Life Juggles: Multigenerational Family Edition

3gen.jpgWhat do you do when your husband calls in the middle of a work-related event, in Chicago, and says that your mother needs help getting on her jammies, in South Bend?

Why, you ask to speak to your daughter, of course. “But she’s already gone to bed,” he hedges nervously. I can’t see his face, but I can read the subtext clear as day: “PLEASE don’t make me go in there!” (*sigh*)

“Put her on the phone, honey.” Noises and loud protestations ensue in the background. True to form, said teenager comes to the phone snarling. “WHAT?!”

“Sweetie,” I say through clenched teeth. “Do you remember the talk we had before I left that you needed to help get Mammie ready for bed while I’m gone?”

“I’m sleeping.”

Time for the big guns. “So… You want DAD to go down there and help her get dressed? How do you think Mammie will feel about Dad seeing her bra?”

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Lead Me On: The Gift of Audrey Assad

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,
He makes me to lie down in green pastures,
He leads me by the still waters, he restores my soul….
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me. From Psalm 23

View More: the world of foster parenting and adoption, there are some valleys that are so dark and deep that the very act of passing through them leads an indelible mark upon even the most trusting and devout of souls. The pain of the journey is all-consuming, each day white-knuckling it from one moment to the next.

When at last the darkness passes and you begin to see the light again, you take a deep and thankful breath, grateful just to have survived. And in the next breath, you fervently pray that you will never have to walk that way again.

Confirmation CountdownLast night, just one day after returning with the family from Costa Rica, I was horrified to discover we were heading for the valley of the shadow again. As the details emerged, I burst out sobbing so hard I could not catch my breath. “No, dear God. Please. I can’t bear it.” It wasn’t the same valley, not exactly. But another dark and frightening.

My friend Colleen and I were scheduled to go see Audrey Assad in concert that evening. I had heard Audrey’s testimony about her struggle with pornography two years ago at the Edel Gathering in Charlotte. I prayed that God would speak to me that night.

Inside the church, I took a moment to light a candle … and remembered the time, as we were crossing the first valley of shadow, when I sent my Baptist parents on an impossible quest: I asked them to go to a nearby Catholic church and light a candle for their grandson. Nervously they ventured inside, and the kindly priest explained they had recently renovated the church and taken out the bank of candles. Then he gave them a leftover candle and told them to take it home, put it near a picture of our family, and light it each time they prayed for us.

They did. Then they went back three times, each time the candle burned to a nub. They weren’t exactly sure how lighting a candle would make a difference — it wasn’t part of their tradition. But for me, they found the courage to follow through. And now, as I thought about all that had happened from the lighting of that candle to this one, I took a deep breath and thanked God that he would give us courage to face this, too.

We had arrived early enough to get a good seat, second row center. Sarah was over-the-moon excited, seated between Colleen and “Miss Kelly,” who runs our church youth group. I half-heartedly joined in the rosary that preceded the concert. My mind was numb, my eyes bright with unshed tears. Audrey came out and played a few songs, told a few stories, and suddenly … she began to play a gentle ballad by an unlikely prophet that had gotten me through many a dark night when our son was in his program.

When you’re weary, feeling small.
When tears are in your eyes, I’ll dry them all.
I’m on your side when times get rough and friends just can’t be found.
Like a bridge over troubled water, I will lay me down…

Suddenly it was as if all the air had been sucked out of the room, and I realized that I was holding my breath to keep from sobbing. Fortunately I had an escape valve in my eyes, a tiny trickle that coursed down both cheeks as I sat there in the semi-darkness, listening as God whispered consolation to my heart. He had not forgotten me or my family.

Audrey started talking about the origins of the song, how songs mean different things to different people — even the songwriter, whose inspiration may have come from a very different source. “But that is the power of music, that it speaks to people where they are, that they can find a home in a song.”

I experienced the truth of that in special way that night. As parents, we work hard to make a home for our children — but we cannot give what we do not have. When we are weary, we have a home in the Sacred Heart, which beats when our own hearts are broken … and was broken that our hearts might beat anew.

Photo credit: Picture of Audrey Assad from her website.

Beatitudes for Special-Needs Families: “Mommy Life”

jesseToday I came across this wonderful post from Barbara at “Mommy Life,” which reads in part . . .

Blessed are you when you assure us,
That the one thing that makes us individuals
Is not in our peculiar muscles,
Nor in our wounded nervous systems,
Nor in our difficulties in learning,
Nor any exterior difference.
But is in our inner, personal, individual self
Which no infirmity can diminish or erase.

Head on over and read the whole thing — you’ll be glad you did! 

Picture Credit: Barbara’s son Jesse. Thanks, Barbara, for sharing your world with us!

New Theory Of Autism Suggests Symptoms Or Disorder May Be Reversible

“The central tenet of the theory, published in the March issue of Brain Research Reviews, is that autism is a developmental disorder caused by impaired regulation of the locus coeruleus, a bundle of neurons in the brain stem that processes sensory signals from all areas of the body.

“The new theory stems from decades of anecdotal observations that some autistic children seem to improve when they have a fever, only to regress when the fever ebbs.”

Read the full story here: New Theory Of Autism Suggests Symptoms Or Disorder May Be Reversible

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Weekend Ponderings: Uncertainties and Surprises

virginsAt midnight, there was a cry,
‘Behold, the bridegroom!  Come out to meet him!’
Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps.
The foolish ones said to the wise,
‘Give us some of your oil,
for our lamps are going out.’
But the wise ones replied,
‘No, for there may not be enough for us and you.
Go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.’
While they went off to buy it,
the bridegroom came
and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him.

Today’s Gospel is a sober one.

It is no exaggeration to say that I was not prepared for motherhood. Some might find that surprising, given how much time I’d spent with children — especially the year I spent in Senegal, teaching ESL — before I was married. I did not realize just how relentless, exhausting, and … well, all-consuming motherhood would be.  Marriage, either, for that matter.

That’s not to say I regret my decision to become a mother. Only that I discovered early on that — like many things in life — motherhood is one of those things for which one can never adequately prepare ahead of time. There are too many uncertainties, too few guarantees. Even the best-laid plans are only just that: plans. The reality is often something quite different.

Some time ago a mother wrote to me about her sister, who was contemplating the possibility of adopting the siblings of the troubled child she and her husband had foster-adopted. I urged her to welcome the new member of the child with open arms, despite his obvious challenges — but to urge her sister-in-law to make sure a bond had formed with the newest member of the family before expanding the circle further.

I’m happy to report, my concerns appear to have been unfounded. Bridget (the sister) writes to me: “I just wanted to let you know that my SIL and BIL have adopted the additional 4 children totaling 6.  They are all adorable and it really seems like a match made in heaven!!  St. Raphael has helped them and through his novena and anointing oil from heaven and our priest’s blessings the little boy has changed for the better.” 

Are you contemplating a challenge — whether it be adoption, homeschooling, or welcoming a special-needs child — and feel unequal to the task? Making an informed choice is important — nothing can be gained from closing your eyes to the facts. But leave room for God to surprise you. If you feel the pull of the Spirit, like the wise virgins, be prepared . . . be ready . . . and do not be afraid. 

Parmigianino – Three Foolish Virgins Flanked by Adam and Eve :: Parmigianino :: Allpaintings Art Portal

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EMN Mailbag: Hope for RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder)

Today I received the following note in response to my recent post on the subject of parenting a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). I thought I’d pass it on!

I was moved by your post about the mom with a child with RAD.  Please pass along that there is hope!  We have a faith-based program in Quincy, IL that yields amazing results. Please send her to our website at or have her give me a call as we always have people who are willing to talk who live with RAD every day.  We’re also working on a parents guide to developmental trauma and attachment.  As soon as it is ready I’ll post it on our website. 

Most importantly, please let her know she is not alone and there is hope for these amazing and wonderful children!

My best wishes, Karol

Karol Ehmen
Associate Director of Marketing
205 S. 24th Street
Quincy, IL 62301
(217) 222-0034 Ext. 324
FAX (217) 222-3865

When “Sad Monster” Attacks

ol sorrowsToday at “Faith and Family Live” an EM named Christine Robinson wrote of her special-needs son, Nathan, who has RAD (reactive-attachment disorder). They’ve had him since he was fifteen months of age, and recently she was told their son may never improve.

She wrote a heartfelt post about her “deep sadness,” a sadness to which many EMs in difficult adoption transitions can relate. Will he always resist my efforts to be affectionate? Will she always be such a non-stop ball of chaotic resistance?

And (here’s the real point) how am I going to survive it? Let me reiterate something I said to Christine: “You are a good mom. You are also feeling overwhelmed. Remember both things can be true at the same time.”

As you seek answers and solutions, be sure that you are tending to your own needs as you tend to those of the rest of your family. I often send up a little SOS to “Our Lady of Sorrows” (left). If you can’t have someone watch your child, call in reinforcements to fill in the other areas: cooking, cleaning, laundry. Even if you have to hire someone, do it.

Yes, you could just let the laundry go … but once you get down to the last pair of socks, you will simply chide yourself for not being a good enough homemaker. Instead, find solutions to give your family and yourselfthe sense of order and structure a happy family needs.

I’ve found a direct correlation between my low moods and the condition of my house. Not sure which is the cause and which is the effect (that is, if the depression makes it hard to clean, or if the dirt summons up the “sad monster”). I DO know that — whatever else is going on in my life — if the kitchen is clean and the floor is vacuumed, everything else seems manageable.

Your “basic minimum standard” may be different (an empty laundry hamper, dinner in the crock). Whatever it is, make sure it’s done!Then sit yourself down, pour yourself a soothing cup of tea, and read a story to your favorite little ball of energy. (Or if he won’t sit still, put on some silly music and dance!)