"But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart." Luke 2:19 KJV
If ever there was a verse that could describe me? This verse would be it.
I grew up in a large family of 5 brothers and 1 sister. Add in an honorary sister and brother, who joined our family before I was born and you have a wonderful childhood. I watch everything that goes on around me and think constantly. Until now, I have lovingly told these cherished memories and thoughts to only the closest of friends.
I love my God... I love my family.. I love my friends.. and I love to laugh!
I have never been a fan of Romance.. Oh don’t get me wrong, I can watch the 5 hour version of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy falling in love over and over again. I re-read Love Comes Softly at least twice a year. I yell at the screen right along with my daughter when the heroine of a movie makes the dumbest assumptions and re-routes her life most inconveniently. But in real life.. In MY Life? I really have no place for it..
Now I did have crushes and I went on more than a few dates in my teenage years. But when I was dating, I almost treated the first date like it was an interview. And I was good. I could tell by the end of that date if I could ever see myself marrying the guy.. if not.. we didn’t go out again. I never wanted the long courtships or the long phone calls or the flowery words.. and definitely didn’t want the flowers.
And then I met Chad. Oh my sweet romantic husband was SOOO wasted on me. Jewelry.. flowers… sweet cards… romantic dates.. Ha.. In fact, I sat next to him in class for close to a month before I even noticed that he sat NEXT to me EVERY day. It was another couple weeks of talking in class before met outside of class… and then a month of “hanging out” before we went out on our first date. Our first romantic date. I knew I was going to marry him after a month of dating. Yet, my sweet husband still planned the most romantic proposal.. on the pier of Lake Michigan right at sunset.. and he was all dressed up too. He planned every detail.. It would have been so perfect and so Romantic…. But…. I made us run so late that by the time we were on our way, he was SO frustrated at me.. So frustrated in fact that he ended up throwing (gently) my engagement ring at me in his truck. After he forgave me, he took me to the Pier the next day instead. And I cried… Great big tears of Joy and LAUGHTER.. because my romantic man kneeled down on a beach FULL of dead fish to proposal.. And he would NOT stand up until I accepted.. which (of course) I did.
So you are probably wondering… if I didn’t find his romantic side irresistible, what drew me to him? Well he had something else I always melted for.. Laughing and long talks. And Chad had plenty of both. He has the best laugh.. So if you asked me what I liked the most about my husband? It would be his laugh.. Even when I am really mad and he starts laughing at me?? (Apparently he thinks I am adorable when angry). Yeah… it still melts my heart.
I asked Chad once what was the FIRST thing that he liked about me.. The ONE thing that made him switch his schedule so it matched mine. The one thing that made him want to sit next to me every day .. The one thing that had him waiting patiently for a month for me to finally notice him? Then I waited patiently for my romantic-hearted husband to decide on which romantic thing it would be.. And he said, “I guess that you were so sturdy.” Sturdy??? Sturdy to me means like Elephant trunk legs.. like nothing short of gale force winds could knock you over. Now I know that I am not a small boned girl.. I never hoped to be called petite.. but Sturdy?? So as I laugh and say, “Gee thanks..”, he calmly corrected me, “Not sturdy in frame but sturdy in spirit.. That you were so sure of who you were and confident..”. So I guess he thought my personality could survive gale force winds.. I’ll take that.. And I suppose it could be called Romantic. But next time I tell this story to a group of friends? You bet! I will still say “Sturdy? Gee thanks honey, I love you too..” You know why? Because it always makes him laugh! And you know how much I love his laugh.
When I was younger, my Dad always gave me the best things to think about. As a parent (now), I realize this was one of his greatest gift to me. One of the first memories I have of this, was him telling me, “Don’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.” Now I don’t remember what I said, or the act that I had “judged” to earn the advice from my Dad.. but I DO remember looking at the lady’s shoes and thinking, “OOOOOHHHH, she’s wearing spiky high heels.. no wonder she is crabby. If I had to walk a mile in THOSE shoes, I would be crabby too.” As I grew up, my Dad changed his advice to be more specific. He would say, “Judge not, lest ye be judged,” and then later in plain English, “God forgives you, in the same way you forgive others.” So, I trained myself to forgive EVERYONE.. because I am no where near being sin free.
Now it’s one thing to forgive others over the course of a day or so.. Immediate forgiveness was still sometimes elusive to me. Then one day, someone was very rude to me and my Dad. I was immediately angry, because my Dad is the nicest person you will ever meet and didn’t deserve it. My Dad? He smiled, said something extremely nice and wished them a good day. When I asked him why? He said that sometimes the meanest, grouchiest people are the ones who NEED a smile from us the most.. because it may be the only smile or nice thing they receive all day. And if we choose not to be kind? Who knows when that person will feel kindness again.
As an adult.. I realize that ALL of those advice’s are just 1 big lesson. One that took me 37 years to make “easy”.. Now, there are still days that I get frustrated or short with strangers. I spend the rest of the day praying that God would help that person forgive my negativeness, and asking God to Bless that person’s day so that my crabbiness was not contagious, passing from person to person.
But most days, when someone cuts me off on the highway? I assume they did not see me. When a Bully teases my kids? I assume they are bullied at home (and pray for them). When someone runs to get in the check out lane in front of me? I assume that they are running late. If someone puts me on hold for 15 minutes? I assume they are really busy. And when someone scowls in my direction? Yup, I picture my Dad and his gentle wisdom, put on my brightest smile and wish them a good day. Then I pray that God will find other ways to Bless that person throughout their day.
Recently, I watched my son (whom the world classifies as having special needs) smile sweetly and apologize for something he had no need to apologize for. And I see my daughter’s beautiful smile light up the world where ever she goes. And I know for sure that my Dad’s legacy, one that he learned from Our Heavenly Father, will be passed on from generation to generation.
There was a time when you could have eaten off my floors. They were THAT clean! Now.. they HAD to be that clean for awhile because my son.. well… he would eat anything he found . So what started out as necessity became an obsession for me. For an hour after every meal, I would clean my kitchen area. Wash the table, wash the chairs, wash the dishes, wash the sinks, sweep the floors, and then mop them. Where were my kids you ask? I would put in an educational VHS and speed clean.
What began in the kitchen, quickly spread to the rest of the rooms. It got to the point where we couldn’t leave the house unless all the toys were put away. Every game had to be put away with ALL the pieces listed on the box. Every toy had a place on a shelf. Every item in the doll house was accounted for. Our walk might have been postponed for an hour while we cleaned up, because I needed it to be meticulous. And cleaning with young children is not an easy task. While one of my children would be helping me pick up, the other child would be pulling things off the shelves. It was sometimes exhausting.. but I was determined.
Then every night after my family went to bed? I would organize what small hands hastily put away. I would straighten, dust and sweep. Then reorganize and move things around. In my mind, if your house was perfect than the rest of the world would see it.. and well? They would think you were the perfect family.
Yup.. you guessed it.. I was very insecure. Why was I so insecure you ask? Well to be honest, being a parent to toddlers and infants is stressful. And I was stressed. I didn’t show my stress to the rest of the world but it was there. I was a mother to a very strong willed daughter and a cranky infant son. I was the mother with the crying infant in her arms and the screaming, kicking toddler in aisle 7 at the grocery store. I was the mother of the independent minded 4 year old that got kicked out of your child’s preschool ballet class. I was the mother who pulled into the rest area (10 miles from home) to calm down her infant. I was the mother who took the nursery teacher job at church because her son wouldn’t stay with anyone else. We WERE the family that asked for To-Go boxes.. before our food arrived at our table. Always I tried to smile. Always I looked for the good in every situation.. And then I cleaned and polished my house until it would shine.
Now I don’t want you to think that we never made messes. I have always believed that kids learn the best and the most completely when a mess is involved. We would do large scale painting projects. Sheets of paper spread on the floor, painting feet for footprints, mixing colors and constant laughter. My daughter loved to do experiments. One day I went to put a bottle of conditioner back in its place only to realize it was empty. A brand new bottle of expensive curly hair conditioner .. empty.. after one bath. When I questioned my daughter, she explained that she was pretending she was a mad scientist and had to test the perfect combination of shampoo, conditioner and bath paint .. to save the world (naturally). So, after I mentally remind myself to check the contents of the shampoo bottle (which had found its way home), I explained that her curly hair products were expensive and that I would have to buy special (and cheap) mad scientist supplies for her experiments. I ALWAYS wanted my kids to be creative. Through creativity comes problem solving skills.. and I have always wanted the best for my kids. But when they had lost interest in their messes? They would help me clean up.. and I would polish it clean when they went to bed.
Then.. (there always seems to be a “then”).. Then the daycare I had, went full time. Instead of a couple days a week, I had extra kids in my house 5 days a week, often 12 hours a day. At the end of a 12 hour work day, followed by 5 hours of parenting and errands? You guessed it. I was too tired to do after hours organizing and polishing. So those chores got moved to the weekend. Yet, I would still spend energy during the day to make sure every piece of every toy was returned to its place before we went on to the next activity. Until one crazy day.. On this particular crazy day (perhaps a full moon), when the kids were climbing the walls, I realized that we had been trying to clean up for 45 minutes. Frustrated, I shooed the kids out the door. We left behind a few stray toys on the floor (GASP) and went outside to run off our extra energy. The rest of the day was the same way, we hurried through cleaning to get to the next activity.. ALWAYS leaving behind a few things. When every child had been picked up that night, I realized something. The kids had all been pretty successful in their day.. considering the high energy level. AND.. at the end of the day.. I still picked up the same number of stray toys that I would have if I had enforced immaculate cleaning all day.
Slowly over the next year, I learned to let go of the need to keep my house highly organized. It was still clean.. but if you looked under my sofa you would definitely find stray blocks. I replaced the baby to the dollhouse family a number of times, over the years, because they “ran away”. And.. it’s true.. the Hungry Hungry Hippo game is down to 20 marbles.. shocking isn’t it?
Slowly over those same years, I also discovered something else. When I sat WITH my kids, while they watched their educational television .. instead of using that time to sterilize my kitchen.. they learned so much more. We would laugh at bad jokes, come up with plans for good experiments, sing catchy (and sometimes annoying) songs together and then laugh some more. Most importantly, I got to know my children so much better when I relaxed into my surroundings.. and accepted the chaos that comes with raising my kids.
A couple times a year, I still do deep cleaning. When my kids spill juice on the floor, I decide its a good time to thoroughly scrub the floor. Once a week, I sweep every surface in my house. And every night I make sure the sink is free of dirty dishes. In fact everything in my house is cleaned weekly, even bed sheets. But rarely will you walk into my house and see it completely clean… unless you are there for a party. Because it no longer matters to me. Years ago, I would greet people at the door with, “Excuse my mess.. kids you know,” when I had secretly madly scrambled to make sure nothing was out of place. Now, I tell people.. “My house was spotless last week.. sorry you missed it.”
If you stop by my house today, you will see cups on my counter and art supplies on my table. There are freshly scrubbed eggs drying on a towel by the sink. The shoes are not neatly lined up on the rug. And PLEASE do not eat anything you drop on the floor. But my house is always filled with laughter, good food, confident children.. and if you like to paint, we may do that later. Or we may leave our house exactly like this, and run off on an adventure today. Sledding or walks in the snow are always fun. Trying to freeze bubbles and throw boiling water into the freezing wind. In the warmer months, our family is always off outdoors, perhaps camping or kayaking. And anyone is welcome at one of our son’s super campfires. Hours of staring at the flickering flames, doing nothing but roasting good food, talking, and laughing. If you are lucky, we will start recounting all the crazy things our kids put us through. To me knowing my kids, and spending time with them, is more important than the arsenal of empty cups you can find on my counter.
So… if you would like to complain about my house.. or EVEN just give me advice on how to keep it clean? Be my guest and call my house phone. You will probably get the answering machine though. Because my family and I? We will most likely be off on an adventure. But PLEASE.. just leave us a message.
When I was a young girl, I was prone to the most ridiculous and often selfish prayers. My Dad’s favorite actor has always been John Wayne. Watching those movies year after year? YUP you guessed it.. I wished with all my heart that I had been born in the Wild West. Of course I KNEW that was a ridiculous thing to pray for, so I prayed for something much more “practical”. “Dear Father in Heaven, please send someone to give me a horse. It can be ANY horse.. old, young, fast or slow. Any horse will do,” and I always added, “Your will be done,” at the end just like my Dad always did.
Now in a family with 7 children and 2 adults? YUP.. not really all that practical. In fact, it was a really selfish prayer. Children’s prayers often are. I never intended to be selfish. I simply wanted to hold out hope that for some reason it WOULD be part of God’s Will for us. Over the years, I prayed many such prayers. “Lord, please let there be a Cabbage Patch Kid under the tree tomorrow morning.” OR “Please let this teacher move to New Mexico.” OR “PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE… Can I have a horse?” Many years passed before I realized that God is much smarter than we are. A horse would have strapped our family in a way to make our simple life style miserable. So God said, “No”. A Cabbage Patch Kid was an overpriced doll. So God said, “No, but your Mom and Grandma made you a similar doll with love and care.. accept this instead.” And as for the teacher? Well God knew that sometimes having unpleasant people in my life was the best way to keep me from ever becoming unpleasant myself.. So instead God said, “I want you to have this unpleasant teacher, but next year I will send an especially wonderful one.”
As I grew older, I sometimes slipped back into ridiculous prayers. “Lord, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE let my awesome friend ask me to the school dance.” Now that I am a happily married adult, I realize that God was so loving by telling me “NO”. You see God knew that He had someone special in mind for me all along. By not giving into my requests (ok.. begging), God steered me in the direction He intended me to go.
Some of my prayers, God did grant. Some were practical. I prayed for a WHOLE day (that’s pretty long for a teenager) before I went to the principal and asked if we could keep the yearbook committee if we held it after school. It was granted immediately. I always had enough babysitting jobs to afford dresses for dances. I always had enough strength to do the hard things in life. Every presentation, every performance, every apology.. I could feel God’s presence just as I had asked for.
Throughout my life, I became more and more aware that God doesn’t just answer “Yes” or “No”. Quite often God answered me with a “Not Yet”. “Dear Father in Heaven, I would really like a new car, if it’s in Your Will..”, Not Yet … “Dear Father in Heaven, I would really like to move closer home to family.. if it’s in Your Will..,” Not Yet.. be patient. “Dear Father in Heaven, I would LOVE to have my daughter grow out of this phase.. quickly.. OH, if it’s in Your Will, of course??” (I think I heard Him chuckle on that one) Not yet.. your daughter needs to learn something first.
I have come to think of these “Not Yet” answers as a kind of Two Hour Delay. When schools have a Two Hour Delay, they aren’t saying they aren’t going to take your kids. They are simply saying “Not Yet! We want to make sure it is the perfect time.” In the same way, God wasn’t telling me No.. just that the timing was not quite right.. not just yet.
Recently, I felt the full impact of one such Two Hour Delays.. or in this case it was a 14 Year Delay. Almost from birth, my son has had tummy and digestive issues.. He would scream in pain, he would projectile vomit.. and he was never comfortable. I would rock him, sing to him… my husband even tried his miracle football hold (that had saved us with our daughter). Nothing helped. I started praying that God would show me what was wrong and how to help. We did test after test.. Nothing. Still we prayed for a solution. We found home remedies and over the counter meds that helped some. Still we prayed. Eventually, the doctors gave us medicine for him. But for every solution that medicine seemed to give our son, more symptoms would pop up. So STILL we prayed for wisdom on what was wrong. Eventually we received a diagnoses of Autism. With a diagnosis, my son received therapies. But we noticed his behavior kept slipping. I was told by other mothers of children with Autism that I needed to accept his limitations. The doctors said I needed to accept his medical issues and just make him comfortable. After MANY tears, I prayed, “Lord, if THIS is your answer. If this is the life you intended for my son, please give me the peace to accept this answer. But IF it is in Your Will, I would like to keep fighting for a solution. I would like to find a way for my son to do ALL of the things that he WANTS to do. So IF it’s in Your Will.. please help me find a way.”
I did have peace for years.. He was growing and seemed less uncomfortable. His behavior equalized and he seemed to be maturing. And then one day all that progress.. it stopped. He seemed to grow “worse” by the day. He would focus less, quote more, listen less, yell more. Our peace was gone. So once again, I prayed for answers. I researched for hours for solutions. And Still I prayed for guidance.
Then one day, God decided it was the perfect time. He sent someone to tell me about food sensitivities and related behaviors. I immediately went home and researched.. and it was all there. EVERY answer to EVERY issue. I found links between digestive health and vitamin deficiencies. I found links between vitamin deficiencies and learning disorders. I found links between learning disorders and diagnoses.. And I found links that showed me the link between Autism and digestive health.. and that digestive health can lead to the worsening of Autism. And I cried… I cried because it was all there! I cried because God hadn’t said “Accept this!”.. He had actually said, “Not just Yet.. Our timing needs to be perfect.”
I do not know why God thought THIS time was the perfect time. But I do know that after I scheduled an appointment with a Diet and Nutrition doctor, it was a short time until we had a few simple tests done. And a short time until all the results gave us the rest of the answers we needed. I don’t really need to know why this is God’s perfect time. But you can bet that I am Accepting that THIS is God’s plan. I am accepting that my son is improving everyday. He smiles more, yells less, he works more, quotes less, draws more and cries less.
So as I battled the roads this morning to take my kids to school after a Two Hour Delay, I couldn’t find it in my heart to be frustrated with the school. Because some of the most Glorious things happen when it is on God’s schedule and who am I to question that schedule?
On a particularly taxing summer day, I remember laughing with a family member about how I have often wished God had sent an instruction manual along with my youngest child. Almost from his first day, I had encountered dilemmas I had never heard of. He never slept, never stopped crying, never let me put him down, NEVER slept, hated the car, was always hungry, hated the swing, hated sunshine, .. and did I mention that he NEVER slept? I knew that there were stories of people having fussy babies, but that happened to OTHER people.. not my family. We KNEW how to care for babies. So I will admit that after the 47th night of no sleep, I decided that God was giving me a dose of humility. So I humbly prayed, “Lord, please forgive me for always assuming that harassed and tired looking mothers just weren’t used to caring for children. Please Bless ALL of the sleepless mothers in the world with a good nights sleep. Including me.. if it’s in Your will. Amen.” I don’t know about all the other sleepless mothers in the world, but God woke my husband… who took my crying baby from me .. so I could sleep.
As I journeyed down the road of Special needs, I have prayed many midnight prayers like this one. But the prayer I have prayed the most often could actually be classified as a PLEA. My heartfelt begging of God for the Wisdom to choose the correct path. I have always felt that there were ways to solve every dilemma.. an answer to every issue.. a happiness at the end of every teary-eyed day. Unfortunately, I am a very slow learner. I would trudge along on the path I chose.. knowing I would find the answer. Then on the 47th day.. I would put my son on the bus with a smile forced past my quivering lip.. and as soon as the bus disappeared from site, I would sink (in surrender) down on the steps in front of my house and pray. I can’t even count how many times I cried out to God that I couldn’t do it on my own anymore. (Like He didn’t already know that..?) And I would pray that familiar prayer.. “Lord.. forgive me for assuming that every harassed and tired looking Mother.. didn’t know what she was doing. Please Bless every Mother of a Special Needs child with the knowledge she needs, the strength to carry it out.. and a good night’s sleep. Including me.. if it is in Your Will.. Amen.” I don’t know about all the other Mothers of children with Special Needs.. but at that moment I was filled to the brim with Peace. Then God would send someone with a sign for which path I needed to follow. Whether it was a call from a teacher with a new intervention, a dear “sister” stopping by for a cup of tea reminding me that my child WAS IN FACT just a child, or a call reminding me I needed to set up an appointment.. or my favorite, a phone call from a friend telling me she was taking my kids for the night. After way too many years of trying it on my own? I finally learned to start my day with, “Lord please lend me the wisdom, the strength, and the love I will need for this day. If it is in Your Will. Amen.”
I have spent the majority of my life caring for children. My own children, plus the ones that people have shared with me. My preschool classes, my nursery class at church, and my daycare kiddos. There really is no way to count the number of children that have touched my heart and effected my life. But during those years of care, I have come to realize that every child has Special Needs. I had students with high IQ’s, who would melt down with every transition. I had highly organized and efficient students, who had speech delays. Artist students who don’t like to be touched. Students with the best personalities, who could not learn personal space boundaries. I began to see that every student had a special ability or “super power”, and that every one of them struggled with something. Some of those struggles are huge neon signs, but some of them aren’t. Some of the struggles are actually a small “handle with care” tag tucked in their shirt collar. God Blessed me with one of each of these children. My son carries his Special Needs around with a blinking Neon sign.. My daughter tucks hers in her collar on a tiny tag, hidden from the rest of the world. On a particular taxing day, watching my daughter struggle with her “special needs” hidden from the world, I prayed a new prayer. “Lord, I can see that every child struggles with their own needs. Forgive me for assuming that us Mothers of children with Diagnoses deserve more of your time and understanding than any other Mother. Please Bless EVERY Mother in the world with the wisdom of how to help her children, the strength to follow through with that wisdom and a good night’s sleep… including me, if it is in Your Will, Lord. Amen.” I can’t speak for all the Mothers in the world, but I was filled with a peace in that moment.
I still have days that I try things my own way. When I have beat my head against the wall for the 47th time, I remember to take a step back and look for what God is trying to show me. There are days that I yell down the hall for my daughter to come see me immediately. There are days that I can’t handle my son’s behavior and send him to his room. And there are days that I drop my kids off at school, forcing a smile past my quivering lips, then cry all the way home. But for as many sad, stressful moments I have had in my life as a mother of children with Special Needs, I have had so many more filled with joy. That moment when your child laughs with real joy. The smile that is filled with contentment. The pride you feel in their EVERY success. Those moments out weigh the moments of stress. And I have realized that if you LOOK for them.. the moments of joy greatly outnumber the moments of tears.
But the moment I most felt like a good mother? It was the moment that my daughter burst into tears while slamming soapy dirty dishes around, yelling of injustice.. and in that moment I recognized it NOT as a moment of insolence or rebellion.. but as a moment of need. Laughing, as my eyes filled with tears, I wrapped that beautiful, struggling child in my arms (dirty soap suds and all) and gave her a hug until she laughed with me. That is my best Mom moment.
I have always believed that the “still small whisper” in your mind is God trying to guide you along the path he has chosen for you. I try to listen for it, I do… When I hear more than 1 reference to a topic, I research it.. When I get a strong feeling to call someone I do.. When I meet with obstacle after obstacle on a self-chosen path in my life, I start to wonder if God means for me to go in a different direction. My whole life could be described as “Looking for the Signs”… But I like to say I listen for God all around me.
Sometimes, my head is so full of thinking or worrying.. even while praying.. that I forget to empty my thoughts and listen. “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalms 46:10)… I am really good at knowing who my God is.. the Being Still part I get rusty on. So God sends Megaphones into my life.
For example.. I’ve had 3 separate people this week tell me to get out of my warm house and warm car, to GET a library card. NOW, my family LOVES the library. But both times we went to get a card, there were obstacles.. so it got shuffled to the end of my to-do list.. But after 3 distinct messages? I call that a Megaphone. So Simon and I went to the Library yesterday. He was so happy. I didn’t realize how much he missed it.
I have a few friends that are regularly used for Megaphones in my life. God uses one particular friend the most often.. why this one in particular you ask? Because God KNOWS that I love to hit the snooze button. What is a snooze button in life you ask? You know, “I am busy right now, I will think about that later.” SNOOZE “That is going to take some time to accomplish, I will schedule time next week.” SNOOZE… or my favorite, “I think you have the wrong number.” SNOOZE
My favorite Megaphone? Well let’s just say God let her in on my “snooze” life style.. so she is very persistent. “I think you should blog,” she says. “Here is a blog on why you should blog,” she says. “Here is a blog on HOW to get started with blogging,” she says. So I FINALLY get it. I hear God’s voice through the Megaphone of my sweet friend’s persistent voice. But still I say.. I don’t have time today.. maybe next week.. So what does GOD say?? “Have a snow day! Will that give you enough time?” (SILENCE) Should be plenty God, thanks..
So I need to make “Being still” more of a priority in my life. I need to spend a portion of my time, not just reading my daily devotional, that is zapped to my phone for my convenience.. but being still. Letting my body be still. Letting my tongue be still. Letting my thoughts be still.
I think I will start tomorrow. Because today God used a Megaphone, and I will be setting up my blog..
Everything sounds better with the echo of a still small voice.