Tuesday, October 17, 2017

You Matter

I sat across from my friend, coffee cup in hand, mind spinning at what she had said.

It was a beautiful fall day, the kind where the bright sunlight doesn't compete with the coolness of the air. Perfect for sitting out on the deck and enjoying the vibrant palette of fall colors on display at every turn of the head. Not too hot, not too cold-- just right in a very New England sort of way.

To say my mind was spinning at her statement during our deck coffee date might sound a bit overly dramatic. Honestly, I would take it a step further and say, "mind blown".

I grasped my coffee cup, coffee now cold, as her simple words linked together the pieces of puzzle that had been floating around inside my head for years. Maybe not even just from the start of parenthood. For my whole life.

Such simple words, such an impact.

"Stuff doesn't matter," she said, referring to why she didn't get upset at her kids when her kids would accidentally break her things. "Stuff doesn't matter, THEY matter."

Immediately my mind applied this to my children and how when they break my things, more than I care to remember, I get angry and rather yell-y. Okay a lot yell-y.

But her statement made me stop and ponder. When I yell, does that inadvertently tell them that in that moment, they don't matter to me as much as my stuff?

What about when we are trying to get out the door and someone accidentally does something to waylay my beautifully orchestrated plan to be on time for school and I lash out with a heated response?

Am I saying, "Listen, kid, us being on time is way more important than you."?

I realized I could substitute that phrase for many things.

"My career, my ambitions, they don't matter. You matter."

"Your diagnosis, it doesn't matter. You matter."

"My idea of what motherhood should look like doesn't matter. You matter."

"You. Matter."

Am I treating my children in a way that they know that they matter? More than the words I say...but rather, HOW I treat them?

I struggle with the patience thing. So many pieces are being balanced so many directions to mother 4 small kids and do all the things that go along with that. When those pieces are swatted out of the way by my kids who I am doing these things FOR and the delicately managed mountain of chaos all around me begins to collapse...I am ashamed to admit that my first response is to get upset.

I posted about such an instance this week. About yelling at Addison as she spilled her cereal all over the floor right as we were leaving for school.

And I apologized. "Addison baby, I'm so sorry I yelled at you. Mommy was wrong. Can you please forgive me?"

And she did. Quickly, with the tears still drying on her cheeks.

But my heart. I begged God to please, please give me the patience next time. I can't do this on my own. Motherhood is very good at ripping open my very soul and revealing my desperate need for Jesus.

I want my kids to know that they matter. I want to show them love, not just tell them the empty words, "I love you" while showing them every second of the day that I love my agenda more.

And so as his flushed, smiling cheeks refuse settle on his pillow at  night, his wide, innocent 3-year-old eyes and sweet mouth begging for yet another hug. Another kiss. A song. I recognize that in that moment he matters more than my evening rest time.

When she struggles to get ready for school, and my patience wants to snap and explode, I see her need for help and encouragement. That she matters more than being on time. That she might just need an extra minute and help to get those tights just right.

When mealtime is not the calm, peaceful cover picture from the 50s with smiling children and properly held forks and plates NOT dumped all over the floor...teaching them calmly is more important than a clean floor. Because they matter.

Several people made the comment to me this week that it was good for Addison to see me apologize. That she needs to see that too.

This got me thinking. I am an imperfect human being raising imperfect human beings. My job isn't to be a perfect mother or get frustrated as my humanness bleeds through. My job is to show them how to live imperfectly. How to make mistakes and apologize. How to humbly ask for forgiveness. How to model imperfection and life dependent on Jesus.

All the while showing them that they matter.

Not making them the center of the universe. Not making them feel like nothing in the world matters but THEM.

No. This is more of a heart attitude of me to them in those moments where I think my entire being might burst with anger, with impatience, with a day gone wrong because of them being...children.

This is a reminder to me to replace the yelling and anger with calm, teachable moments. With as much for me to learn as for them.

They matter enough for me to treat them with all the kindness the Lord has to give.

They matter.

God has been so good over my course of motherhood to help me with this. I am so far from perfect, but I see so many instances where Deanna of 8 years ago would have lashed out but the Deanna of today responds kindly because it's actually not Deanna's strength at all. This perspective reminder continued a work that the Lord has been doing in my heart for years but that for some reason the last few weeks I have hit a major stall on. Until I heard these simple words uttered with such love.

So I sat across from my friend, the light fall breeze whispering through my hair, and I felt the enormity of this concept sink down into my brain and transform my bad attitude toward my children. And even perhaps, a little toward myself.

Because I matter too.

I know this not because my friend said the words, but because she sacrificed her entire morning to sit with me on my deck and talk about motherhood and life and everything inbetween. She showed me that I matter. And this gentle, teachable moment was not lost on me.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

You're Allowed To Be You

Yesterday I attempted to replace the heater vent cover in Addison's room. I am typing this with bandaged fingers, so as you can imagine, the heat vent won.

As I sat on the floor, frustrated by my lack of success, I couldn't help but stare at the wall in Addison's bedroom.

I saw wild colors and a variety of lines leading nowhere. I saw her imagination at work. I saw something that traditionally was meant just as a blank, space-holding device, transformed into a physical manifestation of her uniqueness.
I've posted about this before, but in case you haven't seen me mention it-- I give Addison free reign of the walls in her room as long as she leaves the walls in the rest of the house alone. This is our deal, and it's been working well for us.

But yesterday as I sat on the dark, wood floor of her room and stared at the light gray walls that are hers, tears brimmed in my eyes. I've seen her drawings here a million times, but never had I stopped to really SEE them.

This was far more than scribbles on a wall. This was an exploration of emerging fine motor skills. This was celebrating freedom of movement. This was Addison, being Addison. No rules to follow, no specific drawing instructions. Just heart and soul flowing directly through her crayon of choice.

I got up from the floor, found the biggest frame in my storage closet, and placed it over her artwork.

To me, this stood for so much more than some kid art on the wall.

It reminded me of my relationship with Addison...with Down syndrome.

The longer I parent a child with Down syndrome, the more I realize how little this is about me and my feelings about Down syndrome. This isn't about my hopes or dreams or fears for her future.

I am just the frame. And an imperfect one at that.

Like any art display, the focus is not the frame but rather the art held within. Or, perhaps, within and around. Because who is the frame to define what the big picture should be? And in this case, the colorful, creative picture is Addison being perfectly...Addison.
Way back when, after I got over the initial shock of Addison's diagnosis, I had big plans for her. So she had Down syndrome? So what? Through my expertise parenting (ha!) I would help her still be AMAZING!

I figured I would train her to rock that chromosome. To learn and achieve so impressively that she prove what an incredible human being she was by wowing the world. I would set her up on a pedestal of achievement and set an example and advocate the HECK out of Down syndrome.

I would take her extra chromosome and shove and shove until it fit PERFECTLY inside my frame.

A bit into my "rocking the extra chromosome plan", something dawned on me. (Actually to be more accurate...a large, rocky boulder of realization knocked some sense into me.) Addison does not become more of a person by being pushed and trained toward normalcy. Her worth does not increase the more she accomplishes. She doesn't need to prove anything. She doesn't need instructions to "rock it". And furthermore, my interpretation of Down syndrome means nothing.

I learned that she rocks that extra chromosome and proves what an incredible human being she is...simply by being Addison. No achievement required.

I stepped back from "my plan" and let the person who owned the picture take over. I stepped down from the podium and sat down to take notes.

Why had I been trying to make Addison into something different than who she was? Into my vision of what Down syndrome should be? Why was I attempting to change her and PROVE her to the world? She doesn't need to prove anything.

Addison is this wall art. Beautiful, thought-provoking, outside the lines, colorful, beautiful, not easily explained, entirely unique, captivatingly interesting. It's not my job to try to draw lines between hers to make the picture "make more sense". Or paint over part of it so it fits into the frame.

No. I am the frame that sits passively, watching the master artist at work, allowing her to shape what the picture should be.

Don't get me wrong. She achieves, we push her to do so, and I think she's amazing! She's reading, counting, jumping high, running fast, and is fiercely independent (and can we talk about her chocolate thug climbing skills???) I ADORE watching her emerge into her best self.

But none of this achievement is about proving anything about Down syndrome.

I love LOVE when I see adults with Down syndrome making the news for their achievements. Seriously these news bits bring me such joy.

But I also love LOVE when I see adults with Down syndrome in the grocery stores...just living and enjoying life.

To me these two things are the same. It's not about the headline, it's about the person.
You may be wondering what does achievement and "just being you" have anything to do with each other? Once upon a time I thought the two were closely entangled. Perhaps even the same. Your achievements defined you. From the other end, "you" were nothing without the achievements.

Addison has taught me that this is false. Oh so false.

We all have these small idiosyncrasies that make up our personality. Tiny oddities unique to us.  We are allowed to be "us" without apology as we navigate life, achievement or not. Isn't someone with Down syndrome afforded this same courtesy? Yes and YES.

Furthermore, how much of this personality thing is tied into Down syndrome and how much isn't? How much of her exists within the extra chromosome and does any part remain untouched?

Here's my highly scientific response to that one: I don't care.
My Dearest Addison,

It's okay. You're allowed to be you. We will more than tolerate it. We will cherish the youest parts of you.


And so yesterday as I sat on her floor (for hours....seriously that heater vent is a beast), I took time to just appreciate Addison for being....Addison. No additives...no subtractions...just her...perfectly whole and exactly as God designed her to be.

Down syndrome acceptance goes far beyond the words, "I accept Down syndrome". It's digging deep and throwing away all prejudice. Maybe this is one of the reasons why God created Down syndrome. Because what a lovely way to learn an important life lesson. These words explore what it means to love another human being for exactly who they are.

Chocolate stealing and all. (-;


Friday, September 29, 2017

No One Warned Me

No one warned me about the wet footprints that would lead to the toilet. No one warned me about the slurping noises I would hear as I rounded the corner, facing the wide, blue eyes of my 18-month-old  holding a dripping measuring cup...over the toilet. Her blonde curls so perfect, her innocent expression on point, her entire body soaking wet.

The dirty, messy, toilet-water-covered days. There is no way to describe the horror of this, so how could I be warned ahead of time?

No one warned me of the sassy 3-year-old phase and conversations like the one I just had.

Me: "My throat really hurts. I think I'm getting a cold."
Him: "Well, maybe if you didn't scream at me, your throat wouldn't hurt!"
Me: "WHAT? When did I scream at you?"
Him: "You know, that one time when I was on the tractor and I wasn't supposed to be, you screamed at me to get off."

Point taken.

No one warned me of the deep wells of expression in his dark green eyes that stir and cloud with hurt as he faces situations in life he didn't see coming. Unfairness. Hurt that is so vivid and so real, it could reach out and choke me.

No one warned me about trying to reach the smart, independent, stubborn 6-year-old. Trying to understand him, love him, and be there for him in the way that he needs it. Not the way I imagine he should need it. The way he he actually needs it. And knowing with absolute certainty that when he is acting out the most, that is when he needs my love to come around him and hold him up...the most.

No one warned me of the day I would observe a conversation between Addison and a classmate and want to come home and cry.

Addison excitedly walked up to the popular girl and babbled, and the popular girl had no idea what Addison was saying. And while she wasn't unkind, she looked questionably at me for a translation (I didn't understand either so we had her repeat it), and that flashing moment of difference screamed at me. Not for what it was. For what it wasn't. The worry that this difference gap is growing wider and wider by the second and there's nothing I can do to stop it.

No one warned me that dips in the toilet are not the worst thing about parenting. The worst thing about parenting are the feelings. The open, exposed, raw "feeling" nerve that takes a simple conversation or change in expression and stabs it all the way to my heart.

No one warned me about the hugs. About the small arms wrapping around and holding on tight to their lifeline. The warmth of their bodies melting into mine. And the siblings running and jumping to join the hug because heaven forbid they be left out. No one warned me that my lap would be full of wiggling, hugging children that smell like soap and fabric softener and who ask me to then smell their teeth to make sure they brushed just right.

Speaking of teeth, no one warned me that motherhood would basically chew me up and spit me out on a daily basis. The unyielding inability to measure up. To hold them up. To succeed in the little and big.

And yet...those hugs. Those feelings. They go both ways. The expansive, love-fest that is my every day is sobering and overwhelming all in one.

The chances for grace. The pouring out of myself. The moments that hold nothing but frustrations and yet I can see opportunity there. Opportunity to love. To show them how to handle frustrations. To trust. To love some more.

I don't have to measure up. This isn't about me. This isn't about my ability or inability. This is about leaning into God's strength and learning from his patience. I don't have to control all of the things, I just have to do my best right now. And my best is magnified a thousandfold by God's grace.

Motherhood is the greatest thing I've ever done.

Even as I stare into Addison's almond-shaped eyes and wonder. What does tomorrow hold? The next 10 years? 20?

Especially then.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

I Am Tired Of The Down Syndrome Termination Discussion

I am tired of the Down syndrome termination discussion. Not because I don't want to fight for Down syndrome, but because I honestly don't understand why this is still a prevalent issue in 2017. And yet...this discussion is all over my social media news feeds. This week. August 2017.

Why is Iceland eradicating all of Down syndrome? Why is Denmark and several other countries not far behind? Why are people at large devaluing Down syndrome, and most of all-- WHY is Down syndrome disappearing?

This makes no sense to me.
It feels as though a doctor is handing the world a diagnosis, saying, "You are about to have a really gorgeous rainbow full of color enter into your lives. Bursts of bright yellows, creamy purples, silky blues, vibrant reds-- your live is about to be overrun with beauty beyond your wildest dreams in an amazingly unique way."

And the world is saying, "Eh, no thanks. A rainbow sounds kind of bulky and would take up too much space in our sky. And plus we've never had a rainbow before, so we wouldn't know what to expect. Pass."

Perhaps it's my own fault. I'm so busy admiring my own rainbow that I forget that there are other perspectives. Other ideas of what my life should be like without having ever experienced it.

But pushing the "me" out of this picture entirely. Addison. Addison is so busy living an awesome, fabulous, chocolate-drenched life, that she would never consider their perspective valid. And she has Down syndrome.
I'm not knocking the prenatal testing. Goodness knows I took it myself so that I could be prepared to take the best care of my daughter I possibly could. And I was thankful to go into birth with as much knowledge as possible, and in the right hospital to be able to handle what was coming.

But why are we letting these tests decide whether a baby lives or dies?

Do you know how many ways a child's life can be threatened or altered every single day after birth? And yet as parents, our job is to love and fight alongside that child no matter what kind of hailstorm falls on us. No matter what. So why is it a "thing" to decide...before even meeting the child...that these tests coming back differently than you expected determines whether you hit a kill switch or not?

What is happening? Why is it a source of pride for countries to share these statistics? These philosophies?

WHY is the world saying that it would be a better place if individuals like MY DAUGHTER had never been born?

Speak for yourself. My world has been immensely better with Down syndrome in it. All the good in the world has come with her diagnosis. Honestly, I'm amazed at the new perspectives, beauty, and gratitude for life itself because I've been gifted my daughter.

Rainbows do that.
My three other children are already learning and growing in ways they wouldn't without a sister with Down syndrome in their lives.

The opportunities for grace, both given and received....love...acceptance from those around us, the community, and our church-- all of these things have been mind-blowing to be a part of.

Addison has made our world a better place. Not in spite of Down syndrome. Because of Down syndrome.

So why again are countries bragging about plucking their rainbows out of the sky? Do they not want the world to be a better place? A more beautiful, prism-filled place of acceptance?

You know who would never judge someone else based on any sort of physical, mental, or emotional difference?

Someone with Down syndrome.
If you ever wanted to be accepted completely for exactly who YOU are, I suggesting finding a friend with Down syndrome and realize that acceptance goes both ways.

Okay, I'm getting off my soap box now.

Just kidding. I live up here.

With my beautiful daughter, Addison, who has challenged everything I thought I knew and replaced that with a new kind of love and acceptance I didn't even know was possible eight years ago.

I am grateful for her. I am grateful for Down syndrome.

Which leaves me once again scratching my head with...WHY is this still an issue? Why? I don't get it.

Dear God please protect our babies with Down syndrome and help the world to see them for the gift they truly are.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Trusting In Things You Cannot See

I hung up the phone discouraged. Fearful. Completely out of control. Feeling a small loss compound itself until it started to take over.

I would never, ever see it again.

My heart squeezed in a painful way even as my mind reminded me, "it's not the end of the world." Yet the sense of loss inside of me would not go away. This made me feel shallow and flighty which made me feel even more discouraged.

Discouragement stacked on discouragement as I felt the high of the weekend drag to a low.

But just a minute. Let's rewind to the weekend. This will all make much more sense if we start there.

This past weekend I left my babies at home and flew to Charlotte, NC where I attended a Christian's writer's conference called She Speaks. My attendance at this conference had been in the works for six months, and to say I was excited was a severe understatement.

I have spent over a year writing this manuscript (and years before that learning the tools and craft of fiction), and knowing that I would have face-to-face meetings with publishers kicked my writing into high gear. The book was all written, but the polishing and tightening and polishing some more continued. 4am work hours...naptime work hours...late night work hours....the help of an awesome writing mentor. I worked hard to be 110% ready for these meetings. 

And so last weekend the big trip arrived. My sister picked me up from the airport (did I mention I also got to see both of my sisters on this trip?), and we headed to the conference together.

I loved this conference. It ended up not to be the big fiction focus I was looking for (more nonfiction), but the spiritual encouragement, the sessions on writing and publishing, the emphasis on platform and the responsibility that comes with this, the speakers that all challenged me in my walk with the Lord AND my writer's life...I loved this conference.

And then the publisher meetings...they went quite well. This was all God because I was a nervous wreck. In fact, Liz Curtis Higgs prayed for me before one meeting and as she grabbed my hands she prayed, "Lord we know Deanna must be SO nervous because of how COLD and CLAMMY her hands are!" (-;. (Yes, long time member of the "cold and clammy hands" club here. (-:)

At this conference I had two publishers and one agent express interest in my manuscript.

I left encouraged. Humbled. Amazed. Thrilled. Terrified. At peace with whatever God had in store for my book-- even if that means that all of these publisher leads end up not working out. He was already working this far above my greatest expectations.

He had a plan, and I was just watching it enfold. This was a beautiful thing for me as a writer who tends toward self-doubt and anxiety.

He's got this. He proven this to me over and over again this past weekend as I met with industry professionals and pitched my book and they were full of encouragement and wanting to see more of it.

I left the conference on cloud nine. Trusting. Excited as to wherever God is going to lead this. I knew that he had a special plan for this book. I was merely the messenger, waiting on his timing.

Enter: the airport.

Apparently every single connecting city in the entire WORLD (okay maybe not the entire world but you get the idea) was under severe weather and all flights were grounded.

Long story short, I was told that my only way out of there was to buy a direct flight through a separate airline that didn't have a layover in one of these grounded airports. (As Vermont was apparently the only place without weather that night)

So at the last minute, at the recommendation of the gate attendant with promises for being reimbursed, I switched airlines, barely making it onto this direct flight, barely making it home, barely escaping a night  (possibly more) stuck either there or New York depending on how the storm timed out.

The airport was mobbed. Seriously, the worst I've ever seen it. I knew I couldn't make it back through security to grab my checked bag and recheck it onto my new flight. At the gate they said not to worry about it because it would  make it to Vermont eventually since it was checked in on another Vermont flight.

I was out of choices. I got on the airplane not sure what would happen to my suitcase, trusting that I could believe what the airport people told me and that I would see my suitcase again. 

You guessed it. I arrived in Vermont, but the suitcase was nowhere to be found the next day when the other flight was to have landed. I called all the airlines-- suitcase was nowhere.. Also, neither airline would take responsibility for it since it had been checked on a different airline than the one I flew. I couldn't even put in a solid baggage claim report so that they could track it down.

My pretty little silver suitcase was gone.

Now I just have to say, I am a minimalist when it comes to clothes. I prefer to have just a few nicer articles of clothing that I mix and match (all of them were in the suitcase). Just a few shoes (all in the suitcase) and just a few jewelry statement pieces (all in...you guessed it). Also gone-- every last bit of makeup that I own and ALL the notes I had taken during the conference. All of my teaching wardrobe and favorite things...poof.

I tried to take the kids swimming...the only swimsuit that fits me in the entire world...in that suitcase.

So my mind was all in turmoil about this. It felt like such a big deal. Everyone I called about it sent me to someone else who knew nothing about it with no ideas how to help me, and I just felt so discouraged. It had already been a huge nightmare just to get home. Now...to lose all my things?

It was while I was wearing an ill-fitting swimsuit and loading the kids up out of the pool that it occurred to me.

Satan was not happy about what went down this weekend. Not happy at all. This is more than just encouragement and interest from publishers. This was about my heart. About spiritual growth. About trust and peace.

And so Satan took something that meant a lot to me and spun it out of my control....out of sight...out of the ability to even track it down.

And I know that there is no verse that promises us that all our luggage will be returned thusly to us. No. But in that moment, I knew that God had this too. Just like he had proven over the weekend with my book.

God had that little silver suitcase safely in his hand...even if this meant that I was never to see it again. This wasn't just a random bad thing that happened. I knew I could trust in a God who was powerful enough to find one tiny little lost suitcase in the ocean of suitcases between Vermont and North Carolina. And if he chose not to? I could trust that too.

I found great comfort in this.

So I prayed for trust. And to be able to see his goodness in this small situation that was a big deal to me. While I prayed I felt a strange peace that I would see it again. Even though the airport odds were stacked against me.

I kid you not, not two minutes later I saw a missed call on my phone, "Hi, there's a suitcase with your name on it in Charlotte, NC. Are you going to come pick it up?"

Long conversation led to conversation led to conversation (this was my entire day yesterday) which led to them saying it would either arrive last night or sometime this morning. The Burlington airport was supposed to call me when it came in.

At first I was excited, but then no call...no call...no call. Did it get lost again?

I still felt so at peace though. I knew that God had this. I pictured one of the dresses in the suitcase and planned on wearing it to church on Sunday. 

Around 10:30 this morning I got tired of waiting and needed an activity for the kids anyway, so I felt a nudge to go to the airport and watch planes with them.

(And you know...ask about the suitcase at the same time...totally unrelated of course. (-;)

Want to hear something funny? We arrived just as it was being unloaded and wheeled toward us. The flight had just landed. We didn't even have to wait. It was perfect timing.

My pretty little silver suitcase had been found.
As I drove my suitcase home with pretty much my entire wardrobe that I was convinced I would never see again, I was so overwhelmed by God's ability to take care even of the little details that seem so insignificant. Of how I can trust him even when it feels so out of control, out of sight, out of the probable.

He's got this.

Friday, April 28, 2017

It's Okay If You Spill The Milk. Just TRY.

My house is quiet. A rarity indeed.

I took the kids swimming this morning and then dropped them off at gym daycare for an hour so that I could dash home and get some work done in peace. Naturally, "work" meant that I loaded all of the swim clothes into the washer, checked on dinner in the crockpot, loaded the dishwasher, wiped down the counter where I was to be working, and then finally sat down with my computer only to have my mind go blank. At exactly the same moment my focus waved goodbye and flew out an open window into this glorious spring breeze.

No prob. I'm guessing this edit work will just do itself!!! Obvi.

I've been limping a bit through this week. It's Spring Break for the kids, so no school for A, C, or E. I love them dearly, and I love getting to plan day-long adventures, but I'm not gonna lie- it's exhausting to haul four kids around town with no help. Also- Addison doesn't do well with change and tends to revert back to a lot of old behaviors as a result.

One day we tried a Living Social deal and had horseback riding lessons, another we tried a new walking trail so Carter could practice his bike moves, I taught two afternoons of violin lessons in there somewhere, yesterday was packed full of doctors appointments (by "packed" I mean 2 but somehow it felt like so much more when I multiplied this 2 by the 4 kids I hauled to each of them), and this morning we went swimming.

When people see me out and about with all 4- alone- they call me lots of things. "Brave, supermom, crazy, adventurous, daring, WOW!" I used to not venture out much. Especially when Addison was bolting away far more often and I had to buckle her down in order to keep her safe. But now that she is more trustworthy we get out as much as possible. The boys are extremely high energy and I'm trying to keep those "high on life and dancing on the counter" moves away from my new kitchen as much as possible.

But I will say- I am none of those things on that list (except "crazy"). I am just doing what I have to do. My husband has entered his busy season, and I can either stay at home and have the kids tear up everything here...or we can go out and adventure and then come home and continue the profitable vibe with reading, schoolwork, and quality play time.

Anyhoo- back to the topic at hand (I warned you that my focus was out singing with the birds).

I wanted to share something here that I shared on my facebook page yesterday. It seemed to really resonate with a lot of people, and it was requested that I make it accessible to those who might not be on facebook.

This story happened during another exhausting but beautiful day, and I loved the way Addison brought things back into focus for me even in the midst of all of the craziness. She has that gift.

Story what story? This one:

Yesterday Addison said that she wanted a glass of milk. My first instinct was to jump in and get it for her, but as I got distracted with the baby, I saw Addison just do it herself. First she pulled a stool over to the fridge, climbed up, and then got the milk gallon off the top shelf. She brought it over to the counter where she had already set a cup and a straw for herself. It was then that I was able to get back over to help her, but since she was doing such a fab job, I just stood by her and watched. She picked up the gallon- which was maybe 1/5 full- and started to pour, just as I admonished, "Don't spill!" thinking that I was being helpful. Her hand shook as soon as I said this. "Okay. Don't spill," she repeated. But then she set the gallon of milk down- all done. "I can't. I can't," she said. At first I thought she meant, "I can't pour my own milk." But then I realized- she COULD pour it herself. She just needed my permission to spill. She needed to know that it was okay for her to make mistakes as she learned new things. That perfection wasn't required of her. That she should only have to worry about pouring that milk to the best of her ability, knowing that it was okay if her best included some milk dribbles or outright spilling on her path to independence. Realizing this, I amended my advice. "Yes, you can do this. And it's okay if you spill. I will clean it up- it's no problem at all. Just pour your milk." She stared at me carefully, picked the gallon back up, and poured her cup like a pro. Not spilling a drop. As I watched her sip her cup of milk that she worked so hard to get for herself, I felt a bit sheepish. Being allowed to make mistakes- this is something that I struggle with  myself. And the fact that I put limits on her abilities because of my rules that intimidated her into not even trying- this caused me to stop and ponder. We are all going to make mistakes. We are all going to spill a LOT of milk. But should this stop us from living? From trying? The other day I posted about my chalkboard in the kitchen. I think my new saying will be, "It's okay if you spill the milk. Just TRY." This thought is very freeing to me. And helps me remember not to set limits on my girl. #inspiredbyAddison #downsyndrome #nothingdownaboutit

Just got a call from gym daycare. Apparently I forgot to pack any Morgan diapers in the gym snack/sock bag. Because of course.

This is me signing off. Headed off to pick up the kiddos and continue on our day.

But even in the midst of the chaos- the exhaustion- there is so much beauty and grace to be found as I learn from my kids.

Motherhood is inspiring. And humbling. Exhausting. And I do clean up a lot of spilled milk.

But I wouldn't have it any other way.

Monday, March 20, 2017

On Being Stressed

Hi, guys! This past Saturday I was the speaker at a breakfast event at our church. I've had so many requests for copies of the talk that I've decided to post it here so it's easier for me to direct people to it. Feel free to read- or not- no pressure. This is longer than a usual blog post. It was a talk I gave to a gym full of women on stress and stress management (with a European travel theme). Oh and I opened the talk with a disclaimer on how I was stressed about talking to them on stress. (-; So....this is all stuff that I am currently learning and using.

I was so thankful for this opportunity to share, and was so blessed by the kindness of the many who were there! I hope this talk is an encouragement to you- wherever life finds you today.

On Being Stressed:

When I was 18 years old, I toured Europe the summer following my freshman year of college. Participating in my school’s musical missions team, I joined the choir that learned a selection of songs a dozen different languages to perform daily concerts on cobblestone street corners and in awe-inspiring cathedrals alike. I bought a hard cover suitcase that would hold ten weeks worth of stuff- yet not be so large that I couldn’t haul it to the top of those spectacularly long spiral staircases in Spain. I got my first ever passport, bought a nice camera, and prepared for the adventure of a lifetime. And boy was it ever.

On this trip I fell in love. With those pretzel buns in Germany that they serve for breakfast. So yummy. But also- on this trip I met the man that I would one day marry.

At the beginning of the trip, someone asked me if any of the guys on the team had caught my attention. In my 18 year old, all-knowing wisdom, I answered with a none too gracious and hearty. “NO!”

Aaron sat innocently on the other side of the room, and I didn’t know it at the time, but someone asked him the same question about the girls of the team. He answered the same.

So after a semester of practice, our choir boarded a plane in Atlanta, and we headed for Spain. After a week in Spain, doing at least one musical concert a day- we moved to France. After France, Germany, then Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, then Estonia and back over to Switzerland. We drove through Austria at one point. On the way home we had a 24 hour layover in London and caught an opera. It was a year where we couldn’t get visas into Russia, but we stood practically right at the border, singing our songs in Russian. We loaded up into these boxy white vans and drove from country to country- taking in the sights, eating the local cuisine, and bunking up with local families who attended the churches where we were ministering.

I don’t know exactly when it happened, but somewhere in there- my friend Katie started to notice this boy, Aaron. She pointed him out to me. “Isn’t he so cute?” She asked.

“Ugh. No.” I replied. “He’s so annoying and kind of crazy. He’s not even a music major! They only let him on this trip because they needed someone who could drive stick shift. And he keeps talking about this place Vermont? What’s in Vermont? What’s the big deal?”

But since she had developed a little crush on him, I decided to keep an eye on him, just in interest of being able to report back to her.

I was an extremely prim and proper, reserved, Midwestern, conservative music major who did little else other than practice. Aaron was a scandalous boy from Vermont, a scruffy ski instructor (who took advantage of some skiing in Switzerland and skied across the border into Italy), a wild and crazy Chemistry major who –in interest of saving suitcase space- packed Doc Bronners soap for the trip which he bragged could wash his hair, his clothes, AND the white box vans.

It turns out, he got a little Chemistry life lesson on this trip. We both did. Opposites DO attract.

It was in Berlin where we had “the big talk”. I will never forget our coffee/tea date at an outside cafĂ©. Sitting at this tiny table, looking across at this guy that inexplicably drew my attention, and wondering, what could ever come of this missions team crush? (My friend Katie had long passed on to a new crush).

Ten and a half years of marriage later, 4 kids, a mortgage, and our very own mini van….THIS. This is what that crush came to. I found my definitely-very-cute, tractor-driving studmuffin, soulmate. I thank God for him every day.

Now if you had asked me at the time, I would have told me that this trip was extremely stressful. It was a big adventure for a sheltered girl like myself. Keeping track of things such as my passport and necessary personal items while moving locations almost daily. Dragging my suitcase from place to place. Singing a rather high-pressure concert every night whether I felt like it or not. Oh- and somewhere in Estonia we picked up a rare breed of European lice that we kept passing around the entire team and it turns out- European lice treatments aren’t as strong as American lice treatments and those lice just would not.go.away.

Stressful. (Also itchy. Itchy Stressful is a whole new level of stress I had never hit before.)

Looking back on it now in comparison to the years that have followed- it was more adventure than stressful. I have had many other trips that proved to be a lot less fun and a lot more stressful.

Take for example- December, 2011. No passport was needed for this trip.

We were driving from Vermont to Michigan on an icy winter night to my grandfather’s funeral. At the time we only had two kids. Addison- who was under 2 years old and barely a year off of her oxygen tanks and severe medical issues. Carter- who was three months old and the most handsome…but orneriest baby there ever was.

So we got rolling on these freezing roads, and we learned pretty quickly that every time the car stopped moving, baby Carter would wake up and scream and scream and scream. Kid had a pair of lungs on him. And just when we were too far to turn around, but not close enough to make this end quickly- a perfectly healthy Addison somehow developed a horrible case of croup.

So we would be driving along, both kids happy, and then Addison would stop breathing. So we would stop to give her a breathing treatment, and then Carter would wake up and scream and scream. So we would get moving again, Carter would go back to sleep, and then Addison would stop breathing again. So we would stop to give her a treatment and Carter would wake up screaming again. Repeat endlessly.

When we got there, Carter screamed all night in the hotel room and Addison needed continuous breathing treatments through the night.

Repeat all the way home for a 15 hour drive.

This trip rates pretty high on my stress-o-meter. It made the European lice seem like a luxury vacation that included frequent head massages.

But let’s just talk about stress for a minute. The other day after wrangling four kids seven and under to be fed, dressed, in their school gear, snacks packed, papers signed and put in the appropriate folders, and three separate school drop offs completed before 7:45am- I was feeling a bit stressed. As I drove, clutching my cup of now lukewarm coffee and taking deep breaths, we passed a bus that proclaimed something along the lines of “Ride a bus! Stress-free transport!” And I thought, “stress-free” sounded pretty great.

But then my next thought was of juggling 4 small kids alone on the bus and my stress-o-meter went through the roof.

So stress. What is it? How do we deal with it? How can we have a stress-free transport through life?

According to Google, stress can be defined as: a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.

However we define stress or experience it- I think it’s safe to say that all of us experience stress at different points in our days. Whether it’s in the form of a trip gone wrong, or getting lice in Europe while trying to impress your new boy crush, or trying to get the kids out the door in the morning, or exam week at school, a work deadline, a small kink in a jam packed day, a health situation in your family, or even just really gnarly traffic- stress is omnipresent.

Filling up my van with gas yesterday, I stood waiting for the pump to finish and a soothing picture flashed up on the screen suggesting that I take 5 seconds to relax my neck and shoulders. Clearly the gas pumps are seeing lots of stressed out people!

The question is, how do we deal with stress? How do we cope? How do we keep from exploding under the pressure of every day life?

In the spirit of being as helpful as possible, I’ve compiled a list of 18 things that the entire Internet seems to agree that will help manage stress and 2 things I want to add to the list in a big way. So here we go:

Deep breaths. Maybe include the gas station’s suggestion of relaxing your neck and shoulders at the same time. Pretty basic suggestion, but I’ve found this helpful on many occasions.

      Make lists. Make a concrete, visual plan for all the things spinning around in your head. Organize your day. Oftentimes my stress originates from the vast and varied number things I need to do. Writing them down and letting the paper be responsible for keeping track of when and where it all will happen lets me relax and focus just on the thing in front of me now. Have to do ALL THE THINGS today? Nope. Right now I just have to…switch the wash over. Or plan dinner. Or take the kids to school. Or drink this entire pot of coffee. Just do the next right thing.

 Add an extra hour to your day
This is my favorite one right now. For me this means getting up an hour before the kids. This lets me drink a hot drink while it’s still hot, get some reading in or writing, and just focus in on my day before the screaming chaos of children rains down upon me. I’ll often throw a load in the washer, unload the dishwasher, maybe get dinner rolling in the crockpot. Even just fifteen extra minutes to get things done child-free lowers my stress level in the morning.

Take a walk! Go for a run! Get outside.

Listen to music. This could go two ways. Calming, soothing classical music that quiets the soul. Or lively music for a get-moving dance party.

Scrub something clean. A kitchen, a closet, a floor, a bathroom sink- push aside the situation you can’t control and focus on the thing in front of you that you can. Take something dingy and organized and turn it into a sparkling, neat display.

Laugh out loud. Read a really good book. Watch an intriguing movie.

Drink a cup of hot decaf tea.  Sip it slowly. Enjoy those bold flavors. Feel the calming energy seep into the essence of your being. Breathe in the steam and the scents and the liquid presence of joy. (Personally, I feel this describes coffee)

Hug someone.

Chew gum

Write about what’s stressing you out.

Take a break. Just walk away.

Take a hot bubble bath. Silky bubbles. Steaming water. Relaxing bath salts that seep the stress right from your bones. Perhaps combine this one with soothing music and a scented candle.

Reach out and talk to others. Make time for a coffee date or lunch out. Or even- the mode most available to me these days- text! If I am feeling super stressed about life, my favorite thing in the world to do is pick a handful of people on my contact list and text them to see how they are doing. Check in to see how their day is going. Let them know I care about whatever might be stressing them out. Look up and out instead of shriveling in.

Unplug. Is facebook politics stressing you out? The perfection of Pinterest? The like count on Instagram? Easy peasy- log off. Turn off your phone. Walk away from it all. Don’t check your email. Just focus in on the day ahead of you and rid yourself of the stress of it all. On the days that I feel that my head might explode from the noise and clamor, I unplug from my phone and computer. I focus on the moments in front of me. I listen to the sounds around me- the rustling wind, a chirping bird, the giggles and shouts coming from the playset. I feel the warm sunshine on my face. I watch my kids run and play without a care in the world. No distractions. No digital noise. These are simpler moments. Not as flashy. But far less stressful and quite therapeutic.

Get a massage. Or a pedicure or manicure. Finding time for a massage isn’t always in the cards for my schedule right now. But sometimes when I’m feeling super stressed, I’ll lie down on the floor on my stomach and tell my kids to each fetch their favorite matchbox car and pretend that I’m the road. As they happily zoom it all around my back and up my shoulders, I wonder how much tip I’m supposed to leave for this type of massage?

Keep vacation photos handy. Close your eyes and remember the sensations of that vacation. The crystal clear blue water. The bustling cobblestone street. The wondrous beauty of those mountains. The silence of those swaying fields bursting with colorful blooms. The adventure. The excitement. The ethnic foods. The time spent with people you love.

Look at cute animal pictures or funny animal videos. Or better yet- pet an animal in real life. Furry, cute little balls of fuzz. Sleek, loyal-looking dogs with dark brown eyes. Baby elephants. Sleeping puppies. Pouncing cats. Nestling guinea pigs. Dancing dolphins.

While many of these things might be quite helpful and even effective at times, I would be remiss if I didn’t add the 2 things to help me the most when dealing with a stressful situation.

Meditate on scripture
In the midst of an extremely stressful situation and you just don’t know what to do next? How about meditating on this:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your path. Prov. 3:5-6

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Phil. 4:6

I can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me. Phil. 4:13

God is our refuge and strength and very present help in trouble. Therefore will we not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried to the midst of the sea. Ps. 46:1-2

Knowing that whatever is causing me stress in that moment- the same God who created the lush green fields, the rolling mountains, the intensely blue sky, the exquisite snow, the strikingly contrasting seasons that we get to enjoy here in Vermont- that same God has a plan for my stressful situation.

Pray. Stressful situations make me very aware of how much out of control of my own life I am. I can’t force situations to go a certain way. I can’t change so many things that are causing my stress. I can only control my response. My ability to cope. But- the reassuring thing is, I know the one who IS control. The one who created this specific stressful situation and put me right inside of it. He didn’t abandon me there. He surrounded me with this specific stress and then reached out his hand to hold mine and said, “Trust in me. I’ve got this.” And so stress reminds me to pray in a way that nothing else does. A calling out for help. A spoken plea.

I’ve heard stress compared to putting a teabag in hot water. You don’t really know what’s inside until hot water surrounds the innocent looking tea bag. Soon, swirls of color bleed out into the clear water. Green tea? Black? Raspberry? Peppermint?

It’s a little scary to think what this kind of life pop quiz will reveal in me. What’s inside? I’ll admit to being prone to snapping at my kids when I get stressed trying to parent them. Or even worse- internalizing the stress until it grows bigger and bigger and bigger and then one day just randomly explodes. Not the most delicious cup of tea.

To be perfectly honest, I know for a fact that what is naturally inside my heart is not good. It is quite sinful. No good exists there on its own. In fact, the Bible says “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.

So when that deceitful and desperately wicked heart is put under the hot water stress test, I can guarantee you that that’s one cup of tea that is not savory.

It tends to draw out what’s really inside of all of us- sin.

Stressful situations make me all too aware of my own sinfulness. Of my own need for a Savior. Of my own need for grace, strength, and wisdom. Stress pushes me toward the cross in a desperate cry for help.

Nice pep talk, huh? Super encouraging stuff. You might be thinking, “Can we go back to the deep breath suggestion???”

But in reality- it is super encouraging because that’s not the end of the story. We are all hopelessly sinful, but there was one who wasn’t. One absolutely perfect human being and yet still God who came to die on the cross- taking the burden of our sins on him. That sounds more than a little stressful. And yet he did it- perfectly.

And so as stress sends me to the cross, it reminds me of God sending his own son to take my sins on his shoulders. Of Jesus living his sinless, perfect life in such a way that he became the perfect sacrifice for our sins. Of him dying and then rising from the dead just thee days later. Of his willingness to forgive my sins. Of his promise of life everlasting.

His grace and love towards us replaces our old, sinful man with new life in him. A new heart- one that isn’t full of hate and sin. One that, when placed in the hot water of stress, can imitate Christ’s love and grace.

Our calling as women is so much more than enduring through stressful situations that life might throw our way. I would venture to say that our calling as women is to live this gospel message out through how we handle stress. Not just by the words we speak on facebook or how many church services we attend- but rather how we live through the stressful situations hidden behind the doors of our office or house or school. How we forgive others for their transgressions toward us that sends our lives into a tailspin. How we love the people in our lives. How we give grace, kindness, and unconditional love to others even when- especially when stressed.

I have learned that it’s possible to do so much more than just survive these tough moments. There is joy to be found there. For it’s in these moments when God reveals himself to us the clearest.

7 years after our European trip, we were done with our undergrad degrees. We said “I do” while surrounded by countless red roses and a hundred of our closest friends, finished grad school, moved across the country twice, bought a house and felt all kinds of officially adult. After three years of marriage, we were deeply in love and blissfully happy and so we decided- hey! We should give this kid thing a try!

I was 25 years old and very healthy. In our minds we had worked hard to prepare ourselves for our perfect little family.

“You have no idea what you’re in for!” people warned us. “Parenting is really stressful!”

In reality- all of those well-wishers also had no idea what was coming our way.

At our 20 week ultrasound, we found out that something was really wrong. A couple weeks later, we found out definitively that that “something wrong” was Down syndrome. We had dozens of extra tests and monitoring and everything looked healthy- other than the extra chromosome! But then when she was born she fought for her life for 5 weeks in the NICU. She then couldn’t eat orally so she received surgery to place a tube directly into her stomach where we would measure and pour all of her feeds and medications. When we took her home from the hospital, not only did she have her stomach tube (which made dressing her quite tricky and we had to be constantly vigilant that it didn’t get accidentally pulled out), she was also on a full time oxygen flow which meant that we had to carry around an oxygen cylinder with her every time we picked her up and moved her. And had to be super careful not to kink, tangle, or knot her nasal cannula line. Oh and make sure she didn’t strangle herself in it.

When she was 4 months old she had her first heart surgery in Boston. Because of Aaron’s work schedule- I ended up waiting alone in the waiting room to see if our baby would survive this high-risk procedure. When she was 8 months old she had her second heart surgery. When she was 9 months old- she finally came off of oxygen!

I tell you all of this not so that you will feel sorry for me. Far from it. I have a healthy, beautiful 7-year-old daughter who is the light of my life. I wouldn’t trade her for the world.

But her first year of life- in every sense of the word- was extremely stressful. But this stress was not in vain. The stress of Addison’s diagnosis and health problems pushed me to the cross in a way that life never had before.

It’s all well and good to stand next to the Rock and swear of the Rock’s abilities. But when we have no strength left to hold ourselves up and we find ourselves desperately clinging to the Rock just to keep ourselves upright- it’s then that we experience more intimately the strength that is to be found there.

Falling back on the Lord when no one else could carry us through taught us a dependence on him and his work in our lives- it showed us the beauty of his goodness in the storm of hard times. Pushing through as a new mom when I wasn’t sure how I was going to keep my baby alive another day taught me all about “I can do all things through Christ- who strenghtens me”- The verse I had glibly spouted off my entire life as my life verse, but never once did I really have to live it out.

Until I became a mom to a high needs baby.

God is still a good God even when you have a very sick baby. God is still a good God even when he heals that baby but leaves behind a life long diagnosis. God is still a good God even as he shows you how to find intense joy in a diagnosis you originally fought with tears.

It was God’s grace- God’s love- God’s forgiveness- God’s strength that made new motherhood shine for me. And every day since.

To the point where I can honestly say- I am thankful for this experience. I am thankful for the stress.

The Lord had a “wildly out of control and stressful situation” completely under control every step of the way. He perfectly created Addison, held her life in his hands, and gifted her graciously to us to love.

God has created the beginning and the ends of each of our stories. And each chapter inbetween is crafted with purpose and love. Sometimes it’s hard to see the bigger picture when we are stuck in the stresses of today. But the master author has written a bigger picture for all of us. This includes specifically designing stresses along the way to draw us to himself. To help us through as only he can. To prepare us for the big picture of our lives.

Part of the big picture of my life included a European trip and many hilarious, interesting, stressful, incredible, breathtaking chapters to follow as a result. I am thankful for every chapter, and that he nudged our paths to start running parallel on that trip oh so many years ago.