Friday, December 18, 2015

A Night for Grace

Today is a special day in the Hemminger household. Today Shawn and I celebrate 10 happy years of marriage! When I said "I do" at the altar, I could have never imagined all that would follow in the next decade. To honor this significant milestone, I am going to divert from my normal focus of writing about raising a child with Down syndrome and instead share another excerpt from my upcoming book A Covenant Kiss. The following is actually a short fictional story I composed for our local library's creative writing contest last year. It ended up winning first place for its category, and it will be included at the end of my book. Enjoy!

A Night for Grace
            Grace twirled in front of her bedroom mirror in her brand new dress, checked to make sure her hair and make-up were just right, and smiled wide. Tonight was a very special night. She had celebrated her fourteenth birthday a few days prior, and this evening she was going on her very first date with a very special someone. Butterflies of excited anticipation fluttered in her stomach as she grabbed her purse and bag and got ready to head downstairs for her big night. She had been instructed to dress up for dinner but have a change of comfy clothes ready for activities later in the evening. As she descended the staircase, her date was waiting for her at the bottom, dressed in suit and tie, holding a bouquet of red roses and beaming with a huge smile spread across his face. As she reached his side, he bent down, gently kissed her on the cheek, and whispered, “You look beautiful, Princess!”
            “Thank you, Daddy,” Grace giggled. “The flowers are gorgeous!”
            “I’ll put them in a vase for you, Honey,” her mother said smiling. “And now you two stand together so I can get a picture!”
            A few minutes later the pair exited the house and headed for the car. Grace’s dad opened the door for her as she slid in, shutting it gently behind her. “I’ve been looking forward to this evening for a long time,” he said as he put the car in gear and pulled out of the driveway. “Let’s go make some memories!”
            Grace let out a gasp of delight about ten minutes later when they pulled into the parking lot of the nicest restaurant in town. Patrons could only dine there if they had made prior reservations. The candlelit tables were set with beautiful linen and fine china. The service staff members were all dressed in their best, ready to wait hand and foot on their customers. Grace had only driven by this high end place but had never dreamed of eating there. “We’re having dinner here?!” she exclaimed.
            “Only the best for my princess,” her father replied with a grin.
            They received a warm greeting from the staff as they entered and confirmed their reservations for the evening. As they were led back to their table set by a beautiful bay window, Grace noticed the hanging chandeliers, the lovely flower arrangements, and the small, live orchestra playing softly in the background. She was already feeling like a princess!
            “Grace, please order anything you want on the menu. What looks good?” There were so many tempting options, but she finally decided on a savory grilled chicken dish, with creamy mashed potatoes, a generous tossed salad and steaming homemade bread rolls. Her dad ordered a juicy steak just the way he liked it with a delicious assortment of sides as well.
            After their order was taken, and they waited for their dinner to arrive, Grace commented “Daddy, this place is beautiful! Thank you so much for bringing me here.”
            “It’s my pleasure!” he replied. “Tonight is a special night, and I want you to feel just how valuable you are to me.” They continued their conversation through their delicious dinner talking about Grace’s school, her upcoming music and sports events, her friends, their family and anything else that popped up. They laughed together, shared from the heart, and had a wonderful time. For dessert, they split a piece of decadent chocolate cake.
            As they finished their meal and the dishes were cleared from the table, Grace’s father shifted the conversation. “Grace, as I already mentioned, tonight is a very special night. I want you to know that your mom and I are so proud of you! You are growing up to be a beautiful young woman, inside and out. Thank you for allowing me the privilege of taking you on your first date.” 
            “Daddy, thank you for taking me out tonight. You’ve made me feel so special!”
            “You are special, Grace, and that’s what I want to demonstrate to you tonight. I want you to remember that you deserve and should expect to be treated like a lady. You are entering a new season of your life, and I want you to know that your heart and your body are valuable gifts to be saved for the man who will one day commit to making you his wife. We have been praying for him since the day you were born, praying that he will be a man of love, integrity and purity—a man who will respect you and cherish you for life.
            Smiling and teary-eyed Grace replied “Daddy, tell me again the story of how you and Mom fell in love.”
            “Gladly!” he said smiling. “As you know, we met while we were in college. It seemed we kept running into each other on campus. I recognized that she was a beautiful woman, but at that point I wasn’t on the look-out for a relationship. I was focused on my studies and enjoying my time as a single. She wasn’t looking for a relationship at that time either. However, with each encounter, we found that there was such an ease for conversation, and we really enjoyed each other’s presence. In time, our “chance” encounters became planned encounters as a friendship began to grow. We spent time with groups of friends, but we also took walks around campus, or hung out at the local coffee shop talking about anything and everything. We were quickly becoming the best of friends, and it wasn’t long before I realized that I was falling in love with this amazing woman. After having a serious heart to heart one night, I made a call to her parents the next day, requesting permission to date their daughter.”
            “Why did you ask permission, Daddy? Weren’t you both old enough to decide for yourselves?”
            “We were, but we wanted to invite our families into our developing relationship. I wanted to honor your mom by honoring her parents who had raised her. If she was to become my partner for life, I knew I would also be joined to her family as well. This is a big reason why we have such a close relationship with your grandparents today!”
            “What was it like when you started dating?” Grace asked.
            “It was exciting and a bit surreal as well. We had developed such a close friendship, and now we were trying to transition into something even deeper. We made a decision together early on that many people may not understand or even agree with. It wasn’t a decision we had to make; it was a decision we chose to make. We agreed that we would save our first kiss for our wedding day, and if it turned out that we didn’t marry, we could gracefully walk away from the relationship, knowing that we hadn’t given that part of our hearts away.”
            “Why did you want to wait to kiss each other? Would it have been wrong to kiss?” Grace inquired.
            “No, it wouldn’t have been wrong. For us it wasn’t about right or wrong but about better or best. We felt that the best decision for us was to wait, even for a kiss. We had both been in previous relationships where we had kissed. We knew that kissing awakened physical passion in a greater way, and we knew that we gave a piece of our hearts away with each kiss. We both carried regret and some painful memories from those earlier relationships. We wanted to protect ourselves and each other from further regret, should our relationship not end in marriage.  As I said before, your mom is a beautiful woman, and of course I desired her. I also respected her and valued her. Protecting her heart and her purity was very important to me, and she felt the same way. We weren’t keeping something from each other, but saving something for each other when it could be given its full expression in commitment and purity. I knew she was worth the wait!”
            “Wasn’t it still really hard to do? Some of my friends have boyfriends and they kiss. They tell me how romantic it is and how good it makes them feel.”
            “There were times it was hard, but since we made the decision together, it was much easier than most people would imagine. During the time we dated, we continued to focus mainly on our friendship, not on physical expressions of affection. Even after I proposed to her and we began making our wedding plans we continued to wait. We knew that the closer we came to our wedding day, the greater our desire for each other would become. We were committed to maintaining our virginity for our wedding night, and we didn’t want to add needless temptation in this area. It’s also important to recognize that sometimes physical connection can become a substitute for relational connection. It can make you feel so close to a person. It can make you feel like you really know them; but if there isn’t genuine friendship as a foundation, it can be very misleading. If we had brought greater levels of physical affection into our relationship as we dated, we may have focused more on that than on our friendship. Your mom and I were best friends before we started dating and our friendship only continued to grow; we are still best friends today. Romantic feelings come and go in every relationship, but friendship is enduring.”
            Grace paused for a moment, considering what her dad just shared before asking, “What was it like when you finally kissed?”
            Smiling, he replied, “It was one of the most incredible moments of my life! When your mom entered the church sanctuary, she took my breath away. She was the most beautiful bride I could have ever imagined. I could hardly focus on the wedding ceremony; I was so captivated by her! When the time came for us to seal our marriage with a kiss, I felt like my heart was going to beat out of my chest. Our first kiss was one of the most beautiful, memorable moments of my life. It’s a memory I will always cherish. I know your friends have told you about how special it is when they kiss their boyfriends, but special moments now can become painful memories in the future if those relationships don’t last. Every time you kiss, you offer a piece of your heart. It’s important that the one you give this precious gift to is one who can be trusted with your heart, not someone just using you for their own momentary pleasure.”
            Grace was silent again as she let her father’s words sink in.
            “Grace, please understand that I am not telling you what you have to do. You will be responsible to make your own choices in this area. However, I do want to encourage you to make decisions that will benefit you and your future husband and protect you from needless pain. You may decide to approach the area of dating differently than your mom and I did, and you have the freedom to make that choice. Whatever you choose to do in time, I just want you to remember that your purity is a gift, and only you can choose who will open it. I know that you’ve committed before to saving your virginity for your marriage, and that commitment is a priceless one.  We just celebrated your birthday, but there’s one more gift that was saved especially for tonight!” With that, he reached into his pocket, pulled out a small velvet box, and gently handed it to his daughter.
            “What’s this?” Grace asked with surprise and delight in her eyes.
            “Open it.”
            Grace carefully opened the small box and gasped. Inside was a beautiful white gold ring with a heart at the center outlined in delicate emerald stones—her birthstone. “Daddy! It’s gorgeous!” she exclaimed.
            Smiling, he gently removed the ring and slipped it on her left ring finger. “Grace, this is your purity ring. It is a representation of your commitment to God, yourself, and your future husband to save your virginity for your marriage bed. One day it will be replaced by a wedding ring from the man who will commit to you and cherish you for life. Your mom also received a purity ring as a teenager. She presented it to me as a gift on our wedding night. I cherish that ring and what it represents to this day.”
            “Daddy, I don’t know what to say,” Grace replied as she gazed at the sparkling ring on her finger. “This means so much to me! I will wear it every day.”
            Grace’s dad looked at his daughter affectionately and said, “Honey, I am so very proud of you! You are such a treasure to me, and you will be a treasure to your husband someday… But that day is still a ways off, and we’re not done with our date! What do you say we get changed, and I challenge you to a game of miniature golf?!”
            “Absolutely,” Grace responded, “but you know that I can beat you!”
            “We’ll see when we get there!”
            An hour later Grace jumped up and down excitedly yelling, “Go, go, go!...Yes! I got a hole in one!”
            “Okay,” her dad conceded. “You beat me on that one, but we still have half the course to go. I still have a few tricks up my sleeve!” He pulled her into a side hug and planted a kiss on her forehead before heading to the next hole.
            Giggling, Grace looked down again at her beautiful new ring, shimmering as the emeralds caught the light. “Yes,” she thought, “I do want to save myself for a man who will cherish me, a man who honors me and values my purity, a man who I can trust with my heart…a man just like Daddy!”

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Where Hope Grows

Our Thanksgiving feast was over, family had returned home for the evening, and our older two children were in bed for the night. Shawn and I decided to end our Thanksgiving Day by snuggling up on the couch with our baby and watching a movie. Our choice was the inspirational film "Where Hope Grows," which I had been eager to see for awhile. This must-see movie tells the story of a former major league baseball player named Calvin who is now an unemployed, single parent with a major drinking problem. His alcoholism has caused his teenage daughter to become increasingly estranged from him. His life is falling apart, but while shopping at the grocery store one day he meets a young man with Down syndrome, affectionately nick-named Produce (since he works in the produce section). Calvin is taken aback but later drawn by this young man's cheerful and affectionate personality as well as his optimistic outlook on life. Some of his more memorable quotes include, "I'm doing good. Even when I'm doing bad, I'm doing good." "Maybe you just need to smile. A cheerful heart is good medicine." (That last quote tickled me. Produce is quoting Proverbs 17:22, which is the content of one of Benjamin's favorite songs!) The two men form an unlikely friendship that alters both of their lives forever. In time Calvin addresses his drinking problem and begins to rebuild his relationship with his daughter. Ultimately, he is able to be there for Produce in the midst of a life or death crisis. It is a very touching film.

While we were watching the movie, I was captivated by all that Produce was able to do. He was living independently, holding down a job that he took great pride in, communicating clearly and effectively, and building and maintaining meaningful relationships. He acted as a gentleman and as a hero. He also pointed others to the true Source of his happiness--Jesus Christ. As we watched I felt hope rising in my heart again for my son Benjamin. Sometimes the demands and challenges of the present cloud my vision for what his future can truly be. I needed the encouragement. Presently, I have an affectionate six-and-a-half year old who is non-verbal, still wearing diapers, mesmerized by toys and movies designed for babies and toddlers, and requiring care for almost all of his basic needs. Sometimes the weeds of discouragement and disappointment try to choke out the hope in my heart for my son. I love him intensely, and I want him to live a rich and fulfilling life. I want him to be able to express the things in his heart and to enjoy meaningful relationships. I want him to be able to live with a sense of purpose, doing things he loves to do and experiencing the joy of accomplishment. Most of all, I want him to be deeply rooted in relationship with Jesus Christ, knowing that he holds such immense and eternal value in the heart of God. 

I was reminded this morning of Romans 8:24-25 which says, "For we were saved in this hope, but that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance." In context this passage speaks of hope for eternal glory, but I believe there is a principle here that can be applied to those things we hope for this side of heaven. Where does hope grow? It grows in the fertile soil of faith--faith in the goodness of God, faith in His promises, faith in His perfect plan. True hope grows in faith and is watered by love. I am thankful that on Thanksgiving Day, the Lord lovingly used something as simple as a movie to water the garden of my heart and to cause hope to rise again!

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Awareness Acrostic


Happy Down Syndrome Awareness Month! For fun, I've compiled some facts about Down syndrome to pair with the letters in my son's name...

Babies with Down Syndrome make up about 1 in 691 live births in the United States.

English physician John Langdon Down first published a description of a person with Down syndrome.

Nondisjunction is the most common cause of Down syndrome and occurs prior to or at conception when a pair of the 21st chromosome in the egg or the sperm do not separate properly. The extra chromosome then replicates in every cell of the body.

Just like everyone else, people with Down syndrome experience a full range of emotions. They are not "always happy."

"A child with Down syndrome" is good people first language as opposed to saying "a Down syndrome child." Remember, they are more like other children than they are different, and their diagnosis in no way defines their personhood!

Medical terminology for Down syndrome caused by nondisjunction is Trisomy 21, referring to the presence of the extra 21st chromosome.

Intellectual and developmental delays affect people with Down syndrome and are usually present in the mild to moderate range. With early intervention services and lots of love and support from family and friends, children with Down syndrome can meet most, if not all, of their developmental milestones. They possess a wide variety of interests, talents, and skills and can be positive and contributing members of society.

New advances in medical knowledge and care have greatly increased the life expectancy for people with Down syndrome over the last few decades. In 1983, the average life expectancy was 25; today it is 60!

These are some facts about Down syndrome, but the fact is, no list of facts can ever come close to describing the individual beauty and complexity of my sweet son. He is uniquely created in God's image, full of life and love and promise. I am proud to be his Mommy!


Friday, July 10, 2015

A Work in Progress

Last December I shared that I had begun working on a manuscript for a second book that shares Shawn's and my love story and quest for purity. Here's a little update: I have nearly completed the rough draft for A Covenant Kiss. It is my goal to have this done before Josiah arrives in a few weeks, but we'll see! My project will probably need to be shelved for a few months as find our new rhythm as a family of five. However, I want to share another little excerpt from the book. I promise it will get published in time...

Chocolate Chip Cookies
There came a day after class that both Shawn and I needed to speak with the professor. During that same week OWU was hosting a guest speaker from The Laborer’s Institute (TLI), the same ministry program I had attended a few years prior. During one of the chapel services he requested that any students who had been a part of TLI would stand up. Shawn had noticed me stand and concluded that I couldn’t be a complete ditz if I had gone on a mission trip before! This simple event sparked conversation between us after class as we both finished speaking with our professor and headed back across campus toward the cafeteria. I was surprised at the easy flow of dialogue between us. He was very interested to learn more about TLI, and I encouraged him to come to a small informational meeting to be held that night before the chapel service. I would be there with other graduates of the program to answer questions and share some of our experiences. He happily agreed to attend.
The meeting that night went smoothly, and we enjoyed another dynamic chapel service with the guest speaker, who was so energetic, funny, and spiritually stirring.  Afterward, Shawn and I ran into each other again down at the campus center. He was excited about what he had learned about TLI and continued to ask me more questions. I told him that I had a scrapbook video from my summer there, full of pictures and testimonies from all members of my team. He surprised me by responding, “Can we watch it now?”
Shortly after, we gathered with a few other students in the lounge area of one of the girls’ dormitories, and I popped in the tape. (Yes, we still used VHS some in those days!) Now, before I get any further into the events of that evening, I need to give some background information about a specific story that the TLI speaker had shared previously that week. He enthusiastically told us about his first encounter with his wife as a college student years before. He noticed a pretty girl in one of the campus buildings who looked extremely down-cast and sad. In his out-going and unabashed way, he smiled at her, patted her shoulder, and tried to cheer her up sharing, “God loves you!” Hours later upon returning to his dorm, his football buddies grilled him, “Who is she?!” He had no idea what they were talking about until he noticed a plateful of homemade chocolate chip cookies and a card with his name on it. After devouring several cookies he opened the card to find a note of thanks from a young woman who had desperately needed encouragement that day. He didn’t recognize her name, so he pulled out a year book and recognized it to be the same pretty girl he had spoken to earlier. The rest was history!
After completing the scrapbook video that night, Shawn, I, and another guy friend of mine stood around outside chatting. Seemingly out of the blue Shawn suddenly turned to me and asked, “Do you know how to make chocolate chip cookies?” There was a moment of awkward silence as I thought to myself, “Is this freshman trying to hit on me?” I don’t remember exactly how I responded, but conversation moved on and we soon parted ways for the evening. The next morning I told the speaker what had happened. He just smiled and said, “I’m not saying anything!" It wouldn’t be until months later that I would learn that Shawn was not thinking about the chocolate chip story at all when he asked his strange question. Instead, his mind had wandered back to a conversation that he had with a guidance counselor who was giving him a tour of the campus before the semester started. He had encouraged Shawn to look into forming study groups for some of his classes, and he added the advice, “Make sure you invite some girls who know how to make chocolate chip cookies!” It seems that Shawn thought I could be a good candidate for this. While the study groups with cookies never materialized, something was put into motion that night that would change both of our lives forever. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

Mommy-Son Date

At the end of the school year, Benjamin was awarded a gift card to Braums. With a new baby just around the corner, I want to be intentional to get some one-on-one time in with my kids before Josiah arrives. So, during the first week of summer vacation I took Benjamin out for an ice cream date after his speech therapy appointment one afternoon.

My kids both inherited my sweet tooth, so my son was more than thrilled to dig into his dish of soft serve chocolate and vanilla swirl frozen yogurt while I enjoyed a small hot fudge sunday. I used one hand to steady his dish while he fed himself (big boy!), and I ate with the other, trying to keep up with his pace. I knew that if he finished too quickly, there would be tears of disappointment and a reach across the table to raid Mommy's bowl!

While we savored our sweet treats, I talked to Benjamin from across the table, thankful for a chance to give him my undivided attention and taking joy in watching him so obviously enjoying himself. I felt a twinge of sadness as well, though, wishing I could actually have a conversation with my six-year-old. I want to know his thoughts and feelings. I want him to be able to tell me about the things he's learning and discovering. I long to even just hear the word "Mommy" spoken from his lips.

I still believe that Benjamin will speak one day; I just never expected the wait to be this long. In the meantime, though, he finds his own ways to communicate through expressions, gestures, sounds, and a tiny bit of sign language. I reminded myself the important thing was that we were spending some quality time together. There is no doubt that Benjamin knows he's loved, and he clearly communicates his love in return. After all, who could possibly resist that smile!

Saturday, May 16, 2015

I Didn't Know

Benjamin will turn six years old next week-six years old! I remember when he was only six days old, confined to his NICU bed as my arms still ached to hold my first born for the first time.

I remember when he was six weeks old, only recently home from the NICU and (unbeknownst to us) with a heart surgery only two weeks away.

I remember when he was six months old, my little cuddler who loved to nurse, and his plump little arms and legs full of rolls that resembled the Michelin Man!

When my son was only six days old, I felt so lost and bewildered. I had no idea what the next six days would hold, or the next six weeks, and certainly not the next six years! All I knew was that we had begun a completely unexpected journey into "Holland," and I was scared. 

There are so many things I know now six years later that I didn't know then. I wish my 33 year old self could go back in time and assure my 27 year old self that in the midst of the challenges and heartache, everything really was going to be OK. I would have told her that the journey forward would be full of discovery about her beautiful son, about herself, about life, and most importantly, about God. I would tell her that healing would come, and joy would come, and incredible testimonies would take place. I would tell her that the love she felt for this helpless little baby she only barely knew would continue to grown in strength and intensity, and she would not be able to imagine life without the little miracle in front of her. I would tell her it was OK to grieve and cry and that God would meet her in powerful ways in the midst of her pain. I would tell her stories of the little boy Benjamin would become because now I know...

...the contagious smile and full body, affectionate hugs and giggles that have brightened every day...

...the thrill of accomplishment, delight, and thanksgiving as he reaches each new milestone he's worked so hard for...

...the amazing community of people we've had the privilege of meeting as a result of our son having Down Syndrome...

...the little boy who loves music, his See n' Say and stuffed monkeys...

...the eager pre-school student who waits with excited anticipation for his bus to arrive each morning...

...the big brother who paved the way for his little sister Joelle and his soon to arrive little brother Josiah...

...the child of God who so effortlessly connects with the heart of heaven...

...the little playmate who adores his Daddy and his Grandma...

...the son who I love with every fiber of my being and who loves me in return...

...I could go on and on and on. There are so many things I didn't know six years ago that I am so thankful to know now. Have there been challenges? Absolutely--some minor and some profound. (On that note, though, I experience daily challenges with my beautiful, typically-developing, and perfectly healthy toddler!) I didn't know that I would become a stronger person as a result. I didn't know that my marriage would grow even deeper as a result. I didn't know that I would experience the heart of God in ways that I may never have encountered as a result. I didn't know the privilege it would be to raise this amazing little creation named Benjamin...I also didn't know that my broken pieces, put into written form through this blog and now through my book as well, would give me the opportunity to connect with thousands of people across the nation and around the world. To you, my readers, I want to say that I count it a special privilege to be able play a small part in your lives. Thank you for allowing my son and me into your home and into your hearts! 

Happy Birthday, Benjamin! Every day with you gives me reason to celebrate!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Perfectly Planned

As human beings, we love to make plans. We plot and dream and reason, crafting our ideas in our mind's eye and then pouring our energy into making the plans become a reality. The funny thing is, despite all of our efforts and imagining, reality typically seems to unfold somewhat differently than the well thought-out plans of our hearts. This blog has been writing itself in my mind all morning. Let's see if it comes out the same way as I have been imagining!

I always planned on starting a family before age 25. Since I was married at 23, my plan seemed likely to be fulfilled. However, despite all our planning and scheming, the pregnancy test didn't come back positive until my 26th year. I always planned on having the cute pregnancy pics taken; the ones that would forever commemorate the gift of life growing inside and the love of husband and wife that brought that life into being. However, I didn't plan on the abnormal quad-screen test early into my second trimester or the series of specialized ultra-sounds. I never planned on the necessary pre-term delivery and long hospital stays. I DEFINITELY didn't plan on giving birth to a child with Down syndrome only a few days shy of my 27th birthday. And yet, nearly six years later, my life is more beautiful with the gift of my first born child Benjamin, 47 chromosomes and all! His smile, his hugs, and his laughter warm my heart every day, and the joy of loving him, as well as the many lessons he has taught us, have far out-weighed the grief over his difficulties and delays.

Shawn and I planned to try for a second child after Benjamin's second birthday. We never planned that our son would be only a few months shy of turning four before we would welcome that child into the world. I always planned on having all my babies by age thirty, yet here I was giving birth near the end of my 30th year and still dreaming of more children to come. In hind-sight, though, the timing was perfect. Benjamin literally started walking independently during the few days that his sister and I were in the hospital. I planned on having the beautiful pregnancy pictures taken the second time around, yet I didn't plan on the complications with a low-lying placenta that arose near the start of my second trimester or the frightening few months of bleeding and constant fatigue. Yet, in early 2013 I gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby girl. Her very presence has brought healing to my heart. Her affectionate and lively personality lights up my days and keeps me on my toes! She is such a precious gift.
Last December, I stood in the bathroom with shock and awe as the pregnancy strip registered positive. We weren't planning to get pregnant; I wasn't expecting to be expecting. Yet here we are, preparing to welcome our baby boy Josiah in early August. This pregnancy has been an unexpected gift and relatively smooth-sailing. I finally got the pregnancy pictures I had previously planned for when our neighbor asked to take our portraits for his photography class. It definitely didn't unfold the way I planned, but I am so grateful. I can hardly wait to meet my sweet son and tackle the rewarding challenge of parenting three small children!
Interestingly, though, we always planned for two boys and a girl. Long before we conceived our first child, three names were dropped in our hearts: Benjamin, Josiah, and Joelle. They have always felt so real to me, before they ever came into being. I suppose that's because they were already very much alive in the heart of God, and He knew the perfect time for each of them to make their debut in history (His-story). I always assumed they would arrive in the order we received the names, but I was thrilled beyond description when the ultra-sound technician announced during my second pregnancy, "It looks like a girl!" I am equally thrilled this time around to welcome a son, as I was the first. I always planned to love my children, but in this area I planned too little. How could I have even begun to anticipate the depth of love I would feel for each one? Life has definitely not gone just as I planned, but the reality has unfolded with such grace and beauty.
There is a place for planning. We need vision, and we need direction. Most of us have heard the well-coined phrase, "To fail to plan is to plan to fail." However, I think the greatest plan is to keep my plans yielded to God's plans, Whose vision is eternal and Whose wisdom is supreme. I'm reminded of Proverbs 19:21, Many are the plans in a person's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails."
Tomorrow we will celebrate Resurrection Sunday. In the morning we will read Benjamin and Joelle a board book that presents a simple rendition of Jesus death and resurrection. Instead of a traditional Easter basket, they will each receive a stuffed lamb and a stuffed lion as we explain that Jesus is the Lamb of God who died for our sins, and He is the victorious Lion who rose from the dead and is coming back for us someday. God's plans are perfect and His ways beyond our natural ability to comprehend. I love my children intensely. I would quickly lay down my life for each of them. My love is in no way greater or superior to the love of the very Author of life and love. Yet His perfect plan was to send His perfect, beautiful Son to die for me and to die for you. No human planning or reasoning, and no principality or power could have ever conceived of this plan of Almighty God to send His flawless Son to earth as a helpless baby, to grow up in obscurity in a small Jewish town learning the trade of carpentry, laboring and sweating, and experiencing the weakness and fatigue common to man. No one could have imagined the entire hope and redemption of the human race hanging on the master plan of God to have His Son hang on a cruel, Roman cross and suffer a criminal's death in order to overcome our sin and death and to be resurrected three days later. God's plan made no sense to the natural mind of man, and the coming of the promised Messiah unfolded so contrary to expectations of His people. However, the promise of Jesus' cross and resurrection is the foundation for every other promise of God in all of history. The seeming foolishness of the cross was in fact the very wisdom of God and is the anchor of our hope, our redemption, and our freedom. Today I am reminded that Jesus' first coming and the promise of His second coming is the assurance that no matter how circumstances may unfold in this life, God's eternal plan is ALWAYS perfect!

Monday, March 23, 2015

"Listen to Your Mother"--Passions Combined

What do you do when some of your specific passions come together in one setting? For me, I have been doing a happy dance! Before I share the reason for my rejoicing, though, here's a bit of background...

I have always been passionate about writing. My first book attempt came in 5th grade with my pencil written story entitled "The Land of the Unicorns." I had high hopes of a published children's book with colorful and engaging illustrations and a wide audience of readers. My story never made it off of the notebook paper, but at least I was starting to dream! Since then the love for writing has only increased with each passing year. There is something so magical about carving out words and sentences with description and feeling, communicating my thoughts and passions through letters on a page and having the opportunity to connect with the hearts of readers, some of whom I will never meet face to face. Since beginning this blog and later publishing my book, I have been especially passionate about sharing our amazing journey in the world of "Holland" as we raise a child with special needs. It is my desire to create greater awareness concerning Down syndrome, to demonstrate the beauty and value of children who happen to carry an extra chromosome, and to share the goodness and faithfulness of my Savior every step of the way.

We will now move on to passion number two. I was very much one of the shy kids in my school growing up. I was soft-spoken and easily intimidated by my peers. When I enrolled in the required speech class during my junior year of high school, I did so with fear and trembling. When the time came for me to deliver my first speech, I walked up to the front with clammy hands and a pounding heart. However, as soon as I opened my mouth and the words began to form on my tongue, I found myself coming alive and made the shocking discovery that I absolutely love public speaking! That love evolved into a passion for theater in college, during which time I performed in three musicals and two stage plays. As an adult I have enjoyed various opportunities to preach, teach, and lead worship in a number of settings, and while I may still experience butterflies in the stomach at times, I love every moment of it!

So...back to my happy dance! In January I was introduced to an annual show called "Listen to Your Mother." To quote directly from their website, "The mission of each LISTEN TO YOUR MOTHER production is to take the audience on a well-crafted journey that celebrates and validates mothering through giving voice to motherhood–in all of its complexity, diversity, and humor–in the form of original readings performed live on-stage by their authors" ( This year, shows will be held in 39 cities across the U.S. including Oklahoma City. Each live show is recorded and broadcast on the LTYMShow YouTube channel over the summer. My mother, also a passionate writer, and I were encouraged to submit a piece of original writing for the OKC show and wait to see what would happen. As soon as I learned about this event, something inside of me leaped and said "Yes! I want to do that!" I was thrilled when we were both invited to come and audition our pieces for an opportunity at landing a spot in the production. A few weeks ago we made the three hour drive to OKC on a beautiful sunny day for our 10 minute audition slots. It was worth every mile! (Of course we were sure to stop somewhere for a sweet treat before commencing our journey home). I was glowing later that night after receiving a phone call offering me a spot on the show and learning that my mom had received a similar call!

The next month will be very busy with multiple trips to OKC to meet with fellow cast members, rehearse the show, and culminate on the actual production day at Will Rogers Theater on April 26 at 2:30 p.m. I feel extremely humbled and honored to have this unique opportunity to join my voice with the voices of other mothers around the nation and share a little portion of my journey with an audience I would have never had the chance to touch otherwise. Getting to share this experience with my own mother makes it extra special!

To learn more about the Listen to Your Mother Show and this year's OKC cast, follow the link below:

Thursday, March 5, 2015

From Heaven's Eyes

This week I came across a startling article on entitled "7 Incredibly Shocking Quotes from Planned Parenthood Founder Margaret Sanger." As a white supremacist and a eugenicist, she was determined to purge society of those she referred to as "human weeds," and the "dead weight of human waste...human beings who never should have been born at all." She had a deep disdain for minority groups, especially African Americans, as well as those who were poor, those who had immigrated to America, those who had disabilities and those who had diseases. She was even quoted as saying, "We do not want word to go out that we want to exterminate the Negro Population." The following quote sums up her main goal in founding Planned Parenthood. "Birth control is nothing more or less than...weeding out the unfit." Today, the money-making abortion giant has built its bloody empire off of this woman's evil ideals.

My heart was filled with grief as I went on to watch a short video attached the article. It shared statistically that, while African Americans make up 13% of the U.S. population, they account for 30% of abortions. Abortion is currently the leading cause of death in this precious community, greater than all other causes combined. As I sorrowed over these horrible realities, I though of my own son. While individuals with Down syndrome make up a very small percent of the overall population, the abortion statistics are sky high, with over 90% of women who receive a pre-natal diagnosis choosing to end the life of their child. All I could think was, "How many lives have been destroyed? How many destinies have been lost?" The numbers are staggering.

Later that same day Shawn and I attended an incredible community worship service called "Releasing the Sounds of Heaven." I was deeply impacted by a beautiful group of people who I didn't even know would be there. At least 17 young people, ranging in ages from young adulthood down to childhood gathered at the front, forming a small band and choir. Most of them were either African American or Native American. The most incredible thing is that they are all connected to the same family through adoption. An elderly Caucasian woman who has had these children on her heart since her childhood has adopted the majority of them, and her daughter has followed in her footsteps, adopting several herself. One of the lead singers introduced their group and shared that though they all came from broken backgrounds, they are not allowing that to hold them back, but are stepping into the plans and purposes of God in their lives. I later learned that they all get together a few times a week to spend time with each other and to worship Jesus through their original music. I found myself weeping as I looked at all these beautiful faces, each one created in the image of God, whose lives were not destroyed and whose destinies have not been lost. Their birth mothers chose to give them life, and some extraordinary families have seen the treasure in each child, taking them in as their own and raising them up to be world changers!

Once again, I think of my sweet son Benjamin, who just happens to carry an extra chromosome. There are those in the world who would see him as "defective" or "damaged." There are those who would even go so far as to say that he should have never been born. However, my son's life looks very different from Heaven's eyes. According to Ephesians 1:4, God "chose (Benjamin/insert your own name) in Him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight." There is something unique that my son brings to the world that no one else can bring. There is a portion of the heart of God that cannot be seen in anyone else than him. This is true of each and every life. Sadly there are many lives that never discover their God-given destinies, but this does not change the fact that each individual carries purpose, even from the womb. May we learn to recognize, honor and value each an every life through Heaven's eyes!

The picture below is a few years old now, but I believe it captures the beautiful reality of the grace on my son's life to connect with Heaven and the God Who loves him so much. Benjamin, may your life always resound with the testimony of the goodness, faithfulness, power, and eternal love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ!

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Time to Dream Again

It's time to dream again...

Yesterday a friend shared a video with me on Facebook titled "They Said This Girl With Down Syndrome Would Never Sing. Her Response? Stunning." This beautiful, twelve-year-old girl has overcome the common hindrances associated with Down syndrome, including low muscle tone (which affects the mouth as well), a low-pitched voice, and poor short-term memory, and has worked diligently to learn to sing. In the video she sang a beautiful song with a fairly broad vocal range and hundreds of memorized words; she even had a sinus infection while doing so! She has defied the limits that others have placed on her due to her genetic condition, and she desires to inspire as many people as possible.  As the video came to a close, I suddenly realized how desperately I was in need of this encouragement.

When you are raising a child with special needs, new layers of grief will undoubtedly emerge from time to time. Sometimes they hit as huge, crashing waves that feel as though they will pull you under. Other times you feel their impact as small ripples pressing against you as you walk through your very ordinary days. Lately, I've been experiencing the ripple effect...

I felt the ripples after Benjamin's recent bath time. I helped my big boy lay down on his towel that is almost too small for him as I dried him off and fitted him in a clean diaper. As I dressed my five-and-a-half year old, I encouraged him to assist me in the small ways that he is currently capable of doing. I found myself saying, "Benjamin, you need to learn to dress yourself. Mommy doesn't want to still be dressing you when you're ten." At the same time I wondered if I would be.

I've felt the ripples as Benjamin yells in frustration when he wants something or things aren't going his way. We have been trying to curb this behavior and encourage him to utilize the few communication skills he does have. My heart hurts for him. I know he desperately wants to communicate, and at times he probably feels so overwhelmed. I wonder when he will finally be able to speak his first word.

I've felt the ripples as I've observed his very limited interests in play, which often involve pulling the handle on his See n' Say or twirling a stuffed animal in front of him. I've felt them as he actively resists anything new, and I wonder when his play will finally begin to progress. When will he start using his imagination? When will he be willing to roll a ball back and forth for more than 30 seconds, or push a toy car, or build with blocks, or color a picture?

I've felt the ripples as I've watched my small toddler quickly passing her big brother in so many areas of development. How long will he behave as a very small child?

Sometimes the ripples are subtle enough that I don't even recognize that I've been confronted with grief again. Watching that inspirational video helped me to recognize where I've been and encouraged me to start dreaming again for my son. His present delays and challenges are not the final say in what his future will hold. His current limitations do not define his potential for growth. This seemingly endless season is just that--a season. It will pass. I've been reminding myself of how very far Benjamin has come in the last few years. I'm reminding myself of what a miracle his little life has been so far. I'm reminding myself of the many lives he's already touched just being him. I'm reminding myself of God's promises over his life. I'm reminding myself that the One who knit my son together in my womb is the God of his past, his present, and his future, and with Him all things are possible.

It's time to dream again!


Saturday, January 24, 2015

Peers and Play

"TAG! You're it!" A gym full of four and five year olds run all around, shouting and giggling in a delightful game of freeze tag. Instead of using hands to tag each other, they wield giant foam pool noodles. The energy and excitement in the room is electric as they exert the bubbling energy that only a small child can produce. Among those running and laughing is an exuberant five-year-old named Benjamin, who happens to carry an extra chromosome. He squeals with unhindered joy as he makes his way around the gym, thrilled to be a part of the activity surrounding him. I wish I could have been there to see it!

When Benjamin returns home from school each day, I am quick to check his backpack, where his aid keeps a daily journal of his activities and behavior. A few days ago she wrote about the game of freeze tag during their gym class. She clearly communicated my son's excitement in the midst of it, commenting, "I wish you could have seen him!" My heart swelled as I envisioned my little boy taking part in a game with his peers and having so much fun doing so. Sometimes it's the little things that can be the most meaningful!

Benjamin is attending his second year of Pre-K, and he loves it so much! Next year we will transition him to Kindergarten, and we may decide to complete two years of that as well. We are letting him take his own pace, not in a hurry to push him through anything. His experiences in school, first as a three-year-old at Head Start and now as a student at a local elementary school, have been wonderfully fulfilling and relieving.

When he was still a small toddler, some other stay-at-home moms and I set up a weekly play group. We  initially met during story time at the library and realized our children were all very close in age. We took turns hosting the play time week to week. Benjamin was the only child with special needs, but I was happy to give him the opportunity to be around his typically developing peers and to have the opportunity for some adult conversation during the day! Our children were still young enough that they didn't really play with each other but were content to play side by side. In reality, the other children played while Benjamin sat and watched, sometimes twirling his small, stuffed gorilla by the arm or playing with a light-up musical toy. Though I enjoyed those times, I wrestled with some insecurities as well. It was difficult to see the numerous skills that the other children had easily accomplished, especially since so many of them were still on a distant horizon for Benjamin. Sometimes my mind would wander to the future when my son would be in school, and I wondered how the other children would treat him. Would he be a target? Would he be teased all the time? Would he have many friends?

I realize that no child is immune from being teased by their peers. I experienced teasing multiple times as a child myself. I know that my son is still very early into his school years, and I recognize that he will undoubtedly have to deal with poor treatment from classmates at some point, as all children do. However, I have been so pleasantly surprised thus far at how warmly Benjamin's peers have received him. When he was attending Head Start, he would be given an enthusiastic greeting from the other children upon entering the classroom. "There's Benjamin! Hi, Benjamin!" His year-and-a-half attending Pre-K has been just as encouraging. His classmates approach him almost daily, inviting him to play. He has had notes and pictures sent home with him from other students. Last year, his classmates would often argue over who got to read a book to him. While the other children recognize that there is something different about my son, they readily accept him. In some ways, it seems that his delays make him even more endearing to his little friends.

I am so thankful that going to school is something Benjamin looks forward to each day. I'm so thankful that it is a place where he feels safe and accepted. My prayer is that this will continue as he gets older. I pray that he will be able to form meaningful friendships in time as his social skills and social awareness increase. I pray that he will grow up feeling confident in who he is. I pray that he will always feel that he is loved and valued, by teachers and peers, by friends and family, and most importantly, by the One who created him and who calls him a masterpiece!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Baby Love

"There is little Benjamin their leader..." (Psalm 68:27). I remember well the night that I felt the Holy Spirit whisper this Psalm to my heart. It was fall of 2008, and the next morning I would take the pregnancy test that would open up the world of parenthood to Shawn and me. After two years of trying to conceive and a multitude of disappointments, I was almost afraid to hope that my dream of having a baby might finally be coming true. We always desired to name our first son Benjamin. This scripture spoken to my heart brought so much encouragement. Indeed, Benjamin was growing inside of my womb, and he would be leading the way for any future children to come. While we could never have imagined the challenges and heartache we would face at the time of his birth, we also could not imagine the depth of love we would feel for our new baby boy. In the midst of the shock and pain surrounding his diagnosis and multiple health complications, our hearts felt as though they would burst with a love unlike any we had experienced before. To see Benjamin was to love him.

For nearly the next four years, Benjamin had Mommy and Daddy all to himself as we loved him, nurtured him, and came along side him to overcome the many challenges that came our way. And while the desire for more children was always present within me, I so cherished the time with my sweet son. In retrospect, I think he needed that time to have us all to himself.

Then in February of 2013, we welcomed our beautiful daughter Joelle into the world. I remember the day the ultra-sound technician announced, "It looks like you have a girl!" and my heart leapt inside of me. Holding my healthy newborn and bringing her home within just a few days brought such healing to my heart. She is such a gift to us!

She is nearly two years old as I write this, and she is our busy, energetic, strong-willed, and affectionate little princess! Shawn and I take so much delight in watching her personality emerge. We also enjoy watching Benjamin and Joelle together. There were some bumpy times as we transitioned from being a family of three to a family of four, but I know my children are so good for each other. Like all siblings, they demonstrate jealousy and frustration towards each other at times, but there are also sweet moments of smiles, laughter and even kisses blown. They learn from each other and copy each other, some habits good and some habits bad!  I look forward to watching their relationship develop and mature over the years.

Recently we were delightfully surprised to discover that I am pregnant with our third child! When I was expecting Joelle, it was hard to fathom being able to love another child as intensely as I love Benjamin, though I knew I would. The love I have for each of my children is unique--I love them for exactly who they are. They don't receive a portion of my love; they have the fullness of my love. As the beautiful reality is sinking in that our family of four is becoming a family of five, my heart is thrilled to consider having another precious baby to love. I am a blessed woman!