Which one?

ImageI have been sick for almost a week now.  A nasty stomach virus that completely shut down my world. I will not share details.. but for 2 days I cancelled everything and lay quietly in my bed.

Now it is Thursday.. and I am scrambling to catch up.  After all.. it is only 3 days until Easter and I have NOTHING ready for my kids’ Easter baskets.. No Easter clothes bought.. No candy for our huge family Easter Egg hunt… and my oldest daughter is leaving tonight for her senior trip to Washington DC (…not happy about the timing on that..) …

So I am making a list so that I get EVERYTHING done…

Then I wondered.. Did God have a list that He wanted to get done before Easter?  NO.. Before Good Friday!

Did He sit down and make a list…

*Make sure Jesus yells at the people selling things in My Holy Church.

*Make sure Jesus shows everyone Love.

*Make sure Jesus shows everyone Miracles.

*Make sure Jesus tells everyone My Plan for them.

*Make sure Jesus teaches them how to pray.

*Make sure Jesus tells everyone the path to Heaven.

*Prepare Jesus to die.

That last one?  It makes my throat hurt… more than a little.. 

Can you imagine being God today?  Can you imagine Him 2000 years ago?  The day before Good Friday.. (How can you call it Good Friday when such a beautiful person was about to die?)  How do you prepare to sacrifice your own Son?  Knowing that His sacrifice would save the souls of so many.. knowing that it WAS the Perfect Plan… but knowing that you were going to have sit there and watch Him suffer?   Sit there and watch people torture Him…

I look at my children and I wonder.. which one would I sacrifice if I had to?  Which one would understand that sacrifice more?  When I think about their sweet faces.. I am not sure that I could.. Could I chose to save your child and sacrifice mine? 

I am not sure I could do it..

But then I know I could not just watch your child suffer.. to keep mine safe either…

So Which ONE?  Which would I chose?

I am thankful to say.. I would chose none of our children.  I wouldn’t have to… None of our children are perfect enough.  My children have all sinned.. just as your children have sinned.. just as WE have all sinned.  We all fall so far from God’s standard of Perfect .. that we are ALL unworthy of being a sacrifice for the world.  Not one human was worthy of saving the world.

Then there was Jesus.. A child without fault.  With no sassiness.. no quarrels… no backtalk.. no laziness. The only perfect child.  So God’s plan was the only plan that would work…

I am so thankful that it did.  I am so thankful that God chose to sacrifice His son.. chose to watch him suffer and die for NO crime.. so that MY children can join Him in Heaven. 

But today… When God is looking down at us?  When He sees us scrambling to fill our Easter Lists.. when we are choosing which color peeps to put in our children’s baskets.. Is He happy? 

When I looked at my own list?  My eyes filled with tears.  It seems so frivolous to care if my daughter has a new Easter dress.  It seems pointless to wonder if I will be able to find Easter candy that follows my kids’ dietary needs. 

Today as I go through my Easter List.. I chose God’s Son…

Now to figure out how to fit him in a beautiful basket.   

Their biggest fan…

My parents are my biggest fans… That is not to say that I am their favorite child.  I am one of seven siblings.. and my parents love us all equally.  I mean how could you compare any of us to each other?  My older brothers were both Nuclear Engineers on naval ships.  They know how to fix and maintain an engine that powers a massive ship… I barely know how to change the oil in my car.  My sister can make beautiful jewelry… and other beautiful creations.  She used to manage a store before that.  She has focus and a drive that I could only dream of.  My younger brothers are all wonderful “boys” that I am proud to know myself.  They are all successful at work.  One is a supervisor… I can barely keep my kids on task.. let alone adults!  One knows how to work on “renewable fuel cells”… I don’t really know what that means.. I keep picturing him working on giant batteries!  And the youngest is a manager of an auto parts store.

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praying for success….

Every single one of them have hearts of Gold…. so how could my parents choose a favorite?  They couldn’t… There is no common ground to compare us on.

So how could they be my biggest fans? If I am not their favorite?  Well .. in a way I am their favorite… I am their favorite distractible, creative middle child … and their favorite youngest daughter.. Just like my oldest brother is their favorite firstborn… And my sister is definitely their favorite oldest daughter.  In fact, we all have traits that make us shine… and they are so proud of us for them.

But that does not mean I was spoiled.

Ha.. in fact … there were definitely periods of my childhood that I thought my parents were the “meanest” parents in the world.  When my parents explained I wasn’t allowed to go to the local skating rink.. because there were rumors of activities there that my parents did NOT want me exposed to… Man did I think they were mean… I mean REALLY!! Those were just rumors… right?!?  When my parents insisted on meeting every one of my friends before I could spend the night with them?  Honestly.. whose parents do that?  And when my parents wouldn’t let me go on a date until I was 16.. and THEN they had to meet each and every one of them?!?

Yes… there were plenty of moments in my life when I thought my parents were mean…

But every moment of my childhood .. I knew that I was loved..

Every moment of my childhood.. I knew that my parents were trying to do the best they could for me.

How did I know?

Because they told me.  They told me .. and all of my siblings.. that they love us… every single day.  Even when they were frustrated with us… even when they were disappointed in the choices we made… even when we were making them crazy… They always told us,  “I love you.. and I know you can make better choices.”  “Your mother told me what happened today.. and I am disappointed.  We both love you and expect better from you.”  It was so heartbreaking for me .. to see tears in my father’s eyes.  Each and every punishment I received in my childhood was explained to me.  When my father told me that the spanking I was about to receive.. hurt HIM more than it would hurt ME?!?  I didn’t believe him.  I mean I was the one about to be spanked .. right?!?

Wrong…

What hurt more than anything… it was the tears in my father’s eyes.  The quiver to my loving father’s voice as he explained why (as parents) they couldn’t let me get away with questionable behavior.  The hesitation my father always showed in giving out punishments.  What hurt was that I KNEW it was ALL because of a choice I made… It was ALL because I had a weakness.

Those tears in my father’s eyes?

They followed me everywhere… The memory of that hurt I caused.. it kept me from making so many more mistakes in my life.  That does not mean I was perfect.. I am most definitely NOT perfect.  I have had my fair share of punishments.

And then?

Then I always had a hug.. and forgiveness.

Why did my father go through with punishing us kids?  If discipline was obviously so unpleasant for him? Why would he still do it?  He did it because he knew what God expected from him as a parent.  And God tells us what He expects from us in His book,

“He who spares his rod hates his son (or daughter),

But he who loves him disciplines him promptly,” Proverbs 13:24

So my parents disciplined us promptly.  Because they had such high hopes for us.. Hopes for us to be the BEST person we could possibly be.. The person that God wanted us to be.  So?  So my parents were mean.

Sounds like I was a naughty child.. doesn’t it?  I wasn’t extremely naughty.. but I WAS a child.  Children always make mistakes.  And just like my parents were there to tell me that they loved me and were so proud of me… They were also there to catch me when I fell .. and tell me they were disappointed.  They were always there to tell me they KNEW I could do better next time.  And I always felt cared for..

EVEN as a teen.. when I felt their logic was somewhat “misguided”?  I still felt loved.

Since those days.. so long ago… I have come to see their wisdom.  Not just in parenting my two children.. one so strong willed.. and one with special needs.  No I have seen it in others around me.

I have seen parents who are so busy “providing” for their child.. that they forget to care about their child’s needs.   Not just be annoyed with their child’s bad behavior.. but to be saddened by it.. To not just punish their bad behavior.. but to discipline them.  To use love to guide them.. explaining why good decisions are necessary.. even when those decisions are hard…

Some parents are just “too tired”.

Oh… and I understand tired.  Not only do I have a strong willed, independent, free thinking daughter.  I also have a son who has autism.  Along with autism, my son has bipolar.  Bipolar affects the moods..  For reasons unknown.. the body releases an imbalanced amount of hormones.. causing the person to be unusually happy.. or scared for no reason.. distractible … or restless.. Sad for no apparent reason… and on certain occasions.. a crazy mixtures of more than one of these emotions.

For my son… it happens with the season changes.  And spring is the worst.  Maybe it’s the increase in sunshine that disturbs the serotonin balance.  Maybe it’s the increase of exercise after the long winter?  Maybe it is a natural excitement for the coming summer and it’s freedoms?  What ever the cause… my normally calm and loving child turns into the Energizer bunny … mixed with… a sassafras tree.  Back talk, aggression.. refusal to cooperate…  Constant chatter… lack of sleep (for me or him)… Constant hunger… Instant anger…

Yes.. I know tired….

There were days I wanted to give up..

There were days I couldn’t discipline my son… Days that my tears were more than just pools in my eyes.. Days that I couldn’t even explain my punishment to my son… days my voice did more than just quiver..

But I trudged on…

Why?

Why continue to discipline when it seems pointless?  Or in some eyes.. why discipline my son’s actions when he obviously cannot control them?

Because I love my son.. and I know what he is capable of.  I can see what kind of man he could be with proper discipline.  I can see the glimmer of the person God wants him to be.  My son needs to see that there are ALWAYS consequences for his behaviors.. That no matter how hard it is to control his imbalanced emotions.. That he has to do it.  And my job?  My job is to guide this wonderful child as he grows.  It’s my job to guide my head-strong, independent daughter.  To guide them both with love .. and patience.. and discipline.

I trudge on because I remember my father’s eyes.. I remember how he never gave up on me.  No matter how tired he was after a long day of work.  No matter how he must have wanted to do anything else .. anything besides giving his children another “talk”… Because he loved us?  He trudged on that extra mile..

Those eyes remind me of my Heavenly Father’s eyes..  As I have grown in my Faith.. I imagine our Heavenly Father’s eyes look a lot like my father’s.  Imagine they fill with love and pride at our accomplishments… and I imagine they fill with tears and heartbreak when we disappoint him.

And yet… Our Heavenly Father is always there to pick us up when we fall.  He never gives up on us…

So when exhaustion threatens to overtake me?

Then I pray… “Please Lord.. give me the strength to make it through this next mile.. or so.. Please fill me with love, patience.. and discipline… So I can show my child I care… In your name I pray..”

Something else drives me to trudge on… another thing I see when I want to give in to exhaustion…

I have seen the eyes of a child whose parents did not love them.

I have seen the eyes of adults whose parents did not bother to go that extra mile.  The eyes of a grown child .. eyes that know that their parent isn’t their fan.  The child who doubts that their parent even loves them… The child who knows their parent doesn’t like them.  And in their heart.. that child “knows” it was their own mistakes that forced their parent to not care.  How do they know?  Because their parent tells them..  That child?  That child doubts the reason they were created.

We have all seen that child..

The child that cannot seem to do anything right.. The child who is constantly grounded… The child who feels like they are a disappointment.  The child who disobeys (over and over) to get attention.. Any attention…

I can’t imagine being that child.  Not being sure that someone will be proud of my every accomplishment.. Proud that you won the coloring contest at the grocery store.. proud of the “A” you earned in English.. proud that you mastered the curved tail on your cursive “g”.. I couldn’t imagine being the child that performs.. wondering if anyone in the audience was clapping JUST for them.  I couldn’t imagine not being assured that someone will still love you when you make a childish mistake… I couldn’t imagine going to bed at night and not feeling cared for.

But I have seen that child.  I have seen them in stores.. at parks.. at school.

I have seen a parent tell a child that their birth ruined their life.  I have watched a parent berate their child for being worthless in the middle of a gym full of people.  I have seen parents laughingly admit that their child doesn’t know any better.. or that they aren’t capable of anything better.

In those moments?  That parent failed their children..

We have all seen that parent…

I can imagine being that parent.. because I have been that parent… Not everyday… not every month… But I have been that parent.  The parent that forgets to discipline and settles for punishment.  When I am exhausted.. exhausted beyond the extra mile… I fail my children.  I have yelled at them more than a few times.  I have sent them to their room with a, “I can’t even stand to look at you right now.”  I have finished chores for them when I was too exhausted to make sure they followed through to the end.  And once…

Once… In a particularly trying time of my life as a parent.. Once I even told my daughter I wasn’t sure I even liked her anymore.

The pain I saw in her eyes in the moment?

It made my heart stopped.

And I cried.

In that moment I failed my child… and I knew it.  That failure is worse than any exhaustion.  Worse than any other punishment I ever received.

When I finished crying (and praying for forgiveness).. I went in to talk with my headstrong daughter.  First?  First I apologized to her.. because of course I like her.. I absolutely love this beautiful creation that God sent to me.  I explained that I let myself give into frustration and lash out on her.  But that it wasn’t her fault.. No.. the fault was mine.  I tell her that although no one is perfect.. my words were unacceptable.. and asked her to forgive me.

After I hugged her.. and told her I loved her.. with tears in my eyes (and on my cheeks).. and a quiver in my voice… Then it was time to correct my punishment .. and change it into discipline.  I explained to her that I CANNOT let her be disobedient and make poor choices.  That even though discipline is exhausting and unpleasant.. I do it because I love her… I love that beautiful soul that God gave her so much.. and I explain that it is my job to guide her.  A job given to me by God himself.

Yup… I told her that discipline sometimes hurts me more than it will hurt her.

Even though I apologized to her for my weakness.. and she forgave me?  That moment still haunts me.  Will that be the moment that sticks out in her memories of me..?  Not of love and patience.. but one of anger?

I pray every day that it won’t be.

I also pray for God’s guidance.. His love.. His patience and His discipline for me in my own life.. To help me be the parent He meant for me to be… The parent like I had…

So I guess I am praying to be my kids’ biggest fans.  To love them and hope for their best future.. beyond anyone else in THIS world.. That is what I strive to be..

But I know that God is actually their biggest fan.. He cheers them on everyday… Tears of pride at their accomplishments.. Tears of disappointment when they fail.. But always the unfailing love and support.  I can strive to be like God … but I know.. I will always fall short of that.

So in this instance?

I am aiming for second best…

And how the wind does blow..

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..the adventures begin…

Once upon a time.. when I was a young girl.. a very young girl.. a tree fell in our woods.  Ha.. it doesn’t sound very interesting at first.. but that tree is burned in my memory with great detail.

I grew up in the woods.  Our yard was full of trees.  There were trees across our dirt road.  There were trees behind our house.  Our neighbors owned the acreage behind us.. YUP.. also trees.  I basically grew up in the trees.  As you may guess.. a lot of trees fell in those woods.

But this tree was special.  It fell with ALL of its leaves still on its branches.

Now I don’t know why it fell.. That is the funny thing about memories.. It filters out the insignificant facts.  And the fact was.. A tree fell.  A beautiful tree full of branches and branches of leaves.  When my sister and I inspected it with our friends?  We saw that it would make the perfect fort.  When this tree fell, it fell against another tree.  Its branches catching as it fell, so that there was plenty of head room.  Plenty of space to move around.  The leaves were so thick that we couldn’t see through them once inside.  My sister and I thought it was PERFECT!

So perfect that we decided to run away!

Now I don’t remember if we had a reason that we wanted to run away.  If we had one, I certainly don’t remember it.  I remember pulling a little red wagon half way around the lake to help our friends pack their 2 brown paper bags full of clothes.  I remember finding rugs and blankets.. and even pretty pictures to hang on the walls.  I remember planning out our life of independence.  But I don’t remember a reason for wanting to run away.

When our Mom heard of our plans to run away.. our plans to strike out on our own?  (After all.. I think I was 8 years old.. which made my sister 11?  High time we were on our own.. right?!?)  Well you can probably guess.. when my Mom heard the words “running” and “away” in the same sentence? YUP she freaked.. sent us to our room to unpack .. and sit on our beds.   My sister remembers our Mom’s reaction being to the distance we walked that day .. with the little red wagon.  But either way.. our friends were sent home.. and our plans were off.

Now that I am a Mother myself, I understand my Mom’s reaction a little better.  But I have thought about this memory a lot in my life.. and as a teenager I thought.. Why didn’t she just let us spend the night out there?

Imagine this…

This beautiful tree fell in FULL view of our house.  (Which was one of the reasons we were so bold in the first place.)  We could see the house through a small opening in the limbs from inside the fort… But it was also in a small clearing.. easily spotted from our house.  You will remember that this tree is also surrounded by other trees.  Trees that creak and leaves that blow in the wind.  We would have been sleeping on the ground.. which is hard.. and even in the summer would have been cool.

If my Mom had given us a hug and wished us well?

We would have been back inside within an hour of darkness.

Why?

The first time we heard an owl above us.. the first time the leaves of our fort rustled in the wind.. the first time a tree creaked and groaned around us.. the first time a bug crawled out from the darkness onto our blanket.. the first time something fell on us from the wind blowing?  We would have been screaming.

And how the wind does blow in Michigan.

Not to mention that my sister and I had 3 brothers who would have LOVED to try to scare us.

You may be thinking.. OH but the wild animals.. raccoons, deer, skunks, rabbits… bears..?   And I will say this.. Have you ever heard 4 girls scream?  I have.. it’s enough to make ME want to run away.. those animals wouldn’t have come within a mile.

Whenever I tell this story to a friend or to a group of kids?  I always say that my Mom should have just wished us luck and enjoyed 2 hours of peace and quiet.  And when we snuck back inside after dark.. quietly so that we didn’t have to let anyone know we had failed?  My mom could have smiled softly and went back to sleep.

I think God has a sense of humor.  You see every time I expressed a strong opinion about something as a teenager?  YUP.. I had to go through that as a parent.. “My kids will NEVER act like THAT in a store!” I said.. I was the Mom with the 3 year old screaming for sardines..in aisle 7.  “I will NEVER raise my voice to MY child..” said I…. Ha.. I had to train myself to whisper when I was frustrated with my strong willed child.  “My daughter will never go in public with hair that messy..” I would mutter.. Bahahaha.. My daughter’s hair was blond, curly and thick.. oh so thick.. and she wouldn’t let me style it.  We would never have gone into public.. And my most fervent, “If my child wants to run away, I will let them.. they will come back..”

YES.. you should be careful what you declare as a teenager.. God has a great sense of humor.

My daughter first uttered the words “run away” at the ripe old age of 3.  I was so floored that NOT ONLY did she know those words.. but she knew what they meant.. at THREE!  I was so surprised in fact.. I sent her to her room.  When she was 4?  She was still using them.  I would try to explain why she had to follow our rules.. but to no avail.. she still yelled on about the injustices in the world.  So I would send her to her room.

And then..

Then just after my daughter turned 5, I heard a panicked cry from the room down the hall.  I rushed down the hall, to find my little child hanging outside from her window sill.. hanging over a 10 foot drop to the pavement below.  She had decided to run away by going out the window.. however she had panicked when the screen dropped and reached for it.. reached and fallen out.  As I hugged my daughter to me.. so happy she was safe.. because I knew exactly what would have happened had she NOT been able to grab the window sill.. I made a decision..

I decided that the next time my daughter threatened to leave.. I needed to let her go.  In fact.. I would help her pack.  (I borrowed the idea from Dr. James Dobson and his book the Strong-Willed Child.)  When my daughter was in bed.. I explained my plan to my husband.  He agreed to help.. but I knew that he doubted its wisdom at first.

And threaten she did..

“I don’t want to live here, I want to go live with someone nicer.”

Taking a deep breath, I prepared for battle.  “Where will you go?” I asked sadly and patiently.

Her surprise at my calm question only lasted a second, before it hardened back into defiance.  “To Grandma Pauline’s!”

I nodded and stood up, “I will help you pack then.”

Her look was shocked then, “Pack?”

“Yes.. you will need to pack.  Daddy would you get her suitcase please?” I asked quietly.. continuing in my sad and resigned tone.

As Daddy retrieved the suitcase, we went to her room and started folding the clothes she would need to take.  A sweater because the night was cool.. and who knew when she would get to Grandma’s.  A few outfits.. her fancy shoes (her choice).. 7 pairs of undies because who knew when she would be able to wash her clothes again.. A blanket and pillow… Her toothbrush.. a hairbrush.. and her stuffed dog.

As her Dad and I carefully put everything in her suitcase, we took turns suggesting things.  “Maybe you should sleep on Jill’s swing tonight.. You could travel during the daylight tomorrow that way.. remember to only cross at crosswalks.. make sure cars see you..”  On and on we went.. sadly.. quietly… and resigned.

Just before we zipped her suitcase .. the tears started.  Turns out.. she never wanted to leave.. She blurted out that she just gets so mad.. “I’m sorry,” she blubbers through her sobs, “please let me stay.”

And I smiled, (through my tears of course).. and I explained that her Dad and I loved her.  We always would.  And because we love her, we want her to be happy.  When her sobs had quieted.. and my throat wasn’t choked up.. I explained to her that if she CHOOSES to live with us, then she chooses to follow our rules.  The rules that will help her grow into an amazing young lady.  I told her that if she is unhappy with those rules, she can tell us she is unhappy… (And then the bomb..)  “If you choose to stay?  Then this is it.. No more running away. Ok?”  With a tear filled nod, she hugs me again.. and we unpack.

We have had many discontented arguments in my daughter’s life.. about many things.. I almost expected it whenever the wind changed direction.. or just blew.. and how the wind did blow in Missouri.  But with all those arguments.. Not ONCE did my daughter again threatened to run away.

Shortly after this, I heard (again) the story of the Prodigal son in a Sunday school class.  I remember thinking to myself…  Why would he be so excited and rejoice to have his son back?  Doesn’t the father know that he is just rewarding the wayward behavior?  And KILL a fatted calf?  I helped the children learn the story.. but I couldn’t really understand the excitement the father felt.

Now I don’t just have one child.. I have two.

My strong willed, very verbal daughter and then my silent, observant son.

After my daughter stopped threatening to run away.. we were at my parent’s house for a visit.  I took my son outside to play.  My cousin was also visiting that day .. he was discussing some decisions he had to make.. and while I was listening I was watching my son play.

Now my son may be silent.. and he may have special needs.. but he is also smart… and has an amazing memory for directions.

With a smile, my son ran behind the house, so I walked the other way.. kind of a peek a boo game .. When he saw me, he smiled.. and ran back the other way.. So I walked the opposite way around the house.. and again when he saw me he smiled.. Back and forth we went.. and all the while?  I was talking to my cousin..

And then he was gone…

Thinking he was hiding at the end of the house, I casually walked in that direction.. but he was not there.. he was just gone…

My son had disappeared before my very eyes..

I called and called.. My cousin checked in the house.. and I went around the block.. the wooded block.. the wooded dirt road that divides our trees from the woods behind… I followed the path that I knew my brothers took him on.. My cousin caught up and we searched the woods.. all the while calling…

But he was gone..

As quickly as we could.. and still being efficient.. we followed the road and circled back around to my parents’ house .. and found my son hadn’t returned.  My neighbor was there then.. my childhood friend… asking to help.. among others…

And I was starting to get scared.

The rational part of me knew my son had followed the path my little brothers took him on.  The rational part of me knew my brothers would know if something had caught his interest.  They would know if there was a side track that I didn’t know about.  So while others searched the woods again.. calling for my son.. calling for a boy who could not answer…

While they were calling?  I waited for the bus.. waited for my brothers to get home.

But the non-rational part of me?  YUP.. it was starting to panic..

Minutes later.. as my brothers got off the bus.. I explained to them my theory.. That my son had followed the route they had walked with him.. and that he had perhaps stopped at something along the way.  Both of my little brothers looked at each other and dropped their bags.. “I’ll take the long way,” said one.. “I’ll check the puddle,” said the other.. and they ran.

It was all I could do just to breathe. Breathe and stay on my feet.  There were people there .. but I have no idea who they were.  I have no idea what they were doing.. All I could see was my brothers running.. and all I could do was breathe.  Because it felt like my heart was being ripped from my chest.. my throat burned with the emotions I could not release.. my chest felt like a great weight pressed against it.. keeping my breath from coming without a great struggle..  And my normally rational brain.. it was mush…

And then there was a horn.. a car.. or truck was laying on their horn… and my heart stopped.  Someone pointed to the side road in the distance where an SUV was stopping in the middle of the road.  Someone pointed out that my brother was almost to the same spot..

And my world stopped..

I couldn’t even breathe..

I couldn’t see..

I couldn’t hear anything..

Except that horn…

And then my brother was there in front of me.. He was there with my son.. My brother was handing over my young wet son.. and I was holding him.. Holding my son so tight that it was probably hard for him to breathe…

In that moment… all of the emotions I had held inside released.. and I cried.. cried like I have never cried before.. I know people hugged me.. I know people tried to comfort me.. I heard my brother explain about the giant puddle they had found the day before.  I heard him explain that the SUV had barely seen my submerged son playing in the puddle.. I heard someone joke “thank the Good Lord for that dark hair!”  I heard everything go on around me.. And the whole time, I held my young son tightly for fear he would disappear again.  Held him and cried.. great big sobs of relief and thankfulness.  Thankfulness that my brothers had known where to go.. Thankful that it was God’s plan for us to find him in time.

It was that moment.. the moment the joy crept into my tears.. that I understood the father in the story of the Prodigal son..

“But the father said to his servants, “Bring out the best robe and put it on him and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet.  And bring the fatted calf here and kill it and let us eat and be merry.”  Luke 15:22-23

In that moment, I understood the joy at receiving the disobedient child back safely.  At holding the son in your arms.. the one you worried about endlessly.. The joy that fills your whole body at their being safe..

Now.. I do realize that the Parable Jesus told isn’t about an earthly family… That parable actually refers to God as the father.. and the sons are us.. All of us!  Some of us are the son who stays loyal.. stay and work tirelessly in the fields of God’s work.  We are the ones who receive love and safe keeping from God everyday.  But the son who leaves God’s protection? The son who takes his inheritance and spends it on worldly sins and then returns to God later.. humbled by his disobedience.  I understand why God would want to celebrate.. Why heaven would ring with music and dancing..

Because in those moments.. the moments that air returned to my lungs.. that hope returned to my heart.. Those moments when I crushed my son’s small body against mine?  I think I heard heaven rejoicing with me..

So now when I tell the story of my sister and I running away from home.. When I tell my daughter of my bold convictions of how my Mother SHOULD have handled it?  I also tell her of her adventures and my son’s.. and I tell her of God’s sense of humor…

My daughter?  She laughs … and says she will never disagree with me..

Even though she probably will…

And me?  When I hear something shocking.. a kid walked off while his mother napped.. an overwhelmed mom yelling at her 3 year old.. in aisle 7..?? I try not to judge the parents.. I try not to think what I would have done differently.. I just pray…

It gets me in a lot less trouble…

The morning after…

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Laughter in the air…

Yesterday my house was full of family.  It was full of adults laughing and talking.  It was full of kids running and chasing.. and laughing.  In fact, my house was so busy and full.. that at times I couldn’t hear the person standing next to me .. at all.  But the noise didn’t bother me.  Because even though my house was crowded and loud?  It was also full of happiness and love.  Everywhere you look?  You can see that happiness and love shining…  Shining from the eyes of the birthday kids.  Shining from the eyes of the adults as they are visiting.  Shining from the little toddler throwing a balloon to his dad.

Laughter… Happiness… Food… Cake.. Party games… Treasure Hunts… Sledding.. Babies being passed all around…

Heavenly!!!

When the party ended, we all were so content.. and exhausted.. that we crashed on the couch as soon as the food was taken care of.   Leaving the cleaning for later…

This morning, I took my kids to school.  When I returned home, I stepped over the baby toys and headed to the kitchen to do my morning clean up.  I smiled to myself as I pulled baby spoons and bowls from my dishwasher.  I laughed as I threw cups away.  Amused to see the silly names and designs written on the sides.  (We use Solo cups and sharpies at family parties to keep track of our cups… We tend to use silly made up names instead of our own.)  When I sweep the floors, I find lost treat bag treasures and noisy blow outs.  And… I usually find a sticky spot on the floor.. where someone spilled something and did a quick clean up job.

When I was satisfied my kitchen was clean, I headed to start my Monday laundry.  I filled the washer and then grab the clothes from the dryer.. As I fold the baby burp clothes, I find myself smile again.

But I don’t take care of the burp clothes.. I leave them folded on the dryer.. I will put them away tomorrow.  I will put them away right AFTER I pick up the baby toys.  Right after, I organize the toy corner in the living room.  But I will probably put them away before I take down the crib in my bedroom.

Why?

Because it’s the morning after.

The morning after a fun family party is always a little depressing for me.  Or the morning after someone comes to visit.  The morning after your vacation is over.  The morning after a wedding.  The morning after a holiday.  It’s always the same for me.. The morning after is always sad.  My house feels lonely.. and quiet.  There is all this evidence left behind of the lively activities we had.  Toys and chaos left everywhere.  But the only sound is silence.

So that morning after??  I do something that doesn’t involve cleaning up that evidence.  I play music to fill the silence.. and do something else.  Anything that will keep me busy.

Today?

Today I cleaned the chicken coop.

As I chipped away at the frozen … (for polite purposes) “muck”.. I talked to my chickens.  They squawked at me as I worked.  They followed me through the melting snow drifts as I dumped the muck in the compost pile.   And then followed me back again.  When I had burned enough calories that I lost a little of the gloom .. the gloom of that morning after feeling… I took a good look at my chickens.  They were a little skinnier than last fall… Kind of dirty.. and most of them were missing feathers (thanks to the duck with cabin fever).  They have definitely looked better.. and they have definitely looked happier.

Then I realized..

They were having a Morning After too..

You see.. my chickens and ducks have spent the last 8-ish weeks caged up in the sub zero weather.  This morning is the first time the doors and gates have been opened wide for their freedom.  It is the first morning of 40 and sunshine.  For them?  For them.. it is the morning after a very bad winter.  And even though a couple of them were telling me how bad the winter was.. Yes my chickens talk.. Actually they drawl.. in a very southern accent…  While a couple of them were drawling their misery.. the rest were running around enjoying their freedom or basking in that warm (40 degree) sunshine.

I know how they feel.. That morning after a traumatic event.  The morning after a bad winter.  The morning after an illness.  The morning after your special needs child has a bad day (or week).   The morning after your daughter has her tonsils out.. or your son has emergency surgery to put screws in his hips.. or you break your arm.  The morning after you crash your car. Or the morning after a funeral.  I have felt this feeling more than a few times in my life… and I imagine I will be feeling it again in June.. when I put my adopted daughter (my exchange student) on a plane home to Egypt.  That next morning.. Yup.. it will be a hard morning after.

Everyone deals with these Morning After emotions differently.  Some people are like my chickens.  They need to talk through their feelings to anyone who will listen.  Knowing that no one can fix their emotions.. but just needing to be heard.  Others need to be still.. Be still and bask in the sunlight.  Bask in the sunlight of God’s love.. God’s promise that spring will come.. and with it Hope.

I am like that 3rd chicken.  I need to move.  I need to do anything that will keep my hands busy and my mind busy.  Because that morning after?? That morning after my emotions are too strong for me to deal with.  Too strong to breathe through.. And I am missing WAY too many feathers.   So that morning after?  I just breathe.. Breathe and move.  Knowing that as soon as I focus on my Yesterday?  As soon as I do.. I will cry.

Sometimes.. sometimes I can’t move fast enough and I am forced to deal with my emotions when they are still strong.  That’s when I crash..

Then I started thinking..

The morning after Jesus was crucified.. the Bible does not tell us how Mary Magdalene dealt with her trauma.. It does not tell us how she dealt with all the emotions she felt at watching her teacher.. her friend.. hung on a cross.  It does not tell us how she dealt with her sorrow at watching a close friend die.  It does not tell us how she spent that morning after.  But it does tell us what she didn’t do.  She did not go to the tomb where Jesus was laid.

Now I understand that the morning after Jesus died for us on the cross .. it was a Sabbath.  The Jewish custom was to rest on the Sabbath.. So Mary was not allowed to do any work.. she was not allowed to go to the tomb with her oils and spices.  But still I wonder… How would Mary have spent that morning after if it hadn’t been the Sabbath Day? What would she have done?  Would she have gone to the tomb that next morning?  Would she have stayed with her sister?  Stayed and talked through her hurt?  Or would she have been Still?  Would she have been Still and basked in God’s Love for comfort?

We will never know really.

But what we do know?  We know that when Mary Magdalene went to that tomb .. she found the stone rolled away.  She found that tomb empty.  Jesus was alive again.. JUST as God had promised.

So in truth.. Mary went to the tomb and found Hope.  Hope for her future.

When I go to my tomb?  When I deal with the source of my emotions?  I do not expect to find a resurrection of my guests returning.  I do not expect to find a resurrection of my sorrows.  When I go to my tomb and deal with my emotions.. I always find hope.

That same hope that Mary found?

Not exactly.  The hope of seeing my family again soon does not compare to seeing one of God’s promises.  The hope of laughing  with friends again does NOT compare with seeing the Holy Jesus coming back to life after a gruesome death.  The hope of holding a baby again soon .. it doesn’t compare with the promise of going to Heaven.

What about the morning after sadness?  How do I find Hope there?  When hope seems to disappear.. like a cloud blocking out the sun?

Hope is still there.. It is on the other side of your emotions.

  “He has made everything beautiful in its time.”  Ecclesiastes 3:4

So those screws in my son’s hips?  They will be beautiful in their time.. God let those screws be needed in my son’s bone FOR a reason.  So my son’s bad week?  It will be beautiful in its time.  Saying good-bye to my Egyptian daughter?  Yes.. that too will be beautiful in its time.  God has a reason He lets all of these things happen…  And when we see those reasons?  I think it WILL be beautiful.  When we see the Beauty behind the reason these “hard” things happen?  That’s when we see the Promise that God gives us.

For me?  For me I see the Hope.  When I have let the waves of emotions wash through me? When I have let go of the sadness of missing family.. when I recover from the let-down after a fun time.. when I have cried enough tears to dull the pain of missing a loved one who has gone to Heaven?  Then I look for the Hope.

If Every thing is beautiful in its time… then that means that something good will come from every hard time.. (and every good time).  There is a reason for everything… so everything carries the God’s promise of Hope..

And once I feel that Hope?

Then I can take care of those burp rags.  Then I can put away the toys and the crib.  And just like those chickens.. Yup.. I can start to grow back my missing feathers.

Have a Chai…

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No man’s land..

I always joke around about things changing my life. I say this phrase at least a few times a week. “Chai changed my life.” or “Jane Austen changed my life.” or “Pond scum”.. anything that seems funny and creates a smile on someone’s face. But in truth only a few things actually changed me. Don’t get me wrong there are quite a few things or people that have enhanced me.. helped me to be a better person. My faith in God, some wonderful friends, my family, etc. But in 1986, I changed. My little brother Dave was born that year. The year after that my littlest brother Mark.  Now, it’s true that I have one other little brother, a couple older ones and a sister. All wonderful siblings, who were the best companions growing up. But these 2 young boys changed my life almost completely.

You see before Dave was born, I knew what I wanted from my life. I wanted to be a writer. Not wanted like a wish, but more like I KNEW that was what I was going to be. I daydreamed stories, I wrote stories, I created characters. It consumed all my spare time. Consumed every idle thought.  I poured my soul into the written word.

With the birth of my little brothers, the burning desire to write slowly died out. In its place was born this fascination with watching children grow and develop into young people. My ability to tell stories didn’t die, I would create stories for them all the time.  Rather,  My desire to write stories.. it didn’t seem to be as important. In fact nothing else seemed as important. I can’t remember a single Christmas present I got after they were born, but I remember what they got each year. Especially remember the joy on their faces the year they opened their gigantic Teenage mutant ninja turtles. Now don’t get me wrong. I know that I had fun getting presents and I know that I was still a selfish creature at times, as all children are in their time. But my sole purpose in life changed from writing and thinking on my works of fiction TO watching young souls develop and grow. A career as a “Best Seller” was swapped for a career of Early Childhood teacher. But most of all, I changed from only wanting to satisfy my self-centered needs into someone who would gladly spend my last dollar on someone else. All my joy now coming from others.

I am thankful for these two blessings in my life. I have watched them both grow into wonderful young men. (Wonderful and TALL young men.)  They have married amazing women and have started families of their own. And I still find myself learning from them.

Then in 1997, shortly after I married my dear romantic husband, my life changed again.

First, I gave life to the most beautiful spirited, out-going, strong willed child.. in existence… Ok.. maybe not in ALL of God’s kingdom.. but in my tiny corner she was.  All the children in my family had been born with a primal fear of strangers ..ALREADY downloaded into their brain.  My beautiful daughter.. didn’t get that download.  In fact, she didn’t seem to have a single fear.  Now.. I didn’t want my daughter to be fearful like I was.. but SOME fears were beneficial.. weren’t they?

So here I was changing again… I had to learn to decide what fears were MINE.. and which fears my daughter needed… often ON THE FLY.. And I learned to control my quivering heart to calmly and patiently explain to my daughter WHY she couldn’t walk off with anyone who looked like her Grandma.. (often explaining IN FRONT of the look-a-like grandma).. I had to explain WHY she couldn’t drive my van across the parking lot.. (she tried to listen to me through the haze of pride shining out of her 2 year old eyes)..

I also learned not to leave my van running… even to jump start the air conditioning .. NO matter HOW hot it was.. because 2000 Dodge Caravans did NOT have the safety feature of having to apply the brake to shift… deep breath…  I learned a lot of random facts from parenting my daughter..

With my daughter, I learned that it wasn’t always about being right all the time.  Some days I stood my ground, for her own good.. sigh.. And some days I gave up and bought 10 more dresses online.. So again.. I was changing…

Then 15 years ago.. My son joined us.. He joined us 19 days earlier than we had planned … and in the last 15 years he has continued to NOT follow ANY of the plans I have had for him… He crawled earlier than I expected, talked later, drew better, computed better, talked less, climbed more, cleaned more.. Always different than what I had planned…

So Yes.. I was learning to adapt my parenting skills.  This second child so .. opposite.. of my first child.. I often felt like I had multiple personalities with the different parenting techniques I needed with each.

When you look at my son?  You see a beautiful (Ok.. handsome..) souled boy.. a boy that towers above you.  He has a calmness about him that is soothing to watch.  He is helpful and eager to please.  And Joyful.. so joyful.  But when he starts to talk, you’ll see a difference then.  You see my son has Autism.. with a splash of Bipolar.. and a healthy dose of language delay.  So even though my son would LOVE to talk to you.. he doesn’t know how.. or what to say… so he tells you a story.. OK.. it will actually be from his favorite shows.. but hey.. it is still a story.  When he was younger, he could literally recite an entire episode of Dora the Explorer.. Theme song, exact words, sound effects, choices.. voice changes.. etc.  It was amazing in itself..

But it is NOT what I wanted for my son.

I wanted my son to do sports.. I wanted my son to climb trees with the neighbors.. I wanted him to beg to eat at his friend’s house.. I wanted to bandage knees.. I wanted him to have camp outs with his friends in the backyard.. and I wanted to look forward to all his accomplishments.

As I started to realize that hardly ANY of MY plans were going to happen.. I got sadder and sadder..

Until one day..

One day.. through a fresh bout of tears… I heard the Still Small Voice of God whisper.. “As for God.. His way is perfect,” (2 Samuel 22:31a).. Ha.. actually it was my sweet boy’s voice reciting the verse he learned on Veggie tales.  But I believe that God speaks his Still Small voice into the wind.. or the radio.. or my amazing son.

So for those months .. when I was the most sad about the things my son would probably never do.. my son would repeatedly tell me that “As for God.. His way is Perfect!”  It would make me laugh tearfully most days.

Then one day?  One day.. when I sent my daughter off to do an activity.. I felt that familiar ache fill my heart.  That familiar wish that my son would be able to do the same activity.. As that sadness filled my chest, making it so hard to breathe.. My son looked at me and smiled.  Smiled so beautifully.. so fully… and so contently.  Joy filling his eyes and a giggle on his lips… I realized something.. I realized that those wishes?  They were mine.. not his.  He was not sad to stay home with me.  He was not sad that he didn’t go for sleepovers.  He was not sad that he wasn’t at a friend’s house everyday.. He wasn’t sad that he didn’t believe in the tooth fairy or Santa.. He wasn’t sad at all… He was happy with his life.

And in that moment I realized something else.  My son didn’t miss out on the those experiences because he had special needs.  He missed out on those experiences because they just were NOT important to him.  In other words.. he wasn’t missing them at all.  You see?? My son is an amazing person… I have always seen that.. but what I couldn’t see was that he enjoyed a slower life than what I wanted for him.

So the way I saw it.. I had 2 choices..  1.  I could force my busy life style on him.. or 2.  I could let his enthusiasm for life be my guide for his goals.

So I changed again.. and I think for the better.

In those next few months, I learned to look at life through my children’s eyes.  I learned to see what was helpful to them .. and was simply my hopes for them.  Did I want them to learn something new? Or was I asking them to learn something I wanted them to?

I often learn the most through the quiet times .. In the quiet you can hear your children’s thoughts and dreams whisper through their conversations.  You can hear their hopes and fears through their stories.  You can hear their love in their laughter.. and if you listen carefully.. God’s still small voice is there too.. whispering his plans for your children.

There are days when I still struggle to keep my “plans” from interfering with that of my children’s (and often time God’s plans as well).. Days when I realize that I need to step back and take a deep breath.  Days when I need to ask a friend whether something is what my kids “need” or simply what I “want” for them..

And THAT is where Chai comes in..

When I need to step back.. or evaluate my kids’ best interest.. I simply make myself a chai .. or sometimes two.. depending on the decision..   When I realized my daughter had NO INTEREST in writing to the international penpal I had found for her?  I had a chai.   When I realized my daughter was NEVER going to let me braid her hair, so I had to cut it short? (Actually that was before I discovered chai.. but I could have used one..)  When I realized my son had NO interest in History?  YUP… I drink a lot of chai..

While I drink my chai?  I sip it and let stillness fill my soul.. Stillness and serenity… And God helps me see the truth in myself.. truth in my children.. and He gives me soothing comfort when I realize.. again.. that I am not perfect.  He comforts me when I realize that another of my “plans” are unrealistic.. and about to be unrealized..

So I guess I use chai as a portal to spending time with God.  Ha.. my daughter would say it’s like a Tardis..

Today?? Today.. while I sip my chai.. I am thinking of all the dreams my son has for his own life.  He has a checklist, you know.  Those dreams?  I may never have heard them if I hadn’t let go of “my” dreams for him.  He may not have known them himself.. if I hadn’t accepted him for who he is.  So Today I am thankful.. thankful God whispered in my ear that His way is still Perfect.  That my son is perfect the way he is .. Perfect the way he was created… Thankful God whispered that His plan for my son was perfect..

Can’t you just hear Him..

“Julie.. Wait until you see your son all grown up!! You are going to be SO proud.  He won’t be the way you expect or plan.. Your son will be the way I have planned him to be.  Won’t you help Me guide him?  Won’t you help Me support him?  I can’t wait until you see him!! He is going to be Perfect!! Perfect!! Just the way I have planned him to be!  But it will be a long road.. and sometimes it will be hard.. I will be there for you though.. right by your side.. I promise!  Oh.. and Julie?  Have another chai…”

Can you hear Him?

I did…

Unimaginable sacrifices….

no fear..
no fear..

I have a brother.. Well actually I have 5 brothers.  But one of those brothers was only a little more than a year older than I was (then I am).  He was my closest friend growing up.  My brother let me follow him everywhere.. him and his best friend.  They never minded that I was slower.  Ok.. maybe they minded.. but neither of them ever let on.  They would adjust their walking speed for me.  They pounded in wooden steps, where I could not climb.  When I was too afraid to keep going..? They talked me through.  And if there was danger.. my brother would always warn me…  “Step back Julie.. we’re gonna get stung.. ok!?!”

Ahhh??

What???

My confusion didn’t stop my feet from stepping back though.  Once my brother felt I was at a safe distance?  Well then he would carry out whatever experiment he had in mind for the poor bee’s nest.  As I would watch from my safe distance.. watch my brother getting stung.. (because INDEED he did get stung).. I would marvel at his ability to stay calm.  My brother would simply pull each stinging bee off his skin.. and calmly crush it before reaching for the next one.

It is said that our childhood memories magnify things that we remember, by leaving out details we didn’t notice.. and giving super human powers to the details that were significant to us.  But regardless of any other details that my childish brain leaves out of my memories.. I can be sure of who my brother was.

My brother was the bravest person I had ever met.   Brave.. and he was very curious.  Kind of a lethal combination I fear.  Now my brother never died.. he never came close .. as far as I can remember.  But I think my heart stopped a couple times.  They say the events that happen TO you are the most traumatic … Well “they” are wrong!! (whoever “they” are.)  They are wrong because the events most engraved into my brain?  They were the events when I had to watch someone I care about IN a dangerous situation?  When I stand by powerless.. worrying?  Those memories will be forever ingrained into my memory.  By far more crippling ..than anything I lived through.

I was a curious child by nature.  Curiosity by itself isn’t really a bad thing.  But unbridled curiosity?? That can be.  You see.. kids do not always see the danger in the world around them.  And ohhh was I blind…

I was travelling through the woods with my brother and his best friend.  Travelling in the company of the bravest person I had ever met.. and his faithful companion.. Almost like travelling with Robin Hood and Little John.. or King Arthur and Lancelot.. Batman and Robin..  To my adoring childish brain?? I was in the safest place.  I never worried when I was with my brother..  My hero.  What could harm me when he was looking out for me?

Nothing.

And most of the time?? This proved true.

And then.. Then we found a barn… Ok, in truth the barn had probably always been there.  But somehow we stumbled across it.  Stumbled through the rows of field corn.. to find a gigantic red barn.. HA .. Alright, alright.. it doesn’t sound that amazing when I say it out loud.. But to a young girl who loves history?  It was like a fantastic fanfare was playing .. as the wind blew through corn stalks… As we walked closer, I could see bigger glimpses of this beautiful old barn through the gaps of the tall plants.  And when we came to a stop in front of the old doors?  History came alive for me.  All the books I had read about pioneers?  All the history we learned in class?  HERE was proof.. Proof that it existed.

And I needed to know more.  My curious brain didn’t stop to think about danger.. because it KNEW that my brother would protect me.

SOOO?? I convinced them.. my brother and his friend… I convinced them to take me inside.  After a moment of thinking.. they agreed.  We stepped through that magical portal of time and I fell in love.  I saw the dowel ladders.. the peg construction.. the stalls for horses.  I didn’t stop to take in the fact that this barn was not ONLY historic.. I didn’t stop to think that Historic barns are OLD.. old and falling apart.  And neither did my brother.  While I was constructing historical scenes in my mind?  While I was created imaginary farm animals?  While I was creating imaginary people.. people who needed this important barn for their farm?  While I was locked in my imaginary world.. my brother and his friend were exploring the rafters of that old barn.. And I imagine that barn was doing much more than swaying in the wind.

We were never quite sure how that farmer knew we were in his barn.  We really never talked about it.  That farmer that called our friend’s dad.  All we knew was that farmer spoiled our fun.. and got us in so much trouble.

When our friend’s dad stepped into the doorway of the barn?  It was like he blocked all the sun from my life.. Because he was evil?? Nope!  But because in the moment that I saw his face.. I knew.. I knew how much trouble we were in.  With a call to the boys, they scurried down the ladder and outside.  I followed close behind… barely breathing… Why had we gone in that barn?  “Julie wanted to see the inside of the barn.. so we took her,” one of the boys explained.  I nodded.. that IS what happened.  But this man.. this neighbor that seemed like family?  He too wanted to protect me.  “Don’t you dare blame this on her.. She wasn’t in that hayloft.. she was on the ground waiting for you..,” and you know what?  They never denied it.  Neither one of them mentioned my guilt again after that moment.  Neither one of them tried to get me to share in their punishment.  While they were scolded.. all the way home?? (And we had travelled quite a ways from home..).. While they were scolded? I was getting carried.

You see it is far worse to see someone punished for your crimes.. then it is to take credit for them yourself.  The sacrifice that my brother made for me.. The sacrifice he made to save me from punishment?  It was painful for me.  It pressed on my chest like the heaviest weight.  Whenever I saw his face after that.. I saw him taking credit for going into that barn.  Bravely taking the punishment that should have been mine.  It hurt.

Now as an adult.. I know why that farmer was so “Mean”.. why he had to spoil our clean fun.  It is true.. we were not hurting that old barn.. We were simply curious and exploring.  But that farmer knew what we could not see.  He saw the danger in our situation.  I trusted my brother to protect me.  My brother knew that his bravery could help him in any situation.  But that farmer knew the barn was rickety.  I remember hearing the creaks and groans.. I remember thinking it added to the mystery of it all.

But imagine being a father.. Being a father and stepping into that rickety barn.  Seeing your child and his friend playing in the loft of an old barn.  Your child making the barn sway.. making it groan and creak.. Groaning and creaking loudly, while this curious curly-haired girl explored below.  Imagine being a father.. and SEEING the danger in the whole innocent situation??  And now I know why he was so angry.  I know why he yelled all the way home.

But when I was a child?  I didn’t see the worried anger.. I never saw the danger.. I only saw my brother’s sacrifice for me.

And I never forgot.

Last year, I was cleaning out my chicken coop.  A disgusting job.. but necessary.  And rewarding.. to take a mess and clean it up?  Nothing feels more fulfilling then that.. But my mind started to wander with each shovelful.. with each disgusting shovelful.  My mind wander and I began to think.. (hey.. thinking is my life..)..

I thought back to my brother.. the sacrifice he made to protect me.. and it got me thinking..

Thinking about Easter.. Easter is about how Jesus died for our sins, right?  Died and rose again.  Jesus protected us from the punishments we deserve.  We all deserve to be punished for our sins.  And Oh the sins we have ALL sinned.

BEFORE Jesus’ sacrifice, we (God’s people) would offer up the life of an animal to pay for our sins.  If we told a small falsehood about a neighbor, you would take a dove to the altar.  If you stole a calf from your cousin.. You would take a goat to the altar.  If you killed a man in a fight?  I think you get the picture.. the bigger the sin.. the bigger the animal.  (In my memories.. it felt like my brother had paid the price of at LEAST a Moose..)..

But when Jesus died for us. Died for all mankind?  He didn’t just have to sit on his bed until His Heavenly father came to talk to him.  Jesus didn’t have to simply do extra chores.  And He certainly didn’t get to be grounded to Nazareth.  Jesus took the blame for every sin that any of us every did .. or WERE going to do…  A man who had done nothing wrong.. took the blame for not only His earthly sister and brothers.. but for every earthly sister and every earthly brother… That to me.. makes him the bravest man I have ever met.  Even braver than my brother.

The memory of my guilt came back to me then.  That crushing guilt I felt for years (Ok.. I was a kid.. it was probably only months..).. the guilt that made it hard to breathe when I thought of my brother’s sacrifice.  If the guilt I felt for one sin?  One innocent childish sin?  If the guilt from that one sin.. crushed my heart making it hard to breathe?  What would a whole world of guilt.. a whole world of sin feel like?

As the tears fell from my eyes.. running down my cheeks and dripping onto the disgusting shovel I was leaning on.. I started to wonder..

Did Jesus actually die from the crucifixion?   Did He actually die from the holes in His hands or the spear holes in His sides?  Or did Jesus die as the weight of all our guilt crushed his pure heart?  That our sins were too much for His Godly soul.

And that’s when I remembered my brother’s smile.

You see.. my brother was never bitter about taking my punishment.  He never once scowled in my direction.. He never even got angry.  In fact, at one point he did turn to me and smile.  A smile with such bravery.. and such brotherly love.  And that is how I think Jesus looked as He was being punished for our crimes.

But I think I do know what Mary felt as she watched from the crowd.  I think I know how Jesus’s friends felt as they watched.  AND I definitely know how Peter felt.  Peter who had denied knowing Jesus just hours before.  Such a simple sin.. denial.. but a sin nevertheless.  Peter would have felt that crushing guilt..

Jesus gave us the cure for that crushing guilt.. forgiveness.  He gave us a way to breathe again.. A way to live.  Through His sacrifice for His sisters (and brothers).. He gave us ALL .. Life..

After that fateful day in a barn.. I don’t have many memories of tagging along after my brother.  Whether they decided later that I should have told everyone it had been my idea.  Whether they tired of my slowness.. Whether my guilt over the punishment they took for me prevent me from following them.. or simply that summer ended and we returned to school.  Whatever the reason .. I don’t have many memories of tagging along after that day.  I do have memories of that guilt creeping up, time after time.  That guilt lingered with me for years.  But also loyalty.  Loyalty and love for someone who stood by me no matter what.  I would have done anything.. and I still would.. for my brother.

So today.. I am going to honor the sacrifice my brave brother made for me.

And I am going to honor the sacrifice Jesus made for me.  Because whether I try to be good or not.. at least a couple of the thorns on that Crown they placed on His noble brow? They were for me.  At least ONE of the blows from the hammer… nailing Jesus to the cross.. was for me.  But when I think about His brave sacrifice.. Imagine that he made it with a beautiful brave smile .. full of love.. A smile that I imagine looked a lot like my brave brother’s?  If I Honor that sacrifice?  Then His sacrifice will have been worth it..

Treading water….

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Here let me carry you..

When I was younger, I decided to swim across a lake.  I had been swimming with my brother and having a good time, but we were bored (as kids often are).  We were bored.. and the other side of the lake just beckoned to us.  Since we were young.. and we were used to swimming.. we went for it.

You may be thinking that we never made it.  Oh.. we made it..  The great thing about swimming is that when your legs are tired you can just use your arms… When your arms are tired? You simply use your legs.  When your whole body is tired?  You can roll over and just float.  Float and let the peaceful sky above you soak into your muscles, strengthening you for the next leg of your journey.  When you see a rough patch ahead of you.. a strong current.. or a tall weedy patch (shudder)…??  You simply rest for a moment.. and then swim harder than usual to get through.  And if you aren’t sure what to do next.. simple.. just tread water while you figure it out.

My brother and I made it all the way across.  Well… technically we never touched the shore.. because it would have meant wading through muck and weeds.. But we made it close enough that we felt we had accomplished our goals.  As I lay there.. floating on my back… staring up at the sky… letting my tired muscles rest momentarily? I admit it.  I wished for a boat.  I wished that a boat would come by and tow us back across.  Now.. I would NEVER have admitted that to my brother.  Nope!  I wanted to appear tough and in control.  In FACT.. I wanted to appear so tough and in control that I asked my brother if he was ready to swim back .. BEFORE he could ask me.  Lucky for me, my brother was wiser than me.

“Give me a minute,” he said calmly.

“K,” I replied equally as calmly.. but inside I could hear the Halleluiah chorus being sung by all of Heaven’s choir…!!

As I gave my brother his minute, I remember wondering.. WHY did we think this was such a great plan?  Really when were we really going to tell people that we swam across a lake.. ALL BY OURSELVES!  Would it make us proud? Yes.  But really when would we be able to use it?.. was there a place for that on a college application?  .. was there a section of a job resume it would fit under?  The answer is no where.  It is simply a matter of accomplishment.. a matter of pride.  I had made it across the lake.. all by myself.. No one helped me… I was self-reliant and NOW I had proof.

I swam across a lake as a child.. Knowing this?  It used to annoy me to watch movies about shipwrecks.  I mean honestly?? How hard is it to swim .. or float on your back.. or simply tread water until help came?  If I could do it?  A wimpy book worm!  Anyone could right?  Ok, I’ll admit the thought of sharks under my feet might make me panic a little … and the fact that no land was in sight might make you feel hopeless.. AND that I have never TRIED to sleep while floating on my back.. but in my teenage mind? YUP! My teenage mind was confident that I could do it if I had to.

This matter of pride and self-reliance followed me from Childhood into adulthood.  In fact, I frequently have to check my Pride at the door.  When I get angry, I usually have to ask God to help me take pride out of the situation.  When pride isn’t in the way?  I don’t feel like I should be able to do everything myself.  I don’t HOLD onto the ideal.. that this SHOULD have worked.  Those moments where Pride gets in my way?? All I am doing is treading water.  It doesn’t matter that I had the best intentions.  It doesn’t matter that I am a strong person.  It doesn’t matter how intelligent I am.  If my desire to say I did it ALONE is what drives me?  That means no help is in sight.  Once I am tired?  There is no shore of hope to aim for.  If I continue to tread water? ALONE?  Yup.. eventually I will be too tired to survive .. on my own.

Lucky for me.. I usually abandon my pride as soon as I feel like I am treading water.  You know that feeling you get.. when you clean all day.. then cook.. then clean the dinner dishes .. then clean the kitchen.. and when you want to rest on the couch?? Your daughter wants you to pitch to her .. so SHE can have practice hitting.. (or homework.. or favorite tv show.. or.. or.. )  That feeling that your work will never end?

That is treading water..

That is when your Pride kept you from asking for help.  The pride of saying, “I keep my house clean ALL by myself.”  Asking for help?  Or (in the case of teenagers) assigning help?  It’s like asking for a life line.

Recently, my family and I moved back to Michigan.  We love being closer to home.  At first, we were gone every weekend.  But as our lives (and our visits) slowed down, I began to miss having a church.

Now missing church IS NOT the same as missing God.  I visit with God everyday.  I talk to Him throughout the day.  I try to read the Bible every day.  I sing hymns and praise songs.. every day.  And I thank God for His blessings everyday.

But Church?  I began to really miss church.

Finding a church for us isn’t that simple.  With a child having special needs, you need to find a group of accepting people.. People strong enough in their own Faith.. that a small outburst of laughter won’t offend them.  People who can forgive tiny disruptions.  When you have a 6 foot tall child with special needs?  Yeah.. you need a group of VERY accepting strong faith-ed people.

It is a very daunting journey sometimes. A journey so scary to me that.. I sit here.. just treading water.  If I have Faith in my heart?  And God in my everyday life?  YUP.. maybe I can do it on my own.  I can tread water!!

But you know what?  My legs are getting tired.

Moving 500 miles, cost my family a lot of money.  Living in a hotel for 3 weeks?  That cost my family a lot of money.  Setting up a new home?  That cost a lot of money.  But we did it.  On our own.  (Okay, not on our own.  Our families helped us whenever they could, with what they could.)  And.. we pay the money on our credit card every month.  We are making it financially .. on our own.

Then with life… and Faith.. we found answers through medical tests.  Tests that cost money.  More money than we wanted to spend, but money we knew would be well worth it in the end.. So we spent it…

But then.. my kids had to start this new diet.  I never realized how much of our food actually had Gluten in it.  So I headed off to the store.

And then.. my kids couldn’t have dairy either.. more label reading.. more surprises… So again I headed off to the store…

THEN .. my daughter’s tests came back.. No more corn.. or dextrose or maltodextrin.. (ps.. corn is in EVERYTHING).. so I headed to the store.. and found nothing.. I headed to another store.. and found one kind of chip.  So I headed to the health food store.. You know that expensive little store that is only found in a big city?  I headed to THAT health food store.  And paid premium prices..

AND THEN?? My kids became healthy and lost a ton of weight.  So I bought them new clothes.. When they lost more weight?  I bought them more clothes.. and when they lost more?  YUP.. you start to wish they weren’t quite so healthy.  All in all, we had so many blessings because I had FAITH that God could help me heal my kids.

But financially?  We have had no such blessings.  Why you ask?  Because we show God no Faith in Him providing for us.  We know that this is something we can do.. on our own.. BY OURSELVES!!  You guessed it.. we don’t tithe.

Now I know “tithing” is like a bad word to some people.  I know when you see it on the schedule for the sermon?  Most of us groan.  It’s not that interesting.. OK.. it’s really boring to hear someone preach about it.  And I don’t always agree.

God would like us to Tithe.. Yes.. But God wants it to be voluntary.. God wants it to come from the heart.  God wants us to be the widow who gives Him the last 2 coins.. the 2 coins that stand between us and Poverty.  He wants us to demonstrate that we have FAITH that He will provide for us.  Otherwise? Otherwise it means that we would like to Financially .. do it ALONE.  And God lets us try.

Now we (my husband & I) have tithed… in the Past.  When we had a church.. we remembered to tithe.. And we have caught a ton of financial breaks.. in the Past.  We have experienced moments of humble prosperity.. in the Past.

These days?  The bills pile up.  We can’t pay extra on the credit card, if we have extra vet bills and doctor bills.  We can’t pay extra on our payments, when our utility bills are outrageous.  We don’t seem to getting promotions or bonuses like we thought we would.. And the interest on our credit card?  It’s like a car payment.

Are we surviving? Yes.. But we are literally treading water… and my legs are getting mighty tired.

Now you may be thinking.. If you send money to the church, hoping God will Bless you financially?? Isn’t that like trying to buy your way into Heaven??  If you THINK of it as “buying” favor with God then.. yes…

BUT.. if you say.. God I am treading water here.. I can no longer do this on my own.  I am going to be the widow.  I am going to give my last 2 coins to You.. To show that I have Faith that You can do a far better job providing for me.. then I can do on my own??  Then I truly believe that God will send you a boat.. It may be a row boat.. it may be a kayak.. That “boat”?… it depends on your show of faith.

How do I know?

“Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple.  If you do,” says the LORD Almighty, “I will open the windows of heaven for you.  I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in!  Try it!  Let me prove it to you!  Your crops will be abundant, for I will guard them from insects and disease.  Your grapes will not shrivel before they are ripe,” says the Lord Almighty.  Malachi 3:10-11

So today?  I am trying to decide.. Do we send off a check (to a random church)?  Do we send a small portion of my tithe?  Do we wait to see how big of a Faithboat God sends to help us with our financial burden?  Or Do we send off a check.. with the whole 10%?  10% of our meager salary is a huge step of Faith.  Do we take that HUGE step of Faith and shout, “We give You our last coin Lord”? … not waiting for a small sign that it is the right thing to do? .. not waiting for a small feeling of financial peace to ease us INTO a stronger show of Faith?

Well honestly.. my answer depends on my Faith in God.. The Faith that my husband and I have together..

..and right now?  Well right now.. We are really tired of treading water.

It’s raining now…

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Rain is in the air…

Yesterday, I was all set to walk out the door.  I was showered.  My hair was pretty (i.e. NOT in a ponytail).  I had discarded my jeans for dress clothes.  I crawled into the closet and found both of my black shoes.  And my face was devoid of any and all makeup.  I was ready.  Ready to go to the funeral for the father of a dear sister in law.  I didn’t know her father very well… but I wanted my sister to know that I love her .. and that I am here for her.  And to hug my nieces.. and possibly my brother if he needed one.  With my hand on the door, I called out last minute instructions to my snowbound kiddos.

AND THEN?  Yup.. then my plans changed.  (It happens a lot with kids in High School.)  In the blink of an eye my plans changed from having plenty of time… to NOT going.  Usually I roll with the changes with a deep breath.. But this made me sad.  When I made my poor sounding excuse to my sister in law .. being the great person she is.. totally forgave me without another thought.

I have an amazing family.

But you aren’t thinking about my amazing family.. are you?  You are probably still wondering WHY I would go to a funeral without any makeup.  A function where everyone tries to look their best?  And I was going so informal?  On purpose?  Well.. the answer is simple.

I am a cry-er.

I cry at everything.  I cry when I am overwhelmed.  I cry when I am sad.. when I am angry..  and when I am happy too.  When I watched someone COMPLETELY embarrass themselves for no good reason?  After I can breathe again.. I cry again.  I even cry at Folger’s commercials.  I cry a lot.  I always have.  Ha.. I remember my older brothers rolling their eyes at my tears more than once.  When someone was truly angry, my eyes would tear up.  When my siblings were truly disappointed by someone or something.. tears.  When I was scared for my brother.. when he would try a MacGyver TV stunt .. you know.. to see if MacGyver would really survive?  Yup.. tears again.

After being asked why I cried so much .. by more than one person?  I tried to control it.  I learned that if I bite the corner of my tongue (JUST enough to hurt) and concentrate on the pain?  I could control the non-stop emotional roller coaster.  And I have gotten good at it ..in certain circumstances.  But when I am busy concentrating on NOT crying?  I tune out.. Then I can’t listen to what someone is saying.  I can’t empathize with their situation.  I basically don’t feel anything.

There are times when this doesn’t work.  Funerals are one of them.  Two hundred years ago, when they would hire people to mourn at funerals? Yup.. I would have had a steady income.  I can not go to a funeral and NOT cry.  Not feel the hole left behind.  Father, mother, sibling, relative, friend.. and especially children.  Even when I know that everything happens according to God’s plan?  When I know His plan is perfect?  I still cry. I still feel that hole as if it were my own.  An overwhelming sadness fills me.. and I can’t control it no matter how hard I bite my tongue.  So I learned.. I learned to not wear makeup.

You see?  I am not a pretty cry-er.  My eyes burn.  My throat burns.  I can not talk without great effort.  It gets hard to breathe.  As the tears course gently down my cheeks…. my eyes turn bright red .. and my face turns extremely blotchy.. Yup… I am an ugly cry-er.  The more overwhelming the emotion?  The uglier my red blotchy face gets… and then?  Then my nose starts to run..

So you can see why I would want to learn to control it.

You may think I inherited my ability to feel emotions from my mother.. but you would be wrong.  My mother is a very empathetic person.  She is kindhearted.  She would drop anything to help you out.  But she is very practical with her emotions.  She stays pretty calm.  I’m not saying she doesn’t cry.  She does.  When our house burned?  She was crying.  When her Dad died?  She cried.  When I crashed a car and made it look like a matchbox car that was stepped on?  She cried again.  And you bet.. I was crying too.  That is not to say she didn’t cry more often.. when she was alone.  Being practical with emotions.. that just means you can control when those emotions overwhelm you …to a certain extent.

Nope!  My ability to feel everyone’s emotions.. to become teary eyed at a moment’s notice?  It actually comes from my Dad.  He will probably cringe when he knows I have let his secret out.  Sorry Dad!  But when we would watch sad movies?  It was my Dad and I passing the kleenex box back and forth.  When my Dad was disappointed with me.. we were both crying again.. At the end of the movie.. when the old dog that NO ONE thought would survive the long trip home.. actually makes it back home?  Yup.. I actually need a tissue now just thinking about it.  Now in our defense, movie tears are MUCH more dignified.  We get choked up and our eyes start flooding.. but at least my face doesn’t look like I’ve been in the sun too long.

I was ashamed of my tears for years.  But knowing that my father cried too.  Knowing that he cried at the same things I do?  That the amazing man who I looked up to more than anyone else in the world.. teared up when he felt the emotions of other people.  I started to feel like it was okay.  It made me accept it as part of who I was.  Who I AM!

But still, I tried to control it in public.  Sometimes it left a bad feeling in my heart.  When my friend told me about her troubled heart.. in public?  I would concentrate on getting my emotions back under control.. and then when I felt I had?  I would focus again on my friend.  But I would often miss something important.  So instead of being able to help my friend.. I let my embarrassment over my emotions take over.  When I missed what they were telling me?  When I couldn’t even give an appropriate response to what they needed?  I felt selfish in those moments.. and I felt like crying again.

Then one day, my daughter was telling me she had to recite a verse for a prize at Vacation Bible school that day.  I laughed softly.  I told her the story of the shortest verse in the Bible.  “Jesus wept.” John 11:35.  You see whenever my siblings or I would be required to tell a Bible verse for some reason?  One of us kids would recite that verse.  Not because we couldn’t remember any other verse.  Not because we didn’t know at least a handful of verses off the top of our head.  We told it simply because it was the shortest.  My daughter raised her eyebrow then.. which told me she had NO IDEA why we would have thought that was funny.  But being a curious child, she asked, “Why did Jesus weep?”  I explained to her how Jesus had arrived to his friend’s town after he had died.  In fact, that he had been in a tomb for 4 days.  When He saw that His friend Lazarus had been laid out in death… That Lazarus had been put in a tomb and a rock rolled to cover the entrance… Jesus wept.  Even though He KNEW before He arrived in Bethany, that Lazarus had died so that a miracle could happen.  He knew that this was all part of God’s perfect plan.  Jesus knew that Lazarus would rise again. … and still He cried.  Jesus was so overwhelmed that He cried to release ALL of the emotions crushing his heart.  I explained to my daughter that the Bible goes on to say that the people could all see from His tears that Jesus truly cared about His loved ones.  That the Son of God truly cares what happens to us.. and weeps with us.

But in that moment, I saw something beyond the words in the Bible.  Jesus trusted God.  He followed the Path God set out for Him.  He never questioned God’s perfect Plan.  Jesus knew without the shadow of a doubt that ALL things work together to Glorify God.. but still.. still the sadness of his friends.. the sadness of the hole that had been left behind.. it overwhelmed Jesus and He cried… but it doesn’t say He cried.. The Bible says that Jesus Wept… Weeping makes me picture enough tears to stain His eyes and cheeks red.. Weeping makes me think His chest burned with the emotion that possibly made it hard for Him to breathe.  Weeping doesn’t sound like “pretty” crying.

In that moment, I saw something else.  My emotions didn’t mean that I didn’t have Faith in God’s Plans.  My crying didn’t say to God that I didn’t Trust that His ways were perfect.  My tears weren’t a sign that my heart was weak.  If Jesus can weep … not because He lacked Faith ..but BECAUSE His heart overflowed with love for His friend?  Then my ability to feel the emotions of others.. it meant that my heart overflows with love.. right?  It means that my heart is.. in fact… strong.

What I had seen as my weakness?  It was actually my Super Power.

A Super Power that I had inherited from my Heavenly Father.  A Super Power that I share with my earthly Father.  I have always believed that God gives everyone a super power and a weakness.  The super power that they are supposed to use to make the world a better place.. and to Glorify God’s name.  The weakness is to keep us humble.. Humble and understanding of our fellow man.  I had always thought crying was MY weakness.. but I was wrong.

So now when I feel the sadness of a friend?  I let the tears fall.  When I hear the disappointment in my daughter’s voice?  I hug her and cry with her.  And when I go to a Funeral .. or even a Wedding?  I don’t wear makeup.  There is really no point.. I know the tears will just ruin it.  I would rather look blotchy.. then look like a blotchy raccoon (..when all my mascara runs).

And it feels good to let the tears fall.

But there are days when my emotions are raw.  Days.. or weeks.. when I am so overwhelmed with worries in my own life that my emotions surface too often.  Times when it feels like my heart is bruised.  Times when even tears can’t cleanse the burning in my chest.  On these days?  I wear earplugs.  Well .. headphones actually.. headphones with soothing.. distracting.. much loved music.  On the day I went to the grocery store.. to find my daughter a snack that fit into her Gluten free/Dairy free/Corn free diet?  I was too raw.  I was overcome with guilt that it was the food I was feeding my kids that was causing all their troubles.  All their health issues, their mood disorders… That guilt still burned in my heart.  So I wore my headphones.

Why would I wear headphones to the store?  What could be overwhelming?

Have you ever seen the mother in aisle 7 whose 3 year old is throwing ANOTHER temper tantrum?  The one who looks like she wants to cry?  I do.  Have you ever seen the beautiful grandma in the card aisle?  The one who can barely walk but wants to pick out the perfect card for her daughter? The one who openly admits it may be her last year to do so?  I have.  Have you ever seen the young couple .. just back from their honeymoon.. who came to pick out towels together?  The one’s with love and hope shining from their eyes? I have.  Have you ever seen the person standing in the garden section?  The one picking out the perfect plant to take to a funeral?  The person who would rather be anywhere else.. but wants to be strong for the people left behind?  I have.  I see all of them.  There are days that I leave the grocery store and cry in my car… from all the emotions I saw.. All the emotions I felt for these people.  I flash smiles… send up quiet prayers… and reach frostings that are on the top shelf.

If I am already raw?  These extra emotions almost cripple me… and then I weep.

But I AM becoming more comfortable with my Super Power.  I stay in tune more.. Which means I listen better, I laugh more… I cry more… AND I feel less selfish.  I help more people because I can hear what they need.  I get much more from the world around me.. because I am proud of who I am.. of who I take after.

Just recently, someone asked me if I get my “tears” from my mother… I shook my head and smiled.  No, I get them from my Father.

It Takes a Village TOO…

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Beating the odds….

When we moved to Missouri in 2002, my kids were little.  So our only requirement for a house?  A BIG backyard.  Growing up in the woods, I needed trees and I needed space in our suburban yard.  My husband found it for me.  A huge backyard on a cul-de-sac.  Five mature trees made the backyard somewhat secluded.  He knew I would love it and put a contract on it within minutes.  He was right.. it was perfect for us.

Well God was looking out for us that day.  We were looking at our children’s immediate need.. but God?  He was planning for their future.  So while I was looking for trees for tree swings, a wide open space to play baseball and a shaded place for a playset… God found us a perfect village.  He put us right by the perfect friends for my family.  Close to my husband’s Missouri family.  And he chose the perfect school for my children.

My son is a sweet, lovable boy with a face full of freckles, beautiful blue eyes and the most contagious smile.  When you take your first glance at this tall attractive boy?  You do NOT see Special Needs.  You see a teenage boy.  You do not see that he didn’t talk until he was 3.  You cannot see that he was diagnosed with Autism at 4.  And you cannot see that he was diagnosed with Bipolar at 6.  When we bought a house with a backyard full of trees?  I didn’t see it either.  But God knew our future.. and He planned for us.  He provided the perfect place for my boy to grow.

Why was a school so important a part of my kid’s future?

I wholeheartedly believe that the whole village impacts a child as they grow up and mature.  The village is a child’s family, their church, their friends .. AND their school.  When a child has Special Needs?  That school makes up the large part of their future.

You see.. No mother can do everything on her own.  But a mother with a special needs child.. she HAS to trust the school to provide the things she cannot.  I had to trust the school to take care of my child and provide him a safe environment.  I had to trust the Special Education director to get him the therapies my son needed.  I had to trust the IEP team to develop the best plan for my son’s school year.  And I had to TRUST the teachers to push my son toward success.  Yup, I said PUSH.  I don’t want my son to SURVIVE school… I really want him to excel at school.  You may think that is a lofty set of goals for Special Needs.. It MAY be.. I may aim too high.. But I would rather aim too high and settle slightly.. then to not aim high enough.  My son is amazing.  He is artistic.  He is smart.  He is a hard worker.. and my son wants to go to college.  But he is a child.. children will choose the easier path if you let them.  So I refuse to let him.

This school that God picked for my family?  They wanted everything that I wanted for my son.  The “village” we found at Henderson Elementary?  Principals, Assistant Principals, Special Education Director, Paraprofessionals, Teachers, Language Therapists, Occupational Therapists, and even the Librarian.  THAT village of amazing people?  They became our family for those 6 years.. and beyond.  When my son had successes, no matter how small.. they celebrated with me.  When I had fun stories to tell.. they were the ones who laughed with me.  When my son was being stubborn, they were the ones who planned WITH me on how to turn it around.  When my son was unstable, they helped develop a plan to keep himself and others safe.  When I had to cry?  They were the ones crying with me.  But the most amazing thing for me?  When the days were long.. and rough.. and there was NO hope shining from those beautiful blue eyes.. These amazing ladies were STILL there rooting for my son to succeed.  No matter how bad the days were..they were the ones who met my son each morning with a smile and forgiveness in their hearts.

Some of those days were really bad.

Bipolar doesn’t sound that terrible.  But it is a terrible disease.  It is also known as Manic Depression.  Basically with this mood disorder?  Your body doesn’t make the right amount of the hormones you use to control your emotions.  Not enough serotonin and you feel depressed.  Too much serotonin and you feel euphoric.  Too much adrenaline and you feel scared/aggressive.  I could go on.. but I think you can see the trend.  With Autism there are triggers.. too hot.. too cold.. too loud.. too frustrated.. too .. anything.  With Bipolar?  Other than the seasons, we can find no pattern.

When my amazing son starts to cry those big crocodile tears because his brain is telling him he is overwhelmingly sad?  My motherly instinct is to hold him and protect him.  When my son wants to laugh at the world because his brain is telling him he is elated?  My instinct is to laugh along.  When my son wants to hurt himself?  Stab himself with a pencil? Pull out his hair?  Punch his head because his brain is too confused for him to think clearly?  I want to step in and protect him… and then cry.  But Bipolar is there for Life.. So Life must go on.

This “village” that God provided for me? For us all?  They were there will us every step of the way.  Cheering for us.. handing out smiles.. encouraging… (keeping straight faces)..  Why did they?  I have no idea!! But I am so grateful.  Because without them?  We wouldn’t be where we are.  Because of their help and their determination?  My son has learned that Life has to go on no matter WHAT your brain is telling you.  They helped him with coping strategies.. and they never made my son feel like there was anything wrong with him.

Because of the acceptance of this amazing group of professionals?  My son was accepted as a valuable part of the “village” by everyone.  (I could write a book on how we all took part in this awesome feat.. and I probably will…)

This amazing accepting “village” was great for more than just the children with Special Needs.  My daughter who absolutely loves to learn and loves school.. this school that God picked for us, provided something for her as well.  Because the school valued her brother as a part of its village.. No matter what… She learned to accept her brother without question.  But more than that.. I think it gave all kids a strong feeling of security.  If a child with an obvious disability can be accepted for who he is .. and loved because of it?  How can a child with a small insecurity NOT feel safer?  The students at this school turned into a wonderful group of kids.

So imagine my distress, when God sent us home to Michigan?

I love Michigan.  It’s beautiful!  It has trees … and lakes.. and rivers.. and trees… did I mention trees?  I didn’t realize how much I loved this home state of mine until we moved away.  And Michigan also holds the majority of my family.  Oh.. we wanted to move home with a passion.

But I was worried.

If we moved schools.. how would my kids live without this amazing village that God had given us all?  How would we survive without it?  So I dove into research.  Websites, school review sites, anecdotal review sites, phone calls to school, joining online support groups to get advice… and yet nothing.  I finally knew the area we wanted to end up in.. but there were still 10 school to choose from.  So more phone calls and house tours.  We narrowed our search finally to 5 houses.. Each in a different school district.  I set up tours.. and I prepared for the whisper of the Still Small Voice of God to lead my way.

What I got was a roar.  I almost cried.. (okay I cry a lot).. This school that God led us to?  From the moment the Special Education director called me ahead of time.. to the secretary asking how she could help me.. to the amazing tour I received from the principal.. and every person I met along the way… Every thing was a roar from God that this was it!! This was the new village He had planned for us… And who was I to argue?

This week I dropped off my son to school.  He walked independently through the front doors and headed to the locker he independently opens.  He independently headed to a meeting he had with his teachers.

You see?  My son still hits sometimes.  This week he hit one of his BIGGEST fans.  His brain told him he was scared or frustrated or angry or something.. and it was so overwhelming he punched one of our favorite people in this new village.  Then he cried.  And so did I.. I am crying again as I type this.  This amazing person doesn’t just want my son to exist.. she wants him to be amazing.. she wants him to be the BEST he can be… so she pushes him to excel.  Unfortunately that puts her on the front lines of the battle.  She has encouraged him to be independent, successful.. and most importantly.. My son is so proud of who he has become.  Then when he snapped?  Since she was on the front lines, she got hurt.  That hurts my heart every time I think about it. But what makes me stop in absolute AWE.  This amazing lady who was hit by my adult sized boy?  She forgave him immediately. “Seven times seventy,” she says is their motto.  That is absolutely amazing .. and it is hard to do.  Even though she forgave him immediately, she is still hurt.

I would like to point out that forgiving is a lot different than accepting.  I do not accept that my son HAS to hit.. and neither do any of his teachers.  Forgiveness means you try harder next time to do it differently.  That is what I teach my son.  We always try again.  And the next time we try ..we WILL do it better.

Through her pain (both physically and mentally), the teacher my son hit is standing with the rest of the team to make a plan, so that we can try to prevent it from happening again.  This plan isn’t to not push him as hard to succeed.  It is a plan to help him deal with the confusing messages his disease sends him.  To help him move toward a successful (and non aggressive) high school career.. To help him move toward being an independent hard working adult.

So today?  Today I am thankful that God has brought this amazing lady into our lives.  Yet this amazing lady is only ONE of the amazing professionals at this small school in the country.  Every person my son has come into contact with has made a huge impact on his life.  So today I am ALSO extremely thankful God has provided another amazing village for my kids to grow up in.

When I watched my son walk through those doors, to head to that meeting on his own.  A meeting to talk about how to turn the next bad day around to make it better.. on his own?  YUP.. I was crying again.  Because he couldn’t be that independent, confident or determined young man without the “villages” that God has given us.  I could never have done it on my own… and to tell you the truth.. I wouldn’t want to try.

At the end of the school year, I always look for the perfect thank you gifts.  How do you tell someone thank you for going to the front lines of battle everyday .. just so your son can be the best that he can possibly be..  A gift card?  A coffee mug?  What I really wish was to give them a trip to Egypt .. or a day at the spa.  But I can’t afford that AND stay home to be available for those bad days.  So I settle for a heartfelt card and home made cookies.  Is it enough? NOPE.. But while I am praying that my son grows in control every day.. I also pray that God will Bless each and every person that has come to care for my children.  That He will keep each and everyone of them in His Glorious hands and protect them.

So in the End?  In the End all I can do is pray for a whole village.

Liebster Award

Liebster Award

The Liebster award is an informal award that is given to up-and-coming bloggers with less than 200 followers, who then nominate other up-and-coming bloggers with less than 200 followers. I was nominated by Jenn Lost in Chaos.  Thank you Jenn for the nomination! Please go and check out her blog, especially She Inspires Me.

These are the rules:

  • Thank the person who nominated you and link back to their site.
  • Answer the 10 questions provided.
  • Nominate 10 new up-and-coming bloggers with less than 200 followers.
  • Create your own 10 questions to be answered by the bloggers you nominated.

Here are the questions Jenn asked me:

  1. Why did you start blogging?  I love to tell stories and to write.  Recently a friend told me I should share these stories with others.  After a lot of prayer, I went out on a limb… and started blogging.  I started out just on Facebook.. then moved to WordPress. 
  2. What is your favorite time of day?  I LOVE the early morning hours.  Midnight to 3 am are my favorite.  There is no need to feel guilty to be Still .. To just read or write or watch movies.  Cleaning anything would wake up my family.. so it is guilt free time.  When I am not “one” with my insomnia.. I love the early hours of morning before my kids wake up.  A time when the day is fresh and new.. and full of hope.
  3. Who inspires you and why?  My kids inspire me.  In this imperfect world, my kids overcome their “weaknesses” and shine.  What do you see when you look at them?  All you see are their beautiful souls.  That is who I want to be.  Just a beautiful soul.
  4. What is your favorite animal and why?  My favorite animal is (and probably always will be) the elephant.  Why?  I am not sure.  Maybe because they are so graceful.  Maybe because of their understated strength.  Maybe because it is said that an elephant never forgets… or that elephants actually mourn their loved ones when they die.  But honestly?  Honestly I just think they are beautiful.
  5. How do you like to waste time? Reading.. or research.  Or maybe reading research.  I LOVE to read.  I can reread my favorite books, read new books.. or simply read a documentary on the use of vitamins in Autism treatment.  Reading is in my blood.
  6. Name one place you would like to visit and why.  I love to travel with my family.  Our goal is to see every state in the US before my daughter graduates.  But if I had to pick a place outside of the United States… then I would love to visit Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Western Europe.  My family immigrated from those countries over the last 300 years.. and I have a burning desire to see where I come from.  I would tour castles.. and walk through old forests.  Visit old farmhouses.  I just want to breathe the air.. and see what stories the air will tell me.  
  7. If you celebrated Halloween and dressed up as a kid what was your favorite costume and why?  I know I dressed up for Halloween as a kid.. but I don’t remember any of my costumes.  I remember some of my younger brothers’ costumes.. but none of my own.  What I do remember was that amazing feeling of being “safely” scared.  I remember the excitement as you knocked on each door, wondering what treat you would get.  And I remember knowing some of the neighbors so well, that we would all be ushered inside for hot cocoa and candied apples.  So I guess the costumes were really irrelevant.  Only the happiness mattered.
  8. Do you believe in miracles?  Absolutely.  As soon as my firstborn child was born.. all doubts disappeared.  I always knew that God could do all things according with His Plan…  But holding the child that had grown inside me… it erased any doubts.
  9. What is  your favorite book, tv show or movie? Pick one or all three.  (I am going to pause here.. like I am thinking about it.)  Without a doubt.. My favorite book is Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.  The movie version that BBC produced of Pride and Prejudice is amazing as well.  I have read and re-read this book every year since I was 16.  It is a marvelous look at life and relationships of England so long ago.  The story itself is ultimately a romance.  But before the romance rears its head.. you have thoroughly learned the characters of everyone in the story.  To live so completely inside someone else’s life?  It is fascinating!!  
  10. What have you learned from blogging? I have learned a lot.  Blogging is like visiting a close friend.  Someone who lets you spill everything on your mind without interrupting ..before they reply.  That refreshing feeling you get when you talk yourself out.  I get that satisfied feeling every time I finish typing a post. That is what blogging has done for me.  But what I didn’t expect to learn from blogging?  I didn’t expect people to understand the way I think and feel.  I didn’t expect for people to feel the emotions that go behind my words.  That was an added Blessing.  

Here are your questions:

  1. Why did you start blogging?
  2. What is your favorite season?
  3. If you could have lunch with one person, past or present.. who would it be and why?
  4. What is your favorite animal and why?
  5. How do you like to waste time?
  6. Name one place you would like to visit and why.
  7. What is your favorite holiday to celebrate and why?
  8. What is the first memory you have?
  9. What is  your favorite book, tv show or movie? Pick one or all three.
  10. What have you learned from blogging?

My Nominees are:

Everything sounds better with the echo of a still small voice.