Saturday Extracurriculars

Most of my friends spend Saturdays with their families…soccer games in the fall, baseball games in the spring. Some swim all year long or attend gymnastics meets every weekend.

My typical daughter, Kate, would love to play soccer in the fall and spring, go to dance-lessons 3 nights a week AND be a competitive gymnast. Her energy and drive amaze me. But our family isn’t able to live at the same pace as typical families.

We are able to participate in one extra-curricular activity per season. Kate was in gymnastics in the fall. Canon played basketball in the winter. And Anne is in robotics therapy this spring. This is how I spend my Saturday mornings – watching Anne in CHOA’s multi-million dollar robotics lab!

This is not the typical “extra-curricular activity,” but it is for our family! Even though I know this is what is best for Anne, I still struggle with guilt. I worry that I’m cheating Kate out of opportunities that would develop her natural athletic ability.

All families struggle – our struggles are just different than the typical family. But the joys far outweigh the struggles. I just hope Kate feels the same way.

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Valentine’s Rant

Valentine’s Day is not at the top of my list of favorite holidays. Its saccharine commercialism turns my cynical stomach. Besides, I’m a middle school teacher, and we middle school teachers KNOW that it is best to avoid all references to romantic love of any kind!

So. I forgot all about Valentine’s Day. Which is not good when you have kids in elementary school. In case you didn’t know, there is an unwritten rule that says that all elementary school-aged children must bring every classmate a special valentine – preferably with candy attached.

This day started as usual – with me waking Anne up early to get ready to catch the bus. Anne’s first words to me were, “Happy Valentine’s Day, Mommy!” This is from the girl who struggles with memory and knowing the days of the week. She confuses “yesterday” and “tomorrow” on a regular basis. But she knew it was Valentine’s Day. She then asked to wear her “love” shirt to school. “You know the one, Mommy – the blue shirt with L-O-V-E spelled out with arrows!!” Really? Who knew Anne loved Valentine’s Day so much?!

I felt like a total mom-failure when I realized that I would be sending my Valentine-loving-Anne to school with NO VALENTINES. How does this happen? How do I forget a MAJOR HOLIDAY?! Anne’s sister, Kate, was not happy with me when she realized that she would be hand-writing each Valentine on note cards on the way to school. No fancy-schmancy store-bought cards for the Jackson girls. It’s hand-written or nothing!

Oh… In case I forget,  Happy Valentine’s Day ;)

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Silly Jackson Girls

Anne Unfiltered

Anne has very little ability to filter her own thoughts. This results in her complimenting strangers and interrupting conversations. Most of the time, she is delightful, but then there are episodes like today…

This morning, I started a new adventure in our new church – teaching a 5th grade leadership/discipleship class. My experienced co-leader warned me that this year’s class could be the biggest EVER. Kate and Anne – both being 5th graders – get to have me as their teacher. Lucky them ;)

Anne, Kate and I arrived early to church to welcome the 5th graders to class. Imagine my surprise when TWENTY NINE crazy kids showed up. Consequently, I decided to begin the year with a serious talk about behavior expectations ;) As I began my spiel, literally, as if she had planned it, Anne began SCREAMING at me. Seriously. Screaming. “Stupid, mom! I want a snack!!” Kate tried to calm her down which only made Anne madder…”KATE, STOP. I HATE YOU KATE!”

There I was – with 29 pairs of eyes staring at me – right in the middle of me trying to act all strict when my own daughter started yelling. This is what “No Filters” looks like sometimes.

I made a silly quip about how Anne was demonstrating how “Not To Behave” and gave her one of my mean “mom” looks. Miraculously, Anne calmed down. Just a few minutes later, Anne raised her hand when I asked why we needed to show respect to others. She said, “Because if you disrespect others, you are not obeying the Holy Spirit which lives inside of you and helps you to follow God.” Wow. Good Answer. This is also what “No Filters” looks like sometimes.

We survived church and had a relatively quiet Sunday. But tonight, as I was getting her ready for a bath, Anne said,

“Jesus has a good plan for my brain injury. When things are at their darkest that’s when I have to believe the most.”

This profound thought was sandwiched between excitement over new bath toys and wondering whether she had to go to school the next day. Just another thought in an unfiltered day.

I wonder what I would look like “unfiltered.” That is a very scary thought! Most of my thoughts center around myself or are critical of others. I have small moments of thankfulness and/or God-focused thoughts – but not as many as Anne.

In some ways, I believe Anne’s brain injury is an asset. She’s not self-absorbed or bound by the fear of what others will think of her. In other words, she is not encumbered by self-consciousness.

I think Anne’s secret to an unfiltered life is that there’s less of herself to get in God’s way. He works through her more powerfully, because she surrenders herself so effortlessly. I get to see ALL of her joy, sadness, anger, wonder, disappointment and excitement. It is beautiful to me – because she is wrapped in the fragrance of Jesus.

What God has prepared…

Today, as Kate and I picked up Anne from school, Kate listened to Anne’s teacher give a good report on Anne’s day. Kate said,
Great job, Anne!!! …even with your brain injury!” Kate was sincerely proud of Anne – but Anne responded as she always does – truthfully with no filters…

I hate that brain injury… That stupid brain injury. I just want it to go away!
-Anne

Anne has not lost her sass! Her spunk made me laugh :) I feel the same way as Anne. And you know what… I think God agrees and can’t wait for us to see Anne made whole in heaven!

“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
nor the heart of man imagined,
what God has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

Lost December

I’m just tired of being sad. This December, I sorta went into an apathetic shell. Thinking back, I think I was just protecting myself from the grief that comes around the holidays. But that shell just got sandblasted. I just need to learn that it is okay to be sad during December.

In 30 short minutes, a new year will be here, and I feel a bit sad. But I’ll say that sadness is a notch better than apathetic, because at least I’m feeling something :-)

But don’t worry. God is here. He always is.

May Anne continue to make progress in 2013! And here is my list of “gratefuls” for 2012.

Key Lime Pie
Good neighbors
Anne’s crooked smile
Eric’s job
Canon’s enthusiasm
Special time with Kate
Therasuit Therapy
Erin and Stacy at church
French Horns… (I love the melancholy tone of a french horn)
Late night movie watching with Eric
My Wednesday bible study group
Mrs. Bush (Anne’s para-pro)
my new iPhone

and finally… the story of Joseph (from the Bible).

God is good. Happy New Year.

High Five!

Anne’s been struggling lately with feeling… in her words, “useless.”

She sees her brother and sister work together to clean up after dinner and she says, “I’m not a help. I’m useless.”

She compares herself to her peers and says, “I’m not good at anything. I’m useless.”

As you can imagine, Eric and I immediately tell her otherwise and we list all the ways she’s valuable. And we’ve noticed a trend. Her worth is in bringing others joy. She’s good at encouraging others, connecting with others, making others laugh.

A great example happened in church this morning… For the first time since the accident, Anne was able to participate in children’s choir. The children helped lead worship this morning, and after they finished singing their few songs, Anne (who was especially proud of herself) reached her hand out to her teacher and said loudly (so that everyone in the congregation could hear), “High Five!”

Do you know how many people commented to me about Anne’s “High Five” after church? Well… several. She’s a delight to others. And if you have a chance to tell her yourself – be sure to encourage her that she is not useless. She is a joy! At least we think so :)

Photo courtesy of Bobbi Jo Brooks Photography

Photo courtesy of Bobbi Jo Brooks Photography

Staying in the story

A book I’ve been reading, A Praying Life, uses the concept of story to paint how God chooses to answer or not answer our prayers.

Many times we get discouraged by unanswered prayer – but if we take a wide angle view, we begin to understand that God is weaving His story into our lives… if we let Him. Each day we have the choice to join the BIG story of God saving the world and us along with it – or to put blinders on and just survive the day. If you’re anything like me (and let’s hope you’re not) I jump in and out of the story throughout the day.

I typically start the day in a stupor – feebly asking for help to get through the day – and then carpool begins, and then my real challenge begins… Kate. I’m homeschooling Kate this year because she’s been neglected since Anne’s accident – and it shows. Every day is different – except for the tears. I think one of us has cried every day since school started… except for last Thursday – and that’s just because she was gone on a field trip all day.

Kate’s stubborn and angry heart is like hitting a wall – which leads me to pray. There is no way I can change her heart – that can only be done by God. And then other times, the same wall that causes me to pray – makes me frustrated and angry, and I feel like screaming (which I have done a few times). So, I’m jumping in and out of the story – I jump in – and admit my helplessness and beg God to give me wisdom.. and patience. I need lots of patience… and then I jump out and fail miserably – which leads me to jump back in and ask God for forgiveness and help.

The good news is that God is gracious – and during this time of wrestling with both Kate’s and my own heart, He is patient and waiting for me to turn to Him. I find when I start the day admitting my desperate need to shepherd Kate and begging Him to give her a soft, teachable heart – well sometimes, Kate is her old, sweet self again, delightful, joyful and fun. And other times, she is hard, but we are able to work through the stubbornness and find submission. God is there, waiting to help me.

A little consistency would be nice. I need help staying in the story.

Lighthearted Luxuries

A few days ago, I was waiting in the front lobby of Nickajack Elementary to pick up Anne from school. Anne’s para-pro wheeled Anne out to meet me, and she was beaming. Anne’s para-pro has a hard job. She is with Anne all day to help her with all of her school tasks… everything from writing to bath-rooming.

“You look so happy today,” I said to her.

“I am! Anne had a great day. She did such good work today. It was a potato chip day!”

Now let me pause to explain… Potato chips are Anne’s absolute favorite food. She will do almost anything for a potato chip. In case you’ve forgotten, here’s a video from earlier this summer to prove it :-)

But back to my conversation with Anne’s para-pro…

She continued, “I am so proud of Anne. And I am so excited!

Wow. There are several wonderful points I could make from this interchange… The first is that Anne’s para-pro is an answer to prayer. She feels called to work with special needs kids. She’s going back to school late in her life to get a degree in special education. She even works with special needs kids at her church. She’s older and wiser. She observes and is patient. She is a God-send.

But the second thought I walked away with was how foreign her lighthearted spirit was to me. I don’t experience lightheartedness very often since the accident. Our life is characterized by such hard physical care for Anne… most of the time, our lives seem heavy.

So I consider lightheartedness a luxury. And God gave me this luxury today :)

Canon got braces today, and I decided he didn’t need to go to school after such an ordeal. So, I brought Canon and Kate along with me to ride their bikes while I ran with some friends at the River. We veered off the wide, worn path to explore the narrow, rooty trails. Kate and Canon looked like Mountain Bike experts as they navigated the roots and rocks. And I was in heaven. I love trails. Love. them!

After our run, we decided (spontaneously) to pick up Anne early from school and then we all went out for milk-shakes. (A Milk shake for lunch makes tons of sense when your teeth are hurting from new braces.) We were all in the car, drinking our milkshakes and singing along to the radio when it hit me. I feel lighthearted.

I think God-given luxuries are the best. Don’t you?

3 Kids = 3 Schools

That’s right. All three kids are going to different schools.

I felt like a pro this morning, getting all three kids up and ready and out the door. Not so last year. Last year I was a mess!

God has been so faithful to provide the perfect school situation for each of my kids.

  • Canon enters the 4th grade at ACCA, an excellent private christian school. We discovered last spring that only one boy was returning to his class. I began praying for a new family with a 4th grade boy to come to ACCA. God answered! Joshua is the newest member of the 4th grade at ACCA. He is the oldest of three children. Up until now, he was home schooled, but because of a tragedy in his family – concerning his little sister – his mother decided to put him in private school. Does that sound familiar? Aside from the type of tragedy, Joshua and Canon have much in common. God has provided for Canon (and for Joshua).
  • Anne enters the 1st grade at Nickajack, an excellent public school in our area. I found out last spring that all of Anne’s therapists and para-pro’s would not be returning this year. So we prayed, specifically for Anne’s physical therapist and her new para-pro. I found out this morning that Anne’s new school PT worked with her in the Children’s Day Rehab Program 2 years ago. How amazing is that?? God takes care of Anne.
  • And Kate. Well, I’m homeschooling Kate. My little girl suffered from not having enough time with mommy last year. So now we have hours of uninterrupted time together. Our first morning has already been profoundly good. I pray that this year lays a foundation of godly character in her life.

So that’s our school year for 12-13. It promises to be a good, good year.

Kate is six.

Today is Kate’s sixth birthday. To be frank, I’ve been very sad in the weeks leading up to this day. The old Anne never reached this milestone. On her sixth birthday, she was struggling to write the letter “A.” Kate has perfect, beautiful handwriting and can read 2nd-grade-level-chapter-books.

Oh, I know that comparing is futile. But I wonder if Anne will ever get to where Kate is right now – at the ripe old age of 6. After many tears, I’ve come to the conclusion that Anne is on her own track… Her “progress” can’t be measured by the typical standardized tests. She is measured using a different standard – a “Kingdom of God” standard. She might not be able to read and write as well as Kate, but she’s good at encouraging others. She can’t walk on her own, but she is tender-hearted and kind (well, most of the time ;-)

And because of Anne’s disability, Kate has the opportunity to advance in “Kingdom” lessons too…. like sacrifice and patience.

We celebrated the stuffins’ out of Kate’s birthday today. We did and ate all of her favorite things – surrounded by all of her favorite people. Ironically, we celebrated Anne’s sixth birthday with the same people. This is what Eric wrote about that day:

This morning Anne was surrounded by the Bratcher and McKinney girls – they all loved on her and cuddled with her and talked to her. God had a good plan before the foundations of the earth and in that plan included a morning such as this – all for little Anne – just to bless her and show me that HE cares about even the little things, and especially Anne.

I could write the same thing about Kate today! Though Kate and Anne share different skills and strengths, they have one vital thing in common – they both have been bought by the precious blood of Jesus, and He has a good plan for each of them. They are both good… just different :-)