Even in a tight knit, loving family, it still takes a village to raise a child. Actually, I don’t really agree with that statement. A child doesn’t NEED a village to raise her, but rather the village (or community) a child is raised in, impacts her life in a small or big way as she grows.
My “village” growing up, was large. I had a large family, I had a couple really good friends, a loving church family… and the rest of a large community. Part of this community were some amazing Aunts. I grew up with a lot of aunts. A few of these aunts lived far away but still impacted my life with their personalities when I saw them. But I had a few aunts that lived very close to me and were part of my everyday life.
My Aunt Carla is a wonderful lady and loved to dote on me. Being blessed with 6 handsome boys, she loved to brush my hair and tell me how beautiful I was. She also has a great sense of humor. She helped me develop a good sense of self.. And while I do believe she is biased when it comes to me.. it always felt good to be fussed over.
My Aunt Gerry lives a few hours away, but she always made sure she kept in touch with us. And the fun part? She would take a couple of us cousins home with her, for a couple weeks during the summer. Not only did her sweet personality and her strong faith in God have an impact on my life, but I also saw the simple joy she got out of doing something for someone else. This is very much a part of who I am.
My Aunt Ann was my example of a working mom.. Her schedule was always busy AND yet she still took time to invite me over to stay with my cousin Mandy. I have to admit that while I saw how she balanced work, home and marriage.. the thing I remember the most was that for a vertically challenged lady, she could hold her own against my tall uncle!! Loving, fun, smart and brave.. I couldn’t have asked for a better aunt.
But the Aunt that had the most impact on me, was my Aunt Dianne. My Aunt Dianne gave me my first job.. I helped her make crafts for her craft shows.. She put up with my slow but meticulous work. Praised me for a job well done.. And we were together for hours. While we worked we would talk.. And laugh. Man could my Aunt Dianne laugh. She laughed all the time. It was the most glorious sound. It made the world seem like such a secure place when someone could laugh like that. And when you are flying along on a scary roller coaster, hanging upside down with your feet danging.. into the sky (yikes!) … that laugh made you feel so much safer. Because she wouldn’t laugh if you were ACTUALLY in danger (would she??). My aunt Dianne forced me to face my fears (yes roller coasters), made me tell her what was bothering me (I was a teen.. a lot bothered me), asked me what I thought about everything, read the books I was reading and taught me to laugh at myself.
Now that I am all “grown up”, I find myself wondering if I will have that much of an impact on any one of my nieces or nephews.. But I also realize how much I owe to these wonderful ladies. You may think that most of my upbringing comes from my parents and they should get the credit. And you would be right. My parents were amazing!! They raised me to be confident, independent and loving. Yet I owe a lot to my village of Aunts. They helped me develop my “plan” on how much I wanted to impact this world we live in.
Three of these amazing ladies will possibly read this post and know that I appreciate each and every one of them. But my Aunt Dianne got sick and passed away a few years back.. I was so heart broken about how much I was going to miss her… that I never actually told her how much she meant to me. She probably knew.. but I so wish that I could be sure that she knew how much our long talks meant to me.
So this year I plan on telling every person who impacts my life how much I appreciate them. That way I will never have to wonder if they knew. And even though I still miss my Aunt Dianne every day, I have no fear that when I walk through the pearly gates of Heaven, that one of the first sounds I will hear is that Glorious laugh.
We moved back home to Michigan a little over a year ago. But it feels like it just happened. For weeks, my husband and I looked at house pictures online and took tours. My FAVORITE houses were always the old farmhouses. So much character.. I would wander from room to room almost “hearing” the stories the walls were telling me. The layers of wallpaper telling the tales through the generations that lived there. Each layer was probably picked with love and highly treasured. I could have sat in each house for hours and let the tales spin around in my mind.
But, alas.. my husband is a builder. While we often agreed that a house had (probably) been beautiful once, he does not always see the charm I still recognize. He walked each house appalled at the amateur renovations we would find. Holes cut through walls.. stairways cut through a solid oak stair rail.. Homemade cabinets. The hours of work involved in pulling wallpaper down, re-drywall-ing, or refinishing wood floors.. honestly exhausted him just thinking about it. And plumbing.. shudder.. we don’t even want to talk about that. But the deciding factor for my husband has always been the basement. The foundation NEEDS to be solid for him. He would look for cracked or crumbling basement walls. Looked for evidence of moisture or water damage. Then he examined the floor joists for cracks or rot. When my husband started to go through the mechanical room? YUP.. I tune out. I go back to imagining all the events that have happened among those walls in the last 100 years. The wisdom it had seen.
Why is my husband so concerned with the basement? He said that no matter how much time and money you put into the rooms that everyone sees.. If the basement is damaged? .. Then the house will NOT last. Honestly, I have gotten teary-eyed on more than one occasion, insisting that we could fix the basement.. make it stable. He always lovingly (and most patiently) explains that it is possible. At a huge cost and huge time commitment.. but it could be done. The upper floors could be jacked up and supported while the walls of the basement are reconstructed… and then re-poured. To ME this cost would have been worth it.. I mean think of all the memories and stories the house holds.
Marriage is a lot like a house. If the foundation the marriage is built on is sturdy and intact, then your marriage will last. If you and your spouse discuss every decision and love each other.. then the floor joists will be solid. After that, each room is built .. one memory or joyful life event at a time. When sad or tragic life events happen? Sometimes you have to patch a hole or add a layer of wall paper to cover it up.
At one time my marriage was like that old farmhouse.
You see.. I was raised with firm Faith in God. I was very confident that I knew who I was. And I had (and have) confidence in my love for my husband… We had a solid foundation for our marriage. We talked about everything and laughed with each other. So our floor joists were sturdy… We were ready to start building rooms…
So we started a family… We have 2 children. Our firstborn daughter was very strong willed. (Ok.. she still is.) She tested every level of patience… and then some. A wonderful beautiful soul… but very independent. Our second born is a son who has Special Needs. Luckily my son, decided to wait until my daughter started to grow out of the daily fights for independence before he started asking for “help”. Now at first glance, you can see my Blessing in this. I only had one child at a time, that needed my patience, persistence.. and research. But it was an exhausting existence for years.
The first crack that showed up in my basement wall was pride. I knew I could raise my kids by MYSELF.. I didn’t need anyone’s help. My husband and I could do it all alone. My pride in not asking for help caused me to be over tired and irritable at times. But all mothers are tired and irritable at times, right?!? I would simply research how to improve myself because I knew I could do a good job. But this first crack? My pride crack weakened our foundation..
My second crack was irritation. I research everything.. why strong willed children argue.. what causes Autism.. what causes bipolar.. why anxiety is genetic.. I wanted to talk through with it all with my husband when he got home from work. Sounds reasonable right? I could read a 300 page book and then try to explain it to my exhausted husband. And then get irritated because he didn’t understand it enough to discuss it with me. It seemed that he didn’t care. What I didn’t see was that he DIDN’T understand all of it. But he knew that I did ..so he trusted me. I also didn’t see that my husband was often still in that “mechanical room”. What is the mechanical room of a marriage, you may wonder? It’s the job that provides for us.. keeping a roof over his family.. insurance to keep us healthy.. working cars to take us where we need to go.. and also the financial stability that allowed me to stay home with my kids while they grew. He worried. He worried a lot more than I ever realized. Why? How could I not know? Well.. when he was in the mechanical room.. YUP.. I tuned out. How boring.. I have Faith in God. I have faith that He will provide for us.. End of story for the mechanical room. I would rather talk about the challenges God was giving us.. the set backs my son was having.. the new interventions that the special education staff was putting into place.. God’s plan for our family and the best way to follow the path He has set before us. As you can imagine.. I was irritated a lot.
Which is why the 3rd crack, rudeness, was so wide. I was tired and stressed.. and too prideful to ask for help. I prayed for strength. I prayed for peace. I prayed for my kids. I prayed for my husband. But I never prayed for help. I started to demand it from my husband though. Not everyday but on occasion. But often enough that it started to make him hesitate to want to come home at night. Come home he did though. Every night.
My 4th crack is pretty common with stay at home moms. I wonder how much more true it is for Moms of children with special needs. Moms of kids with strong wills, with disabilities, language delays, diagnoses, anxiety, attention disorders .. or any label at all. Jealousy. Such an ugly word. Envy sounds a little better.. but it still sounds like a disease. I began to envy the fact that my husband got to leave the house by himself. Envy that he was able to have full intelligent conversations with other adults. Envy the fact that my husband was a successful and respected part of his company. Small children do not show respect to their mothers. Moms at play groups are tired and worn out. Intelligent conversations aren’t even hoped for.. all we hoped for was to be not interrupted. That and to hope our kid didn’t bite/hit/kick/pinch anyone else’s child. And I just wished my son would play along side all the other children. I never begrudged another child’s successes. I always rejoiced in each one. But I would wish that my son could have easy successes too. Those wishes started to look a lot like envy for awhile.
One day, my husband came home. He helped me with out asking what I needed help with. Then he told me that he knew my job was a hard one and told me how proud he was of me. My heart soared for a full 10 seconds… and then.. I snapped. Why couldn’t he see that everyday.. not just once every 6 months. And SURE he helped out tonight.. but what about the week I couldn’t do laundry because it was upstairs and my toddler couldn’t be trusted downstairs.. did he help then? NO .. and what about the day he needed to work late.. and what about.. what about.. What I didn’t see was that my husband was trying .. he was trying to come out of the mechanical room.. he was trying to see the character in the rooms upstairs.. and he was trying to help me patch some holes in our home.
I didn’t see this for quite awhile actually. I simply added things to my “list”.. The list that my pride was constructing.
Then one day, I came across the “Love is patient..” verse in my devotions. I skipped it because I knew it by heart, right?!? The next day, a friend of mine complimented me on how my Love shines through to everyone around me.. how patient and kind I was. She couldn’t see my discontent because my pride kept it buried.. in the basement. But her comment made me pause. I thanked her .. and then shook it off. Then the next day, I found another reference to this verse in the Bible. I laughed.. because I believe that God uses our surrounding to whisper to us. Listening to that Still Small Voice whisper to me.. I pulled out my Bible… and read…
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. Love does not demand its own way. Love is not irritable, and it keeps no record of when it has been wronged.” 1 Corinthians 13: 4-5
The whole world could have walked through my house.. and by all appearances it would have thought my family (and marriage) looked stable.. happy even. But in that moment, I knew… I knew that the Basement of my house.. the foundation to my marriage had some pretty huge cracks in it.
You may say that the cracks weren’t really my fault. That I had a lot of stresses.. a lot of storms that rocked that foundation. Parenting, health concerns, special needs, IEP’s, surgeries, mood disorders, medications… The storms we lived through were extensive. But I could see that I didn’t have as much true Faith as I could have. That all my tears of frustration with my husband, all the tears of heartache at watching my kids suffer and struggle, all the tears of resentment at changing all my life plans to accommodate my family’s needs (EVEN though those accommodations were what I wanted).. All those tears? Without true blind Faith in God’s plan for us? I was causing those cracks to grow bigger everyday. And soon a wall was going to collapse.
As I walked through the rooms of my Marriage.. I saw all the memories.. all the good times.. and even some bad times.. But just like that old Farmhouse that I wanted to fix up so bad.. I wanted to save my marriage. Sure it would take a lot of time and hard work.. and a lot prayer. But I knew it would be worth it.
You might imagine that I called my husband right away and told him of my discovery? You’d imagine wrong. I had apologized to him time and time again for snapping at him in frustration. I had apologized over and over through the years. What I needed was to prove to him that I had Faith.
Now I would like to say that I was an overnight sensation. I was not. There was more than one day, that constant prayer and faith was needed to keep me going. There were days that I took my good friend’s advice that sometimes we “Fake it to make it.” And there were days I crashed… and cried at my weakness. Why do it then? If I had to fake my happiness why not simply get divorced? Well I know that divorce is anything but simple… and.. I didn’t have to fake happiness. I had to fake patience on irritable days. I didn’t have to fake love. I had to fake kindness on a rude day. NOW.. I do know that sometimes divorce is the only option. So please don’t think me critical or that I am judging anyone who has chosen to divorce. But my marriage.. it had a STRONG foundation. We just needed to fix the cracks before they broke our marriage beyond repair.
Fix them we did. It took a lot of work. And I still apologize for my irritable days. But when I pray for forgiveness.. I pray that I also forgive myself for my weakness. When I forgive my husband for his bad day, I pray that God wipes it from my heart and my mind.. so I no longer have a list to fall back on. The result? The love and faith that painted the rooms in our marriage? It also paints our foundation now. All that work was so worth it.
We did not buy that old farmhouse. I saw my husband’s wisdom that we needed to have a home with a sound foundation. And the character? Well we are adding our own charm to our home one day at a time. And these days my husband and I.. well we do a better job “listening” to our marriage. I explain how I think the hole in the hallway (that we are patching) adds character to our lives, I expand on how the struggles our children go through, in the long run.. well it may be a good story to tell. And my husband listens to me.. laughs a lot.. but he listens. And when my husband wants to show me something in our mechanical room.. job, insurance, or car worries.. I follow him all the way to the basement and try to give him my full attention.
How did I know it was going to work you ask? 1 Corinthians 13:13.. There are three things that will ENDURE — faith, hope, and love — and the greatest of these is love. I knew that the marriage we built on love would endure if I had faith and hope. And I had plenty of both.
There is a path from my back door to my chicken coop. It is snow covered this morning, and if I didn’t KNOW for sure that it was there.. I would doubt its existence. This path was formed over the last 2 months and is made up of packed down snow and ice. Today, I was very frustrated with slipping and sliding along this narrow path. And when my foot caught the 3rd chunk of ice, causing me to trip .. yet again?? I stepped off the path..
My leg sunk down into the snow.. up to my knee. After a couple steps (lugging a bucket of water and one of food)? I realized that the path was the much better option.. even with its icy patches. So with a little effort, I climbed back up onto the path and carried on.
In my chicken coop, I have 11 chickens and 2 ducks. When we bought our birds, we researched the best kinds for our area. We wanted birds that would be comfortable and survive our harsh cold winters. We picked Isa Browns. It is said that Isa Brown chickens are hearty down to temps of -20. But to be honest? I haven’t tested that theory. I have a heat lamp that comes on when the temperatures get down to 0. When the windchill was -40, I closed their doors and shoved towels into every crack. My husband laughed and said that I was babying them. That chickens and ducks are tougher than I am giving them credit for. But to me? If I can make them a LITTLE more comfortable in this extreme cold.. with very little effort? Why shouldn’t I?
But it makes me think of a time 11 years ago.
When I was pregnant for my daughter, I bought a book. What to Expect when you are expecting! And I read it! And then I followed it. I followed it for both my pregnancies. I stayed away from foods that were bad for my baby. When I was so sick and I didn’t want to eat anything? I forced myself to eat protein. I drank so much water ..that I should have floated away. And I didn’t take any prescription medicine without double checking with 2 doctors. I did everything “right”..
And yet, 11 years ago, my son was diagnosed with Autism at the age of 4.
After the initial shock? My first thought was.. “Why ME?” I mean .. I didn’t smoke, I didn’t drink, I didn’t even eat chocolate and definitely didn’t drink coffee… So what did I do wrong? Why did something have to happen to MY baby? Even though I tried to hide my tears.. my very in-tuned son.. the one who is labelled by the world as “Special Needs”? He crawled into my lap, wiped my tears with his little fingers and gave me a beautiful smile. And I knew. God gave me this Blessed little soul on purpose. His Blessed personality is not a punishment to my son or to me. God gave him especially to me to safe guard and protect. Why Me? I like to think that God researched me and observed me.. and He knew I was hearty enough to weather the storms. He knew that with a little extra love and protection, I could get up each morning and smile at the new day. God thought I would be perfect for this job.
SO.. God hand picked me to be the mother of my beautiful souled son.. (and daughters)… It wasn’t an accident. He picked me. Makes me feel a little like Mary…
So because God thought I was the perfect choice for my son.. does that make me perfect? No!! In fact, last night I stepped off the path God set before me, yet again. “Why me?” I asked. Sometimes the events of my life aren’t pretty.. and they can get a little slippery. But honestly, I would choose to stay on this path God has given me..then to head out on my own. As I struggled to climb back up onto my chosen path… God rewarded me .. with a smile from a beautiful face. That’s all I needed. That is all I needed to know that God trusts me with his most precious gifts. And I know that not only CAN I do this.. but with God’s help?.. I can do this REALLY WELL.
When I opened the chicken coop to feed my birds this morning, the ducks were being very vocal. No doubt explaining that the heat lamps didn’t come on in their coop last night.. and that it was really cold. And I laughed. I explained to them both that I had hand picked them to live here.. because I know that together we can handle the storms. Then I gave them some sunflower seeds.. just to make it easier…
How many times have our kids asked us this one word question? In my case.. too many. “Why?” and “How?” were a regular part of my daughter’s vocabulary for years. But I also knew that my daughter had came by these words honestly.. and it was only fair. YUP.. I was (and probably always will be) a curious child. I ALWAYS wanted to know “Why?” or “How?” or “Where?” or “Who?” or “How much?” and even “What?!?”. I eventually learned to look these questions up myself (I LOVE google searches)… but I am sure it wasn’t before I had exasperated the patience of every adult around me.
I wanted to know EVERYTHING. Sometimes the answers were easy.. “Read the directions.” or “The encyclopedias are in the living room.” But just as often they weren’t easy to answer. I remember when I was young.. we had learned about dinosaurs at school. The teacher had said the dinosaurs had been extinct for THOUSANDS of years before humans “evolved”. Now.. I had been raised in a Christian home and I KNEW beyond a shadow of doubt that God was the Creator of all things.. and if the Bible said God made everything in creation in 6 days then I believed It. BUT.. how could they have proof? Scientific proof to PROVE something that wasn’t true. This was something that troubled me.. and it kept me up at night. So I asked my brothers.. They told me to ask my Mom… My Mom told me to ask my Dad.. and my Dad suggested we ask our Pastor.
Our Pastor Cash.. he was a wonderful man. He always had a smile or a laugh for us kids. And when he gave a sermon you could tell he believed every word he said. So.. I decided I would be brave and asked him… (AFTER ALL, I needed to know to survive). So on Sunday morning, after the sermon (a sermon I guarantee you that I didn’t hear one word of), I patiently stood in line to greet Pastor Cash, with a carefully rehearsed question on my lips. Now anyone who goes to church can easily envision this next scene. Each person in their turn, shook Pastor Cash’s hand, smiled and gave a short phrase of encouragement. These phrases were always short. Then they passed into the lobby and into their day of Rest. I knew my question would have to be short as well (yup.. this is what I was carefully preparing while the good Pastor was sharing the Word of God). The poor man had no idea what was in store for him. “Great sermon, Pastor Cash.” Hand shake. “Wonderful sermon today.” Hand shake. “God is so good,” Hand shake. “Beautiful day today, Pastor.” Hand shake. “Beautiful sermon, thank you.” Hand shake. “Pastor, If God made all creatures PLUS Adam and Eve on the 6th day, how can scientists have scientific proof that Dinosaurs had died 1000’s of years before the first man was created?” Silence…………… and then laughter. I know my cheeks burned. But before I could run and hide .. Pastor Cash took my nervous little hand between his two warm ones and smiled down at me. “The Bible says that a day and a thousand years are the same in God’s eyes.” (…or something similar.. hey.. that was 30 years ago..) I was so happy with that answer that I BARELY heard my Dad apologize to Pastor Cash for the unexpected attack of my question. And I barely heard the hearty laughter in reply or the assurance that it made his day. I was just so happy to have that mystery solved.
Now I have, since then, learned what the meaning of “waters from above”, the long life spans of man and beast alike, and the true impact of what the great flood meant in relation to dinosaurs. AND I have seen where scientists have found much more scientific proof as to the time frame of dinosaurs (or great lizards). Why? you may ask?? Because I still want to know. I want to know the answers to so many questions that I will spend hours researching things (not just dinosaurs I assure you).. unless I set timers for myself.
Who do I blame for this horrible, consuming curiosity that both my daughter and I inherited? My mother? My father? Nope.. I blame Eve. It was Eve that was curious enough to try the forbidden Fruit.. The fruit from the forbidden tree of knowledge. When I first heard this story of Eve and the serpent.. I wanted to know (shocking.. i know) why God would choose to shield us from knowledge. To keep knowledge from us? Now after years and years of struggling with this life of curiosity.. I realize something. Curiosity.. man made facts… they get in the way of blind heartfelt faith. I once asked someone a question of how they knew something.. and they answered me, “I just feel it in my heart.. that is how I know.” I sometimes wish I had that faith. That I could just accept the truth of God’s creation being perfect and not looking for more ways to prove it is real. Because I believe the fact that God created all things with all my heart. I believe that God has the perfect plan in the way He created all things. And I believe that it needs NO proof! I just wish I had a better connection between my heart and my mind. .. maybe if I try an HDMI cable….?
My daughter asked a lot of questions too.. Why does that sign say that? What does it mean? etc… Now sometimes, she would ask me hard questions. Questions that I have no hope of ever knowing the answers to. Questions like, “If God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are really the same person.. do they share the same body in Heaven? Like you will only see one person? or is it more like telepathy? Like they can hear each other’s thoughts and finish each other’s sentences?” You may be wondering if I TOO directed her to seek the advice of our Pastor? The answer is a resounding NO!! My daughter has embarrassed me enough in our lifetimes. Instead, I reply, “You know what? Why don’t you ask God when you get to Heaven?” Which of course she frequently wants to know, “Why wait? Why can’t I know now?” I assure her (while trying not to laugh at her impatience), “Because God is really the only one who knows the answers to YOUR questions.”
My daughter asked me once, if I could ask God any question when I get to Heaven, what question would it be? Immediately, my mind wants to know why God would have even given Eve the chance to eat from the Tree of Knowledge… but in truth??? In truth, I think that when I stand before My Heavenly Father.. all that curiosity will leave me and I will finally have that Blind Faith.. I think I will be filled with such peaceful blind faith that I will just stand there in awe.. (or kneel)… Either way, I don’t think I will be asking him any questions.
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.
Everything sounds better with the echo of a still small voice.