Category Archives: children

Bless Our Mess

My son’s occupational therapist shared with me something cute my 8-year-old shared with her at school. She said, “He said my house sure can be a mess sometimes, but its the best mess. Its my favorite place to be.” At first, I have to admit, I was mortified because I carry a little bit of secret shame about my free-spirited, “just trying to survive and stay sane as a working mom” housekeeping philosophy. But, then, I was struck with how profound my son’s statement really was. Our house, our family, ourselves sure can be messy, but messy can still be amazing. Messy can still be our favorite place to be. A big ole come as you are mess is actually quite comforting and endearing. You are always accepted and don’t have to clean up first and fit everything into a neat and tidy toy box. It’s the expectation of shiny, well-organized constant perfection that trips us up in so many ways, isn’t it? I honestly don’t want a constantly neat and tidy house. I want a sanitary house with clean dishes, the litter box scooped, enough clean clothes for the week and the trash taken off, but do I want floors with daily fresh vacuum lines and with toys neatly in their place or my son’s art supplies in perfect order at all times? No, I really don’t.

One of my favorite things about my Mom’s parenting style was that she was very relaxed when it came to her expectations of the house. She would rather let us relax, study, and play at home most days than to have a rigid chore chart schedule. There were times she asked for help or told us “alright that’s it, your room is a disaster its time to clean it up,” but overall there was always a sense of home being a place to rest, get schoolwork done, and to not have to be as tightly wound as the outside world expected. I want my kids to look back on their childhood the same way. That their home is the one place of constant refuge where they can kick back and relax, be messy, be themselves, but also a place where they can earn a dollar if they help Mama do the dishes.

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Of course, I’m not advocating never cleaning or letting your house be unsanitary, but I am all in favor of relaxing a bit and instead of shaming myself for my messy home, savoring the fact that this is my son’s favorite place and “the best mess.” My kids don’t care that my desk is overflowing with books and papers for the online class I teach. I’m thankful my youngest son’s room looks like a Lego explosion and he feels creative freedom and relaxation. I’m thankful my oldest son’s room is an explosion of stuffed animals and art supplies where he can shut the door and decompress after school. I’m thankful I can go to yoga or read a book instead of spending hours each day trying to get my home to look like a magazine. I do not enjoy cleaning at all because it is an exercise in futility and I don’t have the time to put any effort into futile pursuits my kids will just undo for me. Why spend an hour picking up Legos or hounding my son to do so when I could instead be playing Marvel versus Capcom with him or even just sitting by him on the couch reading a book, available if he wants to talk while he draws? He is just going to empty out the Lego boxes looking for the perfect Darth Vader helmet tomorrow anyway, so why bother? Ain’t nobody got time for that. I sure don’t. I work 3 jobs for goodness sake and take care of 2 boys, one of whom has special needs that take up any excess energy I might have. When you are just trying to survive as the parent of a child with special needs, you don’t have time to get neurotic about perfection. You start to accept and cherish the beautiful mess that is your life because your ideas about perfection were shattered the day you received that diagnosis.

cleanhouse

As I think and write, I realize that housekeeping tends to be a deeply personal issue for me and for probably most of us women. Men are pretty much off the hook because if someone comes over and the house is a wreck, no matter if the wife works just as many hours or not, somehow the spoken accolades or the passive-aggressive disapproval falls on her. Her only hobby  after working full-time should be cleaning and childcare right? That is the unspoken expectation so many of us feel. It is us women who frantically announce, “Ya’ll! Clean up NOW Grandpa is coming over in 2 hours!” as we bust out the mop, the vacuum, and the shovel for all of those toys simultaneously in a flurry of panic at the thought that our family member or friend is going to judge us harshly for slacking off and maybe playing with the kids or reading instead of non-stop cleaning.

Who do you allow into your home? I am very selective. I know which friends are my “safe friends” who I don’t have to clean up the house for if they want to swing by for coffee and these friends are the same ones I go to when something serious is going on in my life and I need to share my pain or my emotions without having them judged “a hot mess” or offering to “tidy up” my feelings for me either. There is something beautiful about accepting the messy parts of ourselves, our people and our homes. Let’s cut ourselves and each other some slack as we wing it through parenting, housekeeping, and realize we are all really a mess in one way or another. But we can find the love in our messiness. We don’t have to get it all in the toy box to be loved or enough.

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Sorry I Missed Your Call. I’m Busy Riding the Autism and OCD Parenting Roller Coaster.

When I was a little girl, my parents would take us to the county fair or to Six Flags over GA to ride roller coasters. I was always the type who would get on any ride or roller coaster not because I wasn’t terrified, but because I knew I wouldn’t die and that at the end I would be so exhilarated that I did it! Some of the rides were fun, but some I would just have to hold on tight and scream my lungs out to endure until the end. When you scream out “Stop the ride! Let me off!” no one hears you. They can’t stop the ride just because you want off or you think you are going to have a heart attack. No one cares. You can scream or cry all you want to, but it changes nothing. You just have to hang in there and endure. You have no idea when it will be over. It feels like forever. You can’t even really think straight to evaluate how far along in the track you are. You just hold on tight, scream, cry, pray, and try not to throw up. This is very similar to my experience as the parent of a child with autism who is going through the tween years and has recently developed OCD as well (because no, Lord, autism just wasn’t enough). It often seems as if just when I have caught my breath and think I’m gonna survive this thing just fine, I am thrown into another upside down loop de loop, tilt a whirl and I’m in danger of losing my lunch, my glasses, and looking pretty rough when I get off this thing. Thankfully, I get a chance to get off this roller coaster sometimes when my son is at school or at my mom’s when my husband and I have a date night, but even then it feels as if although I’m not actively riding it, I’m just standing in line, trying to settle my nerves taking deep breathes and waiting to get back on again.

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I love my son more than anything and we have beautiful, wonderful moments which are exhilarating like the moment when the roller coaster stops and you smile and laugh with glee because you did in fact survive this thing and the endorphins and adrenaline are pumping through your body. Woohoo! A sweet hug! Another milestone met! Another new word! Eye contact! Potty trained! He only turned the light switch on and off 11 times instead of the usual 12! But, watching him struggle so much in spite of all of the extra stuff I am doing and buying and trying….well it makes me want to scream “Ahhhh I  hate this ride! Someone get me off! I’m gonna puke again!” pretty often.

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ASD is a spectrum and presents in a lot of different ways for different kids and adults. You may have ASD yourself or have  a child who has ASD or OCD and it may feel like a walk in the park to you, I don’t know. All I know is my experience and my truth about how it feels to parent my particular child in my particular circumstances and it feels hard right now. Just when I think I’ve got a handle on things, here comes another loop I’m thrown for whether due to a new developmental stage, illness, finances, etc.

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I think people must assume that because I say  it is so hard, I’m just doing it wrong. I wish they could see how much time, money, energy, therapies, diets, supplements, now even medicine we are doing to try and help my son thrive and be happy day to day. I feel like I should be able to make this work somehow. I should be able to not look so frazzled or I should be able to stay in Mary Poppins mode and not ever raise my voice. I should just get up earlier to avoid looking disheveled and a mess at the morning drop off at school (nevermind I’ve been dealing with his sleep issues all night long and I work late two nights per week). I should pray (check, I pray almost constantly). I should work from home. He should take this supplement (yep, already taking it), we should try this diet (yep doing that), I should _______________ (not be writing about it?). I should change my perspective (yep in therapy myself trying to do that). There has to be something I could just fix and make this easier on myself. I wish there were. I spend hours each day researching how to make this better, how to be a better mom, how to accept this unusual life journey and find more joy in it, how to make my marriage survive this, how to help my other son cope, how to make extra money to fund my sons needs, etc. Although many of the things we have done for our son and for ourselves have helped tremendously, I am still working uphill just to get my son to the most basic level of functioning and to get my family to the most basic level of functioning. Even Pollyanna would admit that’s kind of hard.

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Each day is a roller coaster of stress and I am horrified at how I must appear from afar. This is not me. This is me just trying to survive. My son isn’t going to go into remission after his treatment. He isn’t going to be sick for a little while. This is a long-haul thing for us. A marathon, not a sprint. I feel like the main character from the movie “Bad Moms” who is just stressed to the max, except I don’t have the option of just telling everyone to take care of themselves for once, because my son can’t. So, I publicly apologize for seeming constantly scattered, self-centered, crazy, stressed out, no time for small talk, snappy with the front office staff at the school, not put together, too focused on my son’s ASD diagnosis, flaky, not a good friend, forgetful, not 100% on top of every little detail at work, not having the energy to invest into things that aren’t my business or I don’t care about anyway, frequently venting to my BFFs, always broke, not able to hang out much, bursting out in tears and saying “But I work 3 jobs and what we are doing now is already so hard!” when my son’s reading teacher asks me to do add extra homework, frequently not able to answer the phone, giving up on daily gym workouts, holding tight to my Saturday morning yoga time, not up for any kind of “fitness challenge” because my life is already a 365 challenge, or just distant and crabby in general. I apologize for being strangely open (oversharing) and also really defensive (pretty much not wanting to hang out with non-special needs parents much at all).

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This is my norm, this is my life. I am just trying to hold on tight, scream, and survive it without losing my lunch just like a kid riding a killer rollercoaster. I promise you that this has nothing to do with you, I really do like you a lot. I would love to be able to hang out with you more, to relate to your stories about your kids extracurriculars and how proud you are, to put more effort into my home businesses selling amazing things, to have more of a social life that is not online in nature, to laugh more, to volunteer more at church instead of crying through all the songs just to release all that stress, to be able to just throw my kids in the mix of all the other kids at church and go chit chat with the other moms rather than having to go sit next to my son and try to hold back my tears as I rub his back while he’s biting himself and rocking back and forth because the music is too loud and there are too many kids having too much fun in there.

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Maybe we all have our roller coasters, I don’t know what goes on behind the closed doors of your mind or home, but I do know that it really does help to just let it out and scream your head off sometimes when you need to, to hold on tight to the people you love, throw your hands up and laugh hysterically sometimes, breathe deeply, and remember that you won’t die even though you may feel like it on the loop de loops. We special needs parents will survive as we wing it together. If you need to talk to someone who “gets it”, call me. It will likely go to voicemail, but I will call you when I’m driving alone in the car. Reach out to Parent2Parent or a support group. You don’t have to ride the roller coasters alone, there are plenty of seats and we can hold hands and scream together as we go through the dips and curves.

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Always Struggling? What God is Teaching Me About Success and Humilty

Do you ever feel like the struggle is just all too real and all too constant? “What am I doing wrong here?!” you may ask yourself. Been there. Still there. Where did we get this message from the world and start buying it that success = ease and plenty? That we should be embarrassed by our struggles and seek to portray ourselves as “winners” rather than just struggling people saved by the grace of God?

In the course of living my life as a working professional and mama to two boys with special needs, I have found that in spite of my best efforts and many prayers, feeling like I have it “together” typically only lasts for a few hours here and there scattered among days that are exhausting, filled with challenging behavior and sleep deprivation that requires constant patience and “therapy mom” mode, then having to go into work acting like I’m the “with it” professional who can garner respect and making sure all of the paperwork for my son’s therapies and insurance is completed in a timely manner. I’m almost always at least mildly struggling. I’m always coming up short. I am not perfect. The pictures I post on social media don’t show my struggles. I’d really rather not be lookin’ all busted in my pictures, but you should see me as I walk my kids into school in the morning lookin’ a hot mess (I go home and get ready for work after I drop them off). I definitely do not have it together. One bit. Just doin’ the best I can over here.

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 I want you to know that YOU ARE NOT FAILING AT LIFE JUST BECAUSE YOU ARE STRUGGLING THROUGH LIFE.  When did struggle become shameful? There is so much freedom in hearing a friend say “me too” and realizing you aren’t the only person going through it. I find comfort in God’s Word. God never promised us that we would be free from struggle or weakness, only that He would never leave or forsake us in it. The world’s image of “winning” was NEVER the standard on which we are meant to judge our “success.” He said we should boast in our weaknesses, that His strength is made perfect in weakness.” I actually hate the word “success” because it brings to mind all of the worldly definitions of  “winning” and “success” being financial prosperity, vacations, beauty, health, lack of struggle and strife and also how  many “successful” people look down on those who are “unsuccessful” as if the advantages they have had in life had nothing to do with their “success” as they claim the glory for themselves rather than giving full glory to God in utter humility for every single blessing received from innate intelligence to being born to a loving family to having good looks to being able-bodied and able-minded.

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This idea that lack of struggle = “success” is so dangerous and discouraging. It isn’t from God or at least what I’ve read in the Bible. Sure, sometimes we bring struggle upon ourselves by acting like little kids who throw caution to the wind and do whatever we want regardless of it being wrong (like a little kid who eats all of the Halloween candy in one sitting and then spends the night throwing up asking “why am I so sick mama?” because all that sugar at once made them sick.)  We can’t blame God when we just act dumb or lazy, go against His advice and knowingly YOLO it. But, I’m not talking about messing up on purpose. I’m talking about doing the best you can, looking to God for guidance every day, and still struggling through life. That doesn’t mean we are doing life wrong or that we are just “unsuccessful” or “ineffective” losers. Take heart. Be encouraged.

Here is what God’s word actually says about suffering and struggle:

2 Corinthians 12:9-10 ESV   

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

1 Corinthians 10:13 ESV 

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

Romans 5:3-5 ESV 

More than that, 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.

Jeremiah 29:11 ESV 

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.

Psalm 23:1-6 ESV 

A Psalm of David. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. …

Luke 18:9-14 ESV     

He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ …

John 1:5 ESV

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Romans 8:1 ESV 

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:13 ESV 

I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

James 1:2 ESV   

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds,

Hebrews 13:1-25 ESV 

Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” …

2 Corinthians 10:3-5 ESV

For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,

1 Corinthians 2:1-16 ESV     

And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling, and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. …

 

Matthew 7:1-2 ESV 

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.

Exodus 14:14 ESV 

The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”

Romans 14:10-13 ESV 

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.

Psalm 71:20-21 ESV 

You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again. You will increase my greatness and comfort me again.

1 Peter 5:10 ESV    

And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.

2 Corinthians 1:9 ESV 

Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.

Acts 14:21-22 ESV    

When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.

Isaiah 40:28-31 ESV      

Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

Romans 5:8 ESV    

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Romans 8:18 ESV          

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

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I find it hard to hold my head high with my struggles sometimes, but maybe that’s the point. Thank you God, for humbling me daily and bringing me to my knees so that I can go to work and meet my clients who I counsel in a place of my own suffering and humility that I may never make the mistake of implying that life is about “lost” versus “found” and “successful” versus “unsuccessful” people. I am lost and found daily. I am both successful and unsuccessful daily. Thank you Jesus for always finding me and giving me what I need rather than what I want as I wing it through this life…

P.s. I know I whine more than I should, please forgive me and keep giving me what I need, not what I want. Also, if you could make my kids behave better and give me more patience that would be much appreciated. 😉

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Christmas Miracles

Every Christmas, I look for miracles. My dictionary reads: A miracle is an event not explicable by natural or scientific laws. Such an event may be attributed to a supernatural being, magic, a miracle worker, a saint or a religious leader. So what miracles would this year bring, I wondered? I have been  praying for miracles for an injured family member, an overwhelmed friend,  a little girl in my community who is fighting cancer and for Joey Feek, whose music and testimony has touched my heart deeply in a way I can’t logically explain. My sons and I have been donating to (because sometimes you have to help miracles along with love when you can) and praying for the refugee women and children who are in need of so much more than we have to give. This world really needs some miracles right about now, doesn’t it? 

So, I was praying for people who needed a miracle. I was keeping my eyes and heart open in gratitude to see the many miracles all around us that we all too often fail to see. But, in some ways, I just wasn’t feelin’ it this year. Ever had trouble just getting into the Christmas spirit? You try and try and just can’t quite get there? That was me this year. I had been feeling a little (ok a lot) burned out. Stressed out. Feeling stretched beyond my limits, but without any real options to change my situation or reduce my stress load anytime soon (believe me, I’ve rolled my options around in my head 1000 times, crunched numbers, and I’m just gonna have to hang in there as is unless an amazing new opportunity that doesn’t involve selling anything comes along). My headaches had started coming back. All of this was waaay before Christmas even rolled up…I was feeling like this in November. The past year had been filled with challenges at work, home, financially, everything breaking down all at once, health issues, etc.  So that’s where I was at emotionally in early November. Cringing as the stores brought out Christmas decorations and my go-to uplifting Christian radio station started playing “Jingle Bells”. Just exhausted, wanting to hop on the first plane to the Bahamas and run away from it all before Santa even flew in to take up residence at the mall. And then something interesting started happening….

Through a strange serious of events, I was called to help a young woman (not a client). More disadvantaged, alone, scared, and facing many more obstacles than any of my clients, she was someone I could not in good conscience decline to assist. But, if I’m honest with you, I have to admit that some of my first (selfish) thoughts were, “oh no, Lord why me? I don’t even know if I can be of much help or if this is just going to cause me more headaches and be the stress that pushes my sanity into a ditch. I know I’m supposed to be servant-hearted, but I’m dry bones, Lord have mercy I’m tired. And in December? Really?” But, I answered the call nonetheless. It was a situation I am uniquely qualified to help with for many different reasons due to my life experience and professional training. Saying yes, I will help, has resulted not in further burnout, but instead in my own Christmas blessing! God and those mysterious ways again…

My faith is expanding as I’m seeing God work in miraculous ways in this seemingly impossible situation. I’m doing my part to be love and practical help (within my means) to someone who needs lots of love and support right now. In doing so, my heart has been touched deeply, my faith expanded, and I have been re-energized about my calling and my life’s work as a counselor. So many things have come together in such a short period of time. God’s hand is undeniably all over it stirring sweet grace and mercy into the situation with the help of a network of believers as generously as Paula Deen stirs butter into her recipes with a spoon. The Body of Christ has come together so beautifully it is restoring my faith in my fellow Christians (many of us didn’t even really know each other well before this need arose and we don’t even come from the same church family). I wish I could tell you the details and tell you the full story, but I need to keep the details private. My part of it is just doing what I can and thanking God for this Christmas blessing of expanded faith and confirmation that I need to stop feeling guilty for not doing things that are not my callings and the gentle yet firm reminder to say yes to my callings even when they don’t make sense or appear at first glance to be too much. Lord, your yoke is easy and burden light (Matt. 11:30) because what you ask us to do, those things that are our true callings, end up blessing us back in return.

Speaking of miracles….at Christmas, I always meditate on Mary and what it must have been like for her. She was called to do something completely out of her comfort zone, something that initially jeopardized her upcoming marriage/life plan/stability, her safety, stretched her heart and soul, put her on a physically arduous journey to Bethlehem and upon her arrival (in active labor no less) was told there was no room at the inn. No room. No. The world couldn’t make room for her or this baby. Mary did what she was called to do in spite of all of this, even though it was hard and illogical. She was likely feeling exhausted and scared. What that moment must have been like between Mary and Joseph as this young couple struggled through labor and birth far from home in a stable with animal noises and smells. What would it have been like for Mary to be lying on hay, nursing baby Jesus and see the shepherds and the 3 wise men from the Far East converging upon them to gaze at their baby in wonder and awe, handing gifts of great value to this poor couple who no one could make room for just a few hours ago!? Wild. What a wild night. Mary bore a lot, but how blessed among women did she feel at the end of that night? Maybe she still felt confused and tired, but certainly she must have been more sure of her calling and her faith must have been expanded exponentially with baby Jesus lying in her arms and a star shining brightly above that stable.  

This is the true miracle of Christmas. The story that we can reflect upon in gratitude year after year with its rich symbolism and continued relevance, regardless of our circumstances. Regardless of if our prayers are answered as we wish they would be in our human understanding, the original Christmas miracle is one that we all too often overlook as we listen to the voice of the world that tells us the lie about “buying Christmas.”  I’ll take the original Christmas story over the modern consumerist story any day.

 

No Daily Meds?! My Family’s Holistic Health and Special Needs Journey

Thanks to my husband’s passion for gardening, I’ve started playing in the dirt again myself. The first lesson I learned is that gardening is really a metaphor for all life. If a plant is in unsuitable soil, it won’t thrive. If a plant’s roots aren’t doing well, it won’t produce healthy leaves or anything edible. Also, every plant species is unique. Some can thrive in pretty crappy soil and extreme temperatures, while others are more delicate and die off unless they are in lovely, nutrient rich soil and kept at certain temperatures. It is important to figure out what the root issues are when you have a plant that isn’t thriving. Get the soil tested, look for bugs, fungus and the like, supplement the soil if it is depleted, make row covers or hoop houses to protect from extreme temperatures, etc. With plants, we don’t just slap a band-aid and some Miracle-Grow on the withered leaves and call it good enough, we figure out what is really going on or call that plant a total loss.

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Why then do we treat our bodies and the bodies of our children worse than we do our plants? In our society when we have a physical or mental health crisis, we just go to the doctor who gives us a few medications or offers to cut us open and we change nothing else because this is our paradigm and we don’t know what else to do. It has even gotten to the point that doctors are flabbergasted when I tell them my son isn’t on any medications for his autism. “But he is doing so well….” and then they ask if I want meds (bangs head on desk, you just said how well he is doing, no I don’t want any free samples thanks). Doctors don’t typically ask about our “soil” or the environment we are in. When was the last time your doctor asked you if you hated your job or if your husband was abusing you or how your daily nutrition/exercise regimen was going? We are just given pills (sometimes pills we don’t need or pills that have worse side effects than the issues we had) and we go on as usual. Ain’t nobody really got time for real health in managed care. But, if we really want to be healthy, we might have to look at our environment, our lifestyle, our habits, our nutrition, our priorities, and realize that just because something is covered by insurance doesn’t necessarily mean its a long-term health bargain.  While modern medicine certainly has its place, particularly in treating congenital malformations and acute health crises (infections and traumatic injuries), chronic illness tends to be better served by figuring out what is at the root of it. Perhaps it is something that can be helped by surgery or medication, but what if there was another way to treat and truly heal many common chronic conditions? What if there was a way to heal and improve conditions that doctors just don’t know the cause of or how to heal?Holistic_health

 

cureproblemThis is my experience of trying that other way, a more holistic way. How in the world did I stumble upon all of this? I got started down the holistic health journey when I took the first job I could find to get out of a really bad work environment which was causing me anxiety and depression. The first job I found happened to be as a receptionist at a local naturopath’s office inside a healing arts spa where I was introduced to all sorts of funky and amazing things that I had never experienced before such as essential oils, probiotics, drinking lots of water with mineral drops and fruit in it, massage, detoxification, nutrition, naturopathy, yoga, and so much more. Not only did my anxiety and depression go away within a week or so of leaving the toxic work environment and coming into this positive environment, it just so happened that a few months after I started this job, my oldest son was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. He wasn’t talking at 3 years old…at all. He was having intense behavioral problems that broke my heart daily. He had to go to a special needs school because typical daycares couldn’t handle his behavior. I was told there was nothing to do but put him in therapies like speech therapy, occupational therapy and physical therapy and try medications to control his behavior. I was told my son probably wouldn’t ever talk and would become even harder to handle as he got bigger and stronger. I was terrified and so sad it was physically painful.

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Never underestimate the research abilities of a special needs mama on a mission to help her child feel better and thrive!

We did the therapies, I prayed so much. I just couldn’t put my baby on powerful psych meds.  I don’t judge you if that is the route you chose to go, but personally it is unacceptable to me to put my 3-year-old son on powerful, psychotropic medications (with all of their side effects and serious warnings) which are not approved by the FDA or the American Academy of Pediatrics for use in children under the age of 6. Research (much less longitudinal studies) on the use of psychotropic medications in preschool age children is seriously lacking. What if these drugs made my poor baby’s brain worse? What if his sleep and eating got worse? Sure, psychiatrists and even some pediatricians use these drugs on young children “off label” saying the benefits outweigh the risks in some cases, but I say that we parents have no idea what the real risks even are without adequate peer-reviewed research and longitudinal studies to determine if these medications actually have positive long-term outcomes or if they cause long-term health problems, brain damage, or even addiction.

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No thanks, Doc.

So that said, in my desperation as a mother, I decided to have the naturopath test my son for nutritional deficiencies, heavy metals, etc. and give me gentle nutritional remedies for my son’s sleep issues, stomach issues, and agitation. My son ended up testing for a B vitamin and magnesium deficiency. We also added cod liver oil (rich in brain-building, focus increasing omega-3 fatty acids), probiotics and bovine colostrum (for healing gut issues) to his daily protocol. Our whole family started taking Juice Plus+ gummies (which are a blend of the juice and pulp from 17 fruits and veggies) because he was such a picky eater at that time. I started giving him nightly massages with lavender infused olive oil and giving him plenty of time in the bath to relax his hyperactive sensory system. We did horse-assisted OT and ST. He had PT and went 3 days per week to the early-intervention preschool program. We learned about the Son-rise program (check it out on Youtube for free). We kept him on a balanced routine of peer interaction and time to rest at home. We love him and try our best to treat him with kindness and respect.

The results were nothing short of MIRACULOUS! He started talking, he started sleeping better, his stomach issues went away, he started eating more foods, his meltdowns decreased dramatically, and now at age 10 he is still psych med free and is THRIVING. He is communicating and reading on or above age level. He hasn’t had a single meltdown in years. His personality is funny, empathetic, and kind. He actually has fewer behavioral problems than most typical children. He sleeps from 9pm-6am every night. He talks non-stop and is currently going on and on about GhostBusters and the Brutus the Dog show he wants to make when he grows up. He went from severe, non-verbal autism that prevented us from going out to eat, to church, to the movies, etc. as a family to just a quirky, happy little guy who loves to go out and about anywhere our family decides to go. Sure, he still flaps his hands and jumps a lot when he is excited about something. He still needs a stable, predictable daily routine. However, his quality of life has so dramatically improved that I no longer feel any sadness or worry about his future. I no longer suffer from extreme sleep deprivation and exhaustion. I know he will be ok and finally I am ok.

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What is more, my youngest son started developing “tics” such as rapid eye blinking, throat clearing, shoulder shrugging, etc. after a bout of strep throat last year. The tics kept getting worse. I took him to our naturopath and he suggested magnesium cream to calm the nervous system, probiotics, and immune-boosting herbs in case there was a lingering sub-clinical viral or bacterial infection. My son’s symptoms improved, but lingered. Then, because I had so much success with acupuncture curing my migraines and anxiety, I took him to have acupuncture done. He has been “tic-free” ever since that session months ago!

My own health has dramatically improved ever since I started to understand that in order to experience real health, you must look for and treat the root causes of imbalances and health problems. It all started with getting out of the “bad soil”, the bad environment of a hostile and abusive work environment. What if I had just stayed there and popped some depression and anxiety pills to keep on truckin’? I wouldn’t be the happy, healthy person I am today. My kids wouldn’t have had a mother who could help them improve their own health. I think of people who are stuck in bad marriages, bad jobs, or self-sabotaging habits and thought patterns and my heart breaks because no amount of pills will be a true cure until they find a way out of toxic soil. You know the saying that before you diagnose yourself with depression, make sure you aren’t just surrounded by a-holes? It’s true. Creating a positive, healthy environment at work, home, etc. is a great starting goal when working towards physical and mental health.  It’s ok to take a chance on making a change. Even though it was scary, I will always be thankful that I took the first job I could find in order to get out of a bad environment. I am also thankful that I didn’t just accept having chronic migraines and trigeminal neuralgia and accept all of the pain medications the MDs wanted to give me. I tried acupuncture and Traditional Chinese herbs and have not had a migraine or nerve pain in 4 years now! I take no meds daily either.

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I thank God for our family’s good health and for leading me to stumble upon this passion for holistic health that doesn’t just pop pills to cover the symptoms but finds the root cause, treats it with nutrition, herbs, acupuncture, exercise, yoga, avoiding toxic chemicals such as MSG, lab-made dyes, and toxic beauty and cleaning products.

I am often told that holistic health is “just too expensive” or “out of my price range” and to that I can only respond with my personal experience. I have never been rich, a kept woman, and I’ve never even had more than a thousand dollars in the bank at one time. I made about $1200 per month when I first started on this journey and would use one of my paychecks per month on the supplements and treatments my children and myself needed. I have found ways to prioritize the things I need for my health and my children’s health by cutting costs elsewhere. No, we don’t need a new game, gadget, clothes, beer or to go out to a movie. I do need to buy $50 of magnesium, cod liver oil, B vitamins, probiotics, and some lavender oil this month for my sons. I will also spend $50 on our family of four’s Juice Plus+ monthly order. So, $100 per month on supplements. Not free, but do-able if I prioritize. Sure, I could pay $0 for some psych meds for my son thanks to insurance, but that may not be a bargain if they are just zombifying him temporarily and stunting the growth of his brain and body long-term, creating more problems that I will eventually have to face with his behavior and health. Even though it means working some extra hours while my kids are in public school and only shopping at thrift stores, I will find a way.

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Of course, this is not to discount the struggles of people who are literally struggling to keep a roof over your heads and food in your mouths. Even if you are in that tough situation, there are things you can do in the short-term (as you are trying to improve your financial situation long-term) to increase health such as applying for SSI so that you have the money to buy some supplements, using free resources online or at the local library to learn about natural healing methods (check out anything by Dr. Andrew Weil), using food stamps and WIC to buy canned and frozen veggies and fruits to get some extra nutrition into yourself and your kids and taking everyone to the park for some exercise on a daily basis (especially those ADHD kiddos who need 3 times the amount of physical exercise than typical children). Many of us are perfectly able to find creative ways to cut back on buying things we don’t really need, find ways to generate a little extra income, and using free resources to get our kids active and healthy.

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Even if you are on a tight budget, exercising in nature is one step in the direction of holistic health!

 

I don’t write this post up on a high-horse or to judge anyone. I write it as a summary of our journey towards health and healing in case anyone else out there is wondering how to get started or if it is ok to try things other than meds for your 3-year-old on the autism spectrum. Nowadays, it is almost a rebellious act to choose natural healing as the first thing to try over just jumping into medications. I want other parents to know there are success stories, even if your medical doctor isn’t aware of them or won’t tell you about them because they are “only anecdotal”. I want you to know that I am still human and struggle to make healthy choices and sometimes I just throw caution to the wind and eat whatever sounds good. My youngest son is a little chubby even though we don’t keep unhealthy foods at home (thanks Grandma). My immune system is much stronger now than it has ever been, but I actually got such a bad case of strep throat last year (thanks to a lack of rest, the stress of my van breaking down with thousands of dollars in repairs needed, and sucking at self-care for about a month) that I had to have an antibiotic shot in the butt due to strep-induced inflammation causing heart palpitations. I was thankful for modern medicine on that day. But, I learned that I have to stop skimping on sleep, stop working myself into a frenzy stressing about money, and do better with self-care in general.

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It is an ongoing process choosing to move towards getting healthier each day. My hope is that we all can change the paradigm from one of thinking meds or surgery are the only options for mental and physical illnesses to a paradigm of making habits that promote health and wellness the top priority day to day and becoming aware of the host of holistic options that are available to us when we are in need of healing. Be informed. Be well. Treat the roots that the branches may blossom. May we all thrive as we wing it together towards a healthier body, mind, and spirit.

 

 

Being the Eye of the Storm: Crisis Counseling + Motherhood = Self-Care Not Optional

Those of you who know me well know that I juggle a lot of intense and high-stress stuff daily. My oldest son’s special needs, my youngest son’s intense and sensitive personality, my 3 part-time jobs (one of which is working at a domestic violence crisis center and shelter, thank God the other two are relatively tame), being a wife and not just a roommate to my husband, managing my own anxious tendencies….all of the mundane things I loathe like laundry that cause me anxiety, but still have to get done….it just overwhelms me to tears or “Mommy meltdown” sometimes. Most days, however, I feel grateful, happy and like I can handle my crazy life because of 4 secrets I will share with you:

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1) I am fiercely protective of my time and my self-care. I don’t let people guilt me into doing stuff. I’m already giving all I got…thankyouverymuch.

2) My work reminds me to stay in gratitude. I am not a victim of abuse. I am not scared of my husband. No one is stalking me or trying to hurt me. My kids are safe and healthy. I am physically healthy and able to work, in spite of dealing with some health challenges and life-long anxiety. I am grateful to have a home and a bed and plenty of food in my pantry. I am thankful for the laundry even though I would be even more thankful if someone would invent a laundry folding machine. I am thankful for those dirty dishes because we had a good meal on them. There is always something to be thankful for. Working at a shelter makes it pretty darn easy to re-evaluate when I have to be thankful for.

3) I know my place. Being clear about your role, what you can control and what you can’t, etc. is IMPERATIVE when you work in helping professions. It’s all too easy to get sucked into all the drama, get too attached or worry yourself sick about people. My role is not to rescue you (unless you are about to harm yourself or others, in which case I will call 911 to rescue you), become enmeshed with you or be your mama/BFF/babysitter. My goal is to empower you as an adult woman/mother to rescue yourself and your kids. My role is to care and help, but to not get overly involved beyond the scope of my role as a counselor. When you get too buddy-buddy with clients, it actually hurts rather than helps them and you. Healthy boundaries are a really good thing to model for people. It also makes doing my job possible when every single person is always desperately in need at all times and pulling me in a million directions. Don’t pity people, see their strengths and help them utilize them rather that doing things and solving their problems for them.

4) I come back to the mantra that came to me as an epiphany as I was lying on the table with needles sticking out everywhere praying during an acupuncture sessions a few years back: “be the eye of the storm” that still small voice inside myself urged.  The eye of the storm is calm and non-reactive, it is the place of peace within the swirling, violent clouds of the storm all around it. I accept that I do not have the power to calm the storm that is my life, but I do have the power to determine how I react to the storm and to keep my peace when everyone around me is freaking the heck out. Sometimes, I am good at this. Others, I blow it and have to remind myself “where did that eye of the storm go? Find it!”

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I am more than willing to help and do what is needed, but I am not willing to give myself a panic attack in the process because you are having one. I will strive to pull people into my peace rather than letting them pull me into their storm, as the meme I love to see on social media says. I am like a fierce mama lion when it comes to protecting my peace. I pray daily about this, but I am also a big believer in doing my best and using my common sense then letting God do the rest. If I know something wrecks my peace, I’m not going to just keep doing that and praying about it when I can change it. God gave me the sense to change it. Every time I pray I feel him gently urging “you are doing enough, just relax, don’t feel guilty or compare. I’ve got you where I want you.” 

Sometimes, I feel guilty or isolated because I am not the extrovert I once was. I need more time to recharge and find my peace than I used to when I just worked as a waitress and had no kids. People who have non-crisis related jobs or don’t have challenging children just can’t understand how emotionally exhausted I am from pouring out so much to people who are so desperately in need. My job involves safety planning with people who are worried they will killed by their abusers and their children will be kidnapped or worse, making DFCS reports, trying to calm someone who is having a panic attack, facilitating groups which are sometimes wonderfully inspiring and supportive of one another or also sometimes dealing with difficult or disruptive behavioral issues and trying not to worry that clients will relapse, commit self-harm, go back to abuse or commit suicide. I rarely clock out at the time I am scheduled to because just as I pack up and get ready to walk out the door, a traumatized child has just walked in the door wanting me or a crisis happens and it isn’t something that can wait until tomorrow. These are people’s lives. I must do my best. I can’t commit to doing anything after work other than coming home to decompress, eat and spend time with my family. I must keep my own peace. Managing my own emotional state so that I can be empathetic and effective with clients who drain the life out of you is a huge challenge of working with people in crisis.

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Then, I go home to my sons who are not the easy “Mommy, let’s color together and relax” kids at all. I love them to pieces and we have so much fun together, but having a child who has autism and another one who is “spirited” “sensitive” and “intense” to say the least is not a relaxing day at the spa or walk in the park to come home to. There are therapy appts to bring my son to, IEP meetings, calls from the school, everything must be taught, retaught, prompted, etc. Fights must be refereed. Bedtime is a constant daily dramatic battle with my youngest. I don’t mind meeting these challenges as long as I have taken good care of myself and have it to give. I start getting snappy and then feeling guilty if I haven’t done a good job with my self-care. My son deserves me at my best. I deserve to take the best care of myself possible. Thankfully, my close friends understand (many of them have special needs children too) and we connect how we can by phone or FB message or maybe just maybe having a girls night out once a year.

Then, there is the fact that I am married. My poor husband usually bears the brunt of my frustration. He also reaps the richest rewards of my love. I sometimes come in from work feeling some kind of way, irritated, drained, or crying on the drive home. Having our particular children has caused many disagreements and heated arguments. We have scapegoated each other “they are acting this way because of how you parent them”, we have played the classic “I work harder than you inside and outside the home” game, we have taken out our raw emotions and exhaustion on each other, we have both had escapist behaviors when our son was first diagnosed and we were in the trenches of autism. And yet, we have also learned to lean on one another out of sheer desperation and compassion. Being a special needs parent or parent of challenging children is not for the faint of heart. It is also not something anyone should have to do all alone. It’s been 10 years, but we have finally learned to work together as we “tag team” and help each other carry the load. He makes breakfast and hangs out with the boys on Saturday mornings while I go to yoga class and run. I come home and take them to lunch and swim lessons so he can get out in the garden and relax. I tell him “hey its your turn to do the dishes” rather than huff and puff as I do them and then go ballistic about how I’m the only one doing anything around here 2 days later when we are supposed to be enjoying a date night. Our main strength is that we have always refused to let physical intimacy die out because we need all the free stress relief we can get from each other. Desperate times can drive you into each other arms or into separate houses. I’m too overwhelmed already with my life to try being a single mom so that just isn’t an option. It is not smooth and easy, but it is worth the immense emotional energy it takes. My husband now fully understands how much self-care I need in order to not be a total b$@%$ to everyone. He facilitates it for his own good. 🙂

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I WILL ask myself each day, “what do you need right now?” Some days, the answer will be coffee with a friend. Some days, the answer will be to snuggle with my cat under a blanket and read as soon as I get home from work and get the kids fed. I WILL listen to my needs and try my best within the constraints of reality to meet them. I WILL go to my yoga class 3 times per week and run when I can to relieve my chronic muscle tension/anxiety. I have struggled with anxiety all my life as far back as I can remember and this is how I have learned to cope without medication. Medications always made me feel worse. I’ll take a steady regimen of yoga and running over pills anyway. That’s what works for me. Also saying the magic word: NO!  No, I WON’T head up that committee and Martha myself into exhaustion when I am already tired. I WILL spend time with God in prayer and reading devotions, inspiring stories, and the Bible as often as possible. I WILL not get up at 5am to do so like some people recommend. I WILL find what works for me and my life. I WILL go to my acupuncture appt every other month. I WILL go see my own counselor to debrief of the secondary trauma my work gives me. I WILL do whatever I need to do to stay balanced, even if that means I’m not very involved in anything except keeping my head on straight and above water with my family and work. I WILL NOT take any kind of leadership role in anything that is not required. I WILL not spread myself thin as butter by being a “yes girl” and volunteering for things I feel no call to do whatsoever. I WILL say “no” and decline things that I just don’t have the emotional or physical energy for.  I WILL NOT force my kids into extracurricular activities when they have no interest. I WILL do something to nurture myself everyday even if that is something small like hiding in my office for 15 minutes to deep breathe and listen to some relaxing music with my door closed or watching a funny YouTube video with a coworker and a “do not disturb, session in progress” sign on my door.

You may be reading this and think you don’t have the “luxury” of self-care and coming up with a list of reasons why you must martyr yourself because your situation is different from mine. You can do that, but this is a marathon, not a sprint, honey. What good will you be to everyone when you end up in the hospital from a heart attack or a mental breakdown? I challenge you to make one small change, which may look completely different from my list of self-care stuff, to take better care of yourself. It could be something as simple as making sure to eat or taking a walk around the neighborhood or getting a cat to cuddle up with. It could be finding local respite care providers for your special needs child so that me-time IS possible. In my community, there are 3 churches and one special needs school that offer free respite care. Search or you won’t find. Ask other parents, therapists, or local mental heath/developmental disability service providers. Reach out to Parent2Parent for a list of local resources. It could be popping in your earbuds and listening to some uplifting music instead of the kids bickering while you cook dinner and fold the laundry.  Self-care isn’t meant to make you feel more pressure. It doesn’t have to be a schedule spa day or anything fancy. It is just anything that makes you feel BETTER.

I know this is a season and my challenge/test in this season is to stay in gratitude and “be the eye of the storm”. I accept the challenge and am thankful for this testing ground that is my life so that I can learn to cultivate peace and patience as I practice nurturing myself and others. One day, maybe the storm will blow over and I will find myself bored and floating on calm seas missing the chaos, but for now I must stay in the eye of the storm by cultivating gratitude and taking care of myself or get blown to bits.

Are you going through a season that demands you give your all? How are you taking care of yourself? Let’s wing it together as we work on being the eye of the storm with gratitude and peace this week alright?

God Is In the Weeds…and the Radio, Thrift Store Books, Trees…and Muck, Mess, and Shattered Glass

It makes no difference to me what you call it…I call it a lot of different things myself and I realize that none of my words, my labels are sufficient at all. Words just fail me. That’s the beauty and mystery of it. God. Great Spirit. Great Mystery. Great Weaver. The Universe. Abba. Divinity. Holy. That which cannot be explained. Supernatural. Awe. Wonder. Agape. Energy. Life Force. Creator. Healer. Lover. You are all of these and so much more to me. I tried to deny you based on logic and reason at one point, as any scientist “should” (but wait, aren’t we taught absence of evidence is not evidence of absence?) And yet, I feel you all around me in inexplicable ways. In the weeds, the radio, books that jump off shelves at me at the thrift store, a tree, my messy and crazy job, and thinking about babies….How does all this stuff connect? This is how it weaves together for me:

I feel you, hear you, see you in…

Thrift Stores. A book found me at the thrift store this week…I say it found me because it literally fell off the shelf as I walked by. It is called “My Grandfather’s Blessings” by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D. and although I am only half-way through, I feel God speaking to me through every story within the pages of this gift of a book that Rachel has blessed me, and all who care to read it. In it, I have found such pearls as this which I need to be reminded of as a counselor: “We do not serve the weak or broken. What we serve is the wholeness in each other and the wholeness in life. The part in you that I serve is the same part that is strengthened in me when I serve. Unlike helping and fixing and rescuing, service is mutual. There are many ways to serve and strengthen the life around us: through friendship or parenthood or work, by kindness, compassion, generosity, or acceptance. Through our philanthropy, our example, our encouragement, our active participation, our belief. No matter how we do this, our service will bless us. When we offer our blessings generously, the light in the world is strengthened, around us and in us. The Kabbalah speaks of our collective human task as Tikkun Olam; we sustain and restore the world.”  

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Sustaining and restoring…don’t we all need some more of that, on the personal, familial, societal, and environmental levels? Why is it so hard to love one another? Why must we get caught up in these us versus them battles that rage constant? What would happen if we all took on this collective task? What does it look like for me to take on my part of this task just for today?

For me, today it looked like getting up and trying to love on my family the best I can even though I’m not perfect and they aren’t either. It meant going to church, singing my heart out, and finding something beautiful in the sermon and loving the people there even though they aren’t perfect and I’m not either. It means tomorrow going to work at a shelter for women and children who are fleeing domestic violence or who have become homeless in other ways due to it.

Muck, Mess, Shattered Glass. My job isn’t glamorous and doesn’t award many accolades; it often stretches me to the edge physically, mentally, and spiritually, but it is my calling and it is one of the places where I feel God teaching me and breathing life into my spirit the most. There, my job is to show love, to offer guidance and encouragement, to not rescue or fix, but to serve the best I can in a woman’s empowerment and her children’s healing. Sometimes that looks like carrying a woman’s bags in as she and her children move in. Sometimes it looks like unloading a truck full of food to feed our residents until my back is aching but I force myself to be thankful for my strong back that will feel just fine tomorrow. Sometimes it’s holding and rocking a sick child and wiping their boogers or a child throwing up on me. At times, it has been wiping poop or dealing with overflowing toilets or being hit and scratched and cursed at by traumatized children…and learning to show love anyway. But other times, I am unexpectedly blessed with the giggles and smiles of children dancing in dress-up clothes holding my hands twirling around when the realization of how far they have come in the few months since they have moved in and how far I’ve come since I started this job 5 years ago comes to me like a light bulb coming on. I am a better mother, friend, daughter, wife, human because of this job. It has helped me find God and understand how to love in the ugliest, hardest situations. In the muck, the mess, and the shattered glass on the floor that I have to clean up. Trying to piece it back together into something new. Something beautiful and strong. Like God is doing with me and the women and children I am privileged to serve in this way.

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Trees. There is a tree in my yard that has fallen and we thought was dead, but somehow year after year remains alive. I walked down to the creek to see where the base of the tree was and how this thing was still alive at all. The base of the tree roots is hanging down into the creek. When it fell, the roots slid right into water. I relate to this tree. When my life was at its worst and I was free-falling, I somehow fell into living water. Into the divine. Into a spiritual journey that is still going and I pray never ends. Something awoke in me. And when I saw this tree, it too became a part of my awakening.

Songs on the radio. I have playlists of songs that speak to my heart and soul and make me feel different things. But, my favorite thing is getting in my car after work or just going about my day and hearing a song that makes time stop and my spirit connect with something important that somehow got lost in the day to day shuffle. It doesn’t matter who the artist is or what genre. This week it was Tracy Chapman and Adele reminding me of the deep love I have for my children and reminding me that is exactly how God feels about me.

God is in the weeds. I used to be a waitress and when we would be up to our eyeballs in customers and about to lose our sanity and tips, we would say “I’m in the weeds, help!” to each other. That is when someone would give us the most help and where a lot of friendships and alliances were made. In the hard times, we find out who will love us and help. We appreciate it all the more. We can see God’s love in those “in the weeds” moments when people help and when we help them.

I think God is also in garden weeds. Last week, I watched as two birds danced around my poke plants, eating the berries and thought “what if I had pulled it up? I wouldn’t have these two unusual and beautiful birds dancing around blissfully in my yard. I wonder what else would be missing if these birds weren’t here?” I felt a holy awe as I watched and gave thanks for the interconnected nature of life and for embracing the life of this “weed” many would just pull up and toss aside or spray RoundUp to prevent growing in the first place.

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Be still and know. Seek and you shall find. Perhaps we don’t even have to try that hard to find, but just be open to receive the awe and wonder that is all around and trying to get our attention…in the thrift store, in a book, in a song, in birds, trees, weeds, and so much more. 

When Taking a Sabbatical Isn’t An Option: Inside My Life as a Working Mom and Special-Needs Parent

“You’re 5 minutes late again, Jen. Is everything alright?” my former boss questioned me…again. I wanted to be honest. I wanted to tell the truth, but the truth was that my son’s autism wasn’t going to go away, I still had to keep this job, and it wasn’t my boss’s problem. It wasn’t something someone who isn’t the parent of a child with special needs will ever understand on any level anyway. I’m sure my boss assumed I was just having trouble with “time management” or taking too much time getting a latte (which I couldn’t even afford) when the truth was and is that I have trouble with “life management.” If I didn’t HAVE to work to keep a stable home, the lights on, the water running, food in the pantry, clothes on my kids backs and shoes on their feet, I wouldn’t. I would have taken at least a season off. I would have at the very least taken the season off from work when I had a newborn and was driving 2 hours to Atlanta for testing and therapies for my 3-year-old son who was being diagnosed with autism.

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This was the season when my heart was breaking and I would collapse in tears on my pillow every night after completing yet another 10 pages of paperwork fighting to get him the early intervention services that I was told would make or break his future functioning (no pressure or anything lol)  that I couldn’t afford on my own. It was the season when I kept my make-up bag in the car so that I could put my make-up on when I pulled into the parking lot at work so that no one would notice (hopefully) my red, puffy eyes from crying on the drive into work when my son had yet another meltdown when I had to drop him off at his special-needs preschool. Thank God we even have a special needs preschool in my town so that I could put him in daycare. He couldn’t function at a typical daycare center. It was the season of covering up his claw marks on my arms with long sweaters some weeks. It was the season where he gave my mom a black eye from flailing around during a meltdown. It was the season when I was not only working, but trying to finish my Master’s degree so that I would be able to work part-time and actually make a living wage. I knew working full-time would never work for me and my son’s needs. Someone has to take him to therapy appts twice per week, he cannot stay in a typical after school care program (he can barely hold it together behaviorally during the school day), and I knew that I would not be able to have the patience and energy to deal with his challenges if I was drained from a 40+ hr work week. So, I worked 30 hrs per week while I attended graduate school full-time. It nearly killed me. I wasn’t the best, most patient mom during this time. But this was the only way I saw to make it to a sustainable lifestyle. I did survive by the grace of God and threw myself over that finish line, walked the stage and got my Master’s in Clinical Counseling Psychology.  I collapsed in bed with a migraine that lasted for a month after graduating. Thank God I had enough money from student loans to take one month off to try and heal my body and mind.

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Thank God, after an exhaustive job search, I was offered the first job that didn’t require a long commute giving community awareness presentations and working with women and children who have experienced trauma in my town. I am still there today because I find my work fulfilling, but also because it is a family-friendly workplace where I get some limited benefits and a stable, predictable salary. I feel like my bosses care about me and I could tell them if I needed to take time off for my son. I make a decent enough living and work outside the home only 20 hrs per week. I supplement my income teaching online college classes here and there. It’s not enough to have a savings account, take vacations, or feel “set,” but I know I won’t be in danger of being homeless or unable to meet my children’s basic needs.

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I often felt like if I could just be a stay-at-home mom, then maybe I wouldn’t feel like a basket case all the time. There is nothing worse that having people look at you with that, “is she alright?” look at work. No, I’m not alright. I struggle every single day. My child requires more from me than typical children do. He has had sleep issues (thank God finally resolved with natural supplements, but he didn’t sleep through the night for 6 years), he requires a strict routine and I can’t just make him run to the grocery store with me because I forgot the ketchup and he’s demanding ketchup. I have to keep him on an even keel by making sure he has time for relaxation, to sit on the potty at the scheduled time, to go to his therapy appointments. He requires so much love and patience. He has taught me so much love and patience. Did I mention I also have another child 2.5 years younger than him? I have to deal with the challenges of a sibling who is frustrated with his brother’s special needs. I mediate fights and try to understand both their viewpoints. Putting on my game face for work and acting “put together” and “professional” isn’t easy. I don’t have time to accessorize or do my hair, so its usually in a messy bun. I could be having an full on panic attack and you wouldn’t even notice because I have trained my mind and body to just sit there and ride it out, knowing it will end at some point. Anxiety is a liar I don’t have time to listen to. I used to feel like a big, fat phony. Now, just feel strong. I survive my challenges and my life everyday.

I’m a warrior, I soldier on for my son every day. I don’t completely unload my whole story and all my struggles on my co-workers, but I’m honest enough about the fact that I have struggles and I know what its like to be past your breaking point and still soldiering on because that’s what we good mamas do for our kids.  I think that makes me a better counselor, especially for other parents who have special needs children or have trouble finding ways to balance all of the demands of life. It doesn’t make it easy. I invest some money each month on self-care so that I don’t end up in the mental ward or dead from a heart attack. I have to take care of myself or where will that leave my kids? Without a functional mama. So, I do yoga, I pray, I listen to music, I journal, I get acupuncture when I can afford it, I get cheap massages from the local massage school, I garden and run around with my kids in the yard. I thank God I have a home and a yard.

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Sometimes, now I think that working has been good for me. Not having the option to stay home means that I have always had to pull my $#@# together every day, even if I don’t think I can or I don’t want to. I don’t have the option to sink into alcoholism, addictions, self-pity or depression. I have to “just keep swimming, just keep swimming” and that keeps me from sinking down deep. I can’t sink or my kids will sink with me and they don’t deserve that. They deserve my all, my best. I refuse to fail them as long as there is breath in my lungs and my hands are able to work. Work demands my all, my best as well. So I have to find ways to be my best me, to cope effectively. Yes, my ultimate daydream is to be a kept woman, but knowing that is about as unlikely as a winning lotto ticket, I just keep going. I cry, I scream and pound the steering wheel of my car when I’m alone in the car sometimes, I call my mom or my best friend and get out my “its not fair, this sucks” moments. I listen to songs that make me feel like God has me and I’m strong like:

You might be thinking I’m a single mom as you read this. I’m not. Times are just tough and they always have been. My husband has always tried his best, but he has had some tough stuff to deal with too, like lay-offs and being unable to finish school due to caring for his sick father and trying to support their family when he was only 19. Now, he has health issues himself. He works hard, but without a college degree or hulk-like physical strength to do manual labor in a 105 degree factory all day, he has never been able to fully take care of our family’s financial needs by himself. I know it breaks his heart and his pride watching me struggle. We live frugally. We have a tiny house, used cars, thrift store clothes, discount shoes. We are not snobs, but I refuse to live in the projects where I can’t sleep in peace at night. I need a car to get my son to his appts. My son requires a lot of vitamin and mineral supplements to help his behavior, sleep, and stomach issues. My son’s therapies require co-pays. I have had to buy things to help him learn and communicate better like an iPad. There are so many extra costs that come with his needs. It is what it is. But he is worth it. And I will do my best. Thankfully we have extended family support if the car breaks down or the pipes burst. That support for emergency needs is more than many struggling families have. hope

This is my life. It is raw and honest. I would be lying if I said I didn’t ask God, “why?” sometimes. But usually the still small voice in my heart just reminds me that I am strong and I can learn. If God only gives us what we can handle, apparently I’m just a bad-ass.

But on a serious note, I give thanks that all of my prayers for my son have been answered. I have prayed over him every single night with tears flowing. He is thriving in spite of his challenges. He speaks (not only speaks, but articulately and with a beautiful vocabulary) and he has not had a meltdown in 3-4 years. He has friends, loving teachers, an accepting church family, and kind therapists. He finally started sleeping well and using the potty. He still needs peace and calm in his daily life. He still can’t go to the after school program, but that’s ok. We are making it. He is making it. Living on the love of God and family, we just keep winging it. Giving up is not an option. We will wing it together.

Lost and Found…Daily

Everyday I walk my sons into school. I pass by the “Lost and Found” rack full of coats, jackets, shirts, hats, etc. How do so many of these things go missing so often? Do the kids not notice they don’t have a coat on? Aren’t they cold? That made me start thinking about being lost and not realizing it. It made me think of being found in a more profound way. Many people sing “I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see” in church. “Amazing Grace” has always been a favorite of mine that brings me to tears…every…single….time I hear it or sing it. I used to think the journey of faith was like that. I was once so lost and blind, but now I’m found and I see. Linear like that right? Not quite. Well, it was true that I was lost and then found. When God found me in 2011, I was utterly and desperately lost and blind. My physical and emotional health were at an all time low. My relationships were in shambles and I was desperate for a job. My son was diagnosed with special needs I was financially incapable of providing for. I tried to figure it out on my own and just ended up digging myself into a deep, dark hole. Utterly lost. I was brought to my knees and begging to be found and my eyes opened. They were. Through a strange series of events and people who came into my life at just the right time, I was found. I was changed. I had always thought it was just a cliche, but in spite of my skepticism, it happened to me! It all started with being brought low and admitting on the floor of my bathroom ugly crying that I was lost and blind, begging to see and be found.

Guardian-Angel

But, it doesn’t just end there nice and tidy like that. I wasn’t just a shirt that was dirty and nasty and got washed and hung up nice and neat in the closet never to be dirtied or worn and torn again. I still go out every day into this world and face my past and my struggles that are still there, struggles I have learned how to deal with rather than allow to control my entire life. I still get lost (although not as badly lost as before thank God) and I still get found (thank God) on a regular basis. Sometimes a daily basis. Kind of like how my kids misbehave, go to time out to think, tell me they are sorry and love me and will never misbehave again only to go through the same. darn. thing! a couple of days later. They are still learning…so am I. I haven’t lost my shirt in a long time, so I know I’m making progress.

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Sometimes in life, in spite of our best intentions and plans, we find ourselves backsliding. Like that darn game chutes and ladders, we are just plugging along and we think we are making progress and we are gonna win this thing! Woohoo! Then, we roll a 5 and land on a chute space and go sliding back down. Slides can be kind of fun even, until you land on your bottom in the dirt and realize, no, you aren’t back to “Start” but you went from space 65 to space 40 and now 3 people are ahead of you! Last place! Ugh, how did this happen?! When we were in the lead! We can either chose to get dejected and quit the game early to avoid the possibility of not winning or we can say “well at least I’m not where I started”, roll again and pray for a ladder space. Sometimes I get a ladder space and I’m like “wow! I didn’t expect that!” and I feel so grateful. Those are like the little epiphanies I have sometimes when I have a heart-to-heart with a friend who is also trying to move forward, read an inspiring  book, spend some quiet time with Jesus, be still and sense God in nature, or sometimes I’m just driving in my car and some kind of wisdom hits me like a 2 x 4 over the head, etc. Life and my faith journey is a lot like “Chutes and Ladders.” Down and up, side to side, slide down, climb up, be pulled up, slide a little, ask for help, get lost, get found, daily. Thank God “Found” is not a one-time-only, limited time offer.

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It’s dangerous to tell yourself you are just found, found, found and don’t struggle with “that” anymore, whatever “that” thing is for you. In my experience, Jesus broke my chains, but I still have to chose day to day to step out of them or just sit in those broken chains. If I’m honest with myself, I step out of the broken chains and I realize that there are certain situations I just don’t need to be in or its like picking up broken chains and wrapping them back around myself like some kind of security blanket. Sometimes standing up, stepping out of the broken chains is a weird feeling, “ok what now?” is my usual question. I fear boredom, I fear stagnation, I fear depression, I fear being dumpy, put upon, a “beast of burden” (thanks Rolling Stones), and most of all, unloved and unappreciated. I can let all of those fears rise to a roar in my mind so loud that I just get lost or I can say “God please find me, help me not get lost…again” every morning, every hour, every breath. If I fix my eyes on your love, on You, Jesus, the epitome of grace and mercy who laid down your life to try and wake us the bleep up in a dramatic way and save all of us who perpetually find ourselves lost, I am found over and over in wave after wave of your grace and mercy. Your hand is ALWAYS outstretched to me and to all. Sometimes I turn my back on you and still when I turn around you are right there with that same outstretched hand. You never shun me for being lost, you wait patiently and you find me when I want to be found. You are a gentleman and would never force me into your arms or get all up in my face demanding I accept your love, but instead wait for me to find my way to you with your gentle whispers to guide me as well as the people and experiences you put in my path.

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Even thought I try hard, I still mess up. I blow it. I could sit in that shame and guilt when I blow it beating myself up for _________ (insert shame and accusations) and I can hide from you in my ugliness as Adam and Eve did (that’s my take on what that story is really about anyway, that we are gonna mess up and its the running that is really bad not the messing up). Or I can just realize you already know, you know I am human, you know I’m dumb and I blow it, that’s why I need you. Now, I run straight for your arms and I’m brutally honest with You and with myself when I mess up…again. Found. Again and again.

Of course, we should all try our best to not cause pain to ourselves or others, to listen to our conscience, to be the good we wish to see in the world, the salt and light. We should do the hard work, be our best selves. But, we will fail. We will get lost. We are human. We can experience God most deeply and profoundly in our brokenness. I think brokenness is so beautiful because if we weren’t all broken in some way, we wouldn’t need God. “Why does God allow suffering, allow atrocities, etc.?” is often used as proof that no Higher Power exists at all. I do not agree with this viewpoint. Have you ever learned something you would have never been able to learn from suffering or a traumatic experience? I have. Post-traumatic growth fascinates me and other researchers. Trauma doesn’t just cause PTSD and debilitate people. Trauma can fuel growth in a way that almost nothing else can. If we can stop lamenting our pain and instead seek the purpose, seek to grow, seeking a higher power in it then we can grow stronger in every way. Or we can use it as evidence that hope and growth from pain and a plan or purpose for our pain is just a bunch of bologna. Either way, one thing everyone can agree on is the universal nature of brokenness and a need for healing. Healing for ourselves, healing for our families and loved ones, healing for communities, systems that perpetuate injustice, healing for all for all of the violence and pain in this world. May our own brokenness connect us with the brokenness of others just like all of those coats hanging on the “Lost and Found” rack at school. May we all be found. By each other, by our higher power. Again and again. Day after day as we wing it through our brokenness and this broken world seeking healing.

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Joyful Movement: How did you enjoy moving your body as a child? What would joyful movement look like to you?

Remember when you were a child? All wild and free doing whatever felt good? I do. I remember swimming being the most exciting, wonderful thing ever. I looked forward to Summer all year, daydreaming about spending the whole day in my grandparent’s pool or going to swim at the local college. I remember frolicking through the woods behind my great-grandma’s house running as fast as I could and then exploring the plants and animals slowly and with care. I remember dancing wild and crazy in my room to the Aerosmith CD my Dad gave me. I remember the first time I rode my bike without training wheels when I was 4-years-old. My Dad right behind me holding onto the seat and telling me “Go for it! You got it!” looking back and realizing he wasn’t holding on anymore and I really was doing it! I rode my bike all over the neighborhood, to the corner store, to my friend’s house. All smiles and freedom in the sunshine. I felt powerful and able. I felt free and relaxed.

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Then I became an awkward teenager…I remember a shrinking feeling when I looked around and realized I was not very “athletic” when it came to team sports or “talented” when it came to dance. I didn’t try out for the dance team or anything else because I didn’t feel good enough. I was confident in my intellect. My body? Not so much. I dislocated my knee dancing when I was 9-years-old and suffered through a 7-month recovery period. Ever since that day, I distrusted my body. I wanted to keep it safe so that I wouldn’t be injured again. I was just “not the athletic type” so I shunned physical activity except what was required to pass gym class or work my Summer and after school jobs.

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Sums up my teen years…

After the birth of my 2nd son when I was 23, I realized I had to get into the gym or let myself go. Two choices. So, I joined a gym and pushed myself to the limit running, lifting weights, eating a low-carb, high-protein diet, tanning, etc. I became a typical “gym rat” and didn’t listen to my body or enjoy what I was doing at all. I did enjoy the endorphin rush from running and I enjoyed listening to music while I ran, but this wasn’t about body love. It was all about subjugating the body and pushing through workouts with force and anger to look a certain way rather than trying to have any amount of joy or fun. I pushed so hard, in fact, that I injured my knees, my foot, developed heart palpitations, etc.

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So, I had to take a break from that. I started going to a yoga/Pilates class because it was all that I could do other than walk. I loved it. I ENJOYED it. Wow, exercise could be…fun? joyful? something I look forward to? That started me thinking….what if I went back to enjoying moving my body like I did when I was a little girl? What if I did what my body enjoyed? What if I cut out the nasty protein shakes and low-carb protein bars and ate food that both nourished my body and tasted good? What if I started swimming again? Riding a bike again? Going to yoga/Pilates and Zumba dance class instead of the “Pump” weightlifting class I hated? What if I followed my body’s wisdom?

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My sons and I have discovered that swimming is “our thing”. We go at least once per week to swim at the indoor pool at the local aquatic center. We swim in the lake and outdoor pools in the Summer. It is a way to be active that we all enjoy rather than suffer through. We also enjoy racing each other down to the lake behind our neighbor’s house and back to our house. We play. We have fun. I dance around the house wild and free when no one is here but my kids. They join in. I can’t afford a bike right now and don’t know where I would ride it in my town where I wouldn’t get run over anyway, but one day…one day….’

And you know what happened ? By listening to my body, moving it in ways that feel joyful, fueling my body with delicious and nutritious food I’m still physically fit (although no longer a stick figure). I am healthy. I am happy. I am joyful. I no longer pressure myself to suffer through 2-hour workouts and eat food that tastes like chalk or cardboard.

The body is pretty wise. It often tells us what we need to hear but don’t want to hear. Our mind can justify pushing ourselves to the limit and white-knuckling it through life, but the body screams “No!” in many ways we often ignore until we are physically debilitated.  For so many, exercise is something they have written off because they don’t want to join a gym, push through workouts they don’t feel any joy doing, and they don’t feel like a “gym person” or “the athletic type.” The truth is, all the human body requires to be healthy is movement and good nutrition. That movement can be any type of movement. We just gotta move!

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How did you enjoy moving your body as a child? What would joyful movement look like to you?  Just for today….let’s wing it without a plan and try to soak up some fun along the way.