Thursday, November 13, 2014

Peppermint Essential Oil Truffles

These truffles were a huge hit at my essential oils class: Returning to a Natural Healthcare.

Several people asked me to share the recipe.  Here it is:

Peppermint Essential Oil Truffles

Yield: About 36

1- package of Oreo cookies (original NOT Doublestuff - can use off brand cookies as well), divided
1- 8 oz. package of cream cheese, softened
5-8 drops of Peppermint Essential Oil (only use a certified pure essential oil approved for ingesting)
1 -16 oz vanilla almond bark or candy melts

• Set a long sheet of wax paper over a cookie sheet, set aside.
• Place all but 3 Oreos in a food processor (entire cookie, don't remove cream filling) and pulse until finely crushed (alternately, if you don't own a food processor, you can place Oreos in a large Ziploc bag, seal bag and crush with a rolling pin until finely crushed).
• Pour crushed Oreos into a mixing bowl along with cream cheese and Peppermint essential oil. Using the back of a spoon, stir mixture while pressing it along the bottom of the bowl, until well combined and evenly moistened. Scoop mixture out and form into 1 inch balls (if you happen to have a kitchen scale, they should be about 16 grams - I didn't weigh but used a cookie scoop to get the right size then rolled it into a perfect ball).
• Align on prepared cookie sheet. Place truffles in freezer for 10 minutes or longer. Meanwhile, crush remaining 3 Oreos.
• Melt almond bark according to directions on package. Remove truffles from freezer and dip in melted chocolate and evenly coat then allow excess chocolate to run off. Return to baking sheet and immediately sprinkle tops with remaining crushed Oreos. Allow chocolate to set. Store in an airtight container in refrigerator.

Need to order Peppermint essential oil or any other essential oils?
Contact me!

Recipe Source: Taken and adapted from

Recipe by Christine Russell, RN

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Part 5: Joyfully living life to its fullest in Plan A (because there is no Plan B)

[Continuation from Part 4]
Joni Eareckson Tada, in her and Steven Estes’ book When God Weeps: Why our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty, has a great answer to her question she raises, “Why does God pile on hardships so high?” She says: God is more concerned with conforming me to the likeness of his Son than leaving me in my comfort zones” (p. 121, Tada and Estes) God, who sees our suffering and can bear our suffering no longer (Exodus 3:7-8; Judges 10:16 quoted in Part 3), loves us so much and wants to sanctify us making us more like His Son every day, decrees our suffering to accomplish His great and awesome purposes in our lives. After all, we have the promise of Jeremiah 29:11: "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope" (ESV).  God will fulfill his purposes in our lives and complete his good work in us. He will never leave us or forsake us. He will carry us when we can no longer walk. He takes our heavy burden and gives us his easy and light burden. He doesn't leave us alone to endure our suffering. He’s right there with us and can sympathize with us because Jesus suffered in all points as we do yet did it without sin.
Paul says in Colossians 1:24b, “I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions…”

What on earth does that mean? Joni explains this beautifully: “Nothing is lacking when it comes to what Christ did on the cross. It is finished, just as he said. But something is lacking when it comes to showcasing the salvation story to others. Jesus isn't around in the flesh, but you and I are. When we suffer and handle it with grace, we’re like walking billboards advertising the positive way God works in the life of someone who suffers” (p. 101, Tada and Estes). That thought helps bring meaning to the suffering. It’s by far not in vain. There is value not just in our own lives and sanctification but in the lives of those around us. The hardships can cause us to long for heaven just as Paul did, and that’s perfectly fine. There would be a problem if we’d rather stay in this life. He says in Philippians 1:21-24:
"For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account." (ESV) 
We live torn between our desire to be with Christ and to remain to do the work He has called us to. Good thing God knows what is best for us, and He will call us home when our work here on earth is done. Whether we linger longer on earth or see Jesus face to face sooner rather than later, we win! So what does all of this mean to me personally as I struggle to learn to live joyfully in God’s Plan A since there is no Plan B? And what is the summary of the answer for the original question of Part 1: How could a God of love decree so much suffering? Tune in for Part 6: The conclusion!

Friday, August 29, 2014

Part 4: Joyfully living life to its fullest in Plan A (because there is no Plan B)

In continuing to share what I am learning through reading the book When God Weeps: Why our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty by Joni Earickson Tada and Steven Estes, I will pick up where I left off in Part 3 and answer this question: Why would a loving God choose for some to suffer yet deliver others?

As Paul reminds us in Romans:
Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:33-36, ESV)
We don't know the mind of God nor can we pretend to.  However, God gives us other clues in Scripture that help us understand in part about why we suffer and helps us to be encouraged to continue to run the race of life.

Philippians 1:29 - "For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake." (ESV)
In Acts 14:22, Paul and the other apostles taught that "through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God." (ESV)
Romans 8:16-17 - "The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him." (ESV)
I Peter 4:12-13, 19 - "Suffering as a Christian Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. (ESV)
I Peter 4:19 - "Therefore let those who suffer according to God's will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good. (ESV)

Job recognized the value of his suffering in his proclamation: “When he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”

When we suffer in this life, we join Christ in His suffering, and we become a reflection of God’s glory in the midst of it. Contrary to a popular line of thought today, being a Christian doesn’t mean having a life of ease and no troubles. Instead, it often means more troubles because that’s exactly what Jesus warned his disciples about during His earthly ministry. In Luke 9:23, Jesus said that if anyone wants to follow Him, he must pick up his cross and follow him. The cross definitely doesn’t represent ease or promise no troubles. Becoming a Christian also doesn’t mean we no longer suffer the effects of the fall. I like what Steve Estes says on page 59 of his book about what happened at the cross when Jesus said “It is finished” and what Jesus will finally do with His second coming: “ …the purchase of salvation was complete, the outcome settled with certainty. But the application of salvation to God’s people was anything but finished.”

As Paul reminds us several times, sanctification is a daily process and won’t be complete until we are united with Christ in heaven or at his return. God uses suffering to continue that work of sanctification in our lives.

Romans 5:3-5 - "Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." (ESV)
Psalm 119:67 - "Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word." (ESV)
Psalm 119: 71 - "It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes." (ESV)

It’s the hardest times in my life that I feel the closest to God. I am a very self-sufficient and independent person, and if it weren't for the trials that were way beyond my ability to handle on my own, I wouldn't have been driven to my knees to rely completely on Christ to carry me the rest of the way. I wouldn't trade my close relationship with Christ as a result of my trials for an easier life.

Suffering also has a way of strengthening our hope and keeping our eyes focused on the goal of living with God for eternity. The suffering we experience hear reminds us of the day when God will wipe away every tear and there will be no more sickness and where we will no longer need to toil and sweat but spend our days worshiping at God Almighty’s feet. That hope can keep us keeping on no matter how hard things get.
Our trials will only last for a time but our life of peace and satisfaction is coming. Our suffering is just for a moment in eternity’s perspective.

As Jesus says in Luke 6:21b: “Blessed are those who weep now, for you will laugh” (NIV).
Yes, our day of laughter is coming! Another question may come to mind and one that even Joni asked: “Why does God pile on hardships so high?” (p. 121, Tada and Estes). Stay tuned for Part 5 for her answer and more.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Part 3: Joyfully living life to its fullest in Plan A (because there is no Plan B)

If you have followed Part 1 and Part 2 of this series so far, you know that I am on a path to answering the question: How could a God of love decree so much suffering?  I've first established the premise that God is indeed sovereign and omnipotent and is the one who decrees suffering.  Now I want to answer this question I asked at the end of my last post: Does God care about our suffering?

In chapter 6, Steve Estes, in his and Joni Earickson Tada's book When God Weeps: Why our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty, reminds us of truths of these two passages:
Exodus 3:7-8 - God sees the affliction of His people, He knows their suffering, and He has come down to deliver them.
Judges 10:16 - God became impatient over (could no longer bear) Israel's misery.

God does care about our suffering.  However, if that is the case, why doesn't He deliver us from our suffering as He did for Israel so many times?
Jesus healed so many people's illnesses and afflictions when he was in His earthly ministry, but did you ever think about the many He chose to not heal or deliver?
Paul, a faithful ambassador of the Gospel suffered so much for Christ's sake.  When He asked God to take his "thorn in his flesh" from him, God's answer to him was in essence, "No, but my grace is sufficient!" In our day today, why does he choose to heal one person miraculously of cancer but yet let another die from it?

Why would a loving God choose for some to suffer yet deliver others? Stay tuned for Part 4!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Part 2: Joyfully living life to its fullest in Plan A (because there is no Plan B)

So, at the end of Part 1, I asked the question:  How could a God of love decree so much suffering?  Well, I am going to start answering that by using passages of scripture and quotes from Joni Eareckson Tada and Steven Estes's book that I am currently reading: When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty.

I want to first establish God's omnipotence and sovereignty that Steve brings out in Chapter 6.

Daniel 4:34c-35 - "...for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, 'What have you done?'" (ESV)
Psalm 33:10-11 - "The LORD brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the LORD stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations." (ESV)

To sum up what Steve says, God doesn't just permit or allow suffering, but He decrees it and acts deliberately.  

Some other verses Steve shares in chapter 5 indicate this fact as well:

Psalm 139:15-16 - "My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them." (ESV)
Lamentations 3:37-38 - "Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?" (ESV)
Exodus 4:11  - "Then the LORD said to [Moses], 'Who has made man's mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD'?" (ESV)

God even ordained and decreed the suffering of His one and only Son, Jesus Christ, the one who is part of the trinity-God's being:
Acts 4:27-28 - "for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place." (ESV)

Job recognized God's sovereign decree in his suffering:
“...The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21 ESV)
“Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” (Job 2:10b ESV)
“...And [his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before] showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him...” (Job 42:11b ESV)

Steve sums up God's omnipotence and sovereignty well:
"But in simple language, God runs the world. 'The LORD works out everything for his own ends--even  the wicked...''Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him.' (Proverbs 16:4; Psalm 115:3)." (p. 76, Tada and Estes)

I encourage you to read When God Weeps to get the full meat of this matter.  Steve does a wonderful job of laying it all out there.  So, it is clear that God has ordained the suffering in my life as well as my children and everyone else in this world, but does God care about our suffering? Stay tuned for Part 3!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Part 1: Joyfully living life to its fullest in Plan A (because there is no Plan B)

Recently, I have been convicted by what follows part of a verse that I claim daily (..."My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." - II Corinthians 12:9a, NIV).
"Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.  That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties.  For when I am weak, then I am strong." (II Corinthians 12:9b-10, NIV, emphasis mine)
Ouch!  I certainly can't say that I boast gladly in my weaknesses. I definitely don't delight in my weaknesses, insults, hardships, or difficulties either.  While I don't feel as if I am currently undergoing persecution, I still remember my growing up years of going to a Christian school where I was made fun of for being loving God, witnessing, and choosing to be like Christ rather than the world.  Because I felt that it was more important to love Jesus rather than be like the other high school girls and faun over boys and go out on dates, I was accused of being a homosexual.  While that kind of persecution doesn't hold a candle to my brothers and sisters who are so dear to me in the Middle East not to mention other parts of the world, I still didn't delight in being mocked, falsely accused, and ostracized.  No one likes to feel lonely.

Maybe it's the increasing struggles I am facing with our kids or maybe it's been the fact that since celebrating our 12th wedding anniversary in June and discussing how different our lives have turned out to be from the plans we had when we got married, but I have been doing a lot of reflecting and introspection lately.  I sometimes struggle with the why's of how nothing can be easy for us.  Our boys' health and well-being are a challenge daily and nothing seems to be a simple fix.  There's the ongoing battles of services, therapies, insurances, and medication management.  Raising two kids with special needs is not easy, but God's grace is sufficient.  However, I have discovered that I need to take it a step further as Paul did.  I need to delight in these struggles God has ordained in my life.  I have begun the next step of processing what that looks like and how to actually do that.

Since I am enjoying a little time away with my husband from my daily struggles as Tim's parents graciously care for the boys, I decided it's time to put my thoughts into written words, which always helps me to process and solidify what God is teaching me and how He is changing my heart. As I sit here on a comfortable bench with beautiful blue sky above me and palm trees waving in the delightful breeze, I feel the words just pouring out of my soul.

My view as I type

I have recently finished reading Joni Eareckson Tada's book The God I Love.  I highly recommend it.  Joni is wonderful with words, is so completely transparent with her struggles, and has wonderful insight about why God allows suffering.  As a result of reading that book, I have begun to read a book she wrote with her friend Steve Estes, who pastors a church in the town where we live: When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty.  This book has been transformational in the way I think and has helped to resolve a problem in my own mind with how to address suffering in relation to God's love and design for our lives.

God is sovereign.  Therefore, everything that happens in my life, including all of my suffering, happens as a result of his design.  That means that there is only one plan for me, and no circumstance can change that.  There is no such thing as plan B or C for my life. I need to stop living with "what ifs"  and start living in "what is" and learn to delight in it.  How could a God of love decree so much suffering? Stay tuned for Part 2.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Reflections on the Path of our Married Life

On June 8, Tim and I celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary. My parents and sister were in town and took care of the boys so we could go out and have some much-needed "alone time" without having to worry about the boys. It was so refreshing to have quality time alone to talk about life, reflect on the past, and plan for the future. We went to St. Peter’s village for lunch and a hike through some great hiking trails.
We came up to a falling apart railroad beam bridge during our hike. We spent a bit of time there so that I could have fun taking some pictures (Tim is so gracious to humor me in my photography pastime). Beyond the bridge lay a really neat trail that really struck me in its beauty but also got me thinking about our lives.
The trail was so straight after walking a curvy trail leading up to that point. The trail curtained in luscious green. The path was level with small pebbles keeping the forest growth from overtaking the trail making the path slightly bumpy but far from treacherous.

It would be so nice to have our life be reflective of this trail – Beautiful green scenery, a straight path allowing you to see where you are going as far as the eye can see, the footpath slightly bumpy to keep things interesting but not enough to cause injury or stumbling. So far, our married life has been the opposite of these details. Our path has been so windy that we can hardly see around the bend in front of us. There have been times when the trail has been so bleak and barren that life had seemed to be sucked out of the area. Instead of small rocks lining our path, we’ve had sharp boulders causing hardships and struggles and pain as we try to continue to navigate the trail.

As I reflected on these visible and imagined images, I several thoughts came to mind:
  • If beauty and ease always abounded, we would quickly take our path for granted, and we beauty would become mediocrity. 
  • If the path were so easy, we wouldn’t have to rely on God for help to climb the boulders blocking our way. 
  • We wouldn’t be as strong as we are today or have the endurance without the hardships to exercise our faith, physical bodies, emotional centers, and psychological well-being. 
So in conclusion, has life been really hard? Absolutely! If we could plan out our own lives, would we change the path we have tread? Perhaps slightly- maybe not so many boulders to climb all at once - give ourselves a chance to catch our breath once in a while. However, we really have no regrets because we realize that all that we have been through has been a result of our Designer’s plan to work all things for our good and His glory and to bring us to an expected end. Do we want to change the course of our future path? No way
God has proved his faithfulness to us in the past 12 years. He can continue to be faithful to us in the next 12 years and beyond. I am thankful to have not walked this rough path alone. With God and Tim at my side, I can keep on walking until I reach "the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:14).

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Putting one foot in front of the other - Dare to walk in my shoes!

Being a special needs parent is not for the faint of heart.  However, one doesn't know that until that person is living in the midst of it.  Some people who are not special need parents don't understand this, and their judgmental attitudes and criticisms do not make special parenting any easier.  I have never had the courage to speak up to one of these people, who I am sure think they are trying to help, but when I do get up the courage, I would love to respond, "When you have walked in my shoes for a day, then you can tell me what I should and shouldn't do!"

For those of you who are curious about the struggles of a day in the Russell household, I'd like to share with you my day today (Wednesday, June 4, 2014), which is by far not the worst day ever, but also not close to being one of the best.

Background information: Tim has been out of town since Sunday.  His absence is always a major anxiety provoker for Joshua and subsequently David, who is afraid of what Josh will do as a result of his anxiety (unfortunately, David has been severely traumatized by witnessing a violent attack Josh made on me when he threw a shelf at me injuring me and bringing me to my knees in pain and tears when Tim was away once).  I usually work Tuesdays and Wednesdays and had to ask for both off this week since Tim wasn't home to get the boys on their buses.  However, at the end of last week, I got asked to work today if I went it after getting the boys on the bus since they were able to get the night nurse to stay until I could arrive.

I woke up at 5:30 a.m. to get a shower then eat breakfast while having devotions before I woke up David at 6:10 to get him ready to catch his school bus.  I got David out of bed and gave him his stomach medicine (the med should be in his system for 30 minutes before food but due to his early mornings, only ends up being in his stomach for 10-15 minutes before he eats breakfast).  I put the boys' lunches together (they make them before bed the night before, so I just have to put the refrigerated items in the lunch box with the ice pack), and packed my own and finished blow drying my hair while David finished eating.  I put an anxiety blend I made up for David with essential oils on David's neck to help him during this heightened period of anxiety and Owie Spray on his face (another essential oil spray for scrapes, cuts, and bruises).  [Josh attacked him only a couple of hours after Tim left on Sunday leaving David's face a bloody mess thanks to a mean cut that went from his nose to his bottom lip.]  I got David to the bottom of our driveway at 6:50 to catch his bus a few minutes later.

I got back to the house to get Josh up and ready for his bus.  I hovered over him and helped keep him on task so that he would be ready for school without any significant melt-downs or disruptions to the routine.  I ensured that he took his morning meds and used his mood blend essential oil and focusing blend essential oil.  All the while, I was reminding him of what to do in certain situations and how to respond and the need to use his words to let people know how he was feeling and to use his calm down spot when needed, and assuring him that he would be ok if his aide was out again for the third day in a row and telling him that today would be a great day, and don't forget to pray and do all things through Christ's strength.  After some deep pressure hugs, we walked out to the bus stop with 3 minutes to spare and enough time to remind him once more of what to do and that today would be a great day while I gave his back a last few scratches fulfilling his sensory need for the morning.

As Josh's bus pulled away, I got in my car which I had left at the bottom of our driveway and drove off to work after texting the nurse to let her know I was on my way.  I took some time to thank the Lord for allowing the morning to go so smoothly and listened to my favorite Christian music playlist to help keep my heart where it needs to be.  I arrived at my patient's home, received report from the nurse and began my work shift. Two hours into my shift, I saw that Josh's school was calling me.  Normally, I can't answer my phone during work, but because I am the only contact person available in town, I had to answer.  [Every time I see that it's his school calling me, my heart stops for a few seconds in dread for what the call will be about this time.]  This time, it was Josh's principal calling to let me know of an issue that happened in music class yesterday and Josh's increased agitation over his aide being out the past two days and having a substitute aide working with him.  She told me she was going to pull him out to talk to him about the incident yesterday then get back to me.  An hour later, she called me back and told me that she is suspending Josh for the day as a result of an incident that had happened on his bus on his way home from school on Monday (she had just been made aware of that situation) and that I needed to come pick him up.  I explained that I couldn't leave my patient and that my husband and in-laws were all out of town and that the only other option I had was to call people from my church whose numbers I had in my cell phone but that I couldn't make any phone calls until I put my sleeping patient, whom I was feeding a bottle, down in her crib.  That gave me enough time to process everything and decide that this consequence and reaction was not appropriate for Josh, his diagnoses, or for the school, so I called my case manager to discuss the situation with her who advised me, after speaking with her supervisor to call the school back and share my valid concerns.  I then call the school and speak with the director of special ed for the district who understood and agreed with me and said she would think about the things I shared, speak with the principal, then call me back.  An hour later, I got the phone call telling me that Josh would have an in-school suspension for the day, would not be allowed to ride the bus for the remainder of the school year, and would have access to individualized instruction outside of the normal classroom for any indication of anxiety/anger/distress for up to 6.5 hours/day for the rest of the school year.  I made arrangements for him to stay in the office until I could get to the school 15 minutes after school dismissed once my work shift ended.

I arrived at the school, had a meeting with the principal and head of special ed then spoke with Josh and arrived home just as David was getting off of his bus and to find Josh's TSS waiting on our door step along with Josh's behavioral specialist.  In the meantime, Josh was really upset about not being able to ride the bus anymore and David announced that his belly was really hurting him.  I bring them both inside to deal with both of them and let the therapists inside so that now, 4 people needed my time and attention all at once.  I had David rest, the TSS took Josh, I signed what I needed to sign for the behavior specialist so she could leave, then I talked Josh through his emotional meltdown, got David his upset stomach essential oil blend, helped David with homework, went through both boys homework folders, helped David practice the violin, checked in with Josh and the TSS to make sure his piano practice and other responsibilities were being done, discussed the schedule for next week with the TSS, then frantically realized that we needed to leave in 18 minutes for Josh's 6:30 piano/voice lesson, and I hadn't even begun any dinner prep!  After frantically searching through the refrigerator and coming up empty with enough leftovers for everyone, I made a fast change of plans deciding to grab fast food (gag) on the way to the lesson all the while hoping that this sudden change wouldn't send Josh into a violent meltdown.

We said goodbye to the TSS and rushed out the door.  On the way, I put on my soothing Christian music and applied my Serenity essential oil to myself to help calm my frazzled nerves and muscles and talked the boys through the plan to get dinner and to Josh's lesson in time.  We got the food with only a little stress/chaos of keeping Josh with him and focused and managed to get to his lesson only 5 minutes late.  The lesson was a little chaotic with having to jump in a few times to correct Josh or do something for him then trying to keep David entertained in a game of Clue while I tried to quickly finish my dinner.  By the time the lesson was over, David's belly was hurting more (not surprising considering none of us are used to fast food), and I was beginning to get a stomach ache as well from my food.  We got back into the car and drove home, while I updated Tim on our day and discussed the plan for getting home, making lunches, and getting ready for bed with the boys.  Once home, the boys made their lunches while saying "goodnight" to Tim on the phone.  The bedtime routine surprisingly went smoothly without any glitches, and miraculously, no prompts for Josh (he was motivated by being able to read if he was ready and David was still getting ready)!  I got out clothes for the boys, ensured they had taken all of their medicines (12 different ones between the 2 of them), had them apply their oil blends, prayed with them, sprayed their pillows with the Lavender Pillow Mist I made to help them fall asleep, and turned out the lights.  I had to return to the room to give David a bucket in case he threw up and remind Josh of light's out rules then a second time go in and remind Josh to not kick the wall (he was feeling anxious/excited about his field trip tomorrow).

There has been silence since which is great since while I was helping them get ready for bed, I was texting back and forth with the behavior specialist about problems with the updated treatment plan, and as a result, I had to send out an email to my case manager and the manager of wrap-around services. After that, I just needed to unload everything in my brain, so hence, this very long blog post.  Now, I can go to bed having got everything off my chest.  If you are still reading, kudos to you, and thanks for caring to understand a day in my life.

God's grace has been sufficient today.  Even as I write, I realize how so many parts of today could have been so much worse.  I am going to bed tonight praising the Lord for the strength to keep one foot in front of the other and for His mercy in preventing all of the melt-downs and disasters that could have happened today.  Another day awaits, and I have confidence that God's grace will be sufficient in it as well.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

World Autism Awareness Day, April 2, 2014

It's hard to believe another year has come and gone since last year's World Autism Awareness Day, and here we are, lighting it up blue for Autism once again!  This past year has brought a lot of wonderful changes in our family's life - all changes for the better for Josh as he continues to thrive as a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

The CDC just recently released updated totals for Autism prevalence in the United States: 1 in 68 children has an ASD diagnosis.  What is very alarming is that 1 in 42 boys is on the spectrum.  Scientists still have not found a cause, and obviously, there is no cure.  Some research has also shown that over 2/3 of children with ASD also have comorbid psychiatric disorders.  This too is alarming.

While many States in the US are slowly passing laws to help children on the spectrum receive needed services and be included in regular education classes as appropriate, they have a long way to go in helping to teach understanding and provide training in schools, promote success of these children, or address the ability of these children to be a part of the work force and housing as adults.

So how has Josh been doing?  I am excited to share with you all that God has done for him and us since last April.

  • Josh is in a new school and EXCELLING thanks to an amazing team of teachers and assistants and principal who are backed by an amazing school district who really cares and does not hesitate to do whatever is needed to help a child succeed.  After fighting our old district for years to just do what the PA laws require and getting nowhere, I was left with the choice of either pressing charges in court or getting Josh out of the school. Choosing the latter, we started looking last April for a new home in a better school district going off of the recommendations of Josh's therapists for the best school districts in the area.  God provided us with a house in July in one of the top 2 districts, and we cannot be more pleased with this decision.  The love and concern that Josh's school team has for him nearly drives me to tears (and that's saying a lot) with each interaction with them.  They include us as parents as part of the team as well as Josh's outside therapists.  As a result, Josh is surrounded by a unified team who is working together with all of the same goals to help him be successful.  It's working!  Josh has had his best year yet!!!!
  • As a result of moving, we had to switch counties for Josh's medicaid which meant that his mental health insurance coverage is now with the best agency among those in the surrounding county agencies in providing services for kids with Autism and mental health disorders.  The extra support he receives benefits him as well as our family.
  • Last month, I began using doTERRA essential oils to help Josh with his Autism and other 3 mental health disorders.  The difference we have seen in Josh has been absolutely amazing!  Teachers and therapists have also seen the difference that we have seen.  His psychiatrist was so excited to see him doing better that last week, she decreased his mood stabilizer as a result.  We are praising the Lord for helping us to find this natural way of helping Josh with his struggles and are excited to see how far the use of these oils will take Josh with his medicine regimen.    
  • In November, we celebrated a whole year of keeping Josh out of the psych hospital.  Given his history, this was a huge accomplishment.  We believe this is a result of God's grace as well as His provision of an amazing school and great subsequent team as well as outside therapists.
Josh, who has Pervasive Developmental Disorder - Not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), a moderately functioning ASD, is now a 9 year old boy who loves life, works extremely hard to regulate his behavior, engage in social interactions, and be all that God has created him to be.  He excels academically, is thoroughly enjoying taking piano and voice lessons, and loves nature and working with animals (particularly cats).  Josh recently said this about Autism: "I don't want them [scientists] to find a cure for Autism.  God made me this way, and I don't want to change that! I am thankful for who I am."  I am so glad he has such a wonderful attitude of about the "gift" that God has given him.  I am excited to see what plans God has in store for him and am so proud of him for working so hard fighting his multiple battles day in and day out!
One of my all-time favorite pictures of Josh taken at the beginning of this school year!
The front of our house lit up blue for Autism

Our back light that can be seen from a major road running behind our property

Thursday, March 27, 2014

My Struggles and Blessings of Being a Special Needs Parent - Part 3 of 3

This is the conclusion of my 3-part post of my struggles and blessings of being a special needs parents.  Feel free to read part 1 and part 2 if you haven't done so already.

Struggle #6:
I struggle with guilt.  I feel guilty that I'm not doing enough for my children.  I feel guilty that most of my time and energy goes into my children making me feel like I am letting my husband down.  I hate being so exhausted that I have nothing left to give him at the end of the day.  I also feel guilty if and when I take time to care for myself.

Feeling guilty when I do something for myself seems to be the most problematic for me.  With the many therapists coming in and out of our house and the visits with Josh's developmental pediatrician and psychologist, I have heard, "Make sure you take time for yourself.  That's important!" way too often!  However, I rarely heed the advice.  I'm too busy.  Then, when I do take an evening to go out, I don't enjoy myself because I am thinking of all of the housework I could be doing or how I should be helping Tim put the boys to bed.  Often, my mind is my worst enemy.  It is very hard for me to do something for myself.  For my own well-being and that of my family's, this struggle needs significant work.  It's just so hard to find time in our crazy schedules for me to have "me" time.

My husband and I would love to get out more often and enjoy more frequent dates, but duty calls, and because the needs of both boys are complicated, it's not as if is capable of caring for them.  It takes a special and understanding person to know how to meet Josh's needs.  Those kinds of people are hard to come by in our circles, but slowly, we are seeing doors opening in this area.  Now, we need to figure out how to carve out the time to have "us" times.  

Blessing #6:
I am blessed to be used of God to minister to others.  It has been so difficult to go through life feeling the burden to answer God's call in long-term missions when God has seemingly put so many hurdles and obstacles in the way.  There were times when I felt like time was wasting away and I couldn't be serving God.  God has shown me time and time again that He's using me for Kingdom-work in every circumstance He places me.  I don't have to be in a foreign country to be His vessel of ministry.  He gladly uses me in the ordinary details of my everyday life.  More and more, I am amazed by the ways in which I am able to minister to others as a result of the struggles I have faced in my life personally or with Josh or David.  From people I meet in a waiting room, to doctors and therapists, to neighbors and friends, to someone reading my blog...the list could go on for a while.  I am humbled by the knowledge that God chooses to use me in all of my imperfections to be a blessing and ministry to those around me.   

Struggle #7:
I struggle with fears -- fear about whether I am making the right medical decision for my child, fear that I'm not choosing the right consequence for my son's actions, fear about the next bacterial infection, fear of what others will think about me, fear about the future for my sons, fear about whether I am doing enough as a mother or wife, fear about whether I am doing enough for God, fear that I will forget something important in our busy schedule, fear that I am just not good enough for the roles in which I find myself.  I hate the doubts that creep up on me all of the time.  Satan has a way of catching me off guard all too frequently.  On the positive side, I have been driven to trust in God no matter how tough the situation appears.  The more I rely on God to work out the details of my life, it becomes easier to release the fears and cast my burdens and fears on the Lord, for He truly cares for me and will sustain me (Psalm 55:22, I Peter 5:7).

Blessing #7:
I am blessed with peace that passes all understanding.  As a result of facing my fears and difficulties in God's strength and casting my cares on the Lord, I am filled with His perfect peace and rest (Isaiah 26:3, Matthew 11:28-30, John 14:27, Philippians 4:4-7).  Often, I get the question, "How do you manage everything and not get overwhelmed?"  I always answer, "God!" then go on to explain that God gives me His strength and grace to make it through each day and that even in the midst of the scariest of times, God fills me with His peace.  With God, I can truly have peace in the midst of the storm.  My heart can be calm when life's circumstances could fill it with anxiety.  There's no better place to be than resting beside God's quiet waters where even if I find myself in the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil because God is with me filling me with His love and wondrous peace (Psalm 23).

Sunday, March 16, 2014

My Struggles and Blessings of Being a Special Needs Parent - Part 2 of 3

For the first 2 struggles and blessings, see Part 1.  This is the second part of my posts about my struggles and blessings of being a special needs parent.

Struggle #3:
I struggle with self-doubt and helplessness.  I am constantly second-guessing my decisions in parenting, my medical judgment, my ability to be a good wife, and my call in life.  As if parenting isn't hard enough for any given person, the complications of a special needs child, not to mention two, really make things difficult and messy at times.  We have been blessed to work with some great therapists who have been able to guide us in our parenting and choices, particularly in dealing with Josh and understanding what behaviors are simply sin issues, what are a result of his Autism or other mental health diagnoses, when to give consequences, when to take advantage of a teaching moment, when to comfort, when to be firm, etc.  With David, we have had to make many hard decisions, particularly with what surgeries to have him undergo, what immune-enhancing methods to try, and the biggest - having weekly antibody transfusions in which the antibodies I put into his subcutaneous tissue through a pump come from 70+ donors in which he could react to any of the 70 different blood types going into his system.  Then, there's knowing how to address the trauma David has suffered witnessing and experiencing some horrible violence that no child should see or experience when his brother goes into a violent rage.  For both boys, we have had to make tough decisions about medicines, such as David having to be on antibiotics prophylactically for 6 years, or the harsh psych drugs with significant side effects to help make life easier and more balanced for Josh.  These decisions are weighty enough to make me doubt myself.  Add onto those, the negative feedback and judgments of others around me!

I feel utterly helpless when I watch my boys suffer.  I feel helpless watching David succumb to yet another bacterial infection, wondering if he is going to live through it and not being able to take the pain and suffering from him.  I feel helpless watching Josh swing from the extreme moods of bipolar and feel even worse when Josh is aware of the swings and is able to voice how out of control he feels of his own body.  When he cries to God with tears running down his face asking God why he has to be this way, I feel my heart being squeezed to the point of bursting.  I have the power of prayer, but I often forget that it is a power I have, but knowing that God can choose to answer my prayer "yes" or "no" also renders me helpless as I realize that God holds my boys in His hands.  Being helpless in that sense is a good thing because there is no better place for my boys to be, but yet the human side of me wants to do something tangible to ease their pain, suffering, and misery.

Blessing #3:
I am blessed with abounding joy when I see progress or success in my boys.  It could be something as simple as Josh using good eye contact, David doing well on a test in school, hearing Josh appropriately ask an adult in passing how his week was, counting the weeks that go by without another bacterial infection, getting a good behavior report from Josh's teacher or school TSS (therapeutic support staff), seeing a heart of gold in a child who has suffered so much, enjoying stability in Josh's mood for an extended period of time, watching the boys grow and develop, seeing them increase in their spiritual understanding and relationship with God, hearing them play together nicely, watching Josh use a coping skill without prompting, hearing David improve in his violin playing, hearing Josh appropriately use an idiom (because he is very literal, these are hard for him to understand unless someone explains them to him).  I love praising my boys for their accomplishments.  Seeing the joy on their faces when they know they have done well or things are going well fills my heart with sheer gladness.  Sometimes progress for Josh with his Autism and mental health struggles can be very slow or nonexistent, so we gladly rejoice at the small accomplishments he makes that would ordinarily be overlooked in a neurotypical child.  God helps me to find joy in the small things, and that joy helps to sustain me and carry me through the tough times.

Struggle #4:
I struggle with worrying about what other people think of me.  This struggle has been a difficult one to overcome.  I have made significant progress but still have a long way to go in conquering this struggle.

When Josh was younger, he was incapable of using coping skills to help him get through a change of plans, something unexpected, or sensory overload.  As a result, he had countless meltdowns daily.  One of the hardest things to deal with were his fits in grocery stores when he was in full sensory overload.  People would look at me in judgmental ways or actually say things to me or about me in my hearing about how I had no control over my child, I had spoiled my child rotten, I needed to teach my child self-control, or I needed to give my child a good spanking.  These looks and comments pierced my soul.  It didn't take long for me to stop taking Josh to the grocery store as a result.  I still to this day avoid having to bring him into a store if at all possible.

It's been even more painful to suffer people's judgments and comments when it comes from family or church family.  I'm sure everyone means well, but they speak out of ignorance if they have never raised a child with Autism.  Seeing people get frustrated with Josh's behaviors or having people only come to us to complain about Josh's behaviors and never hearing positive things about him can be extremely draining, infuriating, and humiliating.  Even though I know that I am doing all that I can for my son following the best recommendations for addressing negative and positive behaviors and using the wisdom from God that I pray for daily, I can't help but let those comments get to me.  They used to eat away at me.  Thankfully, our family has come to a much greater understanding and our church family is starting to come around.  I am also getting better about just bringing these frustrations to the Lord and leaving them in His hands rather than internalizing them.

I hate it when I feel embarrassed by my son.  It is so selfish of me to be worrying about what others around me are thinking rather than doing all that I can to help my son through his meltdown.  I am working hard and improving in this area as well, but that selfishness still tries to make an appearance each time I deal with a meltdown in public.

Blessing #4:
I am blessed to see answered prayers in abundance as well as be on the receiving end of the prayers of God's saints.  Because our boys have special needs, we have a lot to pray about.  We have a wonderful network of friends and family who pray faithfully for us and who can be called upon to pray for an urgent need.  There is nothing more comforting than knowing saints from all around the world are lifting our family in prayer.

Prayer is powerful, and we have seen some amazing ways in which God has answered our prayers and the prayers prayed on our behalf.  Whether it be having a full night's sleep, a good behavior day, a good report from the doctor, a hospitalization avoided, a medicine that worked, the success of a new therapy, a meal provided by a friend, help with housework, help with childcare, an infection cleared, a successful surgery, etc., God has answered prayer!

We have also seen God move the hearts of friends to pray for us when they have no idea how to specifically pray.  In the past six months, we have had this happen twice.  God has even used someone in another part of the world to do this.  Because of their burden to pray, these friends emailed us to check see how things were going only to find out we were in the midst of a major struggle and that they were unknowingly praying us through it because they were following God's leading.  We are truly blessed to have access to God through prayer, to be prayed for, and to witness God's answers in the lives of our family.  

Struggle #5:
I struggle with selfish thoughts.  This is a hard one to admit to, but I hope that by exposing my sinful heart, I will have renewed determination to continue to work on this struggle.  I have a crazy and hectic life.  My days are filled with phone calls and emails from doctors, therapists, and schools; juggling doctor and therapy appointments; and trying to prevent meltdowns.  That is on top of the normal responsibilities I have in keeping up with housework, laundry, cooking meals, grocery shopping, helping the boys with school work and music lessons, being a wife, working part time...My life is exhausting!  Sometimes, I just want to have a "boring life" and get frustrated that I can't have it.  I question why life has to be so difficult and become discontent with the life God has chosen for me.  Far too often, I find myself begrudgingly processing a negative behavior with Josh or talking him down off the cliff or from a rage.  I often roll my eyes or wish I didn't have to oblige Josh in scratching his back to help him get the sensory input he needs in order to slow his engine down, especially when I am so tired from a long day.  I get frustrated that I have to plan out our weekends to ensure I have time to do David's transfusions.  I hate that we can't be spontaneous since Josh needs to know ahead of time what to expect.  At times, I get bitter that I never get to do something that I want to do or do something for me because I'm too busy doing things for everyone else.  It is so easy to fall into the pattern of feeling sorry for myself, so it's a daily battle to keep my eyes off myself and my circumstances and look to Jesus, the author and finisher of my faith (Hebrews 12:2).

Blessing #5:
I am blessed with growing faith and sanctification.  My life as a special needs parent has been full of very hard and difficult trials.  My faith has been stretched and strengthened in ways that still amaze me in looking back at how far I have come.  I am thankful for the fires that have helped me come forth as gold (Job 23:10).  I wouldn't be who I am today without these countless trials.  Even though I wouldn't have chosen to have them, I am grateful that I did.  My relationship with God is so much closer and stronger because of the countless times I have been brought to my knees, utterly helpless and having to depend completely on God to carry me through.

God has used the good and bad times to grow in my sanctification.  I can't begin to count the times that God has revealed a sin or struggle in my own life through my addressing behavior issues with Josh or David.  Also, God has had to force me to rely on Him instead of myself by giving me trials that are impossible for me to overcome without Him.  This has been a hard thing to deal with because I am independent, strong, a fighter, and I don't give up.  I like to have control, but God has had to show me that even when I think I am in control, I'm really not because He is.  I am finding it easier to rest in Him and turn to Him for strength for each day.  Each day, through the good and bad, God is making me more like Christ.  He is chipping away at the old man and revealing the new.  I am grateful for the way God continues to do good work in my life, but I do long for completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6).

Sunday, March 9, 2014

My Struggles and Blessings of Being a Special Needs Parent - Part 1 of 3

I recently read a blog post by a mother of a special needs child called 7 Things You Don't Know about a Special Needs Parent that got me thinking about my own experience of being a parent to 2 boys with special needs and how that has revealed struggles I have in my own life as well as blessings I enjoy as a result.  I can't speak for other parents of special needs, but I am sure we all struggle with similar things and face similar blessings.  I thought I'd share my struggles and blessings juxtaposed with each other in a 3-part series of blog posts.

Struggle #1:
I struggle with exhaustion - physical, mental, emotional, and psychological exhaustion - nearly every day.  With balancing and keeping schedule of doctor's appointments, therapist visits, weekly transfusions, meetings with the school, using my time and energy to advocate for my son ensuring he gets the best treatments/services possible, defending or explaining my son's behavior to an upset adult or child, having to to check on a child throughout the night who turns blue, hospital visits, seeing progress, dealing with setbacks -- the list could go on.

I feel like I am on an unending roller coaster completely in the dark never knowing where the next turn will be.  Often, the whiplash from it all takes my breath away.  I am thankful that I don't have to check on David in his sleep to make sure he's still breathing anymore, but the unending battles with his immune disorder and continued struggles with his reflux still can be draining.  Between both boys, I administer 21 medicines in a day, and that doesn't include David's weekly antibody transfusions or medicines they need once in a while.  My days are filled with being a nurse to my own kids, trying to avoid meltdowns, phone calls to doctors or therapists (sometimes multiple in a given day), emailing teachers, coordinating my schedule with my husband's schedule, making sure we have food to eat and clean clothes to wear, eating lunch if I am lucky, and, oh yeah, just trying to survive another day.

Blessing #1:
I am blessed with a superabundance of God's strength and grace.  God promises that His grace is sufficient for me (2 Corinthians 12:9) and that He gives His strength in measure (Psalm 68:35, Isaiah 40:29).  My days are so full of busyness and stress that I need extra grace and strength compared to other mothers just to get through my day.  I have never been lacking even when my circumstances make me feel as if I will most certainly drown.  God has never failed me.  When I have been too weak to walk, He has carried me in His capable arms.  I would not be here today if it were not for God's strength and grace.

Struggle #2:
I struggle with loneliness.  It is so easy to feel isolated as a parent of a special needs child.  You don't get to do the "normal things" other parents do.  You often feel trapped as a prisoner in your own home.  If you do get out, it's to take a child to see a specialist or a therapist or go to the school because there is a problem.  I have turned down many opportunities to socialize because I was afraid to expose my immune deficient child to unnecessary germs or I didn't want to chance a meltdown by my son with Autism.  It's easier to hide, but then loneliness is the result.  Even amid people, I feel lonely because I know people really don't understand, and I find it hard to share my struggles and burdens because it's hard for someone who has never raised a child with special needs to truly understand the hardships.  When my son first got his Autism diagnosis, Autism still wasn't very well-known, although it was on the rise.  I had to explain what Autism was and try to explain why my son was acting the way he was even though he looked "normal."  I didn't know anyone else personally who had a child with Autism.  Now, with Autism at epidemic proportions in the U.S., I have several friends who truly understand my struggles which has helped fill the loneliness void to an extent.

Blessing #2:
I am blessed with countless evidences of God's presence in my family's life as He works in each of our lives.  God promises that He will never leave me or forsake me (Deuteronomy 31:6, Hebrews 13:5) and that He will work all things together for my good and His glory (Romans 8:28).  He has done and continues to do just that.  I witness spiritual growth in each one of us as God does His amazing work in our lives.

I see God at work strengthening David's body, protecting him from illness.  We have seen a miraculous improvement in David's health since his last (3rd) surgery.  There is a chance that we will be backing down the frequency of his transfusions this summer if he continues to do as well as he is currently doing.  We see God giving him a heart of compassion and understanding to those around him.  He is quick to bring troubles (his and others) to God in prayer.  We watched God save David from having a dangerous open heart surgery as a baby and have since found out that he most likely will not need surgery to fix any of his 3 heart defects.  We have watched him grow from a failure-to-thrive infant into a healthy, tall boy who is above the 75th percentile across the board for growth and development.  We also have seen him struggle in his school work and then succeed.

In Josh's life, we rejoice in the small things, particularly the things not many people notice.  We've celebrated the first attempt to initiate imaginative play, making eye contact when talking with a person, working in a group, and accurately interpreting another person's facial expression.  In the past year, we have been thrilled to see Josh be able to use his words to express how he is feeling and what he needs in order to cope with a given feeling.  Two weeks ago, I almost did a happy dance in church when Josh asked an adult how his week was after this adult said hello to him.  I am thrilled with the small victories Josh has in controlling his anger and mood instability, when he willingly uses coping skills (sometimes without any prompting) or goes to his calm down spot.  It is encouraging to hear him crying out to God in prayer to help him when Josh can barely keep up with his oscillating moods.

When some marriages fall apart due to the strain of special needs parenting, God has strengthened ours through each fiery trial we experience.  As we draw closer to God, we find that we draw closer to each other. God has given us wisdom in dealing with our boys and has grown us in our patience with the boys and each other.
Finding beauty even in the cold, bleak winter
Stay tuned for Part 2 of 3...