Home home

Hope, age 2, "looking for Daddy" through the mailslot when he was deployed in 2009-2010.

Hope, age 2, “looking for Daddy” through the mailslot when he was deployed in 2009-2010.

Just a quick update-

Brandon returned home from deployment last week and we have been enjoying the time together. Hooray!

The girls and I had planned to meet him at the airport but he was delayed by several hours. My good friend Gail willingly came over and stayed with the girls – almost until midnight – while I picked Brandon up at the airport. This homecoming was different. He was not in uniform. He traveled alone. There were no crowds or signs, no ceremony. No newspapers or news cameras this time. Just me and him.

It was the best way. The first time he deployed to war over ten years ago it had been just the two of us at an airport… (well, actually my dog Ronald had been there and Rhema was in my belly, but we’re just counting the bipedal adults…).

Now things seemed to come full circle for us. He walked over to me and gave me a hug. He sighed heavily, “We made it another year. No more.” It was a promise. And I simply said, “Ok.”

Two kids, three deployments and what seems to be a lifetime of ups and downs, pains and joys, we were back to just the two of us. Making peace with all the life lived apart and what it cost us. Looking ahead to a new chapter.

The quiet homecoming made me think of a favorite story:

A missionary couple, after years of faithful service overseas, was returning back to the States. They returned to the New York harbor on the same steamship as Teddy Roosevelt. Upon their arrival in the harbor Roosevelt was greeted with great fanfare – a brass band, reporters and photographers, firecrackers were set off. And this aged missionary couple, health broken and spent in their service for Christ, walked off the gangplank and through the crowd, unmet and seemingly unknown. As they walked, a tear trickled down the husband’s cheek.

“What’s wrong?” his wife asked.

“My whole life I’ve given to serving God. We’ve spent ourselves for Jesus and nobody is here to greet us. There’s no bouquet of flowers for you.”

His dear wife thought for a minute and then said, “Honey, we’re not home yet. We’re not home yet.

 

In the coming months Brandon will begin the process of retiring from the Army. It will be quite a change for us – I’ve only always known him as a soldier – but it’s a welcome change. I’m thankful, so thankful for the chance to finish and begin again, for whatever God has for us next (we give our lives to Him), to live and love and work together until we’re Home home.

.

*Thank you so much for the prayers and encouragement this past year! 

if Thou keep me many a day

“I will stand at my watch…I will look to see…Yet I will wait patiently for the day…” ~Habbakuk 2:1

We are down to days.

Many years of being a military spouse has taught me that nothing is for sure in the Army… but I think this deployment is finally coming to an end. Honestly? I feel like I’m crawling toward the finish. And when I get there, instead of doing a victory dance, I think I’ll just fall asleep. Yeah right there at the finish line. Don’t pick me up. Just bring me a pillow and some blankets!

I hope I will let myself take a deep breath and put aside my concerns about schedules, work, changes and the whole re-integration process. I suspect my apprehension will fall away and joy will overtake as soon as I see him home, safe, laughing with Hope, holding Rhema’s hand, making up for lost time.

I turned back the pages of this old blog and found some things I’ve shared about deployments and reunions of the past. At every turn God’s faithfulness sings out to me. Brandon and I have been physically (and sometimes emotionally) separated for years at a time, and God so gracious, has stood over the process of us reorienting ourselves back to each other. Time and again He helps us find our way, as a family together, again.

Because of this I believe with all my heart that God in a marriage can do anything.

Mind if I share some snippets this week??

The following was written in 2009, at the beginning of a 14-month deployment. But the events actually occurred 10 years ago (!)… and still, we wait. And the waiting is precious.

I’m waiting for a call.

A call to say that he has arrived safely in Kuwait.

Even as he goes out, I am already thinking of his coming in.

I think back to five years ago when a handful of spouses gathered in an old gymnasium in Katterbach, Germany in the dark of night. There were babies and small children, and wives who were suddenly decked out in their best clothes. We were waiting… like the ten bridemaids of the Biblical parable, we were waiting for the groom, with oil in our lamps.

I’ll never forget walking into that gym and seeing the signs that caused a lump to form in my throat.

GodKeptYou1

The first thing I did was to check the manifest. To see, for sure, if my beloved was on the list. He’d said that after a long, hard year he was coming home. But in the Army, you just never know what might happen, so I stared hard at the list until I found his name. And when I did, I bounced an 11 month-old Rhema on my hip, and let my heart rest for the first time in a good while.

The hours dragged on and we chatted, laughed, traded babies and tried to be patient.  Around 2 in the morning, the announcement came that Bravo Company, 3rd of the 58th - deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom – had landed on the kaserne. While in Iraq, they had set up an airfield for coalition aircraft in Saddam Hussein’s hometown of Tikrit, and now they had returned to their home away from home in Katterbach.

It would still be hours before we could see them, as they had to take inventory and turn in their weapons. It seemed like forever.

Then a screen descended, the lights went out and a music video played.

The song finished, the screen was raised… and then we saw them. A small, weary company of air traffic controllers, led by my husband. Before being released to their families, they stood almost humbly, in formation. You could hear the tears.

formation1

I know they were praying, quietly thanking God along with us. Thanking God with all their hearts that not one of them, not one, had been lost.

So here am I again. Waiting… for a homecoming.

While I wait, I am aware that we are all waiting for something.

May your waiting make you stronger.

May you know His peace that passes understanding… while you’re in the in between.

May you know His love surrounds you,

May He be your portion…

in the waiting.

This I pray.

“Now, Lord, not my will, but Thine be done. I know not what to do; I am brought to extremities, but I will wait until Thou shalt cleave the floods, or drive back my foes. I will wait, if Thou keep me many a day, for my heart is fixed upon Thee alone, O God, and my spirit waiteth for Thee in the full conviction that Thou wilt yet be my joy and my salvation, my refuge and my strong tower.” —Charles Spurgeon

U heart I

It’s a warm and beautiful evening and my daughter’s whole body displays her efforts to navigate the day. She’s rocking the Medusa-meets-Afro Puffs look, her hair is uneven due to the fact that she pulls it out when she’s upset. There are large dark circles under her eyes – attributed to allergies or the fact that she’s had trouble sleeping the past several nights. She has hiked her pants up Steve Urkel style – she’s never quite comfortable – and wiped them down in ketchup, popsicle juice, cheese curls. Her darkened arms still healing from the last round of self-biting, her hands still stained green from the marker she colored with at 3 am. Her eyelids are heavy now, the sleep med I gave her beginning to take effect.

I’ve stared at her nearly every day for ten years and I still can’t take my eyes off her.

A week ago we had escaped to a quiet room during church. She scribbled all over her paper and then wrote U <3 I. Before she could scribble over it, I grabbed the paper and held it to my heart. Later when I eagerly showed it to Hope she casually said, “Oh I write that all the time when I color with Rhema. She did it independently, huh?” Indeed it was exciting that she mimicked Hope, but the air wheezed slowly out of my balloon. I reminded myself that these things, most things, for Rhema only come after long periods of focused effort and repetition. And the breakthroughs – as sweet and earth-shattering as they as are – can be here today, gone tomorrow, if not continuously practiced and reinforced. U <3 I. Symbols on a page, not yet meaningful.

I walk her through the bedtime routine. As I do every night I say her verse, Romans 10:8,9 - The Word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart… If I push her, get in her face, hold her hands and say “night night” several times she will eventually repeat the words. But at the end of the day I don’t want to put any more demands on her. We have made peace with the silence. I tell her goodnight, she glances in my direction and says clearly, intentionally, “Nigh nigh.” There’s a hush as if the whole world stops to listen. Tomorrow I will go back to wondering about how she thinks and feels about everything she experiences and what she understands, but tonight she will give me words and help me understand.

“Love you.”

“Lo ew.”

“Love you.”

“Lo ew.”

“Thank you, Rhema.”

She pulls the covers over her head.

And I stand there for a long time at her window as the last sun fades like a great symphony quieting down, so beautiful you never forget the sound.

By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life. ~Psalm 42:8

heart1

Biker girlz

Rhema got a trike for her tenth birthday. She’s had difficulty learning to balance a regular two-wheeler. I hoped this would be a fun, cool way to get her moving. And it was! She took the bike right away.

IMG_1733

But keeping her safe turned out to be much harder than I imagined. We only rode in enclosed areas but she still found a way to streets with cars. I tried many times to demonstrate the boundaries, to no avail. She seemed to have no sense for the danger and I spent most of the time running after her, shouting her name with my heart in my throat.

I thought about getting myself a skateboard to try and keep up with her (and for some reason every person I mentioned the idea to laughed!)

One day I took the girls to a paved area at a local college. Rhema pedaled around the quad with Hope riding her bike close behind and I jogged alongside. Things were going well and Rhema was stayed on the path; eventually I slowed my pace. Rhema veered off the path, around a corner and out of my line of sight. Hope took off after her and I started my typical running and yelling. I had a feeling she was headed for the main road. When I got there Hope’s bike was thrown down by the side of the road. Rhema’s trike was in the road but she wasn’t on it. Apparently Hope had yelled for her to stop and Rhema had stopped right there and gotten off her trike. Only she was standing there in the middle of the street refusing to move, her arm over her eyes.

When Hope saw cars approaching she ran into the street and began pushing Rhema out of the street. That’s the scene burned into my memory forever. My seven-year old pushing my ten-year old out of the street, step by step. The cars came to a stop while I retrieved my children and then dragged the trike out of the road.

(Dear sweet Hope, if you read this someday, know that the Bible says, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Thank you for your great love.)

That put an end to Rhema’s bike riding (in my mind, for a very long time).

Recently I recounted the story to Rhema and Hope’s grandparents. I told them I couldn’t take Rhema riding unless there were at least 3 adults present – all strategically positioned. (Two friends did this with me once and it blessed me to see them running after Rhema like madwomen!) I told them I thought I’d made the wrong choice in getting the trike. That I should have gotten a tandem bike instead – that way I could ride with her and keep her safe.

A couple days later they called and told me to order a tandem bike for Rhema – it would be their gift.

This week they’re visiting us from Michigan, and the new bike arrived. Rhema enjoys it, and the bike is perfect for the two of us. My father in law put a mirror on the handlebars so I can see her behind me. We spent yesterday riding together and I’m so pleased to be able to share this with her! She hummed the whole time and periodically patted my back. Now we can safely go bike riding as a family.

There is much suffering and strife in the world. This is small in the grand scheme of things. But as a mother I am grateful that my girls can enjoy safe, fun, free childhood days. I’m thankful for family and friends who help us think outside the box for Rhema. The excitement doesn’t always show on her face, she doesn’t say thank you or even seem to look up. But you can see the happy in her secret grin and hear it in the song she hums, and that means more than any words can say.

Thank you Grandma and Grandpa!

tandem

Shine, little girl

There were so many incredible things surrounding our experience at the Special Olympics Summer Games.

The morning of I had a moment of panic, wondering if we should just back out of the whole thing. The thought of trying to find parking on a busy day in the city, walking long distances with Rhema, the noise, the crowds, the unfamiliar, the waiting… I called my sister and she simply said, ‘No worries. I be there.’ (Yeah, she tries to talk cool.)

We got there just in time for the opening ceremonies. Rhema did so well throughout the meet; she was happy to color with her markers or play on her iPad or walk around a bit when she had to wait. She kept her leotard on. (!) She did all of the routines in her own Rhema style with Shea, her coach, supporting her all the way.

As I watched I remembered

rhema_on_the_mat2

Rhema, age 5

…how she couldn’t stand the feeling of the mats beneath her feet and how she used to just run circles around the gym.

ipod_mar31 216

Age 6

How she had no joint attention, didn’t seem to understand anything people said to her. How she could not follow one-step directions or do activities with a group.

Look at her now, I thought. Look at her now!

I was/am amazed, so amazed to see how far she has come, to see what is possible.

And then this happened:

IMG_4057 comp

Rhema won 2 fourth place ribbons and 3 bronze medals!

And she knew it. She knew she had succeeded. She knew she was celebrated by everyone in that arena.

IMG_4056 comp

Facebook status from Rhemashope:

Watching the young athletes of the Special Olympics – all with various challenges and disabilities do their best, full of sparkle and joy… Watching those who coached (many of them young girls) guide their friends, cheer them and help them, step by step, side by side… it was just as it should be. And it was one of the most heartening, inspiring things I’ve ever seen.

Team Rhema and Shea (below) – their last time together like this. Thank you Shea for this gift.

“We are at our best, we act most in concert with what our Maker intends, when we give away in love to another…” (Law of the Gift, Pope John Paul II)

IMG_0257

 

Two days later and we can’t stop smiling and talking about it. Hope begged me to take one of the medals to school and I said she could. Her teacher told me she asked her if she could share something with her 1st grade class. First Hope told them about the Special Olympics and then she pulled out Rhema’s team leotard and matching scrunchie (which she happily noted that Rhema kept in the whole time). Next she passed around Rhema’s medal and told them she placed 3rd overall for her age group. Hope told me her classmates were amazed. One girl said, ‘Wow, Rhema is super talented.’

It touched me deeply that Hope would think to do that on her own. She’s teaching her friends about her sister’s autism and showing them her many gifts.

A woman named Susan took the pictures of Rhema (above) on the podium. She found me and showed me the photos. Later she sent them to me with the words, “Your daughter is a shining star.” Instantly I was taken back to my little girl – seeming so isolated and hyperactive – running laps around the gym and holding on to a star.

run_rhema

Rhema, age 5

Keep believing, friends. As my friend has reminded me again and again, anything really is possible. In a blog I wrote about many moons ago when Rhema got her first leotard (you can read it here – it’s part of the story), I say again: This is the message that has been *5* years in the making for me. Don’t be afraid to dream big dreams. It may seem impossible, but it’s just a setup… for God to show you what He can do. He can take our dreams for our children and give them wings. I dare you to trust God. With Him, nothing is impossible.

*Hope and I made this video. Hope took most of these pictures! (Song is “You Amaze Us” by Selah).

These hands

Always, every day I am hungry for connection with my girl.

I tell her things, sometimes excitedly, sometimes whispering in her ear. I watch her closely wondering if this will be the day I see understanding dawn in her eyes, emotion show on her face. She makes no sound, does not look my way.

But her hand often seeks mine.

My hands have become an extension of her. No longer my own, she uses my hands to speak. She takes my hand and leads me where she wants to go. She moves my hands to the refrigerator handle and toward a food item, she moves them to the toilet paper in the bathroom, to the door knob when it’s time to leave. She puts cheese, ketchup and box of popsicles in my hand when she wants to eat, the remote control for her nursery rhymes, and my purse when she’s ready to go. In public we do this strange body-walk-dance as she holds my hand and arm over her shoulder and across her chest. When she colors – which is every day – she puts a marker of her choosing in my hand and guides it to paper. And this is the best of all because it is her favorite thing and she is inviting me in to share it with her, create with her.

A study I read once called this autistic leading a “less desirable form of requesting.” Nevertheless it is communication and all communication is important.

So I let her lead me.

She has caused me to love our hands, hers and mine, because we can always find a way to connect through them. And like all women my hands do many things in a day, but this is most valuable.

My hand, 2009

A couple weeks ago we went out to lunch, just the two of us. Something happened – I don’t know what. She became very upset and before I knew it she had overturned the table in the restaurant, her plate of barely-touched spaghetti landing in a heap in the bench across from us. When I reached for her she bit my hand hard and it took everything in me not to cry out in pain and cause more of a scene.

We left immediately. At home I tried to talk to her, tried to tell her that I understood being upset and frustrated and that we were all working hard to help her find ways to communicate that, but overturning tables was not acceptable. In that moment I was the one upset, frustrated and hurt.

Without looking, she quietly reached for my hand.

Tears filled my eyes as I held back. I knew that to withhold my hand would be to reject her, cut her off. Words I wrote years ago came to mind:

“…how often I have removed my hand – cut off communication – when the Father wants to lead. The well-known Psalm 23 says “He leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.” How often do I miss out on those quiet waters because I refuse to follow, because I will not be led? Communing with God and taking His lead is not so complicated really. Maybe for starters, it just means we unclinch our fist and hold out our hand.”

I took my daughter’s hand again and she took mine and the only translation was love.

Rhema's hand, 2009

Rhema’s hand, 2009

Still just this

For several nights Rhema brought the remote control to me and pressed my fingers to the buttons. It was her way of telling me that she wanted the TV on, but I was baffled because she usually has no interest in television. I turned it on, but Hope and I could not at all figure out what she wanted to watch. I’d select a channel and she’d hand me the remote control again, unsatisfied. On the 3rd night, I put on some old nursery rhyme videos she used to enjoy when she was younger. When our favorite “5 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed” came on, she rocked and giggled and jumped into my arms… my ten year old a five year old again. It blessed me down deep that she remembered, that she too treasures our days dancing and spinning around the living room…

(Originally published in August 2011 and not a lot has changed. Thank God.)

Rhema’s lost her clothes again and streaks through the kitchen. Hope’s doubled over in laughter.

“Rhema!” we exclaim as if she’s never done this before.

“Girl, go get your underpants! Go get your underpants on!”

She prances out, and then moments later approaches me with her underpants in hand. She just needs my help putting them on. She understands. She’s following a direction. And I tell you, my heart could burst.

There’s a Mount Everest mountain of clothes threatening to spill out my laundry room. There’s juice on the floor and green pieces of Hope’s slime project stuck in Rhema’s curls and belly. There’s poop on the Bible. Yes, there’s poop on the Bible. And the iTouch. And somewhere else – we just haven’t found it yet.

There’s another week looming of being busy for the sake of being busy: time filled with work deadlines and meetings and EEG results and Mommy-guilt and grown-up decisions and regrets I cannot escape.

But it’s a day to rest, rest in our Jesus. It’s me and my girls, and all we have is this.

They are loud and silly-sleepy, but we put on nursery rhyme videos.

They get absolutely crazy over cool monkeys in shades in “5 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed.” And the way we dance and spin. First Hope in my arms, we jump up and down. And then I dip her head low when a monkey falls off the bed. I wag my finger in her face, and we yell “No more monkeys jumping in the bed!” I deposit Hope on the couch when it’s two monkeys down and just enough time to catch Rhema’s flying leap into my arms. She knows it’s her turn. She’s heavy and I’m out of breath and my old back is aching, but who knows? Who knows how much longer I’ll be able to carry my firstborn like this? To swing her in my arms, dizzy with joy?

I’ll hold on for as long as I can.

And then I’ll open my hands again and give her, her sister, this family, these days to the only God who is Love. The only One who loves them and holds them far better than me. He’s got this whole wide world in His hands.

My girls danced and held hands and played Ring Around the Rosie tonight. Yes, they did. And the world is alright with me. I’ll count this day as lovely.

“all I see”

IMG_6872b

“If I’m nervous to play the song in front of my friends in music class how will I ever play it in the concert?” Hope wailed as she got ready for school the other day.

I saw the anxiety in her face and sensed a teachable moment. Eager to say something more than the usual stuff that comes out of my mouth on a daily basis (“Sit down”, “Hurry up”, and “Go potty”, etc.), I asked her to tell me about the song she was playing.

Be thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart
Naught be all else to me, save that thou art
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light

“It’s supposed to mean that Jesus is all I see. When I’m happy and when I’m sad.”

“When are you sad?” She’s such a joy-filled child I really wanted to learn more about what makes her sad.

She said simply, “Like when Daddy is away. And when Rhema is having a hard time.”

“I don’t know what that’s like, Hope. When I was a kid I never had to be away from my dad for such long periods of time. And I don’t know what it’s like to love a sister with lots of special needs. But I’m so thankful you know where to look.”

She nodded and was ready to twirl away but I held on.

“So. Try not to worry about all of the people. Imagine you have an audience of One. Play your song. Live your life. For Him, babe. Only Him. I’ll try to do that, too.”

Our prayer… and our interpretation of the first verse of a hymn that originates in the 6th century and was selected by Hope’s piano teacher for her to learn:

Lord of my heart, I want you to be the only thing I see. I want to make knowing you, honoring you the most important goal. My mind is filled with many distractions, cares, and things I don’t understand. But You are my best thought day and night. No matter where I am or what I’m doing, Your presence is the light in my life. Thank you.

.

*We think Ginny Owens (who is blind) sings Be Thou My Vision beautifully. Click ->here<- for a listen.

**Hope is playing Be Thou My Vision in her school concert tonight. :)

Unexpected

She seems to be back in that place again. The place of isolation and aggression and self-injury. Where it’s hard to cope and she’s twitchy and jerky and agitated so much of the time. I’ve studied her from head to toe, searched for clues, for anything I might be missing. I know you know every part of her. You speak her language perfectly and love her even more than me. If she is in pain, God, please bring relief. Speak words of peace into her soul. Because I don’t know what and I don’t know why. Won’t you show me how to help her?

I pray this as I dare to sit with her in the darkness, dare to upset her even more. Gently I take her arm and do what I do, kiss every contusion, every red mark and bruise – they run from shoulder to wrist, left there from self-biting. She lifts that same arm, wraps it around my neck and pulls me close, child comforting mother.

In my mother’s womb

There are so many studies out there about what causes autism and new findings are popping up almost daily. I tend to take them with a grain of salt. It seems the majority of them are linked to mothers and what we did or didn’t do. Emily Willingham of Forbes put it this way:

“Having children close together, having them in a certain order, being a certain age, having antibodies, having children in summer, having wombs and gestating embryonic and fetal humans in them, using Clomid, IVF, terbutaline, or labor induction, being pregnant near freeways, donating bad mitochondria to offspring, partnering with older fathers, passing genes to our children, eating, treating depression, getting an infection during pregnancy, including the flu, not getting an infection, being depressed, or behaving like refrigerators.”

A study (I did take seriously) came out a week before Rhema’s 10th birthday that suggests autism starts in the womb. The brain tissue reveals “patches of disorganization in the cortex” of children with autism. ‘Organization of the cortex begins in the second trimester of pregnancy. “So something must have gone wrong at or before that time…”

24 weeks pregnant with Rhema

24 weeks pregnant with Rhema

And I don’t understand it all or even know what I think and feel about it all, but there is this:

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
before I’d even lived one day. ~Psalm 139:13-16

rj

And in the victorious, precious, beautiful times and in the most bitter, trying, heartbreaking times of our lives with autism, God’s good purpose remains. All of these days ordained for me to be their mother and for them to be my girls… yes, God is good.

I don’t always see the good. I’d rewind the clock in a heartbeat, do whatever I could to make my baby an ‘organized cortex.’

But my vision has always been limited.

RhemaHope_joy2

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in his life.”  ~John 9:1-3

Everything about her is a miracle.

rhema6