Thursday, December 30, 2010

Family, Developmental Delays, and Doctors - Part 2

Autumn’s first evaluation for Early Intervention services didn’t get us very far.  She was 16 months at the time, and they couldn’t say for sure that she was behind because some kids just take longer to walk.  They suggested we enroll Autumn in a Kindermusik class connected to one of the Early Intervention programs in the area.  They could keep an eye on her, and we could do another evaluation in the fall.

By that fall, they could document a definite delay, and Autumn qualified for Early Intervention services.  I can’t say enough good things about the Early Intervention program we were involved with.  Generally, we drove to their office two days a week to participate in Kindermusik and/or Busy Bees (a structured small group activity time).  Speech, physical therapy (PT), and occupational therapy (OT) were done at our home in Autumn’s natural environment. 

Between doctor visits and therapy, the number of appointments was immense, and Autumn was labeled “Medically Fragile” by the foster care system.  There were over 157 appointments in 2007, 114 in 2008, and 69 in the first half of 2009.  With my experience as a first grade teacher, I knew that the preschool years are the most critical time to help children with delays.  I did all of this knowing that it would not last forever.  However, I wanted to do all I could to help Autumn succeed in life – especially if she were ever to leave our family and return to her birth family.  The good news is that all the hard work paid off.  Though there are still problems, at one of her well visits, Autumn’s pediatrician would later describe her progress as “absolutely miraculous.”

Children age out of Early Intervention when they turn 3.  At that point, they are referred to the public school system.  I have to say that moving form Early Intervention to the school system for services was a real let down.  With Early Intervention, you have a service coordinator, in-home services, and so many options.  The school system is only concerned about delays that will interfere with learning in a classroom environment.  The cognitive domain has always been Autumn’s strongest area.  She qualified for speech and nothing else.  So, I was driving her to the school for speech twice a week while driving to separate places for all of the other therapies she still needed.  One of the great organizations she was involved with during this time was the Lakeshore Foundation.  There she participated in land and water classes that helped develop her coordination and gross motor skills. 

Finally, in the fall of 2009, with the general diagnosis of encephalopathy myopathy and the possibility of a mitochondrial disorder, she qualified to attend the preschool class at the local public school.  We were able to receive most of the services she needed while she was there, the constant running all over the city was finally slowing down a bit.

We started seeing Neuro #2 in April of 2009.  She ruled out a Fatty Acid Oxidation Disorder, and ran several other tests.  She wanted us to see a doctor at Medical Neurogenetics in Atlanta that specializes in diagnosing metabolic and mitochondrial disorders.  However, they do not accept Alabama Medicaid, and this was Autumn’s only insurance since she was still a foster child.  It would have to wait.


Family, Developmental Delays, and Doctors - Part 1

I wish I could tell you that we followed what God was leading us to do and everything ran smoothly from there, but that would be far from the truth.  Actually after that came great silence on His part.

Around the time they were transitioning Autumn into our home, some of Autumn’s family showed up, and visits began.  Visits with the birth family are usually very difficult on foster children.  The whole experience is very confusing for them, and they generally come back an emotional wreck.  There were even a few unsupervised visits along the way.  I had a decision to make – worry or trust.  I had to fully believe that Autumn was God’s long before she was ever “mine,” and each time she left, I had to trust that He was with her, keeping her safe.  I had to hold fast to the belief that He loved her far more than I ever could.

I also had to pray for God’s will to be done in Autumn’s life.  I knew what really mattered is that Autumn some day come to know Christ as her Savior.  I prayed that God would place her wherever she needed to be for that to happen.  It’s possible for her to grow up in a Christian home and reject Christ, while it’s also possible for her to live in a non-Christian environment and later come to know Him.

Visits with the birth family were really the least of our problems.  We welcomed Autumn into our home, fully aware that she had special needs that needed to be addressed.  She came with several referrals already in place.  She moved in on March14, and in April she had an evaluation with Early Intervention as well as an appointment to see a neurologist (I’ll call him Neuro #1).

Autumn’s most obvious delay has always been gross motor.  The first referrals were due to weakness in her trunk.  Sitting up unassisted and crawling were a little behind, but walking would be her greatest challenge.  Autumn also had terrible skin problems.  She would break out around her mouth while eating, behind her ears would get so dry that they would crack open and bleed, and the diaper area was the worst.  We had skin creams everywhere!  Autumn was also having sensory processing problems.  She had strong aversions to touch and loud noises, and an obsession with putting things in her mouth.  Autumn was very anxious and afraid of so many things.

We saw Neuro #1 for about 3 years.  He did MRIs, x-rays, a muscle biopsy, and many other tests without coming to a diagnosis – other than the general term of encephalopathy myopathy (a disorder of the brain and muscles).  It wasn’t just that Autumn’s walking was delayed, it was the way in which she DID move that concerned me.  It was always very uncoordinated and she had so little body awareness.  Neuro #1 requested Autumn’s first muscle biopsy – 10 months later, we had the results.  We had hoped that the biopsy would confirm whether or not Autumn had a mitochondrial disorder.  It showed low activity for Complex I as well as the possibility of a Fatty Axid Oxidation Disorder.  Nothing was very clear, and Neuro #1 said we’d exhausted his knowledge base.

To Be Continued…


"Little Autumn"

Criss gave me permission to share with you something he wrote while we were doing respite care for Autumn.  He entitled it, “Little Autumn.”

I can’t believe it’s time already as I sit in the floor and watch her innocently play with the inflatable blue ottoman. She laughs and giggles with no knowledge of her leaving soon. We get in as many hugs and kisses as she will sit still and allow, knowing it’s only a matter of minutes before they pick her up to take her home. Her home with us was temporary and we hope and pray that she leaves with something that she didn’t come with, something perhaps that she won’t remember but will have a lasting impression on her life. We gave her much love, lots of attention and care. A piece of us will go with her today we pray, as she no doubt leaves a lasting loving memory on our hearts. Our time was special but it has ended now, but not without hopes of more times in the future if we meet again. Perhaps she will remember the past, maybe not. For all who encounter her, there will be much sunshine and laughter, perhaps a tiny blessing unexpected.
If you meet such a little girl and you smile along with her and she brightens your day, say a prayer for her and remember, her name is Autumn.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Becoming Foster Parents

Foster parenting and adoption were not things that Criss and I set out to do.  God lead us there step by step.  We had somehow gotten on the mailing list for the Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes and Family Ministries (ABCH).  We would get their magazines in the mail every few months and talked in general terms about foster parenting, but never very seriously.  While teaching first grade, I did new parent conferences each year.  If a family was new to the school, we would set up a conference within the first few weeks of school.  While meeting with one of these families, I found out that the mom worked at ABCH.  She encouraged me to think about doing respite care.  Respite foster care parents are fully certified just like full-time foster parents, but they only keep kids for a few days or a week at a time while the child’s full-time foster family goes out of town or has other activities planned for which they need someone to keep the foster child for more than 24 hours.  Criss and I discussed this, and decided it was something we should do. 

By the next May, we had attended GPS training (30 hours of classes that must be completed to become a foster parent), completed our background checks, and done our home study.  That summer, the kids started coming.  Sometimes it was just one child, and other times it was a sibling group.  Most were babies or toddlers, but a few were older.  They were each with us just a short time, but we fell in love with them all.  This continued for about two years.

In the spring of 2005, I found out I was pregnant (with Silas), and our foster parenting plans were about to be put on hold for a while.  But God had different plans.  That August we met Autumn.  She entered the foster care system that month, and the foster parents she was placed with already had Auburn (football) season tickets and several other trips planned, so she stayed with us often.  She soon found a special place in our hearts, and we looked forward to seeing her each time.  I remember going with a group of ladies to a Beth Moore Conference in Tennessee.  Autumn was so heavy on my mind, and I could hardly think about anything else.

First, let me say that adoption is not the goal of the foster care system.  Its purpose is to work towards reunification with the birth family.  Criss and I did not become foster parents for this purpose, and if you become a foster parent for the sole purpose of wanting to adopt, you will likely end up very disappointed if not completely heartbroken.  However, we had such a burden for her, and when no one was around, we would ponder what it would be like if we could adopt her one day.  This was something we kept between ourselves and never mentioned to anyone else.

The foster family that Autumn was staying with (Mr. & Mrs. J), while not old, were at the age that they would not be considered a permanent placement if Autumn became available for adoption.  Not much was happening with Autumn’s birth family, and Mrs. J took it upon herself to find Autumn a placement that could become permanent if reunification with the birth family were not possible.  One day while picking Autumn up after one of their weekend trips, Mrs. J gingerly approached the subject.  Criss and I were surprised.  While we had discussed it between ourselves, we had decided that it was not something we were going to pursue on our own.  If it was something God wanted us to do, He would make it happen.  And that He did.

It still was not an easy decision.  We were going to have a newborn in the house (Autumn would be one year older), and I had just quit my job to stay home with the new baby.  Besides this, there were many other issues involved (some very serious) that I am not free to discuss here.  As I prayed for guidance, James 1:27 came to mind, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this:  to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”  After God reminded me of this verse, it seemed to pop up everywhere, and I knew He was confirming that this is what we were supposed to do.

Silas was born December 21, and the ABCH social worker called several weeks later to see if we were still willing for Autumn to move in with us.  Again I prayed.  Could we really afford to do this with me quitting work to stay home with a new baby?  This time a different verse came to mind.  It was 2 Corinthians 9:8, “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”  If God was calling us to do this, He would supply us with everything we needed to make it happen.  At the same time, I was preparing for Silas’ baby dedication at church.  While looking up the meaning of his name, I decided to check Autumn’s as well.  When I found it, chills ran through my body.  The meaning given in that book was “abundant grace.”  It reminded me of the verse that had been running through my mind the last few days.  (Notice the underlined words in the verse above.)

Autumn’s social worker wanted her to visit a few times now that Silas was here, so she stayed with us for one week in February and then a weekend before moving in for good on March 14, 2006.  Silas was just two months old.  We did not know how long Autumn would be with us.  All we knew is that we would give her all the love and support we could – no matter how long or short the time we had her.


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Will You Trust Him?

I had the privilege of speaking to a small group of ladies at our church a couple months ago.  I wrote this poem for that occasion.  It fit well with my last post, so I thought I would share it.
Will you trust Him… in times of great joy and seasons of deep pain?
Will you trust Him… when friends abound and when you are left all alone?
Will you trust Him… when the pain never leaves, when your heart is broken in two?
Will you trust Him… if they never ask for forgiveness; if the prodigal child, spouse, or family member doesn’t return; if the relationship is never mended?
Will you trust Him… if you never have the baby you pray for, or someone you love lives with sickness or is taken early in death?
Will you trust Him… if you never feel appreciated at home or at work, if you are called to do a task that no one ever sees?
Will you trust Him… when you don’t know why, when God calls you to a task that sees more difficult times than good?
Will you trust Him enough to give Him your hurts and your failures, accepting His mercy and forgiveness?
Will you trust Him enough to put aside the world’s ideas and focus only on what He says is true.
Will you trust Him enough to give Him your life, not knowing what He will ask you to do?
Will you follow Him to the garden, saying “Not my will but Yours?”
Will you go with Him to the cross, laying down your life to live for Him?
Will you give Him your todays and your tomorrows, choosing to find contentment and peace in Him – even if your circumstances never improve?
Will you trust Him?

Learning to Trust

For those who don’t know me at all, or those who do but are a little fuzzy on the details, I’m going to try to go back and recap what’s been happening in my life.  This is the first in the series.

I was fortunate to grow up in a Christian family and accept Christ at an early age.  I remember many altar calls as I grew up.  The pastor or speaker would say something along these lines, “Who will come down today and commit your life to serving the Lord – no matter where He leads you, no matter what the cost?”  I would almost always feel a tugging deep in my spirit.  “Yes, God, I want to be who You want me to be and do what You want me to do.”  I went forward many times – not to get saved again, because that cannot be lost.  It was the burning desire to again commit myself to His will for my life.

For many years, I thought I would be a missionary doctor to Africa.  I would help the sick while at the same time telling them about Jesus.  Why it is that when we think about surrendering ours lives to the Lord, Africa always seems to pop into our minds?  I was ready to dwell in a hut, live far from the comforts I was accustomed to, and eat bugs when necessary.  (Well, that’s mostly true – everything but the bug part.)  However, as the Lord has directed me in His will for my life, leaving this country has had little to do with it.  His will for me has been a great deal more about staying… Staying in situations that are draining the life out of you – just because you know God lead you there.  Staying faithful to God when He seems very far away.  Staying connected to those around you when all you really want to do is hide in a closet and eat chocolate.  Sometimes I look at my life and think, “God, I’d rather be eating bugs in Africa!”  There are moments when I think my life verse should be Proverbs 13:12, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick…”  How about you?  Have you ever grown terribly tired of hoping because it only seems to lead to more disappointment?

Somewhere along the way, we get the false idea that the Christian life is supposed to be easy.  That is simply not true.  Most people of faith had to endure great trials.  Think about Abraham, Jeremiah, Daniel, Joseph, and the disciples.  2 Corinthians 4:8 says, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.”  While it says they were not crushed, in despair, forsaken, or destroyed, it DOES say they were afflicted, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down.  What a happy sermon that would make.  J

Through it all, one of the greatest lessons God has taught me is how to trust.  We hear a lot of people talk about faith.  The question is what do we put our faith in?  As a Christian, I know it’s God, but there is a great deal more to it than that.  Many people these days say it’s having faith that God will give you what you are praying for.  While I whole-heartedly believe that God is all-powerful and can perform any miracle He desires, I also know that He is far wiser than I will ever be and what I’m praying for (even if it appears to be a good thing to me and all those around me) just might not be in line with God’s ultimate, sovereign plan.  Let’s not forget the Israelites to insisted on having a king.  To them it seemed like a great idea, but God knew better.  He gave them what they wanted with this warning:

These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you:  he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots…He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers.  He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants.  He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants.  He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work.  He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.  And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.  ~ I Samuel 8

I’ve learned that it’s not about believing I’ll get what I want but knowing that no matter what happens, He is in control and He will get me through.  It’s also not about denying reality.  It’s facing what lies ahead and choosing to keep moving forward in God’s strength.

I’ve learned to give my requests to the Lord, praying freely for what I desire, while at the same time leaving my heart open to the reality that His ultimate plan may include a path different from that which I would have chosen for myself.  And on the days when I have absolutely no desire to do the things He has called me to do, I pray that He will give me the desire and strength to do it anyway.  “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).

I will leave you with a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson:  “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”  (BTW – What Lies Within was one of my other blog title choices.  Yep, it was already taken too.)


More About Me

I grew up the only child in a small house in a city just outside of Birmingham, AL.  I was so fortunate to have many Christian influences in my growing up years, and I accepted Christ as my Savior at a young age.  I will forever be grateful for the wealth of Scriptures I memorized during these years.  With them hidden in my heart, God can bring them to my remembrance just when I need them most.

I attended a local Christian college and earned my Bachelor’s in Elementary Education and Biblical Studies.  The June after I graduated, I married Criss.  We started dating when I was still in high school, so we had dated nearly six years before tying the knot.  I taught first grade at a Christian school (the same one I attended as a child) for six years.  Just before leaving work to stay home with my kids, I earned my Master’s in El. Ed.  I’m currently working to add an endorsement in Special Education.

I am very involved at my church, and I enjoy singing in the choir, leading worship with the Praise Team, and coordinating the children’s choir.  I play the piano, though usually just for myself.  I like to take out some of the easier songs I learned years ago and play them to relax.  Another thing I do just for me is scrapbooking.  I love to eat macaroni & cheese, and my comfort foods are Pepsi & chocolate.  My ultimate goal in life is to help Christian schools develop special education services.

God’s greatest gift to me is my husband.  He evens out my overly-structured tendencies and has taught me how to have more fun in life.  We are a great team, and he’s always there to help around the house and with the kids.  He takes up the slack when I’m tired and listens when I'm frustrated, and I hope I always do the same for him.  Criss, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you” (Philippians 1:3).

It’s currently December of 2010.  Autumn turned 6 earlier this month, and Silas turned 5 last week.  They are wonderful, funny, frustrating, and exhausting all at the same time.  God has used them to sand a lot of my rough edges and to teach me to wait patiently on Him.  Their lives will take several posts of their own.


Sunday, December 26, 2010

Are You Scorched?

I realize that at first glance, the title of this blog seems a bit pessimistic.  I originally had several other titles in mind that all sounded a little more cheery, but they were taken already.  So, I took the title from a verse I love in Isaiah 58.  I would suggest you read the entire chapter.  Here’s verse 11 (ESV):
And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in SCORCHED PLACES and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines scorch as “to burn the surface of” or “to dry or shrivel with heat.”  Have you ever felt that way – all dried and shriveled?  I know I have.  To be honest, I feel that way often these days.  The last several years have been difficult ones.  Although I have faced many struggles, I have made it through each one in the Lord’s strength.  For when I am weak, He is strong (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). 
While I will share with you the difficulties I face, the purpose of this blog is through my own struggles to offer hope to others who are feeling a bit scorched from the trials they are facing.  I will end this first post by sharing the words to one of my favorite songs.  It’s Worth It All by Rita Springer.  The title was actually my first choice for the title of this blog, but it was taken.
I don’t understand Your ways
Oh but I will give You my song
Give You all of my praise
You hold on to all my pain
With it You are pulling me closer
And pulling me into Your ways

Now around every corner
And up every mountain
I’m not looking for crowns
Or the water from fountains
I’m desperate in seeking,
Frantic believing
That the sight of Your face
Is all that I need
I will say to You

It’s gonna be worth it
It’s gonna be worth it
It’s gonna be worth it all
I believe this
It’s gonna be worth it
It’s gonna be worth it
It’s gonna be worth it all
I believe this

You’re gonna be worth it
You’re gonna be worth it
You’re gonna be worth it all
I believe this
You’re gonna be worth it
You’re gonna be worth it
You’re gonna be worth it all
I believe this

Until next time, keep believing.