Lessons I have learned from my children – guest blogger

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For those of you who have children, do you believe that God gave you the exact child(ren) He knows you should have?

My first child was several years old when I came across this question. It meant so much to me.  Why? Because prior to it, I often questioned God, “Why?! Why this child for me? I’m failing!”

100_7271My child is The Strong Willed Child. And me – I tend to be too laid back and easy going. That didn’t seem to me like a good mix. Surely God made a mistake?

Oh but wait. God doesn’t make mistakes. Ever. Uh oh.

In reading that question for the first time – that God gives us the exact children He wants us to have, I began to see my first child differently. It became, “What is God trying to teach me by giving me this child?”

I’ve never looked at my children the same since changing my mindset/attitude.

One thing I’ve learned is that the lessons God is teaching me through my children constantly evolves.  As soon as I think I have one more thing figured out and ready to cross off my “lessons learned” list, God throws another one at me. The potter refining the clay.

I have 4 children, each one so different from the others. Maybe the variety because God has so many, many things for me to learn!

Tabitha, or “Tabby” as she prefers to be called, is my oldest child and is an 11-almost-12 year old.  Tabby is very “strong willed” or “weak willed” according to Charlotte Mason, used to be very hyperactive, and loves silly things and people. She is a voracious reader, is very musical (plays piano and enjoys singing), loves photography, and has a compulsive need to craft almost every day. (Tabby makes all sorts of things – like chocolate lollipops, soaps, tie dyed baby clothes, beaded jewelry, etc. – and sells them through her blog The Craftsy Kitty in memory of her angel sister Lilly.)Tabby and Lilly

I am absolutely amazed at how a person’s temperament comes through so early – even in the womb. Tabby was my child that was the most aggressive when I was pregnant. Towards the end of my pregnancy, at the fetal monitoring test, most of the time was spent with her (from inside me) kicking off the belts strapped on me.  The nurse commented that my baby was making it clear she would hate car seats and being constrained in any way. I was skeptical. But the nurse was right!  From the first second I first strapped Tabby into a car seat she screamed and fought. That continued way too long.

Tabby quickly learned to use her screaming and crying to manipulate me. I was completely baffled by this child as she was so different than me!  Oh I did have experience with her type though, my mother and one of my brothers are also very strong personalities like her. But there I was struggling not to be bossed around by a small child. (Now that’s just embarrassing to admit!)  Tabby made it clear from the beginning that she did not care for authority. That has been, and continues to be, her biggest struggle in life.

So how does a “wimpy” mama deal with a child like that? By spending much time in prayer begging for wisdom. By learning to be a stronger person. By standing firm in what she believes is good and right – and by sticking by it, no matter what storm comes. By trying her best to be consistent in all things, no matter how wearisome it becomes. By loving her daughter even when it feels like the battles will never end.

So am I now “super” mama who has all this perfected now? NO. But looking back, I can see how far I’ve come. Not only does my child no longer control me, but I have grown in my relationships with other people. I don’t often let others push me around anymore. I’m not so timid about speaking up and sharing my beliefs. I don’t worry as much about what people think.  And I’ve gotten really good at asking God for help! (I was a single mom raising Tabby on my own for several years and came to see her as the child that God and I were raising together. I loved this feeling.) I feel like I’ve become more creative too, in working with Tabby in teaching her to use her strengths for good.

Though of course every time I think I have something figured out then BAM! some new situation arises with my creative girl to send me back to my knees in prayer.

100_8191In my son Hunter, 4 years old, I discovered that raising boys really are different from girls.

Really different.

Whereas girls tend to be sneaky and passive, a boy is just in your face with his disobedience. Ah, that makes life so much easier. 🙂

Hunter is my affectionate child – both physically and verbally. He gives me hugs throughout the day and tells me he loves me a dozen times. I grew up in a home that was not this way so having Hunter around reminds me how important this is. He often asks me “Mama do you love me?” It reminds me of our relationship with God. God is always there loving us, no matter what. Do we tell God we love him?  Do we act like it?

I homeschool my children and for about the last 2 years, our homeschool day starts with me working exclusively with Hunter. Honestly I had never planned to sit down and “do school” with a really young child, but you see, God has given Hunter an amazing brain. I almost can’t keep up with it at times. School time is one of his favorite times of the day and he’s disappointed on weekends because we don’t have school. He LOVES math and science especially, but delights in learning almost anything. He is a “workbook kid.” It’s not unusual for me to hear “Mama, can we please do an extra page of math?” when I’m ready to move on. I have had to really stretch myself to keep up with this 4 year old’s education! And I’m proud to say I have finally learned how to hook up parallel and series circuits successfully, something which I never “got” in government school science class. Hunter loves electricity, plumbing, building, appliances, anything with a motor. Everyday he will suddenly say “I have to draw!” and he will draw house plans or a washing machine with all it’s wires and plumbing showing, etc. He even has dreams about this kind of stuff!

This is Hunter's dream dial! What a clever fellow!

This is Hunter’s dream dial! What a clever fellow!

I find I continue to be amazed with Hunter’s enthusiasm for learning and often feel ashamed I don’t always have that same enthusiasm for opening my Bible and learning more about God. This is something I pray about. Hunter delights in so many aspects of God’s world and it has taught me to appreciate and wonder at more things too.

My third child is a little girl named Lilly, who now lives with Jesus. She is my “most famous” child as people from all over the world know about her, through my blog. Lilly lived for 17 months (7/4/10-12/15/11). She had a genetic disorder called Trisomy 18. More than half of the babies with Trisomy 18 die before or at birth.  Of those that survive birth, most die in the first 2 months of life outside the womb. Lilly was one of only 5-10% of birth survivors that lived to see her first birthday. She was a fighter! And she was aptly nicknamed “Little Firecracker” by hospital doctors and nurses when she surprised them by staying alive after birth (being born on July 4th.)

100_2080We first learned that Lilly may have Trisomy 18 during a routine ultrasound when it became apparent that she had holes in her heart, clenched hands, and several other “soft markers.”  That is when I learned to be praying even more for my children. I begged God to allow me to bring Lilly home from the hospital. Not only did He grant my plea, but allowed us to have and hold Lilly for 529 days. Lilly’s life was a rollercoaster ride and I only was able to hold on tight by God’s mercy. Many days were very good.  But other days were terrifying.  She almost died in front of my eyes 5 times. I prayed many desperate prayers for her – and for me, just to be able to breathe. My biggest fear was in her actually dying and during her life I prayed that God would help us through that when it came. The most horrific thing in my life for me was finding Lilly dead one evening. (She died during a nap.)  But I survived. I felt God holding me through it. Through Lilly, I learned firsthand that God will truly never leave us nor forsake us. How do people survive something like this without Him? I can not fathom.

Lilly had a beautiful smile and laugh. She loved her family and her daily routines. She loved experiencing new things. She made it very clear she did NOT like hospitals! Nor medical equipment in general. She was physically and mentally delayed. I sometimes feel like children like that are closer to God that we are. As she amazed me, and others, over and over again, I knew for sure that God truly has a plan for each of us. I also learned that no matter how young a person is, they can have a huge influence on others – even complete strangers. God never makes mistakes. Though many in the world saw Lilly as broken, I know she was perfect. Her life inspired me to reach out to others, especially Trisomy or angel families, and to begin The Lilly Memorial Project.

When Lilly died, she took a huge piece of my heart with her. However, not long after she passed away I was shocked to find out I was pregnant. (As I type this I still feel surprised and wonder “What will God do next??!!”) Our Solomon was born 9 months – to the day – that Lilly died.  Is that not a “God thing”? Our rainbow baby, Solomon, has brought more healing with him than I thought possible. (A “rainbow baby” is a baby born after the loss of another child. A rainbow is a thing of beauty after a storm, even among the destruction of the storm.) I had many fears of losing this boy while pregnant and then after his birth. I do not often live in this fear anymore, but I do understand fully that every breath we draw is a gift from God.

100_3491Solomon is his own very unique little person.  For the first months of his life he wanted to be held almost all the time, even at night.  I had never had a baby like this and admit I became very frustrated at times. (It did not help that we moved only 3 weeks after he was born and I had a house to unpack!) My frustration made me feel very guilty too, because I knew this baby was a blessing from God and I was so thankful for him. But then I read something that made me see Solomon’s almost constant clinging to me as a beautiful illustration of God love.  Just as I was holding Solomon so much (and still do a lot!), God holds me. As my arms are around my baby, God is holding me. Constantly. He never lets go.

I thank the Lord daily, even many times a day, for my children. We have no control over when the Lord will call them home. We do not know God’s future plans for them. But as long as we are blessed to have them, we can love them, appreciate them, and be thankful to God for His goodness in allowing us to have them.

Lisa blogs over at Pray4Lilly. She spends her days homeschooling, making to-do lists that never get completely done, talking to God, and stealing moments here and there to read.

Here’s the blog post I wrote about the day of Lilly’s passing. She was a very special little girl. Thanks Lisa for your heartfelt thoughts and perspective!

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A little life remembered

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It was just a month ago around 7pm when I was at Whole Foods with the Hubs. Our plans were to get a few things and do some Christmas shopping at the local mall.

We were talking with a friend whom we happened to meet coincidentally over by the deli counter and my mobile phone rang. It was my orange hair, freckle face OS calling. I was certain he needed help solving an argument between him and his brother or maybe it was just to remind us to pick him up a grocery item. But neither were the reason for his call. His voice was heavy and I wasn’t sure I heard him correctly.

“Lilly died.”

What did he say?

I nearly dropped my phone.

I wasn’t sure I had heard him correctly and I didn’t want to misunderstand. I had just checked her mother’s blog that afternoon and although this little baby was medically fragile, there was no evidence that in the span of a few hours, she would be gone.

We aren’t related to Lilly in a family sense but this little girl had won our collective hearts.

Now I’m standing at Whole Foods struggling to understand this news. Suddenly all the Hubs and I wanted to do was speed through the check-out line and return home. Our family needed to be together, the errands could wait.

We walked out of Whole Foods stunned, the winter air had a quiet chill as we placed our groceries in the car. I could feel a whole community of people grieving over this profound loss. A tiny hero had passed away.

So who was Lilly? Lilly was a beloved baby born with Trisomy 18. Trisomy 18 (Edwards Syndrome) is a chromosomal disorder. Only 5-10% of children born with T18 live to see their first birthday. Lilly, aka Miss Firecracker because she was born July 4th, belied the medical community. Although T18 is commonly known as being incompatible with life, Lilly wanted nothing to do with that nonsense. For 17 months, Miss Firecracker bore witness to the fact that every life is significant.

The first time I would meet this precious child and her mother (I already know Lilly’s dad) was at the funeral home. Our entire family, including our OS who was home from West Point, loaded in the SUV to pay our respects.

I wasn’t the only one crying as we walked through the line and I will not tell you which OS also had tears in his eyes.

Dressed in a vintage christening gown with her favorite stuffed toy caterpillar near her side, Lilly looked like a tiny doll. It was necessary to share our condolences with Lilly’s family.

The line grew long as many waited to speak to her parents and offer sympathies and appreciation for loving her so well. Even though it was very emotional, the Hubs, Nate, Aaron, Ike and I had to meet this little girl who had inspired us with her fighting spirit. Lilly gave testimony to a life well lived.

The anticipation of a new baby breathes excitement into a family. But for some parents, joy is replaced with heartache when they learn that their much-loved preborn child may not survive. This book is a wonderful resource.

The anticipation of a new baby breathes excitement into a family. But for some parents, joy is replaced with heartache when they learn that their much-loved preborn child may not survive. This book is a wonderful resource.

As we reflected on the year 2011 and marked the many experiences we have shared as a family, Lilly’s life and her departure to heaven found its way into the threads of our significant moments. I am pleased to say that Lilly’s life mattered to many. Her extraordinary family remains in our prayers and continues to inspire.

Read more about Lilly and her legacy at Pray4Lilly. You will be blessed. Who has recently inspired you? I’d love to hear, please share.