The Kristen Chronicles: God’s Groundwork

IMG_0152

What if God let you have a peek at your future?

 

I couldn’t handle it. Could you?

 

Looking back is so much better than getting a peek into the future. Yes, there are regrets. But most of the time when I look back, I’m amazed at one thing:

 

God laid the groundwork for what was to come.

Sometimes I chose to ignore His preparations in favor of things I wanted to see and how I wanted to do things. But one time in particular, I followed His lead and it paid off big.

 

A few weeks ago I wrote about how discovering a noncancerous tumor in Kristen’s left eye left me angry and bitter. We counseled with our pastor who gave us nuggets of wisdom that lasted for years to come. When I wrote that blog post, I hadn’t read my journal from that time. I didn’t think I had to, since it was such a deeply embedded memory. But I was wrong.

 

Yesterday I flipped through the journal. I have a lot of journals spanning many years, but one is special. It’s black and shiny, with a white goose sticker that says “Teresa’s Book” in my mother’s cursive handwriting. She gave it to me in the hospital the week Kristen was diagnosed with tuberous sclerosis, with the written encouragement to put my thoughts and emotions on those pages. And I have.

IMG_4562

 

And I’m so grateful I did, because what’s become memory-dulled and mashed-up with other events, stands out as a life event of its own. What I remembered as a long process of acceptance was different. It was a blessing to read my emotion-less, formal words in my journal, telling of how I’d come to accept a difficult reality. The biggest blessing was the acceptance took place a full two years before the next big hurdle we would face. It would take a lot of time to practice living a Jesus-focused life to face what was ahead.

 

This is an excerpt from my journal:

IMG_4561
12-10-1989
A tumor (astrocytic hamartoma) was discovered in Kristen’s left eye in 1988 and in October 1989, another examination showed the tumor had uncharacteristically grown bigger, therefore blinding Kristen’s left eye except for light and movement. Also my fear of her losing her eye ultimately was given credibility by the retina specialist.
This was a time of being extremely disillusioned with God…
Our pastor gave us a book called Surprised by Suffering by R.C.Sproul that changed our lives. In a nutshell it examines the darker side of being obedient to God, centering around Christ’s time in the Garden of Gethsemane. It has made me face my fears and anger and put me at a point where I, too, like Christ, can say, “Not my will, but Thine, be done.” If Kristen’s eye must be removed, then so be it. He will take any burden upon Himself if I give it to Him. I must look past my pain and love Christ more.

 

 

God does things His own way, in His own time. Sometimes it’s easy to feel neglected by a very big God. But I encourage you to take a look back and see where our very big God has intersected your life. You might be surprised at the groundwork God laid for those big things you’ve faced.

 

 

The Kristen Chronicles:Surprise,Surprise!

7

I love surprises. When I turned 6, my mom threw me a surprise party. All the neighborhood kids came. It’s one of my best childhood memories. Walking in to a bunch of voices yelling, “SURPRISE!” is wonderful!

This Valentine’s Day, my husband gave me a day full of surprises via sealed envelopes. I was to open only one at a time. He had designed a day devoted to taking me to places that only I would dream of going, beginning with La Madeleine for breakfast. He hates La Madeleine (not his thing!), but I love it. I can’t tell you how much this day of surprises meant to me.

 

However, when speaking of surprises in general, they’re not always welcomed with open arms. Some of life’s surprises don’t fit inside our rule book, so we don’t recognize the surprise as a treasured gift.

I’ve written a little about our first surprise. The news came on the heels of Kristen’s diagnosis, at a time of uncertainty in just about every way possible. Surprise, thy name is Katy. And what a lovely surprise she turned out to be, for all of us.

Katy came only 19 months after Kristen. Not only were we not planning on having more children ANY TIME SOON, if ever…we sure weren’t going to have them that close. I mean, are you kidding?

Surprise!

Katy made our world normal again, or at least as normal as our world could be. She took our myopic eyes off our first child and made us step back and take in a whole new scene, one full of two children. Both of them needed our love, and we lavished it.

Kristen was delighted to have a little sister — though not at first. When she got used to having someone share the spotlight and affection, she loved having a comrade in arms.

IMG_4377

Those two were inseparable. It wasn’t long before Katy passed Kristen verbally (which was bittersweet), but Katy, with her cheerful, bouncy nature, was inspiration for her big sister. Kristen loved to watch Katy and follow her, laughing, romping, verbalizing. Though Kristen didn’t play in the same way Katy did (Kristen often hyper-focused on an object, or instead of playing with Barbie, she threw Barbies repeatedly across the livingroom), she watched Katy. “Come on, Kristen!” Katy would shrill, and Kristen would go running after her sister.

Katy made friends easily, something Kristen didn’t do. One of her best friends, Emily, was the daughter of my best friend,Tammy. We’ve always marveled at how God put our friendship together. Tammy was Kristen’s first speech therapist at Easter Seals. When we discovered we lived only a couple blocks from each other, our friendship blossomed. It was natural for our kids to be friends.

Whenever we got together, Katy and Emily chattered and played with their toys, and Kristen followed, loving their company. Tammy and I talked in the den, curled up on the sofa. It was a fall day in 1988 when I told Tammy, “I’m late.”

When her eyes got big, I waved my hand dismissively.  “Oh, don’t worry — I took a home pregnancy test. Anyway, there’s no way I’m pregnant.”

Tammy laughed. “Isn’t that what you said with Katy?”

Hmmmm…

I gave it another week and another negative home pregnancy test before I was off to my doctor.

This felt very familiar.

Dr. Cutrer was, again, jubilant. “Guess what? You’re pregnant!”

Surprise, thy name is Sarah.

Surprise, surprise. I do love surprises!

IMG_1538
One of my favorite pictures: Sarah, Katy and Kristen in their sister hug.

 

The Kristen Chronicles School: 5 Tips for Parents

IMG_0140

School.

Little did I know it would come 3 years after Kristen was born, by way of a little yellow bus.

Her class had a fancy title, but basically it was pre-K, special education-style. I was excited that my girl would go to a local school and we could stop our everyday journey across Dallas to Easter Seals, but at the same time, I was sad that she was going to a local school and that we had to stop our everyday journey across Dallas to Easter Seals. Hooray for no more stressful driving in Dallas traffic; boohoo to no more contact with other special needs moms.

Before Kristen could enter our school system, she had to be evaluated. The results of the evaluation would be revealed in a meeting called an ARD (Admission, Review, Dismissal for Special Education). That’s where we (parents, teachers, special education teachers, administrators, diagnosticians, therapists) would discuss the plan for her education for the following year.

Because I’d taught before having kids, I’d participated in ARD meetings, and it was a familiar procedure to me. However, as we approached the date that Kristen would enter our public school system, the moms at Easter Seals began talking about advocacy. Since their children were also entering public schools, they were nervous about how their kids would be viewed. “You need an advocate with you at the ARD meeting.” I must have heard this sentence 20 times if I heard it once. And even though I wasn’t nervous about our meeting, I began to question: should we have an advocate, too? Maybe the school district was going to pull a fast one on us. Maybe this meeting wasn’t going to go well. Maybe the Easter Seals moms knew more than I did, even though they’d never set foot in a school before and I had been a teacher. The seed of doubt had been sown and overrode any logic that might have been obvious to a more objective person.

So, we proceeded to our meeting, advocate by our side. It was the one and only time we took an advocate. We learned quite a bit from that first meeting with school officials, and we never quit learning the whole time Kristen was in public school (19 years). We had a very successful experience. We weren’t perfect, the school system wasn’t perfect, Kristen wasn’t perfect, but we all worked together for Kristen’s good.

If I could go back in time and give myself and the other moms advice, I’d share these

5 tips for making school and parent interactions successful:

  1. Don’t think of the school as an institution. Schools are full of people. They have feelings. Get to know those people for who they are. Remember why they do what they do: they love kids.
  2. Communicate: clearly, positively, often. One thing’s for sure: you don’t stand a chance of making something right if you don’t know it’s wrong.
  3. Ask questions. Don’t leave anything to chance. If you don’t understand, clarify. In an ARD meeting, for example, the staff reel off special education terms so quickly your head spins. Remember, they live and breathe these words — you and I do not. Don’t feel bad (a.k.a. stupid) for asking staff to explain educational terms. You need to know what you are agreeing to before signing consent. And always attend any meeting held on behalf of your child.
  4. Know the law and your child’s rights. Knowledge is power and freedom. When you know special education laws and your child’s rights under those laws, then you will be more at ease with the school’s plans for his education. You will also know when it’s appropriate to question something.
  5. Always be positive. Everything you do — getting to know faculty, communicating, asking questions, gaining knowledge about laws — should be done with a positive attitude. If fear, bitterness or anger bleed through your correspondence or questioning, or worse, if you are seen as one who helps out around the school because you want to check up on certain teachers…things will not go well. It will be very hard to recover from the bad reputation you will have set up for yourself. So before anything, pray. Pray for the principal, the staff, and every person on the campus. Pray that they would remember their calling every day. Pray for the school district and its leadership. Pray that your child and every child will be cherished and valued. Pray for the parents to value and support the people who educate their children. And pray for your own attitude to be generous and caring towards those who care for your child.

I didn’t do all these things perfectly. But my biggest fear never came true. Kristen was always safe at school, and no matter how she behaved, I knew those in charge of her welfare were trustworthy, loving, and had the highest integrity. We were blessed those 19 years in Mesquite ISD.

The Kristen Chronicles: Reality Check

2

 

Comfort zones. We all have them. Cozy, comfy places we love to snuggle and stay. Even when those places aren’t cozy or comfy, we don’t want to vacate our comfort zones.

It’s what we know. It’s what we’ve come to expect out of life.

What happens when those comfort zones become demolition zones?

When Kristen was 3 years old, an ophthalmologist detected a tumor in her left eye. Its location virtually blinded her in that eye. When I heard this news, it knocked me out of my comfort zone and into a spiritual demolition zone. My life was out of whack, again. When is all this bad news going to end? Blind–are you kidding me? I thought we were done. What’s next, God?

All the closeness I’d felt towards Him was gone, replaced by anger and frustration. I’m tired of getting bad news all the time, God. Do you not like us?  You just seem distant and cold, sitting on a throne, too far away to really care. 

I didn’t like my thoughts. Even more, I didn’t want to be a bitter woman, so we met with our pastor to get spiritual counseling. We shared our pain and our frustration, and he listened. Then he shared a concept that changed our lives.

He shared that if your expectations for your life are high (at a 10, let’s say), but your reality is lower (at a 3), the space between those two numbers represents the amount of frustration, anger and bitterness you experience. If your expectations are a 7 and reality is a 6, then you’re content. But if there’s a big space between your expectation and your reality, it’s likely you’re discontent, angry and frustrated with your life.

So, what’s the answer? I was on the edge of my seat. I had lots of space between my expectation and my reality.

The only way around bitterness is to bring your expectations and your reality to the same level. And there’s only one way to do that.

Jesus.

You have to value Christ above everything else.

I stared blankly at my pastor.

He got specific. “If your car is taken from you, it’s okay, because you have Christ. If your house is taken from you, it’s okay, because you have Christ. If your spouse is taken from you, if your children are taken from you — if you lose every single thing that meant anything to you on this earth, it will still be okay, because you have Christ.”

“And when you get to the point where you can honestly say Christ is everything to you, then and only then will you experience real contentment. Then and only then will you view everything you have as blessings, not things you were entitled to. You won’t be bitter at what you don’t have, because you’ll be seeing what you do have, like God sees it.”

Woah. I’d never heard anything like this before. I knew I wasn’t anywhere near this kind of thing . . . but it intrigued me. If nothing else, it gave me hope that someday I could trust God again.

Little did I know that four years later I’d take this lesson and cling to it like there was no tomorrow.