That Introvert Swagger…

I currently find myself with quite a rare gift upon me. I’m in my house with only Hayden. No nurse. No other kids. No spouse. Just Hayden. And he’s sleeping. As an introvert, the pulse of our family unit haunts me. Constant people, commotion, chaos. And no way around it. It’s just the collateral damage of this life.

If you are an introvert, let me see if I can make you squirm in your seat. You ready? It’s going to hurt. Because I am a homeschool mom (my choice, I know), I am always with my kids. But they’re MY kids and so if I end up in an argument with a three year old, that’s my business. However, because one of my kids is significantly special needs, he qualifies for nursing help 168 hours a week. That’s all the hours in a week, if you didn’t know. All of them. Every. Single. One of them. You hear me, introverts? ALL. All the ones when you want to walk around the house in your sweats and no bra. The ones when you and your husband get in a fight about which one of you said they would pick up some bread. The hours when your kids are off the chain and you’re not sure if you should have them or yourself committed. The hours when your phone rings and it’s your mom calling with a personal family matter to discuss. All of the hours that you treasure dearly and need to sit quietly in your own space to recharge. They’re gone. Life took those hours away from you and instead gave you a constant turn over of staff in your home whose sole purpose of coming to your home is to make a sustainable income. Your home – your sacred haven of respite and peace, where you recharge – is their “office.” It’s where they get their insurance benefits and rack up PTO. How do you balance this?

I want to be clear, although I’m an introvert, I don’t hate [all] people 😉 **little introvert humor for my friends who feel me** I enjoy being with people and I love having meaningful conversations with people. But I can only handle so much until I need a minute to refill my tank. And the refill station is what has been out of order in my home. I LOVE having our nursing help. I LOVE the work our home health therapists do for Hayden. I LOVE that there are people who love and care for my son and my family as much as I do. I really do. This is NOT a burn on them. This is a statement that there is a cost to having help and it’s one that until you’re living it 168 hours a week, you may not realize how expensive the cost is.

And so, as we are without a nurse on this particular day, the stars have aligned for me to have a [relatively….] quiet home (I still hear the hum of the ventilator through the baby monitor and the drone of the oxygen concentrator in the hallway). For this brief moment in time, I have the clarity of mind to revisit my oh-so-sporadic blog for a bit to share just a tidbit of my life with the world.

There’s no magical fix. There’s no earth shattering advice I have to offer. Just some perspective on what life is like on this side of the world. Moms like me love our children deeply. We would do anything for them to keep them safe and protected and healthy. And sometimes for us, that means just sucking it up and accepting that for this season, our homes are not 100% our own. We recognize that we live under a microscope. That perhaps although words aren’t spoken out loud, observations are made by visitors in our home who get a front row seat to some of our worst days. The days when your kids are misbehaving and fighting, the days when you feel like a loser of a mom, the days when you burn the dinner and stink up the house and are embarrassed, and the days you lock yourself in your room to cry on the floor in peace for just a quick minute before you rally and go back into battle.

Yet even in the chaos, I am completely convinced that this circumstance and this assignment has been given to me by the Almighty and in His infinite wisdom He has appointed to me this amazing responsibility and gift. There is a tension that it is ok to sit in for a bit; the tension of having a rough day but also trusting completely that God has orchestrated and put this scenario in place perfectly for His glory. And at the end of the day, I give Him the praise for this unique perspective and for this daily struggle because through it all, it draws me closer to Him and refines me to make me more like Jesus. And I’m just hardheaded enough that I’m sure He needed to pull out the big guns for someone as stubborn as me. 🙂

I read a quote today from Tony Evans in his new commentary, “The Tony Evans Bible Commentary.” In Genesis 32, Jacob wrestles with God, has his hip injured which results in a limp and is then renamed Israel. Tony said, “Jacob’s life would never be the same, because he was now limping because of his hip. This suggests that any man God blesses will possess a limp. God will create something in that person’s life that makes him despair of his own strength and lean on the Lord’s instead.” Amen and amen! God bless the limp that He gave me, for from it, I am blessed and know Him.

A Paralyzing Gift

I’m not one of those people who always looks on the bright side of ev.er.y.thing. I try and make light as best I can, but I’m realizing that it’s ok to admit things suck sometimes. It’s ok to feel sad. It’s ok to just sit in yuck for a bit. My biggest pet peeve is when someone tries to “fix” everything for me when I’m having a rough moment. My favorite thing is when someone will just sit in the yuck with me for a minute; that’s really all I need.

However. There really are bright sides to situations that suck. There really are ways it could always be worse. And there is always something to be thankful for. For example…..

SUCKS: My son can’t feel the majority of his body – can’t walk, never will.

JACKPOT: My son can’t feel the pain that comes along with a 95 degree curve in his spine.

I get so wrapped up in the day to day of doctor appointments and medical conversations that often times I forget to stop and actually think what these diagnoses might feel like to a “typical” person. I remember one time, my middle son was maybe two or three years old at the time and was having a major allergy and respiratory issue. I took him to this pediatrician and he offered up a treatment plan and then he said, “If that doesn’t work, we may need to do some nebulized breathing treatments.” I was SHOCKED. How could my sweet, perfect little angel child need a nebulizer?! At this time, I was also doing nebulized treatments for Hayden 4-5 times a day. But that was just Hayden; it didn’t phase me. When the realization hit me of what it would be like for a typical child to have to sit still and wear a mask on his face multiple times a day, I was appalled at the idea.

The same is true here. Hayden has scoliosis and always has…. I’ll bet there was about 15 minutes of Hayden’s life that his body wasn’t out of whack somehow. And those would be the first 15 minutes – and even then, his legs never have stretched out straight, so when they measured his length as a newborn they had to bend the measuring tape to count a measly 16″ inches long. Hayden’s worn a thoracic lumbar sacral orthotic (TLSO) for about 10 years of his life. It usually corrects the curve decently. But about four months ago, his curve started to progress beyond what his TLSO and his seating could accommodate. In the span of four months, his spinal curve had progress from 62 degrees to 95 degrees.

When I first processed that information I ran it through the filter of myself….. here’s another risky surgery we have to debate about doing and then sign consent for. Here’s another long recovery process, more hospital stays, more nights away from home. But then I had this weird moment of clarity when I thought, “What would it look like for a ‘typical’ kid to have a 95 degree curve in their spine? Surely it can’t feel good.” And I realized the fact that he can’t feel the pain was a gift. How happy would Hayden be and how encouraging could he be to others if he was in a constant state of excruciating pain and on medication to treat his pain? At this moment, he can’t feel or move his body, but he’s literally the happiest person I know. I’m able to see the numbness, the absence of sensation as a blessing to him and to us.

It reminds me of Joseph from wayyyy back in an Old Testament story. Joseph had been through the ringer with some circumstances that he didn’t choose (same…) and just when he thought he had finally hit smooth sailing, he was framed and charged for a crime he didn’t commit and it landed him in jail. He sat in jail for two years, but the repercussions of that jail time and some dreams he interrupted for just the right people actually ended up helping an entire nation of people. (Plus, most of Genesis ends up being about Joseph and from about chapter 39 on through the end, you can see how God used Joseph and had actually gifted him multiple trials that were for a greater purpose than just Jospeh.)

So for today, I’m appreciative of the gift of Hayden’s numbness and a body that offers him respite from an amount of pain no child should have to bear. I’m choosing to trust that God’s plan for Hayden’s life, my life, and your life, friend, is for a greater purpose than just for ourselves.

Out of Body Experience

A quick story. An experience unusual for me.

The setting: my house.

The characters: Mom, Grayson, Ethan, Foster Daughter.

Missing: Ryan and Hayden (who were inpatient overnight at a sleep study in the hospital.)

Once upon a time……….

A rare, cool summer evening, that’s not only tolerable to be outdoors, but pleasurable was gifted to us this evening. Late summer nights are my favorite. When the sun isn’t ready for the day to end just yet and it keeps hanging around just a little bit longer. Popsicles and bicycles, sidewalk chalk and neighborhood pickup basketball games. These sights and sounds of summer I treasure.

I had taken up residence in my lawn chair out front, watching the boys riding bikes up and down our quiet street, while little Miss and I played with bubbles and sidewalk chalk. No one was fighting, which is an extremely rare treat. 😉 Each of us, just enjoying each other’s company, wishing the night wouldn’t end. We migrated to the back yard and the kids jumped on the trampoline and climbed on the jungle gym while I sat on the back porch and just watched and listened to their laughter. We stayed out past our normal bath time because it just felt right and why not? – it’s summer. This moment here is what summer nights were made for. Late night fun outside, just riding bikes and jumping on trampolines, playing pretend with the neighbors and your siblings. Not a worry in the world. Not in my world anyway. I was free – for just a moment.

I was free from worry about what time the cath timer will alarm. I was free from dragging the suction machine around. I was free from the beeping reminding me to check the emptying oxygen tank in order to raise up saturation levels. I was free from being called inside at a certain time (regardless of the season or the amount of beauty the night held) to begin night treatments. I was free to sit on the back porch and just enjoy my children being children. I got to watch them having fun and enjoy life, which in turn was an enjoyment for my own life. I was free to do these things.

But I wasn’t free of the guilt of enjoying the freedom. Part of my heart wasn’t with us, even just for a night. The piece missing was having a legitimately fun evening inpatient because that’s what he enjoys – meeting new nurses, playing TV games on the hospital network, scanning his meds and his hospital bracelet with the handheld device. He doesn’t enjoy riding bikes, jumping on the trampoline, eating popsicles. I shouldn’t have felt guilty; he was having a magnificent summer evening with friends. But I can never forget. I’ll never forget I live two lives. I’ll never forget I have two families and even when I switch back and forth from each of my mom roles, I’m never free of the other one.

Moral of the story: If you have the freedom to watch your kids being kids without a timer telling you when you have to go empty their bladder, administer their med, perform their respiratory treatments, replace their oxygen tank, turn on their ventilator – please enjoy that time. Look up from your phone, be present with them and be thankful for that time and freedom. And try to put the guilt to rest, even if it’s just for one beautiful, cool summer evening on the porch.

Like a Sore Thumb

It’s sports season again in our household – and you know what that means. Me and thousands of my closest friends will come out in droves to frequent the local public school gyms to watch our kids show of their skills they have honed in the hourly practice of the week. Honestly, it’s adorable to see little kids in matching uniforms trying their hardest to make a slam dunk – or just make a basket into the right team’s hoop.

Even though he hates it, we make Hayden come with us to at least a few sporting events per season to show support for his brothers. Heaven knows I have spent many years dragging his brothers to appointments they did not want to go to, so Hayden can do his brothers a solid and attend an event or two and show support. We are a family. That is what families do – they go to events they don’t care about and put on a smile and suck it up and deal… then their therapist thanks me later for the unending material. 😉

The part I hate the most, though, actually takes place well before I enter the building. It’s the PARKING LOT nightmare! Recently, there was a tournament going on for both of our younger boys and we had to split up the parenting duties. My husband had our two boys with him and I had Hayden with me. I had stayed back home to complete Hayden’s morning treatments and bowel management routine, missed the first games and then Hayden and I were planning to meet up with the rest of our family at the gym.

The two of us pulled into the parking lot in our handicap plated, beaten up, wheel chair deploying van looking for that “golden ticket” of a handicap spot with the lines painted on the right hand side of the parking spot for our ramp to deploy. I call this spot the “golden ticket” because without those lines in the correct spot, Momma has to back “the beast” in to a non-ideal spot to get the ramp to deploy with enough space, and no one wants to endure that fiasco of backing into a parking spot, let’s just all be honest.

This particular [insanely windy] day, there were NO handicap spots available at all! No “golden tickets,” no spots near the end of a row I could make do with, nothing, nada, zilch! So I had to park wayyyyyy back in the lot and deploy the ramp there and then push Hayden from back there. Obviously, the basketball game was over when we made it to the front door of the school. (Did you really expect this story to go any other way?? ha!)

But that experience got me thinking – wouldn’t it have been so much easier if the parking spot I needed was just like what everyone else was using? Just a plain Jane, run of the mill parking spot. No particulars necessary. No need to stand out like a sore thumb and have only a specific handful of spots that would work? But that’s not our lot… Hayden and I, we were destined to drive around and forced to be picky about where we landed. We have to have special license plates, even, granting us permission to park in the “special areas.” And I’ll tell you, for an introvert trying to fly [quietly] under the radar, parking lots just make me sweat. Profusely. (And I’ll save my anger issues for those citizens who take advantage of handicap parking spots for another post or, perhaps, for my tell all book….)

Here’s the deal, though. I was called to stand out. I was called to NOT match all the other cars in the parking lot. To not blend in so nicely. The parking lot was full of people just blending in and not sticking out. All the cars look the same, park the same, and fit between two beautiful and straight white lines. But not my car. You can spot my car from afar. Special license plates in a special area of every parking lot with crazy diagonal lines all over the place and signs posted that essentially read, “Look out world! Something different is headed your way!”

But you know what? If you’re following Jesus, He told you to stand out too. Me and you. We have got to be the salt and the light of this world. We cannot go through life just blending in with everyone else, flying under the radar. He did not call us to that. He did not tell us to do our best to blend in and find a place in this world that’s just perfectly easy and laid out, and then land there and never look back. What in our daily lives is making us look contrary from the entire world? Something about us needs to be screaming, “Look out world! Something different is headed your way!”

I am so thankful to be in a life and in a set of circumstances that FORCE me to stand out because it makes it so much easier. It almost feels like I was gifted the easier version of “Salt and Light 101.” If these difficult circumstances that I wake up to everyday make it easier for me to stand out in the world and to point others to Christ, then I welcome this scenario. And once I am out of my comfort zone, it is so much easier to look around and find even more ways to keep standing out in this world. I do not want to conform to the world. I want to look like the opposite of the world so that others might see me, struggling in the wind to unbuckle my son’s wheel chair from the van floor and rush into a basketball gym only to miss a game, and go, “What is the deal with this girl? Something is different here – Who is giving her this joy and resilience that not even a rough Saturday morning in the suburbs has the ability to dim her light?”

And I want that for you, friend. Because the joy isn’t in the perfect circumstances; the joy is in Jesus.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 1In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” – Matthew 5:14-16

The Old Ball and Chain…

At weddings. At restaurants. At church. At family reunions. At birthday parties. Name an event. Name a place. It’s there. The ball and chain is there. It never stops and it never goes away. When you just fell asleep. When you just sat down to a hot meal. When you just got into a good conversation with a friend. When your kid wants to cuddle with you. The ball and chain wins every.single.time. It owns you. You do what it says and you do it quickly. 

Pulse oximeter: a medical device that indirectly monitors the oxygen saturation of a patient’s blood and changes in blood volume in the skin

Translation: ball and chain

My son has been on constant pulse ox monitoring for 11 years, three months, and 17 days. 96, 832 hours the pulse ox has been monitoring him. (Give or take a shower or two.) That’s 96,832 hours my ears have been listening to see if my son needs me. I’ve been on call for some 96,000 hours. For all of this time, Hayden has had a pulse ox on his toe revealing to us what he needs. If he sats too low, he needs more oxygen. If he sats too high, he needs less oxygen. If his heart rate is too high, he may have fever or have distress somewhere in his body. If his heart rate is too low, he may be sleeping too hard and needs to be stimulated. There has been an occasion or two where the pulse ox saturation number read as a dotted line during emergency events while I was actively bagging him, breathing for him to try to keep him alive until the ambulance arrived. But more often, the pulse ox is just there as an appendage reminding us that Hayden is still alive, still breathing, heart still beating. 

The pulse ox and I have a love/hate relationship. Essentially, it loves to do its job and do it well; I hate it and cannot stand the sound of it beeping. Yet every time, I get up. I go to it when it calls me. It beckons, and I come running. It is a necessary evil. Its annoying beeps remind me that my son is alive and breathing and that his heart is beating, which is a blessing. I know many, many mommas who would give anything to hear their child’s pulse ox alarming just one more time. And so, I will adjust my posture from one of annoyance, to that of gratefulness that my son and all of his equipment is still here with me, for today. To those mommas out there who no longer have your child’s equipment beckoning you, I honor you. I see you. I respect you. I love you. You and your child are teaching me. 

Is there something in your own life that you need to change your posture about? What is it that needs a perspective shift? You can choose that change. Right now, this minute. You get to decide your mindset about it. Is there something in your life that is a constant irritant, but if you could just take a step back you could label it as a blessing rather than a hindrance? Do it. Embrace it now. Don’t let another day pass before you learn to relish the ball and chain. 

That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

2 Corinthians 12:10

He Love Me, He Loves Me Not

Not everyone has wild adventures worthy of a cable television reality show. But that does not mean life is not an adventure. There are days my homeschool classroom is worthy of a Discovery Channel camera crew filming a documentary about mothers who eat their young. Life is the adventure you choose to make it into. That is what makes it exciting. Every single day, we get to decide what music will be played when the credits on this show called “life” roll by. Will it be a slow, sad song? Or an upbeat, happy one? 

I used to believe that because I was not able to pick all of the circumstances life handed to me, then they were second rate circumstances. (Because, certainly, I could do a better job than God assigning circumstances to myself and those around me.) But now I realize, I do get a choice; I get to decide how to respond to the life I have. I get to decide if I would like to embrace a chaotic life – filled to the brim with doctor appointments, healthcare workers in my home, and enough boxes of medical supplies that we could build a fort large enough to house an entire elementary school – or if I want to stall out and wallow in the life I ended up with. 

I am no green thumb, but I love to get fresh flowers. The best is when my husband and sons bring me flowers out of the clear blue sky. Now, I know the flowers will wither and die. That is the end game for a beautiful bouquet of flowers every time. However, I still love to receive them. I cut the stems, just so, under running water, add the plant food that is rubber banded to them stem, and fill a beautiful vase with beauty, knowing full well, these won’t last forever so I better treasure them while I have them. When I am given flowers, I just love them and care for them and enjoy them. I don’t analyze each flower and mourn prematurely for the day in the future when they will wilt and I’ll have to toss them out. Rather, I smell their fragrance, stare at their colors, and even use them as a visual during that day’s homeschool science lesson. 

The point is this, whether or not I had been able to select every circumstance of my life, or if I had been able to find the best of all the flowers available and put together the “Queen of Botany” bouquet, unless I choose to embrace it, it will vanish before I have had time to enjoy it. Every day is actually a gift that we have been given. God has chosen each of us and placed us in this moment, in this space for a reason. But He’s also gifted us the choice to decide what we do with our circumstances. Are you going to embrace life? Put the plant food in the vase and fill it up and enjoy? Or are you going to leave the flowers laying on the counter and refuse them water out of protest that they weren’t the exact shade of aubergine that you typically prefer? 

Shoe Fall, Don’t Bother Me

The weight of always waiting for the other shoe to fall is exhausting. Waiting for the “what if” to happen and always being on edge knowing it IS coming…. an ER trip, an ambulance ride, a hospitalization that could possibly be the final curtain call on your child’s life. These are things “normal people” don’t have to contend with. For my family, we are always in fight or flight mode, whether we want to be or not. I literally carry an ambubag around with me waiting for the moment I have to use it in an attempt to save my son’s life [again]. For families like mine, this is just a typical, run of the mill day of the week. Nothing to see here…

I mourn the loss of enjoying my kids’ childhood. I miss it dearly. I see parents around me who are actually just enjoying their children. They’re taking them to ball games or amusement parks, staying up late watching movies, going to a skate park or a concert. Just enjoying life alongside their children.

My child is work. I’m working nursing shifts. My son’s existence requires 24/7 care. An actual nurse works here in my house and makes a full living and receives insurance benefits because my son exists. I don’t say that to complain; I say that to emphasize that keeping this particular human being alive is work. It’s a J-O-B. Well, more of a volunteer gig for me, but still.

The unfortunate thing of it all is, my other two kids feel the consequence. I can’t fully enjoy their childhoods either. I’m so preoccupied with wondering if I’ve given all of Hayden’s meds, if it’s time to cath him or time for a feed, time for his breathing treatments, time to administer the bowel program, remembering which phone calls I need to make for the day for refills, appointments, dealings with insurance companies.

Everyone has their own problems. I completely understand that. And though mine are so much more intense, I do recognize that no one’s life is perfect and no family is perfect and pleasant and fun all the time. But I would venture to say, for the typical family, the opportunity to have fun easily is more feasible. Our family does have fun, but it is work to master it all. Yet we do it. Because we want to enjoy life, no matter what it looks like. Life is a gift and we try and treasure each day we’ve been gifted and use it to the most of our ability.

“Many are they who say of me, ‘There is no help for him in God.’ But You, O Lord, are a shield for me, my glory and the One who lifts up my head. I cried to the Lord with my voice, and He heard me from His holy hill.” Psalm 3:2-4

Would You Like the Leather Package?

When buying a brand new car, you are offered so many customized choices and selections. Leather package, sun roof package, navigation package. You name it, you can have it. Just how you would like it to be. It’s the [first] world we live in now. You want something, just order it up.

Four months in to my son’s seven month NICU stay, we had been living at the Ronald McDonald House in Houston, Texas and had decided it was time to relocate, officially, to Houston to be near the top notch Texas Children’s Hospital. We listed for sale our home in College Station, with a beautiful and perfectly prepared nursery, mind you, and rented a one bedroom apartment in Houston, of which we used ice chests for a table, lawn chairs for seating, and a lovely air mattress to complete our master suite. At night, we would fall asleep to the hum of a deep freezer in our bedroom that was full to the brim with breast milk, or “liquid gold” that was being stored for Hayden. During Hayden’s seven months in NICU, we had spent four months in Ronald McDonald House and three months in the apartment; a total of seven months of life in disarray. We soon came to realize, when life throws you curve balls, you begin to reevaluate your priorities. The make shift arrangements in our apartment were a welcomed change from the community living set up we had experienced for so many months at Ronald McDonald House. Because of our circumstances, we were able to appreciate all the more, our own space and our own air mattress and our own kitchen “ice chest table.” Our priorities had shifted. The experience of Hayden’s birth and subsequent NICU stay was the beginning of our refinement as a couple, as a family, and followers of Jesus. We were in a position to really allow our hearts to be molded to what Christ has called us to. To leave everything behind and to seek after Him. “When Jesus heard that, he said, ‘Then there’s only one thing left to do: Sell everything you own and give it away to the poor. You will have riches in heaven. Then come, follow me.’” Luke 18:22

In early 2008, just a few weeks before Hayden’s long awaited discharge from his lengthy NICU stay, we realized we would need to get a larger vehicle able to accommodate Hayden’s custom specialty stroller, oxygen tanks, ventilator, feeding pump, pulse ox monitor and other life sustaining equipment. We had just sold our home in College Station and we took the money we had made on it and gave it to a friend to take the money to a car auction. We gave a couple of recommendations on the space we needed and what our preference would be for a make and model of vehicle, but ultimately we said we would just take what we could get with the cash we had and be happy. And so, that is how we obtained our SUV that became our main vehicle to drive Hayden and his equipment to and from doctor visits. I remember the day we were sitting in our apartment and the car arrived. My father in law had flown to Austin to pick up the car from the gentleman who had purchased it on our behalf at the auction and drive it back to Houston. We walked out to the parking lot to see what we had just purchased. What kind of people just buy a car and don’t even care what it looks like? That would be us. I didn’t pick the package that I wanted. I didn’t pick the color I wanted. I didn’t pick the fanciest upgrades. Heck, I didn’t even see it until it was already ours. And you know what – it didn’t matter. It was just a car. It was a tool. It served a purpose; but it did not define me. If our identity is in Christ, the things we own, the clothes we wear, the jobs we have, the vacations we take – none of this defines us.

I’ve come to realize you have to be so deeply in love with Jesus that if all of these things in your life disappear and if all the people in your life fall away, that He will be your rock and your steady fortress. Like the old hymn says, “Though none go with me, I still will follow.” This life is not solely about your pleasure. In fact, it’s the opposite. If you’re following after Jesus, then HE will be your joy. But.you.will.have.troubles! “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33 It is not a surprise. It’s not a trick move. Jesus is very upfront about it. But oh my gosh, people, He is so worth the “hassle.” *sarcasm added* I promise you!! The Bible never once says “follow your heart.” Nothing about a Christian life is about your ultimate happiness and just doing what feels good and pursuing your own selfish desires. The Bible is about following Jesus and doing His will, no matter the circumstances.

As I write this, my son is 20 days post op from a major surgery and has currently been readmitted to the PICU due to complications. He went through an eight hour surgery only 20 days ago. After his initial discharge from the hospital, when all the noise stopped, the visitors slowed down and I found myself living in another Ronald McDonald House, this time in Ohio, taking care of Hayden on my own, I began to feel isolated. It was easy to lose sight of where my foundation was. Those first few days after discharge when life was crazy busy doing my nursing duties for Hayden and being so focused on flushing his tubes, giving his feeds, doing his treatments, and everything else on the list 24/7, I was leaving a door wide open for the enemy to mess with me. To draw my focus to my circumstances, my temporary situation rather than my eyes staying fixed on God and finding my rest in Jesus. It is a constant, day to day journey to be on with the Lord. It’s not a “say a prayer, obtain salvation and then do what you want.” Salvation isn’t a safety net. It’s an action – to WALK with the Lord.

Are you walking with Him? Do you hear the Spirit inside you guiding you and directing you? Are you seeking Him? Or are you distracted? Do you think your happiness is all that matters? There’s a quote I heard once about marriage, but I think could apply to most areas of life. “Marriage isn’t about making you happy, it’s about making you holy.” I completely agree with that statement from a marital standpoint, but also feel we could apply it to so many areas. For example in my own life, “Parenthood isn’t about making you happy, it’s about making you holy.” As cute and adorable as Hayden is, our situation is hard and I’m not always happy about all the intense work I have to do. But if I change my perspective and consider that my circumstance is one that is making me holy, then I welcome it. Even though it is hard. Would you trust Him enough to know that He loves you and He wants to make you HOLY and more like Him. He loves you so much. God created you, and then He sent His own son to rectify our faults so that through Him we could be reconciled, and then He even gave us the Holy Spirit to literally exist inside of us and be our own personal counselor. If you know Him, draw closer to Him every moment of every day. If you don’t know Him, please come to trust Him. I promise you, He is worth it.

No Refunds or Exchanges

You know how some stores have strict and sometimes even nonexistent refund policies? “All Sales Final” posted in the window means, if you plan to shop, you better love what you get and be prepared to stick with it, because there are no take backs.

That’s parenthood, isn’t it? You have a kid and all of a sudden you’re in a situation where, “You get what you get, and you don’t throw a fit.” My special needs son is now ten. And he is my first born. So up until Hayden entered my life a decade ago, I didn’t know anything about even being a parent, let alone a parent to a special needs child.

Now this post isn’t a pity party. (I do have pity parties on rare occasions and the guest list is quite small, reserved seating only for those closest to the madness. In fact, my first pity party was held in the Postpartum unit at St. Luke’s Hospital in Houston in 2007. My mother in law and I were the only attendees and we held the pity party in the hallway while walking the unit, post surgery, trying to prevent blood clots and building up my strength. We took a moment right near the “healthy babies” in the nursery window to bawl our eyes out, right along with the babies, as we thought of how much we wished Hayden was with us instead of in an ICU in the hospital next door.)

I write a lot about how I had no comparison to what “normal” should be when Hayden was born. I count that a blessing. I didn’t know any differently and I just did what needed to be done. However, due to my own blissful ignorance, I have had moments of enlightenment mixed with grief. I remember back when Hayden was about two and half or three, I was by myself visiting a friend who had a child just a few months older than Hayden. This friend and I were seated on her couch and she asked her three year old, “Bring Mommy the phone.” And he did it. Like, he heard her. He processed the request. He used his legs and went over and retrieved the item she needed. And he brought it to her. Just like that! In that moment, I just froze and stared in amazed bewilderment. Is this what kids can do?? Is this what Hayden would do if he could? She didn’t even have to lay out the steps one by one. She didn’t have to give him two choices of which item she needed. She didn’t have to put him on a scooter board, prone, and make sure he was secured so he could pull himself to the item. This was the most amazing thing I had ever seen a kid do!

There was another time, I was out of town for a conference and I stayed the night with some friends of ours who had two kids, probably around the ages of 5 and 1. They had cooked a lovely dinner and the five of us sat down to eat. We each sat in our spot, the kids fed themselves and no one’s oxygen monitor indicated a desaturation, no one needed suctioning; we just sat there and ate. And afterward the kids took a bath and went to sleep. Then there was free time. I do not exaggerate when I say I literally, felt like I was in a resort. No one needed an hour’s worth of treatments before bed, no one needed to have their meds drawn up, there was no troubleshooting of ventilators and concentrators, and after the kids were asleep no one had to prepare tomorrow’s blenderized foods and draw up food bags. It was incredible. And I do not say that to discount parenting typical children who are 5 and 1! That is hard work, too! I have other kids who are typical and I know there are challenges with every child. It’s just that my observations of this family revealed what “normal” would look like.

Even now, as my son is ten and his peers are staying home alone for small amounts of time, my mind is just BLOWN. How is this happening?! Every day that passes, more shots of grief strike at random times when I least expect them. A scroll through my Facebook feed recently revealed nearly the whole 5th grade class went to a sleep away camp together for three days. As all the proud mommas posted pictures of their child’s send off to camp, inside I ached as a knife twisted my heart. I know my son won’t be able to do everything like everyone else his age. (Heck, at this point he homeschools anyway so this particular trip wasn’t even an option for him as he’s not enrolled in that school anymore – but it’s just the principle of the whole matter.) And then my inner voice starts to get frustrated that other moms get to post their pictures while I sit and ponder, “Do they even know how I feel? How hard this is for me? How lucky they are?” It’s like this selfish indignation that occasionally rears its ugly head.

You know, as many “cons” that I could list and dwell on, if I allowed myself to do so, there are more “pros” than I could probably ever count. Yes, I have had to deal with changing diapers and cleaning up poop for a solid decade and counting. I’ve watched my son miss out on events and experiences. I’ve had to neglect my other two typical sons and watch them struggle as they yearn for my attention. I mourn often of what our “normal” family would have looked like and how different things would have been. However, the people we have met on this journey – other special needs moms, Special Ed teachers, precious doctors and nurses, celebrities like Pat Sajak and Vanna White and John Cena, – the experiences we have had as a family like participating in a Make a Wish trip, watching Hayden develop and grow in his own skin and becoming a self proclaimed “VIP”, and developing friendships with people we never would have met like Aaron Watson, Cal Johnson, Kathleen Barkley, our town’s mayor and so many more, are all things I would never want to have missed out on. Mostly, the biggest “pro” to top the list is that we have a true perspective of LIFE. We have a fresh opportunity every single day to live out sacrificial love. I will never look at situations, circumstances, or “stuff” the same way. And that is because I was given Hayden, to be mine.

There’s a Southern Gospel song that I absolutely love whose lyrics speak truth to me. “I Wouldn’t Take Nothin’ for My Journey Now” says,

“I’ve had a lot of heartache and I met a lot of grief and woe
But when I would stumble then I would humble down
And there I’d say, I wouldn’t take nothin’ for my journey now”

This journey isn’t something I would have picked for myself, but it is undoubtedly one I would never trade. The lessons and experiences from this life are priceless, but ultimately, the reason I would never trade it, is because I have grown closer to Jesus BECAUSE of my circumstances. And for that I am so, so grateful to be in this place that is difficult, exhausting, and unfair. It’s in this place that I am humbled to look UP to Him and praise His name for His sovereign plan and for the gift of salvation that He offers to us all. Because of what He has done for us, by dying on the cross, we can all have hope of eternity with Him.

“That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are quite small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us an immeasurably great glory that will last FOREVER! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see right now; rather, we look forward to what we have not yet seen. For the troubles we see will soon be over, but the joys to come will last forever.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

It’s impossible for me to read those words and not tear up. God is so gracious to have given us Jesus to make a way for us to have hope. And so during my circumstances, that I wasn’t wise enough to even know I needed, I look to Him and am eager for an eternity with Him. I trust Him completely and I know that none of this world is about me – it is about HIM and spreading God’s glory throughout all of the world. I am incredibly honored and blessed that we get to do just that in the even tiniest way, by using our situation to continue to give glory to God.

If you don’t have that relationship with Jesus, or if you have questions about how to develop such a relationship and feel secure in your eternity, as always, please reach out to me or a local church. My contact information can be found under the “About” tab on this blog.

I’ll sum up with this line from a friend of Hayden’s, Aaron Watson. “No it won’t all go the way that it should, but I know the heart of life is good.”

This _____________ Life

I find a little bit of solace in the fact that the life I lead, as hard as it is, is the only life I know. I will never know what it is like to have all healthy children. I will never know what it’s like to bring home your first born, two day old baby and marvel at becoming a family of three. I will never know what it is like to go to sleep at night and not keep one ear open listening for the pulse oximeter or ventilator alerting of a problem with my child. Yet, in a way I wonder, is it better like this? That this is the only way I will remember parenthood. It’s the only way I know.

It’s not an easy road. And it doesn’t mean that it’s not isolating, exhausting and draining. Sometimes I find myself in low valleys where it would be easy to wallow in my suffering, my loss. The loss of having only healthy children. The loss of bringing home a newborn baby rather than a seven month old from a NICU. The loss of going to sleep peacefully each night and being able to rest carefree all night. Those are all very real losses.

If you’ve read my posts before, you know I relate often to music. There is a Texas Country artist, Cody Johnson, who recently released a song called, “The Only One I Know (Cowboy Life).” The song portrays the difficulty a cowboy, working the rodeo circuit, feels as he is alone out on the road, ridden with failure and injury from working the rodeo. I can relate to this song. Not as a rodeo contestant, obviously, but as the mother of a special needs child, living this type of life that is uniquely isolating. In the chorus, Cody shares,

“Just some broken hearts and broken bones, and a hell of a whole lot of bein’ alone…… this cowboy life might kill me, but it’s the only one I know.”

That’s a completely accurate description to this life I lead. I’ve had plenty of broken hearts and my fair share of being alone. In the bridge of the song,

“Yeah it’ll kill me, before it ever lets me go.

It’ll kill me, but it’s the only life I know.

And I’d rather die than be caught crying, so I’m just smiling, wear my hat down low…”

For me, that is relatable. This life may kill me yet, but I don’t know any other life, or any other way. And my pride wants me to grin and bear it, hide the tears and wear my hat down low so no one knows the struggle.

But it turns out, though my heart may break at times, and though I may feel alone, I am not alone. And even when my pride wants me to hide my tears and my sorrow, my Father keeps track of them all and He is with me. “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” Psalms 56:8

I recently realized why it is He’s recording my hurts in a book. It’s because eventually, when all is said and done and I see Him in Glory, on that day, all will be restored. He is keeping the record so He can set it right. I trust in that and I accept that whatever it is that we endure on this earth is for a greater purpose that we cannot fathom this side of heaven. No matter how miserable the sufferings are, there’s a greater good.

So I ask you, what would your song be? “The Only One I know – Single Mom Life”?, “Special Needs Life”?, “Dead End Job Life”? Whatever you are going through and whatever you are enduring that feels like it is just the only way you know, God wants to set it right for those who trust in Him. “He will remove all of their sorrows, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. For the old world and its evils are gone forever.” Revelation 21: 4