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!

Sharing Jesus With My Autistic Son

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How do you share the Gospel with someone who has a disability? How do you know if they understand? What strategies should be used? These questions can overwhelm or intimidate people. For those considering starting a special needs ministry at their church, it can seem like a daunting task. 

I understand. For many, this is uncharted territory. It was uncharted territory for me too until the Lord blessed us with our son, Ezra, who has severe autism. Just like many of you, my greatest desire is for my children to know the Lord. Ezra was no exception. 

As the parent of a child who has a disability, I have found three simple rules of thumb to keep in mind as I share Jesus with my child. 

1. Don’t Discriminate: 

The Gospel is for everyone. We should never elevate ourselves to the position of being able to discern who the Holy Spirit can or cannot reach. Because God’s love and the story of His Son is for everyone, we should share it with all people regardless of background, color, ability, or disability. 

We try to attend church even when it’s hard. We do not hide our son away with the misconception that church is not for him. It’s possible that the church may not learn to accept or minister to those with a disability until those with a disability join their ranks. As parents, we sometimes need to have thick skin so the petty comments or misunderstanding others have for our disabled son don’t get in our way of finding a place for him in the church. We love the church. We believe our son needs the church, and the church needs him. He is a part of the Body of Christ. 

2. Don’t Overcomplicate: 

Our mostly nonverbal son loves music. The lyrics to one of his favorite songs go like this: “You want me. Somehow you want me. The King of Heaven wants me.” He may not be able to clearly sing every word, but he knows this part by heart. With bright eyes and a wide smile, he sings of how the King of Heaven wants him, and it seems to resonate deep within him. Simple truths of God’s love and desire for his children is not lost on my son. 

Many times we overcomplicate the Gospel; we have this plan, that book, this diagram, that program. We overcomplicate and try to overcompensate. However, the Gospel of Christ is simple: Through Jesus, God offers forgiveness and unconditional love. Simple truths of the Bible are used by the Holy Spirit to crack wide the hardest of hearts as He calls out to the souls of the deeply broken. God’s Word does not escape the understanding of the disabled. 

3. Don’t Underestimate: 

One of the greatest mistakes we could ever make is to underestimate a person’s ability to comprehend the Gospel which is equal to that of underestimating the ability of the Holy Spirit to work in someone’s heart and mind. 

Every day our son amazes us with his demonstration of comprehension and the information he retains. It may look different from you and I, but those who have a disability understand so much more than they are often given credit for. 

So every day we share. We share with our son that Jesus loves him. We let him know that God has a perfect plan and purpose for his life. We share simple truths covered in love, and we trust that God will allow these truths to seep deep into the heart of our child. I believe without a doubt that God is bigger than any disability and His Word is all powerful. 

How unfortunate would it be to miss out on the incredible opportunity to share Christ with my child because I underestimated his cognitive ability and even more, the ability of the Holy Spirit to reach all people? 

So dear parent, dear church leader, dear family member longing to touch the life of someone who has a disability, don’t give up! Continue to share the good news of Jesus Christ. You never know the true impact you might be making in the heart and life of a person who has a disability. If you won’t tell them, who will?

First published by my partners at Joni and Friends and Irresistible Church

http://irresistiblechurch.org/sharing-jesus-autistic-son/

Ezra loves for me to read to him the Plan of Salvation each Sunday at Church!

Ezra loves for me to read to him the Plan of Salvation each Sunday at Church!

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!

Stop, Drop, and Play!

 

How do you make a connection to a child that does not talk? What about a child that will not look you in the eyes? How do you connect with a child that cannot always tolerate being touched? These are questions that my family has had to wrestle with.

Every child is different. There is a reason for the term “Autism Spectrum”. Autism covers a very broad range of things. You may have heard the quote “Once you have met one child with Autism, you have met one child with Autism.” How true!

Doctors have told us that our son has “severe” Autism. Whatever that means? But, instead of focusing on how severe, not severe, or where on the spectrum our child might be, we just focus on our child. Autism is not who Ezra is. We focus on capturing the heart of our little man.

This is easier said than done. I cannot connect with Ezra the way that I do with our daughter, Grace. We have had to learn how to Love in a Different Language.

I can tell you this, you will not make a connection with Ezra by standing over him, sitting in a chair above him, or from calling his name from across the room. If you sincerely want to connect, you need to stop, drop, and play!

Try to get into his world. Do not expect him to get into yours. Make yourself available. Do not expect him to seek you out. Try to be open and go-with-the-flow.  Do not have preconceived ideas about what this connection should look like.  Sit patiently and wait. Do not push yourself into his play. (Even if he NEVER makes eye contact with you, he KNOWS that you are there.) You will build a connection simply by sitting quietly near him and patiently making yourself available.

In a way, it really is the most simplistic of ways to connect that reaches Ezra. So many children want to be entertained. Many adults feel the pressure of competing against the gadgets and things that hold their children’s attention and interest. With Ezra, there is none of that. Come in your sweats, come without an agenda, come with no makeup, come without the biggest and newest toy. There are no prejudices here. Come wait patiently, come wait quietly, make yourself available, watch his mind at work, study what he is studying, and stop, drop, and play!

…and if you patiently pursue him, you will make a connection.

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A Smile is Worth a Thousand Words

Ezra does not have many words. I will say that over the last half year, he has definitely made huge strides in his communication skills (words and sign language) and we are so excited for this! I believe communication is one of the biggest obstacles in our Autism journey so far. There are few words that Ezra uses consistently, that demonstrate comprehension.

Often times, Ezra becomes very frustrated because he cannot communicate his needs or wants. I cannot imagine how trapped he must feel to not be able to express himself.

There are patterns in Ezra’s behavior that, as his parents, we have been able to pick up on and we can sometimes guess what is bothering him or what he wants. Other times, as Ezra’s frustration mounts, we are left scrambling to try to understand what the cause is and often times we feel helpless.

Each day we have a new opportunity to try to connect with him, learn from him, and get into “his world”. Each day we have a new opportunity to find a way to communicate our love to him.

I am so thankful that there are ways to communicate other than using words. Other than using my words to say “I love you, Ezra”, I show love to my sweet boy by laying on the floor with him, rolling his toy car back and forth across the kitchen floor, tight squeezes and hugs, and dancing to his favorite tunes.

He may not always be able to bring himself to look me in the eye, but he has a beautiful smile that will stretch across his face. In moments like these, his incredible smile is all the communication I need. His smile communicates happiness. His smile communicates excitement. His smile communicates love.

I cannot begin to express what joy it brings to my heart to see my sweet boy’s smile. His smile is one of God’s many sweet reminders that everything is ok!

I have faith that the words will come. It may take time and hard work, but they will come.

But for now, a smile is worth a thousand words.

This past week we visited New Life Ranch in Colcord, Oklahoma. New Life and the staff that live there, hold a very dear place in our hearts. We had a wonderful visit and were able to capture a few of Ezra's amazing smiles while we were there!

This past week we visited New Life Ranch in Colcord, Oklahoma. New Life and the staff that live there, hold a very dear place in our hearts. We had a wonderful visit and were able to capture a few of Ezra's amazing smiles while we were there!

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I See

Ezra doesn’t have many words. At least, not near as many words as other children his age. It’s just part of the whole package being “on the spectrum”. Communication has always been hard. 

Ever since Ezra was a little baby, when I sensed his frustration in being understood, I would hold him up right in front of my face and say “I see you, Ezra”.  It didn’t have an instant calming effect on him or anything spectacular but it was my way of letting him know that I knew he was there, I knew he was frustrated, and he had my attention. This has become something I do quite often. It also serves as a great reminder to myself…  See him. He is not just throwing a fit or being unruly. He is frustrated. He wants to be seen. He wants to be understood. Look past the hitting, screaming, spitting, and fighting…and SEE HIM. 

Eye contact has always been hard as well. However, even if it’s just for a split second, when I focus my eyes on my sweet boy’s eyes and tell him “I see you, Ezra”, he almost always will at least throw a small glance in my direction. 

The moments when Ezra lets me in to his world and we are able to share a laugh at something, when I am able to understand what he wants, or simply being able to make eye contact, these moments are priceless. I forever treasure them. On the days when Ezra struggles more I find myself watching with a sort of desperate curiosity… what is he thinking? What is he trying to cope with? I wonder why he does one thing and not another? How can I help? I think these questions are good. Never stop asking questions. Never stop trying to “see”.  

There is a part of Ezra that is locked away and trying so very hard to find its way out. Never stop asking the “I See” questions. I want to be sure that my sweet baby knows that “I See” past the behavior, “I See” a precious little boy, “I See” a boy that God has a specific plan and purpose for, “I See” his struggling, and “I WILL See” that he has all of the love, support, encouragement, and help that we can possibly give him.

Go figure that one of the few two word “sentences” that Ezra goes around saying is a repetitive “I see, I see, I see.”  I see you too sweet boy. I may not always understand, but I see you and want to learn more and more about you each day.  

Just a thought:  Don’t we all want to been seen and understood? No matter who you are, I believe we all have these desires. Aren’t you glad that the Lord sees us? He knows the desires of our hearts, our struggles, our triumphs… and despite knowing everything about us he loves us unconditionally. Thank you Lord, that you notice us and you love us! All of us. No matter what.