Monday, December 31, 2012

Celebrating the Year

It’s that time again, the time where we all look ahead to the new year in front of us and assess where we want to be and what we hope to accomplish. But it’s also a time where we may criticize ourselves for all the things we aren’t, or feel bad about the goals we set for this year but didn’t accomplish.

Well, I don’t feel like doing that right now. You know what? No, the year wasn’t perfect, and no, I’m not perfect. But some great things happened and I know I’ve made progress in several areas of my life. So instead of jumping right into deciding how to improve my life next year, I’d like to take a look back at what’s gone well this year.

When 2012 began, I had only been a mom of three for less than a month. I was still adjusting to our new normal and trying to figure out how to best meet everyone’s needs while also staying reasonably sane myself. Looking back over the past twelve months, I think I succeeded, for the most part. And that is an accomplishment worth celebrating! There is something really awesome about realizing that our family came through a very challenging time, and we didn’t just survive– we thrived. We struggled, we stretched, we adjusted, we changed. We grew.

I spent several weeks hunkering down and trying to adjust to parenting three kids while my husband worked and went to school. And then I started facing some challenges that felt big and scary, but it was necessary to do something about them. For a long time I’d been worried about my three year old’s speech; his language development was fine but he was so hard to understand. I had tried not to stress out about it for a while, and I told myself that if I was still concerned once he turned three, I’d contact the school and have him evaluated. Well, he was three and I was still worried, so in February (on my birthday!) we went for the speech evaluation. It was quickly apparent that he would need speech, and although it took a few weeks to get everything set up, in April he began going to speech twice a week through the school.

Around the same time, I also decided I needed to seek further help for some issues we were encountering with my oldest. After doing some research on different ways to approach the issue, I made an appointment for him to be evaluated at a pediatric therapy center. The day of his intake appointment arrived and I had to take all three kids. The woman we met with did his intake, gave a preliminary diagnosis of Asperger’s (we would have to come back for further evaluations, of course), then asked me a question that momentarily stunned me: she wanted to know if I would like to schedule an intake appointment for my three year old as well. During our time there, she had noticed not just his speech problems but also that he was abnormally hyperactive and sensory seeking. And all this time I thought he was just a typical three year old– it turns out I was wrong!

So in the spring, both the older boys began evaluations. The oldest was diagnosed with Asperger’s in the summer and he began weekly communication therapy, physical therapy, and occupational therapy. The three year old was diagnosed with apraxia and was found to have delays in fine motor and gross motor skills, plus he was very sensory-seeking. He also began weekly individual speech therapy (in addition to the group therapy he was getting twice a week at our school), physical therapy, and occupational therapy.

Last week, my oldest graduated from all his therapy! He has made amazing progress. So far he has not needed an IEP at school because his Asperger’s is mild and doesn’t seem to be affecting him very significantly in the classroom. Obviously we will seek out an IEP if he shows signs of needing one, but for now he is doing very well both academically and socially.

My middle child is still going to weekly therapy at the pediatric therapy center, and he is also still going to speech at the school. He will probably continue for quite a while, at least in speech, but he has also been making incredible progress. He is so much easier to understand now! He has also made major improvements in his fine and gross motor skills and he has calmed down considerably (although some days are still rough– but you know, he’s only four, and all four year olds have rough days sometimes). He’s also in preschool two mornings a week and loves it there.

I guess that is what I feel proudest of this year– that I faced the challenges my children were having, got them into therapy, and have seen amazing results. We are in such a different place than we were at the beginning of the year!

But I am also proud of accomplishments that I have made personally. After struggling for a long time with my desire to go back to school versus the pressure I was putting on myself to be a full-time stay-at-home mom, I finally made the decision over the summer to apply for a master’s program in school counseling. Obviously it added a lot to my plate, even though I’m only going part time. But you know what? It’s nowhere near as overwhelming as I feared. I actually am so much happier and more energized now that I’m back in school.

On December 4, 2011 I gave birth to my third baby; on December 4, 2012 I finished my first semester of graduate school (and with A’s in my classes, to boot). I never would have imagined at the beginning of the year that this is where I’d be at the end of it, but I’m so glad I made this decision.
Overall, I feel like I have faced a lot of challenges this year. There were times that I felt like I had been brought so low; it all felt too hard and I didn’t know how I was going to make it through to the other side. I was barely making it. But I feel like I can confidently say that I have made it through. Even though some times were really, really tough, I feel like I have come out a better person. I know I am more patient, more self-confident, and stronger.

And I look forward to even better things in 2013. I believe that even when there are challenges (and of course there will be, because there always are!) my family and I will face them head-on and come out better and stronger.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

A Different Kind of Love

Recently a friend pointed out that those of us who claim to be followers of Christ are called to a different kind of love. It’s more than simply having compassion toward those who are hurt, oppressed, or otherwise mistreated. We are also called to love those who oppress… to recognize that they are people made in the image of God and, as such, they have value.

As much as we talk about love, I wonder if we are still in the beginning stages of learning how to live it in the way God desires. We are pretty good at loving each other– those who are like us in most respects. We may be doing all right at loving those who are suffering spiritually, physically, emotionally, and financially.

But how good are we at loving those we disagree with?

And how good are we at loving those who do things that are horrific and evil?

That is HARD to do. When I think of someone spreading messages that are damaging and not true to the gospel… or damaging a child physically or emotionally… or sexually exploiting a child… or walking into a school and killing six year olds… or abusing a spouse… or taking advantage of people who are vulnerable… my first reaction does not often resemble love in any way.

Yet there is something within me that whispers a quiet reminder that although the person has done a terrible thing… they are still a person created in God’s image, a person God loves just as much as he loves me… a person God can forgive just as he’s forgiven me.

It doesn’t lessen my heartbreak, it doesn’t take away from my compassion for the victim, it doesn’t decrease my feelings of horror over atrocities committed… it doesn’t stop me from speaking truth… but it does remind me that every one of us is human and every one of us is broken. And when I think about the compassion, mercy, and forgiveness that has been shown to me, grace I do not deserve and never could… it softens my heart toward the person who has harmed someone else.

Luke 6 says the following and I think it’s appropriate to this topic:
32 If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

How do we love our enemies? What does that look like?

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Darkness and Light

There are so many hundreds of thousands of words that have been posted already about the tragedy in Connecticut. A part of me doesn’t want to add to the words. But the rest of me has no choice. Writing is how I work through my thoughts and feelings. It’s how I process things that have happened. It’s something I have to do.

I have no answers. I won’t pretend I do. Anyone who claims to have answers is lying to themselves. There is no explanation for the hows and whys of such horror. Or, perhaps, there are too many explanations. Perhaps it is all so convoluted and complicated that there is really no way to pin down a simple, black and white explanation.

No, I don’t have answers. But I sure do have questions, and a whole bunch of fears. I have been brought to my knees sobbing, I have held my three precious children closely and thanked God for them, I have had uncontrollable thoughts of how unfathomably horrific it would be to be in the shoes of one of those families.

It’s my worst fear, losing one of my children. It’s a fear that has kept me awake at night many times, a fear that springs to the forefront of my mind every single time I read of a tragedy involving a child– horrible accidents, fatal illnesses, physical and sexual abuse, murder.

I am reminded that even though I love my children more than anyone or anything in this world, and even though I would do everything in my power to keep them safe… there are so very many things that are NOT within my power… so many things I cannot control. The fact is, a tragedy could happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime.

I can never guarantee that my children will be safe from harm.

None of us can.

And that is terrifying.

This is true every single day, but I’d say most of us don’t think about it every day. And then we are reminded so suddenly, and it’s overwhelming. It’s an unbearable truth that we must grapple with.

This life is not permanent. This life is nowhere near as safe as we’d like to imagine it is. There is so much evil and hatred and pain and death in this world. So much darkness.

And yet, somehow, there is also so much goodness and love. So much light.

I am equal parts desperate and hopeful. A part of me wishes it all would end, because I look around at this world and I see so much misery and pain. Another part of me holds on to hope that maybe, somehow, the love and goodness may outweigh the evil and hatred.

All I know to do is to continue to plant seeds of love, hope, peace, gentleness, kindness, patience, understanding, and compassion… even when it feels futile… even when I feel desperate and angry and fearful… even when my faith falters in the face of tragedy.

There is no other good and reasonable choice that I can see.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


Something about my kids’ birthdays, and particularly their first birthdays, causes me to stop and reflect on their births and the past year. I suppose it’s because birth is such a momentous occasion, and the changes that occur in the first year of a baby’s life are incredible.

As I reflect, I realize how much the emotions of labor and birth have paralleled my life over the last year. Although he was my third baby and second totally natural home birth, his birth felt the most difficult to me. Labor was long and slow for many hours, then when it finally picked up the pace, it was like being hit by a train. Although those there with me have assured me that my struggles were internal, and that I appeared calm and strong throughout labor and birth, I clearly recall times where I felt so desperate, needy, and weak. The moment came, as it does in most labors, where I just wanted to give up; I felt like I couldn’t do it anymore and I didn’t want to do it anymore.

Emotionally, I felt weak and tired. But my body was strong, and it forged ahead and did exactly what needed to be done, pulling the rest of me along for the ride. A beautiful baby was born and he changed my world.

Could there be a more fitting description of the last year of my life?

There have been times where the days have dragged, and I felt frustrated, wishing life would just pick up the pace already. Then the pace did increase, and oh boy, a lot of things have happened!

I have given my all emotionally, physically, and spiritually: to labor and birth, to actively and positively parenting, to getting testing and resources for my children who needed a little extra help, to going back to school myself to work on my long-term career goals.

During the times I have felt the weakest– when I’ve been exhausted and overwhelmed, when I’ve just wanted to give up– an inner strength I didn’t even realize I had has emerged. And it is this strength that has kept me moving, dragging the rest of me along for the ride regardless of how I felt about it.
And now here we are. The baby is a year old today. I am turning in my final papers to finish my first semester of graduate school today. My oldest will be finished with therapy at the end of this month, and the middle one has made amazing progress in speech.

The first birthday signifies just how much change can take place in the span of a year. This is an especially poignant reminder for me this year, because my baby is not the only one who has changed and grown exponentially. A year ago, I could never have imagined that this is where we would all be.
And you know what amazes me the most? I no longer feel weak. I know I am strong. I know I can do so much more than I even think I am capable of. I know I will not be defeated by circumstances that feel overwhelming.

A stronger me has been born, and my world has been changed.

Monday, December 3, 2012


For the first time ever, my family is celebrating Advent. Well, kind of. Part of the point of Advent is to slow down and reflect, and while we are doing that, we are also staying pretty busy throughout the Christmas season. But through it all, we’re putting an intentional focus on family togetherness, the significance of Jesus’ birth, and showing love to others.

After an unsuccessful last-minute search for an Advent calendar that was exactly what I wanted, I decided to make my own. It turned out really well, and I love seeing it hanging on the wall beside our kitchen table. It’s so festive and fun!

It was really simple to make. I used card stock, scrapbooking paper, card sleeves I “borrowed” from my husband, number stickers, and ribbon. The picture below shows mini clothespins, which I originally intended to use but I changed my plan as I was making it.

Here is is hanging on our kitchen wall. I’ll be honest, I’m not an exceptionally crafty person. This thing is held together with scotch tape and staples. Seriously.

Isn’t it fun? We’re putting little slips of paper in each pocket with an activity for the day. On day one, we went to our city’s Christmas parade, and on day two we put up our Christmas tree. Later in the month, we’ll take the kids out to buy gifts for family and friends, go out to see Christmas lights, make treats and crafts, have family movie nights, do some random acts of kindness, and go to a few parties and dinners. We’re also reading a story from The Jesus Storybook Bible each day.

I’m excited! It’s going to be a great month.