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Monday, November 28, 2011

identity

A little while ago, I was watching a program about soldiers coming back home from the battlefield and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Many of them spoke of how nearly impossible it was to them to just switch gears from being on high alert 24 hours a day... to just being good ole' dad playing legos with the boys. How when they were soldiers, they knew who they were and what was expected of them. Back in the US, they felt out of place. Different, yet the same. Feeling like strangers in their own homes and families.

And I cried. Because, I got it. I got that whole "who am I now?" question. Since coming back to the US, I've been haggling with that question. Who I was had been summed up in "missionary"-- and now that we are in a somewhat in-between state, what is my answer?

I suppose, looking at things from where I am now, I can see that perhaps I set myself up for this identity question. Throughout most of my life, my identities were chosen for me: Daughter. Homeschooled. Christian family. #3 of 10 children. Even the course I studied was, in large part, not what I wanted to study but what I was directed to study. Where I worked was, at the beginning, chosen for me.

Of course, as I grew older--I chose how I would behave. I chose my character inside of those identities... but, again: they were chosen for me.

Then, I chose my identity: I chose to marry Rey. Within about a month, I married my man, became pregnant with Noah and moved to Mexico. If you weren't counting: that was 3 new "identities" in one month. Wife, momma and American-living-abroad.

These being some of the first decisions I'd made on my own, I wanted to excel. I wanted to be the best wife, momma and foreigner there'd ever been. But, I wasn't. Being a wife involved a lot more growing than I'd anticipated. I was sick during most of Noah's pregnancy and then struggled in knowing how to raise him. I constantly mis-interpreted cultural signals and became weary with it all. I found myself often just putting one foot in front of the other--feeling as though I was failing on all fronts.

But, at least. At least I was a missionary, which in itself is an identity. People knew what a missionary was (or at least their understanding) and supported us in amazing and tear-jerking ways. At least on those days I didn't get supper made for Rey because Noah had had a bad day and the annoying neighbors had been over--I was still a missionary.

And then. Then we came back to the States. Yes, our heart is still to return to missions--but we don't know exactly how or when that will be. Yes, I am still a mom--but now I am a mom in the US, which I've never done, and am trying to keep up. Yes, I am still a wife--but, for a while there, I was a working wife. And, now a wife to a foreigner (as opposed to being the foreigner).

Around the time that I saw that program about the returning soldiers, we were experiencing a lot of conflict and stress in our home. My work schedule was colliding with Rey's, and we were constantly passing responsibilities back and forth between each other as we tried to keep things going. I had actually been coming to find a new sense of identity in my job as I was beginning training to be a manager and was frustrated with trying to keep up with that and home.

There is a saying that I am not going to remember correctly--but it has to do with the fact that without conflict, there is no change. That we have to learn to view conflict as a good thing, because without it... we stop growing. So, during this high-pressure time--I felt God's voice saying that same thing to me. That this pressure was coming from a deeper area in me, an issue I had not ever really settled. That I shouldn't get caught up in the personal aspect of this conflict, but dig deeper and take the time to ask some questions. And wait for God's answer.

And I heard this verse: "Your life is hidden in Christ." (Col. 3:3) And, my eyes began to be opened. Ok, folks. Don't be rolling your eyes about the fact that this "identity in Christ" message is one taught in Bible class 101... cuz I am just really getting it. So, bear with me.

You see. I felt like I was this person who needed to be somewhat like a chameleon. The same, but drastically different. Somehow being always culturally relevant and in style while balancing that with pouring myself into the lives of my kids and balancing that with being a romantic wife while balancing that with being a servant to this world that needs Jesus. So, it was like me manually trying to change these gears in my mind--without making any waves.

But, what God is teaching me is this: My identity is Jesus. What that means to me is this: I am successful only when I am doing all I do to please God. When I am moving in obedience to Him and allowing Him to cover me and take care of the rest.

What that translates into in daily living is FREEDOM. Shall I go on? Here's the facts, my dear readers: Life will change you. You will gain weight or loose weight with pregnancies. Your body will take on a completely different shape. Fashion will loose priority in your life as you delve into ways to raise your babies in a healthy and Godly way. You will have little to no time or money to spend on yourself--because your investment is now in the lives of many. You will be "the unsanitary mom" to one person, and you will be the "overly protective mom" to the next person. You won't be able to have as many carefree adventures, travel at whim, stay out as late or go out as often. But, you know what? It's ok! Because your identity isn't that. Your identity is Jesus.

Do you know how much weight you'll take off of your loved ones once you stop trying to get your identity from them or from things? The wife that knows her identity is in Jesus won't be making her husband sweat as he thinks of the correct answer to, "You think I'm fatter now, don't you?" The friend that knows her identity is in Christ won't be over-burdening her friends with her complaining about what she doesn't have. The momma who knows Jesus has her back, can drive her kids to the playground with her head held high (even though she hasn't showered or remembered to wipe the banana off her shirt) because she says, "Lord, you know how this looks. But, you also know how I spent my morning on the floor with my kids. Pouring time and love into them. And, I know you are so happy about that."

Because, the truth is. Everyone out there, and their neighbor, has an opinion. And they're all different. So, if we take our identity from what we hear about ourselves--or what we should be--we will be constanly loosing sight of who we are. Like I was.

Friday, November 18, 2011

just keep on swimming...

That's what these last few months have felt like. Well, really this whole year! It has been a whirlwind of decisions, changes, goodbyes, hellos and new things.

In January, I would've never guessed I would be where I am now, typing what I'm typing. I never knew that in March we'd feel led to leave behind one dream to follow God's leading back to Illinois. I never could've dreamed how hard it would be, what pain the process would incure--or what miracles would be generously poured out before us. This life--this walk--it is only known to Him, and only experienced when we "put our feet in the waters"... and allow Him to open them.

God is teaching me that so much of life lays in perspective and priorities. If I can keep His perspective on things and let Him lead us in prioritizing our activities--life is grand indeed.

Provision. That is what God has done for Rey and I from the very first day. From our early married days-- when we had no water heater and cooked over a plug-in single burner. When I would use my hair dryer (a pre-marriage purchase) to heat Noah's sleeping area, since we didn't have a space heater. To our missionary days--where He would miraculously provide just what we needed when we couldn't imagine where it would come from. True, it hasn't been easy. True, the last months as missionaries found us converting our home into a second-hand store, and using our precious days off to sell things in the downtown area. To today, where we find ourselves well and cared for. Our housing provided. Steady work. Good, good friends. More help than we could have dreamed of. Mercies new every morning.

Work here: Since we arrived, Rey got several different odd jobs. I often worked weekends as a waitress at a family restaurant and worked a couple hours a week for a friend who has an online business. In September, our jobs had kind of faded away, so I applied to work at a Golden Corral Buffet in Peoria. I generally worked 3 nights a week--3:30p to 11:30 or midnight. It was exhausting, thankless work. However, strangely, I felt pretty sure I was where I was supposed to be. I am always trying to figure out what I can learn in each situation, and one thing I learned was HUGE empathy for single mommas who work. What?! How do they even do that? I have a hard-working husband who cares for our babies when I was working and I would come home to a quiet, clean home. Still, I felt that I was drowning in exhaustion and always behind. I noticed my absenses having a negative affect on my children's behavior. But, we needed the income... So, I kept on.

It was interesting time for me--since I haven't had a job since I was married. So, it was good for me to remember the stressors, the social tensions and friendships that come along with a job. I'm glad for the experience--if only for that. It will help me, I think, be more "in tune" with Rey when he goes back into the work world.

A week or so ago, Rey suddenly found himself with about 5 new jobs all at once. We decided that this was a good time for me to "go back where I belonged"--home! :) *Long, happy sigh*. Being "away" from full-time mommying and house-keeping has given me a new perspective of its grandure. It has helped to center me and to give worth to what I am doing. More on that later. ;)

Along with work craziness, we were trying to keep the kiddos outside as much as possible during the beautiful fall we had and were getting Rey's green card paperwork filed. Right now, we are just waiting for them to advise us as to when our interview will be. Hoping it will be soon!

Nothing profound tonight. Just an update for those wondering... :)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

noé chronicles. 7

Can I just stop and say--so that you can take a deep breath--we are daily seeing little miracles in our boy. Little things that before were impossible, he is now taking in stride. He is learning to count before he reacts. He is learning to say "Excuse me", before he screams at an offending playmate. He is becoming more determined, more independent. This morning, after having an accident, he came and told me. Then, he ran upstairs, grabbed new underwear and pants, and brought them back to me. And then put on his underwear, by himself. Because he wanted to. He helped me clean up after every game he played. He helped me wipe off the table after breakfast.

On my lowest days, I couldn't have imagined it. These moments are miracles to me. Just today I remembered Noah's reaction the first time I blew bubbles for him when he was around 18 months. He was utterly terrified. Like running into walls and growling kind of terrified. He thought they were going to hurt. And to see him now...

Ok. Picking up where we left off.

So, my cousin is a Speech Pathologist and she works at a center providing all kinds of therapy for all kinds of needs. She referred us to Ms. Karen, an Occupational Therapist. One fine day in September, we met her so she could do a "screening" to access Noah's needs/abilities.

For me, as I have said, the hardest part has been the fact that Noah's needs aren't visible and generally manifest in behavior issues. Which, to the outside observer can be translated as, "That momma ain't doing her job." To have Ms. Karen take an hour with Noah and engage him in activities that tested all kinds of comprehension, and fine and gross motor skills was fascinating. Her personality is warm and playful, but calm. Noé warmed up to her right away (which doesn't always happen) and did his best.

A few days later, Ms. Karen called us back with her findings: She found that Noé scored very high in sensitivity to stimuli and was "sensory avoidant" or "vigilent". He was very low on his self-care abilities. He displayed some rigidity (in other words: if something is this way once, it has to always be this way). His full-body control was great, but he struggled with fine-motor control. The thing he scored above his age level in was visual memory. That didn't surprise me! He was low for oral comprehension.

Ms. Karen's hunch was that Noé's main issue could actually have to do with not having a natural sensory organization. Like that his mind wasn't automatically sorting out all the sensory information he was getting, so he was more or less doing it manually so it was taking longer. Also, this would explain some of his lack of problem-solving skills and lack of determination/independence. And, with his mind being busy with that, while he was trying to simultaneously shield himself from any unknown sensory input, it was making for a kid with extremely emotional reactions.

Strangely enough, hearing these things actually let a little pressure out of my emotional balloon, because it's one thing for the mom to say she thinks something is going on with her kid. It's another for a complete stranger and professional to say them. We were set up with weekly therapy sessions with Ms. Karen.

At the same time, Pre-K started for Noé at the local school here in town. I was so excited to hear about this 3-hour, 5 day-a-week program Noé qualified for called "Bright Futures". People had only wonderful things to say about the program, the school and the teacher. However, as the first day of school got closer, I found myself lying awake night after night, crying. How could I be sure this was the right decision? I wondered. Noé is only 3. Maybe I should wait another year. Noé has never even let us leave him in a church nursery--how will he be able to put up with being left at a big, foreign school with 20 other 3 & 4 year olds? What if he was so traumitized it actually made him regress? My mind was a mess.

However, in talking to my cousin, she pointed out that perhaps with two years of Pre-K, Noé would have the skills needed to be able to transition into a "regular" Kindergarten class. Give it a chance, she said. Sit with him in class the first day. That made sense to me, so I did.

The first few days were rough. The first day, he sat in the "Safe Area" the entire time and refused to interact with anyone. I could feel the fist of anxiety closing in my chest when I heard that. The next day, he cried the whole last hour. The next day, he did fine after he got over his first tears at goodbye time.

And now? Now he LOVES school. He can't wait to go. He knows all the names of his classmates and sings new songs almost every day. The teacher does a great day of keeping a very visible organization technique for the children and the time is very structured. Just what Noé loves.

This afternoon, I go in for an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) meeting with the teachers, therapists and principles to figure out what (if any) modifications need to be made so that Noé can continue to thrive. When I worked in the school district, I never imagined my child would one day be discussed in one of these kind of meetings--but at the same time I am so excited by and proud of the progress he has made.

Noé loves Ms. Karen like crazy. They have all kinds of fun in their weekly therapy sessions. Basically, the therapy is kind of like a controlled and focused form of rough-housing. Trying to help Noé overcome fears of falling, to loosen his need for control of everything. To build patience and fine motor skills. To help him mature his attention to verbal commands and his hand-eye coordination. And to more or less desensitize what is hyper-sensitive. Ms. Karen says her job is to "Help even her out." I feel like Noé sees Ms. Karen as someone who really gets him. And that means a lot.

I have read that many children with Noé's "issues" struggle with self-esteem or confidence, because they can see that children around them are "getting" things much easier than they are or are not having meltdowns while experience the same situation--and that can cause them to just not even want to try. Or to not believe they can. Or to give up to soon.

And, this is the part that causes my momma-heart to swell and my eyes to water. I can see Noé's confidence growing every day. I can see it when he marches into school alone, his backpack bouncing as he waves goodbye. I can see it when he counts to 10 so that he can be patient. I can see it when he walks up to people he doesn't know and starts chatting. I can see it when he is feeling uncomfortable or has his feelings hurt--but he keeps it together.

No, things aren't all the way "evened out" yet. No, we aren't at the end of this journey. But, there is hope! We feel so loved by our heavenly Daddy because we know that He cares for Noé more than we ever can. And that He brought us to live in this school district, that He put us in contact with Ms. Karen, that He is at work daily in the heart, mind and body of our boy!


Building a tower, he was telling me it was "Huuuuge!" when the picture was taken ;)



Daily becoming the best helper I could ever ask for:


Pretending to be momma:


Getting his school picture taken like a champ:


Rug time at school:


Firehouse fieldtrip: