Monthly Archives: May 2016

Eighty: Lessons from a Life Well-Lived

Daddy,

You are turning 80 years old in just a few short days. I find it hard to wrap my mind around this number! 80! Wow! But more than the number, I’ve found myself reflecting so much you and on our relationships, and I’ve been wowed by how blessed I am to have a daddy like you. You have loved and served the Lord with your whole life. As I have entered into my journey of parenthood, I realize even more what an exceptional job you did — because parenting is hard! But if I am able to be the kind of parent that you have been, then I will count it a success!

For your 80th birthday, I thought I’d share 80 of the lessons that I learned from you. I could write for paragraphs on each of these ideas. But that would take a whole book. So I’ll keep it simple. Some of these you have said to me, over and over again, but more of them, you have said with your life, over and over again.

1. It’s all about Jesus. We should strive to represent him in all we do.
2. Be generous. It’s only money.
3. Family comes first, always.
4. Commitments matter. Keep them. From small to large. If you say you’ll do it, then do it.
5. It’s ok to cry. I get my soft heart from Daddy.
6. Surround yourself with people who love the Lord.
7. Be committed to a church body. Don’t be a drifter.
8. Serve in your church.
9. Never be too proud to repent when you’ve made a mistake.
10. Repenting also means living differently henceforth.
11. Tithing to God’s local church is pleasing to him.
12. You don’t need wealth to be happy or to have a good life.

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13. Discipline is an act of love.
14. Integrity. Do what you know is right. Just do it.
15. Serve your family as unto the Lord. Even if it means riding a pink little girl’s bike so that you an all go on a family bike ride together even when you are one bike short.
16. Play with your kids. Rough and tumble or tea party, whatever they like.
17. Be involved in your kids’ lives. Show up to their events. Cheer them on.
18. Kids don’t raise themselves; they need parents, not parents who act like friends.
19. Realize when it’s time to release your kids into more independence.
20. Teach your children right from wrong.
21. Pray. All. The. Time.
22. Practice gratitude, continually.
23. Work at improving in weaknesses; don’t just sit in your sin.
24. Loving what you do is a blessing.
25. Make sacrifices for those you love. Lay your life down for them as Christ did for the church.
26. Pray for and with your children.
27. Pray for and with your spouse.
28. Say “I love you” often.

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29. Show affection.
30. It’s ok to have conflict in a relationship. Stick to your commitment and work through it.
31. Read the Bible daily.
32. Make a joyful noise unto the Lord. Daddy isn’t a great singer, but he always said that didn’t matter. The Bible didn’t ask for great singers to worship; it says, “make a joyful noise unto the Lord.”
33. You never know when or how you’re going to touch someone’s life, so be available.
34. Sometimes all we do is plant a seed in someone’s life. Way down the road, God may do something miraculous with that seed.
35. Always be truthful.
36. Love and serve your spouse faithfully. Make sacrifices for your spouse.
37. Cardigan sweaters are THE way to go!
38. No matter what is going on in life, remember, you are on your way to heaven, so it’s ok.
39. Spending time together as a family is important.
40. Laughter. It’s good stuff.

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41. Enjoy your kids; they grow up really fast.
42. Math jokes “always add up.”
43. 6 is afraid of 7, because 7 “eight” 9.
44. Everyone has a dessert pocket.
45. You are Christ’s ambassador.
46. Lean on your friends during difficult times, and allow them to lean on you during their own trials.
47. Love and enjoy God’s beautiful creation.
48. Stuff is just stuff; don’t make it too important — “you can’t take it with you!”
49. Every single person was uniquely created by God, and he loves and values them all.
50. Find what you are passionate about and spend your life doing it.
51. Honor and respect your elders and authority figures.
52. You get what you pay for, so save up for quality when you’re purchasing something important.
53. Find businesses that you can trust and give them your business loyally.
54. Don’t just get your hair cut, get them all cut!
55. Medicine is another name for ice cream.
56. Peanut butter is the best food on the earth.
57. How to be a teacher. This is the most oversimplified statement I have ever written. Teaching has been his life, and now it is also mine.

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58. How to write incredibly quickly on a blackboard so that your students are scrambling to copy it down before you erase it with your free hand 🙂
59. A love for puzzles — his are numbers, mine are words.
60. “Multiply by the power, decrease the power by one.”
61. Make sure you do maintenance on your car because it’s cheaper than fixing it after it breaks.
62. Take good care of your teeth — you only get one set.
63. Take care of your body. You only get one.
64. Attitude is a choice.
65. Camping can be fun, but be sure to bungee your cooler shut or a coon might make off with your roast in the night.
66. When camping, changing clothes is not necessary.
67. Never go to Camp Run-Amuck.
68. Always go to Colonel Mustard’s Custard.
69. Have as many meals together as a family as you possibly can.
70. Be punctual.
71. Open your home to others — “wear out your furniture for the Lord.”
72. “Can” is about ability, while “may” is about permission. Don’t misuse them.
73. Puns are the best kinds of jokes. Use them frequently.
74. When something is lost, ask God to help you find it, because he knows exactly where it is.
75. Age is just a number. It doesn’t mean you have to grow up.
76. You don’t need to be someone’s parent biologically to speak into their lives or to be a parent figure to them.
77. A smile, a hug, or a kind word can bless someone more than you know.
78. We are blessed with each new day that the Lord gives us to serve him.
79. We should give ourselves to the Lord daily and look for what he is doing in our lives.
80. People and God are the only things that really matter here on this earth, so spend your life loving and serving God and his people.

I love you, Daddy. Thanks for teaching me. Happy Birthday!

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4 Ways Apraxia has Changed Me

apraxia awarenessToday is Childhood Apraxia of Speech Awareness Day. This speech disorder is one that has touched our family deeply, so awareness of it is close to my heart. Childhood Apraxia of Speech (CAS) is a developmental disorder in which the brain fails to naturally control the muscles necessary for speech. A child without CAS will develop speech with ease and through a typical process, i.e., certain sounds emerge at certain ages or in a certain progression. For a child with CAS, developing speech is hard work with lots of practice, and certain sounds may come with even more difficulty than others. CAS does not mean that the affected child cannot understand words. Nor does it mean the child is intellectually challenged. It simply means that the motor planning portion of the brain is not functioning effectively to produce speech, and so more work is required for speech to be learned.

sophie purseOur daughter Sophie was diagnosed with this speech disorder shortly after her third birthday. She had no words and was unable to imitate even the simplest of sounds. We lived through three and a half silent years with Sophie before her speech began to slowly and painstakingly emerge. Now she is four years and three months old, and she is well on her way to functional speech. Through the silent years and the process of learning speech, our lives have been changed in many ways. I’ll share just a few of our experiences in hopes that they will help in raising awareness of this disorder that touches the lives of so many families.

Apraxia has caused me to reevaluate how I assign value to others. For the first three and a half years of her life, Sophie was unable to express to us anything that was going on inside her mind. So much of who she was remained hidden. But oh, how we loved her. Simply because she was. I came to a point where it didn’t matter to me whether or not she learned to speak. I wanted her to be able to speak because I knew the way it would shape her life not to be able speak. But I never for a moment considered her value as more or less based upon her ability to communicate verbally. I poured into her regardless of what evident gains I might see. For so long, there were literally no gains in speech, but still we poured, still we invested, simply because she was. Our journey through the silent years has helped me to open my heart and look on others as persons of dignity and value, regardless of their differences. I am no longer uncomfortable engaging individuals with differences of any kind. I see them as beautiful creations with undeniable value, simply because they are. In addition, I have been made so much more aware that every person (EVERY PERSON) has a back story that I cannot see. There is no room for judgment.

Apraxia has shown me the goodness in others. One of my greatest concerns with having a child with special needs is that Sophie would somehow be considered less by others, that she would be sidelined, less loved. Nothing could be further from the truth in Sophie’s life. Even though she began this school year with essentially no verbal abilities, she made two new best friends almost immediately. They wanted to learn to talk with their hands so that they could communicate with Sophie. More so, her entire class treats her with kindness and is protective of her. Her teacher tells me that Sophie is literally the most popular child in her class. Beyond the school setting, Sophie and our family are so loved and cared for by our family and our church community. When Sophie was diagnosed with CAS and we knew that we had years of expensive speech therapy ahead of us, our community banded together to raise money to help pay for Sophie’s speech. Tremendous goodness. Although I know many children with CAS suffer at the hands of bullies, God has thus far spared us from these experiences. It is my prayer that in raising awareness of CAS that families will be better equipped to educate their children and help them open their minds to acceptance, regardless of abilities or differences.

sophie_on_rockApraxia has allowed me to glimpse miracles. When life follows an ordinary course, miracles are harder to see (though I firmly believe they ARE there). When life is full of difficult or even impossible circumstances, success feels miraculous. Each time Sophie gains a new sound or expresses new thoughts and feelings, I feel like I am seeing a miracle. To hear her say “mommy” for the first time, there are no words to describe how that felt. To actually hear her asking for hugs or kisses, or saying that she misses me, it melts my heart every single time. For so long she could not say these things. Given the challenges that apraxia can present, I consider it miraculous that Sophie has gone from no words at all to speaking constantly in short sentences in less than a year. While she still struggles to correctly articulate many sounds, making her barely understandable to some, she is constantly trying to talk and making great gains. Because of her struggles, nothing about Sophie ever feels ordinary, and each moment feels miraculous.

Apraxia has challenged me to see obstacles as opportunities. Because of apraxia, we have met many people who have poured into our daughter’s life, and into ours by extension. Because of apraxia, we have seen the generosity of those whom we do life with. Because of apraxia we had the opportunity to learn American Sign Language. Because of apraxia, Sophie is able to attend preschool and work with wonderful teachers and therapists. Because of apraxia, I furthered my pursuit of writing. Because of apraxia, we have banded together as a family. We have faced this challenge head on. We have worked hard. We have fought for our daughter. We have loved fiercely. Because of apraxia, I have been driven deeper into my faith, closer to the God who loves me. Because of apraxia, we are all changed, every one of us who know and love Sophie. This obstacle has become our opportunity to rise above, to fight hard, to grow, to deepen our faith.

Apraxia is just one of our challenges in this season of life. I don’t know what your obstacles may be today. I don’t know what challenges you face as a parent, as a person, as a friend, a child, or a spouse. But I do know that if you choose him, God will use those challenges to shape your life. Yes, I want you to be aware of Childhood Apraxia of Speech, but more so, I want you to be aware of a God who loves you and who wants what is best for you and for your family, no matter how big your obstacles seem or how challenging your trials are. We don’t mourn our difficulties with Sophie because they have made us who we are today, and I firmly believe that we are better for it.

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The Truth About our Trials: Learning Obedience

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There’s nothing quite so devastating as feeling like you are giving your all to the Lord, following him, trusting him, serving him, only to feel like he’s snatching away your happiness and asking you to move in a direction you would never have chosen for yourself. Trials feel that way, whether it’s an unexpected diagnosis, the end of a relationship, the loss of a job, the passing of a loved one, an unforeseen bend in the path of life. These trials set us reeling, our hearts bleed.

If I’m being honest, which I like to do here in my “candid” writing, as many folks call it, this was definitely one of the biggest contributors to the hardness of my heart, to my missing heartbeat. I have felt like I have been faithful to the Lord, and he has asked me to lay down my desires and walk a completely different path than the one I wanted to choose. As if our good works entitle us to anything… I have grappled with acceptance for many months now. And I’m not sure I’m there yet. May was to be the month that we would begin trying for our third child, but with all that has unfolded with my health, and with the many unanswered questions we have, that dream is on hold, perhaps indefinitely. It has been heartbreaking to lay down that dream and continue trusting in God’s goodness. I have known from the moment I had my final neurology appointment that this was going to be an exercise in obedience.

As I have pleaded with the Lord and fought a deep discouragement in my heart, particularly in my ministry of writing, I started feeling a gentle nudge in my soul to kneel before the Lord in worship. This is more than a little outside of my wheelhouse for a typical Sunday morning. My heart, I am sad to say, was too prideful to kneel before my Maker. It is literally painful to write that. What’s more painful to expose is that I continued to feel that nudge, week after week, and I brushed it aside. In hindsight, I think this small choice is perhaps the largest reason that the Lord has allowed so many trials to persist for so many months. It’s been the breaking of Catherine Burleigh. My heart needed to be humbled to the point that I was willing to kneel, to relinquish my own desires and dreams to his will and his desires for my life. I have fought this for many months.

My heart broke the week before my knee did, but the process felt like one fell swoop. I cried out to the Lord, “Do. Whatever. It. Takes. I can’t live like this. I will take your path.” Once I chose obedience, once I began the attempt to accept what he has for me, my heart turned toward him and his words began to flood my heart again. He reminded me that in him there is always hope. His plans are good. He fulfills the desires of my heart. Life may look different than I have planned, but his goodness will never fail. It was the beginning of a heartbeat.

In some ways, I still feel like I am in the breaking process. My will still contends with his; I still battle to daily choose his path over mine. There is still a part of my heart that is fiercely clinging to my own dreams. Through everything we’ve experienced with Sophie, I have learned that acceptance is a process. It’s not something that happens overnight. And I can only trust that the Lord will be patient with me, continue to speak to me, as I wrestle with all this. I am thankful for his kindness, his gentleness, his grace, as I walk through yet another path of acceptance in my life. Some days are easy; I feel content with life as it is, and I’m ready to move forward with what’s next. Other days I spend fighting the tears moment by moment. But my heart is set on obedience.

I realize that our own obedience is not a magical chant or spell that we can use to obtain what we desire. That’s not the point. God is my Master, and he deserves my obedience for that alone. Obedience acknowledges his wisdom and that his plan is far superior to my own. Neither is disobedience necessarily the root of all hardheartedness, of all our heartbreak, of all our trials. But for me, it was a contributing factor. And I suspect if we all look closely, we may see areas where God has been nudging us, but we’ve been too stubborn to take the steps he’s asking us to take. He will wait. He will continue to refine us until we are ready. It has taken me a long time to act in obedience, far too long, I must admit. But the results are breathtaking.

My heart is starting to beat again. There is still pain from the trials we have walked, still walk. There are still dreams that I don’t want to die. But there is peace. And a heartbeat. A blessed heartbeat.

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