Tuesday, July 31, 2012

No One's Looking

Today's been successful so far.  The little kids are happily sleeping, no diaper or potty accidents, and I actually stripped my bed, washed my sheets, remade the bed, and unpacked a suitcase from *ahem* last week.  The sink has been empty once today, too!  And no meltdowns.

But even on the best of days, there will be very little audible or measurable thanks.  Yes, I married the kind of man who will thank me for dinner even if it's leftovers.  But for most of the things I do, the thanks comes silently over time.  Maybe even not at all.

The beginning of my mommy career came at the end of my band career.  There is a long story of how God readied me for that, how he tapered my involvement at school, and oh, the many wonderful kids I've been blessed to know!  Some of the relationships remain on different levels.  But oh, how I loved my job!  While I have always been thankful for this opportunity, it was truly a loving sacrifice to carve it out of my life.  Notice I said loving... not easy.

Since I was a little girl in day care, someone set my schedule.  Show up here, eat here, do this, don't do that, wear this, don't wear that.  There were always guidelines, peers to go with or against, places to go, things to do, deadlines to meet, goals to work toward.  To be perfectly honest, I was six or seven months into my stay at home mom-ness before I recognized myself in the mirror.  In my first job, I was teacher of the month before I received my certification in the mail, so enjoyed the concerts and contests, and the kids?  Oh man, how I adored the kids!  I loved being in a store when some unsuspecting kid would see me, freak out, and tackle me in the aisle.

It was even more than I dreamed it could be.

As a stay at home mom, things were different.  No concerts to show my work.  No teacher evaluations to ace.  Not a single kid recognized me anymore at the store!  Add to that a baby who was just as sweet as could be, but didn't progress as he should developmentally and I was a confused being.  My mom worked hard, long hours.  Every woman I could think of worked at some point, and I just wasn't sure how to do things.  How often do you do floors?  How do you do floors?

It felt like everything I'd ever worked toward was tossed into that stainless steel garbage can we received as a wedding gift.  I felt guilty.  I should be working.  But no, I should be home.

Over time, I learned how to set my own goals.  I'm still learning how to keep the house clean.  But the biggest thing remains to be the need for someone to say, "well done."

I had left my self-worth at the band hall.

One day, right around the time Richie was born, I was talking to my good friend M on the phone.  We were discussing how we're to do everything to the glory of God, whether we're rescuing people from fires or folding socks at home alone.

For years I've mulled that over.  I've stirred it in my heart every now and again, trying to get my mind around it.  We really are to do our best, even when no one is watching.  No, scratch that... ESPECIALLY when no one is watching.

Why especially when no one is watching?  Shouldn't we display who we are for all the world to see as loudly as we possibly can?  I'm not going to say never.  There is a time and a place for speaking up and making known our opinions, our importance in this world and how we believe for whatever reason, it ought to be, whatever "it" is.  I'm not advocating life as a shut-in, a doormat, or anything like that.

Take my folding socks.  Will the world stop turning if I don't get all the socks sorted correctly, or at all?  Certainly not.  But when Eric goes to get a pair for Ryan when we're trying to leave the house, whether or not he finds these easily could have bearing on his overall attitude.  If I don't buy everything we need at the grocery store or I don't choose to pick up and teach the kids to pick up toys, stop a second to think about the residual effects.

Let's take one more step.  If I'm not doing what I should, at home, the office, school, or wherever, what does that say about the condition of my heart?  Am I operating out of love and giving, or out of a spirit of greed?  If all I'm interested in is praise, I need to put myself in the corner to think.

Once in a conversation with my dear mother-in-law, I learned something I hadn't thought of.  The temple, in biblical times, was decorated to the hilt.  Gold this, solid gold that, silver this, the best wood that.  You know what else?

No one saw it but the priests.  Everyone else stayed in the outer courts.

Why in the world go to all that trouble?  Dig around in the Old Testament a bit.  Look at the descriptors of how things were to be built.  The instructions were insanely specific and intricate.  These things were to be built in accordance to God's divine instructions, made for him and his glory.

What does that say about what we do when no one is looking?

A lot about the state of our hearts, that's what.

"So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God" ~1 Corinthians 10:31, ESV

Why bring up eating and drinking?  Well, you don't have a choice of whether to breathe one sleeping isn't truly a choice... so whatever choices you make, even down to the simplest of things, do them the way God would do them.  Make the Father proud, in other words.

Thankfully, when we do fall short like I have today, even on a good day, there is grace, mercy, and love.  There is scripture and there are friends, music, and so many other wonderful gifts for restoration.

What about me?  Well, my self worth finally exists closer to where it should.  I still have my moments.  To be brutally honest, I have my days.  But there is always grace and mercy.

Thanks be to God, indeed, for grace and mercy.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Thanks for the Blanket

As we pull into the parking lot, Eric hops out.  "I'll see you in a few.  Thanks for doing this, honey."

This is the first Sunday since the convention, and we're all excited to be back at Redeemer.  Eric volunteered to fill the need for a percussionist when the need arises.  This is one of those Sundays.

We talked at length about how to go about the whole thing.  Drive the 50 minutes to church an hour early so he can rehearse alone?  No.  Gas for his truck and that trip would be ridiculous.  We need to be there together.  But how?  There's nothing going on in the summer on Sunday mornings but the service and nursery.

Sit in a CE classroom?  No.  Kids would go nuts having a great time, then the room would be a mess and Ryan would be in full play mode, not sit and listen mode.

The kids could play with electronic stuff in the worship room while they rehearse?  Nope.  Taking that from Ryan then asking him to sit for an hour and fifteen minutes through the service without a peep would be too much.

Do we call and bail?

No.  The thought makes us both feel icky.  We promised.  We want to be people of integrity.  Bailing is out of the question.

Any change in routine can send whatever plans we make straight down the tubes.  So many times pulling one thing from routine has sent us down in flames, and we're not talking a blaze of glory.

The answer wound up being the four of us in the van, reading books together and playing.  It was just about forty-five minutes, and the weather hadn't been that horridly hot.  It wasn't bad at all.  The kids even seemed to enjoy crawling all over the inside of the van.

It's another conundrum.  We want to serve.  We want to be a part as much as possible, but that's the hard part.  What's possible?

Merriam-Webster's online dictionary defines the word "possible" as "being within the limits of ability, capacity, or realization."  There's a lot of wiggle room in there.  If one can only know the true limits of oneself, then that means that my definition of "possible" will vary wildly from person to person.

But once in a while, along comes someone whose definition takes on the same general shape as your own.

Once in worship this week, Ryan was not exactly calm.  As I tried to visit with a friend, he wiggled in the seat, beat his chest, slapped his legs, and fussed.  Eric wasn't with us.  Sitting still his hard enough when your routine is normal, but when it's rocked, it's near impossible.  Our next step to worship participation for Ryan this summer has been sitting up.  Sounds simple, no?

During the welcome portion of the service, a nice lady came and introduced herself.  She'd been wanting to meet us, she said.  Then she introduced us to her son, who has Asperger's.

When we meet new people, many times they will try to talk to Ryan.  To make sure they don't feel like he's being rude, we will mention autism and that social interaction isn't quite his forte.  We continue to feel through the thick blanket of foggy difference, often finding a little something in common.

Other times, the fog blows away, leaving another blanket.

Her words were quick, because there wasn't much time.  I told her that we're working on sitting up in church and that it's hard, and that Ryan has two younger siblings that we feel like we should be teaching to sit through the service as well even though they're childcare aged.

With a knowing, caring, comforting look, she said, "Don't put too much on yourself."  She also reminded me that no one really understands what we go through.  Not in a snitty, snarky, divisive way at all, but in a "you know, I get it... you're trying... don't worry when others don't" kind of way.

Listening to her advice, I felt every muscle let go.  The warm, soft blanket of understanding shrouded me in comfort.

She didn't have to seek us.  She could have stayed in her seat rather than walk through the crowd back to the very back to find us.

But I'm so glad she did.

And if you're wondering, Ryan laid down the entire service, his sweet head snuggled into my lap.

And he didn't make another sound.

Thanks be to God for that sweet blanket of comfort that comes when someone steps out and extends a hand.  May we all feel that and pay it forward.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

TBA Day 5: Surprise Relief

If you're just catching up, not only am I going on and on about our trip to San Antonio for Eric's convention (yes, with all the kids), but I'm behind on posting about it.  I know!  I can hear the shock in your voices.  But if you'd like to catch up you can click on these guys...

TBA Day 1: Advocating

TBA Day 2: Providential Reunion

TBA Day 3: Everybody's favorite

TBA Day 4: Over the Rainbow

Ah, that's better!  If you didn't read those, it's cool.  I still love ya!

Now where were we...

Oh yes.  Going home.

We don't go shopping for fun.  We just don't.  That is due in large part to financial decisions, but it's also very much because it's hard.  It's not fun.  Shopping with our family takes great effort.  We have to be ready to deal with the meltdown that will likely come.  The disturbance of routine.  Bleh.  The very thought makes my stomach churn.

So I sat in the fast-food joint in the parking lot of the giant outlet mall, waiting for Eric to get our food, half entertaining the kids and half dreading.  The restaurant was packed to the gills, and the thought of the crowd that would surely be in the stores plagued my thoughts.  With the boys too big for the double stroller, we only had the single pink stroller with us.

We couldn't bail.  This wasn't scheduled for recreation.  We really needed shoes for all the kids, and right before we left, I noticed that a lot of Ryan's shorts are too small.  I kept telling myself we had to do this.  We had to do this.  It'll be okay.  It'll pass.

The first store was a bit shaky.  We got what we needed, but it was shaky.  The next store, after we'd found Ryan's shoes... the only ones that last more than a week before he drags the toes out... we gave him the iPod and his headphones.  Off and on, he'd stop playing and shop with us.  Eventually, he gave it up entirely and just walked around for the last few stores.  Maelynn got out of the stroller and shopped with mommy, babbling in her sweet way about this shirt and that skirt and how they were just so beautiful, mommy!  We found everything we needed, amazingly on sale.

We were there for hours.  Only at the last store did he have a meltdown, and it didn't last.

If that weren't enough, as we waited for daddy to pay for mommy and Maelynn's shoes, Ryan got into his giggly wiggly noodle mood. At this point it was past time we'd normally have dinner, and we were all exhausted.  Then it happened.  The thing that just blew me away and I've been talking about it ever since.

Ryan JOKED with me.

It wasn't a joke, but he told me he'd call me a name from one of his favorite cartoons. I laughed and called him another character from the same.

He joked with me.  He laughed with me.  We giggled and poked at each other all the way back to the van.  It was GLORIOUS.  Simply glorious.

I was sure this was going to be a disaster.  I was sure that we would leave nearly in tears.  We were both ready to chuck it all and run.

God had other plans.

Sometimes we have to step out of the ol' comfort zone.  Sometimes, when it's not a safety issue, we have to take a chance.  We have to trust that if it doesn't go well, there was a reason.  We have to step out, because if we don't, how will we ever have fun as a family?  Who will teach them to behave in these settings if we don't?  All of them have to learn, and they need to learn with their parents.

This time, even with our minds screaming that we've taken a giant leap from our good senses, we did it.  We were flexible as we could be, remembering what we were asking of the kids.  While it wasn't perfect, it felt incredible to be out as a family, doing something families do.

So instead of clambering to the van in a panic to escape the glares of the ones hearing a meltdown, we strolled across the parking lot, laughing and promising a great dinner for the kids who had been so great.  If you tried to tell me, sitting at lunch, that this was going to be the best shopping trip ever, I'd have laughed.  I was not excited.

Instead, as we pulled away, Eric and I turned to each other, thanking God for the wonderful family time we'd experienced.  It was an amazing relief and such a blessing to say the least.  We started the three hour trip home with more to be thankful for than we had when we started, and in even better spirits.

Hang in there.  Relief and even blessing can come in the strangest places.

Thanks be to God for his plans and provision!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

TBA Day 4: Over the Rainbow

"Someplace where there isn't any trouble.  Do you suppose there is such a place, Toto?  There must be.  It's not a place you can get to by a boat or a train.  It's far, far away.  Beyond the moon -- beyond the rain --" ~Dorothy, "The Wizard of Oz"

On day four, we were feeling a bit brave.  Maybe a bit over confident.  Ryan had, in the past, enjoyed dinners on the river walk, and we thought this was the one thing other than swimming and elevators that the kid could enjoy.  So every night, Eric gave up whatever there was to do and came back to take us to dinner.  This year, it was harder for our little guy to overcome the crowd noise and, well, the differentness.  We didn't try the convention floor, which was hard for me to give up.  But Sunday night, Ryan seemed to be doing so well at the restaurant that we decided we'd try to get a picture of the kids in front of the Alamo.

We're thinking that, given our family's band heritage and the location of both conventions, we'd use pictures in front of the Alamo as a growth chart of sorts.  It's simple.  No biggie, no tickets to buy.  Just walk to the front, take a shot or ten, and walk away.  

Dressed in their matching shirts, we walked away from the Hyatt and our last blue elevator ride of the trip, toward the Alamo.  We heard music, which is not unusual.  When it became apparent that we'd stumbled upon a concert by the Army Reserve Band from Mustang, OK.  

Enter tears in Mama's eyes...

A sing-along even!  

A concert.  A real, live band concert. I never get to hear anyone but our own G-Force, which is great, but getting to hear a concert at TBA means worlds.  Right in front of the Alamo, we plopped down and attempted to listen to the tail-end of the program.  

Please, Mama... don't sing!

Enter anxiety.  Ryan hasn't had to sit through anything like this outside, and certainly not when he should be getting back to the hotel to swim.  He did a lot of hitting his chest and fussing, but since it was an outside concert and just a few minutes longer, we hung out.  Okay, we hung ON.

He managed to pull it together long enough to not bolt when we met the conductor.  After all, they were from Oklahoma, and well, so am I.  Frankly, I was so thankful to hear them that I was determined to shake this man's hand.

Then it was picture time.


Here's the best shot...

Don't let Ryan's smile fool you.  He was fussing hard, and sometimes the camera makes it look like he's grinning.  Richie was beginning to stop fussing.  Maelynn was standing as still as Maelynn stands.  Ryan wasn't hitting himself or screaming for the millisecond it took to take this shot, thankfully.  Wish you could see Richie's face, but we were taking what we could get without driving the rest of the world any crazier than we had to.

This was honestly one of the times I just wanted to curl in a ball and cry.

It's not the picture.  It's not that they weren't particularly interested in sitting still and listening.  I know that typical kids often roll their eyes at what Mom thinks is uber cool.

It's the fact that he was so genuinely upset by the interruption in routine that we couldn't even stop and listen to an outdoor concert for fifteen minutes.

It's the fact that he lives for his next fun fix... HAS to know when it's coming... and cannot understand that he just can't have whatever it is all the time.

It's the fact that when we do take him to do something, before it's over, he wants to know when the next one is coming.  As we walk away from one thing, while the other kids are talking about what they saw or are on to the next thing, Ryan is still asking when we're coming back.  As soon as we mention home, he starts to demand "no home!"

It's the desire to do something fun as a family without worry about when he's going to completely fall apart into a screaming, hitting mess.  It's the desperation to see him enjoy something, knowing that he won't beat his chest and scream all the way home and ask for it a thousand times a day.

We have meltdowns about the hotel.  We do not give in and take the kid to a hotel when he wants to go.  I can honestly say we've never done that.  We do not give him what he wants for fussing.  Period.  But once he likes something, once and activity or place has made it into his repertoire, he has to know when he'll do it again.

Everything is routine.  It's freeing to a point, in that it does give him a way to function.  But everything is a chain of events.  If we do x, he will expect y.  If he doesn't get y, he won't understand.  Not getting y is normally like pulling the wrong piece in a game of Jenga.  But the pieces do not simply fall, tumbling onto one another in a friendly pile.  They explode into fiery chards, piercing the hearts of the ones involved.  With each of his tears, each time his fist pounds hard his small chest, each time his face screws into that tight, fight or flight, angry mask, my own chest tightens.  My own heart hurts with the pangs of helplessness.

We structure our lives to keep our kids safe and happy, yet still challenge them.  We stand up, over and over, under the stress of having a child who is not yet capable of handling something as simple as stopping for fifteen minutes to listen to a concert, then standing for a minute while Dad takes his picture.  We fight to continue the things that are important that are out of his routine.

But sometimes we're tired.

Sometimes the desire of a place where we're guaranteed that the kids will have a great time and leave grateful, not melting down, not getting so attached that he's addicted to one thing becomes so great that it's hard to see beyond that desire.

That's when we have to lay down and admit it's too hard, just for a few minutes.

That's when Eric and I have to remind each other the things we know in our heads to be true.

"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised us is faithful."  Hebrews 10:22-24

"And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up."  Galatians 6:8-10

There is a plan for Ryan's life.  There is a plan for Richie's and Maelynn's lives, too.  The times we're dreading the next step, and just aren't sure we can go on, we have to remember that we're human.  It's going to happen.  We're going to reach that point now and again.  We're going to hit a wall when we desire that one place where there isn't any trouble waiting, no meltdowns looming, and every family picture turns out perfectly.  That's going to happen simply because we are human.  

But we have hope.  We also have the responsibility of extending that hope to each other.  

Dorothy was right.  The place where there isn't any trouble isn't around here.  It's not tangible with your hands.  There are times that the closest we can get is in the moments with giggles and laughs... and when we fall in the arms of those we love, feeling safe to admit we just can't take another step.  It's in being those arms as well.

Honestly, I did fall when I got back to the hotel room.  I did cry.  I did have my own meltdown, fall-apart time over just not being able to do one simple thing.  Over my son suffering as a slave to the routine.  My heart breaks for him so often.

But there is always light.  There is always a way out, and there is always relief... and often it's just enough.

Thanks be to God for hope.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

TBA Day 3: Everybody's favorite

We all love to eat on the river walk.  It's our favorite thing about coming to convention, honestly.  

Okay, so it's everyone's favorite thing to do except Ryan.  He hates it.  I mean, he wants to go for a walk, but we all know the star of the show for him is somewhere between the elevators, the hotel, and the swimming pool.  I think I captured the closest thing to a typical show of emotion I could right here...
Blerg... too many people!

Once he calmed enough to ask, we gave him daddy's iPod with those lovely volume controlled headphones, and much stimming ensued.  

Still, even with headphones, it was just rough.  If you've ever been to this part of San Antonio, you know that a trip to the river, close to the mall means pan flutes.  Amplified, often off-key pan flutes playing everything from Pachybel's Canon to Hotel California.  It's a bit much at times, and to someone who doesn't seem to posses the skill to block out crowd noise, etc., loud pan flutes don't make for great dinner music.  

Once the little guy finished his burger... yes, you can eat a cheeseburger with both hands over your ears... it was fry time.  While we waited for him to finish his fries, a couple of pigeons decided to land on the table behind him.  

Those rats with wings bothered Ryan far less than the few flies that come along with eating outside.  Richie thought they were awesome!  

The kids' meals came with the option of a dirt cup or ice cream for dessert.  Ryan ate his ice cream, and Richie was not at all interested in his dirt cup.  Maelynn wanted the worms, but not the pudding.  So I took them to the back and rinsed them off licked them off so she could enjoy them.  And boy, did she enjoy them!  

Would you believe that face got so messy from just he pudding left on the gummy worms? 

Then things got serious.  Ryan discovered that he could have both dirt cups, minus gummy worms.  He wasted no time figuring out that he could also use both spoons.  

This is the outing of the day when we're here for convention.  I've tried to go to the exhibit hall, which is a fun place to see friends, but last time it was just too hard for him.  Too much noise, way too confusing, way too many drumsticks and mallets... it's too tempting.  So we have fun at convention in our own way.  

Walking around after dinner, going to see the blue elevator at the Hyatt, and watching the elevators at the Hyatt, Eric and I talk here and there about things we used to do.  For a fleeting second, the idea of running off to dinner or enjoying the evening listening to jazz on the river sounds refreshing.  Then one of their tiny voices breaks through the memory, and I look down to the child at the end of my arm, smiling up at his mommy, and I remember what I wanted most in the first place. 

Yes, I was happy and having fun, but I wanted to be a mommy.  And there isn't one challenge, special need, or sacrifice that would make me trade these kids.  I'm grateful for the chance I had to get to live my band director dream for a while, and I'm even more grateful that I get to do fun stuff like lick the pudding off the gummy worms. 

Thanks be to God!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

TBA Day 2: Providential Reunion

Last night's bedtime story was a bit mommy indulgent.  We spent a little time on Facebook together.

Before you tell me what a great mom I am for exposing my precious baby girl to the social media craze,  I have a good explanation.  But I have to back up a bit.  

In the spring of 1995, after a long three years of a band program circling the drain, our rather large and beloved principal came to me after the yearly awards program.  He gently put his hands on my shoulders and told me something I couldn't believe.  He'd found someone from Texas who he knew positively, absolutely would right the ship.  

He wasn't kidding.  

It was just the band to seemingly most of the rest of the world, but to me, it was the world.  And it was awful.  So when I walked down the hall of that old high school to meet the new band director and his wife in the library, I have to admit I was more than hopeful.  I was desperately excited, ready to do anything to fuel the repair of my first love for my senior year.  

I had no idea who I was meeting.  

I had no idea that the people I met that day would be not only God-given wind in my sails, but help in setting their direction.  

I had no idea that they'd set the course for being the mother I am, the wife I am, and the band director I was.  

I had no idea that these people would remain anchors for me throughout my life.  

I had no idea they were God's hand with skin on.  

They're more than friends... they're chosen family.  He helped me figure out, when I was clueless and had put all my eggs into one faulty basket, a place to study music the next fall.  Every day in college I emailed her; every day she emailed back.  She praised me when I needed praise and corrected me when I needed correction.  

Quite providentially, when I got my first teaching job, it was twenty minutes from their house when they moved back to Texas.  I was at their table more times than I can count.  Both my professional and personal lives were shaped, repaired, celebrated, and lived in and around that house and with those people.  I absolutely adore these people.  They are as close to my heart as anyone, and are truly one of God's greatest gifts to my life. 

They would never tell you they're great.  They wouldn't tell you anything but that they love me and the other kids from my hometown, and what a blessing we were to them.  And that's the biggest thing about them.  Their attitudes, the way they live, does not point back to them.  It points to the only One who holds all the cards.  

They reflect the love and grace of God.  

So last night, I pulled out the laptop and showed my girl, Maelynn Elaine, pictures of the lady we'd have the pleasure of sitting beside at the TBA spouses' luncheon today.  I want her to know Elaine, to know Mr. Marsh (and yes, he will ALWAYS be Mr. Marsh, no matter how old I get), and the way life should be lived.  I want to give my kids a heritage of reflecting the love and grace of God in their lives, and living in the true happiness that comes from trusting in His sovereignty.  

Thanks be to God for those willing to be used in the lives of so many awkward band kids like me over the years.  

I love you two! 

Friday, July 20, 2012

TBA Day 1: Advocating

This morning, I sat poolside, the palm trees swaying in the breeze, as the warmth of the sun melted away the frustration of every meltdown for the past month.   The relaxation was only interrupted intermittently by my children's squeals of delight as their daddy played with them in the pool.

Okay, so it was less than five minutes, and it was after swimming with all three kids for about an hour, and technically I was out of the pool to dry before they came dripping up to me, one humming and stimming and the others ready for toweling and the room.  

The plan was to swim and enjoy the morning that Daddy didn't have to jet out to a clinic, and it was awesome.  The kids love the water.  Yes, I'm the paranoid mother who makes her kids wear lifejackets in the pool, but they love the little bit of freedom that comes with not being tied to mom or dad completely. Richie and Maelynn are fabulous about this.  They both jump into the pool with no problem.  Maelynn is quite the fearless one, actually.  She makes her mama nervous on a regular basis. 

And dear, sweet Ryan... oh my.  He loves the water.  But just like so many things, he loves it in his way and in his time.  He will not jump in, he walks in.  Then he treads around, splashing very little.  At one point today, as I sat on the edge of the pool thinking of whether or not to get back in or just go dry off, Ryan hopped in and stood on the sitting ledge in the water.  He looked around, then jumped!

I about lost it.  I clapped and cheered, and he looked a little pleased.  He landed on his feet, which I assume gave him some confidence.  He repeated this action over and over, and I had to wonder as I cheered for my big seven year old with every half-jump into the water, what people around us thought.  

See, just ten feet away, my four and two year olds were leaping fearlessly and with complete abandon into water deeper than they were tall.  Giggling and splashing, they paddled over and over to the ladder (or monkey bars... I have no idea) and climbed out, only to go at the same time this time. Over and over.  Why wasn't I cheering for them?  By all appearances, it looked as if I'd lost my mind.  

But, as we all know, things aren't always what they seem.  

As at so many other times and in so many other places, it looks like Ryan knows better, is bigger, and looks completely normal.  So what's the big deal?  

This is where we're learning that advocacy is a 24/7 job.  We are not simply taking our kids to the pool, to convention, or out to eat.  We're swimming upstream.  Planning dinner out on the Riverwalk?  No biggie!  Well, almost.  We can't wait there.  I mean can't.  Five feet from water, no barrier between the boy who loves water and the river.  Add to this the people crowding past us as we wait, and the confusion alone is enough to make me uncomfortable.  To Ryan, it's unbearable.  He can't help that.  

Parent here takes on a new level.  We are to translate the world for him; to be his embassy.  To defend him to the ones who don't know, to ride the line between conforming the world to him and him to the outside world.  

I used to think that being prepared for an ARD meeting (IEP meeting for those of you in other states) meant that I was advocating for my child.  Then I went a few places away from school with him, and over an embarrassingly long time, I learned that advocating isn't just speaking up at school.  It's in everything we do.  It's reminding each other that while that restaurant sounds good to our tummies, it isn't likely to sit well at this time and in this place.  It's more than that, though. It's in the choosing, not the choice.  It's living in a mind and heart that is interested in pushing and supporting.  One without the other will result in disaster, if not today, then at some point.  

It's also in knowing in my heart... and making sure... that Richie and Maelynn know I'm just as proud of them.  

So in the at-last comfort of my own skin, knowing that we are here at this moment to enjoy and to learn, we will venture out of the hotel and into the unknown of the city.  We will deal with and make the best of whatever should happen, knowing that we are held in the arms of grace.  

Thanks be to God for advocating for me.  

Morgan's Wonderland, Vol. 2

As usual, there is much to be learned at the Texas Bandmasters' Association Convention.  The first of many lessons this weekend is that not all hotel wireless is created equal!  But hopefully last night was a hiccup of sorts, and today will be much better.  So far so good! 

Our TBA trip has turned into our annual summer trip to Morgan's Wonderland.  It's only open in the summer and it's a little more than three hours away from us, so we go when we can. 

The sculpture is the first thing visible when you enter, and every time it sends tears to my eyes and chill bumps to my arms.  

Why?  Because we struggle.  It doesn't look like we do, but we do.  Different hard.  Out of routine is hard.  And until you live in a life that is desperate for routine, it's not something you can understand.  

We want to do things as a family.  We wanted to be the family that always comes to convention together, shops together, plays together, and of course, hits the amusement parks together.  But when you don't wait well, are a big risk for bolting and wandering, and have to have every route mapped by avoiding elevators, it's hard to figure out a fun outing that will truly be just that... fun.  

Along came a pamphlet from our friend M, about a year ago, after the music educators' convention.  It spoke of a place where we could ride, play, swing, and even drive without funny looks.  Ryan can stim to his heart's content.  If he bolts, it's still stressful, but that funny little bracelet is park-assigned, and it allows us to see where any of the kids are at any point.

We can ride the carousel and the train over and over, as long as there's not a line.  And the operators are trained to understand that Ryan may have to take a while picking out his horse.  They ask when we're ready, then start going 'round.  

And it's not just for Ryan.  Richie and Maelynn get to play, too.  They get the same treatment as Ryan.  After an entire year of giving up nap time and play time to take Ryan to therapy about fifty minutes away, and for all the hours they've logged sitting in the hall in front of the BARC, as much as they try to help their brother without knowing how amazing they are, it's a treat for them too.  

It's someplace they can play and explore together, under the bright and beautiful Texas sun.  It's a place where they always feel welcome and where they always belong.  No one will look at their brother and glare, or make sidelong comments about behavior and discipline.  

They all get to play.  

They get to play alongside reminders, like the big swings made to hold entire wheelchairs, that no matter the difference, everyone needs a diversion. Everyone needs fun.  All need a chance to recreate, to refresh, to giggle, to run free of the eye of the social cues and unspoken standards.  

A place where they can stroll, hand in hand, with not much to worry about other than where to go next. 

We love Morgan's Wonderland for so many reasons.  But I think the number one reason is that it feels like someone gets it.  Someone gets what it's like to be different, and to desire so deeply to do something fun and out of the ordinary, but to be held into place by limitations.  Whether your limitations are physical, emotional, mental, neurological, or otherwise, this is a place to belong.  To let down the hair you otherwise keep tied tight, to let go and let them run a little.  

If you have a child with special needs or know someone who does and haven't visited, and are anywhere close to the San Antonio area, you've got to go.  It's a couple hours of wonderful that you won't regret.  

Thanks be to God for the opportunity to do cool stuff like this!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Bedtime for Princess

From my perch at the kitchen table, I hear the familiar padding of soft feet coming toward me.  There she stands almost instantly, in her white gown with pink roses (she likes to say it has roses "all ovah").  She says something garbled, I ask her to remove her binky.  "Come wiff me, mommy!  Tuck me into bed!" she spouts.  Turning to walk toward her room, she stretches her little hand out to me, waving me on.  "C'mon, mommy!  Fowwow me!"

And how could I not follow her?  I get up, legs creaking from the day, and give her my hand.  She lets go, bopping along in front of me, light golden brown curls bouncing as they cascade down her back.

How could a child be more beautiful?

She climbs into her bed, taking her place among the stuffies.  We arrange them until they're just right in her crib turned to a tiny daybed.  Her soft friends safely into place, she lays her head back on her lavender and pink sparkly butterfly pillow, and I cover her with the quilt of old receiving blankets I made.  She says it's her favorite.  Little does she know that each square is stitched with love for her, and with an incredible amount of desire to remember her this way.  The truth is I couldn't let go of the tiny pink and purple blankets.  We went through so much together in her babyhood.

"Mommy pray wiff me?"

Oh, those words!  They pierce even my hardest of hearts.  My crankiest of moods.  We pray, thanking God for everything He has so freely given, asking forgiveness for the ways we've failed, and of course blessing her sleep.  She is so much.  She is the little girl I wanted.  She is the last baby, lest lightning should strike.  I want to pour so much into her, but all I can do is kiss her forehead and remind her who she is.

I want to keep her from hurting.

I want to make sure people are only good to her, and she to them.

I want to keep her from noticing the stares as we deal with brother's meltdowns in public.

I want to prevent her from making so many mistakes I made.

But this is her life.  This is the life God has laid out for her.  He knows her better than I, and that is so hard to remember.  And there are things that she can only learn the way He knows her heart will learn them.

So I promise in my heart that I will do my best to teach her, and I pray that she will rest in Him.  I wake up tomorrow and seek to be a better mother, not just for her, but for the boys.  For their future spouses.  For my grandkids.

As I get up to walk away, she wants hugs and kisses again.  Leaning over, I oblige.  Then she tells me the same thing she does her brothers after kisses... "Say achoo."  No idea where this ritual got its origin, but we don't say good night without it.

You know what?  Even Ryan says "achoo" when she asks.  He's even started looking at her, saying "Hey, Mae-mae."  My heart melts every time.

I rise and turn out the light, taking one last second to admire her, curls falling over her pillow, long eyelashes brushing her pink cheeks, binky nodding as she nuzzles it, and I just can't help but pray that this photograph will be etched in my memory.  Someday she'll be going to school, then to her first summer band camp, then graduation, then college... and I'll want to remember.

She's a compelling girl.  God has big things in line for her, I'm sure of it.  And I am so grateful to have a front-row seat to watch them unfold.

Thanks be to God for the chance to love, shepherd, and savor these three angels.  And, of course, that I got to have that little girl.  Two boys and a girl in my house is proof that He knows the desires of our hearts.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Gonna be some changes made

Gonna be some changes, some changes made
           Can't keep on doing what I've been doing these days
Better figure out something
Things are looking grave
Gonna be some changes, changes, changes made
~Bruce Hornsby
Just after I wrangled the small crowd of our family into seats in the auditorium for the high school band concert last spring, I heard something that caught my attention.  A quick look around produced the source.  It was your usual end-of-the-year slideshow, I'm sure put together by K, one of the other band directors.  There were great shots of our J, and some of the other band directors' kids.  Pictures from the spring trip, the football games, the other fun times surrounding high school band.  

And if you know me, you know I love band.  Pretty much in all its forms, I'm crazy about band.  

It was a lovely slideshow, and well put together.  Only one thing was missing.  The Senzig kids were no where to be found, and it's not due to omission on K's part.  If there had been pictures of us, they would have been used. The thing is, it's hard to have your picture taken in and around the band if you're afraid to try to go.  

And, with J's senior year approaching and the kids getting older, that just not acceptable.  

The reasons I've not gone so far do make sense.  The year Ryan was three and Richie was a baby, we went.  

Richie in his first Friday Night Lights

We <3 our G-Force!

Ryan in the stroller, being Mr. Big Brother

My sweet man in his natural habitat

Richie at about 4 months, awake and enjoying his first game of Goat football!

As you can see, the band and the band families sit in the end zone.  It's how we roll around here, and it's really pretty cool!  The band catches many a field goal.  But there's no boundary.  There's no clear definition that separates the band from the football team.  Again, very cool for the band kids!  I love it!  But for Ryan, who doesn't do well without boundaries and doesn't catch on to social cues, there is no understanding that he shouldn't run onto the field.  

So at the same time as I was pregnant with Maelynn, Ryan was just about too big for the double stroller.  I felt the about the worst I'd ever felt in a pregnancy with her.  Add that to the fact that Ryan was bigger and harder to deal with, and I wound up going to less games.  By last year, I hardly made one.  Slowly but surely, it seemed band was all but disappearing from our family.  Every Friday night I felt guilty, but didn't have what it took to keep up with everyone.  I was afraid I'd get started talking and Ryan would slip away.  Every Friday night we stayed home while Daddy was at the game.  

That is, until I saw the video.  I can't tell you enough how sure I am that K didn't leave us out.  She simply didn't have any pictures because I was too afraid of what might happen to even make it to the parking lot without help.  

This year, we're going to be there for every home game.  Barring illness and other natural disasters, the Senzig kids will be in the stands, proudly wearing their G-Force Band shirts.  We may not stay the whole time, we may not be there when things start.  We may have a meltdown over not getting to play drums whenever we want.  But we will be there.  

We will be there to support our Daddy, yes.  But we will also be there because band was my first love. The original plan was to be at everything... every evening rehearsal, every time they needed sectional teachers, everything I could offer I'd offer.  Our kids would grow up alongside the band kids.  Our kids would have 80 to 90 big brothers and sisters.  Just like my first head director and his family, we'd be a band family.  

Like so many things, our expectations had to be on hold.  We have to think of the kids' comfort and safety, and the level of randomness that Ryan can stand.  We have to consider how much I can take, too.  I'm human, and I can only watch my son scream, red-faced, and pound his chest with his fists for so long.  

This year, I'm tired of the kids my husband pours his heart into not knowing who I am.  I'm tired of them not knowing that I care how they do.  I'm tired of my own children not being exposed to something that is so much a part of us!  

We made our first step today.  Last night, I helped Eric make a little treat for the kids and put it together.   He delivered that one, and later in the day, I took the kids for the last 45 minutes of the first day of drumline camp.  As we piled out of the van, I took pieces of cotton ball and plugged their little ears to protect them, and we crossed the parking lot.  As the afternoon sunlight pierced the soft glow of fluorescent lighting, my husband introduced us, and we sat in the floor, out of the way.  

The kids danced.  They played.  Ryan made some freshman jaws drop with his amazing double stroke roll skills.  The first time Maelynn heard the drumline all play part of their show music together, she gasped and said breathlessly, "It's so beautiful!"  

Yes, we had our issues.  I had to run around a bit to keep them from destroying things.  But on the whole, I'm so relieved.  I came to Texas, initially, for band.  And now, I get to share it with my children.  Maybe not exactly the way I wanted.  

But that's better than okay.  It's amazing. 

Thanks be to God!


Friday, July 13, 2012

Bit of a messy day...

Today it all got to be a bit much.  I found myself waking up from a nap, my heart hurting, tired, weary. Frightened that the kids aren't seeing enough good in us.  Afraid we're losing at showing them how to be grateful, let alone gracious.

For real.  I thought I was going to cry if I heard Ryan ask for something for his birthday again.  His birthday was in May, but he will not stop asking over and over for this train and that track.  Then Richie starts to model Ryan, even though we tell him it's not a good idea.  We ask them instead what they'd like to get for others for the next birthdays coming up, trying to help them get more into giving than receiving.  Then Maelynn wails because I tell her that no, she can't have more milk until lunch.  Or because Richie sat in her chair.  Or breathed her air.

And I'm grouchy.  I show my frustration.  I draw impossible lines in the sand with the stick of desperation.

Then I feel bad because I wasn't Mrs. Perfectly Perky Mom.

Then my husband comes home, knowing I didn't sleep so much last night, and gives me nap time.  I toss and turn, then wake from the nap heart-sick at getting up and trying again.

Eric comes in over and over, piercing the silence... "Honey, are you ready to get up?"

How is it that his faithful sweetness somehow makes me feel worse?

Then I get up.  Slowly.  Drag myself to the kitchen table.  More than deflated... vacuumed. Collapsed.

Eric and I begin to talk, and slowly I realize that there is one thing bothering me, but I'm so used to it that I didn't think it needed addressing.  But it did.  It was huge. I was attempting to stuff it, but it needed speaking, confessing, admitting I can't handle it.  Because I can't.

I need the resources God has given.  I need His Word.  I need my husband.  I need the fellowship of other believers.  I need confession, even when the only repentance is to remember that I need help.  I need to reach out even when I think it'll take all the energy I have.

And especially when I don't want to.

Then I had a visit from our sweet J, joining us for pizza here at the house with the new guy she's dating. And I felt my soul re-inflate.

At the end of the evening, as Eric had the kids outside playing in the pool, as I bopped around the house cleaning from the day, I remembered something I learned from a Beth Moore study years ago.

Pray that God will protect your mind.  Your heart.  Your emotions.  That He will keep them in check, protecting you from yourself.  When acceptance and contentment seem out of reach, I must pray.  I must ask for help.  But this time?  This time I didn't.

He helped anyway.  He sent me the gift of my husband to talk to, the friends to visit and laugh with.  The porcelain-faced, curly golden-haired boy to ask me to show him the Caillou website.

Then I remember, once I'm restored and up and running again, that I've been rescued.  And there's the thankfulness I couldn't muster before.  The contentedness I usually have.  The appreciation for the fact that I do have it all... and I am living my dream.

And I realize I'm a lot more like the kids than I want to admit or even realize.  When things get to be too much, or they're not going my way, I fold my arms.  The entitlement sneaks in.  That nasty vine of self-pity grows fast, choking out the smiles and the good.

Pray your pain.  Don't ignore it.  And I don't care how crazy it sounds... ask God to protect your mind! We pray for everything under the sun, so why not?  Emotional pain is real.  God cares.  Moms and Dads have a lot to deal with.  The battle of advocating for a child with autism doesn't stop... it's not just something we do at school.  It's overwhelming at times.  And that's just the first thing that comes to mind.  We all have so much fighting for our thoughts and worries and concerns.  So much jockeying for our energy and time.  Take a minute to refocus.

But do it.  Get up again, and keep going.

Now I'm going to go do something I wouldn't have thought possible at about 3:00 this afternoon... go enjoy a movie in on the couch with my husband.

Thanks be to God for rescuing me even when I forget to ask.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Sing a Song

This week being Eric's last week of home-ness (well, except for two and a half days a the band hall to prepare) we're doing all the things we decided we were going to get done before the summer ended. You know, all the not as fun stuff.

As a result, I'm wearing more of the perfect color of blue than the walls in the boys' room.  The sad part is that I started this project with J in about August or September of last year.  Yes, my sweet sons' room stayed half "bolt of blue lightning" and half this icky green.  My school contemporaries will remember those two colors that always stayed sharp in your Jem school box... "yellow green" and "green yellow."  Way to go, Crayola.  Those two color names were truly a triumph of creative marketing!  Moving on...

The walls in most of the house, when we bought it, were this color.  It was tastefully done, and actually quite beautiful for someone who likes yellowgreenyellow or whatever.  But me?  I'm a blue girl like my Mama before me.  Last summer the kitchen got a couple of coats of "morning rain" and the bathroom got that and "Neptune blue", Mae's room is "fresh pink lemonade" and the perfect lavender... I can't remember the name.

When time came to pick the boys' color, I asked them.  Richie said "Thomas" and Ryan kinda agreed.  Actually, Ryan didn't seem to care one way or the other, or just didn't quite understand the concept of picking a color for one's room.  Abstract is NOT his forte.

Armed with one of the kids' Thomas engines, we made our way to the paint store.  After matching and matching, we kinda decided we liked this blue.  Not completely Thomas, but nice and cool and just flat awesome.

Before we finally began finishing the project, determined to get this done before I was without help with the kids to paint, we decided we'd start just after putting the kids down for a nap in the afternoon.  Ryan's content to hang out and play a little iPad, and once he was done he'd be welcome in the room, or one of us would go hang with him.  But little Richie couldn't sleep, so he toddled in to see us.  He was so precious!

Richie: "Are you tearing up my room?"

Me: "No, baby, I'm finally finishing painting."

Richie: "Oooooh!  Okay!   (long pause)  Are you painting my room blue?"

He was so cute and curious, politely questioning why I was moving all his furniture, and offering to help.  Eventually he lost interest, and in came Ryan shortly after.

He stood close enough to my paintbrush that I could hear him breathe, stuck out his neck, drew his hands up behind his ears, and hand-flapped!  He was stimming on the color changing with my strokes! He hung out in the room for a long time, trying to help off and on.  He didn't ask like Richie.  Instead, he walked up to me, saying "Give it to Ryan" in this calm, "It's okay, I'm a doctor" kind of voice.

After a few times of gently telling him no, I couldn't stand it.  I handed him the brush and, putting my hand over his, I helped him paint a little.  He'd tickle the wall (like my Mom taught me with watercolors as a little girl) only if my hand insisted.  Left to his own, he'd push as hard as he could, scratching at the wall with the metal part that holds the bristles.  He stopped pretty quick, but remained with me for a lot of the afternoon.

At the end of the evening, after the paint supplies were drying on the counter and the kids were ready for bed, they stood around the kitchen table at my laptop.  Richie had been dying to check out the Thomas website, and there were videos of the cheesy songs from the movies.  We stood here, Richie and I singing, Maelynn doing her best to keep up, and Ryan dancing around the kitchen, hand-flapping with all his might.  Every now and then, he'd come stare at me and smile when I was singing... that warm, happy, innocent, clean, calm, down-to-your-toes grin he has when he's himself.

It's delicious, that innocence.  If I had to have a favorite part of having a child with autism (or who has autism, or an autistic child... the difference to me between these monikers is unclear) that would be it.  The fact that my seven year old loves Thomas and Elmo.  He loves to listen to Sesame Street music and even sings along with the Spanish in "Sing"... even when Prairie Dawn doesn't.  I've also noticed and enjoyed more lately how precious he looks when he's stimming.  He has the cutest stim ever!  And I have backup... I don't think there's a Baylor psych student who's worked with him that wouldn't agree!

It's also something I hope my Richie and Maelynn cherish.  I pray that there isn't a day when they roll their eyes at their brother's complete disregard for age-appropriateness.  I pray that somehow the stares from the playground and the worries of what things look like will not squelch them in their creativity, being themselves, or their love for their brother.  I pray that they'll be able to enjoy what they enjoy, no matter what everyone else is doing.  I pray that on the day someone walks up to them and tells them how stupid that looks, sounds, or whatever that they'll be kind... but that they'll remember their brother, and that we are all fearfully and wonderfully made, and keep going.  I pray that if the day comes when their brother does something embarrassing when we're together, that they'll exhibit grace and mercy.  If they don't, I pray they'll learn humility and the importance of and the ability to say "I'm sorry."  I pray that all my kids grow up grounded in their true identity and where it comes from, not in the next fad, money, or things.

And that's all why, when that classic Sesame Street song comes on in the van, I'll likely well up again when I hear them singing from the back seats.  When I hear Ryan come up with the Spanish in between verses.  Because you can only truly sing out loud and sing out strong in joy if your life is centered on Christ... and I do hope they can sing for joy all their lives!

Sing... Sing a song
Sing out loud
Sing out strong
Sing of good things, not bad
Sing of happy, not sad

Sing... Sing a song
Make it simple to last your whole life long
Don't worry that it's not good enough
For anyone else to hear

Just sing... Sing a song

Words and music by Joe Raposo
Performed by the Carpenters and several folks on Sesame Street

Thanks be to God for the song in all of us!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Request

Normally, as we're leaving the BARC, Ryan talks about what he wants to do next, or the elevator, or he just hops and stims, walks, hops and stims, walks.  Usually this is what I hear:

"You WILL go to level 2, Mommy!"

"You WILL go to the bread store."

"HEB car wash!"

Always in his newscaster voice.  Always in the third person.  Never, "Mom, can we please go to get a car wash today?  Pllleeeease?"  Just what we WILL do, or he blurts out something like "HEB car wash!"  It's part of the process to, when he blurts out something he'd like, ask him "How do you ask for what you want?"  This usually results in his asking in a more pleasant way.  But this is just how things go.  It's our normal, if you will.

So imagine my surprise when, after therapy this week, we get just out of the building and he says "Nanny's house.  You WILL go to Nanny's house, Mommy!"



Well, it's...

He kept repeating it while I caught my breath.  Over and over.  Finally, I was able to stammer out something like, "Oh honey, I want to go to Nanny's too."

That wasn't enough.  He kept saying it.  Ugh.  "Died" and "passed away" are hard enough concepts for a typical child... or even adult... to get their mind around.  But Mr. Concrete?  Mr. Literal?  Oh dear.  So I did what any other mother would do.  The best I could.

He accepted it.  Was it theologically correct?  Not sure.  I told him that although I wanted to see her too, it would be harder since she moved in with Jesus.  I know.  Not the best answer.  But what do you say?

On the way home, I had a good 50 minutes to mull it over.  Pray about it.  Think about it.  And the answer?

That request from my son, my friends, was a sweet, comforting hug from God.  Or, as Mom and Dad S's friend says, a "kiss from Jesus."  Yes, it was hard for me to hear him request something that I couldn't give him, and all the more because I want it with all I am too.  I miss that woman every day.  She's all over my house in different ways, in different things she taught me, things she handed down, and in every time I subconsciously use one of her mannerisms or call one of my kids "shug".   Shortly after she passed, I kept having those dreams where I went to her house, and there she was, in the den!  After asking my mother what in the world was going on in the kitchen, I went back to Nanny, fell in her lap, and poured out how horrible it was when I thought she died.  In the dream, she'd stroke my hair, call me a "crazy thing" a few times, and it was all ok.  The only time in my life when I woke up with tears streaming down my face.  So losing her has been hard at best.  Having Ryan, who doesn't ask for much other than the people train, elevator, and certain floors, ask for her was quite a shock.

Then I realized that thing that made it all not just okay, but joyful.


I've been so sad that Mae and Richie won't likely remember her or how much she loved them.  I know it's just my feelings and doesn't have much bearing on the world.  But now I know.  

I believe that God knows and feels that pain.  I believe that He loves me.  And you know what?  I believe that he knows how hard this has been, whether it seems rational to anyone else or not.

Wow.  What a wonder.  The whole universe to run and He takes a minute to bless me.

Thanks be to God!

If any of you parents have any ideas on what to say next time, I'd be grateful to have your suggestions.  I'm at a loss, partially because he doesn't exactly voice his feelings verbally.  

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Creeper

This year, we've begun to enjoy yard work for the first time since Ryan was born.  I mean actually get out and try to grow some things other than weeds.  It's probably a combination of having our own house, having the kids old enough to run around the yard (in back where it's fenced) while we work, and just plain-old wanting to have the place look nice.  With three kids, after all, we will be outside a good piece of the time.

The recent bane of my husband's gardening existence is an ivy-like vine.  We first noticed it in the spring, when it began to grow close to my clothes line.  It was kinda pretty, to tell the truth.  I wasn't too worried about it, so I left it.  After all, how can anything with a cute little purple flower be bad?

Through different little yard jobs here and there, we noticed that vine taking over a few things.  We still didn't worry with it too much.  There aren't many things that stay green in central Texas sun!  BUt we saw more and more of it.  Soon, Eric figured out that it was the primary cause of one of our bigger flowering bushes not growing properly.  It was even trying to choke out one of the rose bushes!

Once Eric started evicting this horticultural menace we began to see how tightly and thoroughly it encased each branch.  There was simply no room for any positive growth for the host.  I watched a little as he yanked, pulled, tugged, and threw.  Over and over for a couple of days he worked on removing this mess a little at a time.  When we was finally through, he brought the root to me as I watered my tomatoes and zucchini.  We were both amazed at the depth and diameter of this thing.  It was clear that the vine wasn't leaving until we did some radical surgery.

There are things about life that just aren't fair.  Things happen that we didn't plan, and we have days when we want to sit in a corner and pout.  Just a little.  There are times when we're talking with a friendly, caring soul who mentions that they don't know how we do it.  There are also the times when someone is quite the opposite of friendly and caring.  Either way the pendulum swings, we have to rein in our hearts and emotions.  With both extremes there is danger.

In a hurting, weary heart, we can easily turn to self-pity.  It comes in so many packages and wears so many masks.  And just a little won't hurt anything... after all, we're only human, right?

"Did you hear what she said?  This really is hard, isn't it!"

"I deserve a break.  I deserve so much that I'm not getting!"

"Why can't we do what they do?"

"All this thankfulness stuff is great, gratitude sounds nice and all, but where is it really getting me?"

"Nobody understands.  Nobody wants to understand.  There's no end in sight; guess I'm always going to be alone."

It manifests it self in so many ways.  It twists and turns, makes you think you make more sense than anyone else and that your life is so much harder.  The truth is that no one gets my issues.  No one. But guess what?  No one gets anyone else's either.  Not really.  Not fully.  Honestly, as close as my husband and I are, we each still have to figure ourselves out.  The best part about being a believer is just that.

I know someone who gets it.  I forget to turn to Him too often, but when I do, things always get better.  They may not get better externally.  The situation may not change, but our hearts can.  I know that when the word "autism" was first spoken, I prayed fervently that it wouldn't be autism.  Please God.  Not that.

But guess what?  Ryan is autistic.  Richie's not, Maelynn's not, and for that I'm thankful.  But Ryan is.  God is capable of doing anything.  He could make Ryan wake up tomorrow completely void of all the challenges he faces today.  I truly believe that.  No, I'm not angry that Ryan still has autism when God could take it away.  And I love Christ more today than I did then.  He is Lord; he has held my hand through so many things when others fell short.  He has taught me through the Word, other believers, and the peace that passes my understanding that no matter what mess there is, He is there.  While autism is not for sissies, it's made me a better person in ways words cannot express.

Still there are times when the nasty little vine of self-pity pops up.  It's actually kind of refreshing at first.    But before I know it, that sneaky intruder has snaked along every branch of my life, holding each leaf hostage.  I wonder why I feel so frustrated and why it's so easy to snap at the kids.  I catch myself speaking to my husband in ways I know aren't healthy.  My thoughts become more focused on how hard it is... and it is hard... rather than how many incredible gifts we hold.

Yes, it is hard.  Intellectually, I can say with all confidence that it's like parenting with the challenges and struggles magnified a hundred times.  I know that, but I can't let my heart live there.  If my heart lives there, I forget other people's struggles.  I forget that everyone has issues and hurts, and that suffering is not a competition.  A brotherhood, maybe.  Competition?  No way.  There is no yardstick for pain, sadness, or misery.

And before I cut out for the night, I must remind you that I haven't figured out how to obliterate the vines for good.  Sometimes I catch them quickly, yanking them out by the roots.  But other times I wait a bit... and when I do, I always wish I hadn't.  I can't pretend it doesn't hurt, but I can choose to look around and find ways to make things better.

That bush in the backyard?  It's slowly greening up a bit.  The rose bush is still not happy.  It's green, though it's growing in an odd direction.  But they can both count on their grower... their caretaker... to rip out the vines when he sees them.

Thanks be to God for being our maker and caretaker.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Balance and the Buffet

When I was teaching, you couldn't go a year without having at least one child who you just kinda felt was smothered a bit.  You do your best not to make assumptions, but there are some you feel sorry for because their parents don't care at all, and there are some who can't seem to breathe.  My mind jumps immediately to the mom we saw at one school, standing on the sideline of a junior high football game with her son.  Yes, he was supposedly on the team, but I think he was of my kind... you know, rode the bench.  Good kid, as I remember.  But sitting in the stands, seeing this poor kid standing there on the sideline with his helmet sitting square atop his head, squealing "ouch" and "stop it, mom!" while his mother attempted to cram it straight down by smacking it with her hand.

That poor guy.  Yes, I know mom meant well.  But sometimes meaning well gets in the way.  Misplaced or over applied, our well-meant care might make things infinitely harder on our kids.

I'm not talking about checking the fifth time to make sure they're breathing when they're newborns, or looking twice and counting heads to make sure everyone's out of the van (good idea when it's this hot, folks).  That stuff is normal, and actually a good idea.  And we can all see that maybe (obviously without knowing the back story) the helmet-cramming mom might have had good reason to be embarrassing her son this way.  I have no idea.  And in the other months of the time I spent as a registrar at a private school (incredibly random job for me, no?) I saw kids move in and out, out and in. So many of them had reasons other than the prestige of a private school (which is hilarious because it wasn't that kind of private school) or because they started there.  There were parents desperately trying to figure out how to help their child.  For one reason or the other, little Johnny was drowning. Maybe it was public schools' fault, maybe their peers' fault... maybe this place will help.

And it's not just there.  There are so many ways that, looking back, I can see that parents here and there were struggling to strike a balance.  Somehow, I guess I thought that wouldn't happen to us.  Maybe I thought we were smarter than they were and would have the perfect answer for everything.  Actually, I'm sorry to say that I'm pretty sure that's the truth.

As you know, that balance has definitely not escaped us.  It's not where he'll go to school (although homeschool is never off the table completely), whether or not to get him an iPhone, or how late he should stay out riding his bike or if he should be allowed out at all.

No, these questions came slowly out of nowhere, like a storm building slowly over the horizon.  You see nothing at first, then the edges, then the dark clouds, and then it finally begins to rain like crazy.  Thunder, lightning, even a tornado... like last spring... when you hunker down in the shelter (or in our case, the hall) and pray.  But there's a funny thing about the shelter.  You can see nothing.  You can't really tell if it's safe to come out.  Someone has to get brave and open the door.

We're in a place like that with Ryan so often.  At church yesterday, we didn't have communion.  Usually we to every Sunday.  Once the sermon is over and we've spoken the words of institution, one of us will go to the nursery and get Richie and Maelynn.  This is a family thing.  We walk forward together, Eric and I partake of the elements, and the kids walk to the front with us holding our hands.  Then we all walk back together and sit.  Shortly after that, the music ends and church is over after the benediction.  Well, except yesterday.

Toward the end of the sermon, Ryan started to ask for Richie and Mae-mae.  "Go get Richie and Mae-mae" he says in his newscaster voice.  Somewhere between not getting Richie and Mae-mae and the organized chaos that is summer fellowship lunches (which are wonderful), Ryan wasn't handling things.  While Eric was taking a turn calming Ryan, who decided that screaming and hitting aren't enough and writhing on the floor was a nice addition to his meltdown routine, I visited with our friend H.

For so many reasons, she gets it.  We talked about why it's hard when it's different.  And that sometimes, it just has to be.  Different has to happen.  We must throw him a curve ball now and again if we ever expect him to live in the world.  But at the same time, he has to be safe.  It's our job to strike the balance between curve balls and routine.

There's not an easy way to define those boundaries.  They're a bit like skin. Flexible yet protective, repairable if we've gone too far.  Well, mostly.  And we can't always see that far enough ahead to prepare for everything.  We thought we'd simply go to the lunch yesterday, no big deal.  But with Ryan on the edge of another meltdown and Mae due for a nap, it just wasn't happening.  So instead of lunch with friends and then groceries, we went home.  Not before we tried lunch and it wasn't working.

Later, after the kids had a chance to reset and rest a bit, we were able to go back out and get dinner and groceries, with Ryan even eating someplace we hadn't tried.  True, he ate chicken nuggets and fries from the Chinese buffet, but hey.  He ate.  It was different, and he ate.  And the fries were shaped differently.  We left having had a great time as a family, kinda wondering why we hadn't tried that before.

Then we looked at the sky outside as we left, and I remembered.  It had been storming, but the storm had passed, leaving a damp feel to the air.  The murky blue storm clouds hung low over the horizon, reminding us of what we'd been through.

Six months ago we wouldn't have dared enter a restaurant that didn't have a burger or pizza on the menu.  But with the blessing of ABA therapy and a dedicated, loving therapist we got brave and peeked out to see if the storm had passed.

And then we remembered that, if the day had gone according to plan, we'd have been driving through the big, bad storm that was surely over the highway we take to Waco and home.

Days like that... striking the balance, unsure of the outcome... remind us of how grateful we have to be for the sovereignty of God.  We don't know what the future holds at all.  But we do know Who holds the future.

Thanks be to God! 
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