Sunday, October 14, 2018

A Day at the Beach!

Today was Tyson and Allison's first time at the beach! They both had an absolute blast!  In fact, we all had a wonderful time! We spent 4 hours at Santa Lucea Beach, which is absolutely gorgeous. The color of the water is incredible. The beach wasn't crowded at all and there were seashells all over.  

The boys had a terrific time playing in the sand.

Allison loved the beach so much! She never fussed!

We made a make-shift pool for Allison to sit in so she could play in the water and the sand safely. She enjoyed it tremendously. She stayed in her little pool almost the entire time!

Bryan and the boys played in the waves for most of the afternoon. They had such a great time! They didn't even want to take a break for more sunscreen!

Pure Joy! 

I had fun in the waves with my biggest boys too!

Tyson made it his mission to keep Allison's pool full of water! He brought bucket after bucket!

 I had so much fun with my littlest loves today!
 The reason we chose Port St Lucie for our family vacation is because we wanted Tyson and Allison to experience the beach for the first time. We were worried North Carolina beaches might not be warm enough in October so we chose a beach-y area in Florida. It was a great choice! Today's weather was perfect! We weren't hot at all and the water wasn't too cool. There was a delightful breeze too. It was a wonderful day at Santa Lucea beach! 

Today I am grateful for a beautiful day at the beach with my family. I am always amazed by the beauty of the ocean and in awe of God's ability to create something so magnificent, yet still, He cares for little ol' me....That's an amazing thought! I am thankful for the chance to spend some time soaking up the sun with my family and watching the expressions of Tyson and Allison as they saw the ocean for the first time! I am also grateful for the ability to rent our home for the furniture market and go on family vacations 2 times per year. These times together make up some of my favorite memories! 

Saturday, October 6, 2018

The NEW Memorial Garden!

 Yesterday the moms and kids from our small group put the finishing touches on the new Memorial Garden for the Unborn at New Life Family Outreach. Since the ministry moved to a new building at the beginning of the year, the memorial garden needed to be redesigned and recreated at the new location. Some folks from our church did a lot of hard work to prepare the ground, lay the bricks, install the statue, place the benches, and put out a lot of mulch. Our small group got to pick out flowers and plants for the garden and then plant them. It was really hot but we had a great time. The finished product is beautiful!

The Memorial Garden is a very special place for me because we have a brick in honor of our two babies that are in Heaven. It was very important to me that the garden be put back together so that all of the bricks representing unborn babies can be seen and the babies can be remembered. It warmed my heart so much to see the completed garden today!

The kids worked so hard and they did a wonderful job!
This is the best picture we could get but I love it!
Me with my kiddos, sitting next to the brick in memory
of our 2 babies in Heaven.

 Today I am grateful for all the hard work that went into restoring the Memorial Garden for the Unborn. It is such a special place for so many families. The bricks had been sitting in a stack for several months since the move. I'm so thankful that some very handy folks took on this project and did it so well. It really turned out beautifully! I am also grateful for the healing that God has given me through New Life Family Outreach and this garden. I've helped in the garden on and off for years. The first couple times I was secretly hiding parts of my past. Now, as I helped put the finishing touches on this new garden, I couldn't help but be filled with joy that I am free from shame and guilt and can serve alongside this ministry to help others find freedom as well. 

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

It's Okay to Act Like It....

It's been almost 3 months since I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis. I have educated myself thoroughly on this intimidating disease, so much so that I'm pretty sure I know a lot more about it than any of the doctors, nurses, or pharmacists I've come in contact with since July (with the exception of the Rheumatologist that diagnosed me.) Seriously, all the medical professionals just look at me and say, "I'm sorry," when they hear that I've been diagnosed with AS.

Even with all my new knowledge, it's hard for me to wrap my around what's truly happening in my body. I've been dealing with this disease for years but the fact that it has a name now is both validating and unnerving. 

For the past 2 Saturdays, I've taken my older boys to sell popcorn with the Cub Scouts at local stores for a few hours. I took a chair to sit in because I can't stand for long periods of time without a lot of pain and fatigue. Each day I got the boys settled at their posts and then I pulled out my pink outdoor folding chair and took a seat. As soon as I did, I felt the guilt settle in. You must know that sitting while everyone else is standing is NOT typical for me. Normally, I would help sell the popcorn, start organizing more boxes, accept and count money, and whatever else I could do to help. It is so hard for me to sit down and sit still. Which is something I have to learn to do.

On the first Saturday, I remember sending Bryan a text message after sitting in my chair for a little while. I was telling him how bad I felt for not helping and for sitting instead of standing with the other moms. He wrote back and simply said, "There is something really wrong with you. It's okay to act like it."

That sentence has stuck with me for almost 2 weeks now. I've been working through that thought over and over again. Ya know, there IS something really wrong with me. It's time for me to be okay with that and to start acting like it.

I didn't need permission from Bryan but I did need permission from myself to accept my diagnosis and start treating myself appropriately, even if that means others don't understand. Although I know the terrible pain I endure on a daily basis, I don't think its possible for others to truly understand what I deal with. Invisible illnesses, like Ankylosing Spondilytis, are not only horrific because of the damage they cause but also because the patients feel like they have to prove the pain they're in since it can't be seen. I noticed that as soon as I pulled out my pink chair each week, I started explaining to the other moms why I had it and that I felt so terrible for sitting out. I was trying to prove to them that I needed the chair even though not one of them minded that I was sitting down. After years of trying to get my doctors to believe me and trying to prove that something was really wrong with me, it feels so good to have freedom from trying to prove it. Bryan's comment spurred this realization on for me! 
(You never know what your encouragement might do for someone else!)

 Today I am grateful for all that God is teaching me through my diagnosis. On the surface, it seems like getting diagnosed with a degenerative, chronic illness would be terrible but, I've learned so much already and I've been given a lot of freedom too.  Accepting the illness and the issues that come along with it and being ok with acting like it, is a pretty big breakthrough for me!  I am also thankful for what is yet to come. I know God has good things in store for me and my family. He may not miraculously heal me tomorrow (or He may) but He is at work and using this entire situation to spur on growth and maturity for me and my family. To see the faith and trust blossom in my children makes every ache and pain worth it!

Saturday, September 29, 2018

A JOY-filled Afternoon

Yesterday I took my youngest two kiddos to visit my Great Uncle George at his nursing home. We went with my mom to an End of the Summer cook-out. We could only bring 2 of the children because the facility had to limit the number of guests due to space. So, I brought along 2 of the most joyful people I know, Tyson and Allison! 

Allison was immediately drawn to her great, great uncle! She played with him, gave him five, stole his TV remote controls, ran around him, told him a lot of jibber jabber,  and sat on his lap. He was smitten with her from the moment she arrived! 

We had a picnic outside and ate hamburgers and hotdogs for lunch. We enjoyed live music, good company, and a slight breeze. It really was a lovely afternoon. One of my favorite moments was watching an elderly couple dance together. It was truly precious.

The kids sat still for a few minutes but then they began to put on a show for everyone around us! I'm sure you can imagine how excited the folks were to see these little ones dancing around and playing together. The facility had beach themed items laying around since it was the "end of the summer" picnic and of course, the kids found every shovel, flip-flop, and beach ball. They played and played! The ball was as big as Tyson almost! They had a great time and didn't even want to leave! 

 Today I am thankful for the joy that my sweet little ones brought to my great uncle, who is 96 years old! They also brought a lot of joy to the other residents. Allison was especially fond of a lady sitting nearby. She kept taking toys to her and smiling at her. One of the words God has given me for Allison is "joy-bringer." I've seen that quality come out in her over and over again in her 16 months. It blesses my heart to see her bring so much happiness to those around her. 

I believe my children are a gift God has given to Bryan and I. He has bestowed particular gifts to them and has a purpose for their little lives. I know He wants me to share my kids with others so that He can use these little people to bless them. This is the perfect example of even the youngest of humans being used by a mighty God to bring joy and cheer to some people who need it most.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

A Day in the Life of a Homeschooling Mom with a Chronic Illiness

Several people in the AS community have been sharing about their daily lives with Ankylosing Spondylitis so I thought, "Why, not?" Most AS patients don't have 4 young children so my story might show a different aspect of life with this chronic auto-immune disorder.

I very rarey sleep well. Most nights, even if the baby sleeps all night, I wake up multiple times because of the pain in my upper back, neck, and hips. When I wake up each day, I have no idea if it will be a good day or a terrible one. Regardless of what the day holds, every morning starts with a stiffness that covers my entire body. It takes a great deal of effort just to get to a sitting position on the edge of the bed. Bryan actually has to push me to help me get up a lot of days. I usually sound like an eighty-year-old woman stretching slowly and  trying to get my body to work correctly. 

Yesterday was no different. When Bryan left for work I began the process of getting myself up. I've learned that taking a hot shower helps so I shuffled my feet (literally) to the bathroom to shower and get ready for the day.  

Once I made it downstairs, literally taking one step at a time because my feet feel like they can't bare my weight individually. I made a B-line for my medicine drawer (yes, I have a medicine drawer). I took my morning medicine (the picture above doesn't even show the middle-of-the-day meds or the evening meds) and then started the coffee. I'm not sure I could make it without the coffee!
 It usually takes about an hour for my body to start moving somewhat normally but yesterday it was more like 90 minutes. My kids started coming down for breakfast. Dylan carried Allison down for me because I have such a hard time going up and down the stairs first thing in the morning. I'm so grateful for older kids to help me! They often pray for me in the mornings as well!

After making the kids breakfast and having them do their chores, I got Allison situated with her toys and her favorite show, Peppa Pig. (Yes, I use the TV to help me manage everything...ha...its ok if you judge me, I have to do what I have to do.) Then I started school with my 3 boys. We're doing 6th grade, 2nd grade, and Pre-K all at the same time. It's a balancing act but I have a specific schedule so that they aren't altogether in the school room the entire morning. The older boys also do some computer work. While I sat with the boys, helping them with their work, my muscles started to "gel" which means every time I moved I dealt with a whole lot of pain. It was especially hard to walk when as I redirected the baby 126 times. She gets into everything!

Even though I have activities in place to keep Allison occupied, she ended up spending a lot of the morning in the school room with us, on my lap and drawing in a little book. She loves to be with her big brothers!

While Dylan finished up his book work and I made lunch, the other kiddos played "picnic." It was absolutely adorable. Even the stuffed animals were eating with them. After lunch, I took my mid-day medication and put Allison down for her nap. Dylan did his computer work and Evan played in his room. 

So, I had a few minutes sort of by myself (notice my buddy, Tyson laying on the couch with me!) I enjoyed a few moments of quiet, letting my body rest some. I spent a few moments studying God's Word. Honestly, I have grown to truly treasure this time. I need this refreshment!

That time didn't last long enough though because I needed to get some housework done before Allison woke up. I washed two loads of laundry and folded one. Folding clothes has become a difficult chore for me. AS patients often suffer from costochondritis which is a very painful condition caused by inflammation of the ribcage. Without treatment, the ribs could start to fuse, just like the spine. This is something I've started dealing with a lot lately so chores like folding clothes, sweeping, vacuuming, etc all cause a lot of discomfort for me. 

I also had to prepare for the online KEEP design session happening last night. Designing keepers and organizing all my charms and bracelets is hard on my knuckles because the everything is so small. Some of my knuckles have been attacked by my immune system which causes pain and discomfort. I also spent time working on my computer to post in the Facebook groups and updating my KEEP team on some important information. After all these chores I was really desperate for another break but Allison woke up so the "quiet time" quickly came to an end.

I needed to get some special shampoos to help my scalp heal from the terrible side effects I've had from one of my medications, so I took all 4 kids to Wal-mart. I toyed with the idea of asking my mom to babysit because this task is overwhelming on a really good day but, I was running out of time to get everything done before dinner so off to Wal-mart we went. It took us an hour and a half to gather all the groceries because my feet were hurting so badly. AS often affects the feet and legs. As the immune system attacks the body it causes inflammation in the entheses, where joints, ligaments, and tendons attach to the bone.

As soon as we got home from the store I began cooking dinner. Thankfully my three boys have gotten very good at bringing in all the groceries. As they brought them in, I put them away and started our Grilled Chicken and Tortellini. The second I could, I collapsed on the couch. I was so tired. Motherhood is exhausting anyway but with a disease like AS there is a fatigue that comes over me that is unlike anything I've ever felt. There are times I just have to close my eyes for a few minutes....there is just no way around it. Once Bryan got home, he helped finish dinner and we ate together as a family.

After dinner, I took Dylan to Youth Group at our church. Bryan stayed home and took care of the little kids so I could have a break. The picture above shows a beautiful time of prayer the youth group had at the beginning of their worship time. This weekly meeting is such a blessing to the young people and honestly, it is a blessing to me as well. I get to sit and talk with friends for a while. Its a welcomed break in the middle of our week.

As soon as I got home I had to start the KEEP Online Design Session I had prepared for earlier in the day. I spent the next hour and a half or so, showing customers all that KEEP has to offer, helping them design special bracelets, and trying to book future parties. All I wanted to do was lay on the couch and stare at the TV but this is my "job" and the way I help my family financially so I am grateful that I can be on the couch while I "work."

After the Design Session ended I took my nightly medication and struggled up the stairs to our bedroom. At the end of the day my body becomes so stiff it makes it difficult to even walk, which makes the stairs seem like a mountain. Once I get to my bed, the heating pad becomes my best friend. Seriously, heating pads have been my favorite birthday and Chritmas gifts over the past 10 years. I wear them out constantly! Bryan and I watched The Office (again) and then we went to sleep, only to wake up 4 times due to pain before having to get up and start all over again.

Yesterday was a pretty typical day for me. I didn't even mention all the diaper changing, argument settling, lesson planning, toy organizing, bed making, dishwashing, chauffeuring, or snack making. The pain, stiffness, fatigue, and busy-ness are mostly my norm. When I'm in a "flare" there are days I can barely walk from one room to another so a lot of our activiites come to a halt. At times the entire left side of my body aches and I can barely get out of the bed. So, a day like yesterday is welcomed compared to my "worst" days.

I do not share a typical day of my life for sympathy but rather to show that people are often fighting battles that are unseen. Most of my friends and family probably have no idea how much pain I'm in all of the time or how much medication I've been prescribed to try and combat this disease. It would probably surprise folks to know that it takes me hours to move around properly in the mornings or that a trip to Wal-mart is entirely exhausting for me. Invisible illnesses are so hard for folks to understand. I am not a complainer or a whiner so I barely I talk about the pain I'm in. By God's grace, I keep going even when I don't feel like it one bit!

As I retrace yesterday's steps, I can't help but be overwhelmed with gratitude for the strength God gives me each day. He allows me to get up and push through my symptoms so I can care for my children. I am able to make the most of each day and enjoy my life with these sweet blessings. I would be justified in laying down all day if I wanted to, I mean I do have a deteriorating disease, but God gives me all that I need to live fully, even though I'm in constant pain. I am also thankful for my husband and my children who help me so much. They will do anything they can to help me and they often pray for strength and relief for me. I can see compassion growing within my children and they're gaining the desire to help whenever they can. Walking in my comfortable, orthopedic shoes isn't always easy but there are so many beautiful things to be grateful for. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Why Does God Allow Bad Things to Happen?

If we're honest, I bet most of us have wondered why such a loving, powerful God allows bad things to happen, especially to those who love and follow Him. I mean, He does have the power to stop a hurricane or heal a disease, doesn't He? Of course, He does. If He wanted to restore broken relationships or reveal a cure for cancer, He could do it in the blink of an eye. 

So why doesn't He?

I've been writing this post in my head and in my journal for weeks now. I've been batting around these ideas and thoughts and trying to make sense of what God is teaching me. I've got to admit, being a 36-year-old mom of 4 with a deteriorating auto-immune disorder like Ankylosing Spondylitis, will cause you to ask questions of God. But I'm 100% sure God is big enough to handle my questions and more importantly, I know He isn't mad at me for asking them. He wants to reassure me. He isn't trying to trick me, avoid me, or confuse me. I can talk to Him and He is listening and answering. 

First of all, I have to point out that God DOES do the miraculous and He does it often! There are many times that He chooses to reveal Himself in the most amazing ways-- where it is blatantly obvious that He showed up and came through for His people. Oh, how I love it when He does that! He's done that for me and my family numerous times (just read my blog!)

But, there are many times when He chooses a different way to reveal Himself. Its hard for us to see this at times because we have a skewed perspective. Somewhere along the way, humans decided that we deserve only good in life and that our happiness is the most important thing. Even though our world is a wicked place because of sin entering the world in Genesis 3, we are still so shocked every time something negative happens. Honestly, though, we live in a world full of evil, terrible, no-good stuff. When the negative stuff comes our way, we really shouldn't be that surprised anymore. While God does want His children to live full, happy lives, our happiness isn't the most important thing.

Through hours of talks with God and wrestling with the frustrations and disappointments over the past several months, my God has told me that His children would never know the beauty of the mountaintops, if not for the depth of the valley. When hard times come and life is tough, we get to see God come through in so many different ways. If there was no need, we have no reason to watch for Him.

Let that soak in.

God allows bad things to happen FOR us.

The difficulties of life allow us to see the character of the Holy Spirit. We could never truly grasp kindness unless we have experienced unkindness. We will never value peace until we've danced with anxiety, fear, and worry. We could never understand faithfulness unless we've dealt with the effects of the unfaithful. We won't be able to absorb the goodness of God without witnessing the evil of this world. 

The fruit of the Spirit, which is basically God's character and nature, is best seen during difficulty. As people filled with His Spirit, we are also able to best share that same fruit with others during difficulty.

In a world so full of hatred and fear and pain, the children of God desperately need to be fully aware of the Holy Spirit. God doesn't want bad things for us but He knows what is best for us and He knows that we aren't able to wrap our minds around who He is or our need for Him, without the messy, ugly, unwanted stuff. 

For just one moment, consider life without any diseases or broken relationships or financial issues or disappointing tragedies. Would we even pray? Would we even take the time to consider who God is? Would we show kindness and love to those around us?

While our happiness is important to God, our relationship with Him is more important. Once we truly understand WHO He is and how desperately we need Him, our perspective shifts and we will see that the hard stuff is necessary and the difficulties become opportunities to know Him more.

Today I am grateful that God has heard my questions and answered my cries. I am thankful for the truths God has been imparting to me. All of this may not make sense to anyone else, but His lessons have been so valuable to me.  I am thankful for a new perspective, a desire to know Him more, and reassurance that there is purpose in the bad things.

"Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world." 
1 Peter 4:12-14

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Our 4 Year Old Surprise!

Four years ago today, Bryan and I got the biggest surprise of our lives!  Each year on all of my kid's birthdays, I spend time looking at photos and watching their birth videos and reading the blogs I wrote about their births. Today was no different. As I read the blog I wrote about our surprise BOY, one of the sentences struck me. I had written, "Although surprises aren't always easy for planners like me, I'm 100% positive that this will turn out to be the best surprise Bryan and I ever receive!"

Wow, 4 years later I can already say, "YES, YES, YES!" 

I cannot imagine life without our sweet boy, Tyson! He has brought so much joy and laughter and love into our home. He has been a mommy's boy and my sweet snuggle-buddy since day 1!  I knew that day that God allowed this surprise for a purpose. We had planned to get my tubes tied while I was in the hospital but with the big surprise, we decided to wait. Because of that, our family ended up growing again 2 years later which wouldn't have happened without Tyson being a surprise. God knew what He was doing. He knew that our family was supposed to be a family of 6! I've gotta say, He has taught me so much from this surprise also. 

I just had to share a few pictures of my third son, Tyson. His smile is contagious and his joy is never-ending. I had a hard time deciding which pictures to share because there are thousands of cute pictures of this adorable boy!

Just a few minutes after hearing, "It's a boy!" The nurses
found these blue items for us because we had was pink stuff!

Always smiling!

He loved standing in his crib! He was about 10 months old here.

This little fella and his doughnuts!!! He loves doughnuts!

He loves riding his tricycle! He started super young to be like his big brothers!

1st trip to the dentist! He loved the sunglasses!
He's teaching Allison how to go "potty"

This fella loves baseball too!!!
Making cookies!!! He always loves to help me cook!
Miles is his best buddy!!!!

Today I am grateful for my buddy, Tyson. I can't believe he is 4 years old already! How is that possible? I am so thankful for his happy heart, his creative imagination, his determination, and his agreeable spirit. I cannot imagine life without this spunky little guy in our family. Tyson is truly the best surprise we've ever received. I am also grateful that God's plans are so much better. We thought we were having a girl, we planned for a girl, but we were given a boy and he has blessed our lives abundantly! Thank you, Lord, for our sweet Tyson and for the plans you've had for our family!

A Day at the Beach!

Today was Tyson and Allison's first time at the beach! They both had an absolute blast!  In fact, we all had a wonderful time! We spent...