Tag Archive | Brandon

Father’s Day Wanderings…

Happy Father’s Day, Michael.  I love you!!!  Valerie

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My husband Michael Ellsworth Curren Rocks!

I’m so thankful for the heritage of faith!  My own father has been an incredible example of godly fatherhood for my entire life.  He has found the way to balance faith, fun, and fatherhood…and it’s been passed down to both his sons and his son-in-law, my husband, Michael.  What a tremendous legacy…his children rise up and call him blessed!

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My husband has experienced Father God as a literal father to himself, someone who grew up basically fatherless.  Although his parents were married when he was born, their marriage dissolved during his early elementary years and his mom moved him nearly halfway across the country surrounding that divorce.  He only saw his dad a couple more times before he died during my husband’s teen years.  He later had a step-father, who being a strong Christian, lead both Michael and his mother to the Lord!  This man has been gone now for nearly two decades, and was a thousand miles away during my husband’s own developing into a father years.

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image from a Bing.com image search for “fathers scripture quotes”

Michael is an amazing man of God, who has a near Abrahamic friendship style relationship with his Heavenly Father.  He has overcome the odds of familial alcoholism and serial divorce and lives his life as a testament to the power of Christ to break the chains both within and about us.  There are not enough words to convey the impact of seeing Michael persevere through the crucible years of Special Needs Parenting, and that is still the gift that still keeps on giving, though thankfully not with the same brutality as the early years!  We love our special son, but he has challenged us in many ways–certainly beyond our own abilities to endure apart from God’s grace & strength…

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image from a Bing.com image search for “quiver scripture”

My husband is such a blessing to me and to our four children…and also now to our new daughter-in-law.  I really can’t wait to see where the Lord takes us on this wild ride that is marriage and family life in the (hopefully) many years to come.

Happy Father’s Day 2017

25 Years of Marriage

23 Years of Parenting

1 month of In-Lawing

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Bing.com image search for “what a ride”

Below is a copy/paste from my niece’s Facebook page.  She is quoting a poem my brother Curtis wrote about our dad many years ago.  [Correction per my parents, see Comments below, this is actually a poem that Ashley wrote for my brother Curtis on the occasion of his birthday earlier–my mistake…]  These sentiments are so applicable to my husband, my father, my brothers, and presumably to my sons when they too are blessed with Fatherhood someday…having all had many examples of men doing Fatherhood God’s Way!  Enjoy…
Ashley Farasyn with Dawn Williams Stoddard.

Thank you for the gifts you’ve given me. The gifts of laughter and story-telling and articulation and poetry. Thank you for teaching me math is my friend and for being a rock and a firm foundation to stand on. Thank you for lifting me out of the water when I go under and gasp for air. Thank you for always knowing how to catch me even if I flail in the air and come down the wrong way. Thank you for being a dad who knows how to be right but also knows how to be wrong. Thank you for loving Jesus and bringing generational freedoms to your children and your household. Thank you for all your prayers and healing. Thank you for stepping into soberness so that I could follow. Thank you for speaking life into others and being sometimes the only bright part of someone’s day. I love that your main goal with whoever you come across is to make them see the love of Jesus and also pee their pants. I love how God made you. And I love that He put us together. And since you are not on FB, I will tag your wife because I know you use her phone in equal amounts. And because I can’t help it, I am recycling your birthday poem because it’s all so true. You are one of my favorites. ♡♤¤

“What does it mean,”
“What does it mean?” you say
To have a dad who has fun
and knows how to play?

It means there’s games, and smiles,
and laughing galore
And tears rolling down cheeks
and more, more, more, more!

The more games there are,
the more creative our minds.
You see, dads who have fun
know how to seek, hide, and find!

They like to think out-of-the-box
and do the impossible.
Dads who have fun
are down right unstoppable!

What can’t we do
if we can climb the shelves at the store;
And throw cans of spaghetti sauce
at dinosaurs on the floor?

How about walking through forrests
and crossing tree logs,
To find the buried treasure of pirates
filled with chocolate coins and pogs?

When you have a dad who has fun,
nothing is boring!
So there’s no time whatsoever
for sleeps, yawns, or snorings!

Games abound by the dozen
and so does the fun!
Have you ever turned off the radio
and at the top of your voice, sung?

Have you ever crossed your legs
because you’re laughing so hard you might pee?
I don’t want to say it was me that did it,
but okay, it was me, it was me!

Dads are the best!
(But the fun ones are better.)
Your cheeks and your pants
just might get a tad wetter!

Don’t underestimate
the power of fun!
Laughing is therapy,
I asked a doctor once.

When you laugh,
you gain confidence
which is the opposite of fear.
A dad who shows you to laugh,
shows you he cares.

My dad is funny
and boy, he sure is the man!
He’s my number one sitcom
and I’m his number one fan!

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Posting & Picture from my niece Ashley Stoddard Farasyn’s Facebook page, showing Zachary, daddy Curtis, and Ashley circa 1994

Here are a some special photos from my husband’s Facebook page: 
Family
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Michael & Valerie engaged, December 1991

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that was then, this is now…”It’s not the years, it’s the mileage” as Indiana Jones said…

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sons: Josiah, Brandon, & Nathaniel; husband Michael; & father Bill, circa 2011; at The Shack

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Michael & our daughter Clarissa hunting Michigan’s North Woods, circa 2014

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The pool where it all began…Valerie and Michael met at this pool in their then apartment complex, Sand Dollar, in Tulsa, Oklahoma in May of 1991. Val says that since they had no one in common, God introduced them. Returning to the scene of the crime they documented how things have changed over the ensuing years, Summer 2010.

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Michael and his mom’s artwork; the rest of us will meet her some day when we are all with the Lord…

and in honor of the familial ADHD tendencies…

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Michael’s Facebook caption for this one, “One of the dangers of being distracted by a squirrel!”

Rock!

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Binding Faith Band, the beginning of Michael’s Christian Rock Band Adventures!  Jason-rhythm guitar, Tim-vocals, Greg-lead guitar, Paul-drums, & Michael-bass

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rocking in his basement Man Cave before allowing our son(s) to live there instead…

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Rocking Rocktoberfest with his former band, Harken

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New Band, Lively Pelts: Marty-lead guitar & vocals, Roy-drums, & Michael-bass & backup vocals, at Blessing of the Bikers, Victory Biker Church, June 17, 2017

Faith Walk

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“Went to pick up pizza and got caught up in appreciating my Fathers handy work! Artist God.”

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Michael’s found the narrow way, and wouldn’t you know it’s in the North Woods of Michigan!  I’ve always said that Michigan is God’s Country…

Commenting on “Autism it’s Different in Girls” (& so is ADHD)

looking for images with this post…here’s a great Pinterest site

I recently read an intriguing blog post by someone who has autism but chooses to remain Anonymous…hopefully there will be many other nuggets to mine in her blog as well as the interesting comments sections filled with feedback & unique perspectives.

I had wanted (in my comments below) to go into the girls aspect of Autism and mention how there may be a continuum between Autism and ADHD…I’d read a book a few years back that laid out a good scientific case for this insight.  Later, while doing massive amounts of research for Josiah’s special education needs/case I read a number of things that talked about ADHD and how it presents in females…and in particular how there are some mothers of kids with ADHD (and/or autism?) who were never diagnosed themselves but see so many of their “issues” reflected in their kids struggle…apparently to the point that this is a “thing” that gets some degree of recognition in certain circles.

(ironically, while looking for images found these “circles” supporting my views!)

Autism: Different, Not Less:

(from the above Pinterest board…and almost every item ascribed to my son)

Just a few of the many disorders associated with ADHD. Many have similar symptoms and impairments. Getting the correct diagnosis is further confused by the high morbidity rates associated with ADHD. (View only)                                                                                                                                                      More:

the image above is from this pinterest page

I’ve meant to look back on this topic for my own “edification” but have been mightily depleted by the Special Ed case and fallout that it just hasn’t happened yet.  In our family of 6, 4 have officially been diagnosed with ADHD, & the two that haven’t (myself and Brandon, Josiah’s twin brother) exhibit quite a few of the ADHD traits (but perhaps not enough to rise to the clinical level of diagnosis…but then again who’s actually asking to be “officially” labeled)…so we think we probably both have some part of ADHD, at a minimum.  So if the continuum theory holds water, could it be that people that have ADHD are on the (potentially) mild end of the Autism Spectrum?

It’s so hard to really say and it may in large part depend on who you ask and what their personal practice emphasis (if you only have a hammer then everything looks like a nail and all!) might be…It is supported in research, I believe, that many times the parents of kids on the Spectrum have many of those traits themselves.  Certainly when “we” were growing up awareness of Autism “Spectrum” issues was nowhere near the level it is at now.  Also, if it is shown that there is any level of a genetic component to Autism and/or ADHD it would stand to reason that these things would run in families to some degree.

In my own family, from a retrospective perspective there could be arguments made that both my parents have possessed some traits of ADHD, especially when younger.  At least one of my brothers had many such traits when young and his son was also officially diagnosed with ADHD.  My other brother has a couple of kids that seem to have a lot of such traits too.  My husband wasn’t diagnosed with ADHD until adulthood, but it surely negatively impacted his academic trajectory when younger, even though he has learned to “compensate” for the ADHD issues as an adult, as have most of our kids.

Most everyone in my present family has some degree of sensory issue and we all possess varying degrees of emotional vulnerability, but thankfully this trait is at least somewhat intermittent in most of us!  Could these also be evidence of the “Spectrum” Continuum?

The author of the Autism in Girls post speculates on how important it is to find out what is going on with you and to get that diagnostic label (paraphrasing without re-reading her actual words…so I could already be distorting inadvertently her view) and therefore enable some degree of an “Autistic Identity”.  This apparently resonates with a lot of her readers, at least those who have posted comments.  It’s possible that she  draws in these more “anonymously autistic” people by the very nature of the type of blog she writes, as in people who are on the Spectrum, but can “fake it” sufficiently for the outside world to not know they are autistic…

It’s hard for me to relate to the “need” to find an identity, like in Autism.  And frankly I really do not “get” that aspect of our current culture that seems to think one has to discover a “role model” to emulate in order to aspire to things that no one “like me” has ever done before.  This will likely be controversial, and even offensive to some (sorry)–but Obama being “President” of the US should not really make it any more of less easy for any other “black” person to be the President…if the job was about the merits of the individual aspiring to the position (and who could argue that this election year!) and not about someone’s “identity”…and if he had actually obtained such a job based on his own merits (which he manifestly did Not do based on his abysmally thin resume)–no “white” man with his background, (lack of) accomplishments, known dangerous associates, and incredibly thin skin would have ever gotten near to the place of getting his finger on “the button”…but I digress…

Anyway, I don’t fully get why so many people feel the need to find such a label and thereby get some type of identity by identifying with a group.  Obviously, for anyone who knows me very well, I have spent much of my life in isolation, going against the flow, and refusing to join into whatever “group” (like Groucho Marx I wouldn’t be a member of any group that would have me!)…so the herd mentality is far from appealing to me personally.

I do, however, take a measure of identity from my personal faith…as in I’ve considered myself a strong Christian for the bulk of my life and that remains my primary identity…but I am much more likely to think of myself as a person (even as an intellect) than as a woman, wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, employee, neighbor, parishioner, or any other ready label, per se…

I will acknowledge, however, when it come to my son with special needs, Josiah, when he was first given the PDD-NOS (atypical autism) label it lead to huge sighs of relief for myself and my husband.  That was because we were dealing with so many issues back then that Autism at least made a degree of sense and it was able to take a number of his significant behavioral anomalies under its umbrella.  It is also true now that Josiah appears to think of himself as “autistic” and he uses that label, perhaps as a shorthand code, as a blanket explanation for various aspects of his quirkiness, at least that’s how it appears to me (I am in no way pretending to speak For him)…

I have spent so much of my life seemingly on the outside of whatever the group thinks it is or what it does that it’s actually harder for me to acquiesce to the “herd mentality”, even in a church setting where people are looking to foster “unity”.  This may be a holdover of the “rugged individualism” of the traditional American ideal that I do internalize to some degree, my own individual personality & intellectual makeup that always goes into suspect analysis mode whenever everyone around me jumps on some bandwagon (or follows some pied piper toward yet another cliff), or even can be an outgrowth of having lived virtually my entire life “counter culture” (especially now that Constitutionally Conservative Christian is virtually a pariah position in this formerly free land of ours).  Perhaps being an “outsider” is enough of an identity that it’s not necessary for me personally to seek other labeling for myself.

As far as role models go, though, as a Christian the Only real role model would be Jesus Christ…and that represents a role that none of us could ever live up to!

Philippians 3:14King James Version (KJV)

14 I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

King James Version (KJV)Public Domain

above scripture from BibleGateway.com

(image from searching Google images for the scripture…may have been a youtube screen grab..but here is the link for the image…well it wouldn’t paste the link just another image)

So, thanks for listening in…and check out the original post below that my comment following pertains to…and let’s support those amongst us who are learning to speak up and speak out and encourage them to share their hearts with all who might choose to listen and care and handle our human frailties with tenderness and truth…

Blessings,

Valerie

Autism—It’s Different in Girls

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My perspective on this is a bit different in that I am a Parent of someone on the Spectrum who was diagnosed as “PDD-NOS” (Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, aka “atypical autism”) and we got such a “label” for our son when he was still a preschooler. He also had many other issues that were primarily medical in nature and during key points of his life these medical needs really took preeminence (2 open heart surgeries, brain tumor, liver transplant, etc).

Our seemingly biggest challenge overall was in getting the educational system to even pretend to address his Actual Needs. We had years of frustration where they absolutely refused to acknowledge his autism diagnosis (in fact they never officially Did recognize that he was on the Spectrum, though his last Special Ed Case Manager did admit the obviousness of his Autism in private conversations with me). The school system was extremely derelict in its legally mandated duties to my son and we dealt with significant frustrations in this arena for the duration of his public schooling, K-12 (ironically special ed preschool did a Great Job with him, so our frustration was mightily increased by the torments that followed).

One extremely important aspect of special education law (in the US) involves Transition Planning & Services that are required to begin no later than the year the student is to turn 16. These services are to be tailored to the individual needs of the student and should be designed to facilitate their Transition from public school to Independent Living, Post-Secondary Education, and Employment. The ideals of this approach are laid out in detail in US law (IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act & its later “improvement”), but our experience, and likely that of many others, reveals how far short of the legal mandates/standard things are…let alone compared to what should be “ideal” (as in identifying and addressing All areas of known or suspected disability, regardless of diagnostic “labeling”)…My son was “graduated” from high school not even possessing 3rd grade math skills and his now denied Michigan’s through age 26 special education because he “graduated”. I have a cousin with two autistic sons in Arkansas and her older son also “graduated” but struggled so significantly in college that she got him tested and discovered that his reading was only at grade school level even though he had a “diploma”. I don’t know how much she fought for him educationally but I know to what incredible lengths I went to over the years all to virtually no avail…

My son’s Primary Care Doctor, who has a practice devoted to complex special needs kids & families, including a significant cohort on the Autism Spectrum shared a chilling perspective. She said that the “high-functioning” autistic kids, like my son is now (he’s been significantly lower functioning when younger) are not coming close to having their needs met here in Michigan. If they are high enough functioning to be included in regular academic settings then often their “independent living” or functional “life skills” needs often go unaddressed. Once they get out of high school they discover that “the adult services industry” is woefully inadequately prepared to address so many of their needs. Also, because the many systems are so poorly managed and financially irresponsible and/or overburdened many times kids with significant needs do not come close to getting their needs met at any point…

Given that the “higher functioning” autistic kids are probably the ones most likely to be able to “handle it” to some degree in the regular/normal/neuro-typical world it would certainly seem in society’s best interest to help give them the tools and support necessary to foster their highest level of independence while young and thereby ensure a likely increasing percentage of such kids will grow into (nearly) independent adults. This would mean the possibility of significant resource allocation during the earlier years developmentally but should hopefully result in many more of these kids not needing nearly so much public support as they likely would otherwise had such intervention not have been provided. The arguments for early and intensive intervention for Autistic Spectrum kids have surely now made that perspective widely accepted and hopefully there has been sufficient time for data gathering to bolster this view “scientifically”.

In our family’s case, we spent many years and uncountable mental, emotional, spiritual, and financial capital attempting to get our local school system to DO THEIR LEGALLY MANDATED JOB…and these requests were based on data, diagnoses, and clear evidence of myriad needs (many in keeping with autism spectrum issues)…however the real bottom line was that my son got virtually Only what the school felt like offering whether it directly addressed his needs or not. And since they absolutely refused to acknowledge or address his Autism Spectrum issues (which were known as early as 2000 and had written behavioral pediatrician’s orders) he was significantly negatively impacted by not having received these necessary (and technically IDEA mandated) services.

The cost to our family (we had four kids within four years) was/is truly incalculable. I’m not “blaming” the school for all the issues, but had they done their job there are so many things that would have gone differently. For instance my son required significant therapeutic intervention, especially when he was younger, so we would take him to PT (Physical Therapy), OT (Occupational Therapy), SLT (Speech & Language Therapy), Sensory Integration Therapy, Music Therapy (which I tried for years to get the school to provide to assist in re-mediating his Severe Learning Disability in Math), Art Therapy, Psychological Therapy, Visual Therapy, etc…We spent so much of what should have been family free time shuffling him to and from these visits and when I finally stepped back from it one year due to personal overload and burnout basically watched him deteriorate before my eyes. He should have had year round intensive intervention provided by the school but they absolutely refused to analyze or address his very real needs and declines. I actually ended up dragging all my kids to random Vacation Bible Schools over a few consecutive summers just to try to give my Special Needs Son some degree of educational structure (and all the other kids really came to resent this as they got to attend these nearby VBS’s along with their brother). There were a few years when being out of school got so upsetting for my son that he lost his toileting skills…but they immediately returned when school began. This level of distress did not concern school staff at all but it caused significant suffering for my son…and the rest of us.

Well, this obviously went on Way Longer than I intended it to. I’m so glad you are putting your voice out there and speaking up on behalf of yourself and others who may not choose to speak but whose experiences and perspectives resonate with yours. My son has come such a long way from those virtually non-verbal and overwhelming sensory distress days to having discovered himself and continuing to refine his own unique voice. Although “movie quoting” and verbatim dialogue still punctuate much of his communication he can at least now speak as himself so much more freely now than ever before.

Loving someone with autism and living with someone on the Spectrum can certainly be a challenge (and I won’t minimize the major hardships of our personal journey historically &/or presently) but it also presents a tremendous amount of joy as well. Our “special” son is really the heart of our family in so many ways. He is a constant source of entertainment and his humor is so random that it continues to surprise and amaze us all, which is a huge blessing and counterpoint to the stressors. However he also represents a personal bridge between this world and the Kingdom of God (he is a very strong & outspoken Christian)…he has seen the Face of God while undergoing his Liver Transplant and (similarly to his dad) can have a nearly conversational relationship with the Lord. I really believe that his “autism” facilitates this transparency. Just as he doesn’t know how to put a “mask” on in his human relationships, he is virtually incapable of having a barrier between himself and God. Witnessing his Christian Walk is both humbling & encouraging for those who live with him. If he struggles to talk with us earthlings there is no communication barrier with his Heavenly Father…and that is a gift that no “labeling” nor lack of supports could ever diminish!

Blessings, thanks for all you shared, and thanks for letting me “wax eloquent” too here.

Best Regards, Valerie Curren

PS, I wrote more thoughts on your article at my blog here…I’d love to hear back from you on that, if you might be interested…

https://specialconnections.wordpress.com/2016/10/11/commenting-on-autism-its-different-in-girls-so-is-adhd/

this provocative image could lead us to consider these topics further…hmm; from:

http://theemergencesite.com/AutismSpectrumMenu.html

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Special Needs & Church

I just read the post at the below site about the challenges one family faced surrounding church attendance…that seemed to be generated, in particular, by one church staff person being inflexible and unaccepting of their child’s unique quirkiness…

http://supportforspecialneeds.com/2016/02/10/when-church-special-needs-do-no-mix/  “…we were so tired of fighting for the kids that our hearts weren’t in it to fight for this place; a place we should feel welcome no matter what. It’s exhausting fighting educationally, medically, mentally and socially and top that …We just couldn’t fight to stay in church. It shouldn’t have been, nor should it be that hard. As their parent, I take full responsibility for giving up that fight. I just couldn’t do it.”

I agree with the exhaustion statement above .  Families facing complex special needs scenarios can be overwhelmed and even burned out because of the day-in and day-out battles they face on multiple fronts.  Church should (theoretically) be a place where we can go and be accepted “warts and all” and where our children can be especially embraced in spite of, or even because of, their differences.

But, oftentimes church can be a battleground.  There are a couple of posts at SpecialNeedsParenting.net that outline a pretty ideal scenario of love and acceptance of a very unique autistic young man in a church.  Please see this story at these two links:  http://specialneedsparenting.net/autism-church/  http://specialneedsparenting.net/autism-church-its-a-good-thing-part-ii/

Our family’s experience has been a bit more uneven than this.  When our son with special needs was born we lived in Northern Michigan, about 3 1/2 hours North of the birth hospital.  At that time I was staying with my parents in Metro Detroit with our just 2 year old son after having seen a high risk pregnancy doctor and being told of my twin pregnancy “we’ve got to get the little guy out before he dies” on a Friday, and being scheduled for a premature delivery on the Monday following.  Both twins were needing to stay in the NICU before coming home.  The basically “normal” baby (Brandon) came “home” (to my parents’ home) after 10 days in the NICU, but Josiah remained there for about 2 months before being transferred to the University of Michigan Hospital for Open Heart surgery.

My husband and I had been quite involved in our Northern Michigan church before becoming parents.  We had been the youth leaders/pastors for a period of time and also both very active in the worship ministry.  When it became known that Josiah would be having heart surgery both pastors traveled South to visit with him (and me) in his birth hospital.  It was a fairly awkward visit as the senior pastor was visibly uncomfortable in the presence of this very small (about 4 pounds then, having been 2# 6oz at birth, a condition called IUGR–Intra-Uterine Growth Retardation, very small for gestational age) and sickly premature infant.  They did ask how they could help our family and offered to stay with us at U of M during Josiah’s upcoming heart surgery, but I did not feel “safe” in their presence so declined this “service”.  I suggested that they could have some families in the church either provide meals for my husband, or invite him over for a meal as he was living alone (in order to work) and coming downstate to be with his family each weekend.  This resulted in one dinner invitation for my husband during that extended time of extreme stress and isolation.

Years later we ended up discussing that early time and how uncomfortable we were with how the senior pastor, in particular, handled us and our situation.  There was something about things that never really sat right, though it was hard to pinpoint.  Our friends had also been attending our church during that time and were quite close with my husband in particular (he and our oldest son had both participated in their wedding).  They provided some needed perspective about how our “heart surgery baby” was being handled by our then pastor at that time.  According to them he would brag about the small sick baby from his congregation, kind of like a feather in his cap about how he/the church were doing so much to “meet our needs”.  Apart from that hospital visit (which was a significant drive and Not requested by us) and that one meal for my husband there was nothing done for us by our church…including during multiple surgeries and intensive home interventions from government program workers for about the next two years before we left the area.  I forgot, the Senior Pastor did visit me and the boys in our home at one point, I’m not sure when, and asked what I needed.  When I said that I could really use a friend he exclaimed (in seeming outrage) “I can’t get you friends!”, which wasn’t what I was actually saying.  Needless to say, talking to pastors about “issues” has never been very high on my priority list (and perhaps I’m too picky in this arena given my background in Christian Counseling)…

In the early days after the twins’ birth, when we were finally all back in our own home I heard a very moving story on the local Christian Radio Station.  There was a family that had given birth to a very medically fragile child and they had been surrounded by love and support from their natural and local church family.  This involvement rose to the level of round the clock shifts to provide extra assistance during the early weeks, and perhaps even months, of intensive neediness.  What was portrayed seemed so ideal and so far apart from our own experience that I was very saddened at that time by how unsupported we ended up feeling from our local church family (our natural family being hundreds of miles away and helping us with housing/babysitting during medically based visits).

Because of our son’s complex medical needs, which were all being treated and followed at U of M, a good 3 hours South of our then home, we began to explore the possibility of moving closer to this needed ongoing medical care.  Ultimately my husband went through a job change that allowed him to work downstate and live in my parents’ home for about a year, commuting to our home for the weekends, while I stayed North with our three sons so that we could sell our home ourselves (For Sale By Owner).  The boys and I would head South with their dad for any weeks where Josiah had medical appointments and return home the following weekend.  This situation was extremely stressful for all involved and for the most part we had no support from our local church.  I lived in extreme isolation during the weekdays, rarely leaving the house because of Josiah’s fragility and risk of infection, etc.  In fact I was shocked to find out that the woman I considered my closest friend from that church had been attending a weekly bible study a few houses from my own, but she had never stopped in to see me or the kids nor to check on why we attended church so sporadically, if at all.  That lack of attendance was due to the fact that Josiah contracted life-threatening RSV (Respiratory Synsichial Virus) and required lengthy hospitalizations for it twice in the first year of life–basically taking him out in public was risking his life.

When we finally accomplished moving the entire family downstate and got situated in our “new” home, we began searching for another church home.  As the twins were now toddlers (2), our oldest son 4, and our daughter an infant this was an extremely challenging process.  If we found a church that had sufficient nursery capacity they rarely, if ever, were able to handle the magnitude of Josiah’s behavioral or emotional needs for the duration of a worship service and either I or my husband would need to intervene with him, sometimes multiple times in one service (this was before we knew about “autism”, but even after such a diagnosis we had minimal autism treatment so it was more just an “ah ha” explanation for us about what was going on with him).  This really meant very sporadic church attendance overall as it was very difficult to “get anything” out of a service being so distracted by Josiah’s needs.  The magnitude of those needs was also a major reason why we sought the support and sustenance of a local church “family”, as a way to cope with the massive pressures of the special needs family’s life.

It was a number of years before we began attending our present church and we ultimately went there because it had a bit of a “comfortable old shoe” component to its ambiance for us.  During Clarissa’s infancy I had attended a MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) program at that particular church and felt that it had a pretty welcoming atmosphere.  Because of that positive MOPS experience, and because the church was pretty local and seemed relatively welcoming we eventually began attending more and more frequently.

Since our children were then mostly in their elementary years we were no longer battling the nursery situation.  Also, this church has a fairly limited “Sunday School” type programming, so we often just kept Josiah with us during the service in order to minimize some of the upheaval.  Josiah has always had a true worshiper’s heart for the Lord!  This means that either in church or during times of spiritual meaningfulness (family devotions and/or communion, etc.) he was more attentive and/or more behaviorally appropriate than he might otherwise typically have been.  That meant that at least sometimes he was appropriate to attend the kid’s programming, and having him included in some musical kids productions was a definite blessing.

Even though our current church home is relatively “special” friendly there are still glaring times of insensitivity that can be on display.  A couple years back our daughter was nearly moved to tears while at a youth event when she observed how her special brother was not at all appropriately included in a physical activity.  His processing challenges and  poor coordination meant that he was rather bowled over and disregarded during a sporting event.  Clarissa was very sad that the attending leaders were either unaware or unconcerned about how Josiah (and his sister) was being hurt by not being appropriately accommodated.  It would be great if either of them would have been assertive enough to speak up and seek help during such difficult experiences, but that is unlikely to happen.  That means that people in leadership need to develop increased observational skills and sensitivity and perhaps creativity in how they reach out to people and families that are “different” and who may need extra help, patience, or understanding…

Being able to reach out and embrace kids/adults with special needs and their families really should become a primary mission of virtually any local church.  The uniqueness of the needs represented would mean that staff and parishioners would need to be especially sensitive to where a given family was in multiple domains.  There could be great opportunities to reach out in service to such families who often face more than their “fair share” of crises and upheavals.  Having a ministry targeting special needs families could mean a much more vibrant style of community outreach and Christian witness.  The love and compassion, gentleness and patience, joy and peace, kindness and self-control that Should accompany the Christian life would be the ideal characteristics for people reaching out to special families to possess.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the Lord would lay such a burden on the hearts of so many in ministry?

Until such a time as that ideal scenario presents itself, those of us who know the Lord need to allow Him to move in and through us in developing eyes, ears, and hearts of compassion toward one another…and especially to people and families that are often broken and hurting.  And if you come from a special needs family it is almost certain that you bear burdens and wounds and need the love and tender mercy of the Lord poured out into your life.  The author referenced at the beginning of this post took a long hiatus from church and didn’t really raise her kids much in the faith.  Although she herself is attempting a return to church now, it is unclear what spiritual relationship her kids have–and those losses are at least partially attributable to an incredibly insensitive church leader who by her demeanor may have inflicted permanent damage on a vulnerable family…How Tragic!

May the Lord give His wisdom to His people that they/we as individuals and as local church bodies may open their/our eyes to the many needs around them/us represented by special needs families.  May they/we choose to see and to give of themselves/ourselves in time, prayer, emotional support, or tangible means of assistance and so reach out to so many of the vulnerable, lonely, hurting, and fragile within our communities.  Consider the Randy Stonehill song () below which beautifully portrays the need for each of us to be Christ’s hands and feet to a hurting world…Blessings to All, Valerie

RANDY STONEHILL
Who Will Save The Children Lyrics

Cry for all the innocent ones
Born into a world that’s lost its heart
For those who never learn to dream
Because their hope is crushed before it can start
And we shake our fists at the air
And say “If God is love, how can this be fair?”

But we are his hands, we are his voice
We are the ones who must make the choice
And if it isn’t now, tell me when?
If it isn’t you, then tell me who
Will save the children?
Who will save the children?

We count our blessings one by one
Yet we have forgotten how to give
It seems that we don’t want to face
All the hungry and homeless who struggle to live
But heaven is watching tonight
Tugging at our hearts to do what’s right

And we are his hands, we are his voice
We are the ones who must make the choice
And if it isn’t now, tell me when?
If it isn’t you, then tell me who
Will save the children?
Who will save the children?

As we observe then through our T.V. screens
They seem so distant and unreal
But they bleed like we bleed
And they feel what we feel

Oh, save the children
Save the children
Save the children

Now we decide that nothing can change
And throw up our hands in numb despair
And we lose a piece of our souls
By teaching ourselves just how not to care
But Christ would have gone to the cross
Just to save one child from being lost

And we are his hands, we are his voice
We are the ones who must make the choice
And it must be now
There’s no time to waste
it must be you
No one can take your place
Can’t you see that only we
Can save the children
Save the children
Save the children
Please, save the children
Will save the children?
Who will save the children?

Lyrics taken from:   http://www.elyrics.net/read/r/randy-stonehill-lyrics/who-will-save-the-children-lyrics.html

 

Val’s Day & the Giving & Receiving of Names

Ok, technically it’s Valentine’s Day…but there’s just a bit of enjoyment by using this shortened moniker when your name also happens to be Valerie…

So I’m not actually much for celebrating this seemingly made up for Hallmark coffers “holiday”…but I’m all for the celebration of love!  And apart from the Love of the Lord there is no greater love than that of a family…and being the perpetual family historian for my own clan has lent a measure of appreciation for our names, their meanings (actual or folkloric), and the line stretching back into our personal, familial, ancestral past.

Given that my birthday is a half week off from Valentine’s Day I’ve always wondered if the proximity of that holiday influenced my parents in their naming of me…hmm?

Valerie means (at least this is the meaning I “remember” & assign to it now) “strong in body and mind; persistent, will succeed”…and that perceived meaning has provided a measure of comfort and perseverance during difficult seasons in my life.

Lynn, my middle name (that I really wish were spelled “Lynne”) means “clear, light, water from a brook”…and since my mother’s name is Elaine, it also seems like a shade/flavor take on her own name…

Stoddard, my maiden name, has at least one folkloric meaning from some of the genealogical books I’ve consulted.  In the legendary past this surname apparently applied to the Standard Bearer, and supposed cousin, of William the Conqueror.  Stoddard was a time modified distortion of “de la standard”.  Some genealogical tomes completely refute that potentially folkloric meaning.  The less romantic origin may be that of “stud-herd” as in the keeper of the horses.  I’ve often chosen (in the rare times I contemplate the meaning of my birth surname) to consider the “standard bearing” “origin” to be more meaningful, and this especially so being quite informed by my faith and the need to represent Christ, being in a manner of speaking a “standard bearer” for the King of Kings–the True Conqueror.

My husband, Michael, has a name with more spiritual roots, “one who is like God”.  It is interesting that when he was born his mother, who was Not a Believer at that time (nor, presumably, was his father) chose to “dedicate him to the Lord”…since she really had no idea of what that might entail nor did she have any sort of plan to raise him in the “fear and admonition of the Lord”.  Michael has in many ways lived up to his name in that he makes it a regular practice to submit his human/fleshly side to the Lordship of Jesus and in many ways is thus enabled to embody Christ to his family.

Michael’s middle name, Ellsworth, is also shared by my father, and our firstborn son, Nathaniel.  I don’t carry an “Ellsworth” meaning in my back pocket, so at some point I’ll perhaps supplement this post with a collection of some of the “meanings” available online.

When Michael and I were first getting to know each other we ended up having a conversation about our names and in particular middle names.  He wanted me to guess his middle name based on the initial “E”.  After entertaining several of the “usual suspects” like Edward or Eugene I ultimately said (with the half squint eye that is a Stoddard family inheritance) “it wouldn’t be Ellsworth would it?”  Michael was dumbfounded as no one in his entire life had Ever correctly guessed his name.  In an interesting twist, it actually turned out that we Both had fathers named “William Ellsworth”.

Tracing the Ellsworth name passage throughout our different lineages has been one of the interesting rabbit trails to indulge in periodically.  In fact I was eventually able to discover that Michael’s grandfather also bore the Elsworth middle name, though apparently with only one “l”…it’s is nearly “confirmed” that his great grandfather also carried that same name.  I am still actively pursuing that “Ellsworth/Elsworth” line of inquiry to see if it will lead any place interesting…and it would ultimately be interesting if it were possible to discover the origin in both our families…if that is even possible.

Our son, Nathaniel Ellsworth, and his girlfriend (and likely soon-to-be fiancee) have already discussed the passing on of the Ellsworth tradition.  They are currently planning to gift “Ellsworth” to the next generation should the Lord decide to grace their expected union with a son…

Here’s the current progression of Ellsworth in both our families:

William Ellsworth Curren

Clarence Elsworth Curren

William Ellsworth Curren

Michael Ellsworth Curren

Nathaniel Ellsworth Curren—future baby Ellsworth Curren, God willing

Valerie Lynn Stoddard Curren

William Ellsworth Stoddard

Elzine Munger Stoddard

William Ellsworth Stoddard

(I wish you could see the above names in the formation in this post creation…it involved indenting each succeeding generation so that Nathaniel and his theoretical future son were the tip of the arrow with all of our successive names the angled cutting edge of the weapon.  Given how the Bible refers to children being arrows in the quivers of their father this visual representation seems particularly apropos)…

Psalm 127:4-5 New International Version (NIV)

Like arrows in the hands of a warrior
    are children born in one’s youth.
Blessed is the man
    whose quiver is full of them.
They will not be put to shame
    when they contend with their opponents in court.

New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Psalm+127:4-5&version=NIV

 

As you can see, Nathaniel has two grandfathers and two great, great grandfathers named “William Ellsworth”, though obviously with different surnames.  On the Curren side, the Ellsworth naming is unbroken while on the Stoddard side it is an every other generation practice…

When we were having children and during the course of giving them names we often would look to “baby books” on the meanings of names to help inform our decision.  In fact, prior to Nathaniel’s birth, we had actually “planned” on naming him “Brandon”.  As an aside I was almost named “Holly” and our daughter was almost named “Brianna” or “Patience Helanne”.  Anyway, Michael recalls that the hospital staff put “Brandon” on the bassinet label after Nathaniel’s birth, but before we had “officially” named him and filled out the required paperwork.  In a sadly ironic way we actually were reading baby names on the hospital discharge plastic bag (for carrying home the sitz bath paraphernalia, among other things) when we saw “Nathaniel” and its meaning “Gift of God”…and it fit and stuck…

Brandon, our second son, has a name meaning “beacon on a hill, a sword or a flame”.  His middle name, Emmanuel, means “God with us” and was also the middle name of my mother’s father, John Emmanuel Koski.

Josiah, Brandon’s twin brother, our third son has a name meaning “God will heal and protect”.  We did not specifically recall that meaning when we named the twins, though we tentatively agreed to call them B & J.  We made the final decision over the phone, while I was in the hospital and the twins were both in the NICU following a deliberate premature delivery at 33 1/2 weeks to “get the little guy out before he dies”–to quote the high risk neonatalogist/OB overseeing myself and the twins.  Michael was adamant that “we should call the little guy Josiah”.  Given the myriad medical and other challenges that ensued (and will likely fill Many Future Postings here) this name’s meaning was both providential and comforting.  Josiah carries my maiden name, Stoddard, as his middle name; so even though I am my parents’ only daughter I was still able to pass along the Stoddard name to the next generation.

Our daughter, and last child, is named Clarissa, which, I believe, means “clear, light, a babbling brook” so in a fashion, and more artistically and subtly naming her, to some degree, after my middle name, which follows loosely from my mother’s name’s meaning as well.  Clarissa’s middle name, Chantelle means “a stone or a song”.  Given my mother’s perpetual love for vocal music and lifelong pursuit of the same this name also obliquely honors her and her life.  The “Patience Helanne” possibility saw “Helanne” invented by me as a way to honor both of Clarissa’s grandmothers, Elaine & Anne.

My parents liked to link their initials together, WES & EEK to make WE SEEK.  This was reflective of their desire to seek the things of the Lord, a primary focus of their lives.

My paternal grandparents combined their names, Elzine & Vivian into El Viva…which was Latin, I believe, for “the life”.  They drew this “El Viva” into the cement pad they installed in the yard of their Northern Michigan Cottage (The Cottage) as the foundation for a river rock stone fireplace that were apparently being constructed near ubiquitously in their neighborhood in that era.  Several years ago my youngest brother, Michael, led the efforts to deconstruct the crumbling fireplace and re-purpose its stones into a glorious fire pit that now sees persistent use, unlike the former fireplace that was mostly a surface upon which to lay things.  The concrete pad with “El Viva” still survives and is sometimes used to support a picnic table in the summer.

Seeing “El Viva” when visiting The Cottage stirs warm memories and thoughts in my heart.  It is a tangible reminder of their love and vitality that continues to live on in the veins and hearts of their natural, and to some degree spiritual, descendants.  We still leave my grandfather’s name “E. M. Stoddard” on the rural mailbox label/sign even though he’s been dead nearly 3 decades.  There are times when Cottage conversations turn nostalgic and my father can speak of his father in the present tense, as if he were in fact actually still there.  In so many ways my grandpa’s essence so permeates The Cottage it can seem like he’s just been there…from the eternal perspective, that our lives are but a vapor, in a sense it is just as if he only just stepped out…

Back to names, and Finally wrapping up today’s posting…Curren means “hero”.  This is a meaning that may be frequently reinforced within our family.  I often call Michael “my hero” or tell my kids because they are “Currens” they are “heroes”.  This can be a reminder as to how to conduct themselves during times of intense stress, pressure, or conflict.

The meaning of names is significant.  There are cultures who keep names secret as a way to protect the perceived/presumed power of a person.  Names don’t have to either limit or define us, but they seem to, at least to the degree we may be aware of their “meaning”, influence us.  There is a bit of mystery here.  Is it a part of “self-fulfilling prophecy”, or do names impact how people treat us.  Would “Norma” have gone as far if she hadn’t changed to “Marilyn Monroe” or “Marian” has he not turned to “John Wayne”?  Hmm…

Here’s a couple of relevant biblical passages (copied from Biblegateway.com):

Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.
The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name.
It seems that our “true name” is only one that can be bestowed by our Heavenly Father.  I’d like to think that my husband and I cooperated in God’s plan for our children’s lives in choosing names well suited to assist them in the unique and difficult journey of life.  My own name “persistent, will succeed” has at times given me that slight nudge to not give up and that tenacity has been a vital resource to endure and at times overcome some of the brutal realities life has seen fit to throw my way.  By God’s Grace and Favor this overcoming and persistence shall continue especially during these challenging & overwhelming times.
Obviously this is well more than enough for today, Val’s Day…a day for Love & Remembrances.  Thanks for reading and riding along a bit here.  God Bless YOU…may He grant you True Love…especially that which comes directly from Him.
Valerie