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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Staying Steady

Staying steady, that is my goal right now. To not gain weight during a Teale vacation from school has basically been impossible for me in the past. I eat stress. I am truly one of those people who understands the saying that stressed backwards equals desserts. I'm a huge sugar addict and when I'm stressed I reach for sugary treats. I think it got worse after I was diagnosed Celiac Sprue at the age of 39. I felt sorry for myself. I was being denied so many foods that I had eaten all my life, so the foods I could eat, I ate! This meant gluten free ice cream and safe candy and cookies or other bakery goods that I could make or buy gluten free. I was out of hand, mostly because I was mad. Being diagnosed Celiac came at a very difficult time in my life, I had lost my Mom. My Mom wasn't the Mom of the June Cleaver variety, she was more like the Roseanne Barr type. I had not appreciated her much of my life, but I don't think that is unusual, most kids don't appreciate their parents. It took my having my son and then my daughters, to finally appreciate her as a person. I had put her on a pedestal most of my life, not that I thought she was perfect, but I thought Mom's should be perfect and mine was flawed. I thought everyone else had perfect Mom's and I just got the short end of the stick. What I finally realized as a Mom myself was that she was a person, who had lived her own trials and tribulations. She had grown up in challenges that molded her and shaped how she dealt with things, she, like me, was affected by her past. My past wasn't always pretty, but I couldn't let it define me and I needed to move forward. One of the things that we all struggle with is letting go of past hurts, we hang on them, we let them eat away at our soul and we relive that pain over and over again. I'm not sure when it happened or how, but one day I finally saw my Mom as a person with imperfections instead of a Mom who had let me down. I started enjoying her good qualities and letting go of the ones I didn't like. She became my biggest fan as I let go of my resentment and anger for the past. Teale has been responsible for much good in my life, she has taught me much about forgiveness and she has helped others see me differently. My one sister in law has openly said to me that Teale is the reason she likes me. Before Teale she just couldn't or wouldn't let me in. As Teale's Mom she saw me so completely differently that she finally got to know me and discovered I wasn't the person she had perceived me as. I think that is the key to relationships, we perceive what we want, instead of the reality. I had judged my Mom all my life, forgetting she was human too and flawed by the life she had lived. So losing her so young, after I had finally started liking her, hurt, a lot. The same week I was losing my Mom to a stroke she had suffered, I got very sick. I lost about ten pounds in a week, because, and this may be TMI, everything went straight through me. I was spending more time in the bathroom than I was spending out of it. The cramping pain was debilitating and I knew what it was. I had tested positively on blood tests for Celiac Sprue years earlier, but at that time, my endoscopy showed no signs of damage to my villi. I was told that stress could bring out the Celiac and I was pretty sure that the stress of my Mom dying had done just that. My Mom died exactly a week after my brother had found her down on her floor from a severe stroke. She was only seventy four years old and I was not yet even forty. Losing her when my kids were still so young made me mad. Her poor health was her fault because she smoked like a chimney and drank way too much alcohol, so I blamed her and had to figure out how to move past that anger. Life with Teale had been extremely challenging in those days, her explosive behavior was constant and we had not gotten the medications correct yet. It would be years before we would finally put Teale on the antipsychotic that would help stabilize her moods better. So at that time, when my Mom died, I felt like I had lost one of the few people who got my pain, who understood how sad and how worn both Mark and I were. Losing her hurt for all the obvious reasons that losing a Mom hurts, but for me, it was different, because in some ways Mark and I just felt so very alone in our life with Teale and my Mom often expressed to us how proud she was of our efforts to help Teale be the best she could be. Within weeks, I was diagnosed Celiac and the one person I wanted to call and complain to, was gone. I remember those early days of my Mom being gone and my diagnoses. I would wake up and for a split second I would be peaceful but than I'd think about what was new in my life. It would hit me like a black cloud on a sunny day, "My Mom is dead and I'm Celiac." That was 2006 and this is 2014, over those many years I have struggled with my Mom's death and my diagnosis. I have fought with doctors that they are wrong about me and I have been retested several times. Every time still comes back possative. I think my doubt is because Celiac is a genetic disease and so far no one else in my family has ever been diagnosed except me. Mark remembers how sick I was and laughs at me for my doubt. Over the years I have forgotten, much like a woman forgets how intense childbirth is. I had not really learned to live Celiac in a healthy way. I eat gluten free, but as I said before, I over indulge in gluten free treats. This vacation from school for Teale has been filled with stress as all vacations are. She misses her routine and the socialization that school supplies her. The difference for me is that I am trying to stay very conscious of how the stress effects my eating. Believe me, I have not been great at this, I have over indulged in some treats, but I think the difference is that I am so much more aware of what and why I am doing it. This morning when I stepped on the scale, I was the same, not more, not less, and this week I am going to celebrate that. 

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Words Do Hurt

I talked her into walking over to the elementary school play ground because I was taking care of my friend's son, Colby and he really wanted to go. It was my second attempt at asking her and to my surprise, this time she said yes. So she and I walked and Colby rode his bike that he had brought. Caring for the two of them all day is tricky, Teale and Colby both have their own issues. Sometimes their needs clash and it can be not so pretty! But I get Colby and I'm one of the few his Mom can trust to care for him and sadly I get that too. I can't leave Teale in just anyone's care, we need people we trust, who have understanding, humor and a whole lot of patience! So having Colby adds to the stress of the week off with Teale, but he also brings a different joy. He accepts Teale, he gets her and for him, she is just Teale. When I told him I couldn't leave Teale home to take him to the playground, Colby said happily ~ "She can come!" So as we walked and Colby rode, I was aware of how we must look. Teale's gait is off because of her cerebral palsy, she talks loud and her speech is not that of a fifteen year old girl. Plus there is that, she is fifteen, walking with her Mom to the playground. The image is kinda funny, as she and I look much alike, but she is bigger and taller than me. Sometimes it feels like she is my shadow and I realize this will be my life, possibly forever. I picture myself an old lady and Teale forty something, still following me, her an image of my younger self. The walk was filled with me shouting to Colby to wait for us or not to go too far ahead. Sometimes, although Teale doesn't always follow rules well, (like be nice to your sister :) another person not following rules agitates her. So I was thankful Colby was listening so well to my instructions. Overall, it was going smoothly but as we walked I thought about what was ahead? Would there be other kids at the playground? Would Teale and Colby get along with them? As we approached the playground, I realized no one was there and I felt both relieved and disappointed. Teale and Colby have special needs and neither have much opportunity, besides at school, to interact with other kids, so a public place like this often is the best opportunity. I knew Colby would want to run around and play, Teale may just sit and watch him, she's aware of her size and seems to kinda get she's too big for a playground. So Colby ran off and as I went to sit on a bench with Teale, she handed me her water and walked toward the swings. She used to swing for hours in a day when she was little, but these days she never swings at home anymore. I've seen her on the swings at her school, but there she is comfortable and her friends are swinging too. Somehow this move by Teale surprised me and to tell the truth saddened me too. In elementary school, Teale swung, a lot both at home and at school. We had a special needs swing with a back when she was small that my husband pushed her on for countless hours. He would sing to her and sometimes she would sing along. The amount of time he devoted to Teale was astonishing. I would have Beau and Gwenn while he stood outside in all sorts of weather pushing Teale and singing. The back and forth rhythm calmed her, it brought her peace and therefore it brought our family peace. She didn't want me, so giving him a break was impossible. The swing brings back memories of isolation too. Teale was alone, she really had no friends to hang with as a child, so the swing was her favorite place. As she grew we got a swing installed inside and there she would sit, watching music videos for hours on end, swinging back and forth. The sound of the creaking swing actually calmed me. I knew where she was when I heard it and I knew she was safe. Those were the days when she often went after our youngest daughter, Gwenn, so hearing the swing stop moving meant I better check on her, or Gwenn might get clobbered. In the Summer Teale's desire was to be outside again, so we bought an upright hammock swing that she could push herself on. We also got her a CD player with headphones so she could swing and listen to her music. Many years of swings go through my head as I watch her, she is alone swinging and watching Colby play. My heart breaks a little at the memories. I have this intense visual in my head of her fifth grade picnic while she was still in an integrated setting with typical peers. The kids were all enjoying time with each other, playing fun games and I was volunteering at one of the games. But I could see Teale alone, on a swing, going back and forth with just adults within sight. She had all these kids but she was more comfortable being on a swing by herself. Back then I knew I wanted her at the school she is at now, for just this reason, all the typical kids had grown above her and even surrounded by peers, she was alone. Suddenly my mind changes direction as a huge group of boys approaches the playground. They are older than Colby but look younger than Teale. They may think it is odd a fifteen year old is there with her Mom swinging. I watch as Colby observes them, but then he walks to Teale and sits on the swing next to her. I guess he feels safer with Teale than he does with strange boys, somehow the irony of this strikes me. Teale and Colby both suffer a lot of isolation, yet here they are, finding comfort in each other. The group of boys start a game that is similar to Marco Polo, just played on land instead of in a swimming pool. The game seems pretty difficult for the boy who is "it." He walks around with his eyes closed and the other boys are hiding up high on the playground equipment. Then it happens, one of the boys who is hiding calls the boy who is "it," a retard. My heart jumps, normally I would address this, normally I might try to make this a teachable moment, but I'm worn from the week I've had. Weeks off from school are tough for Teale and today has been edgy and she has been off. If I approach the boys, I know it may not go well. I know the tears sitting in my eyes behind my sunglasses may fall down my cheeks. Teale has a difficult time with emotions of others, especially mine or Mark's. If I cry, it actually upsets her and often causes anxiety and anger. She can not process sadness and wants you to stop being sad instantly. I sit there thinking about all the people I'm letting down by not speaking up. I'm part of a community that many are not. I love many people who have developmental delays. I know how amazing these people are and the gifts and the joy they bring to my life and the world. If our daughter Gwenn was here, I knew I would have to say something. I also know our son has been in similar situations and has been brave enough to educate. I feel like a fake, yet I sometimes need to give myself a break, because it is hard being Teale's Mom and this week I'm just drained. The boy says it again to his friend, I look for a reaction from Colby but am pretty sure he can't hear it. I know Teale can't and I'm sure she would not understand the word anyway. Just my heart breaks and I wonder if the boys parents know he uses the "R" word? I wonder if he has ever been educated on how hurtful that word is? I wonder if he cares. His friends don't correct him, even though I'm sure at least one of the boys knows who I am and who Teale is. We are in my neighborhood, just minutes from my home and honestly, most neighbors know us and they know Teale. I decide not to say anything, I feel guilty and I feel sad, but today I'm just not strong enough to confront a group of boys. So I'm addressing it here and hoping at least one parent, one person, will share with their loved ones that yesterday my heart broke just a little bit. Mostly because my developmentally delayed daughter did nothing to deserve the challenges that she lives with. And contrary to that old nursery rhyme, words do hurt. 

Friday, August 22, 2014

May Peace Fill Her Heart

At 4:30AM she turns on her light and goes back into her room. I lay there, hopeful she is just going back to sleep after getting a glass of milk and using the bathroom, but no, she walks back out. Her American Girl doll catalogue bag slung over her shoulder, she heads to the kitchen table. I know I am in trouble, yesterday was rough, her explosive behavior coming out in full force. This is easily a sign of what I suspected yesterday, a swimmers ear infection. Makes sense, she's awake early and swimmers ear especially hurts while laying down. I quickly go to the kitchen and tell her it is too early to be up. She growls at me and I say it again nicely, showing her the darkness outside. My head starts to spin, what if she won't go back to bed, what if she can't fall back asleep? Today is my fifth day in a row caring for Teale all day. Her school program ended last Friday and she doesn't go back until September 3rd. These weeks off from program can be tough, Teale likes the routine of school and she loves her friends there. Add in the fact that her favorite person in the world is at work all day (her Daddy) and she is stuck with me, well lets just say, the days are long. I added a challenge this week and am helping out a dear friend who has a son with behavior issues and special needs. She can't take him just anywhere for care and she needed to go to a work training this week, so I agreed to have him a couple days. Honestly, he is great and my other daughter Gwenn basically cares for him, but there is stress having another person in the house. Gwenn mostly respects the strange boundaries of Teale, staying out of sight is usually her M.O. Although there are times she seems to purposely push Teale's buttons, Gwenn gets that a Teale rage throws our whole day. Yesterday was debatable, Gwenn and my friend's son were in the kitchen when Teale started to turn. I often struggle with letting Gwenn live her life normally, which also involes helping Teale to understand and embrace their relationship or keeping the peace in the house at all cost. Just Gwenn's being in a room with Teale can set Teale off. Yesterday was no exception, Teale was sure Gwenn "was looking at her iPad." Gwenn was in the kitchen after waking up, looking for a drink and something to eat for breakfast. Teale was at the kitchen table watching YouTube videos on her iPad when she started in. She was immediately pounding the table and freaking out that "Gwenn was looking at her." Teale is diagnosed with many mental illnesses, but Intermittent Explossive Disorder was the first diagnosis. On a dime her mood goes from even to explosive, often without reason and in those moments there is NO REASONING with her. I try, I talk to her and try to get her to see Gwenn is only in the kitchen for breakfast, not to harm or upset her, but the morning had been edgy and I usually can tell when the rage is just going to have to play itself out. I start moving things that can break and be thrown at us, subtly but quickly I try to clear out her path and get Gwenn and my friend's son out of sight. The screaming increases, the pounding on the table is intense. She's angry her iPad isn't responding to her and that is being slammed. I take it from her, which than changes where her anger is. She doesn't always come after me the same now, on some unconscious level she may get that she is bigger and stronger than I am? Her anger has shifted though from Gwenn to me. I have her beloved iPad and she wants it back. I'm calm, years of training by circumstances have taught me to stay calm. The kitchen is one of my least favorite rooms (Funny statement, hu?)  for her to rage in though. I will try to get her to our safe place, the couch in the living room. On the couch she rocks herself, screams and often bites herself, but strangely, she will stay on the couch and not attack me, as much. Getting her from the kitchen to the couch is the challenge. She slams the hanging light and then knocks over our large picnic style table, I jump at the opportunity. Grabbing her left arm I put her in a walking hold and to her surprise I and able to get her to the couch. There she continues the rage, coming at my face a few times but I am standing and she is seated on the couch in front of me, so I have a better vantage point and deflect her attacks without too much pain. Like I said, many years of experience have gotten me here, but it never ceases to amaze me how sad I am while  observing a rage. A glance by her sister started this? A half hour of extreme anger because a person walked into the same room as you? She's biting herself to bleeding, blood is all over her arms and her mouth. Sometimes I try to stop that, but often my efforts to stop her biting just make it more intense. Today my head says to let it go. I try to use it as a teachable moment as I see the calm coming over her though. I still hold such hope that I can teach the inappropriateness of this behavior. I'm stubborn and I'm strong, my faith keeps me going and my prayers have been flying this whole time "please help my daughter to have peace in her heart" runs through my head over and over again. I'm sure God is with me, I'm sure I'm surrounded by angels who help me stay calm. I watch as her screaming loses intensity and I talk about how her behavior is inappropriate. She's waffling by now, exhaustion has probably kicked in and the adrenaline is fading. I video tape a small snippet, sending it to Mark and a few of my friends, some of which who are also Mom's of special needs children. Support is my M.O. in this life, my friends and especially Mark, are my lifeline. They get it and I need them. I need someone to see what Hell Teale is living in. There are tears wiped away as I watch my daughter suffer, sadness and a healthy bit of fear fill me. I still have over seven days alone to get through. So today, when she wanted to start the day at 4:30AM, my heart jumped with fear, but I won the battle and got her back to bed, pain killers and ear drops in, she went back to sleep... I just didn't. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Weight Struggles

I often wake with nothing in particular on my mind. Thoughts of the day ahead, what is on my plate, what do I need to accomplish and coffee go through my head. I stumble out of our bed and start my day with the scale. I've been trying to lose weight and get healthier for months now. It was February break and I realized I was abusing food far more than my usual. I was in a rut, using sugar for the quick high, but then crashing hard. This just created the vicious cycle of using sugar to get the fix again. The February school break and the Winter as a whole had been especially rough this past year. We had a very brutal Winter here in Upstate New York, it lasted long and it was especially cold and filled with much snow and many blizzards. I've never been much of a Winter lover and often gain weight, but this Winter I really packed on the pounds. My seasonal affective disorder or SAD, has been a problem for me my whole life. There were many changes in our life this past year though and I believe those changes made it worse. Our son moving out to a local college changed the dynamics of our home. I missed his company, I missed his sense of humor and how he supported me in times of struggles with Teale. Beau had become a confidant, a person who lived our life, so he got it and could understand when Teale was unstable and I needed help. With Mark working outside the home, Beau was the person I had counted on for years as a back up. If I couldn't get home on time for Gwenn or Teale's bus, if I was suddenly "in trouble" with Teale in a rage, if Mark and I just needed a few hours out at night with the girls in bed, sound asleep, Beau could often be counted on to help. His not being here meant I was on my own and besides the loss of a helper, I also just missed him. With Mark's Mom's death in December, we were all dealing with our grief differently. There were times there was relief that she was gone from the pain and suffering of her final years, as dementia had progressed and it was difficult to watch her deteriorate. But her warmth in those final years was stronger for me than it had been much of my life as her daughter in law, so I missed her too. It also brought back feelings of my own Mother's passing and the of that loss. It was official, Mark and I were both parentless and worse yet, our children no longer had a Grandparent. I felt sorry for myself, heck I have friends who still have Grandparents themselves. The changes may have exasperated my Winter blues? I wasn't particularly down or anything, but I was eating my way through the Winter. Then like an epiphany, I saw it, I HAD to change. I needed to feel better about myself and I needed to feel better! So the February school vacation was my breaking point. I set a goal for myself that on the Monday after break, when the girls went back to school, I was going to start walking on our treadmill. My goal was 15000 steps a day and my recently purchased FitBit was going to keep me honest. I started that Monday and for weeks I kept my promise to myself. As my husband Mark, practiced sax and his singing at night after putting Teale to bed, I walked, jogged and even ran on our treadmill while watching Netflix on our daughter's iPad. Mark would tell me how proud of me he was and I was encouraged by his support. Months would go by and I was diligent, it helped my mood and the Winter blahs seemed less, but my weight wasn't budging. I had cut back on sugar, I gave up diet drinks and drank more water, a huge step for me, I cut calories and I even tried Weight Watchers again. I tried to eat three meals a day, even though I have hated breakfast my entire life, I listened to much advice from Facebook friends and improved my eating and my nutrition. The weight stayed. I felt better and maybe I built muscle, maybe I toned some, but the weight wasn't budging. IT WAS SO FRUSTRATING! So now when I wake every morning and my first stop is my scale, I am pleasantly pleased with what it says. It took me a long time to finally hit a bigger wall than I had in February. After months of trying to lose the weight with reasonable exercise and diet, in June I decided to take a much more drastic step. I went on a very strict diet/detox and dropped about thirty pounds. I finally feel like myself again and have learned much from my experience. Weight should not define us, a number on a scale should not be a definition of my worth. I know this with my head, but the truth is, I personally feel better about myself when I'm at a reasonable weight. I can fit in clothes more easily, I feel more attractive for my husband and the sense of control and accomplishment lifts me.  It's funny, I have probably gained and lost my body weight by now in my lifetime. I'm a really good dieter, but not so good at maintenance of a healthy weight. I feel like this time is "it" for me though. I feel like this time I will and I can stay at a reasonable weight. I feel like this time I finally know what drives me and why I gain. Weight should not define a person and as a woman who has struggled with this, I hope it is not defining you... 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Jessica's (our niece) Words at our Renewal of Vows Ceremony


Well considering Ellie and Mark have both played a major role in my life, my entire life, I struggled with what I wanted to speak aout today. I hate public speaking and I was nervous I would get up here and pee the way I did the day I met my uncle Mark (but that’s a whole other story).
As a young child, some of the happiest memories I have are with Ellie and Mark and their daycare Babymacaroni. I did not have much stability but I always knew that when I was with them, I would be having fun. The toys, the art and crafts, the field trips, the friends, the love.
I distinctly remember the summer after I turned 11 years old. Ellie and/or Mark would drive into the city and pick my sister and I up every Sunday to stay with them for the week. We would go to babymacaroni daily to be Ellie and Mark’s “helpers”. As an adult, I now realize that WE were the ones being helped. Ellie and Mark were helping us escape from our real lives, even if it were just for the week.
That November, we ended up moving in with Ellie and Mark. All of our lives drastically changed that day. Ellie, Mark, Beau, Samantha, and myself. It was a day NONE of us will ever forget. Ellie and Mark were in their early 30’s and Beau was just 1 year old. Now I have to wonder, what kind of crazy people would move-in two adolescent girls into their home and turn their lives upside down?  They interrupted their own young happy family just to give us a better chance at life. I am very thankful for that.
I also have to wonder, what kind of man would allow his wife to take in her two nieces? And treat them as if they were his own flesh and blood? Only Mark Bradley. When Nana died in December, I couldn’t help but think about what an amazing job she did raising her children and how different my OWN life would be had she not raised my uncle Mark to be the awesome man he is today.
My uncle Mark and Aunt Ellie always have and always will be like parents to me. To this day, they both treat my daughter Amariah, as if she were their grandchild. I know she feels their love the way I did as a child. I appreciate ALL the love they have given myself and Amariah more than they will ever know.
Without Ellie and Mark, I would not know what it is like to have a family. Without Ellie and Mark, I would not know HOW to be a loving parent. Without Ellie and Mark, I would not know how to FIGHT for my child. Without Ellie and Mark, I would not have the values and morals I have today. Without Ellie and Mark, I would not know what a real marriage should look like. Without Ellie and Mark, I WOULD NOT be the person I am today (Although that may be debatable on whether that’s a good or a bad thing! (Just joking). If I have never said it before, THANK YOU for everything you have done for me. I know that none of this would have been possible, without your strong healthy marriage!


Reflections on our ROV

As I woke way too early this morning I realized I was still reeling in the love I felt on Saturday at our Renewal of Wedding Vows Ceremony. It would be impossible to put down my reflections on that day, but as I sit here, I so want to try. If only to capture a tiny bit of the joy I felt, so one day when the times are again tough (as life always goes in waves) I will have someplace to look back and remember the love. The other day I asked Mark which of our "Wedding Ceremonies" he enjoyed more? Mark who is very thoughtful, and rarely answers even a simple question quickly, immediately said, that would be tough to answer. I'm with him, the Wedding of our youth was fun, full of romance and mystery, obviously we had no clue the events and the love that would unfold. I know I was sure we would "make it" despite other people's doubts, but what I did not know were the challenges we would make it through. I didn't know getting pregnant would be tougher than my junior high teacher had made it out to be. I didn't know that when we had that baby boy later than my due date, he could end up in the NICU with tiny babies who struggled to hold on. I didn't know you could love a baby the way I loved him and worry so much about his future. I didn't know I would miscarry and Mark would spend months trying to put my broken heart back together. I didn't know about gastroschisis, strokes at birth, cerebral palsy and the many diagnosis, medications, specialists, therapies, schools and fights we would endure to get our daughter all she needed. I didn't know the week in the NICU with our son, Beau, would suddenly seem like a walk in the park compared to the two months in the NICU with our daughter, Teale. I didn't know I could survive on so little sleep, walking our home at night with a baby who was often tough to console. I didn't know our son Beau had the ability to grow up too fast and become independent at such a young age because he just had to. I didn't know how much I would miss "that perfect birth experience" and ask Mark to take the chance with me to have hope restored in my broken soul. I didn't know Mark had grown to love me so much he would not hesitate and soon our last child, our baby girl, Gwenn, would come into our life without even a squeal in the delivery room. But this time, that it would be ok and I would finally hold a baby in minutes, not in days, after birth. I didn't know that she too would grow up fast and soon be the big sister to her big sister. God had not prepared me, but somehow He did give me the strength to get through. Somehow, with this man by my side, who I would grow to adore far more than I could imagine, we would make it. Twenty five years later, we would come out of the storms and we would see the light. Our renewal was an affirmation of our love and our commitment. It was a celebration of those storms that we endured because our faith was strong enough to believe we could. The moments of our ceremony that stand out the strongest to me are times I could just feel the energy and the love. As we walked in as a couple with our three beautiful children, I took in the moment. I looked around the room filled with people who loved us and I truly soaked it in. The energy was overwhelming and I was lifted by that energy. It was a moment of pure love, unconditional love felt not only by the man holding my hand tightly, but the many people there to celebrate with us. That moment will always be the one I will remember the most. It surprised me how much I suddenly wholly believed that this ceremony, this family and this life, was exactly where I was always meant to be....

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Melanie's Words from our 25th ROV Ceremony


When Ellen asked me if I would write something or speak at her 25th anniversary – renewal of vows celebration – I thought – I would love to and I would be honored.  And then I thought… how am I going to put into words what Mark, Ellen and their whole family means to me.
Ellen and I actually met at a 5th grade roller skating birthday party.  Ellen had been injured earlier in the evening but still decided to go skating.  At one point she fell and I rolled right over her already injured arm.  The following year we had the same teacher and despite that disastrous meeting we became best of friends.    
She is like a sister to me – lucky you Mark – that makes you my brother in law.  We have had some wonderful times and we have been through a lot.  And even though we live miles apart – Mark and Ellen inspire me pretty much every day.  They share their lives with us  - their struggles and their successes.  And I pray for them and cheer for them. 
One thing that did come to mind when I thought of Mark and Ellen and their marriage is 1 Corinthians 13:4-8.  It talks about in verse 4 – Love is patient and kind, love does not envy or boast, it is not proud. Mark and Ellen are 2 of the kindest people I know.  They are both patient with each other and with situations that come up. 
Verse 7 says Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.  They have persevered together through thick and thin – fighting for Teale and also for Beau and Gwenn.  Just for normalcy and to the best that they can be.
And in verse 8 it says Love never Fails!!!!  They have raised 3 great kids – who just like them – are kind, compassionate, and loving. 
I just wanted to say Thank you for sharing your lives with me and with all of us here today.  Here’s to at least 25 more.