Peanut Butter Easter Eggs of Grace: Unwrapped

Last week I shared with you an object lesson I used to teach my kids about grace. They received a peanut butter egg even when they behaved badly and didn’t deserve one. This, I taught them, was grace. If you missed that post, you can read it here: http://www.catherineburleigh.com/devotionals/peanut-butter-easter-eggs-of-grace/

It occurred to me as I further contemplated this object lesson that there was a piece of the lesson I hadn’t unwrapped — the unwrapping of the egg. At the end of my post I touched on the invitation to open and enjoy the egg. But I didn’t delve in to what so many of us do with the grace that is offered to us.

We leave the it sitting on the table unopened. Unenjoyed.

You can imagine that when my children received their peanut butter egg of grace, they didn’t just leave it to sit on the table. I would have thought they were nuts if they did!

Can you imagine a child saying to his parent, “Wow, that’s so nice, Mom, I think I’ll just admire this treat on my shelf rather than eating it.” Or even more shocking: “No, I really don’t deserve this treat, so you can’t give it to me.” As parents, we would be shocked to hear this response to the offer of a treat. The treat is meant to be opened and enjoyed.

My kids didn’t save it for another time.

They didn’t fuss or moan about how unworthy they were.

They didn’t try to tell me, the giver, that they were unqualified to receive the egg.

They eagerly opened it up and devoured all its goodness. They simply enjoyed the grace that was given to them.

So many of us carry around this same type of arsenal of excuses as to why we’re unworthy of God’s grace. Why we leave it sitting on the table unopened.

But the fact of the matter is that it is HIS GRACE TO GIVE.

He is the one who determines who receives it — and he offers it freely to all. It’s not up to us to decide if we are worthy of his grace. Of course we aren’t. That’s the whole point. Yet we seem to allow ourselves to believe that we can’t receive his grace because our own merits are lacking. Grace is a gift, free and clear. If we don’t allow ourselves to receive it because we’re unworthy, then we are missing the point altogether.

It’s not meant to be admired from afar. It’s meant to be consumed, taken in, enjoyed fully.

Don’t leave God’s grace wrapped up, sitting on the table. Don’t save it for another time. Don’t make excuses and whine about how unworthy you are. Just enjoy it. Unwrap the grace and be thankful for a God who loves you and lavishes grace upon you.

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Peanut Butter Easter Eggs of Grace

Grace is a concept that I have really struggled to explain to my kids. It often comes up when we’re talking about forgiveness and what Jesus has done for us, but that’s so abstract for little minds to take in. This past week, we had the perfect object lesson for grace.

We were at Walmart… Doesn’t every good story begin that way?

I rarely take all three of my children to the store with me, except during the dreaded grocery trips of summer. But sometimes, circumstances necessitate an after school trip with all three of the babes. Sophie’s new glasses coming in after nearly two weeks of all the other pairs being lost (the third pair since December, friends, Arg!), was the extenuating circumstance that led us all to the store together after school last week.

And I also needed paper clips. Of course. So we couldn’t just go into the vision center at Walmart and then sneak right back out. We had to actually travel into the store itself.

As we passed through a check out lane in reverse, heading into the store, Sophie spied the Easter candy and swiped a bag of peanut butter eggs. Now folks, I really love peanut butter eggs. There’s no comparison, in my book, of any other candy that comes close to the peanut butter egg. So I consented that they could get the eggs, IFFFFFFF they would behave in the store.

I bet you can guess where this is going.

They DID NOT BEHAVE.

All three of them threw fits and cried at one point during our brief (BRIEF!!!) trip, over some sort of nonsense. I scolded them and threatened them about losing their eggs, even told them that they weren’t going to get an egg when we got home. But I’ll be darned if I wasn’t going to get one after my bravery in taking ALL THREE CHILDREN to WALMART. So we bought the eggs. Most definitely.

The car ride home was very quiet. While I didn’t lose my cool on them, they knew they had pushed it too far. When we got into the driveway, it was Micah’s tiny, meek voice I heard: “Mom, are you still going to give us an egg?”

Calmly I replied, “You know what son? Yes. Yes, I am. You don’t deserve one at all, do you?” (Everyone agreed with me.) “But I am going to give you one anyways. Do you know why?”

Blank stares in my direction. Confused faces. Shakes of the heads.

I continued: “I’m going to give you something that you don’t deserve because I love you, and that’s called grace.”

Finally, the lightbulb went on! That is GRACE!

As I passed out the eggs at the table inside, I asked each child, “What is this called?”

And they all replied, with varying degrees of speech impediment: “Grace.”

That, my friends, is grace. It’s getting the peanut butter egg of life, even when we’ve been a rotten monster. It’s receiving Jesus’ love and accepting his gift of life even when we least deserve it.

So go ahead and enjoy that delicious life that Jesus has offered you. Don’t let the enemy convince you that you shouldn’t have it because you don’t deserve it. That’s exactly what makes grace so magnificent — you don’t deserve it. And yet it is offered to you, full and free and wonderful, because He loves you!

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A Good Helper is a Good Listener

My older kids are 7 and 4, so they are in the prime age to be little helpers. They LOVE to help! But as anyone knows who has been helped by a young child, “help” is a relative term. Even though sometimes allowing my children to help me means the job will be slower for me, I want to honor their desire to help and to learn. So I find ways to allow them into the process of whatever I’m doing.

Because we believe in teaching personal responsibility and family teamwork at a young age, our children have weekly chores. (I could write an entire post on the benefits of chores!) One of Sophie’s jobs that she loves to do is to be the dinner helper. When I’m getting ready to put dinner on the table, Sophie’s job is to make sure the table is cleaned off of all toys and craft supplies, and then she can begin helping me with getting dinner on the table. She’s usually very eager to do the second part of this process, but very resistant to doing the first part. She doesn’t want to clear off the table and put away her toys. This week, this conundrum resulted in a meltdown. She didn’t get to help with putting dinner on the table, because she was still engaged in the first task of putting toys away, because she didn’t get to it when I asked her to. Sophie was devastated that she didn’t get to help in the way she wanted.

Again the next day she was eager to help me with a load of laundry I was folding and putting away. I gave her a task to do, but she didn’t want to do that particular part of the job (putting away the clothes which were hers from the load). Instead, she wanted to take one bath towel to put away. Given that she can’t reach where the bath towels are kept, and that there were several other linen closet items, I resisted her request to do this task. While I continued folding the remainder of the laundry, she argued with me about how she was going to help.

“But I want to put the towel away” she whined.

“I asked you to put your items away” I reminded her.

“But I want to put this towel away too” she replied.

“Ok, thats fine, but you haven’t done the first thing I asked you to do yet.”

“But I want to help with this towel” she persisted.

I’m sure you can see how this played out. She argued with me so long that again, she didn’t get to help at all. I finished folding and gathered up all the other items and put them away. This really set her off. And since it was almost time to leave for school, the conversation continued into the car.

“Why didn’t I get to help with the laundry this morning?”

“Because Sophie, when you are a helper, you do what the boss asks you to do. Helping isn’t done through doing whatever it is that you want to do. It’s done by doing what you’re asked to do. Sometimes what you want to do isn’t the most helpful thing or even the thing that needs done or even something that you are able to do. If you truly want to help someone, you have to do whatever it is that they need you to do.”

And I finished with a line that my children probably could say in their sleep: “A good helper is a good listener.”

Since I was already on my soapbox, and since the Holy Spirit was nudging me yet again through my own words, I carried on in our morning prayer. “Lord, help us to be good helpers to you today. Help us to do not just whatever it is that we may want to do, but help us to listen so that we can know what it is that you need us to do. Help us to be good helpers who listen and do what you’re asking instead of just what we want.”

This conversation really impacted me. How many times do I ask God what he needs and then just charge ahead with whatever I want to do anyways? This is exactly what my children, particularly Sophie, like to do when helping. I love that they have the desire to help, and I want to include them, but it would actually be helpful if they were listening to me and aiding me, instead of just doing their own thing.

If we’re honest, we all could probably improve upon our listening. If we took a closer look, I’m sure we would all find instances where we asked God how we could help, but then we did what we wanted instead. And maybe that wasn’t the thing that He needed done the most. Maybe we missed out on truly helping because we were too busy throwing a fit about what we wanted to do when he asked us to do something else. Like children who want to help a parent, we all need to remember that a good helper is a good listener.

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Memories of Daddy: Prayer

When I was a little girl, I recall vividly the way my Daddy prayed. He prayed about everything. All the time. We’d be pulling into a parking lot, and I’d hear his familiar prayer, “Lord, we just need one parking space.” It seemed like such a silly thing to pray for. And yet, as an adult, I find myself saying the same thing, out loud, with my own kids in earshot as we pull into a parking lot.

My Daddy had an ongoing conversation with his Heavenly Father. If we passed an accident, he always prayed, “Lord, those people need your help.” If he couldn’t find something, I’d hear, “Lord, where is so and such. You know where it is. Please show me.” If anyone in our family was sick, he was quick and ready to lay hands on us and pray for healing. Before every meal, he prayed more than just “Thank you for our food,” often tearing up as he spoke with his loving Father. My Daddy was a man of prayer.

While I sometimes catch myself praying similar prayers as an adult, I don’t think I realized the full impact of his continual dialogue with God on me until just recently.

A grandmother in our church shared with me about a time she visited our preschool classroom with her granddaughter who was visiting and wouldn’t stay in the class alone. The teachers asked for someone to lead in prayer before snack, and my son Micah was a ready volunteer. As he began to pray, her eyes bulged out, recounting it to me, she exclaimed, “He took us to church!” as people often say of someone who prays a moving prayer. She was blown away by the prayer of my four year old. (But, not to worry, she said, as he was soon talking about poop and being a typical four-year-old again!)

In that moment of talking with Pam is when my Daddy’s legacy hit me. He was a man of prayer. He made me a woman of prayer. And now my children are becoming people of prayer.

My Daddy left a legacy of prayer in my life because he was always doing it in front of me. I’m sure we can all identify problem habits that our children have because they’ve seen us model them. But are we modeling the good habits also? My Daddy modeled “pray without ceasing” every day of his life when I was growing up. And now it’s ingrained in me. I want the same thing for my children. But I realize that if I don’t model it for them, then they won’t grasp it in that way. If I never prayed with them or in their earshot, then how would they learn to pray?

Many people like to use rote prayers that are repeated before meals or bedtime, “Now I lay me down to sleep” stuff. That’s alright, but I don’t think it captures the real relationship I have with my Heavenly Father. Sure, there are things I don’t pray about in front of my kids because they don’t need to know the intimate details of certain situations. But there are a lot of things I do pray about in front of my kids. I want them to know what authentic conversation with God sounds like.

That’s what prayer is in our house — a conversation with God. And my kids know they can talk to God anytime. He’s always listening, I tell them. My kids are invited in to prayer time throughout our day. Sometimes they choose to repeat what I’m praying, and sometimes they pray their own prayers.

I’m thankful I had a Daddy who taught me to pray continually through the way he lived his life. And now, in turn, I hope to model that for my children as well.

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Say Thank You

As you begin reading this, I’d like for you to think of something you’re grateful for. Just a word or two, something that you’re grateful for. I’ll come back to that in a little bit.

Most of you know that I’m in the trenches of motherhood that many know can be very draining. Little people can be very demanding, very needy, very emotional, very irrational little people. Tiny tyrants attempting to rule the house with their miniature iron fists. As we battle for control each day, one of the things that I’m always drilling into my kids while they are still young is “Say thank you.” I want them to grow up not as entitled, spoiled, grown up tyrants, but as people who realize they are blessed every day.

Here is a lesson in saying thank you that really hit home with me.

My children go to two different schools, so every morning we have the hustle and bustle of getting everyone out the door on time. Some mornings you would think Mary Poppins is directing traffic in my house as everyone does everything they’re supposed to do, in a timely fashion, with a happy face. I almost catch myself whistling “A Spoonful of Sugar!”

But other days, my journey through the morning feels more like the highway to you know where! Everyone’s crying. Everyone’s yelling. No one can find their shoes, or their mittens, or their glasses. I’m more like a drill sergeant throwing children out the door and into van.

One particular day not too long ago, this was the tune of our morning. We were all yelling, crying, the kids were fighting, running late, of course. Not my favorite type of morning. And I hate to drop my kids off at school when everyone is mad at everyone! That’s the worst. So this particular morning, as everyone was bundled in the van, Sophie was crying and throwing a fit, Micah was complaining and whining, the baby was just making noise to be part of the chaos. And I thought, how do I flip this? How do I help these babies get through this yucky morning and have a good day?

Gratitude. That was the answer.

So I (loudly) asked everyone “What’s something you’re thankful for today?” I had to ask it more than once to be heard over the mayhem. But soon the answers started coming: a warm van to get to school, the beautiful snow, my friends at school, my mom, twinkle twinkle little star (from Hannie, of course). Soon we were on a roll, and everyone was feeling SO MUCH BETTER. We turned those thankful moments into our prayer time for the day before we dropped my son off to school.

Gratitude makes all the difference, doesn’t it?

One of my favorite Scriptures is I Thessalonians 5:16-18. It’s probably well known to many of you. It reads: “Rejoice always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

I have a background as an English teacher, so whenever I approach words, I do that with my English teacher brain on. Can’t do it any other way! But what I first notice about this Scripture is that it’s a command. It’s written in the indicative tense, which means the subject of the action is “you” understood. In other words, you could read “YOU rejoice” “YOU pray continually” “YOU give thanks in all circumstances.” The “you” isn’t written there, but it’s understood that the sentence is talking to you. It’s commanded of “you” to do this. It’s not a suggestion. It’s not a feeling. It’s a command.

The next aspect of this short Scripture that I notice is the adverbs. These are the words that describe the action of the sentence. We have “always” “continually” and “in all circumstances.” These words further show us that the action commanded is not something we do just when we feel like it, or when it’s convenient. These are things we should do all the time. Always. Continually. In all circumstances.

Yet on mornings like the one I described to you earlier, rejoicing and giving thanks were the furthest things from my kids’ minds. As an adult, it wasn’t all that difficult for me to draw them out of that little funk with a time of thanksgiving. It really did turn our whole morning around, mine included. But that’s just a difficult morning.

What about when the really hard days come? When you lose your job, or your spouse loses their job. When someone you love gets a difficult diagnosis. When your spouse leaves you. When a friend dies. When a child falls into addiction. When you lose everything. There are many moments in life that it is very, very difficult to give thanks.

I’ve had many moments like this in my life. Moments, seasons really, where is it very difficult to be grateful. Most of you probably know that my daughter Sophie has autism. Her journey has been filled with difficulty from literally the moment of her birth. At times, that’s something that’s been very hard to say thank you for. I remember one morning in particular not that long ago, I was feeling sorry for myself about her autism diagnosis, and I felt that gentle nudge to give thanks. So I began to try and think of things I was thankful for because of autism. It’s still a little hard for me to say, “thank you for autism.” But I’m working towards that. But still there were so many things that I found to be thankful for.

There have been so many people that we’ve been privileged to interact with because of her diagnosis. We’ve received the help and support of so many different teams of people. The beauty in her overcoming so many obstacles is incomparable. That would be absent if it weren’t for her struggles. Our church family has come around us in such an amazing way to love and support our daughter and our whole family. Again, blessings that would be absent if our need had not be present.

And then there’s those little things that make Sophie Sophie. When I’m cleaning and I find all of her hatchimals shoved into a tiny baby sock that she was using to cart them around. Just those little things that make her her. She wouldn’t have some of those endearing habits if it wasn’t for autism. And even though the diagnosis is difficult to accept and be thankful for, I wouldn’t change Sophie for the world. I love her completely, every bit of her, with my whole heart. Would I remove some of her obstacles? Yes, in a heartbeat. But I also know the same God who controls all things in this giant cosmos for his purpose sees Sophie and controls her life in his good hands too.

So let’s call to mind what you thought of earlier when I asked you to choose something you’re grateful for. If I had to guess, or if I’d been in your seat, I would have probably written, my family, my husband, my job, my church, something like that. I doubt very much I would have written “autism.”

And yet, this is something that God has allowed in to my life. And gratitude, I believe, is the key to finding peace in those situations. Because gratitude restores my perspective. Instead of seeing God through the lens of my circumstances, I can see my circumstances through the lens of his love. I can remember that I believe in a God who is both totally good and totally sovereign. There’s nothing that happens to me that he hasn’t allowed. And there’s nothing in his nature of doing that, that isn’t good and kind. I have chosen to believe that no matter what is happening around me, my God is always kind. And so even when the difficult moments come, I can say “thank you.” It doesn’t erase the grief or the pain or the anger or the fear immediately, but it does restore peace, the peace that passes understanding which is promised in Philippians 4:6-7, another passage that reminds us to pray, to give thanks, and to trust.

So as you think back on that thing you chose to be grateful for, I want challenge you to add a second thing to be grateful for. You won’t feel grateful for it, but you can choose to be. You can choose to be grateful in all things because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. And I trust that as you choose to be grateful, the Holy Spirit will bring you peace, and your perspective of a good and loving God will be restored to guide you through the difficult road you may be walking.

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Think About what You’re Thinking About

I had a conversation with Sophie this week that started me thinking about what I’m thinking about. One of the issues that often accompanies autism is anxiety. Sophie struggles with anxiety in regard to a few specific things, such as loud noises,  safety drills at school, her daily routine, and candles — they are terrifying. Her anxiety causes her to fixate on these certain things, which manifests as continual questions about them.

“Mom, what do we do if there’s a tornado drill today?”
“Mom, what if there are candles in the school?”
“Mom, what if the kids get loud around me, what can I do?”
“Mom, what are we doing today?” times 100, especially when the answer is “Nothing” or “We don’t have plans” or “It’s a snow day today.”

Sophie enjoys routine, predictability, and perceived control. When she feels out of control or loses sight of the routine, she asks these questions over and over again. It can be very frustrating. She knows the answer to the question she’s asked, and the answer never changes. The answer also doesn’t alleviate the anxiety that she’s feeling.

Most of the time, I try to just change the subject or ask her to talk about something else. But this week I went at the issue head on with a little Jesus action. I said, “Sophie, why are you dwelling on things that cause you to feel anxious? The Bible says, ‘Set you mind on things above.’ That means you need to set your mind on better things. You shouldn’t be continually thinking about things that don’t help you feel good. You should be thinking about things that make you happy.”

I expected a zillion questions about this statement. But instead, she quickly shifted into topics that make her happy. “Like how my teacher left me the star student sign in our yard? That makes me happy.” Then we began spelling words together, which makes her SO happy.

Teaching our kids what the Bible says about how we should live, and think, is so important! I am continually reminding myself as a parent that my kids are born knowing NOTHING. Having a one and a half year old at home, this is very evident right now. I explain to her older siblings all the time, “Hannie didn’t know that the paper would rip if she did that” or “Hannie didn’t realize the toy would break if she threw it.” Kids don’t know. They just don’t. It’s my job to lead them by example and by teaching how God says we should live our lives. I think there was a lot of freedom for Sophie in that conversation. She realized that she doesn’t HAVE TO think about things that make her feel anxious. It’s much better for her if she thinks about things that are pleasant.

These moments when I’m trying to teach something simple to my children, the Holy Spirit always gives me the elbow and says, “Yeah, why DO YOU do that??” Because I struggle with negative thoughts too. I don’t always dwell in my fears and anxieties like Sophie, but there are many ways where I fail to “set my mind on things above.” Whether it’s dwelling in a grouchy mood or over-analyzing a relationship or problem, or simply complaining about my situation, I let my mind sit in a negative rut too. There are so many better places to dwell than in a problem. And we are not captives to our minds. We are not the victims of our thoughts who just have to sit there and take it while our minds run wild. We can take control of what we’re thinking about and do what Colossians says: “Set your minds on things above.” We can count our blessings. We can dwell on a God who loves us and who is working all things for our good. We can be intentional about seeing what’s going on that’s good.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8

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A Thanksgiving Story: Chutes and Ladders

One of my favorite times with my son Micah these days is our afternoon time when Hannah is napping and Sophie is still at school. It’s our special time of day where we get to be together just the two of us. As the middle child, he really needs that time. Sometimes we bake together. He loves to help. And sometimes we’ll play cars, or blocks, or hide and seek. But most often Micah will ask me to play a game. He’s just getting to the age where he understands games well, and I think he perceives that I enjoy games, too.

Recently, I decided he was ready for Chutes and Ladders. It’s a bit more complex than Candy Land or Memory, but he picked it up quickly. He also quickly picked up how to cheat. If he could see a ladder ahead, he would jump two squares while only counting one number so that he could get ahead. Or, he’d count a square twice if he realized he was going to end up going down a chute. The only problem is that all his attempts to control the game didn’t always lead to him succeeding overall, or even in the very next turn. He’d try to manipulate one turn to avoid a chute or gain a ladder, only to end up at another chute on the next turn, because of the square he jumped on the previous turn. Micah quickly became so focused on controlling the game — avoiding the chutes and finding the ladders in the game — that he ceased to enjoy the play. We stopped in the middle of one of our games to talk about this. I explained how his attempts to control his game weren’t really helping, and they were just causing him to not enjoy playing. When he quit worrying about controlling his every move on the board, he was able to return to enjoying it, even if he did have to go down a few chutes. He learned that those few chutes didn’t determine the outcome of the game, nor how much he enjoyed the game.

Isn’t that just like life? Maybe it’s just me. I know that I have spent large amounts of time trying to control each detail of my life to work out “just right,” or worrying about each detail that feels out of control. But then the next turn, despite my careful efforts to control it all, I just ended up going down that darn chute. We can waste a lot of energy and thought worrying about things we can’t control anyways so much that we don’t enjoy life. Those things don’t control the outcome for us either. But we are quick to lose sight of that. In the face of a job loss, a diagnosis, an addiction, an illness, a death, we can sometimes lose sight of the fact that it will all be ok in the end. I’m not saying that we must enjoy always the chutes of life. There are moments of deep grief and pain that must be endured. But we can’t allow those to rob us of our foresight of the outcome, or of our joy at playing the game either.

Sophie’s autism diagnosis has been hard for me. Really hard. But I’m learning that I can’t let that steal my joy. There’s still a whole lot to enjoy about this game, even though it looks different than I anticipated. This week in response to my pastor’s message on giving thanks, I recounted the different things I had to be thankful for specifically because of autism, that I would never have been blessed by without this diagnosis.

There are people I have gotten to know who I would never have known. Many of them. And I am so thankful for each one. Multiple speech therapists whom I will always tear up when I think of, because they literally gave my child her voice. Patient, kind and gracious educational aides who have helped Sophie with tasks that no one but her mother should have to do. Teachers who have loved my little girl like their own, who have rejoiced at each hurdle she overcame. Little friends who taught this grown up about true friendship. I tried to imagine what my life would be like if I didn’t know these people or hold these memories of them. It felt barren. These people have brought a richness to my life that I would otherwise not know.

And there are also so many lessons I have learned, ways that my faith has grown, because of this diagnosis. I have learned to live in today, and not the future. I have learned to trust in a deeper way. I have overcome fears. I have developed faith-filled friendships, some where I have walked before another mama going through this, and some where I have walked behind another wiser mama. I have learned to lighten up, and learned to be more patient. So while I may continue to rage at the brokenness of our world, I find that I can also be thankful to my God who is always “working all things for the good of those who love him who are called according to his purpose.” Even for autism.

Whatever your chute is, can you trust Him enough to say thank you and trust anyways? Can you grab ahold of your blessings and your joy in spite of the bitterness of the slide? Thankfulness is a choice. It is an exercise in faith. It is a very good place to begin if you’ve lost your joy of the game for the chutes you’ve tried to control but had to slide anyways.

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Sophie’s Story: Diagnosis Six Months In

Six months ago today Sophie was diagnosed by her school psychologist with Autism. After six months, there is still a part of my heart that breaks to write that sentence. There is still a part of my heart that denies its truth. I wonder if there will always be. I don’t know. I do know that there will for certain always be a part of my heart that rages against what’s broken in our world. Sophie is a beautiful creation of God, but she, like allllll the rest of us, is not free from the reaches of sin and brokenness. I rage against cancer. I rage against drug addiction. I rage against so many wrong things that we accept as our identities in this broken world. So maybe there will always be a part of me that rages against autism. But what I have realized over the past six months is that none of that is a reflection of my acceptance of my Sophie girl, just as she is. I used to feel guilty for being angry about her diagnosis, as if that anger was some rejection of her. But it’s not. We’re allowed to be angered by the things that are wrong in our world. Time has allowed me to see that each of my children has a “brokenness diagnosis,” though they all look different. There’s no reason to single out autism as some sort of worst case scenario in the “brokenness spectrum,” if you will.

Six months ago I sat in a meeting room at her preschool. And I listened as item after item on her screeners pointed to autism. They were like giant boulders, crushing my heart, weighing me down in utter heaviness. There’s really no other way to describe it. Such heaviness. In those first weeks of raw grief, compounded by the loss of our dear Granny, I mostly functioned in disbelief and doubt. Disbelief of the diagnosis, and doubt of the future. There have been many valleys in the last six months. Many frustrations. I’m not proud of the moments I lost sight of the big picture, of the moments I lost sight of the good, and the moments I didn’t cling tightly to the truth of God’s promises. And definitely a few moments where I completely lost my chill. But as we’ve approached this six month mark, I’ve taken the time to reflect. If you don’t reflect often, I encourage you to make it a practice in your life. Looking back for markers of God’s faithfulness in your life is a powerful faith builder.

Six months ago I had so many apprehensions about how Sophie was going to do in kindergarten. I knew that academically she was ready, but I had some wild notions about how her ADHD might interfere with her academics. (Will she ever learn to read?!?!) And I had concerns about her sensory issues, her anxiety, her muscle tone’s never-ending implications with everything from handwriting to bathroom needs. I had concerns about her transitioning to a new team of therapists and aides, to a new school with “big kids” around. Reflecting back on these last six months has served as a important reminder that God is both worthy of our trust and worthy of our praise.

While our summer just post diagnosis did indeed threaten my sanity at many moments, my time spent with other moms helped me to realize that this is a totally normal mental state for us in this stage of life with little ones. We’re all on the crazy bus together. Moms, if you’re starting to feel like you’re alone on the crazy bus, call another mom and talk for five minutes. That’s all it will take for you to know you’re not alone. Better yet, spend time with her and her kids. Then you’ll see firsthand that your kids are just a normal kind of crazy, even if they are “on the spectrum.”

And now, to the point of my update. How is kindergarten? So good. Sophie is rocking kindergarten. My Jesus took the time to put both adults and children around her who would love her and support her. As was the case in preschool, Sophie is loved by her classmates. Her teacher commented that she has an “unusually kind” group of kiddos this year. That makes me smile. I think she has an unusually kind teacher as well. She is a great match for Sophie. Sophie is very friendly with her peers and is accepted fully by them. She’s adjusted to the routines and rhythms of school. And she finally knows which days she has library, or art, or music class. While she’s had to overcome some anxieties at drop off and pick up times due to the noise and commotion, she has boldly soldiered on, even when she’s anxious. God love those noise canceling headphones!

This October I had the opportunity of leading a group of kindergartners through the Halloween party that the four kindergarten teachers had put together, which consisted of six different centers that 90 children worked their way through. I had a group of 12 kindergartners. What an experience! Some of them were your classic over-achievers, coloring all inside the lines and whatnot. And some of them were just as scattered as my sweet girl. I had to help them gather up their items, hold the discarded pieces of their costumes, and encourage them to rush to the bathroom when it looked like they might not make it on time. In sum, it was eye-opening to see the variety of stages of development that all kindergartners are in. Since there’s only one kindergartner in my house, this was a new view for me. Perspective is so helpful for the special needs mom. Yes, my kid has issues. EVERY KID HAS ISSUES. And every kid has always had issues. And WE ALL TURNED OUT FINE. It’s going to be just fine. Calm down, Mamas.

And, as for her academics, Sophie has grown in leaps and bounds. She is indeed reading! My little book worm, nerdy, book-loving heart is doing flips! I LOVE reading with my Sophie-girl. When we got our list of sight words in August, I had some questions about how that whole thing was going to go. But it has gone great. Sophie mastered her first list of sight words and earned herself an M on the report card. (Kindergartners get L for limited, P for progressing, and M for mastered to help parents see where their strengths and weaknesses are.) Her handwriting is coming along, though this is an area where she will have to continue working hard.

What am I learning as I move through these first six months? What has my reflection shown me?

Keep trusting. God has been good, and he will be good.

Be ok with today. Even as I write this and recount all her great progress is kindergarten, my mind flits to first grade. But will she be ok in first grade? Doesn’t matter. We’re not there yet. And when we get there, his grace will be enough.

Don’t be isolated. Crazy mom syndrome just gets worse when you’re alone for too long. I feel like this is true in spades for special needs moms. Us Mamas need each other. I am thankful for my mom friends. Phew. Jenny Jessie Jacqui Lindsey Chelsi Marie Lara Hil Carmen Lauren Lisa Stephanie Amanda Naomi Kristine I’m lookin at you girl. If you’re out there thinking, Man I need a mom friend, hit me up. I will be your mom friend.

I’m relieved and glad to feel like I am starting to finally regain equilibrium. Not every day is a good day, but I think every mom who has to get three little children out the door by 8:30am will tell you that not every day is a good day, autism or no autism. The truth of the matter is that Jesus is in each day, if you look. His goodness and grace are alongside even the difficult moments. But you have to look. It’s easy to see the yuck of the day. But the search for Jesus is rewarding and life-giving. It’s worth the look, even if you have to look back to find it.

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Sophie’s Shoes

These shoes. Tiniest little white Nikes you’ve ever seen. In this picture, my youngest daughter Hannah is wearing them, standing next to big sister Sophie in her barefeet. We’ve just been traipsing around the yard. But once upon a time, they were Sophie’s shoes.

Sometimes I unpack a box full of Sophie’s things for Hannah and just savor the fond memories of Sophie’s younger days. Her cute little diapered butt crawling around in that ruffled skirt. A fancy church dress with all the frills. The t-shirt she wore in this picture or that. Other times, I pull out an item like these shoes, and I’m transported back to a very different time in my life.

Why would anyone buy lace up shoes for a baby? You might wonder. And they look to be hardly worn! Being Nikes, we all know they weren’t cheap. Was this just a first baby thing where you splurge on a super cute tiny version of something? No. These were Sophie’s therapy shoes. They had to be lacers because she had custom made braces for her ankles. Her little ankles were hyper-mobile, too flexible for her to stand up when she should have been able to. Because of her hypotonia, Sophie started physical therapy at about five months old. These tiny shoes take me right back to those home therapy visits. And boy do they make me realize exactly how far we’ve come. It’s hard to see that in the day to do. I forget the challenges that Sophie has already overcome, her grit, her determination, her pride in finally being able to do something that was difficult for her. Sometimes it’s all too easy to focus  on the every day struggles of autism. It’s much more difficult to keep in mind what an overcomer my Sophie is.

Laundry basket therapy, where Sophie first learned to pull up to her knees in her tiny red spandex hip supporters.

This week she started kindergarten. It felt a little anti-climactic to me because it’s like the fourth year I’ve taken her to her first day of school. But these tiny shoes made me realize exactly how huge this moment is for us. The fact of the matter is that any number of very serious conditions were on the table in Sophie’s first year of life, when she wore these tiny shoes. But exactly NONE of those conditions were ever found to be her diagnosis. Autism. Yes, it is still very hard. But it is so important for me to remember what it is NOT for Sophie, based on those early days of her journey.

A kind lady in my church, a follower of Sophie’s story, recently asked me, “Does it ever get easier to accept?” speaking of our autism diagnosis.

In all frankness, I told her, “No.” But today I would add to that “not yet.” Because today I have the perspective of the past.

And, not the least bit coincidentally, the same day she asked me this, my pastor taught on “Anticipating Heaven” and having a “God’s Eye View” of the troubles of this life. Yes, autism is very hard to accept, but someday, this diagnosis will be a memory, just like her physical therapy days. And someday, when all things are set right, my sweet girl will be free of this neurological disorder forever. She, like the rest of us, was created for far more than this broken world allows. We live with autism in this life, but we anticipate a life of wholeness, for all of us, in what is to come. And in this there is hope.

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A Love Song

Life has been heavy lately.

I don’t have much wisdom to share about dealing with grief and loss. It’s been two months since I lost my friend, and I still sometimes feel at a loss as to how to move forward, or to process that she’s gone. I still wonder daily, “will I always feel sad?” The answer is probably, yes, I will always feel sad when I think of the loss of my dear friend. But, as another friend reminded me, to not feel sad over such a loss would be far worse. Grief and loss are just hard. Plain and simple. The only way I know to move through seasons like this is just one step at a time, one day at a time.

My hydrangea, in honor and memory of Chris. The plant I bought her for her birthday, one week before her accident.

Aside from the season I am currently experiencing, there was one other season in my life fraught with tragedy, loss, and grief. Three of my high school students drowned while on a missions trip. I think I cried every single day for at least a month. And I know that the loss I experienced then, and what I am experiencing now, don’t hold a candle to what some have lost. The tears go on for years, decades.

Our world is broken. And it sucks. Dementia, cancer, drownings, autism, car accidents, heart attacks. They were never part of the plan. It is because I believe that they were never part of the plan that I can continue to draw breath and walk through these seasons of loss. It is because I see a loving God as the lens for my circumstances, and not my circumstances to form a broken view of God, that I can continue to trust and walk forward in faith.

During this season of grief in my life, God has spoken one word over and over to me, and I realized that the word is the same this time as it was last time. And it is this: I love you.

In the midst of long sleepless nights waiting for my friend to take her final breath, I heard it over and over and over again: “the overwhelming, never-ending, reckless love of God. Oh, it chases me down, fights til I’m found, leaves the 99.” As I tossed and turned in the bed, it was there, in. my. face. Seven years ago, I heard it in the words of my students’ favorite song (all were singers and musicians), “Oh, how he loves us so. Oh, how he loves us. How he loves us so.” I could not get this song out of my head. The Holy Spirit was insistent and relentless in his message of love to me, both then and now.

Why in times of loss is God reminding me of his love? The only conclusion that I can draw is that, like any good father, my Heavenly Father is comforting his dear child as she cries. When my children are afraid, or sad, or hurting, I often reassure them of my love. And when they have to go through scary things like shots or doctor appointments, I tell them that it’s ok, it’s for their good, even though it hurts for a bit. It’s because they know I love them that they can trust me and walk it out. Because I know my Father loves me, I know he’s working for good and for his glory. In my loss and hurt, he just wants me to know, “I love you.”

As I processed the similarities in these two seasons of grief, I was reminded of Zephaniah 3:17 where the prophet writes, “he will rejoice over you with singing; he will quiet you with his love.” I have felt his insistent love song in these seasons of sadness. My Father is there, singing over me, quieting me with his love.

If you are grieving today, friend, I pray that you will feel his love singing over you and quieting your soul as well. I pray that you will receive his love song, and that it will carry you through your loss. I pray that his loving presence will be all around you, through the sleepless nights, through the long sad days. And I pray that you and I both can keep heaven in our view, remembering that all our losses are temporary, and one day, all will be set right.

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