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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A Bookish Post (Kid Lit edition)

In the chaos of raising four kids that look like my husband and me, but (I swear!) are way more stubborn than I ever was and can hit octaves with their screams that would make Kristen Bell jealous. there are times when I just need downtime with my kids.  Not away from my kids (although, if you're offering to babysit, I'm not going to turn you down), but with my kids.  I want to share in a journey with them, meet a new friend, or laugh really hard.  Some of this happens because honestly, life with four kids is a hilarious (and sometimes furious) roller coaster ride full of new people and experiences.  But... if I'm looking for a controlled moment to enjoy with my kids, then you'll find us sharing a book.

We've got issues of the book-related kind.  The shelves here are all full, the library basket is overflowing, and the weekly trip to the library is no longer optional.  It's mandatory.  The crazies in my house start going a little nuts if they don't have the new books in their series, and let's just be honest... I can only read certain books twice a day for a week.  Those books MUST go back to their home at our local library.  

Most recently, I've become an addict of the Read Aloud Revival podcast which comes out every other week.  It varies between author interviews and experienced mommas sharing the books they love to read with the people they love most.  It's a happy day when a new episode loads into my podcast app.  And if you never have time to listen (for me this happens when I face my daily climb up Mt. Laundry-Needs-Folding), the show notes are available for you to get some great booklists.  I'd highly recommend listening though.  

So we head to the library, armed with our lists, and load up our giant tote with books.  At this point, we know most of the librarians by first name (yes...even without reading their nametags), and nothing makes me happier than when they put a new book in my hands because they think we'll like it.  Ready for our favorites?  And to be honest, some of these we own because we read them so often.  I'll go youngest to oldest...

Emmie Jo (1 1/2 years old)
Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb by Al Perkins
If you haven't read this one, it'll be easy to check off your bucket list.  It's short, but the rhythmic language is JoJo's favorite part.  She wiggles to the beat of the words so you know she's enjoying it with her whole being.  

Pat the Bunny by Dorothy Kunhardt
Yep.  It's the same book that your mom read to you in the 80's.  It's still out there and still worth picking up for its interactive value.  "Pat and Judy can do lots of things.  You can do lots of things too." It's a good lesson for our littlest ones that we can do more than we realize.

Laura Lou (3 years old going on 14)
Ladybug Girl by David Soman
Any of the books in this series are amazing.  I'd personally start with Ladybug Girl and Bumblebee Boy, but I could be biased since that's the one we were introduced to first.  Ladybug Girl faces real life problems in each of her books and ends up figuring out creative solutions by the end of the stories.  I love the lessons these books teach without getting preachy or condescending.  The illustrations are beautiful, and honestly my boys were the ones to love these books first.

Franklin series by Paulette Bourgeois and Brenda Clark 
Old school, right?  We grew up on these, and Laura always grabs the limit that I will let her each time we go to the library. (For the record, that limit is 2.)  The characters feel safe, the illustrations are bright, and she gets closure every time.  Did I mention that she might be my daughter? "Franklin could count by two's and tie his shoes. He could zip zippers and button buttons, but..."

Ben (6 years old)
Mr. Putter and Tabby Pick the Pears by Cynthia Rylant
Ben's at that early reader stage when he needs to read and be read to a ton, but he doesn't want to read anything that feels babyish.  Enter Mr. Putter and his cat Tabby!  This is one of a huge series of books about an elderly man and his pet cat who just happen to live next door to a very extroverted older lady and her good dog Zeke.  Their adventures are so funny and unpredictable that even I get excited when I find out a new book has come out.  The title I listed above is one of my favorites, but you really cannot go wrong with any of the series.

Mercy Watson Saves the Day by Kate DiCamillo
Our librarian turned us on to these.  A middle-age couple has no children, only a pig... ahem... a porcine wonder named Mercy.  These books have repetitive language that isn't annoying, characters that are so quirky you're gonna make voices for each of them, and illustrations that look like they came right out of the 50's.  There are six books in the series, but read them in order!

Caleb (8 years old)
So here's where we get into troubled waters.  Caleb can read rings around me.  He reads faster than I ever have and loves genres that I don't particularly like, and (worst of all) avoids books that his mother recommends.  For the record, when he does read the books I give him, he loves them.  But he's 8.  Somebody hold me.  He still devours the stack of picture books I bring home, but to keep him busy, we've had to graduate to what we like to call "big kid books."

The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall
The story of four sisters who live in the cottage of an estate for a summer.  They quickly become friends with the boy who lives in the main house, and their adventures had all my big kids giggling when we read aloud the first chapters.  After said time, Caleb stole the book and finished it on the sly in his room.  Stinker.  There are sequels to this book that we haven't gotten to.

Tuesdays at the Castle by Jean Craighead George
We cheated and listened to this on audiobook (which was top notch!), but when he couldn't wait for the next road trip to find out what happened next, I broke down and checked the hardback copy out from the library for him.  This is the first of a series of books about four siblings who live in and will one day inherit a living castle.  Yep.  The castle adds rooms as needed, prepares banquets when timely, and vanishes rooms that are no longer needed.  So basically this is my dream house.  But their adventures are fascinating and the story holds just enough suspense to be fun without being frightening to the little ears in my van.

It's odd and wonderful to be in pretty much every stage of reading development at once.  To tuck in the baby with her Spot the Dog cloth book and demand that the big kid turn off his Kindle because Narnia will be there in the morning.  To watch as one child grasps letters and sounds while another blends words into stories.  And when I'm tempted to lose my cool at the crazy, if I can turn off the burners and pick up the baby, if I can get to the book basket without tripping and grab an unread hardcover, I read aloud. And, if I'm lucky, the noise stops, the bodies slow, and once again we are travelers together in an unknown land with companions we are meeting for the very first time.  If I'm not lucky, well... nobody's lucky all the time.  In which case, there will always be tomorrow.  And if I'm really lucky, then maybe tomorrow's a library day.  Happy reading!


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Landing

We're here... the bottom of the cliff that we jumped off of over eight months ago.  A choice we made as a family to give our second son an opportunity to try a new program of sensory, gross motor, and cognitive training.  I vividly remember talking with our family helper after coming back from Ben's evaluation meeting and saying the words, "It's gonna be a crazy six months."  Crazy didn't even scratch the surface.

The Brain Balance Program required us to completely alter our family culture in order to give Ben the best odds at successful outcomes.  As if I needed a reason to become more structured!  HA!  But there we were.  Hoarding TV time so we could do family movie night and not go over Ben's screentime limits (1 hour/weekday, 2 hours/weekend day).  Buying special foods to accommodate the egg-free, dairy-free, gluten-free, sugar-free, low-soy, low-corn diet (peanut-free too since we found out Ben was allergic two months into the program).  Not going out to eat for MONTHS because it just wasn't worth it when we realized how little if anything Ben could have at a restaurant.  Cooking.  every. night.  Because there were very few people in the world that felt able to cook for a child with such a restricted diet (and NO judgment here because I felt the same way before that child was mine).  Driving an hour away three days a week to sessions at the Center.  Doing exercises with a less-than-cooperative Ben twice a day for at least 30 minutes each time... more if he decided to celebrate Defiance Day (which just happens to be a pretty frequent holiday around here... bummer, right?).  There was truly no moment, no aspect of our lives that remained the same.  And to be honest, that wasn't all bad.

We became open with friends and family about times when we needed help with school pick-ups, childcare for our daughters, and a night out to just get away from the craziness we signed up for.  And we learned to lean on the family of God to pray for us, cry with us, and show up when we needed them the most.  Our girls formed sweet friendships with other children they would not have known as well if we hadn't truly needed a home for them while I drove Ben to the Center.  They even got to spend more time with their cousins and grandparents due to my inability to do all things for all my children all the time.  And there's the rub...

The vast number of hours the program absorbed meant that so many of the wonderful vital things in our family life that we would normally say "yes" to, had to be given "no's."  Our children had to be told, "I'm sorry, but I just can't right now."  Had to receive whatever was leftover.  And there wasn't much.  Quiet lunches where we would talk about the funny and the important (and the funny stuff that's important to a preschooler) were replaced by lunches eaten in the car while driving to a session.  Naptimes were replaced to sleeping on the go.  Playdates became rare and few since we had to get exercises in twice a day, and every other day we had to leave by 11 for Ben's session.  Ministries I love got the dregs of my energy, and David dropped a ministry commitment he was passionate about because he could see me falling apart.  Moments spent just snuggling a baby girl through her first year of life gave way to frenzied feedings in the Fort Wayne Public Library as we squeezed in a feeding in our only available time window for her to eat.  The sacrifices we made this year have been heavy and hard.

With that kind of commitment, we held on to the promise that the returns would be as great as  the investment.  Maybe even greater.  Promises of progress were made to us at the beginning of our time at the BBC, and reports of children making incredible strides were frequently voiced.  With that said, I want to say that Ben DID make progress.  He did grow stronger, learn new skills, and make strides in the right direction.  His attention span and memory are much longer and stronger.  His balance and coordination are more controlled.  He runs with a better stride and responds to authority with more maturity.

At least for our family, there seemed to be an invisible wall where progress stopped and our efforts felt unrewarded.  When the director of our Center pursued answers, she was told again and again by other directors that Ben's infant reflexes had not been satisfied and he just needed to do his exercises consistently and perhaps even 3 times a day.  Oh, dear friend, please imagine a mom who hasn't slept through the night in months being told to just squeeze in 30 more minutes of crazy each day.  It just wasn't possible.  We needed to be human again.  To relax.  To breathe.  So Ben finished the course before him.  He did his exercises at home as we had been doing them.  He finished the last of his sessions, and I am so proud of this boy who has become disciplined, goal-focused, and more flexible than ever.  Ben has tried new things and been successful.  He has accomplished all the goals we set for him to achieve before kindergarten.  I am so very grateful for that.  Was this program worth the investment of time, money, sweat, tears, and sanity?  I'm not sure I'll ever really know this side of eternity, but I do know that Ben needed and deserved our focused attention this year, and I'm so glad we poured into him.

Several of you have told me that you've seen ads for the BBC on TV or that you have a friend considering enrollment at a local Center.  Here's my take:

The changes to family culture and diet are GOOD, but please make them before you even try the Center.  Take a month to remove screens from your child's daily routine.  That means your phone, the television, the internet, Minecraft, FB, everything.  That 1 hour a day goes in a hurry as children watch screens at the doctor's office, friends' homes, and even checking the score of their favorite baseball teams.  After that piece is in place, use a month to eliminate gluten, dairy, sugar, and eggs from your diet and see how your child responds.  Then buy a copy of Disconnected Kids by Robert Melillo and do the infant reflex exercises with your child once or twice a day (take Sunday off because... it's Sunday) for a month.  Record any changes you see in your child (behavioral, physical, academic, social).  Now you're ready.  If the above changes have had positive results, give the 3x weekly sessions at the Center a try!

When our family did all of the above in a three week period with a 5 month old and a 2 year old at home, it was just too much.  Neither my husband nor I remember the diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes that the program requires being thoroughly explained to us before we made the leap.  Not wanting Ben to miss out on an ounce of success, we complied with the program but found ourselves with far more work than we could possibly complete while also raising and loving our other three children (and even really loving Ben beyond giving him the benefits of this program).  We've been parenting from a position of exhaustion and the hearts of our children have definitely been affected.  I have lost my temper more times in this last year than I can remember in. my. life.  It's been humbling to see my limits, and my opportunities to ask the forgiveness of my children have been daily.

Today is a pretty special day in our home.  It marks Ben's third day in kindergarten (not at home!), and he loves it.    While we still limit screen time for our whole family, the vice grip has loosened.  Yes, he's still dairy, egg, and peanut free; but gluten (Oh, glorious GLUTEN!!) has come back into our lives and we've noticed no detrimental effects in Ben.  The exercise notebook that we so faithfully used twice a day hasn't been touched all summer.  And our visits to Fort Wayne are no more.  I calculated 17 hours of hands-on work that the Brain Balance Program added to my weekly schedule so removing it has gifted me with AN ENTIRE DAY to invest in all four of my children with their unique passions and needs.  And sometimes, I even get to make myself a cuppa and just sit with a book for 30 minutes.  Be still, my heart.

I've typed this post in multiple sittings because (believe it or not) I still don't get enough time in one sitting to write uninterrupted and have my writing make sense.  Even as I re-read these paragraphs, the flow isn't what I want it to be, but I've needed to answer the questions and give you an update on our family.  If you have more specific questions, I'd be happy to answer them via email or I'd even share my French press of coffee with you if you'd like to talk face-to-face.

And in case I haven't thanked you for your prayers and support, THANK YOU!  From the bottom of my heart, thank you!  For the recipes, the meals, cards, and the prayers... I will never be able to tell you how needed your encouragement was to this momma who so frequently felt like I was in way over my head.  Thank you for loving us well, friends.  We know we haven't taken this leap alone.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

What to say...

Dear ones,

It's hard to know what to write at this moment.  Sometimes silence seems safer.  Sometimes silence happens because there is just no time to form the words.  In my case, it's a mixture of both.  It wasn't until I chatted with a friend a couple nights ago that I realized that I haven't even kept my prayer warriors up-to-date on the new challenges we've been experiencing.  Communication like this is a commitment I just have not been able to squeeze in, a fact that I regret and hope I can fix in the forty minutes I have right now.

For the past two months, we've been struggling as a family as we watch Ben regress physically and continue to struggle with many of the issues that led us to pursue the Brain Balance Center.  As chief cook of all his crazy food and head chauffeur of our trips to the Center in Fort Wayne, it's been hard to keep motivation for all the facets of this program as we have seen so little progress since our initial couple of months.  For those familiar with the program, let me just share that we have been very faithful to the food, environment, and exercise components that we are responsible for.  But at this time, we are struggling with the meager returns for what has been a monumental investment of time, money, and sanity for our family.

With this conflict in my heart, I met with the director of the Center two weeks ago for Ben's third quarter review.  She confirmed everything that we'd been feeling.  Ben hadn't had the results that they were accustomed to seeing at the BBC.  When she consulted with headquarters concerning Ben's case, they suggested that we probably had not been following the at-home components of the program.  When she assured them that this was NOT true, they were baffled as well and suggested a few adaptations.

First of these changes being an adjustment in the focus of Ben's sessions.  Normally each hour-long session is half sensory exercises and half cognitive skills.  Since Ben's cognitive skills are off-the-charts, his time at the BBC will be adjust to 45 minutes of sensory and 15 minutes of cognitive work.
Second, we will relax a bit at home.  Instead of calling Ben in from the great outdoors to do exercises twice a day, we're allowing him to be outside, play baseball, swing, run, and just be a kid in the afternoons.  We'll commit to doing exercises at least once a day on nice days (and might get to it twice on rainy days), but our entire family just needs to take a step back from 60 minutes of daily torture... I mean, exercises with Ben.  We can definitely stay positive through 30 minutes though.

Third (and HUGE for this momma), we'll be introducing gluten back into Ben's diet.  So far Ben has had gluten for over a week and has been doing fine with it.  We haven't seen a significant change in behavior, sleep, or attitude; however, I am a much more sane person since I'm not juggling one more ingredient to avoid.

Fourth, and this is where I started to cry in the meeting, Brain Balance is offering us another month of sessions (free of charge) to give Ben the opportunity to finish more of his goals.  While this may seem like a great thing (and it IS a kind offer), I wept from exhaustion at the thought of yet another month being taken over with trips back and forth to Fort Wayne.  At this point though, I'm already feeling better about moving forward with June since the cutback in exercises and diet restrictions has lifted HUGE burdens off of my shoulders.

We'll finish what they are offering us and will give it our best, but our best at this point is a reduced version of what we started with.  We are a far less energetic version of what we were at the beginning of this adventure, and for the emotional health of our family, we just can't keep up the same pace any more.  It's taken over 6 months for us to finish 62 sessions (with 10 more to go this month), and I just need to take a breath of fresh air, have FUN with my kids, and eat a cookie... a delicious, gluten-filled cookie.

I'm intentionally looking for ways to redeem our trips to Fort Wayne in June, including frequent trips to the zoo and parks in the morning before our sessions in the afternoon and picnics in the park rather than our worn-out tradition of stuffing food in our faces as we drive the hour to the Center.  Also, we're taking a two-week break at the beginning of June to allow the three oldest to enjoy swim lessons.

If you're one of the precious ones that has been burdened to pray for us, I thank you from the bottom of my heart and please keep praying for strength and grace to flow in our home.  If you're one of the dear ones who has learned to cook a GF, DF, EF meal for our family, you have blessed my socks off!  And if you're one of the many people who have handed me a Starbucks card with a smile and a hug, you have probably saved our lives as we drive home from Fort Wayne during what is normally naptime.  I swiped my very last Starbucks card yesterday.  Miraculously, when one runs out, another one appears from an unexpected source.  If that isn't a miracle of loaves and fishes proportions, I don't know what is!!!!

We are STILL praying that he will have a breakthrough in his last two months, but we know that regardless of outcomes, we have learned to walk with our Savior in a new and desperate way.  Thank you for showing His love and for holding us up in this journey.  You are loved and appreciated!  Gotta run...

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Halfway there

Every session when we sign Ben in at Brain Balance, we see how many sessions we have brought him in for.  I was shocked today to see that we are really at the halfway marker.  WHAT!?!?!  No way have we been doing this for over three months.  No way have we been back and forth to Fort Wayne over 35 times in that time frame.  There is just. no. way.

It has been a very discouraging three weeks for our family.  For the first part, we had struggled with the Brain Balance Center about a month ago.  Ben's coaches were changing every session, which meant that every session he was getting out of doing a lot of work through his passive-aggressive, sneaky ways.  Fort Wayne is way too far away for us to drive so that Ben can goof off for an hour.  Ben wasn't really establishing a relationship with any one coach, and if you've ever been in early childhood education, you know that the relationship a child has with their teacher is critical.  I called the director and asked that this be remedied, but the solution has been more of a struggle to enact than we had anticipated. 

It's taken three weeks for Ben to now have a coach for all of his sessions that he really connects with.  She's not afraid of making him work, and she knows how to call his bluff.  Not only that, she volunteered to be Ben's coach.  Asked to take him for every session.  And is now committed to helping Ben get to where he needs to be.  This is a huge encouragement, and we are pushing forward with her, thrilled that she has taken a personal interest in our son and his goals.

In the meantime, the homefront has gotten increasingly stressful.  Ben has been doing great with his specialized diet, but he fights us every day on the exercises, trying to cut corners and do the least amount of work possible.  Yes, Mom, I do realize that this is my consequence for years of driving you crazy in homeschool.  David and I are trying to be creative in how we motivate Ben to do the work, but it drives me bananas that we have to have the same fights every. stinking. day even though he knows that he will have to do the work regardless.  We're tired of this.  He's tired of this.  We're all tired of this. 

Today Ben was crying huge crocodile tears as he mourned that Laura and Emily were going to my mom's for a playdate with their cousins and Ben never gets to go to playdates anymore.  And it's the truth.  Three days a week, that boy has to be in Fort Wayne.  One day a week we normally are going to doctor/dentist/specialist appointments for him or for one of the girls.  And the other day of the week often holds MOPS or errands.  I want to give him a playdate. I just don't know where to squeeze it in.  I know he's lonely (imagine that in our house!), but it's hard to know how to solve that problem when the schedule has NO breathing room.

We've also seen an increase in the number of fits that Ben is having.  Any time a decision doesn't go his way, he doesn't get what he wants, or one of the other children gets something he doesn't, Ben breaks down.  There's screaming, crying, flailing, and sometimes throwing.  A response I would expect from a 3 year old, but definitely not from a 5 year old.  Add to that the fact that he has moved backwards in some of his physical goals, and this momma's going a bit cuckoo.  We were told that there would be a second struggle period, and I think we've arrived.

While I want to be positive (we aren't where we started!), I want to be real for the sake of anyone out there who is considering this program.  It's not a cure-all.  It's a boatload of work.  And at the halfway marker, we still don't know what life is going to look like on the other end.  Also, there are issues in Ben's life... heart issues... that are becoming more apparent now that physical barriers have come down.   I know a huge part of our struggle is that Ben hasn't come to a place of surrender with Jesus Christ. 

All that said, thank you to those of you who still faithfully lift up our family through this season.  Because that's what it definitely is... a season.  A period where we are stretching our strength for the greater good and praying that we don't lose more than we gain.  If you're still on that prayer team, would you pray specifically for Ben on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday?  That he would do his best to obey his coach so he can get the most out of his sessions.  And would you pray for David and me?  That we would surrender ourselves to Jesus so that Ben has the parents he needs to finish this journey well.  And would you pray that Ben would come to understand and accept Jesus Christ as his Savior?  I know every problem in our life isn't miraculously solved when we come to faith in Christ, but having spent so much time with Ben in the last four months, I see so clearly that he needs the Holy Spirit just as much as his rebellious, broken momma.


And thanks.  Thank for reading this.  For praying.  For supporting us with your encouragement and for wanting the best for Ben right along with us.  We are blessing beyond measure even when we feel buried under the weight of all that life is for us right now.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Reading to Write

(FYI: This post was written back in early fall.  These are the books that fed my mind over the summer.  I definitely need to write another post about this fall/winter's good reads!)

I've noticed something.  There are seasons of my life where the words just do not come.  Sometimes it's the incredible pain of living that just hits the brakes on my train of thought, but more often than not it's that I'm not reading.  I'm not letting fresh words wash over my brain.  I'm not delighting in a story.  I'm not feeling the power of others' words in my life.  This makes my own writing seem unimportant and just... well... flat.

Perhaps that's why this may be a writing season.  It's been a spring and summer of words!  Now I know what you're thinking... How on earth do I claim to be a busy mom but still have time to read stuff just for my own enjoyment?  The answer: I'm a nursing mom.  And due to the fact that I have a baby that likes to eat in a distraction-free environment, I'm alone and able to read for HOURS of my day.  It's delightful.  And I'm pretty sure when this sweet baby girl is done nursing, I will go into deep mourning for my totally justifiable reading time.  For now, I'm just enjoying what I've got.

Also, I need to give credit where credit is due.  This summer's ridiculous number of books read is brought to you by Kindle.  Yep.  This book-sniffing, pages-loving girl caved because I just can't manage to feed a baby, balance a book, and turn pages all at the same stinkin' time.  And that's my life, ya'll.  Teacher Man's totally perfect birthday present to me this year was a Kindle Paperwhite, and thanks to Overdrive (our library's ebook resource) I have read far more than I ever have with any of our other babies.  Plus, I can read in the dark with my Kindle... a must for those middle-of-the-night feedings.  If you have a reader friend who is having a baby, get her a Kindle.  You'll be her new best friend.  For reals.

Last summer and this summer, I've gotten some GREAT book suggestions from Modern Mrs. Darcy's Summer Reading Guide.  But this year, I need to be honest.  Some of these books, I would rather not have read.  I love great writing.  Clear voices.  Quirky characters.  Unexpected endings. And I get hooked.  When I start a book, I am an unsettled mess until I find out how it ends. But I'm also realizing that I'm an HSP (highly sensitive person), and a lot of the content found in modern narratives affects me negatively.  I'm not saying that evil and raw don't exist.  I'm just saying that I don't want to dwell on it in my "free" time.  For me, there's enough awful in reality that I don't need to manufacture it for entertainment.  And as an HSP, I tend to absorb and use the vocabulary I read.  Sometimes this is great skill; however, certain books have made me wish there was such a thing as brainwash.  Wouldn't it be great to have your brain feel minty fresh?  That said, I straight up wish I hadn't read some of these books.  It just wasn't the best choice for me.

I am convinced that we will be the same people next year that we are this year but for the books we read and the people we meet.  Ugh.  I have no desire to stay the same.  None.  So there's my motivation for reading great non-fiction.  The more I read, the more I understand myself, those around me, and my place in the Kingdom.  Worth. every. minute.

Lies Women Believe  by Nancy Leigh DeMoss
This was my second foray into this book (my first since becoming a mom), and I have to say the first few chapters about lies we believe about God, sin, and ourselves broke me right where I most needed breaking.  When it comes right down to it, I cannot say I'm on board with every word of this book, but there is SO much more right than wrong here.  If you haven't read it, pick it up.

The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
I get it.  It's an old classic for a reason.  The concept of remembering God's presence with us in every act is HUGE, and I'm glad I read it.  With so many moments of my days being filled with the mundane, it was a timely read to remember God is in all those moments.

The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown
I cannot believe I'd never read anything by Brene until this summer.  Incredibly insightful, research-based writing about coming to peace with who you've been created to be.  Her words resonated with me, and her research on vulnerability is life-changing.  Her most recent book Rising Strong is now on my must-read list.

The Real Thing: Lessons on Life and Love from a Wedding Reporter's Notebook by Ellen McCarthy
In a world where committed relationships are not the norm, this writer's perspectives on love and marriage are enlightening.  After interviewing hundreds of engaged and married couples, she shares the fascinating pearls of wisdom gleaned.  An easy, breezy read that inspired me to give even more to the man I love.  Disclaimer: This is not a Christian book, and couples from all walks of life were interviewed.

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson
Loved the concept.  Bill and a friend take on the Appalachian Trail together in this memoir.  For those of you who love camping and roughing it, it will make you laugh out loud and then be thankful that you are reading this book in the A/C of your semi-sterile home.  However, the language of this book made me wish I'd had the self-control to leave it unfinished.  Ugh.. ever become way too obsessed with the adventure going on in your book?  If you're an HSP, you'd probably better leave this one in the woods.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
It took me two summers to finally get through the whole thing, but it was well worth it.  A year in the life of a family who seeks to grow or know the farmer behind every. last. thing. they put in their mouths.  Incredible.  I learned a ton about what I'm eating, why I need to consider change, and the richness that's in store for those who are willing to support local agriculture.  Great writing.  Fascinating research.  Hilarious anecdotes.  A must for foodies.

The Best Yes by Lysa Terkeurst
I look back fondly at last year as the year of burnout.  Pregnant. Struggling with chronic back pain. Three kids. And tons of commitments.  I needed to read this badly.  I needed Lysa to remind me that every "yes" means that I am saying "no" to something else I could be doing with my time.  Right now, those "no's" in my life allow me to do what only I can do in this world, and that feels pretty awesome.


Okay, are you read for the fiction?  I thought I should write down the non-fiction first because, ya know... I'm pretty proud of the fact that I actually had the focus to read something without plot twists.  It's pretty stinking amazing, especially if you know my addiction to a good story.

The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
Yep. I'm the last person on the planet to read these books.  Let me start by saying that I was raised in a conservative home.  I'm sure I could have petitioned to read these, but I just wasn't that motivated.  Fast-forward to my present-day life with a 6 year old who is reading me out of house and home. I have a strong suspicion my little reader is going to want to pick these up, and for all the reasons that I've been given to not give these books to my children, I've encountered others who have said the opposite so I felt that I just needed to read them for myself.  I know why everyone's addicted.  Really.  Because I lay in my hospital bed in labor with Emily, reading book 6 because I was NOT going to wait for the ending just because I was having a contraction.  So much great content, but books 4-7 are definitely for older readers... especially HSP readers.  Intense.  Artful.  And OH MY WORD... I don't know how you all waited for years for the series to finish.  I binge read these like I was watching a good Netflix series.  We can argue about whether it's appropriate for children to read books about wizards, and I don't think there is any book (minus the Bible) that everyone has to read.  In my opinion though, I think the good far outweighs the questionable in these books.

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
I'm not a sci-fi reader, but if it's about a used bookstore, I'll read it.  I actually liked this book a lot. Not sure I can really say much about it without ruining the plot twists, but it was a great read.  Modern Mrs. Darcy says that this book is "Harry Potter meets National Treasure." Can't say it better than that.

First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen by Charlie Lovett
Great book!  Even though I could only get a paper copy of this book, the writing kept me engrossed so that every awkward page turn while feeding a baby was totally worth it.  If you're an Austen fan, you're gonna love this one!

Still Life by Louise Penny
This is the first of the Inspector Gamache Mysteries, and it hooked me!  Set in an idyllic little town in Canada, the vibrant characters and great writing had me guessing until the very end.  Loved this one so much that I immediately read A Fatal Grace, the second in this series.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer
Okay, now I know what all the fuss was about.  Fantastic book, weaving true stories of life during World War 2 on the British island of Guernsey with a fictional plot that will have you blazing your way through the pages.  Read this one in 3 days.  I have 4 kids.  That NEVER happens.

Lizzy and Jane  by Katherine Reay
I was almost halfway through this book when I realized that it was Christian fiction, and I say that as a compliment.  Reay is a wonderful storyteller, and her references to Austen only made me love this book more, even though the main story line had nothing to do with Pride and Prejudice.

Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay
For whatever reason, I did NOT like the ending of this book, but it was still one of my favorites from this summer.  Reay is an author to watch, and I'm waiting excitedly for her new book to be released this fall.


Should this list have included more John Piper and Francis Chan?  Probably.  And after my pastor's message on Sunday morning, I made some new commitments to my husband concerning what I will be picking up in the future.  I'm way too much of a sponge.  And I'd rather look up from a book smiling or inspired than embarrassed, no matter how many bestseller lists it's on.  But even amongst the disappointing picks, I feel like I found a few new treasures and have been inspired so now it's your turn.  What have you been reading that has fed your soul or inspired you to action?  Absolutely itching to know!!!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Explaining Eternity

A very dear friend from our church was promoted to heaven this week.  She was a mother, a grandmother, a great-grandmother.  She was a friend, a teacher, a nurturer.  She was a window into the heart of God for all who knew her.  She loved people well; and, more specifically, she loved my babies well.  If you are a momma, you know that's a forever kind of bond.

I have four children.  I love each and every one of them, but that doesn't mean that I can express my love for them in the same ways or that it's always easy to love them.  So when this sweet lady came to me years ago and told me that she had a special love for one of my children that is often especially hard to love, I became undone.  In a big way.  Mommas with challenging children, you get this.  You have that child who always gets the so-so or awful report after he spends time with any caregiver.  That child that people seem to tolerate but never really connect with.  It's hard.  And it hurts.  And then someone tells you that this child is their favorite.  That moment seems like a very appropriate time for the ugly cry.  And that person immediately becomes one of your favorites.

I'm feeling the void left by this lady's presence in our church and our home and cannot fathom the grief of her immediate family right now.  I just can't.  They have my prayers and my deepest sympathy, but we are all mourning as a people with hope.  Not a flighty anticipation kind of hope, but a deep-flowing confidence that their mom and grandmother is living whole and happy in the presence of her Savior.  After struggling for the last few months for her daily strength, she is basking in the light of the all-powerful God.  We feel a void, but she feels a wholeness that is unknown to us.

We've struggled to explain this to our children.  This is the first time they have had to say goodbye to someone they loved and who was a part of their daily lives.  After sharing the news of her passing, my oldest was broken, understanding that she would no longer be a part of his life; but my younger two surprised me even more.  After saying they would miss her, they were not sad.  Not a bit.  In fact, they could not understand why the rest of us were struggling to be cheery.  "But, Mom, isn't she in heaven?  Isn't she with Jesus?  That's a good thing."

My children's response to this loss reminds me of an account from Jesus' life...when Jesus gathers the children around him and rebukes His disciples for trying to shoo them away.  Jesus had time for children.  They were His priority, and their hearts were incredibly dear to Him.  These children's faith in the unseen and seen parts of His truth were equal.  Heaven was just as real to them as His hug.  And Jesus told every grown-up, with-it person that was within hearing of Him that day that the Kingdom of God was made of these faith-full ones.

I'd like to pretend that I'm a with-it parent who can explain eternity to my kids in a way that really connects with them, but in fact it's my children who normally teach me what it means to have faith that every word of His Word is reality.  That the world to come is just as real as my stubbed toe and the food on my plate.  And we have hope, knowing the promises of His Word. But in case all this talk of hope makes you think that we've moved on and are done mourning, you're wrong. Grief still hits each of us like a wave we didn't see coming.

And when it hits, we remind ourselves that the loss is ours, but the gain is hers (and all our other loved ones who have died in Christ).  And we are miraculously given strength and comfort to pick up where our loved ones left off, and to continue the journey to eternity.  This world is not our home, but our lives were so much better for knowing this beloved lady.  And we will continue to mourn with hope, awaiting the day that we will embrace again and tell her that she was one of our favorites too.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Invisible Enemies

The title sounds pretty spiritual, but it's not.  Fair warning, ok?

A few weeks ago I took Ben back to his allergist.  With all the foods we were avoiding, I really wanted to get his allergies retested to see what we were actually dealing with as legitimate allergies and which foods were just "sensitivities" that could be instigating behavior issues.  As part of our conversation, I talked with the allergist about Ben's potential for asthma, which I had never even considered before.  Last winter we had a particularly terrible bout with the flu that lasted for weeks, which led the doctor to believe that Ben probably has a cold-induced asthma that makes him super susceptible to respiratory infections.  Our allergist shared a list of symptoms that can indicate a child suffers from asthma, and as he spoke, I started thinking not of Ben but of Caleb!

Caleb missed over 20 days of school last year due to illness.  I'm pretty sure I wasn't alarmed at the time because 1) I was pregnant and didn't have the emotional energy. 2) I had 3 sick kids and was living one day at a time. 3) I was pregnant and didn't have the physical energy. 4) It was kindergarten, and while Caleb had an amazing teacher with lots of fun things planned, I knew he could catch up quickly on the core material he had missed. 5) I was pregnant and didn't have the mental energy.  Did I mention I was pregnant?  Needless to say, I now realized that Caleb needed more preventative care than we had done last year, especially before cold season really set in.  As I left Ben's appointment with a promise of his allergy panel lab results soon, I made an appointment to bring Caleb in to be tested for asthma and allergies.

If you are just catching up with my family, Ben is in a therapy program that requires him to be gluten-free, egg-free, dairy-free, processed sugar-free, low-soy, and low-corn.  If you're wondering what we eat, think whole 30.  There are very few shelf-stable foods that I can give Ben, and when the nurse called with Ben's allergy testing results, I almost cried.  Drumroll please.........................Ben is allergic to peanuts.  Yep.  Yet another food that has been scratched off our OK-list.  No other foods registered as allergies, but Ben also had a violent reaction to dust mites.

In case you are not a dust mite expert (cause I really didn't care about them until a month ago), I'll just tell you that they are microscopic organisms whose whole life is feeding off of dead human skin cells and pooping.  Darling, right?  They love towels, clothes, mattresses, and pillows.  You'll never be able to kill all of them.  The best you can do is keep the population at bay by putting your mattresses and pillows in protective cases and washing all bedding in hot water once a week.  Oh... and putting all the stuffed animals in the freezer for 6 hours once a week.

So just in case life didn't seem nutty enough, I now wash Ben's bedding once a week in hot water and kidnap every stuffed animal in the house for an extended stay in my deep freeze.  No lie.  Please don't turn to me to stuffed animal protective services.

Apparently God thought I was doing a pretty good job with Ben's allergies because Caleb's allergy testing revealed a violent dust mite allergy as well.  No big deal.  We are now dust mite professionals.  And since we have been taking the bedding precautions, Caleb's ongoing cough has cleared completely and Ben's runny nose is GONE.  I didn't even realize how sickly we had been until I realized how much better the boys were doing a couple weeks into our new laundry/panda-bear-freezing routine.

Despite the fact that I wish we didn't struggle with ANY of this, I am incredibly grateful that we now know our enemies and even if we can't see them, we can wage war pretty effectively.  I never wanted to be "that mom."  You know the one.  Her kids can't have any of the food at the birthday party and carry their own snacks everywhere.  The one who talks about gluten and who cares about the ingredients in everything.  But this is who I need to be right now, and SPOILER ALERT: it's not about me.  It's about my kids and doing what's best for them so they can go out and have the best odds at a healthy childhood.  Not a perfect childhood or even a sheltered existence but what's best for them and the bodies that God gave them.  Selfishly, I'm still praying that dairy and gluten will return to our regularly scheduled programming because.... pizza.  But until then, I'll keep waging war on our invisible enemies and freezing teddy bears.

Another piece of the parenting puzzle solved.  Only 2,372,498 to go until I feel like I know what I'm doing.