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!

Here We Are

So it’s been too long, and I’m sorry.

I’ve been longing to write to you; I’m teeming with ideas to share, but honestly, the things I’m learning about life and business and family right now, I’m not sure you want to hear, so I’ve kept quiet. In short, I’m learning about how to be a better, more courageous leader and Christ-follower. A consistent, patient entrepreneur. An understanding and supportive friend. An irrationally generous giver. I’m making exchanges (not sacrifices) in my life right now that do not afford me time for Project Runway reruns, crafting or margin to blog.

img_3920

But it’s been TOO LONG, and we had some stellar family photos taken, so here I am. It’s post-church naptime for the kids and my To Do list can wait.

We are The Armstrongs.

We work hard. We are kind. We do difficult things on purpose. We have fun. We choose to be brave. We forgive freely. We love each other. We follow Jesus.

Processed with VSCO with a6 presetProcessed with VSCO with a6 preset

Finn is loving PreK. We love Mrs. Brown–she makes learning fun. He is great with spelling and language. He’s a terrible writer/artist and I think it’s hilarious. His aide told Joey one day, “The first thing I noticed about Finn is that he has a lot of friends.” P E O P L E!!!! You’ve been praying for friends for Finn! THANK YOU! He has friends, praise Jesus. Another aide told us “Finn is the best part of my day,” –and her job is to wipe his butt. ๐Ÿ˜‰

His wheel got stuck in the grass and he fell over in his chair a couple weeks ago. No teachers were around, but his buddy Thomas ran to get the teacher. Finn was freaked out and had a bump on his head, but he’s fine. This wasn’t the first time and won’t be the last. I get asked a million questions about Finn each day when I pick him up. “Why can’t he walk?” “Is he a baby? Why is he wearing diapers?” “What’s that thing on his back?” “When will he get better?” “What’s wrong with him?” They are asking honest, innocent questions I don’t always have the answers to. I don’t mind answering these questions, but I hate that it’s in front of Finn. And if I get all these questions in 5 minutes, I wonder how many he gets throughout the day? My heart hurts for him, but God gave Finn such a resilient spirit. It doesn’t seem to bother him at all. He is a good, kind Father.

img_4088img_4146img_4043img_4058

Paisley is so spunky. Okay, and naughty. Her sense of humor is subtle and smart. She observes people before she’ll befriend them. She loves ‘nastics and jumping and climbing and being upside down. She is full of life and extremely independent. “Gummy” (gum) is her favorite and she loves to pack her Paw Patrol lunchbox with all kinds of random items for “school” so she can be like Finn. She likes to sing and dance. I can’t get over how beautiful she is. I’m so grateful she has a daddy who will protect her fiercely.

img_3795img_3934img_4030img_3819

This morning on the way to church, Finn said that he “want[s] to marry Paisley, and I’ll blow her a kiss.” Paisley told me yesterday that Bubba (Finn) was her best friend. She helps him pop over bumps in the sidewalk, rides his back like a “horsie” and races him with her baby stroller. Their friendship is a gift from above.

img_4055img_3951img_3803img_3723

Joey and I have had a tough few months. I blame Dave Ramsey. We’re doing Financial Peace University with another couple from Life.Church, and though these are conversations we obviously needed to have and there is always room for improvement when it comes to spending and saving, I am TIRED of talking about money. The conversations are unsexy, exhausting and difficult to trudge through. We’ve learned a lot about our personalities and fighting fair during this process though, and in a few hours, we’ll meet the Gates for pizza and to discuss our last FPU session to celebrate. Praise. Jesus.

Joey is so good to me. He’s fun. He’s my best friend and lover. He unloads the dishwasher like a ninja. And I love to watch him “dad.” I’m truly a better human being because of his influence in my every day life.

img_3992img_4006img_3764

Thanks to Maylee Hill for taking such fantastic photos of our family! She is super talented and captured our personalities so well. I love the color in these shots. We took these photos on the Eastside of Tulsa near the Blue Dome District. Check out her website!

As the holiday season approaches, I pray you’ll run (or wheel) like a little child toward Jesus’ transforming love, your families, your dreams, and better overall health. Go now; don’t wait.

img_3970img_3961

Thank you for praying big prayers for our family and specifically for Finn, for following our journey, and for being true friends. We are not perfect, but we are following hard after our perfect Savior, THANKFUL for His goodness and grace in our lives.

We are The Armstrongs. Roar.

img_4139

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?

 

Give

This word has been hovering over my kitchen since Thanksgiving.

IMG_2535

Both families have agreed not to exchange gifts this year. They took away one of my love languages, and I’m not too happy about it. ๐Ÿ˜‰ So I’m learning to give in new ways–perhaps more important ways than with the swipe of my debit card.

I’m giving more of my time. Each breath is on loan from my Creator, so it’s really not my time anyway, but I’ve always been most selfish with my time.ย Meetings that go long drive me bonkers. Commercials, snaking grocery lines, doctor’s offices, verbose, showy prayers, and stoplight traffic all test my patience something fierce.

Giving God more of my time (sheesh…it’s so hard for me!) in prayer and reflection has helped me refocus this Christmas season. I love the book, Savor, by Shauna Niequist. December 8th’s devotion reads:

“The season that centers around the silent, holy night, the simple baby, and the star quickly becomes the season in which we over-everything–overspend, overeat, overindulge, overcommit.”

I’m learning to give less frazzled, hustling, distracted moments and more intentional ones to the people I love.

IMG_2488

Give Joey longer, more attentive kisses.

Put my phone down and listen…to whomever is speaking to me: the Target cashier, my kids, my husband, my friends, Pastor Craig…

Let Finn spell out E V E R Y single letter in The Sleepy Train book and forget about the long list of naptime-to-do’s I need to accomplish before sister wakes up.

IMG_2499

They loved the Christmas lights at Rhema!

IMG_2522

Sit on my bathroom floor with Paisley while she digs through my makeup bag. Discuss the importance of beauty on the inside…and my new-found appreciation for high quality mascara.

FullSizeRender 32

Life Church BA’s lobby is a Christmas wonderland!

Allow my clients the opportunity for proper form and quality of movement even when I planned another set.

Blog about what God’s doing in my heart and how He’s teaching me that giving is a mindset. I can give to Him and to you every day in simple ways.

IMG_2532

Taylor created this beautiful print for my mantel.

Give. And give again. Because when you give, you’re most like God, I heard someone say.

LC Family Reunion 2015

Last week, over 500 staff and their family members met at the Life.Church OKC campus for three days of worship, lip syncing, speaking, eating, laughing, running, sharing and listening intently.

We shared our hotel room with our sweet littles and several sacrificial LC volunteers took care of them while we enjoyed connecting with other staff members and re-focusing on our vision and mission as a Church.

“We don’t preach morality. We preach Christ.” -Pastor Craig Groeschel

“We aren’t about numbers. Every number is a person. Every person is a story. Every story matters to God.” -CG

“The Great Commission tells us the when (“go now”) and the where (“into all the world”), but not the how. Because the how needs to change.” -CG

I was overwhelmed in the very best way. Monday night, I sat on the edge of my seat, leaning into the vision of this Church we are fortunate enough to call our own.

Steven Furtick

Steven Furtick gave a characteristically fantastic message

The leadership here is unmatched. Creativity unbridled. Excellence expected. The gospel boldly proclaimed. Generosity flowing. Health encouraged. So lives are being changed…including ours.

IMG_8544

I have so many stories to tell, so much respect for our leadership and so much stinkin’ gratitude, I’d just bore you to death. So I’ll tell these stories through pictures instead.ย  Here goes…

IMG_1920

In honor of LC’s 20th anniversary, the dress code was formal. So fun to be fancy with my handsome date.

Worship during Reunion rattled my heart in a new way. I was reverent and excited all at once.

Worship during Reunion rattled my heart in a new way. I was reverent and overjoyed all at once.

We thanked Craig and Amy for 20 years of sacrificial leadership. They are humble and full of integrity.

We thanked Craig and Amy for 20 years of sacrificial leadership. They are humble and full of integrity.

12042802_10206561357466271_4941046966076663651_n

The Broken Arrow LC staff is THE BEST! Seriously.

I loved the DLT's (Directional Leadership Team) Q & A session.

I loved the DLT’s (Directional Leadership Team) Q & A session.

Kristen and I shared our stories (along with 6 others) during a breakout session on fitness and faith called Drop the Mic.

Kristen and I shared our stories (along with 6 others) during a breakout session on fitness and faith called Drop the Mic.

Scott and Joey brought the kids while Kristen and I had stage practice the first night. Best dads ever.

Scott and Joey brought the kids while Kristen and I had stage practice the first night. Best dads ever.

Kristen shared about her childhood and I shared about Finn.

Kristen shared about her childhood and I shared about Finn.

Here are the other fantastic people who shared their stories during Drop the Mic. Kristen and I were the only spouses who spoke during breakout sessions. Intimidating and such an honor!

Here are the other fantastic people who shared their stories during Drop the Mic. Kristen and I were the only spouses who spoke during breakout sessions. Intimidating and such an honor!

Finn was star-struck when he met Mr. Music in our hotel lobby! Gi-ddy little boy! Listen to LifeKids' Mr. Music on iTunes for free! Your kids will love it!

Finn was star-struck when he met Mr. Music in our hotel lobby! Gi-ddy little boy! Listen to LifeKids’ Mr. Music on iTunes for free! Your kids will love it!

IMG_8533

The 1996 worship set skit had Joey and I in stitches. Complete with hits like “Jehovah Jireh” and “Shout to the Lord,” tamborines, fake trees, projector screen and all.

IMG_1969

We ended the reunion by 200 of us running a 5k! I loved the example our church led of a healthy church body. Joey and I both PR’d!

We left Reunion grateful, humbled and inspired to give more and lead better.

IMG_2003

Spilled Milk

The idea of gratitude has literally changed my life. I think it may be the single-most important attitude of a believer. In being grateful we assume our rightful posture of child receiving undeservedly from Father, Provider.

IMG_1820

I distinctly remember one holiday break home from college. I was dejected from a recent break up, sleep-deprived, fighting a sinus infection, and grumpy. I went for a long run in my parents’ neighborhood surrounded by the rugged beauty of the Texas hill country. I heard this idea once that when you’re sad, you should start saying aloud the things you’re thankful for. I voiced those things as I ran…and I just couldn’t stop. My two mile run turned into four and I returned home to our cul-de-sac physically tired but spiritually awake. I was overflowing with gratitude.

I’ve been grumpy for the past two weeks. Ask Joey. Finances. Friends. Loneliness. Family. Work. Finn. Sleep. Marriage. Dust. Spilled milk. Jersey. The broken headlight on our van. If you’re looking for something to complain about, you’ll find it. And I have.

Great Grandma Mary reading to my kids.

Great Grandma Mary reading to my kids.

Pastor Craig’s sermons are simple but powerful. Practical but prayerfully prepared. Full of wisdom. Tonight I heard his word from the Lord about gratitude. Tears filled my eyes and I felt like a little girl sitting in time out. I was humbled because I’ve been disobedient. I’ve been discontent despite the richness of blessings in my life. And it’s been everyone else’s fault but my own.

“Gratitude turns whatever we have into enough.” -Pastor Craig Groeschel

Jesus, forgive me for pouting and missing opportunities to praise you. Thank you for all the good things in my life. I acknowledge they’ve come from above. And thank you also for the difficult things. Perhaps it’s a matter of perspective anyway.

Rock Town OKC with Joey one lovely Friday in September.

Rock Town OKC with Joey one lovely Friday in September.

“He fills my life with good things; my youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” Psalm 103:5 AMEN.

I choose gratitude.

St. Francis Children’s Hospital, Room B2

Finn whispered, “Will you guys pray for me?” Joey, his mom and I started crying. Then we prayed over his sweaty little body; cheeks red and flushed, eyes closed.

IMG_1596

We called his nurse in for some Motrin and about 30 minutes later, he snapped out of it. The South Tulsa LifeKids team was visiting when Finn seemed to come back to life.

Stephen and Finn

Stephen and Finn

He was calling us “Poopy,” giggling and asking his nurse about the Avengers on her scrubs.

IMG_8258

Sunday evening, Finn refused dinner, said his head hurt and asked to take a nap at 5:00pm. Something was not right. We got him home from a family run at Turkey Mountain, where the kids had performed their first “rock climbing,” and Finn had a 102.9 fever–the highest we’d ever seen with him.

IMG_8236 IMG_8242 IMG_8244

After medication, we checked on him every 15 minutes and his temp was dropping, so we let him sleep through the night. He woke up Monday morning happy and ready to go to school.

School called around 3:00pm saying he woke up from his nap, said his head hurt and threw up. I picked him up and Joey and Paisley met us at the pediatrician. We were hoping it was the return of an ear infection he had a month ago. Nope; ears looked perfect. Our doctor said to take him to the ER…although it’s very rare, it could be a possible shunt infection.

Finn has a VP shunt behind his right ear. It’s a small device that regulates the spinal fluid pressure in his brain, caused (in his case) by Spina Bifida. It keeps him alive and was placed by a neurosurgeon three days after his birth. When it malfunctions, the shunt’s catheter gets clogged and CSF (cerebral spinal fluid) accumulates in his brain, causing him to feel very sick. Most often, it requires immediate surgery to fix. This has happened twice, but not since 2012.

VPSHUNT.60234908_std

We spent about 6 wearisome hours in the ER at St. Francis.

IMG_8252

Joey’s parents helped with Paisley, friends brought us dinner, and Joey’s boss and his wife visited the hospital then took over for my mother-in-law staying at our house with Paisley.

IMG_1584

They ran every test–blood, urine, swab for infection, strep, CT scan, and a shunt x-ray series. Everything came back negative for infection and the shunt seemed to be working properly; nothing was kinked or clogged. His inflammatory indicator was high, but white blood cell count was normal. We were baffled. They decided to admit him overnight to continue investigation.

IMG_1586 2

They gave him the same antibiotics as they would if he had spinal meningitis, not wanting to leave anything up to chance in case he had a shunt infection. Finn and I spent Monday night in the hospital, where they came in every hour for some test or IV check. Every 3 hours they pried his eyes open and shined a light in them. Fever was still pretty high. By mid-morning he was basically unresponsive for about 3 hours.

IMG_1591 IMG_1599 2

We’d ask him to look at us and he wouldn’t turn his head; even when his eyes were open. We were scared and praying hard. This is when he asked us, “Will you guys pray for me?”

Tulsa recently got a new pediatric neurosurgeon, and she was on Finn’s case. She ordered a shunt tap–they stick a needle into the shunt and extract CSF to test it for infection. If it is infected, they will remove the shunt and replace a new one–a major surgery and two-six week hospital stay. The shunt tap was ordered at 10:00am, but no one heard from Neuro until 8:00pm that evening. By that time, Finn had rallied and was feeling so much better that we were playing catch with a foam baseball when she arrived at his room.

Daddy made a tent!

Daddy made a tent!

Cousin Ev, Tuck and Sully sent balloons!

Cousin Ev, Tuck and Sully sent balloons!

Gym friends brought a Miles of Tomorrowland toy!

Gym friends brought a Miles of Tomorrowland toy!

She decided not to risk the shunt tap since he was obviously feeling better.

He woke up Wednesday feeling great and even ate a donut!

He woke up Wednesday feeling great and even ate a donut!

We left the hospital around 6:30pm on Wednesday, still unsure of the source of infection but thankful for Finn’s improved health nonetheless. Perhaps it was a weird virus? God, no doubt, had healed him.

Our miracle boy.

Our miracle boy.

Thank you so very much for your prayers and encouragement during this difficult week for our family. We are blessed by the community you provide us. You are, quite literally, the “hands and feet of Christ” in our lives. Keep praying for Finn: that he would not relapse and that his shunt would continue to work properly.