Saturday, July 29, 2017

An Autism Service Dog for Jude: FAQs

After much deliberation and research, Josh and I made the decision to get Jude a service dog. We were completely blown away by all of the positive reactions when we introduced her on Facebook and Instagram! Y'all are the BEST and have always been such amazing cheerleaders for Jude.



I imagine that many people will have questions about it, so I decided to write up an FAQ to help answer those questions.

Why a service dog? What will it do for him?
We started looking into a service dog several months ago after Jude climbed out of the girls' bedroom window and took off running down the road. This wasn't the first time he had run off, and each time he was found by people who were driving by and knew him. But what would happen if he got out one time and nobody found him? The news is full these days of stories about autistic kids who run off and are later found dead, and we don't want Jude to end up as one of those stories. The news clip below shows how autism service dogs can be trained to find and protect their kids:



She will also be trained to at least alert us if he slips out unnoticed (which is less likely now that our house is even more securely locked down, but always possible), if not possibly try to stop him from escaping in the first place.

Along with these tasks, once the dog is fully grown and trained, we plan to tether Jude to her when we go places as an extra guard against him running off in public. Going in public with Jude is a constant wrestling match and he requires us to have our hands on him at all times to make sure he doesn't run off. Even then, he occasionally slips free and has to be chased down. If he is tethered to a service dog using a hands-free leash/belt like runners use, then all she has to do is sit or lie down and he is restrained. In case you're having a hard time visualizing how the tethering works without seeming cruel to either the dog or child, here is a short clip of a girl tethered to her dog while walking in a store.


We've already been practicing this with Molly on hikes and walk, and Jude LOVES it. He is so much more calm and focused when tethered to her. In case you're wondering, Molly is pretty much the best pet ever but she has several limitations (namely her advanced age, an arthritic hip, and her fear-aggression toward other large dogs) that preclude her from service work.

We understand a dog's limitations, and we know she won't be the next Nana from Peter Pan, but she will provide an extra safeguard against him running away both at home and in public. These will be her primary tasks. Autism service dogs can also be trained to cuddle on command to help mitigate meltdowns, and to alert to and distract from stims, and we hope these things will help him as well.

In addition to these trained tasks, just the presence of a service dog can be a huge help to kids with autism. They serve as a stable companion, a conversation topic since social interactions are difficult for them, and a signal to others of a hidden disability. I really enjoyed watching this video made by a teen with Asperger's about his experience at school before and after getting a service dog:



What kind of dog did you get?
Golden retrievers and labradors are the most common breeds used as service dogs, but any breed can be a service dog as long as it is trainable and not aggressive, although some breeds are generally more suited for the task than others. Despite their frou-frou stereotype, standard poodles are becoming an increasingly popular service dog breed, as they are very smart and eager to please, form strong bonds with their people, big enough to hold their own, generally friendly and not aggressive, and they don't shed. For all of these reasons, as you've probably already seen if we are friends on Instagram or Facebook, we decided to get him a standard poodle. Her name is Rey, and she has already stolen all of our hearts. We hope she grows up to be as strong and fearless as her Star Wars namesake.



What kind of training does the dog have to go through?
There is no certification board or anything like that for service dogs, but the requirements for a service dog are that they must accompany a person with a diagnosed disability, have top-notch obedience, and be trained to perform at least one task that the disabled person cannot do for himself. Jude's dog will go through a couple of levels of training to be his service dog:

First, she will learn basic obedience at home while working with trainers. She is just graduated from AKC Puppy Kindergarten for socialization and to learn basic obedience. Next, she will be in a Canine Good Citizen class for more advanced obedience. While she is a puppy, we will also work a lot on socialization with people and animals, and take her to as many pet-friendly places as we can to get her used to being in public.

Second, she will do special training to learn disability-specific tasks and to refine her public access skills.

During all of this, we will do search and rescue training both at home and with a group of local search and rescue volunteers.


Why didn't you get a dog through an organization that trains them for you?
There is a growing number of organizations training and placing service dogs, and they are doing great work! I looked into pretty much all of them, and unfortunately their waiting lists are generally about 2-5 years. With Jude's safety at risk, we didn't feel like we could wait that long. Additionally, the price tag for a dog from one of these organizations is significantly higher, and most if not all of it has to be raised in advance.


She's so cute! Can I pet her?
She is, isn't she? As I said above, for the first couple of months we will be taking her with us to a lot of places just to socialize her and get her used to being out in public. During this time, she will need to have positive interactions with as many people and animals as possible, and we hope you will pet her!

However, once she starts wearing a vest and doing serious service dog training or work, we ask that you please refrain from petting her in public. I know it's SO hard! But whenever you see any service dog in public, it's very important that you ignore them because they are working and need to be able focus on their job. That is a hard enough task for a dog even when people aren't actively distracting them by petting them or making kissy noises at them.

That said, even service dogs need time off-duty where they can just be a dog, and if you come visit us at home you are more than welcome to pet her and play with her to your heart's content!


How much will all of this cost?
For the dog plus all of the trainings she will need, it is going to cost us around $7,000 to $10,000 once it is all said and done, the majority of that going toward her disability-specific training.

I can hear you now... "$10,000 for a DOG?!?!" Because that's exactly what I said at first when I started looking at service dogs. But when you don't think about it as a dog, but as an investment in Jude's safety and well-being, then the perspective shifts. What is Jude's life worth? If she saved his life by preventing him from getting lost just one time, wouldn't it all be worth it? We've tried so many other things to keep him safe, and we really feel like this is our last resort.

When we were first considering a service dog for Jude, the money was one of the biggest things that gave us pause. But a very good friend encouraged me to pursue it and told me that there are a lot of people who love Jude and who would likely want to help him in this way. So we have started down this road in faith that the Lord will provide for Jude's needs through people who love him.

We aren't going to make a huge fundraising push for this, because we don't want it to interfere with the money we are already trying to raise for Gospel Life. But if you know and love Jude, would you please consider helping us cover some of these expenses?

You can donate online by clicking here and choosing "Jude's Service Dog" under the "Give to" menu on the right. You can also donate by mail by following these instructions. A donation of any amount would be appreciated beyond words.

Gospel Life Global Missions is a 501(c)3 organization. All gifts are tax deductible. Contributions are solicited with the understanding that Gospel Life Global Missions has complete discretion and control over the use of all donated funds.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Our Last Day


Today was our last day in our home of four years.

Our home where we have
added four children to our family,
celebrated birthdays,
started a tradition of having a family slumber party in the living room on New Year's Eve,
grieved a lost baby,
put countless hours of love into the landscaping where there once was none,
bandaged boo-boos,
made so many sweet friends,
had five pets (Charles and Hippopotamus have since found other families, and Dinah went to kitty heaven, but we still have old Calvin and Molly Brown),
worked through trauma,
caught fireflies,
fought,
stayed up late canning jams and tomato sauce,
painted a whole wall with chalkboard paint,
read the first five Harry Potter books,
almost lost Jude a few times when he got out of the yard or window,
rode bikes and had family fun runs around the parking lot,
worshipped together,
watched our kids grow by the foot and blossom into awesome little people,
and so much more.

Josh summed it up well this morning with this meme:



We are equally excited about the next steps that God is leading us to take, and deeply grieving the loss of our church, friends, and home here. I'm trying to teach our kids that it's okay to hold both of those things in our hands at the same time, that feeling one doesn't mean we aren't allowed to feel the other. And I'm trying to remind myself of the same thing.

Please pray for us tomorrow as we move and settle into a new home and life.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Man Cub is One!

Our sweet, wild Man Cub turned one year old today.

He has Haylee's hair and complexion with Taylah's face. Which is just the opposite of JJ, who has Taylah's hair and complexion with Haylee's face. It's funny, because Haylee and JJ have very similar faces and very similar personalities, and I can already see Man Cub's personality shaping up to be more similar to Taylah's. He is so busy and full of LIFE and spunk and happiness... except when he isn't... and then his unhappiness is equally vibrant. But thankfully that doesn't usually last long.



He has brought more joy to our family in the past year than I even knew was possible. Our home is full of so many more smiles and laughs every single day just because he is in it. He has also been an incredibly healing gift from God for my weary, infertile heart.

I wanted to record some of his milestones here, so that I will remember them and also for you, my friends, to get a peek into how he's doing.

He started walking at 10.5 months and is now running wildly wherever he likes. I knew from very, very early on that even though he's always been a very happy and easy baby, he would be very active once he was mobile, and he has proved me right!



He has 11 teeth, and is working on his 12th. Crazy, I KNOW, but he has been the easiest teether. He was cutting two molars at the same time, and I didn't even know it until I got a glance inside his mouth when he threw his head back in laughter one day. Teeth just don't phase him at all. It's unbelievable.

He says and understands a lot of words, which is new to us as parents and so much fun. He most regularly says: Mama, Dada, da (dog), ca (cat), baba (bottle), bye-bye, di-pah (diaper), poo-poo, boo, pa pa (patty cake), and go. He also tries to repeat a lot of what we say, my favorite being "dah-oo," when I say I love you.

He likes his brothers ok (though, let's be honest, neither of them really know how to play appropriately with him yet, and often end up accidentally hurting him), but he LOVES his sisters. When they are in their room with the door closed, he will go bang on it and yell at them to come out, and when he sees either of them he squeals with delight. And his sisters LOVE him back. They pack him around, argue over who gets to hold him in church, play games with him, and just generally spoil and delight him beyond all reason.



I'm fairly certain he thinks his name is Niffles, which is a derivative of Niffler, a magical animal from the Harry Potter books and Fantastic Beasts movie. It's what I call him most often these days, and he responds to it consistently. We started calling him Niffler after Fantastic Beasts came out, because the niffler is a small, furry creature that is very fast, mischevious, attracted to shiny things, and prone to making big messes. His other primary nicknames are Chubba and Lubba, as well as a million derivatives of these 3: Niffle-ator, Nif, Chubs, Lub, Lubba Lou, and sometimes just Lou. One of the milestones the doctor asked about at his 9-month well-check was whether or not he seemed to know his name, and I had to laugh because there's no way he does with all of the nicknames we call him!

As far as his case goes, things seem to be moving in the direction of adoption, but nothing is ever certain in foster care until the judge bangs the gavel, so we still wait prayerfully for that day. Until then (and hopefully for the rest of our lives), we are enjoying every day that the Lord gives us with our sweet Niffler, and we love him bigger than the sky.

Monday, December 26, 2016

My 7 and 8 Year Old Girls' Favorite Books of 2016

Last year I asked the girls to tell me about their 5 favorite books that they'd read during the year, and we all three really enjoyed that little project. My oldest reminded me of that today as she devoured in a couple of hours a book that she was given for Christmas, and so I asked them to write again this year about their favorite books. 

I'm a huge fan of traditions that mark the passage of time, and if we are able to keep it up, this is another one that will be fun for us to look back on as they grow.

I explained in the post last year about the ways in which we emphasize reading in our home, so I won't belabor that again. I will say, since Taylah's list this year includes two abridged classics, that abridged versions of classic books are a bit controversial. Purists believe that only the original is worth reading, but with my girls I have found the abridged versions of classics to be an great way to introduce them to the stories, and when they get older they will be more ready to enjoy the original. That's just my opinion, take it for what it's worth.

I also think it's interesting that both last year and this year, more than one of these abridged classics made it onto their top 5 lists. Also, Pinocchio was on Haylee's list last year and Taylah's list this year, so they're clearly enjoying them.

Without further ado, we'll start with Taylah.



Taylah, 7 years old (She just turned 7 a couple of weeks ago):

My most favorite book that I read this year was Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi (ours is an abridged junior reader's version by W.T. Robinson). I liked it because he is a puppet and he is kind of funny. I think it's funny that he stayed with the fox and the cat instead of going back home to his father, because I wouldn't have chosen to do that. 

My second favorite book is Double Fudge by Judy Blume. Fudge is SO FUNNY. He swallowed a turtle, and that's weird. He was only two when he did it. The things he says are funny, too. 

My third favorite book is The Adventure of the Buried Treasure by Nancy McArthur. The dog's name is Puddles and the cat's name is Fluffo, and they're funny because Fluffo goes up a tree and then Puddles tries to jump up the tree to get Fluffo, but he couldn't even get up the tree. 

My fourth favorite book is Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (another abridged junior reader's edition). It's about a poor orphan named Oliver, and he likes Rose who is Mrs. Maylie's niece. I like that he gets to stay with Nancy. 

My fifth favorite book is The Baby-Sitters Club #32: Kristy and the Secret of Susan by Ann M. Martin. I like it because Susan is autistic like Jude. 




Haylee, 8 years old (She will be 9 in a couple of weeks):

My 1st favorite book of the year is The Prince Warriors by Priscilla Shirer. I love mysteries, and I like how it starts, too. It starts so mysteriously. Priscilla Shirer makes the best mystery books ever! 

My 2nd favorite book of the year is Animal Inn #2, A Kids Best Friend by Virginia Vail. I love this book because when I grow up I want to be a vet, and the family in this book are vets, and I love animals! It also gets very sad. The sadness in this book is about a very good collie. Enjoy! 

My 3rd favorite book of the year is Adventures of the Greek Heroes by Mollie McLean & Anne Wiseman. I love it because I like reading about the gods. My favorite story in the book is the adventure of the club bearer and about the foot washer. I also love reading about the old times and history! 

My 4th favorite book of the year is Boy: Tales of Childhood by Roald Dahl. I love it because I love reading about people's lives, and I also love books by Roald Dahl. 

My 5th favorite book of the year is Choose Your Own Adventure: The Forbidden Castle by Edward Packard. I love it because I like choosing my own adventures, and I like to read books where they go on a journey (especially in the woods). And I love reading about kings and such. 

Enjoy all of these books if you have them, or get them!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Pastor Appreciation Month


I'm sitting in my living room on the last Sunday morning of October. I've been sick all week, and although I'm hopefully on the mend now, I'm still not feeling well enough to get myself and 5 kids ready for church plus wrangle them all in the pew for an hour.

So instead of being in church, I'm sitting here thinking about the man across the parking lot who is at this moment about to preach his heart out to a church full of people whom he loves dearly.


Most people will never see the inside view of the lives of pastors, but I do. At least this one. And he is the most hardworking, self-disciplined person I have ever met. He pours his life out for his family, his church, and his studies without ever expecting praise or notice. He works so hard for the church and his Ph.D studies, and somehow still manages to be more involved at home than I think is common.

He is meek and humble in ways that my strong-willed personality struggles to comprehend.

Shaving his head at the end of VBS, because the kids met the missions goal.

He loves the world and the gospel, and constantly strives to lead our church and our family toward ways that we can reach out both in our community, our country, and our world.


He is not perfect, of course, but he is still pretty darn great. I'm so thankful that I get to sit under the teaching and pastoral care of my own dear husband. And I just felt inclined to let him know, on this last Sunday of Pastor Appreciation Month, how much he is appreciated... at least by the frazzled lady who is usually in the second row with all of those crazy kids.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Family Worship: How We Stumbled Into It

I've heard a few comments lately along the lines of, "Only super spiritual/awesome/got-it-all-together/etc parents manage to have a regular family worship time, and the rest of us are just lucky to get to bedtime with everyone still alive."

Let me just clarify from the start: we most definitely fall into the "just lucky to get to bedtime with everyone still alive" category! Guys, this parenting thing is HARD. And EXHAUSTING. We are in NO way more spiritual or awesome than any other family, and the got-it-all-together part is just laughable. But we have kind of stumbled into a nightly family worship that we all really enjoy, so I thought I'd share a little bit about it in the hopes of encouraging someone else.

When Jude was about 4, we started having a regular bedtime routine with him that included a bedtime story (see, definitely not the got-it-all-together type if it took us 4 years to even have a regular bedtime routine with our only child). After getting him ready for bed, we all went in his room and read through a picture story Bible beside his bed each night, then prayed for him and kissed him goodnight. That's pretty basic and easy, and I bet many of my friends already do this.


When JJ, Taylah, and Haylee came to us, we folded them right into our bedtime routine. Everyone sat on Jude's bed while one of us read, then everyone kissed each other and headed to bed, where Josh and I split up and one prayed for the girls and one prayed for the boys individually in their beds. (Or on nights when only one of us is home to do bedtime, we do one room and then the other.) And of course lately we've added a sweet little ball of love to the mix, who is usually happy to sit in my lap during this time.

If you're doing something along these lines with your kids already, I wouldn't beat yourself up about not having some other kind of family worship. This IS family worship!

We kept this routine up for almost 2 years, the only real change being which story Bible we read (more on that in a bit), until a couple of months ago when Keith and Kristyn Getty came out with a new album, Facing a Task Unfinished. Josh was excited to learn the songs and teach them to the rest of us, so we started singing one or two after the story. But it was hard to do in the bedroom, so we moved to the living room where we can cast the lyrics to the TV as we sing along.

At the same time, some prayer needs for various missionary friends overseas came up, so after we read the Bible story and sang, we naturally moved over to our huge school map that hangs in the living room and pointed to our friends' countries as we prayed for them.


And that is the story of how our family naturally stumbled into having something that really feels like family worship every evening. This will look different for each family, but I want to encourage you that it IS possible for normal people to do. If you take nothing else away from this post, remember that family worship is vitally important to do in some way, but looks different for every family, and doesn't have to be long or complicated.

If you're looking for a place to start or a new story Bible to reenergize your family worship/bedtime, here are several that we've read through and enjoyed:

The Big Picture Story Bible (great for younger kids)
The Big Picture Interactive Storybook (lots of stories that other story bibles don't include)
The Jesus Storybook Bible (poetically and beautifully written)
The Biggest Story (short, but good)
The Ology (great for elementary-aged kids)
The Beginner's Bible (I was surprised by how much I liked this old one)
The Gospel Story Bible (also great for elementary-aged kids)

And after reading through all of those (some 2 or 3 times), we are currently enjoying Long Story Short, which is more of a devotional format with readings from the Bible along with a lesson and questions. Long Story Short covers the Old Testament, and when we finish it we plan on going through Old Story New, which is written by the same person and covers the New Testament.

I'd love to hear what your family does for bedtime and/or family worship, and if you'd recommend any other story Bibles that we haven't yet discovered!

Monday, August 15, 2016

Staycation 2016

For the past couple of years, we've taken family vacations to Florida in the fall. October is, in my opinion, the perfect time to visit Florida. It's still warm enough to enjoy the beach and pool without being swelteringly hot, there aren't crowds like in the summer, and the bugs aren't as bad.

But this year Josh's sister, who lives in Orlando, is pregnant with their first baby and due in December. So we rearranged our plans a bit and decided to take a staycation to Josh's parents' house now and a big family trip to Orlando in January to visit them and their new sweet baby.

Mammie & Pappy's house is kind of a kid paradise. They have a pool, several different kinds of swings, a sand box, a trampoline, a 4-wheeler, chickens, a fishing pond just down the road, a treasure trove of old toys, and sometimes Uncle James's backhoe is parked out back. What more could we ask for?






Jude swam in a shirt and hat all week because when you're in and out of the pool as much as this dude is, sometimes protective clothing is just the best way to go. The girls have spent much of the week playing like they are Olympic swimmers. I taught them all of the swimming strokes and they have swam many laps back and forth in the pool. They also played water polo, worked on their synchronized diving (read: jumping) skills, and narrowly beaten an imaginary Chinese team in rowing. 

I'm so proud of how far they have all come with their swimming in the past two years, when they were all terrified of the water (Jude because of a traumatic attempt at swimming lessons and the others from lack of opportunity to swim). The girls and Jude swim without floaties and JJ has graduated from his puddle jumper to floaties. The girls and JJ love jumping in, and the girls both swim underwater and rarely hold their noses. Man Cub loved hanging out on the deck watching everybody play, and he also enjoyed being held in the water or floating on a raft with a grown-up.

 

My mom has been down to see us a couple of times, and we spent one whole day at my parents' house an hour away. My niece was visiting from out of state, and so she, my sister, my nephew, and my dad's parents all came up to hang out with us, too. It was so fun! 



That's Dad with all of his grandkids! We are so thankful for this week that we've had here and for Josh's parents' hospitality. Time spent with our families is always so precious to me, and I love every chance we get for our kids to deepen their relationships with our parents and grandparents. I don't ever take for granted that someone will be here the next time we visit, and I try to treasure it up (usually in pictures, because that's my way of treasuring up memories) as much as I can while I can.