I have been sick for almost a week now. A nasty stomach virus that completely shut down my world. I will not share details.. but for 2 days I cancelled everything and lay quietly in my bed.
Now it is Thursday.. and I am scrambling to catch up. After all.. it is only 3 days until Easter and I have NOTHING ready for my kids’ Easter baskets.. No Easter clothes bought.. No candy for our huge family Easter Egg hunt… and my oldest daughter is leaving tonight for her senior trip to Washington DC (…not happy about the timing on that..) …
So I am making a list so that I get EVERYTHING done…
Then I wondered.. Did God have a list that He wanted to get done before Easter? NO.. Before Good Friday!
Did He sit down and make a list…
*Make sure Jesus yells at the people selling things in My Holy Church.
*Make sure Jesus shows everyone Love.
*Make sure Jesus shows everyone Miracles.
*Make sure Jesus tells everyone My Plan for them.
*Make sure Jesus teaches them how to pray.
*Make sure Jesus tells everyone the path to Heaven.
*Prepare Jesus to die.
That last one? It makes my throat hurt… more than a little..
Can you imagine being God today? Can you imagine Him 2000 years ago? The day before Good Friday.. (How can you call it Good Friday when such a beautiful person was about to die?) How do you prepare to sacrifice your own Son? Knowing that His sacrifice would save the souls of so many.. knowing that it WAS the Perfect Plan… but knowing that you were going to have sit there and watch Him suffer? Sit there and watch people torture Him…
I look at my children and I wonder.. which one would I sacrifice if I had to? Which one would understand that sacrifice more? When I think about their sweet faces.. I am not sure that I could.. Could I chose to save your child and sacrifice mine?
I am not sure I could do it..
But then I know I could not just watch your child suffer.. to keep mine safe either…
So Which ONE? Which would I chose?
I am thankful to say.. I would chose none of our children. I wouldn’t have to… None of our children are perfect enough. My children have all sinned.. just as your children have sinned.. just as WE have all sinned. We all fall so far from God’s standard of Perfect .. that we are ALL unworthy of being a sacrifice for the world. Not one human was worthy of saving the world.
Then there was Jesus.. A child without fault. With no sassiness.. no quarrels… no backtalk.. no laziness. The only perfect child. So God’s plan was the only plan that would work…
I am so thankful that it did. I am so thankful that God chose to sacrifice His son.. chose to watch him suffer and die for NO crime.. so that MY children can join Him in Heaven.
But today… When God is looking down at us? When He sees us scrambling to fill our Easter Lists.. when we are choosing which color peeps to put in our children’s baskets.. Is He happy?
When I looked at my own list? My eyes filled with tears. It seems so frivolous to care if my daughter has a new Easter dress. It seems pointless to wonder if I will be able to find Easter candy that follows my kids’ dietary needs.
Today as I go through my Easter List.. I chose God’s Son…
Now to figure out how to fit him in a beautiful basket.
My parents are my biggest fans… That is not to say that I am their favorite child. I am one of seven siblings.. and my parents love us all equally. I mean how could you compare any of us to each other? My older brothers were both Nuclear Engineers on naval ships. They know how to fix and maintain an engine that powers a massive ship… I barely know how to change the oil in my car. My sister can make beautiful jewelry… and other beautiful creations. She used to manage a store before that. She has focus and a drive that I could only dream of. My younger brothers are all wonderful “boys” that I am proud to know myself. They are all successful at work. One is a supervisor… I can barely keep my kids on task.. let alone adults! One knows how to work on “renewable fuel cells”… I don’t really know what that means.. I keep picturing him working on giant batteries! And the youngest is a manager of an auto parts store.
Every single one of them have hearts of Gold…. so how could my parents choose a favorite? They couldn’t… There is no common ground to compare us on.
So how could they be my biggest fans? If I am not their favorite? Well .. in a way I am their favorite… I am their favorite distractible, creative middle child … and their favorite youngest daughter.. Just like my oldest brother is their favorite firstborn… And my sister is definitely their favorite oldest daughter. In fact, we all have traits that make us shine… and they are so proud of us for them.
But that does not mean I was spoiled.
Ha.. in fact … there were definitely periods of my childhood that I thought my parents were the “meanest” parents in the world. When my parents explained I wasn’t allowed to go to the local skating rink.. because there were rumors of activities there that my parents did NOT want me exposed to… Man did I think they were mean… I mean REALLY!! Those were just rumors… right?!? When my parents insisted on meeting every one of my friends before I could spend the night with them? Honestly.. whose parents do that? And when my parents wouldn’t let me go on a date until I was 16.. and THEN they had to meet each and every one of them?!?
Yes… there were plenty of moments in my life when I thought my parents were mean…
But every moment of my childhood .. I knew that I was loved..
Every moment of my childhood.. I knew that my parents were trying to do the best they could for me.
How did I know?
Because they told me. They told me .. and all of my siblings.. that they love us… every single day. Even when they were frustrated with us… even when they were disappointed in the choices we made… even when we were making them crazy… They always told us, “I love you.. and I know you can make better choices.” “Your mother told me what happened today.. and I am disappointed. We both love you and expect better from you.” It was so heartbreaking for me .. to see tears in my father’s eyes. Each and every punishment I received in my childhood was explained to me. When my father told me that the spanking I was about to receive.. hurt HIM more than it would hurt ME?!? I didn’t believe him. I mean I was the one about to be spanked .. right?!?
What hurt more than anything… it was the tears in my father’s eyes. The quiver to my loving father’s voice as he explained why (as parents) they couldn’t let me get away with questionable behavior. The hesitation my father always showed in giving out punishments. What hurt was that I KNEW it was ALL because of a choice I made… It was ALL because I had a weakness.
Those tears in my father’s eyes?
They followed me everywhere… The memory of that hurt I caused.. it kept me from making so many more mistakes in my life. That does not mean I was perfect.. I am most definitely NOT perfect. I have had my fair share of punishments.
Then I always had a hug.. and forgiveness.
Why did my father go through with punishing us kids? If discipline was obviously so unpleasant for him? Why would he still do it? He did it because he knew what God expected from him as a parent. And God tells us what He expects from us in His book,
“He who spares his rod hates his son (or daughter),
But he who loves him disciplines him promptly,” Proverbs 13:24
So my parents disciplined us promptly. Because they had such high hopes for us.. Hopes for us to be the BEST person we could possibly be.. The person that God wanted us to be. So? So my parents were mean.
Sounds like I was a naughty child.. doesn’t it? I wasn’t extremely naughty.. but I WAS a child. Children always make mistakes. And just like my parents were there to tell me that they loved me and were so proud of me… They were also there to catch me when I fell .. and tell me they were disappointed. They were always there to tell me they KNEW I could do better next time. And I always felt cared for..
EVEN as a teen.. when I felt their logic was somewhat “misguided”? I still felt loved.
Since those days.. so long ago… I have come to see their wisdom. Not just in parenting my two children.. one so strong willed.. and one with special needs. No I have seen it in others around me.
I have seen parents who are so busy “providing” for their child.. that they forget to care about their child’s needs. Not just be annoyed with their child’s bad behavior.. but to be saddened by it.. To not just punish their bad behavior.. but to discipline them. To use love to guide them.. explaining why good decisions are necessary.. even when those decisions are hard…
Some parents are just “too tired”.
Oh… and I understand tired. Not only do I have a strong willed, independent, free thinking daughter. I also have a son who has autism. Along with autism, my son has bipolar. Bipolar affects the moods.. For reasons unknown.. the body releases an imbalanced amount of hormones.. causing the person to be unusually happy.. or scared for no reason.. distractible … or restless.. Sad for no apparent reason… and on certain occasions.. a crazy mixtures of more than one of these emotions.
For my son… it happens with the season changes. And spring is the worst. Maybe it’s the increase in sunshine that disturbs the serotonin balance. Maybe it’s the increase of exercise after the long winter? Maybe it is a natural excitement for the coming summer and it’s freedoms? What ever the cause… my normally calm and loving child turns into the Energizer bunny … mixed with… a sassafras tree. Back talk, aggression.. refusal to cooperate… Constant chatter… lack of sleep (for me or him)… Constant hunger… Instant anger…
Yes.. I know tired….
There were days I wanted to give up..
There were days I couldn’t discipline my son… Days that my tears were more than just pools in my eyes.. Days that I couldn’t even explain my punishment to my son… days my voice did more than just quiver..
But I trudged on…
Why continue to discipline when it seems pointless? Or in some eyes.. why discipline my son’s actions when he obviously cannot control them?
Because I love my son.. and I know what he is capable of. I can see what kind of man he could be with proper discipline. I can see the glimmer of the person God wants him to be. My son needs to see that there are ALWAYS consequences for his behaviors.. That no matter how hard it is to control his imbalanced emotions.. That he has to do it. And my job? My job is to guide this wonderful child as he grows. It’s my job to guide my head-strong, independent daughter. To guide them both with love .. and patience.. and discipline.
I trudge on because I remember my father’s eyes.. I remember how he never gave up on me. No matter how tired he was after a long day of work. No matter how he must have wanted to do anything else .. anything besides giving his children another “talk”… Because he loved us? He trudged on that extra mile..
Those eyes remind me of my Heavenly Father’s eyes.. As I have grown in my Faith.. I imagine our Heavenly Father’s eyes look a lot like my father’s. Imagine they fill with love and pride at our accomplishments… and I imagine they fill with tears and heartbreak when we disappoint him.
And yet… Our Heavenly Father is always there to pick us up when we fall. He never gives up on us…
So when exhaustion threatens to overtake me?
Then I pray… “Please Lord.. give me the strength to make it through this next mile.. or so.. Please fill me with love, patience.. and discipline… So I can show my child I care… In your name I pray..”
Something else drives me to trudge on… another thing I see when I want to give in to exhaustion…
I have seen the eyes of a child whose parents did not love them.
I have seen the eyes of adults whose parents did not bother to go that extra mile. The eyes of a grown child .. eyes that know that their parent isn’t their fan. The child who doubts that their parent even loves them… The child who knows their parent doesn’t like them. And in their heart.. that child “knows” it was their own mistakes that forced their parent to not care. How do they know? Because their parent tells them.. That child? That child doubts the reason they were created.
We have all seen that child..
The child that cannot seem to do anything right.. The child who is constantly grounded… The child who feels like they are a disappointment. The child who disobeys (over and over) to get attention.. Any attention…
I can’t imagine being that child. Not being sure that someone will be proud of my every accomplishment.. Proud that you won the coloring contest at the grocery store.. proud of the “A” you earned in English.. proud that you mastered the curved tail on your cursive “g”.. I couldn’t imagine being the child that performs.. wondering if anyone in the audience was clapping JUST for them. I couldn’t imagine not being assured that someone will still love you when you make a childish mistake… I couldn’t imagine going to bed at night and not feeling cared for.
But I haveseen that child. I have seen them in stores.. at parks.. at school.
I have seen a parent tell a child that their birth ruined their life. I have watched a parent berate their child for being worthless in the middle of a gym full of people. I have seen parents laughingly admit that their child doesn’t know any better.. or that they aren’t capable of anything better.
In those moments? That parent failed their children..
We have all seen that parent…
I can imagine being that parent.. because I have been that parent… Not everyday… not every month… But I have been that parent. The parent that forgets to discipline and settles for punishment. When I am exhausted.. exhausted beyond the extra mile… I fail my children. I have yelled at them more than a few times. I have sent them to their room with a, “I can’t even stand to look at you right now.” I have finished chores for them when I was too exhausted to make sure they followed through to the end. And once…
Once… In a particularly trying time of my life as a parent.. Once I even told my daughter I wasn’t sure I even liked her anymore.
The pain I saw in her eyes in the moment?
It made my heart stopped.
And I cried.
In that moment I failed my child… and I knew it. That failure is worse than any exhaustion. Worse than any other punishment I ever received.
When I finished crying (and praying for forgiveness).. I went in to talk with my headstrong daughter. First? First I apologized to her.. because of course I like her.. I absolutely love this beautiful creation that God sent to me. I explained that I let myself give into frustration and lash out on her. But that it wasn’t her fault.. No.. the fault was mine. I tell her that although no one is perfect.. my words were unacceptable.. and asked her to forgive me.
After I hugged her.. and told her I loved her.. with tears in my eyes (and on my cheeks).. and a quiver in my voice… Then it was time to correct my punishment .. and change it into discipline. I explained to her that I CANNOT let her be disobedient and make poor choices. That even though discipline is exhausting and unpleasant.. I do it because I love her… I love that beautiful soul that God gave her so much.. and I explain that it is my job to guide her. A job given to me by God himself.
Yup… I told her that discipline sometimes hurts me more than it will hurt her.
Even though I apologized to her for my weakness.. and she forgave me? That moment still haunts me. Will that be the moment that sticks out in her memories of me..? Not of love and patience.. but one of anger?
I pray every day that it won’t be.
I also pray for God’s guidance.. His love.. His patience and His discipline for me in my own life.. To help me be the parent He meant for me to be… The parent like I had…
So I guess I am praying to be my kids’ biggest fans. To love them and hope for their best future.. beyond anyone else in THIS world.. That is what I strive to be..
But I know that God is actually their biggest fan.. He cheers them on everyday… Tears of pride at their accomplishments.. Tears of disappointment when they fail.. But always the unfailing love and support. I can strive to be like God … but I know.. I will always fall short of that.
Once upon a time.. when I was a young girl.. a very young girl.. a tree fell in our woods. Ha.. it doesn’t sound very interesting at first.. but that tree is burned in my memory with great detail.
I grew up in the woods. Our yard was full of trees. There were trees across our dirt road. There were trees behind our house. Our neighbors owned the acreage behind us.. YUP.. also trees. I basically grew up in the trees. As you may guess.. a lot of trees fell in those woods.
But this tree was special. It fell with ALL of its leaves still on its branches.
Now I don’t know why it fell.. That is the funny thing about memories.. It filters out the insignificant facts. And the fact was.. A tree fell. A beautiful tree full of branches and branches of leaves. When my sister and I inspected it with our friends? We saw that it would make the perfect fort. When this tree fell, it fell against another tree. Its branches catching as it fell, so that there was plenty of head room. Plenty of space to move around. The leaves were so thick that we couldn’t see through them once inside. My sister and I thought it was PERFECT!
So perfect that we decided to run away!
Now I don’t remember if we had a reason that we wanted to run away. If we had one, I certainly don’t remember it. I remember pulling a little red wagon half way around the lake to help our friends pack their 2 brown paper bags full of clothes. I remember finding rugs and blankets.. and even pretty pictures to hang on the walls. I remember planning out our life of independence. But I don’t remember a reason for wanting to run away.
When our Mom heard of our plans to run away.. our plans to strike out on our own? (After all.. I think I was 8 years old.. which made my sister 11? High time we were on our own.. right?!?) Well you can probably guess.. when my Mom heard the words “running” and “away” in the same sentence? YUP she freaked.. sent us to our room to unpack .. and sit on our beds. My sister remembers our Mom’s reaction being to the distance we walked that day .. with the little red wagon. But either way.. our friends were sent home.. and our plans were off.
Now that I am a Mother myself, I understand my Mom’s reaction a little better. But I have thought about this memory a lot in my life.. and as a teenager I thought.. Why didn’t she just let us spend the night out there?
This beautiful tree fell in FULL view of our house. (Which was one of the reasons we were so bold in the first place.) We could see the house through a small opening in the limbs from inside the fort… But it was also in a small clearing.. easily spotted from our house. You will remember that this tree is also surrounded by other trees. Trees that creak and leaves that blow in the wind. We would have been sleeping on the ground.. which is hard.. and even in the summer would have been cool.
If my Mom had given us a hug and wished us well?
We would have been back inside within an hour of darkness.
The first time we heard an owl above us.. the first time the leaves of our fort rustled in the wind.. the first time a tree creaked and groaned around us.. the first time a bug crawled out from the darkness onto our blanket.. the first time something fell on us from the wind blowing? We would have been screaming.
And how the wind does blow in Michigan.
Not to mention that my sister and I had 3 brothers who would have LOVED to try to scare us.
You may be thinking.. OH but the wild animals.. raccoons, deer, skunks, rabbits… bears..? And I will say this.. Have you ever heard 4 girls scream? I have.. it’s enough to make ME want to run away.. those animals wouldn’t have come within a mile.
Whenever I tell this story to a friend or to a group of kids? I always say that my Mom should have just wished us luck and enjoyed 2 hours of peace and quiet. And when we snuck back inside after dark.. quietly so that we didn’t have to let anyone know we had failed? My mom could have smiled softly and went back to sleep.
I think God has a sense of humor. You see every time I expressed a strong opinion about something as a teenager? YUP.. I had to go through that as a parent.. “My kids will NEVER act like THAT in a store!” I said.. I was the Mom with the 3 year old screaming for sardines..in aisle 7. “I will NEVER raise my voice to MY child..” said I…. Ha.. I had to train myself to whisper when I was frustrated with my strong willed child. “My daughter will never go in public with hair that messy..” I would mutter.. Bahahaha.. My daughter’s hair was blond, curly and thick.. oh so thick.. and she wouldn’t let me style it. We would never have gone into public.. And my most fervent, “If my child wants to run away, I will let them.. they will come back..”
YES.. you should be careful what you declare as a teenager.. God has a great sense of humor.
My daughter first uttered the words “run away” at the ripe old age of 3. I was so floored that NOT ONLY did she know those words.. but she knew what they meant.. at THREE! I was so surprised in fact.. I sent her to her room. When she was 4? She was still using them. I would try to explain why she had to follow our rules.. but to no avail.. she still yelled on about the injustices in the world. So I would send her to her room.
Then just after my daughter turned 5, I heard a panicked cry from the room down the hall. I rushed down the hall, to find my little child hanging outside from her window sill.. hanging over a 10 foot drop to the pavement below. She had decided to run away by going out the window.. however she had panicked when the screen dropped and reached for it.. reached and fallen out. As I hugged my daughter to me.. so happy she was safe.. because I knew exactly what would have happened had she NOT been able to grab the window sill.. I made a decision..
I decided that the next time my daughter threatened to leave.. I needed to let her go. In fact.. I would help her pack. (I borrowed the idea from Dr. James Dobson and his book the Strong-Willed Child.) When my daughter was in bed.. I explained my plan to my husband. He agreed to help.. but I knew that he doubted its wisdom at first.
And threaten she did..
“I don’t want to live here, I want to go live with someone nicer.”
Taking a deep breath, I prepared for battle. “Where will you go?” I asked sadly and patiently.
Her surprise at my calm question only lasted a second, before it hardened back into defiance. “To Grandma Pauline’s!”
I nodded and stood up, “I will help you pack then.”
Her look was shocked then, “Pack?”
“Yes.. you will need to pack. Daddy would you get her suitcase please?” I asked quietly.. continuing in my sad and resigned tone.
As Daddy retrieved the suitcase, we went to her room and started folding the clothes she would need to take. A sweater because the night was cool.. and who knew when she would get to Grandma’s. A few outfits.. her fancy shoes (her choice).. 7 pairs of undies because who knew when she would be able to wash her clothes again.. A blanket and pillow… Her toothbrush.. a hairbrush.. and her stuffed dog.
As her Dad and I carefully put everything in her suitcase, we took turns suggesting things. “Maybe you should sleep on Jill’s swing tonight.. You could travel during the daylight tomorrow that way.. remember to only cross at crosswalks.. make sure cars see you..” On and on we went.. sadly.. quietly… and resigned.
Just before we zipped her suitcase .. the tears started. Turns out.. she never wanted to leave.. She blurted out that she just gets so mad.. “I’m sorry,” she blubbers through her sobs, “please let me stay.”
And I smiled, (through my tears of course).. and I explained that her Dad and I loved her. We always would. And because we love her, we want her to be happy. When her sobs had quieted.. and my throat wasn’t choked up.. I explained to her that if she CHOOSES to live with us, then she chooses to follow our rules. The rules that will help her grow into an amazing young lady. I told her that if she is unhappy with those rules, she can tell us she is unhappy… (And then the bomb..) “If you choose to stay? Then this is it.. No more running away. Ok?” With a tear filled nod, she hugs me again.. and we unpack.
We have had many discontented arguments in my daughter’s life.. about many things.. I almost expected it whenever the wind changed direction.. or just blew.. and how the wind did blow in Missouri. But with all those arguments.. Not ONCE did my daughter again threatened to run away.
Shortly after this, I heard (again) the story of the Prodigal son in a Sunday school class. I remember thinking to myself… Why would he be so excited and rejoice to have his son back? Doesn’t the father know that he is just rewarding the wayward behavior? And KILL a fatted calf? I helped the children learn the story.. but I couldn’t really understand the excitement the father felt.
Now I don’t just have one child.. I have two.
My strong willed, very verbal daughter and then my silent, observant son.
After my daughter stopped threatening to run away.. we were at my parent’s house for a visit. I took my son outside to play. My cousin was also visiting that day .. he was discussing some decisions he had to make.. and while I was listening I was watching my son play.
Now my son may be silent.. and he may have special needs.. but he is also smart… and has an amazing memory for directions.
With a smile, my son ran behind the house, so I walked the other way.. kind of a peek a boo game .. When he saw me, he smiled.. and ran back the other way.. So I walked the opposite way around the house.. and again when he saw me he smiled.. Back and forth we went.. and all the while? I was talking to my cousin..
And then he was gone…
Thinking he was hiding at the end of the house, I casually walked in that direction.. but he was not there.. he was just gone…
My son had disappeared before my very eyes..
I called and called.. My cousin checked in the house.. and I went around the block.. the wooded block.. the wooded dirt road that divides our trees from the woods behind… I followed the path that I knew my brothers took him on.. My cousin caught up and we searched the woods.. all the while calling…
But he was gone..
As quickly as we could.. and still being efficient.. we followed the road and circled back around to my parents’ house .. and found my son hadn’t returned. My neighbor was there then.. my childhood friend… asking to help.. among others…
And I was starting to get scared.
The rational part of me knew my son had followed the path my little brothers took him on. The rational part of me knew my brothers would know if something had caught his interest. They would know if there was a side track that I didn’t know about. So while others searched the woods again.. calling for my son.. calling for a boy who could not answer…
While they were calling? I waited for the bus.. waited for my brothers to get home.
But the non-rational part of me? YUP.. it was starting to panic..
Minutes later.. as my brothers got off the bus.. I explained to them my theory.. That my son had followed the route they had walked with him.. and that he had perhaps stopped at something along the way. Both of my little brothers looked at each other and dropped their bags.. “I’ll take the long way,” said one.. “I’ll check the puddle,” said the other.. and they ran.
It was all I could do just to breathe. Breathe and stay on my feet. There were people there .. but I have no idea who they were. I have no idea what they were doing.. All I could see was my brothers running.. and all I could do was breathe. Because it felt like my heart was being ripped from my chest.. my throat burned with the emotions I could not release.. my chest felt like a great weight pressed against it.. keeping my breath from coming without a great struggle.. And my normally rational brain.. it was mush…
And then there was a horn.. a car.. or truck was laying on their horn… and my heart stopped. Someone pointed to the side road in the distance where an SUV was stopping in the middle of the road. Someone pointed out that my brother was almost to the same spot..
And my world stopped..
I couldn’t even breathe..
I couldn’t see..
I couldn’t hear anything..
Except that horn…
And then my brother was there in front of me.. He was there with my son.. My brother was handing over my young wet son.. and I was holding him.. Holding my son so tight that it was probably hard for him to breathe…
In that moment… all of the emotions I had held inside released.. and I cried.. cried like I have never cried before.. I know people hugged me.. I know people tried to comfort me.. I heard my brother explain about the giant puddle they had found the day before. I heard him explain that the SUV had barely seen my submerged son playing in the puddle.. I heard someone joke “thank the Good Lord for that dark hair!” I heard everything go on around me.. And the whole time, I held my young son tightly for fear he would disappear again. Held him and cried.. great big sobs of relief and thankfulness. Thankfulness that my brothers had known where to go.. Thankful that it was God’s plan for us to find him in time.
It was that moment.. the moment the joy crept into my tears.. that I understood the father in the story of the Prodigal son..
“But the father said to his servants, “Bring out the best robe and put it on him and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it and let us eat and be merry.” Luke 15:22-23
In that moment, I understood the joy at receiving the disobedient child back safely. At holding the son in your arms.. the one you worried about endlessly.. The joy that fills your whole body at their being safe..
Now.. I do realize that the Parable Jesus told isn’t about an earthly family… That parable actually refers to God as the father.. and the sons are us.. All of us! Some of us are the son who stays loyal.. stay and work tirelessly in the fields of God’s work. We are the ones who receive love and safe keeping from God everyday. But the son who leaves God’s protection? The son who takes his inheritance and spends it on worldly sins and then returns to God later.. humbled by his disobedience. I understand why God would want to celebrate.. Why heaven would ring with music and dancing..
Because in those moments.. the moments that air returned to my lungs.. that hope returned to my heart.. Those moments when I crushed my son’s small body against mine? I think I heard heaven rejoicing with me..
So now when I tell the story of my sister and I running away from home.. When I tell my daughter of my bold convictions of how my Mother SHOULD have handled it? I also tell her of her adventures and my son’s.. and I tell her of God’s sense of humor…
My daughter? She laughs … and says she will never disagree with me..
Even though she probably will…
And me? When I hear something shocking.. a kid walked off while his mother napped.. an overwhelmed mom yelling at her 3 year old.. in aisle 7..?? I try not to judge the parents.. I try not to think what I would have done differently.. I just pray…
I always joke around about things changing my life. I say this phrase at least a few times a week. “Chai changed my life.” or “Jane Austen changed my life.” or “Pond scum”.. anything that seems funny and creates a smile on someone’s face. But in truth only a few things actually changed me. Don’t get me wrong there are quite a few things or people that have enhanced me.. helped me to be a better person. My faith in God, some wonderful friends, my family, etc. But in 1986, I changed. My little brother Dave was born that year. The year after that my littlest brother Mark. Now, it’s true that I have one other little brother, a couple older ones and a sister. All wonderful siblings, who were the best companions growing up. But these 2 young boys changed my life almost completely.
You see before Dave was born, I knew what I wanted from my life. I wanted to be a writer. Not wanted like a wish, but more like I KNEW that was what I was going to be. I daydreamed stories, I wrote stories, I created characters. It consumed all my spare time. Consumed every idle thought. I poured my soul into the written word.
With the birth of my little brothers, the burning desire to write slowly died out. In its place was born this fascination with watching children grow and develop into young people. My ability to tell stories didn’t die, I would create stories for them all the time. Rather, My desire to write stories.. it didn’t seem to be as important. In fact nothing else seemed as important. I can’t remember a single Christmas present I got after they were born, but I remember what they got each year. Especially remember the joy on their faces the year they opened their gigantic Teenage mutant ninja turtles. Now don’t get me wrong. I know that I had fun getting presents and I know that I was still a selfish creature at times, as all children are in their time. But my sole purpose in life changed from writing and thinking on my works of fiction TO watching young souls develop and grow. A career as a “Best Seller” was swapped for a career of Early Childhood teacher. But most of all, I changed from only wanting to satisfy my self-centered needs into someone who would gladly spend my last dollar on someone else. All my joy now coming from others.
I am thankful for these two blessings in my life. I have watched them both grow into wonderful young men. (Wonderful and TALL young men.) They have married amazing women and have started families of their own. And I still find myself learning from them.
Then in 1997, shortly after I married my dear romantic husband, my life changed again.
First, I gave life to the most beautiful spirited, out-going, strong willed child.. in existence… Ok.. maybe not in ALL of God’s kingdom.. but in my tiny corner she was. All the children in my family had been born with a primal fear of strangers ..ALREADY downloaded into their brain. My beautiful daughter.. didn’t get that download. In fact, she didn’t seem to have a single fear. Now.. I didn’t want my daughter to be fearful like I was.. but SOME fears were beneficial.. weren’t they?
So here I was changing again… I had to learn to decide what fears were MINE.. and which fears my daughter needed… often ON THE FLY.. And I learned to control my quivering heart to calmly and patiently explain to my daughter WHY she couldn’t walk off with anyone who looked like her Grandma.. (often explaining IN FRONT of the look-a-like grandma).. I had to explain WHY she couldn’t drive my van across the parking lot.. (she tried to listen to me through the haze of pride shining out of her 2 year old eyes)..
I also learned not to leave my van running… even to jump start the air conditioning .. NO matter HOW hot it was.. because 2000 Dodge Caravans did NOT have the safety feature of having to apply the brake to shift… deep breath… I learned a lot of random facts from parenting my daughter..
With my daughter, I learned that it wasn’t always about being right all the time. Some days I stood my ground, for her own good.. sigh.. And some days I gave up and bought 10 more dresses online.. So again.. I was changing…
Then 15 years ago.. My son joined us.. He joined us 19 days earlier than we had planned … and in the last 15 years he has continued to NOT follow ANY of the plans I have had for him… He crawled earlier than I expected, talked later, drew better, computed better, talked less, climbed more, cleaned more.. Always different than what I had planned…
So Yes.. I was learning to adapt my parenting skills. This second child so .. opposite.. of my first child.. I often felt like I had multiple personalities with the different parenting techniques I needed with each.
When you look at my son? You see a beautiful (Ok.. handsome..) souled boy.. a boy that towers above you. He has a calmness about him that is soothing to watch. He is helpful and eager to please. And Joyful.. so joyful. But when he starts to talk, you’ll see a difference then. You see my son has Autism.. with a splash of Bipolar.. and a healthy dose of language delay. So even though my son would LOVE to talk to you.. he doesn’t know how.. or what to say… so he tells you a story.. OK.. it will actually be from his favorite shows.. but hey.. it is still a story. When he was younger, he could literally recite an entire episode of Dora the Explorer.. Theme song, exact words, sound effects, choices.. voice changes.. etc. It was amazing in itself..
But it is NOT what I wanted for my son.
I wanted my son to do sports.. I wanted my son to climb trees with the neighbors.. I wanted him to beg to eat at his friend’s house.. I wanted to bandage knees.. I wanted him to have camp outs with his friends in the backyard.. and I wanted to look forward to all his accomplishments.
As I started to realize that hardly ANY of MY plans were going to happen.. I got sadder and sadder..
Until one day..
One day.. through a fresh bout of tears… I heard the Still Small Voice of God whisper.. “As for God.. His way is perfect,” (2 Samuel 22:31a).. Ha.. actually it was my sweet boy’s voice reciting the verse he learned on Veggie tales. But I believe that God speaks his Still Small voice into the wind.. or the radio.. or my amazing son.
So for those months .. when I was the most sad about the things my son would probably never do.. my son would repeatedly tell me that “As for God.. His way is Perfect!” It would make me laugh tearfully most days.
Then one day? One day.. when I sent my daughter off to do an activity.. I felt that familiar ache fill my heart. That familiar wish that my son would be able to do the same activity.. As that sadness filled my chest, making it so hard to breathe.. My son looked at me and smiled. Smiled so beautifully.. so fully… and so contently. Joy filling his eyes and a giggle on his lips… I realized something.. I realized that those wishes? They were mine.. not his. He was not sad to stay home with me. He was not sad that he didn’t go for sleepovers. He was not sad that he wasn’t at a friend’s house everyday.. He wasn’t sad that he didn’t believe in the tooth fairy or Santa.. He wasn’t sad at all… He was happy with his life.
And in that moment I realized something else. My son didn’t miss out on the those experiences because he had special needs. He missed out on those experiences because they just were NOT important to him. In other words.. he wasn’t missing them at all. You see?? My son is an amazing person… I have always seen that.. but what I couldn’t see was that he enjoyed a slower life than what I wanted for him.
So the way I saw it.. I had 2 choices.. 1. I could force my busy life style on him.. or 2. I could let his enthusiasm for life be my guide for his goals.
So I changed again.. and I think for the better.
In those next few months, I learned to look at life through my children’s eyes. I learned to see what was helpful to them .. and was simply my hopes for them. Did I want them to learn something new? Or was I asking them to learn something I wanted them to?
I often learn the most through the quiet times .. In the quiet you can hear your children’s thoughts and dreams whisper through their conversations. You can hear their hopes and fears through their stories. You can hear their love in their laughter.. and if you listen carefully.. God’s still small voice is there too.. whispering his plans for your children.
There are days when I still struggle to keep my “plans” from interfering with that of my children’s (and often time God’s plans as well).. Days when I realize that I need to step back and take a deep breath. Days when I need to ask a friend whether something is what my kids “need” or simply what I “want” for them..
And THAT is where Chai comes in..
When I need to step back.. or evaluate my kids’ best interest.. I simply make myself a chai .. or sometimes two.. depending on the decision.. When I realized my daughter had NO INTEREST in writing to the international penpal I had found for her? I had a chai. When I realized my daughter was NEVER going to let me braid her hair, so I had to cut it short? (Actually that was before I discovered chai.. but I could have used one..) When I realized my son had NO interest in History? YUP… I drink a lot of chai..
While I drink my chai? I sip it and let stillness fill my soul.. Stillness and serenity… And God helps me see the truth in myself.. truth in my children.. and He gives me soothing comfort when I realize.. again.. that I am not perfect. He comforts me when I realize that another of my “plans” are unrealistic.. and about to be unrealized..
So I guess I use chai as a portal to spending time with God. Ha.. my daughter would say it’s like a Tardis..
Today?? Today.. while I sip my chai.. I am thinking of all the dreams my son has for his own life. He has a checklist, you know. Those dreams? I may never have heard them if I hadn’t let go of “my” dreams for him. He may not have known them himself.. if I hadn’t accepted him for who he is. So Today I am thankful.. thankful God whispered in my ear that His way is still Perfect. That my son is perfect the way he is .. Perfect the way he was created… Thankful God whispered that His plan for my son was perfect..
Can’t you just hear Him..
“Julie.. Wait until you see your son all grown up!! You are going to be SO proud. He won’t be the way you expect or plan.. Your son will be the way I have planned him to be. Won’t you help Me guide him? Won’t you help Me support him? I can’t wait until you see him!! He is going to be Perfect!! Perfect!! Just the way I have planned him to be! But it will be a long road.. and sometimes it will be hard.. I will be there for you though.. right by your side.. I promise! Oh.. and Julie? Have another chai…”
When we moved to Missouri in 2002, my kids were little. So our only requirement for a house? A BIG backyard. Growing up in the woods, I needed trees and I needed space in our suburban yard. My husband found it for me. A huge backyard on a cul-de-sac. Five mature trees made the backyard somewhat secluded. He knew I would love it and put a contract on it within minutes. He was right.. it was perfect for us.
Well God was looking out for us that day. We were looking at our children’s immediate need.. but God? He was planning for their future. So while I was looking for trees for tree swings, a wide open space to play baseball and a shaded place for a playset… God found us a perfect village. He put us right by the perfect friends for my family. Close to my husband’s Missouri family. And he chose the perfect school for my children.
My son is a sweet, lovable boy with a face full of freckles, beautiful blue eyes and the most contagious smile. When you take your first glance at this tall attractive boy? You do NOT see Special Needs. You see a teenage boy. You do not see that he didn’t talk until he was 3. You cannot see that he was diagnosed with Autism at 4. And you cannot see that he was diagnosed with Bipolar at 6. When we bought a house with a backyard full of trees? I didn’t see it either. But God knew our future.. and He planned for us. He provided the perfect place for my boy to grow.
Why was a school so important a part of my kid’s future?
I wholeheartedly believe that the whole village impacts a child as they grow up and mature. The village is a child’s family, their church, their friends .. AND their school. When a child has Special Needs? That school makes up the large part of their future.
You see.. No mother can do everything on her own. But a mother with a special needs child.. she HAS to trust the school to provide the things she cannot. I had to trust the school to take care of my child and provide him a safe environment. I had to trust the Special Education director to get him the therapies my son needed. I had to trust the IEP team to develop the best plan for my son’s school year. And I had to TRUST the teachers to push my son toward success. Yup, I said PUSH. I don’t want my son to SURVIVE school… I really want him to excel at school. You may think that is a lofty set of goals for Special Needs.. It MAY be.. I may aim too high.. But I would rather aim too high and settle slightly.. then to not aim high enough. My son is amazing. He is artistic. He is smart. He is a hard worker.. and my son wants to go to college. But he is a child.. children will choose the easier path if you let them. So I refuse to let him.
This school that God picked for my family? They wanted everything that I wanted for my son. The “village” we found at Henderson Elementary? Principals, Assistant Principals, Special Education Director, Paraprofessionals, Teachers, Language Therapists, Occupational Therapists, and even the Librarian. THAT village of amazing people? They became our family for those 6 years.. and beyond. When my son had successes, no matter how small.. they celebrated with me. When I had fun stories to tell.. they were the ones who laughed with me. When my son was being stubborn, they were the ones who planned WITH me on how to turn it around. When my son was unstable, they helped develop a plan to keep himself and others safe. When I had to cry? They were the ones crying with me. But the most amazing thing for me? When the days were long.. and rough.. and there was NO hope shining from those beautiful blue eyes.. These amazing ladies were STILL there rooting for my son to succeed. No matter how bad the days were..they were the ones who met my son each morning with a smile and forgiveness in their hearts.
Some of those days were really bad.
Bipolar doesn’t sound that terrible. But it is a terrible disease. It is also known as Manic Depression. Basically with this mood disorder? Your body doesn’t make the right amount of the hormones you use to control your emotions. Not enough serotonin and you feel depressed. Too much serotonin and you feel euphoric. Too much adrenaline and you feel scared/aggressive. I could go on.. but I think you can see the trend. With Autism there are triggers.. too hot.. too cold.. too loud.. too frustrated.. too .. anything. With Bipolar? Other than the seasons, we can find no pattern.
When my amazing son starts to cry those big crocodile tears because his brain is telling him he is overwhelmingly sad? My motherly instinct is to hold him and protect him. When my son wants to laugh at the world because his brain is telling him he is elated? My instinct is to laugh along. When my son wants to hurt himself? Stab himself with a pencil? Pull out his hair? Punch his head because his brain is too confused for him to think clearly? I want to step in and protect him… and then cry. But Bipolar is there for Life.. So Life must go on.
This “village” that God provided for me? For us all? They were there will us every step of the way. Cheering for us.. handing out smiles.. encouraging… (keeping straight faces).. Why did they? I have no idea!! But I am so grateful. Because without them? We wouldn’t be where we are. Because of their help and their determination? My son has learned that Life has to go on no matter WHAT your brain is telling you. They helped him with coping strategies.. and they never made my son feel like there was anything wrong with him.
Because of the acceptance of this amazing group of professionals? My son was accepted as a valuable part of the “village” by everyone. (I could write a book on how we all took part in this awesome feat.. and I probably will…)
This amazing accepting “village” was great for more than just the children with Special Needs. My daughter who absolutely loves to learn and loves school.. this school that God picked for us, provided something for her as well. Because the school valued her brother as a part of its village.. No matter what… She learned to accept her brother without question. But more than that.. I think it gave all kids a strong feeling of security. If a child with an obvious disability can be accepted for who he is .. and loved because of it? How can a child with a small insecurity NOT feel safer? The students at this school turned into a wonderful group of kids.
So imagine my distress, when God sent us home to Michigan?
I love Michigan. It’s beautiful! It has trees … and lakes.. and rivers.. and trees… did I mention trees? I didn’t realize how much I loved this home state of mine until we moved away. And Michigan also holds the majority of my family. Oh.. we wanted to move home with a passion.
But I was worried.
If we moved schools.. how would my kids live without this amazing village that God had given us all? How would we survive without it? So I dove into research. Websites, school review sites, anecdotal review sites, phone calls to school, joining online support groups to get advice… and yet nothing. I finally knew the area we wanted to end up in.. but there were still 10 school to choose from. So more phone calls and house tours. We narrowed our search finally to 5 houses.. Each in a different school district. I set up tours.. and I prepared for the whisper of the Still Small Voice of God to lead my way.
What I got was a roar. I almost cried.. (okay I cry a lot).. This school that God led us to? From the moment the Special Education director called me ahead of time.. to the secretary asking how she could help me.. to the amazing tour I received from the principal.. and every person I met along the way… Every thing was a roar from God that this was it!! This was the new village He had planned for us… And who was I to argue?
This week I dropped off my son to school. He walked independently through the front doors and headed to the locker he independently opens. He independently headed to a meeting he had with his teachers.
You see? My son still hits sometimes. This week he hit one of his BIGGEST fans. His brain told him he was scared or frustrated or angry or something.. and it was so overwhelming he punched one of our favorite people in this new village. Then he cried. And so did I.. I am crying again as I type this. This amazing person doesn’t just want my son to exist.. she wants him to be amazing.. she wants him to be the BEST he can be… so she pushes him to excel. Unfortunately that puts her on the front lines of the battle. She has encouraged him to be independent, successful.. and most importantly.. My son is so proud of who he has become. Then when he snapped? Since she was on the front lines, she got hurt. That hurts my heart every time I think about it. But what makes me stop in absolute AWE. This amazing lady who was hit by my adult sized boy? She forgave him immediately. “Seven times seventy,” she says is their motto. That is absolutely amazing .. and it is hard to do. Even though she forgave him immediately, she is still hurt.
I would like to point out that forgiving is a lot different than accepting. I do not accept that my son HAS to hit.. and neither do any of his teachers. Forgiveness means you try harder next time to do it differently. That is what I teach my son. We always try again. And the next time we try ..we WILL do it better.
Through her pain (both physically and mentally), the teacher my son hit is standing with the rest of the team to make a plan, so that we can try to prevent it from happening again. This plan isn’t to not push him as hard to succeed. It is a plan to help him deal with the confusing messages his disease sends him. To help him move toward a successful (and non aggressive) high school career.. To help him move toward being an independent hard working adult.
So today? Today I am thankful that God has brought this amazing lady into our lives. Yet this amazing lady is only ONE of the amazing professionals at this small school in the country. Every person my son has come into contact with has made a huge impact on his life. So today I am ALSO extremely thankful God has provided another amazing village for my kids to grow up in.
When I watched my son walk through those doors, to head to that meeting on his own. A meeting to talk about how to turn the next bad day around to make it better.. on his own? YUP.. I was crying again. Because he couldn’t be that independent, confident or determined young man without the “villages” that God has given us. I could never have done it on my own… and to tell you the truth.. I wouldn’t want to try.
At the end of the school year, I always look for the perfect thank you gifts. How do you tell someone thank you for going to the front lines of battle everyday .. just so your son can be the best that he can possibly be.. A gift card? A coffee mug? What I really wish was to give them a trip to Egypt .. or a day at the spa. But I can’t afford that AND stay home to be available for those bad days. So I settle for a heartfelt card and home made cookies. Is it enough? NOPE.. But while I am praying that my son grows in control every day.. I also pray that God will Bless each and every person that has come to care for my children. That He will keep each and everyone of them in His Glorious hands and protect them.
So in the End? In the End all I can do is pray for a whole village.
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.
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.
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.