A decade with Rachel—big blessings come in tiny packages.

By Jennifer Dyer

 

A baby is born…

I can’t believe a decade has slipped by since Rachel made her first appearance on a sunny day in January. After a troubled pregnancy with multiple scares, a miraculous reattachment to the uterine wall, and months of bed rest, Rachel decided enough was enough. Although she was a month early, she was ready to make a grand entrance.

And it was grand. With 13 people in the operating room counting sponges repeatedly, Rachel readied to exit stage right. My heart lurched when both doctors leaned over my belly and gasped, saying, “Oh, my God,” in tandem.

They delivered her, placing her on my chest for about two seconds before whisking her to NICU. Fortunately, Rachel was released after only a few hours, and we thought all was well.

A baby with a destiny…

The next day, my doctor came into the room and cradled Rachel close to her chest. Her eyes glistened with tears, and she leveled me with a look. “I want you to understand how many times over this baby is a miracle. She should not have survived, but God intervened for her multiple times. This is a miracle baby. God has big plans for her.”

I tucked that into my heart and felt tension melt away. God had plans for her. Everything was going to be all right. I mean, big plans means big stuff, right? President? Campaign for international justice? Building water wells in Africa? Who knew how far she would go?

A shift in thought…

So, why in the next several years did Rachel lag behind developmentally? For a while, we thought she was deaf. The doctors also said she was just catching up to her peers. One neurologist walked into the exam room, glanced at Rachel sitting in the corner and stated, “There is nothing wrong with that child.” He left the room about two minutes later.

Enter Autism…

But just before Christmas, a month before she turned three, Rachel was diagnosed with severe autism. After the initial shock wore off, in some ways I was relieved. I finally had a reason my life was so stressful. What took most moms ten minutes took us hours. Each day was full of screaming tantrums. My picture-perfect home and life were lost under a mound of laundry and messes. Sleep was a long-forgotten memory. I scrubbed poop off the walls, furniture, and carpet daily…for years. We couldn’t go in public without Rachel stripping naked and screaming, or worse, darting through crowds like a cat with ten hounds on her tail.

And don’t get me started on the sensory issuesfood issues or her obsession with dumping the contents of any container.

Tiny prayers mean big things…

The other day I paused to look back. I remembered a tiny prayer spoken years ago. “Lord, I don’t want to be stressed all the time. Help me to be more laid back.”

Not the most eloquent of prayers, but meant from the heart. I was tired of being Stressed-Out Jennifer. My perfectionism held me in a gripped fist. I was sick of worrying about the perfection of my house, my bank accounts, my body, my…everything.

Have you ever heard that saying, “Be careful what you pray for?”

Yeah, I’ve heard it too…

Rachel saying hi.

Rachel moving ahead.

Sadly, sometimes we have to take a ride through hell to gain a deeper understanding of God’s grace. Sometimes we need trials to shape our hearts into something beautiful. And sometimes we have to walk through the deepest of valleys before we learn to look up.

Do I wish things could be different for Rachel? Of course. When I look at her typical age peers, my heart squeezes so tight it shatters. But when I see Rachel’s beautiful smile or hear her say “Elmo,” my cracked heart becomes soft again. It is as if I see the sunrise for the first time whenever Rachel says “Mama”, eats a bite of an apple, writes her name, signs her sister’s name, and signs “Grandpa.”

Finding hope…

I’ve learned to find beauty in the tiniest of moments and to see rays of hope in the darkest hours. I’ve learned that messes don’t matter and that the external fades away (just ask any mom after years of sleep deprivation).

Rachel knows she is different—she’s very smart. But it doesn’t bother her. She is the picture of joy, especially when left to her favorite mediums of glue and paper or when jumping into a pool.

Lest I make this all about me…

I’ve seen a depth of character in Eldest that is born from a life of trials. She was right beside me through all the messes and tantrums. She had to ride in the van next to a naked, screaming child. And she was the one Rachel would crawl in bed with each night–although Rachel doesn’t know how to interact, she doesn’t want to be alone. And when Eldest is gone, she is the one Rachel asks for…repeatedly. (The girl doesn’t give up. Ha!)

Rachel has made a difference in too many lives to count. A hug from Rachel is enough to bring tears to people’s eyes. Hundreds of people who have met her have a changed view of the world. She gets into hearts and makes them grow several sizes. Our family will never be the same, and we are all better for it. She brings out the best in people, even when it’s people forgiving us for flooding their houses…twice.

And you know what? Who knows what Rachel will achieve in her future? Look at Temple Grandin. But even if the world were to end tomorrow, I’d venture to say Rachel has accomplished more in her first decade than many in their entire lives.

Happy birthday, my precious Rachel. It’s OK that you don’t always like the singing. I know you’ll watch it a thousand times on your iPad and love every minute of it.

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Small things, Big difference.

by Jennifer Dyer

Today I saw a blog post about doing service projects as a family. My first thought was something grandiose–serving Thanksgiving dinner at a shelter or putting together a giant toy drive.

The edges of my heart crumbled. I want my children to understand how to give to others and to serve others, but with Rachel and Autism … sometimes we are the service project.

As for doing a big-scale community project? Sounds as easy as walking blindfolded through a barnyard.

Do you ever feel that way? You hear about the great things others do, but you feel as if one more grain of sand at the top of your pile could topple everything.

So … I stepped back before I got my little chicken feathers in a knot.

First, I was comparing myself to others. Big no-no.

Second, I was thinking on the wrong scale. Why do I start with something huge and defeat myself? Shouldn’t I start small and work my way up?

I thought (and thought) about our family. Have we ever done a service project, all four of us together?

And then I realized… Actually, yes. For the last two years we’ve managed to fill and pack two Operation Christmas Child boxes. Doesn’t sound impressive, but getting Rachel to the store, picking out the items on the list, and keeping her from opening every package and hiding the contents in her ball pit is a victory. At least in my not-so-normal world.

True, Rachel got concerned when we left the boxes at church and tried to grab them several times, but in the end we did it.

I thought about other things that were do-able. Volunteering to teach a simple Sunday school class. Picking up a stranger’s trash can out of the street. Holding a door open. Making a meal for a church member who is ill. How about smiling at a person who is obviously different from you? It doesn’t have to be a red-carpet parade to be worthwhile.

Small things make a big difference.

How about you? What little things have people done for you or have you done for others that warmed your heart?

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Reasoning in the pits.

by Jennifer Dyer

The other night I noticed Rachel’s ball pit looked rather sparse.

A short investigation brought us to …

Because I had cleaned out the ball pit the other day, she had decided it was time to move her precious stash of items to a safer location. Like a squirrel hiding a nut stash, she had slowly moved items to the guest room, where we rarely visit.

Urg! When I walked into the room and saw the debacle, my knees turned watery and my stomach flipped over. I clamped my mouth shut because I really wanted to scream. Why? Why does she do these kinds of things? I know she has obessessive compulsive leanings on top of her autism or maybe because of autism, but keeping up with her messes is as easy as grabbing the wind.

I stared at the mess for another moment then turned out the light. It was too late to deal with it and I wasn’t going to anyway. I would, instead, hope a magic fairy came during the night to pick it up.

Right.

The next night, hubby worked with her while Eldest and I were gone. Together, they took balls back to the ball pit and threw some of the trash away. This is the only manner in which we can see to deal with the issue. Making her clean it step-by-step, with us being impartial, unemotional monitors during each of her screaming, agonizing, tantrum-filled moments.

I was still in the magic-fairy-hopeful stage this morning when I realized a game her teacher had sent home from school was missing.

I found most of it in the Room of Doom, as the guest room should be called. However, several pieces are still missing, probably under the layers of shredded tissues and papers.

I pressed my fingers to my temples. I couldn’t help but ask: Why is everything so difficult? Eldest was downstairs having a crisis about her lunch and I was trapped in the Room of Doom doing a geological dig to uncover two stupid magnets that are so small they might be in the trash or in the dog’s stomach.

I still haven’t found those magnets, but as I walked the dog a few thoughts occurred to me.

One:

As a youth, I thought unorganized and messy people lacked motivation and discipline. As a mom, Payback keeps taking me to lunch, ordering the lobster, and sneaking out the bathroom window to leave me with the bill.

Life isn’t simple. It doesn’t come with a neat little box full of comprehensible instructions.

Yet, those overwhelming challenges leave me a better person, even if it is simply a change in my own attitude toward judging others. Pain usually brings understanding and compassion.

Two:

I realized I’d recently prayed for motivation to clean up the upstairs… Whoops. Losing an expensive school material certainly gets me moving. So, who says God doesn’t answer prayers? Lol.

Perhaps the biggest thing I need to grasp as a special needs mom is the key to surviving difficulties are to grow in them.

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On the subject of purity.

by Jennifer Dyer

Years ago a popular sitcom featured a young man in high school who admitted he was a virgin. The episode centered around this guy’s state of virginity, and it wasn’t flattering. Instead of praising him for his desire to wait until marriage, his more worldly cousin tried to help him overcome this horrible condition, as though it were a disease. And in the end, he acquiesced to cheers of the audience.

In our culture, purity is often shoved aside, seen as something to toss off like a moth-eaten coat. But that wasn’t what God intended for us. Join me over a MoretoBe.com for more, including ways to talk to our kids about this very important subject.

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Busy MOMents

by Jennifer Dyer

For the mom with kids that go to school daily during the school year, summer can be a bit overwhelming. The routine of hectic afternoons during school days changes to “What are we doing next?” Or the even more preposterous, “I’m bored.” Mom’s list of priorities and things she wants to accomplish is often lost under a pile of damp swim towels.

The cure for boredom is simple. Have a handy list of chores.

But what about the other things, the constant busyness? What about mom? What about my stuff?

Here’s what I am learning. It’s OK for my goals to take a backseat. I have to keep my purpose in mind: to raise whole and healthy kids, and beyond that to grow close to them. I’m building family memories that will be precious to me long after my goals have been met. So, I grab slivers of time here and there to work on writing, to check in with social media, to cook dinner, but nothing like the uninterrupted stretch of time I can while the kids are at school. I can also get up early while they sleep to work, but I’m learning to focus on being a family, on spending time with my girls while they still desire to spend time with me.

I’m not sure about Rachel and what the future holds for her, but Eldest is growing up all too fast and will one day fly away from my nest. So, today I want to live without regrets.

Happy summer!

 

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Showing vs. telling in parenting.

by Jennifer Dyer

As a writer, the concept of showing and telling often haunts me. Am I telling the reader my character is upset? Or am I showing them: “He pitched his briefcase in the car and jammed his keys into the ignition. Yanking the door shut, he didn’t bother to pull the rest of his jacket into the interior. Let it flap around and collect road grime. Why care anymore? He jammed the accelerator into the front bumper and left a satisfying trail of of rubber behind.”

Showing is far more powerful. It is the difference between put-me-to-sleep stories and those that transport you to another world. It takes more effort, more thought and planning, but the end result is worth it.

What about in parenting? Am I showing my kids how to behave and/or react to circumstances, or am I telling them and, in essence, refusing to practice what I preach?

A while back, a few of Eldest’s friends were having an issue–no surprise there. Tween girls are surrounded by drama. Anyway, Eldest told me about her conversation with Friend A regarding the problem. It was actually pretty mature, with Eldest and Friend A trying to work through the issue rather than say mean things about the other person, but I could see the potential for hurt feelings.

I asked her, “What if Friend A repeats what you said? Even though your words were intended as kind, it could be taken the wrong way, and you will be the one hurt. It’s easy to slip from being helpful into gossip. Be mindful of what you say so that it won’t come back to hurt you or anyone else.”

Good advice? I thought so, since I said it.

So, a few hours later, I caught myself conversing discussing … gossiping with my sister about so-and-so’s problem, trying to solve things that were none of my concern. Was it truly gossip? The subject of the conversation might think so. But my even bigger concern was what Eldest thought, as she was in earshot.

I’m not sure if she was listening, but I realized I was telling Eldest how to behave, but showing her another way. And showing is …

Much. More. Powerful.

Showing is what Jesus, the perfect parent, did for us. Jesus did not simply tell us about himself. “Hi, all. I’m God. You’re not. You need me. The end.”

Jesus showed us he was/is the ultimate personification of love and light by living a sinless life, enduring trials, and dying on the cross as the perfect sacrifice. He did not only tell us he loved us. He showed us.

And that is powerful.

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Talking to your kids about sex.

by Jennifer Dyer

There is something interesting about the way people talk or don’t talk about sex. What is so easy to discuss with friends over coffee causes parents to stammer, blush, and say to their children, “Ask again when you’re 30.” 

But we do our children a disservice when we act as though we are ashamed of sex or that it is something dirty. Instead, we should help them to see sex as part of God’s beautiful design for a fulfilling marriage.

How soon is too soon to talk to your kids about sex? As soon as they ask. You can let their questions lead what you tell them.

Years ago, a mentor told me about seeing two bunnies procreating in her yard while sitting with her three-year-old. Her daughter asked what they were doing.

She replied, “They are making love to make babies.”

Her daughter screwed up her face. “Do you and Daddy do that?”

My friend did not let the question ruffle her. “It’s different, but, yes.”

And that was it for a long time, but it started the conversation and kept it open from that point on.

Eldest didn’t ask any major questions until she was 10. It wasn’t that I wanted to hide the topic. She just wasn’t ready to discuss it. But I wanted to be ready when she asked because there is a plethora of misinformation, lies even, about sex hitting our children in the face every day through popular media. Even in the malls, we are bombarded with sexual images and messages.

We, as parents, need to be the first source of truth for our children about God’s beautiful design for sex. And it’s not a once-and-you’re-done kind of topic. There needs to be an ongoing dialog about sex and all it encompasses as your kids mature.

Kids crave information on sex. In his book, The Bare Facts, 39 Questions Your Parents Hope You Never Ask About Sex, author Josh McDowell points out “the word ‘sex’ receives more than four billion Google searches every year.”

 

That’s billion with a “B.” How many of those searches do you think are from kids? friend recently found the word sex searched on her 9 year-old daughter’s iPod.

 

One mom, eyes wide with terror, asked me what she was supposed to say. Here are some things I’ve discussed with Eldest, who is 11 as I write this:

  • Sex is what you desire to do when you love a person so much you want to be as close to them as possible.
  • God made sex for marriage, to be kept inside of marriage.
  • Sex is a picture of how deeply God loves us. The Bible uses the term “know” (the Hebrew word yada. See here for more info.) in regards to sex. It is the same term used many other times in the Bible describing how deeply God knows us.
  • Sex is like glue that puts a marriage together.
  • If you have sex with someone you aren’t married to, sex still “glues” you to that person.
  • There are chemicals in the brain released in sex that actually bond you with a person. This is wonderful in marriage. It will hurt you deeply emotionally if you aren’t married to that person.
  • God says sex is only for marriage, not because he is mean, but to protect you emotionally, spiritually, and physically.
  • The world–TV, music, movies, video games, and people–will tell you sex is just for fun and it can’t hurt you to play around, but those are lies.
  • Some people say it’s too hard to deny yourself any sort of pleasure. That is also a lie.
  • Your friends are not experts or reliable places to get information about sex.
  • Sex is meant to be private, between a husband and a wife. It is beautiful.
  • Sex also can create babies. There are all types of birth control available, but they do not always work.
  • People will talk about safe sex, but the only kind of safe sex you can have is when you are married and both of you are faithful to each other.
  • When you have sex with different people, you can get viruses, sort of like colds, only much more serious. Some of those viruses even cause cancer. (See here for more info on HPV.)
  • People can have sex and get pregnant outside of marriage, but that is not God’s best plan for you.

The world is full of lies about sex we must refute with our kids:

  • Sex = love.
  • Everyone else is doing it, so I should too.
  • It’s unrealistic to save sex until marriage with people waiting until their late 20’s to get married.
  • Sex in marriage is boring.
  • Sex is dirty and bad, and God doesn’t like it.
  • I’ve already had sex, so what’s the point in waiting.
  • Oral sex isn’t really sex.
  • Sex is no big deal. It’s just an action. It doesn’t mean anything.

All wrong. All lies.

In the above mentioned The Bare Facts book, Josh addresses and dispels many of the questions I’ve posed above. I’d highly recommend the book for parents and for teens.

(For an in-depth description of the deep meaning behind sex in marriage and the word yada, see Dannah Gresh beautifully address it here.)

The world wants to sell our children a different, cheaper version of sex that will leave them broken mentally and often physically. We, as parents and mentors, have to be willing to talk openly and often about sex to our kids, telling our children of its beauty, blessing, and boundaries.

If we, as parents, aren’t willing to discuss sex with our kids, then who will? And what will they tell our kids?

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Your mother bear is showing.

by Jennifer Dyer

I’m having one of those mother bear days.

I try to be a “go with the flow” kind of person, to model that attitude for my kids, but sometimes the flow seems more like a tidal wave of things rushing in a different direction than they should. I feel like The Hulk–trying to be mild mannered, but something happens that I perceive as a possible threat to my children and WHAM! I morph into this wild roaring maniac.

 

I try to keep her caged inside me. Even if she is growling and ranting, I try to filter Mother Bear Hulk’s roars into something more moderate. But when too many things happen at once, I let loose of her chains … and my mouth.

The mother bear triggers are different for all of us, and we should be advocates for our children, but it is better to do it without leaving a trail of detritus scattered on a path behind.

So, after my mother bear moment with both Rachel’s school and her doctor’s office (three incidents in the same morning…) I felt wrung out, a branch stripped of leaves after a storm. I realized I was running without fuel.

I retreated to my room to read my Bible and get some perspective, which I probably should have done first.

As I settled into reading from the Psalms, I thought about the reasons why I need to spend time reading God’s word daily. It isn’t so I can get an “A” from God for being a top student. I need it because my soul thirsts and hungers for encouragement, for the truth, for intimacy with God. I need it like a soldier needs armor. A soldier doesn’t go into battle without training, without understanding how to use whatever tools she needs to complete her mission.

I need God’s Word like a sunburn needs aloe vera. I need God’s grace like seeds need water to grow. It is where I find my balance, where I find what feeds and nourishes my soul.

As an aside, I recently wrote about feeding my soul through Christian music. As I read through Psalm 61-64, words from songs penned from within those same verses echoed in my heart. Instead of eating sandwich bread out of a bag while standing at the kitchen sink, I was eating warm fresh rolls in a cozy bakery enveloped in the nutty, buttery scent of baking loaves and croissants.

However, whenever, you can feed your soul on God’s Word, do. It will always be time well spent.

May you find yourselves awash in God’s grace and may your souls be well fed this week, my friends.

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Enduring defeat.

by Jennifer Dyer

As the mother of a child with special needs, defeat is often my companion. In some ways, I have accepted the pace of growth for Rachel, but there are often days where I realize she has been left behind yet again by her peers. The pain seizes my heart and tries to choke off my joy.

Sometimes, though, disappointment and defeat don’t relate back to autsim. Sometimes I feel I failed in some other areas. Or something I hoped for doesn’t happen.

Whatever the case, it hurts. Sometimes it hurts enough to make me want to quit, be it writing, cooking, caring, or feeling. Sometimes I want to crawl under the bed and hide.

So, today, when a disappointment hit me and the desire for retreat engulfed me, I had to stop. Instead of wallowing in the moment, tossing my latest project in the trash, and throwing a big pity party, I thought about the big picture, about an eternal perspective.

I prayed, “Lord, I trust you with this failure. I trust you even in this. I’m not sure what your plans are, but I trust you with my future.”

And I felt relieved.

Did God need me to pray this?

No. God is infinite. Jesus is complete. I cannot fathom His needs, if He has any. He is complete whether I trust Him or not. But as a mom, I can understand the joy of watching my children trust me.

Furthermore, I had to say that for myself. I needed to hear it. I needed to remind myself that I did believe God is in charge. Sometimes I hold things so tightly that my desires crumble in my grip. Instead, I should hold everything with an open hand and trust God with what happens next.

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