Loving From Afar: A New Perspective on Christmas

I sat on my couch, just inches away from my little boy who was playing with his trains on the coffee table. We had been home from school for at least four hours and he had yet to make eye contact with me, touch me, or acknowledge my presence in any way. So there I sat, just inches apart from my little one. I so wanted to scoop him up and snuggle him, to kiss his precious face all over, or to tell him how much I had missed him while he had been at school that day. But I know better.  I know that in moments like these, he needs silence and to not be touched. That’s just the nature of this thing called Autism.

So, I sat. I watched him play with loving pride swelling up inside of me. He’s so beautiful, such a precious soul, a most wonderful blessing, and treasured gift. It takes an unbelievable amount of self-control for the mother of a child with Autism to learn to love from afar. Often times, that’s exactly what I must do.  

I began to think of another of another parent who had to love from afar. The thought had never crossed my mind before.

I have heard beautiful songs and sermons written about Mary and the beautiful perspective of the young virgin mother of Jesus Christ. What a huge responsibility. What fear and excitement she must have felt. What joy must have flooded her soul as she cradled her baby boy in her arms knowing that He was the Messiah, the Son of God.

I have listened to stories about Joseph, the young carpenter man.  What an exercise of faith it must have been to take Mary at her word and to take her as his bride. What must it have felt like to have been chosen to father the Savior of the world? I’m certain he found his heart overwhelmed at times as he found himself plunged into the very middle of God’s story of redemption.

I have even listened to accounts of the spiritual battle between heaven and hell on that not-so-silent-night. While angels sang “Glory”, all of hell shuddered at the birth of the New Born King. Never before had the birth of a child brought forth such a commotion as the countdown to the cross and Christ’s victory over death came rushing into the world on that starry night in Bethlehem.

But what about God the Father? Certainly, it is His gift, the gift of His son Jesus that we celebrate each year. But I just wonder how He must have felt as He watched Jesus, His one and only Son, be birthed into this world. I wonder how His heart must have raced as He beheld that tiny babe lying in the manger. How His soul must have swelled with all the joy, love, admiration, and awe that a parent feels at the sight of their newborn child. Was there a collision of emotion as He watched Immanuel, knowing what the birth of His child meant for the world and what this sin cursed world meant for the life of His child?

As God the Father watched from His heavenly throne, with all the delight that fills a new parent, did He long to hold His precious Son? To kiss His soft cheeks? To hold His tiny hand? Friends, the Lord is capable of the most complete and unconditional love. Therefore, I can only imagine the love He felt for His Son, Jesus. As God the Father shared His Son with the rest of the world, as He made the ultimate sacrifice for you and for me, He chose to love His baby boy from afar as Jesus was wrapped in clothes and placed in a manger.

This thought struck me as I sat watching my own sweet boy who was busy playing with his trains; as I was loving him from afar.

 How thankful I am that Christ does not ask us to conquer temptations without having been tempted Himself. How thankful I am that we do not experience the shame of sin and guilt without Jesus having borne the sins of the world and fully understanding the weight of which it carries. How thankful I am that we do not experience the deep pain of losing a loved one without God the Father knowing what it is like to have His one and only Son sacrificed for all of mankind.  He has walked our roads, feels our pains, knows our joys, and understands our struggles. God has never withheld Himself from our everyday circumstances but rather He willingly thrusts Himself into our world with all understanding and compassion.

As I sat there loving my child from afar, I felt a peace come over me. I am so thankful that I can come to God with the longings of my heart. When I long to touch my son, long to hold him, long to kiss him, long to hold his tiny hand, but instead must muster up all the strength that is within me to withhold these gifts that are so precious for a mother to bestow upon her child, I turn to Christ.  And in a way, I wondered if just maybe the Lord understands what it must be like to love your child from afar.

Whatever your Christmas may look like this year, whatever you are facing, whatever turn your life has taken this year, may I encourage you that God is so very near. He is Immanuel, God with Us and He cares for you!

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas from our family to yours!

Merry Christmas from our family to yours!

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