Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Trading Pain for Purpose and Trials for Testimonies

Last week I had the privilege of speaking to a group of women who have experienced pregnancy or infant loss. A group of women affiliated with the Hope Mommies West Texas Chapter came together last Friday evening for dinner, fellowship, and connection. It was a beautiful evening. One not without pain or tears, but one not void of joy, hope, and encouragement. 

When I first received the invitation to speak, I was told the theme of the weekend would be Psalm 91:1-4. You guys. I about lost it. Remember this post? Public speaking is not my comfort zone, but God was making this decision real loud and clear. Thanks, God. 

So Brandon and I drove to Abilene, Texas last Friday. During the event I watched Hope Mom after Hope Mom proudly speak their baby's name and share stories and give hugs to those more fresh in their grief. 

Maybe you haven't experienced pregnancy or infant loss, but you have most likely walked through pain of some kind. Maybe a pain from years before or maybe you are walking through something more recent. None of us are immune to trials. Trials of some kind will come for all of us as long as we are living and breathing on this earth. How I wish this wasn't the case. 

Below is a small portion of words I shared with the women of Hope Mommies. I pray it encourages your soul today, regardless of the pain or trail you are facing. 

. . . 

I don’t love the phrase “Everything happens for a reason,” but I do believe that purpose can be found in everything that happens to us. Because if not, what’s the point? What’s the other option? To forever remain bitter and a martyr and forever identified by our particular losses? That is not how I want to live.

I choose purpose. 

Purpose can look like a million different things. For me? It’s this . . .

I think of Chance every single day. When I think of my son I think of the promise of heaven and when I think of heaven I think of my Savior Jesus. Chance’s life renewed my focus on the only one I actually need - Jesus. When I think of Chance I’m reminded to keep looking up, instead of side-to-side, knowing that anything I will ever need was given to me when Jesus gave Himself on the cross. So thanks to my son, my mind is pointed to Jesus daily, sometimes even hourly. That’s purpose. 

Losing Chance has also given me the courage to continually share the truth of the gospel because I know life doesn’t end with death and if I know such a secret, how can I not share it? That’s purpose. 

Losing Chance has given me credibility with a hurting world. Struggling souls hear our stories and see our lives as we demonstrate to them God’s sufficiency to meet our needs. Our babies’ lives and stories open the door for connection and offer light to another’s darkness. We have loved and lost, but we have not lost hope. We still have joy. We do not despair. This speaks volumes to those who, in their pain, do not know the Lord. God has blessed our lives through our babies so that we can be a blessing to others. That’s purpose. 
Losing Chance heightened my awareness to all the gifts in my life. I became more in-tune to all the good, all the blessings. All the things that, had I not lost my son, I would more easily take for granted: The roof over my head - food on my table - water in my faucet - my living children - my husband who works endlessly to support my family - The pink rose bush that sits outside my front window. Now, when I ponder these blessings, my mind turns to praise. My son reminded me that there is so much good, so much to be grateful for, and that it is important to stop and worship the Lord in thankfulness. That’s purpose. 
Losing Chance and getting to the other side has renewed my faith in God’s faithfulness. I know hard times will come again, that’s a guarantee, yet by remembering God’s grace and faithfulness in carrying my family through the loss of Chance, I will more clearly be able to face the next hurdle, challenge, or loss. This is the pattern with which God uses to grow and stretch me and renew my faith. I look back to look ahead and remember and remind myself that his faithfulness has indeed been my shield and rampart. He has brought me through so much already and He will continue to bring me through. He’s walked with me through an eating disorder, infertility, the diagnosis of my oldest daughter and the daily ups and downs that come with parenting a child with severe intellectual disability. I look back to remember these times to reassure myself that He will continue to pull me through again and again and again. That’s purpose. 
Purpose can also look like viewing Psalm 91 through a fresh, post grief, set of eyes. Eyes that have grieved and cried buckets of tears for our babies gone too soon, but eyes that continually trust and experience refuge and the peace of our Savior. Eyes that have seen God’s faithfulness in their darkest hours. Eyes that choose to see beyond circumstances, and thus minds able to dwell well and experience rest, despite devastating loss. That's purpose. 

So while I don’t believe God wanted Chance to die, I do believe He allowed it to happen for His good and His glory. His greater purposes. For the pointing back to His Son, Jesus Christ and while this belief does not remove suffering or instantly heal the hurt, it does redeem it. 

One of my favorite books is Choose Joy by Sarah Frankyl and Mary Carver. Sarah Frankyl struggled from a terminal disease that kept her homebound, but that didn’t stop her from living. She was a blogger/writer and blogged the lessons she learned while she struggled with chronic pain and while she was dying. Choose Joy is written in Frankyl’s own words yet sewn together in book form by her friend Mary Carver. 

One of my favorite quotes from the book is the following:

"I don’t know if I’m right or wrong, but I trust that everything that comes from God is good. I trust that everything that comes from God is an already answered prayer. I trust that everything that will come from God is exactly what I need. Even if it’s hard. Because He sees what I can’t. So I count it all a gift. And I thank Him—not for the pain and the difficulty—but for the faithfulness He gives during it all. That is how I have learned to praise. Even in my weakest places, even in my hardest moments, even in the depths of pain and sickness, I thank Him for what I know for sure is true—beyond the distraction of the hard, within the hard. I praise Him for Him." - Sarah Frankyl 

Friends, God takes our pain and gives it purpose and He takes our trials and turns them into testimonies. He is so so faithful to do so. We have a testimony of God’s incredible faithfulness. We have seen Him work before. And we know He will continue to fulfill His purposes in us and around us and through us.

He is faithfully writing your story into history, and you can trust Him. 

So my prayer for you, for us, is that God graces you with purpose in your story. That He takes your trials and turns them into testimonies. And that like Sarah Frankyl you can boldly proclaim that everything that comes from God is good and exactly what you need. My prayer is that we can count it all a gift, even the hard parts of our story. 

. . . 

Your turn. . . How is God trading your pain for purpose? 

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Dear Chance . . . Three Years In Heaven

Dear Chance,

Today we celebrated your third year in heaven. Today, three years ago, I birthed you from my body, held you in my arms, studied your face, and couldn't believe I was a mama to a little boy.

I miss you so much and think of you often. While I wish you were here with us, I am confident you are living out your God given purpose in heaven.

Much fruit has come from your 20 weeks of life and birth and entrance into heaven. Only fruit that God could see in advance and arrange in his bigger-picture-kind-of-way. The fruit doesn't always take away the sadness, but it does give purpose to your short life and for that I am so thankful!

Here is how we celebrated you today . . .

Dropped off Clara to school decked out in our blue (and pink because jackets were neecssary)!

(Side note: We were 1.5 hours late dropping her off because your crazy sisters wanted to pretend they were newborn babies last night and woke up 345x. I can't even make this stuff up. Camille was crying because she needed water. Camille was crying because she rolled off her blanket on the floor. Yes, she has been requesting to sleep on the floor. I don't even know. Camille was crying because a mean chicken was chasing her. Clara was up because she stowed a tiny toy away in her covers and wanted to play all night long. Your sisters are cray some days/nights.)

After drop off, we met Aunt Ashley at our favorite park for a play-date. The weather was amazing and the sun shining and it set the nicest mood for the day.

We came home from the park to find a birthday cake and balloons from friends! Our people haven't forgotten you, Chance. I am so thankful.

After lunch, Camille and I made cupcakes in your honor. . . Funfetti flavored with blue icing of course, per tradition.

Once Clara was home from school and daddy home from work, we visited the cemetery where you were buried and released balloons. We later enjoyed a pizza dinner together and some good, quality time as a family. It was a perfect day (just like you!) and while there was a bit of sadness, there was also plenty of smiles going around.

Happy birthday, baby boy!

Three years closer!!!


P.S. It's important to note that your sister, Camille, now understands that you live in heaven and not Hawaii. She was a bit confused last year, but we've been working on our theology since then. However, she asked me today, completly serious, if you are a dog or a kid up in heaven. So, apparently we still have some work to do.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

When You Give A Four Year Old Some Quarters . . .

Last Saturday night Camille boldly requested, "Mommy, I want pizza for dinner!"

I had to break her heart that we had zero pizza in the house and since we had already meal planned for the week and had plenty of food at home, we would not be ordering pizza.

She didn't take the news too horribly, although she was a bit sad. Brandon then had the brilliant idea to suggest if she really wanted pizza for dinner, she could count the money in her piggy bank collected from doing chores, and use her own money to purchase a delicious mediocre tasting Hot and Ready from Little Caesars.

She. Got. So. Excited.

She had just enough for a $5.00 Little Caesars pepperoni pizza so after stuffing her pockets (literally) with her change, off they went!

both shorts pockets are stuffed with $, lol
Brandon didn't take a video of the exchange, but said Camille was beyond giddy to pay herself!

One happy customer!

Moral of the story? Assign your child age appropriate chores. Pay them in quarters. And eventually your child will buy you dinner. :)

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Special Needs Potty Training . . . Take Two . . . Four Months In

Some of you know we started potty training Clara at the end of October of 2017. This is the second go-round with potty training. 

Love her smile here!

Our first attempt started okay, yet ended with us never fully taking away her pull-ups, which resulted in us slacking on her sit schedule, which basically confused the daylights out of Clara, which is not ideal for a child who is significantly delayed in development. Consistency is um, key. I could fill these lines with lots of excuses as to why we never fully went for it (language barrier being the main excuse) but honestly, I just wasn't ready to go all in and give it 100%. 

Toward the end of last year Clara's BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst, think lead therapist that is in charge of her targets and treatment plan at school) encouraged us to try again and this time go all in. As in, follow their protocol 100%. As in, take away the pull-up from day one and no going back. Our BCBA thought she was ready and since it was the start of "a new school year," (she goes year round but this decision came in the fall of the school year) he encouraged us to truly give it our all. 

I am not exaggerating when I say I cried for a solid 24 hours leading up to day oneBrandon thought his wife had gone off the deep end. Bless his heart for not giving up on me. 

Initially the protocol was intense (see below). And by intense I mean we were literally living in the restroom. This protocol was happening 24/7 (unless sleeping at night), both at school and at home. 

  • Every two minutes prompt to drink.
  • Every five minutes conduct a dry check. If dry give verbal praise.
  • Every thirty minutes - 10 minutes on the potty, 20 minutes off
  • Play iPad is reserved for successful voids on the toilet only. If she has a success she gets the iPad for 5 minutes, then it goes away. She is not allowed access to the iPad at all unless a success. This will help pair her most reinforcing item with voiding on the potty. I pee on the potty, I get iPad.
  • If she has an accident, we say "No wet pants," and take her immediately/swiftly to the toilet to sit and help clean herself up.

Those first few weeks were messy to say the least. Like REALLY messy. Yet, approximately two weeks in, she started initiating! I was honestly shocked she picked it up so quickly. Once she started initiating, we were told to drop the sit schedule (all the praise hands!), yet still prompt her to drink every two minutes and dry check her every five minutes. 

Once she achieved 20 straight successes with no accidents, (only referencing urine here, was told BM's will come later, so when I reference an accident I'm referencing pee) we stopped pushing fluids. She conquered this in December 2017.  

The next goal, and where we have been since December of last year, is one month of initiations with no accidents. Once she makes it one month accident free, we can teach her to mand/request for restroom using her iPad/speech device (she has a separate iPad for communication).

Our BCBA is confident in this requirement/goal of one month accident free, and it is based in the latest ABA (applied behavioral analysis, the type of therapy Clara receives at school) research for children who are delayed in development/Autistic. 

The longest she has made it is three weeks accident free. Again, just talking pee here, she still poops her pants daily (smile). I keep reminding myself that three weeks is remarkable! Truly incredible! But honestly, it is disappointing and frustrating when you think you're almost there and then boom, accident. Data is wiped clean and you start over, again. 

Lately, we have seen regression on the weekends, for whatever reason. We are investigating this to see what triggers might be occurring and how to help eliminate them. The past few weeks she has had accidents during the week, as well. Two last night. Sigh. I know she will get there. I know she will. 

We have been limiting her outings because 1. she is required to initiate and 2. she does so by walking to the restroom and 3. we are this far in and thus determined to not deviate from the protocol. So as you can imagine, asking her to initiate when out and about in the community can get tricky when she doesn't know where the restroom is located. So we are homebound a lot. Which is okay. I know this is just a phase and it WILL be worth it in the end. Just got to keep pressing in and pressing on. 

Once we can teach her to request restroom on her iPad, her world (and ours!) will really open up again and we can do more things as a family of four etc. 

Thank you for the encouragement, texts, phone calls and random check-ins over the past few months. We feel loved and supported and are beyond grateful for those that rally around us in times like this where raising a child with special needs feels a bit, well, tiring. 

Loving her new glasses!
(Eyes must be on her all the times, as we have to see when she walks into the restroom. This can be challenging when multiple children have conflicting needs both physical and emotional. We have tried putting a sensor in the restroom to alert us when it senses motion, but every one we've tried is WAY too loud and scares the daylights out of her.) 

Will you pray with us that God will open our eyes to any triggers that might be causing the regression? Will you pray that we won't grow weary in his process and will continue to give it our best? Will you pray that Clara makes it one month accident free?

Thank you, thank you, thank you! 

Praying the next update involves Clara requesting potty on her iPad/speech device!

***There's been a few times I/we have missed Clara walking into the restroom and found her minutes later on the toilet just sitting there waiting for us. Cutest ever! A few times her pants have been drenched, but we were so proud because she did what she was supposed to do! She felt the urge,  held it, walked to the restroom, got on the toilet, and urinated. She can't pull her pants/underwear down unassisted, thus why she was soaked. Once she did the same thing and then even got off (guess we were really distracted, usually happens around dinnertime) and flushed the toilet! We ran in to find her grinning from ear to ear!! Her pants were soaked but man, what a gift from God to get this glimpse into what she CAN do and the confirmation to just keep at it.***

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Gift Of An Unusual But Lovely Sibling Interaction

A few days ago Camille asked to watch a movie she had borrowed from my parent's house, Belle's Magical World, in my bedroom. Seeing as we no longer own a DVD player and gave away all our movies, I had to set up my computer on my bed for her to watch.

About fifteen minutes in Clara hears the music playing and crawls up on top of my bed. I assume she is going to go straight for the keyboard and try to grab the computer and get Camille's panties in a wad. Because Clara loves herself some tapping on the keyboard. And Camille loves herself some Belle's Magical World. Or anything with Belle, really.

To my surprise, Clara just sits there and watches as if she just wanted to be near her sister. It was a precious sight, one that doesn't happen too often, so I ran to grab my phone to take a video.

I returned a few moments later and noticed Camille mimicking Clara's behaviors. It was the cutest thing. Purposeful interaction was occurring.

When this happens, intentional back-and-forth engagement between my girls, time kind of stops in our house. These moments are so rare you just have to sit back and treasure every second.

This video might not look like much to some, but to me it's everything. Thank you, Jesus for this gift of a cherished moment.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Hope Mommies E-Book Is Here!

Several weeks ago Hope Mommies announced the release of the 2018 e-book created for Hope Moms, "Heard." 

It. Is. Incredible. 

And the best part? You can download this e-book for free to read articles, make your way through a devotional study, read a Hope Mom's open letter to her Hope Baby, and more. 

"It's in these moments of deep vulnerability, transparency during the storm, choosing to share with God the state of our hearts instead of conceal, that we open ourselves up to His truth that our spirits so desperately need." - Amen and amen. 

Click here to access this free resource. 

I was thrilled and honored to work on this project alongside several other women who long to bring encouragement to women experiencing pregnancy loss. 

Have you walked the road of pregnancy loss? Recently or years ago?

Do you know someone, a dear friend or acquaintance or a friend of a friend who has lost a baby? If so, can I encourage you to take a peak at this e-book and/or pass it along?

Hope and healing is within reach, dear sisters. We face trails of many kinds, yes, but we do not despair because the King of Kings and Lord of Lords lives and reigns and praise God, this world is not the end of the story. We will not be overcome by circumstance because Jesus has already overcome. 

Hope Mommies was an invaluable resource to me when I lost Chance several years ago (and still is!), and I have no doubt this ministry will continue to impact the lives of women all over the world. 



Sunday, January 14, 2018

Camille is FOUR YEARS OLD!

Camille turns FOUR years old today and I am equal parts sad and thrilled.

Sad because this means my littlest babe continues to grow up after multiple request to just. stop. it.

Thrilled because each year just keeps getting better and better and I hear from parents before me that the older they get, the more fun you have. New challenges come, yes, but I hear the good stuff is in the older years.

Happy 4th birthday, Camille! You are a gem. A social butterfly, sassy-pants, who lives life FULLY every single day. Seriously. Every morning you ask "Where are we going today? Who is coming over? Who can I go visit? Can you plan a party, Mommy? Oh and we need decorations." Decorations all day everyday. We are blessed to have you, Camille. Your compassionate heart SHINES bright. Never stop shining, sister girl. We love you and can't believe you're now FOUR!

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Christmas and New Years Eve 2017

Oh wait. I blogged about New Years themes and ideas and I never blogged about Christmas. That goes against every Type-A part of my personality, but you can't win them all I suppose.

I took approximately two pictures all of Christmas break because 'tis the season for sickness. Virus, fever and cough that eventually morphed into full-blown bronchitis.

Thank goodness for steroids.

For memories sake . . . Here is our Christmas and New Years Eve in pictures (that Brandon took because bronchitis. On another note, Brandon is happy to be sleeping in our bed again as I am no longer coughing up my insides.). . .

A few pics with Santa . . . before the sickness . . .

Camille enjoyed a super fun Christmas party at school, as did Clara!

How cute is this gift she made for me and Brandon? Way to go, teachers!

We drove around to look a lights multiple times, a favorite tradition . . .

Camille putting out cookies and milk for Santa . . . 

And reindeer food . . . because of course . . .

Camille's mind was blown on Christmas morning when she woke up to reindeer prints all over the front driveway. It didn't snow, mind you, but somehow that little fact didn't confuse her almost-four- year-old brain (which is actually surprising, because well, she's pretty intuitive.)

The girls woke up to lights leading form their bedroom doors all the way to their Santa gifts. A tradition that we absolutely love. This is probably my favorite moment of Christmas. We've been doing it since they were itty bitty babes.

Clara got a hammock and Camille got a baby doll that talks and burps and plays peek-a-boo and says "mama." She is in caretaker heaven and this mama is about done with said baby doll. I keep asking Camille, "Doesn't your baby doll need to take a nap??? Babies need a lot of sleep!!" #makeitstop

The hammock was intended to go outside (inside just for the Santa effect) but y'all, she gets in it every second of every day and never stops swinging herself. It is the cutest thing. She will even grab our hand, lead us to the hammock and then point as if to say "Get in a swing with me!" That said, the hammock is still taking up an entire wall of the playroom. :)

Click here to see a video of Clara rocking away.

We took zero pictures as a family on Christmas Day. Here's a few from our time with my family. Yep, we got four pictures. Totally on top of our game this year.

When someone asked what I would enjoy for Christmas, I sent them a link to a book on Amazon. So, needless to say, if you need me in 2018 I will be hiding in my closet with one of these.

Camille's mind was blown again when her daddy surprised her by taking her on a daddy-daughter date to the Nutcracker. She got all dressed up and didn't figure out what they were doing until they arrived at the theater. Precious memories. Melts my heart.

We spent New Years Eve and the few days prior in Livingston, Texas relaxing at Brandon's parents getaway house. A few days with no extra responsibilities other than playing and eating (see Brandon's homemade beignets below) and reading and New Years pondering/dreaming is just what my soul needed as we said adios to 2017.

We know how to party. . . And no, those extra two champagne glasses are not for the girls. They were for my sister and husband who ended up leaving early due to . . .  sickness. Again, 'tis the season.

Despite the sickness mentioned, it was a relaxing and fun-filled Christmas and NYE. Feeling thankful and hopeful as we head into 2018.
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