Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher).
John 20:16

I know, I know, it's nearly JUNE.  I started an Easter blog post at least six times, and my thoughts wanted to go so many differing directions, I found it completely overwhelming.  True, this past Sunday marked the first Sunday in Pentecost, but the message of Easter is just as important for me to reflect upon today as it was a few weeks ago-- perhaps even more so!

I look out my window and, though later than expected this year, spring has finally chosen to arrive!  My rhodies are in bloom, flowers and tiny starts of wild berries adorn the pasture, the chickens are digging for worms in the morning dew ... it's all quite wonderful out there.  Here, however, in my little home, there are lists, schedules and charts on every wall and door imaginable.  It doesn't feel Spring-y here. 

We've talked to the experts, done the testing, filled out the paperwork and now ... now we attempt to completely change our lives to better the lives of both our children.  No biggie, right?  

I had a direction we were headed, and I was quite pleased with it.  My oldest, neurotypical child was thriving, happy and plugging about his business with a positive outlook.  My youngest child, though autistic, was progressing daily.  He walked, he talked, he hugged me, he had a few friends some people actually asked me if he had "recovered" around this time last year.  After over a year on the waiting list, we had weekly appointments with "Mr. Micah," our beloved psychotherapist.  He helped with some big hurdles in Wyatt's emotional development and gave wonderful support to the rest of the family.  Yes, life was looking up.  Change, however, came into my family's life like a tsunami, crashing into my little utopia.

We discovered that my oldest son (you know, the one I wasn't worrying about?) had been battling anxiety for quite some time; a phenomenon that happens quite frequently to siblings of children with special needs.  As the oldest child, a natural nurturer and the first family member Wyatt formed a bond with, he was becoming overwhelmed by his constant worries, fears and the need to "fix" someone anytime they were unhappy. 

Wyatt's regression had taken root, stealing skills, coping mechanisms and, at times, any joy from Wyatt.  Then the tics came.  Facial grimacing, twitches at the neck and incessant blinking would come in waves-- at times, without a rhyme or reason.  

Where was my happy little family?  What was my purpose?  How on earth could I parent both hurting kids, manage my health, attempt to maintain a decent marriage and occasionally sleep?  Life, as I had known it, had been altered again, rocking me to the core.

I think of Mary Magdalene on that Easter Morning.  She didn't wake up and think to herself, "Oh, hooray!  It's Resurrection Sunday!"  No, she woke up planning to finish the burial preparations for Jesus.  Because of the Sabbath, she had been unable to finish caring for the body of her beloved teacher, healer and friend.  

She had lived the life of an "outsider" for much of her life-- Jesus had changed that!  We don't know if she needed forgiveness alone, if she had been possessed by a demon or had been afflicted with a seizure disorder of some type; we only know Jesus made her whole again.  She had found a great purpose in her life-- to follow and serve the man she believed was the Messiah.  Suddenly, the man on whom she had based her reason for living was dead.  What now?  

Mary was heavy-laden with unimaginable grief.  So much so, that she couldn't find hope in the empty tomb.  In her state of despair, she couldn't remember what Jesus had promised about rising three days later.  In fact, she was so downtrodden, when the Risen Christ came to her, she thought he was the gardener.  When she looked up, however, her life had changed once more!  

I love the name that Mary exclaimed: "Rabboni!"  That name, used only twice in the New Testament, is a beautiful combination of teacher, master and someone of whom your deepest affection and highest respect is placed.  

In the words of my buddy, Pastor Paul, "It's like daddy for teacher."   

That is who Mary Magdalene looked to for strength long after Jesus ascended into heaven.  And now, as I wade through paperwork, new parenting techniques, Tourette's medication (while attempting to balance it all), that is where I find my strength as well.  

I have been blessed to live in an area of the country where Autism support and assistance is readily available.  I have pages and pages of recommendations.  I want to help Wyatt, while not slighting Alan.  I want Wyatt to be challenged, but not frustrated.  I want Alan to feel secure and heard, yet not allowing him to rule the roost (which would just cause more anxiety in him, anyway!)  I have no shortage of information and recommendations.  What I find a shortage of, however, is ME!  

I find that I often want to curl up into a ball and avoid all of the new changes we are implementing in our home.  At a time when so much is changing, it's hard to get the simplest of my everyday tasks accomplished.   In my own strength, I just can't take it all.  

But when I stop looking around me and look up, I remember that Jesus conquered sin and death.  The God whom I serve has dealt with the worst this world could throw at Him, yet He rose above it all! My God is bigger than Autism, anxiety, therapy schedules and yes, even bigger than the pile of dishes in my sink! I can't forget the trials of this past year, but I can look up to my risen Lord and cry out, "Rabboni!"  In the midst of my stressful situation, I can still find joy in knowing that He who began this good work in my family will complete it!  

Jesus, you know that a lack of writing this year does NOT mean we didn't have a journey together!  Guide my path in the coming year, that I might draw closer to You each day! 

Still Praising Him in Pentecost,

Friday, April 6, 2012

"They Know Not What They Do"

There have been many times that I've shed a tear (or twenty) because of my children. As parents, we all walk very different journeys, but there is one moment that nearly every mother with a child over the age of five can probably relate to-- the first time your child tells you they don't love you anymore.

It seemed "cute" when my beloved soul sister, Frances, called me up in tears one day, because her four-year-old son had just uttered those very words to her. Oh, how brilliant I was as a preschool teacher and child of a compliant toddler who couldn't say such choice phrases (yet)! I knew (because I'd read about it in my "early childhood development" text books) that such phases were simply a normal part of power struggles between parents and children, and reassured her accordingly. Once I was off the phone, I thought smugly to myself how silly she was for allowing a child to manipulate her emotions like that. By God's grace, when my turn came two years later, Frances was a better friend to me than I had been to her.

There is something about this precious little being (into whom you have poured every ounce of your time, love, efforts, energy, finances, etc) being able to reject you that hurts like nothing else. I thought of all the precious memories we'd shared, and was engulfed by a wave of deep sadness (hence the crying). "How could my precious baby boy not love me?" I sobbed in Frances' ear.

The next wave of emotion, however, was brought on by the less-than-precious memories. There had been the forty-two weeks of pregnancy, the long labor, the nursing "break in" period (which was two months long and nearly broke me), the colic, the shredded wallpaper border (during "nap time"), the calls to poison control (apparently, eating a daddy long legs isn't toxic-- it's just extra protein) and the time when he sought revenge for being put in time-out by peeing in the toy box ... as I blew my nose in our little bathroom, my next comment came from a very different destination on my emotional map: "I loved him through all of that and now-- because he can't go to McDonald's, he doesn't LOVE ME ANYMORE?! How dare that ungrateful little snot!"

As I vented my frustration for my dear friend, four little knuckles rapped on the bathroom door, asking for help with a toy. I was slightly alarmed by my first inclination-- which was to coldly answer, "What do you want my help for? You don't even love me anymore, remember?" With Frances imparting wisdom via cordless phone that I'd shared just a few years earlier (only hers came from a place of experience, love and sympathy, not the textbook of a smarty-pants "expert" ), I opened the door and, remembering how much I loved that little stinker, quit hiding in the bathroom and decided not to resign as Alan's mommy.

Love had nothing to do with how much he brought to our relationship in the beginning, and time hadn't changed that. Alan wasn't actually trying to heap pain upon his mother, he simply wanted to manipulate the situation and impose his will upon me. He needed my love, forgiveness and guidance at a time when he wasn't acting the least bit deserving, because he is my child. It took some filtering through the words of a good friend, but I got my ego out of the way and remembered my purpose. Fortunately for us all, Jesus didn't have the hang-ups I do when preparing to lay down his life for all of mankind ...

People flocked to Jesus throughout His ministry. He was loved by many, and sought by all. Even those who doubted came to see him, in hopes that they might become convinced. The Phrases and Sadducees didn't like how He was shaking things up, but they didn't want to debate with Him, either. There were high hopes that the Messiah would come in on a white horse and save all of Israel from Roman tyranny. There had been mighty miracles and life-altering teachings. This Jesus could be just the ticket to a better life ... or so many people assumed.

But Jesus did not come to establish an earthly kingdom or to change the world with His teachings, He came to conquer sin and death by laying his life down. In their foolishness, the people in Jesus' time, from his beloved disciples to the "learned" religious leaders, chose to reject Jesus, because He wasn't bending to their will. The betrayal Jesus endured went light years past "I don't love you anymore," landing smack in the middle of, "Crucify Him."

To this day, the world doesn't know what to do with Jesus. I would love to say that only those who don't know and love Jesus struggle with this, but that's simply not true. Jesus' redemption is as necessary for me as it was for the very people putting him to death over two thousand years ago.

Those of us who pledge to live for him "even unto death" can truly relate to Peter when we look closely at our lives. We claim we would to anything for the cause of Christ on Sunday, but we clam up in a heartbeat when we leave the comfort of our churches.

When I look at how I want the world to be run (justice for the world, grace for me), how I want to read The Word (devouring parts that seem to only point to others and skipping conveniently over passages that challenge or convict me), I see the box I would conveniently like to put my LORD in. While my mouth spouts the joys of the Christian life, my heart is dressed in a Pharisee's robe.

When I struggle with losing all that I hold dear to stand up for what is right, I feel the need to arbitrarily wash my hands of making any stance, as Pilot did.

Billions of people live here, all with their own issues, hang-ups and failures in the presence of a perfect, Holy God. And yet, for all of us, Jesus willingly laid down his life. He knew that some would say, "I don't love you anymore," when times got rough and some would reject him entirely. He saw hateful, angry faces that spat in his, and yet, without a single reservation, He moved beyond the pain (both physical and emotional) and died for us, that we might live. No one had to "talk him down" from taking out the entire city or simply deciding we weren't worth it and returning to Heaven. No, He faced all of the pain head-on, that we might be reconciled with God.

Jesus, you know how I fight for what I want, what I think I need and what I feel I deserve. Thank you for giving up all that you deserved, that I might have the eternal reward I could never obtain on my own. Thank you for saving me and continuing to forgive me as I question your goodness, doubt your love and attempt to force my own plans upon you. Thank you for taking the worst the world could throw at you, that I might have a "Good Friday." O my Jesus, thank you simply isn't enough ...

Awaiting Alleluia,

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

[Rock &] Roll With It

And He arose, and rebuked the wind, and said unto the sea,
Peace, be still.
And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.
Mark 4:39

Reading time has ended, but my nightly routine has just begun. Before I can put down my e-reader and prepare to pray with the boys, Wyatt has some instructions for me:
"Mommy, I need my lullaby, and I need it to rock tonight! I need to do percussion ... maybe some cymbals. Without rocking out, I don't have romance!"

Romance? What in the world does rocking out have to do with romance?

Baffled, I snag an idea from "Mr. Micah: [his uber-clever therapist] and reply, "Hey Wyatt, I forgot-- can you remind me what romance means?"

"You know ... it means that you're calm and you can go to sleep," he explains.

Then the metaphorical light bulb turned on and mama finally understands-- he meant RELAX!

"Sweetie, are you sure you don't mean you want to relax?" I cautiously offered.

"Yes, I do want to do that! I sayed [said] the wrong word! Good problem solving, mama. Now, about my song ..."

I assure him that we'll figure something out after prayer time, and he snuggles in with his beloved Sponge Bob comforter from Grandma Mary, ready to talk to God as only my son does. Some nights he tells Jesus about video games, other nights he thinks long and hard about sins and sincerely repents of them or (as was the case tonight) he thanks God for having the silliest daddy in the whole world who is "a very funny miracle." I just never know, so I do what I've tried to do for the past seven years when it comes to my precious boy-- I roll with it.

Once prayers were finished, Wyatt was intent on planning his lullaby once more: "It needs to rock, mom. No 'Close Your Eyes' (a James Taylor classic) tonight; it's time to rock!!!"

My mind raced through my mental Rolodex of bedtime songs and came up empty. We do folk songs, old hymns, classic lullabies, maybe a few old songs from mommy's high school jazz choir days, but we don't generally rock out at bedtime, for obvious reasons. None the less, I couldn't disappoint my favorite jam session partner.

I had waited for seven years to sing to him, as I had done for his older brother from the day we brought him home in his newborn car seat. Alan had always loved singing with me, and he still does. Wyatt, however, cried inconsolably when I tried to sing to him as an infant. He covered his ears as a toddler. When he was five, he told me, "Mommy, you are LOUD when you sing. Be quiet!" Suddenly, in the middle of his second grade year, he began to ask for me to sing to him. No prompting, no reason, he just asked for a lullaby. I was surprised, but I was thrilled!

But how does one "rock out" and still lull a child into a calm state, suitable for a transition to dreamland? Fortunately, I grew up in the 1980's-- a nightmarish time for fashion, but a monumental decade for "the power ballad." While Wyatt snapped, clapped on the wall and created cymbal sounds with his mouth, I sang "Eternal Flame" by the Bangles. He was happy, I was happy (come on, generation X and Y-- you know you still sing that song in the shower) ... it was fun. Not what I had planned for the night, but I'm glad I was able to be a part of Wyatt's world for a while.

My little guy is growing and changing every day. I think of some of the hurdles he's overcome since his diagnosis (at age two) and I'm nearly bursting with maternal pride! With the help of amazing therapists, teachers, caregivers and doctors, the support and love of our family and friends and God's constant presence in my son's life, the "let's flush everything, because I'm obsessed with the sound the toilet makes" phase, banging his head repeatedly against the wall and the hours of constant echolalia (repeating memorized words, songs or sounds) no longer fill our days. His aggression toward loved ones and inanimate objects is no longer a constant worry. I get hugs, genuine smiles and yes, even musical collaboration from Wy-guy these days-- which I certainly don't take for granted. Time has brought so many blatant blessings our way, for which I am truly grateful. Age, however, has also brought symptoms of his Autism that I was not expecting ...

Apparently, when it comes to kids on the Autism spectrum, regression often happens between the ages of eight and ten, as adolescence begins to set in. I didn't know about this phenomenon, so I certainly wasn't looking for it. He's only seven, so none of the medical or therapeutic professionals who work with Wyatt were expecting it yet, either. However, when you're in Wyatt's world, time tables are meaningless-- unless he's the one setting them! The regression is not in all areas-- it's not even all the time. This, however, we know. His stimming has increased and he's more socially reclusive. I'm hearing more lists of facts and reenactments of TV shows, movies, books and video games than conversations. He's easily overwhelmed, more frequently agitated, and spending more time in his own little world than with us these days. Aside from the return of temper tantrums, he's not being exceptionally difficult to deal with, per se, nor is he unhappy while taking these little autistic journeys. But I miss him when he takes those little "trips" to a place where his mama cannot follow ...

My son who read chapter books at the beginning of the year now needs the familiarity and picture cues from comic books and books for younger children. It's not that he can't read it, he just can't track the subject matter without cues-- especially if hyperbole and metaphors are frequently used. Inanimate objects have become a greater emphasis of his play, because they are predictable and don't require eye contact. Once he zeroes in on a plan, he becomes obsessed with every detail, until it can be completed-- which can be very frustrating when his plans involve things we don't have, such as television studios, airplanes or inventions that have yet to be created. His take on reality trumps any reasoning you can throw at it, which leaves us chasing our tails, while my beloved boy melts down inconsolably.

While that's hard, what's harder still is the daunting unknown. We don't know if any, or all of the regression is temporary or simply our new reality. We don't know if it will get better or worse. We've always looked to the distant future for Wyatt with vast uncertainty, but now we don't know what next month holds. How do we cope?

Enter the amazing therapists, consultants, specialists and "ologists" of all kinds who, unlike Wyatt's daddy and myself, have gone down this road many times before. Even they can't pull out an ASD crystal ball and tell us what stages we will enter and when, but they give us tools to guide our family through this adventure. We will be exploring new therapies, researching, testing and most of all ... waiting.

We wait for insurance company approvals, schedulers, referrals, test results, consultations, intakes ... while, in the mean time, two little boys seem to be dealing with this far better than their parents.

When my oldest saw Wyatt slipping back in to the realm of reenactments, magical thinking and repetition, he didn't freak out. He seemed to look at Wyatt and think, "Okay, I remember this game-- this was fun!" While I worked on explaining this to Alan, his only concern was that his friends wouldn't understand what was going on. I told him to let me worry about that, as I am good buddies with most of his friends' moms, and to go enjoy being ten for a while. Bless his heart, I know it's not easy, but he's a pretty good example to his parents when it comes to "rolling with it."

On the way home from a frustratingly non-engaged therapy session, my son, who had been fairly quiet most of the day, began to talk to me about mythical creatures. I told him I thought being a mermaid would be the coolest, because my most favorite dream of all time involved being turned into a fish (we'd been watching Disney's "The Sword in the Stone" a lot). Wyatt mentioned that maybe in heaven, I could breathe underwater like a fish, or maybe even turn into a fish for a while, if I wanted to. Suddenly, his cheerful countenance turned downcast. Poking me on the shoulder urgently, he stated, "Mom-- I just thought of a problem with this. I would have to feed you FISH FOOD, and I don't think you would like that! Hmmmm ... maybe I could sprinkle some mini-chocolate chips on top of the water? You'd like that, wouldn't you, mom ...?"

And with that, our trip to aquatic imagination land was over, and he began to talk about Wii games. But I saw in that brief moment a child who cared about making his mom's dream come true. He even cared about my potential disdain for fish food! He might not gush emotion right now-- in fact, he's been known to tell me, "Mommy, don't tell me you love me anymore today. I already know it and I do NOT need a reminder." But he is showing his love for me in other ways; in subtle gestures and honest words. If I'm willing to step out of the sadness of progress lost, I will be able to catch those precious moments.

Like his lullabies at bedtime, my relationship with Wyatt is changing-- sometimes without rhyme or reason. But what hasn't changed amidst the stimming, tantrums and incessant dialogue involving Rowan Atkinson (the actor who plays "Mr. Bean") is my son's desperate need for love, understanding and devotion from his family. Even while he is yelling and screaming at me, if I so much as put one hand on the door, he will pause his tantrum and plead, "Don't leave me! I need you to help me!" With one look into his eyes, I see a panicked child who throws about words he doesn't understand in an attempt to comprehend the plethora of abstract feelings swirling around his mind. In spite of the words that still sting my heart and the volume of his ranting ringing in my ears, I hold him. As we rock on his bed, the words change from accusatory to questioning. Suddenly, as fast as his temper flared up, it's over. He melts into my arms, gingerly touching my hair and telling me that he's sorry, and he doesn't know why he said those mean things. No longer a flailing, volatile child and a baffled, frustrated mom, we rock together, basking in the love we share.

My husband and I are leaning on one another like never before. This is big. This is hard. This takes more than either one of us have. We both have to lean on God for strength to just focus our brains after hours of discussing therapy schedules, insurance percentages and phone calls to make the following day. In a time of constant turmoil, Jesus remains the same, which is both comforting and frustrating.

I feel as though I now understand what the Disciples felt as they endured the stormy seas while the Savior slept. I have told God more than once that I am not capable of doing this job and He really should have given my children a more adept mother. I don't know how to do the interventions, plan for the tantrums or even how to plan long-term financially for this storm in my life. When I feel certain the waves will overtake me and I wonder just how much God will allow, I hear in my spirit, "Peace, be still."

Jesus didn't panic when the storm came, because He knew who made the seas and who commanded them. He isn't pacing in heaven thinking, "Oh man, I really goofed when I gave Wyatt and Alan such incompetent parents!" Because He planned our family. He made my children, fashioned their internal wiring and chose the home they would come to. I am NOT strong enough to weather this storm, but He is! There is plenty of rocking and rolling to come, I'm sure. I covet your prayers, as I work toward resting in Him.

In Lenten Love and Friendship,

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Blessing of Pressing

"We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair ..." 1 Corinthians 4:8

For days, I rifled through my drawers, cupboards, tool turnabout and anywhere else I could possibly fathom, in search of my most prized kitchen tool. Not since Superbowl Sunday had my trusty garlic press been in its rightful place (at the base of the utensil holder in the top drawer), and dinnertime was not the same without her! "For corn's sakes, Geneva," I muttered while hunting under a bunt pan, "Where could you be?"

My precious little Pampered Chef garlic press is a trusted kitchen companion that I count on every night for a tasty dinner (She may or may not also punch her time clock for lunch and yes, even occasionally at breakfast, as well). Are there other ways to add garlic to my meals? Of course. However, one cannot acquire perfectly even, distinctive, yet not over-powering, deliciously fragrant and magnificently fresh particles of my family's favorite aromatic amigo without Geneva.

In a household where decipherable chunks are considered a crime against humanity (at least, as far as the menfolk are concerned), attempting to finely mince garlic without the odd "surprise" large piece assaulting a loved one is ... well ... dicey. ;) Pureeing our little pungent friend does not allow it to cook properly, causing rumbly tummies and "raw garlic breath" that would slay a dragon. Jarred, granulated and powdered varieties, while properly distributed and easily cooked, lack the fresh taste we are accustomed to. When I use them, my husband is more likely to reach for the salt shaker, or even ask for garlic powder for him to add directly to his food. For these reasons, we ate a lot of grilled sandwiches, soup and "brinner" (breakfast for dinner) until Geneva was found at last.

There she was, sitting in Katie's kitchen drawer! I'd forgotten that it was one of the many things I brought to the home of my precious "rental babies" (and their wonderful parents) so I could cook up a slew of snacks-- which is, in my opinion, the highlight of Super Bowl Sunday! (Well, that and the commercials, but I digress ... ) Bursting with a mixture of joy, relief and annoyance toward myself for being CERTAIN that the children had put her in the wrong place, I grabbed her up and plopped her in my purse, lest I forget her at Katie's again.

Since our brief, but distressing separation, I have been more thankful than ever to have Geneva back home with us. Not only does she bring more flavor to our meals, she saves me time, effort and dishes! In stead of needing to grab a cutting board, a knife and the kosher salt to assist in the crushing of the clove, I pop a clove in my press, push it through right over a pan of sizzling olive oil, pop out the skin and bathe my reliable companion in the dishwasher. With my current schedule, I have never been so desperate (and thankful) for one less step!

When you have a multiplicity of food allergies, eating prepackaged foods is often extreeeeemely expensive and tends to have a lot of scary stuff in it. For that reason, even when I'm in a rush, still I do most of my cooking from scratch. While expediently stirring pizza sauce, dotted with little golden flecks of sauteed garlicky goodness, I thought about how I feel like a clove in the press.

I'm definitely feeling weighed down by my current season of life. It has been an absolutely, positively CRAZY year for our household! It has forced me to attempt to prioritize, an area where I don't particularly sparkle. But I'm sure I'm the only one who struggles with this ... right? ;)

When I try to be all things to all people in my own strength, it's a mess. When it comes to balance, I'm no better with my time, talents and emotional health than I am with a chef's knife. When I'm over-committed, a whole lot of people get burnt out, exhausted Amy. Like overly-minced garlic when exposed to high heat, I lend an icky taste to the stir-fry of life in this form. I can't focus, forget stuff, I spend half the time in one meeting trying to prepare for what I have to do next ... it's just a whole lotta crazy! What happens when you get one of those accidentally large hunks of me? Well, ask my kids. When mama doesn't have a creative outlet, time with friends or sufficient time to have an entire conversation alone with daddy, I can be rather overwhelming and unforgettable-- and not in a good way.

When I don't spend time in The Word or talking with God, my loved ones get dried, minced Amy. Because I am a child of God, the lingering of his presence is always there, but without regular fellowship with him, I can only be a pale imitation of the woman God has called me to be. I can love my family-- as long as they don't get on my nerves. I can be patient-- until a new barista comes on staff at Cutters Point and has the nerve to imperfectly craft her majesty's latte. When Jesus isn't running the show, it's pretty much an inner-brat slumber party!

So how do I avoid being burnt-out, over-powering or stale? I only have one option-- the press. For those of you who haven't used a garlic press before, let me give you a helpful tip that will prevent garlic juice in your eye-- apply pressure carefully. If you don't, the clove will ooze out the sides or (as implied above) cause an optical burning sensation that I REALLY wouldn't want anyone else to experience! When God is working in my life, he always knows how to apply just the right amount of pressure. His goal is not to eviscerate me, but to prepare me for all that he has planned. When a clove is gently pressed, its natural oils are released, producing wonderful flavor. As more pressure is applied, it travels through specific channels, enabling the chef to have portion control and uniformity. It's really pretty groovy when you're cooking! However, when you're not the chef, but the clove? Not so groovy. Trials are not awesome, they're painful. I don't think I'm ever going to be able to say, "Yippity-skippity, another moment of pain and anguish, which will produce personal growth!" However, I can draw on him for strength during those pressing times, knowing He will never push me past what I can bear. Even when I think I am at my breaking point, I am being upheld and supported by Christ Himself, through whom I can do all things!

Right now, I'm not sure whether we're still in the press or being sauteed in oil with crushed red pepper flakes and I have absolutely, positively NO CLUE what recipe He's cooking up. But I do know this: He has a perfect plan for my life. Be it at the press or adjusting the temperature of the oil, I know that the ending recipe will be perfect if I let Him remain in charge.

I can't promise you daily blogs this year, but I do promise that I will share all that God is doing in my life when He provides the inspiration (and the time) to do so! Whether you're in a garlic press, a pepper grinder, a salad spinner or a deep fryer this week, I pray that you will avoid catastrophes by taking off the chef's hat and letting The Master do His work in your life. :)

In Lenten Love and Friendship,

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Where the Chicks Hang Out

Drawn to the bright lights and endless buffet, they huddle together, socialize and snack on pink punch and grits. Is this a Southern Sorority party? Nope-- this scene will soon be playing out in a big metal tub at Iron Horse feed and pet supply! That's right, I'm talking about actual chicks. :) While I love it when the chicks, ducklings and goslings come to Jolene's local store in the spring, I visit Iron Horse year round. Long before the sounds of peeping and constant pecking of grit is audible, I drive through rain, snow and all other forms of weird Washington weather to acquire chicken feed, dog food, animal medication, salt licks (for our deer visitors) and stove pellets. Her storefront also provides me with something money can't buy-- ADULT CONVERSATION!!!

While our kids play, we have a little "hen party" at the counter. It's not uncommon for me to run into a few other "chicks" I know at Iron Horse-- including my next door neighbor, Debb! When she joins the party, we discuss how we should have carpooled, agonize over just what on earth we're going to fix for dinner and roll our eyes about how our dogs eat fancier food than we do. Sure, a dude or two pops into the store as well, but there are a whole lot of ladies filling their vehicles with everything from bales of alfalfa to hoof trimmers.

I have plenty of stores to choose from when it comes to dog food, but a lot of commercial brands would make poor Bela and Tanky sick, incredibly itchy or both. My aussies have a lot of food sensitivities (like owner, like dog!), which means that I go to the vet (and pay a king's ransom), a specialty pet store or a feed store to acquire their food. The pet store can feed my dogs just fine, but you sure won't find chicken feed or stove pellets there! No, this dear little store fills our needs in a way that even a larger feed store wouldn't. I have NEVER had to carry a heavy bag to my car. If we don't like something for any reason, she'll do whatever she can to make it right. When I ask for shavings, she knows to double check and make sure her loader grabs pine shavings, not cedar. Cedar could kill my dear chickens-- which, of course, I purchased from her when they were two day old chicks. She asks how I'm healing from my surgery. I was at her third child's baby shower. This is a special store, owned and run by one awesome "chick"!

I will never forget the look on my husband's face when she brought a ton of pellets to our barn. This tiny woman carried two forty pound bags at a time and kept up with her (much brawnier looking) husband! Let's face it, you wouldn't have seen a woman running a feed store and slinging bales of hay when my mother was growing up. It didn't mean that women weren't working their hearts out along side their husbands on farms across the country, it just wasn't something visible in public, and there certainly wasn't female leadership involved.

You want to know where I'm going with this, don't you? Well, I'm about to compare my church to a feed store. No, that wasn't a typo! You see, the "chicks" I hang out with at my church aren't just sitting in sewing circles or making casseroles for potlucks. Sure, that's part of our identity (well, not MINE on the sewing front-- I was born without a sewing gene. But I digress ...), but we also have women teaching adult Bible studies, feeding the homeless and contracting the new worship facilities we're in the process of building. These women aren't just lovely, they're hard working, dependable and strong. They don't just serve God from the quiet confines of their homes, they're deeply involved in keeping the church going!

Remember when I mentioned that dog food was easy to find, but SPECIALTY dog food, chicken feed and stove pellets were not? It's also true when it comes to community events for my family. We could keep busy doing anything from martial arts to watercolor painting classes, courtesy of our local parks and recreation department. We could have fun, visit with people and maybe even do a little something here and there for the people in our area. We love where we live and we love being involved here. However, the community center doesn't meet our specific needs like our church family does. Accountability, support and grace from our church family keep the home fires burning. (That's right, I just called my dear brothers and sisters in Christ "spiritual stove pellets!" It's a good thing they love me ...) There is spiritual food we cannot get anywhere but with our fellow believers. There are also dark times in our lives that require earnest prayer, a helping hand and sometimes a willingness to break a sweat. And as much as we aren't crazy about admitting it, there are those times when our lives break out in silent, almost undetectable sins that slowly eat away at us. (Yep, if you have animals, you know where I'm going with this. My church family can sometimes administer the Word of God like spiritual FLEA MEDICINE. Deal with it, peeps-- you've got Backwoods Betty blogging here, not Manhattan Molly! I call 'em like I see 'em!) Church for me is also a place where my family's little quirks (autism and food allergies, for example) aren't a big deal. Sunday School and VBS teachers give Wyatt transition cues, so he's not deeply upset when an activity ends. I have gluten-free communion wafers that enable me to partake in the sacrament of Holy Communion with everyone else. Nobody expects my husband to sing a solo or for me to do anything regarding paperwork of any kind, because they know which one of us is the bubbly extrovert and which one is the quiet, brilliant counter of church donations and logical stacker of chairs.

So why do I love Iron Horse feed store and partying with my church peeps? I don't know, I guess it's just a chick thing ... :)

In Lenten Love and Friendship,

Friday, February 24, 2012

My Ever-Quotable Kids (Both Biological and Rental) Part 1

Another Friday has arrived, thus meaning that I've had all kinds of commentary from the children in my life-- all of which I couldn't possibly make up if I tried! :)

Stuff the Tween Says~
Molly (my almost-twelve year old rental tween and ONLY GIRL besides myself who isn't furry or feathered) pops in from time to time-- usually when the local school district deems it necessary to have a random day off and employers do not extend the same courtesy to her parents. ;) She's more of a "mother's helper" than a child in need of tending, but she's still in that wonky in-between stage of life. One minute she's applying her makeup, the next, she's building a fort with the boys! I heard this conversation in the car and nearly drove off the road, due to the unexpected (and perfectly timed) sarcasm from Miss Molly ...

Molly: Hey Amy, do you remember when my fish died and I was too sad to eat breakfast?
Alan: How did your fish die?
Molly: *eyes rolling to the point of potential permanent strain* He drowned, Alan ...

Look Who's Talking!~
Those of you who followed my blog last year may remember when I wrote about Kaelin (a.k.a. "the rental toddler") and his struggles with speech delay. My, what a difference a year makes! Thanks to the tireless work from his parents and his amazing speech therapist, Kaelin is anything but quiet these days! He is still struggling with some of his sounds, but the progress he has made in the last 11 months has provided me with yet another quotable kiddo in the house. :) He is also now a big brother to Jaxson, my newest "Rental Baby," who is seven months old. It's always interesting seeing siblings interact, and these two are no exception ...

Kaelin: Jax, take you(r) binky out and use your WORDS!
Me: Honey, Jax is a baby. He can't talk yet.
Kaelin: Jax have words, Tante!
Me: Oh, really? What does he say?
Kaelin: *sticks out his tongue* Phbbbbbbbbbt!
Me: *Uncharacteristically speechless-- not to mention outsmarted by a three-year-old*

My Ever-Helpful First Born~
Alan always wants to make sure that everyone is receiving special gifts and treats-- not to mention one who is highly susceptible to marketing! My little empath is not so little anymore-- he's almost as tall as I am and I can wear his shoes! His perpetual growth spurt aside, I am still most intrigued by how much Alan cares about everyone-- and I mean EVERYONE. I'm used to him urging me to go get myself a latte, but his mission to bless others with specialty beverages goes far beyond humanity ...

"Mommy, Suzie (our SUV) has been really well behaved lately. She's such a good car--don't you think she deserves some Chevron gas with Techron?"

My Unpredictable Youngest~
Wyatt continues to amaze, baffle, frustrate and amuse me more with each passing day. While he reads years beyond his grade level and knows all his multiplication tables at seven, he is just beginning to care more about quality time, lullabies and attachment objects. Because he has both Autism and ADHD, he hyper-focuses on something for days or even weeks-- then abruptly moves on to something else. This week, he has decided he cares a lot about his stuffed Snake ...

"Mommy, Snakey is the best guy ever. He guards my room. He didn't attack you, because you're on my 'friend list.' I'm going to take him everywhere I can. I know I can't take him to church or school, but there are a lot of places I can take him-- an Italian restaurant, for example ..."

What I've learned from my kids this week:

Little Jax is quite different from his older brother. He is more laid back about what bottles he'll take and less likely to awaken from a sudden noise (a real asset when you have three other children, two dogs and a frequently used espresso machine in the house), plays with toys more independently and it's possible that he's an even bigger flirt towards the ladies than Kaelin was! That being said, there are some areas where he's a lot like his big brother, as well. He needs lots of cuddles, loves to eat Tante's food (as long as it isn't peas) and is already a very mobile little dude!

While watching him play near my feet, I witnessed poor Jax struggling with depth perception, the inability to use his head to get himself to a standing position (this led to some rather awkward, yet adorable "baby tripod" moments) and the enemy of all little ones-- gravity. He would grin with accomplishment when he was able to obtain a toy he wanted, beam when he got his foot and his pacifier in his mouth at the same time and shriek with delight when he was able to make his battery-operated keyboard light up and make noise.

Just when it seemed as though the world was his oyster, he attempted to lay down on on what he was presuming to be a comfy, blanketed carpet. Sadly, object permanence and motor planning (to look before plopping backwards with great momentum, for example) are not skills infants posses at this age. Alas, the poor fellow did not land on carpet. In stead, he was rather uncomfortably arched across the roof of Old MacDonald's (plastic) farm. As I sprang up to retrieve the diminutive human slinky near my fuzzy pink slipper socks, his soft whimper and alarmed expression clearly communicated, "Tante, this was NOT my plan!"

Poor baby, he wasn't trying to rip a magazine, chew on a cord or give the doggie a bald spot-- he just wanted to change direction, so he could acquire and voraciously gnaw on his teething fishy. This wasn't an act of defiance, or even a testing of limits. The poor guy just didn't calculate his landing well; which seemed to make him as unhappy as the plastic rooster weather vane poking him in the tuchas.

What's a Tante to do? Of course, I scooped that precious little boy up, prattled on (in the tone of voice that I involuntarily use with babies, dogs and other smallish, adorable members of society) about how mean and wicked that plastic menace was for hurting my precious Jackaroo, dried his tears and kissed his chubby little cheeks until he smiled once more.

At thirty-four, I may have this whole walking thing down (for the most part, anyway), but I still relate to poor Jax stuck on that barn roof. As a busy wife and mom, I try, I really do, to stay on top of things. Doctor's appointments, paperwork, teacher conferences, laundry, dishes, menu planning, mending, church activities ... I have a lot going on, and (for the most part), I love it. However, there are times when I forget to check all three calendars, absentmindedly leave my keys in my pocket in stead of hanging them up, send the electric company's check to the garbage company or I misplace my cell phone (and it's ALWAYS on silent when I do). With one miscalculation, my full, but manageable day turns into a paralyzing ordeal. I feel completely overwhelmed, frazzled and stuck. I play the "if only" game, chide myself for not being more organized and I feel waves of panic and the reality of my failure splashing me in the face. To make matters worse, the more panicked I become, the more likely I am to have a "chick moment" and cry about it. Awesome. I'm already going to be late, and now I'm also going to have swollen eyes and a red nose when I get there? THIS WAS NOT MY PLAN!!!!!

It is then that I receive a reminder in my spirit concerning the constant availability of unconditional love and comfort from my Heavenly Father. He doesn't say, "I told you so," point out why things didn't work out or tell me this is the last time he's going to listen to my sniffling, whiny tale. No, He brings to mind scriptures about His boundless mercies, the promise to grant peace into my chaotic life and example upon example of how precious I am to Him. As if that weren't enough, once I calm down, He often also inspires me with the whereabouts of my keys, so I can get out the door! :) I will continue to fail each and every day of my life, because I will continue to live in an imperfect world as my imperfect self. What a blessing to know that I serve a God who knows my heart, in spite of what I actually accomplish! I also take great comfort in knowing that I do not slip and fall under the watchful eye of a God who sits nearby. I know that no matter how I stumble, sprawl or belly flop, I never leave the palm of his hand.

Are you sprawled atop your miscalculations and failures, wondering how you'll ever find relief? Are constant stress and worry a pain in your tuchas? Take comfort, dear reader, in knowing that the loving arms of God are always available to those who reach out for Him. :)

In Lenten Love and Friendship,

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Dining From the Wrong Pot

Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.
Psalm 34:8

Hooooooooooo dowgiez, yesterday was crazy! Amidst a slew of appointments and preparing for Ash Wednesday services, I also remembered that my family and my dogs needed dinner before I left for the evening. As I didn't have time to hit the feed store for more dog food, I went ahead and made dinner for everyone at once. While the linguini and clam sauce (the humans' dinner) boiled away in anticipation for their blessed union, a stock pot full of brown rice, oats, chicken and carrots simmered for my canine companions. Before flying out the door to yet another appointment before service, I quickly told my beloved (who had offered to stay home with our VERY tired, crabby children) when everyone's dinner would be ready.

While driving home from service, I called my hubby to check in. By the fatigue in his voice, I could tell that my little princes had been far from charming. He mentioned that they were both in bed and had not even asked for bedtime snack, they were so tired. When I asked him if he'd had enough to eat, he said, "It was yummy-- I just picked out the carrots."

Confused, I tried to think of where he would have found carrots in the linguine. Then I remembered the dog food and began to try to find a non-alarming way to tell my husband whose dinner he had consumed! While I mulled that over, I heard laughter on the other line. That stinker was messing with my head! Relieved, amused and annoyed all at once, I told him he'd be eating with the dogs permanently if he wasn't nice to me.

Later that night, I thought about what would have happened if he really had eaten "puppy porridge" instead of the "people pasta." Clearly, it wouldn't have hurt him-- it was made from all "human-grade" food in our pantry. As it consisted of whole grains, vegetables and protein, he certainly would have received a nutritious meal. However, the thought of rice, oats, canned chicken and carrots simmering together with just a pinch of salt and some parsley doesn't exactly make me hungry. It would have been bland as all get out and VERY mushy-- ideal for a dog, but not too appetizing for my husband!

There are times when we plan our future in a similar fashion. Our plans make sense, would fulfill our needs and seem to come together easily-- thus, we assume that we are following God's will for our lives. Little do we know, we are settling for a mushy, bland existence when God has something far more amazing planned for us. No one would want to miss out on God's plans, but how do we know what his will is?

Just as listening to me prevented my husband from eating puppy porridge, spending quiet time with God can help us to better understand his perfect will for us. It"s not easy for me to sit quietly for ANY reason; I wonder how often that has resulted in a bland, mushy life. Hmmmmm ... food for thought ..