Birthday Boy...I mean Young Man

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Last Sunday we celebrated the 13th birthday of Jairus Donovan Kent, our first born and on this earth, only son.
It was a marvelous, glorious day.
It was his actual birth-day, as of 4:34am on Sunday the 30th.  I had decided a few months ago that I wanted to do something really special.
Last year we were invited to a birthday party for the son of good friends. He was also turning 13.  It was quite a large affair, with many friends and family.  There were lots of beautiful decorations with a medieval/knights sort of theme, which I thought was quite appropriate for the occasion.  There was a guest/scrapbook out for everyone to look through and sign with messages of encouragement.  It was fun to see pictures of the young man, as we've only become friends in the past year or so, and not watched him grow up as many there had.
The thing that touched me the most was a brief time during the party where my friend and her husband had asked some church elders and senior family members to come say a blessing over their son.  It was a really beautiful, meaningful time and I just loved it.  I decided to be a copycat. ;-)

To start, I sent out snailmail invitations just slightly more than a month in advance.  Any sooner, and I was afraid people would forget; any later and I worried they would already have plans.  And I chose real, paper invitations because people are so apt to ignore Facebook and email notifications.  After much consideration, I decided to limit the guest list to only family for a few reasons.  A) Our house couldn't handle much more--I have a large family. B) Growing up, my moms family (2 brothers, a sister and all children involved) met monthly to celebrate birthdays. Thems fond memories and I wanted to have one of those again.

So I used the online planner from Staples and personalized one of their invitation templates with Jairus' picture and sent it off to be printed.  I ordered about 60 copies and got them sent out quickly.  We had a good response and in the end, probably about 85-90% positive rsvp's.  I was pleased.

I decided to make it straight-forward and low fuss: 3-5pm would be the timing, with simple finger foods to snack on (veggies with dip, fruit tray, hummus and pita chips) and 3 home-made cakes which would hopefully be enough to feed everyone.  I was expecting around 50 people. (Note: I don't do home-made to impress anyone, I do it because generally I'm not fond of store-bought cakes. :-)  )

I started cleaning the house an impressive 5 days before the party and marveled at how much less stressed I was by the weekend when only a few jobs remained.  By Sunday afternoon, everything was sparkling and ready to receive our guests.  The kids were beyond excited to see their family and especially, cousins.  My one oversight was...of all things.....Jairus' birthday gift.  We'd intended to get him a digital camera but a few days before his birthday, he spotted an archery set in Canadian Tire and was highly excited.  He took an archery class at camp last year, and since my husband also learned it at the same camp as a child, we decided it would be a good present.  However, I forgot to pick it up the day before, so a quick stop on the way home from church, aided by bags to cover the gift on its' way out of the store, solved the problem.

I had purchased the perfect little scrapbook.  It said 'Family' in lovely stitching on the front of the handsome brown leather cover, and each page had room for one photo and a few lines for signing.  My plan was to take a picture of each family as they arrived, print it immediately and have them sign the page with their photo above.  It didn't quite work out, as the printer gave us problems.  Instead, I had everyone sign a page, and printed up their pictures the next day when I had time to fiddle with the printer.  I filled the rest of the book with pictures from the day, which my uncles wife was gracious enough to take and leave with me before they left.
It was a beautiful, sunny day, which I was so grateful for, as it gave family the option of gathering out around the porch swing, which many did.  We had plenty of food, plenty of cake and it was clear that many were happy to spend the afternoon catching up with family not often seen.  I had our family trees displayed on the TV and tried to encourage people to look through it and add information that was missing or mistaken.  I pulled out the two large scrapbooks I made for Jairus; one detailing his first 2 months of life in hospital, and the second the remainder of his first year.  I was pleased to see them being passed around and enjoyed.
[Great]Grandma 'Hutchie', Nana (my mom), Sherri with shy cousin Donovan.

My brother and his wife, all the way from Parry Sound.

Verity with cousin Samuel

Cousin Jacquie's hubby Michael, standing with my Uncle Tom

Jacquie and her daughters, and her mom, my great aunt Wilma

My sister Lauren, standing with my dad's twin brother Dave.  Uncle Dave had a liver transplant just a few months ago.

All the kids mesmerized by Jairus' slideshow

Jairus' Family

For a number of days before the party, I worked on a powerpoint presentation.  Any other 13 year old would likely have made a big presence known.  He'd have told his stories and reminded everyone of his antics growing up, his triumphs and successes.  Because Jairus isn't really able to do that, I decided to make a voice for him.
Once everyone had arrived, we gathered in the main room and reflected on the life of Jairus.

Jairus Birthday Slideshow from Leslie Kent on Vimeo.

The first song was the same one I sang at Jairus' dedication.

After the video, my dad, James, and his dad had prepared words of blessing and prayer.  They stood with their hands on Jairus' shoulders, in front of all our family and spoke of the challenges he has faced, this momentous occasion of his 13th birthday, and their faith in what God alone can--and will accomplish through Jairus. Here is what my father said:
The Blessing of Jairus
Today is a special day for Jairus as we gather together to say happy 13th birthday. It hardly
seems possible that 13 years ago James, Leslie and Marie spent the night at McMaster waiting
and waiting for Jairus to arrive. Meanwhile, I was at home all nice and cozy in bed when
Marie called somewhere after 5 am to inform me that I was now a papa since Jairus had
arrived. Then I remember seeing him with a bunch of tubes in his tiny little body – but that
start to his life hasn’t stopped him from growing into this young man we have here before us
Jairus you are no longer a little boy, not a pre-teen – you are a young man. Many times
in life we wonder why things happen. We may question why did God and does God allow
Jairus to have certain challenges in his life while others do not? Jairus, scripture tells us
that before the foundation of the earth, God Almighty planned for your life and planned for
you to be a man. Psalm 139 says that He created your inmost being. He knit you together in
your mother’s womb. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. All the days ordained for you
were written by God even before you were born. Today we are recognizing publicly what
God has done in you. Your nana and I are thankful and joyful that God has given you to our
family as a gift. You have a great ability to make lots of people smile and laugh. You are a
wonderful grandson. We love you and bless you with the promises of God. You are His and
have been set apart from the world for his Holy purposes. I bless you with God’s everlasting
love, wisdom, peace, and joy.
We pray that God will provide you with all the resources you need to overcome the spiritual,
physical and emotional challenges you face as you grow and develop your faith and trust in

Numbers 6:24:  Here just as God commanded Moses to have Aaron say to the people of Israel,
I say to you Jairus: The Lord bless you and keep you; The Lord make His face to shine upon
you and be gracious to you; The Lord lift up His countenance on you and give you His peace.
Romans 15:13: May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by
the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. Amen!

As they finished, I had a cake ready with 13 lit candles.  I walked the length of the kitchen and living room, past family filling nearly every square foot, and we sang. There's nothing like a family that can sing together.  I carried the cake up to Jairus and his face was beaming.  And I remembered how difficult it used to be for him to blow out candles.  He took a great breath, and snuffed them out in three tries.

Then came the gifts.  Such generous family! If anyone had asked, I had advised gift cards, because Jairus loves to carry around cards of all kinds.  He got gifts cards plus much more!

My father in law, making a point to his sister and her husband, Anne and Don

We were so tickled when he finished, and my mom suggested he stand up and thank everyone.  He jumped to his feet and in a big voice that everyone heard, did just that.

The whole afternoon was really wonderful, and I loved how so much of our family came out to be a part of Jairus' celebration.  The kids were really tickled to meet 'cousins they didn't even know'!

The last few years, as Jairus has drawn closer to adolescence, I've worried.  I'm a mom, of course I've worried.  As his speech development his academics I began to realize that our home might always be Jairus' home, I've worried.  And I've asked God, what is your plan for him?  And this is where that pesky trust comes in. 
9 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned,this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.
The second song in the slideshow was not just chosen because it's a current house fav, that gets us all singing and dancing around the joint.  I realized that it said exactly what I'm hoping and trusting in for my son.

My life
I know it's never really been mine
So do with it whatever You like
I don't know what Your plan is
But I know it's good, yeah

I wanna tell You now that I believe in
I wanna tell You now that I believe in
In You, so do what You do, oh

I'm an empty page
I'm an open book
Write Your story on my heart
Come on and make Your mark
Author of my hope
Maker of the stars
Let me be Your work of art

Won't You write Your story on my heart?

One Relieved Mama

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Today was Honours first Highland dance competition since July 1st of last year.  You might remember that I blogged about some of our challenges last summer.  The plan I laid out there has been somewhat successful.

Honour did go to physio, and the therapist did have a few exercises to do, and we did do them a few times over the summer.  But then school started, I stopped doing the exercises and so Honour did too.  She did ride the stationary bike for a bit over the summer with James.  But then that slowly petered out.  She did use her highland dance notebook for longer than the previous two measures, probably a few months.  But that also lost steam.  Her dance chart has had up and down popularity.  It's not yet all filled in; I think it has about 20 more spots on it or so.
Circumstances didn't help her determination very much.  There were a couple competitions in the fall that we couldn't put her in because of lack of funds.  End of summer is a killer time for us, as we wait for my various music teaching jobs to kick back in.  I was also suddenly realizing that I wasn't as aware of the competitions any more, because I don't attend any of her classes like I used to.  Once I started teaching three nights a week, I lost the luxury of sitting in on her classes for an hour or two a week to keep abreast of the goings-on.  James was usually picking her up from class and he didn't think to check the bench her teacher usually leaves the application forms on, and Honour didn't have the initiative or courage to ask herself.  
She was registered for a competition in London around the third weekend of November, but two days before it, James was rushed to hospital with what turned out to be a pulmonary embolism.  Then there were no more until the new year.

Honour triumphantly brought home a handful of competition registration forms about a week and a half ago. The deadline for the soonest one was only two to three days later, so I rushed to get the forms in the mail when suddenly I realized that she didn't have her new 2014 dance card.  I had to race to get that sent to Whitby and hope against hope that it would get back to me on time.  It arrived four days ago.  Phew! Then I had to get the form sent off to join the dance organization that was hosting the comp, or else pay a fee for non-membership. Since the fee for membership is about the same cost as non-membership fees for two competitions, and her next one in a few weeks is being hosted by the same group, it made sense just to join in case another comp comes up later in the year.  I only hoped it would arrive and be processed before today's competition, lest they stop me at the door and make me pay the non-membership fee in order for Honour to compete.  Then, as I was doing all this mailing, I realized that her Aboyne costume didn't fit any more.  It had been snug and short-ish last summer at Embro, so I knew it would be hopeless now.  Kijiji and a dance mom from Welland came to the rescue with a gorgeous practically new Aboyne outfit that we picked up only two days ago.  The final challenge came when we got home from getting the new outfit and I had her try it on so I could take pics to send to her teacher for approval.  Her ghillies (dance shoes) didn't fit. I suddenly remembered how snug they were last summer and how much she had complained about them. Sigh. Providentially, one of Honours dance studio friends had outgrown her hers and was willing to pass them down.  By yesterday afternoon, everything was in place. (If you don't count staying up until 1am hemming the new skirt, and lengthening her old crinoline).

The competition was in Cambridge, which is about a 45 minute drive from our house--when the weather is good.  We had to be there for 8:30am and didn't really have any option but to bring all four kids.  James was scheduled for some gigs this afternoon so we had to take two vehicles, which I wasn't thrilled about.  Despite many of the roads being yucky with a thick layer of snow, we still made it on time.

The competition looked to be not as large as many we've been to, and I was happy about that.  Checking the program, I found that Honours group only had 10 girls.  Usually we've seen groups a little larger, even up to 18.  
We got her registered and then found some of her studio-mates along with one of the junior coaches getting warmed up.  Ghillies on, vest hooked up, everything looked good and we were ready to start.  

The Fling was on the docket first and I was glad for that as it's a strong dance for Honour and her best known.  Her group was called to line up and after saying a prayer with her I watched her cross the gym to find her spot, spray bottle in hand to take the dust off her feet.

I should have realized that after so many months of being out of competition that the first dance up would likely be rough.  I knew she had been nervous and it really came out as she became distracted and completely missed some crucial steps and turns not too far into the dance.  My heart sank and I felt tears threatening.  She returned to the bench and refused my comforting arm across her shoulder.  Her face was miserable and I finally left her to work it through on her own.

With the groups being smallish, it wasn't long before her next dance was up, the Sword.  This is another one that she's done well a number of times before in competition.  Up she went to stand before the crossed swords and with my nearly silent cheering from the bench, she worked her way cleanly through the three sections of the dance.  Relief made it's first appearance and she was a different girl returning to our spot on the bleachers.
The Sean Trews was soon upon us, a dance she's competent in and has placed 3rd and 5th in previous competitions, back in Beginner level.  She seemed to handle this one with no issues, though I find these days that I'm not as adept at seeing missteps or bloopers as I was back in beginner level.  The distinctions are becoming too fine for my rudimentary skills.
We bustled off to the change room to don the new Aboyne and have it checked by Rachel, the junior coach. One minor adjustment to the length of the skirt, accomplished by flipping the waistband down once, and she was beautiful and ready to go.  I felt my nervousness return as Rachel made last minute corrections to the final step of her Lilt--ones I felt certain she wouldn't be able to get under her belt in time.  Still, she went out and performed quite well I thought.

By 11am, the dancing was done and the waiting began.  The judges and organizers have to gather all the scores and determine the medal and trophy winners--this always takes a bit of time.  About a half an hour later, they began awarding the Primary level dancers with their participation gifts, followed by medals for the top scorers.  Three tiny boys, always a hit with their kilts and vests, cleaned up most of the first, second and third place finishes.

Honour's group would be the last announced, so we waited through the two Beginner levels, and one Novice level, before the numbers for her level were called.  In Highland dance competition, only the dancers who receive a medal are called to present before the audience, so that tense moment as the MC calls out the list of numbers is a killer.  Too well I remembered the previous 3 or 4 competitions when Honour's number had not been called.  Saddest parenting moment ever.

The relief that washed over me as I heard that blessed "2-2-5" today was enough to bring me to tears, which I hopefully hid from my benchmates, none that I knew personally.  I watched her delighted face light up and she skipped to join the line, her dance card clutched in her hand (her lanyard has gone missing to hang it from her neck).

I had been praying simply that she bring something home, any medal placement at all--and she had up to 6 chances per dance.  Once she joined the line of winners and the possibility of returning home empty handed was banished, my hopes began to rise once more.  Could she possibly win a first, second or third, and earn a stamp on her card?  That barren, stampless, Novice level  card until now?

The previous group finished their awards and Honour's line trooped up to the staging area.  They began with the Fling award and I hardly listened--we knew there was no chance of a Fling win.  Next, the Sword.  First place was called....second place....number 225!! I was stunned and thrilled and James and I flapped our hands at each other.
Sean Trews was dance number three and I nearly fell off the bench as 225 was called for first place.  The lady beside me, waiting for the afternoon competition to start with her older daughter, turned and beamed a smile of congratulations.  The Lilt awards were called without a peep to Honour however; I guess she must have misstepped somewhere along that line.

What a happy, relieving day!  As a dance mom friend remarked when she heard the news, "Aw, Honour's got her 'groove' back!". :-)

I spent the afternoon finally organizing Honour's medals onto this presentation board that her teacher gave us way back near the beginning, nearly 4 years ago.  It took a bit of searching through emails, facebook posts, messages and many files of pictures, but we finally compiled all the dates, dances and placings of all her medals, save for two which are still confounding us. At the bottom are the medals she's received from her annual dance exam.  Honour is now highly motivated to reach her next goal: make it up to Intermediate level by the July 1st Embro competition.  I'd better get her registered for more competitions!

Our Operation Christmas Child Fundraiser

Saturday, December 14, 2013

As posted about below, we recently went on a trip to the Operation Christmas Child processing centre in Cambridge, Ontario.  We went for two reasons: to take our boxes in person, as we missed the cut-off date for local drop-off centres, and also to see the insides of this wonderful operation!

When you drop off a box for OCC, they ask that you also donate some money to help cover shipping.  We decided to raise our shipping funds by selling the books the kids made after our trip, about their tour around the centre.  Our goals is to raise $30 to give to Operation Christmas Child to cover the shipping costs of the four boxes we put together.  Here are the books!

Thank you for your support of my kids and Operation Christmas Child. :-)

Rocking around....the Operation Christmas Child Processing Centre

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Today we took a fabulous trip.

For many years now, we've packed shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child, a ministry of Samaritans Purse.  This year was no different.

What was different however, was that a few days before collection week, my husband suffered a pulmonary embolism.  This pretty much threw the house into turmoil for over a week.  There was no way I could get our boxes over to the usual drop-off site.  Once things settled down, I started nosing about for a way to get our boxes delivered to the right place.  I recalled talking to a woman at a Christmas party a few years ago about how she volunteered for OCC at their processing centre in Cambridge.  A few calls and I discovered that we could indeed take our boxes there ourselves, and also have a tour around the facility.  I jumped at the chance!

Our tour started down a hallway with a wall of donors to the cause.  All these businesses donate various things needed to run the processing centre--items for incomplete boxes to coffee for the volunteers.

In a training room, large posters detailed what items were not allowed in boxes.  We were disappointed to find out that chapstick, something we usually put in our boxes is not allowed.  Our lovely guide Becky explained that it's too much like make-up and many countries consider that inappropriate for young girls--and it can also get them kidnapped for trafficking purposes. :-(

These articles taped up in the training room are stories of happy children receiving their boxes, and also an amazing story about a woman from Romania who received a box as a child.  She moved to Canada as an adult and now helps OCC to continue to spread the blessings she received.  

More pictures posted on a hallway wall of thrilled children opening their boxes.

I loved this picture...and the caption.

The Donation section.  These boxes organize all the 'inappropriate' items and ready them to be sent to local charities that need such items.  I love that nothing is wasted!

This is a shipment ready to be sent to Haiti.  Each box you can see holds (I believe) 25 shoeboxes.

The odd-sized packing section.  For non-standard sized shoeboxes.

Another shot of the Haiti shipment.

The processing line.  These are the stations the volunteers man to check each box and make sure it's ready to ship.

The shoebox hospital....

...complete with ambulance.  When a box has been overstuffed, has broken open, or needs extra items to fill it completely, it gets sent to the shoebox hospital where volunteers nurse it back to health. :-)

"Cured" boxes, heading back to the processing lines.

The volunteers came back from their break and we got to see them all get back into action.

The craft idea table, for groups and individuals who like to spend time during the year making items to go in boxes.

The cafeteria, where the volunteers have their lunch and snacks.

A map showing where Canada's boxes are going.

The tally board.  Amazing!!

Information about another ministry arm of Samaritans Purse--water purification units for communities without potable water.

The OCC "Store", selling gently used items, and some OCC momentos ( t-shirts, ornaments--we brought one home for our tree to remember the day) to raise funds to buy items to fill sick or underfilled boxes.

Our wonderful tour guide Becky!  She did a great job!

It was just such an invigorating and thrilling trip.  I was really emotionally moved to see those huge stacks of boxes and hear some of the stories.  I was discouraged this year to happen upon some articles and blogs criticizing OCC, and while it didn't cause my faith in this organization to waver, I did wonder about some of the points of contention I'd read about.  I asked Becky about a few of the things I'd read: things like the problem of items going to children that couldn't use them--like winter hats to hot countries.  She pointed out that even in hot countries, such items are still needed as their cooler seasons are to them, as our icy winters are to us!  Or at night time in many of these countries, it still gets rather cold.

Most of all, I came away from our tour today more convinced than ever that God is using Operation Christmas Child.  He's using them to bless children, and most importantly, lead many of them to Christ.  One criticism I read was that OCC puts religious literature in the boxes, and parents of these children don't realize that they're sending their kid off to get a box and religious instruction will be a part of it.  Becky assured me that OCC is granted permission to put the tracts, storybooks and other literature into the boxes.  It's not foisted upon unsuspecting families.  To be honest, this criticism did not bother me much; I'm afraid I see the issue of reaching children with the gospel as more important than a parent who may object.  We're talking about their everlasting souls.  I would face an irate parent over this issue any day rather than face the Lord someday and admit that I wimped out of sharing the gospel with a child in this way.

One final story that Becky told that really did me in....she talked of a town where a set of twins were waiting to receive their boxes.  I think the strict rule is that a child has to be there in person to receive their box.  The day of the distribution, one twin was sick and could not go get her box.  Her sister went without her and returned home with a single box.  When they opened it up....they found that there were two of everything in that box that had only been meant for one child.  I was SO moved and amazed....God is present, even in these little details, there is no doubt.

I will never forget our trip to the Operation Christmas Child processing centre, and hopefully my kids won't either!  Packing a box will never feel the same!