Awareness to Advocacy

Have you ever hesitated to share what you are struggling with to a friend because this statement rings in your head, “stop complaining, there are others who have it a lot worse?”

If so, I hope you know that yes, there are varying degrees of struggle out in the world, but that does not mean that your struggle is not real or does not matter.

When I first started to suspect that my child had special needs or was “more”, I shoved it down deep in my chest. I read books about discipline. I tried harder.

Maybe it was fear, or shame, or maybe it was some of those common statements so readily offered. You know the ones,

“He’s just a boy.”

“He’ll grow out of it.”

“You need to discipline your child more.”

“You need to be more consistent.”

Now, when I think back about what life was like when this particular son of mine was almost 3, I remember having a baby and a pre-schooler as well, but it took ALL OF ME to contain him.

I did not want to jump to diagnosis, but I knew that I needed help.

Growing up, I learned about special needs early. My mom was an Occupational Therapist. I have fond memories of stopping by her workplace as she had to drop something off, or pick something up. While she attended to her task, I would take in the environment around me.

On one hand it was one of the coolest places I had ever been. I couldn’t stop staring at all of the toys and equipment. I just wanted to play on everything-especially the swing!

But on the other hand, I often got introduced to kids who required a wheelchair, kids who could not talk, and kids who made lots of unfamiliar noises. Sometimes I felt scared about the unknown I was witnessing. Other times I felt sad. But often I felt amazed. The love and care that the therapists provided them, and the joy that the children expressed in their own special ways was incredible.

I feel grateful to have grown up witnessing this world of amazing people. The exposure to the reality of people living with special needs impacted me in so many ways.

This reality taught me at an early age to have perspective. To be mindful of the way I view things. Sometimes that means being grateful for what I have, when my flesh wants to complain. Sometimes that means, taking a step back to gain a better perspective, to see the big picture and to avoid rash or quick judgements.

But it also taught me that it is possible to be grateful and grieve.

It is possible, to know that there are worse things, but to still worry.

It is true that pain is relative.

Just because someone’s struggle looks different than yours, does not mean that yours isn’t real.

I understand that not all may agree with my way of thinking. But for me, if I had swallowed my concern, tried harder to be better and just kept focusing on the positive, I would have not served my child well.

Let’s be real. There is being positive and hopeful, and then there is “toxic positivity.”

For me, in order to care for my son well, I needed to swallow my pride. Some might think swallowing my pride would have looked like me ignoring the temptation to default to blaming my child’s behavior on a diagnosis and simply “manning up” and being more militant. I believed swallowing my pride truly was me accepting that no matter how hard I tried, I was not going to be able to manage this struggle alone.

Through humility, I was able to walk from awareness that my child might be “more,” towards acceptance and now into advocacy.

Our journey navigating have a child (2 in fact) with special needs started about 5-6 years ago. For those curious what it looked like practically, when he was 4 we reached out to Early Steps and found an OT that specialized in sensory integration therapy. We learned all about sensory processing disorder and we were encouraged to have a continued level of awareness if his needs were to shift or change for the better or worse. And they did.

Around age 6 he was diagnosed with ADHD and we found that it was time to navigate the use of medication to support his struggles and needs. A couple years later, after prayer and discernment, we felt it best to seek out a Neuropsychologist so that we could receive a more thorough evaluation in hopes of truly identifying what might be “driving his ship.” It was then that he was diagnosed with High functioning Autism.

Each year we have experienced intense heartache as well as intense celebration as we have watched him grow and learn, and make mistakes and make progress.

Just like him, we as parents are growing and learning and making mistakes and making progress.

We may have entered into the world of “labels” that so many fear. And I understand that.

But the only real label that we have in our house, is being “A child of God.”

That is the true identity that each of us holds and clings to.

The other labels have provided me with clarity and direction. They have blessed us by connecting us with the most amazing therapists and other parents walking similar journeys. All because of being aware of a great need that I could not fill on my own, accepting and embracing that reality and now being so much stronger for it that I can advocate well for my child.

So if you happen to feel like you need to keep your struggles to yourself, like you need to stuff them down or remember that others have it worse…. Don’t.

Remember, it IS possible to be grateful and grieve. I do it every day.

I grieve that I am a sinner. And that no matter how hard I try, I probably will continue to sin on this side of heaven. It’s not an excuse to sin, but it is a reality that without the help of the Holy Spirit, my flesh WILL fail. Yet at the same time I am SO grateful that because of what Jesus did on the cross, I am forgiven and made new and will get to experience an eternity in Heaven one day!

It is the awareness of my sin, and acceptance that lead me to MY ultimate advocate.

HE who-by the way, will NEVER judge you when you share your struggles with HIM. He will NEVER tell you try harder or to remember how good you have it. But HIS love will wash over you in such a way that you can’t help but be grateful, even in heartache.

Stay tuned for my next blog, I can’t wait to share about how every Mama needs someone who gets “it” and someone who “wants to.” Because every mama, regardless of if they have a child with special needs, is STILL A MAMA. Our struggles do not separate us. They draw us near to one another. And we all have a story to tell and hope to give.

 

 

Catch me doing good.

I had this miraculous moment the other day. That moment when everything you have been working on and everything your children have been working on collides into one beautiful, epic and effective conversation. It was an out of body experience to say the least. I felt like I was watching this interaction take place from above and I was witnessing all the parenting tools I have learned being utilized AND executed successfully. To make it even sweeter- it was all falling on receptive ears!

Not only was I witnessing this miracle, there were witnesses present!

In that moment, I could feel it in my entire being that I was actually doing something right. And afterward, I received one of the best compliments I’ve ever had! This most wonderful witness encouraged me that I had done a wonderful job handling my children in the midst of some unruly behaviors. And then she said, “It was as if you knew all the right things to say!”

Mic drop.

What?!

I could not believe my ears and laughed in disbelief and shock. I was also close to crying in gratitude for it’s not every (or any) day in motherhood that someone witnesses you getting it right, AND lets you know! So many emotions all at once! I quickly confessed that I could not take credit, but the years of intervention and therapy that my children and I have experienced for their various needs were to thank. But then again, I have always struggled to take any credit.

Don’t get me wrong- I want the credit! But I often struggle with feeling undeserving of praise, or even doubtful of it, as if it happened by accident or something. Simultaneously, I also believe that anything good that comes from me is because of Jesus! But like most human beings, I can’t help but hope that I am doing something right and if I am, someone will let me know!

Have you ever tangibly felt yourself trying SO hard to get it right? Trying so hard to get better? Maybe it was piano lessons or a sport when you were younger. Maybe it was cooking meals for your family, or sticking to a budget? Maybe it was not getting so angry, or having more patience?

How about your children? Have you ever watched them experience that moment of success! That monumental moment of potty training, or eating with silverware? Cleaning their room or writing their name? I’m sure the list of things that we ourselves and our children have worked at are endless. Some progress is easier to notice, and easier to celebrate. Some progress is less obvious because the number of fails overshadows any small glimmer of growth.

Me in total awe as Garrett hopped up onto the dentist’s chair, ready to go.

Early on when my son received his first of multiple diagnoses, the Dr. gave me this advice, “Catch him doing good.”

She knew that catching him making mistakes or wrong choices would be all too easy. She knew that the attention I’d have to give towards correction would dominate. She knew that as hard as he would have to work in areas such as speaking kindly, having patience and self-control, I would have to work at catching him when he did.

Depending on your personality, you may need to work on catching yourself doing well too! I would argue that the intrinsic motivation that results from experiencing yourself doing something well is way more powerful than the extrinsic motivation that comes from fear of making a mistake.

I can see it in my child’s eyes, they sparkle when I shout, “That was so great! I loved the way you used your words and asked for help!” Just as I am sure my eyes sparkled upon receiving the compliment from this sweet woman regarding my handling of some difficult behaviors.

What you can see- 3 kids playing a game. What you can’t see- mom jumping up and down in joy celebrating three kids playing a game TOGETHER.

One week later, in the same location, and with the same friends, those difficult behaviors were not received with the same patience, grace and effective communication. Instead I felt myself exhaling, “Guys, please just stop.”

I am not completely sure why I felt so different this time. So unable to respond with the same tools. Maybe it was less sleep, or the weight of other worries and to-do lists occupying my mental space, but I just couldn’t shift into that same mode of parenting that felt like such a major milestone the week prior.

And that is OK. Because even though I did not have a repeat of that same stellar performance, I remembered it.

I REMEMBERED it even in the midst of my impatient response to my children.

It came up in my brain simultaneously as I was about to lose my cool.

It became a new reference point for what I am capable of.

And instead of giving way to my less than ideal parenting, I recovered quickly and began moving once again in the direction of parenting the way that I had the week before.

It is the same with our children. When they take 5 steps forward and make it from mommy’s arms to daddy’s, and then the next time they fall after 3 steps, that is OK. And so it should also be OK when they show incredible self-control one day, and the next day, maybe not as much.

Personally, I had noticed that if my child had multiple successes in an area that he had been working on like keeping his hands to himself, but then reverted back to hitting his brother despite the progress he had been making, my heart would sink to the lie that he would never truly grow in this area. It was almost as if the behavioral “high” made the following behavioral “low” even lower. But it is easier for our minds and bodies to remember the negative than it is the positive. We have to work at mindfulness to retain every ounce of a positive experience. And if we do this, we can nurture the brain to remember our successes so much more and as a result develop a greater chance at repeating them!

Imagine that kind of impact in a child’s brain. For every time they are losing self-control, a memory of when they displayed self-control and were utterly praised for it would race to the surface as if to say to their “down-stairs brain”- “You got this! I saw you do it before! You felt it too, you can do it again!” Imagine getting to see their eyes sparkle more and more!

I am so grateful that this woman “caught” me doing something good. It inspired me to pay more attention. I want to catch my children doing good as often as possible, and celebrate it! I want to catch myself doing well and let myself feel good about it!

I want to spend less time soaking in their mistakes or my own, and more time embracing all that we are capable of. I think it is when we focus on these things that we truly create space for ourselves and others to continue to surprise us!

That is all, for today.

Not ready.

I never thought I would get to a place where I kind of don’t want summer to end.

It felt like yesterday when we were rushing to make sure that the majority of the summer weeks were accounted for because if we didn’t……..

AHHHHHHHH!

At the time, back in May, my chest got tight just thinking about the potential unplanned weeks ahead. The Fear of the combination of boredom + siblings + FLORIDA HEAT BEING/STUCK INSIDE would practically raise my blood pressure! Even though this was only my 2nd summer anticipating the “school is out of session” dread, memories from last summer’s cabin-fever days are literally burned into my brain.

Exhausted parent/oblivious child. I wouldn’t have it any other way 🙂

For most mom’s I imagine the song, “School’s out for the summer” has more of the “Jaws” theme song ring to it versus the celebratory appeal it has for the kids. I confess, I have not totally experienced the full weight of the “school’s out” feeling. Yes, we have homeschooled in past years, but to be honest the majority of school days were always so interrupted that I’m not sure I have ever really had that so-called “liberating” feeling of having all of my children in school at the same time. At least not for a full day.

For the past couple years, school days have always been brief or interrupted. Our youngest only had school for 5 hours a day, and our middle child often required a mid-day pick-up or need for mama’s intervention. Not to mention half of the week, the school days always felt cut short due to a doctor’s appointment or therapy session. Nevertheless, what I assumed was going to be a summer heavy-laden with the weight of having no break from the kids, turned into one where I rather realized the absence of the heavy weight of commuting to school and appointments.

In the beginning of the summer, several attempts were made to stay consistent with my son’s therapy schedules. But sickness and travel put us in a place of going over a month without services! For those who are familiar with the significance of a consistent therapy schedule for a special needs child, forgive me- it was not neglect that we went this long! I found myself in a panic on week 3. I could tell that we were both going through withdrawal as he could not self-regulate for the life of him and I started to shut down too.

Just a typical tantrum from the summer.

But something happened in that 4th week.

I forgot.

I stopped thinking about what he was missing.

I stopped worrying so much.

I started using what I knew, exercising the ways I knew to support him instead of focusing on what was lacking.

A moment of actually not feeling so anxiety-ridden.

The absence of therapeutic intervention began to lose its intensity. My muscle memory kicked in and we managed. I mean, this wasn’t our first rodeo without regular therapy. A little over two years ago, we basically had gone a collective 18 months without therapy during our 9-month stint overseas, plus 9-month temporary move to NY. Not that I recommend it, AT ALL! I have tried to block some of those days during that 18 months out of my memory!

But when we returned to Florida after our summer travel and there were no signs of sickness preventing us from getting back on the therapy schedule, we got that first week of appointments set on the calendar.

But to my surprise, I had a great deal of mixed emotions.

I was so excited to get him back to the supports that he needed. And honestly, I was so excited to have that support for myself too! I look forward to those post-session debriefs because I get to ask questions to someone who can finish my thought, knows exactly what I am talking about and can provide me with the tools to better support my kids! That and we just have the best support team for our kids!

But after spending over a month without any appointments on the calendar, when it was “back to the grind” time, I had almost completely forgotten about the commute and all that goes into getting to an appointment!

I had forgotten about the challenge of trying to schedule appointments, that mostly likely would need to be rescheduled. By no fault of anyone either, it just is what it is. And returning to the juggling act with my spouse as we lay out our calendars and discuss who is taking which child, to which therapy and for what hours of the day was not missed either. I had greatly enjoyed the break from insurance company claims and followups as well as wrestling my kids into the car for that 40 minute drive there and back!

I think I also enjoyed the rest from reality and all of the explanations.

Getting ready for school means getting ready for the reality that we have 2 children with IEP’s, which can require a lot of explanation. That our daughter now has BOTH younger brothers attending her school, and she is already anxious about needing to explain their behaviors to all of her friends. (But what big sister doesn’t stress over that!) That the phone calls and emails home will start again, and explanations due for behavioral incidents are inevitably on the horizon.

School starting up again brings about the reality that we took on a pretty hefty commute for private school because an alternative environment was considerably necessary. It brings about the reality that with that commute and the various therapy appointments, and potential extracurriculars, I will be in the car A LOT.

I share all of this because no matter how many times I have learned it before- I relearned this valuable lesson once again- “the grass is never greener on the other side.”

And even though I write from a perspective of special needs parenting, I know so many of my thoughts and struggles are not isolated to this arena, but are relative to parents in general. Some of us may spend more collective hours of the day with our kids because they are still too young for school yet, or they may homeschool. Some of us spend more collective hours in the car with our kids because of school commutes, or extra curricular activities. Regardless, we all LOVE our kids but we all can get weary and tired of being needed. We all love spending quality time with our families, yet we all need a break from time to time.

One other way I love that parents can relate to one another despite their family dynamic, is that as parents we are always adjusting. We continue to adjust our expectations based on their age and stage. We continue to adjust our priorities to what is best for our people as a whole. And we continue to adjust our outlook based on what life teaches us.

For me, I have adjusted my outlook on “summer break.” Through a change in routine and being removed from the typical and expected, I gained space to see outside of my assumptions.

I assumed that summer was going to be hard. We are a lively family of 5. The noise decibel in our house is way higher than healthy. Everyone is spirited, opinionated and willing to stand up for themself, (which I know will pay off one day.) Many of us, (possibly even myself-haha) are a work in progress when it comes to emotional regulation. But you know what? When people ask us, “How was your summer break?” I love (and am somewhat shocked) that my answer will be- “It was so great!”

We may have driven each other nuts on occasion, but we also made some incredible family memories! We may have battled boredom some days, but I got to witness my three kids play together voluntarily! As they ran through the house living out a story of imagined characters in an imaginary world, my heart lept thinking about how no matter what friendship troubles they might have had or will have, they ALWAYS have each other.

And I am grateful for how the summer provided space outside of the routine and mental space too. Room for me to consider how much my children have grown. And myself too.

Space to realize I shouldn’t be too quick to assume that last years troubles will be on repeat.

The grass is green on BOTH sides, it just takes cultivating.

It is a new school year.

New teachers, new backpacks, and maybe even some new friends!

Even our therapy locations have all changed, and maybe even our therapy needs?

And the best NEW of all…. I heard there’s an express lane on our route to school.

When “Don’t forget to take care of yourself Mama” makes you want to punch a wall.

It is a phrase that is often delivered by well-meaning friends, family members and doctors. Delivered to you with the best of intentions. And it is often offered to you by the very people who know how hard it actually is! So why does this phrase often incite frustration and cynicism inside the sweet mamas receiving these words instead of the support and comfort they were intended to deliver?

It might be because she is sleep deprived to a level comparable to torture. Her brain is functioning at subpar levels and now focus, logic and emotional processing are extremely impaired.

It might be because she has tried to “sleep when baby sleeps”- but baby doesn’t sleep. Or, as soon as baby falls asleep and she puts him down, he wakes back up. She finds herself broken down once more by how close she was to rest and is convinced that she may never sleep again.

Maybe she has more than one child, and when the baby rests she is making sure to give her toddler one-on one time. Maybe she is postpartum and her hormones are all over the place. Maybe she promised that she would breastfeed and is determined not to give up, but the fight for success in this area is suffocating her physically and emotionally.

What if she just went back to work and it is taking all of her to perform her job well, and return home with enough energy to care for her kiddos, make dinner, try to keep up the house and still connect with her husband?

What if motherhood is so much harder than she thought? What if she is not the mother she thought she would be? What if her children’s needs are much more than she imagined? What if all of her hopes and ideals about motherhood have been challenged beyond repair?

Now imagine you see her, and you can tell she is weary, tired and emotional. And you put your hand on her shoulder in response to her venting and say, “Don’t forget to take care of yourself, mama.”

Even the most well-meaning comments can feel like punches in the stomach when your physical and emotional state is under water.

I have felt this “punch in the stomach” more times that I can share. I have been in a place where hope felt painfully impossible to even think about.

Knowing all too well how this feels, I have found myself wondering lately, “How did you end up becoming someone who says this to other moms? As I share with others about the nutrition and fitness program that I am a coach and client for, I have wrestled with this message of self-care to the mamas out there, when I know how it feels to be in the trenches.

I recently put together a montage of photos of my 3 children and I from the past 10 years. The photos spanned from pregnancy to birth to toddlerhood including both painful and precious moments we experienced. The message that I shared over this collection was meant to acknowledge how powerful motherhood really is. It holds power in the weight of its most miraculous and most painful experiences and memories. Motherhood holds power in the dichotomy that most of us could not wait for this season of life, yet once in it, we realize it is SO MUCH MORE than we could have ever imagined in both incredible and exasperating ways. It holds power in the ways that it has involved, impacted, and changed our minds and bodies. So much power that the thought of taking care of yourself when you have such a great responsibility to take care of others seems not only impossible, but even, dare I say- irrelevant.

Yet, even after acknowledging all that, how is it that I have found myself on the other side of the motherhood “fence,” encouraging other moms to NOT forget themself in the process.

Have I stumbled upon the “secret” to self-care? ABSOLUTELY NOT. Do I have it all figured out? HECK NO. Is my life easier now and without struggle? As Pete the Cat would say, “Goodness No.”

But just like the meaning behind the former name of my blog, “Yesterday’s Kurta,” every yesterday has a story to tell.

While living in India, every Kurta I wore had a major story to tell. A story of hardship and discovery. So just like every yesterday has a story to tell, every person has a yesterday- A unique experience that could provide encouragement and connection to others who might be journeying through something similar. Each person is also in a different season of life. This means that they’ve already traversed through your current life season. Even more, one thing we all have in common even if our experiences or seasons of life vary, is that loneliness and discouragement are always beckoning on our doorstep. Always “prowling around like a lion waiting for someone to devour.”

Reflecting on our yesterday’s often provides us with the ability to offer others relevant wisdom and comfort. And when reflecting with an attitude of thanksgiving, we can see just how far we’ve come. Sometimes the ability to tell someone I know what you’re going through, you’re not alone, and I will help you go through it can be priceless.

When I am facing a challenge, or helping others I am often reminded of the book, “Going on a bear hunt.” With every obstacle the family experiences on their journey to find a bear, the chorus that repeats is,

“We’re goin’ on a bear hunt,
We’re going to catch a big one,

What a beautiful day!
I’m not scared

Oh look! It’s some long, wavy grass! (Or thick mud, or a dark forest, or a pond, or a snowstorm, or a dark cave…)
Can’t go over it,
Can’t go under it,
Can’t go around it,
Got to go through it!

We’re Going on a bear hunt By Michael Rosen

Every person has a forest or a snow storm or pile of muck that they couldn’t go over or under, but had to go through.

For me, one of my “forests” was when my second child had horrible colic for the first 6-9 months of his life. I think back to that time and recall so many tears, so many books rummaged through for help, so many walks by myself because I needed a break from the crying (that despite all of my efforts) I could not relieve. So much gripe water, and trial and error with formula that always ended in projectile vomiting. Then I spent 8 weeks dairy-free to breastfeed because that was the only option. My sweet poor babe was on both C-omeprazole and Zantac to relieve some of the pain of acid reflux. The pediatric GI somberly informed me that the small sphincter at the base of his esophagus just needed more time to develop and time was one thing I had no control over. I remember thinking during his pregnancy (which was very painful with constant braxton hicks starting at 24 weeks) that maybe he would be an easy baby. Wishful thinking.

As hard as it was, his pregnancy toughened me up a bit and prepped me for his colic. And now that I think of it, his colic may have strengthened me for his childhood. Over his 8 young years of life we have been managing Sensory Processing Disorder, ADHD, Anxiety and Autism Spectrum Disorder. Navigating all these challenges potentially built in me a stronger base that would ultimately prepare me for my third child, who I did not know was going to have Usher’s Syndrome which comes with its’ own set of unique challenges. The needs of my children have broken me down in so many ways, but the ways that I have been rebuilt are priceless. Every single struggle has sent me running to Jesus. And with HIM and all that this life has allowed, I am much stronger than I ever was or ever thought I could be. My mind likes to tell me lies about who I am and what I am capable of, all based on how hard things have been and my feelings in those moments. But Jesus gives me strength unimaginable. He give me strength to consider hope, when everything around me tells me otherwise.

So back to the beginning. How am I able to offer those (sometimes irritating) words to other mamas out there now?

Maybe I have simply arrived in a new season of life. Maybe I have more room to breathe to consider taking better care of myself. Maybe I am less sleep deprived, maybe my kids are in school, maybe I have help.

Or maybe, just maybe, I couldn’t stand NOT taking care of myself anymore.

I started to look around and realized that the waves were never going to stop coming. The obstacles on my “bear hunt” were endless. I had and continue to have legit reasons to explain my lack of margin in my life for self-care. But I tired of them. I tired of the hamster wheel of struggle, of treading water and receiving a life raft just moments shy of what felt like drowning.

So maybe you too feel a weight on your back when someone tells you to take care of yourself.

Maybe it’s because you’ve tried before and “failed.” You’ve seen others succeed when you couldn’t and it hurts like shame.

You see no light at the end of the tunnel and no possibility for hope. The obstacles are too great.

I want to enter into that space with you and say, I know. The weight of what you are feeling is real. It really is all TOO much. There really IS no margin. And having a hope for something better often feels like a trick.

But the alternative to hope, is bitterness and resentment. The alternative to trying is being stuck. The alternative to asking for help is relying completely on yourself, burning out and falling prey to isolation, cynicism and becoming someone you swore you would never become.

Sometimes it takes one simple moment of humility, acknowledging you need help to take care of yourself. One simple prayer asking Jesus to show you how. One simple decision to break the pattern of giving up, and begin the habit of taking one baby step at a time towards healthier choices. As mamas we know all too well what “baby steps” look like. If those sweet toddlers keep getting back up, so can we.

The things we say

Sometimes you catch words coming out of your mouth that you truly never could have guessed would pass your lips. For example, “You can’t have your ice cream until you finish your McDonald’s.” Or, “You will go to the beach and you WILL have fun!” Unfortunately, those sentences were delivered more than once while we were living in India and traveling through Indonesia. Getting the kids to eat Indian food at first was quite the struggle. So when we would find a familiar food item or restaurant, out of exhaustion and in need of a minute of life without constant battle (Parents of young kids- I know you feel me,) we would give them what we assumed was EXACTLY what they would want, only to find that there was STILL something off. Like, the cheese was different on the pizza, and there was no McDonald’s cheeseburger, only chicken.

When we left India for a forced 3-month exit, we assumed travel was the best option versus returning to the US. After a month in Thailand, where we had spent most of the time swimming in a pool or at beach, by the time we brought the kids to a beach in Bali, they were “beached out.”

In the hotel room, asking if they could relax in bed and watch TV instead of the beach!

That sounds ridiculous, when I say it out loud. But in reflection I can understand. Going to the beach after leaving the summer season of India was like literal water to our thirsty souls. We were in desperate need of being outside, in the fresh air. So we overplayed the beach like you did when you were young and you put your favorite new song on replay. It was tempting to perceive our kids were simply being “spoiled” and “ungrateful” with their whining and resisting of fast food/ the sea and sand. But sometimes our perspective on what they would enjoy isn’t always spot on.

First Day in Thailand after leaving India.

I recall these stories because something happened the other day that brought them back to the forefront of my mind as if it was yesterday and not almost 3 years ago.

I found myself saying something that felt almost as foreign as it was crossing my lips, simply because it was my first time saying it.

“Wow. I am so thankful for the Cochlear aqua gear.” Try saying cochlear aqua gear 5 times fast.

I’ve realized that living in a foreign country sometimes parallels the way it feels when you are simply walking through a foreign aspect of your life (like being the parent of a child with cochlear implants). The unexpected challenges catch you by surprise. Just like the things you assumed would be tasty and fun, were not- The things you thought would be an easy, just aren’t.

When the weekend comes, we are often looking for activities that our family can do that check a few boxes. Is it outside? Is it active? Is it something that all 3 kids would enjoy? Checking all 3 boxes is not easy. But when we heard about the upcoming church picnic and kids color run, I think we registered faster than we read the event details. So when we packed up our picnic lunch and I was checking to see if there was anything I forgot….BAM! “Oh wait- what about his “ears?” (Note: We call his implants his “ears.”) I messaged his audiologist and she said he could still participate but to make sure to use his “aqua gear” to protect his implants from the residual powder that was to be thrown on him while running.

The aqua gear are incredible. They allow him to wear his implants in the pool! However, they make for a very clunky, gawdy experience for him and they do not stay put with his level of activity in a pool. They frustrate him and he often chooses to remove them and simply go without sound. Sometimes this makes my heart sad. I think because it reminds me, even though they are amazing, his implants did not repair his hearing loss. Although, sometimes I think it makes me more sad than he actually is. He has just as much fun with them off sometimes! Maybe it’s because he is an excellent lip reader. Maybe I project how I feel too quickly. Once again- assuming that fast food restaurants, beach trip and color runs are sure-fire wins, when they might actually not be.

Post-Color run. Thank God he wore the aqua gear to cover his implants!

Likewise, being the parent of a child on the Autism spectrum, sometimes it’s just simply a Saturday that catches you by surprise. Here you are thinking you will sleep in a little (because it’s the weekend, right?) and that your family might enjoy an outing and a day off of schedules. Instead you wake up to find it’s going to be one of those “off days”- the ones that remind you your child has some extra struggles. To enhance the struggle, these “off” days always seem to come the day after a couple days that felt “normal” and “functional”…“thriving” even. 

Garrett did NOT enjoy the powdered color!

But what’s my point?

Like always, I find solace in both rejoicing and lamenting, sharing my experiences with words and hopes of affirming not just myself but anyone else who might be reading this and longing for this kind of connection.

I bet all parents can relate to this thought, that a lot of days simply just do not turn out how you thought it would.

I remember back when we were newlyweds, dreaming about what values we wanted to instill in our children. Back when people asked how many kids we wanted to have and we would answer romantically, “five.”

And now….10 years later with 3 children, I can understand why those receiving our answer of “five” held the facial expressions and the muted responses that they did.

But just as important as it is to recognize the struggle and process those emotions so we can support one another better the next time around, the “great” days and moments need to be meditated on too.

Family walks….. 50% chance of success, am I right?

So on that note….the other night we were all sitting at the table eating dinner.

The end.

Just kidding! (Kind of.) Because to be honest, THAT sentence alone is a victory worth noting. 

Because getting 2 boys with sensory issues, ADHD and Hearing Loss to sit at a table and have a functional dinner time meal is like getting a fish to NOT flop when it’s first out of water.

But lately…… we’ve not only been sitting together….. and eating…but talking too! Talking in a group conversation type style! You know the kind- where people take turns, and finish each other’s sentences, and connect!

Just lately, we have seen it. And it’s priceless.

Some days, you are taken aback, because your 6-year old cochlear implant wearer just told you in full sentences, “Will you go wait in line for me and ask for a velociraptor balloon animal- but if she can’t make that- will you get a monkey?”

I remember when he only had 30 words total that he could say.

Some days, your 8-year old, chooses to give his balloon animal to his 6-year old brother. EVEN THOUGH he obsessed and fixated on getting one, spending the majority of his time at the picnic event worrying about getting one, and almost had a full-on episode when pulled out of line…..

A rare moment captured.

Some days you get to see your child grow. You get to see your child do something that was either SOO very difficult for them to do (but you know that they’ve worked hard on it in therapy) OR something you NEVER thought they’d be able to do! Because miracles DO happen, and walls DO come down and limits CAN BE surpassed.

And for the moms and dads out there who can relate- sometimes you get to encourage your own self because you have seen and felt that YOU TOO have experienced growth!

I remember the days when I worried if I would ever be able to NOT worry. I remember when my daily prayer was to not get mad or let my frustration with kids’ behaviors get the best of me. I remember when as a couple we grieved over if we would ever experience a social event where our family was functional, socially appropriate or without crisis. 

I still sift through all of these thoughts, but I am anchored by experiences of success, muscle memory, thicker skin and above all else, an unshakeable faith in my Sovereign God. My God who sees all of my days, all of my weaknesses, all of my efforts, all that I carry, and all that I hold dear. 

And because of that I GET to honor my son’s sacrifice of a ballon animal- even though there were a number of unfavorable behaviors that preceded…. 

I get to give myself a pat on the back when I chose patience and resisted the felt social expectations and judgements surrounding me and chose NOT to reprimand my kids, but instead walked them through a “do-over” so they could experience how things could have gone. So they could experience the possibilities of how life could be.

Because of God’s grace and mercy and the life experiences that HE has allowed me to endure, I understand better WHICH behaviors to place my mind and my heart on. I understand better how to handle the unexpected.

I am definitely, still flawed and dependent on Jesus and will be until Heaven. Thank God HE is with me every day until then. Because I know there will be many more moments of failed outings and wrong assumptions of what our children should think is fun and great and tasty.

But I look forward to more unexpected phrases like, “Thank God for the aqua gear.”

“That’s great… for you.”

I was in a parent workshop listening to a speaker talk on the subject of behavioral therapy for children. I could sense that there were parents in the room, like me, who were in the thick of the struggle. But there were also parents in the room who were on the other side.
The side where victory or freedom or hope lives.
During the talk, I had to frequently battle the voice in my head that said, “Your situation is more complex, your child’s’ struggles will never be fixed, you will never be on the other side.”
I hate that voice. I believe it to be the voice of the enemy. The “Father of lies” who wants us to remain trapped in discouragement, devoid of hope.
But I have become aware of it enough to prepare myself before attending these talks. I prepare myself by praying- “Lord help me hold every thought captive to you. Help me hear what is it you have for me today.”

Looking out over the city (India)

Sometimes when I share about the program I am a coach for and how much breakthrough I personally have experienced in the areas of strength gain and reaching health and fitness goals, I imagine a person out there on the other end, receiving my message thinking- “That’s great that it worked for her, but it will never work for me.”

I can’t tell you how many times I have felt this way in so many areas of life.

It brought me back to the days of sleep training, breast-feeding and behavior training. The days when well-meaning mothers and friends would share how their child is sleeping through the night, or how their child could listen and obey right away, or 1-2-3 magic was the key. They were not to blame, but I often felt so discouraged.

But then I remember when I read the book Healthy Sleep Habits Happy Child and applying those strategies literally changed the game for getting our firstborn to sleep through the night. But I hesitated sharing about that book because even though it worked for me, I didn’t want to frustrate someone else.

Because so many times had I sat around the table with other moms listening to their success stories thinking that’s awesome… For you… But it won’t work for me.

Flying solo with all 3. Wondering if things will ever be simple again haha.

I can even recall the days when I felt like shouting on the rooftops that prayer and turning to Jesus was the answer for those who were struggling and in pain, but I feared offending them.

How often do we see the success of others and think there has to be a reason that they were able to reach their goal, a reason that sets them apart from me, a reason that makes success more possible for them than it is for me?

How many times have we been told that we just need to try harder? How many times have we been told that we just need to believe it and speak it into existence? And how many times have we still NOT experienced victory?

If you have read my blog post “On the other side” or “Hope” I wrote it because it was a significant moment in my life when I could tangibly feel and see what it was like to be on the other side of a struggle.
Seeing Jackson’s progress with speech and language development ever since he received adequate hearing has provided me with the most profound experience of recognizing and celebrating growth, change and victory. But it was not even close to a quick fix to get there.

Jackson winning the sportsmanship medal!

In a lot of my blogs I talk about the blessing that suffering can bring. Trust me I do not enjoy suffering, in fact I used to avoid it at all cost. I would not make a move, make a decision, even consider taking a risk unless I knew that the probability of success was substantial.
It took me 10 years to get to a place of willingness to move overseas for fear of the struggle. But I have realized that it has been the struggle, the long-suffering, the day to day battle, that has made the awareness and ability to embrace being on the other side so sweet.

We cannot predict how quickly success can be achieved for others, but we can share our struggles and our wins in hopes of bringing others closer to being on the other side of their struggle.
Everyone’s struggle looks different and everyone’s victory looks different. In fact one mother may receive seven different methods for getting her child to sleep through the night before she applies it and it works. Does that mean the mothers before should not have shared?

One woman may try hundreds of diets or fitness programs before she reaches her health and fitness goals does that mean all of her previous efforts were in vain?

Which brings me to the question,
is it OK to share what has worked for you?
My belief- ABSOLUTELY.
If someone is grieving, I’m gonna pray for them.
If someone needs help with math- I will DIRECT them to someone who can (lol).

And if someone wants to improve their health and wellness, I can’t wait to share about the FASTer Way!

Retreat & Re-Entry

Some days, all you dream about as a mom is a minute alone. You look forward to that moment when the kids are finally asleep and you can rest your head, or kick your feet up. So when the moment arises that you are packing up for a weekend away, at a hotel, for an incredible conference/retreat/getaway, or whatever it is for you personally, why is it that anxiety sets in? I mean, I was counting down the days for this trip, and the moment it arrived, I doubted if I should go.

For me, I was headed to a Coaches’ Conference for the business I work for, The FASTer Way to Fat Loss. On the drive there I had to talk myself down from the temptation to turn back. That first night in the hotel, I had to focus on all the strategies I knew for calming my brain in order to sleep. It really wasn’t until 19 hours later when I entered into the conference room that I felt a NEW energy wash over me.

FASTer Way to Fat Loss CEO Amanda Tress giving the welcome address!

It was a foreign energy.

One that I am not used to.

Give me anxious energy, stressed energy, hostile energy, complicated energy, multi-tasking energy, young kids energy, family management energy, parent/marriage juggling energy……these types of energy you can infuse in me all day and my body “systems” will feel as if they are operating status quo.

But give me energy that is sharp-focused, full of hope, inspiration, and comraderie, like the kind I experienced this weekend…..and I was not only pumped but a little scared?!

I mean, I have been on weekends away, and women’s retreats, I have been to training conferences and the like, but I have never been to a weekend away that called upon my “person” as much as this.

What I mean to say is, attending this conference was like drawing a line in the sand and saying, “I am a coach. I want to be a better coach. I believe in myself, I believe in this program and I believe in the possibility that this opportunity brings for myself and for all those I get to serve! I knew it when I registered, and I knew it when I entered the room. The energy spoke for itself.

A foreign energy. One that scared me and challenged me with excitement at the same time.

With every passing session, from the welcome session, the breakout sessions, the session that broke me and built me up all at the same time, the energy kept rising and creating new pathways in my brain and in my body.

Every time I met someone that I had been waiting to meet, that had had impacted my life through this program and every time I met someone new that inspired and challenged me in significant ways, I felt excited and worried at the same time.

Photo with the Pro-trainers for the FASTer Way to Fat Loss

It was nearing the end of the conference, when we were asked what our main challenge was. It was then that I understood why “anxiety” had attached itself to “hope” all weekend long.

Without hesitation I answered the question during our round-table discussion and said, “I’m on a a mountaintop right now, where everything feels exciting and full of possibility, but I know that when I walk into my home, into my family dynamic…

(and I quote)….. “I am going to fold to the reality that is …”

…to the reality that is…

When I said it, I could fill the tears rise and my throat tighten. I felt ashamed and honest at the same time. Even so, I felt it important to share the reality of my heart, because I desperately wanted to walk away different. The impact that the weekend had warranted change.

But the reality at home was significant too.

At home, I had my husband and 3 children waiting for me. A husband who believes in me and watched the kiddos solo…. for me.

I had 3 children waiting for me, who were used to my sole attention being them. I had 2 boys with special needs waiting for my return because they are used to me attending to their needs, interpreting what they cannot and assisting in regulations that do not come natural to them.

I had a family back home that I loved with everything I have, but also a family that required everything that I have.

I battled the thought… how dare I? How dare I consider to try to be something else or something more?

Gracelyn asking if she can wear Jackson’s Mini-Mic to be his helper for the day.

There was an amazing woman sitting beside me, who without hesitation responded to my comment about “walking into my home and folding” and she said- “But you know what self-fulfilling prophecy is, right?”

For those who may not be sure, “A self-fulfilling prophecy is the psychological phenomenon of someone “predicting” or expecting something, and this “prediction” or expectation coming true simply because the person believes or anticipates it will[1] and the person’s resulting behaviors align to fulfill the belief. This suggests that people’s beliefs influence their actions.” Wikipedia

When she said this, I felt it in my core.

A little backstory- I received my undergraduate degree in Psychology with a minor in Sports Coaching. I gained my Master’s degree in Exercise Science, all with the hopes of becoming a Sport Psychologist. The idea of Self-fulfilling Prophecy was something I wrote papers about. I knew what it meant.

At that moment, I could hear the voices of so many women providing practical and tangible application of the strategies I had learned over the weekend and it felt possible to continue to grow and develop even upon entering my home environment simply by creating and applying an action plan, implementing one tool at a time.

The first tool, was going to be Mindset.

My mantra, “Keep hope alive.”

Check-in at the Conference.

I prepared my heart for the things I knew to be true, and spoke to my heart about the things that I want to be true.

I asked my husband when the best time for me to arrive home would be, because for our family, transition is difficult.

As much as I missed them all, It would not honor all my husband did parenting solo for the weekend if I returned whenever I wanted. It works best when we can prepare the kids for transitions which we can mean, new environments, or simply the addition of more people to the room.

It was actually best for everyone for me to arrive home when no one was there.

It felt weird to come home, to an empty home. But it also gave me time to reflect.

When everyone arrived, I was ready to embrace and exchange stories with each child and it was incredibly sweet.

The next day however, was incredibly hard.

The novelty of missing one another had worn off. My daughter had actually been away for the weekend on a trip with her friend. She was also returning from a mountain top experience. Her retreat was priceless. She is the older sister of 2 brothers….hard enough as that can be- she is the older sister of 2 brothers with special needs. She needed the retreat, but the re-entry was hard.

I can feel her struggle as strong as my own.

My precious Gracelyn.

While away, I never forgot how challenging it can be, trying to provide enough attention to each child, while simultaneously trying to buffer the challenges on each sibling that hearing loss and autism can bring to a group dynamic. I never forgot, but when I felt it, I did grieve again as if it was new. Strange, how that can happen.

I even took all 3 kids solo to the Orlando Science Center with the hopes of re-engaging with them in an exciting and memorable way. Very quickly I was reminded of “The Battle of the Voices” that emerges on car rides, the Oppositional Defiant Disorder that is present whenever Dad is not, and the stress that results from impulsive behaviors that literally create separation and the fear of losing a child.

I decided to sit all 3 of my kiddos down on the carpet in the hallway and let them know that I was debating on going home. I let them know that we could not stay if they could not be respectful of others and listen to their mama. After some time we decided to head to the playground area so they could get some energy out and I could sit and collect myself.

Shortly into that time, Garrett approached me and said, “I can’t have fun if you are not.” And he rested on my lap and tried not to cry.

My sweet Garrett.

As much as my heart pained knowing that his heart did, I couldn’t believe how proud I was of him “feeling” for me- something that did not come easy for him.

Soon after that Dad arrived. We were able to salvage the afternoon somewhat and end the day on a good note.

That evening my husband asked me, “Where are you at?”

In our language this meant he wanted to know how I was after the weekend I had and the “Re-Entry.”

I was able to tell him that I went from a hyper-focused weekend of positivity and possibility to one of anxiety, cloudiness and fear. But one feeling that was present as well was this intense desire to keep hope alive. I knew that the life that I was creating for my family and myself was important. I knew that the weekend that I had just had was significant to our life. And I knew that it was not going to be easy, but it would be worth it- to keep hope alive and keep moving towards my goal of being someone who brings hope to others.

I have chosen to wage war on the battle between hope and despair. I have always believed that my God is sovereign and faithful and has never forsaken me where He has lead me. I have decided to remember the energy I felt this past weekend and to live in the way that I encourage my clients to live, one step at a time, one day at a time, progress over perfection, full of hope and a fiery spirit to keep trying!

I hope that here, in my writings, you can find connection and hope too!

Favorite quote from the conference!

Tomorrow, I will do better.

“Tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it… yet.”

― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Growing up, my mom would speak these words to me, providing the comfort and encouragement I needed to let the heartache of that day fall away and turn towards the hope of a fresh start in the morning. Curling up on the couch and watching the Anne of Green Gables movies with my mom was a favorite past time of ours. So when my mom spoke these words over me, it wasn’t just the motherly reassurance I received, but in those moments I could literally hear Anne’s voice and feel the hope and inspiration that I felt every time I watched the movies.

Whether it was the mistakes I personally made that caused heartache, or the pain inflicted from others, the hope of morning, a clean slate, the sun rising again making all things new once more was, and still is of great comfort. I think it is safe to assume that the majority of people would gladly welcome the offer of a new day, or a second chance when they themself are to blame for the heartache of their present day.

The other day, Garrett had made a pretty poor choice out of anger and lost some technology privileges as a result. The pleading that resulted was intense. “Mom, please give me another chance! I am SOOOOOO sorry. Please, Please forgive me!”

Side note- Finding a child’s “currency” when it comes to consequences is priceless. However, our hope is to not only discipline using cause and effect but helping our kids to understand how the heart is involved as well. With developmental delays due to hearing loss and social weaknesses due to ASD and ADHD, teaching this has felt impossible at times. So when Garrett’s grief went beyond the loss of his ipad to grief over how he hurt me, I felt like we struck gold. As we cuddled at bedtime that evening, without prompting from me, He apologized again and told me that tomorrow was going to be a better day.

Garrett’s excitement for NYE fireworks!

On a similar note, Jackson was having a particularly challenging afternoon the following day. After enough exhaustion, I got down on my knees, hands on his shoulders, guided his eyes to mine and said, “Jackson, it is OK to feel frustrated, but it is NOT ok to hit or yell at Mommy.” His reply was, “OK Mom, Tomorrow I will try again.”

I laughed at his reply and said, “Jackson, you can try again RIGHT NOW!”

Jackson is tired of hearing the word, “no.” (haha)

It seems the hope for a better tomorrow begins at a young age. The idea of second chances that come with “tomorrow” is so full of hope and promise. Maybe this is why the “New Year” brings so much excitement and anticipation for goals to be set and yesterday’s to be washed away.

There is something sacred about the first few pages of a notebook, or a brand new planner unmarked and uncreased. Something so magical about the quiet of a new day, drinking a warm cup of coffee in solitude. Could I even go as far as to say there is something sacred about a house after you just finished cleaning and everything is in it’s rightful place? When nothing is out of order, the air smells clean and/or scented and the house is quiet and empty, except for you-admiring the work your hands have done and enjoying it’s newness.

I think it is innate for us to desire the purity of newness, or something being “made new.”

My boys.

In the Bible it says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” Genesis 1:1-31

God stood back and reflected on what He made. Something new and untouched. And what was before is noted as well, “darkness,” “without form,” “void.”

When I step back to enjoy the results of a clean house, a new planner, or a new day- the peace I feel is tangible because I remember what the chaos before felt like. I know the peace is momentary. I know that the pages will be written on, or bent or torn. I know the house will be dirtied and things left out on the floor, and the day will move beyond that “just woke up- first cup of coffee moment.” But the peace, for a moment, erases the darkness or void from the “pages before.”

May we all have Jackson’s energy.

There are so many pages I wish could be erased. Pages where my sin is plain for all to see. Pages filled with regret, or shame. There are moments that I hope my children will never remember. Moments where I lost my patience, and reacted adding anger to the chaos instead of providing comfort that their little hearts so desperately needed.

There are pages of heartache that I wish never to read again. The ones that your brain reads on replay without your permission of past trauma or grief.

Sometimes I think we can become so overcome by our pages of late that we begin to dread the pages of tomorrow. Assuming that we know exactly what they hold, and if our assumptions are correct, it will just be a continuation of our yesterday and one that we do not want to repeat. We can go through seasons where it feels as if life is a single day of misery stuck on repeat and we fear going to bed because we know that it will begin again all too soon.

Maybe that’s why so many people stay up long into the night binge-watching shows on Netflix. We try to keep a good feeling or experience going as long as we can because for a moment, it feels like we actually have control and are not just at the mercy of our circumstances.

I find it interesting that in Matthew 6:34 He says “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” I completely agree that each day has enough trouble of it’s own, yet I am not sure I have lived one day without worrying about tomorrow. Sometimes the tomorrow I worry about is the one that is actually 24 hours away. Often though, it is the far off tomorrows that worry me the most.

I worry about the tomorrow’s for my children. Am I providing enough love and grace, yet also enough wisdom and discipline? How soon will Jackson lose his vision? Will Garrett grow up mentally and spiritually secure? Will he believe in the good in himself that we see or will he become jaded by the struggles and consequences that often result and go hand in hand with some of his ADHD/ASD behaviors? Will Gracelyn resent us or feel bitter because being the sibling of two younger brothers with extra needs can take such a toll? Will our marriage remain strong and will we remain steadfast in the midst of all of life’s challenges?

Our sweet Gracelyn, I’m thinking God lead us to her name for a reason.

Or even worries as simple as, “Lord-am I gonna make it through this day? This hour? This minute?”

As heavy-hearted as I might be at the end of a day, I cannot imagine going to sleep without the ability to talk to my Heavenly Father. In the evening I can say it all in prayer. I can praise Him because I know deep in my heart He is good no matter what. I can ask for forgiveness for all the ways I bent to my flesh that day. I can cry out for things to be different, for strength or comfort for myself or for others. And I can ask for His blessing over my tomorrow.

And when I awake, I can give thanks for a new day. For the sun rising again. For a fresh start. Even when I don’t feel it, often the act of giving thanks inspires hopes and strengthens faith. Lamentations 3:21-23 says, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” When it is hard to believe that hope is possible, I can recall on His faithfulness that I KNOW I have experienced. I can remember the daily grief after we returned from overseas, unsettled, displaced, unsure of what was to come. Each day felt like we were no closer to getting answers on the future for our family. I can reflect on that season from where I stand now, a place where so many of those unanswered prayers during that time are now answered.

Proof of an actual weekend away!

Isaiah 42:16 says, “And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them.” He has done this time and time again and we MUST practice remembrance or we we fall prey to despair and bitterness.

I remember a day when I felt like I would never be able to exercise again. Now I am in the best shape of my life.

I remember a day when I wondered if Jackson would ever speak with ease, and now he speaks full sentences.

I remember a day when I felt so hopeless in my ability to care for both Garrett and Jackson, now they both have an incredible professional care team to support us.

I remember the day when I felt like I would never overcome my fear of moving overseas, and we lived overseas for almost a year!

I remember a day when I felt like I would never sleep through the night again, now our firstborn is 10 years old and we have 3 children who sleep through the night.

I think it is important to practice remembrance. To recall the grief and the sorrow of our yesterday’s so that we can celebrate the blessing of our todays and tomorrows. This process seems natural at the start of a new year, or on our birthday. Because the newness seems more tangible. A brand new year-2022. A brand new age- 39. But imagine if we could embrace a brand new day the same way.

Because He made “Day” and “Night” ON PURPOSE.

“And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.” Genesis 1:1-31

The Bible is filled with verses about light. Scriptures full of how Jesus is the light and whoever believes in Him, lives in the light. Verses about how HE is the light to our path, and HIS light erases the darkness. Every new day is new light shining and removing all that was dark.

God is the God of second chances. His mercies are new every morning. He has made a way for us to be made new, to become a new creation. On this side of heaven we will sin, and He knows this, and provides us with new mercies every day. He does not want us held captive to yesterday, And HIS promise of salvation is eternal.

May we embrace this new year, this new month, this new day, heck-even this new hour, with hearts full of hope and the belief that joy can be restored. May we believe that this season of sorrow or grief will not last forever, and there is a day coming where our hearts will feel light once more. May we believe in the possibility of achieving this year, what has felt impossible. May we reach for those goals we once held so high but have since discarded out of fatigue from not reaching them yet.

May we find hope in the God that hears every cry, knows your every day, and has never left nor forsaken you.

May we find hope in tomorrow once more!

All the Feelings

As we all know, kids have so many different emotions that often shift from one to the next in a matter of minutes, if not seconds! The other day, after numerous requests, Jackson asked if the time had finally arrived for our family to go mini-golfing as promised. Upon receiving his long-awaited yes, he shouted with glee and a giant smile took over his face. But within seconds, tears started to fill his eyes unexpectedly. He said, “Mom, I’m so happy, why am I sad?”

This particular moment reminded me of when Gracelyn was a toddler and had a similar experience. At the time she was our only child and spent most of her time with me at home. So whenever Adam would get home from work, he would enter the house and make a great gesture of open arms ready to embrace her. I would bring her to the door and say with great excitement (for not only her-but myself as well) “Daddy’s home!”

To our surprise, her response was very different than we imagined. At first, she would run to the door with excitement and joy, but as soon as that initial moment passed, she would revert to a strange sadness, and then emit a sudden “No” followed by a stomp off. It took us some time to realize that she did not mean to reject Daddy, nor disappoint. She was simply overcome with emotions. ALL of the emotions in fact, and her little brain did not know how to process, prioritize nor what to do with “All the feelings.”

Jackson’s sweet celebration and relief after waiting 6 long weeks to earn the sportsmanship medal!

It’s a strange sensation to handle- feeling more than one emotion simultaneously. We are all familiar with the phrase “happy tears” to describe tears that accompany joy of some kind, but sometimes that experience of feeling both incredible joy and intense grief at the same time can feel too big for one heart to manage. However strange, or uncomfortable it may be, I know that it is not isolated to our home or family members. I have witnessed friends and family members juggle this emotional experience as well as often hear this theme of emotional dichotomy in most songs on the radio. Most recently, in this Christmas season, I have heard this experience mentioned in the lyrics for the majority of Christmas songs that are current today, as well as the traditional songs that have graced this season for decades.


“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” is one song that I heard the other day and couldn’t help but hear and feel ‘All the Feelings’ as it played over the car radio. More than once the song makes mention of Christmas being a time where your troubles are out of sight or miles away; that Christmas is a time where things return to the “way it was.” Families gather and experience love and joy, but those reunions bring memories of the “way things were.”

Whether these lyrics are relatable for you, I think it’s fair to say that it is hard to experience that “Merry Little Christmas” feeling without recalling in your heart and bones the grief that our “troubles” left behind. The two co-exist it seems.

Experiencing the joy of my 8 year-old still inviting me to come to school functions! Gingerbread House day!

For some, the joy of Christmas time may be easy to experience. For others, the holiday season can be a reminder of all that is lost. But for most, Christmas time brings both feelings of joyful anticipation and grief. The season has a way of amplifying what is lost while simultaneously making your heart realize and appreciate those around you more than normal. Plainly put, I think Christmas time brings a more clear lens on life that includes the very real emotional dichotomy that exists.

Dichotomies like overwhelming grief when receiving news that a loved one has terminal cancer, but then experiencing incredible gratitude for the sweetness of time spent together as a result.

Or the heartache that can overtake you when receiving an intense diagnosis for your child and then the wonder upon the wisdom and clarity that the news brings; enabling you to not only better understand your child and more accurately meet their needs, but an increase in love for them that you never thought possible.

I can imagine the majority of people experience “High highs and Low lows” during the other 11 months of the year as well, but at Christmas time- whether you are in a season of high OR low, you feel them both and they are both amplified.

Jackson with an “unexpected” sad face getting his photo taken in the mouth of a shark!

“High highs and Low lows” has become a common phrase we have used this year when others have asked how our family is doing. And to be honest, I have been tempted to view life through the lens of dread, fearing hope because I have gotten so used to the “other shoe dropping.” It can feel as if it would be easier to protect yourself from the pain and disappointment that the unexpected can bring if you forego hope and choose to live jaded, skeptical, sarcastic and cynical. It appears too risky to choose hopefulness.

Hope is kind of like a balloon that wants to fly high in the sky and float. Hope says, I don’t know what I will encounter, but right now- I feel joy and I WANT TO embrace it and move forward. Hope knows that fear is real and the unexpected might happen, but even in the face of that risk it chooses to be brave in order to embrace joy.

Fear is like the weight that keeps the balloon from flying away, keeping hope locked in the ground. Fear tells you to give up, stop trying, stop “fighting the good fight” and let sorrow win.

I had been struggling with this internal battle, feeling like I should “let my balloon fly” but wanting to keep it tethered for fear of future heartache. And then one day, in the midst of carrying the weight of it all…

The heaviness and intensity of having 2 boys with special needs,

The reality of a loved one’s suffering and limited time,

The consistent financial tension that living on a one-income ministry salary can bring,

and add to that ANYTHING ELSE UNEXPECTED that we just do not feel any margin for..

… I cried out to the Lord in surrender.

I cried out completely overcome with it all, feeling as if there was no rest in sight and completely devoid of hope.

And in His great mercy, HE answered and I saw our “High highs and Low lows from a new perspective.

One of our recent trips to visit Gramma, treasuring these visits and these views.

I had been battling the great weight of those lows that just kept piling up. I had felt angry and frustrated that as soon as I would experience a “win” of some kind, be it good news, positive feedback or especially a day with no phone calls from the school, like clockwork- something bad would happen within hours, sometimes even minutes of embracing joy.

But HE answered the prayers of my heart and reminded me that my struggle was not unseen by my God.

He gave me eyes to see and I finally saw HIM above everything else.

I saw that,

HE KEPT showing up.
For every victory that was overcast by another trial, ANOTHER VICTORY WOULD COME.
HE never stopped bringing joy.
HE never stopped providing.
He never stopped healing.
He never withheld recovery.
We were never forsaken.

The “High highs” are proof that God keeps showing up. As much as pain keeps coming, so does HE. He even tells us this in John 16:33, “In this world you will have pain, fear not- I have overcome the world.” We are reminded of this in the book of Revelation. As believers in Christ, we KNOW how this story ends. And it’s not on a low.

The magic of bubbles and sunsets and an incredible big sister who is always ready to blow the bubbles.

For the people of Israel, the birth of Jesus came after a record of lows that beats any complaint I have ever had or heard of. 400 years between the last prophet and Jesus’ birth. Often referred to as the “Silent years” – the people of Israel experienced great loss, suffering and displacement. I think the song “O Come, O come, Emmanuel”, A Christian hymn for Advent and Christmas explains it so well:

“O come, O come Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.”

Emmanuel means “God is with us.”

A mourning Israel in captivity struggled to remain steadfast in their faith.
Prayers were lifted in desperation for the Lord to save His people. Yet in some scripture and in this hymn, great sorrow is expressed and yet followed by words like “Rejoice!”
The people of Israel did not pretend when they spoke to their God. They trusted HIM with their true feelings, but continued to show him Honor and Praise and continued to offer their Faith believing that HIS promises are true. Promises they clung to like in Isaiah 9:6 , “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
Promises confirmed and prayers answered in in Luke 2:11 such as,

“Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”

Every time the story of the birth of Jesus is told, it holds a sense of mystery, wonder, peace and hope. The story involves people ranging from shepherds to Kings, from carpenters to Wise Men, from Babies to Angels. It is a story for every person. And I believe the magic of Christmas is the Christ child.

I saw a quote the other day that truly stuck with me and encouraged me to embrace the season of Advent. It said, “It has never been a mother’s job to make childhood so magical that your children don’t see their great need for Jesus too. Our children do not need a perfect holiday; they need a perfect Savior. Every unmet expectation, every holiday frustration, every tear or argument is a chance to show our children the reason we needed our hearts to be rescued.” Katie Blackburn, Risen Motherhood.

I confess, I have always celebrated the magic of Christmas in all of its ways. I am honestly not sure when I will tell my kids the truth about Santa or their Elf on the Shelf. I adore Christmas movies, and stories, and twinkling lights. But I also adore sharing with my children the idea that maybe Santa brings Gifts to everyone around the world to invite them into the celebration that is the birth of Jesus, the birth of the Savior, who is for ALL peoples.

How the Elves were found on December 22, 2021- morning after all 3 of our kids went down with the stomach bug.

In Ecclesiastes it says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”

I think that the reason every individual and people as a whole can feel the dichotomy of joy and grief, and can experience these emotions magnified during Christmas, is because God set eternity in the hearts of men. He left a mark in all of us. A mark that reminds us that there is something more than this world can offer. A mark that provides us with a sense of mystery and wonder when contemplating the birth of Christ. A mark that deep down tells us that we are HIS creation. And as our Creator, HE blessed us with the ability to be cognizant of Him and to feel drawn to the hope of His existence, His Sovereignty, and His Savior.

Advent, the season leading up to Christmas is a season of joyful anticipation. Advent in Latin means “Coming,” referring to the coming of our Savior. I can imagine the birth of Jesus, the arrival of our Savior was a time of joy unimaginable. But that joy came from a place of answered prayer, after great suffering and years and years of feeling abandoned. The joy and grief go hand in hand. Grief amplifies Joy, and Joy gives hope in the ability to endure grief once more, if it should come.

A common Advent scripture, Lamentations 3:22-24 says, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him.”

I pray this verse could be your anthem in times of grief and your song in times of Joy. And I pray you experience the wonder, mystery and hope that is Christmas, the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ, who WILL come again, and make all things new.

Merry Christmas, Blessings, and Happy New Year!

Phone calls & field trips.

“Hello?”

“Hi Mrs. Braucher this is the school nurse, Garrett is complaining of a stomach ache, can you come pick him up?”

For weeks, this exact phone dialogue was on repeat. After the first couple phone calls, as any “good mama” would, I picked him up and kept my eye on him throughout the afternoon. It’s amazing how fast kids can recover from a stomach ache once they’re home watching TV and requesting snacks, am I right?

But as any “smart mama” would (this is where I would insert the sarcastic laughing emoji) I could see through the facade. As consistent as the “stomach aches” became, the one consistent truth that remained- Garrett wanted out.

School has never been easy. In fact, if I could homeschool him (and I have tried twice now) I would. Ever since Pre-K, while Garrett was physically in school, we would receive a phone call for one reason or another, and when we picked him up- we would receive the dreaded “report.” Failure to stay in his seat, failure to follow directions, failure to keep his hands to himself, failure to wait his turn, speaks out of turn and the list goes on and on. Most littles one struggle with these same issues when they are learning to attend school. I would tell myself and others would tell me as well, “He’s just a boy being a boy, “He’ll grow out of it.”

When the same issues stick around grade after grade, and the reports evolve, any “smart mom” would begin to wonder, right? The reports got a bit more interesting though…

“Mrs. Braucher, Garrett cut his classmates hair.”

“Mrs. Braucher, Garrett peed in the grass during recess.”

“Mrs. Braucher, Garrett won’t stop kissing the girls.”

“Mrs. Braucher, does Garrett have a lunch account? He continues to get school lunches and claims they can ‘put it on his tab.'”

And over the years the phone calls started to get more impressive….

“Mrs. Braucher, Garrett has a lady bug stuck in his ear.”

“Mrs. Braucher, Garrett says that he was stung by a bee, a wasp, and a hornet simultaneously.”

This sweet boy of ours makes me laugh and smile greater than I ever could have imagined, yet at the same time makes me want to shout his name like the names Alvin the Chipmunk and Dennis the Menace have been shouted before.

There was one phone call in particular though that required some intervention. The day the school nurse called and said, “Mrs. Braucher, Garrett said that he has a dairy allergy and that he had chocolate milk for lunch and he needs to see a doctor immediately.”

This kid.

If you have a child like Garrett, a witty, clever, brilliant child that can manipulate like the best of them, never let them know things you are not certain of yourself. They may just use it as ammunition.

We had speculated a possible gluten and dairy sensitivity over the years. But we didn’t know for certain. In fact, we had removed dairy from my diet as a nursing mother, and gluten from his diet twice already. I also was not a stranger to the notion that these “food allergies” can be deemed the culprit cause of ADHD, Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder and the like. But we were also in the midst of discerning if Garrett was battling an anxiety disorder along with his ADHD. He was already taking ADHD medicine and I hesitated to place him on a second medicine, so navigating the root cause of these “stomach aches” as potentially a food allergy was the next step.

Unfortunately, the pediatrician required bloodwork in order to confirm this theory. For me personally, I will consider everything, and will pray and discern what I feel the Lord is leading me to do for my children. Somewhat easy for me to say, however getting THE CHILD in question [with anxiety] to get bloodwork done is a whole other basket.

See, for Garrett, over the past couple of years we discovered it is necessary to make “field trips” to certain doctor’s appointments. This is our best chance at success. And success in this case equals “going through with” the appointment and not say, exiting the building and running down the street. Which HAS happened. Thus, our hope is by the 2nd visit, he will go through with the appointment. So we had our “field trip” for the blood work and surprisingly it went well!

So, when Garrett told the nurse that he ingested dairy and it was time to see the doctor, I decided to capitalize on his request and took him straight from school to the lab. Always better when he thinks it’s HIS idea.

I wish I could say our “field trip” prepared us for victory. But ultimately, what happened during the bloodwork was not a complete surprise. I think deep down I knew it would happen, but I was so hopeful. Maybe that’s why it hurt so much when it happened the way it did. Garrett was able to get through the check-in process, the waiting room, and sitting in the lab chair. They even were able to demonstrate tying the band around his arm to locate a vein. Once the blood work process began, that’s when the fight kicked in. He screamed, lashed out, head-butt and bit. He did anything to anyone out of defense.

I know that these reactions are not isolated to a child with special needs. Getting a shot or blood work can be scary and painful for any child, and even adult! But I think the difference is, when it was over, no hug or embrace, no sticker, lolly-pop or words of encouragement was going to help him recover. The anxiety, the pain, the adrenaline and the inability to self-regulate took over and he continued to physically and verbally take it out on me. I knew his fear and anxiety had turned to anger, and I was the scapegoat. I could see that his nurses were in shock (even though I gave them forewarning) and one of them even began to yell at him. I could see that they wanted to teach him a lesson and protect me. And I appreciated their concern. trust me, I do not condone this behavior. But knowing what I know about him and the needs that he has, this was all so much more than a boy being disrespectful. And this was not the first time I was the recipient of this verbal backlash. Hence, why we take these “field trips” or “practice runs.” But regardless, no level of prior experience, or special needs education and comprehension can remove the pain I felt. It took everything I had to get both of us out of that building.

Once we made it outside, he refused to get into the car and hid behind a column for about 10 minutes. I let him while I just cried. As hurt as I was, I could only imagine all of the emotions he was battling. I could see it on his face. Fear, anger, shame, confusion. FIGHT AND FLIGHT at it’s finest. When we got into the car, we both cried for a solid 15 minutes. It was one of the first times that I experienced his geniuine remorse. Even though, about an hour later he was fine. I saw remorse nonetheless. Something that most of the time, he had lacked and brought us concern. He even asked me if he could keep the bandage on his arm and wear it at school to show his classmates of his bravery.

Part of me wanted him to do so. He needed to be able to celebrate victories if he was going to be able to do it again! But I kept battling the question, was it really a victory? He seemed to feel so. But I wasn’t fine. I was grieving.

I still am.

In fact, I am not just grieving the struggle and heartache that can come with some of these experiences of being a parent of a child with special needs. I am battling shame and loneliness as well.

See, I actually wrote everything that you have just read in this blog post, over 3 months ago.

This particular doctor’s visit happened in June of 2021.

Today is October 4, 2021.

I tried to sit down several times in the past few months in an attempt to finish this blog.

Then I settled on the idea of writing something unrelated to special needs because I have felt so broken and messy in this part of my life. I doubted that I had the wisdom or right to write on such a topic.

Navigating the topic or the life with a “special needs child” or a child with “extra needs” or a child with “more” can feel so overwhelming. I have one son with an obvious need. He now has 2 cochlear implants and is progressing amazingly in his therapy and at his special school for children with hearing loss. I am so grateful for all the growth and celebration we have experienced this past year with and for Jackson.

But my sweet Garrett. My incredibly bright, witty, charismatic, Garrett has struggles that are not as visible and can often be mistaken for bad behaviors and bad parenting. We have have watched him grow from this adorable curly haired 4 year old boy with the greatest “Garrett-ism’s” and no fear/no filter personality, to a now 8 year old boy with the same quirks, but the fearlessness has more clearly presented itself as a struggle with impulsivity, and the “no filter” has brought on concerns of autism spectrum disorder.

We have been through so many evaluations, received a new diagnosis every year, have trial and error-ed our way through prescription medicines and dietary changes. We have struggled with shame, frustration, failure, and loneliness in this arena. And when I say we, I mean all of us. Not just us parents, but his siblings, and he himself have struggled with the impact that a social/mental/learning disorder can have on all facets of life.

It is so easy to misunderstood and it can be quite isolating when all most people see is the ” behaviors” that your child exhibits without the full understanding of where they come from. It can feel hurtful when instead of validation, as a parent you are offered correction after correction with a pinch of judgement and a splash of failure. And so for me- It can also be tempting to think- “I’ll wait until we get through this season, or until we have the next evaluation, or until we make headway in therapy or until I have it all figured out before I even consider that I have anything worth sharing with the world.”

If I continue to “wait until”, I will be waiting forever.

So today I will write.

Not for the mere purpose of “airing my dirty laundry” or to drop a “Dear Diary, I had the worst day ever” type of post into the google-sphere. But because I feel compelled to share about my journey with anxiety and with parenting children with extra needs. Back in June, I was not finished processing my experience and emotions from that particular doctor’s visit. I even struggled with this nagging voice in my ear that was telling me I have no right or authority to share on the topic of parenting children with special needs. A condemning voice whispering that I have no right at all to share about life’s trials because “it could always be worse.” Maybe that voice was the enemy, intending to prevent me from being transparent with others. Because sometimes the greatest encouragement can be simply reading someone elses’ words and connecting with them, realizing you are not alone. But the enemy wants us to feel alone. He wants us to always doubt God’s presence or goodness. So he capitalizes on our struggles and whispers lies to keep us held down by the weight of our pain.

I also hesitated to share my experience because I respect the fact that I am sharing about a real person, who one day will be an adult himself. One day in the future, if he reads these stories, I want him to ultimately see how “human” I am, how very much I love him and will never stop, and how very big our God is.

So today, in the middle of the mess, in the thick of the dysfunction, in the heat of the troubles-I am going to write to remember.

I am writing to remember that life has been messy and hard, but never once has God been absent. I want to infuse it in my brain. I want my children to know it. I want other moms to believe it and to take inventory on their past experiences with a new set of glasses. Not the rose-colored ones, but not the tinted ones either.

When I draw near to Christ, I have eyes to see and ears to hear. I am able to look back and see how he has prepared me for such a time as this.

I look back on the day that we received the news that Jackson has Usher’s Syndrome. I reflect on the various diagnoses that Garrett has collected over the years. And I continue to process the recent news that all of his challenges explain how he too, like so many amazing children before him, hold a special place on the Autism Spectrum. I remember all of the feelings. I still experience them now. Sadness, pain, worry, confusion, anxiety, guilt, grief. Some days can be so heavy with life’s challenges that it feels like you just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other to keep going. It can feel like if you stop moving, the waves will overcome you.

But I have committed with my heart to remember that with Jesus, they won’t. With Jesus, the waves may keep coming, but HE is still greater than the waves.

With Jesus, I continue to be guided towards relationship with HIM and to prioritize self-care. You see, God chose me to be the mama for these kids. I may have to remind myself every day, but He did. And he did not choose me without promising to equip me. By the power of His word and the power of the Holy Spirit guiding me into specific friendships, specific doctors and therapists, special grants and scholarships, I continue to keep going.

He will never leave me or forsake me. This is true for Garrett, Jackson, Gracelyn and Adam.

This is true for all of God’s children.

This is true for you mama.

You are not alone. You were chosen to be his mom or her mom.

God WILL carry you and strengthen you, and be the parent when you are bone-dry.

His promises are forever.

“For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.” Psalm 139:13-14