Tuesday, July 26, 2011

We can change so much, but not change at all...

Hi Friends,

We have been busy lately at the Earls household. Our home has been buzzing with friends old and new and I realized this week that I relish in their company. I love having people visit and stay in this beautiful rental home God has blessed us with. It fills my heart with joy to cook comfort foods (mostly Kiki recipes), bake naughty sweets (that are filled with chocolate), drink familiar coffee (hazelnut was our college flavor of choice), and wake up to friendly faces of the past.

This week my roommates from college stayed with me. Their sweet faces, their silly stories, their unique intricacies, their perfume, their laughter....it all takes me back to my days at Liberty University. Days I loved and desperately miss. Its amazing how we can change so much, but not change at all:) I'm pretty sure I'm still as wild and mildly inappropriate as I've always been. Amber still bounces around with her mischievous laugh and is as loyal as any friend could be. Niki is still sweet and grounded (which was always good in 118B and is still good now), and Kirsten is forever joyful and creative....and totally silly and I love that! Here's a picture of all of us above (left to right): Amber (and Levi), Me (and Bells), Niki (and part of Gabe's head), and Kirsten (and her child/dog Millington)...

118B Watergate FOREVER (P.S. that was our townhouse number in college).

Oh, and we threw a little party for my friend Sarah this last weekend as well! It was her 30th and she wanted a "90's House Party"...she deserved a good bash so I was pumped. I also couldn't have been more excited about my chance to be transformed into Jessie Spano from Saved by the Bell! Oh yes, I did the reenactment with the caffeine pills (for questions about such reenactment click here...it will all make sense and you will be slightly concerned about my sanity)!

On a completely different note... (my mind is in a constant state of wandering friends...it's scary, ask Josh).

This excerpt below was taken from a book called, "The Special Child" and it reminds me of God's unfailing love. He makes all things work together for his purpose. He equips us daily with the tools we need to live life here on earth, and for that I am thankful...

Read and be blessed and challenged as I was...

In Mark 8:34 Jesus says, “If anyone wants to be my follower, he must deny himself, shoulder his cross and follow me.” Christ’s words were addressed not only to the people of his time, but also to us today: each of us who desires to follow him must be willing to carry the burden laid on us by God. Because the cross each person carries is different, we sometimes tend to look at others and compare our lot with theirs. When envy makes us dissatisfied with ourselves, we look at others and think, for instance, “He (or she) is so athletic” — or articulate, or musical, or easy-going — and we begin to wonder whether the person we envy has any cross at all to bear.

Every man, woman, and child has his or her own burden to carry. Even the Apostle Paul had a “thorn in his flesh.” He asked God to remove it, but God answered him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:8). If we accept the grace God gives us, we will be able to bear the heaviest cross. And, strange as it may seem, it can even become a blessing.

The discovery that a newborn child is disabled can be a deeply shaking ex­perience for any couple. Unfortunately it is common for some, in their shock, to assume that they have done something wrong. I would advise parents to give no room to such thoughts. Rather, turn to God and seek to see the situ­ation as from his eyes — as a blessing that can lead you closer to each other and to God. He comes close to us through every child, but especially through children with disabilities.

....end of excerpt.

Not sure why you clicked on the blog today but, I urge you (as I urge myself) in all situations to not envy others. We can envy and not even know it. I know you understand what I mean...it's a sneaky sin that manifests itself in some of life's bests moments... marriages, child birth, new homes, successful children, successful spouses, church, work....the list goes on...

I battle this too often with Bella. I'm not sure if I would call it envy, more like a feeling of loss on her behalf. Loss in the sense that she is not "perfect" in the world's sense of the word. God is good and constantly reminds me that in his eyes she has a heavenly perfection. These reminders give me peace. Then I feel so blessed that God chose ME for HER. I feel special...I am thankful for my girl and her differences.


Sunday, July 17, 2011

I don't understand the Gospel

When I was 15 God opened my eyes and gave me a new heart that trusted completely in Jesus' work on the cross for the forgiveness of my sins. The knowledge of what the Gospel meant was nothing new for me. I had grown up in the church (in fact my father was always the preacher) and consistently I heard about my sin and my need for a savior but until that day, in the summer of 1997, it wasn't real for me. So I fully understood the Gospel? Not quite.

I began to read the Bible for myself and study it's words and slowly began to God's ultimate purpose and plan of salvation. That I was made for His glory and I had failed to truly glorify Him. So He sent His son to die so His glory would be proclaimed and my life would be redeemed. I got the Gospel now right? Not the full depth.

In 2003 I married Annie Koole (you know her as the funnier, better blogger on this very blog). I loved (and still love) her so much and soon after we were married it struck me that I had never loved and been connected to someone so intimately and deeply. I thought of God the Father and God the Son (Christ) and the separating that happened at the cross. I would never give Annie up for anything much less anyone. My understanding of Gospel reality was strengthened. Got it, right? It gets better.

Bella was born 7 1/2 weeks premature on Nov. 4 2008. Annie and I tell people she was a surprise baby (not a surprise that we got pregnant with her, but that after a flawless pregnancy she decided to come so early). Before I was close to being ready for it, I had a daughter. Isabella was MY DAUGHTER!!!! My love for her was so real and so rich that my biggest concern was her well being and her future. To my astonishment (because I didn't think I could love her more) my love for Bella became greater when I got the news of her Autism. Then the reality of the Gospel struck me again. Bella was (and is) the love of my life, I would NEVER give her up as a sacrifice for the sins of my enemies. I wouldn't give her up for the sins of the people I like or even love. I would take on any amount of pain and suffering if Bella could be freed from her Autism. Anything would be worth it if she could be relieved from future torment.

This is what makes the Gospel so amazing. God gave up His only son as a sacrifice to cover the sins of the people who were made to glorify Him, but instead thought it would be a good idea to glorify themselves. He kills His son for us "but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Rom. 5:8
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16
The Gospel is simple; BUT it is deeper than anything we can imagine. Does the Gospel amaze you? Does the reality of the Gospel floor you? Are you moved by what God has done for you in the Gospel? Do you believe the Gospel?


Monday, July 11, 2011

Progressing with Autism...

Hi Friends!

This post is to get you up to speed with Bella's development. She's now over 2.5 years old and is becoming increasingly independent. While the amount of words she says 'spontaneously' has not increased that much, her communication has definitely improved. She grabs our hands and drags us to what she wants and typically says "help" or "juice" or "apple" or "outside".

She still tantrums often and has a hard time with the word "no" but, we are working on it. Most two year old's aren't keen on hearing "no", but the difference for Bella is that she has a hard time "recovering" from hearing it. She often gets physical (throwing herself on the ground, rolling, kicking ect) or screams uncontrollably for a while:( Usually this happens in public and not typically as severely at home. Her tantrums do not occur as often as they used to but they are still quite prevalent. This is something we work on specifically in ABA Therapy.

Bella can say lots of other words (besides what I listed below) by mimicking what we say, however we are really wanting her to say the words on her own independent of us asking her to do so. A typically developing toddler's vocabulary should increase at Bella's age to the point where the amount of words produced is basically too many to count. They should routinely combine three or more words into sentences and understand commands like "put that on the table". Now, we know our sweet Bella is not typically developing but, we like to celebrate her accomplishments.

Yes, I can (and I do) count her words and literally come to tears at each new one she says on her own. I am proud of where she is and pray for further progressing to take place. She is more loving to Josh and I than I could have ever imagined a child with autism being. She gives kisses, tackles us, laughs with us, and thinks we are hysterical :) I think she's so funny too. She has her autistic quirks like spinning, laying on the floor and looking at things upside down, crazy laughing, oh and her "orderly process" of doing EVERYTHING. Today I am thankful for the fact that she has started crying when I leave the room (most parents hate this.... I cherish the fact that she even notices).

Here are Bella's spontaneous words (words she says without prompts).
  1. Help
  2. Ball
  3. Banana
  4. Apple
  5. Juice
  6. Milk
  7. Mommy (more like Mimi)
  8. Daddy (sometimes)
  9. Outside
  10. Names about 50% of the alphabet when she sees the letters
  11. Swing
  12. Hot
  13. No
  14. Princess
  15. Tinkerbell
  16. Kitty
  17. Dog
  18. Come on
  19. Please (pees)
  20. Thank you (tank you)
  21. Cow
  22. Sheep
  23. Paci (Pacifier)
  24. Blanks (Blanket)
  25. Old McDonald (sings song)
  26. Alphabet (sings the alphabet -- in her own little way)
  27. Circle
  28. Frog
  29. All done
  30. more
  31. open (sounds like opi)
  32. stop
So, we are excited about these words and excited about Bella's future in general. We are still eating gluten and casein free and receive two forms of therapy 4 days a week. Bella starts early intervention preschool this fall (two days a week). We are hoping this will help her social skills a bit:)

Here's the big girl feeding herself:) I am thankful she can do this (we are still working on using a fork).

Friday, July 1, 2011

I wish I was a little bit taller, I wish I was a baller, I wish.....I was a colonial?

It has come to my attention that we visit Colonial Williamsburg terribly often.

When someone joked today that we are always going there, it made me think? Maybe we are some sort of colonial "wanna-be's"? After all, we don't own any period clothing or hats (although I wish we did so I could wear them and sleep in them and grocery shop in them and... ok this is getting weird). Shouldn't all good Americans want to visit historical sites? What? I find this completely non-nerdy and you should too (if you are a true American).

We went today because we are celebrating the July 4th weekend. Hello people, our nations *independence? I am not embarrassed to tell you that one time we were at Williamsburg and Josh and I were talking about the Revolutionary War and... (because I had a horrid blonde moment) I said, "The revolution....the British won that right?"

Oh dear..

Now, before you start questioning my intelligence, I need to explain something that runs deep within my veins... it's Koole girl blood. We aren't blonde either, we just dye our hair...it's actually innate. To my credit, I just got a 99.6% in my last Master's class.

Ok, back to the story....I paused after this statement....and first corrected myself before Earlsy (the history major) passed out in complete and utter disgust. So yes, I do celebrate July 4th. I love American history, especially the kind where we win wars!

*Side note for blondes...:
Independence Day, commonly known as the Fourth of July, is a federal holiday in the United States commemorating the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776, declaring independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain.

I need to take a look back in time and see if we are really on our way to becoming colonials. I think it is very possible due to this data I found...

8th grade class trip... Where it all started... My friend Laura might kill me for this pic:) Love you!

This one is truly concerning. First, look at my husband's expression, clearly he was super excited about being "locked up"...he's very special here? Me, well I was trying to act as though I was dead....who dies wearing such cute fall boots though? Then, the most concerning thing...poor Bella. We just rolled her up in front of us....who does this? Anyone walking by that wanted a chubby infant could have snatched her up...bad parenting...bad colonials:(

This one above is today....Bella and I perched in a tree. I was wearing a dress, thankfully this shot was waist up, sorry colonials for the unsightly view from below....who climbs trees in a dress? Wait, maybe true colonials would?

Do you think that I might become a jolly basket weaver if I decided to go full blown colonial? I don't know this colonial (above right) but, she seems jolly. I'm sure I don't have the patience to weave a basket. I think I'd get a scarlet letter for doing something terrible....the letter "A" no doubt...but that's the first letter of my name...where was I going with this? Ok, I wouldn't get the scarlet letter for the same reason as Hester Prynne....mine would be because I forgot to milk a cow or got grossed out by raw meat....

This guy reminded me of Josh. Very serious but, deep down he has some "inner wildness". Yep, that about sums Josh up;) He's rolling his eyes I'm sure right now thinking of my madness....

The cutest colonial child would be Bella. This is not her...but aren't those cute little mini-colonials? I bet they could milk a cow?

This odd colonial has clearly been drinking some colonial spirits...or is just mad with some colonial disease. Actually those are our friends...forced them to come with us....one weekend....no doubt;)

Who's this hot colonial?..oh wait, it's my mom...probably forced her to come with us one weekend as well...poor Kiki:)

Well, the investigation is over and it's a fact. We are colonial "wanna-be's"... Happy 4th:)