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.. angel wings..

Everyone should have an aunt .. whose face lights up every time they walk in the room. The aunt who laughs at every joke they tell.. (no matter how many times you tell it).. and claps at every performance you give on the living room “stage”..

My kids had that..

Whenever they went to Auntie and Uncle’s house, my daughter always had a “show” planned to show her auntie. And my son always looked forward to hearing “how tall he had gotten”… and he would smile as he called her his “medium sized” auntie.

This year we watched this beautiful soul battle against cancer.

And it was hard.

Yesterday she lost the battle to cancer..

.. but she won.

She won her angel wings.

.. and we won..

We won the beautiful legacy she left behind..

My kids learned that people can have an unfamiliar accent.. and not be a stranger in your heart. My kids learned that people can look different from us and they can be called family… She taught them what a generous heart looks like… what love looks like…

She showed everyone who came to her house that they wouldn’t leave hungry..

.. she showed her grandkids that they were the most beautiful things in the world to her..

.. and.. she raised 2 beautiful, amazing daughters… I can’t imagine the depths of the legacy she planted there..

Today?

Today we are all trying to imagine a world without Auntie in it. A holiday with no heartfelt hug from her.. family get together with no “Lumpia” (probably not spelled correctly) or other Philippine dishes.. (..though I imagine we will continue to hear about her first cooking disasters told through laughter.. and a few tears..).. not seeing her sneak dollars to each of the kids in the family.. making each kid feel like they are her favorites..

.. but I am so glad that I get to know what a beautiful world it was while she was here with us..

So today .. Auntie gets a new body.. a heavenly body.. one without cancer or pain..

.. and she gets her angel wings…

But honestly? She already had those.

guided by my shadows..

Last year, while shopping for a new Christmas tree.. I fell in love with one that sported pine cones, berries and a soft sprinkling of snow on the branches.

But.. when I saw the price tag?

Yup.. when I saw the price tag on that beautiful tree .. I hesitated.

With a smile.. I could clearly see the memory of my Aunt Diane leaning close to me.. like we were conspicuously conspiring against the “over commercialization of Christmas”..

She would lean in and whisper .. “We can make this.”

Her confidence always impressed me.

AND.. we always were able to make what we set our mind to.. exactly the way we wanted.

So last year? I smiled at my Aunt Diane’s memory.. and set about making the tree I wanted..

ok.. ok..

..it took me a year.. but I did make it..

As I added pine cones and berries to each branch.. I thought about how we are often guided by the shadows around us.

The shadows of the influences in our past.. and in our present..

Sure the shadow of the summers working with my Aunt Diane guided my hands into making a beautiful tree..

.. the shadows of her advices..

“ok.. that didn’t work. Try again.”

“By taking it apart.. you know how to fix it.”

“The only way to know is to jump in and try.”

.. but it was the shadow of my Aunt’s confidence IN ME that guided me to EVEN try..

I glued berries through tears.. remembering her chatting while we worked on crafts together… remembering her laughter…

As I chatted with my girl while we crafted this beautiful tree.. I was thankful for these beautiful shadows that guide me.

But not all Shadows are beautiful as they guide us.

My Aunt beat cancer her first time through.. but the second time it came…??

I drove hours to visit her when her body became weak. I stayed nearby and watched her visit with others..

.. but I never told her how important she was to me.

It was too hard.

What was even harder?

The months after her funeral. The months wishing I had been strong enough to tell her. To speak through tears and sadness. To admit that I was going to miss her until I saw her again.

We are guided by all the shadows in our lives.. the sweet ones.. the funny ones.. and the sad ones .. They ALL shape us into the people we become.. and guide us in the paths we choose in life.

And I have been Blessed by SO MANY shadows in my life!!

This week?

This week as we got together with family….

.. and we watch another loved Auntie battle with cancer..

Cancer is hard. It’s hard to battle.. it is hard to watch..

.. and it is really hard to accept ..

I think about the shadows of memories this Auntie has given to my husband.. to me .. and to my kids.. Her beautiful soul. Her happiness to give.. her capacity to love .. her smiles and laughter.. her joy..

I think about the smiles these shadows will give for years to come..

I’m still not great at telling people how important they are to me.. but this time the shadows reminded me to at least say “love you Auntie” .. and I am so thankful that I got a chance to tell her again this week.

As my family put the ornaments on our newly designed tree.. we found one that our Auntie gave my kids .. She bought it for them when they were small.

.. and I realized…

Christmas trees are full of Shadows.. shadows of Auntie from my childhood and from my adulthood.. shadows of my kids when they were little.. and now that they are big.. shadows of growing as a family.. and shadows that make us tear up..

.. and this Christmas tree?

This Christmas tree shows me exactly how much I have to be thankful for..

Sunsets.. 

The number one reason people give for NOT hosting an exchange student? It’s that the “good byes” would be too hard in the end.. 

..and today I would agree..

..the good-byes when I send home an exchange daughter are hard.. 

..beyond hard.. 

But the alternative would be hard as well.. 

In order for me to never hurt.. in order for me to never cry.. never hesitate.. or miss someone? 

Yup.. 

I would have to NEVER grow close to any one .. not a pet.. not a child .. and not an exchange student.. 

I would have to NOT live.. 

…and BOY have we lived.. 

Today my 3rd exchange daughter carried her luggage out of my house and loaded it into her mother’s rental car.. 

A year’s worth of memories and living were packed into those suitcases.. A year’s worth of holiday gifts and souvenirs… and some chocolate covered pretzels too.. 

..but what weighs more than those suitcase?

The love that we shared over the last year.. the laughter … the inside jokes.. the memories.. the songs we sang in the car.. the movies we watched.. the hugs.. and the tears we shared.. 

I can’t say that I would give back that “living”.. just to save a few tears .. (ok.. a LOT of tears)… 

I thought about that as I watched the sunrise this morning… 

..sometimes we only appreciate how beautiful the day was as we watch the sun set at night.. and sometimes we are sad to see it end.. 

..but then? 

Then if we watch carefully (and get up early enough).. we can watch the sun RISE on a new day.. a day full of promise and full of new possibilities.. 

So today as the “sun sets” on the time my exchange daughter stayed in my home.. I am a little sad that it’s over.. and I am spilling more than a few tears remembering how much we have lived this year.. 

..my cup runneth over tonight.. 

..but tomorrow morning?

Tomorrow a new day will dawn. A new chapter with my borrowed daughter.. a new life where we exchange pictures and video calls.. and ridiculous snapchats… where we continue to share in each other’s joys and sorrows.. and plan visits.. and I think that day will be just as beautiful (in its own way)..

So tonight I will enjoy my beautiful sunset.. with a few tears of love.. 

I loved my “day” with you here Bea.. can’t wait to spend tomorrow with you.. 

these small hours…

img_6181Every once in awhile. A song comes along that speaks right to your heart.
For me?

Little Wonders“.. from a Disney soundtrack..

I love this song..

Our lives are made.. in these small hours.. these little wonders.. these twists and turns of fate.. time falls away.. but these small hours.. these small hours .. still remain..

Our family is a very busy family..

We are involved in Theater and Choir at school.. the international students .. Dance.. trombone lessons… cheerleading for a time.. and a big BIG family…

We don’t really end up with a lot of free time ..

But we DO have such wonderful times together.. in those minutes between activities.. our little conversations in the early mornings (before coffee has kicked in)… the conversations in the hall after school before theater rehearsal starts.. our conversations around the dinner table.. my kids jumping in the car to keep me company on the way to errands and meetings.. board games.. and sappy Christmas movies.. funny Snapchat videos.. and quick hugs between activities.. quick chats before bed.. phone calls from college between classes .. 

“Our lives are made in these small hours”.. these short moments.. the moments with my college girl.. my daughters across the sea.. my 2 exchange daughters.. my son .. the happy moments.. the sad.. the stressed .. the relaxed.. the laughter.. the love.. the heartaches…

…these are the little wonders of my life…

This week as we prepare to send another “exchange” daughter home .. home to her family.. we are overwhelmed with these little wonders.. the moments that have made up our lives over the last year.. the memories we have stored up…

Our hearts are full..

img_6230

Love you Bea!!

I am so thankful for all the “small hours” with you.. and with Sabrina,  Simon, Mariam, Olimpia, and Basak…

.. so many little wonders..

Just wait and see.. 

I have often been asked what I have planned for my son’s future. I always smile and reply “He wants to be a farmer..”

Most of the time people smile in return .. 

But sometimes there is an awkward silence and the inevitable.. “Do you really think he will be able to work? To hold down a real job?”

Yes.. 

Yes I do! 

And no I am not offended by this question.. 

You see? While my son has Autism (and a splash of bipolar).. His disabilities don’t own him. Simon is his own person and he knows what he wants.. He has known since he was 4. 

You may think Simon grew up in a farming community and THAT is why he wants to be a farmer. That he knows no difference.. Well THERE you would be mistaken. Our Simon grew up in a city from age 3 to 13.. 

Yup his love for farming seems to have been destined for him. 

So what did his father and I do? Well? We moved to a farming community back home in Michigan. 

Most people question our Sy’s ability to hold down a job because of his behaviors at school.. Freezing in doorways, anxiety over homework, refusals to take tests at times.. And wanting to go home. 

But you see? At school? 

At school, Simon knows he is behind his peers.. School work is hard… He doesn’t understand test questions because of the wording.. And sometimes (even IF he did understand them) he doesn’t know what they are asking.. He KNOWS he is built inadequate for school.. 

And YET? 

Yet you will see Simon get up every day and force himself to try to go to school. He can be close to tears in frustration over homework.. And yet he is one to INSIST he finish.. He pushes through anxiety, confusion and what ever distractions are around him (or distractions going on in his own head) to SUCCESS on the other side. 

That sounds like a job to me… 

At home, Simon is different. At home he is confident, creative, helpful.. He washes his own laundry, washes dishes, cooks whole meals, cleans the house, does chores, builds with his dad.. 

He does an amazing job!!

Not “pretty amazing” for a kid with autism.. 

JUST pretty amazing for a 17 year old.. Because he does it exactly the way I do.. (Or the way his dad does).. Exactly the way he was taught.. 

Then? Then he adds a slash of creativity.

This week, I woke my son to face another hard day at school. As I rubbed his back and talked about his day.. I told him I was going to teach him to drive our lawn mower after school. 

He sat straight up in bed and wiped the sleep from his eyes. “What did you say?” 

Smiling, I repeated that I thought he was old enough to learn to drive the lawn tractor to mow the lawn. 

The smile on his face made my heart happy..

He quickly got ready for his day.. Was still a little grumpy with his sister.. But went to school easily.. 

AFTER school? Well after school he quickly changed into his farmer hat and overalls, his John Deere shirt with long sleeves and farmer boots.. 

And our lessons began.. 

I admit I get nervous with vehicles.. The same nervousness I got when I taught my daughter to drive .. 

I ran from one side of the lawn mower to the other .. Pointing out how FAR the mower deck sticks out.. How to slow down.. How to stop.. How to speed up a little.. How to crank the wheel so you don’t crash.. 

The first 5 mins were nerve racking for me.. Because he learns best by doing.. So at a snail’s pace and yelling over the motor and earplugs.. I gave him on-the-go lessons.. 

And then he was off.. One circle around the yard and I moved the mower one notch faster.. He watched how I did that too… 

He looked for cars when he circled up into the road.. Kept the mower in a straight line.. He mowed next to the first stripe perfectly (or circled back to fix it.. Mowed around baby trees and big trees.. Power poles and ditches.. 

By the 3rd circle of the yard, I stopped following him.. He no longer needed me. 

After 4 hours? He was up to full speed (by his own choice) and the yard was flawless.. 


Not “pretty good” for a boy with autism..

Not “pretty good” for his first time.. 

It was pretty awesome.. No missed spots.. Straight lines..

 In fact?  My husband said he had to weed whack far less than when I mow.. 

I am not offended by that.. Just really proud.. 

But I am not surprised.. He always throws himself into his work.. And doesn’t stop until the work is done.. And done well.. 

We could use more workers like that in the world.. 

So YES… I think Simon will keep a job and support himself.. 

And yes, he will need support to start new adventures and to get through difficult situations.. Like doctor offices.. paperwork.. And paying bills.. 

But he will make it.. And it’s going to be amazing.. 

Not amazing for a kid with Autism..

Just plain amazing ..

But you don’t have to take my word for it.. Stick around .. 

…wait and you will see it for yourself.. 

Everywhere..

At Easter we find ourselves celebrating with Eggs..
Eggs??

Colorful delicious Easter Eggs.. And sometimes chocolate eggs.. 
What do eggs REALLY have to do with God sending His Son to die for our sins? To pay for our pride, our envy.. Our jealousies.. Our gossips.. Our judging.. And our other sins we hope no one knows about..??
Well the Egg represents the New Life we find in Jesus .. WHEN we accept that sacrifice He made for us.. 
We make them colorful to represent that Blessings can make our lives so colorful .. WHEN we follow Jesus… 
And chocolate eggs represent.?? That life can be so sweet.. WHEN we have Jesus.. 
So this weekend as you see Easter Eggs everywhere you go? Let us remember that they represent New Life with Jesus… 
Happy Easter All.. And may God’s Love fill you this celebrated weekend..  

 

Tracks..

 

after the storm..

I love to walk through my yard after a snow storm blows through. I know that you’ll agree that it’s always the prettiest when the snow is fresh and the sun shining bright.  But I am not always looking up to see the beauty.

Where else would I look (you ask)??

I am usually looking down.

You see.. while we are all bundled up inside our houses? All warm and safe? The world outside isn’t always as quiet as we think.

The first time I took water and food to my chickens.. right after a snow storm?? I stopped in surprise. All around me were paw prints and tracks through the snow. Trails going in all directions.  I saw squirrel tracks… and rabbit… deer trails by the dozens.. and coyote tracks on more than a few occasions.

Why would I find it cool to find coyote tracks in my backyard??

Well? Honestly they didn’t bother anything.. so why not?

The house that my husband works hard to provide for us.. and the protection that God gives us .. keeps us safe at night. So sometimes I find it interesting to see what dangers may have pass us by, in the night.

I sometimes think of my Faith as a type of house.

We sit inside of houses of Faith.. all safe and warm.. and blissfully unaware of the dangers that God directs around us. And unless we go outside our houses? Well unless we go out in our backyards.. we wouldn’t even know what dangers passed us right on by.

So why doesn’t God show us the dangers He protects us from? It certainly would scare more people into having Faith. But God says He wants us to come to Him willingly and freely. So He keeps those tracks hidden.

Now you are probably thinking.. What about the bad things that happen to those with Faith? Does that mean their Faith failed them?

I don’t have the answers to that.

I have had my share of troubles in this world. Bad experiences, medical emergencies, scares… I could go on.. and on…  So does that mean that I lacked Faith and God kept His protection to Himself?

Nope.

I felt protection. I was overwhelmed.. but felt protected.

The Bible promises us that “Everything will Be Beautiful in its time.” But until that time? Until the moment that I realize why bad things happen to the Faithful?

Until then, I will count the number of trails that go away from my house.. and be thankful for them.

We got by.. 

  
Yesterday was a long day for My Simon.. We jam packed every minute full.. And he had to get through his whole day at school knowing what he had “endure”… But after getting through his school day (albeit loudly)… And was somewhat patient through my Audition workshop after school.. I watched him walk independently into his trombone lessons with a new instructor.. And he rocked it.. 
I know some of you are probably thinking ..”ok?!? My kid does that everyday..” And that makes me happy.. I love to see kids be successful whether it comes easy for them or if it’s more of a struggle.. But for my boy? He struggled to learn even basic skills like talking.. Doors were always a struggle to walk through.. But he was drawing by age 18 months.. He could write the whole alphabet .. But not utter a word.. So yes! We celebrate every success..

This morning I have been thinking back to my early years as Simon’s mom.. When it felt like it was me and Sy against the world.. When I could see my boy so clearly at home (when it was just us).. Only to watch how he would disappear when we walked through the doors to go into the outside world… 

This song that the Johnny Orr Band sings (We’ll get By).. Makes me tear up for 2 reasons.. First because I remember that feeling.. Being close to tears of frustration SO often but knowing that we were going to make it. Secondly? Because we have gotten by.. And we have come so far. 

Simon has come so far from the boy who needed to be held in public because the stimulation made him bury his face into my shoulder.. Watching him walk through a “door”.. into a room with a new person.. and being successful at showing his skill with his trombone?? Yup.. we’ve gotten by.. 

  
But before you tell me how great of a mother I am.. His success isn’t mine.. God has always put some of the best people into Simon’s life (and mine).. People who help challenge him and support him.. But mostly? Mostly.. Simon is one of the strongest people I know.. He holds himself to such high standards and pushes himself forward when I am tempted to let him have a “break”.. 

So while I have shed so many tears of frustration .. while trying “to get by”.. I wouldn’t have traded a single one.. I love the son I was Blessed with.. 

all is well.. 

  
This is the last hour of my vacation.. And I am sitting here thinking about what this time meant for me and my kids.. 
… 3 years ago we had lived so far from family that we spent every moment of our vacations with our extended family and cousins.. Enjoying our time.. When we moved home.. It was so great to see everyone so often, that the tradition continued .. 

This week, we took our first small family vacation.. Taking our Grandpa  will us too.. We spent so much time together bonding and laughing.. it felt amazing. It was good for my kids to only have each other to interact with.. It was so good for both of them.. 

But it was also good for me..

For the first time in forever? I had no responsibilities.. Nothing to do.. No job or tasks.. And no other souls to tend to.. Just mine .. just my kids.. And it felt really good.. 

So as I sit here drinking my coffee.. with my less than delicious soy creamer.. I realize that resting is so good for the soul… 

I know .. I know.. You are thinking that Disney world and resting don’t go hand in hand.. Crazy crowds.. crazy rides.. Crazy agendas.. It doesn’t sound like resting.. But for me it was 

 .. There was nothing to clean, nothing to fix, nothing to organize .. No driving.. No multitasking. We did walk almost 100 miles over 5 days.. And we were all tired at the end of the day .. But it felt so good…

.. so resting the soul is good.. And I need to schedule it in again.. Sooner than 15 years this time.. 

On the Red Carpet..

For anyone who has read Shadows.. 

  
Or who knows me.. 

  
.. knows that this is exciting news for me… Not because I need anyone to tell me that “Shadows” is a great novel.. I am confident in my novel because it took on a life of its own as I wrote it.. 

And because everyone who reads it.. Writes me to say how they can’t put it down… Even people who don’t read Fiction.. Or Historical novels.. 

  
So .. no.. I don’t need an award to know my novel is good.. Or to know the sequel (Road Home) will be a hit.. 

But it is exciting for me because being a Finalist will get the word out there that Shadows exists. Because people can’t buy something they don’t know about… 

So congratulations Shadows!!!

You now have a red carpet.. Now we can get out there and shine… 

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00N10MHRK

http://m.barnesandnoble.com/w/shadows-jules-nelson/1120182205?ean=9781490848389