Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Medical Maladies

***Disclaimer--this blog post is all about the ups and downs of my medical journey including Crohn's Disease and having to have a hysterectomy.  Information shared is meant to encourage and possibly incite laughter while discussing pretty disgusting, but serious topics.  Those who are faint of heart, or of stomach, probably shouldn't read this post.  My hope is to encourage people who have any of these issues or who know someone who does.***

My sister (Andrea) and me.
My family has a history of crazy medical mishaps.  From accident-prone tendencies to genetic jinxes, we have done our part to keep the doctors, nurses, and hospitals in business.  When I was in 10th grade, I picked up mononucleosis.  Unfortunately, I didn't get it in any flirty, fun way (wink, wink)...nope, my younger, nobler sister went on an mission trip and contracted mono from a water fountain (so believed the doctors).  Growing up, we would share drinks (like taste this milkshake or taste how bad this "suicide" fountain drink is).  Mono looked different on the two of us.  My sister got really sick--she had a combo platter of illnesses that stemmed from mono and landed her in the hospital.  I was listless, lethargic and simply unable to function normally.  She and I both missed a month of school and were on the homebound program where we had a teacher who we not-so-lovingly referred to as Mrs. Lucifer.  After a long recovery, we went back to school and were back to normal...or so we thought.

As a little girl and teen, I had seasonal allergies and had to take four allergy shots once a week.  Every fall and spring, I would have a week where my voice would be Rod Stewart-raspy or completely gone.  When I was in 11th grade, I started having longer stints where my voice would disappear.  I loved to sing--I was in the youth choir at church and chorus in school.  My parents and I started off at my regular doctor who directed us to an ear, nose and throat doctor and allergist.  After a series of tests and procedures from those guys, we were sent to Bowman-Grey Hospital in Winston-Salem.  There, I was under the care of a very entertaining and eccentric doctor (which I, of course, loved!).  I have written posts earlier about the tests, procedures and surgery during that time frame, so if you're up for a laugh and a cringe, scroll back through my blog!  Ultimately, it was discovered that my left vocal cord was completely paralyzed.  I kept losing my voice and developing cysts/polyps/nodules because the right vocal cord was doing the work of both.  The solution was to inject a silicone implant into my left vocal cord to fatten it up so the right vocal cord didn't have as far to work (insert silicone implant joke here...).  After surgery, my voice changed a little, and my singing range shifted; after a long voice rest, I was allowed to start talking and singing again.

During my senior year of high school, I started to experience a new set of medical issues.  I was dealing with a swollen abdomen, severe abdominal pain, fevers, weight loss and rectal bleeding.  Back to the doctor we went.  I underwent another series of tests and procedures including an illustrious colonoscopy when I was 18 years old.  I will never forget that day.  I was the only female going in for the procedure and the only person under the age of 60.  Hence, the recovery room being nothing short of a Saturday Night Live sketch moment where the young lady is surrounded by an orchestra of gassy old men!  I firmly believe in the mindset of finding humor in every situation.  After the colonoscopy and a few overnight emergency visits to the hospital, I was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease (more info on this disease here).  The summary of Crohn's Disease is that it is an inflammatory, auto-immune disorder that can materialize anywhere in the GI tract from mouth to anus.  Crohn's can look different on different people.  For me, it was losing my appetite causing rapid weight loss, and when I did eat, I would be sick within at least 20 minutest.  It also meant every time I was in the bathroom (8-12 times a day), I would pass blood in my stools or just blood.  It meant a pain in my gut that would go from feeling a campfire to a herd of buffalo stomping my organs to a vice grip squeezing my insides to a radiating ball of fire moving all over.  I would stay weak.  I would have no energy.  My skin started to feel thin and dry out.  The joints in my hands, hips and legs would throb.  The first round of treatment for me was steroids...you know, the quick fix.  I hated steroids.  I would feel so mean and on edge.  Yes, the symptoms would go away...as longs as I was on the steroids.  Steroids aren't a long-term solution, so I took them while we looked for other medications.  At this stage of the game, there was not a lot of information out there about Crohn's and most medications were still in testing phases...the ones that were available were very expensive.  By this time, I had married my first husband who had joined the Navy.  Thank God for military insurance!  Without that benefit, I highly doubt I could have been on medication.

Crohn's Disease is a chronic illness meaning I will have it until I die.  However, it can go into remission.  Concerning pregnancy, if Crohn's is active when conception happens, it stays active; and vice versa.  With my first pregnancy, I was in remission and had a pretty healthy pregnancy until the premature labor happened.  During my second pregnancy, Crohn's was active.  I was carrying twins with my second pregnancy and ended up losing one of the babies.  I was put on bedrest.  I was having iron injections twice a week.  I was on strong medication.  The third time I conceived, my Crohn's was active, and I miscarried.  Throughout the past 18 years, I have had seasons of health and energy and seasons of pain and lethargy.  I have been on several medications, have done the diet/juicing route, have taken herbal supplements, have removed elements from my diet.  There are foods I have cut out of my life because I know what the result will be if I eat them.  But, when my Crohn's is active, everything I eat or drink or don't eat or drink has the same results.  Over the past 2 years, my Crohn's has set-up in 2 inches of the lower left quadrant of my intestines.  When it is severe, you could actually look at my stomach and see the swelling or touch my belly and feel the knots of ulcers and inflammation.  The level of severity was so major this past year, that I would pass out frequently from blood loss and pain.  I missed work, which I had never done before.  And, I felt as if I was fading.

When I turned 30, I started having issues with menstruation.  I highly doubt that there is any lady out there who has had a great experience with that part of life.  I know so many women who have had crazy pain and struggles with their reproductive system.  After 30, I started having progressively worse months.  Over the last year, I was having a week of bleeding, a week off, another week of bleeding, etc.  For the past year, two weeks out of the month, I would be losing blood from Crohn's and from a period.  When this started, I went to my doctor's office, but my regular doctor was out of the country on a mission trip.  The physician's assistant ordered an intrusive ultrasound of my uterus and ovaries, but basically determined I had suffered a miscarriage.  When the issues persisted, I went back to my regular doctor who ordered another ultrasound where it was determined I may have had a uterine fibroid on the left side of my uterus.  So, birth control pills were prescribed at a higher dosage (as I had been taking them for quite some time).  I waited a couple of months, and checked back in with my regular doctor as nothing had improved.  During this time, I was also seeing a new gastroenterologist who had determined my Crohn's was approaching extreme symptoms and was wanting me to choose a new drug to try from a list of 3 very expensive and quite scary medications.  My regular doctor sent me to a gynecologist who performed yet another internal ultrasound.  While I hated the procedure, I appreciated the doctor who talked with me through the images on the screen.  He was extremely concerned with what he could see but more worried about what he could not see via an ultrasound.  My husband (Brian) and I had already talked about what the options would be, so we were prepared when the gynecologist suggested a hysterectomy.
My husband (Brian) and me.  #1 fan!

At age 36, I went in for a laparoscopic vaginal hysterectomy.  My doctor warned my husband and me that he wasn't sure what all he would have to remove once in surgery.  I was as prepared as I could be.  He (and my regular doctor) were both very concerned about the surgery's effect on my Crohn's.  Where the Crohn's activity was located was dangerously close to where the surgery would have to take place.  The biggest fear for all parties involved was how the Crohn's would react to the surgery--the fear was of a substantial flare-up that could have major ripple effects.  However, we all agreed the surgery was what needed to be done.  I had resolved that Crohn's Disease symptoms will always be a part of my life, but that if we could eliminate the other medical issues, that would be incredibly helpful.  The trade-off would be that the potential for surgical menopause to occur and hormone replacement therapy to begin could happen depending on the level of hysterectomy that was performed.  After the surgery, my husband and I learned that the doctor had to do a total hysterectomy (removal of uterus, cervix, fallopian tubes, and ovaries).  My uterus had fibroids in, on and in the lining of the uterus.  Endometriosis was covering my uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries.

I was mentally and emotionally prepared for the hysterectomy.  Brian and I were in agreement, which really helped.  I wasn't prepared for the pain after the surgery.  And, the recovery felt like 6 months rather than 6 weeks!  BUT, I know it was what was right for my health.  Here's the incredible part.  The week before my surgery, we went to the beach with our family.  I was prepared to be sick due to Crohn's; and I was prepared for higher symptoms since we would be enjoying fried seafood goodness.  After 2 years of CONSTANT pain and bleeding profusely every time I went to the bathroom, while at the beach, the symptoms stopped.  And since that week, I have had NO Crohn's symptoms at all.  Now, I'm sure several of you have theories of what happened.  I know the doctors said that should not have happened and that the surgery should have had a negative effect on my Crohn's.  I am a person of great faith.  I am surrounded by people who are like-minded.  I firmly believe that through the power of prayer to the one true God, I was relieved of those symptoms.  I don't know how long that relief will last.  I am a realist and understand what a chronic disease is, but I am extremely grateful to the Lord for giving me a time of physical peace and rest during one of the most physically stressful and traumatizing times of my life.

I don't know what my medical future holds.  I don't know if there is a connection to all of my medical maladies (I do think it's interesting that all of the "big" things show up on the left side of whatever issue).  I don't know how long I'll be well.  I do know that through every medical battle, I have been blessed by faithful family and friends.  I know that the One who created me has a plan for me even though I couldn't tell you what that plan is.  I know that laughter is a great pain reliever.  And, I know I am the most fortunate woman in the world to have the love and support of my husband and our amazing children.  I want to be a light and source of encouragement for others.  If you or someone you love is struggling, hurting, questioning..whatever...please contact me, as I would LOVE to lift you up in prayer!
A BIG part of my supportive family!  BLESSED big time!

Monday, August 7, 2017

VIPKID 1st Class!

Click here to use my referral link to learn more about VIPKID!

Here's a short update about my VIPKID experience.  Last Friday, I sat down and wrote out my availability for VIPKID on my desk calendar, then went through the calendar on the VIPKID website and entered the same information.  All of the training warns that the first month is the most difficult as fas as filling up your calendar.  The more you work and reviews you earn, the more the parents will sign up for your slots.  Over the weekend, I had 6 time slots filled...not too shabby for just starting out.  (Remember, I am being paid per lesson, not hour.  My base pay is $8 with $1 bonus for starting and ending the lesson on time as well as opportunities for other bonuses.)  Payday is between the 10th and 15th, so I will keep you posted on how that works out.  My husband and I are opening a separate account just for the VIPKID transactions for a multitude of reasons, and I am not foreseeing any complications with that.

This morning, I had my first teaching experience.  I have to say, it was fun, easy, and goes by so quickly.  The little boy I worked with was all about the business of learning.  I could tell a parent was close by helping to keep him on task.  But, he was a delight.  The powerpoint lesson was easy to use. I logged in about 30 minutes early to go review the slides and pull out any of my supplemental materials that would be helpful.  Last night, in preparation, I pulled up the link to the lesson on my phone using the VIPKID app, which is very user-friendly.  I went through the slides quickly just to have a heads up.  There is also a tab on the app and the website with feedback from other teachers who have worked with each student.  That is an incredibly helpful tool!  As we went through the lesson, I kept a little notebook to the side and jotted down any notes for the next teacher (example-Student blended words well.  He struggled with the word "playground".  Student chose option 1 for his end of unit task).  During our lesson, there were a few times where the student's audio went out and one time where his camera froze.  I noted those things in the feedback as well.

So far, I am really enjoying and impressed with this experience.  I have been invited to an online certification workshop to expand my opportunities with VIPKID.  I have joined the "Hutong" community where VIPKID staff and teachers dialogue and have fun challenges to complete.  Basically, anything they send to me, I try.  If you are interested in working from home, have a Bachelor's degree and a love for kiddos, then I would definitely encourage you to learn more about VIPKID.  I am happy to answer any questions I can, and I look forward to sharing the journey with you!  (If you want to help me make a little $, use this referral link!)

Thursday, July 27, 2017

My VIPKID Supplemental Supplies

My last post shared about getting started with the VIPKID company teaching Chinese children English online in a virtual classroom.  Please check it out for more information about the company and where I am in the process!

One of the requirements for VIPKID is to have supplemental materials.  My kiddos are older, so I didn't have a lot of beginning reading, phonics, and writing things around the house.  I also wanted to pursue this job to make money, not spend lots of it on teaching materials.  So, I went to the tried and true Dollar Tree to find the bulk of my materials.  Supplemental materials are needed for the teacher's background, letter recognition, writing, reinforcing, modeling, and incentives...and to make sure the kiddos are engaged and having fun!  That sounds like a lot, but it really isn't.

Since I will be teaching on a tiny part of a screen, it is essential to have a fun background, but one that isn't too busy or distracting.  I found the border at the Dollar Tree, the felt map at Target for $5, and printed off coloring pages (which my awesome kiddos colored for me).  I have left some blank spaces to add materials once I get into the groove of teaching.

Teacher Background

I will be teaching the lower-level classes.  These children will have very little or no English speaking skills at all.  The key is to think preschool/Kindergarten when shopping.  At the Dollar Tree, I purchased flash cards and letters and numbers made of foam, magnets, and cardboard.  My kiddos and I sorted these then placed them in a baggie and store them in a small tote.                                        

Alphabet Packet
Alphabet Tote

Ladybug Incentive
Now, I am interested to see how this part plays out with the kiddos.  VIPKID has it's own reward system where the children can earn up to 5 stars that are rewarded to them on their screen then banked in their account.  However, VIPKID encourages high level of praise for the students and they want teachers to implement their own incentive plan.  VIPKID provides some via powerpoint slides that can be printed out or used digitally.  I bought a few cake sheets and made my own incentive games...for example, I found a huge ladybug magnet to show the student as their token on the board.  The objective is to move the ladybug over the leaves to the flower.  The purpose for the kiddos is to keep them engaged and excited!

Race Car Incentive 
Animal Pyramid Incentive
I purchased a variety of other materials to help keep me organized and that I knew would come in handy.  Binder for VIPKID info, notes, and paperwork.  Big block calendar for keeping up with bookings (even though those are on the app and Teacher Portal).  Whiteboard, markers and eraser--every teacher loves those!  Sticky notes.  Pointer...all from Dollar Tree!  I didn't have a puppet, so I ordered one from Target with a long-lost gift card I found while cleaning!  Puppets are a colorful, easy, and fun way to get a kiddo's attention and to have them engage!  Easy books are also a simple and inexpensive visual to have on hand, along with play food, stuffed animals, and craft stick puppets!  (My kiddos and I used Pinterest to look up craft stick puppet printable and made over 100 puppets for animals, food, weather, and emotions!)

In the FAQ section on VIPKID's homepage, they have all the information about the technology requirements.  Obviously, you need a computer with camera capabilities or a webcam.  A headset with mic is recommended.  I did my Mock Lesson 1 with earbuds with a built in mic, and the feedback I received said some sounds were hard to hear and make out.  So, my "big purchase" for my classroom will be a headset.  On your computer (desktop or laptop), you will also need to have a wired DSL connection...remember, you are talking to China, so the better the connection, the better the class!  You'll also need a current operating system, Flash, and at least 4 GB of memory.

I know it sounds like a lot, but if you are a teacher, parent, or anyone who enjoys working with kiddos, the materials are easy to come by without spending a lot.  If you are interested in learning more about this company, please let me know or use my referral code below to checkout the VIPKID site!


Trying Something New with VIPKID

Trying Something New
After much prayer and affirmation, I made the decision to leave a job in October 2016.  While I didn't have anything lined up for after, I had complete faith that God was going to provide for my family and me.  He sure did!  Leaving that job changed the quality of life for our family for the better in countless ways.  My family became my priority once more, not the workplace.  I fully believe that God has designed me to be a wife and mama first...BUT, like most families, we still needed an income.  I was literally without a job for only two weeks before being asked to fulfill a maternity leave position at the school where my children attend (Francine Delany New School for Children).  Once that position was over, my husband hooked me up with another interim position at a school in the district where I grew up.  That position was extended until the end of the school year, and I was asked to return this upcoming school year!  WOO HOO!  While I had been looking for full-time work, it was God's timing that I didn't receive it.  Over this summer, I had to have an unplanned surgery that put me out of commission for 6 weeks...so, it was actually a blessing that I didn't have to take time off of a new job.

While looking for employment online, I used every site imaginable.  I submitted over 60 applications
 along with my resume and educational transcript.  In this digital world, the down side to applying online is you become just a form with statistics.  I only heard back from about half of the jobs, and the response was always "overeducated and overqualified"...translation, we don't want to pay you for your education or experience.  If any of those individuals, companies or schools would have talked with me, they would have known I have never been paid for my education or experience, and that I would have been very willing to negotiate fair compensation.  However, they just look at the form and move on.  There is no communication, no face-to-face.

While on one of my daily scrolling through Indeed.com's website, I saw several entries for a company called VIPKID.  I read the description and honestly thought "this sounds to good to be true", but my interest was definitely piqued.  I talked briefly with my husband about it, and we decided I should do a little researching to see what I could find...I found a lot.  VIPKID is a company based out of Beijing, China that hires qualified teachers from the United States and Canada to teach children English online.  There are several websites concerning job reviews--it's a simple Google search.  The majority of what I read all matched up.  Ok, I had heard from regular people like me, but what did the business world have to say.  TONS!  This concept of teaching English abroad while staying at home hit it big with many folks.  The following are some articles worth reading:

Instagram Advertisement 
After reading these articles and lots more, I started weeding through the world of You Tube to see what those guys were saying.  Again, much more positive feedback than negative.  I was talking with a friend of mind, and she had heard about VIPKID as well, and she was starting the process of working with them.  About that time, I was having surgery and a couple of weeks of inability to function normally.  I was looking through Instagram and saw that VIPKID was advertising on there as well...so, I decided to contact the company for more information.

(As well all know, if it's on the internet, it must be true...)

On the VIPKID website, there is helpful information without even having to submit anything.  There is a blog with various contributors, and a FAQ section that deals with the nuts and bolts of it all.  The website is very organized.  Once you do contact them, you receive a checklist to walk you through the steps.  As a "list person", I appreciated the layout.  The VIPKID app also allows you to view the checklist.  The app doesn't really serve any other purpose until you are hired.  The picture on the right shows the steps to take---------------------------------------->
The "basic info" section is just that: name, address, education, etc., and it allows you to log in to the Teacher Portal.  The requirement for VIPKID is to have a Bachelor's Degree, but it doesn't have to be in education.  In this section, however, you do want to annotate ANY experience you have had working with kiddos: volunteering, tutoring, assisting, teaching, homeschooling, etc.  After submitting my basic information, I received an email within two hours asking me to interview.

VIPKID "Classroom"
Recording the Interview
The interview process allows two methods.  You can schedule an interview with a VIPKID team member, or you can record and send in an interview.  I chose the second option simply for ease during our crazy summer.  Once you say yes to the interview, VIPKID sends you links within the Teacher Portal of the lesson you will teach during the interview.  This lesson is truncated to allow you time to introduce yourself as well.  VIPKID makes the lessons and provides a powerpoint for you to follow.  VIPKID wants you to have supplemental supplies, like a whiteboard, magnetic letters/flashcards, puppets or stuffed animals.  This does not require spending a lot of money, and actually you can probably find things around the house to use.  I put together some supplemental supplies from a trip to the Dollar Tree (more on that later).  When you record your interview, you will be in the virtual classroom where the powerpoint takes up half of the screen, the picture of the "child" is in the top quarter, and you are in the bottom quarter (if you do a live interview, you will be conversing with an adult in that upper part of the screen).  After you introduce yourself, you rock-and-roll with the lesson!  Upon exiting the classroom, your interview is submitted. 

VIPKID does an incredible job with communication.  They are emailing helpful links, reminders, and encouragement throughout the entire process.  I have been really impressed with the email conversations I have had with actual people, not just automated responses.  Once the interview has
Teaching Prep Checklist
been reviewed, there is a HOST of videos, slides, and documents added to the Teacher Portal for studying for the next step--the Mock Lesson 1.  As a parent, I appreciate how thorough VIPKID is in looking for educators.  There is a lot of accountability and high expectations are in place.  Every step of the process is given a timeframe for completion; I imagine this helps weed out those who are serious and those who are just checking things out.  
In order to prepare for the Mock Lesson 1 (which you would do live with a VIPKID mentor during a time that you choose from the Teacher Portal), there is a quiz to take after viewing all of the given information.  The checklist for this portion is time-consuming, but is very thorough.  This information covers a myriad of questions about classes, timing, techniques, standards, curriculum, and pay.   It is a lot to digest!  Have no fear, you have more than one opportunity to take the quiz if needed!

Emailing Ninjas
Once the quiz is passed, you receive an invitation to set up your Mock Lesson 1.  Think of this as your dress rehearsal for the company.  The VIPKID mentor will be looking for your energy level, teaching techniques, ability to follow the lesson, and engagement level.  Again, the lesson is given to you ahead of time so that you can become familiar with it...and practice it.  The Mock Lesson 1 flow is a short introduction between the mentor and you, then the mentor assumes the identity of a 5 year-old Chinese child with zero English ability.  You teach the lesson to that child for 15 minutes.  After that, the mentor will offer feedback for your teaching and answer any questions you have.  Next, you will teach a 10 minute lesson to the mentor who has become an 8 year-old child with some English knowledge.  Once the 10 minutes are over, the mentor will offer you feedback again and give you helpful information for your next step.  The Mock Lesson 1 is sent to the head office for review, and there they decide if you are ready to start teaching or if you need to have Mock Lesson 2.  If you do have an additional lesson, it is not because of failure; it is simply in place to give you more practice using the mentor's feedback before teaching live in front of a child (and their parents, more than likely).  

After ALL of that, you will receive an email to go to the Teacher Portal for the "business end" of things.  This is when and where you can review your contract.  Your pay will be stated in the contract and the amount is based upon your interview, education, and experience.  You also are paid per 25-minute lesson, not by the hour.  There are incentives aplenty--for being on-time, for ending on-time, for the volume of classes taught, for teaching over the holidays, etc.  Also, the more classes you teach opens up the opportunity for additional certifications through the program--adding age levels to teach, becoming a mentor, leading workshops, etc.  This section also has a place for you to download, complete, scan, and load a W-9.  VIPKID doesn't hire you as an employee, but as an independent contractor.  They don't take out taxes; you have to talk that out with your tax genius.  This is also the section where you will submit 1 personal (professional) photo for your profile along with 2 casual photos, a 15-second introduction video, and a written bio for parents to view.  This is how you will get your bookings!  Parents will look up the profiles of teachers and choose based on what you have on your profile.  

Now, you are all caught up with me.  This is where I am in the process.  I just submitted all of the digital paperwork today.  I have been told that it can take about a month to get regular bookings.  I have also read and watched that the biggest negative to this job is the hours.  The good thing is, you get to pick your hours, the bad thing is the peak hours to work are on Beijing time...which where I live means Beijing kiddos are 12 hours ahead of me.  Their peak times for VIPKID are 6pm-10pm, which translates to 6am-10am my time.  There are other available hours and a few extra peak hours over the weekend.  I am going to give it a try and see if I can manage to book some classes before my other job and after my kiddos go to bed at night.  

If you are interested in learning more, I have so much more information; but, it is hard to get it all out there.  I have about 20 people in mind who I know would ROCK at this job!  Do your homework...read reviews, check out articles, head over to YouTube, and feel free to ask me!  I plan on keeping a blog going to share this experience.  I am hoping and praying that it is one that uses my skills and helps out our bank account--and, I am counting on it to be fun getting to teach little ones across the world!  If you are interested in checking out VIPKID, please click here to use my referral code!  (Accepted referrals are another financial incentive!!!)


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Credit Where Credit is Due

Cecely at Mission Children's
Hospital Lab
I am sitting at our dining room table completely overwhelmed by how good God is.  I will quickly admit that I have had many moments of questioning "why" or "how long" or "for what purpose" through the seasons of my life.  While I have never doubted God's love, I have struggled with understanding the circumstances in this life from time to time.  Recently, I have been focused on the health of our sweet daughter, Cecely.

Cecely was born prematurely and diagnosed with a mild form of Cerebral Palsy when she was 4 years old.  Her symptoms were slurred speech (due to lack of muscle tone in the jaw), tremors in her arms and legs, the drawing in of her left leg and arm (especially when fatigued), and extreme rigidity in her muscles.  As Cecely went through elementary school, we discovered she had academic developmental delay due to the CP.  We went through many ups and downs in getting her the help she needed to be successful in the classroom.

Two of the siblings with Cecely.
These symptoms caused social problems for her in elementary school as well.  I am an advocate of teaching children the difference between bullying and having a conflict with another student.  Cecely was bullied.  She was targeted by one girl in particular who reveled in calling Cecely names, refusing to sit near her, and making fun of her.  She also would hold the stall door on Cecely in the bathroom, pin her down in the bathroom, and other mean things.  I spent A LOT of time at the school that year.  THANKFULLY, Cecely has been in a wonderful school for 2 years that is accepting and protective of her.  The academic support team is superb.  Finally, Cecely feels confident at school and LOVES it.

Over the past year, Cecely began complaining of new symptoms, mainly severe leg pain.  She would be in pain to the extent that walking was becoming difficult and tearful.  We scheduled a check-up with her neurologist who originally diagnosed her.  At that visit, the doctor said he was "baffled" by what we were telling him.  CP is a stagnant disease, meaning the symptoms Cecely was born with would be the same symptoms forever.  She should not pick up new symptoms.  He ordered a CT scan and MRI where he and another neurologist discovered that Cecely has an atypical form of CP.  They also discovered a pattern of mineral deposits in her brain that raised questions.  The neurologist recommended that we visit a genetic doctor to get more information.
Daddy Brian and Cecely

We visited Dr. Allen at Fullerton Genetics in Asheville.  The facility is wonderful.  The staff is the greatest.  Our check in nurse was like a grandma--very sweet and cheerful.  She actually encouraged our entire family to go into the exam room with Cecely.  I loved this, because all of the kids could hear and see what the doctors and Brian and I were discussing; and, the kids were able to ask questions and even answer some.  The lady who came in to do the genetic interview before the doctor was amazing.  She had a million questions (I don't think I am exaggerating on this one) about my family, Cecely's dad's family, and Cecely's birth story.  The entire time I was talking, she was making a map and furiously taking notes...all with the loveliest disposition.  Dr.  Allen came in next, and he was fantastic!  He was comical while being extremely informative.  He ordered a series of tests for Cecely.  We were off to the lab, then off to wait.

A few weeks later, we heard back from the genetics doctor office about Cecely's lab work.  The results for the first panel of testing were all normal.  This was good and bad...good to know what she didn't have, and bad to not know what she did have.  The appointments to the neurologist, the MRI, the CT scan, the genetics doctor and the lab had brought in a pretty heavy medical bill.  The genetics office told us that there was another wave of testing, but that it had to be approved by insurance before proceeding because it is a $5,000 expense.  Brian, Mark (Cecely's dad), and I agreed to wait and see what insurance would do before going further.  We knew we would do whatever it takes for answers for our girl.  The bottom line is, we want to know why she is in pain and what we can do to help her.

My not-so-little girl.
And, here is why I am sitting at our dining room table in awe of our God.  We have been praying for Cecely and all of the medical odds and ends for a year.  We have had our family, friends, and church family joining us in specific prayers for our baby girl.  To God be the glory--I just got off of the phone with the genetics office who told me our out-of-pocket-exspense for this $5,000 testing would be $0!!!  God is good!  He answers prayers!  Knowing this will not be another financial toll on our family is a huge relief.  And, knowing that we are steps closer to getting help for Cecely is another blessing!  SO--THANK YOU to our wonderful family and friends for lifting up our family in prayer. Keep those prayers coming, because HE answers them.  Please let us know how we can pray for you!

On a side note from a bragging Mom, please check out Cecely's Corner on Instagram, Facebook, and You Tube.  Cecely started a social media campaign to tell her stories, to learn the stories of other people, to encourage people with disabilities, and to educate and encourage people who have someone they love who has a disability.  Please go to these sites and like and share her page.  Watching her videos will give you an instant lift in your spirit!

Click here to view Cecely's Corner on You Tube

Monday, May 29, 2017

Family Friendly Summer Activities 2017

We are to the final countdown of school being out for summer!  I have put together a list of a few inexpensive or free activities for you to do with the kiddos in your life.  If you have things to add, please comment and share!

Buncombe County Public Libraries--TONS of free events.  Check out their website for the library near you: Buncombe County Summer Program

Barnes and Noble Summer Reading Program—read 8 books and fill in the journal.  Take the completed journal to Barnes and Noble to get a FREE book!!! Download journal here!

Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge

Pizza Hut Book It Program--online activities and games; enroll your child in their reading program

Kids in Parks Program  

Blue Ridge Parkway Information --visitor's center has free admission, walking trails, exhibits

Folk Art Center—free admission, walking trails, picnic areas and daily craft demonstrations from 10am-4pm

Carl Sandburg Home—free walking trails, picnic area, farm; house tour $5 for adults/ free for 15 and under

NC Arboretum—walking trails, picnic area, exhibits; $14/car load.  $7/ car load on Tuesdays.

Vacation Bible School/Backyard Bible Clubs--check with local churches in your area

Biltmore Grande Summer Movie Express--$1 movies on Tuesday and Wednesday, 10am

Movie 1
Movie 2
6/13, 6/14
Kung Fu Panda 3
Ice Age: Collision Course
6/20, 6/21
Alvin & Chipmunks: Chipwrecked
6/27, 6/28
Monster Trucks
Penguins of Madagascar
7/4, 7/5
Rio 2
7/11, 7/12
The Secret Life of Pets
7/18, 7/19
Ratchet and Clank
7/25, 7/26
Adventures of Tin Tin
8/1, 8/2
Happy Feet 2
Cats & Dogs 2
8/8, 8/9
Lego Batman Movie

Cinemark Movie Clubhouse—$5/10 movies or $1 per show, 10am
Shrek the Third
The Iron Giant
Hotel Transylvania 2
Angry Birds
The Secret Life of Pets
The LEGO Batman Movie

Kids Eat Free (or Cheap) Deals

Moe’s Original BBQ
Monday, 4pm-close
free kids meal with purchase of adult meal
Neo Burrito
free kids meal with purchase of adult meal
Moe’s Southwest Grill
Tuesday, 5pm-close
$.99 kids meal with purchase of adult meal
Texas Roadhouse
Tuesday, 4pm-8pm
free kids meal with purchase of adult meal
Urban Burrito
Tuesday, 4pm-close
free kids meal with purchase of adult meal
Monday-Wednesday, 4pm-close
free kids meal with purchase of adult meal
Every night, 4pm-10pm
free kids meal with purchase of adult meal
Buffalo Wild Wings
$1.99 kids meal with purchase of adult meal
All day, every day
free kids meal with purchase of adult meal

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Stepford Faith

I have made it no secret that I have been walking through a tunnel in my spiritual journey.  I am wading through murky waters clinging to my beliefs but being bogged down by hurt and pain.  I have found that God still speaks to me even when my faith is faded.  And, He often gets my attention through my beloved medium of film.  I will hear a character state something profound.  I will read articles on filmmakers “why” for making a film.  I read reviews.  I watch movies as a hiding place, a safe place.  I always take something away…and sometimes, I believe the things circling in my mind are directives from my Maker.

One such instance was through a cult classic movie that I enjoy immensely.  The Stepford Wives was released in 1975 and a remake in 2004.  I have seen both, and I do love seeing Nicole Kidman as the perfect, submissive, well-groomed wife.  The film is twisted, but filled with a dark humor that I have always been drawn to.  The premise of these films is a family relocating to a beautiful, perfect community where every marriage is ideal and everyone looks as if they have stepped out of the pages of a Ralph Lauren catalog.  There are no tears, no arguments, no bad days.  The men fit every archaic stereotype from golf-playing to pipe-smoking to whiskey-drinking.  The women shop, cook, clean and keep their husbands happy, all while wearing heels, having amazingly coiffed hair, and showing a permanent smile.  Throughout the course of the movie, Kidman’s character discovers the women are actually robots (or fembots if you are a little nerdy).  I won’t go into all the science-fiction vernacular, but it’s apparent the women have been wired by men for men.  There is no freedom, no choices to be made, and truly no variety.  The community is one of control and assumed perfection.

There is a myth in Christianity that once you profess Jesus as your Savior, once you are saved you change instantly to a perfect person.  Now, I can tell you that the Bible says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”  This is telling when someone accepts Jesus and His forgiveness of sins shown by His death on the cross and His resurrection three days later, the sins of the old life have been forgiven and a new life, free of sin has begun.  However, we never are rid of the sin problem.  Everyone sins.  Everyday.  But, with Jesus at the helm, the gifts of forgiveness and grace are given.  The opportunity to repent from wrongdoings and to follow God and His Word come with the acceptance of Christ.  The Holy Spirit also becomes a part of the one who has given his life to Jesus.  All that to say, the truth is a new creation is born at the point of acknowledging sin, confessing to God, and accepting His Son, Jesus as the Sovereign One over life. 

What this does not mean is that when a person chooses to become a Christian, a flip is switched and they are morphed into a perfect person.  There are many perceptions that Christians are all “this” or “that”.  The most prevalent misrepresentation is perfection.  While I would have loved to know that when I chose the path to follow Jesus and the Bible, I would never mess up, I would always appear to be put together, and I would do life perfectly.  The freedom to choose does not go away.  The Holy Spirit and His discernment appear, often as a “still small voice” as referenced in the Bible.  BUT, the power to make good or poor choices still remain.  While Christian are often guilty of putting on their “church face”…you know, the “how are you”, “oh, I am great, how are you” routine…they don’t have it together.  I am speaking from experience.  I feel the greatest tool I have in my faith, whether it is bright and sparkling or whether it is faded and torn, is transparency.  I want people to know my faith shapes me.  I love God, Jesus, the Bible…but I am not a robot mindlessly following a church or a man.  And right now, if you asked me “how are you”, I would say “crazy, sad, mad, lonely.”  Not really a perfect Christian answer, right?  And, that’s my point.  Christians aren’t perfect.  I am DEFINITELY not perfect.  I have hurt people.  I battle demons of depression.  I doubt.  I question.  I worry.  I sin.  BUT, I have the gift of salvation.  When I realize I have sinned or am sinning (and I pray that the Holy Spirit pesters me until I do realize), I confess it in prayer to Jesus, I ask for forgiveness, and I am redeemed and restored.

I love the idea of a Stepford wife.  I would love to walk around every day with perfect hair and make-up.  I would always say the right thing.  My husband would always be proud.  My children would always be happy.  My programming would make their world ideal.  However, I am a broken mess.  Through the experiences I have had, the consequences of choices I have made, the battles I have faced, the joys I have felt, I am able to teach my children.  I am a model to them that life is not perfect.  I show that in spite of my imperfections, I have value and am being used to lift up others.  My imperfections make my life interesting.  God is not a God of control; He is a God of love.  He wants us to choose Him…to worship Him, to love Him.  He has the power to have a world of Stepford people, but He has given us the gift of freedom to choose for ourselves. 

You don’t have to be perfect to become a Christian.  You won’t be perfect after you become one.  You will remain a beautiful mess, but you will no longer belong to yourself.  You will belong to the God who made you, designed you, and has a great purpose for you.  So many gifts are free to you…forgiveness, grace, redemption, joy, peace.  You will never be alone.  I know that does sound cheesy, but it’s true.  Even in my darkest, loneliest times, I feel a comfort and peace that make no sense.  And, I know those are benefits of the Holy Spirit being an active part of my being. 

If ever you question Christianity, know this…we aren’t perfect.  Those who portray that they are, well, they are lying.  If you have questions or want more information on this topic, please let me know, and I will direct you to some awesome and intelligent resources.  I’m no scholar…I am a big sinner who is struggling with my faith, but who knows my faith is what is holding me together.