Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The unique beauty of Bulgaria

Part of the view from the 10th floor of a block where we are staying in Musagenitsa, which is part of Studenski Grad (Student City)
Tim and I are having a wonderful time in Bulgaria.  We are learning a lot about Bulgaria and its people.  Everyone has been so kind and friendly.  We've had some really meaningful conversations with the missionaries over here as we are continuing to seek God's direction regarding serving in Bulgaria as full-time missionaries.

The food here is awesome.  There are parks all over.  Various transportation options are available and easy to use to get around the city.  The pottery made here is absolutely amazing!  Here is sample of pictures that we've taken to give you an idea of what we are seeing and experiencing:

Feeling the hot springs water that come up from the ground and have been routed through walls of these spouts.  People come here to bottle the water for drinking or drink right from there hands while standing at the spout.

I bought myself some cute shoes for wearing around the house and paid less than $2 US for them.
Front of the church in Center City (before the service began)

The choir did a wonderful job performing a special cantata for Easter
A building the church in the Southern part of Sofia (poorer area of town) rents for worship

Another view from the 10th floor of the block where we are staying
View of the snow capped mountains to the south of Sofia
Sun setting over Sofia

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Touring Bulgaria

Roman Road
After getting a much needed good night's sleep and getting a shower after 48 hours without one, we felt human again and went out to explore Sophia, Bulgaria.  We spent a good amount of walking down town and learning about the history of Bulgaria.  We had the opportunity to see ancient ruins and walk on a stone street built by the Romans when Bulgaria was controlled by the Roman Empire.  As we walked around, there were many sights drawing us to reflect on Easter and the Resurrection like vendors selling beautifully decorated eggs or assorted pictures of Jesus and/or the cross.  Easter is a big holiday for the people of Bulgaria, and people celebrate from Good Friday through Easter Sunday.  Many go out of town and spend time with families in the country or out of the country.  Many of the people who claim to be Orthodox go to church on Easter Sunday (and/or Christmas) even if they never step in a church the rest of the year, resembling the practice of many Americans, sadly.

We got to go inside many different Bulgarian Orthodox churches including the largest one which was bustling with activity as workers were setting up lighting and sound equipment in preparation for the special Resurrection Celebration service being done tonight.  Although many people of Bulgaria are now non-religious because of the reaction to Communism.  Eastern Orthodoxy was the religion of people of today's grandparents.  However, those who are still attending Orthodox churches are more hung up in the practice of lighting of candles and relying on saints in their path to heaven.  While some seem to have a solid profession of faith, many do not have a saving knowledge of the Gospel.
As we prepare to celebrate Christ's resurrection, it is our prayer that the hearts of the Bulgarian people have a resurrection in the sense that their heart of stone is made into a heart of flesh and they see the truth of the Gospel and make Christ their Savior and King!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Arrived in Bulgaria

 Today, we arrived in Bulgaria after traveling for a little over 22 hours to get here.  We hit Bulgarian soil running and are now getting ready to crash for the night!  Please keep us in your prayers as we seek God's will for our lives.  The boys are doing really well with my parents, and when we talked to talk to them tonight, they said all of 2 sentences each and ran off to play!  I'll take that any day than having them cry for us to come home! :-)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Great Autism Resources Sale

In honor of Autism Awareness Month, Sourcebooks is having a GREAT sale on various autism books, but only for the next 2 weeks.  If you have a family member with autism, or if you know of a friend impacted by autism, or if you are a teacher of children with autism, or if you simply want to know and understand more about autism, TAKE ADVANTAGE of this GREAT SALE!  Also, don't forget to pass the word along!  This sale is too great to pass it by!

I had the chance to read through 3 of the books being sold for this promotion, and I can honestly say, all 3 are fabulous resources.  There are pluses to each one of them.  I'm sure the others listed are great as well.  If you are interested in getting any of the 3 that I read, I will describe each one for you to help you better decide what you want to get, but really, at $2.99 each, you could buy all 3!

The Asperger's Answer Book by Susan Ashley, Ph.D. is a great resource if you are suspecting Asperger's in your child or someone close to you or if you've just recently been given a diagnosis for a child you care for or if you simply want to understand more about Asperger's Syndrome.  It's even a great resource for teachers of kids with Asperger's! I love the way the book is put together.  The 12 chapters all address particular issues related to Asperger's, and at the beginning of each chapter, several related questions are listed to address that particular topic.  It makes the book really easy to use and the information extremely simple to access.  For instance, if I wante4d to understand better my son's sensory issues, I can go right to Chapter 8: Language, Motor Skills, and Sensory Sensitivity on p 167 according to the chapter index.  Once there, I will see the questions and find the question "What is tactile sensitivity?"  That's what I want to know about since my son has issues with clothing and textures of different objects.  I then go straight to that section and begin to read.
In addition to being a vast wealth of information on Asperger's, many questions address how I can help my child with a certain struggle such as "How can I best help my child when he is having an outburst? (Chapter 10).  Entering the world of Autism can be extremely overwhelming with the amount of information out there.  There's also a lot of terminology thrown around that you won't understand at first, and this book defines those really well.  Trying to deal with the struggles of Autism and keep up with all of the therapies can leave a parent with little time to simply read and try to figure Autism out.  This book is a huge time saver because of the way it's organized.  It's a go-to book when my son is struggling to understand emotions or when I need to know how I can help him at school through the IEP process.  If you are just starting to suspect Asperger's in a child, this book starts out explaining what those symptoms look like and how to go about getting a child evaluated.  Many different classes of doctors can give an official diagnosis, so it's also overwhelming about who to go to and what the differences are in the different kinds of doctors out there.  I love the way the book thoroughly explains all of this so you can make an educated decision based on what you think is best for your child.  I HIGHLY recommend this book for anyone who needs/wants to know more about Asperger's.

Children with High-Functioning Autism by Claire E. Hughes-Lynch is also a great book.  I love her style of writing because it is down to earth, engaging, and really easy to read.  She is a Ph.D in special education and gifted education and has a child with high-functioning autism (PDD-NOS) and another one with autistic-like behaviors (Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Tourette's Syndrome).  Needless to say, not only does she have book knowledge about autism, but she has personal parenting experience as well.  She writes this book by using metaphors of going on a journey to different countries to describe caring for "normal" children, those severely intellectually/developmentally challenged, and those who fall in between the two.  It really paints a neat picture in helping to understand how the knowledge and treatment has to be different for each class.  She delves into many of the suspected causes of autism and uses a lot of sources to back up her thoughts and facts.  However, she also freely gives her own opinion while letting you know it's just an opinion and not a proven fact.
I really appreciate her candor and her honesty as she writes the book and gives such appropriate examples from her own experiences with her children or those she has crossed paths with through her life.  She also does a great job explaining the different Autism Spectrum Disorders, which is also a widely confusing topic.  I like the way she covers all of the major topics and really gives good insight into the various areas particularly with treatments, school accommodations (including homeschooling), and the often-neglected issue of siblings and spouses (this is close to my heart since I recognize how easily all of the autistic therapies can suck away every last ounce of strength and energy leaving nothing left for the siblings not to mention your spouse).  This is truly a great resource for a parent of a child with high-functioning autism.

School Success for Kids with Asperger's Syndrome is a very practical book for dealing with school-related issues.  It's a great resource for parents as well as for teachers.  Stephan M. Silverman and Rich Weinfeld do a great job explaining the typical struggles of a child with Asperger's and providing great strategies and tools for dealing with those issues that can be easily put into practice in home and in the school setting.  They also help provide guidance in working the education system and all of the confusing aspects of special education and IEPs.  I also like the fact that they provide information related to college, work, and independent living which is so important to know and understand.  Even though my son is only 6, it helps me to know what to anticipate in the future and how I can be helping him learn these necessary tools to help him be successful in his adult life.  This topic is really being worked on and developed right now in light of the increasing numbers of children being diagnosed with Asperger's as well as other disorders of the autism spectrum.  It's encouraging to know that resources are being put into place to address these issues.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Spiritual Warfare

Ephesians 6:12: For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Satan has been at work in our family the last two weeks.  We are under a violent attack right now, and we feel that Satan is working overtime to destroy our faith and our family and to keep us from seeking God's will in serving Him in Bulgaria.  We leave for Bulgaria in two days, and we feel as if we are being pressed in by every side with intense difficulties.  We are facing Spiritual Warfare!

God used many things to confirm His will for our family as we started praying about serving in full-time missions.  Two ways God clearly opened doors was the improvement of David's health and immunoglobin/antibody levels and the tremendous progress Joshua was making in his autism/Asperger Syndrome therapies and the very positive prognosis he was given by all involved in his care.  Now, within these last 2 weeks, we have been told by 2 of David's specialists that they are really concerned by his current immune responses and levels and want to do further extensive testing to see if there are more serious conditions underlying his immune deficiency.  Joshua, who has been doing an amazing job using coping skills to help combat anxiety and frustration had 2 complete melt-downs yesterday which led to fits of rage and aggression leading to having to be restrained by the child crisis intervention team at school during his melt-down there.  The other melt-down happened last evening.  In processing these events, we have realized he is being driven by his anxiety related to our trip.  We have left him before and never had this drastic of behaviors to deal we.  We are obviously very concerned and our faith has been shaken.

As we reflected last night about these issues as well as some other intense issues we are working through right now, it became clear to me that we are under attack of the devil himself.  In a way, the way he is fighting to shake our faith and our commitment to serve God, it seems like God is using Satan's actions to confirm to us that He wants us to serve in Bulgaria.  Our desire in taking this trip is to know for sure if that is where God wants us to serve.  Could it be that we are receiving our answer before we even leave?  It's an incredible thought.

Please join us in prayer as we seek to stand against the schemes of the devil (Ephesians 6:10-18).  We rejoice that we don't have to fight this battle alone.  The body of Christ can surround us with love and prayers, and we fight in the name of the Lord.  His grace is sufficient for us (II Corinthians 12:9)!  We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us (Romans 8:35-39)! We desire to be able to say with Paul: 2 Corinthians 4:7-9: "But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. [8] We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; [9] persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed."

As we have processed with Josh about his anxiety and the details related to our trip, we have driven Him to rest in God's promises from His Word.  We are encouraging Josh to read Philippians 4:6-7: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus" and I Peter 5:7: "casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you" and Psalm 55:22: "Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved." As we leave for Bulgaria not knowing how our son will be or how all of our family struggles will play out, we recognize that these promises are for us as well.  We can give our anxieties to God and allow Him to fill us with his unfathomable peace!  May God receive glory in all we do! Amen!

Below, I am sharing with you 2 videos that Josh is really enjoying right now in light of these verses we have shared with him.  These videos take these passages and put them to music and animation to help children learn these verses.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Bulgaria Awaits

It is hard to believe that our Bulgaria Vision Trip is almost upon us.  A week from today, we leave to take our boys up to my parents' house, and a week from tomorrow, we will be in the air flying to Bulgaria.

We are excited about being in Bulgaria, meeting it's people, seeing the beautiful country, and learning about the ministries we could be a part of.  We will have the opportunity to serve alongside the missionaries on the Bulgaria team while we are there, and we look forward to getting to know each of the team members as well.  We will be based in Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria.

The trip will cost us about $2,000.  So far, we have been able to raise $850.  If you would like to support us as we go and minister in Bulgaria from April 21-29, there is still time for you to do so. For those of you who have already supported us financially, thank you so much for partnering with us for the furtherance of the Gospel!  You are an encouragement to us!

For a tax deductible donation, please write checks to Grace & Peace PCA; Memo line: “Bulgaria trip.” Mail to 1200 E. High Street, Suite 204; Pottstown, PA 19464.

If you'd rather send the check directly to us, you can mail it to our home address: 519 May St.; Pottstown, PA 19464.

Please pray with us that God would use this trip to solidify in our hearts His call for our family's lives.  Pray for safety traveling, and pray for our boys as we are away from them.  As the opportunity arises for us to be on the internet while over in Bulgaria, we will try to update the blog about how God is working.

Thanks for your prayers and your financial support!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Lighting it Up Blue for Autism Awareness

As I mentioned in my previous post about Autism Awareness Month, World Autism Awareness Day is April 2.  April 1st and 2nd are set apart to kick off Autism Awareness Month of April.  A group of children recorded a song to help encourage people to "light it up blue" to help spread the word.  It was put into a great video that I was so encouraged and touched by.  Watch it here:

We lit our house up blue to honor Joshua and spread the word around.  We've decided to keep our lights blue for the whole month of April in honor of the Autism Awareness theme.  Here are a couple of pictures that we took to show how we lit it up blue.
Front porch (picture taken by Tim)

I decided to get creative and experiment with a puzzle piece which is a symbol for autism.  My husband was so patient with me and held that puzzle piece through so many shots.

Our light out back.  By this time, Tim's arm was cramping from holding the puzzle piece, and my hands were cramping from holding the camera! :-)
 Also, along with the idea of lighting it up blue, people are encouraged to wear blue on April 1st and 2nd.  Our whole family participated (including my mom and sister).  On Saturday (April 2), we went to a Reading Royals Ice Hockey game sporting our blue clothing.  Here are pictures of us:

Friday, April 1, 2011

Autism Awareness Month

Joshua at 3 months old
Joshua at 1 year of age
Today marks the 1st day of Autism Awareness Month where attempts are made to raise awareness of this fastest growing developmental disorder in the world.  In the U.S. 1 in 110 children are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder with 1 in 70 boys being diagnosed.  Research is being done to determine the cause.  There is no cure, but intensive early therapies can really improve the quality of life and function.  So, the hope is that if more people are aware of the disorder, they can be alert to the symptoms to help others get an early diagnosis and therefore early treatment.
Just before he turned 2 years old
3 years old

At 4, Joshua started taking violin lessons since music has always been an obsession for him.  However, playing the violin lasted only 1.5 years.  He's now playing the guitar and piano along with any other instrument he can get his hands on.  This was taken in April 2009, when Joshua was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome

 Joshua was diagnosed at 4 and began intensive therapies right away.  Now at 6, he has made some incredible progress socially and behaviorally as a result of these therapies.  Several of his therapists over these past two years have made comments about how fast he picks up on the therapies and utilizes them.  In the first year of therapy, his therapist told us that what Josh accomplished in 3 months, many kids can't even come close to accomplishing in 1 year!  We praise the Lord for the brilliant mind He has given Josh and for the eager spirit he has to try the things he's being taught.  He still has a long way to go, especially socially, but each therapy will bring him closer to the potential to live a "fairly normal" adult life that his diagnosing psychologist says is possible for him because of his early diagnosis and treatment.
At 5

April 2nd is World Autism Day.  To commemorate it, people all over the world "Light it up Blue" by wearing blue, using blue lights, hanging blue signs, and wearing blue autism pins and such.  The Empire State Building lights it up blue each year along with other buildings throughout the world.  April 1-2 is used as the kickoff to the month along with the celebration of World Autism Day on the 2nd.  Won't you join the growing number of people who rally together from around the world to rally autism awareness?  Take a look at my Blue Page and browse the sight to learn more about the "Light it up Blue" Campaign as well as information about autism.

Crazy 6 year old so full of life
See my Lighting it up Blue post to see what we did in honor of World Autism Day!