Archives for posts with tag: church

Romans 12:9

On Wednesday nights I take Grace to church. She participates in the jr. high ministry program. (Seriously…jr. high ministry…hardly seems possible).

We were there last week. Grace and I were in the front row. We were with the other kids in her special needs class and all the 6th graders.   It was “Ask the Pastor” night. We’ve been talking about the Bible and the week before kids were asked to submit questions that they had for the pastors to answer. The two pastors walked out with what looked to be a pretty substantial stack of questions. In the midst of answering questions about why there are no dinosaurs in the Bible, why God made cancer, why it’s important to go to church, how long it takes God to forgive, and where God came from, the kids in Grace’s special needs class were all over the place. One girl was up out of her seat multiple times. I could hear the volunteer behind me encouraging the boy next to him to stay seated and quiet. One volunteer jumped from kid to kid helping where she was needed. The sign language interpreter just kept signing. We were disruptive.  I kept waiting for someone to walk one of the kids out of the sanctuary.  I watched for glaring looks or raised eyebrows to come from the pastors answering those 6th grader questions – but none of that happened.  Our class was exactly who we are. During communion, Grace added to the disruption in her own way.  Pulling away from me at times to walk towards the band as they played, the pull of the guitar, the lights, and the patterns behind the power point slide showing the lyrics all drawing her away from our seats.

Frankly, it felt unreal and I continued to wait for the shoe to drop. Would our class leave early? Was there an alternate route for Grace’s wheelchair if I had to get out of there quickly?   I panicked a bit when I realized there wasn’t. We were blocked in.  We would have to leave through the crowd and out the main doors. We were part of the group for better or for worse. But my worrying was for nothing.   We stayed and continued to just be us. We were there the whole time and then after a prayer made our way to our classroom for our own lesson.

I told Kevin about it when we got home. I still think about it. It was this glimpse of how all are welcome…eerily accompanied by the pastors answering questions that pointed to everyone being loved and that everyone has a place and a purpose.

The first memory verse of Grace’s junior high ministry years is from Romans 12:9. It starts like this…”Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them.”

That really uncomfortable (for me) 35 minutes felt like real love. Real love that I can’t explain.

I have so many questions about disabilities and the church. It’s one of those areas that Grace has pushed us into just because she’s Grace. Just like learning how to give a shot or replace a g-tube it’s a competency area I gave no thought to prior to Grace’s diagnosis. But once you learn something new you can’t help but see it.

As I walked through our church on Sunday morning I saw multiple kids with disabilities. There were volunteers sitting with them in nooks and crannies. Volunteers dancing with a partner where there was no music. A volunteer in a hallway carefully holding a hand and walking slowly while chatting about nothing I could overhear. I wondered if other people saw them?  Do the people that work and go to this church know what that group of volunteers is doing for those kids and their families?  Do they know how welcoming it is that when you get to church and find the handicapped seats are all taken but the congregation is so quick about making room the ushers don’t even have to intervene? Do they know that with the few days they give me to prep I can make most any lesson adaptable for Grace and I’m happy to do it?  Do they know what it means when they can admit upfront they aren’t perfect but they are willing to work with you?  I wonder.

Someday I want to have something profound to say about disabilities and the church. In the meantime, I’ll keep watching.

Joy

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IMG_2292National Sibling day was actually April 10th. I’m a little behind. I realized that day I didn’t have any fun old pictures of me with my siblings – I need to fix that next time I’m in Jesup. But I did have some pictures of Grace and Graham and so I put one out on Instagram. Believe it or not, sometimes it’s hard to get them both in the same frame. It also made me realize that I haven’t written about Grace and Graham lately.

They continue to evolve as brother and sister. Grace is a faithful taekwondo watcher, stealthy stealer of toys, and continues to drool at times on Graham’s belongings. For his part, Graham has developed a greater understanding of what it means to be Grace’s brother. The Friday before Easter when it was so cold Grace’s nurse left her hat and mittens at school. Her teacher went to find Graham in the after-school program and asked him to put the hat and mittens in his bag so that he could bring them home for her. It was the first thing he told me about when I came to pick him up. He was proud that Grace’s teacher had come looking for him.

There was a time when we left him for three days this winter to take Grace to Minnesota for doctor appointments. I wrote his kindergarten teacher the night before we were leaving to let her know he’d expressed some frustration at being left behind. She responded that he’d already told her and I was moved that he’d already enacted his own support team.

We have started attending a new church and as part of that, we’ve been taking a special needs parenting class. Grace and Graham are in the room down the hall from us those nights. The first night we took them Graham insisted that he have a magnet for Grace’s VNS in his pocket and that he had one of her chewy’s in his pocket. I was astounded.

My heart broke a little the day he told me that he missed our old church and wanted to go back there. I explained to him that maybe someday we could visit but right now we need a church that can better support Grace and that there’d be an opportunity to make new traditions this way. He simply said sadly. “OK, I get it”. But how could he?

And then I picture the two of them on our very cold spring break trip to St. Louis. We were at the zoo and had been checking out the penguins. I wanted to get Grace a stuffed penguin – she’s totally a fan.   We, of course, walked out of the penguin house into the penguin gift shop. Graham knew we were buying a penguin for Grace and immediately went to work collecting penguins to show her so that she could pick. In the end, Grace got a penguin way bigger than what I imagined we’d come home with. But he showed us that she liked it best. He named the penguin Waddles.

He’s growing up so fast and sometimes Grace seems stuck.   They sometimes are fine sitting side by side and they sometimes are not. Sometimes I can get them both in a picture and sometimes they want nothing to do with each other.   We are getting a wheelchair van for Grace and although Graham wanted to help us pick it out he was ultimately ok with whatever was best for Grace as long it had a DVD player for him.

I love the two of them beyond what I can say. We’re working it out day by day. I’m determined that Graham will know we had some limits because of Grace but he will also know that Kevin and I pushed those limits as far as we could and that he was factored into every decision – because he is.

Joy

MK_PFTHPURPLEB1CHAR_20170227_7962999163.jpegWhen I was growing up my parents got us a Christmas ornament every year. It was a tradition. I love unpacking those ornaments each year- seeing my mom’s handwriting listing my name and the year I received the ornament on the boxes. When Kevin and I were married those were the only Christmas ornaments we had for our tree.

It’s a tradition I wanted to continue with my kids. For Grace’s first Christmas we’d been through a lot and I remember struggling to find an ornament that represented that time- something we’d want to celebrate and remember every year about baby Grace as we unpacked that ornament. Ultimately I settled on an ornament of Dumbo taking a bath in a tub. The note I wrote on the box was one sentence in length that says “Because Grace loves taking a tubby!” One year it was a Cinderella ornament that marked her invitation to a princess birthday party. The first year she rode a horse-it was a horse. The year we flew to see her Aunt Heather and Uncle Drue married in Virginia it was a plane. This Christmas it was a Rapunzel ornament that we bought her at Disney World when we visited.   Each year I write a note on the box about why we chose that ornament for the year.

My mom never wrote messages on the box about why she chose the ornament. She never had to because I know and I can tell the story. I started writing out the reasons on the ornaments we buy for our kids because I knew Grace wouldn’t be able to tell the story.

Special needs grief is a funny thing because this year as I was packing those ornaments carefully away I got to wondering if it mattered.   If anything happened to us would those ornaments really follow Grace? When she grows up and if she were to live apart from us would anyone read the notes to her? Put up the ornaments? Was I just creating more for Graham to have to go through someday?   Was it an unnecessary tradition? And in a larger sense if we are the sole keeper of Grace’s story and why she matters a few ornaments won’t begin to tell the story.

I feel different about Graham’s box. His ornaments are for him to have so that one day he can remember his growing up by going through a few ornaments that represent snapshots of what he liked and how he grew. I can picture him sharing them with his kids telling them about what Dad was like when he was little.

Ultimately Grace’s ornaments got packed in her box. I came to no conclusions other than it’s not a waste. If those ornaments are only ultimately for me then they are only ultimately for me. I chalked it up to grief sneaking up on me. Grief on a normal Sunday when we’d been to church, I was doing laundry, Grace was playing happily on the floor pulling every toy out of the basket in front of her, Graham and Kevin were out playing in the snow, and we were planning on Casey’s pizza for supper. It was grief that comes from the helplessness of not knowing. Grief because I’m not sure what to dream for Grace in the future. A grief that her experience will never be all that I dreamed for her.  And the thing is I have a level of acceptance about all of this. I do. I swear. But even with acceptance, there are moments that catch you off guard and then all you can do is take the time to acknowledge the grief, share it if you need to, process it until it’s processed and then keep going.   The ornaments are packed away but the work continues.

Joy

img_1506As I write this Grace is sleeping in the tent we use for traveling. We are in a hotel room in Minnesota in December. It turns out all the tricks in the world couldn’t keep Grace from having to have one more surgery in 2016.

We had this really normal weekend at home; birthday cake for Graham, Christmas program practice at church for Grace and Graham, Kevin and I at the Civic Center to see the Carole King Musical, the actual Christmas program at church, and seeing the Nutcracker at Hoyt Sherman, complete with an intermission visit from some of our very favorite dancers.

The second we got home from the Nutcracker it changed a bit. We had to get Graham packed to go home with my mom and dad for a few days because Grace was having surgery. I’m very thankful that Graham hasn’t had to be there the day of any of Grace’s surgeries this year. The rooms where you wait with her before and with her after are small. Waiting rooms are hushed. There is a multitude of instructions. I have a hard enough time with my own feelings- as we wash her with the special soap, get her in the gown, answer the questions, sign the forms, talk to the doctor, the anesthesiologist, the nurse, try to get her to be still enough for the blood pressure machine to work, it’s so much.

While we were doing all of that Graham was building a sled for his Curious George and playing outside in the snow. He was hanging out with his cousins.  He was experiencing five-year-old boy perfection.

We drove north yesterday morning. The roads had been plowed pretty well, the trees were beautiful all covered with snow, the sky bright blue. It was crazy cold when we started and just got colder as got closer to Minnesota. So cold that we drove straight through not giving Grace her customary breaks to stretch her legs along the way. Our girl hates cold. Hates it. We did everything in our power to get her somewhere warm quickly.

When we arrived we hadn’t even checked in yet when Grace’s doctor – all dressed in her surgery garb- greeted us. She greeted us so warmly and told us she wanted to get Grace going early so she could get us home. We’d talk with her two more times – once more before the surgery where we showed her the pictures of everything that’s been going on with Grace’s mitrofanoff and we talked through how Kevin and I would take care of Grace for the next 7-10 days as she healed. We saw her again when it was all done when she explained to us what she’d found and confirmed that we were right to not wait to get the mitrofanoff revised now. It wasn’t going to get any better without a surgical intervention.

Grace took her sweet time waking up. The first time she woke she complained a lot. We asked that she be given some more pain medication. With that on board she slept a bit longer, and the second time she woke up she was pretty good. A bit groggy, but she made an attempt to grab some tubing and play. We got her dressed. Got her some formula in her stomach. Got her in her wheelchair and got her to the hotel. She played for a bit. Then we snuggled. She played a bit longer and then we got her to bed.

We have pain meds to get her home. There are antibiotics we will give her for six more days. There’s a catheter in her that we pray she doesn’t pull out. When everything’s had time to heal (it could take about 10 days) Kevin and I have a special syringe that we’ll use to take the catheter out of her and we will go about our normal business.

So for anyone who’s counting – that’s 4 surgeries in 6 months for our girl. That is way too many.   I for one am hopeful for 2017 that brings: health and strength to our girl, less worry and more together time for our boy, and energy, inspiration, and courage for Kevin and I to take our family out in the world and enjoy it.

Joy

 

 

 

img_0955I hesitate to even write this. I hesitate to even begin. I’m not one to post on politics. I choose more often to focus on the less controversial topics that we deal with as a special needs family. My hesitation is also based on me finding myself trying really hard not to judge based on political views. I don’t want to be judged for mine.

But the truth is I am struggling. In large part, we write this blog to serve as a record of our journey with Grace. I forget. I move from one thing to the next and details get foggy.   At this time, I can’t ignore the weight of the outcomes of state and national elections on Grace or our family. It’s worth including here as part of the story.

If I boil it down to what I think might be the root of the struggle it’s the possibility that the affordable care act could be repealed and more specifically that insurance companies could again elect not to cover someone with a pre-existing condition.

When Grace was born we made all the calls and filled out all the paperwork to get her covered by my health insurance company. When Grace was 15 days old we got life insurance for her. She was diagnosed at around 5 months of age.

The life insurance agent has told us in the past we were smart to get the insurance when we did if we had waited until after she was diagnosed her policy would have been denied.

When she was diagnosed there was no such thing as the Affordable Care Act. That’s when pre-existing conditions became part of our vocabulary. We looked at changing insurance at one point but because of her diagnosis, Grace wouldn’t have been covered. Do you remember those stories about families who went bankrupt and were homeless because they were caring for the medical needs of someone they loved? Those stories have haunted me. The very first medication we gave Grace cost thousands of dollars.  A month’s supply of the medication was more than I paid for a brand new car.

Grace is expensive.   There is no getting around it. She’s also evolving, growing up. Her needs will change. It’s not just epilepsy we are dealing with. Sure that might be the first thing we say but she has more than 10 doctors. She receives physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy privately. Yes, she can get those things at school, but in reality what we get are consults from those professionals, not the intense work we are able to get through private therapy services.

Insurance makes it possible for her to have those therapies. Those therapies have helped her walk, made her stronger, addressed sensory defensiveness, allowed her to find a means of communication.

Insurance also means we can take her out of state to doctors who can care for her. Often, even living in the Des Moines area, Grace’s needs require a level of specialty not available here.

Insurance pays for the supplies she needs. Boxes of supplies show up at our home on a regular basis.

There’s also a wheelchair, braces, her talker, etc.

Yes, there’s Medicaid, but it has its limits. It’s also under fire.

Neither pays for many things she needs.  Neither pays for some of her meds. Many of the special needs adaptations that she needs or that add to her quality of life are incredibly pricey. We pay for them. We also pay for the trips out of state, for gas, hotels, food. It quickly adds up.

So my fear is that we would somehow lose insurance for her and have no means to get it back.

I wake up from dreams about losing our home because we had to care for her.

I wake up wondering what opportunities we would have to withhold from Graham because we are taking care of Grace.

I wake up feeling trapped in my job with no way of leaving because I have to care for Grace.

I also wake up knowing that there is no choice in the matter – we have to care for Grace. She’s ours. She has needs that we have to meet. However, we can. I feel the weight of that deeper somehow. It is a legitimate weight.

I have campaigned for Grace’s rights rather privately thus far. Advocating for her primarily in our church and her school. Believe it or not, that’s a lot. Plus advocating is just part of the special needs parent role. It’s separate from the paperwork, the appointments, the meetings, the actual hands-on care. The first time I advocated for her formally I was at a meeting where a county group was discussing cutting funds to her special needs daycare. The two parents before me had these incredibly powerful presentations with visual aids. I hadn’t thought about that at all. All I had was my planner. It had a huge pocket in the front and in that pocket I had a picture of Grace. When it was my turn I sat at the table, showed them my picture, apologized that I didn’t have a more polished presentation, and then told them our story. I told them about how no other daycare would take Grace. I told them how helpless it made us feel.

I feel a little of that helplessness now. Time has made me more polished I like to think. I can better describe how Grace is a whole person, worthy of what it takes to make her the best she can be. She has potential. She has character.   She is not less. She is not a liability. She is a person more the same than different.

And in reality, any of us is seconds away from being in a situation where we could be very sick or very injured and need significant help.

So I’m afraid. But life continues. I’m working on my next blog post where Graham tap dances by a singing rock…

Joy