Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Christmas Pictures

The Christmas cards are out so I thought I was share some of our family pictures here so 20 years from now my kids will look at this remember that we took them.  At that point, they have my permission to also reflect on how loved they were and how much fun their mom was and then pick up the phone and call her. :)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

HOW TO RAISE A CONFIDENT KID (who happens to have special needs): Part 2

You can see part 1 to this post HERE.

I mentioned this in Part 1 but I want to say again that this series is a compilation of lessons that have been passed down to me from others and that I have learned the hard way through trial and error.  I am not trying to suggest that this list will solve all of your parenting woes or that the items listed here will work for everyone.  I simply hope they give you some tools in toolbox as you try and raise your own special needs kiddo.

How to Raise a Confident Kid (who happens to have special needs) Part 2:

6. If they can’t participate because of their circumstance, try to beat it   

I am afraid this one is going to bring on some naysayers but let me explain where I am coming from with two examples.   

My first example is from my childhood.  A few months after my mother passed away, my father was in the hospital for several weeks and I was shuffled between family members.  One day I couldn't reach any of my friends until someone informed me that they were all at my friend Amber 's mother/daughter tea.   I wasn't invited because I didn't have a mom.  I remember clearly going into my cousins room and sobbing.  It was hard enough having my mother gone at 9-years old but now I was being left out because of it too.  I look back at that moment and can't help but think what a difference it would have made to my heart if an adult had stepped in and said, "I know you can't go to Amber's but I want you to know how much I care about you and was wondering if I could hang out with you today and take you to a movie."  That would have beat it for me and spoke the security I so desperately needed because truthfully I didn't like to dress up anyway. :)

My second example involves my son Jack.  He loves to study history and was understandably disappointed when he was unable to go with his class on their trip to D.C.  I remembered what it felt like to be left out because of circumstances so I decided to do for Jack what I wished someone had done for me.  I responded to his disappointment with a mother/son trip.   Jack got to have a say in every detail (including a train ride from Baltimore) and the trip was done completely at his pace.  We had an incredible four days and he thanked me about every 30 minutes for taking him there.  

I know you can't always beat it, but when you can, I think it is good to help them see that your circumstances don't have to preclude you from participation.  Instead, they can open the door for something even better. 

7.     Advocate, Advocate, Advocate

Thankfully I haven't had to do a ton of this because I have been blessed with a great team around my
kids, but I know friends who have.  They would tell you to learn the laws concerning what is
available to your children.  To let your kids know you are in their corner and that empowering
them requires that you know their rights within the school system and the healthcare system.  It
shouldn’t be that way, but unfortunately it is.

8.     Prepare yourself for long, hard conversations.  

Anticipate the questions and how you might respond.  I can tell you too that they come up at the most inopportune times.  I have found that if I try and delay them, I don't always get the chance to pick them back up.  

9.   Teach them that their special need does not define them, but is just a part of their story.

Trent and I work hard to teach our kids that they are so much more than the struggles they face.  First and foremost, they are a treasured child of God.  Then they are a loved son/daughter.  We teach them that they are created for a purpose and we point to the character traits that we love about them.  One area I have to be careful with Maggie is not to refer to her as a "heart baby" but instead a child who has a heart condition.  It may seem like semantics to most but to them it can be where they find their identity. 


10.  Combat the victim mentality

This works with all kids.  It is not my intention to be insensitive to the struggles that people with special needs face, but here is how I see it:  I don't believe that those who have changed the world, through their struggles, could have done so if they had viewed themselves as victims.  It takes a completely different mindset to overcome your trials and do something incredible.  I want my kids to have that kind of resolve about them.

So there you have it.  Ten non-exhaustive principles I use in my effort to raise confident kids who happen to have special needs. 
1. Give them perspective.
2. Be honest and keep the communication flowing.
3. Empower them.
4. Show them people with physical disabilities who have changed the world.
5. Prepare them for those who haven't been prepared for them.
6. If they can't participate because of their circumstance, try to beat it.
7. Advocate, Advocate, Advocate.
8. Prepare yourself for long, hard conversations.
9. Teach them that their special need does not define them, but is just a part of their story.
10. Combat the victim mentality.

Monday, December 8, 2014

HOW TO RAISE A CONFIDENT KID (who happens to have special needs)

Sometimes I fear that when I write a post like this, I come across as a know-it-all.  That is not my intention because I am certainly not without flaws and I am regularly at a loss for answers.

I am the mother of three special needs children and God is teaching me a lot about what it looks like to raise them in a world that likes to define your significance by your physical performance or appearance.   These lessons have come to me three ways - trial and error, watching other parents raise kids with special needs, and by God’s grace.  Poor Jack has been my experiment as the firstborn.  God bless that child.  As I try and parent the other two better, it helps me to put some framework to what I have learned. My hope is that it will help some of you too who are navigating these waters with special needs kids of your own.

I would love to share with you some of what I have learned and I would love to hear from your experience too.  There will be at least two parts to this one because I am hoping to add in some of your advice.

So here we go!

HOW TO RAISE A CONFIDENT KID (who happens to have special needs):

1. Give them perspective

I have to start with this one because it is key to the way we approach struggles in our home.  I remind my kids regularly that everybody has something that they struggle with and if we threw all of our troubles in a pile to be redistributed, we would most likely fight like hell to get our own back.

I regularly point out the challenges of their peers so they can see that they are not alone in having struggles and hopefully help them take their eyes off of their own plight long enough to demonstrate empathy for someone else.  I am also trying to raise them with a compassionate worldview so they can see how blessed they are to be Americans.   There are kids fleeing ISIS who would be happy to walk with a limp for the opportunity to live safely in America. 

I don't think seeing it is enough though.  I think they need to really get their hands dirty (more than stuffing shoe boxes or buying a t-shirt) serving others to really get it.  That is coming.

2.  Be honest and keep the communication flowing

When Jack was initially diagnosed, I approached his condition with a bit of denial.  It was as if I thought that if I did not talk about it, it wouldn’t be real.  This style of parenting communicates some level of shame towards having special needs that should never be there.  Instead, I have learned to be very honest with Jack and Ruthie about their conditions.  I want them to know that they can trust me for the truth and that there is nothing to hide or be ashamed of.  

With that I think it is also important to give them the language they need to explain their condition to someone else.  My kids get asked a lot of questions about their situation and that can be intimidating if they don't have the words to respond with.  We have in no way mastered this but we are getting better. 

3. Empower them
Find that thing that they are good at and provide opportunity there.  Special needs kids are reminded daily of what they cannot do.  It is our job as parents to help them find what they are passionate about and empower them to be involved there.  

I used to have a coworker whose nephew had Cerebral Palsy.  He also happened to love baseball.  Instead of telling him, sorry you can’t play baseball because you can’t run, his parents contacted the local Little League and arranged for him to announce the games.   Our role is to counter the voice that says “you can’t” with the voice of “let’s figure out how.”

4. Show them people with physical disabilities who have changed the world
Having a child with special needs opens your eyes to a world of adults who have overcome their limitations to do incredible things.  Just last year, a girl with Ruthie’s diagnosis, Arthrogryposis, was a finalist on The X-Factor.  Bill Gates had Aspergers.  I became a Christian while listening to the message of an evangelist who had Polio and Cystic Fibrosis.  The truth I continually speak over Jack is that God is going to use his disability to develop the character and determination in him that will enable him to do incredible things.  I speak it because I believe it with all of my heart.  My hope is that when my kids see other people with challenges who have gone on to do incredible things, that they will feel empowered to do the same.  

Confession moment - I also point out seemingly "perfect" people who royally blew it because they didn't have the character and work ethic they needed to succeed. 

5. Prepare them for those who haven't been prepared for them
Oh this is a really difficult one and is definitely one that we learned the hard way in 5th grade.  I don't say this out of bitterness but really just out of the realization that kids will say mean things if they don't know better and most don't know better.  I have had to communicate a handful of truths to my kids to help them not take what others say too personally.  

First, most kids are more curious then they are spiteful.  If they are asking questions or staring, it really is because they just don't understand and their little brains are trying to make sense of it.  
Second, those who are mean (and there will be some) are generally the ones who are most insecure about their own situation.  This was certainly true for Jack last year.  Of the three boys who bullied him last year, one was the smallest in the class, one was having trouble at home, and one was bullied by others.  Helping Jack see that, enabled him to go back to #1 and have perspective.   

Jack does an incredible job now at blowing off the comments of others and Lord help the first person who says something mean to Ruthie.  I pray she will be ready, but if she is not, her daddy and I are. :)

Okay so we are just getting started.  I have at least 4 more points that I want to share in another post and I want to know your thoughts too.  I promise to give you credit.  

PART 2 to this post can be found HERE

Friday, December 5, 2014

A Box, A Story, and My New Favorite Heirloom

With the passing of my mother and both of my grandmothers, I have accumulated my fair share of family heirlooms.  None of them, however, compare to the one that was given to me just a few weeks ago.  

My aunt is downsizing and passed this little gem along to me when I visited her last.  I love the story behind it for many reasons. 

Apparently my great-grandmother used to take in sick people during and after the depression.  When my great-aunt Deena was having her tonsils removed, my great-grand mother met a lady at the hospital who had nowhere to go so she invited her to come and recover at her home.   This would have been like 90 years ago.  That lady stayed for several months and when she left, she gave this trunk to my great-grandmother.  

The trunk had been in her family for 100 years making it now almost 200 years old.  It had traveled on the back of a wagon when her family traveled across America to find a place to settle.  Apparently my grandmother added handles to the side of it which took away it's monetary value, but the sentimental value cannot be altered. 

So like I said earlier, I love this trunk for many reasons:

1. I love that my great-grandmother was the kind of person who invited perfect strangers into her house so she could care for them. 

2. I love that someone carved this trunk by hand and placed it, with all of their belongings, on the back of a wagon 200 years ago.  I can't help but wonder what they would have thought if someone would have told them that one day it would be owned by a family who would set their two Chinese daughters on top of it.  

3. I love the inscription they carved on top. It says, "In this the art of living lies, to want no more than may suffice."  

I have no doubt that every nick on its surface has a story and I can only imagine the other stories this old trunk could tell. 

Friday, November 28, 2014

Thankful for 1:1 time: Trip to D.C.

Maybe it's because I am an introvert.  Maybe it is because I am a task manager.  I am not sure why, but when we are together as the six of us, I don't make great quality connections with my kids.  That time happens best for me during one-on-one moments, and with four kids, I don't get them near enough.

Last spring, we surprised Jack with a trip to D.C. for his 5th grade graduation and birthday gift, but he had to wait until Thanksgiving break to go.  I lived in D.C. for a summer and know my way around, so I got to be the one to take him.

Jack is at a great age where he loves to talk about what he sees.  I was telling Trent the other day that the word I would use to describe him these days is "Engaging."

He also never complains and was a great sport about trying new restaurants and braving the cold when we had to stand in line for tickets.

I did my best to let him choose where we went and what our priorities were for the trip.  One thing we did was fly into Baltimore so Jack could ride the train to D.C..  I loved catering the trip to him in this way.

A highlight for both of us was riding to the top of the Washington Monument.

 And seeing the Capitol from the Speaker's balcony.

We had a great time together, learned a lot, and made lasting memories.

I sure love that boy. 

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

There is No Good Excuse for Bad Behavior

We have a saying in our home that we use frequently with our kids.  It is pretty simply put:  “There is no good excuse for bad behavior.”

My view of the world leaves little room for the societal pattern of excuse-making.  To some, that would make me appear intolerant but that is not it at all.   One can have a clear view of right and wrong and still operate in grace.   Jesus Christ is our best model of that. 

With that foundation, let me explain.

Kids shouldn’t cheat on their schoolwork and blame it on their bad teacher.
Men shouldn’t cheat on their wives and justify it by saying they weren’t getting enough attention at home. 
Employees shouldn’t give a ½ effort because they don’t like their boss or don’t feel appreciated.
Women shouldn’t sell their bodies because the minimum wage is too low.
Activists shouldn’t burn down an innocent man’s property because they disagree with a judicial ruling. 

It’s pretty simple folks.  There is no good excuse for bad behavior.

Where that starts for Trent and me is at home.  For several years we have worked hard to recognize the behavior in ourselves and stop it before we continue demonstrating it to our children.   We have become so sensitive to excuse making that we now catch ourselves and then model a response based on Biblical principles. 

For example, I may tell Trent to that I am going to put down my work and watch a movie with him that night.  Then I get so caught up in my deadlines that I allow my priorities to be skewed and I work through the evening anyway, not keeping my promise to my husband.  Later when he asks me about it, my self-preserving tendency would be to plea my case as to why my actions are justified, but then I stop myself and say, “You know what, you are right.  I made a commitment to you and I did not honor that.  Please for forgive me. “  The next step is just as Biblical.  My responsibility is then to turn away from that behavior and strive to not do it again.  Does my failure give Trent justification to then go out and behave badly?  Of course not – because that is where grace comes in.

Later I may have a child come home who I instruct to go into his room and complete his homework.  Let’s say that when I check on him, I find him playing Legos while concocting his best excuse as to why he did not follow my directions.  I simply say, “Son, there is no good excuse for bad behavior.”  I expect the same response out of him that he has witnessed his father and I demonstrate again and again.  Confess, apologize, turn from the behavior, and seek reconciliation.  There are then natural consequences for his behavior that don’t involve me losing my temper or behaving badly in response. 

Okay for you naysayers who want to throw in an argument like, “What if he wasn’t doing his homework because the house was on fire and he was helping his siblings escape?”  Well, then I would argue that helping your siblings’ escape a fire is not bad behavior and trumps following my directions to read.   I need to say also that the difference here is not as arbitrary as some would like to argue.  It is clearly defined in the Bible.  Bad behavior is:
  • Violating the rights of another (Eph. 4.28, 1 Thes. 4.6)
  • Not honoring the God given authority placed over you- your parent, your teachers, your employer, and your government (Romans 13.1-7, 1 Peter 2.13-17)
  • Not keeping your commitments (James 5.12, Ecclesiastes 5.4-6)

Another naysayer might say, “Well what if the person in authority over you is unjust?”  Well then you need go through the proper channels to be under someone else’s authority but don’t walk into your place employment and shoot your coworker because you have a bad boss. 

So again someone might argue that Michael Brown’s rights were violated when he was shot and killed for fleeing arrest.  My grace-filled, compassionate response is that I am so sorry that happened.  It was tragic that the altercation ever happened in the first place and especially that it ended in death, but responding with bad behavior is NOT the answer.   There is no good excuse for bad behavior!  The best response is one of thoughtful, law-abiding, good behavior. 

Some ideas might be:
  • Peaceful protests
  • Organize a group of concerned citizens to peacefully put measures in place to improve relations with the local police to help change the culture between the neighborhood and those trying to protect it. 
  • Clean up the streets, educate the younger generation, put pressure on the gangs to move out or disassemble.  Let those committing crimes know that you won’t tolerate it anymore.
  • If you still don’t trust the police, then evaluate the benefits of installing cameras on street corner for a time to protect the citizens and the police.  Yes you would be giving up a right to privacy but it might be a trade worth instituting if you are truly concerned.
  • Get involved in the local government. 
  • Or take doing good even one step further and organize a group of Michael Brown’s peers and family to visit the cigar shop he robbed and the sales clerk he roughed up and apologize to the man for that behavior and look for ways to support his business.  Someone owes that man an apology on behalf of the group of people who behaved badly toward him. There was no good excuse for that either.
But, whatever you do, don’t match bad behavior with more bad behavior.  This goes for the citizens of the community and the police department.
It applies to me, it applies my husband, and I am doing my best to pass it down to my children.

We exist in a society that has moved away from the simplest of truths.  Returning them to our culture will be begin when we return them to our homes, our marriages, our children, and our own lives.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Life and Photography 101. Life Lessons Learned Through The Lens of Photography

I have been a professional photographer for about four years now. Before that, I was what the photography community calls a "momtog". The transition from momtog to professional photographer did not happen the moment I started charging my clients but instead, through a process, as I grew from a hobbyist to a professional.

I have learned several lessons through that transition that I believe apply to both photography and to life. So here is a little Life and Photography 101.

1. Figure out who you are and be that person. Stop trying to be someone else.
The photography profession is full of copycats who scan other people's work and try to reproduce it as their own. The problem with this is your clients don't know which version of you they are getting when they hire you. I had photographer friend denied from being a consultant with Clickin Moms because they said her work was not consistent enough. That really got me thinking about who I AM as a photographer and if what I consistently represent to my clients is a true picture of myself as an artist.

My advice, figure out who you are and be that person/photographer. People will know what they are getting and they will chose you because they like your work. If they don't, then it was a bad partnership to begin with. This is clearly true in life as well.  See the life analogy here?

2. Be nice to other people. Just because they share your interest, doesn’t mean they are your competition or enemy.  Showing common courtesy will take your farther than the cold shoulder. 
This is one of my soapbox lessons. I can always tell a true professional photographer from an insecure hopeful by the way they treat other photographers on shoots. Photographers who are confident in their skills are kind to one another.  They don't do inconsiderate things like step into each other's shots.  I have made several great photographer friends through a few moments of kindness and consideration on a shoot.  If you want to be a professional, act like one.

For the record, Trent and I have come across the same behaviors in ministry. The lesson is the same. We can each do more if we work together than if we act all squirrelly out of insecurity.

3. You will go further in life (and photography) if you view your role as an opportunity to bless someone instead of an opportunity to gain something from them.
I am in several professional photography groups and I notice there are two kinds of photographers. There are those who genuinely enjoy their job and enjoy giving their clients a product that reflects their own time and artistic expression and then there are those who view photography as a way to make as much money as possible off of someone else. The latter group is constantly complaining about the 30 minute shoot that went 40 minutes, the kid who wouldn't cooperate, or the bride who was too demanding.

We can all get caught up in our sense of entitlement if we aren't careful. I have found that operating out of entitlement might leave you with more money in your pocket, but in the end, you are less satisfied. True satisfaction comes in blessing others and photography is a great way to do that but you have to let the other junk go. Another good life lesson- Lose the entitlement and be a blessing instead.

4. Treat others the way you want to be treated.
I can't tell you how many clients have commented on how much they appreciate that I get them their images in 1-2 weeks.  This should be the norm friends.   I shot a 6 month old once and the mother still had not received her newborn images from their other photographer.   That's ridiculous people. How you run your business is reflective of your personal character.  It goes back to the first lesson your mama taught you- treat others the way you want to be treated.  Period.

5. Do what you love and it will show. You will have passion for it. You will do it with excellence.   
Don't go into photography, or anything else for that matter, just to make money. Find what you are passionate about and make that work for you. If you are thinking about photography just because your friend does it and makes money at it, you won't succeed. You have to love it in order for something special to be reflected in your images and for them to tell a story. There are a lot of short term photographers out there who don't know what photography entails and they don't last.  If you figure out what you love and how to get paid to do it, you will succeed.

6. Don’t price yourself out of the people you would prefer to capture.
This one is personal.  People tell me ALL THE TIME that I don't charge enough.  I know that and it is intentional.  I really like my clients and I know that if I raise my prices to the rate of other photographers, with my experience and gear, that I will price myself out of the types of clients I enjoy the most.  Let me put it this way: Just because you can hang out with the Country Club crowd doesn't mean that you should.  

In my experience, clients who can afford the higher fee are generally more concerned about creating a perception than capturing a moment in time.  Authenticity is important to me.   I am not into photography to help promote someone's family image on Facebook but instead to help them capture their family reality.   What can I say but that I tend to find those clients in my current fee schedule so I will keep it there.  Same is true in life and it goes back to the Country Club statement.  Relationships are more fulfilling if they are about authentic connections instead of fabricated perceptions.

7. Forgive yourself.  You are a work in progress. 
The haunting began after my first year as a professional photographer.  I wasn't haunted by ghosts, but rather images of my past.  Images I had taken with my camera and had thought were good.  I would walk into someone's home and see my pictures on their wall and immediately notice something I would now do differently.   After several times, I actually considered quitting photography or refunding people their money.  Isn't life the same way?  Do you ever feel like you need to go back 10-20 years and apologize to people for your behavior then?

I am learning to be thankful for those little revelations of past mistakes because they bring to light how far God has brought me since then.  Make those moments a time to rejoice in your improvement instead of running from your failures.  We all have them, so forgive yourself.