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Holding Out Hope for a Better Life

My name is Erica. I am a 38-year-old public school art teacher. I have been teaching for over 10 years and love my job. Unlike many mothers with children with disabilities, I have managed to maintain my career. I feel very blessed to work with over 500 students in our town in Minnesota.

I have been married since 2006. My husband, Scott, is an outside sales person for a title company. He is the most amazing father. He has stepped up, when he could have run away. I admire his strength for completely doing this with me day-to-day.

Our only son, Grant, was about 6 when his first serious round of self injury began. He has some level of intellectual disability, autism, and Avoidant Restrictive Feeding Intake Disorder (ArFID) which resulted in a g-tube getting surgically placed in August. Below is just a small piece of my life story. I am writing regularly at erica873.wixsite.com/grant and share updates on Facebook at www.facebook.com/deargrant if you would like to read more.

Amy is my friend and neighbor. She was kind enough to let me share my story here today. We are seeking donations for our medical trip. Grant is on a wait list for a hospital in Baltimore, Maryland, called Kennedy Krieger. Please watch the video at the end of this post, and check out my site for more details if you are in a position to help. Thank you.

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I was cleaning up my art room, like I always do. Pandora was playing “Fire and Rain” by James Taylor. I know this song really well. I might be able to sing along without the lyrics without them in front of me. Can you hear it now?

” Won’t you look down upon me, Jesus …”

This song triggers a variety of emotions. I sing along. Just in my head. I don’t need someone to walk in my classroom and hear me.

Taylor sings …

“You’ve got to help me make a stand
You’ve just got to see me through another day
My body’s aching and my time is at hand
I won’t make it any other way”

I push the tears back. I want to let them flow at this moment, but I don’t and I won’t. I have let them flow before. I have had deep, ugly cries in the last six months. I have done this in front of my son. I have done it alone. But, I have never let myself cry like this in front of anyone else. This song is triggering this feeling, but I push it down.

I feel regret and anger when I have cried like this in front of Grant. It makes me cry more. My anger builds with every piece of this of this journey. The tears flow easily if he hurts me and I am not talking about emotional pain. I have never had a verbal argument with him. He is not considered “non-verbal,” but he is not functionally conversational either.

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He has attacked my hair so many times I can’t count all of the incidences. Even in one day, he has come at me over 20 times. It’s like he is trying to remove chunks of my hair. I am trained in something called “CPI” so I know how to release his hands from head. I have to press on his knuckles. My scalp hurts after he comes after me. After a summer of hair pulls, I eventually sacrifice my long strands for a chin length “do.” I resent him in that moment at the hair salon. I tell myself it’s just hair. It is not me or who I am as a woman. It’s just hair. I eventually purchase hair turbans off of Amazon to protect my poor scalp. Cutting my hair doesn’t prove to be enough to keep him from hurting me.

He has tried to hurt my eyes. This is how it all started. He would push his fingers into my tear ducts. It happened so quickly. It’s hard to explain how anyone can get to your eyes so quickly.

Today he mostly kicks me. He hits me. He has bruised my eye area. He has scratched my skin and, more recently, he has learned how to head butt. This might be the worst new behavior. It comes out of nowhere. I can be putting on his diaper or he can be sitting on my lap. I might lean over to fix something and his head, with a helmet on, comes at my face so quickly. I can’t get out of the way. I bawl.

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There was a day where he hit me so hard, I question if there is blood running down my face. I luck out, it’s only mucus. My nose feels broken regardless. It’s hard to hide my emotions. Tears flow easily. I want to hide. I can’t show him how upset I am in these moments.

This head butting issue really irritates me. On Halloween, his head hits my mouth. I thought he had loosened a tooth. I am not sure if he just caused me serious dental issues. I am hysterical. I grasp my face in horror. WHAT DID HE JUST DO!? How can a 9 year old be this violent? He stares at me as tears make my mascara drip black lines down my face. I am flushed. My lip is busted open this time. I have not overreacted. I might have my teeth still, but that was truly painful. I fall to the floor sobbing. He just stares at me. He might have said something like “mommy sad.” Yes, Grant. Sad is only the beginning of the emotions I feel in this moment.

Deep anger fills me. I don’t lash back. But, every cell in my body wants to fight. But, I can’t. There is no point. He doesn’t understand what he is doing. He just sees his mother crying. To him, this is interesting. So he will do it again. I have sealed that destiny with my outward emotions. But, I can’t stop in these times. I am getting hurt. I am hurt. I cry. I am so unbelievably tired of this.

Attacking me…this only a piece of what is happening in my home on a daily basis. Some days are worse. Some are better. I ask myself constantly “What is worse than this?”  I mean, I quite literally in my head run through a game called “What is worse than this situation?” We have to find answers. We have to move forward. I remind myself that we are lucky he is alive. We wait patiently for his turn at the hospital. I’ll do the best I can with each day as it comes. Maybe tomorrow will be better. Maybe. I will hold on to the hope I must keep in my heart for the three of us for a better and easier life.

Erica

When You Don’t Feel Pretty in Your Family Pictures

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Recently, I received an email from a photography client who loved the photos I took of her family, but…ummm…herself? Not so much. She went on to describe WHY she didn’t like herself in the photos and what specific action she needed to take to remediate that problem next time they take family photos. The funny thing is, I thought she looked STUNNING in REAL LIFE and STUNNING in the PHOTOS. I never thought once that something was off with her look, her style or anything about her. In fact, I thought she was beautiful, poised and TOTALLY put together from head to toe.

I sat and started at the email, wondering if there was something I could have done differently to make this mama feel more beautiful when we took the photos, something I could have done differently with posing to make her feel more at ease, something I could have done differently in editing to make her beautiful self pop from the picture even more.

As I sat staring at that email, I realized this wasn’t about me.

Memories came flooding back. This territory was all too familiar. You see, three years ago, I was the one emailing our photographer, saying I liked our family photos, but I didn’t really like any of the head shots we took of me during the photo shoot. I felt uncomfortable and awkward in front of the camera. I shopped for myself last and bought a shirt that worked with everyone else’s clothes, but I didn’t ever really love it. I felt fat in the jeans I was wearing. The bags under my eyes were too big. I didn’t look like myself. I don’t know. I just didn’t like myself in the photos.

We used the family photo for our Christmas card that year, we printed a family 5×7 for our living room, and I put one of the family photos up on my blog’s “Meet Amy” page. But I NEVER used ANY of the head shots of myself from that photo shoot. Never updated the photo on my blog. Never updated my social media photos. Never used them in blog posts. Never used them anywhere.

When I was going through family photos this fall, I ran across the CD from that photo shoot from three years ago. I took time to look through all the photos on that CD because I hadn’t looked at them in three years and I wanted to know if they were really that bad or if I’d simply fabricated a story in my mind.

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Three years later, here’s what I saw…

While the photos of me weren’t awesome, they were also very pretty.

Yes, I said it.

They were also very pretty.

The truth is, there was something INSIDE of ME during and after that particular photo shoot that wasn’t well, something ugly that told me I wasn’t beautiful enough, thin enough, perfect enough in my face. (Okay, I know that sounds weird, but it’s kind of true. Right ladies?) Instead of seeing my beauty, I beat myself up, picking apart every flaw in the photos.

Too fat.

Bags under my eyes.

Uncomfortable.

Awkward.

Ugly, not-quite-right shirt.

Don’t like the way I look.

Three years later and a fresh set of eyes, I could see that I looked pretty in the photos. Totally acceptable. Just right for where and who I was at that time. There was NOTHING wrong with those pictures. Maybe they weren’t perfect, but they were beautiful.

Ladies, for the sake of our own well being, we must figure out how to distinguish between PERFECT and PRETTY. 

Okay, so maybe you’re not going for PRETTY. Maybe you prefer to look beautiful, stunning, ravishing, radical, rogue, hip, cool, casual, fun, friendly, feminine, astute or simply put together.

However you are, WHOEVER you are, here’s what I want you to know if you don’t feel pretty in your family pictures.

  1. First and foremost, the likelihood is that you DO look pretty, you DO look beautiful.
  2. Even if you don’t feel pretty in your family pictures, go ahead and use the photo for your family Christmas card anyway. Go ahead and print the photo and put it on your end table anyway. Go ahead and make the 8×10 canvas and put it up in your bedroom. Go ahead and make a few copies to give your children when they get bigger because YOU are important, YOU are beautiful and YOU are needed in your family and this world JUST AS YOU ARE.
  3. Save the CD. Save the flash drive. Save the proofs. Save the memory card. Just save the photos, wherever they are. Then take another look at them three years later, five years later, ten years later and beyond. You’ll realize you were so pretty, so beautiful, so lovely. And you’ll most definitely wonder WHY in the world you thought anything different.
  4. Give yourself a chance. Give yourself a little grace.
  5. Keep yourself in the picture and call yourself beautiful because you are.

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Amy - Thank you, Jana!December 5, 2016 – 9:08 am

Jana - This is so good, Amy – and so true! Thanks for sharing.December 2, 2016 – 9:13 pm

A 4-Year-Old’s Lessons on Loving and Living During a Divisive Presidential Election

Let’s face it. The 2016 presidential race was brutal and divisive. While so many hoped that the election would put a stop to all the divisiveness, the election of Donald Trump seems to have caused an even greater divide within our great nation, the United States of America.

Will we heal?

Will we hear the other side?

What will it take to bridge the gap between us and them?

Questions loom and linger.

How will we move through and beyond?

Some are grieving. Some are angry. Some are numb now. Some just don’t understand.

Is our country safe anymore?

What will come of our world?

What will a Donald Trump presidency look like?

Will the protests subside, or will they go on for four or eight years?

Will we ever be able to cross the divide?

So many unknowns.

So many uncertainties.

There is no clear or right answer except to remember we are ONE nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for ALL.

So what do we do?

Where do we start?

Perhaps we need to step back in time.

This week, my offering to a world that’s in awe, a world that’s divided, a world that’s uncertain and in need comes from my 4-year-old daughter.

In the midst of my grief over what’s transpired during this deeply divisive presidential election, my four year old has shown me what it means to love and live, through and beyond the turmoil.

When asked who was running for president of the United States, my four year old was able to name Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. I think she would probably be able to name them if she was shown their faces. But that’s it. Nothing more. She knew their names and that they were running for president. I’m quite sure she doesn’t even know what President of the United States means. But one thing’s for sure. My four year old has taught me what it means to love and live, purely and simply, even when the world’s going mad.

Let’s learn. Let’s turn our ears towards the young. May we learn something profound, something our soul’s forgotten.

LESSON ON LOVING & LIVING #1: Find ways to compliment people and love on them even if you disagree with them.

This week, my 4-year old daughter wanted to write cards for her friends. She got out a piece of notebook paper and had me fold it into four. Then she got some post-it notes out. She wanted me to help her write notes to her friends, Sydney, Henry, Edry and Rylan, on the post-it notes. I wrote as she dictated. It was pure and simple. One sentence or two. That’s it. A compliment. A way to show her love to her friends and neighbors. Then she signed her name after each one.

Perhaps we can glean wisdom from a four year old’s simple and idealistic world.

Find ways compliment people and and love on them even if you disagree with them.

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dsc_1777LESSON ON LOVING & LIVING #2: Surround yourself with diversity.

As I was driving to the gym with my daughter on Thursday, she randomly shared this story. “I have brown hair. My friend has white hair and a white face. My other friend has black hair and a brown face.”

“That is so awesome!” I replied exuberantly. “I’m so proud of you that you have all kinds of friends. It’s fun to have lots of different kind of friends, isn’t it?”

What was most notable about this conversation was that my daughter made that statement with NO judgement. It was a matter of fact. Pure and simple fact. She recognized that her friends were diverse, that they had different physical traits. But she didn’t place any judgement on those differences. There’s something refreshing about that to me. We can recognize differences without casting judgement.

It’s hard to admit, but it’s sometimes easiest to hang out with people who look, act and think like us. But hanging around a monolithic group of people who think, act, and behave EXACTLY like us  doesn’t do anything to expand our worldview. The more we’re able to surround ourselves with diversity or AT LEAST open ourselves up to seeing and hearing the other side, the more likely we’re able to expand and diversify our worldview. Diverse perspectives and worldviews are critical to bridging the great divide.

Perhaps we can glean wisdom from a four year old’s simple and idealistic world.

Surround yourself with diversity.

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LESSON ON LOVING & LIVING #3: Create art.

This week, my 4-year-old daughter brought home oodles of art from preschool. Handmade cards with drawings. Colored pages with paper punches lining the sides. Red, purple and pink pieces of construction paper cut into mountains, hills and rectangles. I’ll be honest, I usually throw away a bunch of this stuff because a mom can’t keep everything or it’d lead to boxes upon boxes of memories. But I’m keeping every single one of my daughter’s art pieces from this week. They’ve been gems to me in a week of presidential, political and personal turmoil.

If you make any sort of art, you MUST continue creating during these days of uncertainty. The world desperately needs your art, your perspective, your unique way of expressing love and joy, despair and destitution, anger and peace. The way you see life, the way you express it through your art? It’s important. It’s noteworthy. It’s crucial and life saving. We must continue making art, even when it seems completely pointless. We must continue making art, even when it seems like everyone’s too busy to see it. We must continue making art, even when the world’s gone mad. Keep making art. Keep creating. Keep putting it out there. We need your art more than ever.

Sing. Dance. Paint. Write. Photograph. Collage. Decoupage. Knit. Crochet. Quilt. Sew. Garden. Decorate. Build. Woodwork. Mosaic. Make jewelry and pottery. Whatever it is you do to create art and beauty in this world, do it and keep doing it! We need art now more than ever.

Perhaps we can glean wisdom from a four year old’s simple and idealistic world.

Create art.

Bridge the great divide.

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I Am Woman

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I am woman.

Born from my mother’s womb. Bloody. Bruised. Breathing, bright and beautiful.

Still in pain, her belly barren, Mama bowed low and bestowed upon me all names I’d ever need.

Precious.

Princess.

Queen.

Diva.

Beautiful.

Beloved Daughter.

Born to bring light and life, dignity and strength, elegance and grace.

I am woman.

Yes.

I am woman.

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Do it all. Have it all. BE. ALL. The world tells me how and who I should be.

Daughter. Granddaughter. Sister. Niece. Cousin. Wife. Mother. Stepmother. Godmother. Aunt. Grandmother. Great Grandmother. Friend. Friendly. Best Friend. Bestie. Mentee. Mentor. Single. Stay-at-Home Mom. Work-from-Home Mom. Working Mom. Part-Time Working Mom. PTA Mom. Volunteer. Cook. Chef. Chocolate-Chip Cookie Maker. Taxi-Cab Driver. Counselor. Psychologist. Fair. Balanced. Business Woman. Writer. Actor. Artist. Elegant. Engineer. Model. Sexy. Sexy Mama. One Hot Mama. Rocker. Beautiful. Beast. Built. Big Breasted. Athletic. Trim. Thin. Funny. Smart. Witty. Kind. Savvy. Independent. Submissive. Generous. Giving. Philanthropist. Missionary. Designer. Graphic Designer. Pinterest Pretty. Stylish. Sassy. Hip. Cool. Calm. Collected. Casual. Considerate. Revolutionary. Chic. Prim. Proper. Perfect. Primped to the Nines. Fashion Forward. Poised. Politically Informed. Politically Correct. Quiet. Polite. Thoughtful. Thorough. Thick-Skinned. Vulnerable. Flexible. Decisive. Fierce.

I do it all.

Or maybe not.

I try to DO, HAVE and BE.

I am woman.

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My voice, it will not be silenced. My heart, it’s torn. My life, let it be.

Most days I’m filled with insecurity.

God formed me, fashioned me, made me and named me.

I’m here for a reason.

I’m not a possession or a productivity robot.

I long to be seen for who I am, for who I really am.

There is nobody, nobody like me.

I am claimed. Named.

Beautiful. Holy. Chosen. Precious one.

I am woman.

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Breathing Eden: A Book Review & Giveaway!

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Jennifer Camp and I have been virtual traveling partners for years now. Honestly, I don’t remember when we first crossed paths, but it feels like I’ve known her a lifetime. Jennifer is one of several soul sisters I’ve met online. I know it sounds cliche, but when we finally meet in real life, we’re going to pick back up like childhood friends who never missed a beat. That’s how much I adore this woman, this dear, kind, sweet soul.

Perhaps you’re wondering why I’m telling you about Jennifer on this most random of Tuesdays? Wonder no more! Jennifer’s new book, Breathing Eden, releases today! Happy Birthday, Breathing Eden! I’m honored to be on the launch team, and incredibly excited to share Jennifer’s book with you all.

Breathing Eden: Conversations with God on Light, Fresh Air, and New Things is beautiful. The fonts are aesthetically pleasing and easy to read. The spacing is thoughtful. There’s even a note from the publisher, which I thought was a unique personal touch. There’s white space, which is hard to come by in books for adults. And at the end of every story, there’s a place for women to sit and listen to God’s still small voice. Breathing Eden reflects Jennifer’s beautiful, richly nuanced heart.

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“This book consists of our prayers to God and his answers. Forty women. Forty prayers. Forty women’s conversations with God.” – Breathing Eden 

Jennifer has a huge heart for women who are wounded and in need of encouragement. She also has an incredible gift of listening and discerning God’s voice amongst all the noise out there. Breathing Eden invites readers into 40 women’s raw stories inspired by real life. Then, like a desperately needed breath of fresh air, we read God’s perspective, God’s response to the women’s stories. After each story, there’s an opportunity to listen, think, trust and pray. Honestly, I don’t usually like books that try to engage me with reflections, prayers or exercises at the end of each section. But this book’s “Trust” and “Pray” sections were practical, helpful and encouraging.

Wondering what these 40 stories are all about? Think there’s no reason to read a whole book of women’s stories when there will probably only be one or two that resonate with you? Not so fast. Breathing Eden is brilliant in that SO MANY of the women’s stories resonated with me, not just one or two. I found myself in Lucy’s story, Kelsie’s story, Kate’s story, Lea’s story, Catherine’s story and Holly’s story. God’s whispers spoke to my heart through Cara’s story, Hannah’s story, Jacqueline’s story, Ruby’s story, Diane’s story and Shelby’s story. Add all of those up, and that’s a grand total of 12 stories that resonated deeply with my soul out of 40. Honestly? We’re all in this together, ladies. You’re never as alone as you think you are.

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What are you facing today? What hurts? What’s broken? What healing and hope do you need in order to break through and break free as a beloved child of God? You’ll find yourself among the 40 women’s stories in Breathing Eden.

These are the stories I needed and found in Breathing Eden. Hope for a mom who’s uncertain. Promises for God’s perfect timing. A reminder of the girl I used to be. Stories untold. I’m never alone. Faith for when I cannot see. Trust in God’s plan. Love without strings. Forgiveness aplenty. Chains broken. Light and restoration. Freedom from darkness. Confidence to run. Yes, those are the stories that resonated with me. Those are the stories that spoke to my heart.

Thank you, Jennifer, for the beautiful gift this book is and will be to so many women around the world. May you be blessed in the giving, blessed in the sharing, blessed as you breathe a bit of Eden.

breathingedenIn honor of the release of Breathing Eden, I’m giving away TWO COPIES of Jennifer’s book today! All you need to do is complete the Rafflecopter below, and you’re entered to win! Winners will be selected randomly and will be notified via email.

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a Rafflecopter giveaway

Rachelle Craig - What a beautiful review! I too had the honor of being on this amazing launch team! What a joy it has been reading Breathing Eden and connecting to so many of the women in the book. I am looking forward to gifting this book to women I love, and know they too will find peace and healing through this book.October 6, 2016 – 6:12 am