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.

 

 

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!

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

Getting out of my own way: Part 2

The days following the decision to no longer pursue a business with Young Living passed by with plenty of distractions. COVID for one. Yup, I had it. And if there is anything you do not want to do when you have the coronavirus, it’s post on social media. I imagined that people wouldn’t even want to click on a post if I had shared one for fear of infection….I mean-isn’t that what the news said anyway? Just kidding.

But once that month of life was over, and we had the freedom to leave our home, it was time for Jackson’s second cochlear implant surgery! What timing, right? Regardless of the stress of it all, we were very excited for Jackson to receive his next implant and all the growth that was to come. During this time, I shared a lot about his surgery, his healing and the day when they turned the implant on!

But inside I was heavy hearted. COVID quarantine isolated me in more ways than one. March and April were trying months for our family. Our middle son was struggling. We had been treating his ADHD with medicine and social skills therapy, yet school was becoming a nightmare. The stress he was experiencing in life was creating stomach aches, frequent calls to come home from school, and requests to sleep with me every night. The pediatrician was concerned about Celiac and the Specialist was concerned about Anxiety. We were just worried in general.

Sometimes it feels as if the waves never stop crashing. One minute you get wrecked from a wave, finally begin to come up for air and catch your breath, and the next wave swallows you up.

My mind was consumed with Jackson’s healing, Garrett’s struggles, as well as preparing for his upcoming 504 meeting with his public school. I have learned that it is not uncommon for parents to get consumed with the needs of their child. I have also learned that this is not always OK. I know that life has seasons, ebbs and flows and periods of time where our focus shifts from one area to another. But if I was going to be of any worth for my children, I needed to take care of myself as well.

Early into 2021 I knew that I needed to commit to taking better care of my health. Wine and ice cream had become close friends that needed the boot. Nothing like the anniversary of a pandemic to reflect on what types of habits you have developed. In fact, there are several times throughout a year that offer the potential for a fresh start. The New year is an obvious one, the start to a new school year another, the beginning of a new job, moving to a new town, or a new home, the end of an era, the beginning of one….. you get the picture.

When we moved from New York, out of my parents house and back into our old home in Florida, I took this as an opportunity to start developing some new patterns and routines. I committed to a pelvic floor therapy program called MUTU and experienced great healing, mobility and strength that I had been lacking for years postpartum.

(Read here to learn more about MUTU…http://heatherbraucher.com/2021/01/15/the-core/)

At the start of 2021 I really want to to commit to do the Whole 30 program, but I had failed that before and felt so overwhelmed by the program again that I decided not to go through with it. Instead I committed to exercise more regularly and track my macros. Simple, yet effective. For a short time. As I shared in the beginning, that’s when life came barreling back in trying to convince me to give up on any self care routine. Covid, quarantine, cochlear implant surgery, children’s school troubles, anxiety, celiac…… the list goes on and on.

So here I was, realizing that my plans had gotten a bit derailed, but I didn’t want to give up. I had repeatedly seen posts on social media about a program called the Faster Way to Fat Loss. I remembered a close friend of mine had done the program so I decided to reach out to her about it. She shared the benefits she had been experiencing from participating in the program and connected me to her coach.

I did some more research on my own and felt extremely drawn to the program layout. It wasn’t JUST workout routines, or JUST meal plans, it was all of it! For $199 I would receive a coach, an accountability group, and a 6 week experience where I would learn about whole food nutrition, intermittent fasting, carb cycling as well as receive incredible daily workouts all provided via app and Facebook. That was a whole lot of ALL that I was looking for, in ONE place.

I shared with my husband that I had been following this program- The Faster Way to Fat Loss (FWTFL), it’s CEO Amanda Tress and other friends doing the program all on social media and I really felt pulled to give it a try.

Then I realized, it was happening again! Social media was making a play in my life. The kind of play you are supposed to avoid, right? I was buying into something that was being sold on social media. AHHHHHHH!!!! Run!!!!!

Well friends, I am SO glad that I bought into this one. In my 6 week experience with the Faster Way to Fat Loss, I learned SO much about whole food nutrition, and how to transform the way I eat and the best part- I learned it in a non-threatening, non-budget crushing, slow and progressive way! I began tracking my macros and understanding the important balance of these nutrients. The guidance from the program and my coach exposed some of the myths I had so readily believed regarding the nutrition content of my regular diet. The accountability was a game changer. There is nothing like having to track and report your food/macros to your coach and other fellow program members to keep you honest! And the workouts!!!! Oh my goodness the workouts. I am in love with the workouts. The trainers are excellent, the routines and strategies are brilliant and the support presented in each workout via low impact options, modifications, and variety of modalities (tubing, dumbbells, home, gym) sets each person up for success.

This last part was so significant for me. My brain wants to train like I did when I played college field hockey, but for so long I have felt trapped in this rehab, physical therapy, limited-ability mindset and structure. So long in fact, that it has been years since I have experienced progress. Yes, I have prevented relapse and injury with this method over the years, but after my pelvic floor therapy program- I really felt like my body was ready for more. Over the years I developed a motto of “Success is not in the outcome, it is in the attempt.” This way of thinking has given me the freedom to try and fail, to celebrate small wins and not give up when things do not turn out the way that I had hoped.

(To hear more about my motto and fitness story, read here) http://heatherbraucher.com/2020/07/07/the-mirage-of-arriving/

So imagine my joy when I learned that one of the mottos of this program is Progress not Perfection. Ever since I joined the FWTFL program, I have felt healthier, stronger and more motivated to set goals. I have lost 2 inches and am beginning to see body composition changes! It feels as if a little of my former self is being unearthed. I am remembering what it was like when I was a trainer, working with adults and athletes, helping them work to reach their goals. A passion that once was has reignited. An ability that I thought I would never have again, has returned.

Because of my experience in this program and the encouragement of others, I have decided to become a Coach for the FWTFL program. I am currently studying to pass my certification exam and hope to be able to offer and coach my first week community round in August. This job opportunity offers the ability to bring in an income, which I am praying turns out to be fruitful for our family and allows us the ability to support others in ministry as we have been supported by others in ministry all these years. But this job opportunity feels like it will offer so much more.

Click here to learn more about the Faster Way to Fat Loss program https://www.fasterwaycoach.com/community#HeatherBraucher

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There are countless moments in life that I find myself asking the Lord if everything will truly end up ok. I pray for deliverance, wisdom, answers, patience and trust. It is easy to remember all the hard stuff. My brain doesn’t need help with that. But it takes mental training to recall all of the good stuff. This is some of the good stuff.

The Lord has brought me to and through many places, callings, challenges, and hopes. I am grateful for this one, and can’t wait to see what happens.

Isaiah 61.

Getting out of my own way.

How many times have you been annoyed by a recent fad? Or tired of seeing everyone jump on the bandwagon; confident that the latest trend will be short lived, until the next latest and greatest gains the attention of the masses? Have you ever found yourself feeling a little proud for not “buying in” yet at the same time, wondering how SO MANY people are all sharing positive experiences about the same thing?

It’s tricky. As people, we innately share what we love. We naturally share with others what has worked for us! Sometimes our thoughts, opinions and experiences are requested. A lot of the time however, it is unsolicited. Before social media, advice and recommendations were more sought after, and then delivered by others we know and trust, or books, internet searches and professionals etc…

In the age of social media, anyone and everyone can share their two cents. We scroll through our feeds in an effort to connect with others, and often instead we read about the latest news (unsure if it is factual), the latest trend (unsure how long it will last) and the latest business opportunity (unsure if it is worthy to be trusted.)

This is not news to anyone. We all know this is what we will be exposed to on social media. There is a lot of garbage content, a lot of frustrating posts and a lot of opportunity for confrontation. But that’s not just social media. That’s life. Content, be it good or bad, fruitful or damaging, positive or negative, true or false is everywhere.

So how do we filter all the content? And how we manage the content that we contribute? Because let’s be honest, none of us our innocent when it comes to sharing content. If you are on social media, at some point in time, I’d wager that you shared your opinion, your like, your best selfie or latest cute kid pic. And why do we do this? I still believe it has to do with connection.

As humans we were created for connection, for relationships. When we post, share, like, comment- we experience something. It could be joy, or laughter, validation or impact, justice or freedom.

Before we moved overseas, I was not on social media as much as I am now. Instead, I used to journal. Writing down my thoughts, questions, prayers, and experiences was like therapy. Yet, in the thick of young motherhood, I stopped journalling. Even though I had all these experiences, all these feelings, all this content that I wanted to document, process and share, I just didn’t have the same freedom of time. I think that is when I began getting more involved with social media. Being either pregnant or breastfeeding over the course of 7 years provides less time to physically write, but a lot of time to scroll.

Mamas, you feel me?

Social media made a way for connection in those endless nursing sessions, or sleepless nights. I enjoyed reading positive content and feeling connected with others, but I wanted to be sense of encouragement for others too. So when I experienced freedom and encouragement from a book, or scripture verse or sermon, I felt compelled to share it. When I experienced a sleep training victory, or a moment of pure joy with the kids- sharing about it made it eternal and potentially valuable for someone else. And when I began experiencing such an incredibly positive impact with the use of Young Living Essential Oils, I wanted others to experience the same positive impact in their lives!

(To read more about the impact of essential oils, click on the photo below or link here) http://heatherbraucher.com/2020/06/03/mommy-ing-with-anxiety-and-oils/

When we moved overseas, social media proved helpful for maintaining connection but the time zone difference made it a bit more challenging. So I started writing a blog and sharing it on social media because it was a great way for me to capture our experiences as a family overseas as well as an efficient way to give more than one person an update on how we were doing at the same time. The connection I began to experience was life breathing! Being so far from everyone I knew and loved, not knowing many people at all, including the local language as well as living in another time zone, created a thirst in me for connection.

(Check out that first blog by clicking on the photo below or the link here!) http://heatherbraucher.com/2019/04/12/the-journey-begins/

When we moved back to the states, our life was in such an unpredictable state. And the pandemic only added to that. For us, and I believe for many, social media enabled connection during a time when we people were literally forced to be physically distant. I began sharing more and more about essential oils and started a business with Young Living. And I loved it!

BUT.

I realized, I had become THAT person. The type that was sharing on social media about a recent fad that I had bought into, that everyone was annoyed by. I was the one offering unsolicited advice, making cheesy videos, memes and …….(gasp)…….working for an MLM…….(gulp)…….selling something.

AND even worse……… I LOVED IT.

Let me clarify. I loved sharing with others what was life breathing for me, in an effort to bring life to others. I had hoped that I would become one of those social media unicorns with a solid team of others sharing the business, changing lives, and helping to support my family financially.

From a business perspective, it did not take off as I had hoped. But I loved every single minute of running a Young Living business. I loved making cheesy videos, and memes and making creative content to share. I loved exploring the social media platforms and all of the fun, creative tools you could use to share your message or your content. I loved being a part of something, a community of other like-minded individuals who supported one another and encouraged each other to continue working to make a positive impact on the world around us. In a way, running a virtual Young Living Business during a pandemic, 3 months after moving back to the states, in a completely uncertain season of life was such a blessing. I am so glad that I got out of my own way, and gave it a try, despite the stigma that can come with running a business such as this.

(To see more cheesy photos or join my YL group on FB, click the photo below.)

In March, 2 years after I started, I made the decision to stop pursuing Young Living as a business. I love essential oils, and will continue to share and connect anyone with these incredible products, but I was discerning in prayer that this season was coming to an end. I did not know what would be next and I did battle discouragement, and a sense of sadness because I really did enjoy it. As a mama of 3 young kids, 2 with “extra” needs, this was my outlet. This was the thing that was just mine. This was the way that I could potentially bring in an income and help support my family, and also help others. I grieved that it was ending. I worried. The dynamics of our family and the needs of our children require me to be at home. The medical expenses that acquire from caring for two children with “extra” or “special” needs is significant. But I could feel the Lord pressing upon my heart, “Trust me.”

(To read more about life as a parent of special needs children, click the photo below or the link here.) http://heatherbraucher.com/2020/05/13/mothers-day/

I anticipated a long season of wait. A long season of unknown. But sometimes the Lord works fast. Especially when we are listening. What HE had in store for me next, I NEVER would have guessed.

Find out what in my next blog!

Fatigue doesn’t care, but I do.

The room was pitch black, minus the dull glow from the star stickers on the ceiling above Garrett’s bed. The sound of pouring rain coming from the white noise app on the ipad was at max volume, but it still couldn’t drown out the tapping and clicking noises that each child was creating as they waited for sleep to wash over them. Every “tap” and “click” felt like nails on a chalkboard as my stomach tensed at their sound, over and over again. At this point, my mind and body were convinced that one more request, excuse or interruption to the bedtime efforts meant this day would never end.

This wasn’t a new experience. In fact, it was typical. So in all reality my brain knew that the boys would inevitably fall asleep and the day too would come to its end. But fatigue- be it emotional, physical or mental, did not care what my brain “should” know to be true. Fatigue doesn’t care how much I actually love these kiddos and cherish the cuddles. Fatigue pays no mind to the fact that once they fall asleep, my heart will leap a little as I peek at their peaceful faces. No. Fatigue only wants to hijack the brain with feelings of desperation.

So as I stare at the stars on the ceiling, and try to remain perfectly still in hopes that Jackson will forget I am there and fall asleep, my fatigue-hijacked mind keeps anticipating the glass of wine and TV show that lies ahead. Or alternatively (depending on the type of day I had) my body aches for the incredible feeling of a shower and crawling under the covers of my own bed that feels like the finish line I have been racing to cross for decades.

Then, it happens. Stillness and slow breathing. They are asleep! I made it! After what felt like an eternity, I am finally alone and can rest. No more requests, whining, begging, arguing, serving, running, redirecting, cleaning, mediating and just pain loudness. I have a couple solid hours to myself, if I can keep my eyes open. But then, upon finally making it to the shower, instead of basking in my solitude, my brain immediately reflects and condemns. I begin to ask myself questions like, “Did bedtime really take over an hour? Why does it take them so long to fall asleep? Why do I have to be there? Will they ever grow out of this? Was I even nice to be around? Why am I so angry? Why can’t I just be patient, and enduring?” And I pray, “Lord, help them not remember me like this, exhausted, irritable and quick-tempered.”

I remember the first couple years of motherhood, a veteran mom told me, “You are going to make mistakes as a parent, it is impossible not to. But thank God we can ask for HIS mercy to wash our mistakes away and HIS grace to fill in the gap.” She encouraged me not to sit in self-condemnation, but instead bring it all to the Lord. So every night, sometimes every day, every hour, every moment, I bring it all to the Lord. Because I am frustrated. I am exhausted. I am weary. I am tired of making the same mistakes, I am tired of how hard it is. I want to be stronger, more patient, more disciplined now. Because every moment that I am not, is another opportunity to blame myself for the misbehaviors of my children. Because that’s what I am tempted to do, all day long. Blame myself.

In the early years, it was less of my own and more of others playing the blaming and shaming game. The all too often, ever present answer to a mama’s cry for help was, “Oh, you JUST need to sleep train….you JUST need to breastfeed… you need to bottle feed so someone else can feed them…you need to expect immediate obedience with a happy heart on the first try… you need to spank… you need to stop letting them control you…you need to get rid of gluten and dairy… you need to get rid of TV and devices…YOU need to… you NEED to… you need TO…. and the list goes on and on.

I’m not sure if the “mom wars” are still as active now, if mama’s have become more supportive of each other’s varying styles, or if I have gotten better at tuning them out, but my battle these days are more of my own condemnation than the condemnation of others. For so many years, I tried to avoid making mistakes. I wouldn’t make decisions, or actions without doing my research to ensure that the success rate was high. I couldn’t offer myself the grace necessary to make a mistake and learn from it. It was too costly, so I had to make sure to get it right the first time.

That is, until a series of life-altering events happened that showed me just how little control I have. In Fall 2012, our firstborn ate her first peanut butter and jelly sandwich the day after her first birthday only to discover she had a life threatening peanut allergy. In Fall 2016 at age 33, I found out that all these years I had an undiagnosed anxiety disorder. And again in 2018 when our youngest son was 3, we learned that he had bilateral sensorineural hearing loss caused by a genetic syndrome called Usher’s Syndrome. And again, in 2019 at the age of 6 when we learned that our middle son had significant ADHD and Anxiety that required medication. Those are a lot of things to find out down the road. A lot of information received later than I would have liked. When you do not have all the information necessary to make all the right choices, you are given a lot of opportunity to make mistakes and get it wrong.

Let’s be honest, in life do we ever have all of the necessary information to make all the right choices? No. But we can do our best with what we have and never stop learning. We can be humble and offer ourselves the grace to face our mistakes so that we can grow. And if as an adult- I am still learning to do this, how much more can I offer this to my children who have much less years of mistakes to learn from.

Here I am, 38 and still making some of the same mistakes. Still struggling not to condemn myself.

Our middle son has been facing many struggles as a result of his disorders. The decision of whether or not to add anxiety medicine in addition to his ADHD medicine was a difficult decision to make. We had all of the necessary data to suggest that this was the next best move.

But I couldn’t get past myself.

And all the voices and all of the questions that have raced through my head before, came flooding back.

“Are you really going to put him on another medicine? He’s only 7.” … “Why don’t you strip his diet of all gluten and dairy?”… “Maybe he’s just a boy being a boy and you are not disciplining him enough?” … “Maybe you need to increase your anxiety medicine before you put him on another one.”… “Why can’t you just homeschool him?”… “Maybe all of his behaviors and struggles are because you are too weak.” …

So many voices. My own, and others.

Sometimes it feels as if the voices can consume me. Very similar to the actual noise in our household. It can be so loud, so overwhelming. When you have a 5- year old who is hard-of-hearing and still learning how to moderate his voice, and a 7-year old with ADHD who has one volume level- loud. And also a 9-year old who unfortunately learned that in order to be heard she has to push through and talk over the noise, and 2 parents who sometimes have to do the same in order to communicate who is picking the kids up from school, it feels like I am a thermometer about to burst. You know the cartoon thermometer? I can feel the red liquid rising quickly to the top of me about to burst, and I literally have to take myself to the front porch, shut the door and the noise behind me and breathe….or else.

So much noise, so many voices. I find myself preferring silence whenever I get the chance. When I go for a walk, a run, a bike ride or even in the car, I choose the quiet. I have to seek out the quiet. Not just to give my ears a rest. I desperately need to hear HIS voice. In the quiet, I can pray and ask for HIS voice to speak to me what is true. And I am reminded of what I know to be true about HIM, about myself, and about my circumstances. I am reminded that we waited until the doctor said it was OK to introduce peanut butter. I am reminded that we had Jackson in speech therapy for 2 years before they diagnosed his hearing loss. I am reminded that we sought council and nurtured Garrett’s sensory processing disorder as best as we could and even removed gluten from his diet before we went the medicinal route. I remember how we use essential oils to support our minds and body in a natural way. I remember that we tried many different ADHD medicines, and had him tested for celiac as we discerned his need for anxiety medication. And I remember how we have prayed every step of the way.

And in the silence, after they have fallen asleep, after I have snuggled with each of them and endured their restlessness and repetitive “clicks” and “taps”, I am reminded that I am FOR them. I love them so stinkin’ much.

I am frustrated, exhausted and weary BECAUSE I love them so stinkin’ much. I am frustrated and exhausted and weary BECAUSE I make mistakes, and I am not gonna stop trying to be better. I am frustrated and exhausted and weary BECAUSE they keep making mistakes, and often drive me nuts, but I am not gonna stop trying to help them grow. And I am frustrated, exhausted and weary because I have 3 children under the age of 9, two who are neuro- diverse, and motherhood in general is hard! To quote my mom, “It is the hardest job you’ll ever love.”

I had to remind my son the other day, “I am for you. You are MY son, and I am on YOUR side.” I said it with a bit of intensity because it had been one-too many tattle-tales from the same child. One who is quick to blame Garrett, and never takes responsibility for their part. I had had enough. I respectfully acknowledged the complaint, addressed the behavior and what needs to stop or start. But after, when it was just us, I made sure he knew I was for him.

And I will make sure to offer myself the same reassurance. Because my God is always with me, and He is always for me. He gives me the grace to forgive myself, and the strength to try again. He sees me. He knows my struggle. He sees my children, and He knows all of our weaknesses. And when the voices in my head start chiming, whether it be from others, or my own, I will remember- “If God is for us, who can ever be against us?” Romans 8:31. And all of Romans 8 for that matter because this entire passage of scripture reminds us that there is no condemnation for those who belong to Jesus Christ. It reminds us that Jesus frees us from the power of sin, and His Holy Spirit affirms who we are as children of God. That HE helps us in our weakness and helps us to pray and that NOTHING can separate us from HIS love. And when I am feeling hopeless, and do not have the strength to try again, I can remember HIS perfect love for us and how many times he stood back up with that cross on his back- for us. And there is no amount of fatigue that God’s love can’t conquer.