Out Of The Trenches

It’s time for another story.  A story of God’s continued work in our family’s life.  This one isn’t a tear jerker like last time but one about life behind the scenes of social media.  A story that is best told after healing has happened.  So, let’s begin…

Last month on Instagram I shared that we had received some uplifting news about Judah.

As happy as this daffodil looks is about as happy as I feel today. It's been a wonderful week including a trip to the neurologist for Judah with some pretty uplifting news. I'm still trying to wrap my head around everything but plan to share more later. For now, just know that God is amazing and is stopping at nothing short of working miracles in our little guy's life. This past year has been a journey for me and I have continually tried to have faith and understand that my God is able to heal beyond understanding whenever he wants to and then I have prayed for that healing knowing that it is completely up to God if he chooses to heal Judah for His glory. Whatever happens I want it to be for His Glory. Complete healing hasn't happened yet but partial healing has and I'm so thankful for that and eagerly await more as Judah works to overcome his developmental delays. #adoption #praise #wiringandfiring #developmentaldelay #overcomingobstacles

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It was March 1 and earlier that day Michael Luke took Judah to visit his neurologist.  The same doctor that ordered the MRI last summer and later called to let us know that our child did have brain damage.  After that call I knew I didn’t want to be a part of the follow up appointment.  I didn’t want to hear the possible grim predictions of what to expect.  Sometimes doctors don’t have the most optimistic outlook on medical circumstances.  I feel like my role as his mother isn’t to understand fully what has happened but to do everything in my power to help him continue to progress forward.  Michael Luke was to take him and then relay to me what he felt like I needed to know.

Before we could make an appointment Judah needed to have blood work done so that several tests could be done.  Not sure what all they were, but tests to rule out possible medical scenarios.  Eight vials of blood.  So while we had the MRI done last summer and could have immediately made a follow-up appointment I purposely waited on the blood work. The first reason I waited was because our primary doc wasn’t too concerned about Judah’s damage.  The second reason I waited was because my child had been living in an almost constant state of terror since we brought him home.  We had spent months working on the bonding process and I really didn’t want to jeopardize anything just to have some blood work done.  So we waited.

As we neared his third birthday and began making preparations for Judah to start the Pre-K program in our school district having blood work done became more of a priority.  Why?  Because his general doc wanted some done to find out which vaccinations he had already received. I made an appointment and held my furiously screaming and kicking child while the nurse drew eight tubes of blood from my sweet boy.  It broke my heart to be the one holding him but we did it… and survived but I am so glad we waited.

With blood work done Michael Luke scheduled the appointment and made plans to take Judah for his follow-up. Even though we knew the damage was minimal we still didn’t know the exact damaged areas and what to expect as a result of that.  We also didn’t know the cause of the damage.  Let me just interject here that before Judah I never really understood the adoptive mother’s grieving of a lack of medical history.  I have Esther’s complete medical history as well as her family medical history.  We know more about her than we will probably ever share publicly but just know we have never been in the dark about her history.  As a mom it’s really tough not knowing simple things about your child.  I have no clue if Judah was born prematurely, if there were complications during birth, the age of the mother, or even the month or day that he was born.

The morning of the appointment came and I was incredibly grateful that God had arranged for me to be able to enjoy a rare lunch out with friends while Judah and Michael Luke enjoyed a guys day together.  It was refreshing!  We all need those times don’t we moms?  Even though I didn’t go to the actual appointment I was still eager to hear some news from Michael Luke.  Shortly after he left the doctor’s office he called and began to share with me.

Let me just reiterate that we knew going in that the damage wasn’t major… but sometimes when I think about all the delays Judah is trying to overcome or have an extremely rough and frustrating day it’s easy to let fear convince me there’s more to it than what our general doc was lead to believe from the MRI notes.  THE DAMAGE IS MINOR though!  Michael Luke saw image after image of Judah’s brain.  There are quite a few small spots scattered around his brain but nothing major.  Praise God!

So while that was encouraging news it wasn’t really anything new.  But here comes the good part… the doctor feels like the damage is possibly a result of trauma during the birthing process.  That’s sort of the best case scenario when looking at possible ways Judah might have acquired brain damage. He also doesn’t feel like Judah’s nystagmus is related to his brain damage. More than likely it’s hereditary.

The fact that his brain damage is so minimal and his developmental delay is so great is a little perplexing to the neurologist.  He is referring us to a geneticist for testing to rule out any syndromes and other things like that.  But it could very well be that the majority of his delay is because he spent two years in an institution.  The doctor was very pleased with all the progress Judah has been making and regardless of diagnoses, therapy is the method of attack.  And with eight therapy sessions a week I can say I think we have that area covered.

So while we wait on our appointment with the geneticist and more testing we pray.  That seems to be the theme of this journey with Judah.   My heart almost breaks to pray for all this to be a result of two years in an institution because I can’t bear to think about all that this little guy might have been deprived of.  I thank God that no matter what happened he survived and now we get to cover this boy in love… and teach him to love and enjoy life.

Regardless, trauma from living in institutions and adoption is real and can forever alter a child’s life.  It’s a type of brain damage that doesn’t show up on an MRI.  Lifeline, our adoption agency, shared a post this week about using occupational therapy to overcome the results of trauma. Every child in an institution or who has been adopted is a fighter.  Life has in no way been easy for them.

Let’s go back to the beginning of this post where I talked about this being a behind the social media scenes post of healing.  This post is about rejoicing in God and what he has done over the past year.  I am no longer crippled by fear of what the future looks like for Judah.  What his diagnosis might be.  God is in control and no matter the medical diagnosis, Judah is fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of my living and powerful God who is capable of a multitude of miracles and desires my earnest prayers and faith in Him.

It’s been no easy journey for me to get to this point in my life.  One year ago I was crippled by fear.  Satan used fear and attacked me from every angle.  One of those was with April.  The month.  Kinda strange right?  April is autism awareness month.  Which is a great thing really.  Lots of children are on the spectrum and there is a lot to be learned from talking with their moms and discovering ways to interact with these kids and to meet their social and sensory needs.  In fact, this year I’m all about advocating for autism awareness month.  Last year… not so much.

Last year it was absolutely terrifying to me. Why? Because I had a child who had recently been adopted.  He demanded to be held while being walked or strolled ALL day.  We were in pure survival mode at the time.  Coupled with his delays and effects of institutionalization it was easy to “self diagnose” signs of being on the spectrum.  I did the one thing moms should never do.  I googled.  Do not EVER try to self diagnose your child through Google.  If you do, all of a sudden it will appear as if your child has 20 different disorders and syndromes, a need for four surgeries, and an extremely grim outlook for that child’s life.  Just saying.

One Google search lead to another and looking back I probably read the fifteen worse case scenarios of living with a child with autism.  Panicked didn’t even begin to describe how I felt.  On top of that Seasame Street felt the need to dedicate a whole episode to autism… an episode that my girls wanted to watch again and again. Go figure.  My social media feeds were filled with moms sharing about their amazing kids who were on the spectrum.. Only, my eyes were blinded to the “amazing” part at the time.  Autism talk was everywhere and I felt like I couldn’t escape it.  Never had I been so glad for the month of April to come to an end.

Judah doesn’t currently have an autism diagnosis. He does have sensory processing issues though. Issues that many children on the spectrum face and deal with on a day to day basis. Over the past year God has placed many families in my life that have children who are on the spectrum.  I have gotten to talk to them and have been encouraged by them.  I’ve also found we have many things in common.  Autism is no longer scary to me. It’s just a label that thankfully allows many children to receive help so that they can learn to thrive in this world that sometimes does things differently than them.

Sometimes when we are walking through those deep trenches of life it’s scary.  And it’s not as if we don’t know the way out. A trench is pretty straight forward for the most part. One way in, one way out.  But even if you know the way out you still have to do what it takes to climb out.  For me it was verbally telling Satan to GET AWAY!  Changing my constant worry to continued prayers of strength to God.  Praying for strength and learning to trust in His ways that are not my ways.  Meditating on scripture.  Meditating to the point that I wore temporary Bible verses from Armed with Truth so that I could read God’s promises whenever I needed to.  It didn’t happen immediately but over time those thoughts of fear diminished and praise God for bringing me through the trenches.

It doesn’t mean those hard times won’t come again but wow I really learned a lot about fighting spiritual battles from those few months and looking back at where I’ve come I’m incredibly thankful!

Note: Click here to order your own Armed with Truth temporary Bible verse tattoos and receive a $5.00 discount off your purchase.  


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Command Central… The Kitchen

It’s been exactly one year since we first bought Whistle Haven.

One year since our vision of our family home began taking shape.  Whistle Haven was a foreclosure that had been on off the market for a while.  A house with great bones but in need of some TLC.  One walk through that parquet laden house with an outdated kitchen, an oddly laid out master bath, and popcorn ceilings galore and we knew this was where we wanted to live.  One year including six months of construction later and I’m incredibly grateful that God has allowed us to call this place home.

Last March we returned from China with Judah and moved into Whistle Haven just six days later.  Looking back we aren’t sure how we managed such a feat and an even bigger feat of unpacking everything as we struggled to help Judah adjust to his new life at the same time.  At the time we had one working toilet and sink and no kitchen.  We hooked up the old refrigerator and microwave in the garage and that was life for us for a while.

Crazy right?

The answer is yes!  But we did it! And it was so worth it because now our kitchen is one of our favorite areas of the house.  So before we get to all the pictures of the new kitchen let’s go back and look at what the kitchen originally looked like and how the floor plan has changed.

We ended up tearing all the cabinets out, saving the existing granite, and developed an entirely new much more efficient use of the floor plan for us.  You can see the original layout of the kitchen in the floor plan below.


And then how we really increased the size of the kitchen just by opening up some walls, getting rid of the peninsula, and moving all the appliances to one wall and designing a large island as the main focal point of the kitchen.


You may remember from a post earlier last year that in an effort to save some major money we designed the kitchen layout ourselves using the IKEA design website.  I helped with the overall design and selected the Bodbyn cabinet but Michael Luke did all the nitty gritty stuff like quadruple checking to make sure that ALL our measurements lined up and then each cabinet and drawer would function best in its placement.  We put an incredibly large amount of thought and time into how we wanted the kitchen to look but in the end it was totally worth it.

When I envisioned our kitchen I knew I wanted it to be the center hub of the house. The place where everyone gathered as I prepared meals. Where friends could relax and make themselves at home.  A place we could entertain large groups of people easily.

One year and countless meals later I would say we achieved that dream.

I can’t say taking the cabinets to the ceiling was Michael Luke’s or our contractor’s favorite part but I absolutely love how they create the illusion of higher than 7′ ceilings.  When your working with a house that is approaching being 50 years old you can’t exactly expect the ceiling to be level.  So getting the trim to look uniform while at the same time filling in any discrepancies in height was certainly a challenge.  Just by extending the cabinets to the ceiling we created lots of extra storage.

The island is the focal point of the kitchen and the main gathering place for our house.  With sitting for eight it’s the perfect spot to feed the girls and all their friends, create masterful Play-Doh creations, spread out their school work, or for adults to sit and enjoy a cup of coffee.  When possible we try to keep things child friendly and able to withstand lost of use… because we plan to do lots of entertaining here at Whistle Haven.  That’s one of the reasons why we chose the Raskog bar stools from IKEA.  These metal stools are comfortable and at $35 each we went ahead and bought two extra that we can pull out if we need even more seating.

The island is visually asymmetrical… another design feature that I struggled with.  I truly had a hard time envisioning and feeling confident that it wouldn’t look strange for bar stools to wrap around one end of the bar.  Now that the island is installed it’s easy to see that it works and that the visual symmetrical weight of the island top brings everything together.

 The acanthus and clear dome glass pendants  are from Shades of Light but are no longer available.  These three lights alone probably stressed me out more than anything else in the kitchen.   I went back and forth on how many we should have installed, whether I wanted clear glass, and how big the pendants should be.  In the end I am extremely pleased with them and feel like they enjoy being front and center in the kitchen.  The lighting in general was a design challenge but I believe we got it right by adding ten recessed lights, three pendant lights over the island, under cabinet lights, and a glass pendant above the sink.

I’ve already mentioned that the island is the focal point of the kitchen.  Something that makes it extra special is that it is built from Southern Yellow Pine and came from my family’s sawmill, Hankins Inc.   We reused the existing granite on the counters in our kitchen so from the beginning I knew I wanted something different on the island.  As we were working on our house I thought it would be fun to integrate some of my family’s lumber into the renovation.  I’ve seen distressed pieces used as headers above wall openings but I didn’t really feel like that would go with the style of our house.

Scolling through Pinterest one night I noticed some wood counters.  I didn’t want exposed wood, or wood with a thin coat of sealer though.  From those pictures came the inspiration for our island.  I wanted something durable.  That’s where the idea came to use a marine grade finish.  The finish our on our island is probably somewhere between 1/8″ and 1/4″ deep.  It turned out beautiful and is holding up well.

The back side of the island houses our microwave and pullout drawers for storage.  The black stool serves dual purposes. It mainly works as one of our eight seats at the bar but also as my step stool to reach any items above two shelves up in my cabinet.  At 4’10” all that extra space is useless without a step stool.  I love that this one is always readily available for when I need it.

Ok, let’s talk appliances for a minute.  All our appliances except for the vent hood are Samsung.  The vent hood is from IKEA.  We had a Samsung refrigerator in Birmingham and were pleased with it so we chose the same brand here.  No big news… but some of the appliances do have some cool features.

Like the oven.  From the outside it looks like a single oven but on the inside…

it can function as a double or single oven.  If you look about a third of the way down on the inside of the oven you can see a metal shelf that slides in and out creating a single or double oven.  I had a double oven with two doors in Birmingham and loved it because of how quickly the small upper oven can heat up.  We knew we wanted another one because of what a time and cost saver they can be.

The new layout of the kitchen caused the oven and dishwasher to be side by side.  I didn’t want to visually see two appliances directly beside each other.  So we chose a dishwasher that can be covered with a cabinet panel letting it blend in with the rest of the cabinets.  In the picture above the dishwasher is directly to the right of the oven.  I like that it is conveniently hidden but most of all I love how quiet it is.  I know quiet dishwashers have been out for a while now but previously we would have to avoid using our washer during family times because it was so loud.  Now, I have to double check just to make sure the thing is running.

Running quietly will certainly be a top priority whenever it’s time to replace our washer and dryer!

Tucked over on the left of our kitchen is our work horse storage area.  I’m talking about the space that corals everyone’s junk and keeps the counters from getting bogged down with stuff. I owe you some inside shots of it… I promise.  For now, let me just tell you about them.

The lower cabinet to the far left is Michael Luke’s… minus the 40 lb box of sweet potatoes I have stored at the bottom. Inside he keeps his snacks for work, computer, and all the mail.

The middle lower cabinet is for the kids.  They have hooks for each of their backpacks and other gear.

The lower and upper cabinet on the right is our pantry with pull out drawers for all our canned and dry goods.

Finally, the upper left and middle cabinets store our family games, Play-doh, and puzzles. This keeps them out of reach of little hands but easily accessible for me to grab for them to play with in the kitchen.

So that pretty much sums up our kitchen and one of my favorite transformed rooms here at Whistle Haven.  As Judah has slowly gotten adjusted to life here with us we have had several opportunities to entertain, host a birthday party, and even a dinner party for 30+ comfortably.  Our house isn’t extremely large but we purposely set it up in a way that we can accommodate large crowds. Hopefully 2018 will bring us abundantly more opportunities to open our home to others.


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How I Lost 15 Pounds

One year ago I got fed up. I had had enough.  After nearly five years of “trying” to get back to my pre-pregnancy weight i was at my heaviest weight since bringing Noah into this world.  I was not satisfied with the look of my body but I honestly didn’t know what to do.  The more I “tried” the more it seemed like I gained weight.  I always thought it would be easier to maintain my weight once I became a stay at home mom.  No more sitting in a desk eight hours a day.  But all the running around after toddlers doesn’t erase all the snacks you find yourself eating with them and the secret pieces of chocolate you sneak into your mouth during nap times. Moms, you know what I’m talking about.  I knew that my next step needed to be serious.  I knew that this was a journey that I couldn’t do on my own because I can talk myself into eating any fun size candy bar, scoop of ice cream, or buttered biscuit.

The next step that I chose lead me to losing fifteen pounds over the past year!  I will be the first to admit to you that I was not overweight but keep in mind that I was not satisfied with the state of my body.  But when you are 4′-11″… (one inch shy of needing a booster seat) fifteen pounds is a LOT of weight and requires diligent effort.  Here’s how I did it.

Weight Watchers!

Yep, twelve months and a success story later and I have no shame in telling you that I followed in the steps of Oprah and joined Weight Watchers.  The only difference is that my success story doesn’t include personal trainers and chefs helping me on my journey.  My story is simply my life lived out normally while feeding and caring for my family of five. I’ve eaten out, vacationed, and occasionally splurged all while getting back to my pre-pregnancy weight and continually working towards my final goal.


So how did Weight Watchers help me?

It opened my eyes to that while I wasn’t eating a ton of food I was eating more than my body needed.  Unfortunately, my small little frame just doesn’t need a lot of food.  That fact is still a little sad because I LOVE food.  But I’ve learned to just enjoy a few bites of everything instead of feeling the need to consume everything offered me.  I have the Weight Watchers app and use it to calculate and budget my points for each day and week.  I get a certain amount of Smart Points each week that I can use whenever I want.  Generally, I save those for a special dessert sometime during the week. If I know that a party or big meal is coming up I’ll try to get some extra steps logged on my FitBit because it syncs with my Weight Watchers app and earns me extra Fit Points that can be used like Smart Points.

The beauty of the system is that I honestly don’t feel like I have been denied anything.  I’ve eaten mys share of sweets over the past year… they’ve just been balanced out with loads of fruits and veggies (0 Smart Points) and healthy cooked main meals.  Weight Watchers publishes a magazine and cookbooks throughout the year.

Most of the recipes that I have tried from these have been a huge success with my family with the girls begging me to cook some of them over and over again.

I haven’t attended a single Weight Watchers meeting, instead I chose the online membership route.  The catalyst that really got me motivated and opened my eyes to yummy treats like Halo Top Ice Cream is their social media platform Connect that is integrated into the Weight Watchers app.  Connect is filled with encouraging people, success stories, and endless motivation.

I’ve purposely taken time off from Weight Watchers while we were in China and during our Disney Cruise but it didn’t mean I wasn’t mindful of the food choices that I made.  My go to meals for dining out are grilled fish and vegetables.  I generally skip the salads and rolls because the dressing and wheat does nothing but eat up points that I would much rather use on something fun like dessert or an extra cup of coffee with creamer.

I’m the final five pounds away from my weight loss goal and I’m here to tell you that these five will be the hardest I have to lose.  Sometimes it’s not easy staying focused… especially now that I’m feeling confident in my body and loving how my clothes fit. I’m not giving up though and I don’t plan to stop using Weight Watchers once I hit my goal.  Budgeting my food is the way to go for me.  For years I have managed our grocery, clothing, and various other budgets for our household.  I understand and love the concept of using only what you have enough for and saving for something special.  Basically Weight Watchers speaks a language that I understand.  It may not be for everyone but I love it!

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