Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Jenni's Birthday Card

I took Joshua to the store to get a birthday card for Jenni. I took him to the birthday card section, and showed him where to look. I figured it would take him a while to pick out just the right card for her.

You know, since they have been dating for 8 years and all.

So I was surprised when he announced "done" before I even got to the end of the aisle.

The card he picked out had a large picture of the face of a Bassett-Hound. When you opened the card, it's large tongue was in the fold and it came down front and center.

On the tongue, Joshua had written, "Happy Birthday, Jen...I want to lick you."

Not gonna lie...I went from OH MY WORD...to laughing hysterically...in about 2.1 seconds! When I asked Joshua about it later, I determined that he was writing it from the dog's point of view. Like, the DOG was telling Jenni that he wanted to lick her.

Ohhhh...

Regardless, I'm expecting a call from Jenni's mom any day now...

Monday, March 25, 2013

Building Bridges

Last Sunday, our pastor spoke on "Making New Friends." Building bridges between us...and people we would normally avoid for one reason or another. He used the Bible story of the Woman at the Well (John 4:1-42) as an example. He talked about reaching across racial lines and economic barriers; about overcoming fears and stereotypes; about being open to learning about other cultures...and reaching out to people who are different from us socially...people who are considered social outcasts.

His points were that when the disciples saw a woman...Jesus saw a PERSON; when the disciples saw a Samaritan...Jesus saw a FRIEND; and when the disciples saw an outcast...Jesus saw an EVANGELIST. All good things to think about and practice for sure.

You see, our church is pretty one dimensional. And it's one thing if it's just that way...and quite another thing if it's intentional.

Our church is also currently in the midst of a building program. We are moving our main campus out west of town, while keeping our downtown campus as a ministry center. All year long, our church is focusing on evangelism. I mean, we do this anyway, but this is a concerted, corporate effort...from the pulpit to the children's ministry to the senior adults. We want our church to be more diverse; to be welcoming to people regardless of their race or skin color or background or culture. To quote our pastor, "we want our church to look more...

like Heaven."

He talked to us about the people we usually try to avoid...those from a different race, who look different...or those whose behavior goes against everything we believe in: immorality, homosexuality, certain lifestyle choices. All things we tend to forget that WE ONCE WERE (1 Corinthians 6:11 "Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."). He talked to us about building bridges of trust, friendship and respect with people who are different from us...using caution when necessary, for sure...but realizing that if we don't reach out, if we don't tell them...how will they ever hear the Good News? And if we don't love them, how will they ever believe in the One Who loved them enough to die for them?

Not gonna lie...I spent the first few minutes of the sermon mentally climbing up on my HIGH HORSE. All.Up.On.It. Because this message hit me in a different way, as things in life tend to do...because I'm a mom of a child with special needs, and that clouds sometimes influences my judgments. And so I was thinking, "all YOU PEOPLE need to listen UP..."

Because, when he was talking about people who are different...people we avoid...people who are social outcasts...I was thinking of Joshua. I don't think of him that way, but many in our society DO. I wondered if people would stop to talk to him, or help him if he was in need. Or would they be too afraid or "put off" because he is "different?" I imagine that some wouldn't even think he was worth the trouble.

Harsh? Maybe. Judgmental? Oh, for sure. But I've seen people take a different aisle to avoid us when we are walking, like at WM or Target. And I've noticed people totally ignore him when talking to me. Or ask me questions that should be addressed to him, like, "would he like a cookie?" Or, "does he need a children's menu?" (He is 26 years old) Or, like at a restaurant our family visited recently, the waitress handed each of us a menu...individually handed them to each of us...except for Joshua. Seriously? Ugh. It's times like these when I have to remind myself that most people mean well. I see the constant stares, and have written about it here. Really, people? Is it too hard to just say "hi?"

But, God...

He was so kind to help me down, and hold me tight. He reminded me that He loves Joshua more than I ever can. And that I'm no better. No better than the woman at the well; no better than the ones who avoid and ignore people like my Joshua.

Because what I want for my child, what I expect, I often fail to give to others. And I am ashamed to admit it.

Because I know how it feels...

And I know better.

For example: when I see someone who is extremely overweight...Jesus sees a PERSON; when I see someone unkempt and dirty...Jesus sees a FRIEND; and when I see someone covered with tattoos and piercings...Jesus sees an EVANGELIST.

I know people, Christians, who fit with each of those statements I just made. And they are reaching more people for Christ where they are...and how they are...than I am in my squeaky-clean, prim-and-proper world. Because they love people the way Jesus did. The Bible says, "But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)

But me? My actions say, "clean yourself up a little, and THEN we'll talk, ok?"

I'm so thankful that, once upon a time, as a young girl, Jesus met me where I was. And loved me. And all those times as a teenager, and then as a young wife and mom...and even now, today, when I mess up...Jesus comes to me where I am, in the middle of my mess...and He loves me.

How can I do any less for someone else?

"In as much as you have done it unto the least of these brothers and sisters of Mine, you have done it unto Me." (Matthew 25:40)

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Most People Mean Well

I've sat down to write this post a hundred times. It was one of the very first topics on my heart when my family first set up this blog for me. It's just that every time I tried to write about it, I didn't even know where to start. But it's something I've had to come to grips with during the past 27 years or so. Be prepared, children...this is a long post!

After I had Joshua, I cannot even TELL you the comments that came my way. The people who made them were completely innocent of any malice (usually), but that doesn't mean their words didn't hurt.

There was the older family member who, after Joshua was born, told us that he remembered a family around where he lived who "had one of THOSE," and how they "KEPT HIM IN A BACK ROOM" at their house.

Really?

There was the older woman at my local Wal-Marks who came up to me and said, "he's not RIGHT, is he?" Joshua was about 6 weeks old at the time. I was IN.LOVE.WITH.HIM. I had dressed him up in a cute outfit. I remember he was wearing the cutest little cloth sandals. I think I still have them somewhere. And he had this full head of hair that stuck straight up in the air. But, at this time, Joshua's skin color was very gray. This was before he was strong enough to have his heart surgery. He was thin and weak...and gray. But I loved him with all my heart. I was already extremely concerned about his upcoming heart surgery, and so with this woman's question, I felt all of my protective mama bear reactions coming to a boil. But I took a deep breath and looked into the concerned eyes of the little old woman. And I bit my lip to keep the tears from falling. And I said, "no ma'am...he's not right.'"

Because she was old school. And because she was genuinely concerned. And because if it's my desire to educate others about people like Joshua...and if I feel it's a ministry God has given me, to show that "God don't make no junk," then I need to be careful in my response. It might give me some righteous vindication to tell this lady off, but really...what would it accomplish?

We have had great medical care for Joshua during his life. I just cannot say enough good things about the nurses, technicians, therapists and physicians who have watched over and monitored him. And our own Arkansas' Children's Hospital is the BEST! In Joshua's early days and weeks, he was hospitalized several times. When he was finally able to have his heart surgery, he was 3 months old. And so he was admitted to ACH two days before for pre-op procedures, and he was assigned a "team" who would follow him throughout the process. We had a head physician, a resident or two, and several medical students. Because ACH is a teaching hospital, we were asked the same questions over and over by different people...and had many med students come in to talk to us, and to meet and examine Joshua. It was during one of these sessions when I was one-on-one with a resident on Joshua's team. She was asking me about my prenatal care, my family history, and what prenatal testing I'd had. When I told her that because of my age (26), and the fact that it was my first pregnancy, I hadn't really had any type of testing done. I hadn't asked for them, and, at that time, they weren't routinely prescribed. Then she said this: "I guess if you had known [that Joshua had Down Syndrome] in advance, you COULD'VE DONE SOMETHING ABOUT IT." About IT. About HIM.

I don't remember what exactly I said, but this is a situation that...for me...did require a response...and I'm sure it wasn't pretty. I just remember afterwards, I was so upset that I was shaking. I had her removed from Joshua's case immediately. This was a situation I could not file in my "most people mean well" box. She might not have meant anything by it, but she should not have said it. And my child was fixin' to have a very serious surgery. I had to know that everyone on his team was ON HIS TEAM; that they were seeing him as a child, not just as a child with a disability; that they ALL thought he was worth it.

There have been some funny comments along the way, too. Like the elderly nursery worker who told me Joshua "wasn't half bad." (Jim and I joked on the way home...wondering what "half" of him she was talking about!) And the other lady who told me that Joshua was so cute and smart, he must "just have a touch of it [Down Syndrome]." Isn't that funny?!

And there were some comments that, even tho they hurt my feelings...and I obviously remember them to this day...were too ridiculous to even bother to respond. Like the lady from church who told me that Joshua "ruined" her video of her daughter during the Children's Christmas Program. Joshua was pretty young...6-8 years old, maybe? He was standing near or beside this lady's daughter, and apparently was "incapable of standing completely still." Seems his animated facial expressions distracted her from filming her child. You would think that CHURCH would be the last place where you'd hear stuff like this, but...sadly...no.

There was the lady at WM (again with the Wal-Marks...I'm sensing a pattern!) who randomly came up to me and told me all about her brother who had DS, and asked if we had considered putting Joshua in a "home." And while I do not judge what anyone does when it comes to long-term care of their own family members, because who knows what the future holds for any of us...not gonna lie...this one rubbed me the wrong way. I told her I was very sorry about her brother, but Joshua already had a home...OURS. Argh. And did I mention that Joshua was standing there with me the whole time?

Oh, I've got TONS more, but somewhere along the line, God reminded me of GRACE...and He gave me this mantra: MOST PEOPLE MEAN WELL.

And they really do.

And they want to help.

They just get nervous and feel like they need to fill the air with...something.

And faced with a tragedy, or a loss, or in an unfamiliar situation...people are gonna say the wrong things. They just are. Haven't you?

I have.

How about "well, you can always try again," to someone who has just lost a baby by miscarriage? Or, "there was probably something wrong with that baby, anyway...you wouldn't want that." Or, "God must've needed another angel up in Heaven?" Seriously?

When my Mom died unexpectedly of a heart attack, I heard: "well, she's in a better place." What I WANTED to say was, "how 'bout I send you to join her?" (just kidding) (no, really) And I heard, "God must've needed her beautiful voice up in Heaven." Really? God made her, and He gave her that beautiful voice to begin with...and if He needed a beautiful voice, He could've made himself another person with a beautiful voice right then and there. And then there are the Scripture references and all the "churchy" things we all like to say: "God has ordained our days, so her job on earth was done!" "God's ways are perfect!" "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly ones."

I've heard all of these...and more. I've even SAID some of them, and I know from experience they aren't what you want to hear at the time.

Or maybe that's just me.

They are all good and right things to say, and things I already knew in my heart. But I was not ready to hear them. I KNOW my Mom is in a better place, but I miss her here...and oh, how I wish I could hear her sing again...how I wish my children could know what a beautiful voice she had. I am thankful she did not suffer here on earth, but her death was so sudden. I was not prepared to be without her. And I know God is in control. I know He has ordered our days and that nothing comes as a surprise to Him. I know this world is not our home, and that she is in her Heavenly home, forever, with Jesus.

But I miss her.

So then...what to say?

God bless the friends who held me and simply said, "I'm sorry." Or, "this is so hard." Or, "I know you miss her." And the friends who still remember my loss with a card or a call, or who still ask about her 14 years later; who tell me how much she would've loved this or that...how proud she would've been of her grandchildren...how much she loved us all.

Most people mean well. Show them GRACE. Relax. They are trying to reach out out to you in their own way. If you snap back, you may lost an opportunity to show God's love to them...or to accept God's love FROM them. And remember...one day you might be the one who says the wrong thing at the wrong time, or the right thing at the wrong time...because you are just trying to help...or because you are trying to make things better. And you hope that they get that message, even if you bungle up the words. And you hope they know that you mean well.

Most people do.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Walking the Walk...

My name is Marty, and I'm one of your "older" moms (ouch!). My husband calls me "Moose." I know, right? Sooo attractive. I've been a regular stalker reader of Kelly's blog since Harper was born. It just blesses me to read how all of you young moms are being so diligent in teaching your kids about Christ. I so remember those days in the trenches. Hang in there! My husband and I have 3 sons and one daughter. We haven't done everything "right" by any means. We are just two imperfect parents raising 4 imperfect children (so our kids didn't stand a chance!) (Just kidding!). Our oldest son, Joshua, has Down Syndrome, and this blog chronicles some moments with my family...and how God uses Joshua to show me more of HIMself...and how, by His help, I've been able to find joy in the UPside of Down. :)Today, I'm linking up with Kelly's blog as we all focus on building up our kids and families.

One of the hardest things to do around kids is to watch your mouth. I'm not talking about cussin' or anything like that, altho if that's an issue, you probably should address it for sure. I'm talking about walking the walk.

Because isn't it reeeeaaal easy to talk the talk?

Or maybe that's just me.

When we started as young parents, we were blessed to have had some amazing examples in our lives. Our parents on both sides are Christians, but they weren't really intentional about teaching us about Jesus in our homes. I'm not being critical of our parents AT ALL. They loved us, and because of their example and witness, we both came to know Christ at an early age. We are thankful for our parents.

One of the most influential couples in our early married lives were Earl and Carolyn Peeples. Earl was the director of our SS department, and Carolyn was the "seck-ah-tary," as she called herself. Earl also taught Jim's class, and he was no-nonsense all the way. Carolyn was a Mom of four, full of mercy and common sense, and she took several of us under her wing. I learned SO MUCH by watching her example.

The other couple who was hugely influential in our lives was Doug and Karen Alexander (She's Karen Alexander-Doyel now). Doug was one of our ministers at church, and they had 3 boys. Karen did a series of messages on raising kids that I bought and listened to many, many times over the years, because it was full of wisdom and practical, Biblical truth. Karen came to see me in our home after I'd just had Joshua, and as she held him, looked at me and said, "just love him." I will NEVER forget that.

So to bring faith to life for our family, our goal...my goal, as a Mom, was for my kids to know Jesus as more than just a story from a book at church.  I wanted them to really KNOW Him...to seek Him in every area of their lives and to acknowledge Him as the Source of every blessing. I wanted Him to be so real for them, that it would be natural for them to turn to Him always...that it would be like breathing to praise Him. I wanted to follow the Great Shemah from the Book of Deuteronomy...

"Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. And you shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates." Deuternomy 6:4-9

So we talked about Jesus from the time we got up until we went to bed. We sang praise tapes in the car and watched movies like the Donut Repair Club and Veggie Tales. We talked about God's creation and gave thanks for the sun and the rain and bugs and the beach. We prayed at our meals and at bedtime, but also at random times during the day...for daddy, if he was on a trip, for a sick friend or family member, for forgiveness when one had done the wrong thing; and we gave thanks for even little things like getting a close parking spot at WM when it was raining.We memorized Scripture and had verses displayed in our home...on our doorpost   the frig or wherever...so we could be reminded of them each week. And we tried to be involved in ministry, so that our children would see that we practiced what we preached.


Just be prepared. The more you teach them, the harder their questions are, and the more you realize how very little you know. About anything. And the more you teach them, the more they're gonna hold you accountable for your own actions. Like, in our family, the "D" word is "dumb." The "S" words (we have two) are "shut-up" and "stupid." So I could've just dropped a pan of muffins on the floor and my kids would be all, "ummmmm...you said 'DUMB!'" And they would announce to all of our friends...and their GRANDPARENTS..."Mommy said the D-word today..."

Ruh-roh.

And when you teach your children how much Jesus loves them and how we should tell everyone about Him, be prepared. I can't tell you the times we would be at Wal-Mart or a restaurant, and Logan, would whisper under his breath to me, "Mommmmm...aren't you gonna TELL him?" Me: "who?" Logan: "that man...aren't you going to tell him?" Me: "tell him what, Logan?" Logan: "about Jesus...Tell him, Mom."

Be prepared!

Also in our family, we did not allow the kids to attack each other's intelligence or physical traits/abilities. Not gonna have name-calling like that in my home...for obvious reasons. I felt that way from my early days as a parent, when I heard a message from James Dobson along those lines...but that rule was set-in-stone the day Joshua came home from his elementary school and told me he had a "messed up brain." I asked him why he would say that, and he said some kids on the playground told him that he had a "messed up brain." So, I loved on him and told him he was perfect just the way God made him, and to never, EVER listen to mean things like that. And then I went into my bedroom and cried my eyes out. I vowed that, at least at home, I would do my very best to make it that safe place...for all of my kids. And to teach my boys, and my girl, to come to the aid and defense of people who maybe could not speak up for themselves.

These kinds of things are so easy when the kids are little.They are so innocent and they just soak up everything like a sponge. It is such a great time to be hiding God's Word in their hearts, because those fiery darts come all too soon, and the distractions and busyness of the world can take their minds off the things of Christ. Not gonna lie...it definitely gets harder as they get older, but if you start building that foundation at an early age, it will help them withstand many of the trials that come along.

I would say that finding some couples who are a little further along on the parenting journey can be very helpful. You can learn from their examples, and go to them with questions. Form friendships with other Christian couples and families. Their support can be invaluable to you during hard times...and can enhance your joy in the happy times. Be consistent...your walk needs to match your talk. Be careful to attend to your own spiritual life. Stay in the Word of God. I remember a pastor telling us one time, "you cannot impart what you do not possess." Kids are very perceptive, and they aren't going to buy into anything you're telling them if they don't think you're real. Pray often and always. And share your needs with others. There are just going to be some things along the way in life where there's no quick fix. Life happens. Tragedy, difficulties, sadness...sometimes things just don't make sense... 


Run to Jesus.

And, allow yourself a little grace. Parenting is hard. We can all admit to messing up on a daily basis. We show grace to our children each day...why is it so hard to accept that same grace from God?

"...His mercies are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness." (Lamentations 3:22b-23)



Saturday, March 9, 2013

Like a Rat in a Hailstorm

Parenting is not for the faint-hearted.

Can I get an "Amen?"

And parenting a child with Special Needs? Well, it brings joy and challenges all its own. And parenting an ADULT child with Special Needs? I can't even tell you...because every situation is so different. I mean, you can't spank them. You can't put them in time-out. I worry that people think it's fun and laughter all the time over here with my resident Jay Leno...because Joshua is such a funny guy.

Y'all know I only post the funny stuff, right?

I mean, it IS fun and we DO laugh...a LOT. But there are also times, many times, when we just don't know what to do. I was going to say that sometimes we feel like a rat in a hailstorm, but that's not right. Right? But you get the drift. How do you discipline a child who is a man...w/o emasculating him in some way? (sigh) I don't know. What I do know is that there has to be discipline...because we have to keep him safe.

I have written before about some of the best encouragement I received early on in this journey parenting Joshua. It came from my friend, Karen Alexander-Doyel, who said...simply..."just love him." And we did, and we do. But just like with all four of our children, love is more than a warm, fuzzy feeling. It's encouragement, guidance and reproof. It's teaching. And, yes, it's also discipline.

And it's mountain-top highs and walking thru the trenches and fighting the evil and praying all night and storming the gates of Heaven on their behalf. And it's being utterly and totally dependent on God, because otherwise we don't have a CLUE what we're doing. And so we pray, and we seek God...and we do our best in the strength HE provides.

"Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him." (James 1:5)

Monday, March 4, 2013

Stomach Flu and Taxes...

The stomach bug is slowly marching its way thru our family.

Blech.

In other news, Jim did our taxes this weekend. He got a new program and had to re-enter all of our information. When it got to my occupation, he was going to type in "homemaker." Instead, he typed "ho..." and it accidentally entered.

Lovely.

Now the Federal Government of the United States of America thinks I'm a "ho."

"O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth..." Psalm 8:1

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

I fought back tears as they walked across the stage and stood in line for everyone to see. My boy, my big man, was leading the way. He walked quickly and with purpose. I could tell he had his "proud face" on. Some of the others walked quickly. Others shuffled slowly. One was in a wheelchair. One used a cane, and moved his arms in jerking motions to propel himself across the stage to his place in line. Two of the girls came out holding hands. All were dressed up for the occasion in their best holiday attire.

If you have children, then you know how excited they get before they perform in any type of program...especially if it's in front of their parents. They look forward to it for weeks. They are nervous, anxious, excited.

That's where we were...but these weren't "kids," like you  might be thinking. They were adults. Our children, yes, but much more than that...they were young men and women with ideas, opinions and dreams all their own; my son and his friends from his Therapeutic Recreation groups.

They are all different, the ones in this group. Some have labels like "Cerebral Palsy," but some do not. All are intellectually challenged to some degree, and most have physical difficulties as well. There are several who have Down Syndrome, like my Joshua, and while those individuals have some physical characteristics that are similar, they are all very different. Shy, out-going, talkative, friendly, sweet, grumpy. Some need more assistance than others. Some are pleasant and compliant, while others seem to LIVE to cause trouble and irritate others. Not unlike people in our own work environments, or our churches...even in our families! Not unlike...ME. And yet, here they were, working together. Taking turns, being supportive. Our own little Christmas miracle! (wink!)

I don't know who first had the idea for the Christmas program. It was brought up in one of the many "brainstorming" sessions Joshua and his friends had at the "Center." But once it was brought up, it took on a life of it's own. There was practice and more practice...and rewriting, finding props, costumes, and shopping for dressy clothes for the big night.

You have never seen a group more excited. Or nervous. And my son? My big man? They told me he led a prayer for the group backstage before the program started that night...a prayer for peace, and for nerves to be calmed.

He was up first, reading the Christmas story from the book of Luke. That was followed by some songs and a couple of dramatic readings/poems. The main program was that they acted out The Gift of the Magi. Quite an impressive group of actors there! Everyone had a part, and everyone remembered their part! Even the Grinch showed up at some point, and, since I'm writing this months later, I can't for the life of me figure out how HE got in the story!

But it worked!

And it didn't matter!

When it was over, there wasn't a dry eye in the house! And everyone was on their feet, cheering for this unlikely group of people...who did something amazing...who blew us away with their spirits...and left us with their incredible message...of HOPE.

"And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because He has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with His love." Romans 5:5