Your Eyes Have Seen

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Psalms 139:13-16

For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb. I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Wonderful are Your works, And my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth..Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; And in Your book were all written The days that were ordained for me, When as yet there was not one of them.

These verses have been playing through my mind lately, as the sickening and sad information continues to emerge concerning Planned Parenthood and their heinous selling of aborted babies body parts, for profit. For my readers that live outside of the United States, you might not know what is going on right now. Planned Parenthood is a business that runs under the guise of women’s “healthcare”. Some of their funding came from our own government. Although there is some women’s healthcare provided, such as pregnancy tests, birth control, or other gynecological services, Planned Parenthood is most well known for their abortion services. If that isn’t bad enough, it has recently come to light that they have been retrieving the aborted babies “intact” organs and selling them for a profit. This ghastly news is stirring commentary on both sides of the abortion issue.

My post today is not going to be about abortion, or the illegal selling of body parts. I am not going to discuss the seared conscience of this society. I won’t talk about how skewed our perspective has become in this country, that we would be more saddened by the unjust killing of whales, or lions, or dogs…..and yet, not grieve for the millions of babies that have been murdered since the early 1970’s. I won’t discuss the broken pieces of the souls of women that often live in grief, silent shame, and hurt, over taking the life of their unborn baby all in the name of women’s “rights”

For You formed my inward parts…… indeed life itself is a miracle. An egg and a sperm come together. Cells divide. Organs are formed. It is not a mistake. It is not happenstance. It is an incredible miracle. God, Himself is the Creator of human life.

My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret…..before a baby is ever seen by human eyes, he or she is seen by God. Your eyes have seen my unformed substance… Allow yourself to dwell on that for a moment.

And in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me… the unformed bodies, that will never be born, have souls. God already has their stories written. Their short lives are not forgotten by the One who knows and sees each of them.

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The Children That Changed Me–The Wrap Up

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Unfortunately, over the years, I’ve had educators tell me that they didn’t really see the point of having my students in their classrooms. “They aren’t going to learn anything anyway.”   “I don’t know what to do with them.” (As if they were a thing, instead of a person!) At first I found it extremely frustrating. After awhile I realized, if the teacher could not look beyond the disability to see the child, then it was their loss. Not all teachers were that way. Thankfully, there were many, many who reached out, worked hard, and met the challenges that special education entails. Both the students and the teachers walked away from the school year having learned something new about each other.  I’ve learned that special education isn’t perfect. It’s a lot of trial and error. Sometimes it’s going back to the drawing board and figuring out something new to try. It’s about not giving up.

One of my greatest treasures of the “special ed world” has been getting to know my student’s parents. Sure there have been some… um…..how shall I say this, interesting ones.  Yet, most of the parents I have met have been good people. I consider it a privilege to know them. Are parents of children with special needs perfect? No. Do they sometimes get angry, or frustrated, or feel sorry for themselves? Sure. They are human. Are they thankful, and happy, and see even the smallest improvement as something to celebrate? Yes. I don’t think parents are perfect. I do think they are real. Many of us will never know the pain of watching our child struggle to eat without a tube. We won’t understand the feeling of knowing that our child can’t be on the local soccer team because he/she can’t walk, much less run. We won’t be able to commiserate about what it is like to see our child struggle to read or write and not have them feel dumb or stupid….or different. Or what about the parent that has a child trapped inside his/her own head, who is smart and funny and creative–but is unable to communicate it, because autism has stolen that from her? Every time, over the years, that I met with a parent I kept this thought foremost in my mind. These parents love their child, imperfections and all. They are requesting my help because they want their child to meet his/her full potential. Whatever that may be for that particular child. They want a chance for their child, just like any other parent. That’s it. So, if there are any parents of children with special needs that are reading my blog today. Thanks goes to you. Really. You are the ones that deserve it.

The Children That Changed Me– The Memories Make Me Smile

The year is 1997. I’m still teaching in the same county, just a different school…one closer to my house. This would be the school I would teach in for the next ten years. I liked this school. I met many wonderful teachers and a lot of interesting students while there.

When I started at this elementary school I had seven years of experience under my belt and was fresh from the inner city experience. I felt like, since I survived that, nothing could slow me down now! The first day I met my new teaching assistant. She sized me up right away. Checking me out to see if I was up to par. I guess the “evaluation” turned out okay since we became fast friends both inside school and out. We were the dynamic duo of our little school….and boy, did we have some adventures together!

One little girl in particular always kept us on our toes. I will call her Vonda. I will not use her real name to protect the innocent or not so innocent as the case may be. She was EXTREMELY ADHD along with having learning disabilities. Now, I know a lot about ADHD…when I say she was EXTREMELY I mean it. This is the same girl that would walk around the room and touch everyone as I was trying to teach. I don’t mean a hand on the shoulder, or even a tap. I mean a full out ” squeeze you ’til your eyes pop out” hug. Or she might decide to give you a new hairstyle if your back was turned for a split second. The girl was constant motion. One day, right in the middle of a lesson, she jumped up, raised her arms to the ceiling and yelled at the top of her lungs, “Give it up for Jesus!” Okay. I love Jesus, but to be honest I wasn’t in a worshipful mood right then. I didn’t feel the need for a tent revival. I asked her to have a seat. My assistant told her to sit down….she did not. She bounced around praising Jesus instead of doing her schoolwork. You can imagine what the rest of the class looked like with her conducting her very own “come to Jesus” meeting and me attempting to have a lesson. All of them went wild, like monkeys at the zoo. Later that day, I informed her mother about the incident. Her mother apologized for her daughters impromptu church service…but she laughed. She said, “I have to tell you this story about Vonda.”

We were at church the other Sunday. Everyone was listening to the preacher, preach. We were all into the service, when Vonda started acting out. I didn’t want her to interrupt the service so I gave her “the look”. She ignored my “look” and continued to be disruptive. I whispered for her to sit down and be quiet. She looked the other way. I had, had it! She started in again and so I reached over and gave her a pinch on the leg to let her know I meant business. At this, she let out a loud, high pitched shriek. The congregation thought she was calling out because she was “in the spirit”. I just let them think that, as I gave Vonda another look. She was going to be “in the spirit” again if she didn’t quit!

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I had a good chuckle over that story. Her mother and I bonded that day. We both knew what we were up against.

Not all my stories are easy to tell. Some hurt. Some stories I have chosen not to share because they still haunt me today. Stories of child abuse, drugs, and neglect…and a system that many times failed my students. My heart broke. My anger flared at the injustice of it all. When a person is passionate about something…sometimes emotions get in the way. Such is the story that I am about to tell……

I had a new student. I will call her Shelly. Shelly came from a home that was dysfunctional to say the least. Long story short it was all about neglect and emotional abuse. She had grandparents that loved her, but a mom that I don’t really think understood what real love meant.  I really liked Shelly a lot. She was a good kid except when she had “melt downs” and flipped desks and pulled over cabinets and threw things in a rage. You see Shelly was emotionally disturbed. She had a difficult time controlling her impulses….because mom saw fit to do drugs and drink alcohol while she was pregnant with her. She chose those vices over her own child’s health and well being. Shelly would never be “normal” because of her mother. The blame should be laid directly at her mother’s feet. Anyway, as a special education teacher I had to have meetings with parents at least once a year to go over progress.  I don’t know if mom was just having a bad day or what, but as we sat down at the table for the meeting she says to all the school personnel, “the fact that Shelly isn’t making much progress is YOUR fault.”  Now, I am usually a fairly calm and collected person. It takes a lot to get me truly riled up. At that moment I wanted nothing more than to come across that table at her. To scream in her face, “NO. It’s YOUR fault. YOU made the choice to do cocaine. YOU chose to DRINK. YOU chose this life for your daughter before she was even born. How dare you!! Go home and look in the mirror. YOU. YOU. YOU. Your daughter is damaged because you thought that YOU were more important than her and her future.”  I didn’t say this. Instead I just sat there and stared at her. I had to detach myself from it. From the situation. You see, over the years I learned that I can’t fix everyone. It’s not possible. Even though I wanted to help, I could only do what I could do,when my students were with me. Unfortunately, some times I had to turn kids over to situations that were less than desirable…because that is what our system says to do.

Tomorrow I will finish my blog series…my teaching-the later years.

The Children That Changed Me– The Inner City Chapter

These years were some of the most difficult ones I ever had as a teacher, and as a person. I lost my innocence during those years. My students, through it all, taught me some real world lessons that I have never forgotten.

THE CHILDREN THAT CHANGED ME–PART THREE

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In 1995 I started teaching in a new school system. I was placed in an inner city classroom that consisted of nine streetwise boys…all of whom had some sort of emotional/behavioral type of disturbance. I admit at that time I was naive’. I had no idea what lay ahead of me. Let me just suffice to say that during my two years at this particular school I got bit, spit on, threatened, hit, bruised, called every name imaginable and then some. Unfortunately, my assistant and I had to spend more time keeping order than actually teaching. I learned many lessons during my time at this school, with these particular students. Even though these kids had seen and done things that no child really should have to deal with, or any adult for that matter, I was allowed to catch brief glimpses of the truly young children that they were. One young boy had several members of his large family that were mentally ill. An older brother had “a breakdown” one night and broke every window in the house with a ball bat. Then chased his mother and siblings around the house threatening to kill them….until the mother called for help. The next day when this student came into the classroom he was tired, irritable and angry….and really, who could blame him? His own emotional instability didn’t allow him to process what was going on in his life. I appreciated that I had mental health counselors at my disposal to help with the kids, but I still felt inadequate to even make a dent in this child’s life. My heart ached for this six year old little boy, even when he was cussing me to my face.

They were tough, and closed off. Walls had been built up, long before I came on the scene. To be honest with you I spent a lot of those days tired and totally depleted mentally, physically and emotionally. Early on it struck me that at the end of the day I could go home. Home to a husband that loved me, an infant son, a house in a middle class neighborhood where I didn’t have to concern myself with drive-by’s, drug deals, or gangs. A place where I could be refreshed and where I felt safe. My students didn’t have that privilege. I cried for them. I spent time wondering if having me for a teacher would make any difference at all to them. To this day, I’m still not sure. I like to think I did something positive, but I don’t know. I learned that sometimes life, is difficult, no matter how much we wish it wasn’t. Sometimes we just do the best we can. That is all we can do. Then we have to let it go.

The Children That Changed Me–The Story Continues

The early ’90’s seem so long ago and yet not……. the story continues……….

THE CHILDREN THAT CHANGED ME–PART TWO

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The time was 1992. I was twenty-four years old and a new bride. After marrying I moved and started teaching in a large suburban elementary school. By 1994 I had a classroom of Danny, Brittany, Josh, Lori Beth and Lilly. My little class was a hoot! We were a motley crew of red hair and freckles, big brown eyes and giggles, glasses,  hand clapping and tiny little feet. I enjoyed that class so much. I have to admit Lori Beth was a favorite. I don’t think Lori Beth’s mom would mind for me to tell you that she has Cri-du-chat syndrome. (French for “cry of the cat”) Lori Beth was a licker. If you got within an arms grab of her….you were hers to lick. She licked everything. Most days I went home smelling like spit. I loved her though. She was a happy little girl. I remember thinking one day, that the world looks on those with “disabilities” as different, or dumb (or unfortunately, much worse). Although it has been my experience that most of these children that I’ve worked with have been happy. Really happy. Not fake happy to try and fool others. They usually don’t sweat over the small stuff. Life is what it is and they move on. Usually, with a pretty good attitude, all things considered. Now, I’m not here to say that my students were all sugar and sweetness. They could have attitudes, cry, throw themselves to the floor, pitch a royal fit, and if they were really into it—spit on me or bite me. Hey, it’s all in a days work. The thing is they didn’t hold a grudge, they moved on. One minute they were kicking on the floor, the next they were holding my hand telling me they loved me. I loved my students for that…..because I always knew where I stood with them. Plain and simple.

Now, back to Lori Beth. In the beginning of school year ’94-’95 I became pregnant. This was all new to Lori Beth. She was amazed to watch as my stomach grew bigger as the school year went on. Her mother asked if it was okay for Lori Beth to touch my belly. She had been talking with Lori Beth about how there was a baby growing inside of me. Now for a  2nd grader with a syndrome that causes intellectual disabilites, going all abstract about babies and how they are inside a woman’s belly, is no easy feat. I gave LB’s mom credit. LB treated me as if I was a precious piece of art. She even contained herself about the licking. I knew she wanted to lick her hand and touch me….it was killing her, but she refrained. (her mom must have given her the lecture about not licking her pregnant teacher. haha!) I was due at the end of the school year…as a matter of fact I missed the last three weeks of school that year. Lori Beth’s mom asked if she could be allowed to bring Lori Beth to the hospital to see me and my new baby. She wanted Lori Beth to see the culmination of all this big belly-ness. True to her word, mom and Lori Beth showed up to see me the day after my delivery. What a precious sight it was. There was Lori Beth listening to her mommy explaining that this was Kendrick, the baby boy that had been growing inside me. She looked at me. She looked at him. She looked at her mom. She was putting it together. It was an “ah ha!” moment.  Chalk one up for real life learning that day.

My goodness, Lori Beth must be somewhere around 27 years old now. All grown up. I miss her.

More stories, more students, tomorrow…….We’ll take up in the year 1995.

The Children That Changed Me—Remembering Them

I started, The Children That Changed Me series, five and a half years ago. I thought I might take this week to repost this series. I have gained hundreds more readers to my blog in that same time period that might find these stories interesting. For the last day of this series I will talk about what has been happening to me recently…..because, as we all know, life stays interesting and we should always keep learning.

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THE CHILDREN THAT CHANGED ME–PART ONE

As a mom, of course my own children have changed me. I am definitely a different person because they are here. I love my kids all the time, and most of the time I like them too…especially  now, during the teen years, but that is a story for another day. This particular blog really isn’t about my own kiddos though. In this blog I’m talking about my other kids. The kids that I’ve spent 20+ years with. The kids that have challenged me…and changed me. I choose to dedicate this blog to all the kids out there that are fighting against the odds with both grace and goofiness, spirit and hope, determination and grit….and above all love. You see, I’m a special education teacher/consultant/advocate—whatever you want to call me…. and these are the stories about my kids.    

“Aunt Mabel looks different”. My mom’s sister was born in the 1930’s, well before special education law went into effect. A child that was born at home, after a long delivery on my grandmother’s part.  A child that, due to reasons I’m really not sure about, was born intellectually disabled. I understand that the doctor told my grandmother to just put her in an institution. She wouldn’t amount to anything. My grandmother refused and my Aunt Mabel went on to live a happy life. A simple life by a lot of people’s standards…but, it suited her fine. She brought a lot of joy to her family in her own way, and when she passed away a few years ago, in her 70’s, a hole was left in the hearts of those who loved her. Although my aunt wasn’t my student, she was my first understanding of “special education” and I learned a lot from her.

At the beginning of my senior year of high school I had almost enough credits to graduate. I was able to take a couple classes in the morning and by ten o’clock I was on my way to the elementary school next door to complete my independent study at their special education preschool. It was a good year. That was the year I met Joey. Joey was non-verbal, in a wheelchair, and he had seizures. He was the ripe old age of five, but he was full of personality. Those who think that you have to talk to communicate have never met this little guy. He laughed and smiled…and it was contagious. Joey taught me a lot about laughter that year. He also taught me about having a servant’s heart. He depended on me to move him from his chair to the floor–and to do that gently. He taught me how to deal with pain. Joey had a major seizure one day, unfortunately he bit his tongue–hard. I know it hurt, and I was helpless to do anything. His jaws were locked down and there was not much to do until the seizure was over. I learned to put myself in his place, and think about how I would want to be treated…even if I didn’t have the words.

That same year I met Carrie. A precocious two and a half year old. Grand-daughter to my former 3rd grade teacher. Carrie was a petite powerhouse, with almost white,blond hair and a million dollar smile. She could have you wrapped around her little finger in no time flat. She was talented that way. Carrie also had brain trauma and limpness on one side of her body….from being in a car accident as a infant. She had been born perfectly “normal”. Everything worked. Everything was good….until that fateful day that changed her young life. Carrie taught me that, but by the grace of God, I could have had the same thing happen to me.  Traumatic brain injury could happen to any of us. It only takes one bad accident to change everything. Every time I saw Carrie, I didn’t feel sorry for her, because she didn’t feel sorry herself. She kept smiling and learned to figure out how to do things on her own–even if it was difficult. A lesson for all of us.

In my first two years as a “professional”, I met Luke, Malisha, Shonda, Jeffrey and Todd. Brent, Michael, Daniel and Travis among others. We all lived in a small town in the mountains of East Tennessee…..and we were going to the Olympics! It was an exciting time. The day of the trip was cool and overcast. We just prayed that it didn’t rain! The troop was ready to go. We were bringing “the heat” to this little get together! I couldn’t have been more proud. Each of the students participated. Even if they didn’t place, they put their entire heart into it….and they were brave in the attempt. So many times, those of us that are able bodied, think to ourselves, ” I can’t do this or that”. I think we probably miss a lot of opportunities because we are too scared to just do it. The courage and tenacity of my students was what made my students special….not their mental or physical disabilities. My kids taught me to press on, past the obstacles. Go, go, go and don’t look back. Keep running. You can’t win the race if you don’t try.

Tomorrow I will be continuing my story from the year 1992….come join me for some more lessons from the heart.

Frozen In Time

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Last night, while I was outside walking the dog, I looked up at the cool, crisp, winter sky. The night was black velvet, with the twinkling lights of a million stars. The sight brought back a sweet memory…….

It was a late November evening in 2001, tinged with the cool air of a quickly approaching winter. I had been a widow for a full year at this point, and my son was six years old. My aunt had come to visit my mother and me, in east Tennessee. On this particular evening we had decided to go see the Christmas lights at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge. For whatever reason, there were not as many people there as was common. I felt like we had this beautiful park to ourselves. The Christmas lights twinkled, entertainers sang Christmas carols, we had delicious chocolate chip cookies and hot cocoa at the Grist Mill, the night was magical in every way. For me, it was an evening that stood forever frozen in time.

I commandeered a local park artist to immortalize my son in a beautiful copper print of his silhouette. I still have that picture hanging, reminding me of my sweet six year old, and of that night, so long ago. He is now nineteen, and in college…..but, I still cherish the memory of our special evening in the Great Smoky Mountains.

Time goes on, and much has happened over the past thirteen years.  There were some great things, some not so great things, as is common for us all. Regardless, this sentimental memory still shines just as brightly as it did that night so many years ago.