Tag Archives: family

She runs. [How moms are like Marines.]

Guest post by Ashley Dickens

Ashley Wedding

Hello friends! Today, I’ve invited Ashley to write about Mother’s Day from a different angle: through the eyes of an adult daughter. Her reflection on her mom’s love might surprise you, and we can only pray our kids say the same about us someday. Enjoy!

When I think about my mom, I think about the Marines.

It’s an unlikely pairing, given that the only uniform my mother has ever worn is a cringe-worthy little number from her high school cheerleading days. However, several years ago my husband’s dog-eared copy of It Happened on the Way to War by former Marine Rye Barcott radically altered the way I thought about motherhood. It’s a gripping read that made me forget to breathe more than once, arresting my attention with the repeated refrain, “Marines move toward the sound of guns.”

The fierce imagery of that captivated me. The defiant, almost irrational courage of unquestioningly running toward what others are running away from makes my heart beat wildly. I see that same unflinching courage in so many mothers across the globe—women who run toward danger simply because that’s where they’re needed. It’s a universal truth that transcends culture, race, and socioeconomic status—from suburbia to the Sahara, where you find a mother you will find a woman fighting fiercely for her children.

My mom isn’t a Marine. She’s a world traveler, an unapologetic risk taker, a passionate activist, and a killer chocolate-cake baker. Pint-sized and with an unflappable conviction that both zebra stripes and sequins are neutrals, she imparted the delicate art of sarcasm to me like it was a precious family heirloom and taught me that walking with Jesus is about infinitely more than being a “nice girl.” You’re far more likely to find her in a pair of feisty red heels than combat boots and fatigues—and she is the single bravest woman I’ve ever known.

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 6.11.48 PM(photo credit: USMC archives)

Every year when Mother’s Day rolls around, Hallmark tells me to buy her a flowered card with a cotton-candy-fluff sentiment penned in careful cursive—something the Ingalls sisters might have given to Ma. The absurdity of it puzzles me—something about a generic pink card has never quite seemed right for my mom. Or, I think, a lot of moms.

My mama is a force to be reckoned with. I remember standing wide-eyed and nauseated in our kitchen as a little girl when, without warning, I began to projectile vomit all over the white-tiled floor. The whole scene looked like something from The Exorcist—minus a Catholic priest or two. Indelibly etched into my mind is the memory of my mom running toward me, her hands irrationally cupped open.

She’s been running toward me my entire life.

My mother’s unflinching bravery carried her from the comfortable little town she grew up in to a doll-sized apartment in the post-communist city of Kiev, Ukraine. She packed up three children under the age of six and as much Jiffy peanut butter as she could stuff into her carry-on and moved our lives to a place where the only thing she knew how to say was a hopeful, “Do you speak English?” In a city with no workable educational options, where those who had come before her had thrown up their hands in surrender and left, she opted to start a brand-new school for her children to attend—one that still exists today. Her bravery has carried her into crumbling refugee camps and crumbling marriages—to the places that looked irreparably dark and broken. Very hardest of all, two years ago it carried her into a dark ICU where she held her 21-year-old baby’s hand as he died of cancer.

It’s what mamas do, isn’t it? They run toward the hard, the ugly—they run toward the sound of guns. Our mothers bravely dive into dark and splintering brokenness with us and show us who Jesus is over and over again. They’re the first on the scene when our bones and hearts are shattered, when savage insecurities rear their ugly heads and our dreams feel worn out and hollowed. They hold the midnight watch beside cribs and cancer beds, speaking life over our dead places and believing on our behalves when nobody else will. Our mamas love wildly and fiercely, mirroring the God who runs toward us as they teach us to be like Him—second-chance-givers, hope-bringers, restorers.

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 6.12.45 PMMy belief in the power of motherhood is an enormous part of why I love HOPE International so much. Through the power of the gospel and a small loan, HOPE empowers mothers around the world to keep running toward hard and holy things, to keep bravely fighting for their children, their communities, and the broken world around them. At HOPE, we have the breathtaking privilege of watching mothers trapped in poverty harness the power of a small loan and a safe place to save their money, and run toward the most broken places in their communities. Day after day, they courageously step into the hard work of building stronger families, neighborhoods, and churches, one person at a time.

Mamas and marines—they have more in common than I ever imagined. This Mother’s day, if a generic pink card doesn’t quite reflect the valor of your mom, consider joining me in framing this for her instead. “There is no fear in love”—moms across the globe put flesh and bone on it every day.

If you’d like to join me in giving this digital print to your mom, you can snag a free download here.

Why We Support Autism Speaks (And why you should to.)

It’s no secret our family supports Autism Speaks. And although our son is on the spectrum, our support isn’t based on any tangible benefit received from the organization. Our support is rooted solely in the commonality we’ve found within.

If you know our story, you know I recognized symptoms of autism in our son, Jackson, very early on. Our son was officially diagnosed in early November 2011, just three weeks shy of his third birthday. Although I had suspected autism for quite some time, I was devastated when the neurologist delivered the diagnosis. I was so fearful of the unknowns. I had no idea what life held for our son and was terrified of facing the future with a “team” comprised solely of my husband and me. In retrospect, my fears were unfounded, but that was my reality at that point in time.

Following our son’s diagnosis, I found a much-needed sense of community within Autism Speaks. I perused the organization’s website ad nauseam. As anticipated, I found a wealth of statistics, information and resources. We participated in our first Walk Now For Autism Speaks in 2013. Words cannot express the overwhelming sense of community I felt when we stepped into a literal sea of families at that first Walk. It was overwhelming and very much needed.

So you see, this is why Autism Speaks is an organization near and dear to our hearts. Please join us in supporting them. If not for our family, then do it to benefit the millions of other families affected by autism. Chances are, this means you.

#1in68

About 1 percent of the world population has autism spectrum disorder. (CDC, 2014)

Prevalence in the United States is estimated at 1 in 68 births. (CDC, 2014)

More than 3.5 million Americans live with an autism spectrum disorder. (Buescher et al., 2014)

Cost of lifelong care can be reduced by 2/3 with early diagnosis and intervention. (Autism Society estimate based on Government Accounting Office Report on Autism, 2006)

Hearing Truth

The ear that heareth the reproof of life abideth among the wise. ~Proverbs 15:31

This morning I received reproof from a five year old. I would like to tell you it was an inappropriate exchange—a child giving a parent correction—but it wasn’t. It was spot on.

As with any working mom, my days are busy with marriage, child caring, child rearing, child transportation, homework, work, housework, yard work and any other kind of work you might want to throw in there. I’m no more or less busy than most folks. I have, however, been distracted lately.

News flash: Upon returning home from vacation in early August I had a bad attitude. I’m less than proud to admit that. I was feeling fed up with all things South Florida. I was tired of the heat, the bugs, the critters, the traffic, the people, and on and on and on. I grumbled to anyone who would listen. A lot. (Forgive me, friends!) But God had a word for me. He distinctly told me I should tend the garden I have instead of looking longingly at the neighboring one. Honest to goodness, that is what God spoke to me. Admittedly, His correction was difficult to take. Although I knew precisely what He was talking about, I still wrestled with it. I know we need to make some repairs and enhancements to our existing home. Aside from wood flooring we installed prior to munchkin’s arrival, we’ve not done much, and our 25-year-old home is showing its age. Investing in a home I don’t really care to be in was a difficult prospect for me. God softened my heart and I finally yielded to His correction, hence my recent preoccupation. I’ve been busy researching wise, cost-effective ways to perform some upgrades without putting ourselves deeply in debt. I want to do this in the most financially responsible way so as to honor not only God’s directive, but to honor HIM as well. [After all, it IS HIS money.] This isn’t an easy task.

My research has taken my attention from Jackson, and he had no reservation in letting me know so this morning. Just before breakfast, Jackson took me to task. He told me straight up, “You never play with me anymore.” This isn’t wholly true. We ride bikes or scooters to/from school. We tell jokes. We play Rock-Paper-Scissors, I Spy, number, word and guessing games, and read plenty of stories. But this isn’t the type of play Jackson was speaking of. He craves physical, interactive play. I know this better than anyone. He said, “You never play tag with me anymore. You don’t race with me.” And he’s right. I’ve been taking the easy way out, and he called me to be accountable to it. Initially, I wanted to mount a defense, but I didn’t have one—at least not one suitable for a five-year-old boy. He had me dead to rights. I admitted I was wrong and apologized to Jackson. I accepted his reproof.

German mathematician Johannes Kepler stated, “I much prefer the sharpest criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses.” I concur, even though the intelligent man is only five.

Rule Breaker

If you obey all the rules you miss all the fun. ~Katharine Hepburn

Having the time of my life.

Forty-nine years, 346 days. That’s how old I am as I draft this post. I will be 50 years old at the end of this month. This is a monumental birthday for me. It has certainly given me pause to think. I think about the fact that I’m now in the last half of life. I spend a great deal of time thinking about the fact that I’m (soon to be) 50 with a five year old with developmental challenges—and worry greatly about being here wholly, completely and physically for him as he grows up. I think about the fact that I’m not as sharp (in any respect) as I used to be. I think about the fact that my husband and I will most likely have to work every day we’re above ground in order to maintain life, as we know it. Please don’t misunderstand me. These are not regrets. They’re merely realities—realities you don’t think about at 20, 30 or probably even 40. (At least I didn’t.) But 50? Well that’s a whole other ballgame.

There is another side to the coin though. In addition to concerns I have about life, I also spend a great deal of time reflecting on how richly I’ve been blessed throughout my life. I didn’t always see it that way. I had many, many struggles as a young adult. I carried a lot of bitterness, disappointment and regret around. But I’m so thankful God has lifted those burdens from my shoulders. Grace covers a lifetime of heartache, and I am eternally grateful to Him for that.

Yet another byproduct of turning 50 is permission I’ve given myself to live a little—for me. As the majority of wives and mothers do, I’ve spent a good deal of my life living to care for others. We inherently put the needs of others above our own. I know I do. And I’m more than okay with that. I’m grateful to have a family who needs me. However, wives and mothers also need to feed our own spiritual and emotional selves. The last five years have been very challenging, and at times draining. That’s the nature of the beast. But I’ve recently found something I enjoy immeasurably. Skateboarding. Yes, you read that correctly. Skateboarding.

Greg and I initially bought boards in February so we could accompany Jackson to the skate park. Jackson has always loved to ride his scooter—something that required me to run alongside him—neck-and-neck, for safety’s sake. I was OVERJOYED (let me say that again—OVERJOYED!) to learn he could ride his scooter at the local skate park, as it was getting more difficult for me to keep up with him. (See paragraph one RE: lack of sharpness.) I thought the skate park would afford me the opportunity to put my feet up and relax while Jackson rode his scooter. Boy was I wrong!

Greg and I quickly learned how much fun it is to skateboard. We bought boards and started to skate ourselves. Then we bought new boards because we learned that our original boards were for “cruising.” Cruising? We wanted to skate!  We didn’t want to just putter around the park. We wanted to skate ramps and bowls! We wanted to drop in! And so we did. And you know what? We’ve been having the time of our lives! Literally. We go to the skate park as often as we can. Jackson rides his scooter and Greg and I skate. We encourage each other, watch each other’s progress and celebrate each other’s accomplishments. It is truly a family affair.

I recently treated myself to lessons for my upcoming birthday. I scheduled seven lessons with a young man named Tommy who works at our local skate park. Unfortunately, our final lesson was rained out. (I was deeply saddened.) Tommy was a saint. A saint! He could’ve taken one look at this middle-aged mother and begged off. But he didn’t. And I am so grateful for that. Not only is Tommy a great instructor; he’s truly a great person. (Tommy, your folks got it right.) My life is richer for the six hours I spent with this young man. I was drawn out of my comfort level every minute we were together. He had me skating switch/fakie at heights and speeds WAY above my comfort zone. And equally death-defying—Tommy had me dropping in independently by the end of our time together.

Here’s a video of my first independent drop in.

http://on.fb.me/1wjdUKM

I took a few spills, which were never Tommy’s doing. I simply didn’t know what to do with myself post maneuver. But I got up and kept going.

Overestimated my abilities to fakie a steep ramp, post drop in.

Overestimated my abilities to fakie a steep ramp, post drop in.

I learned so much from Tommy, not only about skateboarding, but also about myself. I learned that even at fifty I’m still as curious and tenacious as I was at 20, 30 and 40. But more importantly, I’m more intuitive and open to correction and instruction than I was at those ages. My life is so much richer for those six short hours. I’m so thankful I took that step and that time for myself. Contusions aside, I have a newfound appreciation for this body God has created, a deeper love for skating, a greater gratitude for my tenacity, and a new friend I hold dear to my heart. Thank you, Tommy, for letting me fly.

At work, pre-lesson.

At work, pre-lesson.

Sweaty! Tommy and me apres lesson (and first independent drop in).

 

An Independent Rider

I’ve previously written about Jackon’s horseback riding lessons but his experience at summer camp is a different story worth telling. Jackson just completed his second week of summer camp at Hopes, Dreams and Horses’ Camp Horse Power.

Week one was a welcome return to Hopes, Dreams and Horses (“HDH”) for Jackson. He hadn’t ridden since May so he was over-the-top excited to see Miss Kristy and his equine buddies. He goofed around and had a lot of fun. On Friday there was a program for the campers to exhibit the skills they learned throughout the week. Initially Jackson protested, stating he wasn’t going to participate. Now, he’s been riding at HDH for a year so I didn’t understand what the fuss was about. I told him he had to do it and give it his best shot. There were only four campers for the week, with Jackson being the youngest. He was the only child who required a lead line escort to perform the course. Everyone applauded after Jackson’s first performance (they were permitted two). That did it! He loved the praise and accolades and couldn’t wait to perform the course again. The second time it was a more confident and self-assured Jackson astride the horse.

I arranged Jackson’s summer camp schedule so he would have a week of downtime between camps. Of course he couldn’t wait to get back to HDH. Riding was all he talked about throughout his off week. During this week off my husband and I brokered a deal with Jackson. We told him that if he at least attempted to ride without a lead line in Friday’s show he could get a new train.

Jackson returned to the second week of camp a new child. He was determined to ride by himself—something he should be doing anyway, given his year of twice a week lessons. Jackson and I informed the camp instructor of our deal. She paired Jackson with a horse suited to his ability, and he set about learning to ride independently. He rose to the occasion. It was amazing to see not only the progress he made each day in his riding ability, but the confidence and self-assurance he gained as inherent by-products of his achievements as well. He was a new kid. He finally took ownership of his horsemanship instead of relying on the instructor to lead him around the ring. The latter simply enabled Jackson to lose focus and perpetuate a very lazy and passive approach to riding.
IMG_1037   IMG_1038

I’m overjoyed to say Jackson did it! He met his goal of riding independently in Camp Horse Power’s Friday program, and performed the entire course twice. He knew exactly what he needed to do throughout the course, and responded appropriately to the instructor’s reminders regarding hand placement and posture. I was so extremely proud to watch him—more for his sake than my own. He worked hard throughout the week and it paid off. Whether you’re five, 50 or 105, who doesn’t love to feel that sense of accomplishment?

Great job, Jax! Your dad and I are so very proud of you. Now let’s go get that train.

IMG_1191 IMG_1190 IMG_1090IMG_1187 IMG_1186 IMG_1184 IMG_1095

Memorial Day

My father was a great man whose life was unexpectedly and tragically cut short at the ripe age of 49.  My father had a heart condition and suffered a massive stroke shortly before Thanksgiving of 1970.  He died Thanksgiving day.  I was six years old and in first grade.  I still remember my first grade teacher, Mrs. Johnston, coming to our home to pay her respects.  Although I was but a small child, I have wonderful memories of my father.  I know God is sovereign over all things, I’d be lying if I said I don’t deeply regret not having my father throughout at least a substantial portion of my life.  There were so many things he could’ve taught me and so many things I want to know about him and his life.

Dad Dad Army Dad EiffelMy father was 21 when he joined the United States Army.  Assigned to the 775th Field Artillery Battalion, my father was deployed overseas.  He initially arrived in le Bastion de France before going on to fight in what Winston Churchill labeled at “undoubtedly the greatest American battle of the war,”—the Ardennes Counteroffensive.  This battle is more commonly known as the Battle of the Bulge—a phrase coined by contemporary press to describe the way the Allied frontline bulged inward on wartime news maps.

The courage and fortitude of the American Soldier was tested against great adversity in the Battle of the Bulge. The Bulge was a surprise attack that caught the Allied forces off guard.  The battle involved about 610,000 American forces and was waged in horrid winter conditions from mid-December 1944 through the end of January 1945, in the heavily forested Ardennes Mountains of Belgium.  While Allied forces ultimately triumphed, it was an absolutely vicious six weeks of fighting.  The Bulge was the bloodiest and costliest battle in terms of life, on the Western Front during the Second World War.  U.S. forces bore the brunt of the attack. Nearly 20,000 Americans lost their lives and tens of thousands more were wounded, missing or captured.

World War II was waged on land, on sea, and in the air over several diverse theaters of operation for approximately six years.  Following the Battle of the Bulge my father then crossed the river Rhine into Rhine, Germany.   The Allied advance from Paris to the Rhine was one of the final Allied phases in World War II.  According to “New York Port of Embarkation” documentation, my father returned to the United States February 26, 1946.

Blessedly, my father survived the Bulge or I wouldn’t be here to write this post.  I’m dedicating this post to not only the 20,000 Americans who lost their lives fighting alongside my father, but also to the countless men and women who paid the ultimate price throughout the history of our great nation, to protect and preserve the liberty and freedom we so often take for granted.  With gratitude and love we honor you.

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  ~John 15:13

Closing out another school year makes me realize just how far munchkin has come—especially over the past year.  At times it may not seem like we’re making progress (or not as fast as I’d like, might be a more accurate statement), however, when I take a step back and really think of those early days and the warning signs I saw, Jackson has progressed light years from where he started.

The other day I was compiling a mental list of the red flags that initially tugged at my heart years ago.  The list filled my head so quickly that I thought I should write it down, if not for any other reason than to remind myself of Jackson’s progress.  The following is a cursory list of things that used to send Jackson into a complete and total sensory meltdown.  The majority of these things have become non sequiturs, or bother him only minimally and only on rare occasions.

  • Hairdryer
  • Leaf blower
  • Hand dryers in public restrooms/being IN a restroom with hand dryers
  • Being in our swimming pool
  • Open car windows and/or sunroofs
  • Coffee grinder
  • Blender/juicer
  • Teakettle
  • Loud noises
  • Unfamiliar situations
  • Beach/sand
  • Standing in grass while barefoot
  • Having his photograph taken

It’s not a brief list.  Admittedly, I’ve taken his progress for granted and had forgotten most of these things.  It’s only when I really give pause to life’s day-to-day activities that I’m taken aback by all he has overcome.

The past few weekends have been busy for us.  We’ve had opportunity to participate in a couple of terrific autism-related events. Mother’s Day weekend Jackson participated in the local Surfer’s For Autism (http://www.surfersforautism.org/) event.  This is the second year we’ve been involved with this fabulous organization/event.  Last year, Jackson was terrified.  Although he had taken swimming lessons, he hadn’t yet learned to swim.   I understand how this would be overwhelming in and of itself.  Additionally, the prospect of getting water in his face was terrifying to Jackson.  This year, the event was a huge coup for munchkin.  Initially he was determined he was NOT going to surf.  He had convinced himself a tidal wave was going to sweep him out to sea.  But with much coaxing from me, my husband and the organization’s amazing volunteers Jackson gave surfing try.  With a death grip on the board he made multiple attempts to ride the waves to shore on his tummy.  That was all I asked for—that he give it a try.  I couldn’t have been more proud of my little bug.

An SFA wristband. A year ago Jackson wouldn’t even consider wearing it. This year he wore his band for the entire event. Small victories.

 

 

SFA Surf

 

 

 

 

 

 

This past weekend we participated in a 5K fun run/walk and kids’ walk for Florida Atlantic University’s (“FAU”) Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (“CARD”) (http://www.coe.fau.edu/centersandprograms/card/default.aspx).  My race took place at 7:30 AM and Jackson was excited to cheer me on.  The kids’ race was slated to take place immediately following the 5K.  Prior to Saturday morning Jackson had been excited at the prospect of running a race.   Once we arrived at the race, however, he stated he didn’t want to run.  I wasn’t going to push the issue.  I ran my 5K and while walking for my cool down I asked Jackson if he would run if I ran with him.  He said, “Sure!  Let’s go!”  We returned to the starting line and Jackson ran his first race.  He loved it!  Not only did he run, he was the first to cross the finish line.  He has already asked me when he can race again.  I’m so proud of Jackson for stepping out of his comfort zone.  That’s not an easy task for anyone, let alone someone with sensory processing issues.  And it’s not something he would’ve dared do just one short year ago.

CARD Race BibsJax Race

We also attended a birthday party for one of Jackson’s friends yesterday.  There have been many birthday parties we’ve attended where Jackson adamantly refused to participate in the activities and simply wandered off to lay on the floor, alone.  He had no interest in the excitement of the parties or the children.  Watching Jackson withdraw into himself at these parties was very difficult for me to observe as a parent.  On those occasions I honestly didn’t know what the future held for Jackson or for us as a family.  But watching him fully engaged, running and playing with his friend and the other children yesterday filled my heart with joy.

The past few years may not have always been easy and required much therapy and work, but it is so heartening to see the fruits of Jackson’s labor.   Of course, his progress makes this mama happy, but more importantly I’m thrilled to see Jackson overcoming, accomplishing and participating in things that were but a dream just a few short years ago.  I’m proud of you, Jackson.  You have worked so hard for these victories.  Savor them, my sweet boy.  Savor every minute of them.  You’ve earned it!

(If you’re interested, Jackson also participated in a Mother’s Day video at our church, Palm Beach Community Church (http://pbcc.cc).  Again, this is something he would absolutely NOT have considered doing a year ago.  Anytime the children’s ministry performed during a service, Jackson would bolt from the stage to the safety of his Sunday school teacher’s arms.   My husband and I both had tears in our eyes as we watched this video.  Perhaps you’ll get a chuckle out of it. Jackson appears at approximately minute 2:12 and at the end.  I hope you’ll take a look.  Enjoy!)

Mother’s Day at Palm Beach Community Church