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Monday, June 6, 2016

A Service Dog Changed Her Life

Frightening. Hard. Difficult. Frustrating. Overwhelming. Stressful. Hopeless. Devasting. These were the emotions that defined our lives in the early years following Grace's diagnosis with mental illness after her attempt to take her life in middle school.  Life stopped. There was so much to learn about battling mental illness, finding the right doctors, and learning about treatment.  I was frustrated by the lack of resources and good, affordable mental health care available for my daughter.  However, God was good and we eventually found good doctors, a stellar therapist, and the right combination of medication.  

Despite the care she was receiving, Grace still had to avoid certain situations with large crowds such as concerts, pep rallies, and large sporting events to avoid panic attacks.  As a senior, she struggled to think about leaving home for college.  In passing, a friend asked me if I had ever thought about an emotional support animal for Grace.  I didn't even know such a thing existed!  When I googled, "emotional support dog," I stumbled across information on psychiatric service dogs.  I always believed service dogs were for the blind, or physically impaired.  Imagine my amazement to discover that service dogs existed for mental health needs. As I read about the tasks psychiatric service dogs could perform, I decided on the spot that Grace needed one.  There were two primary obstacles standing in our way:  time and money.  Most waiting lists for a fully trained service dog are at least 2 years long, and they cost tens of thousands of dollars.  We needed a dog fully trained in a little over 6 months, on a teacher's salary. That's why I was excited to discover you can train your own dog if you are lucky enough to find a dog with the right personality.

I have never trained a dog to do anything - ever.  But I have learned on this journey to be persistent, and try new things, if nothing else.  I asked a friend who volunteered at a local shelter to watch for a dog with a good temperament and high intelligence.  That's how we found Titan.  We adopted him at Christmas.  At first, it was challenging to get him to acclimate to the other dogs in our home and to trust us.  He showed signs of some mistreatment in his past.  We signed up for basic obedience classes at All About Dogs in Melissa and prayed for doors to open for us to help Titan become a service dog.  After discussing our idea with the dog trainer, she helped us find Canine Solutions Dallas, which specializes in training service dogs. Grace meets with her service dog trainer once a week and then also practices on her own with Titan.  He just passed his Canine Good Citizenship test and will be working on his Public Access Test soon. He is rocking his work tasks which primarily revolve around blocking techniques to help Grace in a crowd.

I wasn't prepared for the amazing things that would happen with training a service dog.  Grace's confidence has soared.  She can see the progress Titan has made and struggles much less with anxiety when Titan is near.  Grace started her own business this year and developed friendships.  She went to prom, and spoke in front of 3000 people at graduation. She is ready to take her driving test and is planning to major in math at Ouachita Baptist University in the fall - 4 hours from home.  Finally, she is able to experience a normal teen lifestyle.  

Beautiful. Amazing. Incredible. Wonderful. Unbelievable. Humbling. Overcoming. These are the words to describe my daughter's journey.  I know that we have countless struggles ahead, but Grace is a warrior who will not give up, and her best friend, Titan, will be right beside her every step of the way.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Family Night - from 2012

Friday is family night at our house. Years ago when the children were small, we recognized the danger in ministry of being so committed to meeting the needs of others that we never met the needs of our own family. Thus the creation of "Friday Family Night." Over the years, we have done all kinds of fun, crazy, wonderful, disastrous, exciting, boring, and experimental things on Friday night.

Tonight is an exciting family night. As you can see, my son, James, is prepared to cheer his beloved Razorbacks to victory in the cotton bowl. Although long time Texans, we try to honor our Arkansas heritage with the appropriate level of Razorback indoctrination. As anyone who is from Arkansas knows, calling the hogs is just as noteworthy an event for the baby book as "da-da" and "ma-ma."

As we inhale unhealthy, greasy pizza, guzzle high calorie soda, and cheer madly we are creating memories for a lifetime.

Sewing project - accent pillows

Katie is remodeling her little girl bedroom decor to a more mature safari decor. For Christmas she received a black comforter and a couple of zebra accent pillows. Today we sewed three giraffe print accent pillows to add to her bed. Making pillows is one of the easiest sewing projects on the planet.

First, choose the pillow form you want to purchase. I elected to go with a preformed pillow rather than using the cheaper option of stuffing the pillow myself with batting. If you have never purchased fabric for a project before, it is probably easiest to ask the person at the counter to help you estimate how much you need. I figured up my own fabric purchase in the following way:

My pillow forms were 16x16. This meant to allow for seam allowances, I would need a piece of fabric at least 33x33. Therefore I estimated using approximately one yard per pillow.

I also purchased a large black rope trim for accenting the pillows. When figuring up how much trim to buy, you simply have to add up the measurements of the edges (perimeter). I always purchase a little extra of this, just in case I have miscalculated the size of my finished product.

Once home, I cut out two pieces of fabric measuring 16 1/2 x 16 1/2. I chose to only do 1/4 inch seams because my trim had 1/4 inch edge.

Next, I laid the trim on the right side of the pillow fabric, and sewed it on my machine. The trickiest part of putting on trim is turning corners. I used my seam guide to measure up a 1/4 inch from the edge to see when I needed to turn my corners.

After attaching the trim to one side of the pillow, I added the other piece of fabric - right sides together - and stitched the two pieces together on three sides.

Typically when using trim, you can go ahead and do these steps all at once, sewing through the front, trim, and back all at once. However, my trim was a little bulky to maneuver, so I separated the steps. Remember when sewing on trim to use your zipper foot to get as close as possible to the rounded edge of the trim.

If you have never applied trim, I would highly recommend beginning with a light weight piping that is sold in packages by the zippers. This adds a nice touch and is very easy to maneuver.

After my pillow case was sewn together on three sides, I inserted my pillow form. Last, I handstiched the case closed. This entire project, from start to finish took less than 2 hours.

Happy sewing!

Fitness resolutions

For many, their number one New Year's resolution involves fitness and weight loss. I know that for most of us, fitness is not an easy road. If someone tells you that losing weight and staying fit is a breeze, they are either lying,genetically blessed, or selling the latest fad product. For those of us who are predisposed to roundness, with well established lazy habits, the fitness quest is a difficult journey.

A few years ago, I committed to changing my lifestyle and experienced amazing physical and emotional results. However, in the midst of a move, an injury, and the general chaos of life, I fell off the fitness wagon. 40 pounds later, I am struggling to reestablish my fitness routine. Tonight as I was thinking about what works for me in regards to fitness, I thought I would share these as encouragement to others facing the same journey.

1. Turn off your computer and get off the couch.

2. What? Are you still reading? To be effective, you must follow step number 1.

3. Don't be afraid to try new things. There is an exercise routine that is effective for everyone. Some people love to work out alone, some thrive with partners. Some people love to run, others dance. Some prefer the privacy of their living room, others the busyness of the gym. Sometimes it takes a little while to find your groove.

4. Don't give up. Results may come slowly. The magic fix you are looking for doesn't exist, but consistent, small life changes will eventually yield big differences. For me, I began to see big results on day 42.

5. Just because you fall off the fitness wagon doesn't mean that it's all over. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and begin again. Evaluate the factors that crashed your fitness routine and make plans to deal with them better in the future.

6. Be realistic. My body has naturally gravitated for years toward a size 16. If I expect to look like the girl on the cover of Fitness magazine after 6 weeks of working out, I set myself up for failure. True success is about meeting my own personal goals, not about looking like I'm a teenager again. I ask myself questions such as: Did I work out as many times this week as I planned? Did I improve my form, increase my reps or weights? Can I run a little longer without feeling like a four alarm fire is burning my lungs? Do I have more energy than I did three weeks ago?

7. Evaluate your eating habits. Even the best workout can't completely overcome a bad diet. This is probably the area where I struggle the most. My husband is an amazing cook, and I find portion control challenging.

8. Laugh at yourself. There will be times when you fall out of the yoga pose, stumble on the treadmill, or trip over a crack in the pavement. A sense of humor is necessary when making lifestyle changes.

9. Visualize your success. Picture yourself running across the playground with your children or grandchildren. See yourself laughing and enjoying life with greater energy. Imagine sliding into your jeans without holding your breath. Believing that you can be successful is half the battle.

10. Find encouragers. There are people in your life who will pat you on the back when you run your first mile, finish your first yoga class, or lift weights for the first time. Listen to the people you love and who believe in you.

Best of luck - may you find a happier, healthier you in 2012!

What is your most helpful tip for those just beginning to exercise?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

37 and counting

37. Wow. I remember as a kid when my parents turned 37. I thought they were ANCIENT. Now here I am, quickly approaching 40. The day passed me by with very little fanfare. December is a busy month in the ministry, and Sunday is the busiest day of our week. Even though we missed out on our typical big family dinner and celebration because of our hectic schedule today, it was still a beautiful birthday.

I spent today doing on of my favorite things- helping to lead worship at The Crossroads. Every week I am amazed by how God is growing the musicians in the band. They just keep improving! I pulled out a couple of pretty tough selections last night at practice, with a plan B in the back of my head just in case. But instead, they nailed both new songs! But the coolest part of today wasn't how well the band did, but how involved the congregation was. There was this one moment during worship where I could hear all this beautiful singing, but it wasn't coming from my monitor. That's when I realized that I could hear the congregation loud and clear over the vocalists in my speaker on stage. I can still remember a time early in our church plant when our congregation was very uncomfortable with singing, and it is cool to see that they have come to embrace worship.

This afternoon we went to our teen girls' band concert. The beginning band did very well, especially considering most of them had never played an instrument until just a few months ago. I admit that the squeaks and honks that naturally happen in beginning band concerts kind of crack me up. The symphonic band was truly very good. I was impressed by how far they have come since the last time I heard them play.

Then this evening was spent at one last meeting for Operation Care. My team tried to make sure that we have everything ready for the big day and to see what still needs to be done. God has certainly blessed us with the right contacts. I am amazed to look at all the full slots for the outdoor stage which were empty slots two weeks ago.

Shawn and I finished out the night with dinner at Carraba's. I enjoyed the good Italian food, and ate way too much. I am excited to have leftovers for lunch tomorrow.

So there it is - my 37th birthday, low key, but pretty awesome.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Operation Care International

A little over a year ago, I was sitting through yet another professional development seminar when unexpectedly a slide with contact information for Susie Jennings, the founder of Operation Care International, appeared on the screen. The presenter profusely apologized, explaining that this was a slide from a presentation he had done recently at his church, and he was uncertain how it had ended up in his slide show. The Holy Spirit spoke to my heart, “Write that down.” Fortunately I was listening and wrote down Susie’s information. When I checked out Operation Care’s website, I saw an opportunity to minister at The Bridge, a homeless shelter, around Thanksgiving of 2010. While my friends and I enjoyed this opportunity, I had my energies focused elsewhere and moved on with other areas of life and ministry.

With Operation Care a distant memory, I was preparing a worship set for our church service on October 30. As usual, I asked my husband on what topic he would be preaching. He said that actually he wasn’t speaking, but that Susie Jennings would be joining us. I was excited about this, believing that many of our people would be blessed by her testimony and might be able to help with the Christmas event. However, I did not plan to be deeply involved due to a myriad of commitments in my life at this time.

Sometimes God’s plans are not our plans. During the invitation, I prayed a dangerous prayer, “God you know my heart to be more deeply involved in worship ministry, and to be a part of what you are doing with worship around the world, but I do not have any open doors to explore this calling. So whatever you have in store for me next, in advance my answer is yes. I want to serve you in any way that you can use me for your kingdom and your glory.” This was about 12:25. At 12:45, out of the blue, Susie asked me to be a part of planning for the Operation Care Christmas event. So I said yes, and the adventure has begun.

I am excited to see where the journey leads. I still do not know what God has in store for my life, and how he plans to fulfill my calling into worship ministry, or even if this adventure is a part of that, but none of these things are even really very important. After all, it’s not about me! What is important is being used today, right here and now, for God’s kingdom. What is important is making a difference in the lives of the people that I am with each day. This may be in my classroom as a teacher, in our church as a pastor’s wife, in my home as a wife and mother, or in the weeks to come as I minister to the homeless with Operation Care. The important thing is to point to Jesus with every breath, because He alone is worthy.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Ordinary is Okay

As a child in America, we repeatedly hear that we are capable of big things. "You can be the President or an astronaut!" Then as adults, most of us end up living very ordinary lives, working very ordinary jobs. We struggle with a feeling of discontent, because somehow we didn't measure up to the dreams we had for our lives. We keep waiting for the tides to turn and our lives to become extraordinary and for our dreams to come true. We wait for our marriage to magically be like the ones we see on TV, and for our kids to be perfect. We wonder why our house isn't big enough, and our cars rattle and have peeling paint.

Don't get me wrong here, I am not saying that it is wrong to dream. I am simply saying that I have recently been considering that perhaps we have mistaken what is really extraordinary. Somehow we have this idea that it involves the right job and the right house and the right stuff. Maybe it is really found right in the middle of an ordinary life. Maybe the secret to extraordinary is not in pursuing a bigger paycheck, but in pursuing deeper relationships.

Lately I have been watching the people in my life a little closer. I've been thinking about the people that I greatly admire. Most of these people that I would describe as great people are actually very ordinary. They work a nondescript job that pays the bills more months than not. They have families with drama and issues. They slip and fall down along the way, and their names will probably never grace the pages of a history book.

It makes me think that maybe I should focus a little harder on being content with my life and rather than waiting for the "big moment" in life, I should focus on looking for ways to love the people I am with right now. It is time to stop waiting for what's next and time to start living the right now.