Monday, June 15, 2015

Hard Doesn't Mean Bad or Wrong

I've been chewing on a thought lately that I need to get out. I'm not sure how eloquently I'll get it out, but I'm going to try.

Just because something is hard, doesn't mean that it's bad or wrong.

Actually, I would argue that hard is good, and if you aren't doing anything hard, then you're probably doing something wrong.

I just thought this was a great picture for a post about doing hard things.
Because God doesn't mold us into being more like Christ through the easy stuff. Think back on the times when you grew the most in your faith. For me it has been our first move to a new city after we got married, infertility, Jude's autism, moving back from Moldova, miscarriage and more infertility, Josh struggling to find work, foster adoption... these have been the times that have been so hard that I didn't know if I could go on. The times that have left me sobbing before God and sometimes before a person or two whom I trust. The times that have made me cling to Jesus for dear life, and instead of walk away from him, say with Simon Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68)

One of Jude's first therapy sessions. Autism has brought us to our knees probably more than anything else.

But for as desperately, miserably hard as those times have been, they have also been the sweetest times of fellowship with and comfort from God that I have ever known, and I look back on them not with regret or pain, but deep fondness and thankfulness to God for drawing me nearer to him through them. Not just for getting me through them, but for bringing me into them in the first place.

Would I have chosen to go through those times? Not a chance. Does it make me uneasy to think about the times that he will bring me into and through in the future? A bit. Because if there's one thing I've learned in my 12 years of walking with God, it's that the trials that strengthen our faith and trust in God are like lifting weights--they get harder and heavier each time. But they are so worth it for the sake of a stronger faith in God, knowing and loving him more deeply, and showing his glory more clearly to those around me.

That M.Div. was worth it, but it was not an easy few years.

Think about Elisabeth Elliot, who just passed on to Heaven. Everyone who is familiar with her story looks at her in awe and wishes for just a small measure of her faith in God. But look at everything she suffered in her life, and how she clung to God through them! Our faith is small not because there was anything special about Elisabeth Elliot from a human perspective, but because we shrink away from anything that might be hard or make us uncomfortable or encroach on our American Dream, and by the grace of God she didn't. There is a reason that Paul wrote to us in Romans:
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings,
knowing that suffering produces endurance,
and endurance produces character,
and character produces hope,
and hope does not put us to shame,
because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5 ESV, emphasis mine)
We REJOICE in our sufferings!

So I'm learning to lean in to the hard. Not necessarily to go looking for it, but to embrace it when it comes or when God calls us into a path that we know will be hard. Because I don't want a complacent life where I never grow more into the image of Christ. I don't want an easy life that even an unbeliever could live, where God's power, love, comfort, and eternal worth aren't put on display for his glory. I want to know him and make him known through the hard times.

Don't believe the lie that hard things are bad.

If you feel God calling you to do something that will be hard, don't shrink from it. It could be the best thing you've ever done.

And the hard thing you're going through may be really awful right now, but if you hold fast to God, someday you will look back on it with thankfulness when you remember the depth of comfort and faith that met you there.
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:18 ESV)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

9 years ago. He was so young and skinny and shaky and unsure of himself in so many ways. But what won my heart then, and has continued to win me anew every day, was his deep, unwavering commitment to the Lord and to me. Saying yes to him was the second best decision I've ever made (second to saying yes to Jesus, of course).

For our anniversary today, we at least got to get dressed up... to go to court with our three new children. No, it wasn't an exciting court date like finally adopting them, it was just a routine 6 month check-up of sorts with the judge. After lunch, we had homemade cappuccinos, cuddled on the couch, watched an Anthony Bourdain episode from Tanzania, and dreamed of going there for maybe our 20th anniversary. Josh did finally go to his office to work for a few hours, and I played with Jude for a while (while the little two were napping and the oldest was at school) and then finally planted our little garden. Josh made bacon and egg wraps for dinner while I finished up the garden, because I'd forgotten to get any meat out of the freezer to thaw.

In most ways, it wasn't a terribly special day, but (and I know this is totally cheesy and cliche, but it's absolutely true) every day that I get to spend with this husband of mine is a special day. I could not be more thankful for him and the 9 difficult and wonderful years that God has given us together.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Finally Treading Water

Around the six-month mark of being a family of six, I started to tell people that I felt like we were finally not just completely drowning.

Because let me tell you, those first six months, Josh and I were definitely mostly drowning in life (as you could probably gather from my Four Months Post-Placement post). Going from one to four kids is a huge adjustment!

Don't get me wrong, it was still a sweet time. We reminded each other regularly that yes, this is hard, but it's also wonderful. God would give us glimpses of grace that kept us going in the middle of all of the hard stuff, like one of the girls belting out a hymn when she thought no one was listening, or the little guy actually coming to me for comfort when he got hurt instead of running away. 

I say that we reminded each other of that, but let's be honest, it was probably 75% me reminding Josh. Because God has always given me a desire for a large family and the personality to handle it reasonably well. Josh, on the other hand, really craves peace and order. That's just the personality that God gave him, and it is a wonderful thing in so very many ways. It does mean, however, that this whole four-kids-overnight thing has been a harder transition on him than on me.

So, like I mentioned at the beginning of this, I've been telling people for about a month now that I felt like we were finally starting to tread water instead of just drowning. But just a few days ago, Josh actually said (in different words) that he finally felt the same way. 

It was such a happy moment for me, because I have worried so much about this ride that we've jumped on, and whether the sweet man that God gave me, who has so very much on his plate these days, would survive it without going into cardiac arrest. Seriously.

But God is good and sustains us and grows us through the hard times.

Don't get me wrong, we still have hard days. Really hard days (most notably when our oldest gets ahold of sugary/dye-filled treats that she's not supposed to have because they make her lose all control). We've also all been sick all winter. I am in the middle of my THIRD flu in six months. That's been fun. But overall, lately we've been feeling much more settled and competent and peaceful. Thank you, Lord.

And just for the sake of a small non-update, we are still waiting on an adoption date. We were originally told that their adoption should have come and gone by now, but the kids' social worker (who is great, by the way) has been bombarded with adoption cases and it has taken her longer than expected to finish our paperwork. We are praying that it will be before Josh leaves for Malawi in June, but that is quickly approaching. Will you pray with us?

Friday, April 3, 2015

Pictures of Our Kids!

Sorry, it's not exactly what you think. I was going through our pictures from my big camera this morning and realized I had several that didn't show our new kids' faces and would be good for sharing online. I hope you can enjoy these peeks into our lives the last few months, even if you still can't see their faces yet. (For the kids' safety and privacy, foster kids' faces aren't allowed to be shared online until they are adopted.)

Monday, March 23, 2015

Two Years

Two years. Wow. We've lived in this house for two years.

Okay, I know that for most people two years doesn't sound like very long at all. But this is us, we're talking about here. And this is the longest we've lived anywhere in almost nine years of marriage. What? Normal people don't move that often?

In celebration of actually staying put for two whole years, let's take a walk down memory lane and look at all of the places we've lived in the last nine years:

May 2006 - December 2006
One Bedroom Land in Murray, Kentucky
Our first apartment! (If you're familiar with Murray, you probably know of one-bedroom land: a little neighborhood of one-bedroom apartments.) The neighbors' cigarette smoke came through the walls into our closet and made all of our clothes stink, and the dining/office/living room was all one tiny space, but it was our first apartment! We got married, I finished my Bachelor's at Murray State, and then we moved to:

December 2006 - April 2007
Crescent Hill Neighborhood in Louisville, Kentucky
An old house that had been converted into four apartments, this one-bedroom was quirky and drafty and honest-to-goodness had one foot of counter space in the kitchen, but we loved it. Louisville felt so big and lonely, especially on Sundays, but we learned to cling to the Lord and to one another. I had a brief stint as a car salesman, and then Josh was called as pastor of Elk Lick Baptist Church in Owenton, so we moved to:

April 2007 - October 2007
Owenton, Kentucky
We'd planned on buying a house here and putting down roots, but when that fell through, we landed in a steal of a two-bedroom duplex (the apartments were on the second floor), with a wonderful old couple as our neighbors and landlords. Then out of nowhere I was asked to apply for a position at Crossings Ministries in Louisville, which was not only my dream place to work but would also pay a lot more than I was currently making, so I did and we wound up moving back to:

October 2007 - May 2009
Clifton Heights Neighborhood in Louisville, Kentucky
We had the sweetest two-bedroom apartment here, and we loved it so, so very much. This is the apartment where we lived when Jude was born. We drove out to Owenton every Sunday until Josh graduated from Boyce and God called us to move to Moldova for two years as missionaries, so we packed up and moved to:

May 2009 - September 2009
Our Parents' Houses in western Kentucky
(I don't have pictures of our parent's houses, so here's Jude snoozing on my parents' front porch.) We moved back and forth between our parents' houses roughly every two weeks, soaking up as much quality time with our loved ones as possible until the day finally came that we left for:

September 2009 - December 2009
Camp Apartment in Vatici, Moldova
Tucked into the back of the second floor of this building that housed all of the students, it was a welcome and delightful 220 square feet of privacy and autonomy after living out of childhood bedrooms for the last 3 months. There were so many little annoyances about living there (the boys outside our door would wake up Jude during his nap, we rarely had hot water, and the winter brought a constant battle with mold, for starters), but in spite of them all, my heart only wells up with fondness and happy memories when I remember that tiny place. But we didn't get green cards at first, which meant that after 3 months we had to leave the country for 3 months, so off we went back to:

December 2009 - March 2010
Our Parents' Houses in western Kentucky
(Again, no pictures of the outside, so here's Jude and Crider with a baby goat that Mammie brought in the house.) Same as above. These seasons of living with our parents were so hard for me, but it was great to get to spend Jude's first Christmas and birthday with everyone. Finally it was time to move back to:

March 2010 - May 2010
Camp Apartment in Vatici, Moldova
(In the kitchen of the apartment. There's Jude's dresser in the hall.) Same as above. Spring at camp was glorious, and then a family we worked with asked us if we would house and dog sit for them for 8 months while they were in America, so we packed up and moved to:

May 2010 - February 2011
Herndons' House in Orhei, Moldova
Talk about stretching our legs! This was a huge, two-story, six-bedroom house with a walled-in yard. It was wonderful, especially in the winter! A huge kitchen! Fast internet! We loved it. We had a love-hate relationship with their dogs, Peanut and Heidy, but it was slightly more love than hate. But alas, they finally came back and we had to move back to:

February 2011 - June 2011
Camp Apartment In Vatici, Moldova
(Our bedroom could barely fit a full-sized bed, a twin mattress in the floor, and a dresser. The foot of the bed actually stuck out into the doorway a little.) I still only have heart eyes for this little apartment, but after being used to the Herndons' house, moving back here felt more cramped than cozy, especially with Jude getting so much bigger and more active. It was indescribably bittersweet to then move back to America to:

June 2011 - July 2011
Our Parents' Houses in western Kentucky
Good and crazy time catching up, reacclimating, and apartment hunting. We finally found a great place in:

July 2011 - March 2013
Village Manor in Louisville, Kentucky
We settled into a two-bedroom unit in a huge apartment complex near the seminary. We had so many friends there, lots of grassy space for Jude to play, and a large fenced-in playground. By God's mercy, we had a downstairs apartment without anyone living above us for almost the whole time we lived there. The last few months with night-owl, party-animal upstairs neighbors were pretty awful, though. This was such a sweet and hard time for us. After 18 months there, God called Josh to Mt. Tabor Baptist Church, and we moved to:

March 2013 - Present
The Parsonage in Buffalo, Kentucky
Three bedrooms, 1.5 baths, a huge dining room that used to be a car port, and a two-car attached garage. It's practically a castle compared to most of the places we've lived. We could not be more thankful to God for bringing us to this church and this home! This is what it looked like when we moved in. It looks so different now! I wanted to get a "now" picture, but that will have to wait because I'm down with the flu right now.

Monday, February 9, 2015

An Update on Jude

I wrote this post two weeks after visiting an alternative doctor in Florida hoping that he could help Jude. I just realized that I never published it, so I'm finally doing that. In the three months since, my fears have proven true that it was a complete waste of money. Jude is no different than he was before our visit. At least the kids had fun at the beach and we got to visit Mark and Jessi. I don't feel quite as hopeless now as I did when I wrote it, but I'm leaving those emotions in, because they're authentic. 

Below is the original post:

Many people have asked how Jude is doing since his doctor’s visit in Florida two weeks ago. Honestly, I haven’t known how to respond to those questions. 

What I do is smile and say is that we haven’t seen much of a difference yet, but we’re hoping it will have a more long-term benefit in terms of letting his body begin to heal. 

What I want to do is burst into tears and say is that we’re afraid the whole thing was a colossal waste of money that we didn’t have. And that it was pretty much our last idea for how to help him. And I’ve gone to the Lord in tears many times over the last two weeks, because the idea of him ever recovering from autism pretty much feels hopeless right now. Maybe that’s a little extreme and overly emotional, but it’s how I’ve felt.

Maybe I should explain more about this doctor. But first, let me preface it by saying that it all sounds super quacky and weird and we were skeptical, but we heard about this doctor through a good friend who is not someone to buy into quacky, weird stuff. She went to him to treat her lyme disease, and he has done wonderful things for her. We’ve talked to a handful of people, and they all have a similar story of being at the end of their options, finally giving this doctor a try, and experiencing almost miraculous healing. Real people. With whom I have personally spoken. When I called to make Jude’s appointment a few months ago, I spoke to the doctor personally and he said he’d treated many autistic children, and he was very optimistic that he could help Jude.

The doctor’s name is Dr. Jack Garvey, and he works at Sunridge Health Center in St. Augustine, Florida. I’m including that not because I want to give him bad press, because like I said, he’s done great things for many people, but because I tried googling for more information about him and what he does before scheduling Jude’s appointment and came up empty handed. I’m hoping this may help any others who are also looking.

What he does is something called Frequency Specific Acupuncture, which I think is misleading because it’s not acupuncture like you normally think of it.

The first thing he does is sit you down next to a machine that scans your body for viruses, bacteria, yeast, and other pathogens. You hold this metal cylinder that is hooked into a machine which is plugged into a computer. Then, you prop your left foot up and he has a pen-like thing that’s also hooked to the machine. He changes stuff in his computer program, and touches the side of your middle toe. He gets some kind of read-out from that which tells him what pathogens you have in your body. This part takes an hour or two.

Because Jude was so little (and so uncooperative), he sat in my lap and I held the cylinder to his tummy under his shirt. I propped my foot up and he used it to scan. I asked him how the machine could scan Jude this way and not me, but Jude was too uncooperative (read: screaming and wrestling me the entire time) for him to answer me well. I think he managed to reply something like, “it just does.”

I told you this stuff sounded weird.

After he gets a print out of everything he found, his assistant writes in some numbers next to each thing. You go in another room, and there’s another machine. This machine has lots of black boxes plugged into it, and most people also wear headphones, but Jude wouldn’t tolerate those. At this machine, you punch in the numbers, and it will tell you whether to leave the machine on that number for 10 seconds, 30 seconds, or 2 minutes. You just work through your list until you are finished. When you are an adult doing this for yourself, it is really easy and quick. When you are an exhausted, screaming 5 year old with the strength of an ox, it takes your mother holding you down with the boxes strapped around your waist, an assistant holding two boxes near your head, and another assistant punching in the numbers on the machine (that only happened one of the 3 days, praise the Lord).

This machine emits light frequencies that are specially figured to kill specific pathogens. Josh said he just read about a machine they’re using in hospitals that uses UV light to completely sanitize the whole room, even the parts where the light doesn’t necessarily touch. That’s kind of like what this machine does. Dr. Garvey compared it to an opera singer singing the exact perfect pitch to shatter glass. Hopefully one or both of those comparisons are helpful.

New patient appointments are 3 days in a row for about 4 hours per day. On Jude’s first day, he screamed and wrestled for the whole first part, and then slept for the whole second part. On his second day, he watched VeggieTales calmly for the first part, and screamed and wrestled for the second part. On his third day, he did really great for both parts.

All the money, all the driving, all the screaming, all the wrestling… we would do it all again five times over if it were worth it. But I’m so afraid that it wasn’t.

But that’s life with autism. We throw everything we have (and much more) into trying to help him. Sometimes it’s helpful, sometimes it isn’t. But what else can we do?

I feel like we’re at the end of our rope with treatment options. His DAN Dr. (which stands for Defeat Autism Now; she specializes in treating kids with autism) is completely perplexed that he is on such a strict diet of basically just meat, green vegetables, eggs, broth, kombucha, and filtered water, as well several prescriptions and a small health food store’s worth of supplements, and yet he isn’t getting any better.

She really wants us to get an infrared sauna, but they are so expensive. 

She’s recommended trying hyperbaric oxygen therapy again, but it’s a lot of money, a LOT of time, and we didn’t see any benefit from it last time, so we’re hesitant to do it again. 

Probiotic enemas would probably be really helpful, but I’ve tried giving him one, and let’s just say we won’t be doing that again any time soon.

I know this is long. Congratulations if you made it to the end. I don’t really know how to wrap it up, except to ask you to please keep praying for him and for us. Pray that God would heal him. And pray that God would give us wisdom. Thank you.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Four Months Post-Placement

I realized the other day that I haven't posted an update on our foster care situation since two weeks post-placement. So here we are.

It's been four months since our family doubled. Mercy. What a whirlwind. Where to start?

Basic milestones: Little J graduated to a big boy bed. Miss H lost a tooth and has started reading chapter books. Jude and Miss T both got their first 6 year molars. The girls both had birthdays, Jude's birthday is tomorrow, and little J's is next month. Little J's thoughts, sentences, imaginative play, and sense of humor have all developed so much over the last four months, and it is so fun to see.

Christmas was miserably exhausting, but that was mostly because of Jude. The bigger he gets, the harder he is to control. And he didn't sleep well. The new kids all seemed to really enjoy themselves, although my introvert, Miss H, did have some anxiety about the big family gatherings. 

One funny thing is that the kids came to us believing in Santa. While I'm not going to debate the virtues or vices of Santa, it is not something we do. We had planned on having a don't-ask-don't-tell policy on Santa this year, where we didn't encourage the Santa talk, but we didn't just flat-out tell them he isn't real, either. But Miss H had so many questions in the weeks leading up to Christmas (and probably sensed our lack of enthusiasm for the jolly old elf) that the truth finally came to light, and we told the kids we give them gifts at Christmas because we love them, and as a reminder of the gift God gave us when he sent Jesus to be born on Earth and to live a perfect life and take the punishment for our sins so that we could live forever with God. Miss H was satisfied with that as long as she got presents. Only after Christmas did I realize that I'm pretty sure Miss T still believes he's real, but just doesn't come to our house. She, too, seemed ok with that as long as she got presents.

Speaking of Jude being difficult, little J has gotten to where he likes to imitate what Jude does, which is sweet except for the fact that we spend most of our time trying to get Jude to stop doing most of what he does. This means we now have two boys climbing on the furniture, yelling nonsense gibberish, spitting everywhere, making huge messes etc. it's so exhausting. Today Jude was throwing books from the bookshelf into the floor (a regular thing for him), and little J started helping him and actually said, "Yaaay! We're making a mess!"

Officially, we are still waiting for the paperwork to all go through before we can schedule the court date for their adoption. Our social workers tell us that this will hopefully happen sometime in the next couple of months.

Overall and considering everything, the kids are all doing really well. After some initial struggles, and then a relatively calm period, the girls' behavior has been a struggle again recently. I think we've finally figured out that we were changing too much on them.

We'd gotten to a point where I guess we figured that things were going well enough that we could start taking baby steps in an even better direction (for example, we've been singing the girls to sleep at bedtime, but then we started trying to only sing two songs and then leave while they were still awake, which was causing huge issues; I also started trying to work on table manners with the girls), and it totally backfired on us. Their meltdowns have gotten so regular and so intense that we realize now that what they need most is stability and predictability, not constant little changes in routine and our expectations of them.

We're also learning big lessons about self-care. Childcare has been a huge roadblock to time alone for us. In order to babysit three of our kids, a person has to be finger-printed and background checked through social services, and we don't personally know anyone who has done that. And while there are ways to find someone, we aren't going to just leave Jude with someone we don't know. Not because we care more about him than the other three, but because there is so much to explain and teach and go over with new caregivers for him. So many little details that we could forget. Not to mention that he is more difficult than all three of the others put together, so we just don't want to ask someone to take all four together, even just for a few hours. So for Jude we tend to stick with people who already know him and are familiar with his needs.

Anyway, so I said all of that to say that we just haven't figured out a way to coordinate childcare in order for us to have a date in the last four months, and we haven't even really been able to give one another sufficient alone time.

Add that to the fact that Jude, who had been sleeping great for most of last year, has regressed to being up half the night more often than not, and we are both starting to crack. We're figuring out a way to make a date happen... like THIS WEEK. Because WE NEED IT. We sat on the couch together for five minutes this afternoon while the kids all played outside, and I swear I heard angels singing. It was wonderful. I can't wait to go on an actual date. 

Let's not end on that note, though. Let's end with these two pictures. Because for as exhausting as they are, we really do love these kids so fiercely. And having siblings has been so good for Jude. We are so thankful for all four of these kids that God has given us. If you think our hands are full, you should see our hearts.