Thursday, April 28, 2016

What a great God we serve!

Our church just wrapped up our third annual Youth Explosion last night, and, boy, was it amazing!  Watching the teens listen closely to the speaker's words, hearing the singing, seeing the excitement when someone's name was announced for a prize---the extra effort put in was entirely worth it!

Our teens handed out flyers last Friday and again this Monday - Wednesday at various public middle and high schools in our area, inviting any teens who wanted to come to be a part of this year's Youth Explosion.  This meant that we teachers had to scramble to get some classes taught in the morning; our day was then basically over, giving us a chance to catch up on paperwork.  But the teens weren't done yet!  They ate lunch, held a prayer meeting, loaded the buses to hand out flyers, came back by the end of the school day, ate a quick dinner, loaded the buses again to pick up the other teenagers who wanted to come, attended the (crazy, loud, exciting) service, grabbed a sack lunch, reloaded the buses to take the kids home, and finally got to go home themselves.  I helped in the nursery Monday and Tuesday nights, but my husband and I got to attend last night's service and see God moving in the hearts of those teenagers, public and Christian school alike.  Over 200 teenagers accepted Christ in those three days!  There were teens who had attended last year and been saved; they brought friends this year who also got saved.  What an amazing feeling to be able to be a part of someone's receiving Jesus as their Saviour and knowing their eternity is settled forever!  Those teens will not soon forget this week, if ever.

Today, though, is a different story.  We are all exhausted!  I've had kids in almost every class trying to sleep.  This has simply been a busy week, and we are all ready for our day off tomorrow.  The lady staff members get to go away for a special retreat, leaving behind our students, husbands, children, grade books, classrooms, and messy houses!  Praise the Lord for some time to just relaaaaax.

I have spent the last month in and out of the school office, trying to get Dale's schedule for next year nailed down.  There have been some slight changes to the Washington state requirements for seniors graduating in 2017, but, praise the Lord, nothing that will prevent Dale from marching with his class.  (As a Christian school, we always strive to match and then exceed state requirements for graduating seniors and also include Bible classes as required credits for high school.)  Dale has been working SO VERY HARD this year to catch up on some credits he missed in his first years in high school, mainly due to his mental limitations at that time.  As I stated in my last post, his mental abilities have improved while his physical abilities have declined.  So, our school leaders decided to waive Dale's P.E. requirements and count his Bible credits as needed electives so that he is able to finish his high school education next year and walk with his class.  This summer, Dale will need to (possibly) do a Social Studies PACE or two to complete that subject and continue to work on his English PACEs since he's only partway through his 11th grade English work.  But....it looks like his schedule next year will, finally, be a little lighter.  He'll take Bible, English, Government/Economics, Choir, Health, and Math.  I am so thankful for all the help I've received in creating Dale's IEP (Individualized Education Plan) and in making sure he stays on track and completes his assignments.  We keep telling Dale (and ourselves!) that "next year your backpack won't be as heavy" because of a supposed easier classload---but so far that hasn't actually happened.  I am determined to make his backpack lighter, which will ease the strain on those of us whose backs and shoulders ache from lugging it around!!!

We are so blessed to be in this church and school, among friends, church family, and coworkers who care about our family and show their support any way they can---through prayer, through physical assistance, through arranging special circumstances or gifts, and sometimes through explaining to their children Dale's limitations so that those young ones can grow up with an appreciation for a handicapped individual.  I feel like our whole church and school has grown through Dale's accident and can now understand those who are physically disabled or mentally challenged because we see a living example every day.  I know my husband and I reared our children with a gentle concern for disabled people before Dale's accident, but now we understand what they go through a whole lot better.

I'm also so thankful for the many people across the nation and the world who have followed Dale's progress since that fateful day in August when our lives changed.  You have prayed and wept and cared and given, and we can never thank you enough.  I feel like some might think we mention this all the time, but I believe we cannot say it enough:  You have filled our hearts with your love, and we could not have gotten through these hardships without the knowledge that we were not in this alone.  Yes, we have our God and always will, but we also have each other to help us through.

Philippians 1: 3 and 7a  "I thank my God upon every remembrance of you...Even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart."

Monday, March 7, 2016

Happy Easter, y'all!

Can you believe Easter is almost upon us?  I really don't like it when Easter comes in March; it seems almost as if the year is being rushed along too quickly, and we can't take the time to enjoy any breaks between seasons or holidays.  I mean, I just took down the penguin and snowflake window clings at my house, and now I need to put up bunnies and eggs and such!  That being said, Happy Easter to everyone!

I believe it is time to give you a realistic update on Dale's condition.  Our family tends to "put on a good face" whenever we are asked how he's doing, without going into any details, but somehow I feel the time has come to be completely open.  Please know that we are not asking for any sympathy, nor do we wish to sound like we are complaining---just stating facts as they truly are.  We appreciate your prayers and continued support for us; it's so good to know we are not alone as we face each day's challenges.

Dale, quite simply, is not getting any better.  In fact, he's getting worse.  As time progresses, Dale's abilities decline and he becomes more dependent on those around him.  There was a time during his recovery that Dale could walk without assistance, that we could stand at the bottom of a short flight of stairs and watch him walk up rather than assist him on each step, that he could get ready for bed on his own and turn off his light and climb into bed, that he could put away his own clothes into dresser drawers and closet without difficulty.  Those times are past.  Now we walk up and down stairs with him without being more than two steps away.  Now we stay upstairs with him while uses the restroom and brushes his teeth before we walk him into his bedroom, and then wait in the hall for him to get dressed for bed before we turn off his bedroom light.  Now we walk him down the hall to the bathroom from the living room, and back again when he is finished.

Dale needs my help getting into and out of the bathtub.  He needs my help most times with washing his hair because he has to sit in the tub and try to scrunch down to a reclining position to rinse his hair, and this movement causes him to jerk violently.  He cannot step into the tub on his own, and trying to get out of the wet, slick tub after his bath is almost always a wrestling match between him and me!  He cannot stand for a shower because he no longer has the motor control to keep himself from jerking and then falling.  So far, Dale does not need help using the restroom, but I honestly don't think that is too far down the road.

Dale's ability to walk correctly is severely limited.  He continually hunches his shoulders, juts his neck forward, stares at his feet, clenches his free hand and grips his pocket or jacket, and takes smaller steps that his natural gait should allow.  Walking across the gym can take a short minute or a long five minutes.  He no longer has the ability to control any shaking or jerking that his limbs frequently exhibit, nor does he have the strength to walk more than a few steps without becoming winded.  What's worse is he doesn't listen when anyone tries to give encouraging hints or suggestions to help him walk better.  Dale does what he thinks he needs to and absolutely refuses to change.  Going into a store with him is always a trying experience.  I am usually the one to hold him by the hand and walk, for two reasons:  no one else has the patience for it, and I know how stressful walking with him is and I don't want anyone else stressed out.

Dale cannot do most household chores.  He cannot stand to unload the dishwasher.  He cannot bring down his laundry hamper or take his clothes upstairs when they're clean.  He cannot help clean the bathrooms or take out the garbage or vacuum.  His sisters get frustrated because Dale's chores have been divided among all of us, while Dale sits at the table with his tablet.  He does what he can, but that's honestly not much.

Because I am usually the one to walk Dale around, Dale has become more dependent on me.  He seems to have decided that I am the only one he can ask for assistance of any kind:  taking his plate to the sink, walking him to the restroom, answering a question, etc.  Other family members have bought into this philosophy as well, for the most part unintentionally, by thinking that I can handle Dale's needs better than anyone else.  So I have become Dale's primary care giver, thus assuming the lion's share of the responsibility and the stress.  Naturally, this has made me feel burdened with caring for my handicapped son, rather than blessed to be able to still have my Dale alive and with me.

See what I mean by being open?  I know we're not the only family to be struggling with caring for a disabled member, and we are definitely not looking for pity or tears.  I'm also aware that circumstances could be a whole lot worse, and I am grateful that Dale can do what he can do.  There may be some who will criticize us for complaining about "God's miracle"; please don't think that's what I'm doing here.  God did indeed perform an amazing miracle when He gave Dale back his breath and heartbeat and life, and I do not wish that had been different.  I do wish Dale had not given up once he realized God was not going to heal him fully, completely.  I do wish Dale had not gotten angry with God for not allowing him to live the life he had decided on.  I do wish Dale had not stopped trying to improve his physical abilities, because that is when he began to decline.  However, I praise God for the wonderful works He has done in our family, and I continually pray that my spirit will be right so that I do not ever think how things might have been if God had only.....  No---that kind of thinking is dangerous; it leads to discontent, complaining, self-pity, and the like.

Now you know what life in the Ostrander household is like.  Simply put, it's all about Dale.  Every thing we do, every outing we wish to take, every household chore we have to do---it's all centered on whether Dale can do it or not, or whether Dale can go there or not.  Every thump we hear, we jump and worry if Dale fell and got hurt or not.  Every time Dale falls, we worry if he put another hole in the wall or not.  The older girls and I take turns walking Dale up the stairs to bed each night.  We take turns getting Dale his medication each morning and night.  We are versed in how to brace Dale when he falls so as to mitigate any injuries he may receive.  We are always on alert in case Dale goes into a seizure.  We literally don't make a move without considering Dale first.

Now, for the good news:

We've discovered, as people with disabled children do, that life continues after an accident.  We've reorganized our lives to include the need for more time getting to/from events or locations.  We've learned to stop and wait for Dale to slooooowly get the words out that he is trying to stay.  We've decided to take each day as it comes and enjoy what we can.  Some days, Dale can walk fine and talk fine, and our family kind of forgets that he's different now.  Some days, it's all too obvious.  I'm thankful beyond measure that Dale's mental faculties have returned to the point he is doing well in school and is on track to graduate next year with his class.  I'm thankful that he still possesses his sharp wit and crazy humor.  It's funny to us to see the looks on people's faces who, when Dale starts to speak, expect him to say something obtuse or irrelevant and are surprised to hear him "talk like a normal person."  Oh, he has his moments when nothing he says makes sense---but then again, he is a guy!

There are days when we are screaming in frustration at our situation.  There are days when we are overwhelmed with gratitude.  But, most days, we just are.  Most days, we just deal with it.  We strive to remember:  God's grace is sufficient for our daily needs.  We are the ones who forget to use it.

II Corinthians 12:9  "And He said unto me, 'My grace is sufficient for thee:  for My strength is made perfect in weakness.'  Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me."

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Goal: Absolute Perfection!

How in the world has it been so long since I've posted anything on this blog?!  The amount of time between entries might be attributed to medical concerns, busy schedule, lack of available writing time, holidays, or whatever excuse comes to mind, but the truth is, I haven't written because I haven't wanted to.  I've been somewhat depressed lately for various reasons, and I haven't felt like being cheerful and upbeat and coherent for my next post.  Let me explain….

Do any of y'all feel depressed around the holidays?  I've heard that statistics are through the roof about the suicide rate, alcoholism, and drug abuse during what should be the most festive season of our whole year.  One would think someone who attends church faithfully, teaches in a Christ-centered school, hears God's Word on a regular basis, and surrounds himself with godly people would have no problem keeping his eyes on Christ for daily uplifting, no matter the time of year.  In a perfect world, this would be so.  But none of us live in a perfect world with perfect spouses and perfect children who get perfect grades and have perfect behavior records. Not one of us has a perfect house or perfect job or perfect, Barbie-esque figures; we don't have perfect teeth or perfect hair or present perfect appearances.  I know for a fact my cute little fur ball doggie isn't perfect---I regularly have to clean up after her when she decides going outside to relieve herself is just too much work.  (Side note:  Thursday night, I took the garbage can to the street for the following day's pickup.  Peanut [aforementioned dog] accompanied me, intent on exploring any previously unmarked territory.  I completed my task as quickly as possible and turned to call her.  She had disappeared behind the neighbor's car, parked in their driveway.  When I rounded the back of their car in search of my errant dog, I discovered her "doing her business" next to the back tire of their vehicle.  In their driveway!  And #2, not just #1, which might have some chance of drying overnight and thus being undetected by said neighbor.  Stupid dog!  I had to go through the back gate, struggle to latch it, pick my flashlight-aided way along the side of the house around the corner to the back door, shoo my dog inside before closing and bolting the door, and then make my way---armed with paper towels---out the front door and over to the neighbor's driveway where I squatted down and carefully cleaned up the deposits my "man's best friend" had left for the poor, unsuspecting neighbors. I certainly hope no one was watching right then because I'm sure I looked like some creepy sort of stalker!  End of side note.)

My point is this:  I am not perfect.  Does this come as a surprise to anyone?  You are not perfect.  I don't think there are many people in the world who would even claim to be close to perfect.  God Himself tells us, "There is none righteous, no, not one."  And He goes even further than that when He says all our "righteousness" is as filthy rags.  (Think:  dog poo-covered paper towels!)  I'm pretty sure we're all in agreement that none of us is perfect, right?

So, why, then, are we so bent on achieving perfection?  Why do we try so hard to reach the impossible?  Why do we set ourselves up for failure by striving for that which, until Heaven, is out of our reach?  And why, then, do we berate ourselves so bitterly when we fail?  Why do we chastise ourselves and criticize ourselves when we repeatedly show that we are, indeed, human?

The more spiritual among us would wish to answer that we strive for perfection because we wish to be like God, and I would agree.  We should try our utmost to be like our Heavenly Father in every way.  But, in my life, I know the answer to the question posed is a different one.  And….the answer is quite telling.  I try so hard to be perfect because I don't want to admit I'm not.  I don't want to admit I'm not perfect because I want to be perfect already.  And, I want to be perfect already because I don't want to have to wait for God to make me perfect.  I want it now.  I want perfection now because I don't want to have to admit day after day, hour after hour, life event after life event, that I NEED GOD.  I need Him.  I am only complete through Him and with Him in control.  Do you see?  If I can do everything perfectly on my own, then I'm not as hopeless a sinner as I really am.  If I can achieve perfection right now, then I don't need God as desperately as I really do.  It's simply a matter of pride, isn't it?  My desire to be perfect has nothing to do with being like God; it has everything to do with living my life without God.  I want to be in control.

Somehow, I have created a fictional world where I am in charge and everything and everyone around me flourishes.  In my fantasy, I am perfect and do all things perfectly:  I am a perfect wife and mother and teacher and friend and daughter and sister and caregiver and cook and housekeeper and grocery shopper and meal planner and so on and so forth.  I believe that if I were just perfect, everything around me would be perfect.  I would have perfect kids and a perfect husband and a perfect job and perfect students and a perfect house that was perfectly clean.  Nothing would be amiss in my perfect world because I would be the center and I would be perfect.  And, in my thinking, since I obviously don't live in a perfect world with a perfect life and perfect children, then I am to be blamed for not being that perfect center.

If God Himself doesn't expect perfection, why do we demand it of ourselves?  I have admitted that my desire to be perfect stems from my desire not to have to depend on God for daily stability and guidance.  It took a lot of thinking and honesty and prayer to reach that point where I was willing to confess my pride.  But confession, though good for the soul, doesn't change my thinking.  Constant contact with my Father does.  Talking with God (prayer) and listening to Him talk to me (reading my Bible) will change my wrongful thinking and help me be a better person.  This will, in turn, make me more like Christ….Who is, remember, perfect!  Eventually, I will get my wish and be just like my Heavenly Father.  For now, I will strive to be as close to Him in prayer and Bible reading and actions as I---humanly---can.

Please continue to pray for Dale as he struggles with trusting God with His life, too.  Dale is always willing to talk about his trust issues, but God is still working on his heart to help Dale see how much He loves him.  Dale has good days and bad days physically, but we all keep plugging away and doing our best to help him.  He's up-to-date in his school work so far, and I'm kind of excited about finishing this year (I know we're only through the first semester!) and looking ahead at his senior year.  God is always good, even when we forget to remember that.  It's wonderful to know that God doesn't have good days and bad days; He is a steady, solid Rock that we can always lean on.

Have a wonderful 2016!  God bless you!

Hebrews 13:8  "Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever."

Friday, November 27, 2015

Happy Day-After-Thanksgiving to you!

How was your Thanksgiving?  Did you get to spend time with family or friends?  Did you have your annual Turkey Bowl/civil war?  Did you stuff yourself so full that you barely had the willpower left to roll yourself to the couch where you lay in a semi-comatose state…..until the effects wore off and you were ready for seconds?

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner.  We actually debated going out to a buffet for our meal this year; my husband wanted to take the stress off of me and the girls, having to spend hours cooking the huge feast and setting the table and finding enough matching dishes to look good….and then cleaning up afterwards.  With the size family we have, it probably would have cost about the same to go out to eat as staying home, but we wouldn't have all those wonderful, exasperating, where-in-the-world-do-I-put-these leftovers that are now crammed in our fridge.  There's nothing quite like the satisfaction one feels when one has managed to perfectly balance two bowls, one cheesecake, and a plate of cranberry sauce in one beautiful, if precarious, tower!  I think most of us did, in fact, pass out on various couches after dinner, hoping to sleep off the effects of holiday overindulgence.  But, all in all, we had a lovely day.

I think one of the highlights of this holiday was the conversation that Dale and Ashley had in the evening.  Dale was extra shaky yesterday and having trouble with, what seemed to us, the simplest tasks.  Walking down the hall to the bathroom, remembering to flush the toilet, sitting down on the couch without falling down….that sort of thing.  Ashley was frustrated with him because he wasn't listening to advice given by her and the falling-down results were the same.  I chose to stay out of their conversation, not because I wanted them to bond or anything but rather because I was tired of dealing with him.  This lack of listening behavior has been going on for a while now, and I was more than willing to let someone else do the talking.  And I'm so glad I did.  Dale began telling Ashley things I've never heard him say before.  He told her how he felt about the falling down, he told her that Dad and Mom don't let him try to do things on his own anymore, and he told her that he didn't see the need to try harder when nothing made any difference.  I couldn't believe what I was hearing!  The realization struck me that Dale's and Ashley's relationship is different than Dale's and mine; after all, they are brother and sister whereas he and I are son and mother.  There are certain things he feels he can't say to me that he had no trouble expressing to Sash.  I let them talk for a bit, just listening in, before going into the other room and joining them.  I realized that, in my efforts to motivate Dale to see all he was giving up on by not working as hard as I thought he should at his exercises (mobility, control of limbs, possible college, future job, life….), I was actually stripping him of any hope for anything better than the present.  I was wiping away all joy and desire and ambition for life beyond high school.  My efforts to prod him to walk better, to think better, to listen better were having the opposite effect; I was pushing him farther and farther into the grip of depression and misery.

Was that ever an eye-opener!  I---the one who believes herself to be the only one who understands Dale, who has the ability to help him walk, who has the patience to help him as he struggles---am the one who is holding him down and not letting him try to succeed on his power.  I realized I wasn't just clipping his wings; I was strapping them to his body and blaming him for not being able to fly.  Ashley, Dale, and I talked for a long time, apologizing and loving and encouraging and bonding together.  We each expressed the desire to see Dale regain lost muscle tone and balance, to help him achieve more independence, to look for new ways he can grow and develop his future, to reaffirm our commitment to help each other any way we can.  Because that's what family does.  We're there for each other, we help each other, we support each other, and sometimes we carry each other.

So, I'm going to be looking into college-level computer courses for Dale to set his mind toward.  He's a junior in high school right now and is on track to graduate with his class.  He is taking Spanish this year through Rosetta Stone, and I was surprised to see how steady his hand in when moving the mouse!  Normally, even with a pencil and paper, he struggles with the jerking movements that sometimes occur; but he seems to excel with the mouse and headphone set he uses in Spanish.  So I'm going to see about other computer-related possibilities for Dale.  I'm kind of excited to see what might pop up!

We're entering one of the busiest times of the year, for parents or children or businesses or teachers or students or anybody.  The rush of holiday shopping, the chaos of Christmas decorating, the panic of last-minute presents.  For teachers, it's the efforts to capture and retain the students' attention, the push to cram in actual teaching around excitement and home games and parties.  It's easy to get so wrapped up (see what I did there?) in the whirl of Christmas activities that we forget to enjoy the simplicity of the holiday.  We need to decide now that, at least once a day, we'll stop and thank God for Christmas and for sending His Son to be born as a babe.  We need to appreciate our families, our jobs, our health, our houses, our cars, our pets, our friends, our neighbors.  We should rejoice in the ability to buy tons of awesome presents or just a simple gift for each loved one.  The lights, the sparkle, the music, the decor, the food, the tree, the gifts---these are all just reflections of our Father's love for us, displayed in the greatest gift of all, the gift of selfless love.  When God gave us Jesus, He gave us everything.  Let's choose to remember Him in the midst of celebrating His birth.

John 3: 16  "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." 

Monday, October 5, 2015

Judge not......

Oh my goodness!  Is your family as busy as ours is right now?  Those of you with children know the craziness of back-to-school time with shopping for clothes, gathering school supplies, finding buried backpacks and lunch boxes and shoes, and hoping desperately that you remembered to actually sign your child up for classes---not that that's ever happened to me, you understand…!

Our school year should be "easier" this year because we are down to just three kids in school, now that both Amanda and Katie have graduated.  This means a lower curriculum bill, one less lunch to make each day, and less money going out for school activities.  But I still have the same number of people in the van because Katie has been hired on staff!  She now has the dubious title of "Lunch Lady" as well as "Janitor."  She plans the weekly school lunch menu, cooks and serves the food, and orders the stock regularly; then, after school and on weekends, she cleans the gymnasium (where our classrooms are).  She searched for a job all summer, putting in applications and getting her resume out there.  Finally, in August, Round Table Pizza hired her for a few hours a week.  One week later she received the offer to do lunches and clean the gym!  Now she has so many hours at school that she has had to give notice at Round Table.  Praise the Lord!!

Dale is actually in two classes this year!  He is completing PACES in Algebra I, Bible, and English, but he gets to be in science and consumer math class.  He is also taking Spanish this year using Rosetta Stone, so he's in the computer classroom but working at his own speed.  He seems to be doing well enough with his grades, passing his courses and studying hard. His walking though is getting harder, I think.  He exercises regularly, but it's just so hard for him to simply take steps.  On a recent outing, my husband bought Dale some new tennis shoes.  He's been wanting and needing some, and these are awesome.  They're bright and colorful---he's so tired of basic black!---and they fit well.  They don't necessarily improve his gait, but they don't hinder it either (something I was seriously concerned about).  And they have special shoelaces that just require pulling to tighten, rather than tying.  Those are nice!  I think, unless God chooses to again show His might and reconnect Dale's brain patterns fully, we might be seeing Dale's best walking ability right now.  Still, he's alive and well, and we are soooo thankful.

It has been borne in upon us since Dale's accident four years ago that we truly don't understand another's situation until we are actually in their shoes.  Before we raced frantically to the hospital, before we hovered over Dale's bedside, praying for life, before we spent literally weeks in different hospitals, before we considered a good day one in which Dale had managed to swallow properly---we honestly had no idea the struggles a family with a disabled child goes through.  I have always considered myself to be a compassionate person, one who is ever ready to listen sympathetically or give a hug or spend time in prayer for someone going through a rough time.  But for me to say that I "knew" what those families were going through would have been a gross understatement.  I had no idea how each minute could be an eternity, how normal activities could become insurmountable tasks, how daily life could be so overwhelming that sometimes you just want to stop.  Just stop.  Close the door, don't leave the house, turn off your phone, and pull your family close and never let go.

People were so understanding those first few weeks and months.  We had complete strangers come up to us in the store and tell us they were praying for us.  Our church family was absolutely wonderful with prayers, meals, tears, help, and love.  I took a year off teaching school to tutor Dale and take him to doctor and therapy appointments; Chad worked hard but spent every moment he could at home.  Life was hard, but it was also bathed in the very real knowledge that God was working daily in our lives.  We could feel His presence.  It took us a while to adjust our schedules to accommodate Dale's needs, which meant we had to step down from a lot of ministries we'd been involved in (nursery, choir, soul winning, etc.), simply because someone had to be with Dale at all times.  I remember being so appreciative of folks understanding that we didn't stop these ministries because we wanted to but because we had to cut things out of our schedule and rewrite a new daily plan.

But it's been four years now.  It's been four years since Dale's accident, three years since he had twice-weekly physical therapy sessions and weekly speech therapy.  He now sees a doctor only about every six months, and he's really doing very well.  We've been able to gradually add things back into our schedule so that now we are just about as busy as before, just not doing the same things.  We go visiting on our bus route each Saturday morning; I rejoined the choir and conduct Children's Choir each Sunday evening; I also conduct Buttons and Bows (a club for girls) twice a month; Chad drives the bus for teen soul winning on Wednesdays (when his job allows), and Ashley goes out too; Emily is involved with Children's Challenge every Saturday morning; Katie and Ashley work in the nurseries; Chad leads singing in Sunday school and baptizes new converts.  See what I mean?  All this is in addition to school each day during the week and all that entails.

I list these things to make a point.  To a casual observer, it looks like we are overwhelmingly busy with church activities---and they'd be right!  It requires continual effort on our part to make sure our activity is not for men's applause, but for God's.  We do these things because we should be involved in our local church, but our hearts' attitude is one of service.  We do these things because we love God and want to be of service to Him.  We want Him to use us daily.  This, I believe, is the attitude of most Christians.

But it's so easy to slip from this attitude of service to one of judgment.  "If I can do all this for God with a handicapped child, why aren't you doing more?" or "Why should I volunteer for that function when I have a disabled son to care for?"  We have to be so careful not to assign motives to people who don't volunteer when we simply do not know what they are dealing with in their personal lives.  Dale's disability is very visible; someone else's disability may be hidden but just as debilitating.  Oh, Father, please guard my tongue and my thoughts that I do not hurt one of Your children because of my selfish, sinful desire to compare myself with them.

As well, I would hope that no one judges me or my family.  "It's been four years.  How much longer are they going to use Dale's accident as an excuse not to _____?" or "I realize they have a lot to handle, but I still think they should be faithful to ______."  I've been upset for a while now about that last one.  My family feels the sting of thinly veiled suggestions that we are letting others down by not attending, say, bus meeting on Saturday mornings.  We do make it after the meeting ends and get our assignments for visitation that day, but we do not often make it to the meeting itself.  On the one hand, I understand that this is an announced meeting designed to challenge people to do their best out visiting that day.  I realize that sometimes prizes are given out for the route with the most workers in attendance.  I know that a bus captain's heart is set at ease when he sees his workers at the meeting, knowing he does not have to visit the entire route by himself!  On the other hand, five days a week I am punching a time-clock, waking my family up early, helping my son into the bathroom, trying to awaken my youngest who absolutely hates getting up in the morning, walking backwards down the stairs in front of Dale who usually gets shaky on the stairs and has to sit down every two or three steps, urging him to get up and keep going because we have to be at school on time, hating the fact that I know it's making it harder on him to have to try to hurry, knowing that he really would benefit physically by another hour or two of sleep---but we don't have that choice.  School starts at 8:25 a.m., Monday through Friday, regardless of Dale's physical condition.  So when given the chance to slow things down a bit, we do.  When given the option to slow down on the stairs and not push Dale to keep going, I let him sit down and relax for a minute.  Since I'm not docked for missing bus meeting and the kids aren't considered tardy, I choose not make an issue of it.  After all, we get there in time to send Emily out on Children's Challenge and get our visitation assignments, so I feel we're doing our part.

I'm going to go a bit farther.  Sometimes, on a Sunday morning, if Dale is struggling with the stairs extra or just plain old struggling, I have no problem skipping Sunday school.  I know, I know---the horror!!!  Again, I'm thankful not to have to punch a time-clock for Sunday school, so if I have a few extra minutes I can take without the world coming to a screeching halt, I'll take them.  It's not that I consider my job more important than God's work; after all, my job is part of my service to God.  It's not that I think earning a dollar more important than earning God's favor; I think He honestly understands that sometimes it's nice not to be forced to rush.  I would rather miss bus meeting or be late for Sunday school than cause my son to have a seizure because I'm pushing him harder than he can handle.  Especially if I'm pushing him to get out the door just so someone doesn't criticize me for not being on time.

It all goes back to "Judge not, lest ye be judged."  I don't want people to be judgmental towards me and my family, as if we're using Dale's accident and subsequent handicap to get out of doing stuff.  So I'd better be sure I'm not judging others based on my ideas of what they should be able to do.  We all have our own trials and difficulties to overcome.  I certainly wouldn't want someone thinking, "If I were in her shoes, I would still be able to ______," so I'd better be careful not to assume that of others either.  We each need to be more aware of our own faults and shortcomings than we are someone else's.  God doesn't expect us to change others; He expects us to change ourselves.

I love you people; you have been our cheerleaders and prayer warriors for quite some time now, and we appreciate every word spoken.  Let's lift each other up with our thoughts and prayers and glances, so that God might be so very pleased with our service.

Galatians 6:2  "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ."


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

From this time forth and forevermore.....thank you.

Our choir sang a song Sunday morning in church titled "My Tribute."  Have you ever heard of it?  The first few lines are:  "How can I give thanks for the things You have done for me---things so undeserved yet You give to prove Your love for me?  The voices of a million angels could not express my gratitude!"  This perfectly sums up my feeble attempts to thank our wonderful Heavenly Father for His blessings my whole life but especially in these last years.

You see, four years ago this morning, I waved goodbye to my three oldest children as they boarded the church bus for an outing at the beach.  I hugged them quickly and we threw "I love you"s at each other before they slammed the car doors shut and raced to join their friends.  My son Dale stopped outside my window long enough to form his hands into the shape of a heart and wait for me to return our secret signal of love.  My two oldest girls were excited to be spending some time outdoors and hoping to get a tan while Dale was just thrilled to be part of the youth group, having just exited sixth grade two months before.  I pulled out of the church parking lot and headed for a friend's house to drop off my two younger girls, already contemplating how I would spend this unexpected free time with no kids around.

I think back to my activities of that day in bemusement, thinking how foolish and self-centered I really was.  I spent some time in the hot tub, took a leisurely shower (all moms know how rare that is!), and then cleaned my glass back door before applying summery gel window clings.  If I had only known what was transpiring three hours away......

The teens had all been warned before they got off the bus not to go out deep into the water.  This was not a swimming activity; they were just supposed to be wading and splashing around.  Amanda, my oldest, had been charged before she left with the task of keeping an eye on her young brother.  Dale was 12 and crazy, and I felt like he could benefit from all the looking after he could stand!  She and Katie had been with the girls just down the beach, playing and having a good time, but Amanda was careful to regularly glance over at the guys' group, pinpoint Dale's location, and make sure he was all right.  The day was beautifully sunny, the water was refreshing, and the kids were in high spirits.  It was a perfect day for a teen activity.

It was about halfway through the afternoon when one of the guys came racing over to the girls' group, screaming at them to get out of the water.  They brushed him off, saying they weren't out too far.  When he persisted, they said, "What's the big deal?"  His response silenced their laughter.  He said, "There's somebody in trouble out in the water, and it's your brother!", pointing at Amanda and Katie.  Immediately, fear and nausea welling up inside them, they turned to frantically scan the water, desperate for a sight of their brother.  Anything to cancel out the horrible news, anything to dispel the growing terror.  Mandie felt guilt wash over her as she realized it had been a while since she had checked on Dale.  Their scouring gaze revealed only that the guys were already out of the water and on the beach, huddled in groups, while Bro. Jon, their youth pastor, had waded out as far as he could to search for signs of Dale.  The same fear and disbelief was etched on each face.  This wasn't supposed to happen to somebody they knew.  It wasn't supposed to happen to a church kid.  It wasn't supposed to happen to them.

How do I say thanks for the godly teachers, principals, youth leaders, Sunday school teachers, nursery workers, parents, and grandparents who had spent countless hours instilling in our young people the fact that there is a God in heaven, that He hears us when we pray, that He is able to move heaven and earth to do His will, and that He cares about each and every one of us.  Those teenagers dropped to their knees, some their faces, on the sand and began to beg God to save Dale.  He was lost out in the ocean somewhere, fighting for his very life, and our youth group, through fear and tears and despair, called out to the One Who holds us in His hands.  They were the first responders that day, beseeching God with weeping and wordless cries to spare Dale's life, to at least let his body be found.

How do I say thanks to our incredible church leaders who were there on the worst day in our family's lives?  How do I express my gratitude for the love and prayers and money and tears and hugs and smiles and visits and encouragement and support they gave us then and have continued to give us?  They stood with us in the hospital waiting room, asking our forgiveness for letting this tragedy happen to our son while under their care.  I don't think they truly understood then what Chad and I tried to tell them---that we don't blame them for the accident, never have.  That we believe that God set in motion the events of that day and the days following so that we might bring honor and glory to Him.  We admire those leaders for their strength and courage that day, helping that busload of teenagers to cry and grieve and pray and heal that oh-so-long bus ride home that afternoon, then turning around to drive right back so that they could be with us in Doernbecher, standing around Dale's bedside, pacing the halls, praying, praying, praying.  Roy and K'arin Hanson, you wrapped my heart in your words and cried with me.  Jon Minge, you took your life in your hands when you went back in the water to look for my son.  I still have that picture of you waist-deep in the ocean, searching for my boy.  I will never forget that as long as I live.  Whitney, you stood beside me without speaking, just let your prescence comfort me.  Preacher and Mrs. Minge, you reacted to the dreadful news as if Dale was your own son, as I know you feel.  You took our two girls in your truck, wet and sandy and disheveled, bought them clothes, drove them to Doernbecher, then stayed with us while Chad and I broke the news that the doctor was not giving us any hope.  You cancelled VBS that next week because you didn't think anyone would be able to work it; there were so many people day after day, busloads and shuttleloads of church family who came to visit.  Preacher, you let us see how hard Dale's drowning hit you when you talked about having to get up and preach on Sunday with that heaviness in your heart.  Accounts given tell how you stopped the service early Sunday night so that people could pray.......and nearly the entire congregation left their seats and poured down the aisles to ask God to wake Dale up.  Mrs. Minge, I hope you know how special you are to me.  I cannot possibly tell you how much each word, each glance, each smile has strengthened my heart.

How can I say thanks to my wonderful church family who showered us with help, blessings, money, food, clothes, and love during those weeks in the hospital?  To effectively list all those who should be mentioned, I refer you to our church roster.  Every single person prayed or gave money or brought a meal or paid for school supplies or bought stuffed animals and blankets or just loved us.  Jessica and Sarah Waugh, especially, stayed with us at Doernbecher and never left, paying for meals, taking our younger girls to the playroom and for walks, sitting with Dale so that I could get some sleep.  My mom and dad came to visit, and Becky Welch and Becky Shattuck picked them up from the airport for us and drove them all the way down to Oregon.  Tina O'Connor not only closed up our house for us so that we could leave right away for the hospital, but also took care of our dog, the library, and lots of little errands.  Numerous calls and visits and cards and love flooded our way.

How can I say thanks for the continued love and support our family receives?  Church family who stop by to ask Dale how he's doing, who continue to pray for God's perfect healing of our son, who tease Dale as he struggles to walk properly, who accomodate him in school and act like it's no big deal when really it's huge.  Those who occasionally still stop to give me a hug or shake Chad's hand and slip some money into it.  Who get behind us in the hallway and patiently wait the extra minutes it takes for Dale to navigate around the corners.  Who would drop everything if we needed someone to help us......and have.  Those of you who don't live nearby but pray with us daily.  Those who have sent cards and letters and money and gift cards.  Those who we may never get to thank in person until we meet at the Throne.

How.  Can.  I.  Give.  Thanks.....to the One Who holds our world together?  If we did not have our God in heaven to cry out to when all seems black and death is imminent, how could we survive?  If we did not have the promise of seeing our loved ones again, how could we continue to live?  If we did not have eternal life through Jesus, how could we hope for anything?  If we did not know beyond any question that God holds our future and does not tremble, how could we exist?  If not for His tender mercy and comforting presence, how could we bear it?  I know my God loves me.  I know my God cares what happens to me and mine.  I know my God cries when I cry and grieves when I grieve and stands strong when I am weak and holds me close when I cannot face tomorrow.  I know my God's plan was for my son to die that day in the ocean, far away from me.  I know my God changed His mind when He heard the prayers of people begging Him to show His mighty hand.  I know my God loves my son and has a plan for his future, even though I cannot see it.  I know my God is there.  I know.

These are rhetorical questions.  The answer is obvious:  I can't.  I can't say thank you enough.  I can't express my gratitude enough.  I can't show my thankfulness enough.  I certainly can't repay everyone's love and kindness.  And there is no way I can properly express my thanks to my God for Who He is, for being there when I needed Him most.....which is always, for loving my family, for giving me back my son.  But I can try.

Thank you.  From the bottom of my heart, with tears running down my face, with joy overflowing, both now and forever, thank you.  Thank you for each prayer; thank you for each gift; thank you for each question; thank you for each card; thank you for each smile.  You mean the world to our family.

And thank You, Lord.  Just.....thank You, Lord.  I love You.

Philippians 2: 13-16  "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure.  Do all things without murmurings and disputings:  That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;  Holding forth the word of life; that I may rejoice in the day of Christ, that I have not run in vain, neither laboured in vain."

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Summertime, summertime!

Now is the time for relaxing, getting some sun, tossing the school books in the back of the closet, and sleeping in until noon.  Right?  Unless you're my husband, who believes sleeping past six o'clock to be unnecessary and "summer" to be synonymous with "extra chores."

Fortunately for my kids, I'm more on their side than his on this issue!  I don't want to get up at the crack of dawn during the summer, and I don't want to spend my every waking hour cleaning.  So, Chad and I have come to an understanding.  I make sure the house is picked up regularly and dishes and laundry are done, plus one or two other chores that have been put off until a convenient time (like summer!), and he doesn't complain if the kids watch extra TV or sleep downstairs on the pull-out couch.  I've made it a point to assign certain chores to my children as well as myself, and I follow up to be sure they've gotten done.  He accepts the fact that we have the summer off but he doesn't.  Poor guy has been putting in some serious overtime at work because of coworkers' injuries and vacations!  His normal days off are Tuesday afternoon - Thursday night, but lately he's been working Wednesday mornings and even overnight a time or two.  This does result in some extra money coming in…..which nicely balances out the fact that we're short my teaching income during the summer.  We haven't even had a chance to take the camper out yet, and it's already heading into the second week of July!  Hopefully we'll get away for a couple days before too long.

Dale has had the summer off from schoolwork so far.  He was supposed to be getting his English 10 PACES finished (which we had thought were done but then discovered were only halfway completed!) as well as beginning tutoring in Algebra I PACES, but, upon further investigation, we found we needed to order the remaining English 10 PACES---and we're still waiting on the math as well.  So Dale's gotten more of a summer break than we anticipated, but it's been nice for him not to have to be bent over the books all the time.  I've had two meetings with our principal about Dale's schooling, and we've mapped out his academic schedule for the next two years, including summer school.  This next year will really make the difference for Dale.  If he can really push himself and pass some necessary classes, he can take it a little easier his senior year.  We've sat down and talked this whole thing through with him, and he understands how important it will be for him to stay on top of his studies in order to graduate on time with his class.  Hopefully he'll get the tough classes out of the way this year (math, science, history) and be able to breathe a bit easier next year.

We've also implemented a more rigid exercise routine for him.  It does Dale no good to sit around all day, even during summer break, causing him to be extremely unsteady and fall more frequently.  During the school year, he gets up and moves around at the end of each class hour; we've been reminding him to get up and walk around the house more.  He's been going through a series of exercises (strength, squats, etc.) each morning since about March, and we noticed a difference when he exercises regularly.  Now, we've added some afternoon exercises, ones that work his leg  muscles and add strength and stability.  This not only improves his balance and confidence but also goes toward his needed Health/Fitness credits for his diploma (since he cannot be part of the regular P.E. classes).  Please pray that these exercises will help Dale gain back some of the muscle tone and steadiness he lost since last summer.

Many of you know of Dale's struggles with anger and bitterness in the past year or so.  This is an ongoing battle for him, one he faces every time he tries to stand and every time he hears of a youth activity or school function that he cannot participate in.  There are times it seems he's handling his emotions well, and then there are times it is obvious that he's still withdrawing from our Heavenly Father out of hurt and anger.  He hears stories of others who have struggled and knows they had to choose to trust God no matter what, but he is unwilling to make that choice himself.  He feels that God was unfair to take away his future and leave him like this.  None of us can truly know what Dale feels like or how hard it is for him to daily, hourly realize that life is moving on without him. He doesn't get to make plans to go out with his friends or mow someone's lawn to raise money for Youth Conference or get his driver's license.  He's facing the reality that everyone is growing up and buckling down to graduate in two years' time and then heading off to college or the military, and he's just trying to get a piece of paper.  There are no college plans for him, no saving up to get his first car, no liking a girl and wondering if this high school romance will last.  Dale is fighting every day just to still believe God loves him.  He knows what the Bible says, that God is love, but he is so angry about his situation that he does not want to accept that.  I feel that, if Dale accepts that God loves him and still allowed this awful thing to happen, then Dale has to accept that everything else is true---that we are here for God's purpose and that that purpose might have nothing to do with our plans for our future.  Dale was more than willing to go to church and tithe and read his Bible and pray AND become an inventor (his desire), but he's not interested in going to church and tithing and reading his Bible and praying and being a living example of God's answer to prayer.  He honestly may not see God's plan for what it is until he reaches Heaven, but I hope and pray Dale gives in and gives up to God before then so that he might still lay up treasures in Heaven.  Please continue to pray for Dale as he learns this terribly hard lesson, to trust God.

Our Katie graduated from high school one month ago and is now on the hunt for a job!  She's put in applications seemingly everywhere and has had a couple of interviews; now she just has to wait and see what God has for her.  This is really hard for her (and her dad!), but she made the decision to wait on college and save up money first while still serving Him faithfully, and God will honor that.  It's just so hard to be waiting around, hoping some employer will call!!!  Please pray with us that she'll get a job soon.

Our daughter Ashley got to go to Youth Conference the end of June with our youth group.  She came back exhausted but full of stories of the fun they'd had and the sermons they'd heard.  Praise the Lord for a church and a youth pastor who believe in leading our young people toward God and not just having silly, fun activities.  I know how important my youth leaders were when I was growing up, and I'm so thankful that my children have had godly leaders to help us guide them as they grow.  Ashley also got to spend some time with our oldest, Amanda, who is now living in the Santa Clara area!  They got to have dinner together and hang out for a bit and catch up on sister stuff.  Ashley was so excited about that!  She's going to be a freshman this year…..where did the time go?  She's already freaking out about volleyball and classes and all!

My Emily is no longer in my class.  (Sniff!)  She is entering fourth grade in the fall and will not be in my classroom any more---at least, not until after school!  What a blessing to be able to teach my own younguns.  Emily is excited about growing up but not as thrilled about moving on.  She's so accustomed to being the baby that it's sometimes hard for her to accept the fact that she's actually getting older.  However, I think she's going to be just fine!

I feel like I don't thank you folks enough for all you have done for our family and meant to us over the past few years.  Your prayers, your kind words and thoughts, your gifts and loving cards have all made such an impact on our lives.  Many of you we will never get to personally thank this side of Heaven, but please know you are much appreciated and loved.  God bless you all!  Enjoy your summer!

Psalm 61:2  "From the end of the earth will I cry unto Thee, when my heart is overwhelmed; lead me to the Rock that is higher than I."