What I’m Into (April 2017)

With this absolutely perfect weather we’ve been experiencing in the Midwest, we have been outside every spare second – bike rides, swings, chalk masterpieces and walks.

We made it through spring break (enjoyed the lazy mornings and lots of togetherness…but oh, the togetherness) and joyfully celebrated Easter. There’s only a month left of school, and Connor’s first grade class has begun their ABC countdown for the last 26 days, landing on C for Crazy Sock Day today! In a couple of weeks, we have a big meeting with Brenna’s IEP team to discuss the transition to…KINDERGARTEN. She couldn’t be more thrilled and continues to ask nearly every day how far away August is!

Today, I’m rounding up what I’ve been into this month – what I’m reading, links I love and favorite family moments…

(that time I sat outside with both kids reading and it was the best thing ever.)

One of my favorite recent reads is The Same Sky by Amanda Ward. It’s fiction with a dual storyline that intersects at the end, and I couldn’t put it down! I finished two wonderful pieces of children’s literature as well: Fish in a Tree and The War That Saved My Life. Highly recommend both of them. And this week, I just finished reading A Mother’s Reckoning by Sue Klebold, mother of one of the shooters in the Columbine High School massacre. It was raw, vulnerable and quite eye-opening.. and it has certainly impacted the way I think about parental vigilance as my kids get older.

Currently, I’m in the middle of A Man Called Ove and loving it. I’m striking a nice balance these days of finding really good fiction to read alongside my usually preferred nonfiction.

Connor finished up all of the books in the 13-Story Tree House series (26-Story, etc.) and is back at the Magic Tree House and Came Jansen series that he’s been drawn to this year. I’m planning to dive into the Boxcar Children series with him this summer and am so excited about it. We’ve read the first one already, and he loved it. I picked up a sweet new children’s at the library, Not Quite Black and White, which Brenna has been reading on repeat!

 This post from my friend Mary DeMuth is a powerful reminder: “We’ve preferred the opinions of the masses to the still, quiet voice of the Holy One. We’ve chased popular opinion instead of following the narrow path.”

My friend Mike Berry of Confessions of an Adoptive Parent recently opened the Oasis Community, which is an online site providing in-depth resources, face-to-face support, and mentoring for foster, adoptive, and special needs parents. I’m thrilled to be part of the community, which so far has been extremely welcoming and helpful. You can check out oasiscommunity.me to learn more and enroll.

Such a fun morning walking in a 5K to benefit our local children’s hospital NICU, which is in the middle of a huge renovation!

We loved getting the chance to make dinner at our local Ronald McDonald House with both sets of our parents, and two cute little sous chefs!

Snuggling with a pack of adorable puppies while on spring break…

Connor’s been asking for backyard monkey bars for nearly a year now, so he and Daddy (with lots of help from Grandpa too!) constructed a set of bars in our yard on one beautiful weekend day…

I’m pretty sure she wants to bake with me so that she can sneak the chocolate chips…

Wishing you beautifully bright and colorful days ahead!

My book, A Different Beautiful, is now available for order!

Interested in reading more with your kids about differences and being yourself? You can download a guide to the best children’s books on differences and disabilities when you subscribe to my monthly email newsletter!  Follow me on  Facebook and Instagram.

{Celebrating Beautiful} When Joy Showed Up Again by Jason Jones

In blogging for the last 5 years, I’ve written about many different topics, but one theme that has remained constant has been my focus of sharing about how our family is discovering the beauty in difference and choosing to celebrate the incredible beauty all around us, and how we want to encourage others to do the same. After connecting with and reading about so many amazing people and families doing so many amazing things, I started a guest blog series called Celebrating Beautiful, as it relates to beauty however it can be interpreted: parenthood, faith, your kids, an experience, home, and so much more.
 
I first met Jason Jones last year when we were part of an author program together, and learning his family’s story of losing their precious son Jacob in a terrible accident has been raw and heart-breaking. Jason writes with such vulnerability and emotion, and I know many lives and hearts are being transformed because of his willingness to share his struggles, and also about finding goodness within grief. Jason’s book, Limping But Blessed, just came out a couple of weeks ago, and I was privileged to read and endorse it. (All of Jason’s author proceeds from the book are going to help orphans in Uganda through www.hopechest.org, which is just one more reason to pick up his book today.)
Here is Jason Jones on Celebrating Beautiful…

At times, we can feel stuck in life, depressed, or empty inside. There was a time when I didn’t think I would feel “happiness” again. I didn’t think it would be possible to have a good life after our three-year-old son Jacob passed away in 2011. But, out of our pain came this desire to help others who were hurting. Our eyes were opened to the pain and suffering in the world and we wanted to do something.

For several years we had been sponsoring children through Children’s Hopechest. After Jacob passed away, Brea and I both felt we needed to do more; so we started putting our energy and focus on raising awareness and support for a group of orphans who attend the Murole Preparatory School in Rubanda, Uganda. Over the last 4 years, the work we have done alongside our community, friends, and family has given us a deep sense of purpose as we have moved through our grief. It has given us a work to do. It has taken the focus off of ourselves and onto the service of others. It has helped us to redeem some of our suffering.

As Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl writes, “Being fully human always points and is directed to something or someone, other than oneself – be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more one forgets himself – by giving himself to a cause to serve or another person to live – the more human he is and the more he actualizes himself.”

On my last trip to Uganda, I was able to meet with one of the boys we sponsor. His name is Innocent.

After one of our impromptu photo sessions, Innocent stood with me and  watched me scroll through the pictures on my phone. I showed him pictures of our house, which was actually a little embarrassing. At best, most families live in dirt-floor structures, with no electricity or running water in the village we were visiting. So, here I am showing him a picture of my house with a swimming pool in the back yard. He seemed quite perplexed as to why I had a giant pool of water in my back yard.

As I was showing him pictures of my wife Brea, my daughters Kendall and Kelsey, school events, and holidays, he says, “Wait. Who is that?” With hesitation and a knot in my throat, I said, “That’s Jacob.” He looks at me with one of the most serious faces I’ve ever seen.

“That’s Jacob?” he asked. “Yes,” I replied.

I could sense the reverence emanating from his deep brown eyes. It was like time slowed down and we didn’t say anything to each other. We were in the middle of a field with hundreds of other kids running around, and I can’t remember hearing anything else. We locked eyes. His eyes started welling up  with  tears  and  in  that  moment  we connected on another level.

In that moment all language, nationality, and age barriers were broken. It was something I’ll never forget.

In his eyes and demeanor, I could sense compassion and empathy. He knows what loss is like, and I could tell that he hurt for me. There was an indescribable and unspoken connection of love that somehow came from a fifteen-year-old boy who had never met Jacob and had only known me for a very short time. With stoic grace he whispered to me with a slight accent, “Oh Jacob, I love him. He is a good boy.” I nearly crumbled. Then he took his finger and touched the screen to rub Jacob’s hair. “Look at his hair. It’s orange!” he said.

“Yep, you’re right,” I said. “It’s orange.” And we laughed together.

Innocent had heard the story of Jacob and knew the new dormitory he was now sleeping in was named after him. Jacob’s life is giving shelter to this fifteen- year-old boy on the other side of the world.

Encounters like this one continue to give me purpose and meaning. In these moments is where I find a sliver of redemption of our pain and grief. No amount of good in the world can make up for Jacob’s absence or take away the sadness we feel, but it makes life a little more bearable one day at a time.

As these small moments turned into days, we slowly began to find more meaning in life by helping others. Then even in the midst of our pain, something  we didn’t know we would ever feel again showed up: Joy. 

 

After the unexpected, accidental death of his three-year-old son, Jason Jones went on a long, painful journey to make sense of how God could have let this happen to his son and best friend, Jacob, and to their family. And he struggled intensely with his faith after everything he thought about God disintegrated on June 12, 2011. In Limping But Blessed, Jones explores struggling with faith and belief, dealing with his depression and grief, and searching for hope in a hopeless situation. This book is the story of one man’s journey through the darkest time of life searching for answers and a grueling attempt to find a sliver of hope to keep holding on. You can find more about Jason and his book on his blog.