Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Wise Beyond His Years

Good morning, friends!

As we all frantically race around trying to finalize all the last-minute details before the kids are off school and Christmas break officially begins, I wanted to again pause and share something. Lots of "sharing" going on lately, I know. Must be this time of year. :) This doesn't necessarily have anything to do directly with Red Letter Ink, but it's something that's been on my heart lately – both in my own personal life and from my interactions with the families we've met through our local Special Olympics team. And for the record, this isn't meant to sound like, "Oh poor Aimee" – it's just our reality.

Some of you know that my husband and I have a 9-year-old daughter with special needs – our first born. While she's made so much progress over the past several years, she still has a long road ahead of her. There's no "fixing" her neurological processing/planning disorder, so despite the hundreds of hours of therapy she's received, she'll most likely never be neck and neck with her peers academically or socially – unless God chooses to intervene. As parents, that's been a tough pill to swallow. Really tough. But we have seen the incredible work God has done in and through Peyton, and we know He has great plans for her!

This morning as my husband's alarm went off at 6:00am and as I groggily rolled over, I found a {sneaky} warm little snuggle bug there whispering, "Hi mama!". Then he quickly jumped up and ran off. I figured he ran off to go play Transformers or something and didn't think much of it. About 10 minutes later as I was up and getting around, he slipped back into our room with a big smile on his face. He walked in first with the door barely cracked open, then he proudly swung the door open to reveal Peyton standing there fully-dressed as he declared with his arms spread proudly above his head, "SURPRISE! I got her ready for you! I got her socks on, helped her get dressed, and I even brought her hair stuff in so you can help her....cuz I couldn't do that part good. AND I helped her go potty. SURPRISE!!!". I'm not gonna lie - I teared up. Might have to do with the 5.5 hours of sleep I got, but it could very well have been simply because the crazy big heart this little man has blows me away. Every. Single. Day.

I'm sure some of you are thinking, "Umm, okay. Sooo...what's the big deal?". Let me put this into perspective for you. How many of you have a child between the ages of 7-10? Great, many of you. How many of you have to do pretty much everything for them when it comes to getting ready in the morning? I'm talkin' putting on shirts, pants, and doing buttons and zippers because the motor planning involved with that is so challenging, and putting on socks, and tying shoes because we're still not there and Peyton's feet are so big now that it's difficult to find slip-on shoes that fit, and brushing/doing hair, and helping with toileting/personal care, and brushing teeth so we can try to avoid more traumatic dental procedures...I'm sure I'm missing some steps, but I think you get it. And in the midst of our daily routine, we try to leave enough time to make sure as we're helping with these tasks, we're able to not just DO the tasks for Peyton, but we are showing her HOW to do them and then we try our best to allow enough time for her to practice each of these skills. And believe me, they are skills...very hard-earned skills. Most parents take the fact that their kids start dressing themselves at about age 3 for granted. Or that their kids are able to independently start doing a LOT of things by about age 3-4...maybe not successfully all the time, but they intuitively and instinctively begin to figure it out.

There are millions of families around the world who have been blessed with a special needs child. And yes, I said blessed because despite all the challenges, these kids teach you so much more about yourself and life in general than we ever could've hoped to learn without them. They're amazing. AMAZING. But in all of the efforts to assist the child who needs the extra assistance, we often times inadvertently overlook the other kids – the siblings. I can't tell you the countless hours Carson has spent in the confining, mind-numbing space called the "waiting room" as Peyton has received therapy services...or the number of times we've had to abort an attempt at an outing because it was too much for Peyton...or the number of times he's been dragged along to a specialist appointment...or the number of times we've had to cancel something he was looking forward to because Peyton needed our attention more...or the number of times he's come home from school crying because someone was mean to his sister. Actually, when I sit and really think about it, it makes my heart ache. He didn't choose to be born into a family with a special needs child. He didn't choose to have to be the "older" sibling looking out for his big sister. But as I watch him interact with Peyton, I am so encouraged to see the sweet young man God is creating him to be. Don't get me wrong, he still has his moments where we have to pull him aside and remind him of our situation when he's frustrated that Peyton has asked the same question 5 times or that she's wanting to watch Elmo again {Caron's arch "not cool"} or is pretending that she has a friend over for a playdate. He fights with his sister like every brother does. But when I see him so in-tune with Peyton's needs, helping her like he did this morning, I turn into a big weepy mess as I'm reminded that he's just a 7-year-old baby. His sweet, caring spirit with her is wise beyond his years.

During this crazy time of year, I've been trying to slow down and be more intentional with acknowledging the little things Carson does to encourage and help Peyton each day. I couldn't stop smiling the other day as Carson pulled me into his room and secretly showed me the Christmas presents he'd bought Peyton when him and daddy went on a "man date" last weekend. As annoyed as Carson gets by Peyton's obsession with Hot Wheels cars, he was giddy showing me the two special cars he'd picked out for Peyton. And he was SO excited when we figured out a way to wrap them up so she can't tell what they are simply by looking at them. When I hear the two of them talking and Carson gently correct Peyton's speech sounds, I try to make sure and quietly give Carson a nod and a smile or a quick hug, telling him we'll talk more about it later. Or when he invites Peyton to play Wii with him even though that means he'll have to play a game he doesn't necessarily enjoy and he won't be able to bring his "A-game", I try to make sure to let him know what a nice gesture that was. Or when he sits down with Peyton and helps her read, I try to make sure and let daddy know at dinner time what a big help Carson was. Or when we're looking through homework folders and Carson sees Peyton's sloppily written spelling words and he tells her, "Wow, great job Peyton - your letters are looking so nice!", I try to give him a squeeze. There are so many "little" instances that we often overlook because of the busyness in our day – but my prayer lately has been that I'll be reminded to stop whatever I'm doing and praise Carson for loving Peyton like Jesus loves us. Unconditionally and with no strings attached. He sees us struggle in this life, doing things awkwardly and barely functioning at times – making mistakes along the way, yet He still continues to love us. He comes along side us when we are at our lowest. He picks us up. He dusts us off. He walks with us. He isn't ashamed to be seen with us in all of our flawed awkwardness. Instead, He meets us where we're at. He sees something beautiful in us. And He loves us. Period.

 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  
- John 13:34-35

As we look ahead to another new year I'd like to leave you with this challenge. If you know of a family who has a special needs child, the next time you see them, take a minute and give some attention and props to the siblings. The road they're walking is also a long and often lonely one. I've been amazed at some of the great "special" siblings I've met through our local Special Olympics team - there are so many wonderfully patient and loving siblings around us who are wise beyond their years, and quite frankly, could use some encouragement themselves as they continue living their lives daily on "high alert" watching out for their special needs sibling(s). I know we can all learn something from them – myself included. They give selflessly and tirelessly. And they love BIG. Let's love BIG in 2014!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you all!

P.S. To my sweet little buddy, I love you and am so thankful for all that you bring to our family – you're one-of-a-kind and Peyton is blessed to have you as a brother! Thank you for showing me how to love BIG, even when it's not easy.


Friday, December 6, 2013

Caroling for Kali

Good morning everyone! Amidst all the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season, I wanted to pause and share a bit about a very special family who has impacted our lives in more ways than they'll ever know. Several years ago I attended a women's ministry Christmas luncheon at our church. Sitting at my table were a bunch of women I knew from church – and one lady had brought her neighbor and introduced her to us all. Her name was Vicky. She's one of those people who, the first time you meet her, you can just feel the warm, infectious joy that is pouring out of her heart. I was instantly impressed and thought, "Wow, I'd like to get to know her". Over the course of the afternoon we each shared a bit about ourselves and our families. Vicky talked about her 3 {grown} daughters and about her wonderful husband, Jeff. It was a lovely afternoon of getting to know each other around the table.

In the months and years ahead, my husband Chad, despite a few years age difference {sorry Jeff!}, became great friends. I can't tell you the number of times Chad has home from work on the phone - I ask him who he's talking to, the answer is always, "Jeff". I've stopped asking because I know the answer. Those of you who know my husband know that he's a relationship guy – and I'm so incredibly grateful for the bond Jeff & Chad have. They've vacationed together {guys baseball roadtrip}, prayed together, served together, laughed together, cried together – their friendship is truly one of those few that you find in a lifetime that is "the real deal". And I love it. One of the many things I love about Jeff is his fantastic hugs and warm smile. Each time we see him at church, there's a big hug waiting! Jeff's also so wonderful interacting with our two kids – especially our daughter who has special needs and can sometimes overwhelm people with her many questions. He answers them all with a smile, which warms both mine and Chad's hearts.

The thing I admire most about Jeff & Vicky is that you'd never know by how they act or live their lives that God has placed some pretty tough circumstances in their lives over the past few years. I remember back in the fall of 2010 when Jeff excitedly told us he was going to be a grandpa as his daughter Kali and her husband Nick were expecting. We were thrilled for them all! Then I remember Chad coming home from work one evening on the phone. Jeff had called to ask us to pray as the doctors had discovered that baby Isaiah most likely wouldn't live long outside the womb. As a family, we began to pray. We prayed that God's will would be done and that He'd give peace and understanding to the family regardless of the outcome. Isaiah was born and went to be with Jesus in January of 2011. And countless people have been touched and positively impacted by the faith, strength, and peace that Jeff, Vicky, Kali and Nick have shown during this difficult time.

In the months ahead, Kali returned to work and I had the privilege of working with her on some custom Red Letter Ink prints for a ministry she was working with – Connected Families. While our interactions were brief, I so desperately wanted to share with her what an impact her & Nick's journey has had on not only myself, but our whole family – but I didn't know if it was appropriate, so I kept quiet. I ran in to Kali at church a couple of times, and again, just exchanged pleasantries without saying much because I just couldn't find the right words.

Fast forward to the spring of 2012, and again, Chad came home – walked in the door and was on the phone. It was Jeff. He'd called again asking for prayer. Kali had just been diagnosed with colon and liver cancer. And again, as a family we began to pray. Trying to explain cancer to our kids has been challenging. But they've been so sweet in their prayers for Kali...and Jeff & Vicky. Our son Carson sometimes will whisper as we're praying at bedtime, "Don't forget Kali!". As the months have progressed, the news came right before Thanksgiving that Kali had decided to stop any further treatment or tests. This news felt like a kick to the stomach for us, and I can't imagine how it felt for their family. But again, they're handling it with faith, strength, peace and grace. The only explanation of how they're able to continue on with a smile on their faces is this – they have the unexplainable peace that can only be found when you put your faith and trust in HIM.

Last night we had the honor of being able to take our family over to join a group of about 100 friends to surprise Kali with some Christmas carols outside her bedroom window at Jeff & Vicky's house where her and Nick are now staying. We bundled up our kids and brought them along – because this was and always has been a "family thing". I tried as best I could to explain to the kids what we were doing and why we were doing it. They still don't quite grasp the concept of cancer, but the one thing they do understand – Jesus knows and He's got it all under control.

As we trudged through the snow in our snow gear, I snapped a few pictures of the evening:
{headed up the driveway to go Christmas caroling}
 {writing a message for Kali}
 {warming up in the garage}
 {our little Christmas caroler – Carson}
 {the sign we were met with as we walked around the back of the house}
 {beautiful, frigid night to sing for a very special lady}
{Miss Peyton was wiped out from the activities of the evening}

Last night as we returned home and were getting the kids ready for bed, there were lots of questions. Carson asked why people get cancer, and as I tried to explain that sometimes even medicine can't cure cancer, he declared, "Well, God can make it go away if we keep praying". We talked for a while about how sometimes God answers our prayers in ways we don't understand, but just because things don't happen how we'd like them to doesn't mean that God didn't answer our prayers or that He didn't hear them. Peyton especially had many questions about the various pieces of equipment she'd seen through the window in Kali's room. She wondered about the special bed Kali was resting in. And the wheelchair she'd seen off to the side. And she wondered why we couldn't go inside and "visit" {Peyton's favorite thing to do}. But her final comment before bed was, "She was smiling!".

Jeff & Vicky – thank you for your friendship and for showing the world what it looks like to fully rely on and trust God to get you through tough times. You've done it with amazing strength and beauty which has not gone unnoticed.

Kali & Nick – thank you for continuing to smile. As our family has prayed for you over the past few years, it's been so encouraging to see you resting in Him to find peace and strength in the promises He's given to us. You are an inspiration to those around you, and we're grateful for the opportunities we've had to talk with our kids about the fact that you're confident that no matter what, God is in control.

And Kali, we may not have a chance here on earth, but I look forward to the day when we can sit down together and get to know each other better. Thank you for being so transparent and open about all that you and your family have encountered over the past few years. You've impacted so many, and watching your faith grow over the past few years has really challenged me to never grow stagnant in my faith. We'll continue to pray that God's will is done and that He is glorified every step of the way!

Merry Christmas everyone! May you experience joy and peace this season as we celebrate the birth of our Savior – the One who gives us strength and hope!
"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit."   Romans 15:13 •


Thursday, December 5, 2013

More Christmas Cards!!!

Well, good thing I created all these designs last summer and am just NOW getting them posted...too much summer-back-to-school-holiday-sick-kids craziness. Oy. At any rate, there are a bunch of new Christmas Card designs now posted in our Etsy shop - as in, our invetory/options have pretty much doubled. Check them out - there's still time to pick one out, email your photo & family details, and you'll have then within a day or two ready to have printed at your favorite photo place! All cards are 5x7 and fit in a standard A7 envelope. Super easy!

 Merry Christmas everyone!