Tag Archives: trauma

A Visit to the University of Akron

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The college quest continues!

This time our search led us out of state,

And this time I had 3 questers with me rather than 1.

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On Friday, Rusty and Molly joined me at 6:00 am for an early start to a busy day. We had plans to tour the University of Akron and we were taking Brandon with us.

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Next year Brandon and Rusty will be seniors so they are at the age when college visits start happening. Since Molly wanted to tour U of A anyway I thought we could make it a fun bonding experience for the three of them, while giving the kids a chance to see if the University of Akron is a possible future school for them.

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We arrived at Brandon’s residential facility at 7:00 am to pick him up then headed due west  into Ohio. Brandon was thrilled that we were headed into Ohio again, having never left the state of Pennsylvania in his 16 years until a recent trip across the border with our family to see a movie in Boardman. You would have thought we were taking him to see the ocean for the first time, or on an African safari, by the way he greeted the news that we were going to Ohio for the day…his second time ever leaving the state. We informed him to expect many more trips to Ohio in the future. It seems to be our second home.

It humbles me to see how little it takes to thrill Brandon. Perhaps that is the nugget of a blessing buried within a hard-lived life… every simple joy feels like a miraculous blessing. It is good for my kids to be exposed to the humble gratitude and awe that exudes from him. It certainly makes us take stock of all we take for granted and fills us with a deeper sense of gratitude for all our blessings.

The more time I spend with Brandon the more I witness the effect of living a life of survival…

The survival needed to live through the early years of abuse.

The emotional survival of enduring the loss of a mother within a year of finally getting a mother.

The physical survival of becoming your own caretaker and parent when your last surviving parent falls sick with cancer.

And the social survival of finding one’s place in the lockdown environment of spending your teenage years living in a group home, instead of the security of being part of a family.

With that “survival mindset” comes a lack of future thinking. All thoughts and choices are based on surviving today. Dreaming of a future beyond this 24 hours is a luxury not possible for kids living in survival mode.

This can be seen in most kids with a similar trauma history…kids whose every thought must be consumed with how to get their basic needs met, how to protect themselves from danger, and how to survive another day.

Kids whose cabinets are empty can’t be bothered to worry about Friday’s math test.

Kids who lay awake at night listening for the slamming of a car door indicating the return home of an abusive father gives no thought to what skills they need to develop for future employment.

Kids who spend their nights laying at their dying mother’s feet, afraid to fall asleep for fear she will die in the night, can’t dream about their future colleges and careers.

These kids don’t have that luxury.

Manners, grooming, social etiquette, punctuality, and grades are secondary to surviving another day, and so these kids, who are often written off by teachers, neighbors and social workers as lazy, non-motivated, worthless teens with no direction and no hope, are simply children who are trying desperately to survive…

Children who have never been given the stability that makes dreaming about a better future a possibility.

I see this absence of future vision in Brandon. He can not fathom a world where life could be good and he could be great.

I see the trepidation and uncertainty in his eyes when I ask him what he’d like to be when he grows up. It is almost as though “growing up” and surviving childhood has seemed so unattainable that he has never allowed himself to consider what he might want his future to look like.

So, when I told him we were going to tour a college so that he and Rusty and Molly could see if they might want to go to college there he was stunned at the thought.

“So is this the only college in Ohio?” he asked.

When I explained there were many, and he could visit any that he might want to attend, he was flabbergasted. All through our tour he kept asking for reconfirmation, “So, maybe I could go here some day?”

As he looked through the literature he was blown away at all the choices of majors and minors.

“I didn’t know there were so many different jobs you could have,” he expressed with awe. “What do you think I could I be when I grow up?”

“Anything you want,” I answered.

He responded with a shy grin, uncertain if I was teasing him, disbelieving he was capable of dreaming those big dreams, yet hoping perhaps there was some truth in my words.

It was a wonderful day. My heart overflowed with gratitude towards my Heavenly Father for allowing me to witness this transforming journey that He is taking Brandon on. There is a rawness, a vulnerability, and a hopefulness in Brandon that humbles me and drives me to do right by this child.

I pray God will use me as He opens a world of hope, healing, unconditional love and the opportunity to dream big dreams and not just survive, to a young man who deserves that and so much more.

It was a delight having these three connect and bond over the experience.

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When our tour came to an end we drove over to the Homestead (since we were in the “neighborhood”) which allowed Brandon the chance to see the Homestead and allowed my parents the opportunity to meet our new addition.

It was a blessed day ❤

 

 

 

We are happy to Announce…

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For the last 12 months my three oldest children have been volunteering their time two mornings a week at Ready Yourself Youth Ranch. This non-profit organization takes in abused and neglected horses for rehabilitation while also pairing healed horses with children who have unique needs and challenges. It is an amazing organization and serving at Ready Yourself Youth Ranch has proved to be an enormous blessing for Grace, Molly and Rusty. 

This past week we had Tyler’s 16-year-old biological brother, Brandon, visiting and the older kids invited him to go with them to volunteer at the horse farm… 

 For those who haven’t been following the blog this summer, Brandon is one of Tyler’s four biological siblings.

We met Brandon for the first time 4 years ago when we gathered all of Tyler’s biological siblings together for a reunion at Patchwork Farm. After many years of being separated and losing contact with each other, they were finally reunited.

At that time, Brandon was the last sibling remaining in foster care and the hurt he carried was evident in his countenance. At the time we inquired about Brandon and whether we could be considered a possible placement, only to discover that his foster parents were in the process of adopting Brandon. We were thrilled with this wonderful news. Brandon was finally getting the forever home he deserved to have.

At our next reunion the affect of being chosen and finally having his forever home was evident on his face. He was a different child and the joy radiated from him.

Fast forward 6 months and after months of not hearing from Brandon or his adoptive parents I received the heartbreaking news that Brandon’s adoptive mother (of 9 months) had been stolen from him by cancer. My heart broke for Brandon as I mourned the loss of Tina and wept at the cruelty of this earthly life for a child who waited so long for a mother only to have her snatched away.

Over the next few years we struggled to remain in contact with Brandon. His adoptive father became sick and was in and out of the hospital which led to Brandon being moved frequently through foster homes and residential facilities. We would call and send letters and not get any response. We weren’t sure where Brandon was but Tyler continued to petition us to seek Brandon out.

(Of all Tyler’s siblings Brandon is the one Tyler feels most connected to. I think this is a natural consequence of the two of them being the last of the siblings to be adopted. Years after the other children were settled into their forever homes Tyler and Brandon continued their court-ordered monthly visits as wards of the state.)

Finally, out of the blue, we received a call from a woman who  had been assigned Brandon’s case. Once again Brandon found himself in limbo as his adoptive father is dying and has only been given months to live. (Hospice has now been brought in) This social worker had been working to create a network of support for Brandon. She’s been seeking out family (both biological and adoptive) that could be a network of support for Brandon, and as part of that search Brandon gave her our names. She reached out and asked if we would like to have contact with Brandon, would like to be a source of support, and what we would like that relationship to look like.

I explained our situation to her and shared with her the transition we were currently navigating as Ozzie returned home from residential care and we were working to find stability with this transition. I expressed our desire to have contact with Brandon and work on reconnecting him with Tyler but couldn’t commit to anything more (ie: weekend visits, etc.) until we evaluated where Ozzie and the other children were emotionally following Ozzie’s return home.

It was with baby steps we moved forward trying assess what our role in Brandon’s life was supposed to be and trying to hear God amidst the noise of “what ifs”…

Which leads us to this:

Last Tuesday I was surprised when Brandon enthusiastically jumped at the chance to wake up at 6:00 am and spend 2 hours mucking barns and feeding horses with Grace, Molly and Rusty at Ready Yourself Youth Ranch.

Like my other kids, he came home uplifted and empowered by the experience. He loved the horses and wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty..

Later when sharing his experience with his social worker he expressed in a simple but powerful  way that he found he could relate to those horses he cared for that morning.

He told her, “They are just like me. They were abused and then nobody wanted them.

Yet, just like those horses, who have experienced the cruelest life has to offer and then were given a second chance,

Brandon is getting his long overdue chance at healing, hope and a family…

Here at Patchwork Farm.

Yes, you read that right. The Mccleery clan of seven will soon be a family of eight.

We are choosing to lean into, rather than run from, the discomfort of the unknown,  step out in faith, and rise to the call God has extended to our family…

Trusting that He doesn’t call the qualified but rather qualifies the Called.

And so…

We are happy to announce that our family is growing by 2 feet!!

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Two not-so-little feet!!

Please Pray with Us ❤

 

 

 

 

 

The Best of the Best

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As I consider Father’s Day I can’t help but focus on the blessing of good men in my life, men that have offered glimpses of the divine character of my Father in Heaven by the way they have lived their lives.

As I consider the blessings of a loving father, two incredible grandfathers, and a father-in-law who treated me like a cherished daughter, I recognize I have been blessed more than most.

Despite being imperfect beings, they were able to show me perfect love.

Through their noble callings as fathers and grandfathers I was able to gain a better understanding of my Heavenly Father’s unconditional love. From these men I learned lessons of sacrifice, diligence, forgiveness, gentleness, meekness, strength of character, and kindness.

I also recognize that  many aren’t blessed in the same way and the absence of a loving father can affect one’s acceptance of a Heavenly Father that loves and cherishes them unconditionally. I have seen it in my own adopted sons, both of whom were born of men who were anything but loving fathers to them. Men that put their own selfish desires and dysfunctional needs ahead of their children, leaving them with scars that may never completely heal.

Then I look at my husband and how his relationships with Grace, Molly and Rusty have allowed them a glimpse into the divine nature of Heavenly Father. His example exemplifies all that is good and loving about God, and by watching their earthly father love so selflessly, my children have come to know and trust in a loving Heavenly Father.

How blessed I am to have married a man so selfless, so kind, so humble and giving. He gives all, asking nothing in return, putting the needs of others ahead of himself and does so with a smile and generosity of spirit that I find humbling. When I look at Toby I see the character of his own earthly father shining forth. Like his father, Toby is gracious and selfless, opening his heart and home to all, never thinking of himself, and leaving all those he speaks with feeling loved and valued.

There is no better example of this than his choice to open his heart and home to two boys who were in need of a father. Choosing to step away from the comfort and ease of the life he was living, he chose to travel the harder path in his desire to follow Christ’s example and obey the divine calling God laid on his heart. It has not been an easy road, but not once did Toby pull back or walk away from this hard road. Rather, the tougher the behaviors, the closer in he moved, driven by a conviction that every child deserves a safe and loving family…every child deserves to be loved.  Through his Christ-like love our two youngest have been given a second chance to experiencing a father’s love. What was stolen from them in childhood is being redeemed with each word of acceptance, each affirmation, each act of forgiveness, and each loving embrace. Through Toby’s example my boys are learning how a real man loves and are slowly discovering their divine worth as a child of loving Heavenly Father.

Last Sunday we celebrated Toby.

The kids had big plans for Father’s Day, plans that began with breakfast in bed…

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And concluded with a special dinner after church.

In between, we enjoyed naps, gifts, and a fun Father’s Day activity.

The kids each made or purchased a special Father’s Day gift for Toby, but my gift was more of an experience than a tangible offering.

A few weeks ago, while shopping for Girl’s Camp supplies at Pat Catans Craft store, I discovered Goblies, throwable paint balls. I knew at once that they had to be this year’s Father’s Day gift.

I knew Toby would love it but also that it would be an awesome, laughter-inducing, memory-making, stress-relieving activity for the younger boys who sometimes struggle with hard emotions on these memory-connected holidays.

I purchased a bag of Goblies in seven different colors, so we could each have our own color to mark one another, leaving undeniable evidence of our success on each other’s shirts.  I also bought inexpensive white t-shirts for each member of the family and wrapped them all up in a box for Toby’s Father’s Day gift.

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On Sunday afternoon, following a Father’s Day feast and a long Sunday nap, we headed outside to make some special Father’s Day memories in the form of some messy fun.

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Pick your ammunition!

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It was a blast!

 

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Let the battle begin!

 

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Oops!

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The paint began flying! Each paint ball was filled with liquid paint that splattered when it hit a surface or was squeezed in the direction of a family member.

 

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Tyler loved it.

 

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In fact we all did!

 

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The carnage was colorful…

 

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…and slimy!

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Yes, it was as fun as it looks! A perfect family fun night for the perfect Dad.

 

How grateful I am to be married to a man who loves me and my children so fully. How grateful we all are for his unconditional love, his huge heart, his wicked sense of humor, his adventurous spirit and his enduring commitment to his family.

 

Happy Father’s Day, Toby! We love you bunches!

 

 

Hold on Tight!

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(Beware: Photo Dump!)

Life has been crazier than normal this last week as preparations for camp come to a head, while corresponding with basketball camp for Tyler and house preparations for a visit from CYS on Friday to clear us for overnight visits with Tyler’s biological brother, Brandon. I feel as though I have been moving at a clip comparable to a bullet train, holding onto my seat for dear life.

Next week the girls and I are off to camp for the week and I am looking forward to the slower pace, the quiet and the peace I always find at Girl’s Camp. But until Tuesday arrives we will keep on keeping on. Here is a look at some of the moments that have filled our days this week…

1.We always know when summer has arrived because the dining room begins filling up with camp supplies. In the weeks leading up to Girls Camp, stacks begin appearing on the table as I think of things to pack or finish projects that will be part of my 7th year girls’ experience at camp. There are camp store piles, craft supply piles, post office supply piles, pillow treats and free time activity supplies and we haven’t even begun packing our own personal gear for this week away.

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2. In the midst of preparations for our CYS home inspection and girls camp preparations, I found myself on the run every afternoon this week, taking Tyler down to Monaca for a summer basketball camp at Central Valley High School. One of Tyler’s buddies from church is a CV student and extended an invitation to join him at camp for the week. I was surprised and delighted when Tyler showed interest because it is really a testament to how far we have come in the last year with his anxiety struggles. The fact he agreed and even looked forward to joining a large group of boys he didn’t know, to learn a sport he isn’t familiar with, made me sing songs of praise for the healing Tyler has found this past year.

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The week was a success. Tyler learned that he really enjoys basketball and more importantly, he learned that he can stretch himself and do things that are scary and hard.

3. Grace has now been enjoying life as a Subway sandwich artist for almost two months. When she was hired the manager made it clear she wanted to hire Molly as well but had to wait until a few of their current employees left for school, freeing up spots for new hires. Well, last week Molly got the call she was hoping for and was told they were ready to begin training. This past week she began her new job with three evenings of training at our local Subway. Molly was thrilled to discover that for her first day of work at this new job she would get to train with Grace. We now how two sandwich artists in the house.

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4. Speaking of Miss Molly…I don’t know if you have heard, but our sweet Molly is headed abroad in a couple weeks. She is preparing for an adventure to Costa Rica.

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About 6 months ago Molly approached me. In some research she was doing about colleges and the Peace Corps, she stumbled across and opportunity offered  to teens. The program is Global Leadership Adventures and offers teens opportunities to travel to locations around the world and serve in remarkable ways. Molly felt called to look into the GLA further and began prayerfully exploring their different programs. She has often expressed a desire to serve in the Peace Corps when she is older and thought this would be an awesome way to try the experience on a smaller scale.

For months she researched the various service programs and the various countries available, knowing that she wanted to serve in an area with a focus on environmental protection and animal conservation. She finally decided on Costa Rica where she will spend 10 days working with the Sea Turtle conservation program. Once she received personal confirmation that this is where God was calling her to serve she began saving all her paychecks to pay for this GLA experience.

She is now just two weeks away from stepping onto a plane by herself and leaving the country for the first time…EEK!

She is over-the-moon excited and we are all thrilled to see her chasing her dreams in such a bold and brave way. She is one who is destined to change the world.

5. Tuesday night was Tyler’s last baseball game of the regular season. Tyler was very excited for this particular game because rather than taking place at the normal time slot of 6:00-8:00 pm, he was playing a late game from 8:00-10:00 pm. This meant he got to play ball under the lights. He was very excited, expressing that playing under the lights makes him feel like a professional baseball player.

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Mimi Joy was able to meet us at the ball field and we enjoyed watching Tyler team take the win. What started as a dark sky in the distance, eventually became a rain shower over our heads, but we didn’t let that dampen our fun.

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After the game we took Mimi Joy out for ice cream at Berry’s, ending a fun night in a sweet way!

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6. This week we also managed to fit in an afternoon of bowling with friends. A few months ago we has a school-planned field trip to Sim’s Bowling Lanes. It was a fun day with two other families from co-op, but because of miscommunication between the school and the bowling alley we were overcharged for the event. The result was a certificate for us to return another day for two hours of free bowling.

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Last Wednesday we met up with the McCready family and the Caylor family to use our bowling certificate. The girls were both working at Subway that day but the boys and I enjoyed meeting up with friends, visiting, and engaging in a little friendly competition at the bowling alley.

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7.  This week also entailed a trip to the orthodontist. Tyler has had his braces on for 6 weeks now and was due to go in to have his wire changed and things checked and tightened. I scheduled Ozzie for the same time to be evaluated for braces. While in Harborcreek he was seen by an orthodontist in Erie who recommended braces. We opted to put that recommendation on the back burner until he returned home so that he could be seen by someone closer. So, while Tyler was having his gear tightened and checked, Ozzie was seen by Dr. Spokane who agreed that Ozzie does in fact need braces as well…

So now we wait and see if his insurance agrees. We could have two “brace faces” in a few weeks.

8.  This past Friday we continued with our plan to meet our Family Based therapy team away from the home to see if that lessens the anxiety Ozzie is feeling about family based therapy. This week we met at Brady’s Run park for some fishing fun. All the kids were able to attend, although only four of them fished. Molly chose to watch. Her tender heart struggles with the idea of a hook piercing the fish’s mouth and it suffering at her hands.

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The other kids, however, had no such qualms and jumped right into the task of prepping their lines, choosing their bait, and casting out with hopes of catching a big one.

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Tyler ended up being the only one who had any success, catching a couple blue gill, but everyone had fun soaking up the sun, connecting as a family, and enjoying the beautiful views on a perfect summer morning.

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From our Family Based therapy appointment we headed home to meet with Washington County’s CYS to have our home checked and get approval to be able to pick up Brandon without a social worker supervising our visits and have him be able to stay for overnight visits.

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After a crazy week of prepping for this inspection in the midst of A LOT of running it was good to close out this crazy week by passing our inspection and receiving approval to visit with Tyler’s biological brother without supervision.

Whew…

What a week!

 

 

 

 

 

Fun at the Creek

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School is officially out, and we have transitioned from one season of craziness to another with our days filled with summer projects, camps, summer tutoring and various weekly therapy sessions.

With Ozzie’s arrival home we have reinstated family based therapy. As the date for his release from the residential treatment facility where he resided for eight months while he was receiving more intensive therapy to address the affects of early childhood trauma neared, we started lining up therapeutic support for his return home. His RTF expressed concern for the drastic step-down of care that comes with transitioning from 24/7 therapeutic care to 1-2 outpatient therapy sessions a week and suggested we set up a Family Based team to be assigned to our home to help Ozzie (and the other kids) with his transition home.

We were assigned our Family Based team a month before Ozzie’s release and were thrilled to find out we would be working with the same two ladies that were our Family Based team prior to Ozzie’s placement.

For the last two months they have been in our home multiple times a week helping the entire family adjust to being reunited. Our primary goals revolve around reconnection, improved communication, and healing between Ozzie and the other kids, while Ozzie’s trauma work is addressed in EMDR outpatient therapy with Miss Tina.

Because the goals of Family Based revolve around communication and connection with siblings, most family based sessions involve a whole-family activity that allows the kids to work on those skills. For the most part it has been a positive addition to our network of therapeutic support. Ozzie is doing awesome. Due in large part to his residential stay, Ozzie has found a level of healing and stability that is nothing short of miraculous.

God is so good!

The only struggle I have noted with Oz is a heightened level of anxiety. This is especially true in the days leading up to a Family Based therapy appointment. After taking note of this trend and talking to Oz about my observations he was finally able to identify that the history of Family Based in our home (ie: family based being the final therapeutic tool we tried before we realized that he needed more therapeutic support, a decision that led to him being admitted to Harborcreek Youth Services) was causing his anxiety. In his mind he equated the Family Based team with being judge and jury in deciding whether he goes back to residential care or remains at home. That ANT (automatic-negative-thought) was the cause of the heightened anxiety we were seeing. Once I realized this I was able to speak with his trauma therapist and his Family Based team to come up with a plan to change his perception of Family Based therapy.

The first step I thought might be helpful was to take therapy away from the home and let Ozzie interact with his therapists in an environment that wasn’t connected to memories from nine months ago.

So, on Monday we meet at Brush Creek Park for Family Based therapy. One of his therapists came up with the fun idea of catching crayfish with the kids as a shared, connection-building experience.

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This was our first time visiting this park but we fell in love with it.

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It was absolutely stunning.

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After trying out a few spots along the creek,

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We settled in near the covered bridge.

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The boys were in the water immediately,

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in their excitement to find some crayfish,

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While the girls explored the bridge and took advantage of photographic opportunities.

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It was the most successful Family Based session yet.

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I think the combination of being away from home and out in nature, while participating in an active, hands-on activity was a win-win combo.

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Is there anything better than a summer afternoon splashing in the creek?!

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A Time to Heal

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A few weeks ago we received an invitation in the mail to attend a recognition banquet at the Downingtown office of our cyber school. The invitation was for Molly and her family. She was one of the students be honored. We made plans to attend and initially we planned on making it a special mother/daughter trip for just Molly and I.

As Ozzie’s return home neared I watched the kids came to terms with this transition as they individually sorted through the mix of emotions tied to Ozzie’s return home. Molly in particular struggled to reconcile her past hurts and the need to forgive with anxiety that Ozzie would return home unchanged. She had such a desire to forgive and move forward but struggled to let go of the past hurts Ozzie had inflicted and trust that it was safe to emotionally open up to him. I saw the conflict playing out as she worked to forgive and move forward. My heart broke for her and Ozzie and all the other kids because I knew the hard emotional journey before her…before us all.

I also saw the spiritual maturity she showed as she approached those struggles humbly and prayerfully. As her recognition banquet approached she came to me to ask my thoughts on inviting Ozzie to come along on her special mother/daughter weekend. It was with great love she decided to set aside her own selfish desires and invite Ozzie along, hoping that some one-on-one time and special shared experiences might serve as a healing balm to past hurts.

When she extended the invitation to Ozzie he too was touched and motivated by her desire to heal their relationship and move forward, so he reciprocated her efforts with his own and decided to treat Molly to a fun, shared experience.

While he was at Harborcreek RTF Ozzie had the opportunity to earn “allowance” for daily chores and community work. After returning home he received a check in the mail closing his account. He decided to use a portion of that check to do something special for Molly on the trip and make a memory that was just theirs to share.

As a Mom I was touched and moved by both of their desires to forgive, heal and mend their relationship as siblings and the maturity and selflessness they each showed in sacrificing their own selfish desires for something bigger than themselves…

So, on Monday morning we left on a road trip of hope and healing as we headed east to Downingtown.

After a few stops along the way we made it to our hotel. Molly and Ozzie reveled in the fun of staying at a hotel,

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Swimming in the hotel pool,

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And enjoying the most delicious complementary breakfast I have ever seen at a hotel!

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After breakfast we got dolled up and ready to head over to the school for Molly’s recognition banquet and lunch with her teachers.

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The celebration began with a catered lunch of salmon, zucchini patties, chicken and macaroni and cheese. We enjoyed picnicking outside with the Hudak’s who were also there for Tatum’s recognition.

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After lunch we moved inside where a board meeting was taking place.

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There, in front of the board and their families, two dozen students were recognized and honored for achievements apart from their academics.

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It was a delight to see Tatum and Molly celebrated for their charitable endeavors.

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After they received their awards we stuck around long enough to visit with some of their learning coaches and teachers, both past and present.

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Ozzie was over the moon to get to see his learning coach, Halley Scarpignato, who surprised Ozzie with a new 21CCCS t-shirt.

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After saying our good-byes we were on the road, headed back home with a fun stop along the way.

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(In the next blog I will share some of the fun Molly and Ozzie shared these last two days.)

It was two days of healing and connecting for two of my kiddos.

Forgiveness isn’t easy.

Letting go of past hurts is hard.

Trusting those who have disappointed you requires faith,

And moving forward requires a certain level of selfless surrender…

But I know healing can be found in the most torn relationships if you can surrender the pain to the Heavenly Healer…

The same healer who turned water to wine, brought sight to the blind, calmed storms, and raised men from death…

I testify that God can take relationships left in ashes and breathe life into what was destroyed, making it better than before.

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I know this to be true…

I’m watching it happen.

Finding Healing through Horses

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Both Tyler and Ozzie have been on a journey to find healing through horses. For Ozzie, that therapeutic journey is just beginning, but for Tyler we are now eight months into his equine experience.

Both boys receive equine therapy through Glade Run Adventures, and although both boys work with the same therapist their sessions look very different. This is because each program is built around each client’s particular needs.

At the start of each boy’s therapeutic journey with Glad Run Adventures we sat down and discussed our goals for the program and the unique strengths and struggles of each child. The program was then tailored to meet that child’s needs.

For Tyler our goal for equine therapy was increased mindfulness, decreased anxiety, increased confidence, and trauma healing. We know that one of the most successful therapeutic tools for Tyler is animals. He connects with animals easily and is able to open up and express emotions with animals in a way that traditional talk therapy doesn’t  always work.

Tyler has found a level of comfort and confidence on the back of his horse that isn’t always seen in other areas of his life. He LOVES equine therapy and has blossomed under this form of therapeutic care.

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After eight months of lessons he is now capable and comfortable grooming his own horse, mounting and dismounting independently, walking and trotting. This last week he was thrilled to discover he had graduated from lessons in the arena to his first trail ride. This was a big deal because he is “drove” his horse without the leading of his therapist. She followed as he took the lead.

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Ozzie’s first lesson was this past Wednesday. He also has an overall goal of trauma healing but has other objectives that differ from Tyler. For Ozzie our therapeutic goals include connecting and empathizing with his horse, mindfulness, body awareness, and sensory imput. Both my boys have sensory seeking behaviors- something that is commonly seen in children from hard places- but Ozzie’s added diagnoses of autism increases the need for sensory input even more. Our hope is that we will be able to really feed that need through horse therapy. Because Ozzie’s goals are a bit different than Tyler’s goals, more of Ozzie’s lesson time will be spent off the horse and focused on grooming. By grooming an animal Ozzie will be able to learn how to connect through showing care to another.

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He will strengthen his ability to read social cues by watching the horse’s reactions. He will get bathed in a sensory rich environment as he pets, brushes and squeezes the animal. He favorite think to do is rub his face in his horse’s mane.

Equine therapy is just one more tool we are applying to help our boys find help and healing.

Here is a little more information on this therapeutic tool as taken from equestriantherapy.com:

“Equestrian therapy (also known as equine therapy or equine-assisted therapy) is a form of therapy that makes use of horses to help promote emotional growth. Equestrian therapy is particularly applied to patients with ADD, anxiety, autism, dementia, delay in mental development, down syndrome and other genetic syndromes, depression, trauma and brain injuries, behavior and abuse issues and other mental health issues.

In many instances, riders with disabilities have proven their remarkable equestrian skills in various national and international competitions. This is the reason why equestrian therapy has been recognized as an important area in the medical field in many countries.

Equestrian or equine therapy is also an effective technique for many therapists to teach troubled youth on how they learn, react and follow instructions. For example in a  beginners’ horse therapy, a student may be asked to get the horse move outside of a circle without even touching it. Students may try to clap, yell and whistle but the horse won’t heed the signal. In the same manner, parents, friends and others who are part of a troubled youth’s therapy would learn that yelling, clapping and forcing would not be the best way to make the person do something.

Why horses for therapy

Horses are the most popularly used animal for therapy although elephants, dolphins, cats and dogs may also be used. This is because horses have the ability to respond immediately and give feedback to the rider’s action or behavior. Horses are also able to mirror the rider’s emotion.

The basis of the therapy is that because horses behave similarly like human beings do in their social and responsive behavior; it is always easy for patients to establish connection with the horse.

Therapeutic benefits of equestrian training

People with cognitive, psycho-motor and behavioral disabilities have shown positive results when equestrian or equine therapy is taught correctly by certified equine therapists. Just like other therapies such as physical, occupational and speech-language therapy, people with disabilities are being helped or assisted by certified therapists to cope with their disability like regular or normal people can. However, equine therapy combines all three in such a way that the patients or students do not feel that they are actually under therapy.

In the process, equestrian or equine therapy aims for its patients or students to:

  • Build sense of self-worth, self-concept
  • Improve communication
  • Build trust and self-efficiency
  • Develop socialization skills and decrease isolation
  • Learn impulse control and emotional management
  • Set perspective

Equine therapeutic activities

What are the equine-related activities for therapeutic purposes? The activities are not limited to horseback riding. Many students may feel intimidated by the horse’s size and features and may take some time to develop trust when around the horse. So included in the therapy program are lessons on horse care, horse grooming, saddling and basic equestrian.

How does equine therapist suit the activity to the patient’s needs? The process or technique to be applied during the session depends on the type of disorder and its severity. But the primary techniques are:

  • Cognitive therapy
  • Practicing activities
  • Activity scheduling
  • Play therapy
  • Storytelling and talk therapy

Watch this video from Oprah Show on how equine therapy helps an army veteran cope with post traumatic stress.

A Thank You Note

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To the staff at Harborcreek Youth Services,
I just wanted to take a moment to express the gratitude our family has felt for the healing that has been found within the walls of Harborcreek Youth Services. It was with great heartache, but also great prayer, that we considered an RTF as the next needed step to help Ozzie and the rest of the family heal from immeasurable trauma. Ozzie came into our life four years ago through foster care. Upon meeting him for the first time we knew he was meant to be a forever member of our family. We also recognized that the path we were choosing to step on was not going to be smooth or easy. In addition to our three biological children we also had adopted a son with a similar trauma background to Ozzie’s and the same diagnoses of Reactive Attachment Disorder.
We knew the hard journey that lay before us in helping him heal, but we also knew that God equips those He calls.
Harborcreek  has been an integral piece of Ozzie’s healing journey.
The year prior to his stay was fraught with heartbreaking and scary choices as we watched Ozzie spin out of control. Memories of his past abuses overtook any rational thinking and he was consumed with thoughts of hurting himself and others. Each month brought another trip to the emergency room and hospitalization as he was consumed with thoughts of hurting or killing himself to escape the memories of the past that continued to haunt him. Our home became a maximum security facility with cameras installed throughout the house, alarms on bedroom doors and myself acting as Ozzie’s shadow as we moved through the day.
My goal was simple.
I just wanted everyone alive and safe for another day.
My life felt much like I had pitched a tent on a battlefield.
We went through the motions of everyday living; preparing meals, eating dinner as a family, tucking children into bed, all while bullets whistled past our tent. We lived in constant fear that one day one of those threats would hit its mark, so we invested everything we had into helping Ozzie find healing. We soon realized that even with all the services and support we had in place ( trauma therapy, EMDR therapy, equine therapy, medication management, and family based services,) for him to find the healing we wished for him, a higher level of therapeutic support would be needed.
It was with broken hearts we agreed to the next needed level of therapeutic support, which was an RTF.
It was a decision we didn’t make lightly, and while I knew our hands were tied slightly in the decision making process of where the insurance company would approve him to go, I knew that God knew where Ozzie needed to be. After much research and a lot of prayer my hopes lay in Harborcreek Youth Services.
Our first interaction with Harborcreek Youth Services came in the form of an interview with an intake worker at Harborcreek.
He met with us at an Eat n Park, halfway between our home and Erie, and over lunch he got to know us and in turn let us ask questions about the facility. The purpose of the meeting was for him to meet Ozzie in person, recognizing the impossible task of really getting to know a boy through a list of behaviors on paper. He wanted to make sure Ozzie was a good fit for the facility before a bed was offered and that was the first clue that Harborcreek Youth Services was different than other RTFs.
Rather than being driven by a bottom line, he was asking the questions needed to make sure Ozzie would be a good fit with the other boys and that Harborcreek would be the right fit for Ozzie and our family. The motivation was evident. This was not a business motivated by money, but rather motivated by something more divine…helping hurt kids heal.
When we received the call that a bed was available for Ozzie it was with a hard mix of emotions. There was relief and gratitude, but also much sadness that our adoptive journey had strayed so far from where we thought it would take us.
I struggled to hold back the tears on the day we dropped Ozzie off, and it was with great compassion and kindness that the staff helped us with that transition.
The first month was challenging for Ozzie and for the rest of the family as we struggled to find our new “normal,” but we soon saw that this higher level of therapeutic care was exactly what Ozzie needed. We were blown away by all that was offered at Harborcreek. Ozzie’s days were filled with group therapy sessions, music therapy, individual therapy, family therapy, trauma release exercises and EMDR therapy. The fact that Harborcreek offered EMDR therapy was one of the greatest pulls for our family. We have seen how much more effective it is for kids with RAD and PTSD than traditional therapies, and here he was able to really delve into the darkness that haunted him. His therapists worked to help Ozzie strengthen his communication skills, his ability to recognize and name emotions, the ability to feel safe connecting, and thus attaching, to our family.
There is a special spirit at Harborcreek Youth Services.
You can feel it as soon as you step on campus.
It becomes evident that this is a Christian facility from the moment you walk through the doors, and the fact that the kids are offered spiritual feeding, in the form of church services and access to spiritual council, sets this RTF apart from others. I believe this is a key component to why a higher level of healing is found here. Mind, body and spirit are so intertwined that it makes sense that only in a facility that treats all three components would healing be found to this degree.
There are so many elements to life at Harborcreek Youth Services that I appreciated. First and foremost was the staff. I can imagine that in a facility that works with troubled and hurting boys, it would be easy to disconnected and become hardened as a means of self- preservation. I am sure it can be heartbreaking and frustrating to not always see the fruits of your efforts, but I was amazed at how kind, connected, and invested all the staff were.
I was impressed by the level of care put into safety…Elements like house rules and security cameras were used to provide a safe environment for these kids to heal, but just as much effort was put into making sure Ozzie felt safe, not just was safe…a key component to getting the kids out of the fight-or-flight mindset which allows for healing.
Ozzie was placed at Harborcreek to find healing and help but it wasn’t all work. He appreciated his time in the classroom and loved his teacher. He raved about how good the food was…our compliments to the kitchen staff! And the all extras that were part of life at Harborcreek; things like sports, dirt bike classes, and trips off ground were a wonderful way to bring motivation and joy to kids who perhaps have received little of that in their life.
Ozzie spent seven months at Harborcreek Youth Services, and in that time found a level of help and healing that would have been impossible to replicate in an outpatient setting.
Our family is so grateful for all the staff, from the CEO down, who invests so much into this divine calling of helping those boys whom the rest of the world has given up on.
Your facility has the power to change the course of a young man’s life. I have witnessed it myself in my own child and will forever be grateful.
Last night  I stepped outside to find this scene before me.
Ozzie and his younger brother were sitting on a blanket under the stars looking for constellations. They sat side by side, talking and laughing.
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This was a scene I only dreamt of a year ago.
You have brought healing, joy and laughter back into our home.
Thank you for being that blessing!

The End of Winter

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This winter had been a weird one in Western Pennsylvania…

A bit bipolar in its behaviors with a sporadic mix of unseasonably warm days followed by an unexpected 10 inches of snow.

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There seems to be no rhyme or reason to the recent weather patterns and all creatures, great and small, seem anxious and uncertain as to what the day might bring.

Daffodils reach for the sky, teased out by the warmth of the sun, only to be covered in layer of snow hours later.

Birds are waffling in their duties, uncertain as to whether they should begin laying eggs or hunkering down in their nests for a long winter’s nap.

The furnace has had a workout, shifting from air conditioning to heat in a 12 hour span.

And  my 11 year old has given up trying to make any effort in dressing weather-appropriate and has compensated by simply pairing his flip flops with sweaters.

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The uncertainty has left everyone feeling a bit unsettled and I find myself taking note of how reflective our outside environment has been of our internal state.

Ozzie has spent the last 7 months in a residential treatment facility about 2 hours away. It was with tremendous heartache and no shortage of prayer that he was admitted. The year leading up to that decision was unimaginably traumatic for Ozzie and the rest of the family as the demons from his past history of abuse reared their ugly heads in heartbreaking, tragic, and dangerous ways. After exhausting all therapeutic support for Ozzie that could be found in an outpatient setting it became clear that for real healing to take place he would need to be immersed in an environment of intensive therapeutic support. For these last 7 months Ozzie has thrived under this higher level of care. With the sheer volume of therapeutic supports like daily therapies (individual and group,) music therapy, EMDR therapy for his PTSD, and trauma release exercises, he has found hope.

We all have.

I recently had a friend comment that they sometimes found my recordings on this blog to be disingenuous to our reality. Although not intended to be critical, merely taking note of the fact that most recent blogs have been lighter and fluffier than the heavier stuff that was more common a year ago, I have since thought much about that comment. As a mom I walk a shaky line in recording the story of my family. I share not for accolades or attention but for a mix of other reasons. I blog to record our story as a gift for my children in the decades to come. I blog as a therapeutic tool for myself. (The act of telling our story helps me process and make sense of this often hard journey.) But mostly I blog because I feel called to allow others to walk with us in the hopes that our trials and our joys might help you in your journey and that I might testify of God’s goodness in ALL seasons of life. Every blog is penned with prayer…A prayer that God might use this walk to support another in their walk. I don’t share all. Some would argue I share too much, others would say not enough, but every blog entry is prayerfully approached.

Often the struggle of what to write is not a debate of how much to share but rather HOW to share.

That is where I find myself today.

As the snow swirls outside on April 17th, I struggle to put words to the uniquely emotional journey we have been on these last 7 months. I don’t know that I have the words to fully convey the muddy mix of emotions that are connected to this unique journey. Much like the winter we have experienced these last 5 months, our experience with having a child in a residential treatment facility is a constant mix of sunshine and snow, with so many heartbreaks connected to the decision, but also immeasurable blessings. Each day I find myself uncertain of what the emotional forecast of the day will be and whether the hope or the heartache of the situation with reign supreme.

Saying good-bye to Ozzie on day one… leaving him in the care of a stranger… while I drove home… was the hardest day of my life. It was an adjustment for the entire family as we tried to find our new “normal” with Ozzie gone. As time passed the sharp ache dulled a bit, and while each home visit and the returning drive back brought tears, the situation didn’t seem so hopeless. We were seeing the fruits of God’s hand in leading us to this particular facility at this particular time.

We have watched Ozzie blossom under the intensive therapy offered him in an inpatient setting. He has worked so hard in his healing journey, has learned new ways to cope with the demons of his past that will inevitably raise their ugly head again in the future, but once again it is with a muddy mix of emotions that we transition into another new “normal.”

How do I fully articulate the emotions that fill our home this week when we ourselves struggle to name them all?

Ozzie will be discharged this Saturday. He has worked through the program and has experienced a level of success that many boys there never find. He has fought hard in his healing journey. He has faced down fears, memories of abuse, and his own destructive behaviors with the courage of a knight battling a dragon. None of this came easily and each step toward healing was paid for with blood, sweat and tears…on all of our parts.

I fully believe he is ready to return home.

Knowing his discharge date was approaching, my focus has been on preparing for that transition. Outpatient therapies have been put in place. With his return home he will continue EMDR therapy with Miss Tina, Family Based Therapy services have been put in place, and Ozzie will begin equine therapy (horse therapy) next week. Contact has been made with the school, his room has been prepared, and our schedule has been altered to account for Ozzie’s weekly appointments.

Once the logistics of this transition had been figured out it was time to address the emotional impact this transition was going to have on all members of the family.

When Ozzie left in September he was in a heightened state of crisis and his behaviors were threatening and unsafe. These last 7 months brought feelings of felt safety to the other children, feelings of safety they had not experienced in the year prior. With Ozzie’s return home pending, the anxiety in the home has increased significantly as the kids brace for the unexpected…

And while I know Ozzie is returning to us stable and safe, it will take time for the other kids to see that themselves and begin the process of trusting him, forgiving him, and reconnecting with him.

To help them express , process, and work through some of those emotions and concerns, I set up a family therapy session with Miss Tina. Knowing that Rusty and Tyler would be less comfortable/capable of using traditional talk therapy to express the emotions churning within, I suggested we do an art project.

At home we have had a great deal of success with Tyler using markers to express his emotions. When he can’t say what he is feeling he will color an abstract work of art, assigning an emotion to each marker color. The result is incredible. He is able to purge the feelings locked within and I am able to get a powerful visual of what he is feeling, and thus know how to best help him.

I suggested we use this same technique with the other kids at our family therapy session. The day before our appointment we sat down and made a list of emotions that we might all be feeling about Ozzie’s return home and then we made an emotion “key” with Tyler selecting which paint colors would be assigned to each emotion.

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On Thursday we drove to Miss Tina’s office with our paints, brushes and canvases. While the kids painted their emotions we talked through our crisis/ safety plan. When everyone’s paintings were complete we went around and talked about the emotions (and the corresponding thoughts) that went with each brush stroke of color, allowing the kids to comfortably share the muddy mix of emotions they have been feeling. I think it brought a sense of comfort to look around and see that the rest of the family had the same mix of colors/emotions that we had each been feeling individually.

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It is with great joy, gratitude, and relief that we welcome Ozzie back home, but the reality is that there are other emotions that color this transition as well.

Anxiety seems to be the prevailing constant in everyone’s work of art, so as we take this next step in our adoption journey we petition you, our fellow sojourners, to lift our family up in prayer.

We are ready to leave winter behind. We are ready for the new life and hope that comes with spring.

May the storms be over.

May the sun come out.

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Please pray for us.

Ozzie turns 14!

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I can hardly believe it, but Ozzie is 14!

Last Friday we woke up and it felt weird not sneaking into his room with the traditional cupcake and birthday song. It is at times like this that I struggle most with him being away from home, despite the fact I know he is where he needs to be to have the life he deserves to have.

He didn’t have to wait to long for his birthday song and celebratory cupcake, however. By 8:00 am Grace. Molly, Tyler and I were on the road to pick Ozzie up for his birthday celebration. Because of President’s Day weekend he had Friday and Monday off school, allowing for an extra long weekend at home to celebrate his special day.

We arrived at his facility at 10:30, with cupcakes in hand. We were scheduled for a family session with his therapist that included all the kids. This was the first time they had participated in one of Ozzie’s weekly family sessions and is the next big step in his permanent transition home. Knowing that there was healing work to be done in Ozzie’s relationships with siblings, while also recognizing that we didn’t want to dig too deep or do anything too intense given the heightened emotions of the day, Halle planned a series of fun, team-building challenges using balloons. It was ideal. It resulted in a lot of positive connection, communication, and laughter. It was a great kick-off to future family sessions with the kids, and a nice way to start the weekend.

I entered this weekend with a bit of trepidation. It had a lot of factors working against it. Toby and Rusty were on their way to Florida, leaving Tyler feeling anxious and unsafe (and leaving me without four extra hands.) It was also Ozzie’s birthday… a day that stirs up a lot of hard emotions for Ozzie, emotions that have bubbled to the surface in the form of hurting behaviors in the past. Add to that the fact we were going to be spending the weekend at Splash Lagoon Indoor Water Park, which meant sleeping in unfamiliar beds, being out of a routine, and a lot of extra stimuli, and you can see why I was a tad nervous.

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Splash Lagoon was Ozzie’s birthday request and after looking into deals online (and a lot of discussion with Toby, Tina (Tyler’s therapist) and Halle (Ozzie’s therapist) we felt that this was a doable request and a great litmus test to see where we are it in everyone’s therapeutic journey towards healing. It had the added benefit of being only 10 minutes away from Ozzie’s facility where we could find support if Ozzie was struggling too much. The fact that I was even entertaining the idea was a HUGE testament to how far we have come in the last year. 12 months ago I felt incapable of managing something as simple as taking Tyler and Ozzie to the store together without Toby to help, and now a year later we are spending the weekend at a waterpark without Toby or Rusty. God is so gracious!

This weekend has been a powerful reminder that the dark seasons of life don’t last forever. When we are struggling with the night we need to remember that the dawn always comes…

ALWAYS!

 And down the road we will look back on that darkness and see it for what it was: a short stretch of time on our eternal timeline.

After our family session we stopped for a quick lunch at Burger King (Ozzie’s request) and then headed to the Comfort Inn at Splash Lagoon to check in for the night. When looking for deals for Splash Lagoon we soon discovered the package deals, offered to lure in visitors, were far more economical (½ the price) than purchasing 5 2-day passes…

And a lot more fun!

I mean, what kid doesn’t love staying at a hotel overnight, especially a hotel with a pool and a free continental breakfast. In addition to our overnight stay, our package deal came with 2- day passes for everyone, a $30.00 arcade card, tickets for free ice cream cones for everyone, and a $25.00 gift card to Quaker Steak and Lube.

Once we checked into our room we put on our swim suits and headed to the water park. It was such a treat to be able to walk through indoor hallways to get to the water park, rather than braving the frigid temperatures outside. February is a great time to visit an indoor water park. I found the hot air and pools of water were all the more appreciated with the freezing temperatures outside!

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Once inside Splash Lagoon our first stop was the Aqua Tumbler. This new addition came with an additional cost, but because of the fact it was a special day I paid for Ozzie and Tyler to each take a ride. (The girls opted to pass on this one.)

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The Aqua Tumbler is a giant inflatable ball that the rider climbs inside. Once “zipped in” the ride begins. The ball spins while the rider tumbles around inside. The spinning and the addition of a small amount of water inside the ball makes getting a foothold or handhold impossible. That is what makes it so much fun to ride… And even more fun to watch!

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Both boys LOVED it!

The remainder of the day was spent enjoying all the fun Splash Lagoon had to offer:

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Both boys did awesome.

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They paired up with the girls and rode slides,

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played basketball,

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rode waves,

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floated down the lazy river,

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ALL WHILE

playing well with each other,

 transitioning from activity to activity easily and without argument,

and verbalizing their needs easily.

 It couldn’t have gone any better and I was so very proud of both of them.

I was also incredibly proud of my girls who were so good, and patient, and selfless with their younger brothers.

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At 7:00 pm we called it a day. We still had dinner and a birthday party on the agenda before we could call it a day, so we headed back to our room, changed into warm, dry clothes, and ordered Quaker Steak and Lube wings for dinner. It was such a treat to have dinner delivered to our room and to be able to offset the cost of dinner a bit with our complimentary gift card.

While we waited for dinner to arrive Ozzie took the seat of honor and opened the pile of gifts we had been accruing over the last few weeks as packages and cards arrived in the mail from family and friends.

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Much thought and a great deal of love was put into the gifts given. All were so reflective of Ozzie and his interests. From loved ones he received a tornado simulator, a few new Lego City sets, Harry Potter playing cards and favorite treats.

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His gift from the family was a telescope and a book of 50 things to find in the night sky with a beginner telescope.

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He was over the moon! (Pun intended) 🙂

We didn’t open it up that night but on Sunday night the clouds cleared and he was able to do a little star gazing with his new scope.

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Around the time he had finished opening his gifts our dinner arrived and we enjoyed a wonderfully relaxed evening eating wings in our hotel room while watching the new Disney movie, Zombies. While he watched, Ozzie had fun building his new Lego set from my parents.

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It was a joyful birthday!

By 10:30 eyelids were heavy and little boys were all worn out from their day of swimming, so it was lights out. Everyone needed to be rested for our 2nd day of play at Splash Lagoon.

Happy Birthday, dear Ozzie.

 How blessed we are to call you our son.

May your 14th year be one of growth, healing, hope, and happiness.

We love you to the moon and back.

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