Sunday, June 29, 2008

Autism Adventure: Part V

Autism can be hard. It falls on the parents' shoulders to figure out what options are available, and then decide which of those options are best for your child and your family as a whole. I have yet to meet a family affected by autism who has found this process easy.

Nevertheless, I believe God has guided us well on our adventure. He's closed doors to places we probably didn't need to go, and he's given us the wisdom to not even try opening some doors. He's enabled us to find Ryne the help he needed, yet not be so obsessed with finding help that we missed out on just being with him. God has grown Marc and I spiritually through this adventure, causing us to depend on Him in ways we never had before.

Just before Ryne turned 3, the path God led us to was Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA). We found out about it from some friends whose son benefited greatly from ABA. We decided that we would set up a home program -- we would hire a consultant to oversee the program and provide training, and we would hire therapists to do the actual work with Ryne. Initially my goal was to do some of the work myself, but I quickly found out that my very pregnant body was not quite up to the task. We hired 4 therapists, a friend of ours from church, a college education major, and two high school students.

Ryne had made some progress through the occupational therapy the previous months. It was the occupational therapist (not the speech therapist) who figured out how to get Ryne to talk. She seemed to understand how to motivate and engage him. Once our ABA therapists were trained they seemed to pick up where we left off with the OT. Ryne quickly started speaking more and more words, and his play and imitation skills really took off. Within six months of ABA, he had a vocabulary of approximately 500 words. While that might seem impressive, it really did not do a whole lot for his overall communication. He could not put together a two-word sentence, and he still rarely initiated communication. Curiously, he could sing entire songs in perfect pitch with us.

Moreover, we were starting to struggle with the "business" side of things -- we were having major personnel issues. Our friend from church and the college student turned out to be excellent therapists, and Ryne adored them. The two high school students had the potential to be good therapists, but lacked the maturity and commitment we needed. They were both working multiple jobs, making scheduling difficult and affecting their performance.

One day I was working in the kitchen where I had a video camera monitor that allowed me to see what was going on in Ryne's bedroom (the therapy room). The camera was pointed at a little table set up in the room where Ryne would do some of his work. When he wasn't at the table often Ryne and the therapists would work/play on the floor out of the range of the camera, but I could still hear what was going on. As I was working, it suddenly dawned on me that it was very quiet in there. I figured the therapist was just writing some notes or taking data, so I didn't think much of it at first. Ten minutes later it was still very quiet. I decided to go upstairs and check on things and found the therapist asleep in Ryne's closet, while he played quietly on the floor! I had bumped her feet with the door when I came in, so she quickly woke up and explained she was not feeling well. I sent her home. Now I'm sure most people would have been smart enough to fire her on the spot, but I was a week away from my due date and decided to give her a second chance.

My parents came into town to help with the kids, and Grace arrived two days before her due date. So my parents supervised the ABA program while I was in the hospital, and unbelievably the same therapist fell asleep in the closet AGAIN! So my mom did what I should have done a week earlier -- sent her home and told her not to come back! Shortly thereafter, Marc had to fire the other high school student as well. It was then that I started to think there must be a better way.

A couple of months later our consultant said she wanted to change our program a bit to encourage more language. She wanted to incorporate components of Verbal Behavior (VB). I was initially hesitant because I had never heard of VB, but had been warned about "watered-down" ABA, and I worried that's what was happening here. (If anyone needs explanation of what ABA or VB is let me know in the comments section, and I can give you some links). The consultant reassured me and gave me some links to research VB, so we went with her recommendations. Immediately, we saw progress in Ryne's language. Ryne started putting two words together, and was finally able to communicate if he wanted something. We still had a long way to go, but it was clear that VB was working better than a more traditional ABA approach.

Another couple of months passed and we continued to have personnel issues. One of our replacement therapists just decided not to show up one day and never returned any of my phone calls. So I never even had the chance to fire her. The two remaining therapists continued to be incredible and picked up the extra hours to keep the program running. You could tell how much they loved Ryne, and he loved them. But the friend from church was going to be moving to Texas soon for her husband's medical residency. As incredible as she was, we could not do this program with just the college student.

And then one day Marc came home and said his company asked him if he was interested in a position in Chicago. It was a great opportunity and we loved Chicago, but we weren't really interested in moving. But on a whim I sent out some emails to my internet groups, asking about services in Chicagoland. I got three responses and all three recommended the same ABA/VB consultant, who also happened to be opening a school for young children with autism. As I read through the school's website, I was intrigued. It seemed like a great concept, and when I talked to the consultant I felt like the school would be a great fit for Ryne. We could send him to a school that utilized the latest research in ABA/VB therapy, had a certified consultant on-site, and they would handle the business side of it! We'd finally get to just be parents again! Marc agreed it seemed perfect and told his company he was interested in the position. We sent off an application to the school and waited.

The abbreviated version of what happened over the next couple of months is that Marc's company was ready to get the job filled, but we had to wait and see if Ryne was going to get accepted to the school. It didn't work out quite as we expected -- the company offered the job to someone else the same day we received word Ryne had been accepted to the school. So our first thought was that it wasn't meant to be. But neither of us could let the idea go, and we continued to pray about it.

In May of 2003 we decided to move to Chicago. Everybody thought we were nuts. I cannot tell you how amazing my husband was through all of this. He never panicked. Instead he put all his trust in God, and reminded me to do the same. He was willing to sacrifice a great career that he had worked very hard to establish, with no guarantee he was going to find a job in Chicago. About three weeks later we packed up a small U-Haul with the bare minimum of furnishings and clothes and moved to a rental town home in the NW suburbs of Chicago. Marc would stay behind and continue in his job until he found something in Chicago. We put the blue house on the market.

The autism adventure was getting pretty exciting.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Autism Adventure: Part IV

The psychologist at the regional center had asked if Ryne liked to drink milk. We proudly answered, "Yes, by the bucketful!" He suggested that might not be such a good thing. That was when he recommended we look into biomedical treatments. So when I was at the book store I was very excited to find Unraveling the Mystery of Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorder by Karyn Seroussi, which is primarily a success story of a child on the gluten/casein free diet. I'm guessing this book is a little dated now, but I linked it to the author's website that has lots of information.

So I read this book over the weekend, and soon set out for the closest health food store (which was 45 minutes away, not far from where we used to live!) with the book in tow. I spent over three hours at the store trying to find everything on the book's shopping list. At least half that time I poked around in the baking section looking for stuff like Xanthum gum and Arrowroot powder. I even left my half-full grocery cart at the back of the store while I ran out for a bite to eat. I think the employees were happy to have a short reprieve from all my questions.

One thing that I took away from the book was that there was no cheating allowed on this diet, and I took that very seriously. I bought a separate toaster for the gluten free bread and separate containers to store all the GFCF food. I even put smiley face stickers on the appliances and containers, so anyone would know they were safe.

When it comes to cooking, I have average skills and almost zero creativity. It is not one of my favorite things to do. So the GFCF (he was also soy and egg free, plus we avoided artificial ingredients) diet just about did me in. But I kept at it because I believed it was going to help Ryne.

Unfortunately, it did not seem to help him. I kept waiting for the die-off reactions the book warned about, but nothing happened. About 8 months into the diet, he was accidentally given some animal crackers at the church nursery. As I read the ingredients of the crackers, I figured we'd be in for a long week. The crackers were made of everything he was not supposed to have, so I was expecting horrible consequences. But he had no reaction at all. No red ears, no extra behavior problems, no diaper problems, nothing.

About a month later we ditched the diet. I put all our special flours and ingredients in a box and took it to a woman who ran a biomedical support group, and told her to donate it to someone who was just starting the diet.

Do I have any regrets? Sometimes. Not about trying it, but about not sticking with it and modifying it. It's easy for me to say that now, because I know so much more than I did then. Looking back, I know that his sensory issues improved quite a bit during that time period. Could it have really been due to just 2 hours of occupational therapy a week (she was a great OT), or could the diet have had something to do with it? The sensory issues continued to get better after we quit the diet though (and after OT services had run out), so all I can do is speculate.

Dropping the diet effectively put our biomedical treatments on the back-burner for the next couple of years. During the time we were on the diet, we also saw a local DAN! doctor, which turned out to be a disastrous experience. For one thing, he prescribed Flagyl for some gut bacteria, not warning us how horrible it tasted. After that we were unable to hide any supplements in anything Ryne ate or drank -- he could could ALWAYS tell if something was there.

So it would be another couple of years before we did anything biomedical. The bright side of this was that we were able to see what really worked over the next couple of years. We did eventually go caesin free again for another year, but still saw no visible benefits.

The main lasting effect the diet has had is that my son, who used to drink milk by the bucketful, now drinks mostly water. He'd probably let himself die of dehydration before he drank a glass of milk.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Autism Adventure: Part III

We may have been calm and collected on diagnosis day, but even by day two I was showing signs of stress. My Bible study leader called to ask how things went, and for some reason I couldn't even remember the name of the disorder he had been diagnosed with!

There was a lot to deal with that first week. Setting up schedules with all the new therapists was not easy. It seemed so convenient that all the therapy would be provided in our home, until I found out that the only time anybody could come see us was in the middle of nap time. I was reading several different books on autism, which were both helpful and overwhelming. The "to do" list seemed never-ending.

And then there was our life outside of autism that got interesting too. The same week Ryne was diagnosed, we found out I was pregnant with Grace! We were thrilled, but it was still a lot to take in. Just telling having to tell others about autism and pregnancy in the same breath was surreal. But God's timing is perfect -- often He would use the pregnancy to help me keep things in perspective.

As I mentioned earlier, many people had been praying for our family while we went through all of this. Of course this included our wonderfully supportive family and friends, but it also included our Bible Study family. Marc and I were both Children's Leaders for Bible Study Fellowship (BSF) -- him in an evening men's class, and myself in a women's day class. So once a week we would have the actual study where the class members would study their Bible's, and we would teach in the Children's Department. On another day of the week we would meet with just the leaders for training, study, and fellowship. Our respective leaders circles were a great source of support and comfort during this time.

One morning at a leader's meeting, one of the other leaders pulled me aside and handed me a small piece of paper. It was the page from one of those Scripture-of-the-day calendars, and the verse was 2 Corinthians 12:9, "But [the Lord] said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.'" I smiled and sincerely thanked this woman for thinking of us and praying for us. And I smiled as I read the verse that has given comfort to many Christians in times of trouble. I'm sure it meant a lot to the lady that gave it to me -- she also has a son on the spectrum. But I admit I didn't really hide that verse in my heart until months later.

One night in particular, I sat in bed and just cried. I was tired. Tired of autism. Tired from being pregnant. Tired of feeling like Anna was being neglected. Tired of just about everything. I tried praying, but ended up just crying more. And then instead of just crying, I cried out. "God, I just don't even know how to pray anymore. I don't even know what to pray for." I drifted in and out of sleep for a while. And then I felt the faint kick of the baby in my tummy. She had only recently started kicking, so I smiled thinking of the baby we had just found out was going to be a girl. We already had her name picked out -- Grace. I had my hand on my tummy, thinking of little Grace when I finally got it. Grace. What did that verse say? My grace is sufficient for you.

God used our baby's name to remind me that His grace is ALL we need. When explaining the term grace to my kids, I often say it is an undeserved gift from God, and that because we are all born sinners no one deserves His grace. So grace can be kindness God shows believers in everyday life, like when He answers a prayer in an unexpected way. But ultimately God's grace is in Jesus Christ. And that is what struck me on that tearful night. All I needed was God's grace through belief in His Son. God's grace is bigger than autism or any other problem I might face. And it is when we are weak that we really see just how powerful God's grace is. When we are feeling strong, we are more likely to focus on ourselves and just get things done. But when we're feeling like I was feeling like that night, we realize that our strength means nothing. It was so comforting that I didn't need to know how or what to pray. It didn't matter that I felt completely powerless. At the end of the day, all that mattered was that I was His, and He was mine.

That was not the last tearful moment in our autism adventure. But it was the last time I had such a feeling of helplessness and hopelessness. God frequently reminds me again and again that His grace is truly sufficient in not just our autism adventure, but all of life.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Jessie and Jasper

About two-and-a-half years ago, we welcomed Jessie to our family. She belonged to Uncle Jim and Aunt Tookie (Marc's sister), but she needed a place to stay while they built a new house. Our beloved husky had run away a few years earlier, so we were ready for a new dog (but weren't ready to do the puppy thing again). So we took Jessie in, and she immediately became part of the family. Uncle Jim and Aunt Tookie's house was completed about a year later, but they didn't dare break our kids' hearts by reclaiming Jessie.

Anna & Jessie

Today we added Jasper to the mix. Jasper needed a new home because his owner's baby has severe allergies and can't be around Jasper. So Jasper had been living on a chain in the front yard for several months. When word came out about Jasper on the local homeschool list, I couldn't resist.

Meet Jasper

We didn't tell the kids about Jasper until we went to go pick him up. Anna was at swim practice, so when we picked her up we had Jasper in the back of the car. We decided not to say anything to see how long it would take Anna to figure it out. At first she thought it was Jessie, but Anna knows her dog, and within 30 seconds she asked, "Whose dog is this?" Smart girl! But that didn't stop her from immediately falling in love with Jasper too. He is a very sweet dog!

So far the two dogs have been quiet, but mostly polite around each other. I think they will get along just fine. With names like Jessie and Jasper, how could they not get along?

Jasper and Jessie

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Autism Adventure: Part II

After our Kindermusik disaster, I pressed our pediatrician further with our concerns. And he continued to dismiss our concerns with assurances that Ryne was fine, and it was too early to be worried about anything. This went on for the next six months until we moved to 45 minutes away to the blue house. We found a doctor closer to our new home, and he seemed much more receptive to addressing our concerns. The problem was that he didn't really seem to know how to go about doing that.

Our new doctor suggested we have an evaluation done at the children's hospital, but when we tried to do that we ran into insurance problems. So he instead sent us to individual specialists. The first was a behavior specialist who didn't seem to offer anything useful. She seemed annoyed that Ryne was climbing all over her office, but said it was too early to diagnosis ADHD. Ironically, she said he didn't have autism. I remember thinking, "Whew! Not exactly sure what autism is, but glad he doesn't have it!" She suggested we get his hearing tested.

The hearing tests didn't reveal any problems either, but they were also having a hard time doing the testing because Ryne was not very responsive or cooperative. So they suggested we go to the speech and hearing clinic at the children's hospital. Based on our previous experience in trying to get an appointment there, we figured that would be another closed door. But, go figure, we discovered that even though the hospital would not take our insurance for a full developmental evaluation (which would include a speech and hearing evaluation), they would accept our insurance for just the speech and hearing. The earliest appointment we could get was three months out, but it still seemed like the best option.

During the time we were waiting for his appointment, I read a book titled, The Out-of-Sync Child. I had actually bought the book over a year earlier because a mom I met was telling me about her daughter's extreme sensory issues. After listening to her, I thought Anna might have some sensory issues as well. But life got busy and I never read the book. One day I saw it on the bookshelf and wondered if it might give me some insight into Ryne's behavior. I didn't even get through the first chapter before I realized I had hit the jackpot! This book was describing Ryne in perfect detail. I was so relieved to have a name for what we were dealing with: Sensory Processing Disorder. The only problem is that the book never mentioned speech delay as part of sensory processing, so I was still puzzled as to how that fit in.

Finally, the day of our appointment with the speech and language pathologist arrived. Ryne was now 2 1/2 years old. I think she knew within the first five minutes that Ryne had autism, but she was not allowed to say that. Nevertheless, the evaluation was very revealing and helpful. Most of Ryne's language skills were in the 12-15 month range. Pragmatics were at a 6-9 month level. He had 15 words in his expressive vocabulary, almost half of them being the names of his trains or other words related to trains. Even with 15 words though, he was rarely speaking. And he was still going through the pattern of losing language.

The speech pathologist then recommended we call our Regional Center right away for a full evaluation. This was a free service provided through the Department of Mental Health. We were able to schedule an appointment for just three weeks out. If our doctor had sent us there in the first place, we could have had a diagnosis six months earlier. Five minutes into the appointment the psychologist said without any hesitation Ryne had autism. He explained very clearly all the characteristics of autism. He diagnosed Ryne with moderate to severe autism, explaining this was not necessarily due to the severity of Ryne's autism, but rather because Ryne displayed so many of the characteristics of autism.

It was a very calm experience. No tears. No grief. Just relief. Relief that we finally had the full picture, that it all made sense, and most importantly we could start doing something to help Ryne. A lot of people had been praying for us through this process, so I'm sure that's why we didn't fall apart that day. We had a real sense of God's peace and control.

Surprisingly, the psychologist mentioned we should look into a gluten/casein free diet and gave us the names of a couple of doctors that could help us in that area. Many parents of newly diagnosed kids go months before hearing anything about biomedical interventions (or at least they did back then).

So now we had a game plan: Ryne would receive speech therapy twice a week, occupational therapy twice a week, and something called special instruction (and to this day I'm not really sure what that was supposed to accomplish!). All these services would be provided for free in our home until his third birthday. We were very pleased and encouraged. I headed to the book store and bought a stack of books on autism.

Our autism adventure had officially begun.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Autism Adventure: Part I

It was at Kindermusik class that I first knew something was not right with Ryne, besides just being a late talker. As the animated instructor sang cheerful instructions, the other children happily sat in the circle and tapped their rhythm sticks. The other moms sat with their children, smiling at the cuteness of it all. Everyone was enjoying themselves, but me. I was busy trying to persuade my son to join the circle, but he wanted nothing to do with it. He was perfectly happy lying flat on the floor and staring out of the corner of his eye at the mirror that covered an entire wall of the classroom. Some weeks he would have one of his Thomas trains (usually Henry), and he would slowly roll the train up and down along the mirror. If I tried to pick him up from this position, he would scream and tantrum.

Ryne was 18 months old when we started the Kindermusik class. Up until that time I hadn't really noticed anything that different. He and his older sister are only 19 months apart in age, so you'd think I would have realized sooner that his behavior was abnormal. But then again, I don't think he had always been that way.

I had a good friend whose oldest child was just a couple of months younger than Anna. And then she was pregnant with #2 the same time as I was pregnant with Ryne. In fact, her due date was a couple of days earlier than mine. We ended up delivering at the same hospital, with her son being born the day after Ryne. Because this friend and I talked almost daily on the phone, attended play groups together, and scrapbooked together, we did a fair amount of comparing our boys' development. They seemed to hit every milestone within days or weeks of each other, except maybe starting solid foods and teething (all my kids were late with those two milestones). By their first birthday the other boy seemed to be developing a little faster, but it certainly didn't cause any alarm on our part. He was saying several words and Ryne had just spoken his first word, "cracker." We were just relieved Ryne was talking -- Anna had been language delayed (more on that in a bit), so we were more aware of language development now.

I'm not really sure what happened between 12 and 18 months. Although as an infant he had a short spell with colic, he was generally an easy baby. But as a toddler he seemed to be into everything. He was constantly climbing on top of the kitchen table. He was always running off. I remember the Christmas when he was 17 months old, I was washing dishes and heard a cry. It sounded like Ryne, but it was a distant cry and Ryne was in the next room with Marc, Anna, and my parents who were in town. I went to check on Ryne and noticed a side door open partially open. We found him out wandering in the icy driveway, barefoot! So yes, he was a handful, but everyone just assured me he was 100% B-O-Y.

He continued to add words to his vocabulary, but he seemed to have kind of a funny pattern. He would say a word, use it frequently for a couple of weeks, and then we'd never hear it again. This continued for the next year, up to the time of his diagnosis.

As I mentioned earlier, Anna had been a late talker -- she even received speech therapy for a few months. But about the middle of her second year, she just suddenly started talking and caught up to her peers within months. Because of our experience with Anna, our pediatrician brushed away our concerns about Ryne's speech, saying he was going to be like Anna, and because he's a boy it might take a little bit longer.

It made perfect sense to me, that is until we went to that Kindermusik class.

Summer School

Before I get into our autism story, I thought I'd share some pictures of summer homeschooling. We have about two weeks of actual school work to complete in June, but we are spreading it out over the whole month. This gives us more opportunities for all the things kids are supposed to do in the summer. Today we had fun exploring in the creek behind our house. It is getting pretty "woodsy" out there, so we pretty much have to stay in the creek bed or we'd get eaten alive by bugs or thorn bushes.

Anna decides to practice her climbing skills.

Gracie was hunting for frogs, but I think we were too late in the day.

Ryne didn't catch much either, but he had fun with the net.

This is the kids' favorite spot, and nobody fell off this time!

So we didn't find many creatures today, but the mushrooms were pretty cool.

We did manage to find some Christmas lights that had washed down the creek.

Just as we were heading inside, Anna finally made contact with some wildlife.

Friday, June 13, 2008

What's In a Name?

I love names. Granted, I can never seem to remember someone's name when we are first introduced, but I love to hear the stories behind the names of people and places. So to introduce myself and my family, I'm going to tell you a little bit about the names you will see on this blog.

Argsmommy. This is the username I have created for many of my internet activities. No, I'm not a pirate who goes around the house yelling, "ARRGGHH!" all day. Okay, maybe just once in a while! The "arg" simply refers to the first initial of my three incredible kids. Don't want to call me argsmommy? No problem, I also answer to the name Kellie! I never much cared for my name growing up because there always seemed to be three or more other girls with the same name. But very few spelled it with the "ie" ending.

Argsdaddy. This is not really his username, but it goes with my theme. My husband of 15 wonderful years is named Marc. I'm sure I will do some bragging about him in this blog because he's a fantastic husband and father. An interesting tidbit about Marc's name is that if you watch the credits for almost any movie, you will see a Marc spelled with a "c" instead of a "k."

A is for Anna. \'ä-nə\ I had to include the pronunciation for Anna's name because it's a little different than how most Americans pronounce it. Since childhood I always dreamed of having a girl named Elizabeth Ann. My middle name is Ann, and so was my mom's. And I just liked the Elizabeth part. So when I was pregnant with our first child, we agreed that if it was a girl that's what her name would be. But about four months into the pregnancy Marc and I took a short-term mission trip to Poland to teach at an English-Bible camp. We loved the people there, and several of the young teenage girls at the camp were named Anna. So we switched things around and decided our girl's name would be Anna Elizabeth, pronounced the way we heard it in Poland. Anna is now 10 years old and entering the 5th grade. She loves to read, draw, swim, and hang out with her best friend, Maddie.

R is for Ryne. \'rīn\ Really, we did not purposely set out to confuse people with the pronunciations of our kids' names! Ryne is named after the Hall of Famer Chicago Cubs second baseman, Ryne Sandberg. Marc is a third generation Cubs fan, and Sandberg is his favorite player of all-time. Our Ryne seems to be following the tradition -- he loves wearing his Cubs shirts and hats. I'm sure it's only a matter of time before he starts memorizing all kinds of baseball statistics like his dad. Ryne's middle name is David, after Marc's brother and also the great hero from the Bible. Ryne is 8 years old and entering the 3rd grade. He loves reading, drawing, playing computer games, and Cub Scouts. Ryne also has high-functioning autism.

G is for Grace. We finally went for an easier name! I always had this name picked out as well. Gracie is named after my grandmother, who has always been a great role model for me. And her name is a constant reminder of the grace God has shown our family. Gracie's middle name is Rebekah, because my favorite Bible story is God's pairing of Isaac and Rebekah. Gracie loves to tell everyone she meets that she is 5-and-a-half, not just plain old 5. She is our drama queen, who is always singing or dancing or finding some other way of performing for us.

Blue House Academy. The kids came up with this name when we first started homeschooling. The background of this blog is actually a picture of the siding from our very blue house. It's turned out to be a great house for homeschooling. We have a room above our garage that is our school room/guest room/office which overlooks more than an acre of woods and a creek behind our house.

Now that you know a little bit about us, I will probably spend the next few posts giving some history about our autism journey. I don't think I can really get into our present day life without giving some background of where we've been and how it has prepared us for our current path.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

It Began with a Prayer

Even though we've only been doing this homeschooling thing a year and a half, I've become quite familiar with the two most popular questions homeschoolers ask each other: "What curriculum do you use?" (if you're curious, check the sidebar) and "What made you decide to homeschool?" I thought answering the latter would be a fitting first post in my first ever blog.

When someone asks me why we homeschool I can usually rattle off several different (but all truthful) reasons. It was our back-up plan in case the school thing didn't work out for our autistic son. We wanted to slow down and really spend time with our kids. We liked the idea of being able to tailor curriculum to each of our children's individual needs. We didn't feel like we were spending enough time training our children spiritually, because we had kind of let their Christian school and our church take over a big part of that responsibility.

But none of these are the true reasons why we are now a homeschool family. To reveal what really happened I need to go back several years. I'm not exactly sure what year it was -- I think it was after Ryne was born, but before Grace was born. Marc was a leader in a men's Bible study, and one night he came home and told me about a conversation he had with another one of the leaders. This other man was a homeschool dad and he said to Marc, "My wife and I are praying that you guys will decide to homeschool your kids." My reaction was similar to Sarah's in the Bible when she overheard she would bear a child in her old age -- I laughed and thought never in a million years. I think I made some joke that they were praying for the wrong family.

It's not that I had anything against homeschooling. I knew very little about it. But all I had to do was take one look at my messy house and my kids glued to yet another Veggie Tales movie to see that I was not a good homeschool candidate.

And here we are. Homeschooling...and loving it! My house is still a mess, and everyday I contemplate getting rid of the TV for good. But despite my weaknesses, God has enabled our kids to learn and grow in amazing ways.

So I blame that family and their unsolicited prayer for completely changing our lives. And I thank God for prompting them to offer up that prayer.