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.

 

 

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.”

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!

Sarcasm or Encouragement?

Have you ever been in an emotional rut?

Stuck waking up day after day feeling the same heavy emotion? Carrying the same hopeless mindset that leads you into the same painful experience of trudging through the day?

If you have not, that is amazing! I know I definitely have. I have experienced seasons of suffering, be it physical, mental or emotional that left me feeling like I may never wake up feeling hopeful again. Those seasons were long at times and at other times brief, having only felt long.

As a high school and college athlete I loved all of those motivational posters. You know, the ones with the pictures of mountain scapes that read, “Attitude is Altitude” and the others that always showed someone in the military dominating life with the word “SUCCESS” written over top of their picture.

It’s funny how time can change you. Those same posters I was inspired by in my youth irritate the heck out of me now! Now, I find myself more drawn to sarcasm. And it seems I may not be the only one! As I was writing this blog I google searched these infamous posters shown above only to find that many have been altered to include the same photo but with a sarcastic caption.

Funny, right? Now, I am not cynical enough to create these hilarious posters, but I do resonate with them. Even more so, I resonate with the messages that are sarcastic but yet still uplifting. Like this one…

As a mom, I get my fill from the light hearted and funny quotes that you can find at www.smilesmacker.com. They make you smile, you can share them with others to make them smile, AND you can even buy products and have your favorite quote placed on it!

Regardless of my encouragement preference or anyone else’s, I think the main thing is that encouragement is so necessary. Life is hard. Most people are trying their best, and still stumbling, failing, meeting opposition or discouragement. Sometimes we try our best and things go great, but then we realize we are not done yet. We have to try our best again, no matter how hard it was the first time. And that is life. Especially life for many parents in a pandemic. The impact that the coronavirus has had on the education system has been intense. It has caused a great deal of challenge and exhaustion for parents, kids, teachers and community members. I believe it has been hard on everyone regardless of if they are a parent or not. I highlight the parents in this blog, because I am speaking as a parent, in hopes of encouraging another.

This past year we homeschooled our children in India, and it was a heart-breaking experience. Not all homeschooling experiences are like this, I am sure. I mean, when I homeschooled our daughter for kindergarten, it was great! As for our negative experiences, we were balancing the special needs of two children who needed more than we could give, and we all felt broken at the end of it. So when we returned to the U.S so that our youngest could get the cochlear implant that he needed, we placed our kids in public school and saw them thrive! Now this is not always the situation either. I know this because when we placed our son in a public school for Kindergarten before we moved overseas, we were receiving phone calls from the principal’s office twice a day for weeks! I share both sides of the coin, because-like I mentioned earlier… Life is hard! For everyone, for all different sorts of reasons. No one side has it easier, and the grass is NOT greener on the other side.

We loved seeing our kids thrive for those 3 months in public school. But then COVID-19 came and shut everything down. There we were, homeschooling again. And now, the 2020-2021 school year has begun and we are homeschooling again. And it sucks. Can I say that? Can I just be honest? It sucks! And it is NO ONE’S fault. It just is.

But I vividly remember being back in India. At night, I would feel so heavy at the thought of thinking about waking up again, only to meet the same crushing demands of the day. For me, it was the humbling realization that I could not homeschool alone, I needed my husband. It was the painful realization that my son was struggling with ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder and the latter part (ODD) was for me alone. He welcomed my husband’s authority but threatened mine. I grieved that I was unable to provide our eldest daughter the attention she needed while also grieving that our youngest grew to hate school time because that meant his siblings were occupied and whatever lesson we were trying to perform with him was in vain as he was battling decreasing hearing loss and an inability to communicate.

These are painful memories. They have become very fresh as we have returned to this homeschooling routine once again and it has brought to mind the all too familiar struggles that we once endured.

But one thing is different. Very different.

Choice.

I guess that is one positive thing that you can take away from a negative experience. That and the ability to say, “I have done this before. I survived. It all turned out OK, and it will again. I WILL be ok.”

I think the motivational sayings started to bother me because when I read them, I was interpreting them as saying, “This isn’t that hard, you SHOULD be able to do this well. YOU just have to try harder, YOU just have to be better.”

Instead, I am reading them as if the person who wrote them is saying, “Mama, I feel you. I hear you. I know how you feel. This is hard. You WILL get through it. You WILL be ok. Things WILL get better.”

And this time around, I am remembering the way it was and CHOOSING a different way. I am choosing not to go to bed dreading tomorrow. I am choosing to ask for help. I am choosing to give myself grace. I am choosing to say it’s ok if it doesn’t go well, we can try again tomorrow and we can always try another way. I am choosing to validate myself, affirm myself, and use the tools I have to make it through the best way I can.

I am going back to my FCA days when we would teach about the Armor of God. And I am using my arsenal of emotional support oils to gear myself up for the day. I am using these resources to give myself a shot, to surprise myself, to be proud of myself, and to be the best I can for my family.

I am doing this with scripture and with the help of applying these Young Living Essential Oils:

  • Hope
  • Gratitude
  • Joy
  • Believe
  • Frankincense
  • Valor

Let me know if you would like to learn more about these essential oils and their properties!

The Word of God contains so much encouragement. This scripture in particular-

Ephesians 6:10-18

The Armor of God
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

I am supporting myself and my home by using diffuser blends to create the environment I am longing for such as:

And I am making myself laugh with sarcastic inspiration.

I hope you too are able to walk lightly into a new day, laugh and feel hope. Because you ARE doing a GREAT job.

Grace in the weeds.

The first time I heard the expression, “In the weeds” was in reference to a server at a restaurant being completely overwhelmed with orders and people. When I became a mother, I thought of this expression often and soon the idea of being “out of the weeds” was a mere illusion.

My brain now contains so many “in the weeds” memories, I cannot keep track. Like the time I was changing the dirty diaper of one squirming child, while the other figured out how to unlock the door and escape the apartment. Or, when my husband was out of town and during bedtime one child FINALLY fell asleep and immediately the other one started repeatedly yelling at the top of their lungs, “MOM! Come wipe me!”

Then there was that one time that our middle son came down with the stomach bug, followed by my husband two hours later, then, myself and then the other two children until all 5 of us were fighting over the 1 bathroom.

We all have our own “in the weeds” experiences, don’t we? Lately, our family’s experiences have had more to do with physical and emotional capacity for one another; Or rather, lack thereof.

When life hits you from multiple angles simultaneously, it can feel so much like you are “in the weeds” that in fact, you are drowning under them. Emotionally it becomes difficult to support one another when you are all treading water. The past couple years our family has experienced so much transition, loss, and change that supporting one another while we are all weary has often felt impossible. And to make it even more interesting, the 5 of us have had totally different experiences from one another! Take these pictures for example, all 5 of us physically in the same place, yet emotionally experiencing completely different things. It can feel divisive when one of you is feeling joy or excitement and the other… not so much.

When we told the kids we were moving back to Florida, Gracelyn had actual tears of joy while Garrett had tears of sadness. And BOTH of their reactions were right, justifiable and OK. Similar to our first couple months in NY after leaving India, I was experiencing joyful family reunion while my husband was processing the end of a dream.

Personal preferences, past experiences and even genetic makeup can create for these differences in experiences from person to person. But however explainable, it still doesn’t make it easy. However, it does help to recognize when you, yourself are in the weeds. It helps to identify it-because when you do, you can share that with your loved ones, and this gives them the ability to offer you grace.

11 years into marriage and we are definitely still working on our communication skills. But this one- this “grace in the weeds” practice has been priceless.

Here is the part where I lift up my hubby.

He was ready to move overseas in our first year of marriage. 9 years later we went. How did he wait this long? Grace.

He knew I was in the weeds. In the weeds of motherhood. In the weeds of moving to another state while 8 months pregnant. In the weeds of identifying and managing my anxiety. In the weeds of life! How did he know I was in the weeds? Besides the obvious. I told him. I told him I was struggling. I apologized for ways I projected my frustrations on others. I asked for grace while I leaned into the Lord and asked HIM to carry my burdens, change my heart and give me the strength to do the things I needed to do.

It is hard to ask for grace, if you don’t believe you need it. And if you don’t believe you need it, you might be missing out on the ways that you can grow as a person. This might not be the case with everyone, but it was for our family.

I am sure that in our last couple months in India, I was not at my best. Little did I know that I had been taking a placebo instead of actual anxiety medication, but even so, my head was not where it needed to be for my family, for the people I love. But, my husband gave me grace, upon grace, upon grace. He was able to do so because he has seen me at my best and my worst and because he constantly checks in with me and asks me how I am doing. And I tell him my truths because I trust him with them.

When we returned from overseas, I was able to extend the same grace to him as he took time to process unchartered waters. Because I too have a mental log of him at his best and his worst. I too ask him how he is, and he trusts me with his truths.

Walking through the weeds with someone can be painful. Long-suffering may be reality. Mental logs of your loved ones at their best and worst can be helpful forms of measuring tape and asking questions and being honest are crucial. But grace….true grace comes from Jesus.

The truth is- we love our people. We love our loved ones, and when it comes down to it we would probably jump in front of a bus for them.

But when our loved ones get ornery, cranky, selfish or unkind, it can be hard……so very hard. Don’t pretend like you don’t know…. you do. Those moments when your person is behaving in a way that hurts, and you want to set them straight. And sometimes you do. And other times, you stop and take a breath, and realize that their behavior is just the pain talking. The pain inside that no one else can see. So instead of setting them straight, you give them space and love them anyway.

A few verses keep circling in my head as I write this blog.

“As the Scriptures say, ‘No one is righteous— not even one.'” Romans 3:10

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is perfected in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest on me. That is why, for the sake of Christ, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12

“But He gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.'” James 4:6

There are many reasons that I love Jesus. Today, one of the main reasons is this, without HIM, I would not have seen my sin. Without HIM, I would not have redemption. Without Him, I would not be able to receive grace, nor offer it.

No one is perfect, but it can be hard to see your sin, when you are a pretty good person. You can look to the left and look to the right all day, and see yourself as doing a pretty good job. Until the day you do something, behave a certain way, or even feel a certain way that you never thought you would, let alone could. The day you realize you are a sinner, is the day you are truly capable of love.

When you can see your own faults, you can ask for help, and ask for grace. And when you have had to ask for grace or forgiveness yourself, then when it is YOUR time to offer it to someone else, you have a mental log of what it felt like to receive forgiveness or grace when you did not deserve it. Then, you too can offer it as well.

Grace in the weeds.

I love my people.

We are all sinners.

I can’t imagine a life without forgiveness.

I started writing this blog because our family just moved after living 8+ months in my parents house. My parents are amazing. Their generosity and hospitality and Pete the Cat mentality are incredible. But everytime I spoke with someone about our current circumstances, they asked me how my husband was doing. Because, let’s be real- any spouse living in their in-laws house for an extended period of time deserves grace right?

Well, my hubby did it for a very long time. He had his ups and downs, but I am so grateful for him. He loves my parents, me and our children so well. He knows when we are a healthy family unit, and when we need help for our family unit to thrive.

I love you Adam.

Thank you.

The mirage of “Arriving.”

I have heard the expression, “I have arrived!” It was said to announce not a physical arrival to a destination but a metaphorical arrival. I have held dreams of this kind of “arriving” or success. Along the way I learned that,

“Success is not always in the outcome, but in the attempt.”

Hmmmm. Thought provoking, right? Who was the author of this enlightening thought you ask? Well, I can tell you.

Sometime in late 2013, early 2014, I was determined that I would overcome SOMETHING. ANYTHING! I was so tired of being a prisoner to my weaknesses and always talking about the same struggles day in and day out. It felt like finding joy in motherhood, being able to exercise again and having a “faith big enough to move overseas for” were simply goals that I could not reach. My mind told me that these goals were possible for others, just not me. If you have been reading my blog, than you have heard me express my battle with anxiety. At this time in my life, I was in denial that what I was struggling with had anything to do with anxiety. I believed it was truly just a result of my weakness.

Daily I felt that I was failing to achieve any goal I set for myself. I could rehearse all of life’s pains and struggles as if they were still raw and fresh. And I would rehearse them. At least my brain couldn’t stop remembering all those painful experiences and was convincing me that the idea of giving things another try was being a glutton for punishment. I wrestled with tasks as small as encouraging myself to get out of the apartment with two kids solo, to big ideas like just wanting to be a fully functional stay at home mom. Ya know, the kind that managing the home and children comes natural too. The kind without grumbling, no stress… just joy. Because after all, I chose it. And I assumed, if you choose it, you should love it. And be good at it, right? I also battled with questions like, how come I want to be a happy mom, but I can’t? How come I want to exercise, but I can’t? I was a former strength and conditioning coach and now every time I exercised I would end up with severe spasms in my neck and back so debilitating that I could not move for days. So when it came down to choosing between caring for my toddler and baby or giving exercise another shot, the decision was made for me.

Most of all, I asked myself, why can’t I just be fearless? What happened to the girl who studied abroad in Australia? The girl who travelled New Zealand solo? The wife who chose to spend her first wedding anniversary on a medical mission trip to Africa? Now, the mere topic of living overseas brought panic attacks. At the time, I did not know they were panic attacks. I did not know my body was having a physiological reaction to fear. And I did not know that my fears of living overseas were being manipulated by media and body chemistry.

photo from our 1st anniversary in Ethiopia.

My husband and I worked for a non-profit sports ministry with future hopes of moving and serving overseas. At one point in our journey I decided enough is enough. I was going to wrestle fear by the horns. I was going to say yes. Let’s move to India. Funny how in the movies there is sweat and a punching bag and usually a great soundtrack when a character overcomes something. For me, I just got more back spasms, and actual asthma attacks.

Now before you stop reading and think, this is the most depressing blog ever, hear me. As discouraged as I was, I still wrote the quote that I started out with. “Success is not in the outcome, but in the attempt.” I even shared it in a room full of people during three separate speaking opportunities. And to be honest, the more I told myself, and others, the more hope and life I breathed in and the more lies and discouragement I exhaled. Because the success IS in the attempt. The success is when you keep trying, even when it’s hard and you have failed.

You ARE successful, when you don’t give up on hope.

I used to think success was only when you “arrived” at your goal. For me, I had to look deeper at the goals I was setting for myself. I was setting goals, making expectations for myself that I believed if I just tried hard enough, I could achieve. For example, if I did all of my physical therapy exercises my neck and back would heal. If I strength trained enough the “right way” I would return to the athlete I was. If I prayed hard enough, I wouldn’t be afraid of moving overseas. If I read enough parenting resources, I would feel competent and in control as a mom. I believed I would truly feel success and peace when I reached these resolutions in my life.

Fast forward to today, June 2020. I can exercise now without ending up in spasms! I am still the mom of 3 littles ones that I love dearly but challenge me daily. I moved to India… and I moved back.

I can still remember the day I dreamed about being able to exercise again, like I do now. I can still remember how it felt to dream of one day not being afraid to move overseas, like I did. And I can still feel the ache in my heart over the days that I grieved over not feeling the way I thought a mom or wife should feel. But, I had no idea that “reaching my goals” would happen the way it did. It was not the result of “muscling” through. It was a gradual process of surrender. A process of surrender that brought me to a place of willingness. Willingness to try another way, to see things from a different perspective, to humble myself, and to trust the Lord deeper than I ever had before.

In 2016 I started treating my anxiety with medicine and counseling. The year that followed brought healing, grace, forgiveness and deliverance. One day, I was not afraid to exercise. And after I did, I waited for the spasms. They never came. So I exercised again the next day. No spasms!

It started small. But those small steps were the biggest wins I had ever experienced. I had started going out SOLO on adventures with my 3 kiddos. Joy, redemption and excitement were some of the emotions I experienced that I never thought I would!

And then one day, after a time of serious reflection, I was able to look back on our then 6 years of marriage and say, I think it is time for our family to move overseas. I shared with others how through managing my anxiety, I was able to see life SO much more clearly. It was as if my brain had more space to see all of my memories, not just the painful ones. I felt like I was feeling all the emotions, not just the anxious and stressful ones. And I could see the Lord’s hand over my life, over our lives and I could see the story HE had been weaving the whole time and I wanted to continue to be a part of it! I wish I could share every detail, person, lesson, moment, prayer and guidance that I experienced that all played such a significant role in these victories. It was not just the diagnosis, the medicine and the counseling. It was all of it. The life I had lived, the life I wanted to live and the grace to live it.

I used to think that the day I was “fit” again was going to be the day that “I arrived” at my goal. That the day I moved overseas would be the day that I truly overcame my fears. I know now that “arriving” is like a mirage.

I made it overseas. However, we thought we would live there for at least 3 years but we came back in 9 months. I am exercising again, but I am not and may never be the athlete I once was. I LOVE my kiddos and I am happy to be a stay at home mom and I go on a lot of adventures with them! Sometimes the hardest adventures are the days that we stay home!! At times I still find myself discouraged, and unhappy, but I live more now in the freedom of grace! I do not hold myself to the standard of those illusions I had set out for myself before.

When 9 months into our long-term move overseas ended, and we found ourselves selling all of our furniture and packing up our bags once more, we knew grieving would come but our minds were fixed on the reason for leaving. There were many reasons, but the most pressing reason was Jackson. We knew his hearing loss had progressed even further and now to the point of needing cochlear implants. We knew we needed to get back to the U.S to get the care he needed. We decided to bypass Florida and come straight to upstate NY to be with family. We were in need of support. But of course, as with most plans, we had no idea that our expectations for rushing back to the US to receive care for our son would play out like they did.

Month after month, we waited for doctor’s appointments and answers. Not only did things get more gray in what was to happen for Jackson, but then COVID-19. Every step we took to move forward and make sense of the past few years of our life, to understand what we were supposed to do now, was left unanswered. And the day I realized that we had been living with my parents in upstate NY for the same length of time we lived in India, I felt lost. I could not make sense of it all. I was losing hope that we would ever know how to find the best care for Jackson, where to live, where to work, or even who we were as a family going forward.

I was stuck in a mirage. The mirage that when we arrived back to the US, everything would be OK. That Jackson would get cochlear implants and we would find a home down the street from my parents, the kids would go to school with their cousins, and our family would have all the family support we needed. And the feelings of pain and sorrow from leaving India and ending a dream that was sought after for years would all fade because the reasons that we left would make up for it.

BUT, recognizing the mirage allowed for me to see all the REAL, tangible blessings around us!! Blessings that we would not have experienced if it hadn’t been for this season of unknown. Because of unanswered questions, because of the Coronavirus, because of time, we received support, love, healing, pruning, gut-checking, re-evaluating, and precious moments with family that you wish you could freeze in time.

Life is still messy, but we have finally received some answers and direction. We have found such great care for Jackson back in Florida with his audiologist and the team there that we have decided to move back to Florida. Jackson will be receiving his first cochlear implant maybe as early as September, but we continue to wait for those answers. We are relieved and grateful and feel such peace with this decision. However, it will not become another mirage. Once we “arrive” in Florida, everything won’t be perfect. Life will never be perfect on this side of heaven.

I have my eyes fixed on the author and perfecter of my faith, Jesus Christ. I walk in grace knowing that the success is not in the outcome, but in the attempt. It’s not about the destination but the journey. It’s not about where you are going, but WHO you are walking with. The victory is walking by faith and trusting in HE who is worthy to be trusted, to bring HIM glory and to hope that one day, He will say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” Matthew 25:21

Things are not as they should be.

We were walking through a furniture store to pick out a piece for a family member. No big deal. Except for when I wandered off, looking at pieces of furniture, and the strangest thing happened. My chest felt tight. My heart felt uneasy. My brain was telling me, I have been here before. But being here again, is too soon.

At this moment, we were 1 month into being back in the U.S, but I could remember the day I was walking through the furniture store in India, picking out furniture for our new home, like it was yesterday. Picking out the furniture that was supposed to last us the next 3 years, at least. The same furniture we sold in two days, only 8 1/2 months after we moved in.

Fast forward to 3 months completed now, living in Central, NY, living with my parents and India has begun to fade… already.

When we first got to my parents house, all we had is what we brought with us to India. Which if you know anything about India’s climate, we were not prepared for NY’s winter. But for Christmas, at least I had something red. A red Kurta, the last Kurta that was purchased while we were in India.

Wearing a Kurta in upstate NY 3 weeks after departing India for good brought on all the feelings. One being, can I really get away with this attire here? But mostly, feelings of sorrow, pain, and confusion. The wounds from our abrupt departure, still raw, still not even fully addressed.

Come late January, all of the India souvenirs were mailed, all of the Kurtas packed away and picture albums old news. I have returned to the messy bun and athletic clothes, no more coffee made via Aeropress, back to the Keurig and fully hooked once more on Almond Joy coffee creamer. I guess I felt if I returned to all of my old -isms, and American comforts, did that mean our move to India didn’t really exist? Did all that the Lord has done in me, really happen?

It’s the seasons of uncertainty that are the perfect breeding grounds for doubt and believing the lies that are whispered over you. The lies that tell you you are a failure, you have let every down, you can’t hack it. All too familiar, these lies. Fortunately the familiarity of lies bring the familiarity of God.

I cling to HIM more than I ever have. I trust in HIM more than I ever have. I believe that I am a chosen, loved, redeemed child of God more than I ever have. All that the Lord has done in me is real. We did move our family of 5 to India, with significant purpose, hope and intentionality. It all did happen.

And yes, I have to remind myself of these truths every morning. I have to talk myself down from yelling at the Lord when I awake to each new day with the relentless reality that 3 months after rushing back to the US because Jackson needs cochlear implants, we are still no further along in the process than when we left. We still are living in my parents home, sharing their car and unsure of what the future holds.

Things are just, NOT as they should be. But then again, that truth is not new. That truth is the same truth that encourages me to cling to the hope of Jesus Christ, and the hope of heaven. The hope that Revelation 21:4 brings, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” One day, we will not have suffering or sickness, and grief will end. One day, Jackson will have hearing and vision as clear as day. One day, this mama will not battle her persistent opponent, anxiety. One day, Dad won’t stress about finances and providing for his family. One day, things will be as they should.

Until that day, God is gracious and merciful and loving and kind and ever present and always faithful. We just need to pay attention. I know this to be true because HE uses his people to remind us. He uses my parents daily to remind us. How they day in and day out, generously and without expectation give, host, support, counsel, and love our family. How my brother shares from the bottom of his heart how much it means to have me “home”. How my sister in law without hesitation watches our kiddos after school.

I also experience God’s nearness through the blessings that come in moments. Moments like being present for your Grandma’s 80th birthday. Moments like getting to see your niece’s classroom during open house night at school. Moments that come daily like experiencing our kids level of excitement as they share about each new day at their new school, and moments that come every couple weeks like witnessing Garrett’s sweet bond with my dad as they head off to Lowe’s and grab a soda and a hot dog from the outside vendor.

These moments are significant to me, as I have lived as long out of my hometown, home state as I have lived in. I have missed so much. While we were in India, I missed the passing of my Nana and her funeral. The pain I experienced missing that, creates a whole new appreciation for all the little things I am experiencing now.

Things are not as they should be. But we get glimpses.

Glimpses by way of suprise mail from dear friends and supporters who just want to offer us a card of encouragement and a gift. Glimpses when others go out of their way to show you how much they are praying for you, thinking about you, here for you. Glimpses come when your church offers their continued support financially and tangibly to help you through this season of uncertainty.

But do not be mislead. I have to pay attention to these people, these moments, these glimpses. I have to look for the blessings. And WHEN I don’t, because let’s be honest I AM HUMAN, then I get swallowed up in the reality, that things are not as they should be and I forget to hope for heaven. I forget to find my hope in Christ.

We are now post 4 cochlear specialist consultations and 4 different audiology tests, and we have landed in a place of uncertainty once more. We are encouraged to repeat testing that was done while we were overseas, to obtain certainty that his hearing loss has TRULY become severe enough for implantation (for insurance purposes). While we agree on the need for certainty, Jackson’s diagnosis of USHER’S SYNDROME is driving the ship. We need to get him the best access to hearing that we can, and that’s why we returned to the U.S, and ended our journey serving overseas.

What I know to be true, what I am finally accepting, is that I have 3 children, 2 with special needs, and I need some support. We needed support so much that we bypassed Florida and flew straight to Upstate, NY. We left tenants in our townhome, and all of our belongings in our storage unit to come straight to my parents home with only what we had from India.

And even in the midst of continued uncertainty and lack of conclusions, God is answering our need for support. And because of this support, I am even able to think outside the box these days. I am able to dream, analyze, consider.

In April 2018, I needed support, emotional support. I found it by way of essential oils. By the end of the year I grew to learn so much more about the life-giving support offered by these natural oils distilled from plants and I realized by sharing them I can actually help support others too!

It is humbling, to feel as if you always need help or support. When we moved to India we had great hopes of serving others in various ways. And we discovered, we just could not. Our kids needed more support than allowed for us to serve others. Humbling to say the least.

Lately though, I have come to embrace this truth. I am embracing the reality that God created our family unit just the way it is. And in this current season of life, these little people HE has gifted to us are our main job. We want to love and serve them with all that we can. He is gifting us the ability to do that right now. And HE is gifting me the ability to serve and support others right where I am. From my home, while my kids sit next to me, when I share about Young Living Essential Oils with others in hopes that this natural element can support a need, just like it has done for me. And all the while potentially providing my family with an extra income.

So here is our update. We are doing life with family, getting support, and waiting until God reveals HIS plan for Jackson. We are praying, the kids are going to school, Adam is reflecting on his past careers and exploring where HE can best use the gifts God gave him. I am still praying, and often in a Cry-Yell-Pray sort of way and I am officially going to start my Young Living Essential Oil Business. https://photos.app.goo.gl/YSsVAqmE4VEqMMsPA

And daily, sometimes hourly, often minute by minute, I am looking for the glimpses of life, that remind me of God’s promises.

Thailand

Ephesians 2:10 “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

One week before leaving on a 3 month visa run, Jackson fell off the bed, got a nice slice in the back of his head that required stitches. 

Lord, have mercy.

6 months in India and I was soooo close to avoiding a hospital run! But these kiddos gotta keep me on my toes. On the bright side, he was able to get the stitches removed one day before our flight to Thailand. An answer to prayer since we were planning on swimming for the next 2 months!

In case I forgot to mention, we are limited to 180 days in India for 2019. This meant I had the incredible challenge of packing up our family of five with 3 months worth of necessities while also packing up our home to protect it from dust and mold. We only just arrived in India at the end of March, so since we were already out for 90 days, we only have to be out for 90 days more! ONLY! 

Haha. I hope you mistake my sarcasm for optimism! 

In one sense, a 90 day trek through South East Asia is a dream come true! With three kiddos under 7, let’s just say it’s a “dream” and leave room for interpretation. Our plans were to spend 30 days in 3 different locations, Thailand, Indonesia and Nepal.

We arrived in Thailand after a red eye flight and took a 5 hour bus ride down to the beach. After catching some z’s, we took a walk outside and it was love at first sight. From that moment on we spent all of our time soaking in the fresh air, blue skies and beautiful views. 

To help you better experience the fresh air with us, here is a little background.

We landed in India one month prior to the heat of summer (aka 115 temps) and monsoon season. This limited us greatly from any quality outdoor time. Getting outside was always a challenge. We depended on uber or hailing down a tuk-tuk to get around. Either way, it was never a seamless transition. 3 kids without carseats, motion sickness, language barriers and a map that was never quite accurate made us wish we could walk everywhere. However, with no real sidewalks and a traffic system that looked like the racing of the bulls prevented us from taking a stroll to the park. We were all so thirsty for outside time that we spent the next 7 consecutive days rotating between the pool, the beach and bike riding. Dream come true…check!

And the dream would have continued for the next 7 days at the beach but the kids wore out their bathing suits so much they all got bathing swim rashes! I have never seen anything slow Garrett down the way that rash did. We tried to mix it up and still had a great time as we ventured out to the local markets, explored more of the beach front looking for shells and took a chance on scooter rides. My first time driving a scooter and it was life breathing! I had not driven a vehicle since we left America and the autonomy of doing so brought a refreshing sense of independence.

After 14 days in Dolphin Bay, Thailand, it was time to move north to Chiang Mai. Our city in India actually has medical care beyond what we expected. However, our family has some needs that require specialists and many other expats had encouraged us Bangkok and Chiang Mai were the places to go. Thus, we planned our trip that we would spend the first 2 weeks decompressing with the healing outdoors and the next weeks getting checkups.

The place we stayed at in Chiang Mai was filled with families with young children just like ours, plenty of outdoor play room, a pool and 3 square meals a day. The kids made instant friends with other expats and we all enjoyed having good, nutritional meals and company. I especially loved the daily laundry service.

We were all able to get an annual checkup, a dental checkup, some debriefing over our past 6 months transition to India and some western food! One of my highlights from our time in Chiang Mai was finding out that the anxiety medicine that I had refilled in India was most likely a placebo and I am not crazy!! Haha. For real. I had been wondering why my medicine was not as effective for the past couple months and after having a checkup I was able to get the real thing and it was a night and day difference, praise the Lord!

But without a doubt, I think the kids would say that their favorite part about Chiang Mai was going to the Elephant Sanctuary and to the Chiang Mai Night Safari for church! Yes, you heard me right! We got connected with a church that held its services at a zoo! After service you get to walk around and see some animals for free!

While in Chiang Mai, we had hoped we would be able to get Jackson’s hearing checked and Garrett an evaluation with a pediatric behavioral psychologist. We needed to check in on his pre-existing sensory processing disorder/potentially ADHD. Unfortunately, Chiang Mai did not have the speciality services we thought they had. In fact, we had appointments scheduled for both boys and when we arrived to check in, that is when we found out that they were actually scheduled at the Bangkok location. Same hospital, different city.

UGH!

So we cut our time short in Chiang Mai and travelled to Bangkok. We were not excited about this because our family of 5 in a hotel in the city for 5 days is not a pretty picture. Especially after having left a city and relished in the outdoors for the previous 3 weeks.

Regardless, of the the less than ideal circumstances, we praise God that we were able to get the services we needed for our boys. Garrett had an evaluation with an excellent doctor and we were able to identify his ADHD clinically and get the treatment and resources that we needed. We were also able to establish care for Jackson and get the ball rolling on his future hearing test that we will need in December.

For fun, we went to the movies and let the kids get some energy out at a trampoline park!

So in one month we stayed in 4 different hotels. So far so good. Hard to believe there are two months left if not more before we can return to India. We had great adventures and great respite. We also had time to reflect on how the past 6 months in India was for our family and for ourselves as individuals. Upon leaving India, I was not very thrilled about this forced travel, but I found myself grateful. Grateful to step out, literally, pause and reflect. No matter where I go, I know who I am. Made in Christ and sustained by Him. Cared for and guided by a Sovereign God who knows every hair on my head and every day that has passed and is to come.

And to be honest, it was refreshing to wear a teeshirt and shorts, throw my hair back up into a messy bun and remember myself before India. I packed only 3 Kurtas for our trip! I knew that in Thailand and Indonesia I would be able to wear more western clothes but in Nepal, our last stop on our trip, I will need to take the Kurtas back out. Until then, bring on the western wear and Starbucks!

Mom, look! It’s Heaven!

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

From the mouths of babes….

Upon landing in Dharamshala and exiting the plane, we turned around to see the most breathtaking view. Immediately, Garrett exclaimed, “Mom, look! It’s heaven!” My feeling exactly. It felt amazing to be surrounded by such a sight.

Pictures just don’t do it justice. But we were so excited to spend our weekend in the foothills of the Himilayan mountains.

We stayed at a hotel called the Pink Hotel. It had a spectacular view of the mountains as well. And it should, because we had to go 60 steps down from the main road which was already on the side of a mountain, and then another 6 flights up to our hotel room.

Our weekend away included visiting friends, riding on a scootie, going on a date, drinking coffee, hiking up to a water fall, and enjoying the view.

As you can see, our adventures in the mountains included goats, fog, and an adventurous spirit.

You see, the hike to the waterfall included a large portion of hiking with no side railing, at the top. AT.THE.TOP. It would have been nice to know that before we started since our group included 3 little mischievous hikers. Thankful that we bought the kids each an umbrella before we started because it rained for the majority of the time. But it was fresh mountain rain! So it’s OK right? hahaha.

Our scootie date ride also included consistent rain, up winding tight turns on a mountain for over 30 minutes. But we made it! At this point in life, desperation for dates makes you take risks!

The rain also brought such thick fog that if you look at these two pics side by side, you’ll see just how dense it was.

Same location for both pics.

I even included this one so you could see that even the window reflection held nothing but fog. That, and I wanted proof that I was sitting outside by a mountain drinking coffee- my ULTIMATE happy place.

After our time at the Pink House Hotel, we ventured out to a small town about an hour away. There we tried out an AirBnB and probably shocked the neighbors with our volume level and random touch to the area. On our way out, we stopped at a zoo.

By stopped, I mean, we saw a sign for a zoo 30 minutes into the drive and asked our uber driver if we could stop because the hills were taking its toll on the kids, and who doesn’t love a zoo? A zoo complete with a playground, wild monkeys and the opportunity to get way to close to the animals.

We also dipped our toes into some natural icy cold river water and enjoyed some time at “the beach.”

Before we left for our trip we celebrated Garrett’s 6th birthday. I still remember when he was 3 months old and he started smiling and I knew he was gonna be a jokester and a sweet talker.

Below you’ll see his version of mom’s tattoo on his arm only his “tattoo” specifies ‘Grandpa’s’ name underneath. You’ll also see where we find Jackson sometimes in the morning, sleep walking to the kitchen no doubt. As well as some pool fun, and candids with our friends and house helpers on Garrett’s birthday.

Highlights from the trip were:

One, when I came back up the stairs to our terrace to find a monkey eating out of our garbage can.

Two, the conversation between Garrett and a guy from the U.K.

“Excuse me? Where are you from?”

The young hiker laced up his boots and answered, “London, where are you from?”

“Hey, that’s where Mary Poppins is from!”

And lastly, at the zoo. If only I could play this video clip.

At this very moment, a stray dog was walking or rather escorting us through the zoo. The kids named him Rufus. At first we thought he was a problem because when he saw the pack of wild monkeys he ran full speed at them barking which caused them to scatter and then retaliate! My video can be likend to the Blair Witch Project as the video quickly narrates a group of people screaming, “run!”

Shortly thereafter, some locals insured us that the monkeys were scared of Rufus and he was guiding us down the path and passed the monkeys. As we entered the zoo, there were at least 4 swinging from tree to tree. I couldn’t help but think, “Finally! I get to see the monkeys!”

Shortly after, I began to understand why NO ONE likes the monkeys here.

We had such a great time on our travels and I left encouraged that our energetic family of five CAN travel. First time travelling without a stroller in fact! This was good news, seeing as our family has about 90 days of travel upcoming since we are close to reaching our maximum 180 days stay in country. I needed encouragement, because all I can remember is our 5 weeks spent in a hotel when we first arrived to India. It was about week 3 in that hotel, that I was not so loving anymore. Praise Jesus, for His grace truly is sufficient in our weakness.

This has been true of life in general and very much so here in India. All the t’s are not crossed, nor the i’s dotted, but when I begin to falter, or my faith does, He IS there to give me grace and strength….

And so are the monkeys…… to make me laugh.

Yoga pants and mountain views

“The LORD is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18

Sometimes it is the little things that help you get through a week. This pair of Proyog Yoga pants did it for me.

This week was hard. Emotionally really, really hard. For various reasons I felt heartbroken that I was not back home in America.

Sometimes, you just gotta grieve. Sometimes, you just have to take the day off, sleep in, and wear yoga pants all day. I mean yoga pants people. Not the tight, suck-in everything black pants that we were all made to believe are called “yoga” pants. But the wide crotch, flowy, not too tight elastic band, soft material, yet still flattering, can actually do yoga poses in, yoga pants. Such as these.

And no, this picture is not of me, as much as I wish it was. But nonetheless, there is nothing like lounging in your real “yoga” pants that your waist can actually breathe in, drinking a cup of coffee and staring at a picture of the mountains.

This week I just needed to take extra days off. I needed moments to stare at my mountain pictures, sit and read my Bible, journal and pray. There is just something about mountains that do it for me, they really do! I shared a little about that in an earlier post. Maybe it’s because of the nostalgia of sweet childhood memories they bring, or the fact that they are majestic and in fact point me towards their maker. Whatever it is, mountains help me breathe, breathe when life is suffocating. Just like my “real” yoga pants let me breathe!

So, this week in review:

We did a lot of puzzles. Over the weekend we were gifted two boxes of puzzles and I had already ordered some as well. We had SO many puzzles in the states and for some reason I DID NOT pack them! So, it was encouraging to see how excited our kids were to puzzle!!

The humidity arrived this week. That was a huge bummer. We are not strangers to humidity coming from Florida. But here, it has been a dry heat. Lately, a “Baking” dry heat with temps above 110, but little sweat! Now, the minute you leave an air-conditioned space you soak your clothes.

To add salt to the wound we had a bit of a water shortage in our apartment complex. I discovered this after soaping up and then needing to rinse off with only a dribble coming out of the faucet instead of the shower head. Thank goodness it was not a hair washing day!

As I said in the beginning, it is the little things that can bring joy, make a change, brighten up a day. We received a care package from a dear friend in the states this week! The kids would have used ALL of the stickers they received had we not stopped them.

A friend from our apartment who is so kind and helpful even gave the kids a free ride on his scooter which they thought was the tops.

Learning something new always brings flavor to the day. Sometimes it’s a new skill, other times it’s a new treat or a special surprise.

This week also came with a holiday. One not celebrated here as it was the 4th of July. To be completely honest, we missed the actual 4th due to a tough day but when we woke up on the 5th we were ready. Complete with 4th of July themed clothing, balloons and decorations at the place where we study Hindi (because they had a 4th of July party for some tourists the night before.) That evening we even played all of our childhood patriotic faves like “This land is my land,” “My country tis of thee,” “America, America” and so many more. We ate hot dogs, mac ‘n cheese, and peas and finished with some vanilla cupcakes with red, white and blue sprinkles. I would say for a July 5th, in India, it was pretty epic.

On Saturday we decided it was time for our family to get touristy. We ventured to Nahagarh Fort. As we left our flat, it started to rain and it looked like the day was going to be a complete bust. But we knew we needed an outing as a family so we risked it.

Thank God we did. The entire day was overcast and in the 80’s. Unheard of here!

We even explored the exterior of the fort and somehow, our Braucher bunch got to explore alone! Free from anyone asking to take our picture! It felt like it was just us, and the views. For a short time, at least.

Inside the Fort, there was a sculpture garden spread out amidst the different empty rooms. The sculpture was, interesting. I am sure that it had significant meaning. However, we were unable to read the descriptions due to chasing young children.

Despite the inability to spend time reading the historical significance of each sculpture, it took but a few seconds for me to realize that this sculpture was indeed a pelvis. Hence, the look on my face.

I wish I had more to share about the pelvis, but sadly I do not. We ended a great day with a movie night where we watched the movie, “A Dog’s Way home” and by the end decided that as soon as it is plausible we will be getting a puppy.

The next day we ventured out to a renowed sports store about 30 minutes outside the city called Decathlon. It was awesome. It was like entering the Indian verson of Dick’s Sporting Goods! The kids had a ball. They basically had a complete workout in the fitness equipment zone, played basketball, rode bikes and learned how to skateboard! We discovered that Jackson is a natural boxer, Garrett a born skateboarder and that Gracelyn is definitely not shy as she enticed customers to the the yoga mat display with her yoga poses. Of all the things to purchase, our kids each walked away with a fishing net pole and a bouncy ball in hopes of playing makeshift lacrosse.

It was an extremely fulfilling weekend. One that our family needed. However, it ended with another goodbye to more friends here headed back to the states and continued grieving over a loved ones suffering. I prayed and prayed for the Lord to bring me comfort. And before I knew it, I received a video call from my best friend introducing me to her new baby boy!!! Tears of sadness were real, for my heart longed to be there at that very moment. But the tears of joy were incredible. Seeing my best friend’s fresh to the world baby boy and her smiling face, in the midst of my heartache was the Lord hearing and answering my prayer for comfort.

As we journeyed into the next week. I have held these things close to my heart, and frequently looked at the pictures we captured over the weekend. I give thanks for breath-taking views and A God who is close to the broken-hearted.