The Right Size

As far back as I can remember, I’ve thought of myself as overweight. Indeed, for many years, I have been overweight. A few summers ago, I embarked on a journey to reach the weight which God designed my body to carry. In that season of hyper-regulated eating, premade bars, and powdered shakes, I discovered a curious thing:

For much of my life, I’ve been content to wear clothes that are too big for me.

Overweight people wear plus sizes; I’m overweight; therefore, I must wear really large sizes. Those big shirts hid my actual shape and, I dare say, made me look heavier than I actually was. But I wore them because I believed they were what I should wear.

Wearing the right-sized clothes took some getting used to. I still have to make a mental adjustment when I purchase new clothes. I have to be honest with myself and buy shirts and pants that fit the body I currently have—not the body I used to have or the body I want to have someday. More times than not, finding clothes that fit me is a process involving fitting rooms and catalog returns. Each company has a different idea of what size is accurate to the label: a size large at one place is not the same size as a size large from another place. It’s exhausting. Yet when I find the right fit, I feel confident and beautiful.

In the same way, finding the right fit for my daughter, and discovering the right size for our family, has transformed the way we do life. When she was little, we jumped through various clothing hoops in order to accommodate Cami’s sensory struggles. Yet the fit I’m talking about here is in her environments, in her activities, in her friendships, in her transitions. Sometimes, it takes a major shift to find where Cami fits and what works for her. Sometimes, it’s as simple as a little tweak here and there in the status quo. Every time, it takes paying attention and being brave enough to say, “This isn’t working. Let’s try something different.”

My friend Betsy used to describe it as being a student of my child. She used to tell me that Cami’s learning glitches­—the dyspraxia, the dyslexia, and sensory processing disorders (vestibular, visual, and auditory)—were gifts from God because they made me slow down and pay attention to my girl. She was right. When we pulled her out of public school kindergarten all those years ago, we took time—time for Cami to heal from the traumas at school, and time for us to figure out who we were and what worked best for our family. We took time to discover the right fit for all of us.

We stopped looking at Cami as a problem to correct and instead embraced her as a puzzle to solve—an intricate, sometimes frustrating,  but always fascinating treasure to unlock. God forced Michael and I to take Cami out of the box that the benchmarks and growth charts and child-development books tried to keep her in. He helped us turn our girl loose in an open field and say, “Go be who you are. Let’s see what happens!” What we’ve discovered is this amazing human being who loves God with all her heart, loves other people in a truly selfless way, and loves to learn. We’re also discovering how to look at each other the same way we look at Cami.

We’ve stepped out of the trap of “supposed to be.” We’ve stopped comparing our family and our rhythm of life to other families around us. We’re finding the right fit for us. It isn’t easy. Sometimes, it’s downright chaotic. But every millimeter of the journey is worth it because we’re following Jesus, and I have to tell you: our family is brimming with life. Our hearts are settled and at peace with Him and with each other. We genuinely like each other!

As parents and caregivers, we must be careful—and intentional—to allow our loved ones to be who God created them to be. He made them fearfully and wonderfully, seeing them as His masterpieces, His beautiful, glorious works of art. He made us all that way, infusing us with His image. We are all different. It sounds like a cliché, but it’s true. Each one of us has a unique fingerprint, a unique DNA sequence, even a unique ear shape! God takes such great care to craft us each unique from anyone else. So why do we spend so much time and effort trying to look like everyone else? be like everyone else? do life like everyone else?

Be brave enough this week to ask Jesus to show you the right size and fit for your family. Just ask Him. And when you ask Him, be ready for the most amazing discoveries you could ever imagine.

Now glory be to God! By His mighty power at work within us, He is able to accomplish infinitely more than we would ever dare to ask or hope. Ephesians 3:20, NLT

Flattening boxes of fear and expectations, dancing in fields of grace,

Candi

Posted in Reminders to Myself | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Nobody Works Like Him

In John chapter 5 verse 17, Jesus told the Jews,
“My Father is always working, and I am working also.”

In Psalm 86, verses 8 through 10, David says,
“There is none like You among the gods, O Lord, nor are there any works like Yours.
All the nations You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord,
and shall glorify Your Name. For You are great and do wondrous things;
You alone are God.”

Yahweh alone is God. He is always working, and so is Jesus. Nobody works likes Him.

Who else would use a funeral to bring truth and life to a broken family?

When my father-in-law passed away right before Christmas, God gathered seven adult children from three different marriages and five different states all in one place for the first time in 28 years. God gave my husband the opportunity to host his siblings as they hung out together, and talked, and discovered how connected they really are. They’d spent their lives thinking their dad loved his other children more, when in reality, their dad didn’t demonstratively love any of them well. As they shared memories and confronted childhood hurts, Michael and his siblings found real relationships with each other, even planning a “Brothers Weekend” to continue connecting with and loving each other.

Who but God would use that very same funeral to give my daughter, who struggles with anxiety and extreme stage fright, the platform to declare His praise?

After the funeral, we all gathered at Granddaddy’s house—and when I say “we,” I mean seven adult brothers and sisters and their significant others, a step-mother and her siblings, an aunt, a step-sister and her husband, and lots and lots of cousins both children and adults. For my daughter, who struggles with noise and crowds and had already navigated days of extreme emotions and transitions, the situation had the potential to shut her down.

After the funeral, I’m changing from my funeral clothes into comfortable clothes when I hear Cami playing her melodica in the next room. If you’re unfamiliar with a melodica, just know that there isn’t a quiet way to play it. I hear her playing and I think, “Thank You, Lord, for giving her courage to play in front of people.”

I gather my clothes and walk out into the hallway where Cami meets me. “Mom?” The tiny hallway is crowded with two of us standing there.

“Yes, Love?” I try to maneuver around her in order to lay down my clothing burden. She takes a minute too long to answer, so I look into her eyes.

She takes a deep breath and whispers, “Would you sing so I can play the ukulele?”

Okay, this is new, I think. Usually she plays her musical instruments in her room with the door closed, or in the basement with the headphones on, or when no one is home so no one can hear her. My daughter used to cry during her piano lessons because she was embarrassed for anyone to hear her play, and she plays better than I do.

We’ve never made music together.

I say, “Sure, Honey. I’d love to sing while you play.” I put my funeral clothes down in a pile and walk around the corner. . .

. . .into a room filled with people—relatives, yes, but people Cami barely knows. And she wants to play in front of them.

“What song are we doing?” I ask her.

“Well, I know Good, Good Father pretty well. What about that one?”

What about that one?!? Only the worship song that undoes me and ushers me into God’s sweet Presence as I cry the ugly cry. What about that one??

“Okay. I know that one.”

Someone holds Cami’s ukulele songbook that I made for her, and she leans over to me and quietly says, “Just to warn you: I don’t strum very well.”

I’m just thrilled she’s willing to strum at all. But I don’t tell her that. “It’s okay, Love. You just strum, and I’ll follow you.” And she begins.

I start to sing, and I see my husband around the corner in the kitchen. His head whips up, and his jaw drops, and I can’t look at him anymore. He gets it. He gets what this moment is.

As I begin to sing the familiar words, simultaneously I’m having a conversation with myself and with Jesus. Because we women can do that, right?

Okay, Candi, don’t freak out. Don’t feel  how important this moment is, or it will freak Cami out.

Jesus, thank You for this moment!

Okay, hold it together. Don’t cry.

Yes, mark this moment in time. Worship Jesus through this amazing song; but don’t fall apart. You can do that later.

Jesus! How amazing You are! Help me hold it together right now, Lord. Please.

And then I reach the bridge of the song: “You are perfect in all of Your ways. You are perfect in all of Your ways to us.”

Love so undeniable, I can hardly speak. Peace so unexplainable, I can hardly think as You call me deeper still into Love. You’re a good, good Father. It’s Who You are. And I’m loved by You. It’s who I am.

Who but God would arrange a gathering of a family who was bitter and distrustful toward one another, and after over forty years of strife and misunderstanding, provide a song and a moment for His Truth to be displayed and proclaimed? Who but God would fold into that moment an opportunity for my daughter to find courage to use her gift in front of people, include me in the process, and show her dad and me that He is working out His will and His plan for her—He is freeing her voice—His way?

God the Father is always working. Jesus is working also. Not just for me, but for you, too.

Take some moments this week to think about the place in your life that’s hard, the place that seems hopeless—the situation that feels like God has forgotten. Ask Jesus to give you new eyes to see His working for you, loving you fiercely, and fighting for you. He is always working, but it doesn’t often look like what we expect. . .because nobody works like Him.

As He shows you His involvement in your circumstances, praise Him. As He calls you deeper still into His Love for you, run. Run towards Him—even if it seems odd, even if you’re afraid—especially when you don’t understand what He’s doing or why He’s doing it this way. He loves you, and He is always working, and He is perfect is all of His ways to you.

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Lessons From a Carrot Cake

Some traditions are worth keeping. Here’s a post from 5 years ago that’s still relevant for our lives. And it’s actually my husband’s birthday today, so the carrot cake is served. Enjoy!

 

Every year for Michael’s birthday, I make a homemade carrot cake. From scratch. Frosting, too. This endeavor has been a tradition in our family for over a decade. When we were first married, I tried the shortcut way of making his birthday cake from a boxed cake mix with store-bought frosting.

He made a face with the first bite and gently said, “What kind of cake is this?’

Then and there, I embarked on a quest to perfect the making of a bona fide homemade carrot cake. My quest was complete when my friend Wanda came over for dinner one night. She brought a cake pan full of yumminess, and my husband loved it. Surprisingly, so did I, and I don’t usually like carrot cake. I asked for the recipe.

It wasn’t hard. Just stir up a bunch of ingredients in a certain order, pour it in a pan, bake, and voilà!  Birthday cake that Michael loves! For the first few years, he didn’t seem to notice that I still used store-bought frosting. Then he raised the bar of excellence and asked me to make homemade frosting. At the time, we didn’t own one of those fancy mixers-on-a-stand, so it was the hand mixer for me. Maybe that’s where my I-only-bake-this-cake-once-a-year rule came from: making homemade cream cheese frosting with a hand mixer is no fun. I burned up the motor on a few mixers before Michael bought the KitchenAid we still own.

So this year, Michael’s birthday rolls around, and I make some choices that could potentially forever alter the way we traditionally celebrate his birthday every year. First, I decide to tweak the birthday cake recipe. I figure using whole wheat flour, stevia, and low-fat cream cheese can only make a yearly treat healthier. Right?

Which brings me to my second fateful choice: I add the ingredients in the same order as always, but this time, I let the KitchenAid do the whisking for me.

The end result? Carrot cake fail. Really. I begin the cake-making on the day before Michael’s birthday, determining to start a new celebratory tradition: birthday cake at midnight! I make the cake, and the frosting, using the healthier ingredients and the automated whisking. I think, “These layers look thinner than usual,” rationalizing that maybe it’s my imagination. After all, I only make this cake once a year. The layers come out of the pan okay, so I begin the frosting-making while the cake is cooling. I think, “This frosting looks kind of runny,” comforting myself with remembering that Michael always makes his own frosting because I can never get it quite right.

I put the cake together on the cake plate with the glass dome cover, working with the thin frosting as best I can. Michael encourages me with, “Your carrot cakes have never been about how they look. It’s how they taste that matters.”

At 12:05 a.m. on his birthday, Michael slices the birthday carrot cake and serves up three plates’ worth. He passes out the forks, and we all take a bite.

Y’all, Michael brags to others about my carrot cake. Which is wonderful because it means he really likes it.

Which is terrible when we taste this one.

Oh, it tastes okay, but talk about a jaw-workout! This cake is truly dense. “Maybe being in the cake-keeper overnight will moisten it some,” I think…secretly whispering prayers of thanks that I made this cake on the day before his birthday because now I have time to make another one.

Michael wakes up early on his special day to run some errands, including a stop at our church. I suggest we slice up the dense carrot cake because “someone at the church might actually like it.” My intentions are good. The cake tastes okay; it just didn’t bake up the fabulous way Michael’s birthday cake always turns out.

Then, to my chagrin, the cake is too dense to slice. I mutter to myself, “I’m going to have to throw this cake away.”

“Why?” Michael says. “It tastes all right.”

“I can’t slice it.” I hand him the knife. “Here. You try.” And my big burly strong-armed man struggles to slice his too-dense birthday carrot cake.

As I throw the entire cake in the trash (because, well, we can’t slice it), Michael heads to the grocery store for more carrot-cake ingredients. “I’ll get more ingredients, but you have to promise me something,” he says.

“What?” I ask.

“This time, don’t mess with the recipe.

It’s so true, especially in our journey with hidden disabilities, that we look for an easier way—a less-expensive therapy, an easier coping behavior, a better whatever (fill in the blank)—even when our method already achieves the desired goal. Why do we try to change what’s already working? Yes, sometimes, we need to question the rules. Sometimes, the recommended methods aren’t best for our family, for our loved ones, for ourselves. We need to ask the hard questions. We need to advocate for what brings life to all of us.

But when something works, and works well, when something brings life and health and peace, why do we still try to go with something “better”? Why can’t we just be content with the life God has given us and the way He’s given us to live it?

My husband says, “This time, don’t mess with the recipe.” So I don’t. I make the second birthday carrot cake with all-purpose flour, and sugar (2 cups!), and I whisk it all by hand in the big silver mixing bowl like I always do. I include original full-fat-content name-brand cream cheese in the frosting, and it all comes out perfect. We eat fabulous birthday carrot cake, and there’s enough left over for Michael to share with his buddies at the men’s retreat.

Rules can be broken, and recipes can be tweaked.
But once you find a fabulous method with consistent results,
don’t mess with the recipe.

The carrot cake recipe works so well (and I love her so much) that I break my I-only-make-this-cake-once-a-year rule and make another birthday carrot cake for my friend Betsy when she visits this week. It’s her birthday, too. As my own birthday quickly approaches, I briefly wonder how the cake would taste if I substitute bananas for the carrots, or maybe apples and cranberries, just for a change of taste.

Nah. I think I’ll stick with what works.

Candi’s Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Cake:
In a large mixing bowl, mix by hand with a whisk the following ingredients one at a time, whisking after each ingredient is added:
3 eggs
1 ¼ cups vegetable oil
8 oz. can crushed pineapple
2 cups sugar
2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract
Using a mixing spoon, stir the following ingredients into the cake mixture:
1 cup raisins
1 cup pulverized walnuts
2 cups pulverized carrots
Pour into 2 round cake pans and bake at 350° F for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake layer pulls out clean.
Let cake layers cool completely before frosting.

Frosting:
With an electric mixer, mix together
½ cup sweet cream butter (1 stick @room temp) and
8 oz  cream cheese (1 package @room temp) (no low-fat) about 3 minutes on medium speed until very smooth. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure even mixing. Add
2 tsp vanilla extract and mix. Slowly add
6 cups powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time until thoroughly mixed.
Mix frosting on medium high setting for 2-3 minutes.
If the icing is too thick, add up to 1/8 cup of whole milk as you mix.
Frost the cooled cake layers, slice, and enjoy!

Thankful for birthdays and tried-and-true recipes,
Candi

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The Mommy Power

We’re headed tomorrow to meet up with family in another state, so I’m posting a Way-Back-Wednesday instead of a Throwback-Thursday post from the Candi archives. Although this event happened in June 2011, I find the encouragement for myself more timely and relevant than ever. 

I hope it encourages you also. Whatever God has called you to and anointed you for, He gives you what you need to accomplish what He asks of you. Because He’s a good Dad that way.

“Here are those bags, Mommy.” Cami leans into my office sideways.

“Thank you, Love. You can just lay them right there.” I point her to the piano bench. Her body language is wonky. Something’s up.

“Cami, are you okay?”

She shrugs off the question. “Sure. I’m fine.” Yet she still hasn’t looked directly at me. Clue #1.

As she heads into her room, shielding one side of her body from me (Clue #2), I put down my pile of papers to be sorted and I go after it. You know, the “it”: the whatever-is-going-on-with-my-daughter issue. It takes me a few minutes because I have a huge stack of papers in my hand. We’re moving this week (a wonderful God-story for another time), and we are all feeling the anticipation and excitement.

As I put down the last stack of papers, Cami says from the next room, “Mom, isn’t it time to say prayers?” Clue #3. She usually tries to delay bedtime.

When I step into her room, “I’m here,” I say as I approach the bed. Cami is already up in her loft bed, looking at me. I’m not quite sure how to describe her facial expression, but it ratchets up my sense of alarm. She’s got a little smile on her mouth, but it’s not a happy smile. So here I go, into the mess, having no idea what mess I’m getting into.

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“Cami, are you sure everything’s okay?” She nods her head. “What did you bring upstairs just now?”

She shrugs her shoulders. “Nothing.” That’s twice now. Cami is not usually the shrugging kind. Nor is she surly.

“I asked you what you brought upstairs just now. Let me see, please.”

“What?” she innocently asks. “It’s just a blanket. Why do you want to see it?” Now the alarm in my head is sounding at full wail.

“Cami, hand me the blanket.” As she picks it up, something falls out of it.

“Hmmm…I wonder how that got there,” Cami says as she hands me a pink fleecey blanket.

“Give me the rest, Cami.” (Be firm, Mommy Candi, and remember grace.)

I am stunned at the Big Reveal. My daughter hands me a granola bar.

Really? A granola bar?

“Are you hungry, Cami?”

“No, not really.”

“Then why in the world would you sneak a granola bar into your bed?”

“I dunno,” she says sheepishly. “I guess I wanted to test myself.”

While I dialog with my daughter aloud, I’m conversing with God and myself internally:

(Precursor to an eating disorder? She’s hiding food! God, give me the right words. Why would she hide food? She’s never done that before.)
{Be anxious for nothing, Child of Mine, but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, tell Me what you want. Tell Me, out loud, right now. Model for her your relationship with Me.}

I reach up to put my hand on Cami’s head, and I pray aloud. I ask the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth, to help Cami understand her own motives, and to give me the wisdom I need to be the mommy Cami needs me to be. At first, Cami pulls away. I grab her hand. She squirms, but she holds my hand. With each prayer-word I say, she squirms less.

I say “Amen,” and Cami says, “I really don’t know why I did that, Mommy.” Her beautiful eyes are looking straight into mine.

“Maybe you wanted to see if I could guess what you had in your bed.”

Her tone and attitude totally change as she says with wonder, “How did you know?”

(Lord, help me speak truth in all gentleness here.) “Cami, I’ll tell you the truth. When God made me your mommy, He gave me a special set of super powers to help me be the exact mommy that you need.”

Puberty? No problem.

Struggling with friends? Piece of cake.

For if God is with me, then who can be against me?

He never sleeps. He never leaves. He sings over us. He delights in us. He gives us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Jesus.

He appointed and anointed me to be Cami’s mommy. I can do this.

Bring it on. I have the Mommy Power!

Writing in Community with Jennifer

Live loved, Friends, because we are,
Candi

Posted in #TellHisStory, purpose, Throwback Thursday | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Confessions From One Tired Momma

Just wanted to let y’all know where we are with Cami and all the stuff happening with the Virginia Dickersons this summer. Because we need your prayers.

First of all, thank you for praying for wisdom, discernment, knowledge, peace, and faith for the health care professionals and us. To update you from the beginning: almost a year ago, Cami casually mentioned at bedtime that she’d been having “episodes” where her vision turned to particles of light which grew steadily brighter (although her vision never completely whited out). Accompanying these “episodes” were ringing in her ears, lightheadedness, and sometimes dizziness that made her have to sit down.

Our first step last September was to visit the pediatrician, a nurse practitioner actually, whom we love so much we drive to the further-away office to see her. At her recommendation, Cami had a full ophthalmological exam, which was clear. We learned migraines can happen without pain, and began to wonder if that’s what was happening.

Our next step was to consult a pediatric neurologist, who conducted a one-hour in-office EEG to see if we could catch one of the “episodes.” When that showed nothing, we went through a 48-hour at-home EEG where Cami’s head was covered with electrodes (and bandaged to keep them secure) and she carried a monitor for the duration of the test. When the first 24 hours were normal, I found myself praying, “Lord, please let her have an episode so they can collect the data they need to determine what’s happening to her.”

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Sure enough, the next morning, Cami had the worst episode she’d had to date. And the data was recorded. We waited for the results for two weeks, when we received an email from the doctor: no sign of seizures. But no next step to pursue answers either.

So we went on with life. This spring, Cami’s episodes became more frequent and sometimes left her with a dull headache. So we headed back to Dr. Melissa and sought a second opinion from the neurologists at Children’s National Hospital. Thanks to many prayers and a call from the pediatrician’s office, we were able to request an urgent appointment, which meant Cami started seeing Dr. Lavenstein three weeks ago instead of waiting until October of this year. We took the raw data from the previous 48-hour EEG test. When he read it, he saw “unusual activity in the lower left occipital lobe” which isn’t mirrored on the right side. He ordered an MRI of Cami’s brain to investigate if there’s a “structural” reason for the “cell irritation.”

As we waited between the appointment and the MRI — from Friday to Monday, when normally it takes 7-10 days to obtain pre-approval from the insurance company (another answer to many prayers) — I found some strongholds in my heart that surprised me. (Here’s where it gets real, y’all.)

1. I live in constant, though not always acknowledged, fear that God will take Michael and Cami away from me, that something devastating will happen and they will move to heaven before I do, that I will be left alone here without the two loves of my life here on earth.

Which might mean that Jesus really isn’t the center of my life. That I don’t really trust Him like I say I do. That, deep down in the darkest part of my soul, I believe He is a Taker and not a Giver.

I’ve asked God to heal my heart, to break down this stronghold that keeps me captive to fear and distrust. It’s exhausting to try to live here.

2. Although I try to live with open hands (because everything belongs to God anyway — we’re just stewards), I don’t live that way with my daughter. I don’t give her to Jesus because a. I’m afraid He’ll really take her (see Confession #1, above), and b. I feel entitled to her. She’s my only child. God gave my sister Sarah e.i.g.h.t. children; He only gave me one. It isn’t fair that He take her from me. She’s the only one I have, the only one I’ll ever have.

Which is my saying to Abba, “I don’t like the road You’re asking me to walk. I can do it better, I think.” Which is setting myself up as an idol, when my agenda, plans, wants, desires become what I cling to instead of trusting the Creator of all with my one and only daughter, my precious daughter, whom I love (Genesis 22:2).

Which leads back to the core belief I have about God that underpins Confession #1, above.

When we showed up for the MRI, they informed us the doctor had ordered the test to be with and without contrast. With contrast meant an IV of dye inserted into her bloodstream. Food dyes are Cami’s kryptonite. I panicked just a little at the thought of kryptonite in my girl’s veins. It turns out that the MRI dye is made of iron and water, nothing artificial, which makes sense. It took the tech three tries to find a vein for Cami’s IV, which is the only time I’ve seen her cry through this whole ordeal. What a brave kid she is.

As I sat in the room with Cami while she was in the MRI machine, I flashed back to her first few days of life, when I couldn’t hold her because of all the tubes and monitors, when I felt nothing but exhaustion, when everything was so different than I imagined having a baby would be. Michael and I went through a lot of difficult stuff to conceive Cami. My pregnancy with her was hard. She was born seven weeks early with underdeveloped lungs. And I was powerless to do anything to make her “normal.”

Theme song of my life. You’d think I’d sing it with gusto and ownership by now. You’d think it would be an anthem of celebration by now, accompanied by the knowledge that God isn’t powerless, that He is good, and He is for us, and He is trustworthy.

You’d think. (Did I mention Confession #1, above?)

We heard promptly about the MRI results: there are “two white spots” on her brain in the same area the EEG showed abnormal results, but structurally, Cami’s brain is “unremarkable.” Dr. Lavenstein prescribed an anti-seizure medicine that is also used to treat migraines. Cami is taking this medicine on a trial basis, to see if it helps. We’re on the fourth day of the fifteen-day ramp up to an almost moderate dosage. We’ve seen minimal side effects, and no episodes, so far.

(More answers to lots of prayers. So why are my insides still on the defensive, anxiously awaiting the other shoe to drop? Something’s definitely broken inside this heart of mine. And I don’t think it’s a healthy broken.)

Whewy. That’s where we’ve been, and where we are. Here’s where we’re going:

  • Cami, Roscoe,and I leave this week for a trip to Charlotte, NC to meet up with my folks while Michael travels to Canada on a road trip with his Bible study table mates.
  • Six days after that (June 2nd), I have rotator cuff surgery. (One to three weeks in a shoulder immobilizer, 30 days in a Controlled Cold Compression Therapy device, 2 1/2 months of physical therapy, all of which will hopefully alleviate the increasingly excruciating pain I’ve been trying to smile through and stay pleasant about.)
  • Ten days after that (June 13th), Michael leaves for a ten-day work trip. (Hoping I’ll be able to drive by then…)
  • During those same ten days that Michael is gone, Cami needs to go back to the neurologist for a follow-up plan. (Really hoping I’ll be able to drive by then.)
  • June 29th, Cami turns 14 years old.
  • July 4th, Michael blows stuff up for our yearly neighborhood Independence Day Celebration.
  • July 9th, Michael has ear surgery to try to alleviate his hearing loss.

Again, I say: Whewy.

All the above is why you haven’t heard from me lately. When I launched this new blog home, I had such noble intentions of writing often, posting brilliant insights that would change the world. For now, I’m settling for honest writing that lets in anyone who chooses to read it.

How can you pray for us? In addition to whatever the Holy Spirit prompts you to pray based on this novella, I ask that you pray for my heart to be continually turned towards Jesus, turned into the pain, so I can feel it and let Him heal it. Stuck in the brokenness, the sadness, the grief, the fear is never a fruitful place to be. I truly want to be effective in the Kingdom. I really do want Jesus to be the center of my life. It’s tough, though, trying to navigate how to love God first when I love these two people so fiercely, when they’re right in front of me, and there’s so much uncertainty.

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Pray that I will notice — and rest in — when God’s grace finds me. Because it does. It will.

Pray that I will see all the ways God is a Giver, all the ways He gives to me. Because He does.

Pray that I will live loved. Because I am.

Candi

 

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How We Backed Into Unschooling

Have I told you that we homeschool? Actually, a more accurate description of how we learn is “unschool.” I looked on Google for a neat and succinct definition of unschooling, but I couldn’t find one. Maybe that’s because unschooling isn’t neat and succinct. It’s messy, just the way it’s supposed to be.

According to Wikipedia, the term “unschooling” was first used in the 1970s by an educator named John Holt. One of Holt’s statements perfectly summarizes our family’s educational philosophy:

Since we can’t know what knowledge will be most needed in the future, it is senseless to try to teach it in advance. Instead, we should try to turn out people who love learning so much and learn so well that they will be able to learn whatever needs to be learned.

Instead of a huge checklist of a body of knowledge Cami should know, her dad and I concern ourselves more with teaching her how to find out what she wants and needs to know. This educational paradigm is a far cry from the way Michael and I were schooled. How did we end up unschooling? It’s really a God thing.

Have you ever driven up the side of a steep mountain? On the way up, the road seems to constantly curve and wind away from the mountain at times, back in the direction you just came from sometimes, and all the while, you can’t see the next curve. Yet when you reach the summit and look back on where you’ve been, you see how the road-makers laid out the road with switchbacks to make the ascent or descent more manageable.

Our journey into unschooling has been like those mountainous roads: switchback after switchback. We started Cami’s educational journey with one paradigm: her learning the way we had been taught. We took the Mommy & Me classes. Cami attended a year of preschool. We enrolled her in public school kindergarten because that’s what we were supposed to do with our child. As we did all the “right” things, our family life was slowly descending into emotional chaos: daily meltdowns and a lot of yelling.

The first drastic u-turn and realigning of our educational paradigm really began in Cami’s kindergarten year. Every school day, I left Cami at the Kiss and Ride spot on the school’s sidewalk and drove away crying. Every. Day. I felt like I was abandoning her, throwing her to the wolves, leaving her to fend for herself. I told myself those feelings were silly. I fussed at myself for crying. My support system affirmed me in my attempt to grow up and let her go.

The school year began in September, and we made it until February. The morning I was getting Cami ready for school and she wrapped herself around my ankles, crying, “Mommy, please! Can I stay home with you? Mommy, I just want to stay with you!” was the morning my heart broke. I cried out to God for wisdom, and I let her stay home.

The next week, when I picked Cami up from school, we walked to the van with a little boy and his mother walking behind us. The little boy said over and over, “Cami, you’re a bad girl. Cami, you’re a bad, bad girl.” Not in a sing-song voice, not in a mean voice. Just a matter-of-fact voice. “Cami, you’re a bad girl.” Cami didn’t say anything to him. I wasn’t sure she even heard him.

I buckled Cami into her seatbelt, and in the time it took me to walk around the van and get in the driver’s seat, she was crying hysterically. In the course of the rest of that afternoon, she spilled the secret she’d been keeping bottled up inside her: the little boy who called Cami a bad girl had also hit her, pushed her, and continually threatened to take his knife and cut up all her stuffed animals, set her house on fire, and kill all of her family.

In addition to the bullying situation, Cami was having trouble meeting kindergarten benchmarks for reading and writing. Her teacher requested a parent-teacher conference where she suggested we have Cami tested for the autism spectrum based on her visual observation of how Cami flapped her hands when she was nervous or excited. Cami had done that since she was little bitty; when I asked her about it, she said she was being a hummingbird. I’d never thought it pointed to autism.

I know now that Cami’s sensory integration struggles, specifically the auditory processing disorder and the dyspraxia, adversely affected Cami’s ability to cope at school. The teachers’ instructions were getting lost before Cami could process them, especially in the gym and on the P.E. field. She wouldn’t follow directions because she didn’t understand them. But she didn’t know how to say so, especially in front of her 24 classmates who were all looking at her, listening to her, and standing or sitting close to her. Factor in the fear Cami felt from being threatened and bullied, and no wonder my child screamed and cried a lot. At the time, all I knew was that Cami was in trouble. I watched her behavior go downhill at school and at home, and I watched her lose her love for learning. I didn’t want that, but I didn’t know how to fix it. When I told Cami’s teacher I had considered homeschooling Cami, her teacher surprised me by saying, “I think that’s the best thing you can do for her at this point.” So I withdrew her from public school.

As my husband and I prayed, begging God for His wisdom and perspective, He led us gently and surely to the place we are today. Through a battery of educational, psychological, emotional, and behavioral evaluations, we discovered Cami’s sensory processing differences, her dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyspraxia. In the effort to recapture Cami’s love of learning, we invented “Sneaky School,” where we “sneak” the education into the fun activities of the day. For example, on a trip to the National Aquarium, we made a list of the alphabet and found animals whose names began with each letter. We took pictures of each animal so we could remember the information later. After a few years of Sneaky School, Cami began pointing out when we had learned something school-like in our everyday living: “Hey, Mom! We just did Sneaky School!”

You know what I’ve found? Cami learns more efficiently when she teaches herself. The day I found her reading a textbook just for fun was the day I took all the textbooks off the closet shelf and placed them on the bookshelf in her room. On the days when it’s sunny and warm and her friends are home from school, she goes outside and plays, building fairy hut villages and reading fairy tales to her friends. One of her public school friends taught her the “Mr. President” game, where each child takes a turn being “president” of the class and making presidential-like decisions. In our neighborhood, the children elected our dog Roscoe as the President. I knew something new was happening when Cami asked me, “Mom, where’s my book about the government?” Using the resources on her bookshelf, Cami researched the way the U.S. government is structured and proceeded to organize Roscoe’s “Cabinet” of officers from all the pets she knows. (The cat next door is Roscoe’s Secretary of Defense.) Cami pursued this knowledge on her own. I didn’t suggest any of it. That’s basically how unschooling works: the child directs her own education. Our job is to provide her with the resources she needs to learn what she wants to know.

Through unschooling, God is answering the promise He gave me when Cami began public school: “All your children will be taught by the Lord, and great will be your children’s peace” (Isaiah 54:13). God truly orchestrates how schooling works in our family. Really, the journey’s joy or stress comes from our perspective. Most days, the view through the windshield looks like thisroad to sky

It’s hard to trust what’s on the other side of the hill when we can’t even see the horizon past it. But God is such a patient and faithful leader, and we trust Him.

The times when I glimpse the bigger picture help me trust Him more with the switchbacks:

curvy-road-4

I am constantly amazed at God, how He gently leads us, how we begin in one direction and, step by step, He turns us and steers us until we are going in His direction, sometimes almost before we realize it. If you had told me twenty years ago, “Cassandra, in twenty more years, you will be a stay-at-home mom and be homeschooling your daughter with learning differences and sensory challenges, and you will love your life,” I wouldn’t have believed you.

But I do. I love my life.

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Watercolors for Christmas

Canon July Butterflies 2010-0005Every Christmas, my husband asks me for a list, an idea of what gifts he could purchase for me. If you know me at all, you know I don’t often know what to put on a gift list. I think it’s because my thoughts go first to “what do I need?”

I have trouble knowing my wants.

On this year’s list, I surprised myself with how many items I listed—most of them experiences. My last item?

“I’d like to learn to watercolor.”

So, of course, under the Christmas tree was a set of professional watercolor paints, paper, and brushes. All my own. I don’t have to borrow Cami’s supplies anymore.

Just last month, my artist-neighbor and close friend moved to Germany quite unexpectedly with the Department of Defense. Aside from the quick transition and the hurtling into the unknown? The DoD packers wouldn’t let her take her paints. She left behind her oils and her acrylics, and all the solvents necessary for a painting career.

She gave them to me.

I have my own paints and brushes.

I think I’m supposed to learn to paint.

Oddly enough, not only is it what I want, I think it might be what I need.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Live loved, because we are,
Candi

Linking up with Lisa-Jo and the 5-Minute Friday writing community for the first time.

Five Minute Friday

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Dear Moms of Church Youth Group Girls

Turtle handlingDear Moms of Middle School Girls at Church Youth Group,

Can you help me help my daughter?

She doesn’t want to fit in; in fact, she joyfully embraces the part where God made each one of us different, and she celebrates that truth.

She doesn’t want everyone to like her; in fact, she isn’t bound by that nasty stronghold called fear of man, that strangling insecurity of trying to figure out what everyone—anyone—wants her to be like, so she can be like that and they will like her. Unlike me and most of you at that age (and now), my girl likes herself just the way God made her, so she doesn’t think about if others like her or not.

She doesn’t want to control anyone (except maybe herself and her own mistakes).

She just wants to be friends.

Can you help me help her? See, I watched your girls tonight at youth group. I saw them watching her. I saw their smirks and their frowns, their raised eyebrows when she approached them and tried to start a conversation. I saw them turn their bodies in toward each other and shut.her.out. Sure, some of your daughters replied to her conversation starter question with a short, polite answer before turning away. But they still turned away.

Did you know her dad and I have coached her on how to engage people in conversation? Did you know that at home, we practice how to use our words and our body language to show other people how interested we are in getting to know them, finding out how God made them? Did you know we brainstorm for ideas on how to approach and engage the people on the fringes, the ones who might seem mean or conceited because those body languages might hide insecurity and grief? Did you know we practice leading questions, talking not about ourselves, but asking about the other person, then trying to find a point of connection with them?

Yes. We practice.

Could you practice those conversational skills with your girls? Maybe they just don’t think about what their body language says when they turn away like that. It could be misinterpreted to say, “You’re not valuable to me, so I’m not interested in you.” They can’t be thinking that, right? Not at church, right?

Maybe they don’t know that the fullness of Christ dwells in my girl. Maybe they don’t know how much she loves His Word, how she tried to figure out what God wants her to do with the things He tells her in His Word. Maybe they don’t know how He whispers in her ear encouraging things to say to everyone she meets, how she tells total strangers that Jesus loves them because, “Mom, they might not know.”

Maybe they don’t know that if they mention a prayer request, she writes it in the journal that she carries around for the times she doesn’t know what else to do to reach out to people, so she finds a quiet corner and draws and writes. Maybe they don’t know that she’ll pray for them, that she looks at her notes as talks to God about the people who have said they need prayer, and the people whom others have mentioned need prayer, and anyone else she thinks might need prayer.

Maybe they don’t know how much she loves coming to youth group, how she “never” wants to “miss a week ever, Mom.”

Maybe if they know those parts about my girl, they’d be more interested in getting to know her.

Please, moms of middle school girls at church youth group, can you help me? Let’s make their middle school experience different than ours was. Let’s give them permission to stick out from the crowd and embrace others who stick out from the crowd. Let’s give them room to be who they are, and not who we think they should be, or who their friends think they should be, or who the culture says they should be. Let’s help them discover who Jesus made them to be, and then celebrate them there.

He wants to change the world through them, did you know? He wants to use their generation to declare His truth and display His glory. It’s tougher now than when we were in middle school. Our culture doesn’t like Jesus, but we knew that was coming, right? He told us it was going to be this way.

We have to equip them. We have to train them in the one-anothers, in the way of Body life, because it’s our love for one another that makes us different, that makes us useful, that makes us a significant force for change in this world. When we love each other, we spur each other on to love others, and the Kingdom is built here, now, today.

But we have to lead them by example. We can’t give them the freedom to love Jesus, themselves, and one another with freedom and abandon until we walk in that freedom ourselves. So will you help me?

Thanks for helping me clear up the misunderstandings.

Live loved, because we are,

Candi (Cami’s mom)

Linking up with Jennifer and the #TellHisStory project

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Why Turtles?

One of my daughter’s unique traits is the way she hears things. The this-is-the-way-it-should-be people call it “auditory processing disorder,” where the message her brain concocts from the information she receives isn’t the message the sender intended. (We all have a little of that, don’t we?) I will say, negotiating Cami’s auditory processing differences has taught me how to listen and really hear. Sometimes, her processing glitches make for frustrating times. Other times, it makes for funny stories. One time, it gave me treasure.

The December when Cami was five, she was telling her daddy and me about evergreens. She said, “Evergreens are trees that never lose their leaves. They remind us of God’s love for us and our happy turtle lives.”

Michael and I looked at each other, and then it dawned on me. “Cami, do you mean eternal life?”

“No, Mommy.” She was very sure. “If you believe in Jesus and ask Him to live in your heart, then you get a happy turtle life.”

Michael said, “Cami, the Bible says that God so loved the world,” (we had been trying to learn John 3:16) “that He gave us Jesus so that if we believe in Him, we can HAVE ETERNAL LIFE.”

By this time in the conversation, I had tears streaming down my face from trying not to laugh out loud and hurt Cami’s feelings, while still trying to participate in this very important conversation. I’m so glad Michael could keep his composure and be there for our daughter.

“Oh,” Cami said. She repeated, “Have eternal life.” She sounded almost disappointed that the Christian life didn’t necessarily involve turtles after all.

Since that day, turtles remind me of the gift we have in this life–the gift of time and paying attention. We are called to live “happy turtle lives,” lives filled with glory-moments, where what the world would say is “wrong” with us actually reveals God’s fingerprints all over us.

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March Is For Spring(ing)

March inspires the blogger in me

to start

to switch

to spring forward

(even if it feels like I’m falling on my face).

My first blog post ever, on MySpace (remember that?) posted March 17, 2006.

I published my first post for ChosenFamiles.org on March 20, 2011.

And now, here I go again, springing forward

in March.

God’s got big plans for this space. I hope you’ll join me to see what He does.

He doesn’t wait for March to spring.

Live loved,
Candi

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