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.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Marker: Two Months in at BBC

Christmas break was great.  A breath of fresh air... literally.  Since we had springtime temperatures, I had all the windows open for a good airing out and the kids actually got to play outside without snow pants.  Ben had a LONG break from his sessions at the Brain Balance Center, and Caleb had a two-week break from first grade.  All my babies under one roof.  So good.

I was not ready for Monday morning, and it took an unusual amount of gumption to help Ben through his exercises that morning.  Even though we are definitely seeing an increase in his creativity, focus, and comprehension; he still hates exercises.  (We continue to appreciate prayers for our patience with him during these times.)  Not gonna lie to you.  I hate exercises too.  But here's one of the reasons I still do them:

Ben at two.  I just want to squish him!!!!!
(photo credit: Renee J Photography)

Seriously... what a little man!
(Photo credit: Renee J Photography)

Ben at three.  Good grief.  The cuteness!
(photo credit: Nathan Holloway Photography)

Ben at four. My buddy.

So many days I feel like we are putting in SO much effort for small results and changes.  Perhaps others outside our family have noticed more changes in Ben that we miss by living with him day in and day out.  For my own benefit, I feel like I need to write down some of what I've been seeing this week to remember where we are (and so two months from now I can see where we've been). We need to write these words...look for the change... have these "stones of remembrance" to remind us of what God is doing in Ben's life through this program.  Thankfulness will carry us far.  

Here, in no particular order, are some of the behaviors that we are seeing from Ben: 

Ben is saying "I smell something."  This may sound crazy, but Ben never really commented on smelling anything before.  Now he'll stop and say he smells things, and I have to stop and ask him if it's a good smell or a bad smell as I try to figure out what he is taking in. 

He is making up words to every song he has ever heard.  He has made up a song called "Ninja Bunnies" to the tune of "Jingle Bells" that almost made me spit food across the table I was laughing so hard.  He is funny with a new-found intelligibility that makes me want to walk around with a recording device to get all of his one-liners.

He has been super focused in imaginative play with the boys' Legos.  Hours of time is spent in their room with or without Caleb.  You know how I know he is focused?  My house is SO much cleaner when he doesn't go from activity to activity in 5-minute intervals.  Legos stay on the Lego table, and so far this week, I'm pretty sure Ben has played with Legos and books. Period.

He was able to sit still and read for almost 45 minutes at the doctor's office while we waited for his sister's doctor to be ready for us.  We read and re-read stories in a magazine, but there was no fussing and ZERO meltdowns.

Although he has always been interested in "reading" books, he has started tracking and finding letters and sounds that he recognizes.  The other night Caleb was helping him spell words out loud at the table.  I pretty much lost my mind with happiness.  Ben didn't have 100% success, but in all fairness, Caleb was trying to get him to spell "metamorphosis."

Ben talks constantly (and drives his siblings INSANE on car trips), but the things he is saying now directly relate to things that he has picked up in church, at home, from a book, from a song, or from the Center.  He is relating learned/heard material to his life or at least retelling for us the lessons that he's learned.  This is a huge step forward from "I dunno" and "I forget" ...two of his favorite phrases that are seeing a lot less use these days.  Overall, I feel like I am talking to an older kid than the Ben I knew two months ago.

We hear a lot of "Say what?!?!" whenever we ask Ben to do things that he canNOT believe we are asking him to do.  Imagine a 13 year old saying this phrase to you when you tell them they have two hours of homework to do.  That's pretty much the voice and inflection Ben uses when we tell him that he has to do exercises, chores, appointments, etc.  I'd be upset about the attitude, but I'm too happy that he's actually acknowledging that we are talking to him.  In the past, Ben might not make any eye contact at all when we asked him to do something and would be silent.  So frustrating.  I'll take "Say what?!?!" any day of the week over a kiddo who struggles to be attentive.

Ben is also showing a lot more self-care initiative that I can ever remember him demonstrating.  Without being directed to, Ben dresses himself for the day and brushes his teeth because he knows that's what he's supposed to do and is excited to do it by himself.

I had to read of these to David to make sure I wasn't dramatizing anything.  He's a tell-it-like-it-is guy if you don't know him, and he approved this list.  I don't want to say that this program is a cure-all.  It's not.  But the four aspects of the program (diet, environment, sessions, and at-home exercises) are serving Ben well.  So even if I feel like we are going forward like a herd of turtles, we are going FORWARD, and we will continue to be grateful that we are on this journey together right now.

(photo credit: Nathan Holloway Photography)