August 31, 2016 -- Goodbye Summer . . . Back to School We Go!

Thursday, September 1, 2016
Sniff, sniff . . . always so hard to say goodbye to summer break and back to school.  I so love having the girls home full time all summer!  And thus, why you haven't heard from me for so long.  I had good intentions . . . but there were just so many other things to pull my attention away from the computer . . . namely two sweet girls named, Hope and Gabi!!!

So I have lots to share with you for both updates, praises, and prayer requests.  But in order to keep the posts from being book length due to how long it's been, I will just start with a post about school, and then try to catch up over the next few weeks.

Hope will be starting Grade 9 tomorrow, and Gabs will be starting Grade 7 . . . that means two girls in Junior High School!  What?!?!  When did that happen!  The girls both got their hair cut in preparation for the new school years.  Hope added some blond highlights for a return to her sun-bleached California days.  It looks super cute on her, but not digging how old she is looking.  And much to my glee, even though Gabi took off half of her hair, she has even more curls in her hair now that it's shorter and less heavy!  Our Gabs is such a cutie pie!

So before I share the goals and plan for Hope's Grade 9 school year, I should give you a quick update on how Grade 8 went for her.  That could be a very long update as it was a packed year for her, but let me just do this in point form to help keep it a bit more brief for ya . . . 

**Hope had a fantastic Grade 8 year overall, even in spite of her struggle with seizures and feeling unwell that began in October.  We had thought she would have her first "well" year with no hospitalizations or major health concerns.  However, the seizures changed that quite significantly, especially from January through May when it was the worst.  She also had a one week hospitalization in May for seizure monitoring.  But in spite of the continued health struggles, we praised God that she had her first surgery-free school year!!!  He is so gracious and good to us!!!

**Hope's academics continue to amaze us.  I won't go into each subject, but her overall marks at the end of the year placed her with an average above 80% and she received a certificate award for this!  This maybe would be less impressive if she was doing some type of modified curriculum, however, this is not the case!  Hope completed ALL of her core subjects plus Bible, Health, and Chess at the same level as her classmates!  This includes MATH!!!  Is the God at work in Hope awesome or what!!!

**I do need to say a few extra things about Math . . . Hope started the Grade 8 school year at Grade 5 math level.  Her aide at school decided to just have her sit in on the first few Grade 8 math classes, as no individual plan was in place yet.  What she noticed was that Hope was understanding and tracking with all that was being taught.  At the same time, we were able to bring a dear friend from "way back when" (we're talking so far back, that I used to babysit her when I was a teenager!) into Hope's math picture.  This friend, Andrea, is a math teacher who was tutoring while being home with her toddler.  She spent a bit of time with Hope at the beginning of the year, assessing her math abilities.  After doing this and hearing what Hope's aide, Dawn, was saying about sitting in on the Grade 8 level math class at school, Andrea suggested that we leave Hope in the Grade 8 math class at school, and she volunteered to help Hope whenever she needed to "fill holes" from the missing Grade 5, 6, and 7 math curriculum that she never took!  Because math has so many visual hurdles to cross, I was given a textbook to keep at home, and although Hope sat in on the classes at school, we worked through all the curriculum at home, challenging ourselves (often with Andrea's help!) to think of ways to explain, describe, teach, etc. so many concepts where blindness was a big obstacle indeed!  BUT . . . she did it!  And she did it really well!  Amazingly well for someone who had a massive brain injury, couldn't count to 10 3 years ago, skipped the previous 3 grades of math curriculum, was blind, and having serious continued health struggles!  It wasn't easy for sure!  It was a LOT of hard work (and honestly, Hope was hard to get on board at times because of the work involved . . . she would tell you that it was her least favorite subject for sure), but what we kept seeing was that she was able to grasp every concept and also was able to take a math test to prove it!  As the year moved on, Hope began turning in every assignment and took every test that her classmates did.  The only accommodation we did was that I gave her all the tests and did all the assignments at home, because her and I kinda learned a way of communicating math between each other and it was difficult for both Hope as well as for someone else to step in and pick up where we had left off, so to speak.  By the end of the year, Hope's math teacher had become more involved and was seeing Hope's ability and also started to adjust the number of questions she completed on the tests, so she could finish tests in the same time frame as her classmates (it does take more time to dictate, and especially when you're dealing with numbers that change every question).  Hope became so good at some of the units that we had to be careful when there were repeated questions from the assignments on the tests . . . she would hear the question read and before doing any solving or hearing the multiple choice options, she would say, "Oh, I remember this question!  The answer is 88!"  Or sometimes I'd catch her saying, "Hmmm, just read me the multiple choice answers, and then I'll remember the answer when I hear it."  I was always quick to reply, "Uh, no way . . . no answering until you do the math and prove your answer!"  Ha ha!  Hope was able to understand very visual concepts like geometry and tessalating patterns (uh, what?!?!), as well as do problem solving of memorizing formulas and calculating volumes of 3-D objects, and even algebra!  Math was definitely the most dramatic progress that Hope made this past school year, and was such a relief as our attempts to "hurry" through the Grade 5-7 math curriculum and try to catch up was not proving successful . . . it's hard to hurry with all the obstacles that Hope works with daily!  Okay, so this point is getting rather long and so I'll end with just this one funny memory I have from studying with Hope in June for her math final . . . I share it because it shows a bit of how God has enabled her to store and sort so much information in her head without her eyes to see . . . and simply put, it's incredible and our God deserves the praise and wonder at His power at work in our girlie's mind!  So back to the story . . . Hope and I were studying for her math final.  I was going over negative and positive integers with her and she was getting tired and struggling.  So, I asked her to "pull out a fresh piece of paper in her mind" to write on.  (This is how she will often work through visual concepts, and what is so cool, is she will take these virtual "papers" in her mind and file them into virtual "binders" for all kinds of topics from school subjects to her creative writing, etc. . . . pretty cool, eh!)  I was going to have her draw a number line and place the positive/negative integers on the line while we counted forwards and backwards to understand adding and subtracting.  However, Hope stopped me cold with her response, "My paper is fully and I don't have anymore room to write on it."  I was mildly annoyed with this "virtual excuse", even though her quick wit and humor was impressive.  I knew she was tired and frustrated, and so rather than challenge her on being a bit sassy and disobedient to my request, I chose to try an encouraging approach.  I responded, "Okay honey, well just grab a new piece of paper and we can start fresh!"  Without a moment's hesitation, she replied, "I'm sorry mom!  But I'm out of paper and I'll now have to go to the store to get some more!"  What a kid!  I didn't know whether to laugh out loud or discipline her disobedience!  But it reminded me just how far God has brought this kid in SO many ways, and the many amazing ways that He was using to help her creative mind find a way through the maze of this brain injury!  Incredible story, even more incredible God!!!

Okay just a few more quick points . . . 

**Hope has needed modified exam schedules and sometimes tests, even exemptions, in the past for a variety of reasons.  There was much talk about what Hope should do about the final exam week in June this year, especially with all the unwellness and seizures.  Two of Hope's teachers said they were confident in her understanding and she could be exempted from writing the finals (Socials and Language Arts).  However, Hope loves those two subjects and so she WANTED to write both those exams!  And long story short, and after much debate, and with an open handed "we'll see how she's feeling day by day" approach, Hope wrote all four of the final exams, and not only that, she wrote them on the same exam schedule as all the other students (four in a row, one a day) and in the same time frame as the other students (other than the Math final, which she got an extra half hour to complete)!  We were absolutely blown away that she was able to do it, that she did well, and that her health was not an issue during that exam week!  Again, is our God awesome or what!!!  Hope's math tutor, Andrea, had told Hope at the beginning of the year that she was confident in Hope's ability to do Grade 8 math, so her goal for the year was simply this . . . for Hope to realize that she was not only able to do math, but that she was good at math, and she could enjoy it!  Hope didn't think so . . . it's not her favorite.  (She prefers and enjoys the creativity and writing in L.A. and the history in Social Studies.)  Well, guess what final was her highest mark . . . a whopping mark of 96%?!?!  Yep, you've probably guessed it . . . Math!  

**Last thing I wanted to quickly share was on update on Hope's EA (educational aide) funding.  Hope has received special funding from a temporary source that allowed her to have a full time EA.  The committee was gracious to extend their funding an extra year into Grade 8, but that would be the last.  The result would mean only a half time aide support for Hope at school, which really was unfathomable as to how that could work with all her obstacles and dependencies, including feeding!  Although Hope's academic abilities were continuing to progress incredibly, her continued health struggles with seizures had made it impossible to pursue further areas of independence.  Rather it was a year of always striving to stay caught up around her sick days.  She did make some small progress in some rehab goals with OT and PT, but I won't go into those for now.  So, as we met with the committee at the end of June to discuss what would happen for Hope as she entered her Grade 9 year, we were praying that the Lord would lead and provide what He knew would be best for Hope and her continued progress.  And quite honestly, we were very aware that it could mean that Hope would need to change schools or even home school to continue to move forward.  Bearspaw Christian School has been so amazing to our family, and a crucial part of her recovery, and so our first choice was to continue to see her pursue her education there, however, the funding issue was a big one.  Simply put, we couldn't afford to cover the extra $17,000 for the full time aide, and she couldn't survive school without a full time aide.  So what did God have in mind for her?  I love that we can so fully trust God with truly every detail of our lives.  He's seen us through so many huge things, how could we not trust Him for this too!  And so even though it was the end of June with little time left for a "Plan B," we attended the two meetings confident that the Lord would supply both Hope's needs as well as direction for us.  Our God is so faithful!  I want to relay every word of each of the two meetings that we had, cause they were just that amazing, to be honest.  But I can't do that, so let me just skip to the end . . . the committee decided to go waaayyy outside of their usual commitment, and make yet another exception for our girl with the "exceptional" story!  They are going to fund a full time aide for Hope for her Grade 9 year!!!  They have made it VERY clear that this is for sure the last year that they will do this, but it gives us another year to see what God has planned for our girlie and to continue to pursue independence and various creative ways of decreasing her dependency on an EA.  She will always need support, but we have this year to focus on how to go about that creatively, thanks to God turning the hearts of these committee members to favor our Hope!  I truly wish I could share every comment that was made at those meetings, because it was so obvious that God was at work.  Not possible, but let me just share a couple quick ones, because again, our God deserves the praise!  And we know so many of you have been so burdened to pray, and we want you to be able to share in the joy of what God is doing in answer to those prayers, even when you don't know exactly what to pray for!!!  So a few God at work comments . . .

The woman who chaired the committee and meeting, after hearing an update on Hope's school year, looked at one of the committee members and said, "Isn't it different coming out here to this meeting at this school?  I wish all our meetings left me feeling like I do when I come here!  Can I be invited to her graduation when she graduates?"

Don, the man who is the liaison for independent schools and has known and been involved with Hope since her days back at the Gordon Townsend Rehabilitation School at the hospital, said many things to show how much he loves and cares about Hope, but also how he is seeing the extraordinary-ness of her story (which we of course recognize as the One who is writing and accomplishing that story before our eyes, Her God and Creator!).  Some of his comments were . . .

"To know Hope is to love her!"

"I'm going to be there when she graduates and I'm gonna watch her walk across the stage to receive her diploma!  And I mean it, walk across the stage, grad dress and all!"  (Hope LOVED hearing this!!!  Shoes optional!!!)

When putting forward his case and plea for the committee to consider funding one more year . . . "Let's be real . . . if she were to go to a public school, she would qualify for every resource out there and would simply put, cost a whole lot more money.  But the benefit of keeping her here . . . in this school . . . a Christian environment where she has simply flourished, is well worth the $17,000 that it will cost you!"

We love this fella and are so incredibly thankful for his obvious heart, love, and concern for Hope!  He has seen her come a long way from those days long ago at Gordon Townsend in the hospital.  He is friends with Hope's Chess teacher at the school who has prayed for him to come to believe in God and seek salvation through Jesus Christ for a lot of years.  Please pray for this dear man!  We believe that God has placed him in his job and given him a huge heart for Hope, not just to help us, but because we pray that he will come to saving knowledge of Jesus and recognize the One who is at work in Hope's life as the One true God!

Okay, so there's my quick overview of Hope's past school year . . . ha ha!  There is never such a thing as "quick" in the life of brain injury!  But let me leave you with just a few prayer requests for Hope's year beginning in just a few hours . . .

Please pray for:

1.  Hope's health to be improved and allow her to put more concentrated effort into her school work without the constant interruptions of feeling unwell.  I'll update you on her seizures in my next post!

2.  Creativity, direction, success, etc. with increasing areas of independence for Hope at school.

3.  Wisdom and creativity for teachers as they go above their usual student needs to teach Hope, with all of her obstacles, and help her in furthering her educational goals, especially as we prepare for high school and the increased demands there!

4. Growth in peer relationships.  Not just to have some friends (which Hope will tell you that she has none and this struggle should maybe be a future post by itself), but that Hope would grow to see that God would desire to use her in the lives of the people that cross her path, including her classmates.  Please pray that God would help her to trust Him and be bold and other-centered to share her life and how God is at work in her with others, and that she would grow in her ability to seek being a friend to others, even when they do not pursue being a friend to her, especially to look for those who are hurting or lonely.  We encourage both our girls daily to simply put, "be a blessing" to whoever God crosses your path today!

5.  Hope's attitude and ability to "push through the pain."  This is just a reality of her life, and we are encouraging her in this area as it can be such a struggle.  Hope is not a huge fan of most school work, unless it's writing stories or poems!  A growing heart to work hard and be joyfully obedient, without complaining, to the tasks she is asked to do.  This would apply to not feeling well, but also just the brain fatigue that can easily become overwhelming for her at times, due to her brain injury and the amount of work it takes for her to do something.  We have to remind ourselves of this now and then to find a balance in pushing her to grow and succeed, while not pushing to a point of overload or frustration . . . setting her up to succeed kinda thing, which with all the facets of brain injury recovery, can be pretty confusing, so we really need prayer for wisdom on how to love her best, in both grace and truth!!!  For Hope's heart to continue to know and love our Lord more and more!!!  And mom, dad, and Gabs, too!!!

6.  Technology advancements that would allow Hope to start using a computer or I-pad.  So far this has been very slow progress and very frustrating.  It would be so helpful to her in so many ways.

7.  Praise for the many people that God has placed in Hope's life to help her!  From BCS school staff to therapists to committee members for EA funding, and school liasons, etc., there are so many people to thank the Lord for, and also to pray for their hearts in whatever ways that God would desire to grow them, as well as bless them for their compassion, and cause any who do not know Him to come to saving knowledge of Jesus Christ!  Please pray for Hope's precious EA, Dawn, as she continues for her 5th year now . . . she is an incredible blessing to Hope and to our family!  She is away visiting her daughter who is having a baby for the first couple weeks of school.  Guess who gets to cover for her while she's gone . . . I DO!  I'm nervous, but totally excited for this opportunity to do this with Hope, and we are praying that God would help us to have a better view of her school days and how to help her and help support and come alongside the school staff!

Okay, that's it for now!  This mama needs some sleep if I'm gonna be a good support for our girlie on her first day of school tomorrow!  It is actually Hope's birthday tomorrow!  She turns 14 years old. . . time flies!  She is really not thrilled about starting school on her birthday again this year (same things last year . . . ha ha!).  But we have so much to be thankful for as we celebrate our sweet Hope!  We started with some early birthday celebrating today, as her daddio returned from his two week trip overseas!  Oh, it's SO good to have Trev home with us again!  Hope chose to take it easy on her papa, knowing how tired he is from his travels and changing time zones by 9 hours.  She loves him so much!!!  We just hung at home and played some games and visited . . . while daddy kept dozing off!  Poor Trev!  I made Hope her meal of choice . . . her own recipe for stuffed chicken breasts (check it out on one of our posts, there is a video of Hope telling the recipe she made up . . . it's yummy!), candied carrots, roasted thyme/rosemary potatoes, and curried cashew and pear salad!  Our Hope loves big flavours!!!  And we love our Hope!!!  She chose a chocolate cream cheese log that I already had made in the freezer for dessert, so "mom didn't have to go to the work of making another dessert."  Such a thoughtful girl . . . how blessed am I!!!  I'll leave you with a picture of her and Gabs with their supper plates, and one of us about to start a game of "Settlers of Catan."  (Yet another future post . . . how this kid can play games that are very visual with her own strategy and even WIN!)

Hope's Birthday Meal!!!

Can't wait to get this game of Catan going . . . question is will dad be able to stay awake . . . answer, NOPE!  Ha ha!  Ended up stopping and will pick it up again tomorrow after a little more sleep for poor papa!!!  : )


You are loved, dear ones!  Thank you for continuing to care and to pray for Hope and our family!  What a blessing and encouragement you are!!!  Your faithfulness to pray for us and pursue updates on the story God is writing for Hope, never ceases to amaze me, and blesses our family immensely!!!  Hope to have more posts and updates coming soon!!!

2 comments:

Julie Barnhill said...

Always appreciate hearing/reading details about your sweet girl. Praying for you all, Heather. You're one amazing mom.

Anonymous said...

What a blessing to hear all this great news!! God is indeed good!!

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