The Moments That Take My Breath Away

Her simple statement made me stop in my tracks and take pause from my list of busy household chores for the day and look around to see what she saw. It made me stop my "mothering" long enough to really see my child in all her beauty and reflection of her Creator. It's in moments like these when the innocence of a child aligns perfectly with the full potential of who God made them to be. 

Read More

#Momsrock {Friendships, Survival & Books}

Yesterday was the day motherhood is made of... the sweet, the nurturing, the snotty and everything in between. Motherhood celebrated in all its crazy aspects.

It was the day it seemed every child woke up feeling a little under the weather. The day mommies were needed the most. The day the whining reached epic proportions worthy, at times, of an Olympic sport. Oh my goodness at the whining. Yesterday was the day that summed up the absolute, utmost importance for mommy friends in all its glory.

Read More

Recovery for the Weary Mom/Wife/Woman's Heart

Earlier this week, I did a Periscope segment on ways that I have found help me overcome a weary soul.  There are times that it seems like the demands of being a mommy, wife, and just overall being a woman close in on us.  We say yes to too much, we are shuttling kids everywhere, juggling careers and home life.  Sometimes it’s just overwhelming and we literally scream for Calgon to take us away, preferably to a tropical landscape with a pool attendant bringing nonstop umbrella drinks.  Or maybe that’s just me.  But I would venture to guess that we all have moments, whether we are moms, wives, or just women in general that we need an escape from the daily hustle. We want to just “be” without a label.  Literally some days I just want to make it out the door without some kind of stain or snot wiped on me, but then it’s such a beautiful reminder of my role as a mommy and something I waited years to have.  

Read More

Motherhood is...

Motherhood is...

I threw out this simple phrase a couple days ago and asked for it to be completed. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I definitely didn't expect the flood of emotion that came forth in the responses. Between the answers to this simple question and the flood of stories I've read this week, there have been some belly laughs and some tears shed! Motherhood is just that... emotional. Motherhood teaches us to feel and love and hurt and hope like nothing ever will.

Read More

A New Year: Learning to Live with Intention

I love to welcome in a new year.  The little OCD woman inside of me loves to make her lists, color code everything on the crisp white pages of her planner, and plan all the awesome things she is going to accomplish this year.  I buy into the fairy tale that this will be the year that I finally have it all together and when the year comes to a close, every.single.thing will be checked off of my list.  The end of the year me will bask in the glow of her accomplishments – complete with choirs of angels singing my praises (kind of like Oprah after a “Favorite Things” episode). We make all kinds of resolutions - mainly that this will finally be the year that we eat healthier, exercise, and regain our twenty year old bodies.  And that lasts (if we stretch the truth a bit) until February.  Life happens and all of those “resolutions” are lost in the abyss of all the things competing for our attention. 

Read More

Why Can't I Be Supermom Too?

You know the feeling... the insecurity hidden deep within that creeps up to a moment of pure inadequacy staring you in the face. You think you're doing a decent job parenting.  At least you know you're trying your absolute hardest to do a decent job. Then you see someone who has it all together, is always calm and collected, with freshly shampooedhair and matching clothes, and obedient well-mannered children that actually listen. The struggle is real. It's disheartening. It's an everyday battle. And it starts so early on in motherhood. Do you recognize yourself in any of these?

You're completely sleep deprived and barely keeping up with the things that have to be done each day. Your four month old has just gotten through another growth spurt and extra feedings, and finally slept for a six hour stretch for the first time. You're so excited about the possibility of maybe sleeping again one day and you're so proud of your little angel that you tell a couple mommy friends about it. And then one says, "Oh she just now slept that long? My baby has been sleeping in six hour stretches since he/she was three weeks old."

It's time to start introducing real foods to your growing little one and you are so excited to discover you've been blessed with a good eater! She'll eat most of the fruits and vegetables you give her so you start having real fun with meal times and food introductions. She's growing up right before your eyes! Although this new fun stage also means more dirty dishes, disgusting floors that have to be mopped even more often, stained outfits that you'll wash over and over again with a fierce determination to get the squash stain out, and so on. But you're happy to do it all because your child eats! So you're telling your friends and then you hear "Oh, you don't make your own organic baby food from scratch? I do for my baby because I want them to have the best."

You and your child are enjoying a pool day with a friend and her children, and are having a great time. At least until another mommy walks by with her three beautiful, well-behaved children. Her youngest isn't quite a year old and she walks by confidently in a full-fledged bikini looking like one hot mama. Suddenly you notice a shift in your conversation from laughing about the kids playing and the Bible studies you and your friend are participating in, to how you wish you could wear a bikini again without feeling so self conscious. You admit you struggle with your self image of this "mommy body" that you now have. But you are trying so hard to set a good example of self confidence for your little girl because you always want her to feel good about herself, even if you don't always.

You watch moms juggle three and four kids with such skill and grace as they balance carpool duty and simultaneous cheering for multiple teams while nursing the newest little family member and carrying on an actual conversation. You can't even remember the last actual conversation you had (and finished) while your child(ren) were awake. And let's be honest, if I had three or four kids, I'd just be happy if I could actually shower and change clothes once a week!

And then come the toddler years... with the ever changing and challenging personalities. If your child is anything like mine, they are just so much fun and learning so much stuff every single day, until that switch flips and then they're throwing a fit of award winning proportions over absolutely nothing. It tests my patience in ways I never imagined. Usually we get through those tough moments decently, but I would be lying if I said I always extended the same grace to her that I should. Just this morning my sweet angel woke up in a grumpy, grumpy mood and I'll admit that I actually locked myself in the bathroom to escape the whining just long enough to have three sips of coffee and take a couple deep breaths before facing my tiny terrorist again. I vowed that if the muffins I made for breakfast actually improved her mood, that Betty Crocker would be getting a hand written thank you note for her magic muffin recipe. Then thinking the day was improving, I was again thrown off balance when we ended a happy time on the playground with a timeout for not listening that further dissolved into a complete half hour long meltdown. And again I find myself thinking... what am I doing wrong?

Did you see yourself in any of the scenes? All of these moments are mine. They are moments I've felt like a complete failure as a mom, full of doubt and insecurity, and far from the "super mom" I want to be. Every. Single. One. And there are plenty more. I don't want to feel this way.  I want to be secure in this life and calling that God has blessed me with. I admitted to my husband the other day and was shocked when I felt the tears rising and heard my voice crack as I said "Why can't I be a super mom like them? Why can't I keep the house as clean as so-and-so always does AND manage to get super on the table, play with our little girl like she needs me to every day, do all the other stuff I do, and have enough energy left to have a real conversation with you at the end of the day? I just want to be a good mom, a good wife, and a good friend. Is that possible to do?" As soon as I heard it voiced out loud, I realized just how ridiculous of a thought it was, but it doesn't make it go away. The insecurities of not being "super mom" are real.

I talked to a couple mommy friends about how I was feeling and the funniest thing happened. They both started laughing and said "Let me tell you what my impression of you is and was when I first met you. You are my super mom that I try to be like." That compliment hit me like a ton of bricks and changed my perspective completely. First of all... super mom does NOT mean perfect at everything all the time with no tears in the house. It means you pour your heart and soul into loving your family to the best of your ability. It means you try your absolute hardest to do everything on your to-do list, but learn to cut yourself some slack at the end of the day because that list will never be compete. It means knowing your own limits and knowing when you need to lock yourself in your bathroom for your own three minute timeout so that you can show grace and love and respect to your toddler who is having a bad day. We all have these insecurities because we're trying so hard to be just what we already are - to our child(ren), our husband, our friends - we are already a Super Mom. 

We've just lost a little perspective because we're so caught up in the remainder of the to-do lists and we're tired. One thing we can all do better though is to encourage each other. We all struggle with the same feeling of inadequacy so we all know exactly what another Super Mom needs to hear today. Motherhood is hard, hard work. Our best days are filled with fun and laughter and learning and counting down the minutes to bed time because we've completely exhausted ourselves again by giving our all to our family and friends. We need the occasional reminder and perspective that we are doing our best and it is good enough.

Proverbs 31:10-31 describes the ultimate "Super Mom." It does me good to read it often. It's a great reminder that this job we are blessed to have as a mom, wife and friend, isn't supposed to be easy. It's supposed to be hard and constant work, but the reward of a happy home and family is worth every second of it.

She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come. She speaks with wisdom, and faithful instruction is on her tongue. She watches over the affairs of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children arise and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: “Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all.” Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
— Proverbs 31:25-30

So before you move on to the next thing on your to-do list today, call or email a Super Mom in your life and tell her just why you think she's so super.  You'll change her whole outlook and may just give her the encouragement she needs to get through today with a genuine smile on her face.

Hold Them Close

I had the wonderful opportunity over this past week to really enjoy one of life's biggest blessings... long-lasting friendships, and just how important it is to hold on to those few relationships that stand the test of time.  

My husband has a remarkable group of friends that, despite being spread out across much of the southeast, have stayed in touch and stayed close since college (a couple since highschool even).  As spouses have married in, we have been fully welcomed into this ever growing group as if we were there in the beginning nearly 20 years ago now.  As life has continued on, couples have become families, and this group still stays intact.  In today’s world where there is so much competition and comparison, it’s easy for friendships to suffer.  As time and distance comes between lives, it’s hard to take the time to make a phone call or send an email to stay in touch with those that were once incredibly important to you.  What makes this group so special is their ability to focus on the good in everyone, to build each other up and support each other, and to be accepting of the differences that we all have and appreciate them rather than become critical of each other. 

This week, we just braved something many would think would have been complete chaos (and at times it was).  We all got together for a trip to Disney and stay at the Nickelodeon Hotel which came complete with an amazing couple of on property water parks and pools. At one point, I believe the final count came to 14 children under the age of seven, plus all of us “grown ups.”  Trying to find a table big enough for everyone to attempt to eat and keep track of all the munchkins at the pools, water slides, arcades, etc was just a joke.  But as the chaos around us continued, we had the best time relaxing in the midst of friendship.  The kids got along tremendously well, especially considering how tired they all were from no naps and full days of playing in the sun.  We saw the old friendships continue and the next generation of friendships begin.  I was reminded of this verse in Ecclesiastes.

So I commend the enjoyment of life, because there is nothing better for a person under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany them in their toil all the days of the life God has given them under the sun.
— Ecclesiastes 8:15

Life is hard sometimes and who knows what tomorrow will bring.  But it is such a blessing to look at those long lasting, God-given friendships around you and just enjoy life to the fullest.  The work, bills, stress... it will all be there when you get back.  But to just be able to hold on to time spent together and enjoy the here and now is a huge blessing.  So those friends that bless your life, and you theirs... hold them close, treasure them deeply, and give them a call once in a while!  They are a gift.

The Diagnosis that Changed Everything

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
— Psalm 139:13

A while back I asked my cousin, Angela, to share her story of the diagnose that literally shook her world.  A fear became a reality.  Yet God equipped her and her alone to be the mother of a child diagnosed with autism.  She handles it with such grace and patience.  And God knew Sydney before she was ever formed in the womb and the life that He alone had planned for her. He knew her life would be filled with challenges, many of which she wouldn't understand.  Yet those challenges are preparing her to change the world.  A world that desperately needs more people with her unconditional love and simplicity of her outlook on life.  Our culture is trying to change those diagnosed with autism to think and act like them.  When in all actuality, I think it should be the complete opposite.  Our culture is the one that needs to change to think and act with the love, compassion, and aptitude of those with special needs.

I often tell Angela that Sydney and Ethan are kindred spirits.  They have unique and special stories to share with the world.  One day God will use them both in a mighty way.  Ethan is typically the only boy grandchild in a room with five (and growing) girls.  He gets a lot of attention from them - sometimes that's fun and sometimes it will be aggravating as he gets older and they pick on him.  But the one he gravitates toward is Sydney.  He processes senses in a similar way with a sensitivity to textures, temperatures, sounds, crowds.  We often find the two of them retreated together in a quiet room reading or watching TV.  But the one thing that tugs at my heart the most is he always wants to pray for Sydney.  His most recent prayer was for her to be brave.  I know that he doesn't fully comprehend the magnitude of that prayer.  But I do know that God put that boldly in his little 3 year old heart for his Sydney and one day he will know why.  

Ethan retreated from his own birthday party to play with Sydney who went upstairs alone to escape the crowd.

Ethan retreated from his own birthday party to play with Sydney who went upstairs alone to escape the crowd.

Please join us in welcoming Angela to our blog today and we hope that her story is an encouragement to you whether you are also a mom of someone with special needs or not.  We all have challenges as moms and can be a wonderful encouragement to those around us by just simply sharing our stories.  We are never alone.

  The Diagnosis that Changed Everything

January 4, 2008 is the official day that started this sometimes overwhelming, yet beautiful and inspirational new life. Let me start at the beginning. I married my best friend in November of 1999. We had our first daughter, Caitlyn, in June of 2002. She was a healthy big baby weighing 9 lbs 2 oz and was 2 weeks early. She was the love of my life. I never knew I could love another person as much as I love her. She hit every milestone and by the time she was 1 1/2 she was having small conversations with anyone and everyone she could. Two years and 5 months later, my second daughter, Sydney, was born. Since my first child was an emergency c-section, I had to schedule a c-section for Sydney. She was a week early, born the day before Thanksgiving. She too was a large baby weighing 9 lbs 4.5 oz. She was a very easy baby like her sister, except they both HATED the car. If I put either of my girls in the car as a baby they would scream bloody murder. Unlike her sister, she didn't have colic, so that was a huge relief. As a baby she was easily startled and she was scared of her daddy for some reason. Even if he was just sitting and holding her she would scream, and if he smiled at her she would cry. She was chunky just like her sister so it took both of them a little more work to get moving, but they both had hit their sitting and crawling milestones. At 4 months old she would laugh at me and her sister and loved to look at what we were doing. By 6 months she would get so excited whenever her sister came around her. Her favorite thing to do was to be in her johnny jumper and bounce and bounce. If I put a mirror where she could watch herself, she would giggle over and over. Around 9 months she met my dad who had a beard. She was so fascinated and would stare and run her hands through it. She hated sand at the beach but would live in the pool floating around. She drank from a sippy cup around this age and was eating just a few solid foods with her baby food. At this point, I never had any indication that anything was wrong. She seemed like any other healthy baby. 

The first real difference I noticed with Sydney was a profound frustration when she couldn't do something. I remember sitting on the floor with her and we were stacking the 2 inch wooden blocks. She was about 9 months old. She was happy each time she could put one block on top of the other, but if they fell down she started crying hysterically and wouldn't want to play anymore. I discussed this with my pediatrician who wasn't able to give me any more ways to handle that I hadn't already tried. I thought, well she's just really determined to do everything just right. Determined became my word after my grandmother insisted I not use stubborn. By 11 months she had only said "mama" and "dada" with a lot of babbling. She would mostly crawl to a place she could pull up on and stand up to walk while holding on. She loved watching Dora the Explorer. She was so intent and focused when it was on. By her first birthday she really had a disdain for men, including her daddy. I thought it may be their deep voices that possibly scared her. We could never figure it out. She would give any man that spoke to her a very mean look. She was taking about 3-5 steps at this age. She seemed to only say "dada" over and over but it never seemed like she was actually calling him. Almost as though she just liked the sound of it. She was very active, pulling up on things and maneuvering around. Still, nothing seemed too out of the ordinary. She made eye contact, I've even gone back to watch home videos to make sure. She was just a very particular baby who seemed sensitive. She was so content when she and I cuddled or when I was holding her. She had finally warmed up to her daddy and loved him to tickle her. She was full on walking at 13 months and hated shoes and socks, which was a problem since it was winter-time. Again, not alarming as I knew several kids who didn't like shoes and I'm always fiddling with my socks to make sure they are tight and straight. She was very picky with food, but I had heard a lot of children were so that didn't concern me much either. I had mentioned a couple of these things to her doctor at her check up, but no red flags went up. I was told that Caitlyn was just advanced and Sydney was on target. "Don't compare them," I was told. I tried really hard not to. She and Caitlyn would play together some, but she would get so frustrated and start throwing a fit that it didn't last long.

By 16 months she was saying more words like "all clean, all done, milk, juice" and a few more. At this point  I had been used to Caitlyn talking in short real sentences so of course I was told again by family and doctors that I was comparing. They suggested that her sister does all the talking for her so she only speaks when she needs something, not uncommon in many younger siblings. It sounded right, she really only talked to me when she needed something or when I asked her to repeat. She was a master of repeating. Anything I asked her to say she would. She loved the song Old MacDonald, but would only repeat the "e-i-e-i-o" part. It would make her so happy. She would clap and get so excited. She had a lot of expression in her face. She always watched people's expressions intently and was very concerned for them if they were sad, which would upset her terribly. She was still a very picky eater and would only eat table food like bananas, crackers, and chicken. She didn't want to give up her baby food. Her doctor told me to cut out all baby food and that will make her start eating table food. 

By one and a half she had a temper if something was taken away from her. Typical toddler behavior, right? Still no red flags, just head tilting wonder. She was saying more words on her own at this point like shoe, flower, balloon, basically things she liked. She wouldn't say frog, but would say "ribbit" for a frog. She was very interactive with her father and I. She would run to us and make us fall back while holding her. However, she still didn't play with her sister much. A little here and there, but mostly she wanted to interact with us. She loved her books! I would watch her just sit for hours looking at all the pictures in her book and she loved me to read to her.

By the time she was 2 she was counting to 10, knew all her letters and recognized numbers 1-9. In walmart she would yell out the numbers that were on the big price signs. One of the main things I noticed was she would hold things certain ways. In particular, her My Little Ponies were always held by the front leg closest to her body. One in both hands. Also, she always held those large Mega Lego blocks with her pointer finger in the center hole. By her 3rd birthday she still wasn't talking in sentences or conversations so at her check up I had two lists; a list of concerns and a list of things I wasn't concerned with. I couldn't understand why she did some things and not others. Why some things bothered her and not others. It was confusing to me. I had people tell me their child had issues with one or two of the same things so not to worry. The pediatrician recommended I have her evaluated by a speech therapist. So as soon as I got home that day I called the therapy center and this sweet, caring voice on the other end starts asking me tons of questions. This confused me a bit because she wasn't really asking about speech, but still I had no idea of what I was going to be told. She recommended that it's always best to get a psychological evaluation just to rule anything else out. Ahh, key words there!

On January 4th, I was told my precious, strong willed (oops, determined), passionate, ornery, loving little girl had Autism. I was in shock to say the least! The only exposure I had to Autism was the movie Rainman. Never once did that diagnosis cross my mind. I knew nothing about it. I knew nothing of what that meant for my little girl or my family. Prior to our appointment I had been told by someone, "don't let them label her." I thought that was so odd. What did that even mean?? Now I know. But how could I not let her be labeled? If you are a heart patient or diabetic you are labeled. Why was that a bad thing? I had no intention of worrying about a label as I sat in that office listening to these words coming from a stranger. I needed to listen. I needed to understand so I could help my baby. I could care less about a label. For me, it was an answer. It was an acknowledgement of the concerns I had for 2 years. I knew in my heart something was off. I just never imagined it was Autism. "But she talks," "but she plays with us and loves on us." These are the words I heard coming out of my mouth to the psychologist. They just kept coming as though I was going to change her diagnosis. That's when it hit me, I had always described her as being in her own world. She seemed to like being by herself unless she needed something. It was like she didn't need us except to fix her food or change her. Sure she was affectionate with me and played with me, but only for a few minutes or if I put myself in her world.

He explained that Autism falls under and umbrella. There are so many different ranges and each person with Autism is different than the next. He said we all have "autistic" qualities about us. Maybe you don't like the way certain clothes feel, or certain textures of food. Some people don't like to touch sand and others don't like to tough slime. It's when you have a multitude of sensory issues along with socializing issues. She was content to play by herself. She never sought out other kids. She did however, try to spend most of her time with adults or older teenagers. She is still that way, although it is getting better. She fell into the mild category because she could talk.

Next came the thoughts and questions of will she ever get married? Will she ever be able to live on her own? He couldn't answer that. He said there is no way to tell. In that moment, I, for a brief second, had sadness. I won't lie. All the dreams I had for her were gone. We had a new reality. It only lasted a second though. All I cared about was getting her the help she needed. This began our therapy sessions. Speech therapy, occupational therapy and at home I did my own research for ABA (applied behavioral analysis) therapy.

It's been 6 1/2 years now since our life changed. It's been a very long and sometimes exhausting road, but I would not change one second of it. She has taught me more in these 6 years than I learned in my previous 29. There are days where I would wonder what it would be like to have what my friends have, two or more children that play together and interact together without it being forced. I never wanted an only child because I was one and it was so lonely to me. Now I have two only children. Sure they play a little and it's gotten better with a lot of hard work. But it's not easy and it doesn't come natural to either of my girls. Caitlyn has been fantastic and a patient big sister, but she doesn't know what it is like to have a sibling like her friends do. However, Caitlyn has learned what many children have not, and that is to be accepting and patient and caring to those who are different. Like I said, I wouldn't change the diagnosis for anything. I love everything about her. She has a spunk about her that is captivating. She is loving and caring. She has come a long way. She didn't get potty trained until she was 7 years old. Only recently has she been able to wear underwear to bed all night without wetting the bed. That has been a tough road. I do count my blessings though! She has always been able to talk. I know many children out there can't.

She still has a very difficult time telling me if something is wrong with her or understanding certain things which is hard on me sometimes. She doesn't understand dangerous situations like parking lots. She will walk right out in front of a car if I'm not holding onto her and things like that. Even though she will be 10 in a few months, I will have to hold her close to me in stores or she'll end up wandering off. People often say to me "oh my child will wander off too" or "it's a fight to get my child to do homework as well," but what they don't realize is I deal with all the different fights and issues on a daily basis. Not just one or two of them. And trying to explain to her why she has to do homework is beyond difficult. That's what makes it exhausting. It's like having all a toddler's behavior in a 9-10 year old's body. I can't just say "go brush your teeth or get in the shower" because she doesn't know how to do any of that on her own. We get more stares now that she's older as well. Kids especially, stare. It doesn't seem to bother Sydney like it does me. She is just content and really happy and I couldn't ask for anything more.

Thank you Angela for sharing your story. We know it will be a wonderful encouragement to many other moms. May God continue to bless you and your precious family.

Much love, Jenny and Courtney