How to Treat Kids Who Are Different: Part I

This blog post is in honor of Finn, on his 5th BIRTHDAY! I cannot believe it.

img_6521

You may be one of those people who want to be different. March to the beat of your own drum kind-of-person. Most of us, however, just want to fit in. I was the “new girl” every two years of my life, as my family moved around the country for my dad’s job. All I wanted was to blend in as quickly and seamlessly as possible, make friends, and become “popular.” Finding a cute boyfriend was a plus.

My son, Finn, however, cannot just “blend in.” Nor, do I believe, he wants to. He sits happily between two wheels, zooming through the lobby at church, holding back the urge to pop a wheelie in line at school, and eager to help me “treasure hunt” for groceries at Whole Foods.

img_6487

Finn’s 5th birthday party: bowling and pizza with 19 buddies from school and the cousins!

He is obviously different from the average five year old…and he seems okay with that.

When Finn was born, OU Children’s Hospital hooked us up with another family for emotional support. This child was several years older than Finn and also had Spina Bifida. I got up the courage one morning to call his mom, Debbie. I asked her what her son was currently struggling with. “Well, he’s really ornery and lately he’s been in trouble for annoying his big sister.” Her answer took me off guard! It was a relief, honestly. I expected something medical and tragic in nature, but her wisdom assured me that Finn will likely be like any other boy–mischievous and annoying, just on wheels. ๐Ÿ™‚

img_6494

Spina Bifida will be a part of his life. It will not define his life.

Your differences will be a part of your life. But don’t let them define your life.

When you are unique or have a child who is unique in some outwardly obvious way, it is common to get stares, double-takes, sweet and curious questions, rude statements, unsolicited advice, and oftentimes unwanted attention.

img_6480

I hated this for the first two years of Finn’s life. I avoided birthday parties, crowded doctor’s offices, playgrounds…anywhere some child or parent might ask or say something I didn’t know how to answer. Now, though, I love to share Finn with the world; it just took some maturing, prayer, and preparation on my part.

img_6497

Cousin Ev, Tucker and Sully came all the way from Missouri to celebrate!

Today a sweet college friend messaged me and told me she took the initiative to tell her son all about Finn recently. She showed him videos of him wheeling up ramps and being silly. They laughed together and had a good conversation about being different. Her kindness and intentional parenting prompted me to finally write this post I’ve thought about for years. Her words: “My prayer is that God will continue working in his already sensitive heart…and that he will have eyes to see and a desire to befriend kids who are different than him.” Thank you, Claire.

I’ve had several friends ask great questions in confidence, “How do you like Finn to be treated?” “What should we say when our kids ask questions?” “Do you like to be approached or would you rather be left alone?”

These are all valid questions, and ones I will answer with the help of a few other moms of uniquely awesome children. That info will be in PART II of this blog post and I hope to post that late Wednesday night or Thursday.

img_6570

My mom and Finn share a birthday (today!). We celebrated my mom’s 60th in Dallas this weekend! She’s the cute one holding Paisley on the right. Check out Finn at the head of the table. ๐Ÿ˜‰

I’ll leave you with this tonight. One of the best quotes I’ve heard on this topic is:

“If you want to know how to treat a child with special needs, watch their sibling. They will show you.” (simplyrealmoms)

img_6567

Hotel giggles and shenanigans…TOOK THREE STINKIN’ HOURS to fall asleep!

img_3951

SO GRATEFUL for their friendship. Thank you, Jesus.

Come back Wednesday night (or Thursday if I don’t get to it) for some more insight (and other opinions) on this topic!

One Word: Servant

2015, my one word for the year was Peace.

For 2016, my word was Rooted. I don’t feel I fully embodied this word. It will be a lifelong goal of mine–to be firmly rooted in Christ, unshaken by what others think of me. However, I was challenged to dig down deeper into Him this year. I had many opportunities to be alone, rejected, ignored, heartbroken, disappointed, and worse: misunderstood. But like an oak in a summer storm, my branches sway, but my roots go down deep and I am unmoved. If His love for me doesn’t change, then it grounds everything.

For 2017, I’m focusing on who I want to become: a Servant.

Luke 22:24-30 “And there arose also a dispute among [the disciples] as to which one of them was regarded to be greatest. And He said to them, “…but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant. “For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who reclines at the table? But I am among you as the one who serves. “

Leading is natural for me; I’m confident in that role. Following, going unnoticed, and being a servant is not so natural. Jesus says the leader must be like the servant. He was a servant to his disciples on earth, going so far as to wash their nasty feet with his calloused hands.

img_5974

Paisley is impatient like me…she pushes me to listen to her FIRST.

 

I’m reading Present Over Perfect by my favorite Christian author, Shauna Niequist, and though I’ll write a lengthier blog post about what I’m learning from her wisdom another time, I want to share something that resonated with me.

img_6114

She said to think of our relationships as concentric circles, and the people closest to us (Joey, Finn, Paisley) are in the inner circle. Jesus, of course, is at the very epicenter. Then the relationships extend outward in more and more circles.

img_5991

My “center circle.” Our little family at Life.Church for one of our Christmas services.

 

My aim for 2017 is to be a servant to the people who matter most, those Loves in my inner circle. Sometimes I’m best at serving strangers…people who will forget me tomorrow.

img_6038

We had the BEST time at Nana and Papa Armstrong’s log cabin for Christmas! We are richly blessed.

“We disappoint people because we are limited. We have to accept the idea of our own limitations in order to accept the idea that we’ll disappoint people. I have this much time. This much energy. I have this much relational capacity.” -Niequist

I hate disappointing people, and I hate admitting that I can’t do it all. I’m not Supermom. I can’t train every warm-blooded human being in Tulsa. I can’t become an Arbonne RVP without a team. My energy and time and patience are limited. If Jesus needed to get away on a mountainside to re-energize, pray and rest, I will need that even more so.

img_6025

Joey read the Nativity story to us on Christmas Eve-Eve morning.

 

Servanthood is not allowing people to abuse me and my kindness. It’s not passive. Instead, I believe it’s an active choice to put others’ needs ahead of my own–again, unnatural for me. I think first about how to serve Joey and the kids–how can I make their lives richer? Then I think of myself. I think first about my clients’ health needs and then about my paycheck.

img_5721

I’ve gotta get it right with Joey, my Love, my Best Friend.

1 Corinthians 10:24 Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor.

Jesus, help me become a more humble, willing servant this year, starting with the people in my home. Ultimately, I’m pointing others toward you, who “existed in the form of God, [and] did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant.” (Phil 2:6)

Happy New Year, dear friends!

Pre-K

We sent him off to his teacher’s bench early Tuesday morning. It was his first full day of Pre-K, the first of many days of public school.

IMG_4868IMG_4872IMG_4866

This day was one I feared since the NICU, watching Finn’s tiny pink lips breathe in and out, closed around his feeding tube.

Sure, he’s been in daycare since infancy, but this was different somehow. I was sending my heart off between two wheels, trusting the world to treat him fairly, give him a chance, open doors, be kind.

He popped a wheelie, yelled, “Wahoo!” when he saw cute little Mrs. Brown, and zoomed off.

IMG_4877

I turned around, my eyes stinging with tears. Then Paisley almost ran off the curb into a line of cars and I forgot to cry. A busy day at work kept my mind distracted.

He won’t really tell us anything about his days…nothing true, anyway. He said he played in the dirt all day and that his new friend’s name was Booty. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Mrs. Brown tells me he always asks when nap time is and even fell asleep sitting upright in his chair.

IMG_4460

Thank you, Jesus, for Mrs. Brown.

He’s adjusting well and is excited to go to school each morning, a blessing for sure.

IMG_4458

When asked by kids in his class why he’s in a wheelchair and “what’s wrong with him,” Mrs. Brown says he responds that “his legs aren’t very strong and he uses his wheelchair to move.” I’ve never heard him respond to anyone about his disability before; probably because we answer for him. This is pretty close to what we’d say, except I don’t want him to believe he isn’t strong…just stronger in some ways than others.

IMG_4864

I’m so proud of you, Finn. You are teaching us all that it’s okay to be different. And what’s more, that it’s okay to LIKE being different! Your joy humbles me. You don’t make excuses for the things you “can’t do;” you simply find a way. I am so grateful for the confidence God gives you.

Here’s to 14 years of childhood education–Whew, that sounds daunting!–a rich education mentally, physically, socially and spiritually.

Will you pray with us for one or two really good, loyal friends for Finn? Friends that would see his differences as a blessing, not a burden. We all need a couple friends like that, don’t we?

 

A Perfectly Boring Marriage

June 30th, 2006 Joey and I were married in San Antonio, Texas.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It was hot, but a coastal storm rolled in that evening and knocked the flower arrangements off my reception tables, cooling off our happy guests.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Yes, I let Joey and his groomsmen wear those ridiculous sweat bands at the reception.

Joey’s dad performed the ceremony and it was personal yet powerful.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Our sacred vows were witnessed by 350 of the most influential people in our lives. I didn’t sleep much the night before from excitement and my eyes felt puffy. There was no real drama, catastrophe or anxiety that day. I was marrying my best friend, someone who felt like “home” to me.

Now, a decade later, our love is standing taller, battered by a few storms and it’s maturing like a good wine. We’re friends; we like each other most of the time, and more importantly, we choose each other. Every. Single. Day.

We’ve been asked many times how we’ve maintained a healthy marriage. “What’s the secret to staying happily married for 10 years and beyond?” The answer is nothing fashionable, shocking or dramatic. In fact, you may find it boring.

Daily, (seemingly) insignificant good choices. Today. Tomorrow. The next day…

“…They [successful people] achieve these dramatic results in their lives through making choices that are the very antithesis of drama–mundane, simple, seemingly insignificant choices.” -Jeff Olson, The Slight Edge

I apply this principle to my personal training career, my own physical fitness, parenting, my Arbonne business, my spiritual life and marriage.

*Before I go any further, I must say, our marriage is far from perfect. In fact, this past year has probably been the hardest of our ten. But we are working on it, praying through it, and fighting for it.*

In the moment, these good choices seem inconsequential, but compounded over time, they yield massive results. (I’m obsessed with books, The Compound Effect, The Slight Edge, The Power of Habit these days.) The trouble is that these small, simple choices are just as easy not to do as they are to do. Kissing each other goodbye in the mornings won’t save or ruin your marriage that day—but done (or not done) for hundreds of days over time just might. Daily bad choices (or perhaps the absence of good choices) have the same effect over time: destruction, divorce, obesity, bankruptcy.

Some simple choices Joey and I have made, by the grace of God:

We go to bed at the same time every night. This causes us to be on the same schedule. One person is not more tired than the other, we pray/talk a little together in bed, and it allows for physical intimacy. No kids in bed either, unless it’s May in Oklahoma and they are afraid of the storms.

We are a team. This is tough when you feel like you’re playing a different game altogether, not seeing eye-to-eye. But like any sport, we practice and we get better. IMG_5778.JPG

We go out on dates regularly. With no kids around, we can give each other our undivided attention, we can listen and get to know each other, we can flirt, try new restaurants, hold hands. IMG_6259

We put the kids to bed early. No brainer: more time for us. Structure and sleep for them. High five.

We put toothpaste on each others’ toothbrushes at night. Silly, but sweet.

We don’t make close friendships with people of the opposite sex. This is just smart; he is the only man I should be “emotional” with.

We work out together on Fridays. He rarely lets me train him, but I love including him in something that is so important to me–physical fitness. We think it’s important to stay fit (aka: HOT) for each other. ๐Ÿ™‚

We appreciate delicious, healthy food and black coffee. Oftentimes, we cook together. Chemex pour-over coffee every morning. IMG_6615

We play together and we play with our kids. Dance party every night; Justin Timberlake on repeat. Our kids remind us not to take ourselves too seriously.ย IMG_2874

We travel together (minus kids) at least once a year. It’s a true break in routine, scenery and responsibility. We invest in each other this way and create memories to think back to when “normal life” gets tough. IMG_1350If anyone has an excuse NOT to travel, it’s us. Two full-ish time jobs, I actually lose money when I go on vacation, two kids–one of which is disabled and has a potentially life-threatening condition. But it’s THAT important to us. Albeit, we have incredible parents that we trust to watch our kids.

We speak highly of each other. We chose early on not to make fun of marriage or put each other down, even in jest. We respect marriage and each other too much.IMG_4085

We apologize and try to fight fair. Even when we don’t feel like it. Ugh; this one’s hard.

We kiss each other every morning.ย 

We value friendship outside of one another. Life is more fun with friends. I think this is partly why our marriage has been hard this year–we’re lacking consistent friendships with other couples. DSC_2511

We take turns doing household chores and getting up with the kids. As a working mom, this is such a blessing to me. Joey is so helpful (acts of service is my love language).

We make time and energy for sex.ย I’m blushing just typing that…we are really private about our sex life. It’s the part of us that’s just for us.

405726_10151202194320570_762980569_22646554_264758922_n

6 months pregnant with Finn

We share our calendars. This means less surprises for me.

We support each others’ careers by asking questions and allowing time for personal growth and study. Joey pushes me to achieve my goals and I’m so grateful. IMG_1922

Joint bank account.ย 

We read. Less screen time is my struggle, but I’m working on it. Currently reading The Slight Edge by Olson and up next are Niequist’s new Present Over Perfect, Maxwell’s 12 Indispensable Qualities of a Leader, and the new Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

And finally…We individually seek to know Jesus more and work on improving ourselves. This is, without question, the most important element. The secret sauce. Because without Him, our love for each other is incomplete, shallow and self-serving.

I believe God made marriage a sacred covenant, binding unto death, because He knew that at some point, we’d want to get out.

“So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.” Matthew 19:6

It seems easier at times just to give up, do our own thing, or try someone new. But I said “I do,” to Joey on June 30th. Then again on July 1st. And July 2nd…And I’m saying “I do” today.

A healthy marriage isn’t fancy and it doesn’t make you famous. There’s no one event that changes everything. It’s the boring, mundane, good choices over time that lead to renewed vows when you’re 75 and wrinkled.

To the singles: are you the person that the person you’re looking for would want to marry?

To the married and healthy: thank you for your example! We’re watching and inspired.

To the married and struggling: dig in your heels and fight for your family. It takes two to make it work, yes. But pray for your marriage like it’s your full-time job. Go to counseling. And work on you. Let God work on them.

To the married and abused or neglected: Get help. In some cases, get out.

To the divorced: there is redemption. I’ve seen it and it’s beautiful.

To Joey: thank you for choosing me then and choosing me now. Happy TEN YEARS, my Love.

IMG_4100

 

Cray Cray Pai Pai

Paisley Dawn, you’ve added so much mischief, pink laundry and laughter to our lives in just 2 short years. You are beautiful and smart and kind and we love watching your personality unfold.

All About Paisley:

  1. Girl loves shoes. She changes shoes at least 5x/day. IMG_3705
  2. She prefers vegetables to anything. Cucumbers and roasted broccoli are her favorites. She would much rather eat adult food than chicken nuggets or pizza like Finn. She’ll only eat dark chocolate. We’ve got a little foodie on our hands. FullSizeRender 41IMG_3617
  3. Armstrong Dance Party begins every evening around 6:15pm. Girl’s got moves you’ve never seen. ๐Ÿ˜‰ Then we race around the house–Finn in his wheelchair, and Paisley with her “wheelchair” (baby stroller). She wants to be just like Bubba.
  4. She loves bubbles and animals and babies. She is naturally nurturing and tender and loves “putting us to sleep.” IMG_4218 2
  5. She would do anything for Finn. I love to watch their growing friendship. IMG_3788IMG_3794
  6. She is bossy. I think that’s my fault. IMG_4198 2
  7. She drinks a vegan Arbonne protein shake every morning like mommy and daddy. The greener the better.
  8. She has curly, unruly hair like her Papa Terry. Shea Moisture spray does the trick.IMG_4024
  9. She is a big helper. She loves to clean and help me unload groceries or the dishwasher. IMG_4203 2
  10. She’s a climber, a jumper, a mover. She carries a step stool around the house so she can have full access at all times. Sister is a busy girl. IMG_3738
  11. I love her legs. They’re strong and sturdy. Stout and muscular. IMG_3631I prayed for long, skinny legs for a good portion of my adolescence. I didn’t like anything about my own. But when I see them in miniature form on my perfect daughter, I’m obsessed with them. Falling in love with her body has made me love my own even more.

Paisley, we love you. We need you. We celebrate you this weekend!

IMG_4184 2

Happy TWO YEARS!

Four Fingers

Four years of Finn. Four of the sweetest and hardest of my life.

20120301-123507.jpg20120227-212704.jpg

You are my heart on my sleeve. My superhero on wheels. My unexpected miracle.

IMG_3095

I am honored to be your mom, cheering and jumping up and down on the front row of your little life.

IMG_3110

God has big, important things for you to do, and we’re all watching.

IMG_3106

Happiest Birthday, Mighty Finn!

“He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.” Psalm 91:4

(We’ve prayed this over you since you were in my belly, and we’re not stopping now.)

One Wittle Candle

We made it, Paisley Dawn; you’re ONE!

FullSizeRender 18

We’ve come a long way, sweet girl.

IMG_7981 IMG_7907

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

IMG_9176 2 IMG_9179 2

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

FullSizeRender 17

Baby woke up with a double ear infection for her birthday party! ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

IMG_1182

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!)

FullSizeRender 16

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. ๐Ÿ™‚

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.
ย 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.