Messages from Moms: Ellen Stumbo {part 2}

I hope you all had a wonderful weekend! (I, personally, am glad to return to my routine; I find Memorial Day weekend e-x-h-a-u-s-t-i-n-g!! It was great fun to watch our kids march in two parades, though, and most importantly, a humbling opportunity to honor the brave men and women who have kept us safe.)

Today we return to our conversation with Ellen Stumbo. Ellen is a devoted Christian, and she is married to a pastor. She beautifully describes how their church rallied around them after their daughter’s birth, and continued to care for them as they discovered a calling to expand their family…

Looking back, I am thankful for a church family that celebrated the birth of our daughter. The women that held Nichole and awed over how beautiful she was.  I am thankful for the friend who took me to my husband’s office the first time I came to church after Nichole was born. She was the mother of an older girl with Down syndrome, and she gave me room to express my feelings and question why God would give me such a baby. She would show up at my house and tell me she was there just to hold my baby so I could spent time with Ellie or take a nap.  I am thankful for close friends who showed up at our door the day we received the genetic testing that confirmed the diagnosis of Down syndrome. Their 2-year-old daughter running to me to give me a hug, the little girl I had watched for a year so her mommy could take a part-time job, and a little girl who also shared a Down syndrome diagnosis. I am thankful for the “grandparents” that did not look at Nichole as different, but one more “adoptive” grandchild to love and to care for. Thankful for the sweet friends who watched my girls every week so I could still help with youth group, and the husband who would wear his yellow fleece sweater, “because Nichole likes how soft it is and she sleeps so soundly on my chest.” The family that would volunteer to spend time with the girls and how convinced they were every family should have a member with Down syndrome, and thankfully they had Nichole, their son promising to always watch out for her like a big brother. A friend who provided respite care and was available for me too, offering one of the most valuable friendships I have had. In our church Nichole was not defined by her diagnosis, she was simply Nichole. When we decided to adopt another child with special needs, the same church family rallied behind us, they helped us get Nina home. They were beautiful, so beautiful. The body of Christ loving on our family.

I never wanted to be the mother of a child with special needs. Now, the mother of 3 girls and 2 with special needs, I cannot imagine my life any other way. Sure there are times when things are difficult, and our battles might be a little different. But the joy and love that surround us has surpassed any dreams I ever had. We recognize even the smallest of accomplishments and we celebrate unashamedly. We clap, we jump, we cry with joy.

We are a part of something bigger than ourselves. Of men, women, children, and families that defy all odds and inspire me beyond what words can describe. A special needs community that I consider a privilege to be a part of. Having children with disabilities is not a burden, for me, it is an honor.

And Ellen…it is an honor for us to read your words! Thank you.

Messages from Moms: Ellen Stumbo {part 1}

Oh, I am so excited to introduce our next guest to you! Please meet Ellen Stumbo

Ellen and I were connected by a mutual friend, Jolene Philo. Ellen guest blogs for Jolene, and also shares her wisdom and insight on her own blog. Please click on over there soon and enjoy the enrichment and encouragement she offers.

Ellen and her husband have three darling daughters. In addition to being a wife and mom, Ellen is an accomplished writer whose articles have been featured in publications such as Focus on the Family’s Thriving Family Magazine and at SpecialNeeds.com. She has a knack for discovering beauty in brokenness.

Today, Ellen shares a bit about coming to terms with her second daughter’s diagnosis of Down Syndrome,and how her daughter changed her life.

Three little bright-eyed girls hold my mother’s heart. They are gifts, treasured and precious lives entrusted to me. They love their bows and dresses, pinks and purples, dolls and castles. They play together, giggle, and hug. Yet, each of them is unique. If you were to come to my house, you would discover just how different they are from each other. Somehow, they fit together so well; they are perfect for each other; they are sisters.

Ellie is my almost-seven year old. She is my drama queen and creativeness pours out of her easily. She is advanced for her age at school, and next year she will most likely be joining that talented and gifted program.  Then there is Nina, my other six-year-old. She joined our family through international adoption before she turned 4 years old. At the time, her development was that of an infant, but with the love and support of a family she is now an average kindergartener and we are astonished at how much she has accomplished in life. Due to her background, Nina struggles with some mental health issues, some we hope she will overcome as she continues to grow, and some that will be a part of her life. Nina also has Cerebral Palsy and she faces the challenges that come from her disability. And there is my rascal, Nichole. She is four years old and she has Down syndrome. She is the reason we chose to adopt Nina. She changed our hearts forever, teaching us about what really matters in life and re-establishing our priorities.

Dealing with Nichole’s diagnosis at her birth was not easy, it brought on some of the darkest moments in my life. I grieved for the baby I never had, and ached for the dreams  that disappeared like a puff of smoke. I cried constantly and felt guilty for the sadness I felt. I did not dare share with anyone about my feelings because I was a Christian, and a pastor’s wife, and everyone expected me to be strong. “God chose you for a reason,” people would say. I resented their words. Why, why would he chose me?

In desperate moments I would talk to God:

Why? Why did you do this to me? Why would you give me a broken baby? I have served you faithfully so why would you do this to me? I gave you my life and I will walk this road because you have chosen this for me, but I don’t like it, I don’t want it!

Slowly and faithfully God began to work in my heart. Nichole challenged what I viewed as perfect, worthy, important, and valuable in life. I had received her as a broken baby, only to quickly recognize that I was the broken one. The treasures I have discovered along the way are not found in strength, performance, eloquence, character or confidence. They are found in brokenness, where beauty is found unexpectedly as a result of God’s love and compassion transforming my life

I cannot imagine life without Nichole, and I now consider Down syndrome to be a blessing. There is nothing about her that I would change, absolutely nothing.

In the next post, Ellen will describe how her church became a family who cared for the Stumbo family during a season of grief.

Messages from Moms: Adrienne Graves {part 4}

Today in our Messages from Moms series, Adrienne Graves tells us a little bit about how her local church supported their family, and also how strangers who love Christ cared for them. The Graves family’s experiences reminds me that the Church (with a capital C!) isn’t a building…

The Red Rocks Church family was amazing to us, and to Emily, during our time at the hospital.  I seriously was oblivious to our needs at first, but they were not.  They brought meals to us for 5 months, along with our friends and family contributing, too.  Literally.  5 months of not having to worry about “What’s for dinner?”  And, not just a drop at the front desk type of thing, but some of the people who brought meals would come and spend time with us.  Yes, it’s uncomfortable for even people we know and know us to be in a hospital setting where a baby is gravely ill, but some of those who stayed with us didn’t even know us prior to Noah’s birth.  They became our friends while we were in the hospital.  

Some people are afraid to do that…they want to give you space, don’t want to be “a bother”.  Since Em was there every day, too, she built friendships with our many visitors from church.  They’d play with her and help her feel like a kid in the midst of this big unknown.  We didn’t actually attend church but once while Noah was in the hospital, and that was the day my older sister and I got baptized, so as far as Em making connections to church members during that time, it all took place at the hospital or if members offered play dates or brought their own kids to visit her, in addition to her brother.  This was huge!

  In addition to our church body we have an amazing core group of friends with whom we do life.  They rotated visits and always brought their kiddos along so Em would know she was special, too.  Some people may not think it’s appropriate to take kids to visit at a hospital, but it’s a children’s hospital!  It’s totally appropriate, and who knows, a visiting kid might just be inspired to be a medical professional some day just because they were allowed to see inside.  Once Noah passed away we started going to church again at Red Rocks.  Em made some really solid friendships with some of the kids there, all of whom were aware of her journey.  They didn’t shun her or think she was a freak because her little brother died.  They just chased her and tackled her, swung from the trees with her, and shared their snacks.  Kid stuff.  They were just kids together.

We had actually attended and served at a different church prior to Noah’s birth and overlapped attendance at that church and Red Rocks for several months.  We had no ill feelings or anything for the former church, but just felt we were supposed to support the start up Red Rocks was doing in Colorado.  That former church literally checked out after one week…Red Rocks along with family, friends, our neighbors, and even strangers from blog world all around the globe, surrounded us and walked through all the rough patches.  A classroom of children in Korea “adopted” Noah and Emily and sent handmade pictures, artwork, and beautiful Korean treasures to our family.  Our church and a sister church in Florida collaborated, and through a tremendous gesture of generosity, Jason and Emily and I hopped on a plane for a week and got away the Spring after Noah died for some time in the sun, at the beach, Disney World, and Sea World.  To a 4 and a half year old girl who had just lost her brother, Emily thought she had won the lottery.  It was important for her to be able to have both of her parents by her side as she laughed, and saw them smile again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you, dear Adrienne, for sharing your heart!

Tune in tomorrow to meet another phenomenal mom!