Thursday, October 23, 2014

It's My Sister's Fault

We have a new Henderson and it really is my sister's fault. :)

It started when my sister kept Sam and Ruthie for a week while Maggie was in the hospital.  

A few weeks later she called me with a statement that went something like, "You know your kids really love my dog, and she doesn't get played with here anymore, and I was wondering if you would like to have her because we are going to give her away." 

I knew already that they loved the dog because they talked about her a lot and wanted to see the dog on Skype.  Maggie even loved the "go go" (Chinese for dog) and asked to see her when we chatted with Aunt Johnette.

I mentioned it to the kids and they were ecstatic.  We had previously talked about getting a Golden Retriever so the deal was if we got Abby, then there would be no other dogs.  I thought Sam would back out but he was completely fine with it.

At that point, I figured I was ahead.  Abby is smaller than a Golden, can be bathed in a sink, is free, is NOT a puppy, doesn't eat a lot, and is housebroken.  So while it might have appeared that I was crazy by taking on something else, I actually won. :)  Oh and her poop is smaller! That is a big deal when you live on a lot the size of a postage stamp.

Let me tell you, it has gone even better than I expected.  She doesn't jump on you, rarely barks, obeys my commands, and is great with the kids.  She even won Trent and Jack over in just a week.  That is a skill.

So meet Abigail Adams Henderson.  Our newest princess.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Learning to Walk by Grace

I have been doing some thinking over the last few months about Grace and Faith.  I open my book with a short piece on them because I think understanding their relationship is critical to how we "conquer mountains" (the title of the unpublished book.  And, yes, that is a plug).  Anyway, I have discovered more recently that Grace and Faith are also critical in how we conquer the everyday.

Do me a favor.  Hang with my theology lesson for just a minute, because I think you might find some encouragement and a challenge on the other side, but the theology can't be skipped.

Ephesians 2:8 tells us that we are saved by grace through faith.
Colossians 2:6 tells that as we were saved we should also walk.

In other words, we were saved by grace through faith and we should walk by grace through faith.

Let's start with a few observations on grace:
1. I have seen grace defined 3 ways- forgiveness, help, and unmerited favor.  Which definition you use I believe depends upon the context within which you apply it.
2. I would like to argue that most Christians identify with grace.   Not only do we get it because we are saved but we are happy to apply it to our lives as well.  I mean who doesn't want forgiveness, help, and unmerited favor.  Sign me up- right?
3. I believe that we use grace most as we work out our salvation in the everyday.
Phil 2:12 tells us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.
We need grace for that.

Hang with me.

My observations on faith:
1. Faith, simply put, is the belief that God is who He says He is and that He can do what He says He can do.  It is not that He will move in the way you want Him to.  Faith is rooted in His identity and His plan.  Those who walk in the most faith not only profess this but it is reflected in their response to that belief.
2. I've observed that the majority of Christians do not walk through faith as well as they walk by grace.  Perhaps that fear and trembling is too much to overcome.  It doesn't generally cost us anything to walk by grace but the cost of walking through faith can be perceived to be too great.
3. I believe we walk through faith most when we are faced with life's mountains.  Those mountains can be steps of obedience like going on the mission field or they can be handed to us like a cancer diagnosis.

Here's the application:

One thing I have observed in the adoption community is that it is filled with people who have a lot of faith for what God can do through the process.  They trust Him to come up with exorbitant amounts of money and for the process in general.  They align their will with His will and watch in awe as He moves.  Where they struggle is after the adoption when it comes time to walk out the everyday by grace.  

I have never been a long term missionary, but I wonder if their experience is the same?  I wonder if they exhibit enormous amounts of faith to leave everything that is familiar and safe to them and move to a place of uncertainty but then struggle once they are there to walk by grace in the everyday.

Here is why I think this happens.  Walking by faith is exhilarating.  Seeing God do, what others say is impossible, and experiencing it personally, leaves you wanting to walk in that over and over again.  I know when my life slows down and looks "normal," I panic.  I wonder if I am somehow missing God's will.   This is how I have spent the last few weeks and what God is teaching me through it, I am sharing here.

I struggle (and I don't think I am alone) to walk by grace.  My subconscious forgets that God not only exists and calls us to the mountains but He is also in the plains and that is okay.   It does not mean that we are disobedient or that He is no longer using us or speaking to us.  Plains and valleys often have a negative connotation but if we step away from that we can remind ourselves that most ministry takes place in the midst of every day life, in the plains, and between the mountains.

I made a little chart to help me process this. It is pretty self explanatory but the picture on the left represents people who operate great in every day grace but fear what faith may cost them.  The graph on the right represents those who don't mind taking steps in faith but struggle to find contentment when life is ordinary.

Message for Faith people- I don't have a secret formula for you because I am walking this with you.  I too love to see God move and struggle with the fear that my time is wasted when I am not participating in something bigger than myself.  What has been encouraging to me is the reminder that God is just as present when I am playing Jenga on the floor with my nine-year old as He is when I am standing in a Chinese orphanage.  I am praying for contentment between the mountains and that God would show me His glory in the quiet as much as He does in the chaos.

Message for Grace people- If you have been struggling with guilt because you haven't sold everything and moved to Africa, be encouraged that you can let that go.  You are still participating in the Gospel right where you are.  I want to encourage you though that if you can't think of a time when you have really stepped out in faith to follow God's call outside of your safety zone, you are missing out.  There is nothing cooler than seeing God move mountains first hand.  I encourage you to step beyond your fear and trembling.  Ask God to enlarge your borders and call you to greater things than you can do alone.  You won't regret it.

Ideally we would all look like this version of my little graph that took too long to make in Photoshop. :)  We would operate fully in Grace and Faith.

My husband made a great point when I was talking to him about this.  Who in the middle of a faith crisis couldn't use more grace (help, forgiveness, and unmerited favor) and who in the middle of the valley couldn't be encouraged by the faith reminder that God still is who He says He is and still does what He says He does.

May we all walk completely in grace and faith and may we find contentment and power where ever God has us.

Here is a picture from our every day (because the grandparents will want a picture).  Maggie teaching the alphabet to her new friend, Abby.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Girl Time

Ruthie and I took a trip to Dallas this week for her one year follow up since her last elbow surgery.  I really can't say enough about the team at Scottish Rite.  They have been amazing at taking care of my girl.  Whenever we are there, they make us feel like Ruthie is the most important patient in the hospital.   

This was our last appointment for a little while because Ruthie has had all of the procedures that they can offer her and she is doing fantastic.  I am going to miss our regular Dallas check ups, visits to see my aunt Penny, and girl time.

We always make the most of our trips by visiting area museums and restaurants.  This time we went to the Dallas Aquarium, had dinner at a great Chinese restaurant where we had Peking Duck, and caught up with a friend in Grapevine.

I loved how up close and personal Ruthie was able to get with the animals at the Aquarium.  She said several times how awesome it was and she is generally quiet about her opinion.  Clearly, it made quite the impression.

The check up was super, the weather was perfect, and the company was unbeatable.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Closure Puzzle

Putting closure to our summer has felt a bit like completing a puzzle where I am given one piece at a time with each milestone.  Every follow-up visit to Texas Children's Hospital where we are discharged from the care of another team is a piece of the puzzle.  Getting Maggie's IV removed was a big piece and another was when she took her first steps alone.  I am given new pieces daily and one of the best came last weekend. 

When Maggie was in the hospital, we missed our annual family vacation to celebrate Ruthie's gotcha day.  We were supposed to go to San Antonio to visit Sea World and just relax.  We made that visit up this last weekend and in true redemptive fashion, I think it was probably better than it would have been in July. 

The weather was PERFECT! Sea World was empty on Friday and the kids walked right up to all of the rides. That definitely would not have happened in July.

The day before we left, the front desk assistant at Ruthie's dentist appointment told me about lunch with Shamu.  I didn't know about that in July. 

Our family was able to dine next to Shamu's pool and watch a semi-private show.  The kids asked questions of the trainers and saw Shamu much closer than they would have had we gone in July. 

Maggie had up-close and personal time with the cast of Sesame Street but she was not as enthusiastic about it as I had anticipated.  

 And because we weren't in a hurry and did not have any lines, we had time to just stop and enjoy the scenery.  Sam even managed to charm a duck.

Just one more reason why my favorite quality of God is that of Redeemer.  Now to complete that puzzle. 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Why I Have Been Healed of the Need For Perfect Children - PART 2

I remember where I was standing when I received the call from AWAA (our adoption agency) in response to my application to adopt Ruthie.   I had applied to adopt a healthy girl from China and they were calling for my interview.  That phone call is similar to your first ultrasound when you are pregnant.  It is the "oh my gosh this is really happening" moment that gives you butterflies in your stomach and makes your heart skip a beat.  

I remember the intake coordinator asking if I was interested in adopting a child with special needs and me immediately responding that no we were pursuing a healthy child.  It felt a bit like the ultrasound technician had asked me if I was hoping for a healthy child or a child who would have a lifetime of challenges.  The answer seemed obvious to me.  

I hung up from that phone call and God said to me, "you might want to re-think that answer."  One thing led to another and we said yes to a beautiful  2 year old little girl with Arthrogryposis or as China put it, "both hands endoduction abnormality".  That leads me to #5 on my list of why I have been healed of the need for perfect children:

(numbers 1-4 can be found HERE)

5. When I Opened Myself Up to Less Than Perfect Children Through Foster Care and Adoption, I Opened Myself up to Participating in the Gospel.
Oh how thankful I am that I have not limited my life experiences to what I could handle, and thank you Jesus for breaking me of the need to make my life a safer place.  A life marked by steps of faith and participation in the Gospel is more fulfilling than any life marked by self-prescribed security. 

6. They Have Helped Me to Understand God as Redeemer.
My favorite attribute of God is by far that of redeemer and it is most evident in the lives of my adopted children.  God took seemingly tragic stories of abandonment and imperfection and used them to bring my girls into loving homes where they would be exposed to His love and truth.  Now that is good stuff.  

7. They Remind That My Chief Responsibility is to Raise Children with Good Moral Character.  
When they are chasing a spot on the team, a certain level of beauty, or another accolade, the first thing to go is their character.  The message we inadvertently send is one that encourages them to make their own name great.  Can you raise high achieving children with good moral character?  Of course you can, but I believe you will agree that picture is not the norm.  I want to raise children who succeed and even excel at what they are called to, but more than that, I want to raise good, God-fearing, faithful people.

8.  They are Teaching Me to Slow Down and Have More Patience.
Funny enough this one was added by my husband while we are on a road trip, with Maggie screaming in the back seat.  Yes, this is another one that applies to all parenting but even more so to kids with special needs.  We move a little slower with Jack and plan for extra time when we need to go somewhere.  Likewise, we are accustomed to putting everything on hold for weeks and even months at a time when someone needs surgery or suffers a stroke.  Special needs kids may achieve their milestones at a slower rate or take a little longer to do their homework.  Whatever their challenge, in some way they teach you to slow down, be patient, and give priority where priority is due.

I asked you guys to send me your own thoughts on this topic and my friend, Amy, wrote, "It teaches us to rejoice in the small steps forward and enjoy the little moments of greatness."  I think that supports what I am trying to say here too because when we slow down, we can take it all in, and find beauty in unexpected places. 
Our special needs children teach us that we don't need to fear God's sovereignty, but trust it and find hope in it.  It is good because He is good.  Ruthie Henderson's presence in my family is a daily testimony of that truth. 

9. God is Using Them to Teach Me to Find My Hope in His Sovereignty Instead of My Circumstances. 
There is an entire chapter in my book about this that, Lord willing, some of you will get to read some day.  That said, if I know God is good and I trust that He is sovereign, then I can find hope in the truth that nothing occurs outside of His allowing it to happen.  It is His goodness that allows me to turn my eyes away from my circumstances and find peace in His plan.

One of the hard parts about stepping out in faith is that you don't have the full story and you have to relinquish your control to God's plan.  God in turn gives you what you need to take each step along the way.  When we were given Ruthie's paperwork, we were told that it was just her hands.  When we met her, it was clear that her elbows and shoulders were involved too.  I am actually thankful that we didn't know everything because I fear that we might not have had what it took to say "yes".  God knew what we needed to take the next step and He guided us through the process, step by step, according to His plan.  

My friend Cara has a similar testimony and left this comment for me, "Frankly, looking back I am glad that I didn't know Sidney's ortho needs entailed more.  I needed to see for myself that none of it mattered"

God is good, His sovereignty is good, His plan is good, and Ruthie Mei Henderson is my daily reminder of that goodness.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Why I Have Been Healed of the Need for Perfect Children - PART 1

Okay I am going to open this one with an embarrassing story.  You are welcome to laugh at me because I find it ridiculously funny in hindsight too.

When I was pregnant with Jack, part of my litmus test for choosing his name was picturing what it would look like on the back of a team jersey and how it would sound being yelled from the stands.  I would run all of my potential names through the "Go _______________" test.  I chose Jack because, among other things, it sounded strong.  Other names in the running were George and Henry but they clearly didn't pass my shallow name choosing requirements.   I share this story so you can appreciate how far God has brought me in 12 short years.

Your story may not be quite as pathetic, but I think you will relate that we go into motherhood with all kinds of ridiculous expectations.  I remember thinking how cool it would be if I had kids who were so smart they could skip grades and be in college as 10 year olds.  You know, like the stories you saw on Oprah and then responded with the thought, "that is so going to be MY kid".

Thankfully, for my children's sake, I evolved and have gained a much more eternal perspective in my parenting.   While historically my greatest concern for my children was their performance, today I am much more interested in attributes like their character and a future that reflects their calling.  

Here’s my point.  If you know my family, you know that God had a much different plan for us than I pictured as a 25 year old.  I am the mother of three special needs kids and while their situations all took some getting used to at first, I can say with confidence that God has healed me of the need for them to be anything but who they are.

Now don't get me wrong, I am not saying that I am glad that my kids have special needs.  God hasn't brought me that far yet. :)  What I am saying is that I am truly at peace with their challenges and here is part 1 to why:

1.  In Their Weakness God is Made Strong. 
I witnessed this first hand with Maggie this summer.  When she was at her weakest, people prayed.  When God healed her, their faith was strengthened.  When we had nothing else to give personally, God supplied everything we needed.  To God be the Glory.

2 Cor 12:9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. “

2. They Have Taught Me More About Persistence Than I Have Ever Taught Them.
Around our home, Ruthie is the greatest example of this.  She regularly figures out how to do things that should have never been able to do on her own.  Most recently she taught herself how to tie her shoes.  She reminds me that I can do anything that I am called to do if I am willing to put forth the effort.

Phil 4:13 “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” 

3. They Have Introduced Me to a Community that is Not Competing Against One Another but Instead Encouraging Each Other. 
I don’t know what things are like in your community, but around here, it seems like every elementary kid is working now for a spot on a high school team or a place in their class rank.  The culture is one of competition where another child’s short-coming is an opportunity for your own child to excel.  It’s sad, but true, and unavoidable.  

My experience in the Arthrogryposis, Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia, Single Ventricle, and Adoption communities has been just the opposite.  We rejoice with those who rejoice and we mourn with those who mourn.  One child’s achievement gives hope to the other members of the group that their child might also excel in that area.  When one child or parent is struggling, the entire group rallies around to support them. It is a Biblical picture of what community should look like and an incredible group of people to do life with.  

Romans 12:15 “rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”

4. They Have Reminded Me of the Need for and Power of Prayer.
Yes this is absolutely true of motherhood in general, but I believe you will all agree that we pray harder when our kids struggle.  I have sought God more fervently for my special needs kids and my faith has grown as I have seen God move in their lives and change my heart for their situations.  When life is easy, we become self-sufficient and seek God less.  With special needs kids, you rarely reach that point. 

To wrap this first part up and put a bow on it, Jack still has a strong name.  His strength is just a different kind of strength than I so shallowly anticipated, and I am confident that it is a better strength and fits him perfectly.

Here are a few pictures of Jack with his baby sister.  He is an amazing big brother and wants to be a cardiovascular surgeon so he can help kids like Maggie.  I could not be more proud of that boy and who God is shaping him to be. 

 So mom's of special needs kiddos, I would love to hear what you have to add to this list.  I have 4 more that I am going to add in a few days, but I would love to hear from you too.  

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Conquering Mountains

I have been absent from here the last two weeks for a very good reason.  I am working like crazy to wrap up another writing project that I would love to tell you about.

A handful of you told me during our adoption and Maggie's illness that I should write a book but I couldn't even fathom taking that on during those crazy days.  Well, While Maggie was in rehab, I had several hours a day to think about all that God had done.   It was during my time of reflection that the chapters just came to me and I started writing.  I cannot express how therapeutic it was to to get everything that had happened, and all that God had done, out of my head and on a screen in front of me.  My feeling, however, is that the blessing was not just intended for me but that God has something to say to others as well.

So now I have pretty much finished the book.  It is an eight chapter, 100 page account of Maggie's testimony and God's faithfulness.  My prayer is that someone will publish it and God will use her story to encourage others as they face their own mountains.  Will you be praying that with me?  Trent and I have a few opportunities coming up where we are going to be able to share Maggie's story and I am excited to see what God is going to do with that as well.  There are so many incredible lessons packed into her testimony that I believe could encourage others.

Here is how you can pray:
- Pray that if the book is supposed to be published that God will clearly open the doors for us to see what agent and publishing company to use.

- Pray that God would use us to encourage others as they face or prepare for the seemingly impossible.

An Update on Maggie:

- She's taking steps on her own!! PTL! This is a huge piece of my closure puzzle.

- Maggie had a cardiology appointment today.  They say she is still stable and we can put surgery off another 3 months at least.  For the first time, her Cardiologist was willing to discuss the possibility of a simpler repair instead of completely re-routing her blood flow.  It's complicated but if she qualified for this repair, it would significantly increase her life expectancy.  The kicker is that she would have to qualify so we are praying now for her to get a Biventricular Repair instead of a Fontan.  Will you join us in that?

Here are a few pics that Trent snapped of us the other day.  Love that girl!