Wednesday, November 12, 2014


Almost 20 years ago, when my man and I married we never would've imagined that the vest of a service dog would hang in our entry way. Well, I guess there's a lot of things I could list off that we never expected. If you've followed our story for a length of time, you know that just Little E alone has brought many things we didn't plan for, let alone the rest of our kids and ourselves!

When we realized the need for an Autism Service Dog to keep our daughter safe, we signed up with an agency that took us for a ride. Our hands were tied to speak up until after the dog was placed in our home. We yearned to let others know so no one else would have to go through what we did, but we had to wait so as to not jeopardize getting the dog we so desperately needed. (To read further about what that now bankrupt agency did, click here to my husband's blog.) Because of all of the false promises and information given to us, I've removed a lot of that part of the story from my blog. What that agency did to us and many other families threatened to leave us angry and bitter, but instead we chose to focus on the positive and take the high road.

When Hazel joined our family, I distinctly remember a conversation with my man in our backyard right after the supposed dog trainer had left for good. We spoke out loud what we both had been thinking internally but were afraid to voice...we'd just fund raised and paid a lot of money for a trained dog, but she was definitely not service dog level. It was in those moments when we decided that we would invest in Hazel to help her become what we needed her to be. There was no room for giving up.

Although our service dog experience has not been what we expected, nor what I'd imagine is normal for a service dog placement, we've learned a lot along the way. We've even learned that non-dog people with no previous dog experience can become dog lovers. Well, maybe we're not quite dog lovers, but we are definitely lovers of this dog. Hazel has become family and we can't imagine life with out her.

Hazel was supposed to come to us with the ability to track Little E should she go missing, but only had about a 50% success rate. She was supposed to be capable of being tethered together with Little E, without pulling her and us adult handlers. She was supposed to be able to sense when Little E was overstimulated and "cuddle" with her with deep pressure. She was supposed to bark and alert us when Little E was climbing a tree or fence. That never happened. She came to us under-trained and under-socialized. Looking back now, I realize that Hazel had a lot of anxiety, but not having had a dog before, I thought what my observations were crazy. I should've listened to myself.

But I don't want you to get stuck there because we haven't. Although adding Hazel to our family has been more work than we expected, we are not done yet. She is a work in progress as we work with a trainer on the tasks we paid for her to do. She is a great dog that has blessed us with things that have become a bonus. Her presence alone has changed things for the better. Although Hazel was supposed to be able to be tethered to Little E to prevent bolting in public, we no longer need her to do that. Little E simply gets in her spot, walking alongside her dog, without a fuss. She stays close to Hazel without us having to ask her to. And then there's the language, Little E's language has exploded since Hazel has joined us. Also, sleep issues are no longer an issue. Hazel sleeps with Little E and they both sleep through the night. Every once in awhile we hear a middle of the night Gigglefest, but compared to the nightly screaming, crying and visits to our room, I'll take it.

Some may look at the relationship between Little E and Hazel and question if they are even aware of one another, but that arms-length relationship is not out of bounds for autism. Here's the thing that I do know, Little E may appear to not care if Hazel is there or not, but if she's not there, Little E will voice, "Where's Hazel?" As the dog trainer says, they have an "understanding." I believe they are more aware of one another than is visible with the naked eye. So much of the invisible happens between a child and dog that I will never understand, but I get to watch in awe as Little E's Autism Service Dog unlocks things in her that don't have a price tag. It makes me wonder how an animal could change the life of other children on the spectrum.

Adding Hazel to our family has been like adding another child. I still walk into PetSm*rt and feel like I did the first time I entered B*bies r' Us--overwhelmed and wondering what the heck all this stuff is for. Although this is not how I thought it was going to turn out, I rest in knowing that He allowed things to happen this way for a reason and am confident that He chose Hazel for us. The bumpy road required to get her here was uncomfortable, but I know that she's here for us as much as we are here for her. And the amount of weekly work, time and money required of us to get her where we want her to be is priceless when I put into perspective what her simple presence has done for Little E.


Monday, November 10, 2014


Here I am, sitting down to write. We'll see how long this lasts. Life is always full here in our home, but the past few years, especially this last one have really made it feel a bit more like a full that is busting at the seams. Sometimes in a good way, sometimes not so much and then there's all the neutral, normal fullness in between. Little of it leaves time for me to write like I'd like.

Somewhere in the midst of our boring, normal stuff--about late fall of 2013--we felt the Lord telling us, in a myriad of ways, that it was time for our boys to fly. As we considered this and looked at our options, we were really only looking ahead to fall of 2014. Yet, I do confess that homeschooling five children and driving another one to a specialized preschool was leaving me pretty exhausted. I secretly told the Lord that if there were immediate openings in the charter school that we were taking a tour of, I would gladly be willing to change things earlier than the plan. Little did I know that He was already ahead of me, but for reasons unbeknownst to anyone.

Fast forward to January 1, 2014. We'd made the decision to place the boys into a local charter school starting after Christmas break and to move our oldest daughter to a homeschool charter closer to home at the same time. We had just stayed up late bringing in the New Year with friends and had plans to spend the remaining days of vacation working on getting things together like uniform clothes, new shoes, back packs, etc for the new part of our lives. Everything was changing, but it was still just mundane stuff until Daughter of Purpose began telling me that she was seeing double. And then there was the ringing in her ear a few days later. This made me remember the headaches she'd complained of a few weeks previous, but they went away. I thought nothing more of it--until now.

We brought DOP to see two doctors, but neither could make sense of her symptoms with their routine tests so an MRI was scheduled "just in case." It was the day of that MRI that our normal, full life shifted to the hard, full life. So full and hard that it's taken me until now, almost 10 months later, to find a way to record His glory in the midst of the hard. Lest we forget the hard that was already a part of our lives at this point. An autistic eloper being a part of that daily fullness.

When I woke up on January 9, 2014, I had absolutely no idea that this image was awaiting to change our lives--immediately.

My man had taken DOP to the MRI because really, who needs both parents to be there for that? The technician was not going to tell us a darn thing anyway, right? We figured this was all "just in case" so it was fine for me to stay home with Little E and keep things going as usual. There was nothing usual about the text I was waiting for from my man telling me that they were done and on their way home. There was nothing normal about that text never coming. Instead, what came was a phone call waaaaaayyyyyy longer than anticipated. The phone call that sounded like my husband's voice, but I couldn't make sense of the words on the end of the line that said, "You need to come down to the hospital. DOP has been admitted to the hospital. She has a brain tumor the size of a kiwi."

We had asked our village of friends and family to pray for a routine MRI, never expecting that this would be the next F*acebook status update:

To be honest, I don't really want to re-hash the next few months of brain tumor discovery, removal and rehabilitation. Nothing about it was easy, but I saw Him there in every moment. My husband plunked himself down at the hospital with a computer for 30 days and 21 units of on-line school. I held down the home front and tried to pretend everything was normal when nothing really was. The boys had their first day of public school ever on the day of DOP's surgery. Our community rose up and helped along a road we had never planned on walking. I was too numb from it all to write it at the time. Yet, my husband who was on the front-line managed to record her story on his blog (look under January 2014) because someone needed to declare how God was there even in the midst of the hard. I was hard-pressed to know what the plan was for the next day. My poor friends would ask about how they could help me the next few days and I'd say, "I have no idea. I'll let you know once I've tucked Little E into bed tonight. Then I'll try to wrap my brain around tomorrow." Maybe this is crazy, but I learned a lot through that. A dear friend said, maybe we should consider that this is the way God would like us to live life--in the moment, not always planning the future and missing out on what He has for today. A lot of wisdom there, friends, but that is a post for another day.

Although I had no idea the reasons for why He was whispering the winds of change back in the fall, He did. No one wants to find out their daughter has a brain tumor, but it was the way He so clearly provided for our needs before we ever knew we needed them that allowed us to press in to the hard and trust that He had our backs even in the unexpected. If there is one thing I am confident of is this, He is here. He is on the unplanned roads walking alongside us and He wants us to tell others about it.


Thursday, June 27, 2013

Worth It

You ever have one of those experiences in life where you wonder what in the world you were thinking when you signed up? Ya, that's me this week. Our new church, a place of safety and healing, is having their Summer Extreme Days. Extreme they are. Our whole family is either serving or participating for 3 hours every day, plus 30+ minutes of driving there and back. Did you notice? Yes, even my superMAN is donning his crazy hats and loving on the kids. It makes my heart exceedingly full.

Seeing as this would be a new experience for Little E, probably a bit overwhelming--sensory overload--and a bit late every night, I thought long and hard as to whether I should sign her up or not. I decided that since this was not going to be a "free babysitting" opportunity for me and that instead I wanted her to fully be immersed in this, I would sign up to be her special helper. Ya...I like trying new things. (wink, wink) I wanted to make sure that she was forced to go through every activity, engage with her teachers and peers, sing the songs, do the crafts, play the games, etc. I wanted her to get something out of this, but yet I knew I was talking about my autistic daughter. How much would any of this matter anyway?

I have to admit that the first night when 400+ children became a sea of navy blue shirts alongside the charcoal grey leader shirts, I thought I was either going to lose my mind or my child. It was pure insanity as I tried to keep an eye on Little E among the sea of blue and grey. It got worse as darkness fell. Thankfully, I did not lose my bullet child that first night and glow sticks have become my new best friend.

Each day I have gone through the motions with her, stretching her to participate longer at each activity each day. It has been exhausting on top of our regularly crazy life and the bonus swim lessons that currently accompany each afternoon. I have held her tight as she buries her head deep into my chest as the moving lights, loud music and movement of a crowded room overwhelms her. I have answered question after question as people ask me about my normal looking daughter as to why she needs me there--if only they knew the half of it. If only they really knew what our daily life is like and how far she has come.

If only they heard what I did on the way home tonight as the floodgate opened. She began singing along with the music from this week. Music always tends to be the key that unlocks things for her. And yet again, it happened. Her little voice evidenced that the message of Jesus is getting through via song and making every exhausted, mind losing moment worth it.

She is worth it.


Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Key to My Heart

Some family traditions are methodically planned out. Some start on accident, but turn into the most significant. Eighteen years ago I gave an antique key to my husband on our wedding night as a symbol. It was  a symbol of me handing over the key to my heart to my soul mate. Little did I know how powerful that would be.

Since then, my husband has worn the key to my heart around his neck every single day.

As our kids have gotten older, we've spent time talking to them about purity and what to look for in a future spouse. We talk about protecting their heart and being ever mindful of who they entrust with pieces of their heart throughout their journey of life. We talk about all this dating stuff, its true purpose and why we don't think it's necessary to casually give away their heart to every person who walks through the door. We simply ask them to stop, pray and spend time thinking about what makes some people stand out more than others. What do they like/not like about that person and what would it look like in a lifetime commitment of marriage. We ask them to spend time and build friendship. It's not easy in this fast-paced, big-family life to carve out the time to be available and talk about these things--and it's never really at a convenient time--but we do because these conversations matter. And frankly, the pressure on my kids from the world around them to carelessly give away their heart--it's not easy for them either.

As parents who are seeking to encourage our kids to protect their hearts, we have passed on that simple tradition from our wedding night to each of them on their 13th birthday. While in Eastern Europe, we found six antique keys that now symbolize the key to each of our children's hearts. The oldest two, who now hold their own key, each display their key in a different way. Mini-Me's key hangs on her bedroom wall to visibly remind her of the responsibility she has been entrusted with. Meanwhile, The Talker wears his around his neck every day--just like his daddy. He keeps it close to his heart until he meets that girl that is head-and-shoulders above the rest--the one that is worth protecting his heart for.

I have no guarantees on this parenting journey and sometimes I wonder if all these talks even matter, but you know what? Every once in awhile God gives me a little encouragement to press on. Recently, my oldest met a boy who she said was just her "friend"...and I was worried. So I did what every worried mother would do...I randomly took her phone, checked her text messages and found that I worried needlessly. She's been listening to all those talks. I wish you could see what she wrote when he was fishing around for whether she liked him or not. She was clear on her convictions and put him in his place. This is not the first time I have read her text message wisdom. Why did I worry? My girl is grounded. Life holds no guarantees, but I pray that she (and all of my kids) continues to hold her ground and keeps her heart safe for the one who is worthy of wearing the key to her heart.

The top photo in this post was taken by The Adopt Shoppe. She generously allowed me to use it. You can find her on FB or on IG @theadoptshoppe. Her stuff is amazing. If you don't follow should!


Monday, June 24, 2013

Summer Skills

It took me three weeks, but I did it. I finally compiled a list of skills I want my kids to work on this summer. These are skills that I don't have time to address during the school year and by focusing now...we will all benefit next school year. They get a reward for each skill mastered and a bonus if they complete every one.

Currently, my kids ages who are included in this are: 14, 13, 12, 11, 9. My 9-year-old is more on the level of a 7-year-old (for reference on what expectations I have for her). In case you cannot read the picture and want some ideas for your house:

Biblestudy - Our older four will be joining us weekly as we learn from our pastor about how to study the Bible. If they attend weekly with us and do the homework in between, they will get this box checked off.
Verses - They each are to pick 3 verses that are meaningful to them and memorize them.
Cook - The older four each have to show mastery in 3 dinner meals and 2 baked items. DOP has to learn how to make 2 lunch items. By mastery I mean that they must make it start to finish without my help. Yes, I spend time all summer working alongside them as they learn from me first. I don't just throw them into the kitchen and expect mastery.
Books - Each has a different amount of level appropriate books they must read this summer.
Math - Some of them are still working on math through the summer for various reasons. When they finish their book or a certain amount of worksheets, they get a box checked off.
Deep cleaning - The older four are learning how to deep clean a bathroom. I'm just about all done with this surface stuff. It just doesn't cut it anymore when there are 8 of us using the bathrooms each day!
Typing - Each of the older four are continuing to practice their typing skills. It's a computer age. How can they function in life if they have to chicken peck the keyboard for everything?
Activities with Little E - The older four are required to get on the web (usually P*interest), choose a preschool activity they'd like to do with their youngest sister, make a list of supplies and make it happen. It doesn't hurt them to learn how to teach someone younger than them. And it certainly doesn't hurt Little E to do the focused activities and practice joint attention.
Write to A - Everyone has the opportunity to write a letter or draw a picture for our child that we sponsor through Children's Hope Chest. If everyone child writes one, that's 6 months of letters already taken care of for the upcoming year!
Put Little E to bed - This one is for Mini-Me alone. She has become quite trustworthy at babysitting her younger siblings, but the one thing I haven't handed over to her yet is putting Little E to bed. So I typically rush home from wherever I am to put her to bed if The Driver is not available. the end of the summer, my hope is that I can entrust that to her and not have to rush home! Can anyone say "date night?" :)

No matter the age of your kids, I hope you take a bit of time now to invest in their future. They won't be under your roof forever. If you don't make the investment now...when?


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Summer is for Taking Time

These are my morning buddies. They are the ones who get up most mornings and pull together something for everyone to eat for breakfast. I am not a morning person so this blesses me abundantly day after day.

My boys didn't just start throwing together ingredients one day and call it a success. It took me taking the time to teach them basic skills in the kitchen and then stepping back to see what they could do on their own.

As we've finished up our school year and have begun compiling our list of activities to do and tasks to accomplish this summer, one in particular stood out to me. Most of my kids can figure out breakfast and they already do lunch each day, but what about dinner? Dinner is more complex. They need to know how to do more than open up a can of chili and pour it over some corn chips, toss frozen taquitos on a baking sheet or slice cookies from a tube.  They need to know how to make things like a basic white sauce that can be modified differently to create different sauces for different purposes, bake dessert from scratch or cook up a soup that is not from a can. They need to know how to read a recipe. How will they learn if I don't take the time to teach them? That's what summer is for.

Summer is for taking time.

Summer is the time in which I pick specific life skills in which I would like my children to learn (not academics) and teach and train them how to do it on their own. I've got a few more skills, beyond cooking, rolling around in my mind and have thought about possibly setting up something similar to boy/girl scouts. I will present a list of skills I want them to master by the end of the summer. For every skill they master, they get a small reward and then upon completion of every skill, they get a big reward. I'm still tired from the school year so it hasn't gotten past my thoughts quite yet.

So let me encourage you...don't waste your summer. Do all the fun stuff, but find a way to make the life skills a fun part too. Trust me, when the school year starts again, you'll thank yourself for empowering your kids to do things on their own.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Real to Reel Life

From the celebration of extraordinary moments like our Daughter of Purpose celebrating her 5-year Gotcha Day to the ordinary snap shots of life, there is joy that can be found in every moment. Sometimes it's the simpleness of ordinary moments that become the extraordinary.

And yes, I do have six children, but when I spend almost every waking moment with Little E to make sure she doesn't wander away...I can't help but see life through her lens.