Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Intelligence Plus Character- that is the goal of a True Education- Martin Luther King Jr.

It has been a wonderful year of school for my daughter, Sara Ashley. I have had the privelege of seeing her shine this year as she has made both academic and personal strides. When I watch her now, a soon-to-be middle schooler, it is hard for me to remember the fear I felt when first enrolling her at the school she attends- a school for children with learning differences. However, a few short weeks ago my memory was refreshed by a teacher at her school who wanted to share a story with me for my book.

Hearing her recall her experiences with Sara Ashley and another student at their first summer camp, before their first grade year, brought back a variety of memories. These memories included the anxiety of learning our daughter would be academically challenged, the hope for what this  specialized school environment would mean to her, as well as nostalgia for how much she has grown. But most importantly, it gave me the opportunity to reflect on how she has thrived. 

I am sharing this story with you because it has special significance, especially now. Last Friday afternoon I attended the end of the school year awards ceremony for my daughter and her peers where two students, one boy and one girl, were given the Award for Outstanding Character.  

Albert Einstein (also a dyslexic) once said, “Most people say that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character.” 
And as Mr. James, the headmaster of the lower school, reminded us, "It is not the high grades or test scores that others will remember most about us. These will quickly be forgotten. But our character will always be remembered."

As you may have guessed by now, Sara Ashley was the school's choice as the female winner of this award for the 2012-13 school year. Her father and I are so proud of her!

Reflecting on the multitude of emotions I have experienced through this journey, I am left in awe of a God so good that I am humbled beyond measure. How could we have known that He would take what the world perceives as foolish and use it to shame the wise? (1 Corinthians 1:27) He tells us this in His word. Why did I have such little faith that I failed to believe?

And looking back now at my anger and fear for her differences, I contemplate, in my utter humaness, why I could not conceive that through His mighty work in our daughter, He would accomplish infinitely more than we could ever ask or think. (Ephesians 3:20)

Thankfully, we serve a God who is loving and good. He has patience with me and continues to show me His glory.
My trust and faith are bolstered by these unexpected gifts with which He blesses us.

Sara Ashley and Mr. James

The boy winner, Jacob, is also a very special child and has been in school with Sara Ashley since that first summer camp. Ironically, the story that the teacher (mentioned earlier) wanted to share with me is about both of these students, Jacob and Sara Ashley. They have come so far in five short years. God's blessings for them both unexpected and wonderful.

I'd like to reveal to you the story this caring teacher recounted to me just a few weeks ago. I have no doubt that God knew He would continue to "connect the dots" for me in this journey when she shared it with me.

As excerpted from the forthcoming book, Unexpected Gifts:

“I am not a teacher, but an awakener.”

-Robert Frost

Jacob and Sara Ashley
Life Challenge: dyslexia

 They were two of the most severe cases of dyslexia she had ever encountered, and as she drove home from work that day she prayed to God for His guidance in teaching them.
“Lord, please give me the tools I need to teach these children. I want to see them succeed and I know they are capable. Please show me the way to help them.”

This was Cindy Wilkinson’s fourth summer as an instructor at the school for kids with learning disabilities and, as usual, she was teaching the little ones. She loved this age group. Their young minds were like a sponge, and when they learned, it made her heart sing. This summer, Mrs. Wilkinson had only two students, a boy named Jacob and a girl, Sara Ashley. The two had just completed kindergarten and, while both were obviously bright children with inquisitive and creative minds, somehow they had each reached this age without being able to learn the skills needed to read. As she was faced with this challenge, Cindy realized that these students were not even prepared for the curriculum of the reading program she used for her class. They would need to start at the very beginning.

Starting from the beginning was not a new concept for Mrs. Wilkinson. As a young wife and mother she embarked on a path to receive her teaching degree. She had just finished school when her daughter, Katy, was starting the first grade. At that time the “whole language” theory was being used as the preferred method for teaching children to read. Cindy was impressed with its concepts and chose to enroll Katie in a “whole language” reading class. The results for her daughter were disastrous.
As Cindy tells it, “Katy was unable to learn to read with this method. As she entered the second grade and began receiving phonics based training, things appeared to be getting better, until her teacher suddenly resigned. Katy was then faced with trying to learn to read with the instructions of multiple substitute teachers. Ultimately, she never learned to read that year either. It was only when she reached the third grade and started over at the beginning, receiving training in a phonics based program, that Katy was finally able to read.”
“Here I was, a teacher, and my child could not read.” stated Cindy. It was devastating and not something that she wanted other parents to ever experience. From that point forward, God placed a strong desire on her heart to help young children learn to read.

As Jacob and Sara Ashley began the summer class, Mrs. Wilkinson introduced the basics. Word cards and repetition enabled her students to learn the skills they needed to begin the reading process. She also utilized multiple teaching styles to engage them. As their skills progressed, Cindy praised and encouraged them. She also continued to pray for them. One day in class, Cindy recounts, Jacob made a declaration.
“My brain works different.” He said. “I learn things different(ly) than other people.”
With Mrs. Wilkinson’s reassurance, Jacob and Sara Ashley learned that “different” was OK. That despite their “differentness” they were still smart and able to learn. And by the end of the summer, with Cindy’s loving guidance, both children had made tremendous strides towards learning to read.
Cindy’s daughter, Katy, also learned that her “differentness” was OK. Through perseverance, her own faith in God and her family’s support, she is now a math teacher. As part of His masterful design, she works alongside her mother at the school for children with learning disabilities where both continue to teach Jacob, Sara Ashley and other students.

It has been an evolving journey for Mrs. Wilkinson with God using her experiences to help her bless others. Through her students and her daughter, He also continues to show her that He is forever faithful in our struggles, providing for us with His infinite love. And that He is always there for us, from the beginning and until the very end.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.” Revelation 22:13

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble.” Psalm 46:1

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Gut Feelings and Crooked Paths

Have you ever just known something with clarity in your heart and soul? In our daily life circumstances we often call it a hunch. In the business world we might call it a gut feeling. As a mother, we call it mother's intuition. And as a Christian we know that it is a nudging from the Holy Spirit.

Seven years ago I experienced a nudging that felt like this:

Something was just not quite right. Something was wrong. My perfect and beautiful daughter wasn’t learning at the same pace that her older brother had and I was concerned. I reasoned with myself that he was quite a bright child, very verbal from an early age with a memory like an elephant. So maybe this was “normal”? But my mind would not let my heart settle on that. Something was just not quite right.

My sister, a kindergarten teacher of 10 years, administered a battery of little “tests” each time we went out to eat. What color is this, Sara Ashley? How many gummy bears do you see? And if we take one away, how many are left? Sometimes Sara Ashley would answer correctly, sometimes she would stare blankly at her aunt like she didn’t have a clue what she was talking about, and sometimes she would simply be too busy with other things to care. So…where did this leave me?

My inquisitive, very active and not so verbal child was different; different from her brother, different from most of her peers, different from me. But was she really that different or was I just a mom with an overactive imagination looking for problems that weren’t really there? I shared my thoughts and fears with my husband, Rob. A free spirit himself, he saw no flaws in his daughter’s development and found her to be just like him. So I tried not to worry.

In hindsight, my first recommendation to anyone who wonders these questions is to trust your maternal instincts. Even if you are wrong, what could you possibly lose by exploring the issue (except money)? And it might actually be a tremendous help to your child. I can certainly say this has been the case for our daughter.

Maybe you have had your own "knowing" moments as a mother. Most of us have in one way or another. From instictively knowing what your baby likes and dislikes before they can even speak to knowing that something is wrong, a mother's intuition is a powerful thing and I recommend not ignoring it.

In the case of learning disabilities, I strongly encourage anyone who has a gut feeling that something is wrong with their child to explore the issue. A good starting point is to consult with your child's pediatrician and teachers.

It has been proven time and time again that early intervention is the key to success for kids with LDs, yet many continue to think that their child is just a "late bloomer" or will eventually "grow out of it." Sadly, during this valuable waiting time, the child is falling further and further behind and he or she often comes to the point of feeling hopeless and stupid, when really they just need help to figure out how their brain works best.   
University of Houston neuropsychologist Jack Fletcher heads the Texas Center for Learning Disabilities and says,

"Even though we talk constantly about the importance of early intervention, that message just continues to get lost and diluted in its translation. Every piece of research I know says that kids who are not reading at grade level by the end of first grade are at very high risk for a learning disability."

With my daughter, even her teachers didn't realize that there was an issue until it became a very obvious problem for her academically. Thankfully, by that time, my husband and I had already taken the steps necessary to start getting her help.

So how do you know if your child might need help? Here are some red flags that might indicate a learning disability in children five and under: 
  • Delayed speech
  • Pronunciation problems
  • Difficulty learning new words
  • Difficulty learning to read
  • Trouble learning numbers, the alphabet, days of the week, or colors and shapes
  • Poor concentration
  • Difficulty following directions
  • Poor grasp of a crayon or pen
  • Difficulty with buttoning, zipping, and tying
  • Family history of learning disabiilities
Being a parent is hard but rewarding work. Our children depend on us to be their protectors and advocates in a world that is increasingly dangerous and oblivious to the needs of others. Early intervention is key in helping our kids with learning disabilities. This early intervention can help prevent years of playing catch up, suffering from frustration, low self-esteem and even depression.

Diagnosis and knowledge are the answers. If you can name it, you can address it. And shame should never even enter the picture. Children with learning disabilities usually have normal or above normal intelligence, but they have trouble expressing their knowledge. An LD child may know just what he wants to accomplish- to say or write or do- but getting there isn't a straight path.

Just remember, crooked paths are ok! Although they are often the road less taken, they can bring their own unexpected gifts of beautiful scenery along the way. But first you must take the steps to embark on the journey!

Monday, May 20, 2013

Connecting the Dots

It began about three years ago. Bear with me, it's a long story, but I think it's a good one.
I was reading "Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul" in bed one night and came upon a story entitled "Welcome to Holland." Considering what we were experiencing with Sara Ashley, the story was very relevant to me and I found that it gave me a greater perspective of our circumstances. I also copied it and sent it to a young couple who was expecting a child with Down Syndrome, hoping it would help them too. It would be a few years, but in His time I would find out God's plan to use this story again, connecting the dots in my life to the lives of others and to His purposes for me.

Fast forward three years to this January. In an earlier post about a little girl named Emery Claire, I told you about spending time in a chapel with her grandmother, Sophia. We shared our experiences with our children, our fears and struggles, but also our joys and triumphs. And she told me about this precious little granddaughter of hers who is bringing such joy to their lives. I was also prompted to share with her the story I had read three years before, "Welcome to Holland." At the time, I simply felt that I was sharing out of my knowledge. I would soon find out that I was sharing from a prompting by the Holy Spirit. Although I didn't realize that this story was written by a mother of a Ds child at that time, I knew that it would help Sophia as it had helped me. 

After the weekend retreat, she went home and found that she already had the book "Chicken Soup for the Mother's Soul" in her home library. She read "Welcome to Holland" and had the same reaction as I had. She went on to use the story in a speech she will give to a group of ladies on another Christian retreat.

Just a few weeks later, God began laying on my heart the desire to write a book. He assured me of the comfort it would give others, just the way He had and continues to comfort and uplift me and Sophia through things like the story, "Welcome to Holland." He opened the doors for this project, connecting dots to other parents who shared this vision. Everything was coming along grandly until one evening when I read a post by another parent of a child with life challenges. Her post caused me to question this project. I was panicked by a fear that I was trying to make other's pain and heartbreak into a pretty package with a bow on top. Was I travelling down the wrong path? Had I misread God's instructions for me?

I soulfully shared my doubts with several close friends, asking for their advice, and waited for their response. Quickly, emails began shooting back and forth.  Words of encouragement, words of love, and words challenging me to stay on my path.

"Life is about choices," one friend shared. "We all have many pains and struggles. How we look at them and respond to them makes all the difference. I want to find joy and Jesus in my sorrow and struggles ... I want to see with His eyes and become more like Him!"

From another friend, "Everything we go through makes us stronger and better if we go through it with the right attitude and with our eyes in the right place." 

And from my loving husband, "I do not believe for a moment that you are trivializing anything.  What you are writing will inspire families that are looking for hope. Search your heart for direction but listen only for God's promptings."

Then I received a message that gave me the greatest clarity possible, sending chills down my spine. Remarkably, God had connected the dots from three years earlier all the way to that very confusing night. In my doubt and distress, He confirmed for me His blessing on my journey:

"Ever read this before?" my friend asked. You guessed it, the attachment was "Welcome to Holland." Thank you Jesus!

"Welcome to Holland"
c1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley.

I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability - to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It's like this......
When you're going to have a baby, it's like planning a fabulous vacation trip - to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It's all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, "Welcome to Holland."
"Holland?!?" you say. "What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I'm supposed to be in Italy. All my life I've dreamed of going to Italy."
But there's been a change in the flight plan. They've landed in Holland and there you must stay.
The important thing is that they haven't taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It's just a different place.
So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.
It's just a different place. It's slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you've been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around.... and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills....and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy... and they're all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say "Yes, that's where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned."
And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away... because the loss of that dream is a very very significant loss.
But... if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things ... about Holland.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Life Perspective

The past few weeks have brought the busyness of the Spring season. My interior design work had a surge with three deadlines culminating the same week and, of course, the end of the school year activities are in full swing! I relish this time of year because of the changing season, blue, sunny skies and the chance to watch the kids celebrate their school year successes. However, I must admit that I have had little time to write and I feel a bit disconnected from the book and stories that God has shared with me through so many wonderful parents and others who work with and love children experiencing life challenges. As the school year comes to an end, I hope to be able to remain focused and make more progress with my writing and sharing with others. The last few months have shown me the importance of continuing this journey. God is asking, He's got a plan, and I am determined to stay focused on His assigned task. When I am immersed in this "work" I experience so much JOY...why would I want to leave that undone?

As you have probably noticed, my posts about kids who face life challenges have all come from a parent's perspective. Most of the kids I have written about are still under the age of 13 and are either not fully aware of their differences or are not yet able to fully reflect on how their challenges affect their lives. However, today I want to share with you a post from a precious young woman. In her own words she shares how dyslexia has affected her life. Her story is honest and raw and you will be touched as she shares the pain and joy she has experienced.

Rachel is 22 years old now but I have known her from the time she was born. She is the daughter of David, our Minister of Music and JoAn, one of the Associate Pastors at my church. Watching Rachel grow up, I saw a shy and quiet girl who participated in the music programs at the church. What I didn't know was the struggles she was going through and the battles she was fighting. After reading her story, it is helping me as a parent and I am humbled by her determination and faith walk. God has and continues to help her through her challenges; a constant and loving source of hope and courage for her. I am thankful for her faithfulness to Him and her ability to be grateful through her circumstances. Currently, Rachel is working as an intern for Rick Bonfim Ministries. Her work for RBM includes designing/updating their website (, travelling to Brazil to Rick's Mission in Niteroi, and doing whatever else they ask of her.

Here is her story:

My name is Rachel Kinrade and I am 22 years old. I was diagnosed with Dyslexia when I was in Elementary school in second grade. It has definitely not been the easiest road, but with the help of God and my family I have learned to move on and get passed the diagnosis. (And live with it you can say) I can say now that it was quite a struggle! I attended public school from elementary school all the way through high school. I was in special education classes from second grade through fourth grade. When I got through fourth grade the teachers decided to take me out of special eduation, so I could be a “normal” fifth grader to get me ready for middle school.

From a very young age I struggled with school. I never was a good test taker, I didn’t have any friends, I was always the shy or quiet girl who would never say a word in school. And by a word, I mean a word! I would NEVER say anything in school, I was very very shy. The teachers noticed that I didn’t do well on test at all and that I was struggling and not comprehending a lot of material. My mom was a elementary school music teacher at the time and that’s when they decided for me to get tested for some type of learning disability. I went through a series of long and hard test, kind of like a standardize test if you will. I remember that day very well and everything about it. It was definitely traumatizing as a 7 year old. I was a very mature kid I did very well in school and just didn’t do well on test. I was too young to know what was going on, but now looking back at it having dyslexia and being defined as a child with a learning disability really hurt me growing up. Not being in an environment that understood was hard. I grew up holding back and keeping a lot of my feelings and even emotions inside. I didn’t ever express myself. I ended up not knowing how to act around other kids, because I wasn’t around them in the classroom. Felt very alone growing up and like I had no friends. I was so confused. Of course now looking back I see how much I have grown so much in this process, as a person and how it has helped me become who I am today.

I had many accomplishments throughout middle and high school. I learned how to cope with my dyslexia. My mom would talk to each of my teachers every year before the term started. Some would make accommodations and some would not. Some would be the best teachers and help me and some would be very rude about it. I got used to those…But I did the best I could and would work extra hard. I would spend three to four times longer working on assignments and homework as “normal” kids. No one understood while I was getting special treatment in classes and no one seemed to understand. But did that stop me? No! When working on homework and school work I would get extremely frustrated and angry at myself. I would get mad at myself, because I would not understand my work, I wouldn’t remember how to do the math problem, or I couldn’t comprehend a story I read. I would think to myself often, “Why are you like this? Why can’t you do this work by yourself like normal kids”, Why do you always need help?”

I got all A’s and B’s all through middle and high school. And I even graduated with honors from high school in 2009. I surprised my parents the night of graduation! I found out graduation morning that I reached my goal of graduating with honors. That tells you what someone can do if they put their mind to it.

Another big mile stone for me was graduating from the Art Institute of Atlanta in December of 2011. I graduated with my Associates degree in Culinary Arts degree with concentration in baking and pastry. I could not have gotten through without my family and me walking in Faith and Trust with God on my side.

I am not saying it was easy, but I am saying it is possible. Everything is possible with God. God has been my main supporter in all of this and my learning process. I was longing for a relationship with Him from a very young age even growing up in church. I leaned on Him even if I did not know what that meant. My parents also supported me. They would spend hours with me every night working through my homework with me and helping me. They believed in me like no one else! They were the best! Kids so much lean on there parents for support and help. All the kid wants is to be “normal” and feel important. That’s what my parents did for me. They always cared for me and wanted the best for me. They wanted to help in anyway possible. I know it was tough for my mom. It was hard for her to find common ground in fighting for me, doing everything she could and then deciding when it was a good time for me to jump out on my own. But she did great! 

I currently am an intern at a Mission organization in Athens, Ga. (Rick Bonfim Ministries) I absolutely love it and know that this is my call from God on my life. He has brought me through many hard times and that has brought me closer to Him. God has definitely brought me through this hard struggle of being a child and young-adult with dyslexia. He helped me realize that I did not have to go by Rachel who has dyslexia. I was Rachel, I was my own person and I didn’t have to be identified by dyslexia. Dyslexia does not identify who I am! I pray that my words encourage you and give you hope! God bless you! I will leave you with my favorite scripture that I turn to everyday and that helped me more then ever through this whole process:
Philippians 4:13 (NIV) “I can do ALL things through Christ who gives me strength!”

When asked what gifts Rachel feels God has given her to help her surpass her challenges, she shares that music, faith perseverence, compassion, caring and a servant's heart are a few. Here are her thoughts:

Gifts that surpass the challenges: 
1. I would have to say Music has helped me surpass the challenges. Having music and being in band in middle and high school and choir through church helped me cope with my learning disability. Music to this day helps me express myself and who I am as a person. If I didn't have music I don't know where I would be in life! 
2. Faith: Something that I've learned over the years is to have faith! I keep having to remember that we just have to walk in Faith and Trust! But mostly having faith can help you get through any situation! Remember: You just have to have faith the size of mustard seed! 
3. Perseverance: I learned to take each second, minute, hour, day at a time. I couldn't get through without doing this. But I did worry a lot growing up. and without looking at it this way, I would have NEVER gotten through and done things that I did. 
4. I feel as if God has blessed me with many gifts, but I would say the ones that mean the most to me are compassion, caring, and servant heart. I care SO very much for other people. That is who I am and how God created me to be. 

I am immensly grateful to Rachel for sharing her story with me and all of you. It takes courage to share and be transparent. I am also thankful to learn from Rachel. Although this journey began as an opportunity for me to share our story and how I see God working in it, I am finding that God has many plans beyond that. He is teaching me so much through others, how they have responded to their situation and what He has done in their lives. I have a lot to learn and am blessed with some great people to learn from!


Monday, May 13, 2013

Sticks and Stones

We've all heard the old adage, "Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words can never hurt me." I'm willing to bet that you heard it either from your mom or from a teacher the first time another child said something mean to you and hurt your feelings.

Sadly, the truth of the matter is that this old saying just ain't true. Words do hurt and, if repeated again and again, over time they can cripple us.

Before the "sticks and stones saying", God inspired Paul and others to write a very different message. 

Ephesians 4:29
"Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear."
And Jesus said in the book of Matthew 15:10-11
"And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”

Recently I was contacted by a friend. She had just read something I had written and the words brought back a flood of memories for her. These were painful memories of being shamed and ridiculed, told that she was "stupid" and "bad". These words were spoken to her when she was just a little girl, but here she was, at the age of 40, still crying about them. Reliving the pain of how those words did indeed "break her bones" by profoundly breaking her spirit. A recent Christian song also shares how significant spoken words can affect our lives. I've shared the song below.

Thankfully, God's love can heal the pain we receive from others words. And, as the song describes, we can use words of love to lift people instead of hurting them. In my friend's message I learned that God is slowly healing her pain. Over time and through developing a loving relationship with Him, reading His word, and allowing Him to comfort and nurture her, she continues to heal. But it is a long and hard process that she wouldn't wish on anyone.

She also shared with me that because of her experiences she is VERY, VERY careful about the words she speaks to others. To her children, she is a mother who relishes in praising them. And to friends, she is the one who always has the kind word and the encouragement that we all need to hear. God has taught her the importance of words and she is following His lead in order to heal her own heart and in order to make sure others don't have to suffer through her same experiences.

Reading her words was eye-opening to me. Her hurt and pain are real. They are a tangible reminder for me to stop and think before speaking. They also reminded me that, for the most part, children's emotions and feelings are the same. Our children with life challenges are just like other children. Although they may look or act a little bit differently (or may not!), they experience emotions, pain, and joy just like anyone else does. Some may not always understand sarcasm or wit, but some may understand it just fine. Some may not read social cues or understand lofty vocabulary. But some may understand and read these situations perfectly. The truth is, it doesn't matter what we perceive that they understand. The way we treat them should not differ from the way we should treat anyone else. Although they may be different on some levels, like all of us, they have the same capacity to feel hurt, shame and fear.
Therefore, our words should always uplift, and never condemn, ridicule or shame. Yes, sometimes children need discipline, ALL children. Yes, sometimes they need redirection. And sometimes they need punishment. But the words we use when we take these actions should always come from love and should be used to teach, not tear down.

We need to teach our children this lesson too. Children are often the cruelest perpetrators. Why, I'm not sure. Have they not been taught compassion or empathy? Are they modeling behavior they have seen in others? Or are they simply in need of being educated? Probably all of the above. And as parents, it's our job to make sure we do teach them compassion and truth, modeling the behavior that Christ modeled for us.

Words CAN break our bones by breaking our hearts and our spirits. They can break our lives if we replay them in our heads like a broken record. Let your words make someone's day, not break someone's heart. Be that unexpected gift and blessing to others, sharing God's love for ALL the little children (and big children) of the world!

I will leave you with some of the many, many Bible verses that share this message of using our words wisely and as  life-affirming for others.

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.
Proverbs 18:21

There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
Proverbs 12:18

I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.
Matthew 12:36

Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.
Proverbs 16:24

Whoever guards his mouth preserves his life; he who opens wide his lips comes to ruin.
Proverbs 13:3

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
Psalm 19:14

Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him.
Proverbs 29:20

The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
Luke 6:45

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.
Colossians 3:16

Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
1 Thessalonians 5:11

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Great Debate

Despite what you will read here, my son Robert brings great joy to me! He is a handsome young man with a passion for airsoft, picking (aka collecting junk), trivia and The Walking Dead. He is also the KING of debating! He began this at a very early age. I've often wondered how he acquired this skill as he seems to have come out of the womb with it. Only just recently did I realize that just maybe he learned a little bit of it from me. ;)

For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.
1 John 5:3

My son is a great debater. He seems to have been born with this talent as he has been using it against me since he was all of 2 years old.
“Put your clothes up Robert,” I tell him.
“But Mom, I’m not going upstairs until later, can I just do it then?” he’ll challenge. “And why put them up anyway?” he asks. “I’m going to wear them tomorrow?”
And on it goes. I ask, he scoffs. I demand, he argues. I beg, he pleads his case. I must admit, he comes up with some pretty good reasons why things should be done his way and not mine. Sometimes it even makes me stop and think, maybe he’s right?  And then I remember, hey, I’m the parent here and he’s the child! He should obey me- not question what I say.

My handsome debator

Does this sound familiar to you? After thinking about it for awhile it began to sound way too familiar to me! Me? A debater? Well…maybe the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Here’s how it all too often goes…God asks me to do something that doesn’t fit into my perfectly planned day and I argue, “But my schedule is tight. I don’t have time to have a conversation with that person.”  Or  “It’s not on my to do list to stop by and speak to that friend, even though we haven’t talked two in weeks!” 
And I implore, “How can You expect me to accomplish all of the things on my list and still find time to do these things too?”

Recently, I found myself at the paint store. As usual, I was in a hurry, multi-tasking and trying to meet a deadline. I walked in to pick up some samples while talking on the phone to a client and noticed a local painter friend sitting at a table.
“Hi.” I mouthed. And he quietly returned my greeting. After talking on the phone for several minutes while collecting my samples I was ready to head out the door.
“Stop and talk with him”, I suddenly heard in my head. “But I’m in a hurry!” I argued. “I have a list a mile long that I MUST complete and…well…OK…” and I turned to speak.

While I can’t say that the world’s problems were solved from our conversation, it was so nice to simply catch up with him for awhile. He is a godly man and even offered me some advice that I found very comforting and timely. And I received this blessing only because I listened to the Spirit's nudgings and obeyed.  I have to wonder, how many more blessings might befall me or others if we just listen to God instead of arguing with Him?

I know that my son and I will continue our debating for many years. I truly think that one day this skill will be helpful to him. Maybe we have a future prosecutor on our hands? But as for me, my arguing days are dwindling as I listen and try to follow God’s nudging to seek and obey His will and direction for my life.

God, please help me to slow down and listen for your promptings and to remember, Your ways, not mine. Amen

But he said, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”
Luke 11:28

Join Me in a Journey

Over the past thirteen years I have had the honor and joy to be a mom to my children and to truly appreciate what each of them brings into my life and into the lives of others. One special joy has been seeing how God has used my daughter, Sara Ashley. She has opened my eyes to the world around me and has shown me how to accept the challenges that life hands each of us with a smile and a positive attitude. As many of you know, Sara Ashley has dyslexia and ADHD. She was diagnosed when she was only five and because of this early knowledge we have been able to utilize many services to help her strive to reach her full potential. God continues to show me that this potential is limitless. Through God’s work in Sara Ashley, she has made me a better person.
I believe that many people struggle with fear and despair when they see their children or loved ones suffering, struggling or facing daunting challenges. I know that each of us often needs encouragement from our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to try to understand the challenges in our lives.
For that reason, and with the encouragement of my husband and friends, I am in the beginning phases of writing a book that will give glimpses into the unexpected gifts that we receive from these special children or people in our lives. People who have been dealt harsh challenges to their physical, mental or emotional health, but who have taught us that life is about far more than what the world perceives as their limitations.
The purpose of this blog is to chronicle the journey of writing this book and the stories of the people God is placing in my path along the way. Already, I have found many, many kindred souls who, like me, are living with children who face life challenges. And they are hungry and eager to share their stories of hope. All will agree that while the journey certainly has heart ache and pain, joy does come in the morning. That each of our special children brings us blessings in ways that we never expected.
My prayer is also that, through sharing, God’s blessings and gifts will be magnified and He will receive all the glory.
I look forward to sharing this journey with each of you.
Love in Christ,
Christi Estes

For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
Jeremiah 29:11

Our House Guest

For the last few weeks we have had a house guest. His name is Claudio and he's from Brazil. We met Claudio when we went on our mission trip to Niteroi, Brazil two years ago. He was our cook at the mission and our interpreter when we visited churches. Rob went back to Brazil last fall and formed a closer relationship with Claudio on that trip. So when Claudio told us that he was working to aquire his American residency, we told him we would help in whatever way we could. Although Claudio lived in New Jersey as a child and has relatives in the New York area, he wants to live in the south when he brings his family to the U.S. As he says, "I want my family to live in the Bible belt!"

Two years ago Claudio put his paperwork in to acquire his American residency. He already held a green card and has been coming to the States annually for 4-6 weeks to keep it active. Finally, he received word this year that he could begin taking the formal steps to make moving his family here a reality. But first he needs to show that he is gainfully employeed, has a home, and a stable income. These are the things we (and others) are helping him with. For the next month he will live with us and work for Rob. Then he will return to Brazil for two months, see his family (two children and a wife) and work for the Mission again. In July, he will return to us and begin looking for a home for his family as well as other work. (He'd love to be a high school soccer coach!) Hopefully, shortly after that, his family can move here with him.


Claudio and Robert in their matching Brazilian Soccer Shirts
  Although I was a bit apprehensive about having a house guest for an extended period of time, I have to say it has been a blessing. It has also changed our household a bit, but I honestly think it's for the better. Here are the things I've noticed:

1. We are nicer to each other. Who wants a guest to see you arguing and airing your dirty laundry?

2. My kids often spend too much time watching TV and playing electronics. I am noticing this because I am viewing it from another person's eyes. We are working on this.

3. We are spoiled rotten. When we served dinner the other night using our Spode china, Claudio commented on the plates and how attractive they are. Rob shared with him the cost of each plate (because he was bragging that he bought them for half price!) and I could see the amazement in Claudio's wide eyes. How could we spend that much money on a single plate?? Guess we need to re-think our priorities, don't we!?!

4. It's really nice to have a cook who enjoys cooking! Claudio has been kind enough to cook dinner for us a few times. We are experiencing Brazilian dishes in our own dining room and even Sara Ashley, our picky eater, is enjoying them! And I am enjoying watching Claudio work in our kitchen. Cooking has never been much fun to me, but watching him cook with joy really is fun.

5. We have plenty of room to help a friend. We've got this big 'ol house. We need to share it.

6. Our faith in the United States is different from the faith in Brazil. Because we have so many freedoms and access to material items here, I believe that we think we don't need to lean on God as much as those in Brazil and other countries do. This is to our detriment. I do not feel that our faith or convictions are as strong, and we don't look to and rely on God for our daily direction. I am working to change this in my own life and the lives of our children.

7. America truly is the land of opportunity. Although we have our problems here, compared to other countries we have freedoms and opportunities that they only dream about. Sadly, most of us (myself included) are too self-consumed to even appreciate it or realize it. Seeing our country through Claudio's eyes, I am humbled to realize the blessings that we have and to thank God for them every day.

If you ever have an opportunity to help someone by bringing them into your home, our recent experience has proven that it can truly be an unexpected gift rather than an inconvenience. In Hebrews, God asks us not to neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. (Hebrews 13:2 ESV) I'm not sure if Claudio is an angel, but I am sure that we are sharing a mutual blessing and I thank God for it.

Thursday, May 2, 2013


We all have it, right? In some form or another every one of us has fear. Fear of heights, fear of public speaking, fear of failure... the list could go on and on.... Fear can be a healthy thing when we use it the right way, but if we let it control us we are not living the life that God intends for us. 

Hebrews, Chapter 13 verses 5 & 6 say:
For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." So we may boldly say: "The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?" 

Sounds good in theory, right? But putting it into action is another thing altogether...

For as long as I can remember, fear has been a part of my life. In my teenage years I suffered from a bout of depression based on my fear of leaving home. I had to come back from college for a year to beat that one. Then a year into my marriage I had another round with fear. This time it was physically debilitating. Anxiety consumed me and I was unable face normal everyday activities for weeks. Thankfully, a loving family and husband helped me through that time. And after several years of cognitive therapy I really thought I had it all figured out. Feed the fear and it will starve you, starve the fear and you will live. But, in truth, I still lived in fear. I handled it much more gracefully, I didn't have panic attacks anymore and nobody else would have ever suspected it, but I still had fear.

These fears that I had would not sound irrational to most people. Fear of disappointing others, fear of not doing everything perfectly, fear that I wasn't who people thought I was, fear for my children, just plain old fear. They were ordinary, everyday kinds of fears, but they kept me from living the life God desired for me. And even though I functioned quite normally, fear was robbing me of my dreams and of the joy in which God meant for me to live.

Thankfully, about three years ago, God began to calm my fears. At a Christian retreat I learned about God's all-consuming love for me. I know, I know, I'd heard it a million times. But I had never fully experienced it or connected my head knowledge with my heart. And finally I did! It was at this time that I allowed God to start helping me work through my fears and I began living my life with intention.

I can't say that I'm always successful at it, but I try my best to make choices every day that are not based on avoiding the things that scare me or make me uncomfortable. After all, God uses those things to help us grow! Instead, I try to base my decisions on the most important things that God lays on my heart. And that's where this journey comes in to play.

Five years ago, I would never have had the courage to take this journey. And boy would I have missed a lot of wonderful blessings! From the people I'm meeting, to their stories of hope with their wonderful children. Fear would have prevented it all! I also recognize that my experiences with children and families who face life challenges have increased my courage. To see how they bravely face their circumstances and to see how God is faithful to their needs is an inspiration to me. This strengthens my faith in Him and with strengthening of faith, comes lessening of fear. 

Maybe God is calling you on a journey of your own. Will you answer His call? Don't let fear keep you from following Him. Remember, when you are walking with God in obedience fear goes out the window and courage and faith take its place. 
I promise that you will surely be blessed. But more importantly, you will also be a blessing!

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
Philippians 4:13