One Wittle Candle

We made it, Paisley Dawn; you’re ONE!

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We’ve come a long way, sweet girl.

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There were days and nights when I wasn’t sure if you and I would survive. (see post: Hear Her Roar)

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I see remnants of your angst and ferocity every now and then, but you turned out to be a fun, happy little woman.

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Baby woke up with a double ear infection for her birthday party! :(

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Pedialyte for the party.

You are so strong. I blame those quads and calves on your Papa Mike, but wear them proudly, darling. It is a miracle to watch you take your first steps (five steps just today!) and witness your tiny body functioning as it should. Use your physical gifts to inspire and help others.

Though she be but little, she is fierce. -Shakespeare

Snuggles with Daddy

Snuggles with Daddy

You are so beautiful. Your long, dark lashes, crazy curly hair and feminine face are a gift from above. As your momma, I promise to speak well of my body and of yours, leading you by example to care for your body but not obsess over it. It is more important to be lovely on the inside than the outside. (But I can’t wait for our first pedicure together!)

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You are so smart. I love to watch you calculate problems and observe new situations. You are quick to learn. It is a powerful weapon to be beautiful and smart. I pray that God would make you humble and kind, sensitive to those who are different because of your love for your brother.

Finn made us pray three times for the birthday girl. :)

Finn made us pray three times for the birthday girl. :)

You are so funny. You’ve had an uncanny sense of humor since you were only a few months old. You giggle easily like the Armstrongs, a trait I love in you. Your brother makes you smile and laugh like no one else. I pray your friendship with him grows to be something deep and true.

She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs without fear of the future.
 Proverbs 31:25

Still able to laugh and clap even though she felt awful.

Still able to laugh and clap even though she felt awful.

You are a blessing. Your daddy and I are so grateful for you. You complete our family; you’re exactly what we needed. I can’t wait to get to know you better in the days God allows us to have on this earth. Thanks for refining me. I promise to savor every last diaper change and middle-of-the-night snuggle. Fleeting gifts.

All the people around this table LOVE you!

Birthday brunch with family.

Happy Day, little one! We celebrate you.

Men

I know the story reads differently for many other women, but the men in my world are real-life heroes. Princes on steeds. They are strong, kind and brave. This is because they love Jesus.

Gramps

I’ll never forget a time I was struggling in college. I confessed to him my issues at their Arizona home one lonely Spring Break. He told me it was no big deal. We all mess up. Gotta move on, for Cripe’s sake. I am so hard on myself–a recovering perfectionist. His grace washed over me like healing balm.

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He taught me how to organize a garage, play Cribbage and count cards. He loves old western movies and he’ll rob a bank for a back rub.

Bopp

No one loves his wife’s cooking more than my dad’s dad. He is gentle and loves each of his many grandchildren the same. His eyes fill with tears when he talks about his family. Years of hard work on the farm make him appreciate the little things in life, and there’s no place he’d rather be than fishing with one of his grandkids.

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Dad

This man loves God and has a reverence for His creation like no one I’ve ever known.

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He taught me how to spot a deer in the field, listen for loons on the lake and bait a hook. He is kind and sincere in the purest way. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch him when he’s goofy. He is immune to the demands of American materialism. He’s not above it or below it, he’s just outside of it. And he listens more than he talks–I want to be like that. He tells me he loves me in the sweetest, sappiest ways.

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At the end of every run, he points his finger to the sky and thanks God for the gift of breath and movement. One-of-a-kind.

Chad

This kid (okay, he’s 28) is chalk-full of integrity. It’s in his bones. He is not satisfied with mediocre living or shallow relationships. He calls family meetings at holidays to ask how he can pray for us. And then he actually prays for us.

Teaching the Word at the Sea of Galilee!

Teaching the Word at the Sea of Galilee!

Silly and loud, he could never sit still as a child. He’d stand in front of the TV or circle the dinner table until we all went insane. He’s intentionally busy but learning how to rest. All will be right with the world when we find him a woman. A really really special woman.

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Joey

He is home for me. In his arms I feel safe to be myself. He’s seen me at my worst and held my hand anyway; he’s seen me at my best and is publicly proud of me.

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He cares deeply about the marginalized, the lesser ones. Annoyingly good at everything he does and devilishly good looking, I’m still so in love. He makes me laugh every single day and there’s no one else I’d rather share the ups and downs of life with.

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Finn and Paisley won the jackpot with Joey as their dad.

Terry

He’s my father-in-law, but I feel like he’s just my dad. He has big ideas, reads big books and has an even bigger heart. Lumber beware: he will craft you into something beautiful. I’m forever grateful for the dad he was (is) to Joey. I believe kind, empowering, godly dads are what’s missing from our society. Thanks for being one of them.

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Finn

When I was pregnant with my little boy, I felt like God had forgotten him; made him incomplete somehow. I was so wrong. God spent so much extra time creating Finn. He has more personality and spunk than most adults. He speaks better than most adults too.

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His perspective on life will be so fantastically different than mine. I believe (and pray) he will know Jesus in a more intimate way than I ever will. The confidence he has to wheel straight through a crowd of staring people–with a smile on his face–is a gift from above. I am so blessed to have a front-row seat for his little, important life.

Father God

He pursues me with relentless love. Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. He knows my name and cups my face in His hands, calling me Daughter. He disciplines me and makes me terribly uncomfortable when I need it. My Redeemer and Provider. I crave time alone with Him, especially in the mountains. Sometimes He’s silent, but if I’m quiet and humble, I can hear His voice. Despite my circumstances, He is good.

Happy Father’s Day! You are so important, Dads. Keep leading us with courage and love.

Endeavor Games 2015

This weekend Finn competed in his first ever Endeavor Games. We weren’t quite sure how he’d enjoy it, so we didn’t really invite anyone to attend. It’s a qualifying event for the 2016 Paralympics, so people take it very seriously–there’s a starting gun and sanctioned rules and everything.

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We thought Finn might even hear the gun, have a meltdown and wheel off the track; but he surprised us and had a lot of fun.

He came in dead last in the 20m dash…it was so cute.

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He heard the pop, wheeled a little, stopped to look around, wheeled a little faster once he saw Paisley and I at the end of the track, then stopped about 2 feet from the finish line to take it all in. Keep going, buddy!

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I'm a track star...no big deal. ;)

I’m a track star…no big deal. ;)

He also enjoyed reconnecting with Ryder, our buddy from OKC.

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Helmet bump

Helmet bump

These athletes are unreal. Many were in wheelchairs and others of them had limb differences; a few were even double or triple amputees.

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I had to turn and face the other direction several times to hide my tears as I watched these people defy all odds, pushing their bodies beyond their God-given potential. Goosebumps everywhere.

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What excuse do you and I have not to move?

Finn was more comfortable in the 60m dash and he didn’t even finish last!

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I’m pretty certain he was technically disqualified because he went from the farthest lane to the nearest lane, diagonally across the track. It’s hard for a 3 year old to stay in the lines!

He won two medals anyway. :)

Ugh. He's the cutest.

Ugh. He’s the cutest.

We also had our annual roommate reunion this weekend, so Jane and the Whites came to cheer Finn on.

Missing our Al at dinner!

Missing our Al at dinner!

He was so happy to see them all at the finish line. “You came to visit me?!” he beamed.

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Finn loves Navy.

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Later in the day, Finn attempted the shot put. He didn’t like how they strapped down his wheelchair. It also didn’t help that there were 20 volunteers standing around watching him. The official was an older, shall I say, gruff woman.

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She was a stickler for the rules and would yell “Foul!” when Finn didn’t throw the ball the right way. He cried and asked if he could race instead. Obviously he wasn’t having fun anymore, so we decided to skip the javelin and discus and drove home to Tulsa early. Maybe we’ll try the sitting implements again next year.

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Paisley loved clapping for big brother!

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It was a blessing to see Finn so proud of himself, and it was good for Joey and I to be reminded we are not alone in the world of disabilities. There are many other families out there like us, and many other angels like Finn.

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Wearing Capes

Joey and I escaped yesterday to the Warren Theater. Vehicle: minivan. We braved torrential rain showers and the guilt parents often feel when leaving their children with a babysitter. We emptied our pockets for a medium popcorn and soft pretzel, and sat hand-in-hand for 2.5 hours…childless.

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The Incredible Pais

We don’t get to the theater very often, but when we do, it’s typically action, sci-fi or suspense. This time we saw The Avengers Age of Ultron and I loved every minute of it. I’ve blogged about superhero movies before; apparently I’m inspired by monsters teaming up to save the world from other monsters. (See posts: Superheroes and Child of Steel)

At one particularly action-packed moment in the film, I imagined it was Joey and I fighting the world back to back instead of Scarlett Johansson and Jeremy Renner.

I’ll change her diaper if you make his lunch. You capture Paisley, and I’ll throw Finn’s wheelchair in the trunk. I’ll pick him up from school while you feed her dinner. Throw me her paci! Toss me his shoe! Boom! Pow! Bang! 

Super Finn's first track practice...he's competing in a track and field event in June!

Super Finn’s first track practice…he’s competing in a track and field event in June!

This is such a fun life. Sure, at times we lose focus of our mission. It’s exhausting, absolutely. Sometimes I feel wounded and want to hang up my cape for good. But what kind of superhero would I be if I refused to fight? Cowered from my foes? As a believer, I’m reminded of the reality of our battle:

Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21)

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A Ramp for Finn

Five of my favorite men + 2 pots of strong coffee + 3 loads of lumber + the inspiration of one little boy = a beautiful deck and ramp finished in less than 6 hours!

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We couldn’t have done this without our families. I love having them near. It’s the best part of living in Tulsa. Everyone is just a few hours drive (or less) away.

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The Cousins! (Minus Tucker)

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“Uncle Chad is my best friend.”

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The boys collaborated on a DIY project that will make our home more accessible for Finn. He watched the big boys build from inside, asking, “They are making that for me? So I can wheel?” Yes, love.

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The forecast of course promised rain, but God literally held it off until the minute we stood back and admired the finished product. I envisioned Him holding a yellow polka-dotted cosmic umbrella over our home for Finn. All for Finn.

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He is one deeply loved and richly blessed little boy. Sure, he’s as naughty as any 3 year old, but there’s just something special about him. I like to think God gave him an extra dose of sugar, perceptiveness, and confidence.

Thank you, Terry, Dad, Chad, Tyler and Joey! We are grateful.

Angels and Pine Trees

Mother’s Day of 2012 I asked for a shock collar so I could walk Jersey, our 100 lb. black lab, and not lose my arm. (Post: Shocker)

Last Mother’s Day I carried Paisley in my swollen belly, counting down the final weeks to her due date.

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Mother’s Day 2014

This year I asked for three things: 1) An edger  2) A pine tree (or three) and 3) a haircut. Well, today I received all but the edger. We got four pine trees on sale at Southwood’s Nursery and I used a gift card from my fabulous clients to get an eyebrow wax (it’s shameful how long it’s been) and a haircut.

There’s no denying mommyhood is difficult. Exhausting. Oftentimes thankless. Sometimes I feel like I’m suffocating in selflessness.

But today I felt so happy and so richly blessed to be Finn and Paisley’s mom. My eyes are welling with tears just thinking about it.

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Because of Finn’s disability, I’m acutely aware that every gift is a miracle. Every giggle, every perfectly grammatical sentence of Finn’s, every muscle twitch in Paisley’s quads, every wet diaper, every tear, every kiss. These are blessings I don’t deserve.

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Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. (James 1:17)

These children sleeping soundly on the sheets I washed in the jammies I picked out for them are truly angels. They are gifts from a God that doesn’t change. He is good. He is good. And He is good.

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Thank you, Lord, for allowing me to be a mommy. Help me to get better at it. I give Paisley and Finn back to you; they are Yours. Be my strength and shield when I’m weak. Breathe Your energy into me when I’m tired. Whisper Your love from my lips when I’m angry. Love them through me. Amen.

Happy Mother’s Day to all you Warrior Moms. You rock. And NO ONE beats my mom, Deb and my MIL, Bec.You both inspire me to be a better mom.

(Read Post: Ode to the Mom)

Invincible Summers

Summer is coming.

The colicky newborn days and nights have turned to giggling and peek-a-boo.

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My fears for Finn at school–though still very present–have subsided, and I love to watch his classmates hug (and kiss) him at pick up. Yesterday a new family was touring the school. We walked out together and two little boys watched as Finn raced down the ramp to our van. They were obviously staring at him, so their sharp mom kindly ushered them over to us to introduce themselves. [Side note: introduce yourself and your kids to people who are different. It’s a teaching moment for your kids and a display of respect for the person.] “I’m Ethan and this is my little brother, Will.” “I’m Finn Joseph Armstrong.” Finn spun a few donuts for them and finished it off with a wheelie. Will exclaimed, “I want one of those!” While strapping Finn into his car seat, he asked, “They love me, Momma?” Yes baby, you’re so cool.

In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” -Albert Camus

I first came across Camus’ writings in one of my college Literature classes. This particular quote spoke to those cavernous places in my soul and has influenced my life ever since. At the time, I was drowning in an unhealthy relationship. I quite literally lost myself. I had forgotten the confidence and bravado of my childhood, I temporarily neglected my parents’ nurturing and biblical upbringing, I denied the redemption I had found in Christ as a child and then again as a young adult.

Freshman TWIRP date. See Joey in the back row?! He was NOT my date. ;)

Freshman TWIRP group date. See Joey in the back row?! He was NOT my date. I actually can’t remember who was.

It was winter in my heart. My dreams were icicles, hanging above me, threatening to fall. I was bitter and angry, struggling with the sting of rejection and emotional abuse. If you want to destroy me, speak ill of me or deny me verbal affirmation. I will crumble. I pretended to be strong but I was brittle inside. Despite the changing seasons, this winter of mine lasted about two and 1/2 years. I finally went through Beth Moore’s Breaking Free bible study and spent a lot of time memorizing and praying Scripture. I went to counseling and learned how to distinguish truth from a lie. Most pleasant afternoons, you’d find me lying on my back in a field behind the dorms, singing or crying out to my Redeemer. He thawed me. He reminded me of my worth, showed me others who were hurting much more than I was, and re-established who He created me to be. A daughter of the King.

These girls were my laughter.

These girls were my laughter.

We’ve all endured (or are enduring) those seemingly endless winters; the ones that leave a little frostbite on our hearts. Finn’s diagnosis and disability is oftentimes heart-breaking. One of my friends has lost both her mother and mother-in-law to tragedy. A client lost her brother, her niece and now her daddy–all too soon. I ran into a sweet momma at Target today, and though we had never met before, she reads my blog and recognized Finn. She said she was directed here by a friend-of-a-friend because she gave birth to a stillborn little boy at 40 weeks. Then several months later became pregnant with a precious daughter who has Down syndrome. One of my best and most faithful friends endured divorce when she was counting on forever. Many of you have suffered multiple miscarriages. You’ve felt the sting of abuse or neglect.

These pains can freeze us up; cause us to lock ourselves away from the world, curl up with a blanket over our heads and let the blizzard rage. And that’s okay for a while, but at some point, summer will come. It’s relentless. In your life, allow buds to grow, flowers to bloom, and eventually pluck those petals to share them with others who are still in the shadows.

...my blogging spot. Carrots and hummus. Overripe peach. Birds. Breeze. Summer.

My blogging spot. Carrots and hummus. Overripe peach. Birds. Breeze. Baby monitor.

If you’re shivering in winter, there’s hope. Summer is coming. I hear it right outside my window.