Sunday, March 31, 2013

Because He Lives

Today we celebrated Easter, the day Christ rose from the dead. We had a wonderful morning making resurrections roles, hunting Easter eggs, and watching new videos (The Crippled Lamb and a new Veggie Tale Video). All the boys Easter presents relate to God. We had a wonderful worship experience at church followed by lunch at Preston's Grandmother's. We were able to spend some time with his extended family....whom we always love seeing. After leaving lunch we headed to the cemetery to visit Mia's grave (drop off some flowers and pray thanking God for Mia.)

One songs we sang in worship this morning that has been in my head today is "Because He Lives". The lyrics go like this:
Because he lives
I can face tomorrow
Because he lives
All fear is gone
Because I know
He holds the future
And life is worth the living
Just because he lives

These lyrics are so true in my life. Most people see the past few years in our lives as being tragic, more than most people can handle, the saddest thing that could ever happen, etc. The lyrics to this go something like this in my life:

Because he lives
I can face tomorrow (death of my daughter, cerebral palsy, cochlear implants)
Because he lives
All fear is gone (don't need to be afraid of what is to we will handle things with all the boys but especially Nathan and Owen)
Because I know
He holds the future (all being together in eternity)
And life is worth the living
Just because he lives (He made each of us perfectly so we can enjoy and share life).

Sunday, March 24, 2013

God is moving in Lebanon

When we first saw the posting of this trip we were so excited. We began praying our purpose would be two fold: design a school for special needs kids and use our own special needs kids to encourage other special needs families...while learning from them too.

As time went on we began learning of the special needs culture in Lebanon. They are about where the US was 50 years ago. Most everyone with special needs kids sends their children to a special institutions during the day: one for all the CP kids, one for the Down Syndrome kids, one for the Autistic kids, etc. They rarely have their kids out in society with them and are mostly ashamed. LSESD, Lebanese Society for Educational and Social Development, the group we worked with, is trying to change all of that through their SKILD (smart kids with individual learning differences) Center. They are employing Special Education Teachers, Psychologist, Speech Therapist and Occupational Therapist. They have 4 schools they are working in, at a minimal level though trying to do more, one at a much greater level and outpatient sessions at their center in the afternoon. They have a desire to have their own school, a mix of typically developed and special needs students. This new school is what Preston and the team of architects and engineers were there designing. This team of 11 worked countless hours, some nights until 2:00 am, to produce the best school for LSESD.  (I will get Preston to export some renderings so I can add them to the blog.). This particular type of school is going to be one of a kind. Hopefully many will follow.

It was so encouraging to me to see a group of people who are working with such passion, in the face of many trials, to provide education and social acceptance to kids with special needs. Right now the center is seeing kids with learning disabilities and mental needs. The new school will accommodate physical needs too so those children can be added.

While we were there the government proclaimed April 22nd will be the National Day for children with Learning Difficulties.  They asked the SKILD team to make all preparations for the celebration events on that day.

I also had the opportunity to tell our family story over the past three years to the SKILD staff.  I always love sharing all that God has done in our life and talk about my kids... of course it was complete with pictures too.  Our original plan was to share with a much bigger audience including the special education staff at the Beirut Baptist School, but God had other plans.  One of the roads in front of the school was closed due to some fighting so we were not able to make it.  However, we got the idea to video our presentations.  This will allow everyone who was not able to see it, view it if they desire.  I think this also gives the ability for many additional people to view it too, potentially reaching many more people than originally planned.

Logan, with his contagious, fun-loving attitude captured the hearts of many.  He played well with everyone, encouraged the team, assisted Mrs. Jackie in her presentation and just seemed to really enjoy the trip.  He was also very helpful with his brothers while his Dad was in meetings a big part of the day.

Nathan and Owen also won the hearts of everyone they met.  It was a much deeper love than any of them expected.  Most of the people on our team and the group from LSESD and SKILD had not spent much time around kids with special needs of their severity.  God used Nathan and Owen to impact everyone in a much deeper way than anyone expected.  In true God fashion, He way outdid our prayer for an impact by Nathan and Owen.  By the time we finished our trip tears were shed by many, comments of how they loved Nathan and Owen were many, and a few different people also commented they want to learn even more about kids with special needs.  It was fun to see the staff fighting over who got to hold them next.  They really had a big impact!!!

God also used our family in our natural daily routine to impact people.  We do everything with all of our boys.  Nathan and Owen are right beside Logan in playing, eating, site seeing, getting hugs, etc.  This is a foreign concept right now in Lebanon.  The observation of our family spoke volumes to the way God intends for the family to function.  We even received the comment from a Mom with a kid with learning difficulties that seeing our family has helped her feel good about her situation.

We had a wonderful opportunity to spend a morning working in an orphanage for kids who were taken away from their parents because of abuse.  The children were so wonderful.  They loved playing with Nathan, Owen and Logan.  We played lots of games, taught them songs...and they taught us some too. We spent time sharing the gospel in each of their classrooms.  The children at the orphanage embraced all of our kids and they whole heartedly embraced them too.

We are looking forward to continuing to develop our relationship even deeper with our new friends in Lebanon. We hope to return to see the opening of the new school.


Thursday, March 21, 2013

Lebanon Part 3: Sunday - worship and rest (sight seeing)

Sunday morning we were able to join a couple of our hosts and attend worship with them.  I always LOVE attending worship services in another culture and language.  It always remind me of just how big God is. It was all in Arabic, but we were able to wear headphones that translated everything into English for us.

After church we headed to Jieta Gratto.  Unfortunately we were not able to take any pictures in their.  It was magnificent.  The floor to ceiling hight was hundreds of feet.  We were able to ride a boat through the lower part of the Gratto.  Everyone really enjoyed the sites!  If you are ever in sure to check it out.

Next we went to Byblous, a place on the Sea that was about 45 minutes south of Beirut.  We were able to tour an ancient castle, that went back 12,000 BC.  We were able to see all of the different additions from each people group that took over the the castle.

 This is one of my favorite pictures.  I love the sun flowing through the clouds.  It has such depth.  It reminds me of how the light of Christ can break through anything.
 An old Lebanese house in with all the ruins.
 View of the sea from the Castle.
 The Castle.
 Logan helping the tour guide lead the tour.  She just loved Logan and he was so glad to learn and be a part of teaching everyone.
 View of the city behind the castle.
 Castle wall.

 Logan with Beardface Google watching the fishing boats.
 Fishing boat on the sea.
Preston and I.
 Some of the guys on the trip wanted to help out carrying the backpacks.  Here is Nathan sleeping on Chris.
 Owen is sleeping on Ryan.
 Check out cool man Logan.
The sea.

Lebanon Part 2: Exploring Beirut at Night

We had the privilege of exploring Beirut two nights while we were there.  It is such a beautiful city.  It was exciting to see the diversity, the sea, and have some relaxing time hanging out with our hosts and team.  The weather was beautiful every day we were there.  It was unseasonably warm, with several days in the 80s.  I have a few more pictures I have not downloaded yet, but I will eventually add them to this blog post.
 This is Beirut from our hotel room.

 Beirut from the hotel room again.
 A fun picture I snapped of Owen one night.
 Seafront in downtown Beirut.
 Seafront in downtown Beirut.
 The sea.  It always was very choppy with big waves while we were there.
Modern Building in downtown Beirut.
 Walk way on the waterfront where we enjoyed some Hagen-dazs.
 Logan being silly.
Our family.  We used the backpacks to carry the little guys every time we went out.  They worked really well.

Lebanon Part 1

I will spend a few blog post journaling our time in Lebanon.  I will also write at least one post on the meaning of our work and the work that is being done there.  Here is post one of the journal.

Our family boarded a plane on March 9th headed to Lebanon.  Thanks to our good friend, Michael, who dropped us off at the Atlanta airport and helped us carry our 5 large bags, 2 child-caring backpacks, 3 kids and 2 gait trainers into the airport.  Another great perk is that Michael works for the airport so he was able to go with us all the way to our gate.  We made it through security very glad everyone prayed for it because I was a little nervous about it.  The 8 1/2 hour plane ride to London was great.  All 3 kids did very well.  Nathan and Owen slept most of the time and Logan enjoyed watching some movies.  We had a 5 hour layover in London, which was a great amount of time to get everyone fed, some time to walk around and hang out with an elderly lady from Beirut.  She heard we were traveling to Beirut and asked if she could stay with us.  She did not walk well, so Preston pushed her around in the wheelchair.  She absolutely loved Logan and he was so glad she was spending time with us too.  She kept hugging him and blowing him kisses.  She told us, "where you go, I will go".

We arrived around 9:30 at night.  Our team leader Steve and fellow team member, Ryan waited up at the guest house to help us take everything to our room.  We had two rooms next to each other.  It worked really well.  We all slept in one and made the other one our play room.  When Nathan and Owen napped in the afternoon, Logan and I would play and do homework in the room next door.

We stayed on the campus of the Arabic Baptist Theological Seminary. We walked up the hill to the cafeteria for most of our meals.  Everyone working for ABTS was so nice!!  The cooks were seminary students who would take turns working in the cafeteria.  There are people from all of the Middle East and Africa.  It was really nice to be able to meet them and hear a few of their stories.

Our team was made up of a great group of people.  Everyone had such a mission heart, so friendly, their to work hard and just a real joy and encouragement to be around.  Logan was particularly fond of Judi, the landscape architect from NY.  Every day he had to sit by her at every meal.  He would ask throughout the day if we could play with her, but I had to remind him that she was working on the design of the new school.  Judi was so great with Logan, always so encouraging and friendly to they sat together at every meal.  He loved everyone.  He named our two team leaders, Beardface 1 and Beardface Google.  He played lots of the time with Ryan and Raja.  Everyone was so welcoming to everyone in the family.  Our group was made up of people from every engineering discipline, 4 architects, 1 lady who was a retired special needs teacher/administrator and our family.

 The guest house where we stayed.
 The cafeteria
 The student housing building
The view of Beirut from the cafeteria.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Good morning from Beirut

We are starting our 2nd full day here. All the boys traveled extremely well!!! Everyone on our team is super: nice, always offering to help and very seasoned in mission work. Yesterday we attended Chapel. I always love hearing people praise God in different languages! It was such a treat. We had lots of meetings: some the boys and I attended and some they went up for a we skipped a few. We have two rooms so when N & O nap, L and I an play in the other room. Yesterday we played: transformers, Cars, transformer wrestling, read books (him not me), basketball (we brought a little net from home), soccer, connect 4, hungry hungry hippos and logan shouted hi to about 16 people passing by our room (we are on the second floor). We are all having a great time.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Making Progress....

Preston is heading up the March of Dimes campaign at his work. For Nathan's and Owen's first birthday I made some videos of their first year in different stages. The first video of their life in the NICU. Preston showed these videos at their kick-off meeting. The videos got Preston to thinking about a time early in the boys life.

As many of you may remember Preston and I spent Thanksgiving 2009 and the four days surrounding it living in a parent room at the Brookwood NICU. Nathan was so sick his doctors could not guarantee that at any given point he had more than 15 minutes to live. One of his NICU doctors who was in his 21st year of practice at the Brookwood NICU said Nathan was the sickest baby he ever had to survive. Thinking back at that time, compared to today...just puts a big smile on our faces as to how well Nathan is doing and how much joy he has for life.

This joy that Nathan has he carries in to every part of his life. This morning he had an hour of Occupational Therapy. He did very well putting in puzzle pieces (he can match the pictures and get the pieces in and out by himself), putting puff balls into matching color cups, playing Connect Four, stringing beads and many other fun games. He is making good progress with his pincer grasp, baring weight on his right arm and just making good progress on his fine motor skills. This afternoon Nathan had an appointment with his orthopedic surgeon. About six months ago Nathan's Physiatrist, Dr Law, suggested Nathan needing to have his hamstrings lengthened to allow his legs to straighten completely giving him a better opportunity to stand, walk and crawl. We decided for a number of reasons to move forward with a second cochlear implant and put the hamstrings on the back burner for a bit. So today we met with Dr Doyle, the ortho doc, to revisit the idea of surgery. Nathan seems to be declining and is really tight he felt good going ahead with the surgery. On April 15th Nathan will have leg surgery. He will have his hip flexers, adductors and hamstrings all lengthened. He will also have his calf muscles botoxed during surgery. After surgery he will be in the hospital at least a day. He will be in a lot of pain for a few days but is fine to return to school in less than a week. He will have casts on both lower legs for about 3 weeks and will also wear knee immobilizers. This all sounds like a lot but we are excited to really be able to help Nathan to continue to progress with his standing and walking.

Owen had a great morning at Occupational Therapy too. Connect Four is definitely a big hit with him. He also really enjoyed the ice cream stacking game and of course his favorite thing ever...playing with balls. Later this morning Owen had another eye gaze trial. The rep from Tobii came to town and Owen used their eye gaze devise again. Owen did an incredible job. His therapist, the Tobii rep, and his mommy :), were all so amazed at how well he is doing. Everyone believes that cognitively Owen is on par with any three year old but is just behind in his expressive language. They believe the use of the eye gaze device will bridge the gap now and help Owen catch up more quickly.

Logan enjoyed some special time with Memommy, CiCi and PawPaw Bill today while Nathan, Owen and I were at the doctor.

Logan is very excited about our trip. This afternoon he told me we only had 3 1/2 days left!

T - 4 days

The countdown has begun. Logan is getting really excited. He is talking a lot about our trip and how he loves to ride on airplanes. Owen seems to understand. His biggest concern is who he will be sitting by on the planes. Every time we ask he says, mama. Nathan is ready to go with the flow.

I have purchased most everything we need, which this time includes lots of food and drink for Nathan and Owen. Because they have a lot of feeding issues and Owen is lactose intolerant I am bringing lots of food and drinks just in case they can't eat much. On top of food, I have some fun games like transformers, books, basketball and bowling (the first is Logan's newest passion and the last two are Nathan's and Owen's.). Lots of clothes for the 5 of us and notes from a few different doctors explaining their diagnosis and the need for us to bring this equipment top off the packing fun. I have four suitcases and am dividing everything up equally. This way just in case one does not make it we will still have plenty. Most importantly we are bringing excited, open hearts to be used by God.

Now, just four more busy days to make it through. Today we have OT, eye gaze trial, and an ortho appointment to discuss Nathan's legs. Wednesday is always fun and busy with school, piano and church. Thursday and Friday are more low key with school and playing with friends. I am sure we will fill up the time running a few last minute errands.