Two Years with Ethan and Anna

July 31st, 2019

Ethan in Victoria’s Chinatown, posing by the dragon.

Anna, being like her big brother.

Two years ago today we met Ethan and Anna for the first time. Simultaneously it seems like there is no way that two years have passed, and also that they have been ours forever! It has not been an easy two years, but I love that our family now feels like a family – they are comfortable and happy and know that they are loved. We still have challenges, but the blessings far outweigh them.

Ethan, you are creative, sporty, kind, fun, super smart, and up for anything!

Anna, you are loving, dramatic, joy-filled, spunky, and artistic!

You both have my heart, and I am forever grateful to be your forever mom.

(PS These were taken in Chinatown in Victoria – since the boys’ Chinese names both mean “dragon,” everyone had to pose with the dragon!)

Music Video Chosen For Film Festival

July 18th, 2019

We just got word that my music video for “A Greater Love” was chosen for the Content 19 Film Festival in September, and is up for an award! This is so fun, because that song is so personal, and I loved how the video came out!

I wrote that song before Noah came home. We had just been told that his heart condition was much more serious than we had thought (and we knew it was serious) because he had been left so long. We were told it was likely he was coming home for hospice, and this was so devastating for us. As I was praying about this and pouring my heart out to God, I felt that He said so clearly to me, “Jennifer, your job on this planet is not just to live a long time. Your job is to know Me. And if you can bring Noah home and help him know Me, you’ve given him eternity, whether his life is short or long.”

It was such a personal and profound moment for me. I wrote this song about the love God has for Noah and for all of us. And of course, after Noah came home, we found out he was still operable (praise God!) and so his health is much more stable now.

Noah is pretty private. He knows what I share about him, but he would hate to have a video about him. So this was a concept I came up with to take the video in a more general direction while still fitting the lyric, and I just love how it came out!

You can watch the video here.

We will let you know what happens at the Film Festival!

Podcasts and Radio Shows

July 7th, 2019

Since my article about making churches more accessible for families dealing with sensory and autism spectrum disorders came out (read it here), I’ve done several interviews on this topic. Spirit Radio Network (central US) did a short program and then followed up with a full hour, and I also did a longer parenting program on KNLB (based in AZ). I was a guest on John Clemmons reports (nationwide) and Off the Bookshelf (based in MI). Chris Pugh also did a full hour podcast with me on churches and special needs children – you can see that here (taped in a hotel room while traveling to visit a college with Rachel – it never stops!).

In addition, Campus Crusade’s (CRU) Radio Network released a spot nationwide for their “Making Your Life Count” which was picked up across the country. You can hear that here. I taped several shows for them earlier, so it’s fun to start hearing those making their way into the world!

Our Northwest Adventure Part 3 – Vancouver Island, BC

June 22nd, 2019

While we still believed the trail was moderate.

One of the many, stunning views.

Taking a break looking across the Juan del Fuca Strait at the Olympic Mountains.

You can see my family ahead of me who are tiny in this pic – the scale was huge.

The first place we started having to rock climb.

Another very steep section where I took a picture looking down on my way up – I’m only about a third of the way up this section.

Another beautiful bald eagle.

Rinnah walking on the edge – we never got pictures of the really scary stuff because we were trying not to die, but again, you can see the scale of this.

A beautiful little cove we stumbled onto about halfway to the halfway where we turned back – the kids played here for a while and found their first beach glass ever which turned into a major hunt.

One of the seals we saw playing in the water at Cabin Point.

The sunken garden at Butchart Gardens, built to disguise an old quarry.

The Japanese Garden at Butchart Gardens.

A hidden glimpse through the trees to the water at Butchart Gardens.

The stunning view from our porch – best part of the house and I could look at it all day.

The tiny totem at the turn to our street – we loved this!

Anna showing her haul at Glass Beach.

Rinnah and Rachel walking into Fan Tan Alley in Victoria’s Chinatown.

At 23 1/2 Fan Tan Alley. There are many half addresses in Chinatown as they were trying to squeeze in more immigrants and keep them from the notice of the government.

The Gate of Harmonious Interest in Victoria’s Chinatown.

One of the totem displays at the Royal BC Museum. We loved looking at the totems all over Alaska and BC on this trip.

The boys REALLY enjoying traditional food from Yunnan.

Driving up through Washington was beautiful, the border crossing was pretty easy (always a concern when you have an unusual looking family), and we made it to our ferry with literally 2 minutes to spare, but we made it! This was a very impressive operation – a huge ferry with hundreds of cars. The kids were so impressed watching the 8 lanes going on in order and how they loaded it for the weight, etc. The scenery during the ride was stunning too – we were going through and around all of the islands in the Strait of Georgia and the Canadian counterpoint to the San Juan Islands. It’s about an hour and a half long trip.

One exciting/interesting/scary thing happened on the way over – a ship was in trouble. We were the closest vessel and so had to execute a rescue. We aren’t really sure what happened since they deployed a rescue boat from the ferry (the ferry was way too large to do it), but we could see a stranded boat. It took an extra probably 30 minutes, and the captain kept updating us, finally just telling us it had “all come right in the end,” and the rescue boat was back so we could continue.

We rented a house on Vancouver Island very close to the ferry. We just wanted a landing spot for the week – somewhere we could have some downtime and use as a home base for hiking and maybe another day in Victoria. This house was perfect for that. It wasn’t really near anything, but also was not far away from any of the things we wanted to see, and it did have a beautiful view of the water – we even saw otters from our deck a few times!

Our first day, we just had a “recovery” day – it had been so busy getting off the ship and seeing Seattle and getting ourselves up to Vancouver Island, we just wanted no plans. We explored our neighborhood, picked up groceries, played board games and just generally chilled out.

Our second day we decided to take our biggest hiking adventure. We picked this day because it was the coolest. The weather was great all week, and mostly cool, but we wanted the coolest day we could get for a big hike because Noah’s heart does so much better when it’s not hot. The high predicted was only about 65, so we thought he’d be a lot more comfortable and able to do it.

I had read a lot about this hike, and we were already a little nervous about whether our Littles could do it. It was called in several places the “best day hike in Canada” which seemed pretty awesome, and it sounded amazing! You hike right on the edge of the Juan del Fuca straight with ancient pine forests on one side, and the water on the other, looking out across the water at the Olympic mountains – just gorgeous. All the guides called it a “moderate” hike (a term that has now become infamous in our family!) saying there was some moderately vigorous climbing, but it was doable by a family, and we just thought we’d take it slow and take a lot of breaks. Our main concern was that it was 10 kilometers long (about 6.5 miles) and we weren’t sure if Noah could make it that far. But there was one turn back about halfway along, so we figured we could cut our losses if he wasn’t doing well. We packed food for the entire day thinking we could take all the time needed and play on the beaches, etc, and boy, were we glad we did!

Because, um, this was no moderate trail. Sure, it started moderate. It was stunning too, and exactly what we were hoping for – interesting trail winding in an out of an ancient forest and then along beautiful cliffs with waves crashing below, all on a completely recognizable and safe TRAIL. But that changed as we went on. Pretty much as soon as it was too far to turn around, we started getting some concerning trails – things where we were walking up rocks that sloped toward the cliffs and made us nervous, or very extreme elevation changes, basically like rock climbing, stuff like that. We started joking about “Canadian moderate” maybe being a different definition.

Then we hit a few really unsafe spots. Like, actually terrifying, especially when hiking with kids who have never hiked before. And then we got to a spot that was maybe 8-10 feet across, but was actually scooting along a cliff face on a 3” toe-hold about 80 feet above the jagged rocks and waves below, and by the time I got there, 3 kids had already gone across and there was no way back. When we got past it, I actually started to cry – it was just terrifying that I had my kids up there. And the trail blazes were literally screwed into the side of the cliff as though to say, “no really, you’re not wrong, this is actually the trail, this 3 inch wide toe-hold on the side of a cliff. Welcome to Canadian moderate hiking.” We were all looking at each other like, “what in the world would they define as difficult?!?!” We had heard that the second half of the trail was actually HARDER, so we decided if we were still alive by the halfway mark, we’d definitely turn back then. When we got there, it was beautiful, and we actually saw several seals playing in the water below. It took us 6.5 hours to get to the halfway point! The turn back went back through the woods essentially completing a circle back to our car, and even though we climbed and then descended a pretty intense mountain in the middle of the woods, getting back only took an hour and fifteen minutes because it was so much easier. It was one of the most stunning things I’ve ever seen, but frankly, it made me mad – we would never have gone if ANYONE had mentioned how dangerous it was!

It kind of freaked me out for hiking on the rest of the trip which was a real bummer because several people in our family love hiking, but we don’t think it’s worth dying for, just FYI. So there was that.

Our third day we decided to be more refined. And also not risk death. So after a night of nightmares thinking of all the what-could-have-beens, we took the morning off for game playing, reading, coffee on the deck, and general lazing around, and then headed to the world famous Butchart Gardens. This was someone’s house once (!!!) and they spent, oh, about a hundred bajillion dollars on their gardens basically to disguise a rock quarry they mined out to make the hundred bajillion dollars in the first place. It was stunning, and also super hot, so not the best for Noah. We kept dumping water on his head and keeping him in the shade, but we had to keep this visit shorter.

Our fourth day we had another easy morning and then decided we should do something. There is a little aquarium called the Shaw Center for the Salish Sea, and how could we pass that up?! We asked if they would perhaps give Shaws free admission, but they didn’t go for it. However, it was super fun! Not large at all, but so interesting, and pretty empty so we had sort of a private guide for a lot of it, and the kids just had a great time learning all about the creatures inhabiting the waters right outside the door. Afterward, we went outside and found Glass Beach which is very small but literally covered with beach glass – the Littles were amazed, and spent a lot of time looking for the most interesting colors and shapes and bringing the very best home. They’d never seen beach glass before, and I’ve certainly never seen so much in one place ever! Makes you wonder about the water current patterns there, and also maybe the throwing-bottles-over-the-sides-of-ships patterns of the locals.

The fifth day some of us decided we needed to hike again (some others of us may have been overruled). We headed to a state park we’d heard had great hiking, and tried hard to make sure there were, you know, trails and stuff. We hiked way, way down (the whole way down this incredibly steep path, one cannot help thinking, “oh goodie, we get to hike back up all this!”) to a very beautiful loch at low tide, so we were able to look in the tidal pools and also discover literally thousands of little crabs racing all over the place. At this point, we split up a bit, and Rinnah and I stayed and played with Noah, Ethan, and Anna a bit longer and then hiked back while Nathan, Toby, and Rachel went on a longer hike to the mountain summit. Nathan knew I was nervous, and whenever he got a signal, he sent me a text that he was still alive which I did appreciate. That night we headed into the little town we were staying in for a street fair they have every Thursday all summer, and that was cute and fun.

Our sixth day was our last. We packed out of the house and headed down to Victoria again. Our goal today was to see Chinatown and hopefully get some real Chinese food, and to see the Royal BC Museum before we had to head back to catch our ferry to Vancouver. This is the first Chinatown in Canada, and also has the smallest street in all of Canada, Fan Tan Alley, which was very like stepping into a Harry Potter movie. This Chinatown is tiny, so we didn’t need a lot of time, but we were so glad we saw it.
We went there first while it wasn’t busy and then headed to the museum thinking we would spend a couple of hours there and then come back for a late lunch before heading out.

Well, the Royal BC museum was absolutely amazing, and my main regret of this trip was that we didn’t come here on a day with more time! My family spends more time in museums than most seem to, but we seriously could have been here the entire day. They had so much – a full floor of First Nation artifacts including a chief’s entire house and full-sized totems, a huge traveling display of Mayan history and culture, a whole section of natural history, a fascinating exhibit on First Nation languages, and then this totally amazing historical recreation walk-though of the history of British Columbia. You could walk through a Victorian era home, old Chinatown, a canning company, a logging camp, mine for gold, it just went on and on! The kids loved it, and we had to almost run through. Then we got outside and realized they had a whole historical village section too! I don’t know when we’ll get back to Victoria, but if we do, I’m going there again – it was amazing.

Speaking of amazing, we headed back for lunch in Chinatown. We practically ran back hoping to get food before we had to get back on the road for our ferry. Many of the restaurants that have been there a long time have kind of mixed reviews, but I’d read about one called Little Yunnan (a province in China) that was really authentic. It was fantastic! Very different even from what our Chinese kiddos were used to (none of them are from Yunnan) but they loved, loved, loved it. We got several small plates of things to share and then these soups that came with about 15 small bowls of things you could add or not and basically make your own flavor profile. Ethan made his spicy enough to take a normal person’s head off which made him super happy. And we just had an awesome time together! It’s so hard to get real Chinese food in the Americas, so this was very fun.

Then we raced out of there to make our ferry – we had really pushed the time because we were loving the museum so much, but again, we made it with about a minute to spare. We were so glad we did too! There was a medical emergency of some kind on the ferry crossing ours and they had to turn back which messed up the entire schedule for the rest of the day – if we hadn’t made our boat, we wouldn’t have gotten back that night, and we would probably have missed our flights!!

We had a crazy long time at the border this time and tons of traffic in Seattle, so we got to our hotel so late. We had to be up at 5 am for our flights home, so this was not the most relaxing end to our trip. Then a flight to Kansas City, then to Indy. We thought our landing was really bumpy and then realized there was actually a tornado happening! When we landed at the Indy airport, all the flights were canceled and there were people everywhere. We were frantically checking the storm, trying to figure out if it was safe to drive home to Columbus, or if we needed to sleep in the airport. What a mess! In the end, we decided to try it, and we drove 3 more hours in driving rain, but fortunately, no hail and no tornadoes. What a wild end! But it was an incredible trip, and made such amazing memories. So blessed to get to experience it with our family!

Our Northwest Adventure Part 2 – Alaskan Cruise

June 21st, 2019

Their faces when they saw how huge the ship was were priceless – I think up until this point, Ethan had been nervously anticipating some sort of large canoe.

The Seattle skyline as we sailed away.

Anna right after she spotted a whale!

Our first glimpse of Alaska – Ketchikan.

Creek Street in Ketchikan.

Three very different boats.

Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau behind Mendenhall Lake which didn’t exist 30 years ago.

The ice is really that blue.

Toby standing in front of Nugget Falls at Mendenhall Glacier.

Our family posing as superheros by Mendenhall Lake – that’s how we roll.

Our first bear sighting in the Yukon.

One of many, many eagles we saw – so majestic!

Carcross in the Yukon – this is most of it.

Ethan (and the rest of us!) was in love with these puppies at the Iditerod camp.

Getting a ride on an ATV pulled by mushing dogs – this is their summer training.

By the end of the day, these puppies were worn out!

Our guide in Skagway and the Yukon, Tom, showing the kids how to pan for gold – miraculously, every last child found some (clever, Tom)!

Stunning Tutshi Lake.

Downtown Skagway.

Rinnah and Anna posing by all the ice in Glacier Bay – there was so much in the water, we eventually had to turn back for safety.

Leaving gorgeous Glacier Bay.

The shoreline in Victoria, BC.

The tallest free standing totem pole in the world in Beacon Hill Park, BC.

Beacon Hill Park with a peacock!

Stunning Beacon Hill Park went on and on.

We saw this man playing his erhu so beautifully next to the Empress Hotel.

Fisherman’s Wharf, Victoria, BC.

Victoria Harbor.

We headed back to Seattle and met up with Nathan’s family who had all traveled in from Michigan, and then went to the ship on Saturday morning.

It was really fun to show the kids the ship. They were having the hardest time picturing what it must be like – I think they were all thinking we’d be on some kind of large canoe. Ethan was really worried that we were going on it for a week because in his mind that meant we couldn’t eat for a week! I told him there was a restaurant, that actually there were several restaurants, and he was floored. Their faces were priceless when they saw it down on the docks! It’s a huge ship, 19 floors, and has a capacity over 5000 people with crew. They were just stunned staring up at it!

I’m not actually a huge fan of cruising. I don’t like being with so many people, and I feel like you only get to see the surface of the places you’re going, but even I admit this was a very practical way to both vacation with 23 people, and to see these ports in AK because some of them are only accessibly by boat or plane. We had two rooms next door to each other, four in each room, and they were actually really nice – small of course, but much more comfortable than I expected. Again, the kids’ faces when the top bunk came out of the ceiling and the couch turned into the bottom bunk were priceless! They just thought it was all so cool.

Our first day was at sea, so we just hung around with our cousins and checked out the ship. All the kids went swimming even though it was absolutely freezing. All the adults huddled under blankets and gave them the thumbs up. 🙂

Our first stop was Ketchikan. We had checked the prices on the excursions from the cruise ship, and let’s just say that anything at all times 8 was out of our price range, so I had researched everything pretty thoroughly and this port we decided just to do a walking tour. We went through the main downtown area, and also to Creek Street and up the incline to the top of the mountain – all so pretty. We had amazing weather almost the entire trip which was astonishing since the weather is usually very rainy. We also stopped at the Heritage Totem Center, and that was so interesting for us and for our kiddos. We learned a lot about native culture in this part of the world. Walking back along the pier, all of us were looking over the edges of the floating dock because it was just covered with anemones and sea stars! We all thought it was a great first look at Alaska.

Our second stop the following day was in Juneau. Again, we didn’t sign up for any tours, but I had figured out how to take the bus to the Mendenhall Glacier. When we got off the ship, though, they were booking tours and since it was them trying to fill their last seats (on the exact tour we would have taken through the cruise line) we got on it for about 20% of what we would have paid. Score! We decided to go for it as it was a tour of Juneau in addition to Mendenhall. Our tour was lovely and the driver was born and raised in Juneau, so she knew her stuff. She also went on a mini-rant about classes of salmon and what people “down south” try to serve as salmon which everyone up there knows is just the worst type of salmon that they use for dog food in Alaska! There’s something I never even knew I should be offended by.

Then we went to Mendenhall, and it was just stunning, and also sad. There’s a beautiful lake right in front of it that didn’t exist 30 years ago. The visitor center was built right at the foot of the glacier at that time, but now because of melting, there’s a huge lake and it’s receded more than a mile. Nathan and Toby decided to speed hike to Nugget Falls (the rest of us explored the paths nearer by since we knew they could move really fast but we thought the Littles might not make it back in time for the bus trip back and we weren’t too psyched about missing the ship). It was over a mile there, and they still weren’t near the glacier – Nugget Falls used to run through and out of the glacier. I’m so glad we got to see it, but it’s tough to see environmental changes right in front of you that are that dramatic.

On the third day, we took an epic trip out of Skagway. Again, since the cruise line excursions were so out of our league, I had looked into a private tour. I found a family-run company with a 24 seat bus. Well, here we are with 23 people! I asked if the other Shaws wanted to be in on it, and we were all in! So the whole family took this private bus with maybe the nicest man ever, Tom, through Skagway, and up the White Pass which is the path the White Pass train follows and also where the Goldrush happened, and up into the Yukon.

Tom was a wonderful guide. He gave us the history of the town and the wild, wild West that was the Goldrush, brought a scope so we could find wildlife (we saw eagles, mountain goats, and even two bears!), and timed our border crossings into Canada so we’d beat the hundreds of people on the train. The scenery was breathtaking and we got to go so much farther than we would have on the train! We went all the way to Carcross, the 8th biggest town in all of the Yukon with 500 people. We went there for lunch because there is a bakery where you can get lunch – there was literally no other place to do that the entire day. He told us they get supplies “pretty close, over in White Horse – it’s only 90 miles.” The bakery looked completely overwhelmed by 23 people for lunch and I think they almost had a panic attack, but it was wonderful. And Tom (did I mention he’s nice??) brought a home-made cake for Mom and Dad Shaw since I’d mentioned it was their 50th!

The highlights of our trip to the Yukon were still coming, though. First, we stopped at dog mushing camp. The owners have both run the Iditarod multiple times, and we got to first play with the new puppies, then hear all about how they do the Iditarod and see their equipment. (Holy smokes, they are crazy people! For example, fun fact, only the brave go to sleep because it is often 60 below and if you sleep, you may not wake up! Haha! So, they average about an hour a night on an 8-14 day, 1000 mile trip, mostly in the dark since there’s only 3 hours of daylight at that time – he told us he routinely has to pour his boiling cooking water into his boots to thaw them enough to get them back on after changing his socks which is necessary to avoid foot rot. Which is apparently a thing. This is a voluntary activity. Just saying.)

After the talk, we got to take a ride! In the summer, the dogs train by pulling an ATV in neutral since there’s no snow. Each family took a turn and I can’t even explain how gorgeous the scenery was and how unreal it felt. What an incredible experience! And our driver, one of the owners, Michelle, guided the dogs with the softest commands, we hardly heard her, and they were just a machine. These are not your average house dogs, they were intimidating, definitely working, and a lot more like wolves than dogs, but she knew all 60 of them, and they loved running. She said they can go through 3000 dog booties on a trip, and she gave one to each of the kids as a souvenir.

Then our last stop was at Tutshi Lake where we let the kids pan for gold. I have a small suspicion that Tom may have come prepared for this, as somehow, magically, every single child found a little gold! They were stunned! And the parents thought Tom was a smart, smart man.

We just had time to walk through some of the main town of Skagway before getting back on the ship. It was one of my favorite days I’ve ever spent anywhere, and that’s saying something!

The next day our ship was supposed to cruise up to Glacier Bay National Park. We started in and saw some incredible scenery, including one large glacier, but there was so much ice in the water, it started getting a little scary. I was wondering if it was normal (and hearing the ice thudding against the sides of the ship is not comforting) when the captain came on and said that there was so much ice, we weren’t going to make it to the main glacier. He didn’t feel it was safe to continue. So we turned around and I felt that was as close to a Titanic story as I’d wanted to come anyway.

The last port was Victoria on Vancouver Island. We had already decided to come back to Vancouver Island after the trip with just our family, so we didn’t feel a lot of pressure here. We did a fairly epic walk up the coast, through Beacon Hill Park (stunning and peacocks everywhere!!), then downtown to the Empress Hotel and Parliament and then onto Fisherman’s Wharf, a totally charming, touristy, floating neighborhood. All the kids were trying to imagine what it would be like to live in a floating house.

We went back to the ship and explained that we were sailing back to Seattle only to get off the ship, rent a car, turn around, and come right back this way!

The next morning was all the craziness of disembarking. I have to say, my least favorite part of this cruise was finding a table for eight people. It was “free style,” so no set times, and no held tables. That is super annoying with a big group, and it was magnified with the insanity on the last day. I really enjoyed the Alaska part, but I was not too sorry to get off the ship after 7 days and so many people!

We tried to walk to our rental car with all our bags, but man, Seattle, you have some hills! So in the end, we left the kids together with all the bags down on the port (our oldest is 20 before you think we’re crazy) and Nathan and I hoofed it practically up a mountain to rent our cars. We hadn’t been able to get an eight-seat vehicle for this portion, unfortunately, so we had to rent two cars which ended up being almost always the boys car and the girls car. Which one talked more, do you think?

We spent the first part of the day in Seattle. We saw the Pacific Science Center since we have a reciprocal membership to one at home, and it was really fun! Right next to the space needle which we looked at and said, “hey, look! The Space Needle!” and then went and got lunch. Lunch was so cool too, because we just wandered into this area and they happened to be having a Native American Festival and it was awesome! We watched the dancing for a few groups while we ate our lunch. Looked around Seattle a bit more and then had to leave so we wouldn’t miss our ferry to Vancouver Island for the last leg of our trip.

Our Northwest Adventure Part 1 – Olympic National Park, WA

June 20th, 2019

This is what a 24 hour travel day looks like toward the end.

We’re here!

In the Hoh Rainforest.

The Hall of Mosses.

Found some cute critters!

Love watching her with her daddy.

At Hole in the Wall on Rialto Beach – this was fascinating tidal pools but you have to be careful to get through and back before the tide comes in or you can be trapped.

Rialto Beach – the sea stacks were unbelievable!

One of the seals that was following us down the coast – so funny!

At Sol Duc Falls.

Our donkey and horse friends who decided to have a little spat with each other while we were trying to walk by.

Gorgeous and gigantic Crescent Lake.

The easy little trail our helpful ranger told us would be no problem for our child with a heart condition – yes, it went pretty much straight up.

Peaceful Alpine Meadow. You just can’t really see that behind that deer is a drop of thousands of feet.

Anna and Rachel near the Princess-Bride-like hill at a point that was wide enough that I was still comfortable taking pictures.

Background:

About a year ago, my in-laws told us that for their 50th anniversary, they wanted the whole family to be together. They invited their three sons’ families on an Alaskan cruise with them to celebrate, and in a bit of a miracle, we found a time everyone could go! So, twenty-three Shaws set out earlier this summer for a grand Pacific Northwest adventure.

Nathan and I decided that if we were going to go to the expense and time of getting all eight of us out there, we might as well add some time and really show the kids that part of the country. We wanted to see Olympic National Park, and also Vancouver Island. The Littles (our pet name for Noah, Ethan, and Anna – our older kids are the Bigs) were so excited to go to Canada – the first time they’ve been to another country other than China or the U.S. It helps that both Nathan and I travel a lot for work, so we were able to use a lot of points on airfare and hotels to help keep our cost down – traveling that far with eight people can get really pricey!

I started watching airfares, and was so discouraged by how expensive it was to get us all from Columbus to Seattle. I was checking surrounding airports, and stumbled on one amazing fare that showed up for only one day out of Indianapolis. We would have to drive 3 hours, but it literally saved us more that half the cost! That was worth it. And in the end, we realized that between Nathan and I we actually had enough airline miles at that price to cover the entire trip with miles for our whole family – what a blessing!

The night before we left, we had the kids go to sleep in their clothes and packed the van. We had to leave at 2:30 in the morning to drive to Indy to get our early morning flight. I just kept reminding myself how much money this saved us – let’s just say I’m not a morning person, and I didn’t think weeping would enhance the start of the trip. The kids got in the car and went back to sleep for 3 hours while I kept Nathan awake.

We are kind of a traveling machine, so Nathan let us off and went to park the car and take the shuttle back while the kids and I checked all the bags and got our flights checked in. We met up at security and we were on our way! This was the first time the Littles had flown since we came home from China almost two years ago, so their only other experience with planes were the big international flights with TVs in the seats and meals served etc. Let’s just say they were a little let down by no TVs and a bag of pretzels this time. 🙂 We flew to California and then onto Seattle and then rented a car and drove three hours out to the far side of Olympic – it was an epic, almost 24 hour travel day, but they were all troopers!

Olympic National Park:

Olympic is so much bigger than I realized. We drove out on the southern route and made an incredibly quick stop at Sunset Beach which we reached literally as the sun was setting (so beautiful!!) and spent two nights in Forks, the closest we could get to the Hoh Rainforest. We drove back on the northern route, and the whole round trip was 6 hours! But it was so diverse, it was just amazing!

The first day, we hiked in the Hoh Rainforest and also did the famous Hall of Mosses which feels like Jurassic Park with giant pine trees covered in moss and the sun shining through. We weren’t able to do one of the trails we’d planned on because there was a mama moose and her baby on the trail so it was closed, but we discovered another trail that was just stunning as well. We went home for a late lunch and rest and then went to hike Rialto Beach down to “Hole in the Wall,” a famous rock formation.

You have to time Rialto to be there for the low tide so you don’t get pinned behind the sea stacks (giant rock formations) as the tide comes in which can be very dangerous. It was actually really hard hiking because the beach is very soft and rocky and you shift with every step, but it had a wild, powerful beauty to it that took our breath away. We saw our first eagles here, at one point seeing one dive bomb another at the top of a giant spruce. We were very under-dressed as it was much colder and windier on the water than we were prepared for, and all the other hikers were in full gear and clearly worried about us in our shorts with a hiking sandals and hoodies, but we were working so hard to hike we warmed up. The tidal pools all around Rialto were just fascinating! We saw sea stars and anemones everywhere, and also sea otters. While we were walking back, a seal literally followed us down the shore line for at least 20 minutes, popping up to watch us from the waves, and eventually a second one joined him – it was hilarious, and amazing! We all agreed that was one of the most incredible hikes we’ve ever done.

Our second day in Olympic we packed up because we were sleeping back in Seattle that night. We headed back on the northern route, driving through some of the most incredible scenery imaginable, especially along Lake Crescent. We hiked out to Sol Duc Falls, and it was another stunning hike.

When we parked, we saw a huge horse trailer, and they were unloading at least 20 horses and mules. I just assumed there was some kind of trail ride, but as we were approaching the falls, all the horses and mules showed up too, and we realized that this was how they transport building materials to sites that are not accessible any other way. They were redoing some of the bridges in the forest – I had wondered who in the world was carrying all those materials miles into the forest! They had them all gathered in one spot, and at one point one of the mules crowded another one which ticked him off and all of the sudden we had a bit of a mule smack-down which scared us all a bit, especially Anna, as we were pretty close to them! But the rangers got them calmed down and told us when we could pass. Pretty interesting job, I’d say.

Olympic is so interesting partially because there are so many ecosystems represented. Our last hike was to see that last type, called alpine meadow. That sounds so peaceful and safe, and yet this turned out to be one of the most frightening things I’ve done. We were going to find this ecosystem at the top of Hurricane Ridge – we found out later it’s called that because of the Hurricane force winds that come over the top of the mountain. Oh, how sweet. And slightly less peaceful.

Not sure how I missed it in my mind, but to get to “alpine” level with snowy mountain tops, one has to get to the top of the mountain. We went through a perfectly safe looking national park gate and then started a fairly terrifying, 15 mile, twisting-road-on-the-edge-of-a-death-defying-cliff-with-no-guardrails trip that had this afraid of heights mama testing the imaginary brake on the passenger side of the car the entire time. There was no turning back once you started because there was literally no place you could turn back! And while I was hyperventilating in the front seat, we were watching some obvious insane people BIKING down this road. Down. For 15 twisting miles. With no guardrails and drops of literally thousands of feet. Did I mention they were on a bike? Eiyiyi.

We got to the top (finally) and it really was so beautiful. And peaceful. Well, if you didn’t count the hurricane-force winds. And we thought, “hey, we made it up here, let’s see a bit.” So I asked the ranger what easy, safe, short hike she would recommend for a family with children, one of whom has a heart condition. And she sent us on a hike pretty much straight up a mountain. At one point the trail was only 18 inches wide which would have been totally fine if it hadn’t FALLEN OFF ON BOTH SIDES TO OBVIOUS DEATH ala the scene in the Princess Bride where they fall down the hill into the Fire Swamp except in both directions. Oh yeah, and then it was covered with snow. And ice. And I was wearing 10 year old Sketchers with no tread because, you know, I didn’t realize I was defying death today in an alpine meadow. Easy peasy.

When we made it back to the lodge (and I was done dry heaving into the bushes), the guy at the gift shop told me what a sweet job it was. Are you flipping kidding me that you drive that every single day?! And he said, no, they send a shuttle, it’s actually really peaceful, he does his crossword every morning on it. Of course. May I just say, YOU COULDN’T PAY ME!!!

And then we had to get back down. So much worse. And we’re in a rental and now I’ve worn out the carpet under my imaginary brake, the whole time wondering how the maintenance is on this rental car and if they take care of the real brakes as I picture our whole family flying off the side of the cliff. Let’s just say that I had abs of steel by the time we got down because I had my stomach clenched in terror for such a long time. Don’t need to do that again anytime soon!

After that, we had a relatively uneventful drive back to Seattle and prepared to board our cruise the next morning.

Last Events of the Spring

May 7th, 2019

One of the Aspire events in NC.

With Debbie and Vicki after Sunday’s event.

Sally on Saturday night before her fall.

Setting up at Maranatha Baptist

Sound check at Messiah Lutheran.

I just finished up my last few events of the spring which is always a little bittersweet – it’s closing the door on another season, but also frees up time to deal with the busiest end of the school year stuff for my kiddos.

The last weekend of April was in NC and SC with Aspire. It ended up being one of the crazier weekends I’ve been on because of a freak accident. Here’s what I wrote on Facebook:

One of the craziest weekends I’ve ever experienced, and definitely a professional first! I was in the Carolinas this weekend with Aspire, and our first two nights in High Point, NC, and Simpsonville, SC, were wonderful with Sally Baucke and Debbie Alsdorf, but Sunday morning, Sally had kind of a freak accident and broke her arm badly. She is just precious (and hilarious!) and we felt so bad for her! We all ended up in the ER together until we finally had to leave and do the Sunday show back in Conover, NC (one of our tour managers stayed with her). Fortunately, Vicki Courtney was coming in to do Sunday night as well, so we were able to cover, and then we all went to see Sally that night in the hotel – pray for her, she’s having surgery tomorrow to repair it, and she’s been such a trooper!!

Even with all the craziness and confusion, God showed up and took care of all the details for all of us, Sally included. Wonderful ministry, wonderful people, and an absolute blessing to see people loving and caring for each other even in an emergency.

Then this past weekend, I had a few local events. Saturday night I did the annual women’s tea at Maranatha Baptist, a church I’ve been with before, and I’m just always so impressed with their team. You can tell the church really supports this event! I shared some about our adoption jouney and on the topic “Nothing to Fear” and had some wonderful conversations with women afterward about how they are seeing God moving in their lives!

Sunday I shared a similar message at a regional women’s event at another local church, Messiah Lutheran. I hadn’t been here before, and it’s always good to see all the different ministries in the family of God in our city!

And now I have some time off from ministry, but it’s actually really good. This has not been an easy year and life is very, very busy. I’m happy to have the summer to focus on my family and dive back in in the fall!

“5 Things Your Church Can Do Now to Reach Out to Families with Sensory, Autistic Disorders” Article

April 25th, 2019

I wrote a new article to help churches be more friendly to families on the spectrum. It was picked up by the Christian Post (here) and The Stream (here) and a number of other places. I’m putting the text below in case the links expire:

Five Things Your Church Can Do Now to Reach Out to Families with Sensory and Autistic Spectrum Disorders

There is a major problem in the US that is flying under the radar of most churches. Approximately 1 in 50 children is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and some sources say the number of children struggling with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is as high as 1 in 20. Many of these families report that they feel unable to attend church because it’s too hard for their children or they feel unwelcome. When I talk to parents about their experience, they tell heartbreaking stories of being kicked out of churches for being disruptive or just feeling the struggle is too great. They feel lonely and isolated and often bitter or hopeless. They need the Church and the Church needs them! It would be wonderful if all churches had full disabilities ministries, but here are 5 things you can start with to immediately make your church more welcoming to families dealing with sensory challenges:

1. Educate your congregation.

This is so important. Try to give your congregation your vision to reach out to this population. Hand out a “did you know?” type flier in your bulletin with a few facts about SPD and autism and how that might affect behavior so they can better understand the challenges. Recruit the special needs teachers in your congregation to help, or ask a parent to share. Show people pictures of common tools used by families like weighted lap blankets and chewy T necklaces, and explain stimming and self-soothing behaviors so they aren’t staring if they see them. Ask them to consider themselves ambassadors and servants to these families. This is not easy, but I promise that it only takes one grouchy person “shushing” someone’s struggling autistic child in a service for that family to never be seen in your church again.

2. Tell them they can come late.

For most families affected by SPD, getting into church and the first 15 minutes of the service are the most challenging. Try to imagine entering church from the perspective of a person struggling with sensory challenges. If your brain can’t process touch, the press of people in the lobby is frightening because they may bump you. If you find visual or auditory input difficult, all the people moving and chatting and laughing is overwhelming. Then you enter a sanctuary where people sit close together and often the lights change and the music is loud. By allowing (even inviting!) them to come late and skip the whole scene in the lobby and possibly even the opening music, you are setting them up to win because they are not already overwhelmed and struggling before they even get in there.

3. Save them a seat.

Reserve a section at the back specifically for these families. If they come late, there is nothing worse than hunting around for a seat – this alone can keep families away. In addition, the back is often so much easier for people with sensory challenges because it distances them a bit from the noise and movement on the platform making them feel safer, and also gives parents an easy exit if their child really needs a break.

4. Give them tools to tone it down.

Most people with sensory challenges can handle a certain level of sensory stimulation. It’s when all the input adds up that they cross a line and become upset or overwhelmed or can have a meltdown. Give them some tools to help them tone down the input. Have a couple boxes by your sanctuary doors with ear plugs (or better, head phones if possible since many kids with SPD struggle with the feeling of ear plugs), sunglasses, and even squishy toys. The ear plugs and sunglasses reduce the audio and visual stimulation, and squishy toys are great for positive sensory input and anxiety calming. Yes, someone will have to wipe those down when they are returned, but that is a one minute job that can’t be compared to the message you are sending.

5. Start a buddy program.

Most families I talk to are exhausted. They need church to be their place to recharge and be renewed by God, but instead it is stressful and difficult to be constantly vigilant. Ask you congregation if there are people who could see this as their personal ministry and be trained to be buddies who could accompany children to Sunday school and let the parents worship and rest. Be prepared that buddies need to be trained (do you have an occupational therapist, a child development specialist, or a special needs teacher in your congregation who could help with this?), and that it may take a good bit of time for the child to get to know the buddy and trust them to go with them, especially depending on where the child falls on the spectrum. This should be seen as a long term mentoring friendship to be really successful.

Remember, even if no one ever takes the sunglasses or if they decline a buddy, just by having those resources available you are communicating “we want you here, we support you, you are welcome.” And that may be the difference between a family who is able to be in church and one who isn’t.

Jennifer Shaw is a Telly Award winning speaker, five-time Top 40 Billboard singer/songwriter, and author of the book “Life Not Typical: How Special Needs Parenting Changed my Faith and my Song,” an Autism Speaks resource. She is also mom to six biological and adopted children, some of whom have sensory struggles. For more information, please visit her at www.jennifershaw.com.

Conference in PA and Aspire in WA and OR

April 2nd, 2019

The first Aspire stop in WA – Lighthouse Christian in Puyallup near Seattle.

Northshore Church on our last Aspire night in Everett, WA.

Ways to recognize that you are in the Pacific Northwest – totems and fish tacos, baby!

Apparently I totally forgot to take pictures at my conference in PA last weekend. This makes me sad because we had a great time, and it was such a wonderful group of women! I did a three day conference with the ladies from the Eastern PA district of the CMA, and it was on the topic “U-Turn: Trusting God when Life Changes Direction.” We were at a lovely conference center in Amish country, and just had a lovely time together looking at God’s word, and eating lots of Amish food!

The following weekend I was with Aspire in the Pacific Northwest, and we did three events. Friday night was in southern Seattle, Saturday night in Portland, OR, and then back to Everett (north of Seattle). This was a great weekend of ministry, but it is also pretty exhausting to move everyday – so thankful for a great team!

First Aspire event

March 11th, 2019

First event in West Palm Beach, FL

The team after the event

Well, after an airline adventure involving delayed flights, missed flights, rebooked flights, luggage traveling the world without me (including all my books and CDs and shoes, darn it!), and, yes really, Air Force One, we actually made it to the Aspire Event in Palm Beach (Melissa Spoelstra and I were on the same flight and therefore, on the same disaster, um, I mean, adventure). Aspire, however, was great, and it was so fun to work with such amazingly talented ladies and the people from Extreme Productions!! Loved sharing the Lord with such a great group! So looking forward to our next adventure in WA and OR and hoping it’s maybe slightly LESS of an adventure getting there!