Tag Archive | Northern Michigan

Josiah’s Story about the 4th of July & Val’s Arbutus Beach & Cottage Reminiscences

Source: Josiah’s Story about the 4th of July

Hey, my son Josiah shared some of his insights about the 4th of July & celebrating near our family’s Cottage in Gaylord, Michigan.  There are some lively discussions going on in the Comments Section of his original post, so I wanted to link that post here on my page to find it more easily going forward.

There are some beautiful descriptions of Michigan there from people who have visited over the years!  It’s so great to find even visitors to Michigan have been blessed here!

All of what you see below got generated by looking for appropriate images…which led to reminiscing about life & times Up North…Whew, that was fun but also unexpected!

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This is a picture of Otsego Lake, Gaylord, MI at sunset & that is the very dock used by the street where The Cottage is located & this dock is lovingly maintained by a kind year-round neighbor–image found via a Bing.com image search for “Otsego Lake, Michigan”!

 

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Map of Otsego Lake, Michigan from a Bing.com image search

For the 4th of July, Gaylord usually conducts their Fireworks Show from the Otsego County Park shooting the fireworks off over the Lake.  We get a front row seat to this majestic & patriotic display from “our” beach.  Usually the lake fills with boats so that people watch the show from all angles and situations.  After the County show oftentimes there are many neighbors up & down the beach that put on pretty impressive personal displays, even before such elaborate explosives were available in-state.  Some of the regular out of state visitors also packed quite a bang-up version of personal 4th displays!

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This is similar to our fireworks view, from a Bing.com image search for “Gaylord Michigan fireworks”

From this map of Otsego Lake, you can see that the Lake is roughly 5 miles long and about 1 mile wide at its widest, and many generations of the extended family have taken pride in swimming across the lake–including me!  The Cottage is located along the Northern most side of “The Pointe” that is prominent just North of Otsego Lake State Park.  If you would bisect that Pointe the Northern half would constitute Arbutus Beach, originally set up as a Public Beach (so the Lakefront property owners don’t technically own the Beach between their property & the water).  The Southern half of that Pointe, all the way to Old 27 Highway would be Pine Beach, where Uncle Hugh, Aunt Bernice, & their kids Tom & Karen had cottages.  Pine Beach was set up as Private Beach property so that the lake-front people own the Beach down to the water.  The other owners in Pine Beach only have water access at a couple of access points, somewhat like at the end of the roads.  We actually “slept under the stars” on our cousins’ beach a few times, but that was a more regular occurrence during my Dad’s & Aunt Pat’s Endless Summers of Fun!

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This view is looking South, with The Pointe protruding into the water…from earlier times, like my Dad’s childhood; from a Bing.com image search for “otsego lake, gaylord michigan “

Now Arbutus Beach, because of various lawsuits & disputes has become “The Arbutus Beach Association”.  This makes the Beach rather “semi-private”, whereby in order for people from outside the Association to technically have access to the beach, they need to be guests of Association Members.  We lived at The Cottage during the time the whole lawsuit thing was just getting underway.  In fact, I was operating as an Avon Lady, with a territory that encompassed the entire Arbutus & Pine Beach area.  The Lawsuit was a frequent topic of conversation as I made may way through my Avon Territory and I heard many sad stories from residents.  In some cases friends who had known/interfaced with each other for generations were no longer speaking because they were on opposite sides of the (pointless) disputes.  To my knowledge, some of those historically congenial relationships were permanently destroyed through this lawsuit & subsequent legal maneuvering & fallout.  The only “winners” in all of that were the lawyers…

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This is the sign as you enter Arbutus Beach off Old 27, from a Bing.com image search for “Arbutus Beach, Michigan”

Since my Dad & Aunt Pat, and their cousins Tom & Karen, spent their Summers at Otsego Lake, we get plenty of historical insights & nostalgia about the way things used to be up there.  They traveled around with a bunch of similarly aged kids some of whom lived Up North year round and some of whom, like all of them, were Summer Refugees from Detroit, including a gang of kids at the next most northern train stop, WaWaSoo.  They speak fondly of the days when there were fewer docks & boats on the lake, like two pictures above.  There also were many community events that happened around the lake, at least in the Summer time.  There are many ads in the Gaylord Herald Times Newspapers from like a hundred years ago that show the vibrant community life that seemed to revolve around Otsego Lake back in the day (see some links at the very end of this posting)…The below picture is an historical one of the Resort where historically many community events were held, I believe.  This is now a private residence with a huge dwelling erected on the former community-centric site.

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from a Bing.com image search for “Arbutus Beach, Michigan”

 

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My Great Grandparents’ Cottage & one of their rental cottages in the foreground; from a Bing.com image search for “Arbutus Beach, Michigan”

The above picture shows cottages that are on the street set back from the lake and near the top of the hill.  You can just see the lake in the distance in the middle left of this photo, beyond the car.  This appears to be one of the cottages my great grandparents Rowland Edward & Florabelle Mansell Thompson used to rent to others.  The white cottage in the center of the picture was the cottage my great grandparents moved to Arbutus Beach and was apparently the first cottage there.  The story goes that they bought the lumber company’s manager’s cottage/office? from the South West side of Otsego Lake.  It was pulled by horses over rolling logs across the frozen Lake one winter.

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from a Bing.com image search for “horses pull house across frozen lake”

Though I couldn’t find a picture showing horses pulling a house across a frozen lake, the size of the logs in the above picture and to some degree the time frame may be representative of the process of moving my Great-Grandparents’ First Arbutus Beach Cottage across Otsego Lake.  Also, my Dad’s namesake & grandfather, William Ellsworth Stoddard, found his calling working in lumber, first in Northern Michigan and later managing his boss’ lumber yard in Detroit…WES also had a Gaylord cottage as did several of his children, my Grandpa Elzine Munger Stoddard’s siblings.

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from a Bing.com image search for “horses pull building”

I guess if you add the above two pictures together, divide by two, and pull the building over ice it Might Approximate what allegedly happened with my Great-Grandparents’ First Cottage!  At some time I hope to peruse the historical newspapers from that location & era to see if there might be some mention of this momentous event.  It sounds like the kind of local color piece that would have been so interesting to read from that time period.  Alternatively I may try to see if the Gaylord/Otsego County Historical Society has some record of this event–and hopefully pictures to go with the account!  There’s another couple approximations of that event below…though my great-grandparents’ cottage was bigger (or did it only become bigger later???)…However this was accomplished, it was likely a pretty big deal and involved quite a few people & animals…I would have loved to have heard the tale from my Great Grand Father, as he was a notorious Tall Tale Teller!

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from a Bing.com image search for “horses move building”

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from a Bing.com image search for “horses move building winter”

 

After my Great-Grandparents, Rowland & Florabelle Thompson, died one of their Grandsons, Kenny Moore, who lived in Traverse City, owned their original cottage for many years.  He sold it to his mother’s brother, Thurman Thompson, who lived in California and would occasionally return to Michigan to visit his sisters Vivian Beatrice Thompson Stoddard (my grandmother) & Bernice Genevieve Thompson (Tom & Karen’s mother–she married Hugh Orr Thompson so basically retained her maiden name as a married woman).  After Uncle Thurman died one of his daughters, Mary Louise, inherited the cottage & she eventually moved to Michigan to live there year round.

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from a Bing.com image search for “Fairview Cemetery, Gaylord, Michigan”

By the way  all the names mentioned in the above paragraph, excepting Kenny & Mary, are buried in Fairview Cemetery in Gaylord.  My parents recently bought lots in the vicinity of where my Dad’s first cousin Tom was so lately laid to rest.  Though I hope that it is still many, many years before we need to put that land to use, it is a comfort to know that Mom & Dad will be buried so near so many of the relations on my Dad’s side and so close to our beloved Cottage.  We visited Tom’s grave over Memorial Day and it was a beautiful weather day, though of course bitter sweet in our loss…It was also remarkable the high volume of Military Service represented in that Cemetery, for it appeared that close to half of those graves, going back at least to the Civil War, carried American Flags to honor their Service!

 

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from a Bing.com image search for “Arbutus Beach, Michigan”

This above picture is the cottage that lies between our family Cottage and Otsego Lake–you can see the white “sleeping porch” of Our Cottage behind their side entrance roofing.  When I was a child I used to play with the kids who visited there.  When Michael & I lived at The Cottage in ’93 & ’94 our Pastor’s wife’s sister & brother-in-law lived there with their family.  Later it was bought by a Gaylord native who worked & lived downstate.  It recently changed hands and is now a rental cottage for the new owners.

The swing & platform in the above photo was erected by our neighbors across the street to accommodate the matriarch of that clan when she comes to visit from Florida.  When I was a kid my Grandma & I would sit on the immense log that marked the line between grass & beach to watch sunsets & chat, under where the swing & platform now reside.  Virtually every evening my Dad will sit on that swing, with his sister if she’s Up North, or my Mom, myself, or any of the many grand-kids who might be about to see if there will be yet another spectacular sunset display (& I’ve seen many people up & down Arbutus Beach do this too).

The white cottage on the left is owned by a lovely lady who also spent her growing up Summers at The Lake, like my Dad & Aunt did.  She comes up from Ohio and spends a lot of time Up North throughout the year in her retirement.  To the right of the swing (not in the picture) is a small brown cottage that was owned for many years, possibly generations, by one of the families who generated that dreaded & divisive lawsuit.  They were from California and the man’s brother also had a place further North within the Arbutus Beach community.  The little lake-front gem recently changed hands & is now owned by a couple who live further up the street year round, & maintain that dock in the very top photo above.  They turned that little cozy cottage into a rental place & my parents actually rented it one Summer when so many of our clan were Up North for the 4th for extra sleeping & hangout space–it was quite lovely!

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from a Bing.com image search for “Arbutus Beach, Michigan”

It’s possible that the above picture is from the “Arbutus Beach Highlands”, a small residential community just East of Old 27, across from the Arbutus Beach & Pine Beach neighborhoods & entrance.  Several years ago, Josiah & I along with Brandon & Clarissa spent about 3 weeks at the Cottage in Gaylord.  We walked along the wooded trails of the Highlands, to pick some wild blackberries.  During one of our excursions we ran across some Elk foot/hoof prints.  We would regularly also see Deer prints, but not the animals. Another time, August 2013 to be specific, as Josiah was recuperating following his Liver Transplant in July, he & I had an extended Cottage visit.  On that trip I actually saw a small Red Fox along the Train Tracks where you turn into Arbutus Beach–the only time ever in 50+ years of personal excursions there!  There is so much Natural Beauty abounding in the area.  Sometimes it reminds me of my Grandma, who died in the 1970s, to see the various plants & animals, as we used to walk to the Pointe & some of the wooded pathways together & just talk….She used to be a Teacher, loved kids, and shared her love of God’s world directly with me!!!  These are such treasured memories…

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from a Bing.com image search for “Gaylord, Michigan”

Above is an historical image of the Call of the Wild Museum.  This is a dated though fun family outing place, especially on bad weather days.  My husband often takes our kids there to buy yet another cool knife from their well stocked Gift Shop.  There are many trophy animals on display there including quite a few specimens taken by the legendary hunter, Fred Bear.  He was a dear friend & mentor to hunter, rocker, conservative commentator, and “Motor City Mad Man” Ted Nugent.  I believe Ted has connections to Northern Michigan, but I think more so to the Grayling area, about 1/2 hour South of Gaylord, where he obtained a lot of Fred Bear’s property following Fred’s passing.  I also believe that Fred Bear was a very gifted Archer and even has a particular bow named after him.  In our family my husband brought the Bow Hunting tradition to Michigan when we moved Up North as Newly-Weds.  He used to get various bow-hunting magazines then & I believe Michigan had more bow hunters than any other state!

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from a Bing.com image search for “Gaylord, Michigan”

Gaylord is practically perfectly situated for Four Seasons Living, equidistant between the Equator & the North Pole.  It is known to have the highest snowfall in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan.  The last Winter we lived there, 1996-1997,  I believe it had roughly 220 inches of snow!  Even so, they did a great job of maintaining the road conditions so driving wasn’t too hazardous, relatively–except, of course, during white outs!  There is some picture in the family vault showing The Cottage with snow up to the eaves of the roof, similar to the image below!

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from a Bing.com image search for “Gaylord, Michigan winter”

 

Well I’ll leave this meandering trip down Memory Lane with another stunning Otsego Lake Sunset!  In case you can’t tell, I Love The Cottage, Arbutus Beach, and Gaylord, Michigan & am so thankful that my husband Michael & I began our family there!!!  In fact we may have the only Gaylord born relation within the extended clan, in our firstborn, Nathaniel, who was born in Gaylord, and marked on The Wall at just one day old. We gifted him the nickname of Jackpine Savage because of that Northern Michigan birth!  The Wall would be the Door Jambs at The Cottage between the Dining Room & Living Room.  The Inner-Facing Jamb on the Lake side has my Dad’s Generation & spouses.  The Inner-Facing Jamb on the Garage side has My Generation & spouses.  The Dining Room Facing Jamb on the Lake side has My Kid’s Generation.  Finally, the Dining Room Facing Jamb on the Garage side has my first cousin’s grand-kids–as in my generation’s grand-kids & my dad’s great grand-kids, whenever our side adds to that generation.  No one has been marked on that wall immediately after birth except for Nathaniel…& speaking of marking, the Fourth of July is the traditional time to check everyone’s height (including against existing & ancestral markings)…& this year we get to add in our latest family member, Nathaniel’s New Bride, Tara!

All our years are written with love in the very fibers of The Cottage!

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from a Bing.com image search for “Arbutus Beach, Michigan”

PS If you’d like to see a Newspaper article from back when Michael & I and the Boys lived in Gaylord check it out here, on pages 1, 4, & 5:

http://207.74.70.101:8080/docushare/dsweb/Get/Document-6631/1996-11-07%20Thu%20Building%20Familes.pdf

Page 2 of the below newspaper tells of some of the history of Arbutus Beach and speaks so highly of Otsego Lake as a natural beauty filled resort vacation destination–in 1923!

http://207.74.70.101:8080/docushare/dsweb/Get/Document-8848/1923-07-26%20Thu.pdf

The below link goes to the searchable Newspaper Archive for the Otsego County Library!

http://207.74.70.101:8080/docushare/dsweb/HomePage

 

 

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Rooted

Toodling around today at Word Press various other bloggers’ postings have loosely inspired these thoughts on being rooted…At our Memorial Day Weekend trek to/from the family Cottage in Gaylord, Michigan my husband & I collected a number of plants from the property to transplant to our own yard in Metro Detroit.  We actually left a few plants in Gaylord accidentally & they were kindly transported South by my parents later!

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Bing.com image search for “fragrance of life scripture”

Previously we had transplanted a couple of Lilac “bushes” and they are doing really well in our yard.  Those lilacs were individual woody stalks, possibly decades old, that had held on in the harsh climate and poor sandy soil conditions of Northern Michigan and now flourish as expansive bushes in our backyard.  In fact, our newly married son wants to take a transplant from our transplant(s) so that he & his wife can have some familial lilacs in their yard too.  These transplanted lilacs are very special to me because they come from my grandparents’ property and remind me of them, and their love, whenever I look at the bushes or smell that amazing lilac smell.  Also while growing up there were a few lilac bushes outside my bedroom windows and that heady fragrance always takes me back to those carefree days just a bit…

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From a Bing.com image search for lilacs

For years I’ve wanted to get further lilac transplants from my great-grandparents’ property that’s just a few blocks away from The Cottage.  The Cottage flowers are a light purple, aka Lilac!, color, but some of the lilacs from my great-grandma’s garden are white & some of a darker purple, or so I thought.  If we don’t do the lilac gathering during the Memorial Day trip we have to wait another year to confirm the location and/or color of any potential transplants, and this concept minus action has occurred many times.

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from a Bing.com image search for “cottage turret”…this is about the right size as the historical family cottage…

This year we encountered the latest owners of one of my great-grandparents’ cottages, the one with a turret that is near the railroad tracks.  We had a lovely chat with them, were able to view the recently renovated & gorgeous interior of that cottage, and get permission to get some of my great-grandma’s lilacs!  We ended up digging up a couple smallish single stalks from the white bush and they are definitely taking root in our flower beds!

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From a Bing.com image search for lilacs

We also got to see some photos of their cottage as it previously existed as a Texaco gas station.  According to the new owners this little gem of a building, one storey with an interesting octagonal turret, started its life in Detroit.  They showed us a photo of the alleged first cottage owner but he did Not appear to be my great-grandfather (Rowland Edward Thompson).  We shared what tales we could recall about the gas station cottage with my Dad & Aunt (they both spent Every Summer of their respective childhoods at the Gaylord Cottage) to see if the tales lined up with our family lore.  According to my Aunt Pat, Patricia Kay Stoddard Armstrong Ziemba, she was actually there when my great-grandmother, Florabelle Mansell Thompson, negotiated a purchase price and bought the gas station cottage.  Pat swears the gas station was in Gaylord, and she remembers where it had been located and observed it being moved to its present location.  Mysteries here…

 

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From a Bing.com image search for lilacs

Well there weren’t appropriate Dark Purple lilacs at the great-grandparents’ cottage site so we searched further afield.  There had been an amazing bush in a neighborhood flowerbed near where our Gaylord home was located, but we couldn’t find it on this trip.  We did, however, discover an even larger Deep Rich Purple lilac bush near an intersection in town, so we can easily recall its location.  Now we just need to track down the property owner to get permission to dig up a couple of new starts…Can’t wait!

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from a Bing.com search for “myrtle lily-of-the-valley”

We also took several starts of myrtle, lily-of-the-valley, forget-me-nots, and some purple “weeds” that can happily grow in our grass to help fill in a bare patch in our backyard under a spreading maple tree.  There are also some long leaved plants interspersed with some lily-of-the-valley plants to fill in some of the barrenness between our trees between the sidewalk & the street.  Myrtle & Lily-of-the-Valley grow along the house & driveway in my parents’ yard (the home I grew up in) and we had already transplanted some Myrtle to our front flower bed a few years back and it has filled in things beautifully.  These two species seem to spread easily so will need some attention to keep them in check, but honestly I love both of these flowers so much, and they remind me of my childhood home & the Cottage so much that the maintenance is worth it!

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from a Bing.com search for “myrtle lily-of-the-valley”

 

Each of these plants are a tangible representation of the gift of life…a heritage passed down from my great-grandparents to my grandmother and indirectly from both their yards to us.  They also are directly and indirectly from my parents & grandparents and are likely to continue on to my son & his wife.  We’ve received the gifts of physical & mortal life from our forbears and they’ve also blessed us with the heritage of faith–the seeds of eternal life in Christ Jesus.  We’ve passed those gifts on to our children & look forward to them continuing to be passed on to the generations to come…just like so many of the flowering beauties that unify & connect our hearts & all of our earthly properties.

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from a Bing.com image search for “Ephesians 3: 17”

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

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…

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