Friday, September 6, 2013

A Glimpse of Samuel John

Sunday, December 2nd 2001 dawned overcast and cold in our upstate New York home, pretty much par for the course in that part of the country.  I was bustling around trying to get our family of 3 ready for church. Being one week of shy of eight months pregnant and having a sickly 17 month old, I felt maxed out.  My husband had gone back to college and was working full time.  Money was so tight, I had yet to buy anything for the new baby girl who was due to arrive in 5 weeks. Serenity Joy Skiff was to be her name.  Serenity in the midst of chaos, Joy coming from sorrow.  There had been much sorrow during this, my second pregnancy.  September 11 had happened a few short months before. We had family near both the New York attack and the Pentagon.  Blessedly, they were unscathed, but like all of America we were still in shock and mourning the loss of so many lives, our sense of security, and the death of the illusion of invincibility.
Personally, our marriage was stressed to the point of almost breaking.  Between classes and work my husband was hardly ever home and when he was we argued (this was before we knew about Aspergers and we were struggling with what seemed to be insurmountable communication issues)  I was stuck at home with a very sick 17 month old and not many friends or family.  I was a stranger in a strange land.  Despite it all, I was very excited for the upcoming birth of our second child, our child of promise.

After I fed Paul breakfast, I bent to pick him up to give him his iron drops.  Then I felt a pop and my water gushed all over our kitchen floor.  I called out to my husband that there was a change of plans.  We weren't going to church.  Instead we were going to Walmart to buy diapers, wipes, powder, onsies, etc. and then we would be heading to the hospital because we were gonna have a baby.  I called the MD and off to Walmart we went. Walking through Walmart, with your water broken and having contractions is NOT an experience I would recommend.  They don't have a special queue for laboring mothers (Walmart this may be something you want to do, just saying) so you are stuck in the regular old queue that on the best of days feels like it takes eternity to go through, this was not the best of days.  I was pretty sure my baby was going to be born, grow up and graduate high school by the time we checked out.  Of course that could have been the contractions talking.  

Unfortunately, my contractions stopped completely after we left Walmart and I would not deliver my darling baby until the next day. December 3, 2001.  The MD was running late, my husband was sick as a dog, laying next to me on a cot, and I was feeling great, singing Christmas songs with the nurses, when my baby made their appearance (this is the glory of an epidural.  After having done a natural birth the first time around, I was not going down that particular road EVER again.  Feel free to judge me;)

Sam, almost one year
Once our beautiful baby entered the world it became abundantly clear the ultrasound was a liar, liar pants on fire.  We didn't have a baby girl at all but a beautiful baby boy, with the roundest head I've ever seen and the most piercing blue eyes you can imagine. He was perfect, and he was most definitely NOT a Serenity Joy.  Unfortunately, we were not prepared to name a male baby specimen so we had to pray over night what his name was supposed to be.  The next morning , I knew what his name was to be, Samuel John Skiff.

Sam is now a few months shy of 12 years old.  He is a creative soul and a bit of a perfectionist.  He recently took four months building a HUGE Lego X-Wing fighter.  He finally finished it and as he was showing it to us a large portion fell apart.  Though he was frustrated, he didn't give up.  He went right back to building it!   Patience is not my greatest virtue and tedious tasks drive me to distraction!  Sam definitely did not inherit this kind of patience and perfectionism from me!

Sam is our only child not on the ASD spectrum. Being the NT sibling to one child who isn't NT (neuro-typical) comes with it's own set of challenges and complications.  Sam has four brothers and a father on the spectrum.  He could have become bitter because in our house he is the different one, the one on whom more responsibility falls, the one who isn't the squeaky wheel.  Instead, he has become a compassionate, strong,  mature young man.  I am so proud of the man I see growing in the boy.   He looks out for his brothers,  explains things they may not understand to them with great patience and sweetness, he is always looking out for the under dog, even at school.  
 It can be so easy to over look the child who always does his homework without being reminded, who does not meltdown at the slightest noise, who remembers to shower and brush his teeth without constant reminding.  As a parent, it is my responsibility to make sure I don't allow him to fall into the background, his needs drowned out by the much louder and noticeable needs of his brothers. I try to make special time for Sam, to make sure I listen intently when he talks, that he has a sounding board for the frustrations he does experience as our only NT child.   I never want Sam to feel he is carrying more than his share or that he is under appreciated.  For this reason, we always pay him for the chores he does above and beyond the regular chores all the boys are required to do.
 He still carries more than his fair share simply because he can.  God has given him wide shoulders in every sense of the expression.   If it sounds like I'm bragging, I am. So often, I write about our four boys on the spectrum, their struggles and triumphs.   Today, I wanted to talk about our NT child, who is surrounded by the spectrum in our home.
 Sam the Merciful, Sam the Strong, Sam the Kind of Heart.  I love you Sam.
Sam almost 12

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A Glimpse of a Miracle Worker

Once upon a time there was a special little boy.  Though he was born prematurely, he was perfectly formed with a beautiful olive complexion, rosy cheeks and an the sweetest angel kissed lips.  From the day he was born he had an other worldly presence about him; as if  a part of him had remained in heaven to worship with the angels.  He was innocent and frail and beautiful.  His twin brother came into the world seventeen minutes later than him.  Whereas he was frail and ethereal, his brother was handsome,robust, and alert.   Even as a newborn, the stronger, younger twin guarded over him, always looking for him, reaching for him and crying out for his needs.  After an arduous pregnancy, their mother wept tears of joy over their perfection.  They were such beautiful gifts from heaven.
As the boys grew, the younger twin was adventurous and bold.  He loved to test his limits and was independent to a fault.  The older twin, however, remained disconnected from the world around him.  It was as if he was locked in a tower, deep within his soul, waiting for someone with the right key to set him free.
He sat by himself, oblivious to all that happened around him.  He was content but so very far removed from the world around him.  
Jamie 2yrs old

That sweet, ethereal baby boy was Jamie.  His younger, stronger twin was of course Alex.
My pregnancy with them had been very traumatic.  I have written about it before so I will just hit the highlights (or low lights, depending how you look at it).  At 25 weeks pregnant I fell down a flight of stairs while carrying my one year old, Sam, down for breakfast.  Blessedly, Sam was completely unharmed but I shattered my elbow and spent the remainder of my pregnancy in and out of the hospital, mostly in.  The twins were protected but Jamie's sack had a small rupture, that slowly leaked amniotic fluid.  I watched them develop daily (sometimes several times a day) on the ultrasounds that I had.  That was pretty cool. I had many amniocentesis (where they insert a long needle into the sack and withdraw amniotic fluid for testing).  During those tests Alex would move around until he was close enough to bat at the needle to keep it away from Jamie.  What an amazing, amazing thing to watch.  I got to know my boys personalities a little before they were even born!
They were born at 35 weeks.  Jamie was in distress and had to be placed on oxygen. From the moment they were born
Jamie was different.  He never responded to human contact.  He seemed to be other worldly almost. 

As they grew, my concerns for Jamie grew.  He never broke out of that shell.  He remained alone in his own little world.  He started to talk around one years old but stopped by two.  He did not respond to pain, cold, heat, hugs, darkness, tickling, conversation or anything.  He never sought human affection on his own.  Then he started screaming, all day, every day.  He would violently beat his head.  I spent all day holding him, singing to him, counting in a monotone voice (that helped to calm him).  We brought him to his pediatrician, who sent us to a pediatric neurologist.  He diagnosed Jamie with severe autism.  He gave us very little hope that Jamie would ever improve.  He wanted us to put him on heavy seizure medications and psychotropic drugs to manage his meltdowns.  He recommended some therapies but said in his opinion Jamie would probably not respond to them. 

Our pediatrician recommended that we contact the school system.  We lived in a county, in Virginia, that had a very good autism program.  He thought they may be able to help, or at the very least give me a break a few hours a day.  We applied and Jamie was accepted into their preschool autism program.  He was barely three but everyday I loaded him and his stuffed animal onto the special bus.  He was so very tiny.

Then an amazing thing happened.  I met a miracle worker.  Her name was Erin and she completely changed our lives.
Erin was Jamie's teacher but she was oh so much more.  She came to our house to visit and observe Jamie in his home environment.  She had so much love and passion for the kids she taught.  She poured her soul into each and everyone of them.  Under her and her team of amazing therapist, Jamie began to break out of his tower of isolation.  He started talking through stuffed animals.  I will never forget the day he told me "Bunny wants a drink".  It was the first time he had expressed any kind of need or desire verbally!  Later he started talking in the third person "Jamie wants a drink".   
I cried the day Jamie looked up at me, after a meltdown and said "Jamie's broken."  I held him and rocked him and told him without a doubt Jamie was NOT broken, while my heart shattered inside my chest.  
I cried again the day Jamie came up to me and said "Jamie loves Mommy."  I picked him up and held him and rocked him and told him how much I loved him, as my heart exploded with joy inside my chest.
I cried the first time Jamie sang a song with me. There are so many, many moments like these.  Every single one of them was made possible by his teacher, our angel incognito, Erin.
Tomorrow, we will see Erin for the first time in six years.  Jamie is now ten.  He is mostly on grade level at school.  He carries on full conversations, plays with his brothers and the neighborhood kids.  He is an extremely gifted artist, loves music (especially Johnny Cash), plays video games.......all things that the pediatric neurologist gave us very little hope of ever happening.  I cannot wait to hug Erin and thank her for the gift of my son.
Jamie 10 years old

Monday, July 29, 2013

Here I Raise my Ebenezer

Today, as I was sitting in my closet sorting clothes, the events of the past year hit me like a ton of bricks.  So many things have happened, so many things have changed, so many struggles, and so many huge blessings.  Almost like a silent movie, image after image, played in a steady stream, through my minds eye.  I started to tear up at the enormity of it all and I knew I needed to document it, to set it all down in writing,as an ebenezer of God's amazing, divine grace.  An ebenezer is a commemoration of divine assistance according to Miriam Webster's Dictionary.  In the Bible, Samuel had called on Israel to repent of their sins.  Their enemies, the Philestines, heard of this huge gathering Israelites , and decided to use it as an opportunity to attack.  But God showed Himself great and powerful and won the Israelites a great and wondrous victory.  "Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto the Lord has helped us."  I Samuel 7:12 This blog is my personal Ebenezer, my banner staked in the ground, saying "By God's grace and God's grace alone, we have overcome."

It all started August of 2012, when we very unexpectedly had to leave our church, a church we were very involved in and loved.  I am not going into the details of the how's and why's on this blog, simply because that is superfluous to the point.  The point is, I was shattered and broken-hearted.  I am not a new Christian; I have seen my fair share of craziness and pain in the church.  After all the church is made up of us crazy, fallible humans.  For some reason, this particular thing, broke my heart as nothing in my previous church experience had.  We tried to get back into church but the more we visited different churches the more heart broken I became.  The church I loved, the church I grew up in and wanted my children to experience, the community of strong, faith filled Believer's, Sunday night and Wednesday night services, Sunday school, and real genuine heart-felt worship, no longer seemed to exist.  Instead we kept coming across what seemed to be a great big production of church; lots of lights, sermons timed down to the minute, worship that was hard to differentiate from a concert, children's church that entertained more than it taught.  I wept many, many tears of heart break and disillusionment.  I was not disillusioned in Christ, but my heart-broke for his bride.
Along with the heart break of losing our church, came the hurt and pain of lost relationships.  We live in a small town and that leaves very little room for healing.  Rumors fly, people speculate and the pain is compounded.

Time stops for no man and soon I was swept up in back to school madness, Holiday preparations, birthday parties, and all the extra planning, shopping, trimmings and trappings that go along with that.  In the midst of it all, I started having some serious health issues.  Because of some of the medications I am on, there was serious concern that it could be my heart.  I was admitted into the hospital over night, had many, many appointments and tests,and was ultimately blessed it was not my heart but another serious condition I had already been diagnosed with, rearing it's ugly head.  Blessedly, a change up in medication resolved most of the symptoms.
 Then it was Christmas.  What a fun, blessed day.  Things seemed to be working themselves out.  I was still heart broken but I had my wonderful family.

Then the bottom fell out again.  On December 27th my husband decided to make breakfast (he loves to cook big breakfast).  He put a pot of oil on the stove and left it on high, forgetting about it for a few minutes.  The pan burst into flames, not little flames but flames hot and high enough they melted parts of our hood above the stove. The fire was rapidly burning out of control, and our fire extinguisher would not work (lesson to be learned here folks:check the pressure in your fire extinguishers regularly.).  I was busily getting the boys out of the house and starting to call 911.  My husband, meanwhile, bravely carried the flaming pan of oil out of our house, so that we didn't lose the house.  It could have been way worse but he he did receive 3rd degree burns on his hand from the radiant heat of the pot.  He is a computer programmer, which of course uses his hands, so he was out of work on disability for six weeks.
We were so blessed his hand healed well, and did not become infected.  He has a nasty scar but of all the things that could have happened we are so blessed that was the extent of the damage (that and the need for a new stove, but I'm not complaining.  I love my new stove;)

During his six weeks of disability, my husband decided it was time to start looking for a new job.  He was blessed with an awesome job but they were downsizing.  His job was relatively secure but the downsizing had created a very stressful work environment.  
A week after he returned to work, our oldest son awoke in agonizing pain.  I rushed him to the hospital.  He had to have an appendectomy.  The surgery seemed to go well, so they released him the next day.  Unfortunately, we were back in the hospital the next day.  Paul had an incision site infection.  He was placed on antibiotics.  The infection healed but Paul was still in incredible pain.  He was stuck in one position on the sofa for nearly four months.  We went to doctor after doctor, had test after test, and yet no one could tell us why he was in such pain.  Paul's school was incredibly understanding and bent over backwards to work with us.  In the end, we had to homeschool him the last month of school.  He simply could not be there more than twenty minutes before the pain had him immobilized.
While all this was happening, my husband was still job hunting.  He had many, many offers and interviews but none were what he was looking for.  He was still working in a very stressful job and had the added stresses of looking for a job and a son who was in chronic pain.

Everything was closing in on me.  The incident at the church had raised hurts and pains from my past that needed to be dealt with.  The stresses of our marriage were coming to a head, not to mention the everyday stresses of being the mom of five boys, four of whom are on the autistic spectrum, and having an autoimmune disease myself.  I was a mess!  I put myself in therapy.  It was the absolute best decision I have ever made for myself!!  I cannot tell you how much this has revolutionized my life. I. AM. NOT. THE SAME PERSON!! 
I am blessed with a qualified, Christian therapist.  She challenges me, listens to me and prays with me.  

Then God moved!  Well to be honest, I believe He started moving with me going into therapy.  My husband found the perfect job he had been looking for.  He fits there perfectly and is challenged (boredom is one of the things that drives my husband bonkers).  He has found friends there.  I have never seen him this at peace in a job.
Both of our vehicles died within a month of each other.  We were kind of freaked out at how we were going to handle this but God made a way.  We bought two new vehicles, one brand new and the other had only 11,000 miles on it,  in a week!!  I cannot tell you what a blessing it is to have safe, reliable vehicles.  Not only are they reliable, they have all the extra's that I never imagined we would actually have, things like leather seats, seat warmers, remote starters, navigation.........the list goes on and on.  When God gives a gift, it is above and beyond what we could ever imagine.
Suddenly there is so much more peace in our home.  My boys have started maturing in ways that I had honestly started to give up on.  We have been able to go on several mini-vacations this summer.  In the past, this just wasn't an option both financially and because our boys just couldn't handle it.  Autism and change, even fun change, don't mix well.  It is awesome to see my boys growing and maturing.
Paul has finally started healing.  Most days he spends pain free, though he does still have the occasional pain attack.  The doctors never really discovered what caused all the pain and distress.  Many, many people have lifted him up in prayer.  I believe God has heard those prayers and is healing him.  Sometimes healing doesn't happen in our time, quickly and instantly.  Instead God uses the process to develop our character and spiritual walk.  I have seen both develop greatly in Paul through this process.

One last huge change is happening.  We are moving. That's right, the kingdom of Skiff is moving into a new castle.  We have been in this house for five and half years (longer than I have lived any place in my entire life) but it is time to move.  This is a very good thing for us.  I'll have more details concerning this in a later blog.

I finally feel healed enough to start church hunting again.  We have yet to find the place where we fit (our boys special needs makes this a little more difficult).  However, I finally, for the first time in a year, feel ready and EXCITED to find our new church home, our tribe if you will.

This past year has been hard, difficult, heart wrenchingly painful at times but that isn't what stands out the most when I look back.  What I see shining through all of it is God's amazing grace and provision.  This is my Ebenezer, my testimony of God's continuing victory on our behalf.   I'm going to end with the second verse of one of my favorite hymns, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing by Robert Robinson

Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Hither by Thy help I'm come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Have Truck Will Travel -Part 2

Finally we crossed the border into New Mexico!!! There was much rejoicing in the Skiffmobile 2.0, or as the boys call it, The Zebra. 
We drove into downtown Hobbs, and though it was quite artsy and fun, NOTHING was open.  Now, we had driven all the way to New Mexico with the promise of food for these boys.  Let me tell you, we were gonna find food come hell or high water!!  We drove around and finally found the food district (as I like to call it).  There were restaurants galore: steak houses, Mexican, Seafood, chicken, Chinese, and so many more.  So where did we eat, after driving ALL day from just outside of Ft Worth, TX all the way to exotic Hobbs, New Mexico, you ask?  We ate at Burger King of course.  That's right, 444 miles, 6 hours of driving, to eat at Burger King....with a play place! WhooHoo!!!  We Skiff's know how to live the high life.  As we were dining on our gourmet Burger King, my husband was barely coherent, he was so exhausted.  I could tell that there was no way he was up to driving back home.  I could have driven for a while but once it had gotten dark we'd be out of luck because I have terrible night vision.  Basically I would have been able to drive us back into the shinnery (the scrubland) and we'd have been stuck for the night, with all the lovely creatures that live out there.  Coyotes do not make great camping partners, in my humble opinion.  There was no choice, we needed a hotel for the night.  Hubby is blessed with a pretty flexible job so he was able to call into work for Monday without any major issues.  It helps that he goes in early and works late almost every day.  Lucky for us Hobbs had a plethora of choices in the hotel department.  We found a great hotel at a reasonable price, loaded all the kids back into the Zebra and headed to our suite for the night.  The boys had been stuck in a vehicle for two days straight at this point.  There was no way they were going to sit calmly in a hotel room.  They were literally bouncing off the walls (as in Benny was running into one wall, turning around and running into the other)!  We decided that the only way we would have a modicum of peace was to head over to Walmart, our clothier of choice on these impromptu Skiff getaways, pick up some swimsuits and other basic necessities and then spend the evening in the pool and the hot tub at the hotel.  Bliss would once again reign supreme.
In true Skiff style, we stepped out of the hotel to find a dust storm raging.  Never in my life have I seen anything like it.  There was fine dust blowing everywhere, so thick it was hard to see a few feet in front of you.  The wind whipped the dirt and sand at you like tiny bullets.  It coated the roof of your mouth and got into your eyes and nose.  Nasty, nasty stuff.  We made it to Walmart only to see the parking lot strewn with carts, blowing every which way.   Hubby parked where it would be unlikely for the truck to be hit by anything and we made our way through the store.  After digging through the racks and finding everyone's correct size  we headed to the front to check out.  As is the Walmart way, there were only a few registers open, with lines that nearly wrapped around the store, each moving at a snail's pace.  We were all hot and tired and cranky and just wanted to get into the dang pool already!!  Hubby and the boys went out to the truck whilst I waited in the Walmart line, like the seasoned pro I am.  FINALLY, it was my turn to check out.  I swiped my card and asked to get cash over because I need to do laundry at the hotel.  We had no extra clothing on this obviously well thought out and planned vacation.  After all, when we had left on Saturday we were only planning on going to the Peach Festival.......which shall be spoken of no more of in Skiffland.  So let it be written, so let it be done!
I told her I needed my cash back in two fives and a ten.  She said "I'm sorry ma'am we only give cash back in twenty dollar increments."  "I understand.  Can you give me a ten and two fives?" I asked.  "No ma'am.  As I said, we can only give out cash in twenty dollar increments."  Fine whatever.  I'll take the twenty.  Ain't nobody got time to school you on basic math right now! I think (Note I DID NOT SAY THIS, I simply thought it.  I'll repent later.  No one's perfect y'all).  I thanked her for my twenty and finally made it back to the truck.

We managed to get back to the hotel while the dust storm still swirled around us.  We wrangled everyone into their swimsuits and down to the pool.  It was worth every freakin' minute at Walmart, let me tell you!  The spa was pure bliss.  Hubby just laid back and completely unwound.  The kids all swam and swam and swam.  Then the most amazing thing happened: Jamie got into the spa.  Water has always been one of the things that calms Jamie when he is getting worked up.  After two days in the car he was very worked up.  On a scale of 1-10, Jamie was probably at a 9.The moment he stepped into the spa he completely relaxed like nothing I have ever seen.  He was a completely different kid after a few minutes.  Forget a pool, I told hubby, we need to get a hot tub!!
After everyone showered, I gathered up all the laundry and headed to the handy dandy hotel laundry facility. I took out the  $20 bill that the Walmart cashier had so graciously insisted on giving me.  But alas, the hotel change machine only took ones and fives.  I wish I had thought to ask the Walmart cashier for fives, oh wait I had! sigh.  I headed downstairs to ask the receptionist for change for the twenty.  "I'm so sorry." she said, not all that apologetically "I've had three people pay in cash and now I don't have anything smaller than a fifty.  I'm sure the Walmart down the street will give you change."  I thanked her and headed upstairs to beat my head on a wall. I dug through every pocket in my purse and my husband's wallet and came up with two fives!  Thank you Jesus!!!!! I had two loads to do because all my Peach Festival nasty clothes had to be washed in their own special load.  After buying soap for each load I was going to be short $1.75.......ugh.  I threw the nasty load into the washer and headed out to the truck to find $1.75 in quarters because there was no way, no how, that I was going to head back to that stupid Walmart for change!!! Had we been in the old Skiffmobile this would have been an easy task but this was Skiffmobile 2.0, a far superior vehicle in every way but there wasn't loose change floating around under seats!  I found one quarter.  I still needed $1.50.  I was so tired.  I REALLY didn't want to be on a quarter scavenger hunt, I just wanted to curl up and go to sleep!  I found .50 in my purse front pocket.  Now I was short only $1.00.  It might as well have been a million!!  My nasty load was done and low and behold I found a dollar in the pocket of my freshly washed capris.   "PLEASE take this slightly wet, crumpled dollar." I silently begged the change machine.  It took it with no problem!  There was singing, there was dancing, there may have been a tear or two shed!!  Miracles do happen, even in hotel laundry rooms.  Finally around 1am , I piled my weary body into bed.  I slept soundly knowing all the laundry was clean!
The next morning we awoke to a monsoon, a literal monsoon!  It turns out in New Mexico the dust storms (also called a haboobs, according to the hotel staff) are often followed by a week long monsoon! 
The boys and hubby went downstairs for breakfast and I took the opportunity for a leisurely shower.  I actually took the time to put on my make-up BEFORE going to breakfast!!!  That right there is the true sign of a vacation in my book folks!  
By the time I made it down for breakfast most of the boys were already done eating.  I got to hang out with Sam and Jamie for a while and received all kinds of compliments on their behavior.  Proud mommy moments!  Then I was alone, at the breakfast table, with my coffee, texting with my sister friend.  Oh the luxury!!!!
It was time to hit the road.  The monsoon followed us the whole trip home.  We stopped a few times for meals, gas and bathroom breaks but mostly we were pushing to get home.  A gas station, somwhere in west Texas, had cool hand made memorabilia like wiggly snakes,  carved wooden horned toads, and bobble head armadillos.  The boys, who were driving us crazy in the truck by this point, picked out some souvenirs and quieted down for a while.  We pushed on, making pretty good time despite the rain. The rain was coming down in sheets, when we hit Fort Worth, at rush hour, in tons of construction.  As we were stuck in traffic, on an over pass, I got sick, again!!   Luckily, we were able to get off the road in downtown Fort Worth and I made it to a restroom.  I have decided Fort Worth doesn't like me and just  makes me sick.  It was an unexpected detour but my husband, who is a city guy at heart, really enjoyed seeing the city.  Then we were back on the highway again!  The construction made for an impossibly complicated trip.  None of the exits were signed well and traffic was at a stand still.  Once we made it to Grapevine, TX we decided to just get off the road, go to the mall food court for dinner and wait out traffic.  The kids had an absolute blast.  They each ordered what they wanted for dinner and then we went to the Legoland Discovery Center store.  Sam, my Lego maniac, was in absolute heaven.  They spent some money they had earned and it was time for the last, blessedly uneventful,leg of our trip.
The Bass Performing Arts Center, Fort Worth, TX
So what started out as a simple day trip to The Peach Festival, ended up with an 888 mile drive, two hotel stays, EMT's being called, the need for Depends, vomit, three desperate wardrobe changes  a dust storm, a monsoon, an amazingly heroic hubby, ghost towns, gas adventures, laundry mishaps, fun, laughter, beautiful scenery and  family memories that will always be treasured.  This is the Skiff life.  This is my life and I wouldn't trade it for the world!!!

Have Truck Will Travel-part 1

Have Truck, Will Travel.
 Starring Ms Kristine Skiff as "Mom"
Anna, TX,  a random Saturday morning in July, The Skiff House, headquarters of a woman called Mom.

I started my Saturday as any other lazy Saturday morning, scrolling down my Facebook feed.  I felt restless, itching to get out and do something different with the kids.  Suddenly, the answer presented itself, right there in my Facebook feed (never doubt the power of FB;)  My friend Whitney says her family was heading to the Peach Festival in Weatherford, TX, a mere hour and a half drive from The Skiff House.  I love peaches, the boys love festivals, the hubby loves driving the new truck; this was providence.
We ran a few errands and were on the road by eleven. The excitement in the truck was almost palpable.  It was going to be a fabulous day for Team Skiff.  By one pm we were parked and shuttled over to The Peach Festival.  It was hot but hey, this is TX, July is always hot.  I made sure everyone was wearing hats and sunblock and we started looking for the food!  It was an hour past lunch time and my boys were positive they were going to die from hunger any second.  

We didn't get many pictures at the Peach Festival but here is one
The lines surrounding the food trucks were massive.  I sent my husband and most of the boys to sit down at the shaded table while Sam and I waited in line, in 107 degree heat, on asphalt, in front of the the fryers and grills on the food trucks for forty five minutes.  We have a big family so our orders always take a while to make, add that to the hoards of hungry Peach Festival devotees and I knew we were in for a wait.  As the food came up, I sent Sam back to the table with it.  By the time he and I sat down we were both a little over heated.  Nothing a few minutes of sitting in the shade drinking lemonade won't cure, I foolishly thought.  After everyone finished eating, we started making our way through the festival, stopping first at a misting station for everyone to cool off.   Instead of cooling off  I started to feel pretty sick.  I looked over at my husband and told him I was sorry but I had to go.  We started making our way back to the shuttle stop, with every step I was feeling worse.  Suddenly, I was overcome with chills.  I knew this was really bad.  I looked up at my husband and said "I have to sit down NOW"   He kind of helped me/ shoved me into an alleyway out of the sun.  As I was sliding down to the ground all the noises faded away and my world turned black.  I don't think I was out for more than a few seconds. When I came to, I remember someone asking me if I was okay and calling for the paramedics.  My husband started dumping icy lemonade over my head (hey it's what we had).  The paramedics were there in under two minutes.  About this time Sam started feeling sick as well.  They loaded Sam and I up onto a golf cart and drove us to their cool down room.  I have to give a huge shout out to the Weatherford EMT's.  They were AWESOME!!  They piled ice cold rags on us, gave us cold water and allowed my husband to bring the truck to the cool down station so we wouldn't have to go back into the heat. 
*I am going to apologize in advance for the TMI but there really is no way to relay the rest of this part of our trip without the gory details.* Back to the story.  So, when I passed out it seems I had lost control over my bodily functions ( I'll allow you to use your imagination on exactly what that means;).  This was not immediately apparent to me because a) I had lemonade dumped all over me and b) I wasn't all that coherent for a while.  Once I was back in truck, it was very clear what had happened.  I needed to clean up and change my clothes and it couldn't happen fast enough.  As we pulled out, on the corner, was a plus sized consignment shop that was actually open.  If you are a plus sized woman you know what a miracle this is.  If not just take my word for it.....this was like manna from heaven level miraculous.  I bought the first loose fitting dress my size I could find, cleaned myself up in their private bathroom (Thank you small business owner!!) and we were off.  My husband kept trying to get Gatorade into me but my stomach was still pretty upset.  Ten minutes into our trip back I vomited all over my brand new truck!  It was terrible.  We were on a highway, with no where to pull over and nothing for me to 'aim' at.  My second outfit of the day was a completely gross mess.  The passenger side of my new truck was disgusting.  I was embarrassed and sick and in tears.  I looked at my husband and he said "That's it. We're getting a hotel for the night."  I have the most A-FREAKIN-MAZING husband.   The next exit just happened to have several hotels with suites, another miracle in my book (again we have a large family so we have to have a suite.....unless you have a large family you probably don't know what a pain in the neck it is to find lodging that fits your family).

My husband dropped us off at the hotel and went shopping for clothes for me for the first time in our 14 years of marriage!!!  I took a blessedly cool shower and wrapped myself in a hotel bedspread until he returned (yes I know that is DISGUSTING but it was a heck of a lot less disgusting than sitting around covered in vomit).  It is such a pain to shop for me, I usually just take a day and go by myself.   Not only did he find my right size, what he picked out was really cute and comfortable.  I may send him shopping for me more often;)  At this point he is already a super hero in my book but the next thing he did  made him the best man to ever walk the face of this earth other than Jesus......for real!!  He bought cleaning supplies and cleaned up my puke mess in the truck!!!!  I never asked or expected him to do that.  This is what true love looks like my friends.  Not only did he clean it but he cleaned it so well the truck looks brand new again! 

After I got showered it became apparent that the a/c units in our room were not going to cool the rooms off and the TV was broken so we had to change hotel rooms.  While we waited for the new room to cool off we brought the kids out for dinner (by this time it was after 8pm).  We ate dinner at Wendy's and let the boys get ice cream (they had been real troopers through all the craziness).  My hubby decided to bring the older two boys to a movie after dinner.  Unfortunately the days events had proven too much for Paul and he was starting to freak out.  So instead of going to the loud theater he went back to the hotel room with the younger boys and I.  Sam and hubby had a great father/son night at a blow em'up alien move, in a theater with a huge screen and reclining chairs.  The rest of the boys turned on the Food Network and fell asleep (my boys LOVE the food is comical how much.  Now at dinner they say things like "Mom, I can smell that you used oregano in the sauce." or "Mom I think you over seasoned the pasta" or "The onions you put in the roast really added to the overall flavor"  It is hilarious!)

The next morning dawned rainy and cool ( it was lovely)!  Sam and I were both feeling much better after a good nights rest. We ate the hot breakfast provided by the hotel (my guys very favorite part of any hotel stay).  We loaded up into the nice clean truck and were about to head home when hubby said "You know this is the farthest west we've been at the start of a trip.  We should try to redeem yesterday a bit by driving a little further west and having lunch."  What a great idea,  I agreed.  So we set out in the cool, rainy morning. We chatted, we laughed, we listened to music, we listened to Your's Truly, Johnny Dollar (the old time radio show).  The farther west we drove the more the landscape changed. Suddenly we were looking at more scrub and cacti.  Looming ahead of us were some amazing mesas.  The kids were antsy so we stopped at a rest stop and let them run free for a few moment.  What treasured moments of pure bliss.  Here are some pictures taken at the rest stop.
The boys walking off some energy

Boys and Trees:)

Alex discovering a black widow spider in the background

Paul reacting to the spider news

Alex and Benny

The Cacti (Jamie's favorite part)
Alex found a black widow spider, so we all loaded back up into the truck and continued on, each passing mile taking us farther west then we'd ever been.  Around 1 pm we reached Abilene and decided to stop for lunch.  Paul got upset and we couldn't figure out why. He just kept saying "I'm not going to eat because we're in the panhandle.  I'll just wait until we're home."  After much urging and prompting he finally blurted out, through tears mind you "I'm not going to eat in the panhandle because their meat won't be irradiated!"  Sam helpfully added "He's afraid he's going to get tapeworms!"  Both hubby and I tried to hold back our laughter as I explained that the panhandle of Texas was still a part of Texas and therefore their meat was still governed by the same laws as our meat at home.  He had no need to worry, his meat would be irradiated to his hearts content and he was in no danger of the horrors of tape worms.  After a few moments of convincing, Paul decided he would risk eating some chicken fingers at Dairy Queen.  He is still alive and tapeworm free so it is safe to assume that Abilene has well irradiated, tapeworm free meat.;) This very comical interlude was brought to you by Asperger's (the out of date diagnosis that is never out of fashion in Skiffdom).

We started looking for fun attractions around Abilene for the kids.  The plan was to do something fun and then head back home.  You know what they say about plans and Skiffs, they are like oil and water, they just don't mix. ;)  We narrowed down our options to a few cool local attractions and loaded back into the truck.  Paul spotted a GameStop across the street and still had lots of Birthday money burning a hole in his pocket.  We figured he could buy himself a new game for his 3-DS that would keep his mind off the meat irradiation process for the remainder of the trip.
Once he and hubby loaded back into the truck hubby looked at me and said "I really don't want to stop.  I just want to keep driving west."  "Ummmm, alright....sounds like fun" I said, while inside thinking "But you have to work tomorrow."
So we continue on our westward  drive.  After a bit we decide to stop for drinks.  I went inside the store, leaving hubby alone with Google maps, this turned out to be an error in judgement on my part.  After waiting in line loaded down with water bottles, I returned to the truck to find a very excited husband.  "Guess what?" he says.  "What?" I respond warily.  "We are only THREE hours away from the New Mexico border!!!"  "Wow.  I didn't realize we were so close" I say.  "I think we should drive to Hobbs New Mexico for dinner! We've never been to New Mexico!"  He says enthusiastically.  "It sounds fun but you have to work tomorrow and we would still have to drive home." I said reasonably.  "It's only a six hour dive back home.  I'll be fine." said the man.  "If you're sure."  I conceded.  And that was it.  We were back on the road, heading farther west.  The scenery became dramatically different.  There were miles and miles of wind mills in and around Sweetwater, TX.  I have seen wind farms before but nothing on this scale.  It was amazing.

The windmills faded away and then there were beautiful mesas all around us and miles upon miles of open scrubland.   I can not begin to describe the beauty of the wildness.  I love when nature is so big that I am reminded how very small I am.  We stopped on the side of the road a took some pictures while some of my boys watered the ditch (sometimes having all boys has it's perks;).  After we all piled back into the truck my husband looked over at me and said a little worriedly "I only have fifty seven miles left in the gas tank."   "It will be fine.  I saw a sign a little ways back for a town called Gail.  It is only another ten miles or so up the road.  We should be fine."  I offered helpfully (everyone should be blessed with such an observant wife;)  He breathed a sigh of relief and we continued on our merry way, admiring the beauty of God's handiwork.  Here are few pictures from our stop.  They in no way capture the sheer vastness of the open wilderness.  BEAUTIFUL!

We arrived in Gail, which was more like twenty miles up the road, and immediately started looking for a gas station.  We didn't see any but there was a nice size school sitting back from the road so I knew it must be a good sized town.  After a few minutes of gas station hunting we had found none, nada, nothing.  We turned around in the parking lot of that beautiful, good sized school.  This was when a sense of dread settled over me.  The sign read: Borden COUNTY School.  Grades Pre-K-12.  One school, for all the students, in all grades, in the entire county?!?  ?Yeah, we might be in trouble.  Just then we spotted a County Sheriff's SUV.  I convinced my husband to wave it down.  After all, who better to ask where to find gas than a member of law enforcement?  The Sheriff's Deputy pulled over next to us and rolled down his window.  "How can I help y'all?" He asked.  If you have ever seen the show Longmire, think of the Branch Connolly character and you will have a good idea of what this officer looked like.  He was definitely Longmire-esque sexy, in a cowboy cop kinda way....( hey even my husband saw the resemblance).  "Could you tell us where is the nearest gas station?"  My husband asked.  The sexy, Longmire-esque cop looks at us like "Why in the world would you need gasoline?"  Out loud he asks "What direction are y'all headed?"  I point west and say "That way."  He says "Yeah the next place that sells gasoline will be LaMesa."  "About how far is that?" I ask.  "Round about thirty miles."  We thank him nicely and he drove off.  Hubby looks at me and says "I have 38 miles left in the tank."  Now I was more than a bit worried but I put on a brave face as we started driving toward LaMesa, also know as The Gasoline Oasis, in Skiff folklore.
The boys were really antsy by this point and needing another bathroom break. The truck was dinging at us every two minutes to remind us that it needed fuel ( our truck has nagging down to a science, let me tell you!).  Hubby was getting pretty tired and was very worried about the gas situation.  This was no longer bliss.
Early on in our trip, my husband had said he wanted to know how far one tank of gas would get us in the new truck.  Well, we now know the answer to that very intriguing question.  One tank of gas will get us from Love's gas station in Anna, TX to the Stripes gas station in LaMesa, TX......exactly.  The truck was sputtering when we finally pulled into the station but we had made it!!  Some quick potty breaks and a full tank later we were back on our way to New Mexico.......Yay!  This is when we realized we had not taken the time zone change into our calculations when we had decided to New Mexico trip it.  Yeah, we still had another hour before we made it to New Mexico.  
At this point there was no point in turning around, we were soooooo close.  

Sunday, June 23, 2013

A Fossil Hunt

The Skiff boys on a fossil hunt

What are Little Boys Made Of? 
   attributed to Robert Southey
What are little boys made of?
What are little boys made of?
Snips and snails and puppy dog tails
And such are little boys made of

Yesterday, my husband had a grand idea; we should take all the boys on a fossil hunt at Lake Texoma.  
Never mind that it was 95 degrees,or that we would be hiking off trail, through knee high weeds ( in Texas this is not a particularly good idea.  We have some nasty things that live in the tall grass), down gully's and over rocks, or that I am not overly fond of nature when it is all untamed, buggy and well, naturey.  Yeah, never mind any of that, we were headed on a fossil hunt!! 

We loaded everyone up into the ole' Skiffmobile and headed out.   After driving a bit, we arrived full of excitement and enthusiasm, well at least they were full of enthusiasm.  I sunblocked and bugsprayed the heck out of everyone, except hubby who claimed he didn't need it (yeah he's regretting that decision today;).  Then we started hiking....and hiking....and hiking.  I have to admit the scenery was beautiful as we hiked along the trail.  Then the wonderful trail ended.  Undaunted, we forged ahead through the weeds and climbed down to a beautiful, secluded cove.  I may not like buggy, grassy, itchy nature but I LOVE relaxing, peaceful, cooling, water nature.  Here, I decided, I would park my behind and enjoy the quiet cove whilst my adventurous men forged ahead to discover prehistoric relics.

My quiet piece of paradise

Here, in my cove of peace, I relaxed as I haven't relaxed in a very long time.   I sat on a big rock, my feet dangling in the water, the gentle waves lapping at my ankles, I was completely at peace.
I was able to meditate, to sing and pray without the slightest distraction.  It was definitely worth the buggy, itchy hike to enjoy these moments of solitude.
Me, hot and sweaty (not my greatest look;). but relaxing and  enjoying the quiet
While I was at peace and contemplating, hubby was wrangling five boys as they continued on their hike over even harsher terrain. I would feel sorry for him but this was HIS idea;) They did find a ton of fossils and had a fabulous time, according to all involved.  On their way back to me, Jamie's shoe broke after he got tangled up in some under brush.  Jamie continually has shoe issue's,  whether it is not putting them on before leaving the house or leaving one shoe at wherever we went or breaking his shoe in the middle of a hike.  I have not yet figured out why Jamie and his shoe's have so many difficulties but I am considering putting them in counseling.  Maybe then they can work out their deep seated issues together.
Hubby and the boys rounding the corner of my cove, on their return
Other than the broken shoe, which hubby cleverly cobbled together for the rest of the hike, and everyone getting a bit over heated it was a very successful trip.
One of the fossils they found and brought home
We hiked back to the Skiffmobile, loaded back up (with lots of cool fossils), and headed out for ice cream and slushes.  All in all, I say hubby had a winner of an idea after all (but don't tell will go to his head;)
Another of their fossil finds

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Are They ALL Yours?

I know this won't be news to almost anyone who reads this blog regularly, but for those who don't know, I have a lot of kids, and by a lot I mean a boatload.  I have my own basketball team.  Well technically, WE have our own basketball team, but more on that in a bit.  Indeed when walking down the grocery aisle my five boys look like an invading army, marching single file behind the grocery cart, except on the occasions that they look more like a swarm of invading locust, hungrily grabbing at anything and everything and putting it in the grocery cart.........yeah, hungry teen and pret-teen boy sized locust......that about sums them up.

Anyone who has a large family knows that there are certain questions you are bound to be asked whenever you go ANYWHERE as a family. As I'm tired of answering these same questions over and over and over and over and.....well you get the point, I have decided to answer everyone's question once and for all right here.  Then when I am asked any of the questions, I'll hand the questioner my business card, with a link to this blog or maybe I 'll have it printed on T-shirts and make all the boys where them whenever we leave the house.  Yeah, that will go over REALLY well with my boys. ;)

Question #1: Are they ALL yours?
No, I just go around collecting wayward children off the side of the road and bring them to Walmart for kicks.  Yes, they are ALL mine.  If you question my honesty on this, just hang around for another 3.5 seconds and two, if not three, of them will be calling "M-OM!" for some reason or another.

Question #2: You do know how this happens don't you? Also phrased: Should I buy you a TV and DVD player so you have something else to keep you entertained?
Judging by our success rate, I say we are well acquainted with the how and why of it all.  It is also apparent we are experts at entertaining ourselves but thanks for asking.

Question #3: Are you having anymore? Also phrased in our particular case: Are you gonna try for that girl?
Coming from a complete stranger, in line at the grocery store, I find this one of the more rude and intrusive questions.  It brings out my smarty pants side (sorry, Mom.You did train me better) Am I planning to have anymore, what? Sex, why yes I am.  Oh you meant, kids? Oh, I don't know.  I thought we might try for an even dozen.  What about you? Are you planning to have anymore kids? If so when?  Why? Oh you find these questions rude.  I'm so sorry, I wouldn't want to intrude.
For the record, we aren't having anymore but that really isn't the point now is it?

Question #4: How many loads of laundry do you do?
A lot.

Question #5: Do they all have the same Dad?
No, I'm like a black widow; I always eat my mate after we procreate.  Even my twins have different fathers.   Really, do I interview you in the checkout line about your children's paternity?   I give extra jerk points to people who ask me this in front of my kids.  For the record, yes all my boys do have the same father, not that this is anyone's business but ours.  Sheesh!

Question #6: Are you Catholic?  Are you Mormon?
No, we aren't.

Question #7: How do you afford all the kids? Are you on welfare?
We are blessed and my husband has a good job.  No, I'm not on welfare. Again, how is this  ANY OF YOUR  BUSINESS?!?  
Question #8: This one is asked to my husband by other men:  Are they yours?
I find it reassuring that other men, complete strangers mind you, have no problem insinuating that I may be a skank to my husband. I have already answered this, but obviously it needs to be said again: YES, THEY ARE ALL HIS!

They are ALL his.  They are ALL mine.  They are ALL ours and we wouldn't trade any of them for anything in the world, even when they resemble a swarm of hungry locust.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Go Southwest Young Skiffs- A miraculous journey from there to here part 2

When I was a young girl, we lived at the top of a mountain in West Virginia.  We were far away from city lights or street lamps.  In fact the only light at night was this big security lamp my great grandmother (who lived next door to us) had mounted on a pole.  For fun, the family would sit outside and watch an owl swoop down after his prey, exciting, I know!  When that bright light was turned off, you had an amazing display of stars but on nights that were overcast, where you couldn't see the stars , the night was so dark that you could almost reach out and touch the darkness.  They say that you can only truly appreciate the light after you've experienced this kind of palpable darkness.  I can attest to the truth of this.

I left our story off at the darkest of dark times in our lives.  I had reached the very bottom of my soul and put out a fleece before God.  "Prove yourself to me.  I don't care how but do something that I know only you can do."  This was almost four years after we moved to Virginia.  In the next six months things went from worse to desperate.  We could not afford the house we lived in the suburbs so we moved into a sketchy part of Richmond (something I swore I would never do), I was working and running the kids to all their different schools and daycare centers. We stayed away from home as much as possible.   The school the kids were in was so poor that they didn't even have books.  We had lived less than fifteen miles away, for four years, and every student had a laptop provided by the school but here the kids didn't even have books.  It was a very eye opening experience, to see first hand the inequity of our education system. 
After we had been there about four months, the kids got a 24 hour bug.  They all bounced back quickly except for Sam.  He just got sicker and sicker.  I was bringing him to the doctor every other day.  He was sent to the ER twice and then admitted to the hospital.  They couldn't figure out why he was so sick.  His oxygen levels kept dropping.  The second night he was in the hospital the machines all started beeping, I shook him and couldn't wake him up.  The nurses came running in with a crash cart. I was praying and trying frantically to get him to wake up.  Finally, after the doctor and nurses worked on him for a while, Sam woke up.  The next day they discovered Sam had pneumonia, two ear infections and his globulin E levels were off the charts.  The doctor advised us to move away from Richmond.  Sam had a severe allergy to mold and mildew which is everywhere in Richmond, which was originally a swamp that was drained to build the city.  This allergy caused him to develop asthma. 
A week after Sam was released from the hospital, I came home to find out the landlords had lost the house to the bank.  We had to move out with 60 days.  That very same day Usarian came home with an announcement, his employer had "promoted" him to a salaried position.  That sounds amazing but in truth it was a $15,000 pay cut because much of his pay was based on overtime.  We were already not making it, we could not take a pay cut.  Within two weeks we found ourselves in the position of  needing a new job, with a child who needed us to move from the area and soon to be homeless. Talk about stress!!
Usarian put in his resume everywhere.  He had companies expressing interest from Washington state to Washington DC.  He did interview after interview, and even flew down to Houston for an interview (the job itself was in Dallas).  They assured him the job was his so he put in his two weeks notice at work.  We rented a little U-Haul trailer and determined to take whatever would fit.  As we were packing, he heard back from the company, they had hired someone else.  Now we had to make a choice.  We had already put money down on a house to rent in TX but now we had no job waiting for us.  Should we go in faith, leaning on the word God had spoken to my heart years ago, 1,300 miles from any family or friends? Should we stay, move in with my parents and try to find something in the area, where we had family support?  It was an agonizing decision to make.  After much prayer, we decided to go. 
We left with almost nothing.  We brought a washer and dryer, one bed, our kitchen table (no chairs, we couldn't fit them), the kids toys, clothes, a TV, our family pictures, and some of the most important kitchen items.  That was all we could take. We drove for three days and had to stay in a hotel for the first few days after we arrived, waiting for the house.  I remember when I walked into the house for the first time, I cried.  It was beautiful and perfect for our family; 2,700 square feet, four bedrooms, in a wonderful neighborhood.  I prayed the day we moved in "God, we have enough money to get through two weeks.  Usarian needs a job by Monday."  Two days after my prayer, his recruiter called him with an interview on Thursday, at a private bank.  The recruiter warned him that they were slow to make up their minds, so he probably wouldn't hear from them for a while.  Friday evening, ten minutes before five, he received a call, telling him he was hired.  He would start Monday, at three times the salary he made in Virginia!! 
We went from nearly destitute and homeless to a huge house, in a wonderful neighborhood, making well above any salary we had dared to dream of, in one step.  That doesn't just happen.  That was God.
God had heard my desperate cry and proved himself above and beyond anything I had ever imagined.  Every time I soak in the huge garden tub, in our master bedroom, I am reminded about our journey here, a journey fraught with heartache and peril, an amazing, miraculous journey, that took us halfway across the country,  and I am so very grateful.
My friend, I don't know if you are at a place of total desperation, where there looks to be no way out of a hopeless situation. I don't know if you are at a place where you desperately need a break through, where nothing short of a miracle will make a difference.  I do know that if you cry out to God, if you lay yourself bare before Him in all your brokenness, pain and anger, He WILL be faithful to answer you.  It may not be when or how you expect it, it was six months after my prayer that I saw God move, but He WILL move.  Take heart, He has not abandoned or forsaken you.  

Monday, June 10, 2013

Go Southwest Young Skiffs- A miraculous journey from there to here part 1

One of my very favorite things to do after a stressful day is to take a nice long soak in my garden tub.  I pour in bath salts, run the water as hot as I possibly can, fill it as high as I can and soak until my fingers and toes resemble raisins left in the sun too long and the water has long since cooled.  Tonight was a night I needed a long soak.  As I lay staring at the small water stain on the ceiling, a reminder of the time a storm blew the shingles off of a large portion of our roof a few springs ago, I was hit by wave of gratitude.  You see, laying there soaking in that huge tub, was a special gift from God to me, a prayer answered, a promise fulfilled.  This is a story of God's incredible patience, love and blessing in our life.  This is a true life adventure story, that spans ten years and 1,300 miles. This is the story of our move to Texas.

My husband and I met at a small Bible school in Western New York.  My husband was from the area, so after our wedding it was natural for us to settle there.  We settled in, bought a house, and had our first four children.  Then the sky fell in.  To make a very long story somewhat brief, I fell down an entire flight of stairs when I was 25 weeks pregnant with our twins.  I was holding Sam, who had just turned 1 a week and a half before.  Miraculously, Sam came away with nary a scratch.  I, crushed my elbow and spent the remainder of my pregnancy in and out of the hospital, mostly in.  This long hospital stay coupled with my husband having to be on unpaid leave for the entire time (we had no one to care for Paul and Sam while I was in the hospital) left us pretty much destitute after it was all said and done.  We were a young couple, starting out (only married four years) so we didn't have anything to fall back on.  We did a short sale on our house. Then we moved to Virginia to start fresh, drawn by the promise of a better economy and the plethora of family I had there, who could help me with four babies, aged three and under.
The day we moved into our house, as my brothers and husband were unloading the moving truck, I said to my husband "The next place we are moving is Texas."  He looked at me like I was a bit crazy and asked in typical Usarian fashion "So should I load everything back onto the truck?"  I shook my head and said "I just have a feeling I shouldn't get too comfortable here.  We will only be here about five years."  I really think God had spoken to my heart because otherwise there would have been no prying me away from all my family that surrounded us in Virginia.

Our four and a half years in Virginia were the hardest of our marriage.  I was home alone, with five babies (we had Benny while there), while my husband worked seventy hours a week.  We were so broke we could not afford heating oil, so we heated our house with a wood stove.  Two of our boys were diagnosed on the autistic spectrum during this time.  My aunt, who was more like a sister to me because we were so close in age (we even shared a bedroom for a time), died after an excruciating fight with cancer.  My extended family was facing some huge challenges and our marriage was a complete disaster.  I became furious with God.  I could not accept that the God that I had spent my life serving in ministry and personally, could just stand by and watch our lives blow up.  What was his problem?!?  People tried to give me the typical Christianese answers "God works everything for good for those who love him and are called according to his purposes." "God won't give you more than you can bear" (that one isn't even in scripture) "You know God must have mighty plans for you." "We live in a fallen world" All of these answers just made me even madder.  I remember saying to a family member "I think God is a sadist."
 One night, as I was rocking a screaming Jamie in one arm (he had night terrors at the time.  He would wake up and run screaming throughout the house) and was giving Benny a bottle in the other, I turned on the TV. The only channel that had anything on at 2 am was PBS.  The program playing was a round table discussion with all the major religions represented by notable figures within each belief system. The moderator was posing different theological questions to each of them.  The question he happened to be asking when I turned on the show was posed to the man representing Christianity.  I don't remember his name but his response to the question posed changed my life forever.  The moderator asked him "If your God is real and all powerful, why do terrible tragedies plague the world?"  Honestly, I rolled my eyes, expecting him to quote the same scripture I already new backwards and forwards and give the same answers I myself had given a million times.
 Instead he began telling the story of C.S. Lewis and his wife.  Lewis married late and life and deeply loved his wife. She died not long after they were married from bone cancer.  Lewis wrote in A Grief Observed  "Talk to me about the truth of religion and I'll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I'll listen submissively. But don't come talking to me about the consolation of religion or I shall suspect that you don't understand. The conclusion is not "So there's no God, after all" but "So this is what God is really like, the Cosmic Sadist. The spiteful imbecile?"  
My ears perked up at this point.  C.S Lewis, one of the giants of the faith, was basically saying what I had just said a few short days before. 
The man answering the moderator said  "Many people say this was a crisis of faith for Lewis, but I say it takes incredible faith to stand before the Almighty God and be completely honest with what you are feeling and thinking."  I had tears flowing unheeded down my cheeks and I cried out to God in all my grief, anger and brokenness "God, I don't care how you do it but I need you to prove yourself to me. I'm tired of all the Christian excuses.  Yes, we live in a fallen world, but if you are God and you are bigger than that.  The truth is you could have stepped into any one of the situations and changed it.  But you didn't.  I want to believe in your goodness, I want to believe in your power but right now I need you to show me.  I need to see you are all the You say You are."  
I had been a devoted Christian for 25 years.  I had gone to Bible school, been in ministry, done all I knew to do to be faithful.  Yet, despite all of that, this was the defining moment of my faith, this was me at my very rawest before God.
I am going to stop here, in my darkest night.  I promise the second half of this story is nothing short of miraculous but in order to appreciate where we are now you have to know where we came from.  I pray if any of you are in your own darkest night, you will be encouraged.  I don't have the answers you need but God does.  Don't be afraid to be honest with Him.  You are in my prayers-Kristine

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Anchor and the Kite

My husband has often described our very different natures like this "Kristine is like an anchor, sunk in the bottom of the Marianas Trench, buried deep and sunk in concrete.  I (Hubby) am a kite whose string is tied to that anchor.  I can blow whichever way the winds blow me but once I come to the end of my string, I ain't moving that anchor."
It is a good mental image of both our personalities.  I am not a follower or a joiner. I don't jump on every passing bandwagon.  I can lead but I don't have a need to.  I am very much like a barnacle crusted anchor, at the bottom of the sea; a solid, solitary fixture that is unmoved by the changing of the tides or the swells of the storm.   Many passing ships tie themselves to my crown when the storms of life are swirling viciously around them.  I don't mind, it's what I'm there for.
The kite, however, is unlike all the ships that come through needing the temporary stability the anchor provides.  Those ships untie and move on to other ports and destinations once the storms pass.  I don't mind at all.  I am always happy to see the exciting places the ships end up.  The kite however stays tied to the anchor.  The kite wants the anchor to come out of the trench every once in a while and fly to new places and experiences; to share the kites joy at all the cool new things he can see from his view way up high, to weep with, not just for the kite, when storms come and lightning strikes.  This is the brokenness I brought into our relationship.  This is the way my husband has had to accommodate me through the years.  
The very quality that makes me a bastion in a storm, is the same quality that makes me solitary, independent and intractable at times.   
I have written extensively on how Asperger's has affected our marriage.  You can read all about it here, and here, and here, and here  Yes, it is a four parter. Yes, of course, it is wonderful, fantastic and worth every precious moment you'll spend reading it.  You'll laugh, you'll cry, it'll move you ;) (okay blatant self promotion now over;)
I have not written about how independent nature has affected our marriage.  Independent is really too mild a word for it.  Honestly, I don't know how to need someone.  Please don't read that wrong.  I know how to love people, I am a fabulous friend because I will be there with you through thick and thin and I really will love doing it. However, I honestly have no idea how to depend on someone when the storms of life come my way.  In a marriage this is a real problem.  Marriage is two lives becoming one, two hearts becoming intertwined, two people mutually dependent on each other, supporting and loving one another through it all.  What happens when one person has no idea how to accept support from the other? It is devastating to the relationship.
 I learned early on in my life to be strong.  I learned early on how to carry others and be responsible.  I learned early on how to continue to stand through turmoil.  I never learned how to lean on someone else, I never learned to just trust.  These are the lessons I am struggling to learn now.  This is my newest journey.  This anchor needs to learn how to fly a little.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

In My Weakness

In January of this year, my good friend Dee and I were on the phone discussing our plans and "feelings" about what was to come in this coming year of 2013.  I remember telling her that I had an intuition that this was going to be a hard year for me.  I felt strongly that this was the year that God was going to do some deep heart work on me.  Dee and I have been friends for seventeen years (yikes! I'm getting old, Dee of course has not aged a day;) She is one of the few people on this planet who really KNOWS me.  She has walked through the most joyful moments of my life with me.  Conversely she has walked through the darkest, most difficult times too.  When I made my announcement about heart work she wisely said "Girl, I'm gonna be praying for you!"  Like I said, she KNOWS me.

Fast forward to March 2013. You may have noticed a lack of blogging on my part lately.  In truth, it has been intentional.  That journey of heart work has begun, serious changes are happening.  Normally, this would have me on blog overload but the truth is I have felt unable to talk about this stuff.  It is dark and painful and just plain hard.  I finally feel able to talk about some of the changes I have made.  I am opening up because I don't think I am the only woman out there who struggles with these things.  I refuse to let shame bury my light.  Shame, anger and depression thrive in darkness, they force you into silence and isolation.  That isolation creates more shame, anger and depression.  It is a vicious, ugly cycle.  It is a cycle I will not allow in my life.  
Most people read my blog and feel like I have been very open about my life.  I have written about our early marriage troubles, past abuse, unforgiveness, even about my suicide attempt as a teenager. All of that is the absolute truth but I have only written in the past tense, refusing to acknowledge the cumulative effect all that crap was having on my daily, every day life.  I said to myself, "I've dealt with all of this.  It is done and over.  I've forgiven.  I'm strong.  I'm a Christian and all I need to get through is Jesus." along with many other platitudes to convince myself that I didn't need any help.  The truth is, I am not alright.  The truth is I am too prideful to be seen as weak and vulnerable.  The truth is, I need help.
This all became abundantly clear when I realized I was terrified (not just a bit uncomfortable or a little scared but for real terrified) to lose weight.  Through out all my life, I would lose to a certain point but as soon as people began noticing me, I would gain all I had lost and more back.  I never realized what I was doing.  It was unconscious.  However the Dr started pushing for me to have weight loss surgery and I was running out of excuses for lasting change in my life.  Finally it hit me:  I was freaking scared.  REALLY scared.  So I put on my big girl panties and admitted I needed help.  I put myself in therapy.  For real, cost a lot of money, therapy.  The kind I inwardly scoffed at as only needed by weak people, people who couldn't just buck up and deal with life.
I admit it, I am weak.  I cannot handle everything on my own anymore.  I need help.  II Corinthians 12:9 says: And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. It is my prayer that as I walk out this year people will begin to see Christ strong in me, instead of me pretending to be strong on my own.
I know there are other women out there like me, who have been blown around and beaten down by the storms of life.  I know there are others who are too ashamed, prideful or frightened to ask for help.   Friends, I encourage you that you are not alone.  You need not walk alone any longer.  Reach out to someone trustworthy, someone who will pray with you and stand with you, someone who will encourage you to get the help you need.  Someone who will encourage you to become weak so that Christ may be strong in you.  That is my prayer.
What this means for this blog, I'm not sure yet.  I will write as I am able and as I am freed to do so.  I know this goes against everything they tell you to do to have a successful blog.  However, at this point in my life I feel it is more important that I be genuine than that I am successful.  I love each of you very much and will continue to pray God's best in your lives.  I look forward with great anticipation to see what God has in store for Skiffdom and am equally excited to share it with you as it unfolds.  Lots of love-Kristine

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