Tuesday, November 3, 2015

 {Happy 6}

Dear Malachi,

As is my annual tradition, I am writing your birthday letter.  Yes, your birthday was three weeks ago.  And what a three weeks it has been for you.

{Deep breath}

I think perhaps my busyness and inability to string three sentences together on your actual birthday was divinely appointed, because NOW - well, now I think the sentences will flow more coherently.  This birthday letter was meant to be written today. It's not late.

It's time right now to talk to you about how brave you are and how wonderful these six years have been.

Someday you will look back on the week you turned six and all of these memories will come back to you.  Turning six was fun and festive.  You love everything about birthdays, so taking cupcakes to your kindergarten class, having "birthday punch" at awana, and going to Build-a-Bear with Grandma were all reasons for that huge grin you wore daily.

And then the next week happened.

Your first broken bone.  You don't do things half way and everything is done with gusto and enthusiasm.  So, obviously you would not break a bone delicately, right?

It's that call no parent wants to get from the school.  Your daddy got it and he lovingly cared for you through the ER visit and the re-setting of your two arm bones.  You may or may not remember all of this.... but rest assured you impressed all who came in contact with you.  You took it all in stride. Quietly and pensively, but never breaking down.

I have often heard it said that a parent would take a child's pain onto themselves if possible. Sometimes it has been said in a cliche form.  Of course I know it is a truth. My heart-ties to your brothers have already shown me there's no question about it.  Anyone who has nurtured in a motherly way - whether it is through mentoring, fostering, adoption, or giving birth, knows this instinctively. We would take the pain. 

This morning I held your body and cradled your little head as you woke up from your second round of anesthesia after your second round of setting those uncooperative arm bones.  And as you whimpered and squirmed, tried not to cry,  and told me that your arm hurt and you just wanted to go home I would have broken every bone in my body to heal yours. 

Dear Malachi, there are a million things I could write in your sixth birthday letter.  I could write about your stubborn will,  your perfect giggle,  your ability to get adoring attention everywhere you go,  your already impressive work ethic,  your endless chatting,  your crazy bully-ish streak,  your deep questions, and even your sparkling eyes - but I just have to pause here and write this one thing.

When I held you this morning all I could wrap my mind around was that God loves you more than I love you.  And that thought was nearly unfathomable to me.  But that feeling - the thought that I would break all my bones and break my body for your healing was enough to keep what God has already done for your precious little self, and mine, in the forefront of my mind.

He created you for some incredible things.  By His wounds you have been healed.  Don't ever forget that littlest man.  You bring so much joy to this family.  We are celebrating you and hurting with you, taking care of you, and praying that physical healing of that arm happens so very soon.

And mostly -  We are so beyond thrilled to see evidence of God himself working in your young life. There's no greater joy.

Happy six, dear one.


Monday, September 7, 2015

 My people

Yesterday I took a little road trip to meet with my November bride at her gorgeous wedding venue.  It was a great planning  meeting and we really "got" each other.  It is always my intention to serve everyone equally but sometimes there's just a special kind of chemistry between myself and the couple I am photographing.  It's kind of a rare thing - and it always makes the job go beautifully.

After hashing over all of the fun wedding photo details we got onto the subject of my boys (happens every time).  I was so refreshed to see her face light up when our conversation turned to K,  autism,  CP,  and epilepsy.

 "Oh, he must be  a pretty neat guy".  It wasn't patronizing or forced at all.  Cause I have this radar of such things and I know the difference quite well. 

He is a neat boy.  And sometimes I get frustrated in the day to day and forget the privilege.  And much of the time I get flat looks of pity when people who don't know me initially realize that I have a child who has special needs.

 It kind of changes the view.  It changes the perspective.

But this family - they had sincere questions and uplifting comments.  They shared about a family member with autism and how great he was.  They spoke in both a respectful and yet matter of fact tone.  I realized how refreshing it was to neither be pitied or regarded a saint.  My parenting gig deserves neither.

Sometimes I am the one who distorts my parenting gig as something to be pitied or sainted.  And that's kind of gross.  While it is not my intention to base my perspectives on how other people view what I do,  I think we all fall into that to some extent.

My experience yesterday made me think about how blessed I am.  I don't always have that positive experience with acquaintances,  but for every pitied look or awkward response, I have a solid foundation of care and support to fall back on.

I am overwhelmed with thankfulness when my hard seems harder than everyone else's hard (this is an actual conversation I had with a friend over coffee a couple of weeks ago - that many ridiculous  uses of the word hard and all).  You know how sometimes there's just an increased awareness of how much we need our people?  Being a parent can really highlight that.  Being the parent of a child with special needs can beg a certain amount of support and reassurance.  If I didn't have my peeps,  I would surely want to crawl in a hole some days.  And just get pretty comfy in that hole.

It's a given that my biggest support here is the one parenting with me.  We are 100% in this together. My Dave and I. We enter into a rather sacred celebration and confusion over all of this.  There's alot of unexpected and I'm so glad I don't have to know this journey without him.

My mom and mother in law are very foundational to the support holding me up. From day one, they have been there.

But I also have this network of girls. They are important to me on many levels - however,   I find their support specifically helpful as I navigate parenting K.

Dala doesn't even have to say much because she's living it and there's just an intrinsic knowing.
 "You can do this"

Emily's voice is quiet but laced with great strength.  Really one of the most influential - telling me to stick with the hard, everyone has hard, and our ministry to our family is #1.
 "Be faithful"

Kathy's voice has been with me for several years and she's always willing to listen - no matter what.
"Share your struggles, be real, don't give up"

Rachel, Joy, and Sarah are further away, but their voices are with me because they fill important parts of my heart and my parenting adventure.
 "Hang in there" "God's got this" "Don't you dare try to do this on your own"

My sister Trish leads me by example and is one of my biggest cheer leaders.
"Do what doesn't make sense to bring glory to a God whose ways are higher"

My newer people - like Megan, Sara, Steph, Janelle, Kate, and  Rikki stand with me in prayer at the drop of a hat.  They've jumped in with practical help without batting an eye and have never made me feel bad for needing it.
"We're here"

Kristin and I have hung on by a thread together and she shows me that sometimes a good laugh and a (few) cup(s) of coffee can change a perspective when things are hard.
"We'll make it"

Hannah's not a mom - but I've never experienced someone, in such a different stage of life as me, get it like she does. She sincerely cares and prays me through the hard.
"Trust God"

The list goes on.... I could never even begin to write an all inclusive list.

And they show me that my K - he is a privilege.  They have time for him.  They value his life.  They value my responsibilities.  They take the time.  They believe that every life is precious - and it's not a bumper sticker kind of of belief.

They don't leave when I sit on the floor and hardly have the strength to raise my head.  Most of them have seen me hold K down while he melts down.  Sometimes they have watched him lash out at me in a contradiction to his pleasant nature - and turn into a ball of rage.  And while I know it's hard for them to watch,  they haven't left.  I have experienced some who have backed away from closeness with me because it's uncomfortable and hard and they don't know what to do or say. These have not.  It's different and can be very challenging to be one of my people at times.  I know.  I get it.

That makes it even more valuable to me.

They lighten the mood and clink their glass with mine.  They open the Word and repeatedly show me black and white truth.  They send silly texts - the more emojis the better... right?! ;)  They don't get scared off by the ugly cry,  and often match running mascara with running mascara.

Sometimes I feel like I have no one - because that's what human (sin) nature will do.  It's the greatest most effective lie our enemy will use to cause us to stumble.

You're alone

Your hard is definitely harder than anyone else's hard

No one cares

You have to shoulder this all by yourself

So, I write this to combat that.

Sometimes I have a memory loss problem. And all of that ^^ presents itself as truth.

I'm surely blessed by God in this journey and I know I could never do it alone.  My perspective changers.  My people.  My grace givers.  They hold my arms up when I'm too weary.  It's worth writing down - because we all need the reminder we are NOT alone.

Sunday, April 26, 2015


I was at my favorite coffee shop on Saturday, meeting one of my May brides to go over beautiful details in anticipation of her big day. While my favorite white chocolate raspberry latte was being brewed (concocted? formed? created?) I glanced at all of the posters that were hanging down from the counter - asking for visual attention. The colorful puzzle pieces on one particular poster drew me in.

"April is autism awareness month", it read in bold letters across the front.

Yes. I think it might be. 

It doesn't really matter - adding another diagnosis.

Does he or doesn't he? - It won't be earth shattering.

But you know that thing? The intuition? The "gut feeling"?

I have it, you see. And sometimes it just propels me forward - gleaning information, weighing options, and eventually advocating for what my heart says my boy needs.

And right now The Heart Propelling is in full force. It's functioning in full "time to get some solutions" mode.

It was probably about 6 months ago when I read an article on autism. It popped up in my news feed on facebook.I glanced at it distractedly. Doesn't apply to us, but ok, token glance.  

And then my jaw dropped, my heart beat increased considerably,  and everything else disappeared for an unknown amount of time as I read about my boy. To a T.

I think this is a road our medical team hasn't gone down because for so long we were tied up in  "life issues". 
You know, little details like
brain function, 

There are some doctors who are shaking their heads. Saying, no - this isn't him. They don't seem thrilled that I have taken a walk down this road and am poking around a bit.

And then there are the others. The ones who say, "what? where is the autism diagnosis on his file? I don't see it, but surely it is here..."

And one of those recent doctors, who would fall in the latter category, was Dr. Hope. Experiencing Dr. Hope gave me that final push in starting down that road.  Dr. Hope herself falls somewhere on the spectrum. The way she interacted with K, had immediate inside jokes with him, and translated his words and action to me demanded some sort of awestruck respect from me.

She sat next to me shortly after entering the room and told me that she had Asperger Syndrome. While she was respectful of me, she clearly understood and advocated for K in a impressive manner.  And at one point I even got the slightest bit of suspicion that she pitied K's therapist who was with us, and myself - because we weren't autistic. At one point K began to come unglued when I tried to take his Ipad so that he could concentrate on answering questions that Dr. Hope was asking. She dimmed the lights, sat on the floor with him and began whispering with him.  He calmed almost immediately

The K whisperer?  

I physically had to hold myself back from an inappropriate proposal,
"Um, excuse me ma'am, 
could you quit your job 
- with one of the leading university hospitals
 - and, you know - helping tons of people, 
and move in with us? 

In about 60 minutes time she explained so many things to me. So many things that I am still processing and tucking away in my heart.

So this possible diagnosis, - this word that gets thrown around a lot and has all kinds of generalizations and implications.
It will not define him. Some say it would be detrimental to throw it on him. But honestly? If you could peek into that heart intuition that is propelling me forward, you would get it. What is happening in my head and heart as I read more and more about autism is more enlightening than most information I have gathered in the last decade. Part of me is just thinking, "What? Why was I thinking that so many of these behaviors were just big ol' question marks that no one could explain? Why am I just now seeing the obvious?"

As I have read more and more about this I have almost wept at this relieved feeling that there are other families who are experiencing what I thought were unknowns that we had to wade through alone.

It wouldn't have mattered if they were always a big ol' question mark. I had wrestled with that and slammed "All The Unknown Things" down on the mat. Didn't matter. But now....

There's this almost unexplainable stream of sunshine cascading over some of the cloudier places in my being. I wish I could articulate this better, but right now I'm still in the processing stage and it barely even makes sense to me yet - so bear with me. ;)

There was a time when I allowed a {primarily culture-noise led} mindset to begin unraveling some of the strings of contentment that God was weaving around my heart.

It said, "Oh, those precious 15 weeks. He was so perfect before your body betrayed him and pre-term labor brought he and JD into the world before they were ready. 
Those perfect little bodies and perfect little minds.... What could they have been?" 
Sometimes I would indulge in sitting and thinking about "what might have been". My 10 year old K, 11 year old K, 12 year old K....

And my heart breaks a little bit for any time I have listened to culture and formed any kind of thought about my precious child based on that noise. 

You see, that kind of thinking can be like poison.
Because my K is whole.
And none of us are "normal".
And that "what might have been" way of thinking?

It wasn't. It isn't. God is sovereign and in control and questioning what is - is in effect questioning Him.

So here's the I-can't-quite-explain-it-yet sunshine cascading over my soul.

There are no "what might have been's". 

This is our K,
always was our K,
and likely would have been our K - regardless of those precious 15 weeks.
While my understanding is still very preliminary on this, it seems there isn't a conclusive link between prematurity and autism.

My ministry to him just gained a huge dose of clarity. It was meant to be my life. God saw me and my feeble gifts. He knew my heart better than I know it myself.

And  He knew.

He knew that I would be K's mom. That I would feel woefully inadequate, and cry out to Him on a daily basis because of it.

He knew. 

Nothing else ever would have been. This was it all along.

I feel this privilege and honor. ... and maybe now you see why I call it strange and unexplainable.

This week we are beginning autism evaluations. We are starting some new therapies, among some other new possibilities. I am fully aware that along with the autism diagnosis there are certainly a whole new set of question marks and unknowns. - I'm not expecting All The Answers. But I feel like I am finally understanding some things I have never understood. I am hoping to gain some tools, for Dave and I, the other boys, and K, that will help us help him. And I know I'm not alone in this.

So - this month will be coming to a close soon. This Autism awareness month. And with it some awareness in seeping into our family.

Monday, March 23, 2015

 14 years {AKA: Later On Down The Line}

-Melanie Shankle

We slipped away from the world last Friday. 

Left our responsibilities.  Left our calendars.  Left our kids.  

Sometimes you have to leave a few things behind in able to breathe a little.  As it ends up, when not interrupted by Many Little Voices,  I can talk for 2 hours straight,  hardly taking a breath.
Just ask Dave.  Dude will testify to that. 

Fourteen years can sure seem like a breath and a lifetime all at once. 

As I've reflected on the last 14 years I nearly found myself embracing a path of thinking that perhaps some of those years held wasted time.  
Wasted moments.  
Wasted on selfishness and immaturity.  
Wasted chasing after things that didn't matter and missing what it truly means to be one flesh. 

I was an entire 6 weeks out of my teens when I became a wife. 

Yep.  I knew all about it.  We would have the happiest little home.  Marriage was a beautiful thing which resulted in two people making one another so very happy.  My low self esteem would be healed by his adoration and undivided attention.  He would make me a better person and I would do the same.  Finally we would be complete,  as God had designed.  

Some truth in that above paragraph little Padawan, but very, very little. 

We took a train to the city last Friday. All the way to Chicago just for lunch, shopping, and walking around. 

Because we could.

We are so country.  Stepping off the train was like stepping into another world for us.  Us coon-catching-crazies.  In the big city.  Paying $5 for a small coffee.  Oh yeah.  Living on the edge. 

Oh the refreshment of that day though!  It was unseasonably warm.  We didn't even pack coats, and were comfortable the entire time.  

He held my hand and I made him go into Anthropology.  
We wondered about all of the tattered and tired, imploring anyone and everyone for help on nearly every corner.  
We talked about how much we wished we could hear each and every one of their stories and somehow help them all.  
I had fish tacos for the first time and laughed at his apparent dislike of my choice.  We have very different tastes in some things, and that's a-ok.  Because we are completely different people.  We see the world through our own filters, which took years to form.  Years when we didn't even know each other.  

We have different tastes and different thoughts and unique abilities.  We have different callings. Sometimes he sees the forest while I see the trees and he can pull me back a bit, "See this? See the big picture? It's going to be ok." Some times with just a sentence I can confirm  a nudging on his heart and open him up to a multiplied beauty. 

And that's where it's at. 

It's not in an imagined euphoria of this exhausting treadmill - striving to "keep each other happy". I tried that. It's not real and it's not life giving. More than trying to "keep him happy" was the expectation that he needed to continually increase the speed and incline on making me happy. I mean, that's what being married is, isn't it? 

I held his hand and walked comfortably beside him.  Right by his side.  Where I want to be forever. Our shoulders rubbed against each other every now and then and it was comfortable.  So comfortable. I remember when we were engaged and newly married - I had this irrational fear of what I naively entitled "Later On Down The Line". 

Later On Down The Line.  
In my young mind it represented change and a lull.  Excitement lost. And *gasp* being comfortable.  I had watched far too many couples become apathetic towards one another.  I had watched disrespect seep into relationships.  I saw that point when they stopped holding hands.  So some of this response to the unknown - that day when perhaps we will have been married to the point of  boredom? - that fear was not all unfounded.  I wanted to fight for something good. Admirable. 

But stealing into that thinking was the fallacy that somehow years = a diminishing of feeling.  That we would be destined to this negative Later On Down The Line.

So.  14 years.  It's kind of later on down the line, huh?  let's face it, we can hardly call ourselves newlyweds anymore. 

And if I could go back to my young-barely-out-of-my-teens self, here's what I would say.

"It's beautiful. You won't believe me, so you'll have to live each moment.  Let moments build into memories and you'll see.  Comfortable is beautiful.  While the breathless of the unknown is gone, you'll never wish for that back.  The glittering moments of nervous heart palpitations give way to a solid foundation,
to a knowing beyond anything this side of heaven,
to a firm hand holding you up,
and battles waged, wrestling through selfishness, victories won with eyes locked in determination."

There's still plenty of mystery. Plenty!  If you want to see my husband nervous, just wait till I start talking about him being able to read my mind. Scares him to death. Because he can't.  And he doesn't complete me. And while he has been incredibly instrumental in making me a better person, it is God who has ultimately used him in the process.  Don't ever put a Creator sized job on a created human being.  Just don't. 

Our shoulders touch and I'm just grateful.  While we don't read each others minds, we have a pretty good idea what the other is thinking.  Because we have practice.  We have taken the time to ask throughout the years.  He knows  what dress I will stop to ohh and ahh over in J Crew. It's yellow - so, yeah.  He asks me to order at Starbucks in Millennium Station because he is still more comfortable in a John Deere than a coffee shop. And I know that,  it is so endearing to me. 

Sometimes I glance up at him and I still can't believe I get to spend the rest of my life by his side. 

It's so good.

Besides that fact that I love him, I really, really like him.  He's someone that I would want to get to know if I didn't already.  I'm fascinated by his intelligence and ability to figure out/fix/upgrade just about anything.

Those moments I would maybe want to discard?  - they were not wasted.  They were helping to build this foundation. We have a lot more building to do, to be sure. But God is using every single second of this covenant relationship to sanctify, to refine, to reveal himself,  to put the gospel on display to the world,  to glimpse eternity, and yes - even to bless us with happiness. 

On the train ride back to our home state, and our lodging for the night, we talked about where God might be bringing us, as a family.  We  settled into a contented relaxation and I etched the memory on my heart.  It's no secret that our lives are busy. Packed and filled to the brim. We are learning about margins and trying to make them more and more important, but there's also just reality. Life with 4 boys, work, home ownership, ministry - it's alot. We can't play hooky from life every weekend (believe me, I would if I could - and have tried to invent a way to make this happen since being back...) but that is what makes moments like these so very precious!  Dave and I don't throw the word "perfect" around much - that weekend we did. 

The next morning we spent time in prayer together (uninterrupted. I just hardly even knew what that looked like).  I had just spent time doing my make up and well, it was a good thing I did that...  because I sure did make a mess of it. 

I was undone when I heard this man, whom I have come to respect and hold in such high esteem, pray for us, our boys, our life, our hearts to always be seeking and chasing after God with abandon. 

See, years are not the equivalent of boredom or losing anything. But at some point, and only through years, something sacred happens. 

There is a bonding of hearts - but it's not what I thought it would look like in the beginning.  Key to finding a firm solidarity in our lives was a mind shift.  I needed to see Dave as primarily God's, not mine before we could reach this new level of intimacy. 

I needed to seek my Savior for my completion before I could glimpse the sacred in my relationship with Dave.  We are side by side, bonded inseparably as we seek to grow closer to Jesus daily. We are building His Kingdom together, not the kingdom of Dave and Wendi. 

Fourteen years down the line is nothing like I expected it, and so much better than I could have ever imagined it.  In our commonality of faith we have entered a closeness that is of a different realm than that which I was afraid to loose.  Even this points to The Kingdom; My thoughts and ideals had to die so that something so much better could be raised up.  

We are back in the mad rush that is our life.  There's a whole lot of "divide and conquer" - and not much alone/together time, once again.  But we give a smile and a wink and say, "I'm so glad to be doing life with you".  In texts and phone calls, and rare moments together we say it. We say that we believe we are doing what we are supposed to do and that in doing it together there is a noticeable strengthening.  We know it's fast paced and chaotic.  We especially deal with being separated as it pertains to K's care and the amount of time one of us has to stay back due to an inability to do an activity or deal with some of his challenging behavior.  

The joy is in the knowing that before time began, this was God's plan for Dave and Wendi.  He gave us this.  We take a deep breath and we dive into the deep. This week alone we have dealt with long nights,  meetings, a stomach virus that has lent itself to mountains of laundry, numerous changed plans, worshiping separately, and an ER visit.  I have battled a very stubborn Caleb by myself and wept.  

But this is the life we have been given. And doing it together glimpses Jesus. 

I can't wait for Later on Down the Line. ;) 

Love him forever.