Five Things You Should Know About A Special Needs Mom

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Most little girls, at some point in life, play house.  Pretending to be a mom, they push their perfect little baby dolls around in miniature strollers, acting out the role of protector, provider, defender, teacher, and friend.  The role playing is not only healthy, it’s preparation for what is (hopefully) to come later on in life.  Yet I think it’s safe to say that not many little girls ever assume the role of a special needs mom.  As such, the God-given task at hand, when offered through either birth or adoption, is daunting and overwhelming.  The identity shift is enormous.  One moment you are heads, and the next, you are tails.  The contrast is honestly that stark.  And here are five things you need to know about the moms in your life who are on that journey:

  1. We are scared.  The unknown components of this adventure we’ve been called to traverse terrifies us at our core.    We juggle non-verbal kiddos who are prone to explore,  yet who don’t understand cars, direction, or stranger danger.  Our doors, therefore, display a host of different types of locks while our windows house hidden alarms.  We shudder when we hear news stories of special needs children being abused and mistreated…and we become physically sick, overcome with terror, when one of our own dies at the hand of bullying, a preventable accident, or an onset of sudden illness.  As we age, we think about our child’s future.  A lot.  We work tirelessly to set up a network of people who love them and who accept them, and we dare to dream that all will be ok even when we’re gone.
  2. We feel inadequate.  If you do an internet search on special needs children, you will find hundreds upon hundreds of opinions on what works best for the advancement and progress of our kiddos.  There are enough therapy tools to fill an entire city block.  It’s intimidating.  We’re intimidated.  Our minds play tricks on us as we wonder if we’re doing enough.  Sure, we love enough, but are we implementing the best procedures?  Is it our fault that our child is not making a needed breakthrough?  Most nights we are up late feeling guilty.  Kneeling down beside our sleeping children, we pet their heads, kiss their cheeks, and promise we’ll do more the next day.  And that is our intent.  However, each day brings new challenges, so again, we close our eyes on the day feeling inadequate….wondering why God chose us….hoping we’re enough.
  3. We need family and old friends.  While we may appear too busy or too distracted to enjoy a phone conversation or a visit, it’s true that it takes a village.  If you don’t slow us down, we will work ourselves to the point of exhaustion.  Please hear my heart in this:  You remind us of who we used to be before our identity became “the special needs mom”.  Your familiar voice snaps us back into the awesome reality that life is much bigger than our child learning to potty, communicate, or ride a bike by a certain age.   You are a gift to us in more ways than you can imagine.  Not only do we need to hear your voice, we need your smiles and hugs.  We need your presence.  If we make it, and Good Lord, we have to make it, a large part of that will be because of you.  So if you have a spare minute, call us or text us just so we’ll remember….because when you avoid us and when you’re silent, we forget.
  4. Sometimes people are cruel.  When we go out into public, we are painfully aware that we are taking a risk.  Because we’ve all experienced the stares, the off-handed comments, and the all-too familiar rejection, we are always in defensive mode when out and about with our children.  As mommas, we want to protect our kiddos from a world that doesn’t always offer patience and understanding.  But you can help with   that.  If you see a special needs mom out with her child, even if it looks like she doesn’t need your help, offer a word of encouragement.  Tell her she’s doing a good job.  Say a kind word about her child.  Let her know, above all else, that you “see” her and that you “see” her child.  Don’t look away.
  5. We make mistakes because we are frazzled.  We wake to find our child has painted his entire room in poop.  He eats the dog’s food with glee, but won’t touch anything that’s on his plate at lunch.  When we’re not looking, he dances on the dining table buck naked, sticks his head into the toilet, and tries to climb up the chimney.  He stuffs bark up his nose, hides rocks in his ears, and pees on the dog.   He laughs when you scold him and cries when you try to teach him.  He pulls his sister’s hair, hides in kitchen cabinets, and sleeps only four hours each night.  So give us a break.  If we snap at you, come off as a half-crazed nut job, or don’t answer a text right away, it’s not because you don’t matter to us.  It’s just that life is different for us.  We are a special needs mom!

Why I’ll Never Apologize To My Typical Children For Their Special Needs Siblings

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The dreaded guilt trip.  If you’re a special needs parent who is also juggling typical children, you know this trip all too well.  Where’s that ticket back to normal, right?  Managing necessary therapies and medical appointments on top of meeting every single one of your differently-abled child’s needs, you have very little time to meet the desires of any person who can take care of himself.  Are you hungry?  Can you make a sandwich?  Then don’t ask me to stop what I’m doing to make food for your lazy bones.  haha.  Can you relate?

Life before becoming a special needs parent might have been about leisure, even though at the time we didn’t quite realize how easy we had it…but now our lives are about pure necessity and survival.  As a result, parents often feel they need to apologize to their typical children for the unique challenges a special needs sibling brings to the family, but I never will.  Here’s why:

First, I’m a believer in The Lord and His word.  In Exodus 4:11, we become privy to a conversation between Moses and God.  In this heart to heart, God explains that He is the One who creates disabilities.  Scripture says:

“Who has made man’s mouth?  Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind?  Is it not I, the LORD?”

Then again, in Jeremiah and in Psalms, we are reminded that God formed us and knew us even before we were born.  In short, if God formed and created my two specials with Down syndrome, and if in His great wisdom, He also chose to not give them the gift of verbal communication, then who am I to judge?  or to complain?  or to apologize?  If in His sight, Hope and Charlie have been perfectly crafted, then they should be accepted and embraced as such.

Second, life is hard.  With the implement of sin and our arch-nemesis (satan along with his slimy little minions) life was designed to be a battle and a struggle.  Without the hardships, though, there would be no test.  And without the test, there would be no need for a choice of salvation and the promise of eternal life.  James 1:2 says:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds” … emphasis on when.

In a nutshell…if you are a believer, life will not be a big cake party…even though I LOVE cake, especially with icing, don’t you?  But God says, “No! You shall not always have cake” (my paraphrase)…and it’s for a very good reason.

See Romans 5:3-5:

“….but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering  produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love  has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

And James 1:2-4:

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

The trials and hardships, according to God’s word, are incredibly good for us.  They sharpen us, mold us, and teach us to become more pliable so we can ‘be complete and lack in nothing’.   Do you want tenderness?  brokenness?  gentleness?  patience?  Then spend some time with someone who is unable to communicate with words or with someone who is unable to walk or to hear.  Look into their eyes and see past the disability into their heart.  It will change you.  It’s an indescribable gift when you see someone for who they are.  Why would I ever apologize for giving my typical kiddos that daily gift?

Third, having been brought up with a precious grandmother who was handicapped, I have personal experience.  Stricken with what doctors called the most severe case of rheumatoid arthritis they’d ever encountered, she couldn’t walk, turn her neck, use her arms/hands…and couldn’t feed, dress, or bathe herself.  She never held me or hugged me, because she wasn’t able.  I, however, never knowing her any other way, knew her simply and utterly as my Grandmomma.

When she needed water, even as a young girl who had to step up on a stool to reach the faucet, I’d jump up to fix her a glass with a straw.  I remember holding it for her and allowing her to drink until I heard the familiar slurp of the last drop.  When someone would call on the phone, I’d stand and hold the phone to her ear for as long as she wanted to talk.  “A little closer,” she’d say with a sweet grin.  And I’d proudly oblige.  If she wanted the TV channel changed, I changed it.  If she had an itch on her nose, I grabbed a tissue to scratch away.  I did all of this as a little girl and never thought of it as unusual at all.  When I became a teenager, she’d have me read the Bible out loud to her.  At the time, I thought it was because she wanted to hear it…now, I realize she wanted me to hear it.  I loved that woman so much.  She was funny, smart, and the strongest person I’ll ever know.  If I sit quietly for a moment, I can still go back to the pew I sat in at church, beside her wheelchair, and I can hear her singing “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand…all other ground is sinking sand.”  It will always be my favorite hymn.

Because of my grandmother, Elaine Morrow, I’m who I am today.  I wouldn’t change that experience with her for the world.  When I see someone who is handicapped in any way, instead of turning away, my heart leaps and I leap along with it…rushing to say hello, to shake a hand, or to give a smile.  Because of her,  I love the special needs community with a love I cannot begin to describe.  She left an incredible legacy that is now being passed down through the lives of Hope and Charlie.  I see it so clearly.  During my childhood, I was given the invaluable gift of compassion and of service through my grandmother…and  I rejoice in that gift.  As that legacy was passed to me, it is now being passed along to my typical children as I watch them care for their special needs siblings.  I’m thankful and not ever sorry.

So, to all of the special needs families who’ve heard the familiar whispers:

  • What about her other children?  Do they get enough attention?
  • I’d never want to be in a family with someone who has special needs.
  • Do they even have a social life?  I bet their kids cannot wait to grow up and get out of that situation.

When you hear those empty words, just stand firm on what you know:

  • Your child was created perfectly by a God who doesn’t make mistakes
  • Life for the believer is always going to be full of trials and hardship
  • By serving those with special needs, you are serving The Lord
  • By allowing your typical children to serve their special needs siblings, you are teaching them to serve The Lord
  • Your typical children are learning a vital life lesson that will chip away at selfishness, corruption, haughtiness, and greed….revealing virtues that are most important.

“Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for Me.”  Matthew 25:40

~Mel

 

 

 

3 Ways Becoming A Special Needs Parent Changed My View On Life

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Hope and Mommy

There’s no time to think once you become the parent of a special needs child.  I mean, literally, there is no time to think.  In reaction mode, you are simply expected to be on every minute of every day.  You anticipate constantly, actively seeking out ways your child could injure himself, choke on something, and escape from the house.  It’s very much like being on a never-ending covert operation to protect those in your care.  Once a well-meaning pediatrician who isn’t raising special needs children said to me in jest:  “You know, you could order a couple of those big bubble balls and just roll Hope and Charlie around inside of them all day every day.”  He laughed.  I didn’t.  I’ve had to reclaim pinched legs from the angry mouths of furniture.  I’ve had to dig a whole piece of Chex cereal out of a throat with my fingers as my child was turning blue.  And I know what it’s like to search for my little girl after she managed to quietly sneak away from a beach house after seeing a little boy playing ball down the street.   Give me the darn bubble ball!

While it’s harrowing and not for the faint of heart, I must tell you, being a special needs parent is slowly transforming me into someone quite different…maybe even better.  In three significant ways, in fact, this adventure has forever changed my view on life:

Lesson #1:   To be remembered means everything. 

I don’t sweat the small stuff anymore.  For instance, I no longer fret over not being invited to a party, a shower, a wedding, or even a family holiday dinner…I get it.  I’m different now, and there are people who will never feel comfortable with me and my unconventional lifestyle.  As a result,  I’ve learned that missing out on an invite just means I can use “babysitter” time to do something I love, whether that’s a movie, a dinner out, visiting the library or a museum, or laying on a beach with my toes in the sand.  On the other hand, however, when those invitations do come, albeit they are very rare, I appreciate them more.  To me, each invitation says:  “I know you’re in the trenches every day, secluded from the typical world, but I haven’t forgotten you.  Even though you might not be able to come to my event, I want you to know that you were thought of.”  Yes, to be remembered, means everything.

Lesson #2:  Collecting memories is more important than collecting dust.

Continuing in the vein of not sweating the small stuff, I also don’t give a hoot about whether my kids or my house look like they’ve been torn from the pages of Southern Living Magazine.  My kids have sensory issues and neither like to wear clothes, so if I can manage to keep their private parts covered, it’s a good day.  And my house?  Thing-a-ma-bobs and trinkets become projectiles for non-verbal, temperamental kiddos (and sometimes for momma too)…so, my house is gloriously bare for the most part.  My kitchen?  It never closes.  And I spend more time in the laundry room than in my bedroom and bathroom combined.  I am a first-born who loves order, schedules, things that match, and clean smelling things (and people) … God has played a hilarious joke on me.  But you know what?  When my kids allow me to fix their hair and dress them up, and on those rare occasions when my house smells fresh and looks crispy clean, I bask in it.  I mean, I sniff my little ankle biters and kiss their chubby cheeks until they’re shoving me away … and I walk through each room taking in the order of it all.  In those times, though, I often reflect on the person I once was and regret how much time I spent on things that don’t matter.  Pretty houses and fashionable clothing rot away and disappear, but the time spent mending a hole on a stuffed teddy bear’s foot, holding a hand that has just made a mud pie, and jumping up and down with your kids on a bed that hasn’t been made yet…those moments will stand the test of time.

#3:  Love is always the answer to everything. 

All of this brings me to the last and most important point.  As a parent of a special needs child, I realize time is fleeting.  Kids who have special needs often don’t enter the world with the mightiest of immune systems.  When they go down, they sometimes don’t recover.  I’ve spent months in a hospital as my daughter has gone through three very serious open heart surgeries, and on one of those occasions, she coded.  I can take my mind back to that moment and replay it all in vivid detail.  In that instant, I realized how fast I could lose her and how quickly everything would change.  An invisible switch flipped inside of me that day forcing me to look at my life in a brand new way.  If everything can change in an instant, then I must make every attempt to live my life to the fullest each day.

My favorite apostle of the twelve is Peter…probably because he didn’t always get things right, but still managed to love and serve with reckless abandon.  Consider these words:

1 Peter 4:8-11 ….”above all things have fervent love for one another, for “love will cover a multitude of sins.”Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. As each one has received a gift, minister it to one another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.  If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever.”

The greatest way being a special needs parent has changed me and my view on life is by chipping away all of the minutia, trivialities, distractions, surpluses and excesses in my life.  This incredibly challenging journey has broken me down and has allowed me to “see”.  So if I grab your neck the next time I see you and say “I love you” … well, you’ll know why.  (and if I don’t, it’s only because you’re giving off some sort of vibe telling me to keep my danged hands to myself.)  

Know this about me.  My home is open.  My heart is open.  I always want to hear from you.  I want to talk to you and to hear your voice.  I want to hurt when you hurt and to rejoice when you rejoice.  I love you.  I honestly love you.

“…and the greatest of these is love.”

Oh, how I rejoice at being called to be a special needs parent.  For once I was blind, but now I can see!  

~Mel

     

A Crabby & Complaining Wife? Really God?

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Proverbs 21:19: 
“It is better to live alone in the desert than with a crabby, complaining wife.”
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Why would Solomon (and God) want to go and make a bunch of women mad?  After all, we are half of the population.  Oh, my word…of course we’re crabby and complaining.  IF you’ve ever cooked a man’s meals, scrubbed his undies, and taken care of a bunch of his ankle-biting kids…while still being expected to greet him when he gets home from work wearing your high heels and a negligee, you know full well  YOU. ARE. GOING. TO. BE. MOODY.  You’ve got the baby’s barf in your hair, you haven’t had time to shave your ever-loving hairy legs in days, and the skid marks just won’t come out of his darned boxer shorts!  A negligee?  Uhhhhhm, no thank you.  I’d much rather complain!   
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Can you relate?  If so, you’re probably grinning right about now along with me.  Being a wife is not for the weak and willowy among us.  It requires a little meat on our bones.  haha.  The meaning of this verse is so simple, and it’s not meant to put us in our place or to demean us in any way at all.  If anyone understands our thankless life of servanthood, it is our Heavenly Father who came to earth as Jesus.  Those he loved spit on Him.  Remember that?  Just let my husband ever spit on me and…well, I won’t go there.  I’ll take the spit from my kids on occasion, but not from him.  haha.  
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We laugh, yes, but the point is, oh, how The Lord loves us.  His Word is meant to teach us something….to remind us.  (Let’s never forget how He “gets us” since we are His little ankle-biters).
  
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And this is it:  
Life is challenging whether you are a stay at home momma, a mom who is juggling a full-time job, or a mom to kids who are fully grown….but you are blessed because you get to be mom.  Dads don’t get to be mom.
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Life is hard whether you are married to a man who has a strong, outgoing, Type-A personality or to a man who is quiet, soft, and reserved.  There is no perfect man and no perfect relationship, because marriage is a contract between two very imperfect people.  But you are blessed because you get to be a wife.  Husbands don’t get to be wives.
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The message, I believe, is that we should rejoice in who we are and be thankful in whatever stage of life we are in.  God doesn’t expect us to be perfect, but He does require us to guard our hearts from becoming negative.  Negativity breeds more negativity…while choosing to see the humor in life can allow us to be more lighthearted.  God can use that.
 
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That’s my opinion, but here’s what Mona and Claudette had to say on the subject:
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Until we meet on the other side, we love, we serve, and we believe!
~Melanie    
 

 

Intimacy Is Required

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Love Key

Proverbs 27:14 is a strange verse, isn’t it?  “If a man loudly blesses his neighbor in the morning, it will be taken as a curse.”  A curse?  Really?  Isn’t that a bit harsh?

At first glance, it might seem like God actually cares about whether we bless our neighbors in the morning or in the afternoon.  haha.  But alas, that is thankfully NOT the case.

My spiritual gift is encouragement.  Blessing others and offering encouragement comes easy to me…sometimes too easy.  I was a cheerleader in high school, a financial adviser after graduating from college, a women’s ministry leader in young adulthood, and I’m now a mom to two very cute special needs kiddos.  It appears encouragement is my detail.

While God doesn’t care about how or when we encourage or bless others, He very much cares about the intent and heart behind it.  I care too, don’t you?  If in a large group, for instance, someone says out loud:  “Melanie, you are a good mother” … those words don’t mean near as much to me as when I’m alone with someone and they same the very same thing.  For my ears only.   The exact words bear more weight when spoken privately.  But why?

Sincerity is perhaps never more beautifully pronounced than when words are spoken in those quiet intentional moments, face to face, one on one.  But those moments are uncomfortable, aren’t they?  To look someone in the eyes and to express the truest part of your heart to them is difficult because it requires us to tear down our walls and be vulnerable.  As prideful human beings, we don’t like that too much.  We fear rejection, judgment, or even apathy.  Give us a computer or cell phone, however, and we can type away:

  • Your smile is beautiful!
  • Great looking kids!
  • I love you!
  • I hope to see you soon!
  • I remember all of our good times!
  • You’re such a great person!

Put us face to face….all alone….and the words don’t come as easy.  Intimacy, however, was created by God when He chose us for communion with Him.  “You are My friends,” He tells us.  Corporate prayers, while sometimes magnificent to hear, are probably put on pause or mute by our Father who wants to hear our hearts.  Let it sink in for a minute.  He has called us His friends.

My favorite people on earth, without exception, are part of the special needs community.  Until I take my last breath, I will believe they were created to teach us all about this subject.  With no desire to manipulate, to gain an advantage, or to impress, they speak from their hearts.  Katie, she grabs my face with the most tender hands and says:  “I think you’re  a beautiful angel.”  She means it, and every time, I tear up.   The honesty is almost too much.  Heather, hooking her arm around my neck the way she does, says:  “You’re so good to me, and I love you, buddy,” before kissing me on the cheek.  In response, I just want to burst.  In that same way, just like Katie and Heather, we need to speak and listen to one another’s hearts…honestly and openly spreading love to a world that is starving for it.  That, I believe, is the point of Proverbs 27:14.

Click here for a quick laugh and to see Mona & Claudette’s take on the subject:

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With Blessings, The Truest of Hearts, & Laughter!

~Melanie

When ABC Contacts You!

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My daughter, Lydia, and I have zany redneck alter-egos who are called “Mona & Claudette”.  They were created out of thin air, really, after one of my other daughters began her (now) four year battle with suicide.  I guess we needed to lighten up a bit, and scripture does say a merry heart is like medicine for the soul.  In our case, it has been just that.

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At some point in time, we began documenting some of our favorite exchanges on YouTube and Facebook.  We’ve created, in the process, a bit of a loyal following.  Sometimes they want to visit us, other times to send us things, but yesterday we received a sweet email.  The message was from a person who has commented on nearly every video we’ve ever posted.  He teases us, banters back and forth with us, and generally, loves us.  Remarkably, our alter-egos have created a special friendship with him.

A portion of his email to us said this:

“Your videos are definitely a blessing. Your love for the Lord shows, making people happy and forget about their problems for a few minutes. I love the fact that you have love for the disabled. I have spina bifida and am paralyzed from the waist down since birth. It can be rough at times emotionally, but God has really blessed me in my 45 years.
Doctors told my parents I wouldn’t live to be an adult but here I am…. I’d love to make it a point to come visit y’all when I’m up there next. Well, I’ll go for now. God bless.”

Lydia and I are not comedians.  Heck, most of the time, to others, we probably aren’t even funny (even though it should be noted that we happen to think we’re absolutely hilarious).  But because we’ve chosen to scrape, fight, hook, and claw for joy through our sorrow, we’ve connected with others who are like us and who get us.  It’s been an incredibly fun journey so far.

Now, it appears Mona and Claudette may be taking another step.  We were recently contacted, out of the blue, by ABC producers who are creating a brand new Mark Burnett reality TV show that is sort of like Shark Tank.  Starring the amazing Steve Harvey, it will be filmed in front of a live audience and will SEED new ventures.  And it just so happens, Mona and Claudette have been working on a new venture.

It’s no secret that our heart and passion is for the special needs community.  At this moment, in America, 716,000 adults who have special needs are living with parents who are over the age of sixty.  Those parents are juggling a lot.  They need a break from time to time…to vacation, to relax, to tend to everyday business, and sometimes to address medical issues.  Respite care, however, is nearly non-existent.

mona and claudette crazy

In addition, at this very hour, we have adult friends who have Autism who are battling depression and even suicidal thoughts because they lack community.  One, in particular, is being bullied, and as a result, has had to spend time in a mental facility.  You see?  These adults need a get-away sometimes too.

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Our vision is to create a private respite home/center that will provide short term entertainment and care for high-functioning, special needs adults.  Housing a game room, swimming pool, basketball court, and putt-putt course, this incredible space would offer a low-cost escape with plenty of fellowship and friendship.  The parents and caregivers, in turn, wouldn’t have to worry or be concerned about those they care for.

To accomplish raising the money for this venture, we have been in the process of creating a super cute product that will be partially manufactured by the adult special needs community,  which of course, will also provide paying jobs for them.  THIS product is aptly called:  “Mona’s MuuMuus” and will be rolled out in around 4-6 weeks.  And in October (drumroll please), it looks as if Mona’s MuuMuus will be showcased on ABC by none other than Mona & Claudette.  (God help us all).

We are so excited about this opportunity, but are even more ecstatic over seeing the possibility of our vision becoming a reality.  If you’d like to be a part of this, you can:

  • Follow Mona & Claudette on Facebook here:  Mona & Claudette Facebook
  • Share your favorite Mona & Claudette video
  • Offer your creative thoughts and ideas
  • Volunteer your talents and skills
  • Pray for this vision to become a reality

Lydia and I are so grateful for your friendship, your acceptance, and your support.  For those of you who “get us” and who understand that nothing we do is about us, but about our special friends who we love more than fried okra, sweet tea, and Keith Urban…well, a big old bear hug of love goes out to you.

We will post updates as we have them.  Until then, we love, we serve, and we believe!

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Just Be Available

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You were finally able to lay your head down and go to sleep around 2am only to be awakened at 6am by the sound of giggles.  When you entered his room, he’d painted his walls in poop…along with his face.  After throwing him into a bathtub filled with bubbles, hoping to get him in and out at lightning speed so you can put him back to bed and manage a few extra moments of sleep, you hear the pitter patter of another set of feet.  Oh, this one.  Non-verbal, she simply wraps her arms around your neck and squeezes tight with a smile.  It’s officially time for the day to begin.

Charlie Piano

Throughout the day, you try to do laundry, sweep floors, cook, and return a few phone calls.  You honestly do.  But it’s all to no avail.  Within the first couple of hours, the little red-head has climbed up high into his window sill and is barely teetering there, has splashed in the toilet, and has stripped down buck naked at least ten times.  As for the gal with ringlet curls, she has choked on a banana, pulled the red-head’s hair, and has hidden where you still can’t find her.  And lunch?  That’s a fiasco.

Hopey North Carolina

After lunch, you attempt to read books to them, to color with crayons, and to work a puzzle.  They aren’t interested.  The books are turned away, the crayons chewed upon, and the puzzle pieces thrown about the room.  You say the words “I love you” more times than you can count, but you probably say the words “no” and “stop” even more.  You swipe tears (sometimes your own), clean wounds (sometimes your own), and fight to brush hair and teeth.  Dinner?  Yeh, that’s a fiasco too.

After dinner, you begin to watch the clock, hoping this will be the day when the ragamuffins decide to actually go to bed at a regular time.  They don’t.  You give baths, pull out colorful puppets who love to read bedtime stories, and allow the tickle monster a few extra minutes to create wild and crazy giggles.  You do it all.  Every. Single. Day.  You are the parent of special needs kiddos.  You’re exhausted, you sometimes forget who you used to be, and you wonder if you’re doing enough….if you are enough.

Mom, Hope, Charlie

If you’ve taken the time to read down this far, you need to hear this.  You are enough.  Your job can be summed up with three simple words:  Just Be Available.  That’s it.  Being available for your child(ren) is your calling, and it is the most amazing calling there is.  “Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for ME.”  That verse is HUGE!  Whatever you do literally means whatever you do.  None of it is in vain…every single action of every single second is being noticed by The One who created us for this job and by The One who created our children to be exactly who they are.

available

 

There is purpose in it all, so JUST BE AVAILABLE today!

~Melanie

The First Step … Open The Box

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Have you ever purchased a child’s climbing toy?  I mean a large one?   The monstrosity is delivered in a manageable box, albeit heavy as heck, and it always has a large flashy picture showing the finished product, put together perfectly, with happy children playing on it.   It looks something like this:

outdoor climbing toy 2

And as a parent, and a purchaser of such a fun and amazing product, you begin to picture how happy your child will be when he is playing on that climbing toy.  Your child, upon seeing the box, is quite beside himself.  He, too, pictures himself playing for hours on that toy.  It’s a win for all.  

Until you open the box!

Just one peek and you find hundreds of pieces that must be put together meticulously along with an instruction booklet the size of a novella….and as if that’s not bad enough, some of it is written in a foreign language you are not familiar with.  At all.  

The project appears to be too much.  You actually consider sending the package back.  But then you look into the eyes of that little guy who was so excited to play on that toy.  You consider the dreams you had about the memories he’d make on that toy.  And you decide the final product will be worth the work and effort the task will require.

But the first step is opening that box and facing what is inside of it.

It’s a simplistic analogy, but the same is true when we are facing trauma, tragedy, loss, despair, conflict, abandonment, abuse, and shock.  To deal with it…to get through it…we must first open up the pain and look inside.  

  • The words that were said
  • The diagnosis given
  • The people who left you
  • The physical or mental violation
  • The details of the accident

That type of brokenness might seem overwhelming at first, but it is simply a box filled with pieces that can, if given time, fit together again.  Your first step is to look at those pieces.  Take them out of the box, lay them out, and look at them.

“It’s too much to bear,” you cry.  

No, it’s only pieces.  Take them out one at a time.  Pace yourself; take it slow.  This isn’t a race and there is no time limit.    

“I can’t build this;  it’s too much!”

Yes you can.  To build or to re-build only requires that you begin and you don’t stop.  You can even pause and take a break.  Get angry, bang a few of the pieces around.  Cry.  Be silent.  Feel whatever you need to feel.  But stick with it; your life will come back together.

“Am I crazy for wanting to chuck the whole thing?”  

No.  That part is very normal.  It might, in fact, be the most normal part of the whole process.  And that fact that you recognize it, means you are anything but crazy.  

So the pieces are laid out in front of you.  There are so many, aren’t there?  You see your past hopes and dreams piled up on one side, but on the other side is just as large of a pile…and it is that thing you are trying to work through.  Each detail is waiting on you to pick it up and to hold it in your hands.  There are nuts and bolts, which will be vital to making the new structure strong again.  But it’s not time to deal with those yet, so let’s leave them in the plastic package, bound up for a later time.  

Right now, just look at each piece.  Own it.  Those are your pieces.  

Now, when you feel ready, one piece at a time, pick them up.  You may need to hold onto some pieces longer than others.  That’s alright.  Some pieces may make you feel stronger emotions than others.  That’s alright too.  

Feel however YOU need to feel.  

Occasionally, though, close your eyes to remember the picture on that box.  The one that is still there, even though you’ve taken all the pieces out.  Recall the dreams you had when you saw that picture.  Remember the eyes that joined you in looking at that picture, anticipating the memories you would make.  

Hold onto that.

You opened the box!

You took ownership of the pieces!

Praise God!  You opened the box!  

“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…but every child of God defeats this evil world, and we achieve this victory through our faith.”    (Ephesians 6:12 / 1 John 5:4)

 

 

 

That ONE Monumental, Earth Shaking Battle…Society’s Role

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Every person, at some point in life, will face at least one monumental, earth-shaking battle.  We’re only human… and much stronger than we ever imagined we’d be.  But we are certainly not made of stone.  And no matter how diligently we work to avoid struggles, hardship, and difficult times, we will all face them.  

ebb and flow

If you were raised in the church, in any church, you have been taught about faith since it is the primary impetus behind every religion.  I have faith.  You probably do too.  If faith is a seed, it is watered and fed by the church each and every time the doors are open.  As a result, our faith often grows into a magnificent and mighty tree.  But it is a shallow faith at best; quite possibly a false faith.  

  • With God, nothing is impossible.
  • If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can move mountains.  
  • Everyone born of God overcomes the world.
  • Take up the shield of faith so you can extinguish all the the flaming arrows of the evil one.

See?  It just rattles right out of my head, because the message was ingrained in me throughout my life.  And that’s not a bad thing.  I actually believe every word, wholeheartedly.  But there’s much much more.

sunday school

The term “Sunday School” was chosen with intent.  Religion is meant to teach.  The definition of Theology, just as a reminder, is:  The study of the nature of God and religious belief.  In an attempt to offer hope and love, I fear the teaching is too “one sided”….and that the other side of the message is missed.

  • The testing of your faith will produce perseverance.
  • In the world you will have tribulation.
  • Do not be surprised when a fiery trial comes upon you.
  • Many are the afflictions of the righteous. 
  • The enemy aims to steal, kill, and destroy.

Wait….the enemy wants to KILL ME?  

That message is not nearly as pleasant (and definitely not as positive) as the faith message…but is it not just as vital to the spiritual health of the believer?  If you’ve been through a fiery trial, then you are fully aware, faith only counts when it is tested.  Think about it for a second.  What does anyone know about faith until God is silent?  Until God says no?  Until God allows tragedy to befall us?

god says no

In the same way, a person cannot grasp the concept of Hope until he has been buried under a mountain of uncertainty, fear, loss, condemnation, and/or despair.  At that point, Hope becomes the glimmer of light in the pitch darkness and a cup of water in the barren desert.  It becomes the sustenance of life!  And that is a whole different kind of message.  

But the naysayers would question the method:  

  • Wouldn’t the truth create fear? 
  • Who likes negativity?

Of course the truth will breed fear!  Have you read the Bible?  It’s a scary book!  But I’d rather know the whole story than only half of it, because then I am better prepared when the trials do come.  As human beings, we are preparers.  It is in our DNA.  Does this sound familiar:

By the age of three, a child should be fully potty trained, eating and dressing himself independently,  and able to successfully attend preschool.  

By the age of six, that same child should be able to read, ride a bicycle, and swim.  

By ten, multiplication tables and division should be learned, and he will read his first fantasy fiction novel.

By thirteen, he should understand the birds, the bees, puberty, and should be totally confounded by girls.

By sixteen, he should know the periodic table,  should be driving a car, and should’ve attended his first dance.

By eighteen, he is graduating high school and going to college.

By twenty and thirty-something, finding a job, getting married, filing taxes, obtaining a mortgage, and starting a family.

….and the list goes on.  

Children are told what to expect, when to expect it, and are over-prepared, if anything, to manage each step.  Rush Limbaugh tells them who to vote for,  Dave Ramsey teaches them how to stay out of debt, and Tim Hawkins reminds them to laugh along the way.      

I’ve over-exaggerated, of course, since I know there are some parents who are way more laid back about when and how their children come of age.  haha. But the point I want to make is that we don’t spend enough time preparing our children for the most difficult challenges they will face.  And so they find themselves facing the worst possible scenarios without a plan of attack…and therefore having to learn as they go.  Consider how disastrous that could be!  MUCH WORSE than if they weren’t prepared for the mountain of paperwork required when applying for a mortgage.  

Until the age of twenty-two, I’d characterize my life as generally wonderful.  I was raised in a glorious bubble, completely unaware of an enemy who wanted to destroy my life.  I saw others go through difficult times, but I was never brought in and shown how I should deal with it if something similar were to befall me.  I am forty eight now, and in the last twenty six years have experienced so much crazy trauma and tragedy and heartache that I was never prepared for.  Can you relate?  

Needless to say, my mighty tree of faith and hope was whittled down to the size of a number 2 pencil, because I wasn’t mentally prepared when the sin’s destruction hit my life.  Most times, I was an innocent bystander affected by the aftermath of things outside of my control, but the circumstances still knocked me down and wiped me out just the same.  And in the black hole, depression snuck in and produced uncontrollable panic attacks.   Time and time again, I have found myself in defensive mode, just trying to survive.  The only way I could get help was to FIND help.  And what kind of mindset are we all in during turmoil or crisis?  We’re just trying to get through it and typically don’t have the fortitude to take time to search for help.  But oh, if steps had been ingrained in me at an early age…I wonder what a difference it might have made.

In my opinion, it could be the reason why our current rate of mental health illnesses is spiraling out of control.  Prescribing a pill is sometimes necessary, but we are witnessing a generational time when pills are the acceptable norm.  Moms are asking for them.  Dads are getting hooked on them.  Teenagers are popping them.  And young kids are watching.

I’m a firm believer that THE STORY in general can be different.  IF we offer better preparation.  For instance, what if the church and/or schools offered an ongoing course on how to face trials and tribulations when they come?  How to face sickness?  Death?  Suicide?  Self-harm?  Drug and alcohol addiction?  Rebellion?  Abuse?  Financial hardships?  Poverty?  Hunger?  Abandonment?  Trauma?  Depression?   What if the course allowed the students to role play?  What if the course offered concrete, workable steps?  And what if they also offered a solid support group?  

sunday school 2

“Train up a child in the way he should go…” means so much more than preparing him or her for the easy steps of life.  As parents, as churches, as schools, and as a society, we must begin to teach children how to manage difficulties, because no one is immune.  The world is not all about Marvel Superhero movies with happy endings or Instagram photo likes or a number of Twitter followers or football championships or musical preferences or successful careers, big houses, vacations, fancy cars, an attractive spouse, and healthy children.  This life is so much more, and at it’s core, it’s hard.  

I said this at the beginning:  Every person, at some point in life, will face at least one monumental, earth-shaking battle.   That means YOUR CHILD, at some point in life, will face at least one monumental, earth shaking battle.  YOUR CHILD.  And mine.

What steps are we giving them to cope?  Are we saying “just have faith and you will move this mountain”?  Because that is not going to cut it.  We have an obligation to do more BEFORE tragedy/trials/tribulations hit.  The thought of one of my children waking up to a panic attack that has gripped her to the point of her body shaking uncontrollably is unacceptable to me.   The thought of my child wanting to end her life because what life is throwing at her is too much to bear, must not happen.  It’s time to be proactive and to do more…and the power to make a difference must begin with us!

Now there is plenty of hope and faith in that message, right?

If you are struggling right now, perhaps these steps taken from Martin V. Cohen, Ph.D., will help:

 1.– Recognize that your symptoms are normal reactions to an abnormal circumstance. Although you may feel like you are out of control or “going crazy,” in reality, you are experiencing what are called post-traumatic stress symptoms.

2.– Talk about your thoughts, feeling and reactions to the event with people you trust. Then, talk about it some more. Keep talking about it until you have no need to talk about it anymore.

3.–Do whatever it takes to create a feeling of safety and tranquility in your immediate environment. Do you need to sleep with a night light on for awhile? Can you develop a discipline of meditation or listening to soothing music?

4.– As much and as quickly as possible, resume your normal activities and routines. Traumatic events can throw your life into a state of chaos. The sooner you resume these activities and routines, the more normal your life will feel. Structure can provide feelings of security as you etch your way back to stability.

5.– You are in a recovery process. Give yourself the proper rest, nutrition and exercise. If you were recovering from the flu you would not forget these health tips. Do the same for yourself as you recover from traumatic stress.

6.– Take an affirmative action on your behalf. For example, if you were a victim of crime, prosecuting the perpetrator may be an empowering experience.  Take some action on your behalf.

7.– Become aware of your emotional triggers and learn to cope with them creatively. You may have a flashback to your trauma by engaging in a similar activity, going to a similar place, seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting or feeling something that is a reminder.  One way to cope with this is to recognize that you are experiencing an emotional trigger and engage in positive self-talk.

8.–Try to find some deeper meaning in what has happened. What have you learned from your experience? Record these insights in a journal or voice them in a support group that is sympathetic to your situation.

9.– Seek therapy/counseling/support group.

10.– Be patient with yourself. Healing takes time. Your recovery will have it’s ups and downs. Keep following the steps.

The battle is real, but the victory is ours.  In the end, we will tell the stories of how we’ve overcome…’cause we’ll understand it better by and by.  

~Melanie

 

 

 

When You’re Called To Lose The Fight

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Jesus.  When you meditate upon that name, what thoughts does it conjure up in your mind?  If you are a follower of His teachings, you are instructed to follow His lead.  He is, after all, the way, the truth, and the life.   But following Him isn’t easy, is it?  Turning the other cheek, laying down your life, loving your enemies….those are hippie concepts.  To make it in this society, where too often the big dog wins, we want to be that pit bull, don’t we?  

the way the truth the life

King David.  Now he was my sort of guy.  Scripture says he was ruddy, handsome, and had beautiful eyes.  Whenever I see Chris Hemsworth (Thor), I see King David.  A fearless warrior, standing upon sheer faith, he took down Goliath with a sling and a handful of stones.  He is the lowly shepherd who became a powerful and wealthy king, a true story of overcoming your circumstances.  Not only did the man have a home, he occupied a palatial palace.  

Moses.  I like him too.  Sure, he had a speech impediment and was an orphan, but did he not become the leader of all leaders?  What tremendous power and fame came from that little baby who was left in a floating basket.  Raising his staff, he parted the Red Sea to take down mighty Egypt.  And in the process, he set the Hebrew slaves free.  He was their redeemer and leader; he set their laws and became their judge.  What a mighty man!

But the Jesus character.  Clothed in humility, he made friends with those who were considered scum of society.  If you were a drunkard or a prostitute, for instance, he might sit down and have long conversation with you.  And if you were a tax collector, he might ask you to join him for a meal.  If you were crippled, blind, deaf, diseased, or even mentally insane….yes, if you were an untouchable….He would seek you out and touch you, offering healing.  Jesus had no fame or fortune; the truth is, He had no place to lay His head.    

Jesus was homeless

The dichotomy is real.  Our very nature goes against who Jesus calls us to be.  It is why Paul said:  “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.”  If you are a follower of Christ, you understand Paul completely.

battle

The following is a text exchange between my landlord and me.  As most of you know by now, even though I followed my twelve month lease,  my non-profit, which freely assists seventy at-risk girls, was unfairly evicted only three months into the contract.  And as a result, I no longer have the resources to operate:

 

joe 1joe 2

Joe 3Joe 4

Joe 5Joe 6

The Landlord, as you can see, is exercising his right not to settle with me.  Listen, none of this is fair.  I was minding my own business, serving the community, and honoring my agreement with the landlord to the best of my ability.  I went before an impartial judge, presented my case, but was still evicted.  Twice.  The city had (and has) structural concerns for the building, and I was never made aware…which makes this all even more unfair, especially since the judge wouldn’t hear it.  

This has already cost me a lot of money.

Those seventy girls who depended upon me are not being served…the untouchables are not being touched.

The damages, when assessed to me, may be ridiculously high.  I could be blamed for wear and tear on a building the city had already found to be unsafe.

And I could go on.

And on.

And on.

But Jesus.

But Jesus.

But Jesus.

dying to self

This isn’t about the landlord, the judge, the non-profit, or the girls.  This, friends, is about me.  Choosing to be more like my Savior than like King David or Moses, this time, I will turn my cheek…I will forgive…I will lay down my life…and I will surrender.

Because my life is not my own.  

Because vengeance is mine says the Lord.  

Because God’s ways are not my ways.  

Because I trust Him. 

test

Though he slay me, yet will I trust Him!

~Melanie