. We also did several things that helped us.
1. We told our immediate family but asked that they not share with other people until we were ready to tell others. We needed time to process what this meant for us and our sweet girl. We have an awesome family and they respected our requests.
2. I researched . . . anyone who knows me isn't surprised to hear this at all. I research a lot of things and try to stay on top of what is going on with science, medicine, etc. . .
3. We grieved. That may sound odd, but finding out something is medically wrong or different about your child or psychologically different requires a healthy amount of grief. In many ways, a diagnosis is a death. Not necessarily of that child, but of the dreams we have for our children. This is especially true for mothers. We dream of the possibilities for our children - hearing that your child is going to have challenges medically or otherwise, is in some ways a death of those dreams. At first, I felt as if I was alone in my grief, but over time Chris shared that he too grieved. It's true, men and women do grieve differently. In the end, we still were able to come together.
4. I worried and then I relaxed. Elizabeth received her diagnosis in early May, right before Mother's Day. I worried and researched and worried some more. I would like to tell you that I prayed about it, but in truth, I was so overwhelmed and worried, I neglected taking these concerns to God. I would definitely change that if I could. I think I might have handled everything better if I had allowed God to help me through the time. Even so, he was already at work. When Elizabeth began school, she had already met a Kindergarten teacher, Sherry Silveous. Little did we know then that the woman who Elizabeth easily allowed to hold her hand would be such an advocate and amazing teacher for our girl. I requested her specifically for Elizabeth explaining that she had just been diagnosed before the summer and the principal was kind enough to agree. Mrs. Silveous began working on a program for Elizabeth when she realized that the school hadn't had a student like her before. She also researched and came up with great ways to help Elizabeth thrive. After that year, Mrs. Silveous went back to school and got her Master's Degree in Special Education - she was able to follow her through third grade until we moved. God knew we would need Mrs. Silveous to encourage us and help us advocate for Elizabeth.
5. I learned to fight. I HATE confrontation. I am not sure if hate is a strong enough word and for many years I avoided it like the plague and would let people walk all over me. I couldn't do that with Elizabeth. My sweet girl was limited verbally, I had to become her voice, she struggled socially, I had to work and help her learn how to play if she needed it, Mrs. Silveous and I fought for it together.
6. I learned a new phrase - firm but flexible. I know it sounds like an oxymoron, but it's true. I needed to be firm enough to keep Elizabeth accountable, but I also had to be flexible enough to know if I needed to close up the house for a day or so and allow her some down time. Her first few years of school I would say she missed at least one day a month. By first grade though, we all realized that medication was the best option for her. While undiagnosed at the time and even now, I know that Elizabeth has ADD. I had been adamantly opposed to medication when it was first brought up at age four years old. Elizabeth is small, even now she is just at five feet tall and unlikely to grow much taller, she was also very slight for her age, although her weight was proportionate to her height. Her body needed time to grow. By the time she reached first grade, I was more confident that she could physically handle medication. Our pediatrician and I both researched and agreed that Strattera was the right choice for her. I let her teachers know she began the medication and asked them to let me know if they thought it didn't work. We agreed to a two week trial at the pediatrician's office. It only took one week and we knew, we had found our medicine. Strattera helped her focus and it didn't decrease her appetite at all, so she could thrive at school and thrive physically as well. It changed everything for her in school. It also gave her time to slow down enough that she could control her impulses better.
7. I learned to dream new dreams. I talked earlier about mourning the loss of the idea I had for her life. However, as we raised the bar on challenging her to work hard and she met those challenges, I found myself dreaming again. Earlier on, my dream was for her learn to read, in third grade she met that milestone and even now enjoys reading. Then my dreams grew and grew for her. Now at age 16, I dream that she will complete high school, maybe go to college or even a vocational school would be great, but I want to see her able to work and hopefully someday live on her own nearby Chris and I or one of her sisters. While she is more than capable of cooking, cleaning, and the things she needs to do to live alone, she struggles in one area. She has a huge heart and doesn't see the bad in people until they leave her no choice so we or one of her sisters will need to be in charge of her money until she learns more about saying no. I even dream she may meet a nice man someday and get married.
8. I learned she loves a challenge. At first, I didn't know what to expect from her, but as we began setting goals and she met them, we would raise the bar higher and guess what? She met those challenges and often times surpassed our expectations. She will always have areas in which she struggles, but she has done so well that I am confident she will continue to grow and meet the challenges head on and succeed.
9. I learned Elizabeth is more amazing than I dreamed. She is awesome at math. She has a beautiful and vibrant imagination. She loves animals and is so kind and tender with them. She has such a huge heart, I love it, I also worry she will get hurt, but mainly I love it. She is kind even when others aren't kind. She loves coffee and a good book. I love how she loves a good comic book. We have to watch her carefully because some things are not good for her imagination, but she loves comics and books. I love how she is happy with us or even sitting quietly reading in her room and listening to music. I love that she will be as goofy as it takes to make younger children laugh. She has no shame and is perfectly willing to be silly if it means they are happy. In short, when I see my girl, I still see the amazing young woman she is becoming.
If you are reading this and you have a young child and you are reeling from shock or struggling to figure out what the Autism Spectrum will mean for you, I want to encourage you that our children can do amazing things. I also want to encourage you to be your child's advocate and to work with their team not against them. Autism Spectrum isn't a dirty word and while at times, we can feel like it is challenging, imagine how much more so it must be for our kids. They have so much potential, give them time and they can shine.
The TV is off, I have a good book to read and I know I am right where I should be in God's plan.
It is in these quiet moments that God reminded me I am where He wants me. He called me to care for Chris and our three girls and that is my job. Writing, for now, is my hobby, but hopefully, someday it will become a profession. These quiet moments remind me who I am and that God made me exactly how He knows I should be. Even if that means that the me He made doesn't have much emotional energy to spare or feel called to go be a missionary in the darkest parts of the world. Instead, I am called to love the people here in my area and my church. I am called to raise the girls to have a deep relationship with Christ. I don't know that I always succeed, but I do know that I lead by example and try daily to model how a woman who loves God should behave or live.
I love a quote from my friend Tricia Goyer's book Walk It Out. "One thing I love about Jesus is that He often approached people the world had written off - those whose sins made them untouchable."
It is so true, we see this time and time again in the Bible. The woman at the well, the demon possessed man who had a legion of demons inside him, the woman caught in adultery, the examples are numerous. In a perfect world, I could help the homeless a masse, adopt a passel of kids, start a soup kitchen, so many things I would love to do, but I also know they are not what God has called me to do at this point in time.
Tuesday, August 29, 2017
Have you ever felt God tugging at your heart? Have you followed that tug? Or have you chosen to stay put instead? It is so easy to stay put and remain comfortable, especially if we feel that we have already done enough. Listening and following God can at times seems scary. What if he calls us to do something we might not be good at? What if we fail? So many questions we ask ourselves when really he just wants us to say, "Yes".
I had always enjoyed listening to the missionaries when they came to our church. I loved hearing about their adventures and everything God had been doing in the countries they served in, I even told my Grandma Taylor at one point, I was going to be a missionary - at the time I said, Africa, but that was more because a missionary had just come to our church from there, than a direct call. I had no idea how true that would become at the ripe age of six or seven years old.
In the Fall of 1997, I had sat in a chapel service at Southern Nazarene University. I didn't actually have to attend because I was old enough it wasn't required of me. But I enjoyed those hour long services and seeing what God had up his sleeve or how he would speak. That service was about Nazarenes in Volunteer Service. I fell in love with the idea of going, but one thing stood in my way, I owed my college money, hadn't paid off my car and couldn't afford to not work. So I promised God that once I had those two things taken care of, I would answer his call. The first lesson, never you should never make a promise to God if you don't plan to follow it. The second lesson, God always makes a way.
So jump ahead a year, again Fall but 1998. Again I sat in chapel, but things had changed. I didn't owe SNU money, I owned my car and I was finally in a place where leaving for a year didn't mean I would never be able to catch up financially. Dr. Culbertson stood and spoke of the need for volunteers to go to Croatia. I sat enjoying listening to him speak about how God could use us to do great things and would open the doors if we chose to answer. As I sat there, God reminded me of my promise from the year before and I knew, this was the time to follow through on my promise.
I talked to Dr. Culbertson and discovered I couldn't go to Croatia but they needed people for Catania, Sicily to work in the church there. I was excited. I walked to the administration building and dropped my classes for the Spring semester and began working on finishing the current semester AND I worked on my letter to send to churches to ask for assistance.
My family thought I was nuts and acting rashly, especially when I told them my plan and that I had dropped my Spring semester. It didn't deter me at all, in fact, it made me more determined to succeed and follow God. I set up churches to speak to, I wrote letters, I worked full time and saved money, but it was getting close to when I wanted to leave and I was short a good chunk of change. Finally, one day, my mom asked if I was certain I was answering God's call and told me maybe I had to wait a little longer to raise more money. .I went for a walk instead of answering. I talked to God, I told him how much I wanted to do what he wanted me to do, but that I was becoming discouraged and even Mom was beginning to wonder if I should re-enroll for the Spring semester. I asked him to please open some doors and help me meet what I needed to leave for Sicily. He answered and he answered quickly. Within a short time, I got a phone call from a woman in our church asking if Pastor Jones had told me yet. Nope, I knew nothing, so she shared that someone sent a check for a little under $5,000 to help me go to Catania. God came through in a huge and powerful way at that moment. A little later, I was told that the pastor had planned to surprise me on Sunday, but it was a good thing that I knew in advance. I don't do very well when I am surprised, I tend to freeze and look like a deer caught in the headlights.
I left for Catania with time to spare, my journey there was amazing. I went to serve others, but while there, I got a present of my own. For years, I had struggled with depression and feelings of being unworthy of love, God's love or anyone else for that matter. While I worked to serve the people of Catania, they loved me unconditionally and I had time to rest away from family friction or strife. I began taking long walks during Riposo (it's like an Italian version of Siesta) and I would take my Bible and go sit on a cliff overlooking the Mediterranean and spend time growing in Christ. I cannot give you a specific time or place when it happened, but in those hours spent alone with God, the wounds in my heart that left me feeling as if I would always be a wounded wreck began to heal. I began to be more confident in my own skin and like who God had made me. For years others had said I wasn't pretty enough, but God showed me I was more than enough for him and the people in Catania. In the times of fellowship after church, I would sit listening to the women chat, working on my translation skills and eventually one or two of the women would reach over and pat my cheek or give me a hug.
Before that time, I didn't like being touched much. I had been molested and had been physically assaulted. I was skittish, in their love and care, I began to become comfortable with being touched. Before, I had not wanted children at all. But while there, God showed me how wonderful a child could be in my life and heart if I would only allow him to use me. I remember having this precious baby sleeping in my lap and as I looked down I realized, I wanted children. I loved the feeling of someone trusting me enough to fall asleep on me. God had already been showing me before my time there, that my previous views on men, were not the status quo for all men, but while in Catania, I met and fell in love (in a Grandpa kind of way) with several of the sweetest older men you would ever meet.
I also was able to play and get to know some amazing teens. My flat mates and I led the teens every week, sometimes we had deep meetings of spiritual growth, sometimes we just spent time together to have fun and hang out. Let me put it this way, by the end of the summer I was very tan from almost daily trips to the sea with the Ragazzi. Even now I am able through Facebook to keep in touch with some of them.
I went to serve, instead, I ended up returning home with healing. It wasn't 100% complete, because God had some other seasons ahead for me to grow and heal, but it was enough that when I met Chris in July of 1999, I was open and willing to accept his love and kindness instead of being cautious and unwilling to let him into my heart. I don't know that I would have been able to do that otherwise.
Opening ourselves up to God and allowing him to use us is sometimes scary. Stepping out in faith is often scary when you don't have the money you need or are unsure of where you will live or where you will find work. Those are just a few examples of how fear of the unknown can paralyze us. Moving with God can be so rewarding if we are willing to listen, answer and follow instead of trying to lead.
I hope you all have a good week.