Monday, December 26, 2011


Cade hangs with his brother in the waiting room.

You can count on one hand the amount of times I take my kids out of school for reasons other than illness.  Today it may appear I had no good reason to take Cade out of school.
His older brother, Anker, had a doctor appointment with the Pediatric Cardiologist.  Anker doesn’t often do well at doctor appointments.  He equates doctors with poking, prodding, and the need to fight for his life.  Growing anxiety is the way he prepares for the doctor.  The last time we visited Dr. Van Gundy, Anker was too anxious to sit on the doctor’s table.  So, the 6-foot something doctor bent his knees as he sat on the bare floor and invited Anker to lay down beside him.  Anker responded to this gentle giant, and lay on the floor, allowing the doctor to examine his heart.
I was touched by a doctor who understood our son’s increasing anxiety. Try as he may, Anker could not utilize the resources to successfully express his fear.  Dr. Van Gundy communicated compassion to our son, while offering us a great sense of relief. After all, it is no easy task taking a growing boy to intrusive doctor appointments…we have the bruises and bite marks to prove it.

There are two things about Cade which prompted me to take him along to this appointment.  Cade adores his older brother. In the fifteen years of his young life, he has loved his special needs brother with a depth of understanding and strength which blows any observant onlooker away. He gently guides Anker to try the things the O.T. or speech therapist, or optometrist request Anker to do. He models the task, and playfully and patiently invites Anker to follow his lead. Down Syndrome individuals respond well to peer role models, and with gratitude, we have a wonderful role model sharing life beside his brother.  Anker felt relief today, with his brother beside him.
We have experienced many doctors in our special needs journey: doctors who have little sense of compassion, those who lack understanding of our child’s specific needs, and those who are absolutely outstanding.  These outstanding doctors are the ones who speak with compassion as they offer respect and care to our child.  They are acutely aware of the specific special physical needs of our child, and are the very doctors we remain faithful to. Since Cade desires to be a doctor himself, we find great value in exposing him to the characteristics of these outstanding doctors. I knew Cade would offer support to his brother, while gaining an education himself.
Cade sat closely as the nurse examined his brother.  Anker began to shout with anxiety, and Cade talked gently to his brother.  Anker calmed down.  Dr. Van Gundy entered the room and carried on a conversation with Anker,  “You are growing whiskers, aren’t you, Anker?” He took time to visit with our boy. He took time to ask questions, and he gently examined Anker while sitting beside him, this time on the examination table.
Heart problems are prevalent in individuals with Down Syndrome.  Many are born with heart defects and require heart surgery. This is one statistic we have not had to bear.  But, Anker does have a murmur, which we must continue to watch closely. Dr. Van Gundy referred us to a Pulmonary Specialist to rule out sleep apnea issues, and blood tests to check for Leukemia, Diabetes, and thyroid–all medical issues which have a higher occurrence rate in individuals with Down Syndrome.
So, we take the yearly tests, and we continue on with life. We stop for a special milkshake topped with whipped cream and a cherry, then head back to school.  Anker asks to stay home with me–feeling a little too stressed to return to his afternoon classes.  Cade returns to his texts and tests; having gained a little more knowledge from experiencing a life lesson on character with his brother and an extra-ordinary doctor.


Saturday, December 24, 2011


Christmas is quickly approaching, and our kids are so excited, aren’t they? The smells of Christmas dinner, the anticipation of visiting loving family, the sight of brightly covered mystery packages under the tree, and the squeals of laughter and conversation can all serve as sensory overload for a child. Whether you have a young one at home or child with special needs, some of our kids become overwhelmed on Christmas day.
Consider these helpful tips to make the special day more enjoyable for all:
Pace the opening of gifts
When it is your child’s turn to open gifts, he or she may not be ready to proceed.  Often times, the opening of gifts is the most overwhelming time of the day for a child.  They are asked to wait and take turns, or they rip the gifts open so fast, they become overwhelmed by the very prospect of all the colors, noises, and excitement.
You may need to reconsider the pace which gifts are open. Consider different gift-opening options.  You might try opening a couple of gifts at a time, then take time to open and play with them in another room before unwrapping the rest of the gifts. You may choose to keep some gifts unopened or hidden until a later time.
You know when your child’s stress meter is rising. Be alert and free to roll with it. 

Allow your child to explore gifts on their own time clock
We adults have our own expectations about what Christmas day “should” look like. When living with an overwhelmed child, our expectations often clash with our child’s needs. Try to become aware of your own expectations and be willing to adjust for your children.  You may want to start playing with that cool toy and engage your child in exploration, but your child may not be ready.  Let your child lead the way of exploration when he or she is ready.

Offer frequent praise and nurture
When all the family members are engaged in conversation, television or games, it is easy to overlook your child for a good period of time…..until your child has an explosion. When overwhelmed for a long period of time, some young children or kids with special need’s begin to act out. The stimuli has been mounting within them and they explode!
Check in with your child frequently. Cuddle up with them, give them eye contact and specific praise. Praise the positive behavior that you desire to foster. What kind of praise reinforces your child the most? Is it a high-five, a kiss, a tickle game, or an m&m? Be generous with your reinforcements! They will go a long way to sustain your child and possibly prevent the next explosion.

Take calming breaks
Teach your child to take a break from all of the excitement. Through a hand signal, an index card, or a tap on the shoulder; your child can learn how to say, “I need a break”. Just as you are learning when to offer those breaks, your child can learn how to recognize when they need one. Until that time, consider taking your child on a brief break every hour to hour and a half.  The break may last about 10-20 minutes.
Find a quiet room to hang out together, go for a walk in the fresh air, or walk out to the car to get something together. Does your child have items that help them calm down? Put those items in a small backpack to keep accessible on Christmas day.  It may include a blanket, a squishy ball, lotion, or a small dvd player with their favorite cartoon. When the schedule of the day’s events are so unreliable to a child, their familiar items offer a calming effect.
Calming breaks can go a long way in preventing a child from becoming overwhelmed.

Make a game plan with your spouse
Before the big day, talk about these tips and your plan to implement them with your spouse.  Discuss the values to your family when you implement these tips.
What roles will you share during the day?  What vulnerable moments do you anticipate in the day?
When it’s all over…learn from the day
When the day is over, take some time to mull over your child’s day.
What things worked well?
What points of the day were more stressful for your child?
What can you do differently that will help the next big family event run more calmly for you and your child?  What will you do the same?
Jot down some notes and keep them in a place to remind you as you approach the next big event.  I like to keep notes on my cell phone calendar and in other strategic places I turn to when planning for the next season.  These reminders will help you be mentally prepared for the next event.
Take heart, tapping into your child’s needs and fostering positive outcomes is a process. Learn to give yourself some grace, as you live through this journey together.
Blessings to you and your family, this Christmas season!


Thursday, December 22, 2011


My usual afternoon route takes me past the popular shopping grounds of the season. I was driving along with the traffic on my way to pick up my boys from their three different schools. Suddenly a gigantic sedan attempted to make a right turn in front of me—from the left lane! I lay on the horn and burnt rubber, bringing my van to a screeching halt. I barely missed the side of the intrusive sedan.
My ice water splashed over me, my purse flew across the van, and my heart raced with intensity. I was so grateful we did not collide, so grateful I did not hit the passengers, and so terribly irritated that driver was in la-la-land and risked our lives!
I have been grouchy about Christmas crowds the last couple of days. People are shoving carts in front of others, with rarely an “excuse me” or “thank you.” My irritation grows as I wonder how so many people are so terribly rude at the same time.
After a third person absent-mindlessly sneezed on me in line, I called my husband to vent.  Half-jokingly, he responded, “It sounds like you lost your Christmas spirit today.”
It’s true. I am irritated in part, with myself. I desire to enjoy the Christmas season with a relaxed spirit. I want to keep a reign on the emphasis on the material. I want my heart centered on my love for God, my love for my family, and my love for others. It’s not an easy task in our culture, and I feel the spiritual struggle within.
It occurred to me, we have Holiday Tunnel Vision. We are all on a mission to hunt down gifts, avoid long wait in lines, and get home as quickly as we can.  The stress of cash and bills occupy our thoughts. I have to believe we are not seeking to be rude, rather, we are trapped within our own pursuits. It isn’t a pleasant place to be.
My home remedy for Holiday Tunnel Vision:
Cut down on internal and external expectations.
Stop adding things to my list of purchases and activities.
Do things well, but don’t overdo it!
Make Do
This is my new pet phrase: make do.  We don’t need more stuff.
Learn to be content.
Get creative with the resources you already have.
Model to your kids how to “make do”.
Ask God to help you figure this out!
Nurture, who has time to nurture during the holiday seasons?
Slow down. Give your body rest.  Schedule it in your day.
Turn the television, ringtone and radio off.
Enjoy the silence. Read.
Listen to God’s Spirit.  Ask Him what He wants you to hear.
Pray for your loved ones.
Pray for those in need.
Cuddle up with your family and play a card game.
Light the fireplace and tell stories or look through old photos.
Center your faith. When we are occupied with other things, our faith is in danger of drifting away. Bring your thoughts and your holiday hoopla back to the center of your faith.
It is this season we remember and declare, that God, in His unfathomable love, came down in the form of man, to provide eternal life for all who believe in Jesus’ name.
As you simplify, make do, and sit down to nurture your soul; will you center your faith on these words with me this season?
Hebrews 2:14-18
“Since the children are made of flesh and blood, it’s logical that the Savior took on flesh and blood in order to rescue them by His death.
By embracing death, taking it into Himself, He destroyed the Devil’s hold on death
and freed all who cower through life, scared to death of death.
It’s obvious, of course, that He didn’t go to all this trouble for angels. It was for people like us, children of Abraham.
That’s why He had to enter into every detail of human life.
Then, when He came before God as High Priest to get rid of the people’s sins, He would have already experienced it all Himself
—all the pain, all the testing—and would be able to help where help was needed.”
Thank you Jesus, for taking on flesh and blood in order to rescue me through your own death. You conquered death, you conquer fear, you relate to every detail of my human life. You cleanse me of all sin and make a way for me to know God.  Happy Birthday, Jesus.  My gift to you is a life centered on You.  I pray it is pleasing to You each day.


Monday, December 19, 2011


So, the main problem a lot of people have with Christmas is that it starts WAY too early and consumes everything in its wake. Capitalist profiteers grab onto it like its the last cigarette at an AA meeting. It is in your face everywhere you turn: the decorations, the events, the sales, the music… everywhere you go, that same cheesy music echoes in your ears.

Well, I totally drank the koolaid this year. So brace yourself for an all festive favourites post today. Sorry cynics, you’ll have to look elsewhere for your holiday rant. But be sure to check back in the new year, I have very ambivilant feelings about Valentine’s Day.

Favorite Christmas Quote: “Teach us to give and not to count the cost.” — St. Ignatius of Loyola. Coincidentally, this is my husband’s LEAST favourite Christmas quote. But I’m pretty sure the saint was talking about a generosity that goes beyond fuzzy socks and santa claus pez dispensers.

Favorite Christmas Book: The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson. Not the most politically correct book of all time, but it has a heart of pure gold. Plus, I remember my mom reading it to me, so extra points for nostalgia. It starts with “The Herdmans were absolutely the worst kids in the history of the world.”

Favorite Christmas Movie: definitely It’s a Wonderful Life! I MUST watch this at least once every year, preferably on Christmas Eve. If you don’t like this movie, you have no heart. You are cold and cynical. And you may be married to me.

Favorite Christmas Tradition: We shamelessly stole this idea from our friends Mark and Lanette (you know what they say about sincerity and flattery and all that good stuff). One night in December we invite another family to join us for Grinch Night (a different family every year; be nice, and next year we might invite you!). Everyone dresses in green; this may or may not include green streaks in your hair and green face paint. We eat all green food and watch “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” and “Shrek the Halls”. Green caramel popcorn is the best – looks snotty, tastes delicious!

FavoRite Gift Giving Ritual: Like most concerned (read: neurotic and guilt ridden) parents in the modern age, we are always looking for ways to teach our kids the real “reason for the season”. Ya, I said it. I just threw up in my mouth a little bit, it’s so cheesy, but truly, I want more for them than just mindless consumption. We found the idea of Three Wise Gifts in a parenting magazine years ago and it brings a little more meaning to Christmas morning. Before opening gifts we read about the Kings who came to worship Jesus (an undetermined number of magi who came years after Jesus was born with 3 gifts). Each year we buy our children gifts in these three categories – frankincense: for worship (usually a cd or meaningful book); myhrr: for the body (clothes or good smelling stuff); and gold: something precious (this is the “big” item and is often shared by all three). Not only does it keep the gifts reasonable, but each one represents a different side of Jesus – God, Saviour and King.

Favorite Christmas Character: Mary, the mother of God. A scared, confused teenager facing an unplanned pregnancy and the censure of her whole community. Birth-days are not cupcakes and party favours. On the actual day of birth there is pain, exhaustion, blood, sweat and tears. It is a messy, overwhelming, and completely amazing experience for every mother. Throw in a few miracles, angelic visitors, political upheavel, uninvited guests… it’s hardly the serene image we see on Christmas cards. But even more powerful, because that’s kind of God’s thing – showing up in the middle of chaos and upheaval.

A great place to find thought provoking and beautifully written articles called Deeper Story had a great post about Mary, definitely worth a read: INCARNATION.

So here’s me, celebrating Christmas in the middle of chaos.
MARY'S SONG  from the Nativity Story.


Monday, December 12, 2011


“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you," 
Matthew 6:33
We just returned home after a week-long Thanksgiving vacation, when my husband began to pull out the multitude of Christmas decoration boxes we have accumulated. If he is feeling inclined to climb up that ladder and put Christmas lights across the roof, who am I to hold him back?  But, I wasn’t ready for those boxes to pile up in our hallway. I had laundry to do, lessons to plan, grocery shopping, and a few other details on my Saturday calendar.  My heart started to race.
“I’m not going to get to the decorations until next Saturday,” I explained.
There, I said it. The guilt of leaving it undone for a week was gone.  But, the anxiety remained. One more project to do.
Only I can take responsibility for the number of Christmas decorations I have to place through the house.  I am the one who cross-stitched all the family stockings, sewed the stuffed santas which sit atop kitchen cupboards and collected all the Christmas plates, frames and nativities over the years. I collected them in order to create a festive home, a place of celebration for my kids to enjoy and remember. But this year, the decorations created stress.
Saturday arrived and I was ready to begin the great decoration overhaul. As I emptied boxes, dodged the kids dancing around the floor with their dog, and answered phone calls; the stress began to rise again.  Visions of projects undone danced in my head.  I glanced into the living room and saw the place I have created for rest.
My Bible lies on the end table, my notebook and devotional book wait for me. A warm throw and coaster for my hot tea invite me to come and sit. I carved this small place of solitude out months ago, a place in the center of my home which is hard to walk past, without hearing the Lord whisper to me:
“My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds, “LORD, I am coming.” (Psalm 27:8).
In the midst of the noisy laughter and prancing of dog feet, the mess of the boxes and turmoil of projects to come, I turned my back and curled up on a small corner of the couch. I breathed in long deep breaths, and exhaled slowly. (I am learning to slow my body down and give it rest from the physical consequences of stress.) Then I quietly talked with my Lord. I read His Words to me, let Him speak to my heart and discussed the day with Him.
Our lives are spinning with activity, meetings, and media attachments. If our bodies are not constantly on the go, then surely our minds are!  It is a rarity to experience rest in this culture amidst the stress we have created.
To live with simplicity and slow ourselves down, includes bringing our minds back to the rest of our Shepherd.  When we seek Him first (Matthew 6:33), His kingdom and His righteousness, we are allowing our minds and our whole-self to be lined up with the Shepherd of our souls. It takes practice to pull ourselves away and make it happen. There in our solitude, we find pleasure in slowing down and hearing from the Lord.
As I walked back to my Christmas project, my body felt at rest; my mind focused on the things that matter most to me, and my spirit renewed and filled with His Spirit.
I finished a good portion of the decorations, and put the rest of the boxes back in the closet for another year. I decided to cut down my own Christmas decorating expectations in order to be about the simple more pleasurable things in my life: like baking goodies, laughing with my kids, and enjoying the gift of timeless and eternal moments with my Lord.
Share with us how you have found rest or simplicity in the midst of the holidays. How do you keep your focus on your Good Shepherd?


Monday, December 5, 2011


Have you ever gotten through the holidays and wished you had done more? Not BOUGHT more, but made more memories with the people who mean the most to you?
For the first 3 years of my youngest son’s life, I was fighting depression and anxiety. It was hard enough for me to get out and get a few gifts for under the tree. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the presence of mind to on-line shop until it was too late. I would deny Christmas was even happening until the 19th. Then, after Christmas I would go over the list of things and experiences I WISH I would have done with my family to create memories. 
Even today, virtually stress free, the thought of the Christmas season gives me anxiety. Knowing that my children deserve to grow up with great memories at Christmas, and being on a tight budget I came up with a solution. 
I would plan every single night of December out, and to insure that I follow through with what I plan I would write each thing on a small piece of paper and put it into an empty advent calendar for my kids to open every day. 
If you are at all like me, or are looking for some traditions to start I would love it if you use my idea.
Here are some tips and suggestions:

1) Get a blank calendar for the month of December

2) Start by adding the things that are already planned for you: Special Church services, Christmas parties, family gatherings, volunteering. 

       - If your kids aren’t involved in some of these things and you’re getting a sitter then make sure you add something from step (3 or 4) on those nights to their advent Calendar.

      - My kids are clueless as to when these events are happening so it is a complete surprise to them when they open their calendar and see that they are going to a party, or feeding the homeless. 

3) Then move to the things you would like to schedule as outings: Zoo lights, going to see a play, Ice Skating, Shopping (With Mom for Dad, or with Dad for Mom), Driving around looking at Christmas lights (with music and hot chocolate of course). 

     - I take the money out of the budget right away when planning for these things. If it’s not required to pay ahead of time, then I put the $ in the advent calendar and tell the kids that they will be responsible for paying for the family to go. That way they can start understanding about money early, and they can see if there is left over for hot chocolate or other treats they may want.

4) Then I add in Christmas television programming that can’t be missed: Rudolph the red nosed reindeer, How the Grinch stole Christmas, Charlie Brown Christmas etc. 

      - As you are making out your schedule look up your favorite programs and see when they are airing. You can DVR these programs and watch them on any night and at any time. So if you need to start at 6:00 so bedtime isn’t missed…you can.  

5) Fill in the last spots with at home activities including things you normally wouldn’t let your kids do: Stay up an extra 30 minutes, Make a blanket fort and sleeping in it, Krispy Kreme Donut after dinner, Sleep in a tent on living room floor(we do this every Dec. 23), Making Gingerbread houses, Craft night, make cookies for neighbors and friends, Reading the Christmas story from the bible, or CANDY. 

     - Some of these things can be combined with other things like: eating dinner on the living room floor and watching Charlie Brown Christmas. (Unless you usually eat in the living room, then change it up and eat at the table together).

    -  Make a shopping list and get all activity items before December starts. This way, you just have to go to your closet and get what you need. 

     - I usually only add CANDY to a night where we have sports practice and homework we have to fit in…sometimes you don’t have an extra 30 minutes in the evening to do something cool. My kids don’t get candy a lot so this is a treat to see in their calendar.

The key to this is to be flexible! I put the slips of paper into the Advent calendar weekly in case I have to swap things around due to a sick kid or schedule change.
Keep a master list, and put everything into your personal calendar. I plan this stuff at the end of November, so about two weeks in, I can’t remember when we are doing what. It’s nice to look at the list when I need to.
This system has eliminated a lot of the stress that comes with the holidays for me because it’s all done ahead of time. It usually takes me an entire afternoon and a shopping trip to get this planned but its well worth it to not be feeling nuts when everyone is going nuts.
Make your calendar according to what memories you want to create with your family. 
Happy memory making!
Oh, this could easily be done for a husband too…I think this year I’m going to a make him his own advent calendar. 

Here is an example of a December Calendar:



New Christmas book

Make Blanket fort with TV inside – Watch Frosty and Frosty Returns

Shopping with Dad for Mom 

Gingerbread Houses with Big Bro Daniel and Cousins
Game Night

Take Dinner to Daniel at work 
Krispy Kreme after dinner

Eat dinner on living room floor and watch How the Grinch stole Christmas

Have Ty read Christmas story from his Bible

Dad’s X-mas Work Party – Kids to watch Santa Paws with sitter

Shopping with Mom for Dad
Zoo Lights

Crafts with Cousins

Watch Rudolph the red nosed reindeer

New Christmas book

Watch Charlie Brown Christmas
Game night

Spanaway Lights

Make Cookies for neighbors and friends

Deliver gifts to Salvation Army families.
Drive around look at Holiday Lights
Game Night
Fall asleep in Mom and Dad’s bed

Take dinner to Daniel at his work – Stay up an extra 30 minutes

Crafts with Neighbor Friends
Watch Santa clause is coming to town

Have Dad read X-mas story from bible
Deliver Holiday meal to adopted family

Sleep in tent on living room floor – Read night before X-mas
Xmas Eve Services – HPCC
Open One gift
Merry Christmas!

*PLEASE add to Adrian's list by sharing some of your favorite family activities with us!