Friday, January 16, 2015

Overheard at the HennHouse

You can always tell when "Ranger Rick" is delivered...

During nighttime prayers, Esther-Faith prayed, "Thank you for my dog Angel because she is so cute and a lot of fun and I hope we get to go to Africa so she can ride on an elephant. With grownups to keep her safe, of course."

And when you're married to someone who has seen just about all that humanity has too offer, he finds humor in the littlest things. Tonight as Tim discovered that his new pajama pants have a back pocket... "No way!!! I can wear these to court! Put my wallet in the back and everything!" (And then he proceeded to tell stories about what he's seen people wear (or not wear) to court.)

© 2015 Karin Shirey Henn, all rights reserved. 
Copyright notice: All content, including writings, artwork, photographs, or videos, posted on this blog is original to Karin Shirey Henn and the HennHouse unless otherwise stated and may not be reproduced without permission.

Friday, January 09, 2015

How to help a friend experiencing a prolonged crisis

I'm not going to lie to you, this past year has been very difficult. Exactly one year ago, my oldest son tried to kill me. The time between that moment and today has been filled with so much. So much progress. So many setbacks. So much hope. So much dismay. So much faith. So much heartache.

As we round the corner on this date, I refuse to call it an "anniversary." That word connotes celebration, and frankly, I'm not really celebrating that my son has not lived at home for a year. Here's what I am celebrating, though: progress, timing, placement.

Isaiah has made significant progress this year. Sure, there have been so many setbacks and concerns, but those feed into the progress that he's making. And this week, well folks, this week he had a breakthrough. It did not come easy--for him or for us. It was messy and horrifying and frightening and beautiful and exciting. Yes. All of those things all at the same time. But I will celebrate this breakthrough differently than the others, because this one opens the floodgates. This one allows him to make progress in the parts of his story that he has closed off for many, many years. And yes, I'm being cryptic and vague. I'm doing it on purpose. Because this has been hard. For him. And for us. And when he's ready, we'll tell the story of this week together. And believe me there are stories to tell. Horrifying, exciting, progress-filled stories.

This breakthrough came at exactly the right time for Isaiah. He struggles with time. With lost time and anxious time and future time. With being 18 and still being in a treatment facility. With seeing other kids come and go. He's impatient and closed off and frustrated. But this breakthrough broke down some walls. He's not quite seeing it the way we are yet, because he is overwhelmed and scared and ashamed. But he will get there. In his own way at the right time for him.

And I cannot say enough about the therapist Isaiah has been working with. This guy gets it. He gets our family dynamic. He gets the fierceness with which we love our son. He gets the tenacity of this kid's mom. He gets the complexity of Isaiah's story. He gets the walls and the anger and the frustration and the history. He just gets it. Are we major fans of the facility? No. Not really. But we are major fans of this therapist. We will always be grateful that he is in this place where our son is and that he was "assigned" his case. This guy is... I cannot even begin to tell you what this therapist has done for our family. For the HOPE he has renewed in Isaiah's treatment. I see people complain all the time about situations and therapists. We didn't have a choice here. Isaiah was placed and assigned. But folks, we won the freaking lottery.

Here's the deal, though. We're still in crisis. This week has been overwhelming. I know our situation is exhausting and so many of our close family and friends simply cannot grasp the severity or understand the stress our family has been under for the past year--and continues to be under. But this is what I've learned about helping a family experiencing a prolonged crisis, not based on what I want, but based on the love and kindness shown to our family.

Show up.
And keep showing up. A year is a long time to be in crisis. At the outset, we had so many offers of help and expressions of love. You know what? Those things have continued. People offering to hang out with the kids so that we can go to therapy with Isaiah. Colleagues. Former teachers. Friends of friends. And they didn't stop showing up. With help. Or hot chocolate. Or Christmas ale. Or time. Or love. For our whole family.

Be creative.
There have been times that I've hurt for Isaac and Esther-Faith. The time we miss with them when dealing with crises and breakthroughs. Isaac's best friend lives down the road, and I work with his mom (she's one of my closest friends). Randomly, his family will scoop up Isaac and take him to the library or bowling or to the movies. They have opened their home to him many times that he just needed an escape. They have given him a safe place to go and be to decompress from the stress in his own home. And go out of their way to help. Offering to drive Isaac home from youth group so I don't have to delay Esther-Faith's procedure. Stopping in to check on the kids. It seems that they have thought of what they would need, and just done it. In creative and unassuming ways.

My boss is a really smart cookie. She has mentored me in ways I didn't know I needed. I crave her advice and experience. And I work with some amazingly talented people. But the thing is, these people are also very, incredibly human. Some (most?) of them are probably reading this post right now. And on Monday, they will ask me how I'm doing. They will gently pry. They will slide the tissues across the desk when I well up. They will offer some anecdotes and painful stories from their own lives. They will laugh at the striking absurdity in mine. But they will ask. Hard questions. Not because they are nosy or gossips or prying people. They ask, because they genuinely care about me as a person--not just a colleague. This might apply only to our family, because we're such an open book. But you know your friends. You know if they need to talk. You know if they would welcome a question. But if you're my friend, and you want to know something, just ask.

Maybe you're just friends online, but that doesn't mean you can't support your friends in prolonged crisis. Sometimes when I write a bit of our story and put it out there, I have such fear and trepidation about how it will be received. Long ago I stopped writing with an audience in mind and I just write what is on my heart. It often spills onto the page in a disjointed and jumbled fashion. When I go back to read it, sometimes it doesn't even make sense to me. So, when I put it out there, I'm always so afraid that the point will be missed. (And it often is.) But some of the best support and advice has come from IRL friends turned online friends or online-only friends reaching across the miles through cyberspace with a verse or a line or a simple comment. I covet those.

If you're the praying type, and you have faith that those prayers are heard (we are), then don't just say you'll pray. Do it. Over and over and over and over again for your friends in crisis. Even if you don't know what is going on. I can tell you from experience that there have been days I've sat down to pray and I simply do not have the words, but I know someone somewhere has them. And they are using them on our behalf. If you don't know specifics, and you don't feel comfortable asking for details, don't skip that prayer. It will come to you. If you're not the praying type, don't think for a minute that "good vibes" or "positive thoughts" or whatever don't matter. These things matter. Just taking a minute of your day to think about and meditate for a friend in need is so valuable. These things--praying and thinking--for and about your friends are a sacrifice for you. A gift of your time. I know that. And I cannot tell you how many times I've felt resolved in a situation or confident in a moment--not of my own strength, but on the backs of many people's prayers and thoughts for our family.

I have more. Especially about how I've failed as a friend this year. I'll share as I feel comfortable, but this post is long enough. If you've been doing these things for my family, and you know who you are, I cannot begin to express how grateful we are. Especially this week. Especially today. We have a gratitude board at our house. The last couple of nights, Tim and I have been writing our little cards with your names. And as overwhelmed as we've been this week with circumstances, we are feeling the scale tip the other way with your love.

So, thank you. Whether you're holding my family or another family in your thoughts and prayers. Thank you.

© 2015 Karin Shirey Henn, all rights reserved. 
Copyright notice: All content, including writings, artwork, photographs, or videos, posted on this blog is original to Karin Shirey Henn and the HennHouse unless otherwise stated and may not be reproduced without permission.

Thursday, January 01, 2015


My new, handmade island top from my in-laws. 

Every day, many times a day, I get
a tangible, visible reminder of how much
they love us.

My mother-in-law pulled me in close and held on to me. Clung to my shoulders. She pulled away just far enough for our faces to be inches apart. She had a tear in her right eye pushing past her eyelashes. And she quietly said, "If it doesn't work out, come to us," she said. "We'll set four more plates."

Making cinnamon rolls on my new island.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Christmas Party

We are blessed to be part of a big, supportive community of families affected by Spina Bifida. Each year, the organization hosts a fabulous Christmas party. We get the chance to catch up with old friends and make some new ones.

It is the highlight of Esther-Faith's holiday social calendar. She looks forward to seeing Santa. This year she told him she wanted a nerf gun because her brother has one and she needs to defend herself.

This year however, Santa had stiff competition by way of Ms. Wheelchair Ohio. A good friend and all around awesome person, Amanda Young (follow her on FB and Instagram, she's awesome). She let Esther-Faith try on her crown before she jetted off to another event.

Even though Tim couldn't be there, it was a lot of fun hanging out with good friends, and soaking in some Christmas spirit.

Two incomparable beauties.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

"The Spirit of Christmas"

I debated posting the letter you are about to read. It is personal and private. Before I took it to the RTC to give to my oldest son, I let my mother and mother-in-love read it. I wanted their opinion about whether or not it was the right thing to do. To appeal to Isaiah on an emotional level when he can't process those appeals.

The last two weeks have been pretty good for Isaiah. He has struggled, sure, but the negative behaviors have been less severe and he is working harder to keep himself in check. Honestly, it makes us proud.

But during therapy this week, he admitted that he doesn't know how to form positive relationships. It was a bittersweet moment. A moment of maturity for our boy, and utter sadness for us. That he is aware of such a struggle. And yet, that he is unwilling to accept help.