Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Power in Acknowledging that We are Powerless




I was laying in bed this evening with my five-year-old, reading her books, while the sound machine created a beautiful thunderstorm backdrop.  Before I knew it I was convinced of a thunderstorm turning overhead, and I was welcoming the much needed drops of rain.  We finished up reading and saying our prayers together, and we laid there enjoying the sounds of our simulated thunderstorm. I could feel the tensions of the day dissipate from my muscles, while acknowledging how relaxing and comforting the sounds of those big lightning strikes were.  This is very contrary to another time in my life, my elementary years, when maybe these sounds weren't so comforting.  I remember running down to the basement, and pleading for my family to join me, every time the skies would darken over the beautiful planes of South Dakota.  I was convinced that the concrete walls of the basement could keep us safe and secure from the monstrous storm headed our way.  My quest to control the situation and create a sense of safety would leave me hysterical if I could not accomplish it.  It all came down to control.

Fast forward a few decades and pass over a period of full-blown panic and anxiety attacks, and I eventually landed in a spot of deeper trust and faith. And this, you see, could not have happened until I acknowledged that I do not have real control.  And this was the most powerful moment in my life.  It was the brightest lightbulb. It was my Ah-ha moment.  And it was freeing!  And I am so eternally grateful that I did find my peace when I did, as we see so much turmoil at this time in our beautiful country...as we see so much hatred and bloodshed in the world around us....as I lay here, pregnant with our eighth child.  I acknowledge that there are no guarantees in "our vision" for our our future.  We have no promise of tomorrow.  We only have today.  God does give us a brain to make wise choices, and make preparations… but still, no guarantees.  The only God given power we do have is prayer.  It all comes down to prayer.  And it's a struggle for some, who need to see to believe.  But believe.  It's what we were designed for...to reach outside of ourselves and unite ourselves with Him in prayer.  It is so incredibly powerful when you can acknowledge that you are powerless with regards to true control. God did not custom design us to control the universe, to decide who lives or dies, or to take upon ourselves  all the worries of the world.  He does give each of us unique talents to contribute our part to make the world a better place united in love, and to be in union with the holy spirit through prayer.  He does not abandon.  Why do we?  It's so simple.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Adoptive Love



                            





    Someone once told me that adopting a child is the closest thing we can come to in understanding the great love our Heavenly Father has for us.  We are adopted because we are His, imperfections and all . . .covering all cultures, races, ages, religions, physical differences, and pasts.  We were made to be loved, and to love, regardless of anything else.  We are all worthy of it.  We were specifically designed for it, from conception.






When Joseph and I look at our beautiful children, we are amazed.  Don't get me wrong, we have figured out "how" babies are made by now (ha ha). . .and one thing leads to another, and we're holding another little bundle of love.  We always thought that we would have two children, three at the most.  But a little voice kept us open to life, and the the realization of the value of life, increased with each child.  And when you suffer a loss of a baby, at any gestation or age, you especially are reminded of how precious each life is.  And life truly is out of our control . . .bringing it into the world, and losing it to the next.    


It was just one year ago August when we lost our sweet baby girl, Adelyne.  The loss was so heavy for our entire family, yet the light remained lit.  Hope remained.  Trust was intact. We both immediately brought up a discussion we had had over the course of several years, to open our hearts to adoption.  The time felt right for both of us.  We were confident in our decision, yet did not have the answers as to how we were going to make it happen.  The answers came though.  



We both felt strongly that China was where our child was waiting.  We poured over files and photos, and I remember asking "how?".  HOW can we reject any of these, and HOW do we choose?  HOW will we know for certain?  We already had one child with special needs, and we were well aware that we would not know the extent of an adoptive child's special needs until bringing him or her home.  But then we saw his picture.  We both knew.  I know that sounds romanticized and maybe even cliche, but it's more than true.  There were uncertainties in his file, and much was left up to the imagination to fill in the gaps, and understand his "special needs". Yet it was all okay.  We were at peace. We were immediately pre-approved, and by the next week, we started up the fundraising engines.  Support flew in from all directions.  We were overcome with emotions, gratitude, and love.  It was an emotional time for me.

                                   



Just 7 months after we found him, we brought him home.  



                          

Growing in faith means growing in trust.  It means being okay to not have all the answers.  Having Drew home has been nothing short of amazing.  He is an incredible little guy, who fits perfectly in with our crazy bunch.  He has his two year old brother's love of music, his five year old sister's independence, his eight year old brother's curiosity, his eleven old sister's full upper lip, his fifteen year old brother's gift of gab, his 17 year old sister's love of art, his mommy's love to get-up-and-go, and his daddy's gift of being always willing to help.  We did not choose Drew, he was chosen for us.  He was always in the plan . . .









Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Unspoken Reality of Raising a Child with Special Needs



I needed our son Luke. Our family needed a Luke.  Our close and extended community needed a Luke. I don't use the word "need" very often, as you often find me helping our kids distinguish between the words "want" and "need".  Most always it turns out to be a want, not essential for life.  so when I confidently use the word "need" in describing the birth and presence of our son with down syndrome, be assured I mean it.  Much thought and reflection has been put into that word.  

When I was 18 weeks pregnant with Luke, we got his diagnosis, along with being informed that he would need heart surgery. We were asked if we wanted more information on raising a child with "special needs".  I read every book that was available on Amazon, so that we could fully be prepared and embrace what our new life would look like. We would now be a "special needs family".   Life would never be the same. I envisioned giving up vacations, being ostracized by potential future friendships, and giving up all of the norms that we knew with "typical kids".  I foresaw all of our energy going towards filling his "special needs", whatever those were.   

Glance ahead to today, and my view of a "special needs family" is completely different.  Luke constantly makes us laugh, and every little accomplishment he reaches, is a celebration for our entire family.  And we actually go on vacations, and do all the other "normal things" that families do.  I have yet to meet one of these special needs families that would have things any different, including parents whose children are now adults.  I have yet to meet a family that does not completely love their child, "special needs" and all. I have yet to meet a family that has not been completely changed by perspective, virtue, compassion, dedication and love.  I see it in the words, thoughts, and actions of our children. I see how already his short presence on this earth will impact their paths.  When I say that we needed a Luke, I'm applying this to our entire society. Sometimes we need to be saved from ourselves. Sometimes we take the gifts and talents that are God given, and do not apply them for good, for humanity. Often times we choose the lower Road, or go the opposite direction. We sometimes obsessively shoot high, and lose sight of what is important to get there. But these children and adults who are born with challenges present us with amazing opportunity to shine, to offer of ourselves, and to give up a piece of ourselves that would often times lead to selfishness.  They help us to recognize and apply what God has given us as strengths. They remind us to not lose perspective of what really is important.  We need more Luke's in our society, to save us from the obsession of filling our wants.

I went to my sons high school soccer game yesterday, and witnessed a beautiful story of love being played out on the field.  The story did not begin yesterday however, but moreso over several seasons leading up to yesterday.  Our soccer coach's daughter has "special needs", and during every season, he takes the good and life lessons he has learned from his daughter, and shares them with the teams. And the students listen. They have had an incredible "team cheerleader/manager", who himself does not have the ability to play at that level, and also has some "special needs".  He is an incredible fan, support, and cheerleader for each of those boys. This high school is known for being an academically progressive, set-the-bar-high, overachieving school, and yet I have never witnessed a moment where they didn't treat their team manager with love, respect, and dignity. And when they suited him up last night for the kick off, and had everyone in the bleachers screaming and clapping, with blow horns in the background...the amount of joy I saw on that boy's face brought many of us to tears.  Witnessing the beauty of his joy was moving, but seeing how he has positively affected the lives of all of these other boys during their high school soccer careers, is equally important.  You see, God's purpose for this young man was orchestrated and played out beautifully in our school...his purpose was to fill the bigger need.    

When I say that our "need" for these kids in our families and communities is greater than the "special needs" that they were born with, I mean it. God always provides balance. God always allows good to come from struggles, and as I have many times mentioned before, the resulting good and spread of love is always bigger than any disability.  Support the choice of life for these children. Support the families that are blessed to care for these children. And I challenge you to volunteer and expose your children to this incredible population.  You may just find that many of your own "needs" may just get filled.  

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The Hug



            His gaze catches you from across the room. One eyebrow raises slightly as a half smile forms on the corner of his mouth. You respond with a little smile, as at first you're not secure with the fact that his eyes are on you. But as he moves closer, and his eyes brighten and smile widens, you feel confident that he is making his way exactly to you. Arms outstretched, his little squishy hands reach around your neck and squeeze ever so tightly. His little body melts into your chest, and as he lays there for 20 seconds, patting your back, the stress of your day, agenda of what's ahead, and any hardness you acquired in that day, leaves you. You are left feeling loved, cherished, and warm.

This is the perfect description of how one hug from our little two-year-old with down syndrome leaves you feeling.  Our Lukey is not always happy, nor are other children with down syndrome. They have moods, and tantrums, and strong opinions, like all children. But I truly believe in my heart that they are given the gift of spreading love, more so than you and I with typical chromosomes are able.  Their calling and purpose in this world is equal to, if not greater, then the calling for all the rest of us.  Don't get me wrong, we their caretakers definitely have a special purpose, but I promise you that they teach us way more than we teach them.  I have witnessed him brighten up so many days, whether he's been reaching across the sales counter to hug the clerk, leaping out of my arms to hug the scruffy air conditioning repair man, or demanding that our priest stops to receive a hug after mass.  It's as if he senses when somebody needs to feel loved, in that moment. I have seen him bring tears to strangers.  

As parents and advocates of Luke, we definitely fight for him to have equal opportunities and rights, as our typical children do. But I for one definitely acknowledge that there are some differences. And that's all they are. Not better, or worse. His cognitive delay is nothing we look negatively upon. Our other six children embrace him for his uniqueness, and acknowledge the sacredness of his life, equal to our own. We have all developed supernatural patience with him, that we did not know was possible.  His life drives selfishness out of our individual lives, which again, is such a gift.  

Please embrace children with special needs, and teach others to do so. Encourage life when a prenatal diagnosis is made, and offer support when needed. Our world needs to not label these children as burdens, but rather embrace them as the greatest gifts...I hope that you meet our Luke someday, to experience his warm embrace.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

You are my cheerleader...




Dear You,                                                3/21


You know who you are. You are the eternal optimist. You're the infectious cheerleader. You are the glass, half-full, and a living example, of joyful. I've seen you in the grocery store, on the playground, in church, in the neighborhood...you are everywhere.  When you spot me from across the room, you don't look away. You look directly at me, and your smile grows bigger. Your eyes grow larger. And if my arms reach out, you move in for a hug.  When you ask me a question, and I babble back to you, you throw your arms up and get so excited, and you quickly respond back with just the right words. You recognize that the sounds that I produced, took a lot of hard work!  And if I throw a sign or two at you, you are quickly jumping up and down in excitement, because you know I have been spending a lot of time practicing those signs. You can tell I am very proud of myself, as I clap along with you.  And when you know that other kids my age are running around on their two legs, and you see me eagerly taking steps as I hold onto mommy and daddy's hands, your expression lights up the room with excitement...you know this is a proud moment.  You know I will succeed. You are amazing, for recognizing and believing that I am amazing.  So although this is national down syndrome month and we are celebrating my extra chromosome, I want to celebrate you right now.  You, the cheerleader. You, the eternal optimist. You, my number one fan and supporter.  It is all of you that make such a difference in my life, and others'. You make my small accomplishments big accomplishments.  So thank you!!

Love, 
Luke

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Suffering


Suffering. It's all around us.  Different degrees of it of course...but it is blanketing humanity right now.   For some, suffering may be having to cut back on the budget, and skip the Starbucks!  For others it may be caring for a family member with terminal cancer.  Either way, it sucks, right?!  Many try to cope with suffering themselves, but succumb to fear and anxiety, and are quickly overwhelmed by the suffering that goes with that in itself. More than ever, people are falling into depression, turning towards addictions (pornography) and vices (heroin, OxyContin, excessive drinking) to try to cope with the world.  

Suffering. We do try to dodge it. We try to use a lot of logic in planning our lives out, so that we avoid a head-on collision with it. We try to build up a large retirement cushion, or a "just in case" pot, just so that we are not without what we have now, or in the future. We  try to exercise, eat healthy, and take supplements, to avoid disease.   God did give us a brain, and so much of this seems logical.  I've even had many people comment on the size of our family, and then go on to tell me that they stopped after two children, because they were both healthy, and they didn't want to push their luck...I'm assuming this has to do with suffering.  I guess we are gamblers!   And all of you sisters out there who have large families of your own, you know that there is much to give up as far as time and resources, when you open yourself up to having a large family.  Throwing a special needs child in the mix, how do we cope?  I like to think it leaves us feeling doubly blessed! Our close  friends just received their foster-to-adopt license in Texas, and they were just informed that there are dozens of newborn babies, sitting in Texas hospitals, waiting for homes. Babies!  Although these babies look healthy and "normal" on the outside, they  were born with drugs in their systems.  With all of the unknowns about the future, families are not willing to take on the so called "burden" of bringing them into their family.  Will these children require more time and have special needs? Quite possibly...and most likely long term. Would taking in one of these babies change the dynamic of your family, change the amount of free time you have, and cause you to sacrifice? Most likely.  There are a lot of unknowns. And this can be scary.  Why would we take this willingly into our home? Suffering? Or why would we not?

In our country, 90% of us are believers.  But we are comfortable, believers.  Some even call the state of the "body" of the church right now, luke-warm...comfortable.  We all know and agree that God sent his own son to suffer for each of us. We know that when he walked on this earth, he did not conform to the world, but took that suffering on, headfirst, willingly.  And we as believers know, that through HIS act of suffering and sacrifice, the gates of eternal life were opened.  We also know that Jesus served as our teacher, mentor, leader, and greatest example of how to live on this earth. Unlike Jesus, we walk in sin.  Yes, he suffered for us for eternal life . . . but what did he teach us about suffering in this temporary life?  Was he ever teaching us to be stagnant, comfortable in our sin, or even comfortable in general?  On the contrary. He never promised that we would not endure suffering here.  He lead by example. He taught us to offer our suffering up for others, and to cling to Him, with an eternal perspective.  He taught us to look through His eyes.  So if we as believers, embrace what He taught, and we as believers want to take His yoke and put it around us for a day, wouldn't we be looking at the world entirely different? Wouldn't we embrace suffering rather then sprint away from it? Would we not open our eyes and witness the good that comes from God's pruning of his branches?  When faced with adversity, do we fall to the ground in fear, or look at it through His eyes, with an eternal perspective?  God allows suffering. And only by carrying His yoke, and walking in His footsteps, can we see the beauty that comes from it.  

I took two of my daughters, and one of my daughters dear friends, on a homeless walk uptown this weekend. There were 14 of us that showed up for the walk, and we all brought different amounts of food and water. We walked for about an hour and a half, handing bags of food to very grateful individuals, who were in need that day.  The walk circled us around to where we had begun. When we got to the very last homeless person, we noticed two things. One, it was a little girl, around the age of six, there with her mom and dad.  And number two, that was the last bag of food that we had amongst us.  During that hour and a half walk, we had handed out exactly as many bags as we all had brought, without keeping track or having any forethought to it.  My Daughter and her friend were very sad to see such a young homeless person, but I reminded them of the gift of being there, to feed her when she was in need. God allows suffering, and when I looked at that particular situation with them with an eternal perspective, we had to give thanks that the Holy Spirit brought us there to meet a need. And we literally had exactly what was needed.  And God may use that little girl, for a very big purpose in the future.  There have been many incredible people that have rose up from nothing, yet God used them to make a very big impact in the world. Sometimes I wonder if we who are surrounded in comfort and abundance, are more deafened and blinded to the needs of others around us.  We don't want to lose "comfortable" if it means suffering.  But I challenge you (and me) to step out of your comfort zone, even for a day.  And then another day, and maybe for a week... I think the beauty in giving of yourself, (whether it be financial, time, or prayers, and service) is being able to witness and receive what you are simultaneously being given from our creator, because you are living in His will in that moment.    Through sacrifice and suffering, with God by your side, you will grow in knowledge, understanding, and love, to a much deeper level, than the superficial level of the world. Agape love. Selfless love. 

Friday, January 29, 2016

Dear Future Mommy and Daddy...a trisomy 21 love letter






Dear mommy and daddy, 

I know that you are preparing to meet me soon, as God is putting the finishing touches on me in His perfect plan.  I am so eager to meet you, and look into your eyes for the first time. And getting ready for my arrival, I know you've been making the nursery just right, and reading all about my extra special chromosome, and how to care for me. And I understand that when you read about all of the what-ifs, and the range of possibilities, it may evoke some fear.  But please mommy and daddy, trust me when I tell you that you are going to fall in love with me the very first time you hold me. Please mommy and daddy, trust me when I tell you that you are going to be surprised and amazed by my accomplishments, every day of my life. And please mommy and daddy, trust me when I tell you that you are going to be an amazing mommy and daddy to me, and you are going to grow and change yourselves, in ways that you never thought were possible. Please remember never to compare me to other children, but only celebrate each of my milestones with me. You are going to be surprised to see perfection in me, just the way I was created. I promise I will bring you smiles. And I promise that your heart will grow not only for me, but even for other special children around me. As I grow, you are going to grow right along with me. You are going to grow into an advocate, teacher, nurse, friend, organizer, cheerleader, and the best mommy and daddy I could have ever have hoped for.  Just remember that I am a gift. The perfect gift. 




Love,
your precious baby

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Praying it Forward

     
Prayer

Prayer.  We offer it, think about it, talk about it, study different methods of it, etc., etc.  We as believers know prayer is powerful. We know that sometimes, it's all we have.  And many of us have witnessed the changing power of it.  Yet why does it seem to be so difficult to truly prioritize it, in our busy lives?  How can we so easily find time to check messages and emails, or make a phone call to a friend, but not drop to our knees with time set aside for God every day?  My mom for sure always prioritized it while she was raising my brothers and I on her own, after my father passed away. I remember seeing her on her knees every night at her bedside, in deep prayer.  It will be forever etched in my memory.  What a beautiful teacher and role model she was and continues to be.   What a perfect example, of what this world needs.  We try to find substitutes . . .we are always seeking more.  But it's Him we need.

Our family just watched the movie "War Room".  This is such a life changing movie, that serves as such a reminder to us of the power of prayer.  And all the perfect timing for our family, as we are in the middle of our adoption journey in bringing our Drew home.  We turned in all of the paperwork, and now the waiting game begins.  Knowing that the Chinese government holds the right to cancel any adoption, can leave a person feeling helpless.  And all those times in our lives when we are feeling helpless, impatient, anxious, overwhelmed, done......we need to drop to our knees, and we turn it over.   We need to hand it all over to God, and humbly acknowledge that we do not have control.  And we joyfully proclaim our trust in Him, while reverently offering our time to him.  We ask Him to use us for His will. And we pray for patience. We pray for strength. We pray for understanding. And we trust that He will deliver.  ❤️❤️❤️  This week our family is putting a designated space aside to use as a prayer room.  Feel free to send us your petitions!  And will you take the prayer challenge with us?