Monday, March 20, 2017

Wheelchair chargers, giant statues, and a perfect plan.

The van was loaded with the most compact luggage we could find in our closets. We had our boxes of Bible club supplies, and all the necessary paperwork to get the five of us and our van into and out of Mexico. I had a portable ramp for any areas that might be less-than-accessible and a bath chair to turn any bathroom into one that would even semi-work for Benjamin. And so even though my husband was in Chicago and I had to figure out the logistics of getting it all to fit around Benjamin's wheelchair -- and the rest of us -- without his engineering skills, I was feeling pretty proud of my organizational skills.

Really really proud.

Right up until we arrived in Beaumont, Texas and I put Benjamin to bed in the hotel. I moved his wheelchair away from his bed and looked for the outlet where I could plug it in. And at that moment, I realized the one thing I had left at home. The one thing that didn't make it into my super organized, seriously calculated, well-planned packing: Benjamin's wheelchair charger.

We had not even arrived on the mission field and already we were about to be defeated. All the work to ensure this young man could serve the people of Mexico would be wasted if his chair died. Three hundred pounds of wheelchair -- plus the one hundred pounds of Benjamin -- is almost impossible to push on a smooth surface. There was no way we would be able to push it over rough terrain.

I tried not to panic. Two kids were in bed. I told them to pray. Mason began to pace. Claire and I began to brainstorm. A quick text to my cousin in Houston to see if she had any contacts by chance. No. A message to our dear friend, Dr. Jan Brunstrom-Hernandez in Dallas to see if she had contacts. It was growing late and she assured us she would work on it first thing in the morning.

I forced everyone to go to bed.

And I prayed.

"Lord I know that you are fully capable of letting this battery last all week if necessary, so give us that peace tonight and let us rest. For tomorrow will be a crazy day and I can't do it safely with no sleep."

And I slept.

We woke early, refreshed and with a message from Dr. Jan that she could get one to us in Mexico sometime mid-week. I feared that might not be soon enough. But it was a good plan C.

We called our dog sitter and asked if she might overnight Benjamin's....and called my cousin Tim who was waiting in Mission, Texas to ride with us into Mexico to warn him that we might have to wait a day or so for the delivery before entering the country. That would be plan B.

And then I had what I can only say was a God-given idea. I sent a text to our wheelchair expert, Will, at National Seating and Mobility, and asked if he had any contacts that might help us along our route.

Initially Will replied that his contact was out of town. I thanked him and prepared for plan B before receiving another text from him that simply gave me an address in Houston and said the charger would be waiting outside the door.

I tried to type my gratitude. Will replied: "Go spread the gospel in Mexico and have a wonderful trip."

Oh how beautiful was plan A!

We barely missed a beat as we navigated our way to that office and picked up this gift! We were able to head in to Mexico right after church Sunday with a fully-charged wheelchair.

With Aunt Nina and Tim at Bethany Children's Home.

So much of the trip was just us being blessed -- blessed by time with my amazing Aunt Nina -- my Daddy's oldest sister -- who has served in Mexico for more than 40 years. Today, she serves alongside her son, Tim, his wife Candi, and their three amazing adult-children. My children were able to spend time getting to know my people. Oh it was so so good! (Not to mention stops with cousins along the route!!)

 Our first day of Bible club was held at the mission's camp mainly for the children's home children. It was beautiful.

We had the ladies from the village join in our "Get the Oreo from your forehead to your mouth without your hands" game...I love the joy on Aunt Nina's face!

Our second and third days were spent in some of the same churches I visited when I was 16! We traveled to the villages and found some of the sweetest little faces waiting to encircle our van as soon as we pulled in!

Cate's ministry involved soccer, volleyball, and bubbles! She was a natural!

But the day I want to tell you about tonight, started here, at the top of a village road that was almost impassable for my low-riding accessible van. Almost impassable. But we made it.

But when we pulled in, no children rushed out to greet us.

No children circled the van to welcome us.

No adults stood around hopeful to see what we would teach their children.

There was no one there.

A quick phone call solved the mystery. The pastor had misunderstood. He thought we were coming the following week. There would be no Bible club that afternoon.

Disappointment was palpable in my van. We had counted out the craft sticks earlier in the day to ensure we had enough for making the little frames. Claire had practiced her Spanish to ensure her sharing of Max Lucado's "You are Special" would be perfect. We had limited the Polaroid photos all week at the other clubs to ensure we had enough left for these children to have their own photos. 

And now all of that was wasted.

We were so sad.

Not Tim. He jumped in the driver's seat (No way I was navigating down the hill!) and said, "I wonder what God has for us instead."

I may have caught an eye roll in the back of the van. Some definite frustration that this was not God's, this was human error (I know my kids). I frantically looked for a way to redeem the afternoon. So I suggested we visit the statue of Morelos -- the priest who helped free Mexico from the Spaniards. The town, Montemorelos, was named for him and I had visited the statue when I was 16 and thought they might enjoy it. 

It was exactly what we needed to find our giggles.

We were in the middle of said giggles when a young girl ran up and asked for our photo. I didn't understand at first so grabbed Claire to translate for me. The young girl's father had asked her to run ahead to ask us to wait and have a photo with them.

We had no idea that we were about to learn how our visiting the giant statue had been God's plan for our afternoon all along.

Benjamin and I had been looking at the city from the overlook. We were apparently clearly visible from the road below.

The young girl, Karla, had seen us as her family drove by. They detoured to the top of the monument site. Soon Karla's family joined us -- Karla's mother, Barbarita, Father, Marcelino, and young sister, Maritza.

Marcelino wheeled his manual wheelchair straight to Benjamin. A spinal cord injury had left him paralyzed and he had never seen anyone else in a wheelchair -- much less a wheelchair like Benjamin's. He just wanted to meet him and get a picture together.

As we met the family, we recognized the sweet little cheeks on Maritza as the effects of steroids. Her mother began to tell her story -- a severe heart defect for little Maritza leaving some significant damage.

My Claire didn't miss a beat before whispering in my ear -- "Our book, Mom!" I nodded and she ran to the van to retrieve the book we had shared at Bible club all week. I knelt down so I could see eye-to-eye with this precious girl and presented our Spanish copy of the book. We were able to tell her that God thinks she is pretty special -- and so do we!

All the while, my cousin Tim was sharing our story with the dad -- our story of how God is present even when things are hard. Of how God has a plan even when things don't go just as we hope....or even as we pray.

And because we had Polaroid film remaining -- we could take a photo of our family standing together with their family and give it to them as a memory of a special afternoon spent together.

And just maybe we left them with more than a photo. Maybe -- prayerfully -- we left them with a bit of hope.

Because a pastor wrote down the wrong day on his calendar.

And because a wheelchair seating expert went out of his way on his day off to get us an emergency charger.

Carol - The Blessings Counter

Thursday, February 23, 2017

I didn't spray paint the pizza.

I woke up yesterday with a pressing need to spray paint some bottles gold in order to use them as red carpet and gold decor for a pseudo-Oscar Viewing Party.

Don't worry. You haven't missed the Oscars. We just partnered with ABC and the Cerebral Palsy Foundation to host a little get-together for pizza and Speechless -- to watch and discuss an episode about an Oscar-viewing party. We quickly agreed when they asked. But our "little" get-together grew rapidly as everyone had more than a handful of people they wanted to invite. But still -- pizza and TV. No worries.

ABC sent the poster -- my movie-loving crew were excited!

And I was still feeling fairly laid back about the event when I went to bed Tuesday night. But Wednesday morning I woke with my usual "We're having a party and it must be splendid" fervor.

Wade calls it a manic mode.

The welcoming crew -- they helped our guests to the ramp and welcomed them to the party!

I want to argue that. I wanted to dispute it even as I was baking brownies between the coats drying on the gold-painted bottles on the porch. But when I grabbed the black napkin holder and added it to my gold-spray-painted madness, I had to concur that perhaps, just maybe, quite possibly, he has a point.

Some of my people.

Here's the thing and it frankly just is what it is: I love people. I love the fellowship of being where my people are. I love to sit around a table and break bread -- or pass our favorite dips -- and just be with friends and family. I love to watch my kids with their friends and to hear their laughter echo around the room. I really love a party.

Claire and some of her people.

But as far back as an early early play date -- before the trio even turned three, when I showed up and couldn't get my crew into the home -- I realized that all homes can't open their doors to welcome us. I know that all the parties my friends throw can't include us. I know I have family and dear friends whose tables aren't accessible for my family to pull up a chair and break bread.

Making new friends!

And so somewhere along the way I realized that hosting the parties would have to be the way my people gathered. And without even meaning to....I began to assume that the parties had to be good, I mean really good, so that my people would want to gather here where my family could be included.
And this pizza party, well most of our guests were in the same boat as us and so this invitation might be a less-than-common-occurrence for them like such things are for us. So I needed to elevate this from JUST a pizza party to a PARTY.

Cue the gold spray paint and mania.

THOSE SMILES!! Benjamin, Mason, and Jordan.

The pizza was yummy and the episode pretty much resonated in every detail. In case you missed it, last night's episode of Speechless involved parallel stories between the Moms, the Dads, JJ (with CP) and his friends, as well as a storyline about JJ's brother Ray.

They just got so much exactly right. But of course, it was the moms that were screaming at my heart: When a new mom joins Maya's Special Moms Support Group and shows up dressed pristinely, with her hair perfectly coiffed, they all stare at her stunned. One of the moms mumbles, "Where are her stains?"

Oh yea. 

I spent the first eight years of the triplets' life walking around with holes in the knees of my jeans (and not in the cool way) and something somewhere on my clothing that you can bet didn't belong to (or even come from) me.

My trio with friends -- they might be to old to call it a play date but I am celebrating
their laughter and fun with friends all the same!

The other moms -- led by Minnie Driver's character, Maya -- initially want to be like and hate this new mom all at the same time. They show up for the Oscar party with beautiful hair and ironed clothing. And after some wipe-your-eyes-from-laughing moments (you really need to watch), they end up at new mom's clean, organized and lovely home. Oh y'all there are heated words, food fights and hurt feelings. Before Maya's daughter intervenes and forces them to talk. And that's when things get real:

"We want to believe we are the best mums for our kids. It is terrifying to believe someone might be better." -- Maya

Oh that. Sigh. I can honestly say I struggle sometimes with other special needs moms. It can be so hard to hear about the hours this mom spends on therapy every single day while I am sitting here thinking ouch, I can't imagine forcing Benjamin to do that. Or a mom who shows up with every medical record laminated in a color-coded binder. And I'm like, "Oh yes, color coding! I did that once. When the triplets still napped twice a day. I haven't had time to match colors since then." Or the myriad of amazing moms who work out, cook organically, start their own name it and believe me if we play the comparison game it can get ugly quickly.

We compare ourselves. And because this road is ours alone -- rarely have we seen or known someone to walk it ahead of us -- we can be filled with self-doubt. What if the way I am doing it is the wrong way. What if there is in fact a better way? What if my child could have accomplished x, y, and z if ONLY I had been like that mom.

It is enough to make you want to pull a "Minnie Driver" as we refer to it in our house....and mess up New Mom's uber-organized pantry!

And then the writers of Speechless nailed it again:

New Mom: "I think we need to give each other and ourselves a break. It's like we have the same problems, right? We just come at them from different angles. We're sisters, not enemies."

Oh do y'all remember how desperately I want sisters?? And to have them gather around my table???

We talked for a while after the show -- we spoke of a need to be organized, the impossibility of staying organized, and the beauty of finding the balance. The moms were sharing and getting to know each other -- all new friends, all at different places in our journey, all sisters.

The kids were also making new friends and finding their own way. College kids with CP and without showing love and friendship to those younger and some older on this journey. Elementary kids with CP and without, finding a bond in laughter and pizza -- is there anything better?

And for our group of 30-something that ranged in age from 8 to well, much older than 8, we spent an evening doing what family does, breaking bread (and more than a few chips) and gathering around the TV to laugh and cry and enjoy a favorite TV show.

And as my husband led one of our new friends to the ramp, Jordan looked at Wade and asked, "Dr. Shrader, can we do this every month?"

To which my soul cried, "Yes Jordan, yes we can!! I happen to have spray paint in a myriad of colors!"

Carol - The Blessings Counter

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Collar buttons are from the pit of hell. Wisdom from the Pulpit.

In the days before satellite radio, podcasts and the Internet as a whole, my Daddy drove the highways of Mississippi for work every single day. And as he traveled, he listened to sermons. He probably had more spiritual instruction in one week than most people have in a year. He shepherded my brothers and I with a wisdom borne of his hunger for Godly instruction and discipleship.

And so when he was fighting cancer in the early 1990s and called me to recommend an evangelist he had heard on the radio, I eagerly listened and arranged my schedule to hear the man speak the next time the program aired. The gentleman, David Ring, is an evangelist who happens to have Cerebral Palsy. His message was beautiful and my heart was encouraged listening to him. When in the days following my dear Daddy's death, we learned that David Ring would be speaking near our home in Huntsville, AL, Wade and I went. I went to honor my Daddy's memory. I went to have my heart encouraged. I went because of that phone call early in his cancer fight. I went because I missed my Daddy so very much and this felt like sitting beside him on the church pew.

I had no idea that I went because three years LATER, I would give birth to three babies months too early and my two boys would have Cerebral Palsy.

I had no idea that what I found healing in the grief of my Daddy's death was really so much more. It was in fact my Dad preparing me for the years to come. He shepherded me through all the years he lived and in this final gift -- he would shepherd me through some of my scariest days. Because of my daddy, I knew that my boys' future was bright and that no diagnosis could prevent God using them every single day.

Today, David Ring was speaking a couple of hours north of us. Wade heard about it and asked if we wanted to go. The college kids came home. We re-arranged our schedules. And we loaded the van and headed north.

I might have "Amen-ed" a little too loudly when he said Cerebral Palsy and buttons don't go well together. I might have really "Amen-ed" too loudly when he said that the small buttons on collars are straight out of the pit of hell. His humor was funny in the early 90s. Healing even in the months after my Daddy's death. But today, he was talking from a place that spoke to my Mama-heart.

And when he said that the blood of Jesus is ENOUGH to even overcome Cerebral Palsy, the tears might have leaked out a little.

Twenty-three years ago, I went to hear this man because my Daddy wanted me too. I wanted to honor his memory. Today, I went because I needed to say thank you to David for being faithful with his story so that Wade and I would have hope twenty years ago.

I went because I needed to sit on the pew next to my Daddy and be shepherded by him again.

Carol - The Blessings Counter