Category Archives: (in)couragement

(in)courager community groups

doinglifetogether-jenschmidt-incourage

Today, registration opens on another session of Dayspring’s (in)courager community groups. I’ve been a leader for over a year now, and it has been one of the greater blessings of my life. You’ll still find me in the moms of special needs kiddos arena, leading (in)cluded with sweet Jessica. This particular session begins February 3 and runs through April 11.

Groups are limited to 30 women each and “meet” on facebook. There’s no agenda, though you choose a group based on the life-stage you’re in or the area you’d like to focus on for a bit. There’s bible study groups and fitness groups, military wives groups and working moms groups… and everything in-between. You can find a complete list of groups  HERE.

Maybe you know of someone in need of a small group but can’t commit to weekly meetings in person? Or maybe your story would benefit another woman a couple steps behind you in the journey? Either way, consider joining a group and walking with some new friends for a bit. You may be just the blessing someone was waiting for.

Y’all. The weather. I do love me some winter… I do. BUT IT IS COLD. Talk to my children, please, and remind them this is but a season. The sun will come out again. The wind will cease. You will be allowed outdoors. The temperature will break double-digits again. SOMEDAY. LAWD.

Here’s a little Abby for your Monday…

winter

I asked her if she thought she was missing anything.

She asked me if I’d seen her mittens.

Y’all. This child.

 

 

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eh

a great hair dayAfter my literal 15 minutes of fame last Thursday, I calmly walked off the stage (without falling) and took my seat. I was overwhelmed with relief and absolute elation afterwards… so much kindness, so much encouragement. An oasis of a night in a desert of a year… or two. Look. Even my hair was totally behaving. It was incredible. Thank you, Kelly.

Friday brought the realization of a HUGE work project for Curt at Camp Roger– his whole company came out and raised a new rope swing out over Little Bostwick by hand. It had been in the works for so long! The goal was to give to the camp, of course, but also have a huge team-building day for the folks at Wolverine Building Group… so we prayed long and hard for good weather, strong steel, and no ice.  Curt lost more sleep over those 2 telephone poles than any other construction project I’ve seen in the past year. And Friday? 65 degrees. Sunny. Smooth sailing perfection couldn’t have gone better. SO LOVELY.

Check TWO crazy things off the list.

And then, I was up to bat again.

[It was a ridiculous week. I’m still sleeping it off.]

I had volunteered to host the Grand Rapids/Holland chapter of the (in)RL 2013 meet up. There’s this fabulous free webcast for women each year… this year it focused on staying in community when community is hard. Appropriate, no? Friday night was a watch-at-home session and then Saturday, all over the world, women met up in-person to watch the other sessions and have some conversation.

So, ok. I can do this, right? I’m a hermit, but I’m making great strides. I even gave a speech early this week!

Cue my co-host emailing me 2 days before and saying she had to bail for family reasons.

Still ok. She dropped off snacks ahead of time, I loaded up decorations, I bought name tags, my hair was still looking good. I’m in. I’m in because this year they’re talking about staying in community when it’s hard and awkward and this is not lost on me. I’m in because I don’t mind the hour drive there and the hour drive home in gorgeous weather… ALONE. I didn’t even turn on the radio, People. It was glorious.

And I arrived and I decorated and I set out all the handouts and the gifts and the snacks and I waited… I waited for the other 25 brave RSVPs to walk through the doors. Twenty-five strangers who would spend the afternoon together and stretch their community arms a little bit. Twenty-five people who wanted to meet-up beyond the regular (in)courage blog posts we read every day.

And five of us showed up.

Five.

And I thought, I honestly thought- at 10:35am when it was obvious this was IT, time to fish or cut bait- what in the world is even possible here?  I was so ready! I had tried so hard! I had driven so far! I was scared, too! Totally not fair.

That’s what I thought.

And then I thought, screw it. We’re doing this thing. Roll tape. Pass the chocolate.

What followed was 4 hours of fresh conversation, honest questions, and Godly effort from 5 women who stuck it out.  We left with books and cute mugs and leftovers for our family table. We left with questions about what steps God was asking us to take (and, no, He is not asking me to wake up at 5am) to better our families, we left encouraged by the women we watched on-line and their stories… which sounded remarkably like our own.

I didn’t think it would work.

God, apparently, does not work through RSVPs… he works through willing hearts. And He blesses effort. Even tiny, hesitant, nervous effort. He does not care about numbers or decorations or gluten-free or tamed hair. He cares about community. Community with each other that leads to community with Him.

Will I do it again? You bet. Next year- I’m hosting. But on different, calmer, gentler terms. It will be here… at my house… with my dirty floors and my great food. It will be here… with friends I want to share the day with and strangers who need a welcome mat. It will be here… and I will not count RSVPs. I will not count RSVPs or left overs or miles or extra pens.

I will simply open the door and welcome willing hearts in.

Amen and may it be so.


Y’all gonna make me lose mah mind.

Abby was the last of our family to go through the Fever and the Stomach Bug. It was ugly. One day just after Christmas, she took an exceptionally long afternoon nap… you know, the kind you take when you feel like death. After that day, she did not take a morning or afternoon nap again until yesterday.So, not since 2012, People, has that child slept any kind of normal.  Yesterday was the first day- THE FIRST DAY, she has taken a nap and slept through the night. I feel like I am 47 years older.

Rylie learned how to say the word ‘tomorrow.’ It sounds like Two-Mah-Woh, and it’s gorgeous. Seeing my window of opportunity, I put Annie in the dvd player and cued up the song. She was shocked and thrilled… and I cried. Her re-entry into school has been ROUGH since the holiday break. We needed some happy tears around here.

Gus put Abby in the dishwasher and closed the door yesterday. “Mom. Abby wash.”  There is 2 week old clean laundry piled up on my couch and I never gave Ry’s teacher her Christmas gift. Y’all. 

What in the world.

What I need is some time away… to myself. Perhaps with other woman who know me. OR perhaps with other women who DON’T. I need to go on a retreat, be fed, hear some good words, learn, be taught. Spring Bible study started this week at church, but I need baby steps. It’s been a long time since I’ve been untethered from this house and a deep commitment absolutely terrifies me right now. I simply don’t have the right jeans.

Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about.

Some of you don’t, and that’s ok… we just can’t be friends today.

So, let’s start small.

Let’s start with a couple hours spread out over 2 days in April.

I can do that, right? You can do that.

It’s (in)RL hosted by (in)courage.

I love it. What is it? 

(said every mother everywhere every day)

Simply, (in)RealLife is a webcast on Friday followed by a local get-together Saturday.  It’s a chance to anchor those beautiful online relationships you’ve made by meeting TOGETHER and in person.  (in)RL was born out of two years spent listening to women in the comments at (in)courage craving local, real life community. Derived from the social media acronym “IRL” or “in real life,” (in)RL is an invitation to share what we’ve learned about community and encourage women with stories and suggestions for connecting deeper in real life.

Think of it as a FREE girl’s weekend away that doesn’t require packing or plane tickets, where women can kick off any expectation of perfect, set aside their fears, their shyness, their worry that they’re not good enough, and find some of Jesus’ words of rest woven into every video shared here.

The (in)RL webcast kicks off on Friday, April 26 and (in)RL meet-ups follow on Saturday, April 27.

(So, Friday is you at home in your jammies with some hot cocoa watching the conference online. Saturday is you heading out into the city and meeting up with other Ladies in your area to meet and hang out and… be awesome.)

This year we’re taking a closer look at what it takes to stay rooted in community when sometimes just walking away would be so much easier and tons more convenient. Women share stories of how they’ve chosen to stay through hard marriages, challenging parenting, worthwhile friendships. How choosing to stay has freed them more fully and unexpectedly than if they’d cut and run.

Relevant, yes?

So, let’s sign up. Let’s put ourselves out there and see what happens. Let’s see what God does when we step out from behind the computer and walk through an open door. I’m scared to death, really. I mean, leaving the farm and putting myself out there is not number 1 or number 2 (or number 12) on my list of awesome. But I’m gonna do it. Even if it’s just me and some Beautifuls I know but never get to see.  Even if it’s 5 women on Saturday that I’ve never met before in my life.  I’m doing it.

And don’t think I don’t hear you laughing at the awesomeness that is the topic for this year: commitment in difficult community. It’s like it was made for me at this point of my life, yes? I know, I know.

Sign up to attend or host a gathering in your town HERE.


super-duper holiday list o’ fun

Hello, Friends! Please forgive yesterday’s blog absence.  Abby and I are back from our trip to California, and we are feeling it. Time zones are not awesome.  Ry also woke up this morning with a fever and a very sad face, so everyone’s in jammies and soup is on the stove.

Today, Tif is back with a list of tried and true activities to get you through the rest of this Holiday Season with your littles.  If you have anything to add, be sure to leave us a note in the comments!

Oh there’s no place like home for the holidays…

 As a parent, I have found some fun and creative ways to bring the holidays into my home for my children.  We always look forward to the spending of time together…. The crafts, the stories, the fun.  Ever since my children were little, being home was more important to us… than going out. The stay at home activities allowed my son, who didn’t like the hustle and bustle of the holiday, to be in a safe and calm place… and yet it also allowed my other son to experience the special moments of the season.  It even gave us (the parents) the ability to enjoy the joy and fun without getting frustrated or feeling pressure from the outside world.  Many of the activities are simple, cute, quick and easy to plan.  I wanted to share some with you….
Granted, you can add your own traditions…. But these are just some helpful ways to get your home buzzing with activities for the holidays.  Have fun! Take photos! And most of all, enjoy the messy faces, goopy hands, and sounds of joy in your home.  Merry Christmas!

Tif 

Young Ones (ages 2-5)

Older Ones (ages 5+)

Remember: if your child doesn’t hang around for long… let them be.  They may only want to experience it from afar.  Don’t force the activity and time upon them.  Leave your expectations and frustrations at the door… just BE together! 


(in)couragement for (in)ablers

Today’s post comes from Tif, who writes regularly about family life over at MIDST.

Do You Hear What I hear?

carol-singers

“’Tis the season to be jolly… Falalalala… la la la ala la.”

I sing (under my breath) with the utmost of sarcasm.  How can we be jolly… with all this “stuff” and with all this “noise” around us?  As children we are surrounded by the excitement, the traditions, the little happy spots of the holidays.  We have parties, ice skating, parades, lines for Santa, cookies to bake, neighbors to sing with, and of course, the Christmas pageant.  All these things we loved as children made the season so bright in our eyes.  Now, as moms, we want to share that same giddiness, that same excitement, with our own children- so we pile it on.  Why not, right?!?!  “The more the merrier,” isn’t that what “they” say!?!

I remember the spark in my first son’s eye… the wonder of it all…. The staring at the colors and lights, the chewing of ribbons and hiding in boxes.  Having a child changed my life.  It changed the way I saw Christmas- seeing it through a child’s eyes again made me feel young at heart… and in such awe.

Then Bjorn was born.  He was a boy who would hide away in his room all day long; he had no desire to interact with others.  He could sit in his room, in his quiet safe space, never speaking. Never connecting. Never touching.  A boy who could disappear from it all…. living in a space of void.

As a mom of a special needs child, my life had changed from experiencing life with my child to advocating for him.  I sought out what was best, what might work, and worked through all of the trial and errors. All year long I fought for my child-  for his voice, for his touch, for his very existence in a world where relationship and connecting is key.

Then the season of Christmas came- and I want so much to share this season of “jolly” with him.  I froze… How?  How did I bring a world of big, bright, loud, full, crowded, and more into the life that desired routine, structure, calm and quiet reign.  We had a problem…  our two worlds collided….

Our first three Christmases, Bjorn never joined us for more than 5 minutes.  He would open one present, walk away, and go back to his room.  We rarely went out, we never went to parties… and decorations never came out until two days before the 25th.  I was sad.  Not just for him, but for (I’m being honest here) myself.  Here I wanted to “do” all these things… to experience all these with my boys… and I couldn’t.  Let’s be real here… I was having a holiday pity party with the table set for one- me!

Then I began to pray and pray and pray.  How was I going to bring the Light of the World to my child who didn’t know how to be part of the world? I then began to listen.  Listen to my son. Listen to my Lord, and listen to the Truth.  It was amazing what happened when I took my eyes of what I wanted and looked at what my son needed.

This is what I heard… STOP.  SIMPLE.  SHARE. And BE.

The first thing I learned was to STOP.  Just STOP.  I had to stop my expectations for what I thought was important and begin to listen (really listen hard) to what my son needed.  This listening was hard to do, because it meant putting myself in his place, a place I had never known. But I had to listen to what he heard during this time of year. Once I did,  I was shocked when I figured out he heard a “hum”, a hum that was loud, piercing, and really painful. It wasn’t an audible hum… but a hustle-bustle type of hum that scared him.  At times the hum was so inaudibly loud that he would just cover his ears, wanting it to disappear.

The second thing I learned was to keep it simple.  Simple meaning…. Not too much, and as little instruction as possible.  I would plan one activity for that season… one thing that would show him the “holiday spirit” and invite in the story of our Savior into his little life.  Simple and sweet….  If it went well I could add the experience to the next year.  Doing this was allowing him to process, to digest, and to experience at his level.  Honestly, sometimes his process time took weeks… weeks!  So, in the Spring he would say something about Christmas that would knock my socks off – and that is how I knew, giving him too much never gave him the time to process the experience- but once he processed it, he could relate to it.

Thirdly, was to share.  I talked and talked and talked.  I shared about what we were going to do, when we were doing it, what it was going to look like and what possible surprises we could expect.  This was intentional preparation… basically “covering the bases”.  I also shared with him the safety things he could do if he was overwhelmed or needed to communicate that he was not feeling right.  We began to set up a signal that he could make if I needed to get him out of the room to a quiet area for him to just seek out the calm he needed.  I became his trust…. He knew that he and I were a team, and that I had his back in times of trouble. This moment was huge for us!  HUGE!  (side note- make sure you keep your sharing simple too. Limit your words to 3-5 word sentences. Be direct and to the point.  As a mom, I always forget this rule… and over share… you know… the TMI rule.  With Special needs kids… there is such a thing as TO MUCH INFORMATION! Trust me.)

And Finally… BE.  Be in the moment. Be Christ to your child. Be the gift that the Lord gave to us… Be your child’s hope.  Be your child’s love. And Be your child’s peace.  May we all see the season as one that is focused on BEING with each other… Once I realized that the holiday season was not so much about the excitement of doing but in the magic of being, it wasn’t my son who changed… It was me.

Now I sing a new song… a song that is beautiful and perfect…

It is one that rings “all is calm, all is bright”.

[(in)Able is a community group for moms of kids with special needs.  We’re a part of a larger group of women in all stages of life over at (in)courage.  Every other Wednesday, you’ll find a letter here specifically (in)couraging and (in)abling women in their journey as a mom of kids with special-needs. You can join us daily HERE.]


(in)couragement for (in)ablers

Rachel is a child of God, blessed wife and stay-at-home mom to three, the oldest of whom has a variety of needs surrounding her visual impairment (resulting from her severe prematurity), ASD, and mild intellectual disability.  She blogs at This Journey Our Life, to share her personal journey of special needs parenting, encouraging others who find themselves on a similar path.

Running to Him

Desperate for help, I felt the urge to run.

Somewhere.

Anywhere.

The walls of my world were caving in around me. Helplessly, I looked on at my daughter who needed to be rescued.

“Will somebody please help me?” I tried to cry out. Instead, my throat choked on its scream.

It was like those nightmares where you want to run but your legs won’t move; where you need to scream, but you can’t.

Silently I stood back.

Waiting.

Watching.

My daughter was slipping away, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

She needed help.

But it’s hard to help when you don’t know how.

I scanned the crowd, searching for someone who would stop to offer their assistance.

If someone shows me what I need to do, I’ll do it! I thought.  Anything to save her.

Why isn’t anyone stopping?  Why doesn’t anyone care?

Weary from searching, I wanted to give up.

These were my feelings throughout a large part of the past school year. Overall, Cami’s struggles had grown more complex, and every solution appeared impossible. Help seemed out of reach.

I was frustrated and fighting despair.

But a phone call changed my perspective and brightened the pathway I had been trudging along.

Immediately following a difficult conversation with one of Cami’s teachers, I called my mom.  In between heaving sobs I updated her on the situation, sharing the most recent struggle.

Answers were uncertain, but I knew my daughter needed help.

I needed help.

I told my mom, “I wish it was as easy as running outside to a crowd of people and screaming at the top of my lungs:

SOMEBODY PLEASE HELP ME, SHOW ME WHAT TO DO!” 

Her response hit me hard:

“Rachel, it is.” 

The truth of her statement sent chills down my spine, and my throat tightened as more tears spilled down my flushed cheeks.

There is someone Who is waiting to help. Someone Who will show me what to do.

That night I ran to Him.

And still I run.

{Proverbs 18:10}

The name of the Lord is a fortified tower;
the righteous run to it and are safe.

[(in)Able is a community group for moms of kids with special needs.  We’re a part of a larger group of women in all stages of life over at (in)courage.  Every other Wednesday, you’ll find a letter here specifically (in)couraging and (in)abling women in their journey as a mom of kids with special-needs. You can join us daily HERE.]


(in)couragement for (in)ablers

Today’s post comes from sweet Kaylee Page.  Kaylee (and husband, Dan) have one daughter, Miss Bella, who lives in a world of FPIES, EoE, Delay in Gastric Emptying.  Kaylee works full-time at Start Garden and fine-tunes plans to take over the world while driving to doctors’ appointments.

‎Strength and dignity are her clothing,

And she smiles at the future.

Proverbs 31:25

The version I read years ago said “laughs at the days ahead.” How odd, I thought. How can you laugh at what you don’t know. It took me a while to realize that this woman, this Proverbs 31 woman, had a deep trust and understanding that God was and is in control. She can do this little internal, perhaps sometimes audible laugh. But not always the type of laughter we think of laughing at a quick joke. No, it’s a laughter that’s like a “Ha, only you, God. Only you could make this story beautiful, funny, unbearable, full of suffering and sorrow, but amazing, and honest and good, and weird, and humorous and comical and full of miracles. Create moments that take my breathe away. Only you know what would set me off today. Only you know what my heart needed today. Only you could design a life to make me more like you. Somehow, only YOU could write this journey.”  It’s the laughter Sarah had when she found out about Isaac. It’s gratitude. It’s the relief. It’s the fact that she’ll be a grandmother’s age at story time with all the other young, hipster moms. Or I can imagine Mary, the mother of Jesus, had a similar laugh when the Angel Gabriel told her about having the son of God – knowing, the honor and yet the difficulties this would all bring.

So today, ladies, you are clothed with strength and dignity. You are amazing! You are worth far more than rubies. Lord truly knows, you’ve gotten up while it is still night and provided for your families. You set about your work vigorously; your arms are strong for your tasks. You are a virtuous woman indeed! And God delights in you.

He is proud.

May you have moments that make your heart light today. May that light-heartedness come from a deep, intimate trust and understanding that God is in control. The days to come are, each one of them, going to be okay. They may be better than okay or they may be quite difficult. Whatever steps they may be, they are the beautiful steps he’s laid out for you. Tough as they may be, smile. Not a fake, plaster smile. The smile that totally gets heartache, pain and disappointment. It’s the smile that creeps up for some reason in the middle of the sobbing. It’s the smile that creeps up when you watch your child grow and accomplish something new and exciting. It’s the smile that’s the deepest breath you can imagine. It’s a smile that calms your heart, soothes your soul and gives you the unimaginable peace your heart desires, even if but for a moment.

Praying for your hearts today. Praying for the smile to creep up on you. But also praying that if your heart is just in no way close to being able to smile, that God would rest deep within you, settle His way in. That if the smile is impossible, that at least there is a moment of rest. The rest maybe needed to get you a tad bit closer to that smile.

[(in)Able is a community group for moms of kids with special needs.  We’re a part of a larger group of women in all stages of life over at (in)courage.  Every other Wednesday, you’ll find a letter here specifically (in)couraging and (in)abling women in their journey as a mom of kids with special-needs. You can join us daily HERE.]