Monday, April 28, 2014

"Children Are A Reflection Of Their Parents" Is a LIE! (An update on Natalie)

Natalie has successfully completed her twelve month therapeutic program and returns home Friday.  That is a sentence I never dreamed I would write.  Me?  A mother who has a child struggling with serious emotional issues?  A child who has spent months in a therapeutic boarding school?  I would have bet the entire bank against it.  

The control freak inside of me wants you Doubting Thomas's to know that I've dotted my i's and crossed every t.  I'm so much like you.  Each morning, I wake my children with hugs, kisses, and silly songs.  I also tell them multiple times a day how much I love them, carefully making sure to list specific traits I find particularly special.  I've done it their whole lives.  When they have a problem, I tune out the rest of the world to sit and listen.  And when they take on a hobby, I whole-heartedly jump in with them.  We eat dinner around the table, we only watch family-friendly TV, and we all know Jesus.  My life has been a glowing case of text book parenting, so why do I have a child who struggles?

That's what I've been asking myself for twelve months.  I've spent hours and days wondering if I might have had a better result with Natalie if I had parented her in a different way.  My problem is probably glaring to you, but it wasn't so obvious to me until recently.  This isn't about I, I, I or me, me, me at all.  This is about Natalie.  I am responsible for being me, and she, simply, is responsible for being she.  

I became a mom in the extremely popular 'Focus on the Family' era when books like "The Strong Willed Child", "Parenting Isn't For Cowards", "Bringing Up Boys",  etc.  were akin to the Holy Bible and were touted in every Christian circle.   Thousands upon thousands of us bought into it to the tune of millions of dollars in book sales.  And in the wake of that well-intentioned rubbish training, some of us have come to realize there is no magical blueprint for success when it comes to parenting.  It scares me too death to think of the puffed up pride I would have in my children if it hadn't been for Natalie's struggles.  Geez, I might've written my own instructional book for parents (insert roll of the eyes).  The gift of humility comes crashing in on us in the most unexpected ways, doesn't it?  The truth is, the successes of our children have very little to do with us, and much more to do with "who" they are.  (Ouch!)  

When Natalie returns on Friday, I'll hopefully be a better mom.  I'll still belt out my silly songs, dole out hugs, and lord over what TV shows are appropriate for our home, but I will view my family and my own role in it in a brand new way.  The old adage, "Children are a reflection of their parents", is a lie.  Don't believe it.  Children, instead, were created to reflect the Creator's plan and purpose for their lives.  To believe anything else is pure apostasy, a rebellion of God's Word.   

I still don't know why God allowed Natalie to be dumped in a run down orphanage by a teenage mom who was also an orphan, to endure electric shocks, and to be treated more like an animal than a human for the first three years of her life.  I don't know what method He used to choose my family to be the ones to pluck her out and make her a part of our own family, and I don't guess I'll ever understand why He didn't spare her from Reactive Attachment Disorder and all the psychotic behavior that has accompanied it.  But He knows.  And He holds her future.  For me, from this point forward, that is all that matters.

To close, Natalie, if you ever stumble upon this post, I want you to be reminded again how much you are loved and valued.  Sweet girl, YOU HAVE VALUE!  Reactive Attachment Disorder and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, while they are unwanted companions, do not define who you are.  We will continue to persevere with you through whatever comes and know we will all get through this together.  We are so proud of the hard work you continually put into your treatment and look forward to everything the Lord has in store for you.  He is not capable of making mistakes; you have been perfectly created to be everything He wants you to be.  Love, Love, Love you....        

If you live in the Nashville area and have been praying for Natalie, I want to invite you to come to our church service this Sunday to celebrate her return home.  Following the service, we'll celebrate with lots of sugary treats and allow friends time to greet her, meet her, and give hugs with words of encouragement:

The Refuge Church
2001 Campbell Station Parkway, Suite A-7
Spring Hill, TN 37174

When:  Sunday, the 4th of May

Time:  5:10pm


Monday, April 21, 2014

Raising Special Needs Children ; Finding Hope In The Sorrow

I'm running from the darkness.  Out of breath.  Frantically looking for an escape.  But the darkness continues to pursue me.  Fast becoming haggard from the chase,  there are times when I want to sit down, out in the open, with my arms raised up to the sky, allowing my enemy to capture me.  I imagine myself screaming:  "Go ahead, throw me into your foul pit, slam the door, and swallow the key.  I don't care anymore!"  Wouldn't I then be free in a curious sort of way?  

But I don't do it.  Though tempted and exhausted, I carry on the race because I believe there is a God.  I question His ways at every turn only to find my faith is as tangible as my legs. Though my head tries to deceive me, my legs keep on moving toward the shadow of the Almighty, where beneath His pinions I will find refuge and strength.  

The enemy's name?  Sorrow.

I've been fighting the good fight for more years than I'd like to admit.  Being a mom to three special needs children is, to be quite honest, much tougher than I'd ever imagined.  It is so much more than a full time job that yields no pay.  It is being on your toes, fully in, at all times, while simultaneously juggling the unyielding scrutiny of others.        

Last night, I found myself sitting all alone on the bed with a very giggly girl.  She turns nine in September, but is the size of a six or seven year old.   And she still can't speak.  After a few minutes of wrestling with "The Tickle Monster", she gently rubbed my hair with her little fingers, gave me a big hug, and finally cuddled up to settle in my lap.  Looking down, I noticed a small bruise on the top center of her forehead and kissed it.  

"Why do you bang your head when you get frustrated?" I asked.

She pursed her lips, and for the one billionth time, melted my heart with those gigantic puppy dog eyes.  

"I want you to talk," I continued, "so I can know all the thoughts in that cute little head....then you won't be frustrated anymore."  I again placed a peck on top of her head.

The one way discussion was going well, or so I thought.  Like a light switching on in the darkness, Hope rose from my lap and shot straight up.  At once she went from a snuggly momma's girl to wide-eyed wild child.  Her eyes darted about the room as she gave out full bursts of belly laughs. 

"Your angels?"  I questioned, allowing my own eyes to follow in the direction of hers.  "Hello angels. Thanks for interrupting,"  My words flat, bearing more than a hint of mockery.  "Why don't you tell your Commander I'd rather He send Hope a few words instead of play mates."

Hope ignored me completely.  The angels probably did too, for all I know, because she continued to laugh out loud and flap her arms all around. 

I felt aggravated.  I felt sorrowful.  I felt like a momma who desperately wants to communicate with her child.

Hope flipped up to her feet, and totally uninhibited, began jumping up and down with abandon.  Giggling and bouncing.  Giggling and bouncing.  Playing with her angels....and no longer playing with me.  Feeling that familiar tinge of jealousy, I decided to enter her world.

Standing up on the King sized bed that had been made with care earlier in the day, I jumped with her, holding her hands.  She forgot the angels and totally engaged with me.  Her eyes on my eyes.  Her laughter directed at me.  And I, too, forgot everything else in life except for her.  

I found Hope in the sorrow.  

In that moment, I'd like to think God saw the two of us as His little girls communicating with the same heart of "JOY", drowning out the sorrow as children often do, with play.  Perhaps He even sent His angels to goad me toward it.  

Hope and I ended our day the way we have many times before, learning the same lesson we've both been taught over and over and over again:  words are not needed when you have an abundance of love.  

Our race is not going to be an easy one.  We will continue to be met with challenges along the course that has been laid out for us.  However, if we'll remember to "come to Him as little children" faith....and to love....we'll make it.  In fact, I believe we'll MORE than make it!

"I have fought the good fight, I have stayed on course and have finished the race.  And through it all, I have kept believing."
(1 Timothy 4:7)

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Heart Of Worship...Jubilee

"Worship" triggers many responses:

RaIsEd HaNdS... Dancing...   singing...
    TEARs...    Shouts of Joy...  Corporate Prayer...   {PEACE}...

But for Jubilee, a teenage girl with Multiple Sclerosis who attends our special needs church service each week, it means all these things and much more.

Tugging on my arm:  "Ma'am, Ma'am,"  Jubilee always calls me Ma'am, even though I've told her my name dozens of times, "God gave me a new song and I want to sing it for you."

Lydia and I were in the church sanctuary waiting on everyone else to arrive.  The blind teenager who depends upon a walker was already sitting down on the front row.  "Sure, we'd love to hear it,"  I said, just as she began to sing:

"Angels watching over me...."

I couldn't understand all of the words, but I did catch those.  She began softly, but as the song progressed, her intensity grew and grew until she finally grabbed onto her walker, held it tight, and pushed it forward allowing herself to drop to her knees with a loud thump.  Instinctively, Lydia and I leaned forward to steady her, but she had everything under control.  

With Jubilee's head now bowed, and arms raised high, the song continued:  "His angels watch over me....His angels watch over you."  Lydia and I continued to look down upon the girl now kneeling on the floor, completely silent, careful not to do anything to disturb her.  The song became soft again until she, too, fell still and quiet.  She then pushed herself up, holding onto her walker, and said aloud:  "Thank you, Jesus, for giving me that song; it sure is a good song."  

After helping guide her back into her seat, we told her how much we enjoyed her singing.  She grabbed my arm once again and whispered:  "Ma'am, angels watch over Hope.  I'm praying God will help her talk."  (notice, she can remember Hope's name, but not mine.  hahaha!)

I lost my breath.  If the Lord is going to answer anyone's prayers, I thought, surely it is the prayers of Jubilee.  Then I hugged her.  Tight.  

"That really hurt my knees when I went down to sing,"  she said rubbing her knees with a giggle.

Lydia and I cracked up.  In response, Jubilee leaned back in the chair, slapped her leg and laughed out loud with us. 

Pretty soon the rest of our group lingered in, ready for worship to begin.  But I couldn't stop thinking about that brief time with a young girl most of the world looks over without notice each she had a song to sing and sang it.  She didn't wait for the crowd to hear it.  She didn't have a four piece band backing her up.  Most of her words couldn't be understood, she didn't sing in key, and there was no rhythm to her simple song.  But it ranked up as high as all of the most beautiful melodies Lydia and I have ever heard.

Yesterday, Jubilee arrived at our church service extra early again.  This time, she asked if she could babysit Hope for me while we waited for everyone else to get there.  She and I, together, pushed Hope around and around and around the little church.    

"I'm a good babysitter,"  she said, out of breath from all the pushing and walking.

"You're the best,"  I replied, marveling at this girl so eager to serve others.

"I'm still praying that Hope will talk."

After wiping a tear and gathering my composure, I answered:  "And I think He's gonna answer that prayer."

"Me too." 

Oh, Father, give me Jubilee's heart of worship