The Real Super Hero

Throughout the last several years I have often been told, “I don’t know how you do all you do, you’re superwoman!” (After I gag a little because it’s so far from the truth….) I think about my secret weapon, the real hero.

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I find the most amazing quality about super heroes is not their stature, their skill or their talent but their humility. While it may seem amazing & oh so glorious to be the idol- no one actually knows who they really are. They walk through life as your average Joe: seemingly normal days, normal jobs, normal lives yet behind closed doors, under busy streets and on top of tall buildings they live extraordinary lives serving others.

What’s that? Super heroes are fiction, you say?

Thank you, that brings me back to my announcement. They are real. How do I know? Because I live with one.

Being the executive director of a non profit that is growing is not easy. It means late nights, work on weekends and the pressure of an entire organization that rests on your shoulders.20140328-171504.jpg

But life as the executive director’s husband is another story. The late nights call for meal support, bath support, laundry and house duties. Weekend work for means family time at golf tournaments, percentage nights and community events. Wearing the weight of the organization means many guided talks, HR support, redirections to look above… and many many late night prayers.

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So here’s my secret- the real super hero is my husband. He lives a seemingly normal life with normal days and a normal job. But behind closed doors, in our home and around town… He also lives an extraordinary role.

We, like every couple, have had our fair share of difficulties, heartbreak and health issues yet this man has allowed life to mold him into a servant, a strong leader and an amazing husband and father. His greatest strength is the most notable quality of a super hero: humility.

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Dunnnnn dun dun dun dunnnnnnnnn… meet, my batman. I want him and the whole world (well, the 2 people that may read this) to know as we celebrate his 36th birthday that he is amazing in every way.

We all have them, heroes in our life. They make life super and often times, they don’t even know it.

“Give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” Luke 6:38

Meet Mia: life with a little EXTRA

In honor of world Down syndrome day I must dote on one of my most favorite ladies sporting an EXTRA chromosome…
IMG_5350My first summer of camp at ESP I was lucky enough to be “swim buddies” with a sweet, talented, loyal (sometimes stubborn) camper named Mia. Oh, she also has Down syndrome.

Our friendship started over breaststroke and flip-turns…. And she has definitely turned our life around. Mia moved in to be a part of our family in August of 2009. She is very independent, has a busy social agenda and a job outside of the home. Mia has her own “apartment” in the basement and enjoys her own space. Yet, we enjoy her company at dinner and she enjoys family time with the Whitaker’s (unless we’re eating fish and brussel sprouts) on the evenings and weekends.

It has been a beautiful 5 year journey. Owen and Finley both don’t know our home as any different. To be honest, I don’t remember life any different either. Mia’s relationship with my children is like none other. Owen knows how to make her laugh, loves to snuggle and give her hugs & is always the reminder to include her in various life events. Mia is the only person who walks through the door and receives a scream of excitement and a running greeting from Finley. She has taught all of us so many lessons- to enjoy the little things, to always greet kindly and to remember the birthdays of those you love.

Joseph and I have re-evaluated the situation a couple times along the road, making sure this decision is still best for all involved. Every time we have looked at each other with watery eyes as we discuss what home would be like without her.

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Meet Mia. She’s a 29 year-old young woman who loves life, calendars, pizza & karaoke. She also loves our family and we feel lucky to love her.
Mia IS family— the EXTRA factor that makes it complete. Mia Nobbie-Whitaker

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“Don’t neglect to show hospitality, for by doing this some have welcomed angels as guests without knowing it.” Hebrews 13:2

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Birds of the Air & Flowers of the Field

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… Even last night I could hear her voice “be careful on the drive home, sweety” and her worried thoughts as we made the drive late from south Alabama to Athens.

Except this time she was not worrying.

Worry was her crutch. Whether her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren or health problem.. there was always a reason to fret. Worry is a unfamiliar stranger that has begun to creep into my life. The older I get, the more I have to lose. The older I get, the more I can relate to her. photo (14)

Story after story people admired her love for beauty & artistic skill in showing appreciation of the world around her. She was an expert–a mastermind in creating a vision, intricately placing each piece of color and texture together, measuring them precisely and turning those small pieces into beautiful works of art– quilts.

“She makes her own bed coverings; her clothing is fine linen and purple. She makes and sells linen garments; she delivers belts to the merchants.” (Proverbs 31)

I’ve always known of her love for nature. You could see it in her home, hummingbirds all around: dishes, towels and wall hangings. I remember it in her garden- flowers of every kind, planted and tendered for the simple joy of looking at them. And among her beautiful quilts was a common theme– birds and flowers.

There are so many beautiful things about my grandmother- her faith and how it was instilled in my father, the deep & steadfast love she had for her husband, her people-personality and humorous drama. But this week, as I sat staring at the quilt that lay over her human body and as the preacher read a scripture known so well- I was overwhelmed with the most beautiful thing about my Gran:

“Look at the birds of the sky: They don’t sow or reap or gather into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they? And why do you worry about clothes? Learn how the wildflowers of the field grow: they don’t labor or spin thread. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6)

Throughout her life my Gran overcame her greatest feat. By daily admiring the birds of the sky & flowers of the field and replicating them in her work she was reminded to fight her greatest weakness, worry.

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It’s a lesson I want to cherish & hold on to as I age. The art of not looking down or too far ahead but instead looking around. I am but a small thread in a much greater quilt- God’s masterpiece. Worry not- as He is patch-working the details.

20140116-215744.jpgCharm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting, but a woman who fears the Lord will be praised. Give her the reward of her labor, and let her works praise her at the city gates.” (Proverbs 31)

85 years of life, 65 years of marriage, 60 years of quilting, 100 quilts… & a beautiful life to be praised.

Soul Behind the 11

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As a mom of a son who often wears a number 11 jersey I tend to notice the other countless little boys who support our fearless quarterback by sporting his number. And as the last couple years have gone by I have often wondered if these little boys know what they are truly supporting when they wear the red, black & 11.

A young leader myself- taking over a not for profit organization at the age of 20 just 8 years ago- I am always intrigued by the drive behind the face. The last couple years I have been simply swept away as I’ve seen first-hand the story # 11 continues to write. The arm is firm, the mind is wise, the heart is a leader but the soul has made a difference. aaronandbekkah

Four years ago 11 said “yes” to the call to escort children with disabilities on-stage to help celebrate what the children CAN do instead of what they can’t. The challenge was to make each child feel special on stage at our annual Big Hearts event.  The challenge was very much accepted:  11 bowed to the young ladies in wheelchairs, kneeling to get on their level; he kissed the cheeks of sweet girls with Downs syndrome who long to be treated as ladies; he passed footballs to young boys who may miss- yet made them appear as champions. And when the event was over, 11 was the last to leave with a bag of trash in hand.

Year after year 11 humbly accepted the challenge. And while he put on a show-stopping act on stage that made the kids feel worthy & special- the scene backstage was far greater. The genuine hugs, fist pumps, whispers of encouragement, the late nights and the absent complaints…. all to provide a special night for the children who deserve it most.

Whether on stage, after practice or at the kids favorite place- ESP- #11 has met them with grace. In a recent interaction on the practice field- a young girl, Emily, wheeled up to 11 and gleaned her giant smile. aaronandemily He looked at her for one moment and proudly stated, “Emily, you changed your hair color! I love it!” A freezing statement. The accuracy of the assessment of Emily is one that takes men 20 years of marriage to master. Yet, it was an incidence of many showing that 11 didn’t care about the number on his jersey or the photograph that was being taken of him. Number 11 cared for Emily. He cared for each of the 55 children who stood at the sidelines of practice cheering him on. And as the minutes passed on and the children surrounded,  # 11 kneeled to each child, looking them in the eyes and treating them as if they mattered. Because they mattered to him.

aaronandkidsAnd as the last 4 years have passed the most amazing part of the story is that it’s no longer just #11. It’s  #88, # 31, #82 and the list could go on.  As circles of players surround one boy Kaleb after practice singing beats to his favorite song, “she’ll be comin around the mountain” they smiled watching Kaleb’s pure joy in their involvement and focus on him. You see, the team has watched the example of their leader, #11. And in doing so have learned the power in giving.

kalebandplayersAnd as the mom who is ever answering her 5 year-olds football questions, I was struck by the definition of quarterback. So often the focus is on the field, one who- “lines up immediately behind the center & directs the offense of the team.”

As the nation knows, #11 has done his job on Saturdays well.

But what sets #11 apart from the other men across the nation is the whole definition, “a person who leads or directs a group” # 11 is more than an arm, more than a quick mind, more than a handsome face or a leader on the field. # 11 has written a story, here in Athens, far greater than points on a scoreboard. He is a man who gives time & attention to those who are often stared at & forgotten. A man who has helped his team to change their perspective & use their position to engage. He is a soul that chose to use what he had to give to something greater than himself. aaron.mark.&kids

And so, little boys, may your #11 jersey not retire after this season. Instead #11 should be a reminder that one soul chose to use his number to make a difference. May it be a challenge to the numbers that follow and to us fans who all have something, anything, to give back what we have been given. May the nation know and emulate you- Aaron Murray-  as your soul of servitude speaks much louder than your number. 20131123-073537.jpg   quar·ter·back noun 1.a back in football who usually lines up immediately behind the center and directs the offence of the team. 2. the position played by the back. 3. a person who leads

*Laura Whitaker is the Executive Director of Extra Special People- a place where children & young adults with developmental disabilities don’t just exist, they thrive. For more information visit www.extraspecialpeople.com or to make a contribution in Aaron’s honor visit HERE.

“BYE” to a Why

This week was tough.

Two in one year. And it never gets any easier.

I often talk about the “why” around the office. When we’re all exhausted, over-worked with no end in sight… it’s the “whys” that keep us there, heart on our sleeve putting one foot, one dollar raised, one program planned in front of the other.

10 years ago I fell in love with ESP in part by one big smile & one word.

As the newbie around ESP, I knew I had a lot to learn and couldn’t wait to soak it all In as I gave what I had in return.

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Each child at ESP has their own story. And as I see it, their own super powers. There was one guy I was naturally drawn to- 13 years old. One of his powers is his super natural smile- a stop in your tracks kinda smile, that makes your own heart grin. I was told early on that although he used a few selective words at home he had not yet spoken at camp. And with my 18-year-old pride in tow, I was immediately on a mission.

Through bribery of everything Ranch dressing, sodas, high-fives… I worked diligently throughout the summer to try and get this awesome kid to say a word, just one word. Despite my grandiose efforts mid-summer he wasn’t budging. But something else was. Something greater. With no words at all, a friendship was being formed. One that was sweet, gentle and fun. I taught him a new song- Tarzan- that became his most demanding request. He taught me the motions to every ESP song. And through the friendship I realized that it wasn’t about me, helping him to “communicate” in the way I thought was appropriate. It was about him teaching me to communicate in sincerity and affection.

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It was the Wednesday of the very last week of camp. I was putting my friend on the bus, high-fiving him for a mid-week day success. As I turned around and headed away I heard a faint voice. And as I looked back behind me, that supernatural smile was shining bright. The small voice I heard came from my friend… “Bye”

Bryan, one of my Why’s- I want to say thank you. For just as the skies speak no words, they paint for us a beautiful picture of Him. You, without words, have announced what His hands have made.

And as you said “bye” to me… 10 long years ago. I say to you, my why, “bye” — for now. One day we will stand next to you in worship with your supernatural smile and your now supernatural voice- a voice that has been preserved for the One who created it.

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the skies announce what his hands have made. Day after day they tell the story; night after night they tell it again. They have no speech or words; they have no voice to be heard. But their message goes out through all the world; their words go everywhere on earth. (Psalms 19:1-3, NCV)

Neutral Natural Nursery

This time last year I was exhausted. We moved in the middle of camp while I was 7 months pregnant. Our moving day was conveniently planned on the record hottest day in Georgia since the early 1900′s. Whew. Needless to say I had little energy left when it came to the nursery. Thankfully my friends and family know me well and came to the rescue to help carry out my vision before the little lady arrived.

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I wanted the room to feel natural, airy & peaceful. A touch of girl, but not too much. Unique.

nnn3There are so many special pieces in this room: the tapestrys & rug mom and I found at an estate sale when”having a girl” was just a dream, the dresser we switched out the knobs to that belongs to my little sister, the chair that we converted into a rocker that belonged to one of my college best friends, the curtains that belonged to another friend who passed them along, the hand stitched scripture that my parents friends gave them when I was born, the hand crafted bird picture a friend created with beautiful scripture embedded, the F-I-N-L-E-Y letters from a sweet & dear ESP family, the chandelier found on clearance while visiting another friend in Philadelphia and the poetic pillow given to Finley by my older sister.

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So much meaning in one little room and so many faces who flood my mind while rocking, feeding, changing and playing in that room.

Not to mention the steals deals: the mirror I found a TJMaxx on clearance with a scratch (they gave the poor pregnant lady an additional 10% off), the  the little bird housesI found at a local consignment shop, the free plant hangers I already had & painted them to be book/toy holders, the baskets 50% off at Hobby Lobby. Oh! And the FREE curtain rods found in my backyard by big brother & daddy. Ah… I love a good deal.

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Neutral & Natural for little bird’s Nursery.

“For every good & perfect gift is from above” James 1:17

We are, we are Family.

 

family“We are, we are

Not your ordinary fami-mily

But we can all agree that

We are, We are

Close as close can be”

- We Are Family, Ice Age 4

There are (many) times in the ESP journey that I have been tired. Many times I have wanted to crawl in a hole. Many times that I have nearly called it quits. And why (many say) do I continue to do what I do? 

There are times in life when immediate family can get tiring. Many times when you want to escape them. Many times you may even want to disown them (lets be honest, it happens with every normal family). But why don’t you?  Because at the end of the day, they are family. 

ESP IS family.  Really, they are. And this week it was so evident. At CTL it was the week for campers  ages 16+ (many of them I have known for 10 years). Throughout the last 6 days I cannot begin to count how many times Finley was touched, coddled over, held, passed around, danced with & smiled at. Owen was high-fived, danced with, played with, hugged and given constant affirmation and affection.  The beautiful thing about family is that they love unconditionally. 

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And now I get it, I understand the value of ESP  and the love we show to each camper on a whole new level. Because each camper has a parent, grandparent or caregiver who longs for them to be loved. 

There is simply no better gift than watching your child be loved.

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And so we are family. And I continue to do what I do because we are family. Despite the stresses of this job, it is the family of ESP, the love they show and the lessons they teach me that keep me coming back for more… back to our crazy, assorted, unfeigned, unconventional, impassioned family.

 

 

 “Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves.” Romans 12:10

If the world was an ESP dance party…

….then world peace would be possible, seriously.

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You know that phrase, “dance like no ones watching”?  Well, it’s something that our ESP’rs actually do and do so well.

A little over a week ago I experienced my 10th ESP Prom- a summer tradition & one of my favorite nights of the year.

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As I was “Harlem shaking” in the middle of the dance floor I teared up & goose bumps spread all over as I realized the beauty of what I was experiencing and the rarity of this phenomenon. I was surrounded by young kids, old kids,  black, white and in-between kids. Kids who wheel to dance, kids who may have a seizure in the middle of the dance floor. Kids who can speak fluently and ones who have limited speech. Not a soul in the room cared what dress you were wearing. Every individual, volunteers or camper was treated the same, with love.

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I know that none of us truly understand what heaven will be like, but man… I have to believe that an ESP dance party is pretty close.With one exception– no wheelchairs, walkers, limps, tantrums, slurred speech or slower minds. If heaven is without that, but like an ESP dance party, than I’m in.

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The kiddos & I are back at Camp twin lakes for the week where dance parties happen after every meal– heaven on Earth!

Join us– grab your kids, a friend– turn up the music and dance like no one’s watching. Consider it a practice round for what lies ahead…

“Then the young woman will rejoice with dancing, & young and old men rejoice together. I will turn their mourning into joy,give them consolation, and bring happiness out of grief.” -Jeremiah 31:13

 

The Nurturer.

Nurturer should be her name
His biggest fan, my fathers wife
Example of a tender Jesus I grew to love
Teacher of faith through seasons of life
The best volunteer ESP camp nurse
Heart of empathy, often tears
Deliverer of my little girl at birth
Best friend of later years
Unofficial church greeter
Comforter of the timid & finder of the discouraged
Warm and caring nurse of decades
Bringing in life and caring as it fades.

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Happy birthday to the woman who inspires me to be a better mom everyday.

New Mom Muffins.

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I always struggle with what to bring new moms at the hospital, or better yet- to their home.

One of my best friends who just had a baby is a dietitian & I knew she would appreciate something hearty & healthy to keep things movin’ (if ya know what I mean)- If you’ve experienced childbirth you know it can be traumatic to ALL of your systems.

I decided to whip out a favorite in my household to bring to the hospital- my famous Blueberry Bran Muffins (I’m not famous for much in the kitchen so I take pride in their popularity with my crew). If you double the recipe you can refrigerate for the fam to eat throughout the week for breakfast. They are easy, healthy and best of all— man & kid proof delicious. 

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Our family had spent the day at a local blackberry farm the day before the baby came so I decided to modify my recipe to add our newly picked summer crop.

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Recipe:

- 1 Cup of Bran

- 1 & 1/2 Cup of Whole Wheat Flour

- tsp. of baking powder

- tsp. baking soda

- 2tbsp. olive oil

- 3/4 cup of applesauce

- 1/2 cup of honey

- 1 cup of milk

- 1/2 small zucchini grated

- 2 eggs

- cup of blueberries, blackberries or whatever fruit you would like (apple is delicious too!)

- pinch of cinnamon

Preheat oven to 400º. Combine dry ingredients. Blend wet ingredients in a separate bowl then add dry ingredients. Stir until moist. Spoon into muffin pan & bake for 15-20min. *I always sprinkle a little rolled oats on top for an extra visual touch*

Keep refrigerated after a day. Delicious warmed with butter!

 

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I think the treats were a hit- This is the text I received from the new daddy– with new momma’s plastic bag EMPTY.

Next time you know someone who has a baby– try New Mama Muffins. They will make mommy & baby very happy… and guarantee they won’t make it back out of the hospital!