Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Another Year of Learning

 Well, today's the last day of school for our kiddos. While that evokes some sentimental feelings for many of us parents, it also made me stop and reflect back on how much our kids have grown and learned this year. There have been many things academically that our kids have learned over the past school year thanks to the diligent and careful instruction of many awesome teachers. But there have also been many things our kids have learned as a result of slowly maturing and being encouraged both at home and school to look at situations from a variety of angles.

As a parent, I share the same battles I'm sure many of you do with your kids – the constant sassing back, the "attitudes", the self-centered behaviors, the verbal jabs, all the things that come with our kids being young and thinking they know everything...and most certainly exempt from needing mom and dad to correct them on anything. Honestly, more days than not, I find myself shaking my head, wondering if I'm doing anything right as a parent. Then every once in a while, I see glimmers of hope and reassurance that all of my praying, nagging, and reinforcing might be sinking in a little bit.

Last night we'd tucked the kids in and about 20 minutes later, I heard little feet sneaking down the stairs to my office where I was doing some work. I sighed thinking, "Seriously, just GO TO BED!", slightly annoyed because I wanted to finish what I was working on without interruption. But I took a deep breath and turned away from my computer to see what Carson needed. I had sort of rushed bedtime because the kids had been up late the past couple nights and I wanted them to get to sleep at a decent time, and in my haste, I skirted around our usual "quiet time" where Carson and I lay in the dark for a few minutes and he whispers things to me about his day.

He had this very intense, excited, half-smile look on his face – it was obvious he needed to talk. I asked him what was up and he says:

"I just needed to tell someone about this or else I think I'm gonna EXPLODE! Well, remember when I told you about that girl K at school who acts kind of different sometimes? Today when we had our kickball tournament at school, K kicked the ball right to me and when I saw it was her, I remembered when we'd talked and you said she acts different and sometimes gets extra help because she was a foster kid who didn't have a family for a while and she has had a pretty hard life without a family until 3rd grade. So when she kicked the ball to me, I pretended like I fumbled the ball and took extra time to throw the ball so she wouldn't get out. I just wanted her to get on base and she was SO happy when she did! She was jumping up and down, and I was trying to act frustrated like I had really tried my best to get her."

Then he flung his arms around my neck, hugged me and said, "I was just so happy to see her smile and do good!".

I had tears welling up in my eyes as I told him how proud I was of him for thinking about how to help make K feel successful and happy without making a big deal about it. We talked for a bit more about how our actions will always show others more about our hearts than words will. He said a couple other boys gave him a hard time for not getting K out, but he said, "I told them it wasn't a big deal and we were just having fun – and K deserved to have fun, too".

As I was thinking more about this, I was reflecting on how refreshing it is to see kids today who have parents working so hard to mold and shape them into honorable individuals of integrity and character who show acts of kindness even if it's not necessarily the "popular" thing to do. We've been blessed with many kids like this who our family has come to know and love, and when I see them treat others lovingly with respect, I always try to let their parents know how much I appreciate that and how it's impacted me. Some specific examples that come to mind over the course of this past school year that have warmed my heart to witness (pertaining to Peyton):

• Being approached by a lovely girl Peyton has known since daycare and having her ask if she could attend our weekly Special Olympics practices to be a "helper" with Peyton and other athletes. {Thank you, Alaina!}

• Seeing our sweet neighbor boys agree to sit in the front seat with Peyton on the bus per her request...even though their buddies were calling them to their usual seats further back on the bus. {Thank you, Isaac & Colin!}

• Seeing another darling neighbor friend gladly accept Peyton's invitation to come over and play...even though that basically meant her sitting and watching Peyton sort through the ever-growing collection of Hot Wheels cars. {Thank you, Julia!}

• Hearing from Peyton how a boy who is friends with both Peyton and Carson takes the time to chat and play with Peyton at school...even though he could chose to go run around with some of the "cooler" kids. {Thank you, Jake!}

I could go on and on with other examples from this past school year, but my point is this – as another school year comes to a close, I want to thank parents and school staff for encouraging kids to be conscientious of others needs and feelings. Don't miss opportunities to celebrate non-academic things our kids are learning because, in all honesty–in the grand scheme of things, they're even more important than a standardized test score or a grade {although those are obviously important as well}. Our society tends to have such an ego-centric focus, and learning to put others needs before your own is most definitely not the "popular" thing to do, BUT it makes such a difference in the lives of the individual(s) who are on the receiving end of that kindness...and you just never know how one simple act might impact that person or their family...or how it may influence others watching. Keep up the great work moms, dads and school staff, enjoy the summer, and be intentional in seeking out ways to appreciate and serve others so our kids have opportunities to experience what it does for the soul when you love on people. It's pretty amazing...and can be world-changing. Cheers to another great year of learning!

"Let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth."

 - 1 John 3:18


Friday, May 15, 2015

Seeing His Glory

Well hello, friends. It's been a while. Too long of a while, actually. I've had great intentions and then that pesky thing people call "extra time" eludes me. But I was so struck by something this past Mother's Day weekend that I decided I needed to MAKE time to sit down and write about it.

The months of April and May have always been a bit emotional for me ever since Miss Peyton was born. Her original due date was April 24, 2004...four days after my birthday. I remember being so excited about the possibility of us sharing a birthday. But instead, she was born on May 8, 2004. Huge. With a birth injury to boot. I remember spending my first Mother's Day in the hospital, with some people bringing by flowers and all the nurses oohing and aahing about how special it was to have become a new mom just hours before MOTHER'S DAY. Peyton was a pretty special gift.

As the years have gone on and we've learned more and more how her birth injury is still affecting her {and most likely will for the rest of her life}, I've found myself running through so many different emotions as we enter the month of April. I flashback to my OB visits and expressing concern at each one about having a large baby (due to family history). I've been hard on myself looking back, thinking in my mind, "If only I'd been more insistent or assertive with the doctor...", or, "Why didn't I better educate myself? Maybe I could've prevented this from happening to Peyton...". So many things swirl around my head leading up to her actual birthday. I've never shared this with anyone before, but the eve before her birthday, I find myself restless, waking to look at the clock and rewinding to what I could've done differently in the delivery room as the hours slowly ticked by during her delivery...why wasn't that a clue to me that something was wrong? And why didn't I have enough sense to DEMAND better for myself and for Peyton? This year, on the eve of Peyton's birthday she got up to use the bathroom in the night and as I tucked her back in, I happened to glance at the clock. It was 1:23am...the exact time she was born. And I lost it. I sat on the floor in the hallway sobbing until I was finally able to gather myself up and return to bed.

Needless to say, I've carried a lot of "mom guilt" around with me for many years. And in my head and heart, I KNOW that I was a first time mom who trusted a trained medical professional. I KNOW there was really nothing else I could've done given my inexperience as a first-time-mom-to-be. And I KNOW that God allowed our circumstances to happen for a reason. Even if some days it rips my heart out seeing Peyton struggle.

Last Sunday we were at our cabin church {Crossroads Christian Church} for Mother's Day. And just a little sidebar here, I am so very thankful God led us to this little church tucked away out in the middle of no-where western Wisconsin. They've really helped get us through some tough stuff since we started to attend there on the weekends we head "up north". We're beyond grateful for this quaint congregation and it's been exciting to see God using them! Anyway, Pastor Tryg has been preaching through the Beattitudes and he started out by apologizing that this Sunday's passage happened to be on the topic of "Mourning"...not exactly what you think of when you think of Mother's Day. As he began his sermon, he said, "Hopefully there's at least one person here who needs to hear this, though". Throughout his sermon, he apologized for the seemingly heavy topic that was being covered. But I've gotta tell ya, as I sat and listened, it was as if a light bulb turned on for me and a heavy weight was lifted. He talked about how God sometimes allows things to happen in our lives that we can't understand or that don't make sense...and we mourn. But it's in those times, when we're spiritually broken that God meets us where we're at and works in us. I felt like standing up on my chair and yelling "AMEN!!!" when he said that. But being the good 'lil reserved baptist girl I was raised to be, I sat silently in my chair {in my defense, I was sitting in the FRONT row...out of character for us "back-row baptists"}.

Over the years, I've felt as though I've been mourning as a mom. Mourning all the "typical" things Peyton will never experience or be able to do. Mourning how others view Peyton. Mourning the friendships she'll never have. Mourning all that could've been for Peyton. And the older she gets, the mourning has gotten less intense, but it's still there, kind of like a dull, nagging headache...only in my heart. Some days it hits me much harder than others.

Back to the sermon, a few minutes later Pastor Tryg read a verse that I'd heard before, but never considered in the context of my/our situation. He read I Peter 4:12...and I read on through verse 13:

"Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed."

I've lived my whole life doing what was right. And I have often reflected on what a boring testimony I have...I grew up in the church with a great family, always obeyed the rules, stayed on-track through high school and college, was involved with Christian organizations throughout college, married a Christian man and have been actively involved in supporting not only the local church(es) we've been a part of, but also many other Christian ministries around the globe. At a very young age I recognized that I was broken and the only thing that could make me whole was the saving grace of Jesus Christ. I've never fallen "off the path". God has been good to me. Yet sometimes I hear others share their testimonies of going off the "deep end", so far from knowing God, then through unimaginable circumstances, they found the Lord and their lives have never been the same. In the past, hearing those types of testimonies has made me feel like a pretty boring Christian...kind of like the "tortoise" in the story of the Tortoise and the Hare. Slow and steady, walking this Christian life.

So why would God allow something like this to happen to Peyton and to our family? WHY? Well this verse finally made everything make sense. Although I've been mourning for many years, I am starting to realize that we're now in the phase of seeing "His glory revealed" through Peyton. I'm sure people get tired of hearing me share stuff about her, but honestly you guys, we are seeing things happen through her that we never would've considered a possibility or never would've had the opportunity to be a part of if it weren't for her...and her birth injury. God wasn't surprised when Peyton suffered her birth injury. We may have been thrown for a loop, but God most certainly wasn't surprised.

More and more lately, our eyes are being opened to all that we would've missed out on if it weren't for her. Do you have any idea how many people she's invited to church or prayed for? Do you have any idea how many people our family has been loved and supported by because of her? Do you have any idea how many people have felt a sense of accomplishment/inspiration and purpose because of working/interacting with her? Do you have any idea how many kids have finally found a friend who will love unconditionally because of her? Do you have any idea how many other special needs families we've had the privilege of meeting and walking alongside because of her?

Seriously, God is working. And His glorious plan is being unveiled. I'm confident of that.

Another verse that struck me in Pastor Tryg's sermon was Romans 12:15. This one made me tear up:

"Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn."

I can't tell you what joy there is in being able to rejoice with other families who have encountered similar circumstances as us. And also, to mourn with them on their difficult days. There is no greater feeling of loneliness than trying to walk this special needs journey alone, let me tell ya. While friends with typical kids pour their heart and soul into trying to understand what we're experiencing, only those with a special needs child of their own know the true heartache as we see our kids struggle...and the monumental excitement when our kids accomplish even the most miniscule things. There have been many tears shed in the local coffee shop, sitting and sharing obstacles and accomplishments with other moms I've connected with through Peyton...this is Romans 12:15 in action!

Thinking back on these past 11 years since Peyton was born, it's struck me how different our life would be today if she'd been born without her birth injury. And yes, part of me {selfishly} goes right to the insane amount of money we've spent on appointments with a wide-range of specialists over the years, the on-going therapy appointments, the special equipment Peyton needed early on, and all the time we've invested sitting in waiting rooms. But then I sit and think of all the incredible people we have met, all the amazing friendships that have been established, and all the people who feel valued and loved...because of Peyton. Well that right there is about enough to make me burst into the dreaded ugly cry

While "mourning" on Mother's Day isn't what you typically picture or imagine, sometimes we need to mourn in order to see what God is truly doing through whatever circumstances He's placed in our lives. Like me, it could take years to get to the point where your mourning is replaced with thanksgiving and a sense of overwhelming gratitude for all God's done in your life. But if we seek Him and trust that through everything, His plan is at work, we'll eventually see His glory revealed. And I have a feeling we'll be seeing that glory revealed for many years to come with Miss Peyton. 

God is good. All the time. And it's through our mourning, He reveals His glory. Remember that.


Monday, July 28, 2014

Coincidence...or God?

Have you ever heard someone say, "Well, I guess you were just in the right place at the right time!" or "Wow, what a coincidence!" Over the years I've heard those phrases a lot, and until just the past couple of years never really thought too much about them...other than they seem to be used quite frequently. Lately, though, as I see more and more details line up that seem "coincidental", it just continues to reinforce that God is in the details...ALL of them.

Our lives today are so busy that many times we fail to stop and truly see the significance of circumstances or experiences in our day-to-day comings and goings. Yes, running in to someone at the grocery store as you're frantically trying to grab a few essentials while already running late to pick up the kids from their activities may seem like a huge, untimely inconvenience, but you just never know what taking a couple minutes out of your busy day could lead to. I'm finding the more closely I look, the more intertwined and connected each detail is, regardless of how big or small they are. His planning is ridiculously cool – the trick is to be still long enough to not miss the connection and to make sure you're seeing this experience/detail/incident with the right perspective.

A couple weeks back we were up north at our cabin and there was a guest speaker at our "cabin church" {awesome job, by the way, Fred!}. He spoke on truly knowing the Lord and all that He has for you. He talked about the significance of people in his life and how it related to community, feeling as though he belonged and was loved not only by others, but also by Him. One of his stories was about him visiting his grandmothers as a young child and how each one had their unique way of welcoming him and making him feel as though he was loved and valued beyond measure. Another was about how during the week he was doing his usual day-to-day stuff, out on his route delivering mail, when he looked up and saw the pastor, his dear brother in the Lord drive past – a sweet reminder from above to encourage and brighten his day. Sitting there that Sunday morning, with tears rolling down my cheeks as I listened to his message, I was reminded of how good the Lord is. He can take the most depressing, frustrating, unfair, and even mundane things and turn them into something beautiful for His glory.

Those close to me know that I have a love-hate relationship with summer time. I love the weather and all the fun times we have together with family and friends, but being self-employed, I loathe how bogged down and behind I tend to get with work stuff during the summer months. It feels like an uphill battle. I'm torn between wanting to be a "good mom" and do all the fun summer things with the kids while they're out of school, but then I log in to my email account and our bank account, and the crushing reality of business and finances scream at me, "What on earth are you doing? There's work to be done and invoices to send out, and bills to be paid, and additional work/clients to drum up, and..." Ugh. Some days, it's insanely overwhelming. And usually when I'm already feeling overwhelmed with that stuff, my mind starts to move on to the other areas I need to put some more time and energy into – like scheduling doctor/therapy/specialist appointments for the kids, reviewing and making any changes/adaptations to Peyton's IEP before we sign it and send it back in for this coming school year, pulling together the latest dates/times/locations/coaches/etc. for our next Special Olympics sport, and catching up with girlfriends I haven't seen in way too long. And have I mentioned the state of my house? Oh boy. Time to get that under control, too. The more I think about things, the more overwhelmed I feel.

But it never fails...right as I can physically feel myself starting to deflate, feeling buried by "stuff", God plops something in my path that helps me re-focus and remember I'm not doing this all alone, and it's all temporary here on earth, but ultimately for HIS glory in eternity.

Perfect example, last week we tried a VBS-type day camp with Peyton. It was Monday - Thursday from 9am to 3pm. It was at a local church {our church is under construction, so no VBS this year}, and there were several girls Peyton knew in her group. She was very excited about it and made sure I knew it was "time to leave" when I dropped her off Monday morning.  My heart was bursting with excitement as I walked out to my car. THIS was it. The day I'd dreamed of for so long. Miss Peyton was going to be part of something "normal"...this was right up her alley and I was so, so, SO excited for her. I headed home to get some work done.

As I had just gotten in to "the zone" {all you other creatives know what I mean}, my phone rang. I grabbed my phone and saw the number, heart sank. I answered the call only to find out that day camp wasn't going so well. I quickly headed out to go rescue Peyton. When I arrived she was in tears, embarrassed like any other 10 yr. old girl would've been, trying to hide her face from her friends who were wanting to console her. The staff was so great, worried that they'd done something wrong. After I assured them it was nothing they did {or didn't do}, Peyton and I headed home. On our ride home, through her tears, Peyton told me why she had gotten upset. During game time the instructions were hard for her to follow and she wasn't able to do many of the relay tasks which was overwhelming for her. As we talked more about what had made her upset, the stark reality hit me like a ton of bricks {yet again}...and by the time we got home, we were both in tears.

Over the course of the afternoon, we talked through how she could handle situations like this in the future, and Peyton said she wanted to try going half-days the rest of the week. Sounded like a good plan to me, and I was pretty excited that she wanted to give it another go. The next day we packed up lunches and headed to day camp. As we walked in to find the kid's name tags, Peyton lost it and began sobbing. Carson tried to encourage her to stay and told her, "It'll be fun, Peyton - I'll be here too! I can sit by you for the song time." Peyton thought about it for a minute, then shook her head no. Carson asked her, "But why don't you want to stay?" Peyton's response was like a dagger to my heart, she said angrily, "Because everything is HARD...and God made me that way".

This was the first time Peyton had ever verbalized that she realized things were harder for her than for most others. I bit my quivering lip as we told Carson goodbye, and I did my best not to make eye contact with anyone as we walked through the entryway back out to the car because I knew I was on the verge of losing it, too. We made it out to the car and headed home. I felt like a failure because I could tell Peyton felt like a failure. Over the course of the day we planned out a few things for her and I to do while Carson was at day camp the remainder of the week. One of those things was to go use a gift card Peyton had received as a birthday present.

Shopping has never been something Peyton enjoys or will even partake in...unless it's for Hot Wheels. Well, today she protested just a bit, but finally agreed to go in the store if it was just going to be a short visit. We walked into the store and I was instantly overwhelmed by the glittery-flashy-obnoxious-over-the-top-gaudy tween trinkets and apparel. Whew. But we continued to walk further in to the store. Secretly, in my head I was thinking, "Please God, help this visit not to turn out like the last one"...we had an unfortunate experience the previous time we'd visited this store. It involved a mannequin and Peyton very non-discreetly inspecting to see if said mannequin was wearing important undergarments. It was quite the memorable experience. Thankfully today's visit was different. Peyton surprised me and was very attentive and engaged during our visit, picking out some clothes she liked, asking ME if I liked any of the ones she picked, and then even going so far as wanting to try them on in the store. Whoa. I was shocked. Who is this girl? Certainly not the Peyton I've had to drag in to stores kicking and screaming over the years. It was crazy.

Driving home after our shopping trip, I was re-playing the events of our time together. I couldn't help but smile thinking how I would have completely missed this special time with my girl if day camp hadn't been an epic fail. And I nearly missed seeing this anyway, as I was busy having a pity party for myself, frustrated that for ONCE something couldn't be easy or a "success" {in the eyes of the world} for Peyton. God knew this. And as difficult as it was to see Peyton disappointed and distraught when day camp was a flop, He knew. He had a plan. And He gave her and I some time just the two of us, experiencing a big step I could be reminded of what a beautiful creation He made when He created Peyton – in His image.

This morning I had another situation come up where I saw Him working in the {seemingly mundane} details. I'd gotten a call from a neighbor asking if she could leave a note for UPS to drop a package by our house since they were going to be gone. I had no plans to go anywhere, so I told her sure, not thinking much of it. A couple hours later, the doorbell rang and as I walked to the front door, I saw through the side window it was the UPS man. I opened the door, stepped out on to the sidewalk, and he mentioned the neighbor had left a note on their door to drop the package off across the street at our place. We briefly talked and he saw Carson in the window. He made the comment, "He looks about the age of one of my little guys". That led to us chatting for a bit about our kids and how busy life is with sports and activities. Through the course of our conversation, he mentioned that 3 of his 4 kids play sports...because there wasn't "much out there for my other daughter". Long story short, as we talked, he began to tell me about his daughter with special needs who is just a few years older than Peyton. The similarities were astounding. He said though that she doesn't really have any friends and she's often left out because things can be overwhelming or difficult for her. The more we talked, the more it became evident that this was an opportunity to reach out and invite this girl and her family into a group where they would be loved on and embraced. I mentioned something about heading up our local Special Olympics team and his face lit up. He said his daughter has done gymnastics, but other than that she hasn't seemed too interested in sports...besides the Twins – she LOVES the Minnesota Twins!

Here's where that whole "What a coincidence" {i.e. God's timing} thing comes in...our Special Olympics team just purchased a block of tickets to go see the Twins play in August when it's Special Olympics night at Target Field. And we've got a few extra tickets left. The UPS man and I talked on our front sidewalk for over 30 minutes, turns out him and his family live just 10 minutes away and have been feeling really discouraged lately with all of their daughter's "stuff". He said it's tough not having other people to talk to who "get it" as they work through the various challenges their daughter faces. As we finished up our conversation, I quickly ran inside, grabbed some paper and a pen to write my name and number down on. He must have sent my contact info off to his wife right away, because within 20 minutes of him driving away, my phone rang and it was his wife calling wanting to find out more about our Special Olympics team and our Twins outing. They're all set to join us for the Twins game with a group of amazing people who I can't wait for them to meet!

Now, c'mon. You can't tell me that was "just a coincidence" or that since I'd decided to wait and go to Target tomorrow, I was "in the right place at the right time".

No way.

After taking some time to reflect on the last few times I've experienced situations like the ones I described above, I'm realizing that when times get tough or when things are unclear or even when things seem pretty average and uneventful – no matter what the circumstance, I need to be asking myself this question:

“God, is there something you want to teach me through this?”


 As John 10:27 says, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Regardless of the situation, the mood we're in, the circumstances we're up against, or, quite frankly, how "lame", inconvenient, or uneventful something may seem {i.e. getting a neighbor's UPS package for them}, God can work through it...we just have to have our eyes, ears, mind, and heart open to hear Him.

Because there's so much more He wants to show us, to teach us, and to have us experience...if we'd just slow down, take a deep breath, and keep everything in perspective.

He's busy working behind the scenes, aligning interactions and circumstances so that we can experience them and, with His help, make the most of them – all for His glory.

Some call it coincidence, I call it God.

Think about that.

"And we know that all things work together for good to those who love the him, who have been called according to his purpose" 

Romans 8:28

"Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed are those to take refuge in him" 

Psalm 34:8

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28) - See more at:


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

No Words Needed

As a parent, sometimes there are things we do when our kids are young that we don't realize the true significance of until years later. I'm sure we can all think back to something our mom, dad or grandparent even may have done when we were younger that we can still remember vividly in our minds. Oddly enough, it's often the teeniest tiniest things we do that somehow stick in these little minds we're so anxious and concerned about properly molding.

When Miss Peyton was probably about 15 months old and we started to realize there was more going on than just complications from her shoulder injury at birth, we so desperately wanted to hear her babble and start to talk. As she neared 2 and still had no "real" words, it was clear she was becoming more frustrated with her inability to express her wants and needs. One of the fabulous therapists we worked with suggested we teach Peyton a few signs to help alleviate some of her frustrations until her words came. We started out with many of the basics - more, milk, play, all done, etc. These signs helped some, but they still didn't replace hearing Peyton's voice. Those were very frustrating days for all of us.

At bedtime as I was about to tuck Peyton in one night, I sat with her on my lap as she stared back at me with her big, gorgeous eyes – I told her "I love you!", and as I said each word, I squeezed her hand. From that day on, every time I said those three words, I squeezed her hand in sequence with each word. After about a couple days of doing this with her, Peyton caught on and would give me a big smile when we did our secret little "love squeezes". Sometimes we'd even do it without the words, and each time her eyes would light up.

I remember several years later when Peyton finally had some {very broken} words, and at bedtime she would hold my hand, smile and say "I wa you", squeezing my hand with each word. My heart melted. Ever since, that's been our "thing" we do...not just at bedtime anymore, but whenever we say those three special words to each other. Or even if we're sitting someplace where it's not appropriate to talk - no words are necessary. The three hand squeezes are enough. It still makes her {and me} smile.

This morning Peyton had an important "date" with one of her favorite friends, Vivian. Vivian is a sweet, elderly woman in her 90s who we first met several years ago when Chad's grandpa was living at Clare Bridge, a memory care facility. From the first time Viv met Peyton, her eyes lit up and still do when Peyton walks through those doors. They've got a sweet, sweet friendship that many would give just about anything to have with someone. Even though it's been a few years now since Chad's grandpa passed away, Peyton still insists on going to visit Vivian on a regular basis. As the years have passed, Vivian's ability to carry on a conversation has started to diminish. But that doesn't stop Peyton from continuing to bring her favorite Hot Wheel to show Viv or her latest Special Olympics medals. Each story Peyton has to share makes Vivian's day.

Tonight as I tucked Peyton in, I asked her how her visit with Vivian had gone {grandma had taken her to see Viv this morning}. Peyton thought for a moment, and then said, "She doesn't talk much now". I asked her what all they did during their visit, Peyton responded, "We took Viv Caribou and a chocolate graham cracker. Those are her favorite!" We talked for a bit more about their visit and the plans they made for the next time Peyton goes to visit. Just before I turned the light out, I asked Peyton if she gave Vivian a big hug before she left. Peyton excitedly sat up in bed, grabbed my hand, and said, "No, I did this!" ... she squeezed my hand three times, then smiling Peyton said, 'I-love-you'. Again, my heart melted...and my eyes may have begun to "sweat" a bit. I was humbled and reminded just how blessed I am to have this precious little lady in my life. It blows me away to watch her as she shares love with everyone she meets. God created something unimaginably special when He created her, and I'm so grateful He's entrusted Peyton to Chad and I here on this earth.

I'm eagerly awaiting to see what He has in store for her in the years ahead...surely, it's something GREAT.

Filled with love.

"Be ye imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love..."

Ephesians 5:1-2


Monday, March 24, 2014

It's time to PARTY!

Well, it's Monday. Again. Here we go, starting another week...but this isn't "just another week" - this week something really special is happening. It's happening on Wednesday, March 26th actually. That's the day that my friend Jenny turns 30 - yay! But the something special is even better than that...Jenny's book that she's been working on for several years {her whole life, really} is being launched {book launch party is private/invite-only} and we're gathering to celebrate, not only her birthday, but her incredible book that's going to touch the hearts and lives of so many people. I am SO excited to see how God is going to use this book to inspire and encourage people – people struggling with disability themselves, as well as parents, siblings and friends of individuals with disabilities!

Some of you may remember the post I wrote back before Christmas about our fun surprise we pulled off for Jenny when a local TV news station honored her with an award for the impact she's making as an "Excellent Educator". I shared a bit about what Jenny has meant to our family then, and I'd love to take some time now to share a bit more about our connection.

About a year ago, I found myself standing in the office at our kid's elementary school signing Peyton out for Horse Therapy one Wednesday morning. There sat Jenny, the school's Media Specialist, doing some work on a computer. We exchanged pleasantries and I quickly asked her how it was going. She told me she was working on her book and was getting so close to being done with it. I told her how excited I was for her, and then I remember saying as I ran out the door, "Well if you need any help laying it out or designing a cover for it, let me know!".

A couple months later, I got an email from Jenny asking, "Were you serious when you said you'd be interested in helping me design and layout my book?". We exchanged a few emails and set a time to meet for coffee to talk through things. As we sat chatting in a Caribou Coffee and Jenny explained more in-depth what her book Walking With Tension was about, I became even more intrigued. When I asked her what she had in mind for a cover design, she didn't have anything too specific in mind other than she wanted to convey something about the journey through life {and her faith} that she'd been walking – something that tied in to the title. Jenny threw out a tentative deadline she had hoped we could meet...her 30th birthday. And I told her, "We'll make it happen!", then we went our separate ways.

After a busy summer and fall adjusting to the school routine again, I finally found time to sit down and work on some cover design ideas. I emailed off a proof of what I thought was "the one", and Jenny agreed wholeheartedly. Then a couple weeks later, I found myself starting to look through the manuscript Jenny had sent over. As I began typesetting the manuscript, I couldn't help but read as I carefully went through line-by-line making sure the formatting, grammar and spelling was correct. The more I read, the more I was drawn in and felt as though I could relate {to a certain degree} on a very personal level. I can't tell you how many times I found myself typesetting through tears as my heart ached reading the difficult times Jenny endured growing up with Cerebral Palsy and the lack of acceptance as a result of her disability. It broke my heart. 

Several times as I was working on this book project, I remember pausing and thinking about Jenny. I remember thinking, "How on earth could someone just dismiss someone because they walk differently?" Through more tears, I had a flashback to kindergarten at the tiny Christian school I attended that year in northwest Wisconsin. I remembered a girl named Tina who had a {repaired} cleft lip/palette. And shamefully, I remembered the day I stood in front of our whole class during our lunch break and made fun of how Tina talked while the teacher briefly left the room. It was a Friday, and Friday's meant we received special Mickey Mouse shaped ice cream treats. We rotated each week which student got to hand them out. It was supposed to be MY day to hand out treats...but Tina stood up and declared it was HER turn. Angrily, I responded back to her, imitating her voice, "No, it's my turn, not yours! You're not the boss!" Oh how vividly I remember that, as if it were yesterday, and not just because I was sent to the principal's office. I remember the sad, hurt look on Tina's face as I mimicked her and talked with slurred speech. I had done the same thing to Tina that kids did to Jenny. And I've been reminded over and over again of this incident as we've experienced similar situations with Peyton and her speech issues. I do remember in that moment instantly being mortified that I'd acted the way I had as I watched Tina sit down, shrink in her chair and begin to cry, but it was too late. The damage had been done. And my heart ached to take back what I'd said. But I couldn't. Ever since that day, I've tried so hard to always THINK before I speak, because never again do I want to spew something out that is hurtful to others. Looking back on this experience, though, I know God was setting me up for where I am today – with a heart for those with disabilities/special needs.

This past January, as Jenny and I sat at my dining room table uploading the final files to the publisher for printing, we were both giddy with excitement! It was finally almost done and ready to be distributed out into the hands of others. For me, I felt a huge sense of accomplishment in this moment, but I also couldn't help but sit and reflect how being a part of this project had changed and impacted me. My perspective on how I view others with disabilities as well as how I talk about and view my own daughter's disability has been altered - in a good way. Walking With Tension has opened my eyes even more to see that everyone has a story...and our stories shape who we are but they don't necessarily define us.

Jenny's book gives such an amazing inside, personal, and honest view into what it's like to grow up with a disability or "being different". My heart ached for her as a peer, and it ached even more as a mom. On several occasions I found myself wishing I'd known Jenny during those years. It absolutely blew my mind that this sweet, funny, spunky, smiley friend who has sat {uncomfortably} on the floor of my daughter's bedroom floor playing cards, and who so energetically embraces everything about Peyton, including dancing the night away for HOURS with Peyton at our last Special Olympics dance, could have been in such a dark, lonely place for all of those years. How could this be?! I look at Jenny today and often think, "Man, I wish I could be like her when I grow up!". Having read Walking With Tension and knowing the very personal background story behind Peyton's hero "Miss Hill" makes me love her even more. And that may sound strange for me to say, but yes, I do love her. I love her boldness, her determination, her quirky sense of humor, her transparency & honesty, and most of all, her ability to smile and show Jesus to others through all of the difficult times. He brought her through those dark times, and I'm confident God is going to do remarkable things as a result of this book. I feel honored and blessed to have been involved in a very minor behind-the-scenes part of this project.

So, on Wednesday, we're going to celebrate. And by celebrate, I mean P-A-R-T-Y! We're going to praise God for the work He has done and continues to do in and through Jenny. We're going to praise God for the fantastic daughter, sister, friend, colleague, teacher/media specialist, author Jenny is. We're going to praise God for the impact her story has had and is going to have on others impacted by disability. And most importantly, we're going to praise God for his faithfulness to carry us through. No matter what. Congratulations, Jenny, on your new book – and thank you for being such a special part of our family. We love you dearly and are blessed to have you in our lives!

P.S. If you'd like to read more about Jenny's book, here are a few articles:
Monticello Times
St. Cloud Times
North Wright County Today


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Uncertain Times

Eight years ago today, I sat 37.5 weeks pregnant in the passenger seat of our minivan as Chad drove us to the hospital. The ride there was pretty much silent, each of us with a million thoughts running through our heads. We'd just driven away from home where Miss Peyton sat staring at us through the front window, waving with Grandma & Grandpa – at just 21 months old, she had no idea what was about to happen. During the car ride to the hospital, my mind was racing with a bazillion questions:

"Were we making the right choice to be induced early?"

"Should we have chosen to wait until 39 weeks and do a c-section?"

"Did we make the right decision, switching doctors just a week earlier as we sought someone who would listen to our concerns that THIS baby would be big, too?"

 "Would this baby end up with a birth injury like his big sister?" many questions.

As we pulled in to the parking lot at the hospital, Chris Tomlin's "How Great Is Our God" came on the radio. Chad parked the car. We both sat there, motionless. Then the tears started rolling down my face as the song reached the chorus:

"How great is our God, sing with me
How great is our God, and all will see
How great, how great is our God"

I couldn't hold it in any longer, all the uncertainty and anxiety after having just had an appointment at Children's Hospital with specialists to try and find out what issues Miss Peyton would struggle with as a result of her birth injury – it all just spilled out. We sat there in the car and melted in to the dreaded "ugly cry". So much to process all at once. And so much uncertainty. I'll never forget that moment.

After we pulled ourselves together, we headed in to the hospital to get checked-in. The rest of the morning was actually quite relaxing...says the woman who, with the first baby, after pushing for nearly 4 hours to deliver a 10lb., 4oz. baby, with nurses running around frantically at the end and jumping up on the bed to help push the baby out, turned to her husband and said, "Huh. That wasn't as bad as I expected". As our doctor came in to visit, he spent plenty of time with us making sure we were comfortable with everything. He popped back in several other times to chat and see how things were going. Finally, about 3:00pm it was time – and Dr. Elias was there with us nearly as excited as we were to meet Baby #2. At 3:22pm Carson James Libby, weighing in at 8lbs. 4 oz. was in my arms, and Chad and I were both marveling at what a completely different experience this delivery had been.

Looking back over the past 8 years, it's truly been incredible to see all that God's done in our family. Carson is growing up to be such a sweet, compassionate boy with a zest for life! We had his conferences at school the other day and his teacher went on and on about what a great kid he is – always willing to help out, always upbeat and smiling, always giving everything his best effort, and always keeping an eye out for classmates who may need "help". This past weekend I sat on the sidelines at the Special Olympics Basketball Tournament and watched as Carson {the "assistant coach"} helped Chad {the "real coach"} coach one of the half-court teams he's been helping at practice each week. I love watching him work with the athletes – he's got such an understanding of how to relate to them...probably because he hasn't known any different since day one living with his sister. But I love it nonetheless.

I'm not gonna lie, I teared up watching him encourage and cheer on the athletes on his team – he ran to center court jumping up and down with excitement as they won their final game, securing first place in their division. He was BEAMING when he got to be in the photo with the team at the awards presentation...and my heart was beaming as I saw this incredible little man standing there on the other side of the camera. I can't imagine life without him, and I'm so thankful God has allowed Chad and I to be his parents! I love being your mommy, sweet Carson!

I've shared with Carson the story about hearing "How Great Is Our God" as we were about to go check-in to the hospital the day he was born, and now when he hears it he smiles and says, "Hey Mom - it's my song!". How great IS our God. Worthy of all our praise. Worthy of all our time and energy. Because He has GREAT things planned for those who love Him, follow Him, and trust Him...even in times of uncertainty. Especially in times of uncertainty.

"No eye has seen, 
no ear has heard, 
and no mind has imagined
the things that God has prepared
for those who love him."
• I Corinthians 2:9 •

Happy birthday, little man! We love you!


Monday, February 3, 2014

Valentines. Write on. {FREE DOWNLOAD}

Well, it's almost here...the dreaded "V-day". Valentine's Day. This year, rather than complain about how ridiculous and over-commercialized Valentine's Day is, I decided to have some fun with it. Much to my children's dismay, we will not be distributing packets of sugar for their classmates to ingest. Oh no. The paper-junkie-design-nerd-crafty-nutcase-freak in me went hog wild and I came up with a Valentine that's different...and hopefully "mom & teacher-approved"! I'm so in love with these that I might just hand out some of my own {watch out, friends!}.

Okay, so how many of you still have little red heart-shaped suckers in your cupboard from last Valentine's Day? Um. Yeah. That's us {gross, I know}. We've got quart-size ziplock bags of leftover Valentine candy my kids received from classmates last year. Time to toss those...and hope the kids don't notice. I refused to buy something sugary and nasty that would end up in someone's cupboard for a year. So instead, I came up with these:

Dollar store packs of pencils + yarn + custom Valentine designs =

Aren't these FUN!?! Ugh. I can hardly stand it. My kids looked at me like I was asking them to hand out broccoli on Valentine's Day when I showed them. But whatever. They perked up when I told them that THEY would still be getting candy...their friends were the ones who would be receiving these horribly cruel and pathetic Valentine's. The best part about these is that I was able to turn them into an occupational therapy exercise for our daughter as she practiced writing her name on the backside of each tag {first time ever she's been able to!} – and our son also diligently wrote his name on all his tags, too.

So proud of you, Miss Peyton – look at that awesome printing! Years in the making, but TOTALLY worth every second of therapy it's taken to get us to this point – love it! Can't wait to for Peyton to give one of these to each of her therapists, too.

Want to do your own Valentine's this year? Well you're in luck. I'd love to share these with you as a free download if you'd like to do your own "candyless" Valentine's. I've set the tags 12-up on a standard sheet, so all you'll need to do is download the file {see link below}, print these on a standard sheet of cardstock, punch a hole in the corner, have your kids write their names on the back, and *viola!* – tie them on with yarn and you're all set! Enjoy!

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - {CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD FILE} - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

 Please note: These are intended for personal use only and may not be sold or redistributed without permission.