Steubenville Conferences Are Great….Unless You’re Disabled

Before our children were even old enough to attend them, we heard of the beauty of Steubenville Catholic Conferences. Friends and acquaintances alike sang the praises of the renewal of faith and refreshed spirits that their children experienced each Summer. When our eldest children reached high school age, we were determined that this needed to be a part of their faith experience, and worked hard to put aside the money necessary for them to attend. We saw the deep cut to our budget as a worthwhile investment to their faith lives.

Last year, we again began setting aside the funds for yet another child to make her first pilgrimage to a Steubenville Conference, this time in St Louis. We were sending our daughter, who is a wheelchair user, with her older brother, and their youth group, to what we hoped would be a beautiful weekend with God.

The week before they were due to leave, I received a concerned phone call from a friend of ours, who also uses a mobility device and was attending the Conference at the same venue our kids would attend. “I’m here at Steubenville in St Louis,” he said, “and it’s not accessible.” He recited for me a litany of problems he was having maneuvering around the conference space including lack of handicapped accessible doors, blocked aisles, locked elevators, bathrooms doors too narrow for wheelchairs, and more. Most disturbing to us was what he referred to as the “penalty box.” Church groups at Steubenville Conferences are assigned seating in the venue, but people with walkers or wheelchairs weren’t permitted to sit with their groups. Instead, they were placed off to the side by themselves in a designated and roped off seating area, and no one was permitted to sit with them. “I feel like a leper,” this adult friend told us. “It’s obvious that accessibility is an afterthought, and I’m little more than an inconvenience to them.”

Segregated and alone were not what we had hoped for our daughter to experience at a Catholic youth conference. I drove to our parish to give our youth director a heads up. Thankfully, she was just as disturbed as we were at the idea of isolating a 14 year old from her peers and the chaperones/adults who were traveling as a group, and the lack of basic accommodations that we’d been alerted to. She called the conference organizers a week before they were scheduled to arrive and attempted to fix all of these issues by notifying them that our daughter was coming. She asked them to be honest with her about what we could all expect, and if it was as we’d been told, we wanted Ella’s registration fees refunded before she was put in this kind of situation. Don’t worry, we were told, the Steubenville staff would be ready for her when she got there, and make sure that the weekend ran smoothly.

They had been there less than two hours when I got the first phone call from my daughter, she couldn’t get to her dorm room because the only outside door to the dorms that had a ramp instead of stairs was locked to the outside. Her youth leader had gone inside to open the door and get it unlocked only to be told that keeping it locked was a security measure and couldn’t be changed. For Ella to get inside the building, she’d have to wait by the back door until someone from her group went through the front door and all the way through the building to let her inside. “And of course it’s raining, so my chair and I are soaked,” she added. Rain or shine, it didn’t matter, the back doors were locked as a security request made by the conference, and no appeals that weekend saw it reversed.

The evening wasn’t over before I got a rueful text message. “The elevators are locked too, and my room is on the second floor. We’re waiting for them to find the person with the key, but they think she might be at dinner. This sucks. I want to change out of my wet clothes, and I have to pee. Do you think they’d give a crippled girl the key, or am I going to have to hunt for the key lady every time I want to go up or downstairs?” It was a great question, and it was answered a half hour later when the key master was finally located. Neither my daughter, nor any adult in their party, could be given access to the elevator key. The elevators were off limits because “the teenagers might play in them.” “I hope there’s not an emergency,” she typed, “because that could really suck if I’m stuck up here while someone searches for the person with the key.”

The problems were to continue throughout the weekend, with frequent updates from both my daughter and the youth director.

Despite their being told to expect a student with a wheelchair with our group, their assigned seating was nowhere near the handicapped “penalty box.” Our parish’s youth were seated on the opposite side of the auditorium and up the stairs from where Ella was required to sit. Please could she sit with her group, the people in charge were begged. Her friends would piggy-back her up to a seat, and her chair could be stored out of the way until the session was over. Please, could they let her sit with her friends? The answer was a resounding ‘No.’ Her chair, even tucked out of the way, was a trip hazard. She had to sit in the “Handicapped Area.” No exceptions.

With tears in her eyes, she tried to make her way down the aisle, only to be stopped by the sound equipment that was in her way. She would have to go outside the building, back and around, and in the other door to the designated area. They relented and allowed her to bring one friend with her, but only because the door was heavy, and “there’s no one there to open it for you.”

I wish that I could say the weekend improved at some point, but it never did. By the final session, my girl’s requests for people to hold or unlock doors, find the person with the elevator key, or get the friend who was allowed to sit with her a folding chair so that they could actually sit with her were met with barely concealed annoyance that was remarked on by everyone who was with her. The message was loud and clear, she was annoying the staff simply by being present.

When registration for this year’s Conference rolled around, our parish was in the process of hiring a new Youth Director, and the DRE, unaware of what had gone on the year before, booked our group into the same St Louis conference. Maybe it would be different, I told my daughter. After all, the youth director had had long discussions with the Conference organizers, and I had had more than one phone call with them. We had spoken to other people with mobility issues who had raised their concerns after last year’s events, so we knew they were aware that there were serious problems. We crossed our fingers and hoped that the planners had made adjustments for those who were not able bodied to attend.

Last week we heard from the first of our disabled Catholic friends who will to venture to St Louis. After speaking to organizers, he reported “Nothing has changed. It’s still not accessible, and I’m still an inconvenience.” We let our girl make the call, and she’s opted not to go.

She curled up next to me as I called the Youth Director to withdraw her from the group, and cried. After five years of fighting our parish for accessibility and dialoguing with the diocese about the unmet needs of people with disabilities to even get into buildings and participate in events with only minimal success, she’s done. “I’m sorry, Mom,” she said, “but I don’t think I’ll be Catholic when I’m an adult. I believe in what the Church teaches, but they clearly don’t want me here.”

Once upon a time, there was a disabled man who wanted to get close to Christ, and his companions literally ripped the roof off of the building to make that happen. There was no sacrifice or inconvenience too big if it got even one soul close to Jesus. It seems as though we’ve lost our way on this issue.



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The Dragon in the Garden of Eden

Whenever I thought of the devil of the Garden of Eden, or told the story to my children, I saw him as a small green fellow. First a lizard like the ones in my garden, and then a skinny grass snake with a sneaky smile – small, cunning, wheedling. Adam and Eve I imagined to be beguiled, talked into eating that apple the same way a slick used car salesman talks you into buying a lemon. Slimy and smarmy, and slick.

It was a dive into medieval art that turned my notions on their ear.

There are traditions, I learned, in which the serpent in the garden is not small, snake-like, and whispering lies. He’s very much a fearsome dragon, before he is cursed into legless mortification. He oppresses, threatens, and intimidates. He’s more Vito Corleone making Eve an offer she can’t refuse, then someone trying to sell her on a “good deal for today only.” In those traditions, Eve trembled in fear at Satan’s awesomeness rather than being simply seduced into disobedience, She bit into the fruit, hoping to avoid pain and even the unknown-until-now death, and the knowledge of Good and Evil was the carrot dangled in front of her fear.

The failure and sin of Adam, then, is not merely that he is morally weak and easily persuaded. His failure lies in his spinelessness, his cringing, his disobedience, and his refusal to protect not just his wife; but all of creation. The very same creation which had been designed for and entrusted to him by God, Adam wasn’t willing to chance his health and safety to defend.

In this tradition, Adam failed in the most basic task which had been given to him, to care for the gifts he had been given dominion over. It’s easy to skip past that part and rush on to the nakedness and the avenging angel, and yet in that truth lies his failure. Adam hadn’t been called to be a father figure wagging his finger as he scolded Eve for her transgressions. He was called to be a heroic figure willing to give everything, even his own life, in defense of all that is good. He had only to protect and defend, follow the rules God had placed upon him, and to care for all that had been given to him. It was his job to stand between all of creation and the Dragon.

I have often heard Jesus referred to as “The New Adam”. This always made sense to me in that creation began anew with Him. But, for me at least, the dragon-like snake completes the circle. In this other tradition, Christ steps into the role, not simply as the sacrificial victim he certainly was, but also as the hero Adam refused to be. He is the giant of courage to Adam’s cowardice. Where Adam  cringes in the face of intimidation and loses paradise because of it, Jesus walks defiantly in the presence of that same evil when He meets it in a garden, stepping between the devil and the world, offering himself where Adam would not.

For me, it took the idea of the serpent as an oppressive and threatening force in order to see the image of Christ, not simply as a lamb heading willingly and obediently to slaughter, but as the defiant hero. It is in contrast to Adam’s weakness that He stands tall. It is then that his slow walk down the Via Dolarosa becomes the triumphant march of a warrior assured of victory, and through His defense that Paradise is restored to us.


image: Adam and Eve by Rembrandt

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Instant Pot Pork Carnitas (Crispy pulled pork tacos)

I had a whole cute story to go up here about how I grew up in South Texas eating Tex-Mex food, and that because of that I’m a Mexican food snob. How pork carnitas are a great break from heavy winter foods because their citrus-y notes are surprisingly refreshing on a cold day. I was going to regale you with how the Instant Pot has revolutionized cooking for me, and made getting food on the table so much simpler.

But then I thought about how much I hate having to wade through tomes on other people’s blogs in order to get the recipe I’m looking for, so I’m keeping this simple. Carnitas are yummy. Here’s how to make them:

Instant Pot Carnitas (or slow cooker if that’s more your jam, it just takes longer)

  • 4-5 lb pork butt or shoulder roast (it’s not actually the pig’s butt, in case you were wondering)
  • 4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano (Mexican oregano is best, but use what you have)
  • 1 tbsp cumin
  • 2-3 bay leaves (I use two unless they’re small, then I need three)
  • 6-8 cloves garlic (I always use 8, but we really like garlic)
  • 1 cup orange juice (I use the pulp free kind my kids drink, but you can fresh squeeze it if you want to)
  • juice from 3 med or 2 large limes
  • 3/4 cup of Coke (yes, you can use Dr Pepper instead)
  • 1 large onion cut into chunks
  • 1 4.5 oz can of diced green chilis (I use the mild because some of my kids are wimps)

Dump it all into your Instant Pot (or slow cooker.) There’s no reason to try to be pretty about this since you’re just going to cook the heck out of it and no one else is going to see it. Dump it all in.

Put the lid on and cook on Manual for 2 hours (8-10 on low or 5-6 on high for you slow cooker peeps.) Slow pressure release, and then shred the whole thing.

*My pork roast is usually frozen when I put it into the IP because I never think ahead enough to thaw it first.


Making them crispy

You can go ahead and make tacos out of the carnitas right now, but they’re so much better when they’re crispy.

I use 2 methods depending on how many people I’m feeding at any given meal.

  1. Crisp them up in a pan – Heat 1 tbsp of oil in a pan on medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add enough of the shredded pork to cover the surface pan (or as much as y’all are going to eat.) You don’t want a thick layer here, you want it to sear and get crispy on the edges. Ladle the liquid (broth) over it while it’s cooking to make it extra flavorful.
  2. Crisp them in the oven – This is what I usually do because there are a lot of us. You’re going to need a cookie sheet with a rim on it, or other suitable pan. Spray your cookie sheet with nonstick spray or line it with foil. Put a thin layer of pork on the sheet. It can be touching, you can crowd it a bit. Pour a cup or so of the broth over the pork and then broil it 5-10 minutes until the ends are deliciously crispy and browned.

Serve the crispy shredded pork on a warm tortilla (corn is traditional, but my kids won’t eat them) with chopped onion, cilantro if you like it, and a touch of salsa. It’s also great on a salad, on nachos, stirred up with so guac and dipped on chips, or eaten straight from the pan before you tell anyone else they’re ready.





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The end of 2018 was a strange one for me. The year which had started with the exhaustion and fulfillment of a new book completed, new speaking engagements booked (I still have room in my 2019 calendar if your group needs a speaker,) and all kinds of possibilities; ended as a mixture of contentment, new energy, and hope.

Ella’s rheumatoid arthritis began to flare up over the summer, but became debilitating after a simple cold became a sinus infection and then triggered her immune system. (Please don’t come near us if you have a sniffle. It can be catastrophic for us.) The arthritis which had been confined in her legs rapidly went systemic invading her arms, wrists, hands, and jaw. My girl who was famous for her ability to get around suddenly couldn’t open her mouth beyond halfway or get out of bed without her wrists dislocating from the swelling and pressure.

Despite the wheelchair, I had never thought of Ella as being handicapped before this Fall. She was profoundly disabled, and the phrase “wheelchair-bound” became a description of her reality. And she needed me home.

I prayed about it, and then resigned from everything I was doing. I quit my job coaching at the Crossfit box near our old house. I stepped back from volunteering at the kids’ schools. I stopped traveling to meet up with friends, cutting way back on my social life and asking those I did see to come here instead.

I spent my time writing (look for new books later this year,) reading, and working on our new home. As I worked at making our new spaces feel more comfortable (and pretty, pretty is VERY important,) I purged. I weeded through mountains of paperwork and old clothes, a virago of cleaning frenzy. I took all of the energy that I used to spend running around and living out loud, and turned it back towards my home, family, and writing.

My husband and I discussed my schedule and decided how many days a month I could be gone for speaking and book stuff, and I began to see them as joyful God-sent mini-vacations. I stopped seeking them, and God gently filled my Fall and Winter calendar.

As we got to Christmas, Ella’s new medication finally began working, and her strength and mobility have begun to return. She’s no longer sleeping 18-20 hours a day (autoimmune diseases are exhausting,) and she can once again venture out to see friends one or two times a week.

As our world has begun to open back up to us, I began considering what I could and should add back to my schedule as she continues to improve. I’ve decided, for now, to stick with what’s working.

There is a peace in my simplified life that my former busyness had kept hidden. All of the running kept me from the work God has placed in front of me. Designing a life for myself that was lived so much away from my home was robbing me of the simple warmth of home and family. It was and is a fun life, but it’s not honest and real.

Just for fun, I rolled the dice with Jen Fulwiler’s “Word of the Year” generator twice and it gave me the words “Engage” and “Still.” It made me smile, because that was exactly what I had already planned for 2019 to look like – more writing, more blogging, more engaging with people that God places in my path (look out world! If y’all thought that I talked to everyone I met before now, multiply that by a LOT!) and to be still. I’m planning on a lot more days of my minivan’s being parked in my driveway.

God wasn’t in the earthquake, or the wind, or any of the loud and violent things that passed by. He was in the quiet breeze. This year, I’m going to stay still long enough to hear Him.

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The Secret Society of St Nick


We were on our way to Confirmation prep class and our eldest boy, who was thirteen at the time, was talking about Christmas and Santa Claus.  After a bit, I asked him, “Do you still believe in Santa Claus?”

“Yes.” He replied confidently. “Lots of my friends don’t, but there are all kinds of things we don’t see or understand and still believe.”  My heart both sank and leapt at the gentle trust and faith of my son.  “I just tell them they’re wrong, and that it can’t be their parents.”

I reached over in the dark of the car and held his hand.

“Oh no.” He whispered.  “Say it isn’t really…”

“Do you know the story of St Nicholas?” I asked him.  “The real story of the saint?”


“1700 years ago give or take a bit, St Nicholas was a wealthy man who had become a priest, and then a bishop, at a time when it was against the law to be a Christian. He didn’t care what the law was, he loved God and tried to take care of his little corner of the Church as best as he could.  He took the wealth his parents had left him and began giving it away to those members of his flock who needed it.  Remember, Christianity was illegal, so a lot of people suffered terribly.”

“Like they couldn’t get jobs?” My son asked.

“I would assume so.  I can’t imagine the people of that area liking these lawbreakers, could you? So, anyway, the Christian people were being persecuted and many were poor.  There’s a well-known tale of a family that was so poor that the father was having to sell his daughters into slavery because he couldn’t pay his bills and they couldn’t eat.  Can you imagine the sadness of having to sell your children because you had no money?  It’s unbelievable almost, that kind of pain.

Nicholas, the Bishop, heard about this family and wanted to help them, but couldn’t do it where other people could see.  The cops already knew that he was a Christian, they had sent him to jail for it.  If he was seen giving money to someone, they would be exposed as Christians, too.  But Nicholas was clever, and as he walked by their house, he dropped a small bag of coins through the window.  Three times he did this, until the family had enough money to not need to sell their daughters.  One of those times, the coins landed in one of the girls’ shoes which were sitting by the fireplace.”

“Is that where the stockings on the mantle thing comes from?”

“Exactly right.  We know these stories and retell them.  That’s how most traditions begin.  Like St Nicholas.  We don’t actually know what time of year it was when he gave the money to the girls, but we know it was cold-ish or her shoes wouldn’t have been near the fire.

Over the centuries, St Nicholas became more and more loved by people as they heard tales of his goodness and generosity.  Eventually, it became a thing for children to put out shoes on his feast day to see if they could get something good in their shoes, too.”

He sat for a second and thought about it.  “So, how did it end up at Christmas? I know he was a bishop and loved Jesus, but how did we end up with Santa Claus and presents on Christmas Day?”

“I don’t really know the answer to that, but I have a guess.  I’d think it was two things.  The first is that his feast day is in December and close to Christmas.  The second is the Protestants.  They don’t have a love or an understanding of the saints the same way that we do.  They also celebrate Christmas way before it actually arrives.  That all kind of combined to make the Christmas season come before Christmas Day and St Nick got swallowed up into it all.”

“So why do we do it?  Why do Catholics play this game?”

“Because to us it’s not a game.  To us, it’s doing something in memory and in the name of a great and wonderful man.  It’s taking a moment to think about the needs and wants of others and then giving generously in the manner of St Nicholas.  We do it anonymously, and sign his name to the gift tags.  Because, it isn’t about us, it’s about love and kindness.  It’s about taking what we have and sharing what God has given us.  It may not be an actual physical St Nicholas, or Santa Claus, arriving at our homes on Christmas Eve, but it is those of us who love him and follow his example.  In that way, his spirit of unselfish giving lives on along with his great faith and love.”

“So that makes us his followers…like disciples?” He asked me.

“Or elves…” I told him.

He laughed a bit and squeezed my hand.  “It’s kind of like we’re a secret society, The Followers of Nicholas, isn’t it?”

“It is.  Only you know the thing about a secret society is….”

“What happens in Fight Club stays in Fight Club?”

“Cute.  If St Nicholas didn’t tell, then neither should you.”

I waited a few moments before asking him, “I didn’t just kill it for you, did I?  Have I killed the magic for you?”

“No.  It’s not the sparkly magic, but it’s kinda better.  There’s a secret pact of all the people in the world to love each other.  That’s cooler than toy-making elves….Plus it takes away the creepy part of ‘He sees you when you’re sleeping…’

“So, what do you think? Do you still believe in Santa Claus?”

“Absolutely, yes…..even more now than ever before.  Now, I get to be a part of it”

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Opting out of the “National Day of Prosperity”

**I originally wrote this post two years ago, but I think it’s worth dusting off and sharing it again.


Last year, two Chinese students joined our family for the week of Thanksgiving. The dorms had been closed for maintenance, and the school pleaded for families to find space for those students unable to travel to their homes for the holiday. Plenty of space and food, and a long tradition of Southern hospitality led to our spending the week with two young men from China.

Our bustling child-filled home was a shock to them. Raised in a world of only children, they were  overwhelmed by the number of children in our house. One of the young men, who goes by the American name David, is an only child without cousins, aunts or uncles. The other, Sean, has an elder sister. It took his parents and grandparents years to raise the $45,000 bribe to gain permission to have a second child. He told us how relieved everyone had been that he was a boy, because their was no way for them to either raise that amount again or gain permission for a third child.

Thanksgiving itself didn’t hold much interest for them. Instead, they focused almost entirely on Black Friday. They scoured ads and compared the advertised deals. They asked me repeatedly where we would be shopping, and were confused when I said that our family doesn’t do Black Friday shopping unless it’s online. We prefer to eat leftovers, watch movies, and lounge around in our pajamas all day Friday.

On Thanksgiving Day, dinner started at two o’clock, but our house-guests were already checking the time long before we had begun to eat. David looked at me nervously and asked if we would be done eating by 4:00, and would we have enough time for me to drive them to Best Buy for their opening time of 5:00. When I told that I’d likely be doing dishes or eating pie at that time, and that we didn’t still didn’t plan shop on Thanksgiving Day itself, he shook his head and ordered an Uber for 4:00. They inhaled their food before dashing out the front door.

I don’t know how many shops they hit between Thursday afternoon and 3:45pm the next day. They came dragging back through the door with tales of all the things they had bought “very much cheap,” and the crowds they had waded through in an orgy of buying. Twenty-three straight hours of shopping,  then they fell into bed, and slept until 10:00 on Saturday morning.

As we got ready to take them back to the dorms on Saturday evening, David asked me, “Your family is not very patriotic?”

I was momentarily surprised, and answered, “We’re very patriotic, David. Why would you ask that?”

“You didn’t participate in the celebrations.”

It seems that our foreign guests totally misunderstood the holiday that week. In their minds, the real festival had been Black Friday. They saw Americans celebrating our national wealth and abundance with an all-night shopping spreethat saw stores open for 24 hours straight and hoards lined up to take part. They saw the news stories and media reports as further proof that Black Friday was about showing how well our government runs our economy in a massive propaganda scheme.

What about the Thanksgiving dinner, I asked him.

That was the cleverness of Americans, he explained to me. We have a day of gorging ourselves on food on Thursday so that we had the strength to make it through the shopping frenzy to come.

These men who had each lived in America for over six months, who had studied American culture for years, and worked hard to prepare themselves for the holiday spent at my house, never got the message from our culture that the whole point of Thanksgiving was thankfulness and gratitude. Sadly, I don’t think we were able to counteract any of what they had seen. Thanksgiving, which was meant to be a day for counting our blessings and our gratitude for what we have, has been overshadowed by an annual rampage of greed. When foreigners can’t be convinced that it’s anything other than a nation-wide shopping binge, maybe it’s time for us to reexamine who we are as a people.

There have been years when Black Friday was a game that we chose to play, but as it crept backwards into Thanksgiving itself, we decided to no longer take part. We consciously  chose to forgo the pursuit of bargain priced Christmas presents in favor of appreciating the people and gifts we already have.

While we don’t judge those who choose to go out in the wee hours of Friday morning, it’s not something we want to be a part of. Our un-patriotic selves will be drinking hot chocolate and staying in our pajamas until it’s time for Mass on Sunday morning.

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The Wine Fairy

To call the last week rough would be an understatement. Ella’s arthritis flared in a whole new set of joints, the baby got the stomach virus that never ends, it won’t freaking quit raining and the kids are making me insane, plus a thousand other things I’m sure I’ve forgotten. I was hanging in there, but running on fumes.

Tuesday morning, I got ready to dash out the front door for a school run in the pouring rain when I spotted a bottle of wine sitting on my front porch.

I thanked the “wine fairy” on social media, and smiled all morning at the thoughtfulness of some unknown someone in my neighborhood. (Yes, I know who it is now. No, I’m not telling. The Wine Fairy wishes to remain anonymous.)

Throughout the morning, people left comments about how lucky I was to live in a place with such a thoughtful neighbor, and how they wished a Wine Fairy lived near them. They wished for people to be generous in their own lives, and for a community where you didn’t just know the names of the people living nearby, but enough about their lives to know that they really could use a bottle of wine right about now. I agree with them that it’s pretty cool. I do live with some amazingly kind and generous people nearby.

What I noticed on all of those social media platforms was that not a single person said “out loud, “Oh my gosh, I could BE the Wine Fairy!” Nobody commented in public about the challenge to reach out to the people around them and truly get to know them. Nobody seemed to get that for there to be a Wine Fairy, someone has to BE the Wine Fairy.

Communities don’t just happen. It’s not accidental that neighborhoods exist where people know each other and try to lift each other up. It exists because someone started it. Generosity and compassion are contagious, and it just takes one person to get it all going. Which means that you, too, can live in a neighborhood like mine. You can live in a place where people know each other by more than the car they drive or the dogs we hear barking when they get let outside.

There are people living in the houses all around you. Interesting people. Funny people. Kind people. (And some unfunny, boring ones too.) There are people who are just aching for community hiding right behind those doors, and you could be the one who sets the whole thing in motion. There’s nothing stopping you from being the anonymous generosity of wine, chocolate, flowers, kind notes, balloons, or anything else you can imagine. Don’t be afraid. Don’t second guess. Don’t sit around waiting for the generosity to come and find you. Go out and BE the generosity and compassion in your neighborhood, and I’ll bet that you’ll be surprised at all the ways it comes back to you.

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Coming Home to a Yellow House

I fell in love with the yellow house the first time I saw it online. I’d been scrolling through house listings and dreaming of moving out of the house I’d come to hate living in. The brick box where we’d lived for the past seven years was a house of tragedy for our family. Horrible things had befallen us there, and the weight of those memories sat heavily upon our family, but the financial reality of years with a chronically ill child meant that moving seemed unlikely. So I looked at house listings online and dreamed of the day when we wouldn’t have to live there any longer.

I stumbled upon the yellow house, whether by accident or providence, I don’t know. Its cheerful facade and historic architecture charmed me long before I saw the interior. I teared up as I slowly flipped through the online pictures – here was home. I knew it instinctively. This was my home and it was months before we would be ready to buy it.

I sent the listing to a realtor friend of mine and begged her to tell me that I was crazy to fall in love with a hundred year old house in a tiny town I’d never even known existed. She didn’t call me crazy, instead she said, “I think we should go see it.” So we did. It ticked all of our “impossible to fulfill” needs: five or more bedrooms, huge yard (half an acre,) handicapped accessible downstairs including a bedroom and bathroom for Ella, charm, and walls. I was done with dreadful open concept houses with their lack of alone time and noises that carry all the way through them.

We first saw it in person way back in June, and again I knew with a certainty that it was home. “Maybe it will still be on the market in a few months,” I said without much hope. The housing market is crazy here, with houses often selling in a few hours, for it to linger unsold for months seemed unlikely. I wasn’t surprised a few weeks later when the online listing changed to “Sale Pending.”

“I really thought it was the one,” I told my realtor friend. She shrugged and began sending me other possibilities, advising me to keep an open mind. We worked on securing financing, and she worked on finding us a home that would fit our timeline.

As time ticked by, we settled on a house a few miles from where we were living – smaller and more modern that we wanted, but accessible and with a huge yard. We made an offer and things were looking good. We started to pack and plan. I was arranging furniture in my head, and preparing to move. We gave notice to our land lady for the end of August, and thought everything was done. When our deal fell through in mid July, we began to panic. We suddenly had nowhere to go and were running out of time.

Suddenly THE house was back on the market. It had fallen out of contract and was once again available. That’s when I began praying in earnest, and things began moving at breakneck speed.

First I told the whole sordid tale to a dear friend. It turns out that her sister in law works in the mortgage business. She put her people to work, and figured out what to do with us in less than a day. “You just need to find a house,” she told us. That was the easy part, and by the end of the day we were under contract. By the end of the week, our mortgage paperwork was done and we were staring at the email informing us that we were “Clear to Close.” Five days later, we sat at the title company signing the paperwork which made the sweet yellow house on a quiet street in a tiny town ours.

The next day we began moving in, and the whole neighborhood turned out to help. Teenage boys pulled things off of our U Haul truck and the ladies from around the corner dropped off a cooler of drinks while we unloaded in 103° heat. Neighbors from up and down the block stopped by to introduce themselves and welcome us home.

Nine days later and before the boxes are all unpacked, it really is home, just as I knew it would be six months earlier when I first sighed over the front porch with the welcoming front door. Only now it’s our front door, and the family that lives here is ours.

from our front door looking in



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An IQ Too Low to Be Taught, A Student Too Smart to Believe That

The public schools tested his IQ the year that he was a student there. A third grader who seemed to struggle with most tasks, he was labeled as having “Severe Learning Disabilities – Unspecified,” and his IQ test score was so low that he spent most of his day in the Special Ed room working one on one with teachers and tutors. And he still made no progress.

I had reluctantly enrolled him in our local school that year after crying “uncle” at my own inability to teach him. We had spent two solid years on first grade math, and he was still unable to do even the most basic addition problems. Reading was torturous for both of us as he memorized what he was reading, letter by letter, and then would attempt to sound them out in his head. He never got far beyond two letter words.  I could see how the schools would arrive at the conclusion that his IQ was so incredibly low. Except I knew that it wasn’t.

This boy of ours might not be able to do any of the tasks he was assigned for school, but when it came to costumes and make-believe, he was a creative genius. In his head was an encyclopedic catalog of every item of clothing in our house, and he had no problem with raiding our dressers and closets in order to become the characters in his imagination.

When an acquaintance recommended an eye specialist test him, we really didn’t have anything to lose. He’d been to an eye doctor before, and had 20/20 vision, but the specialist saw something else. Our son had Convergence Insufficiency – his eyes didn’t work together which gave him double and triple vision. On top of that, he was dyslexic. Imagine, the doctor said, trying to read something when there are three of every letter that overlap and also turn in odd and unpredictable ways, and for added fun, those letters all vibrate until they blur. How would you read?

Well, you wouldn’t. And neither could he.

He made no measurable progress that year he was in the public school. The special education teacher cried at our parent-teacher meeting at the end of the year as she told me how she had failed our son. I decided that I couldn’t do worse than failure, and brought him back home for school the next year.

That year, I took a radically different approach, and began teaching him as though he were blind. All of his books were audio books, and his tests were verbal. He dictated papers and assignments, and I typed them. His work wasn’t brilliant, he was a solid C- student, but we didn’t need brilliance, only progress. We began taking him to a vision therapist, and he began slowly learning to read. Today, he can read and do well enough at math, but it has never become easy for him.

This morning, as I drove him to work, the young man who once was labeled at too mentally disabled to be taught, told me that he’s been studying politics. “People at work were talking about Trump and about all kinds of stuff, so I thought I should know what they were talking about.”

He listened to a few podcasts, but they were too long and hard for him to follow at first, so he turned to YouTube. He looked initially for priests or religious people to explain the Catholic perspective, and then searched for people who seemed reasonable on both sides of issues, so that he could figure out what he agreed with. Then, once he’d chosen a point of view, he watched videos of people who explained the positions in greater depth so that he made sure to understand it. Sometimes, he said, the greater detail solidified his opinions, and other times it made him change his position completely.

He’s moving on to new subjects now – religion and history for now, learning through YouTube and other videos online. He’s determined to find answers to his questions, and to know what people are talking about, even if he’s a quiet guy who doesn’t say very much himself.

When we first started homeschooling, we said that our goal wasn’t to have our children memorize and be able to regurgitate facts and numbers, but to have them understand those things, and most importantly, know how to go and find those things for themselves. Our goal, we said, was to teach our children how to learn. This morning, my formerly “unteachable” son reminded me of that.



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Searching for The Life We Want to Live

Sometimes it seems as though every few years we’re looking at moving -if it’s an even number year, we’re looking at houses. And so it is this year that we’re once again looking at listings and figuring out what we can afford. We’re also trying to figure out what kind of community we want to live in. While many of our friends are sending their babies off to college and downsizing, we still have babies at home, and are caught up in the never-ending conversation of where we want to raise our family. Because we’re still raising family.

This summer is no different, and our traditional “maybe we should move” house search is underway. As always, wheelchair friendly is at the top of our list, followed closely by a big yard, and walls. You’d think walls would be a given in a house, but apparently not. Have you seen how open open-concepts can be? Why don’t people like walls any more? I need space away from the people in this house.

But mostly we want a house in a place where kids still get a childhood, if places like that still exist outside of memory and imagination. The kids who live in this part of the world don’t have childhoods as much as they have jobs, and that job is “get into college” and “get a scholarship.”

There are very few children here who have the luxury of unscheduled time. They all have bikes and scooters, but not the time to ride them. They live in neighborhoods with playgrounds, but aren’t home to use them.

Instead, they’re at practice. It doesn’t matter what kind – soccer, volleyball, baseball, piano, ballet. Lessons and classes eat up their summer days and school year afternoons. Their parents admit the craziness with an apologetic shrug of the shoulders before returning once again to their day planners and digital calendars, carefully orchestrating the dropping off and picking up of their super stars-in-the-making.

It’s a dizzying merry-go-round that never stops, and I want to get off and bring my family with me.

It’s not that I don’t want my children to play sports or have hobbies, because I absolutely do.  But I want them to play them. My children are not great athletes. They are unlikely to become great athletes. (Ella aside, but her life is weird already.) They are not going to be professional dancers or basketball players. And I’m okay with that. In fact, I love that about them. I love that they aren’t amazing at the sports they play, but they play them anyway. Not for the scholarships or accolades that may come from them, but because they just like to play them. Because I want my children to grow up knowing that it’s okay to do things your just okay at, that they don’t have to be the best at everything they do in order to do it, and that the things you love don’t have to eat up your life.

Balance. I think that’s what we’re looking for. Balance and sanity. And I think we may have to move way out to a small town to find it. Far, far away from the hyper-competitiveness of big city suburbs, in speed of life if not in actual miles.

We have spent years building a life here in our little corner of Texas, but as our town has grown (doubled in size in five years) the pressures on children and families to live up to impossible standards has grown with it. The wealthier and more upwardly mobile the community, the more insane the standards seem to become. And so we’ve built a life, but I’m not sure it’s one that we want to live. Because it doesn’t actually seem like living at all.

We want to live somewhere where children play because it’s fun, where being on the team doesn’t cost the equivalent of a mortgage payment, where games are friendly and traveling is not required, where kids ride their bikes in the afternoons and chase lightning bugs in the evenings. Those places still exist, don’t they? That’s where we want to plant our roots and raise our family – in a place where childhood is lived and not merely a whistle-stop on the way up the career and social  ladders.

photo credit: By Aleckoh [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], from Wikimedia Commons


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