Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A Third Million...

Yep, Brenden's teacher asked for a million words (or less) also... 

When I think about how many words I'm limited to, a million doesn't seem like quite enough to tell you about my wonderful son. I think he's a very special person, and I'm really excited to see him grow and mature over this coming school year.

Brenden is unique. When other boys are playing sports and getting all excited about competing with each other, he is usually perfectly content to do his own thing. From an early age, we knew that he would be a spot of joy in our house. By nine days of age, he was sleeping through the night, and he has consistently done the same thing ever since. I love that I can send him to bed, and other than the occasional distraction between me and his bedroom, he nearly always goes to bed on his own, and goes right to sleep. I often wish I had that skill. He always wakes up like a ray of sunshine, and I wish I had that skill too! 

with Great Grandpa Charlie
Brenden was a very easy going young child, and is probably the most compliant of my four kids. Oddly enough, he is also the only one that's ever been sent to talk to the Principal, or had to write apology letters. I have learned that Brenden's compliance can sometimes be misused. Since he is so willing to please people, he is also willing to follow directions from his peers in order to gain their approval. We have found that we need to give him a little extra guidance in this area so he doesn't get into trouble because others like to encourage him to misbehave. Sometimes this behavior came out in the things he would draw, or the words he would write and occasionally even the things he said around other people. Often times it would be shocking things, and then after getting reprimanded, he felt even worse about himself.

Besides not really being into sports, Brenden has always been opposed to attending school. It's never really that he disagrees with his teachers or has any major problems with students, but he just feels like he is inadequate or that he doesn't belong. I believe this started pretty early as well. He was well into Kindergarten before he was diagnosed with Amblyopia, and his Ophthalmologist was convinced he couldn't even see the moon. Once he put on his first pair of glasses, it was like a light bulb lit up, and we haven't seen much of the front of his face since! Instantly he was spending hours peering through books, amazed at the details he could see in both the text and the artwork. He began showing remarkable improvement in his reading and writing skills. But sadly, he was already quite a ways behind, and he felt like he would never catch up.

Monkeyin' around
We have worked with Brenden through many things that have troubled him in school. This feeling of being unable to succeed has followed him for several years. This past year, his teacher was Mrs. Coleman, and she helped him to change a lot of his viewpoint about himself by stretching him in ways that proved to him that he could get things done, even if he needed a little extra time to do so. She also was instrumental in getting Brenden through testing (again) to narrow down the long list of learning disabilities that he may or may not be struggling with. She frequently kept him after school so he could study in silence or with help.

I'm grateful that Brenden's tests all came back pretty good. He is bright, he is knowledgeable, he CAN do it... but he was diagnosed with ADD and we are working closely with his doctor to help him. He also processes things very slowly. I have to give him things to do one at a time, instead of giving him a lengthy list or he gets completely lost. Writing things down is very helpful for him, and the more details the better. Often he would bring home an assignment book with a couple comments for himself, but not be able to even remember what he wrote them down for. He was also very good at forgetting to bring his books home, and he would have to go back to school and get them. This caused him a lot of frustration.

Of course you can expect that homework time for us these past few years has been rather hectic. I would more accurately describe it as “hellish”. Spending four hours on a single spelling sheet, or three long weeknights on a single math worksheet was enough to make me feel a little bit crazy. It also meant that my other three kids had very little help with their homework in order for Brenden to get the simplest things accomplished. You can also imagine that it didn't improve his self esteem any.

He turned a corner when he realized that he'd finally grasped fractions. I was impressed at how he could whiz through those assignments, but only when he was really focused. At the end of this last school year, he was prescribed medication, and thank GOODNESS! Within one hour of taking his first med, and then attempting to do his homework, he complained that I hadn't put him on meds years before. He was so thrilled to be able to use his brain the way it was intended to be used, and to get through several things without his mind wandering off on him. He was very happy, and the whole idea of school took on a new look – for all of us. He very rarely asks to be homeschooled now (haha!) and he's genuinely giving Middle School a good shot. I haven't once heard him say that he hates school in the last three weeks. He enjoys all of his teachers, and he likes being able to get up and move between classes because it gives him time to refocus.

I mentioned that Brenden prefers to do his own thing. His list of his “own thing's” is quite lengthy. He loves subjects that lean towards science and social studies. He spent a few years raising a leopard gecko – a pet that I wasn't too keen on having at first, but he persisted and now I'm really glad we did that. In the meanwhile, he learned everything possible there was to know about geckos. And, just about everything else that slithered, creeped or crawled while he was at it. Right now, he's really into fish, so naturally his Christmas gift was a fish tank. He has stocked and maintained it, and one more tank, since then. His fish identification book is almost entirely memorized.

Brenden had a three year fascination with anything having to do with pirates, so he collected pirate things, pretended he was a pirate and read books about them. Once he grew out of that, he went on to hunting. He loves to wear camouflage, and would have it on his body head to toe every day at times.

Brenden has a fascination with guns. I don't mean an obsession over a gun in particular, or shooting them, but the history behind them, when they were used, and who used them. At one time, his focus was on Napoleon, so he researched everything there was to know about Napoleon and the French Revolution. Then he moved on to the Civil War. He probably knows more about that than anyone else in our house right now. He was super thrilled to get a chance to visit the Civil War Museum in Kenosha, WI this past summer.

I find that each time Brenden dives into a new subject, that I often accompany him. I end up learning a lot in the process! I understand that this could be part of his attention difficulties, and that once he finds something he is really interested in, he zeroes in on that and spends quite awhile there. We've decided to just roll with it, and keep him in the real world as much as possible, while still allowing him to explore what colors his world.

Brenden is a nice kid. I don't just say that about any kid, because frankly my daughters weren't always “nice” in Middle School. But Brenden is. He is caring towards members of our family, and only gets really upset at his younger brother when he's being really loud. The volume seems to bother Brenden, so he often gets excused to go outside and spend time alone and he seems refreshed by that. Brenden also has chickens, and he shows them in 4H. He is so sweet towards his birds, and it's given him a new opportunity to dig in and learn about something new that he's interested in – it also happens to be something the other kids enjoy as well, so we participate together as a family.

I probably wouldn't let the other kids at school know this, but Brenden gives the best hugs. I think that nobody has told him yet that it's not cool to hug his Mom. I'm certainly not going to say anything! He never leaves for school without first making sure I get a hug goodbye, and I think that's pretty special.

Having Brenden for a son has not been without it's challenges, but it's also meant that I've had to learn to really communicate with whoever his teachers are, and to keep in constant contact. That's been good for both he and I, and I'm grateful for that. I hope that by the end of this year that Brenden will be looking forward to his next year of school for the first time ever!

Another Million Words (or less)

Not only did Alyssa's teacher ask for an essay, but so did Delayna's! Boy, I've been busy...

About 14 years ago, I was hoping that my older daughter, Alyssa, would soon have a younger sibling to keep her company. By July of 1998 it looked like the arrival of Delayna may have been something that my older daughter wanted to send back for a refund.

Thankfully, we kept her, because quite frankly even before she was born she was a pleasure to be around. She was pretty laid back, never made much of a racket, and was really sweet to all the older ladies I knew who wished they could have little girls again. Several people suggested that Delayna wasn't a typical baby. I do believe that if everyone had a kid like Delayna, there would be more kids in the world.

Delayna has grown up with an older sister, and two younger brothers. She also has an older step-sister who lives outside the home, so she is quite specifically “the middle child”. I think she fits into her role very well. Delayna is a very creative person, she likes to doodle and draw. I often wish she would keep her drawings on paper, but we frequently see evidence of her creativity on her shoes, her pants, her brothers, and her own body parts.

Delayna loves to laugh. She has a very keen sense of humor and a wit that keeps up with conversations in grown-up circles. She also loves to make other people laugh and being silly is quite frequently how she entertains herself. She has lots of fun in life.

Delayna is intelligent. She writes well, spells very properly and is sometimes caught editing the spelling or grammar of full grown adults. She is a great reader, who has been known to plow through full sized novels in a day or two, and not just once, but twice for good measure.

Delayna is crafty and has a good eye for color. She enjoys doing beadwork, and sometimes I can even convince her to help me with a quilt. She put together her first quilt in elementary school, and it actually helped inspire me to start sewing for myself.

Delayna is thorough. She is the only one in our household who will get sent to do the dishes, and will actually do them. I'm not saying that she's rejoicing the entire time, but she does her work and she stays on track. I can usually count on her to get her work, whether it's work at home or work from school, finished by herself. She needs very little direction or correction, and I appreciate that about her a lot.

Delayna is also very social and very different. She doesn't go very long without communicating in some fashion with her best friends. She puts a high value on friendships, and she doesn't feel very well when her friends are having disagreements. She is different in that she is willing to wear something that other people might find completely crazy, and she is totally ok with it. She loves to wear makeup and try out new things, and unless it's something completely inappropriate, we give her a moderate amount of free rein to be herself.

Even though on the outside she doesn't seem to care about what other people think, “sensitive” is another term that comes to mind when I think about Delayna. She is easily hurt whenever she has been offended or if she is being corrected in a way that is construed as even the tiniest bit harsh. I often have to mind my words when I am speaking to her, because I don't want to bruise her delicate feelings, or say something that might be considered hurtful when it is not intended to be. Thankfully, Delayna is also pretty quick to forgive others. This comes in handy because she lives in a larger family and it's easy to accidentally step on people's feelings sometimes.

I would also describe Delayna as trustworthy and loyal. She doesn't give up on people too easily, and she is good at giving people second chances. She has a strong work ethic, and when our family is going through tough times, she willingly works to earn income for the things she wants. She is good at saving money too. She did a tremendous job as a daycare assistant over the past summer, and she works exceptionally well with small children, but unfortunately she is sometimes so good that her time is in high demand. Sometimes we have to put limits on her so that she doesn't find herself overwhelmed with all that's going on in her life.

Patient and trusting are more characteristics of my daughter. Since the second grade, she's endured eight different surgeries having to do with her ears in some way. She has grown to accept that some things just happen to some people, and we've got to roll with the punches. She doesn't hear all that well, as she only has one hearing bone left in one of her ears now, but she has adapted beautifully in order to not draw attention to herself. I sometimes think that she and I could have conversations with no sound because we've become so good at reading each others lips. This can be a problem in school though, because not everyone is aware of her issue, and occasionally she appears to be ignoring someone when in fact she just isn't hearing them or can't see that they are speaking.

Overall, I enjoy being Delayna's Mom. I hope that in some way, through all the stuff she's been through in her life, she will grow up to be a much better person than myself.

A Million Words or Less

We got an assignment. By we, I mean the parents at this house got an assignment last week. The title simply said, "In a million words or less, tell me about your child". Simple right? Well, it's been a long time since I've had to write an essay, and an even longer time since my husband has had to, so naturally, the task of completing the assignment has fallen to me. Plus, I write, he scribbles. Just sayin....

So, I'll be sharing, in one million words or less, about my children. I may stop at one, I may go for four, only time will tell. You may wish to unsubscribe for a week. I'll commence talking about all things I'm not proud of at some time in my future. But for today - my girl Alyssa...

About 16 years ago, I found out I was expecting my firstborn child. I felt excited and happy, because I knew she would change my world. Alyssa has quite the personality. She has made me sick, she has made me worry, she has made me stop what I was doing and take notice, and she even got me to quit thinking so much about myself and start thinking more about others. All that happened before she was even born. I can certainly say that things haven't changed one bit since she actually entered the world.
The first thing I think about when I find my thoughts resting on Alyssa, is that her personality is one of a kind. She marches to the beat of a different drummer. She was speaking in full sentences before she could walk. She was the most polite kid in the church nursery when she was little. She was the kid who wore the eye patch in preschool. She was the one who had to get tested for ADD in Elementary school, and she was the one who decided to tackle several sports in Middle School even when it hurt like heck. She is also the kid who is intensely appreciative of music, both in listening and performing. She takes her music seriously, and is usually the first to show me something new that she just discovered, or share something old that she thinks we might appreciate (or not!). But all along the way, she's always been the one who didn't really care much what other people thought of her, and she's also not very accepting of drama or conflict – unless someone is messing with a member of her family, then you'd better watch out.

Alyssa doesn't fit into any mold. She refuses to blend in with the crowd, or go along with what the media says that teens should be like, look like, or act like. She is a genuinely happy person, with a large amount of respect for people that care about others. She has a deep personal faith. She is quick to apologize when she's done something out of line. She doesn't cry when her feelings get hurt, or when someone injures her, but she cries at the sight of a baby chick or a cute fluffy kitten. She's very sentimental, and judging by the condition of her bedroom at any given time, it's quite clear that she has a hard time parting with things that mean a lot to her.

Alyssa's Dad left us when she was barely three years old. She and he were extremely close, and although his leaving didn't seem to make any big changes in her world at the time, it took several years for us to notice that him being gone left a deep impression on her perception of the people in her life. She often has a hard time trusting that people will follow through with what they say they will do, and that they have her best intentions at heart.

Alyssa is a helper. She's prefers to spend all her summers working in a kitchen at a church camp rather than lounging at the beach. She is great about taking responsibility for many of the animals on our hobby farm, and she's a leader for the younger kids in our 4H group. She takes pride in her work, but I find that she spends a great deal of time worrying about whether or not she's on track and if she's even going to survive High School. She is a good student when she is able to focus, but often times her mind goes to other things and she gets highly disappointed in herself and has occasional meltdowns. I'm familiar with that though, because I've been known to do that a time or two.

Alyssa responds well to praise, and she thrives on direct communication. Often she is not the one to initiate the communication, so sometimes she misses out on things because of her hesitation to approach people. I have found that this is getting easier for her as her confidence in herself has improved, and I'm pleased to see her growing in this way. Alyssa gets a lot of support from home. She's encouraged to try new things in order to find out where she wants to go in life. On the other hand, she's also pressured, maybe too much sometimes, to be responsible for herself and her actions. Natural consequences is a phrase that is heard a lot around here. Alyssa gets very discouraged at her failures, but in our home, failures are also considered a success. It means that somewhere along the road she has learned what doesn't work and can try a different approach the next time around.

Alyssa has an older step-sister that she doesn't see very much, and three younger siblings, a sister and 2 brothers, who all live in our home. They each admire her, and the younger kids all look up to her – even though you won't hear them admitting it very frequently. She often has disagreements with them, but usually it's because she forgets that she was a little kid once too. The word “annoying” is probably her most-used term when she refers to them, and I think that it means her younger brothers are doing a good job of being brothers. I believe that Alyssa is a pretty decent example of what an older sibling should be like, and she does a good job of holding down the fort when the parents are gone. I'm proud of my daughter, and all the things she's gotten through in her young life so far. All in all, I love being Alyssa's Mom!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Bean Spilling Time!

For the past several weeks, we've been keeping secrets. Now, it's time to spill the beans. 

I often wondered where the term "spill the beans" came from. Did someone have a secret in the bottom of a can of beans, and they had to spill them to get the story out? Who knows... anyway... (do you think it was green beans or kidney beans?) Ok, ok... for real now... 

This has been a long time coming, and I regret not including very many people in the journey, but I honestly think it was one that we had to make. Just us - and God. It's easy to let other people give you their advice, or their criticisms, or even concerns and questions, but this time, we wanted our decisions to be based on where we were feeling LED and not where we were being pushed, pulled, shoved or cornered. And yes I DO have an issue with telling people "no". Or at least I did. 

To make a long story short (yeah, right!), quite awhile back we left a church under circumstances that weren't ideal for our family. We had all good intentions of leaving on wonderful terms, with people waving sad goodbyes and sending their best wishes and being really supportive of our future adventures, but that never happened. We just had to leave... and that was that. It's been a couple years and people are still asking us where we went. It's kinda frustrating... kinda sad... and kinda disturbing. It hurt. A lot. 

Over the course of the last 2 years, we've huddled up in a comfortable church in our local community that is full of nice, happy, loving people. I really like these people. They are really starting to feel like family to me. It's nice to FINALLY have people in my town that I can trust, that I can rely on, and that I can turn to in an emergency. It's nice that I can be that for them too (at least I hope I am!) From the beginning, our first visit to this church, I felt like it was where we were supposed to be. We visited, and then never went anywhere else. It felt "comfortable" and I liked it. But something felt itchy. 

That itch continued to feel itchy for months. We felt rather useless for many weeks as we were just "regular" church attenders. Something we hadn't been for years. We were used to being in the trenches each and every Sunday, as well as a couple weekdays in-between. We didn't just GO to church, we got our hands dirty every chance we could. 

Our family settled in. The kids got involved in kid things, us parents got involved in small groups. Only something different happened, we weren't in a group together anymore, we were in separate men's & women's groups. Nothing wrong with that - we actually blossomed and formed friendships that we wouldn't have otherwise. But, still something was itchy. 

Bryan wanted to do things in the church. Then he stalled, because he wasn't going to do them if I wasn't ready. Then I wanted to do things, and in the meanwhile I felt that he had backed off, and it continued like this for some time. It was still itchy. 

About the time we both had our hearts ready to get in there and serve in various ways, we found ourselves unable to really connect to something or to feel that overwhelming sense of accomplishment. I don't mean the self-serving kind of accomplishment where you pat yourself on the back, but the kind where you really feel like what God has asked you to do has been, or is being, accomplished. We did good things, we enjoyed them, and our hearts were in the right place, but it was still itchy. 

In the meanwhile, over the last year, I managed to go through a severe depression that lasted many months. I struggled a lot. I struggled with my purpose, with the meaning of my life, and with my husband (poor guy). I struggled with the weather, with my kids and with my physical body. I struggled with loneliness, with isolation and with God. I also struggled to get us some help. Almost exactly a year ago, we found that help. I know that I previously opened up on this blog about discovering my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and that we entered marriage counseling. But shortly after that, I watched several marriages around us begin to crumble. Then I wrote a post on Marital Suicide. I am pretty amazed that I can write a sermon to myself, and still be surprised that it affects me. I guess it's called practicing what you preach. It made a big difference in where I was coming from, and where I'm going. 

Basically I just got off topic. So my background story was "we've been through a lot - as if you didn't already know that". So in the course of going through "a lot", I found myself quite literally clearing my plate of all obligations, commitments, activities and anything else that took up my time, energy and emotions. I do believe it was related to the depression, but looking back I'm pretty sure that I had help clearing that plate, because there was something coming down the road that needed to have a wide berth. No interruptions. No lame excuses. 

Then we turned a corner. Our marriage began to bloom again, our kids began to turn into wonderful young people (because grouchy parents cause grouchy kids) and we became more centered and focused. I'm pretty sure that wouldn't have happened if we'd been holed up in "busy, busy land" during that time. VERY slowly, I began considering new ideas, new options and new ways to serve that brought me joy and at the same time gave God the glory. I found a quilting group and got them set up with a website (since I was new at sewing, it's the least I could do for all the help they've been for me!). I discovered afresh what it was like to be working with my heart.

I got asked to do twenty-seven-dozen other things, and politely declined all but a few that were very short term. I felt like I was being picky. But that picky feeling wasn't coming from myself. The itch was starting to lessen with the things that my heart was leading me to do. 

Along the course of a men's retreat (for Bryan), a separate camp weekend (for me) and then High School Camp in the summer (for both of us) we ran into the Mattenley's. We heard their ideas for the people of Haiti and how different the ideas were from governmental organizations. It really appealed to us. It's crazy how many times we've talked about helping in the mission field (hundreds), and how many times we separately felt led to help with THIS particular mission (dozens), and then how ODD it was to run into Shane Mattenly together and have him ask US to partner with him. How weird is that? Not weird at all if you know who's running the show I guess. I'm pretty sure it was that guy upstairs who planted me in the Dominican Republic one summer about 20 years ago, and then placed a burning desire on my heart to come back to the Island someday. Pretty sure that the Dominican Republic is the same Island as Haiti - it counts, right? 

So we thought, we prayed, we talked... We mentioned it to a family member who thought the idea was completely absurd. Then we mentioned it to another family member who thought the idea was wonderfully grand. Then we decided to just keep it to ourselves so we wouldn't fall victim to allowing other people to make up our minds for us. We knew we wanted to do it. We knew we needed to.  

Just about that time same time, we got the call to help with a new church plant. You probably could have heard a pin drop in the room when Bryan told me, except the sound of my jaw hitting the floor was kind of loud. It felt SO RIGHT. I wanted to burst out and say "YES!! I have been WAITING FOR THIS!! I want to do it, I want to do it! I've wanted to help with a new church plant for the last three years! I get to hear you SING again!!" But I didn't, and quite honestly I didn't even know where those thoughts were coming from. Did I really want to do that? Had I been wanting to for quite some time? Huh?? 

Granted, we had tossed around conversations with our good friends from church #1 about how it would be so cool to help with a church plant, and that if they were on board too it would be just THEE best. But that was awhile ago. And I'm sort of busy with... um... with stuff that I don't know yet. (Uh huh... where's the excuses now?!)

Fast forward a few days, and we find ourselves giving Shane from Haiti a resounding "yes". We tossed around our thoughts and ideas, and ways  to help from our side of the planet. We are now on a Committee for Highland Farms in Haiti to help promote sustainable living along with changing lives in the process. What's even better, is that we are also working alongside a few other really good friends that I had no idea were even on board until we accepted. But what tops that, is that the other members of the committee are people we knew from the first church we ever went to many years ago! It's almost creepy how all these things keep coming together and falling into place. It's like "wow!" followed immediately by, "WOW!!" I'm so full of anticipation. It's so brand new to me, and yet I'm so encouraged by being a part of it all. Plus the coffee we were sent to share with others is A-MAZ-ING (shameless plug).  

It doesn't end there though. Another couple of weeks later, we found ourselves speaking to our pastor and his wife, and letting them know that as much as we loved the church they were leading - we really felt that we were being called to help with the new church plant, and to do something more UNcomfortable. The positive support we got, and continue to receive, has been a beautiful breath of fresh air. I am not sure what I was expecting - but it was a REALLY weird to wake up the next morning, and no longer feel itchy. 

Now, when I look back over my shoulder at the last 36 months or so, it appears that we've been going through training and we just didn't see it. We tore spiritual and emotional muscles, we spent time in physical and emotional therapy, we went through spiritual rehabilitation, and we even had time on "bed rest" - where we were nice and comfortable - in order to prepare ourselves for what is now ahead of us. I feel like we just trained for a marathon, and we're about to see just what all that training prepared us for. I can tell ya one thing though... whatever that itch was, has been replaced by a full heart and a delightful feeling of accomplishment. The kind that isn't just a pat on the back.