Is There Room At Your Table For Me?

I watch my son’s eyes constantly. He may be mostly nonverbal, but his eyes speak loudly. Even when he cannot bring himself to look at me, I watch his eyes and often times, they tell me what I need to know.

I watch them dart from one thing to the next in rapid motion: this usually tells me that he is overstimulated. I watch his eyes cut mischievously at me to sneak a quick glance before he does something he knows he is not supposed to do: this reminds me that despite Autism, he is “all boy” and is testing his boundaries. I am crushed as I see the frustration in his eyes: he wants to be understood. I watch his eyes light up in wonder or excitement when he sees something he desires: he notices his environment. I see the sparkle in his eyes when he is able to stare back into mine: I can see his love for me and my heart melts.

Certainly there is impulsivity and many unknown factors on this Autism journey. There are days when I stare into my son’s eyes and all I can find is a lost little boy, trapped in his own reality. But more often than not, I can find him. So I watch. I watch ever so closely. I anticipate. I wonder. I take him in.

Because I naturally watch my son’s eyes, it’s no wonder that I was watching them closely as we entered my parent's house for Thanksgiving dinner. I often take for granted the fact that not everyone understands what all the holiday season entails for a family with a child who has special needs, so let me give you a quick rundown of all the thoughts that were going through our heads as we joined our family for a Thanksgiving feast.

How long do you think we will be able to stay? He is already a little overstimulated today. Oh goodness, there are pretty decorations everywhere. We are going to break something. Or even more, we are going to throw something and then break it! I hope they don’t mind him singing at the top of his lungs- he loves “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” right now. This may be too many people. We may have a meltdown. Will the other kids or adults acknowledge him? Hopefully he will keep his shirt on the whole time. Do you think everyone will mind if we watch “Signing Time” or “The Little Engine that Could” for about fifty times in a row? Maybe this was a bad idea. Stop thinking negatively…Maybe this will be a great Thanksgiving experience! Oh gosh, he just threw his cup into the already decorated Christmas tree…awesome.

It’s true. No matter how cool, calm, and collected I try to act, there are a flood of thoughts filling my mind during large family get- togethers. Thanksgiving was no exception.

So, as my anxious thoughts rose and we walked in the door to this Thanksgiving feast, I watched my little boy’s eyes for a cue.

I watched him as he did his little step, hop around the large living room and on into the dining area. We have a very large family so there were three beautiful tables set to welcome their guests. Ezra noticed these tables and stared. I watched as his eyes inspected every inch of these tables with their beautiful plates and crystal glasses. He nodded his head at each place setting as though he was mentally counting the places in anticipation for all the guests to arrive and be seated. I took him in as he took in the unfamiliar tables.

Ezra finally moved on from inspecting these tables and began playing with his toys on the floor nearby as we waited for other family members to arrive. I noticed that periodically, he would glance up from his toys to see if the tables were still there.

As each family arrived bearing trays of food and hugs for all, my boy was not left out. Our family has embraced Ezra in such a loving way. My momma’s heart swelled as each niece and nephew greeted Ezra with a “Hey Ezra!” or a sweet pat on the back. Although my son hardly glanced up from his busyness with his toy trains, he knew his cousins were there and he knew that they had included him in their greetings.

As our families sat down to eat, I asked where Ezra should sit. Without hesitation the answer was “Right here!” as I looked at a place setting with a glass plate and crystal cup; just like everyone else’s.

It was as if Ezra knew exactly where to go. He walked to the table and once again nodded his head as though he was mentally counting each place setting. When his nodding made its way around the table, he stopped at his own chair and a smile spread across his face. He knew. There was a place at the table for him.

He was not asked to sit at a table off to the side. He was not left to roam around the room and graze from a plate. He was not given a “special” plate in the event that he might break one of the nice ones. There was a place at the table for him, and he knew it.

Was I nervous about the beautifully decorated table? You betcha. Did I have visions of him possibly pulling the table cloth with all of its adornments into a messy heap on the floor? Yep. Was it a possibility that he might break something? Yes. But my parents knew this. It was more important to them that Ezra have a place at their table than for him to be excluded or pushed to the side.

And Ezra knew it. I could see it in his eyes.

We didn’t have some magic dining experience. We still had to help Ezra feed himself. We still had to remind him to “Sit down, Ezra.” We still had to use his i-pad to help calm him while he was in an unusual setting. But our Thanksgiving meal was complete because there was a place at the table for Ezra.

I keep thinking about my little boy as he nodded his head at each place setting when we had first arrived that Thanksgiving day. I just can’t help but imagine that he was mentally counting the chairs and wondering Is there a place for me at the table?

I have heard too many stories of children with special needs being unwelcomed by friends and even family members. I know that many times precious souls just like my Ezra are brushed to the side. They are excluded. 

You know, it was a possibility that Ezra may not have even been able to sit with our family at the table this Thanksgiving. Some days are just not good days. Some days leave him sprawled out on the floor in a sad or even aggressive mess. But even if he had been too overwhelmed to join us at the table, he would have had a place there, saved for him, just in case.  He would have known that there was a place for him at the table.

Could it be that a true reflection of your heart might be revealed by whom you would welcome to your table?

As the Christmas season approaches, I encourage you to make room at your table for everyone. Just because a person can’t speak doesn’t mean that they desire no communication. Just because a person cannot make eye contact doesn’t mean that they wish to not be acknowledged. Just because a person seems to be in a world of their own doesn’t mean that they are unaware of their surroundings and the things being said and done around them.  Just because a person may not comment on your beautifully decorated dinner table does not mean that they do not greatly value being welcomed at it.

As the Christmas season approaches, I encourage you to create an atmosphere of hospitality for everyone. This sounds easy until you take into account that “everyone” may mean that you need to be ok with singing at the table, the possibility of a broken plate, a wheelchair in the place of one of your wooden ones, a feeding tube, an oxygen tank,  or an i-pad on the table. We should search the crevasses of our hearts to see who truly has a place at our table.

It seems to me that the people you welcome to your table are also the people you welcome into your heart.

Won’t you welcome sweet children like mine to your table? Won’t you welcome those who are often cast aside? Won’t you welcome those who are least likely to be welcome at someone else’s table?

They are waiting. They are waiting for you to welcome them. I know. I can see it in Ezra’s eyes.

"Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angles without knowing it." Hebrews 13:2






I Ask God to Come Sit With Him A While

When I lay him down to sleep, I pray to the Lord his soul to keep…then I kiss my little boy, say “goodnight”, shut the bedroom door, and wait for what is usually a very long night.

I almost forget that our nights do not look (or sound) anything like most other people’s nights. The double-diapers, zip-up pajamas on backwards, hospital bed with netting kind of nights. The singing-at the-top-of-his-lungs-for-hours, screaming, kicking the walls, laughing hysterically, or “scripting” kind of nights. Yep, I almost forget these things are not “normal” because this is our normal; it’s just part of the way we do life.

We never know what the night will bring. Sometimes, there are nights of quiet rest. Other times we get very little sleep as we listen to our son wrestle through the night.

But every night begins in the same way. I lay down beside my precious son, and pray. I have prayed for him while his tiny hands push against mine. I have prayed for him as he tries to hit me. I have prayed for him as he snuggles up close. I have prayed for him through his tears and tears of my own. I have prayed for him through happy chattering and smiles. Regardless of the behavior or the evening, I pray. I pray for Ezra’s future, that he will have a restful sleep, for his safety, for him to know how much his mommy and daddy love him, and most importantly that he would know how much Jesus loves him.

One particularly hard night, my prayer shifted. Ezra was wound up. He could not focus on anything. He was everywhere and nowhere all at the same time. I continued to whisper softly to him “I love you, Ezra. I love you.” My whispers were met with even wilder thrashing in his bed. My momma’s heart was breaking for my son. What was this thing that seemed to be so much greater a force than he or I were able to control? I sobbed through my usual prayer over my son as I dodged an arm, a leg, and another arm. And just before I could no longer utter a prayer between heartbroken tears, I asked God for something I had never asked for before.

Please Lord, come sit with him a while. Come and sit with him. Fill his room with your presence. Reveal Yourself to Him.

There is such a feeling of helplessness when you are the parent of a child with special needs. My son is often times a prisoner in his own brilliant mind. At night especially, his body seems to betray him and I find myself at a loss for how to help. There are just some things that I cannot do. This thing, this Autism, seems far bigger than me some days. But I know who is even greater.

So, in this small bedroom with its hospital bed and toy covered floor, I asked God to come sit. I placed my trust in the reality of God’s presence and power.

In Exodus 33:14, God reminds Moses of the power of His presence as He declares “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

Rest. That is what I want for my precious son. Not just sleep. Rest. I want him to rest in the comfort of security. I want him to rest in the knowledge that God does not ever leave or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6). I want him to rest with a peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7). I want him to rest in the presence of the Lord.

Now, each night as I lay Ezra down to sleep, I still pray over him, but I always ask the Lord to come and sit with him a while. I have a very beautiful picture in my mind of Jesus coming and sitting at the foot of his bed. I ask God to reveal Himself to Ezra in ways that only He can. And I trust. I trust in the reality of God’s presence.

Do we still have some hard nights? Yes we do. This isn’t some halfhearted trial to see if my child will sleep better if I say “the magic words”.  Definitely not. This is faith. This is faith lived out by acknowledging what I already know to be true about God and His promises. This is me declaring that I have very little control when it comes to this thing called Autism. This is me remembering that God loves my child with an unconditional, sacrificial love. This is me offering up all of my best efforts and asking God to work in ways that I cannot and that He is completely able. This is me reminding my son each night that he is never alone.

This is me declaring the reality of God’s presence and power as I ask Him to come sit with Ezra a while. Thank you Lord, for using my little boy to remind me of your faithfulness and the power of Your presence.

“The Lord is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth.” Psalm 145:18

 

Why You Should NOT Welcome My Special Needs Child to Your Church

I realize this may be one of the most controversial posts I have ever written. It has taken me months of writing, stopping, coming back, re-writing and I’m still not positive it’s perfect. But it is my heart. Every fiber of my being burns with passion over this topic. I want to share with you why you should NOT welcome my special needs child to your church.

I write this from what I believe is a unique perspective.  You see, I have worked in ministry for over ten years now. I have been on staff as a youth minister and a children’s minister. I have helped to develop a special needs program within a church setting. I have also been a teacher for six years collectively. I have taught classrooms full of children from all kinds of backgrounds, strengths, and weaknesses. Most importantly, I am a mother to two beautiful children, one of whom has Autism. That’s right, I am the parent of a special needs child.  So why on earth would someone with my background write a blog like this? Allow me to share my heart with you.  These are the reasons I believe you should NOT welcome my special needs child to your church.

-YOU SHOULD NOT WELCOME MY SPECIAL NEEDS CHILD IF YOU BELIEVE THE HOLY SPIRIT IS ONLY ABLE TO WORK IN THE HEARTS OF SOME PEOPLE, BUT NOT OTHERS.      Any good church goer would most likely read this and immediately say “Oh no! Not me! I believe the Holy Spirit can work in the hearts of all people! I would never limit what God could do!”  And I would challenge back with this: Many times we (the Church) say such things with our words, but our actions do not hold up.  Does your church offer anything for special needs children? Do you know? Instead of preparing a Bible story for special needs children, does your church place them in a nursery setting and give them a toy and some movies? As the parent of a special needs child, I beg you, please do not pre-determine who is able to be reached by the Holy Spirit.  Church leaders, I want to encourage you that your job as an ambassador for Christ is to prepare to the best of your ability, to teach God’s word, trusting that the Holy Spirit will do exactly what He has promised to do: “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” – John 14:26    You do not have to be a special education teacher to share about Jesus’ love with these children. You do not have to have sensory activity based learning, Bible centers, or offer ABA therapy. Your job is to present a sacrifice of your time and preparation, your love for others, and your love for Jesus…and share it.  Share it with children as best as you can. Tell them a Bible story, tell them about Jesus’ love and sacrifice for them, tell them how God created them with a plan and perfect purpose for their lives! And then trust that the Holy Spirit is going to do what He says He will do.  Yes, some parents of special needs children are just thankful for the respite of having a safe place for their child to stay while the rest of the family goes to worship. But why would the church want to miss out on the great opportunity of sharing Jesus with these special children? These are children who are often times excluded, laughed at, looked at, and pushed aside. For those of you who DO prepare a lesson for these precious children, thank you.  I want to tell you something very important: they are listening. They may not be making eye contact with you, they may be singing, spitting, or spinning, but they are listening. I firmly believe that God’s Word does not return void (Isaiah 55:11). It is not man’s job to determine who is able to be reached by God’s Holy Word. His Word is for everyone and His love is all encompassing.

-YOU SHOULD NOT WELCOME MY SPECIAL NEEDS CHILD TO YOUR CHURCH IF YOU BELIEVE THAT CHURCH IS NOT A PLACE FOR THE “MESSY”. It should always be for the great love of our Lord that we would want to present the Bride of Christ, the church, in the best way we can by taking care of church facilities. I understand this completely. But my heart breaks for the church that has lost sight of the God given mission of the Church. The Church was never meant to be a pristine, social gathering of perfect people sitting in Church bookstores or coffee shops. These outreach tools in and of themselves are fine, but let us never replace the gift of human compassion, connection, and our mission to serve with only tools. This I know: Jesus knew how to get messy. Jesus placed His hands into the wounds of the hurt, He surrounded Himself with the “unclean”, He loved the “least of these”, He cared for the broken, and He washed the dirty feet of the disciples. Jesus knew that ministry is messy. I can promise you this, special needs ministry is messy too. There is nothing very cute about changing a five year old’s poopy diaper. It is not very glamorous to wipe drool or to help change soiled clothes. My special needs son is not going to sit quietly during your Christmas Cantata and he very likely will hurl his sippie cup up on the stage in the middle of your sermon (it’s true, it happened). Welcoming those with special needs into your church will cause you to have to think about wheelchair ramps and points of accessibility.  Welcoming those with special needs into your church might be a little more noisy, might require more volunteers, might cost your church money, and it WILL be messy.  But Oh, dear Church, do not forget that Jesus loves and came to serve the messy. What if the Church began to serve “the least of these”? What if Church was a place where those who cannot care for themselves would be cared for? What if Church was a place where dirty diapers where changed, drool was wiped, and the outcasts were accepted? If Jesus, the Messiah, Lord of all Creation, came to serve the “least of these”, shouldn’t we? What if we have it all wrong? What if Church could be a haven for the “messy”?

-YOU SHOULD NOT WELCOME MY SPECIAL NEEDS CHILD TO YOUR CHURCH IF YOU DO NOT RECOGNIZE THAT “SPECIAL NEEDS” IS A MISSION FIELD. In the book of Matthew, Jesus gives his disciples the “Great Commission” telling them to “Go and make disciples of all nations…” (Matt 28:19). As the church, as Christians, it is our mission to share with others the unconditional love and grace of Jesus Christ.  We send out missionaries all over the world to share the good news of salvation. Praise the Lord! But did you know that there is a mission field, right here in America, that is not being reached? Did you realize it is estimated that nearly 90% of special needs families do not attend church? I can give you a pretty good reason why this statistic is what it is just based on personal experience. It’s so hard.  Did you know that most parents of special needs children who actually make it to church on any given Sunday have probably had much less sleep than you, many have faced several huge obstacles, and are literally hanging on a prayer that “this whole church thing works today”.  It’s hard to take your special needs child into a huge crowd because (usually) it overwhelms them. It’s the look of panic or sheer terror on the church worker’s face when they see your child bounding through the door. It’s worrying if the ministry workers will truly care for your child while you are at worship. It’s wondering if I can truly say “let’s go to church and learn about Jesus!” or if my child will actually just be sitting in a room while the volunteer nervously watches the clock. It’s wondering if anyone would actually be able to relate to you and your family. It’s worrying about the safety of my non-verbal child who cannot tell me how he was treated by those who care for him.  It’s wondering if you’re truly going to be accepted or just tolerated. My husband and I both grew up in church and are quite determined to have our family there each Sunday, but even for us, it can be discouraging at times. Dear Church, there is a mission field of tired, overwhelmed, and often times questioning people who are just waiting to be loved, included, noticed, and accepted. But let me warn you, this is not a mission trip that you can just donate to or visit for one week and walk away. If your church should accept the mission to minister to special needs families like mine, it will be a continuous labor of love. I beg you, Church, to not claim to have a “special needs ministry” unless it is truly the heartbeat and conviction of your church. I have seen what it is to have a church with a “special needs ministry” but it is not the passion of the congregation or the passion of the pastor. I have been the guest of churches who have a “special needs ministry” where there is no heart behind the ministry. Parents of special needs children pick up on this very quickly and for many, it is their first and very last time to “try church”.  I have visited churches that have an undeniable passion for special needs families. I have seen what can be when a congregation embraces this mission as their own. It can be a very beautiful thing! Special needs families just like mine are not welcome very many places. As a whole, public places are not our friend. Special needs families long for community and connection because it is rarely offered to us anywhere else. Would your church please pray about this widely un-reached mission field? If your church will not reach out to a family like mine, who will? We are falling into the cracks, unnoticed.

- YOU SHOULD NOT WELCOME MY SPECIAL NEEDS CHILD TO YOUR CHURCH IF YOU BELIEVE THAT GOD DOES NOT SPECIALLY CALL EVERY MEMBER OF THE BODY OF CHRIST TO SERVE. 1 Corinthians 12:27 says “Now you are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it.” If you are a Christian, then you are a part of the Body of Christ. If you are a part of the Body of Christ, then according to 1 Corinthians 12, you have a “part” or a job to do. You see, God has given all of us gifts and talents to be used for His glory. The Church is supposed to function as one body of believers with all of its different members serving through their gifts and talents for the sole purpose of glorifying God and furthering His kingdom. I am not a super gifted person, but even I have been given “strengths” in some areas.  These strengths or “gifts” as the Bible calls them, were not suddenly zapped out of my system when I birthed a special needs child. On the contrary, I, like many other parents of special needs children, have gifts that God says are important to the Church. What’s more is that I still greatly want to serve. I believe there is a supernatural, wonderful thing that happens when a believer is serving in the very way that God created and called them to serve. It fuels my heart and uplifts my spirit. It’s true, many special needs parents want to serve.  What is also true is that many times we are not able. We are desperately searching for a church that will allow us the opportunity to serve, a church that values us, a church that believes we have something special to offer. We are also desperately searching for a church that will look upon our special needs child as part of the Body of Christ…which means that he too has something very special to bring to the body. In many ways, special needs families are being “cut off” from the Body of Christ. Oh Church, please do not let this be! If the Church does not find a way to include special needs families, it will hinder any possibility of these parents or children being able to contribute to the Body of Christ within the Church. It will make it very hard for these parents and children to do the very thing that God has charged us to do.

The truth is, I wish you would welcome my special needs child to your church, but for many, there is a work to be done first. Please check your heart and the heart of your church. There are families slipping through the cracks…90% of special needs families to be exact. The Church has a great opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Who will take up this cause?  It will take work and preparation, it will be hard, it will be messy, and it is not glamorous. But, dear friends, it will be so worth it.

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” –Matthew 25:40

ezra field.jpg



Please Overwhelm Me!

With black streaks of mascara running down my face, I sobbed into my husband’s arms, “I’m just so overwhelmed,” I finally admitted.  Can I tell you what gut-wrenching pain it took for me to admit this? As if it is against the “Christian-code” to be overwhelmed by life? Well, forget the “code.” Forget the social stigma of having to have it “all together.”

Instead of buying into the idea that it is just not ok to fall apart from time to time or to be overwhelmed by life, I decided to turn to truth. I turned to the scriptures and found that I am not alone in my feeling overwhelmed. I have come to the conclusion that it is perfectly human to become overwhelmed by life at times…and it is perfectly God to love us in spite of our overwhelmed hearts and to love us enough to see us through until the other side of our grief, hurt, busyness, or whatever your “overwhelmed-ness” may be.

The last several months have been extraordinarily hard for us. We have moved, bought a house, started new schools, and began new jobs. It was a good move, and we love our new home, but uprooting your family and starting over is anything but easy. And it was all a little overwhelming.

We hunted for a new church in our new community (no small task for the family of a special needs child). We were met with ugly stares and even uglier comments. We left several church services with tears in our eyes and heavy hearts…but we will save all this for another blog. We have finally found a church that will love and except all of our family, including our son who has Autism.  And it was all a little overwhelming.

We fell absolutely in love with a precious young man from Ukraine. We had made plans. Big plans. Life changing, family altering plans. We were so excited. In one year, this boy changed our hearts and our family in a wonderful, crazy-love kind of way. How one teenage boy from Ukraine could so captivate our hearts in such a big way could only be a God thing. Even our son (who has Autism), who scarcely acknowledges others or makes eye contact, would hurry over to Pasha and snuggle up to him as soon as he entered the room.  His presence made life just a little bit brighter.  Then, in one night, with one wreck, he was gone, taking a little piece of our hearts with him.  I have found it so hard to bear that the world somehow has the audacity to just keep right on spinning in the midst of tragedy or turmoil. Each day we find the strength to keep going but it is not without pain.  And it is all a little overwhelming.

In the last few weeks, our son’s aggression has intensified. I cannot even begin to describe the pain this momma’s heart feels to have my precious little boy struggle in this way. The hurt in our hearts far outweigh the physical hurt of being pushed away, bitten, scratched, or hit. We work through, we press on, and we overcome. There are moments that are so precious; when he kisses our cheeks or snuggles up in our arms. We cherish these moments and truly just soak them up because we don’t know how long they will last or if he will offer this kind of affection again for days or even weeks. And it’s all been a little overwhelming.

Add these things to the every-day pile of bills, therapy sessions for our son, homework, dirty dishes, lesson plans, end-of-the-school-year madness, parent-teacher meetings, ARD meetings, and award ceremonies, and my “keep-it-together-ness” has flown right out the window. And it’s all been a little overwhelming.

I do not share all this to give you my list of woe’s or to write a sympathy seeking blog. I share all this because I just wonder if maybe there is someone else out there who feels overwhelmed by life as well?  And I just wonder if maybe you also have been trying to act as though you “have it all together” even though you don’t? 

Might I just encourage you with this…If we had it all together, we would not need a Savior. If we were strong enough to withstand the heartbreak that life sometimes throws our way, we would not need to depend on Jesus. If we were resistant to trials, there would be no need to depend on the Lord for our strength, to call on His name, or to fall down at the foot of the cross.

I’m willing to tell you that I have been hanging on by a tiny emotional thread these days. You could probably tell me a story about a hot dog and I would cry. I’m ok with that for now. I don’t plan to stay in this spot forever, but for now, I am allowing myself the admitted humanity of being a little overwhelmed by life.

Just the other day I was reading in Psalms. I was reminded of the continuous pattern to which David wrote many of the Psalms. David was under persecution, he was running for his life, he had lost everything, and many times, he was a little overwhelmed. Understandably so.  But if you read through the Psalms, you will find a pattern. It is a pattern of being overwhelmed by afflictions, turning to the Lord for help, and turning a psalm of despair into a psalm of praise and thanksgiving. David was human, and he became overwhelmed by life’s circumstances. “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?” Psalm 22:1  

However, David had a secret weapon. He knew what power there was in turning from his bleak circumstances to God’s amazing Sovereignty.  Just a few verses later he says, “I will declare your name to my brothers in the congregation I will praise you. You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel! For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.” Psalm 22:22-24

And so this has become my prayer: Lord, please overwhelm me.  Overwhelm my soul with your goodness, grace, mercy, divine plan, and love. May I be so overwhelmed by You that all earthly circumstances seem to fade in the presence of Your powerful glory.

That’s right. I want to be overwhelmed. I want to trade my overwhelmed heart- overwhelmed by life’s circumstances- for a heart that is completely overwhelmed by God’s goodness.  When was the last time you let Him overwhelm you?

Being overwhelmed by God and who He is, is no easy task. I guess it should be, but it is just so easy to let life sweep us away in its unforgiving messiness. I believe that choosing to be overwhelmed by God is a day by day, moment by moment choice.

God does not ask us to pretend. God does not ask us to just “be ok” with life’s circumstance. God does not say that it’s not ok to be overwhelmed from time to time. You are no less a Christian if you find yourself at a point of sorrow or if your “keep-it-together-ness” is just a little off kilter.  But God does call out to each and every one of us in a plea for communion with Him. I want to make sure I am bringing my broken, overwhelmed, or messy heart to Him each day. After all, He is the only one who can truly heal it.

So yes, I want to be overwhelmed. I want to trade a heart that is overwhelmed by the world for a heart that is overwhelmed by the Lord. That is how I will find the hope and strength to make it through each day!

In a world of “keep-it-together-ness” I just want to say that you are not alone.  Because really, we all have stuff that overwhelms us from time to time. Because really, my “Keep-it-together-ness” is just a “keep- it-together-MESS”.  So, let’s work on this together. Let’s take our vulnerable, life-weary hearts to the Lord and ask Him to overwhelm us in the best of ways!

 So, this is real life! Toys on the floor, kids shoes, dog toys, teacher bag with ungraded papers...writing my blog in my grandma sweater...in the middle of my keep-it-together-MESS!

So, this is real life! Toys on the floor, kids shoes, dog toys, teacher bag with ungraded papers...writing my blog in my grandma sweater...in the middle of my keep-it-together-MESS!





New Life through Death: Beauty Comes Through Times of Brokenness

As a parent, there are just some things that you try to shield your children from. You try your hardest to balance the realities of life with the truths of heaven, covered by a veil of protection from the depths of the pain and suffering that this world has to offer. There are times when God allows that veil of protection to be torn away and the fullness of tragedy and the frailty of this life come billowing in. Throughout these past few weeks, that’s exactly what has happened. There was no escaping what God had planned. There was no protecting ourselves or our children from having a loved one suddenly and tragically taken from earth. With all our inadequacies, we were forced to try to explain the unexplainable.

I am no great theologian, but I do know this truth: God has always been super at being Sovereign. You see, the same God that spoke the world into creation, who said “Let there be light” and there was, who created you and I, who knows how many hairs we have on our heads, who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, who spoke about prophecies that we are watching come to fruition before our very eyes, is the same God who allowed this tragedy in our lives. Do I understand it? Not at all. Am I heartbroken? Completely. Do I doubt God or His goodness? No. Do I believe God has a plan and a purpose for all of this? Absolutely.

And so it was with hurting hearts but unshaken faith that we began to explain to our daughter, Grace, about the terrible wreck that took who she considered her “Uncle Pasha” away. She cried and cried. She asked questions. Then, in an unwavering voice she said, “Well, I know where Pasha is. He is in heaven cause I know he loved Jesus.”

Grace has been asking deep questions about Salvation, our need for grace, God, Jesus, Heaven, and Hell for about the last year. We have spent a great deal of time sharing with her about faith and what it means to “ask Jesus into your heart.” We went slowly. Our greatest fear was that she would make a decision to become a Christian just because she thought we wanted her to. Our greatest desire is for our children’s faith to be their own. So, patiently and ever so carefully we have shared about Jesus with Grace. Grace knew all the “answers” but we have been waiting for the day when Jesus would cause her head and her heart to collide in a way so that she had to, wanted to, couldn’t wait to ask Jesus to be her Savior because she needs Him.

I watched Grace watch others. As much as we tried, there was no way to fully protect her from the sorrow and grief we all were feeling. Grace watched. 

As I was tucking Grace into bed one of these seemingly endless nights, she began to recount all that she had noticed. She had noticed how devastated and hopeless some people were grieving and compared that to others who seemed to be grieving their loss, while clinging to hope.  “I guess that’s cause the ones who have hope know Jesus and they know that Pasha is in heaven and they will get to see him again. Right mom?”   “Yes, baby. That’s exactly right.” I could almost actually see her little brain at work, processing and taking it all in.

We arrived early the morning of the funeral. We were very busy trying to prepare everything and to make sure that the “Celebration of Pasha’s life” would be everything it should be. I was busy just trying to hold it all together.  I watched my little girl stare at the wooden box at the front of the sanctuary. “Momma, don’t these peopleknow that Pasha is not in there? He is in heaven!” “Yes baby, we know.” Then, without hesitation she said, “Momma, I am ready. I need to ask Jesus into my heart.” There was about ten minutes until the service started.

Looking back, I cringe at my response. Ten minutes. That’s all we had. I was an emotional basket case and was trying my hardest to remain composed as I was about to stand in front of a room full of people and address them all. I didn’t want to rush with Grace. I wanted to have time to visit with her and pray together. “I am so excited that you are ready, Grace! Why don’t we visit about it after the service? We will have time then.”

We sat in a room full of people, gathered together in Jesus’ name. Just as the bible promises, God’s presence filled the room as we praised God for who He is, who Pasha was in Him, and for others to experience new life in Christ. God’s word says that He is near to the broken hearted, and that is just what He did- He was near.  In that moment, all the brokenness of our hearts met with all the goodness of God and it was a beautiful service. As the pastor invited people to come forward to pray and to do business with God, I felt a little tap on my arm.  “Momma, I gotta go forward. I gotta ask Jesus into my heart right now!”  It was almost as if Grace was politely saying Hey Mom, Im going forward to ask Jesus into my heart. You can go with me or Im going by myself! There was urgency in her voice and excitement in her eyes. It was time.

There, on the front step of the sanctuary, our sweet Grace prayed the most beautiful prayer we had ever heard. It was a simple prayer, wrapped in the faith of a child and the grace of God.  Our Grace asked Jesus to forgive her of her sins and invited Him into her heart. We cried tears of joy as Grace smiled the biggest smile and she radiated joy.

I’ve not heard of too many people being saved at a funeral, but Grace was. I praise God for the gentle way He has pursued Grace over these few years. I am so thankful for God’s promises and truths that we have been able to share with our daughter. Most of all, I am so thankful that God would use the life and testimony of Pasha as the final catalyst for Grace’s salvation.  I am so thankful for Pasha, this boy that we loved as our own, and for the life he lived. I am thankful for the great love and example that he shared with our little girl.

Grace has a new birthday now. She began her new life in Christ on March 11, 2015. I can’t help but think that as Grace’s name was written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, and as all of heaven rejoiced in her decision, that our sweet Pasha was there celebrating as well. We praise God that He can use tragedy to bring about something triumphant and blessings from brokenness. 

I firmly believe that God is not done using the testimony of Pasha’s life for His glory. I firmly believe that as God continues to write Grace’s life story, He will use her for His glory as well. Our God is not a haphazard or careless God. God is super at being Sovereign. It is in Him that we rejoice. It is in His hands that we place our broken hearts. It is in the hope and grace of the cross that we have the power to press on. It is by the blood of Christ that we are saved…including our sweet Grace. Hallelujah!

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Celebrating Grace's spiritual birthday! We had cupcakes and wrote the date in her bible to celebrate her new life in Christ!

Love: It's Not What You Think It Is

Today is Valentine's Day. Today we will see a flood of pictures of oversized teddy bears, boxes of chocolates, kids wired from an overdose of red food dye, and beautifully lit dinner tables to be shared with that special someone. Today is a great day to celebrate love.

As we celebrate love, my heart cannot help but feel just a little heavy. Love. What a word. It's a word that holds so much meaning. It's a word that means so many things. Unfortunately, it is also a word that is becoming more and more overused and abused. The word "love" (in many cases) has become a careless word. This ought not be so.

As I work with this generation of teenagers, my heart breaks as I watch them search for this idea of "love" that the world tells them to embrace. It is a counterfeit kind of love. It is a cheap impersonation. It is a word built on fleeting emotion and not on truth. Little by little, I watch these students give themselves over to this careless version of "love". It is a kind of love that is conditional. It is a kind of love that takes. It is a kind of love that is fleeting. And I am watching this idea of "love" leave these students confused and empty.

But you see, it's not just our teenagers that have been fooled by this diluted version of love. The world as a whole has dressed "love" up in a glamorous suit, and has paraded it around as though it is something that can be put on and taken off, only used for opportune times, can be shared with whomever, and can be thrown away if another more glamorous opportunity comes along. No wonder our students are confused. No wonder more and more marriages are falling apart. No wonder society has become bored with this word called "love."

Friends, true love is not glamorous. It's just not. In fact, I would go so far as to say that true love is the complete opposite of glamorous. Love is hard. True love is sacrificial. True love perseveres. Love says "I see all of your flaws and I still choose to love you." Love is a choice. Love is the commitment to stick it out. Love is forgiving. Love is helping, caring for, and making time for someone else. Love is not cheap. In fact, love can be costly. Love demonstrates patience. Love means more than romance.  Love is not superficial. True love is unconditional.  Unconditional love looks past skin color, sexual orientation, religion, or political beliefs. True love offers peace. True love offers truth covered in love. True love does not turn its head to ignore. True love is messy. True love is complicated. True love is simple.

In my own life, true love has taken on so many different meanings. In my own life, true love means pursing my special needs son with my love even when he fights, hits, or pushes me away. True love is my husband telling me how beautiful I am even though I cannot feel the right side of my face and it now sometimes droops. True love is cleaning, cooking, wiping poop, waking early to lay out clothes, kissing boo boos, and making time.  Love is making sure that my little girl understands her value and worth. Love is building my family up.

Ultimately, love is more. It is so much more than the world portrays it to be. This canned version of "love" that our world promotes is quickly leading our hearts and minds astray.

As I have the wonderful privilege to teach in the classroom, to speak from stages and to share about the love of Jesus with others, I have noticed a dramatic shift in our culture. Many times there is a sense of awe when I share about the unconditional love of Jesus Christ. How amazing that Jesus Christ could love someone like me? A sinner. Broken. In need of saving. And He loves me!  And while most times, this is still a common response, I am noticing another growing response. Oh, Jesus loves me. That's cool, I guess. Though much of this has to do with a greater issue of the condition of someone's heart, I can't help but wonder if our world's watered down version of "love" has helped to create this nonchalant "whatever" attitude towards Christ's unconditional, sacrificial love.

Friends, I beg you to not let "love" become a casual, commonplace, or careless word. Romantic love should never be casual, commonplace, or careless.  True love should never be casual, commonplace, or careless. The love you have for your family or friends should never be casual, commonplace, or careless. Most of all, I hope that you realize that Christ's love for you is never casual, commonplace, or careless.

Christ's love for YOU took blood, torture, tears, and the weight of the world's sin. He saw into the very fabric of our hearts, he saw our imperfections, our darkest secrets, our deepest hurts, and He chose to sacrifice His life for us because He loves us. Christ demonstrated the ultimate example of love, and it was anything but glamorous or flippant.  He pursues us each and every day with His unconditional love.

I hope you have a wonderful Valentine's Day. I pray your heart is full. I hope you have a perfectly tender steak dinner with the one you love or receive one of those little red and pink stuffed animals that you will wonder what in the world do with come tomorrow.  But most of all, I pray that you would understand what love is. Love is not glamorous, but it is beautiful. It is beautiful because true love is deep enough to withstand all of the ugly, wonderful, messy, and complicated things that life throws our way. True Love is a beautiful thing.

"And I Pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord's holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge- that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God."

Ephesians 3:17-19

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I Stopped for a While

The last few months have been a whirlwind for our family. Such a whirlwind, in fact, that I was ever so slightly swept away by all that October, November, and December had to offer.  God called, we acted. As the Lord quickly opened one door after the other with an almost audible “go”, we obeyed.  It was not what we had planned, but knowing that His ways are higher than our ways, we trusted and found ourselves in a new town, with new jobs, new schools, a new home, and a new adventure.

You, my blog reading friends, have not heard from me in a while because at first, I was just so busy.  Then, you did not hear from me because I felt it necessary to not be so busy.  Every once in a while we must stop. That is exactly what I did.

Certainly, life continued. There were classes to be taught, bills to be paid, clothes to be washed, homework to be done, and many other daily tasks to be attended to.  But besides the most necessary things, I stopped.

I needed some time to not only pour into others, but to be poured into. I needed some time to make sure I wasn’t just writing about life without living in it. I didn’t want to just capture moments with a camera or with my pen, but I wanted to bask in each second of the day.  I made sure to listen to my daughter’s hour long, amazingly detailed stories with full attentiveness and to watch my son play with even deeper wonder and amazement at the complexity and beauty of his life. I took in the cuteness of little freckles, tiny toes, and silly giggles. I wanted to soak in the gift of the mundane.  I wanted to not miss a moment of the extraordinary.  I needed to be sure that time was taken to incorporate praises of thanksgiving for each and every blessing that the Lord has so graciously bestowed upon my life.

There are times, I believe, that we must stop to shake off the things that might possibly be clouding our view of the “life to the fullest” that God promises us in John 10:10. I have been reminded that a “life to the fullest” may not be full of accolades, great accomplishments, or highly “notable” moments according to the world’s standards. A “life to the fullest” is not one of superficial relationships, haphazard conversations, or rushed routines.  Instead, a “life to the fullest” is lived with intention. God says that He came so that we could “have life and have it to the fullest!” He didn't come for our lives to be full of “good things”, but of “God things”.  I want to shake off the things that keep me from developing a deeper faith. I want to shake off the things that destroy my hope.  Most of all, I want to be so filled by the Holy Spirit that I am a reflection of Christ’s unconditional and unfathomable love.

So, I have been busy shaking things off. I've been busy about making sure that I do not allow life to just happen to me. I have been busy about living in each moment and soaking up the abundance of blessings hidden in the routine, mundane, extraordinary and even the busy moments that are unique to my life. I am thankful for our whirlwind and now, I am thankful to have shaken some things off, and to refocus for the New Year... It's good to see you all again! 

 Ezra gave Grace kisses. She was so excited! He has allowed her to kiss him before, but this time he was the one looking for kisses!

Ezra gave Grace kisses. She was so excited! He has allowed her to kiss him before, but this time he was the one looking for kisses!

 Treasuring this beautiful girl and hours spent building her castle.

Treasuring this beautiful girl and hours spent building her castle.

 Ezra has "noticed" our puppy and loves to pet it. This is HUGE because he is learning to be "gentle" and have "soft hands." He does a great job!

Ezra has "noticed" our puppy and loves to pet it. This is HUGE because he is learning to be "gentle" and have "soft hands." He does a great job!

 Grace and Ezra have begun to play together more. They have little games and jokes between the two of them. It fills this momma's heart with joy!

Grace and Ezra have begun to play together more. They have little games and jokes between the two of them. It fills this momma's heart with joy!

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the fullest." John 10:10

Mommy Mondays

I would lace up the pink satin ribbons on my shoes, stand on the points of my toes, and gliding through the room, I could find happiness to the rhythm of a familiar tune.  In the midst of a chaotic life, I found order and grace. I wasn’t the very best dancer, but from the age of two years old through college, the dancing bar and stage were consistent fixtures in my life. Dancing was part of life, it was an outlet, and I loved it.

So, I bought the cute little ballerina bag with the toe shoes painted on the side of it, the tights, the leotard, and the shoes. I dressed my precious daughter in her dance clothes and fix her hair in a perfect ballerina bun. I couldn’t wait to share dance with her. I just knew she would fall in love. I pictured this being her “thing” with dance recitals and costumes for the next fifteen years at least.

She was good….really good. I was so proud of my precious ballerina. However, I began to notice that she grumbled a little each time we pulled up for practice. Her enthusiasm dwindled quickly. She didn’t like the itchy tights, the tight leotards, and much preferred to make up her own dance moves to her own music.  I recall a conversation where I said “Grace, you cannot quit, you made a commitment and we have to honor our commitments” to which she replied “But Momma, I don’t even know how to say that word!”

We finished out our dance year with a wonderful recital. Despite her excitement for the costumes and show, she sweetly declared “I do not think dancing is for me.” Fair enough. We had tried. We kissed dancing goodbye.

So, what next? We went through the list. Would you like to take piano lessons? Guitar lessons? What about a sport? Soccer? T-ball?

“Momma, if it’s ok, I think I would just like to be an ordinary kid. Can I come home from school and just be me?”

“Umm, yes, yes I think that would be just fine.”    …Ouch!

You see, I was trying to find something that would be just for Grace.  Our home is a revolving door of therapists and help for our son. Much time and attention is devoted to his care.  As the parent of a special needs child, it is a struggle to balance equal time and attention between a child that requires “more” and a “neurotypical” child. I wanted to make sure that Grace had an opportunity to have fun and to have a special time of her own.

I had to check myself. First, I never want to mistake activity for quality time. Second, I never want to allow myself to be pushed into the world’s mold of constant motion.  Although extracurricular activities can present wonderful opportunities for kids, there is no “parent code” that declares you a bad parent if your child does not participate in a bazillion (or even one) extracurricular activities. My sweet daughter had reminded me of the value of slowing down and to “just be.”

I did however, want to make sure that I reserved some time aside just for Grace. My solution: Mommy Mondays!  In place of a “thing”, class, or skill, I have made Grace my “thing” every Monday afternoon. It’s nothing spectacular, but its special time set aside for just the two of us to share some ice cream, talk about the day, or play together uninterrupted. I have tried to be intentional during this time about reaffirming to her who she is in Christ. This time has become so special and I am so thankful Grace chose to “just be” this school year.

I want both of my children to feel celebrated for exactly who God created them to be. Too many times parents place their child’s future within the confines of worldly expectations, based on parental interests (I was a football superstar and you will be too. Or I loved dance and so you should too), and influenced by social advancement.

I have struggled from time to time in “letting go” of my son’s future. Because he has Autism, I have no idea what the future holds for him. I have had to look reality head on with the understanding that he may live with us forever, he may or may not hold a job, he may or may not ever get married or even be able to speak in complete sentences. I pray for a breakthrough. I pray for the bondage of Autism to be broken.  At the same time, I celebrate who he is, just the way he is. I cannot make comparisons but rather embrace his precious personality and rejoice in even the smallest of his accomplishments. Having a special needs child has allowed me to understand the importance of celebrating a child’s individuality.

Who knows what Grace may choose to become, how her interests may change over time, or what she will want to do with her time in years to come. For now, my sweet girl wants to “just be” with her mommy. I am thankful. We will celebrate this season.

Grace may never grace the stage with pink point shoes and a sparkling tutu, and that’s just fine. But we will dance together through this journey called life. We will celebrate every accomplishment, find joy in the good, pray through the tough, and “just be” so as not to get lost in the every-day-hustle of life’s demands.




When Little Things Were Big

There was a time when little things were big. The little moments that captured my heart could be found in a beautifully painted sky, the worn pages of book, or a little head resting on my shoulder. I could render time to stand still so as to capture every last drop of a precious moment.  Sometimes it was the smallest, precious moment that held more value than anything of grand proportions. I looked for these small treasures and gratefully stored them in my heart.

The Lord does not stop pouring out these little moments upon our lives. On the contrary, our days are scattered with little blessings and treasures to be noticed. If we are not careful, however, we will train our eyes and our hearts to only notice the big and to forsake the unmistakable fingerprints of God on the seemingly small blessings in life.

I have danced a dangerous dance. I have found myself pulled in every direction. Unrealistic demands, unhealthy friendships, endless to do lists, and impractical expectations clouded my already-crazy life.  Life’s circumstances seemed enormous.  Life had become a balancing act and I was striving each day just to keep up. My mouth would betray my heart by saying “Yes” to every opportunity to help or do until I had more “to do” than there are hours in a day.

Slowly, over time, I had allowed myself to be swept away by all of the “big things” in life. I allowed myself to pause only briefly to enjoy the small treasures that used to fill my life with warmth and gratefulness.  

Many times, we allow the big things in life to become so big that the little things stay little. My heart has cried “no more!”  Oh, that I might notice the blessings in the smallest of moments. I want to be aware of each second so as to not miss the blessings of the moment, for looking towards the next. I will praise the Lord for the little hand holding mine, the opportunity to kiss a boo boo, the friendly “hello”, the door held, the verse read, the sunset, and the clean smelling sheets. I will notice the burdened friend, the chance to offer encouragement, and the little eyes that watch my every movement.

My prayer is for the little things to become big again. It’s a gift I had not completely forgotten but am so hungry for more of.  Maybe you find yourself lost in the “big” as well? Let’s do this together. Sometimes this requires cutting strings, forming boundaries, or breaking free from the unhealthy. Let’s be brave. I completely believe the Lord delights in sprinkling our lives with tiny glimpses of heaven. We need only be aware.  Let’s allow the little blessings in life to become our banners of praise in the midst of our everyday lives. 

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ." Ephesians 1:3

"Is It Ok To Ask God To Heal My Brother?"

Our morning began just like every other morning. There was not enough coffee drank, mismatched socks, lunch kits hurriedly packed, hugs and kisses, and the Frozen soundtrack belted out at the top of our lungs as we drove to school this Wednesday morning.

The pause between two songs brought an opportunity for my six year old daughter, Grace, to speak up. “Hey Momma,” she said almost questioningly (I turned off the music). “I want to ask you something but I don’t know if it’s ok to ask. It’s about Ezra.”  

Ezra is my precious four year old son, who has autism. All at once a rush of thoughts overwhelmed my heart. Grace knows she can always ask anything. I want to make sure she knows that she can especially always ask us about her brother. She needs to ask questions. Questions are good….I wondered what she was going to say.

“Grace, you can always ask us anything, especially about Ezra.” There was a long pause for thought as my daughter collected herself and breathed a heavy sigh.

“Is it ok to ask God to heal my ‘Ezra Brother’?” She continued, “Cause I’m beginning to think that he has a disease. I don’t think he understands us and I don’t always understand him, but I want to and I want him to too.”

Such heavy thoughts for such a little girl. My heart instantly began to ache. She had obviously wrestled with this question for some time. Her words streamed from her lips as though they had been stored up under pressure and now there was no holding back.

“Yes, you can ask God to heal Ezra. You can ask Him because He can do it. He is able to heal Ezra. But Grace, God may choose not to heal him and that’s ok too. We trust God. Grace, I want you to know that God does not ever make mistakes. I believe God knew that you would be the perfect big sister for Ezra. You have such a huge heart, you are so loving, and you help take such good care of ‘Ezra Brother’. You and Ezra are both perfect just the way God made you. We will love Ezra no matter what.”

 “Yes, I will love him no matter what too! But I just had to make sure that it’s ok to ask God for that,” she said very matter-of-factly.

“God wants you to come to Him with your questions, Grace. It’s ok to ask. I do think we should be careful how we talk about it in front of Ezra though. He does understand us sometimes; probably more than we realize. I don’t want Ezra to ever think that he isn't wonderful exactly the way he is.” We were pulling up to the school building.

“Yep! I agree! Dear God, please heal my ‘Ezra Brother’ and make him all better. I want him to understand me and I want to understand him too. I don’t like to see him struggle. I want him to know I love him. Amen.”  She seemed completely satisfied and relieved, like a heavy load had been lifted from her. She gathered up her things, gave me a kiss, and hopped out of the car as though we had been just chatting about ice cream.

I watched my happy-go-lucky girl bounce down the breezeway and into the school building…and then I let it go. I sobbed the deep sobs of a broken momma’s heart.  I sobbed the kind of sobs that leave one feeling depleted of any kind of energy. My heart was heavy for my daughter, for my son, and for this thing called Autism. Did I say everything that should have been said? There is no manual for these types of questions and I am certainly no expert in such matters. Such heavy thoughts for such a little girl.

Friends, let me tell you something. When sadness tries to grip our hearts, we have two choices. We can either allow sorrow to overwhelm our souls, or we can fight for faith from our Heavenly Father.

I knew what I needed. I needed Jesus. I needed Jesus and a Pumpkin Spice Latte (just being honest people).  So, I sat sipping my latte and had a good long visit with my Jesus.

Instant peace. The Lord so graciously brought to my attention all of the beauties from my seemingly overwhelming morning.

Faith. My daughter had demonstrated mature faith this morning. She wasn't asking me if God could heal her “Ezra Brother”, she just wanted to make sure it was ok to ask.  What a great reminder for me as well. I know that God is able, but sometimes I just forget to ask.

Hope. My daughter’s hope was not crushed. Do you know why? Because we serve the God of the universe who truly Is Able to heal. I didn't have to lie or offer up some cliché to cover up hopelessness. I was able to share truth with her. The truth is that God is all powerful, all mighty, healer, and He is in control. The truth is that He wants us to bring our hurts, requests, joys, and sorrows to Him because he loves us. The truth is that God’s plan is perfect. The truth is God does not make mistakes. I can boldly share hope with my daughter about her “Ezra Brother” because my God is good.

Love. The love that my daughter has for her special needs brother runs deep. It runs deeper than words, deeper than actions, and deeper than any diagnosis. She pursues Ezra will her love. She loves him enough to bring his name to the feet of Jesus and to ask for healing. She loves Ezra no matter what.

After finishing every last drop of my latte, removing the black smudges of mascara from my face, and trying to make myself look human again, I went about my day. As I thought more and more about our Wednesday morning conversation I became more and more thankful for it. I pray that seeds of faith were planted deep in Grace’s heart. I praise God for such precious children. I praise God that because of who He is, I can speak truth. I am thankful.

 It was "Western Day" at school last week. Ezra was not too sure about his pearl snap shirt, boots, or the camera! Grace tried to cheer him up!

It was "Western Day" at school last week. Ezra was not too sure about his pearl snap shirt, boots, or the camera! Grace tried to cheer him up!

Thank You Lord For Ice Cream!

Ice cream. It’s the All American Dessert, right? What kid doesn’t learn at an early age about the beauty of a cold, dripping ice cream cone?  …that would be my child.

If you remember correctly, about half a year ago (at the age of four), my sweet, sensory overloaded, autistic son learned that he likes ice cream. Though he was reluctant to eat the cold, creamy substance, its yummy sweetness won and Ezra began to enjoy ice cream. He had been completely terrified to eat anything cold, drippy, or sticky so this was a great achievement. We were so excited! Such a simple task. Something that most kids master at an early age.  Such a huge obstacle for him to overcome!

The beauty of the way Ezra’s mind works is that once he loves something, he is ALL IN. If Ezra is not interested in something, you will have very little chance of getting him to engage.  Because Ezra loves trains, his world very much revolves around trains. He plays with trains, he is motivated by trains, and his vocabulary revolves around trains. He says “Thomas, Percy, James, and Gordon” much more often than I hear him say “Momma.”

Well, guess what? Ezra now loves ice cream. And he is ALL IN.  Therefore we capitalize on this love to help further develop his vocabulary. I just could not wait to share this video with you! My precious boy, not just eating ice cream, but now saying “Ice cream cone! Swwweeet! Mmmmm!”  Music to my ears! Thank you Lord for Ice Cream!

Making the Most of Mud Puddles

It’s summertime and everywhere you look there are people talking about, posting pictures about, and planning their family’s summer activities. My husband and I recently had a conversation where we committed ourselves to not just letting the summer days slip by, but to be intentional about “making memories” with our children during this time. Make no mistake; I said “making memories” not “spending lots of money.” So, we did what every great set of parents do who are on a shoestring budget for summer…we bought a kiddie pool.

We set the red and blue fish-themed pool up in our backyard and ran the water in it. We even went “all out” and bought a tarp to put down underneath the pool so our children would have a place to step when getting in and out of their water wonderland of fun. Oh yes, memories are going to be made here! We had the kids dressed in their bathing suites and turned them loose! Both kids lit up with excitement as their eyes beheld their new “making memories” pool. Summer had officially begun!

I began to notice something about Ezra. Although my sweet boy (who loves the water) had a great time splashing and playing in his little pool, he started dumping buckets of water outside of the pool. He was very busy. Instead of giving into the “Corrective Momma” side of myself, I watched. I watched as he worked very hard. It didn’t seem as though he was carelessly throwing water out of the pool, he obviously had a mission to complete…I wanted to know what it was! Finally, Ezra set his water bucket aside, climbed out of the pool, and huddled himself into a perfect little mud hole. He was so proud of himself! He grinned from ear to ear as he sat hunched over in the mud puddle he had worked so hard to create. Periodically throughout our playtime he would jump in the “making memories” kiddie pool we had bought, but most of the time he preferred his very own, Ezra made, very full mud puddle.

That’s when it happened. He came and got me and led me right to his very special, very large mud puddle. Now, for those of you who have never met me personally, I am not exactly a let’s-go-sit-in-mud kind of girl. But can I tell you something? When your four year old, Autistic son says “Come!” and leads you to a mud puddle, and when he pulls your arm down towards the mud puddle, and when he plops himself down in that mud puddle and looks back up at you with big please-come-sit-with-me eyes…YOU ARE GOING TO SIT IN THE MUD PUDDLE!

So, I sat in Ezra’s mud puddle. A look of complete delight filled my son’s face. It was as if he was saying “Yes Mom, you get me! This was exactly what I was wanting. I wanted to share my puddle with you! Isn’t it great?!” He sat down in my lap and gave me great big kisses…while we sat in the big ‘ol mud puddle, beside the “making memories” pool.

As I sat in the mud puddle (Ezra kept me there for quite a while), the Lord laid something on my heart as He often does through everyday life circumstances. Here we were, sitting in mud, next to a pool of clean water. It only makes sense that the desirable place to be would be in the pool where the water is clean, and clear, and where you can see all the little creepy crawler things that crawl around outside (amen?)! …But the blessing was in the mud puddle. There in the mud puddle was “connection” between me and my mostly non-verbal son. There in the mud puddle were hugs and kisses that I would have otherwise missed out on. There in the mud puddle I sat never having been so thankful to be covered in mud in all my life.  It wasn’t comfortable for me. I didn’t like the mud. I HATE bugs…and you know they had to have been swimming in that puddle somewhere with me. Sitting in the puddle did not seem to make the most sense…But the blessing was in the mud puddle.

Can I tell you that there are some other “mud puddles” in my life right now? They are situations or circumstances that are just not comfortable. I don’t like some of these circumstances that I find myself in.  Some of the “mud puddles” in my life feel very threatening. Some of the “mud puddles” look like they could possibly be giant sink holes. Many “mud puddles” in life do not seem to make sense.  But what if there are blessings in the “mud puddles” of life?

I do not want to miss out on all that the Lord has in store for me and what He wants to accomplish in and through me, all because I am too focused on the “mud puddles” around me. I do not want to miss out on the blessings that the “mud puddles” hold.  What if the purpose of the “mud puddle” is to share my faith with a doctor or radiologist? What if the purpose of the “mud puddle” is to reach out to someone I otherwise may not have spoken to? What if the purpose of the “mud puddle” is to teach me to depend completely on the Lord to supply our family’s needs?

Certainly, there is joy to be had and thanksgiving to be given when life is clear and much less muddy. My prayer for you and for me is to be encouraged to find the blessings in the midst of the “mud puddles”; when life is a little less…clear.

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. "                James 1:2-4

 Grace and Ezra in their "making memories" kiddie pool. I would love to have taken a picture of Ezra in his mud puddle for you all, but every time I got near the puddle he would pull me back down into it!

Grace and Ezra in their "making memories" kiddie pool. I would love to have taken a picture of Ezra in his mud puddle for you all, but every time I got near the puddle he would pull me back down into it!

Little Victories are Never Little

Our family loves Mexican food. LOVES IT. Like, probably in unhealthy proportions. Interestingly enough, one of the very few restaurants that Ezra will “allow” us to go to is a Mexican food restaurant. Of course, Ezra brings his toy trains along for our fine dining experience and will keep them lined up perfectly during our meal! 

We have been working very hard with Ezra to teach him to feed himself. It has not been easy and we still have a lot of work ahead of us…but we have come so far! We took this video of Ezra last week. Notice that he is not only feeding himself tortillas, but he is dipping them in guacamole dip! He doesn't like to get his fingers messy, so every time he does you will see that he wipes his fingers on either his shirt or in his hair...a mess I am more than happy to clean up later if it means that he is learning to eat independently!

Little victories are never little! We thought we would celebrate this BIG “little victory” with you all. Go Ezra Go!

Snapshots

Let’s do some real life together today, shall we? My family’s reality probably looks a little different than most. That’s because we have a precious little boy who has Autism. Today I am sharing some real life pictures that help to explain some of our day-to-day “normal”.  Our Ezra is an amazing little boy! He is my “little puzzle” and each day I have the wonderful opportunity to learn from him and learn more about him

Ezra barefoot trains.jpeg

Ezra’s “thing” is trains. It is very common for a child with Autism to become attached to a particular character or interest. Ezra loves to line his trains up. He always puts them in a particular order, has to have them lined up perfectly, and will literally spend hours reconfiguring their order and placement. Also notice the bare feet! Ezra has Sensory Integration Disorder and struggles to keep shoes or socks on for very long-they are too constricting. Have you ever seen a mom with a barefoot child in cold weather and mentally judged her for not properly covering her child’s feet? Have you ever stopped to think that there may be a reason that she just absolutely cannot keep shoes and socks on his/her feet?

Ezra in tub.jpeg

Ezra spends a lot of time sitting in the bathtub…without water…with his clothes on. There is something about the tight space and tall walls that calms him. When Ezra becomes overwhelmed, many times he will take himself to go sit in the bathtub. He doesn’t generally take toys with him. He just sits. And the simplicity of the solid color walls and closed in space soothes his sensory overloaded mind!

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Ezra likes to study objects from very different angles. This is a form of “stimming”. Stimming is one of the symptoms of Autism. It is a repetitive body movement that self-stimulates one or more senses in a regulated manner. 

Ezra on bike.jpeg

Ezra can ride a bike too! With the help of Ezra’s AmTryke, Ezra gets to ride his bike along with his big sister. There are special straps that help to secure him in his seat and straps that keep his feet from slipping off of the pedals. There are also special straps that hold his hands on the handle bars but he is just not ready for that yet…and he is not yet willing to let go of the trains in his hand! The AmTryke has a bar that extends from the back so that we can push him. We have faith that one day Ezra will be able to ride a bike all on his own!

Ezra in mud.jpeg

Ezra loves to play in water…even muddy water! We encourage this sort of sensory input, especially because for so long he was absolutely terrified to get any dirt on him. To some, this is just a cute picture of a kid in a mud puddle, but to us, this is a victory!

Ezra in bed.jpeg

This is Ezra’s very special bed. It zips up completely and the zipper is on the outside. This is for his safety. Ezra is unable to sleep in an open, standard bed. When put in a “regular” bed, he jumps all night and is unable to bring himself to go to sleep. Ezra also tries to elope. (Both insomnia and elopement are typical with many children who are “on the spectrum”) Ezra finds comfort in his cozy bed and will often times “request” to be zipped in so he can calm down and give himself rest. 

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I love this picture. Besides the fact that it is just sweet, this picture represents Connection. It is often times hard for Ezra to make eye contact, let alone to allow someone into “his world”.  We captured this precious moment this last week. The key to making a connection with Ezra is to make yourself available. We usually are most able to make a connection with Ezra when we lay on the floor. Then, he will usually come and sit near us. Connection is not something you can force. Connection happens by patiently pursuing and by waiting for Ezra to invite you “in”.

I am no Autism expert, but I have learned that the key to life “on the spectrum” is letting go of “normal” and embracing the unexpected, sometimes crazy, very special life that the Lord has blessed us with. These little snapshots of our life give just a glimpse into our every-day “normal”. 

I Asked For Help

I have struggled through this blog post. Seriously. Every. Single. Word. That’s because this particular blog post has caused me to be very vulnerable, very transparent. What’s wrong with vulnerability or transparency? Absolutely nothing.  In fact, I consider myself a pretty transparent person. I strive to live with authenticity as much as I can. I certainly don’t shy away from opening up about things and sharing my story…or so I thought.

I thought I didn't mind sharing until it came to this. This one thing that, until the last few weeks, I didn't realize was such a struggle for me. It would be very easy for me to tuck “this thing” away, keep it to myself, and not share it will all of you. But that wouldn't be holding true to the very purpose of my blog which is to offer encouragement to parents who are living with children “on the spectrum”, but also to offer understanding and insight into the life of a special needs family- the good, the bad, and the ugly. So, I have decided to share…

I did it. I asked for help.

 Just so you know, I do not struggle with asking for help in most areas of my life. If I have a question at work, I will ask it. If I need help on a project, I will ask for help. If I have a problem with my car, I am certainly not about to touch it. It has never been a goal of mine to portray myself as “Miss Independent”. I have no problem asking for help!

…except when it comes to taking care of my home and my family. To me, this is one area that I should be able to excel in without someone’s help. It is my honor and privilege to take care of these things. In fact, I love it! I love cooking, cleaning, ironing, and folding laundry. There is something about seeing fresh lines in the carpet from the vacuum cleaner that makes my heart happy. I love being home when my children are out of school. It fills my heart with joy to snuggle up with my two kiddos to read a good book or to play a game. But the fact of the matter is, it is really hard to do all this as a parent of a special needs child.

I hope by now (if you have read my previous blog posts) that you have no doubt how much I absolutely love my precious little boy (who has Autism). I consider him one of my most precious blessings. I also consider it such an honor that the Lord would entrust such a special child to me! Having a child with Autism has given us a whole new perspective on life, love, and what matters most.

That does not mean that it is not hard.

In our particular case, being the parent of a special needs child means that as soon as I try to make tea for dinner, my little boy is trying to pull the boiling water of the stove. It means that I cannot turn my head for very long for fear that he might try to escape out the door. It means that there are fewer home cooked meals and lots more fast food meals because we have to ride in the car to calm him down.  It means many sleepless nights. It means that while trying to accomplish even the smallest of tasks, my precious child is throwing his toy trains at the walls, the windows, the TV, and at his sister. It means occasional aggression, frustration, and anger spewing forth from a little four year old boy. It demands monthly paperwork and logs enough to be considered a full time job. It means that by the time my little ones are asleep in bed, I don’t have the energy left to accomplish all the many things that need to be taken care of.

It’s not all the time. But generally, if I am occupied with anything other than him, he begins to fall apart. Because he does not have the language to express himself with words, he tells me with his body that he just does not know what to do with himself.

Because both of my children are so very precious to me and out of obvious necessity, I chose them first.

So, the dishes had begun to stack up. The floor sometimes looked like a treasure hunt. There came days that my entire family was going to have to go our various ways naked, stay home-naked, or wear three-day-already-worn clothes. There were a lot of unwritten blogs. Chili Frito Pies became a delicacy in our household. Once evening came, I could hardly keep my eyes open.  I am supposed to be able to manage all this! I am supposed to be able to control my child’s behavior. This is my number one job! Why do I feel as though I am doing nothing well? The one thing that I had taken so much pride in doing, I realized I wasn't able to do. I had to ask for help. I had to let go of some pride-something I thought I never really had an issue with.

Here is something else you should know about us special needs parents:  #1 We trust very few people with our children.  #2 There are few who we would feel comfortable with having come into our home on a consistent basis. This is not an issue you can push. It is what it is. We are protective of our little ones and protective of our not-so-ordinary lives.

I prayed and prayed for the Lord to provide just the right person. I knew it would have to be a person who understood the situation, who understood Ezra, and who had a very big heart. The Lord provided.  A very dear friend of ours agreed to be my “helping hands”. She has come in and helped me with laundry. She has helped with the dishes and with cleaning. She has been my second set of hands during the kids bath time (this activity always requires two adults). She played with my little girl so she would not have to play by herself during her little brother’s in-home therapy session.

The first time I walked in to a clean house and an unloaded dishwasher, my eyes welled up with tears. You may think I’m trying to embellish this story, but I’m not. The time I was able to have help bathing my kiddos, our family was able to spend extra time in the evening playing together. In the last week, I have been able to bring my children home from school and just play with them and give them the attention they need without the heaviness of wondering how on earth I was going to have all the other things done that needed to be done for my home to function properly. There has been less chaos and more order.

 Yes, it was very hard for me to get to the place of having to ask for help. Yes, I have been a bit embarrassed to admit that I can’t do it all.  But I am now realizing that it just might be an ok thing, healthy even. I find it almost liberating.

Believe me, there are still many things this special needs mom has to take care of, but what a blessing it is to have someone help to lighten my load. I praise the Lord for my sweet friend and her “helping hands”. I am truly thankful that the Lord continues to use this Autism journey to mold me and refine me…even when it’s not easy and sometimes requires me to let go of some things, such as pride.

If you know a family that has a special needs child, pray about how you might be able to minister to them. Don’t expect a thank you card-they are deeply grateful, they just don’t have an extra second to sit down and write a complete sentence. Even the smallest gesture is a big deal. A word of encouragement, a trip to the grocery store for them, or a cooked meal can make such a huge difference in the life of a special needs family. Just be there for them. Let them know that it’s ok to ask for help!

 

 Playing in the backyard: Ezra loves the sound of the wagon crunching the leaves underneath! Grace loves blowing bubbles for her baby brother! ..note her very unique sense of style! 

Playing in the backyard: Ezra loves the sound of the wagon crunching the leaves underneath! Grace loves blowing bubbles for her baby brother! ..note her very unique sense of style! 

The Lights are Off, but Everyone's Home

The lights are off in our home more and more lately and it’s not because we are trying to save on our electric bill (though that would be nice). It seems that just about the time we have struggled through a particular behavior with our sweet boy, his Autism begins to manifest itself in some other new way. In the last two weeks, our son has begun a new set of behaviors that are taking some getting used to…and are keeping us in the dark.

Ezra used to walk through the house making sure that every light switch was turned on. Darkness seemed to frighten him. Our entire home would be lit up whether there was one person home, or an entire house full of people. So, I found it peculiar when one afternoon I realized that the lights in our house had not been turned on. I wandered back to Ezra’s room where he had been playing with his trains to find my sweet boy curled up in a tight little ball, in the darkest corner of his room, with his hands over his ears, eyes shut tight, and he was rocking back and forth. I panicked. He had never done this before. I just knew that he must have gotten hurt or something must be very wrong. So, as any good momma would, I got down on the floor with him and tried to comfort him. Ezra did not want comfort. Ezra did not want to be touched. And he made that very clear. I sort of staggered back down the hallway with an aimless walk…what was I to do? So, I just waited for my little boy to come out of his protective little ball. Two hours later he came out and it seemed he had recovered from whatever “it” was that had bothered him so.

Ezra used to show that he was overstimulated or on “sensory overload” by spitting, throwing, screaming, or aggression. He still does these things but as the days have gone on, his new behavior of sitting in dark corners, in a tight ball, with his hands over his ears have increased. This may seem strange, but I have found myself thinking – I liked it better when he would just spit. Or I wish he would just throw something instead. Why on earth would I think this? There just seems to be something so defeating about a little four-year old boy seeking out the darkest corner so he can shut the world away – his momma included. At least with his previous behaviors there was contact. Too much contact? Yes. Were the previous behaviors frustrating and destructive? Yes. But I was able to be hands-on in helping him to calm himself and overcome. Now, I am finding myself fumble through the house like an awkward teenager who doesn’t know what to do with their self. I want to help and comfort and my son is very clearly letting me know that he best way to do that, is to back off.

Then, one day last week, it took two full hours after Ezra had gotten off of the bus before I saw his face. He kept his face buried in his little hands and was softly whimpering. I took him home where he positioned himself in a corner of the kitchen until he was ready to “come out” of his hiding. Once he was done, the day went on as usual. He obviously just needed that time.

The next morning is what tipped me over the edge. As our usual routine goes, I woke him up, got him dressed for school, and we were walking hand-in-hand out of his room to go eat some breakfast. Ezra stopped at his door way, he released my hand, reached up and turned off his bedroom light, and looked me straight in the eyes as he closed his bedroom door…shutting himself in, and me out.

I did not know what to do with myself. I stood staring at the closed door for quite a while. I listened. I waited. Finally, when I couldn’t stand it any longer, I cracked the door open just enough to get a peek. Ezra had crawled back up on his bed and was sitting in a tight ball, eyes closed, hands over his ears, and he was rocking. I closed the door. As much as I wanted to go into his room and try to hold him and help calm him, I knew I had to respect the fact that he had very clearly sent me a message that he needed some alone time. About thirty minutes later, he came out and was ready to take on the day.

I was so sad. To me, this new behavior was so dis-heartening. I had to talk to someone…I called one of the many special people who work with Ezra on a consistent basis. I needed to know what to do. I did not get the response I thought I would.

This is a “good thing”. Yes, we talked about Ezra for a long time, but the main “take away” for me was that Ezra’s new behavior is actually his new coping mechanism. Ezra has found something that works for him! He discovered it on his own and it’s a way that he can cope with all of the sensory input that tends to overwhelm him. It is not destructive. It is not harmful. In a way, this is a victory.

Perspective. That was exactly what I needed.

So, if you happen to venture our way, and you see that the lights are off…it doesn’t necessarily mean that nobody’s home. It is very likely that my sweet little man is working. He is working to overcome, working to cope, working so that he can bring himself out of his hiding place to enjoy the rest of his day.

It’s different. It’s new. It will take some getting used to. But I am beginning to appreciate the darkness. The darkness offers him comfort right now. It’s a comfort that I cannot offer. It’s a step of independence. Even though the Momma in me wants to hold on tightly, I am so proud of Ezra for finding a way to independently sooth himself.

I have no idea if this will be his forever coping mechanism or if it will change again. For now, the lights are off, but everyone’s home!

 Some rocking chair therapy with Dad! I am so thankful for moments like this!

Some rocking chair therapy with Dad! I am so thankful for moments like this!






One of Those Days

This last Sunday, Ezra struggled. It was as if he was on fire in his own skin. There was little we could do that offered him comfort or calmed him. I have no idea what caused him to have such a hard day. It could have been a number of things…change in the weather, maybe he didn't sleep well the night before, maybe there was a noise that set him off, it’s possible that the tag in his shirt could have been bothering him, the list could go on and on. Many times we are left with no explanation for why he has had a good day or a bad day. Last Sunday was just “one of those days”.

After a full day of spitting, crying, throwing, hitting walls, and writhing on the floor, Ezra ended his day by getting a hold of my dinner glass and throwing it onto the ground where it broken into pieces. I honestly don’t even know if he realized what he had done. I’m not sure that he even noticed me when I corrected his behavior. He seemed as though he was in another world; completely detached from the reality of things around him.

His daddy very tenderly picked him up from his highchair and carried him to his room. He helped Ezra into his pajamas and laid him in bed. Jake laid with Ezra, prayed over him and told him how much he loved him as Ezra continued in his detached-from-reality struggle. And then, Jake zipped Ezra’s bed close and shut the bedroom door behind him. (Ezra sleeps in a special bed designed for children with Autism) Ezra was asleep within minutes. He was a tired little man.

As Jake came back out to the kitchen, I was quietly cleaning up the little shards of glass that covered the kitchen floor as I listened to Grace (my daughter) chatter on about a story from school. The glass went into the trashcan, we put Grace to bed, and we set down on our couch to finally catch a deep breath after a very long day. This is just a part of our everyday life. Not every day is this hard. This past Sunday was just “one of those days”.

Have you ever had “one of those days”?  I’m sure you have. Maybe your “one of those days” doesn't look quite like mine, but we all have days that are hard. For me, it’s what I do about “one of those days” that makes all the difference.

Let me explain. I have learned that you can have “one of those days” that causes you to not want to get out of bed to face another day. Sometimes the struggle of a situation can cause you to want to shut the world away. A common tendency is to instantly begin building walls of protection around ourselves when we have “one of those days”. Throw in a disgruntled attitude with a dash of sadness and maybe even a pinch of self-pity and you get a recipe of allowing yourself to sink deeper and deeper into the gloom of “one of those days.” It is easy for me to do this. Maybe it’s easy for you to?

Here’s the deal. Life is hard. It just is. When we depend on our own strength and resources to survive “one of those days”, we walk away with a little piece of sadness and exhaustion each time. If we continue to depend on our own strength for “one of those days” it is possible to find ourselves in a self-made pit of despair. I can’t go there. I don’t want to go there.

So, what if having “one of those days” meant that it was an opportunity to depend on the Lord more? He is able, friends. What if having “one of those days” meant that I would be in constant communication with the Lord, presenting my requests to Him (Philippians 4:6) and asking for His wisdom (James 1:5)? What if having “one of those days” meant that I ask Him for His peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7)? What if all the trails and hardships of having “one of those days” brought me closer to the feet of Jesus? There is peace there. There is rest there.

When my sweet baby boy is writhing on the floor as if in pain, it is the Lord that I cry out to. When Ezra is in a disconnected struggle that I cannot help him to break free from, it is the Lord that offers me peace. When things just seem to be falling apart, when the check book just doesn't add up, when there is sickness, when there is sadness, when I am having “one of those days”, I no longer lean on my own strength. I do not have what it takes. That friends, is because the Lord designed each one of us with a need in our lives that only He can fill.

I hope you are having a great day today. But if you seem to be having “one of those days”, may it become “one of those days” that you run to Jesus. May it be an opportunity to grow in your faith, depend on Him more, and may He shower you with his peace and His grace. He loves you. He longs for us, His children, to run to Him when we are having “one of those days.”

“I love the Lord, for he heard my voice; he heard my cry for mercy. Because he turned his ear to me, I will call on him as long as I live.”   Psalm 116:1-2

One Hour and Fifteen Minutes

I don’t even care that today’s blog picture gives everyone a front row view of my double chin and big ol nostrils… Check out who’s sleeping in his momma’s arms! That’s right, it’s Ezra!

This past Monday, time stood still for one hour and fifteen minutes. For one hour and fifteen minutes, I barely breathed for fear of waking my baby and losing this precious moment that we had not shared in such a very long time. For one hour and fifteen minutes, I held my sleeping boy in my arms and prayed over him as I felt his little body slowly breathe in and out. He was relaxed, he had such a peaceful look on his face, he was comfortable, and he was in my arms. I cannot recall the last time my sweet boy fell asleep in my arms- it has been several years. Until this moment, I had not realized how hungry I was for this special kind of momma and baby connection with my little man.

Most children with Autism do not like to be touched and most do not like to snuggle. We are very blessed by the fact that our Ezra is a very affectionate little boy. Despite his Autism and Sensory Disorder, Ezra will give kisses and hugs to those he is very close to. Ezra likes to be tickled and he loves to share the rocking chair at home with his big sister. However, Ezra’s affections are always on his terms. If he is struggling on a particular day, he may or may not even acknowledge me let alone give me loves. The key is to always make yourself available and to wait patiently for him to come to you. This can be very hard as a parent. Often times my attempts to snuggle are met with him spitting in my face, screaming, ignoring, or pushing away. There is nothing more heartbreaking than feeling your child’s little hands pushing you away from them when you want so badly to be able to offer comfort and love.

 So, you learn to wait. You learn to wait and when your child comes to you, everything else gets put on hold. Suddenly, the task at hand is trivial in the light of whatever breakthrough occurred for your child to pursue you. You soak it up. You store this precious moment in your memory and hold on to it tightly, because you don’t know how long it might be until a moment like this will happen again.

That’s how I felt this past Monday. If you have read my blog post Talk About Us Behind Our Backs, then you know that Monday is the hardest day out of our week. Every Monday afternoon Ezra and I wait while Grace is at dance.  This past Monday, as we pulled up to the dance studio, I could tell that sitting in a waiting room for any length of time was not going to be successful. Ezra was tired and he was letting me know about it. So, we walked Grace in to dance and went back to the car. I set Ezra in my lap, turned on some light music, and said a prayer because I just knew that this was going to be a rough hour and fifteen minutes. As the music played, my sweet boy grew calm and still as he laid his head against my chest. Within a matter of minutes, he was snuggled into me and was in a deep sleep.

I’m not going to lie, I cried. I sat there in amazement as I thanked the Lord over and over for such a sweet moment. I had had a long day. I was weary. It was as if the Lord knew exactly what I needed. I was able to kiss the top of Ezra’s sweet little head and hold him tight for one hour and fifteen minutes! What a special moment! What a blessing! The Lord knows the deepest desires of our hearts. I am so thankful.

…and yes, I just HAD to capture the moment by taking a picture with my phone. If you are wondering why I did not smile for such a special picture, it is because I was literally petrified to move too much for fear of waking Ezra. I just knew he would sense me flexing my facial muscles and it would all be over. Therefore, you get the double-chin-and-up-the-nose view …super. Oh, but isn't he a sweetheart! Thank you Lord, for the gift of one hour and fifteen minutes!

Never take for granted your child's hugs and kisses. Never take for granted hearing their little voice calling "Momma Momma" over and over again. Sometimes we become numb to these things...maybe even agitated at times. Oh friends, cherish these moments! They are treasures we are not always guaranteed. They are precious gifts!

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Rapunzel and Pascal: Understanding Special Needs Siblings

 “Hey Mom, Ezra and I go to the same school! But Ezra rides on a little bus and you drop me off in the car. Did you know that I only have one teacher, but Ezra has a bunch of teachers? And did you know that I walk at school and Ezra rides in a red buggy? It’s like we’re the same, but different!  …Can I dress as Rapunzel for Fall Fest and can Ezra be Pascal? Cause He’s my lil buddy…”

This was the mostly one sided conversation I had this week while riding in the car with my five year old little girl, Grace, in regards to her brother. I kissed my sweet girl on the forehead as I pulled up to the school to let her out and watched as she bounced her way into the building. As I drove off, her words continued to play in my mind. Although said in complete innocence, my little girl’s words were very telling of how she is beginning to understand the differences between her and her little brother.

“It’s like we’re the same, but different!”  … Wow, very well said! Grace is very slowly beginning to understand more and more about her brother and this thing called Autism.

This has been an interesting process to watch. I know for myself, and for my husband, we are still figuring out life on the Autism journey. There have been feelings of grief and loneliness as well as feelings of great joy and thankfulness. So, can you possibly image how a young sibling would process the fact that their brother/sister has Autism?

A few weeks ago, I wrote a blog titled Talk About Us Behind Our Back. The idea behind the blog post was to encourage parents to explain to their children about special needs kids so that they might better understand how to treat them, react to them, and be their friend. I never dreamed that I would receive the response that I did. Remember, I asked you to talk behind our backs…but what I got were many emails, text messages, phone calls, and conversations. Most parents had the same question: What should I tell my kid about Autism? Or How should I go about explaining to my child about Ezra and kids like him?

Well, I’m no counselor and I am certainly no Autism expert. I am just a mom! But I would be happy to share with you what we have told Grace about her baby brother, Ezra.

Grace knows that her brother “struggles” sometimes. Grace knows that sometimes he acts differently, spits, has odd head movements, and very little language. These are all things that Grace has observed about Ezra. We have simply explained to her that -Yes, Ezra does act differently and he does struggle sometimes. We have also explained that it’s ok to be different and that God makes everyone very special and that He has a plan and a purpose for everyone no matter what. Yes, we have occasionally dropped the word “Autism” to Grace but you see, Autism is not who Ezra is, so we don’t really focus on this term with Grace as of yet. As Grace gets older, I expect for there to be harder questions and harder answers. From Grace’s astute observations in the car this past week, I can tell that she is putting the pieces together. She is gradually becoming aware of what it means to have a special needs sibling.

As Grace gets older, I watch her become more and more protective, understanding, and motherly in the way that she interacts with her brother. I often times have to remind her that she does not have to be the mommy or the therapist…just be the sister! I am thankful for the sweet heart that she has. She loves her “Ezra Brother” very much.

I ask the Lord often for wisdom and discernment when it comes to balancing a “neurotypical” child and a child with Autism. I want to explain things to Grace, but I do not want to overwhelm her. So, I concentrate most on helping Grace not to understand Autism, but to understand Ezra. I show her ways to connect with him, play with him, and love on him. I let her know that she is always welcome to ask questions. Questions are good. Questions breed knowledge, knowledge breeds understanding, and understanding dispels fear and brings forth relationship.

I will answer Grace’s questions as they come. In the meantime, I am interested in her innocent little observations. I am so thankful for the caring spirit she has with Ezra. I am thankful that she would even think to ask “Can I dress as Rapunzel for Fall Fest and can Ezra be Pascal? Cause He’s my lil buddy!” How cool is that?

 Best Buddies waiting for Ezra's school bus!

Best Buddies waiting for Ezra's school bus!

 All dressed up for Western Days at school last week! This was Ezra's first time to wear boots...he wasn't too sure about them!

All dressed up for Western Days at school last week! This was Ezra's first time to wear boots...he wasn't too sure about them!

Talk About Us Behind Our Back

I love to watch people. Not in a super-creepy-stalker kind of way, but I do love to observe people; how they relate to others, their mannerisms, and I like to ponder over what their story might be. Now that I have a child with special needs, I cannot help but carry this interest over into our own life. It is just a natural inclination of mine to watch. I watch how people look at my Autistic child, how they respond to him, ignore him, make faces over him, smile at him…there are so many different reactions. Some people’s reactions offer such comfort and put a smile in my heart. Other times, people’s reactions can leave me feeling very alone, very vulnerable, sometimes angry, and sometimes sad.

There is one particular day out of each week that is very hard. It’s the day that my little girl, Grace, goes to dance. So much of what our family does or doesn’t do revolves around Ezra. I wanted Grace to get to participate in one “something” that she would greatly enjoy that is just for her, and she chose dance! So, once a week, I pack Grace’s dance bag and then I pack Ezra’s survival bag for the Survival of the Dance Studio Waiting Room. I smile. I act excited. My excitement is for Grace. I want her to feel super special because this is her special day. Inside, my stomach churns because honestly, waiting rooms are a brutal place for my Autistic child.

First, in a waiting room, you must wait. Waiting is not yet a concept that my sweet boy fully understands. He may be able to wait for a very short time, but for an hour and fifteen minutes, it is a huge feat. Also, in this particular waiting room you have noise, it is very crowded, and there are lots of people. Let me tell you, this is the perfect set up for sensory overload! So, I pack Ezra’s survival bag each week and say a prayer over him as we take our little ballerina to her class. 

The owner of this dance studio has met Ezra and is so very gracious and understanding to our situation. We take up a good chunk of her waiting room each week. Ezra sits strapped into a stroller, we bring snacks, toys, a DVD player, and the IPAD. Sometimes I end up sitting on the waiting room floor with my head in Ezra’s lap. Sometimes Ezra spits on her floor. Sometimes Ezra chunks a train through the waiting room air…it’s never a dull moment, that’s for sure!

As I sit through these dance sessions, I watch people. You see, my child does not sit in a wheel chair. My child does not have braces on his legs or need special medical equipment. My child does not look any different from any other “typical” kid. That’s right; my child has an invisible disorder that is manifested through behavior. So, instead of people smiling and understandingly looking on, I usually am met with looks of disgust (why can’t that mom control her child?), disapproval (that child is out of control) and even just curiosity (what’s wrong with that kiddo?).

In my Survival of the Dance Studio Waiting Room saga, I have observed something very interesting: the younger children smile at Ezra, they watch his Thomas Train movie with him for a short time, they say “hi”, and they are very accepting. It is about half way through our waiting time that a group of older girls arrive for their class. What a difference there is! Don’t get me wrong, some of these girls have been very sweet, but many have snickered at Ezra’s odd head movements and many have made comments. One that I remember specifically came from the precious looking girl with the purple bow and braces, “That kid is weird!”  Not so precious. I believe I have mentioned before that I am used to comments by now (read  1 in 50: My Supermarket Story), but that doesn’t mean that they don’t sting a little.

After my dance studio observations, my question is this: At what age does this disconnect of acceptance happen? Is this a learned behavior from an adult figure? What are we teaching our children, not just by words, but by example?

I have conviction now more than ever to teach my own daughter to love and accept, to be nice to everyone, to include and not to exclude, to look past handicaps and to look straight to the heart of a person.

In fact, yesterday morning as I dropped Grace off at school, this was our conversation:

Me: “Grace, don’t forget to be nice to everyone!”

Grace: “I know momma!”

Me: “And if you see someone sitting alone….”

Grace: “I should ask them to come sit with me.”

Me: “And if other kids  are laughing at someone…”

Grace: “Don’t laugh and go be their friend. Momma, I know!”

Me: “Because God made everyone special and…”

Grace: “And he loves them very much!”

(Yes, thank you to Veggie Tales for that last bit!)

I don’t care if Grace gets tired of this. It is something that I teach her with a deep passion. It comes from a deeper passion than I ever had before I had my sweet Ezra. I know that I cannot just teach her in words, but I must teach her through my own actions.

What are you teaching your children? Do your actions display a different message than your words? Did you invest the time to teach your child these life lessons but as they have gotten older you have forgotten to remind them of such things?

It is so important. It is important to families like ours. It is important to children like my Ezra.

There is one particular little boy at our church, who is in Ezra’s Sunday School class, whose Mamma is teaching him about Ezra. She explains bits and pieces of my blog to him. She has told him that God makes everyone special and everyone different and that that’s ok. She asks me questions about Ezra so that she can better understand him, and she shares that information with her son. And you know what? Her son rocks! He takes such consideration of Ezra. He says “hi” to him, tries to share toys with him, obviously wants to understand him, and treats him as another classmate. I am so thankful for this sweet boy who treats Ezra like a friend, instead of ignoring, laughing, or making faces.

So, you have my permission to talk about our family! I truly believe that these inconsiderate “looks” and “comments” come from not knowing; from a lack of understanding. If you want to, tell your children about us. Tell them about Ezra. Help them to understand. You have my full permission to talk about us behind our back!

 See Ezra's Smile! He loves to play with his big sister!

See Ezra's Smile! He loves to play with his big sister!