Saturday, October 11, 2014

Star Student

Wesley was Star Student at school this week, which gave me the opportunity to go into his class on Thursday and share with his classmates more about who he is, what he likes, and why he is who he is. Earlier this fall, Courtney at Pudge and Biggs shared a book she wrote to introduce her daughter with Down syndrome to her new kindergarten class. I loved the simplicity of the text and the appeal to kindergartners, so I based quite a bit of what I shared with Wesley's class off of her book.

Before sharing with Wesley's class, I prayed that God would help me to present Wesley clearly to the class in a way that his classmates could understand, and that God would give them a heart to love Wesley.  Here is what I shared:

Wesley is in kindergarten.
He wears a backpack and eats a sack lunch.
He has a desk and a chair that are just for him.
Maybe that sounds like you.

Wesley likes to play with his brothers.
He builds lots of things with legos - especially towers and carousels.
He loves to play the piano, sing, and dance.
His favorite place to be is outside - playing soccer, swimming, and playing on the playground.
Maybe you enjoy doing these things too.

Wesley's favorite foods are noodles, hot dogs, sandwiches, bananas, and goldfish.
He loves to eat french fries at McDonalds and play in the playland.
Maybe you like some of these foods too.

Wesley has brown eyes.
He has straight hair and wears glasses.
He has a big smile and no loose teeth yet.
Maybe he looks like you.

Wesley has special needs.
Maybe those words are something new.

Wesley is not sick.
He is not hurting and he is not a baby.
He wants to be treated like a kindergartner.
Maybe you want to be treated that way too.

Wesley has a hard time saying words.
He has a hard time understanding what other people are saying to him.
He might have a hard time sitting still.
Maybe wiggling is something you sometimes do.

Wesley can still be a good friend.
He can play games and climb and run.
He can laugh and share and jump and dance.
Maybe he'll do some of those things with you.

Wesley is in kindergarten.
He knows the alphabet and rides the bus.
He is so happy he can share Mrs. ***** with you.
Maybe you are too.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Sweeter than Honey

Two and a half years ago, as a mom of a newborn baby, a two year old with special needs, and a rambunctious preschooler, I sat in church on the first Sunday morning of 2012, not knowing that God would use this day to do a powerful work in my heart. That morning, our church introduced a new Bible memory plan, encouraging each church member to join together in memorizing a verse each week from the Desiring God Fighter Verses collection. I had been praying that the Lord would give me discernment to know how to read His Word that year, as I was sleep deprived, my time was limited, and my mind was mush. When I first heard about this memory plan, I immediately thought that this was the perfect plan for me.  One verse a week – I could do that! So, I committed to memorizing the fighter verses each week in 2012, thinking that this would be a simple way to meditate on God’s word in the midst of the busyness of life. Little did I know what the Lord had in store for me.

Looking back several years later, I can clearly say that God orchestrated this event to prepare me for the hardest years of my life. In these years I have received heart breaking diagnoses for my children, watched as my husband has suffered more deeply than I could have imagined possible, and had my faith strongly tested.  During these times, I have often been stretched so thin that my mind has struggled to hold together everything necessary for daily living. In the process of making sure that all my children have been fed, clothed, arrived to school and countless therapies and doctor’s appointments on time, while also carrying the weight of heavy burdens, I have experienced what it is like for a brain to go into survival mode. During long stretches of time, my mind has been physically unable to understand and soak in the prayers of others, the kind emails of encouragement, the sermons on Sunday mornings, and the Scriptures I read each morning. It has been as if what goes in one ear (or eye), finds that there is no room to stay and promptly exits the other ear.

But in the midst of these trying circumstances, I have found that God has used the Scriptures I have memorized and meditated on to sustain me and remind me of His steadfast love and faithfulness. His words have upheld me as I have clung to His promises. When all around my soul has given way, I have found that He has been my help, my sustainer, my shelter, my refuge, my life. As the old hymn says, as I have stayed my mind and my heart on the Lord and His promises, I have found perfect peace and rest. As I have trusted Him wholly, I have found Him to be wholly true.

“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” Psalm 119:7-11

After several years of memorizing and meditating on Scripture, I can say with confidence that these words from Psalm 119 are true. During times when I have been unable to recall the words of others or even the words from the Bible that I have read, the Lord has been faithful to consistently bring Scriptures that I have memorized to mind, reviving my soul. On days when I have desperately cried out for wisdom, God’s word has flooded my mind, granting me wisdom and enlightening my eyes. At my darkest and most fearful moments, God’s promises in His Word have brought joy and hope to my heart. Many days, when my soul has been cast down, the Lord has lifted me up and set my feet on the rock by reminding me of His promises that I have hidden in my heart. As I have recalled who He is and what He has promised, hope has again filled my heart that He will give me His strength to keep going, keep fighting for my husband, keep caring for my boys, and keep doing all that He has called me to do.

Because I have always struggled with long-term memory, soon into my Bible memory plan I decided to spend one day each week reviewing all of the verses I had memorized so far. Over the course of the last two years, I can say that the times I have spent reciting verses have been some of my sweetest times with the Lord. As I have meditated on promise after promise, I have found that the Lord has used those times to encourage and give life to my soul. One day last fall, in the midst of a particularly painful season, I sat down to write a short list of promises I could cling to. As I wrote, verse after verse flooded to my mind, with promise after promise breathing new hope into my heart.

  • The Lord is with me wherever I go. 
  • He gives me strong support. 
  • He upholds my hand. 
  • He blots out my transgressions for His own sake and will not remember my sins. 
  • If the Lord wills, we will live and will do this or that. 
  • Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. 
  • His way is perfect. 
  • He is a shield for me as I take refuge in Him. 
  • His peace will guard my heart in Christ Jesus. 
  • He is my salvation. 
  • Even to gray hairs, He will carry me. 
  • He has made and He will bear; He will carry and will save. 
  • God’s plans for me are for welfare and not for evil, to give me a future and a hope. 
  • Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning. 
  • His anger is for a moment, but His favor is for a lifetime.
  • Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

And the list goes on and on. Just in the past three weeks, as things have become more difficult again, God’s promises from Psalm 27 have breathed fresh life into me. As I cling to the promise that the Lord is the stronghold of my life, I am reminded that my heart has no reason to fear. The Lord has hidden me, and will continue to hide me, in His shelter in the time of trouble. “I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”

As I have hidden God’s word in my heart, I have found time and time again that His promise that His word does not return void is absolutely true. His Word has taken hold in my heart. It has changed me and is continuing to change me. By God’s grace, God has used His Word to give me hope when life seems hopeless, joy when there is nothing to be happy about, strength when all around me gives way, trust in Him even when darkness hides His face, and a strong belief that He truly is faithful and His steadfast love endures forever.

I am not writing these words as a story about me and what I have done.  This is a story about God and what He has done. This is a testimony of how God has used the memorization of His Word to do a powerful work in my heart. The discipline of memorization is not always easy. Some days I just want to be lazy and read Facebook or listen to the radio rather than doing the hard work of memorizing a verse. Other days, my heart is cold, and I go through the review of verses without even thinking about the truths within them. But more often than not, God uses the discipline of memorization to awaken within my heart a longing to know Him more, a desire to praise Him, and a peace and joy that surpass all understanding as I rest in His promises.

“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” Psalm 119:103

Sunday, September 7, 2014


Last fall I wrote this letter to publicly thank Wesley's one-on-one helpers at church, and with the beginning of a new school year, I thought it appropriate to share it again:

What you do each Sunday may not seem like much. You show up to the 3s and 4s class and play with a sweet little boy, helping him to participate in Sunday School and reminding him how to act appropriately. It may feel like what you are doing is unimportant or that it goes unnoticed. But in working with Wesley each Sunday, you are serving the least of these. You are enabling him to participate in Sunday School, and you are blessing us, his family, by making it possible to attend church each Sunday. You may not know this, but most families who have a family member with a disability don't attend church at all, because it is just too difficult. Because of what you do, you are giving our family the gift of not being a part of this statistic. Your care for Wesley blesses our entire family each and every Sunday.

1 Corinthians 12:18-23 says, "God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor."

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, indispensable means "Not subject to being set aside or neglected; absolutely necessary; essential."

Our son is a five year old with a disability, but yet he is indispensable to the congregation of Redeemer Community Church. He is absolutely necessary to the body of Christ. And what you do each Sunday is actively ensure that he is not set aside or neglected.

You may not get much praise for what you do. In fact, most people may never know the ways you serve so selflessly each and every Sunday. But our Heavenly Father sees. And I am certain that your care for Wesley is pleasing in His sight. What you do for the least of these, you are doing for Him.

We can never thank you enough, but we pray that you know God's pleasure each Sunday as you care for our son, a boy made in the image of God.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

New Beginnings

Last Wednesday was a day of new beginnings for us. Both Zach and Wesley started their first day of this school year at new schools. While there was much apprehension on my part, a few nervous jitters in Zach’s stomach, and confusion in Wesley’s sweet little mind as to why things were different and what was happening, it brings me much joy to say that the first week of school has been a raging success.

Wesley’s kindergarten team has labored tirelessly to give him the best chance of success, and we have been so blessed by their collaboration and their sweet care of our precious son. While Wesley’s first week of school has not gone without hiccups, the open communication between us and his school and their obvious desire to provide the best possible education for him have made it all worthwhile. We are very excited about all that the Lord has in store for him this year.

Due to schedule conflicts with Wesley’s elementary school, Zach also transitioned to a new private school this fall. We were all a bit anxious about how easy the transition would be, so I have been thankful to hear his excitement at the end of each day. Zach loves the new uniforms, is thrilled to have his new school’s magnet on the back of our van (removing our old school’s magnet this summer was a sad moment for him), and has been blessed with a very sweet second grade teacher.

Every year, my prayer for my boys is that God will grant them favor with their teachers (and in Wesley’s case, teacher’s assistants, therapists, and school administrators) and classmates and bless them with one good friend. While I do not know what the future will hold, it is encouraging to me to see this year off to a great start.

And of course, this year includes new beginnings for Liam as well. This will be his first year with Mommy to himself. I think this will be a good year for us!

Monday, May 5, 2014

The Power of a Word

After a lengthy and formal process, Wesley was diagnosed with autism this past Friday. I hope to write more on this at a future time, but for now, these are the thoughts that cross my mind as I chokingly whisper the phrase "Wesley has autism" and seek to grasp all that this entails.

It hurts.
It explains.
It grieves my soul.
It provides help.
It crushes hope.
It offers hope.
It devastates dreams.
It leads us down a new path.
It closes doors.
It opens even more.
It fills my heart with questions.
It gives answers.
It increases fears.
It grants opportunities.
It breaks my heart.
It points me to healer of the broken.

The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. Psalm 34:18

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. Isaiah 53:4a

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: the steadfast love of The Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. "The Lord is my portion," says my soul, "therefore I will hope in him." Lamentations 3:21-24

Friday, March 14, 2014

IEP Miracles

To truly begin at the beginning, I must go back to the meeting we had with Wesley's team at school last November, the one in which we pushed for Wesley to have more time each day in an inclusion classroom. At this meeting, we were stonewalled, with his team refusing to increase his time in inclusion since they had no data to support that he would be successful in such an environment. Of course, there would be no way to acquire such data without placing him in the classroom and collecting the data, which becomes a cyclical problem. With no placement in an inclusion class, you can collect no data. With no data, you cannot be placed in the class.

After much pushing on our part, toward the end of this meeting we saw God work in the hearts of these ladies in a powerful way. While standing firm on their stance that Wesley could not have more minutes in an inclusion classroom each day, they did agree to move around the times that he attended this class so that he could participate in circle time and learning times rather than just in center and free play times.  Looking back, I can see how God burdening us to push for this is part of what He used to completely change the trajectory of Wesley's education.

Fast forwarding to this past January, Mike and I began discussing and making plans for how we would make adjustments to our family life over the next six years to accommodate for Wesley's schooling. We had been told for two years that the only self-contained classrooms in our district were in elementary schools on the south end of our district, which are 30-40 minutes away from us. So we planned on having Wesley bused far away for his elementary school years. We assumed, based on his placement during preschool and the school's resistance to his time in inclusion being increased, that he would obviously be placed in one of these self-contained classrooms.

Then, toward the end of February, Wesley's teacher told us that as part of the preparation for transitioning to elementary school, representatives from both his home school and the school with the self-contained class came in and evaluated him. She was very surprised, and told me with much excitement in her voice, that Wesley's home school thought there was a possibility that they could provide for all his needs with their top levels of support. At that point, a lot of people began evaluating Wesley, looking at what he needs, and comparing it to what is provided at both our home school and the school that has the self-contained class he would be placed in. At his IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting, everyone would present their perspectives on what they felt would be best for Wesley and where they would recommend that he be placed.

Obviously, we felt that it would be best for our family as a whole if Wesley attended a school just 10 minutes from our home. And it was exciting to think that he could be in a less restrictive environment with more opportunities to interact with his peers along with many pull-out times for individual teaching. But more importantly, we just wanted Wesley to be placed in the school that was the best fit for him with the best opportunities for him to learn and be successful. And we wanted him to be placed with a teacher who was a good fit for him. We were cautiously excited as we thought of the possibility of Wesley being nearby this next year, but we didn't want to make this decision based solely on our convenience. 

Whatever the outcome, our conversation with Wesley's teacher was another moment when I was reminded of how great our God is. He cares for Wesley, and He cares for our family. He knows what is best for us, and He can move mountains to provide for His precious children. He can open up opportunities for Wesley that didn't even exist and provide options that we didn't even know to ask for (and that wouldn't have even been possible, except that suddenly they were!)

Isaiah 46:3-4 says, "Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save." God created Wesley in his image, with his own unique strengths and weaknesses, and He promises that even to Wesley's old age, He will carry him. He has made Wesley, and as our loving Heavenly Father, He will bear our burdens for us and with us that we bear with Wesley on this earth. He will carry us and uphold us through each unique trial and joy that we face due to the unique way that He created Wesley. And one day, if Wesley trusts in Him, He will ultimately and completely save him!

So, we prayed.  We prayed that Wesley having the opportunity to attend school at his home elementary school would be one of the ways that God chose to carry us and help bear our burdens over the next six years.

Last week, on the morning of Wesley's IEP meeting, a friend sent me the following verses from Exodus 14:13-14: "And Moses said to the people, "Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent."" As I read those words, I felt The Lord giving me His peace that surpasses all understanding. We had no reason to fear or be anxious as we went into our meeting that morning. The Lord would fight for us, and for Wesley, and we had only to be silent. As I prayed that The Lord would actively move mountains on Wesley's behalf, I was very aware of His peace flooding my soul.

Wesley's IEP was very different this year than it has been in years past. His teacher and therapists had taken all of our goals for Wesley into consideration and written 11 excellent goals targeting his greatest needs. As well, unlike in years past where we had to push for adaptations and supplements to be added, they were very willing to add all the supplements/adaptations to his IEP that we felt were important for him to learn to the best of his abilities.

When it was time to talk about placement, Mike and I quickly realized that every single person at the table believed that Wesley has grown so much in the past year that the best place for him to be for kindergarten was in an inclusion classroom at his home school. The special education teacher at his home school explained how he would be pulled out with her for times of 1-on-1 or small group teaching, she would go into the classroom to help him throughout the week, he would receive extra assistance for PE, art, music, recess, lunch, and any times in the classroom that he needed it, and they would provide all adaptations (seating, sensory breaks, etc...) he needed to succeed.

As we listened, I realized that there was nothing we needed to ask for; no areas in which we needed to fight for our son. God had gone before us, fighting for his precious Wesley, and we had only to hold our peace and be silent.

When we walked back to Wesley's classroom with his teacher, she was very excited to tell us that this is an amazing opportunity for Wesley, most elementary schools in our district don't provide the extent of supports that Wesley will be provided, she is absolutely amazed and surprised herself with the amount of 1-on-1 help Wesley will receive in an inclusion classroom, she is beyond thrilled that he will not be in a self-contained classroom next year, and she thinks he will thrive in his new placement.

Then today, the district kindly arranged for me to observe at our home school.  While watching the special ed teacher work with a small group of boys, I found myself thanking God for giving Wesley the gift of such an amazing teacher next year.  She truly is fantastic.  Her manner of teaching, her patience, her ability to manage the class while both effectively teaching four boys at different levels and also encouraging these boys to interact with each other and work on social skills, and her wealth of experience working with special children like Wesley were truly awe-inspiring to watch.  I continue to pray that his inclusion teacher will be equally amazing!

God has given Wesley an unexpected gift, and we couldn't be more thankful! We rejoice and thank God for providing for Wesley in amazing ways!

* photo credit Katie Fenska Photography