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. 

Thursday, March 19, 2015

 I am helped

We know doctors.  I have not known parenting without doctors.  Gobs of them.  Pediatricians, therapists, and medical specialists of all kinds.  We have been incredibly blessed to have many knowledgable and caring doctors as part of our lives.  In simple ways and in life saving ways the influence of medical personnel has greatly impacted our family.

Sometimes there is a feeling of, "this is their job".  They do it well.  They do it with knowledge that is exemplary.  But it's just a job.  Because I was thrown into a world involving so many medical professionals when I became a mom 12 years ago I find myself taking a subconscious inventory upon an initial meeting.

Is it simply their job?  Is it their passion?  Are they calculating how many more patients they can get through their door in the next 5, 6, 7, 8 hours?  How do they view the life in front of them?  What are their perceptions of those they treat?  Are we a name?  A case?  A number? -  Mind you, this all happens in my brain within a matter of seconds.  It isn't necessarily a negative assessment,  simply a habitual analysis.

I'm always wary of switching doctors - cautious when meeting new ones.  Some of it is just the hoops to jump through and All The Things involved with getting into a new doctor.  Some of it is all of the explanations needed to get to a place where someone actually *knowns* K.  Who he is, what he needs, where he's at.  It's a process for sure, and can be intimidating at times.  It's so much more comfortable to just continue with the doctors who have been with him since birth.  They not only know him now, they were a part of the very miracle that his birth was and life is.  No explanation needed.  They knew the wonder and the fear and the crazy tight rope of those early months.  It feels comfortable and comforting to have them on our team.  They know. 

This month we closed a chapter on K's story.  We left the last doctor that has known him since birth.   Or he left us.  Or something. ;)  Actually, he left the hospital where he was practicing pediatric neurology,  which is really the only thing that could have convinced me to switch K's neuro care.  I had to. 

We spent months trying to get records switched,  talking to insurance providers,  and making phone calls to the office of the new neuro we were trying to get him into.  While these things are not my forte,  I can see where God has nurtured much patience in me through them. :)

Last Thursday I drove K to The U of M hospital to {finally} meet the pediatric neurologists who would be taking over his care.  He loves our "solo time" road tripping,  and hanging out,  even if it is to see doctors. ;)

I'm used to alot of waiting,  and was prepared for that.  It doesn't really bother me,  especially in the bigger hospitals.  It's just a thing.  We do what we need to.  But this time we got back about 3 minutes after appointment time.  Subconscious checklist takes note. 

K did his thing. From office staff, to the nurse who took his blood pressure and weight, to the team of doctors - he charmed them all. It's crazy to watch this process.

It goes something like this:

Check name tag, memorize name.

use name multiple times in endearing ways, ie -  "Jenn, what are you going to do? 
 Is it going to hurt me at all? 
 What are you going to do when you get home? 
 I really like music, Jenn.  Do you like Music?" 
 Pauses to give a big enveloping, clinging hug to Jenn.

And then, sometimes,  "Hey Jenn, do you happen to have any iTunes cards or anything like that?"

At which time the One Big Mistake,  that one well-meaning nurse once made,  surfaces once again.  An iTunes gift card was once given during a hospital stay for Mr. K.  Oops. 

Usually somewhere around this point the web of charm has been spun so magnificently that Jenn is doing everything in her power to get an Itunes card sent up to room 203...

And mama stands by and watches, torn between awe and embarrassment.  "Uh...yep, that's my kid."

We spent significant amounts of time with two specific pediatric neurologists last Thursday.  We will be meeting more of the team as time goes by.  Never once did they have their hand on the door while they engaged in a memorized spiel.  -Not that anyone would ever do that or anything, but they didn't. 

As amazed as I was at my own child's fast moving vice of charm, I was even more impressed by the quick and pointed questions the docs asked me and K to make a fair assessment of who he was.

Subconscious checklist marks down that they know their stuff. 

"You keep talking about the Little Einstein's.  Who are they?"

Grabs Ipad, tries to fire up an episode.

"No,  I don't want you to show them to me.  Who are they?"


"Ok.  Are they real"?


"Hmmm. Are they little or big?"


"Then why are they called *Little* Einstein's?"

"Little, I mean they are little... "

- And so on.

They quickly and methodically,  through a serious of conversational yet very specific questions,  assessed my boy.   They hear his extensive vocabulary and peak into his intelligence,  but also seem to grasp his misdirected reality,  emotional immaturity,  and social awkwardness.  And I think they nailed it. 

And I'm impressed.

To state that it "takes alot to impress me" sounds kind of prideful and perhaps as if I am holding myself to a knowledge of All Things Medical, that I simply do not posses. So hear my heart: I have been to many,  many doctors and have not often seen this quick and knowledgeable method being used while still feeling very heard and treated with the utmost of respect.

Even more significant than myself being treated respectfully by this group of doctors was the fact that K was spoken to,  handled,  and interacted with in a way that oozed respect.  They looked in his eyes when they spoke to him.  No big deal?  Think again. 

I can not tell you the amount of times that doctors have spoken as if he wasn't even there. They ask me things that he could easily answer. -There are definitely situations in which parental input is needed,  and I get that,  but there are times that is just not the case.  And I know the difference.  I would be so bold as to say,  so does he.  

While his hearing is impaired on one side,  he can actually hear very well.

While his vision will never be 20/20,  he sees in a way that impresses anyone who has examined him.

While he has processing delays,  and yes - his brain is damaged - he processes deeply and with an intelligence that still shocks this mama.

So,  when you talk to him like he's a person {gasp} - my Conscious Checklist will take note and my heart will thank you deeply. 

You guys, they spent an hour and a half with us! I have experienced appointments with my K that have taken that long, and longer, but they have almost always involved long wait times.

After thorough conversations and examinations of K, I was getting my stuff around and preparing to leave.  And that's when the primary neurologist pulled a chair up to my chair and looked me in the eye.

What, WHAT? I mean - All The Patients. And the hand on the door knob thing - when's that going to happen? I'm kind of fidgeting in my chair, because I'm not really sure what else needs attention.

He's a bit past middle age, maybe. A fatherly type. This isn't just his job. He's not just passing us through and crossing off our name/number. And he won me over.

I didn't realize the burden I walked in with until he pulled his chair up to mine,  moved a bit to level with me,  maintained eye contact, and said,  "You love him very much.  It's obvious.  He loves you too.  Goodness, you are his world!  But being his mom is hard. It's alot. You do alot."

I almost wept.  Because it is.  It's alot and it's hard and I need help.  And to have someone of his caliber acknowledge this was kind of like a rescue breath to my gasping soul. Thank you Jesus.

"What do you need? How can I help you? How can I come along side of you, as K's mom, and support you in the big thing that you are doing."

Deep cleaning breath.

Can you feel it?

Do you get what this was for me?

Honestly I was surprised at the depth of emotion.

Relief,  hope,  comfort,  affirmation.

I didn't even know. I didn't realize the heavy load of responsibility, and some of the helplessness that had crept in.

But I know I left feeling lighter. Feeling supported and  so much more ready to engage back into this parenting gig.

I didn't weep. I didn't throw myself into their arms.  I didn't say, "can we keep you forever and ever?!" - Like he was some kind of a cute little puppy or something.

I took a minute  - just to myself - to acknowledge the burden and the help being offered. I whispered a prayer of thanks, and I honestly opened my heart and expressed my needs.

We have some new team members now. We are continuing some conversations. We have some plans in place for different scenarios.

I feel helped. I needed help and struggle to ask, but He knows. He just always knows.

"The LORD is my strength and my shield; My heart trusts in Him, and I am helped; Therefore my heart exults, And with my song I shall thank Him." 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

 {March} 10 on the 10th

Wait. How can it be March 10th already? Craziness.


This is what 10 on 10 is all about: taking a photo every hour for ten consecutive hours on the tenth of each month, documenting a day in your life and finding beauty among the ordinary moments.

Kids dropped off, gas tank filled, now in the midst of an oil change. No worries, I stopped short of, "hey guys - look here for a sec."

And a hair cut. I feel like I really look like my mom more and more every day. 

Little buddy is home and ready to play outside. We are giddy about this. Finally, finally, finally we can play outside without being in pain because of extreme cold!! Happy dance. 

Getting the kitchen cleaned up and watering this ridiculously prolific plant. See, I'm not exactly a green thumb. During one of our first trips back home after Dave and I got married, my Grandma Marjorie lovingly packaged this spider plant in a recycled oatmeal container. It rode all the way from Iowa to Michigan. It stayed in the lovely oatmeal container for quite awhile. For over a decade, this thing has thrived under conditions that would normally only result in certain death. I thought it had died a week ago. I had neglected it for ... awhile. I watered it once and it not only percked up, but started blooming flowers 

Bless you, plant with more than 9 lives! 

Phone calls, insurance authorizations, and {beige} afternoon coffee.

Yep, still out there. :) The mud behind him is out-of-this-world messy. Me and that mud driveway have made peace with one another. 

Learning to tie his belt himself, but while he's still working at getting it right, he has the best daddy helper ever

Evening tea for Mali, Noe, and I. And yes, Sam's Club is my favorite store. ;) 

Jay's been having a rough time sleeping. Daylight savings has increased this issue. I stayed up with him reading for a while to help him become more tired. One on one time is special. 

Saturday, February 28, 2015

 A decade of Jay

{He was standing on a small stool. Heaven help me - I am not ready for him to be this big yet. Objects in this picture are smaller than they appear. But not for long, I know. Not for long}

I gave him coffee on his tenth birthday.

He was up early and I was in that corner chair, the one that sees me through the rough days by being my morning foundation. There I spread out my Jesus Calling, my Bible, sometimes journal and dictionary. Next to the chair is my candle and phone with the music turned low.

He came down the stairs slowly and peeked out with a question. Because sometimes I might not be super welcoming when they start showing up before 6:45 am.

But he's ten today and there is nothing that could make him sleep later. 

I wink and go fill a red mug. Half coffee, half vanilla caramel cream. You only turn ten once.  We look at each other over our mugs in the dimly lit room.

Kid. If only you could feel the depth of my love for you. 

He pretty much has permanent red punch mustache. His hair is so long and thick. Too long. Last Tuesday night at karate his instructor said, "Jacob - don't look down. When you assume your position I want to be able to see your forehead. Wait. I'll never see your forehead. You need a haircut." And I totally giggled from my place on the sidelines.

I'm not fully awake as we enjoy silence together. Partial and broken up thoughts take turns running through my head.

I thought about a conversation we had initiated with the boys a few days earlier. It was about how much more important things become to you when you save up and buy them with your own money. How we tend to treasure that which we invest a part of ourselves into. When things are just given to us, when there is no struggle, when it's free, not worked for - well, we tend to just treat it a little differently.

My relationship with the boy in front of me was not/is not free.

Parenting him - sometimes it's like running a marathon.

In the dark.

On a narrow winding trail.

Made up primarily of legos.


But this last decade of my life - the one with him in it - it has been the decade that I have loved the most.

I see so many beautiful things in him. Oh, I do! Don't take the barefoot Lego analogy to mean it's all midnight mishaps with toys cutting my feet. Because sometimes I look into these eyes and I am speechless with the depth I see there.

No one can push my buttons like him. See, we push each others buttons, and we have from day one. We are both great works in progress. We are alot alike. And oh-so-much different. And we, in a sense, have paid for this relationship "with our own money". We cling to what we have because it has not been easily bought. It's precious. It's sacred. It's priceless. And it's forever.

God gave us this boy. The night before his birthday I had found all the photos of the red, squirming, screaming baby boy. And the tired looking mama. I looked close and examined the images. I remember not bonding immediately and feeling so helpless those first few months. But surely I must have miss-remembered. Because that sweet, soft, blond baby boy! He has my heart completely. It couldn't be as I vaguely remember.

But the confirmation came as I flipped through picture after picture. Yes. I held him and cared for him and stayed up countless nights meeting his needs while desperately wondering if the screaming would ever stop - and frankly if I would make it until it did.

And there he was as an obstinate 3 year old. That sparkle in his steel blue eyes firmly in place. Yep. My own money. 

5, 6, 7. This is when he mellowed out. And we laughed our way to tighter bonds and greater depths of understanding.

8 was hard. 9 brought tons of maturity.

10. Double digits seem so big. I am excited to see what this year will bring. He's still that mixture of little boy and young man.

He's the boy who wonders what will happen if he shoots his Nerf gun at the window and tries to negotiate everything.

He's the kid who will stand alone in a 4th grade classroom to champion  the idea of having children with special needs mainstreamed in the general ed classroom.

He's the kid with all the ideas and the compulsion to take All The Things apart.

He can bait his brothers to an epic fight, and stand up for them like a true hero.

He's our Jay. He's the one who makes our head spin.

He is creative, thoughtful, strong willed, and  he will change the world.

He jumps on the trampoline in his socks, when it is 30 degrees out.

He reads thick books by his bedside lamp long after I am already asleep.

He wrestles with perfectionism and hates to fail {hello mini me}.

He is physical and can nearly beat me in a circuit of burpees.

He is helping his daddy more and more with wood piles and snow shoveling. He is seeing the value in living beyond himself. He is struggling with doing things that are hard. And we are learning so much together.

Happy 10, Jay. My little fella in a wide world. Love you forever.