Tag Archives: special needs children

Thirty Days of Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. What do I love about it?  It’s a holiday without a big fuss. Okay, there is a meal, but I enjoy cooking and the day really isn’t about the turkey and whether or not it’s dry. What I like is that Thanksgiving doesn’t come with expectations. If I drop a card in the mail to a friend or give a small gift to someone I am thankful for, in the month of November that is just a thoughtful gesture. Come December, the bar gets raised substantially on that whole card-sending, gift-giving thing.

Thanksgiving Day itself is about simply sharing a good meal with family and friends. It brings back childhood memories of a houseful of people at grandma’s, sleeping in sleeping bags on the floor with my cousins, putting pitted black olives from the relish tray on my fingers like little puppets and savoring the salty brine as I ate them one by one.

Mainly, Thanksgiving is about thanking God for an abundance of blessings. Thanksgiving is simple and beautiful from start to finish when I focus is on what is important.

One day of thanksgiving isn’t nearly enough. For the past several years I have celebrated Thirty Days of Thanksgiving and write down every day in the month of November something for which I am thankful . Time and again I come back to my son. I am thankful for milestones that I thought would never come.  I am thankful for the sense of acceptance for the milestones that will never be. I am thankful for a sense of hope in a future that is yet to be revealed. I am thankful to be a parent to a remarkable young man who inspires me every day.

I am also thankful for other parents on the journey with me who encouraged me when I was unsure and who allow me to encourage them when they need it too. Years ago the Apostle Paul wrote to a dearly loved church in Philippi. This small group of followers encouraged each other and lifted each other up when they needed it. Paul opens his letter to them:

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you (Philippians 1:3-4 NRSV).

These were Paul’s people, the ones who had his back when times were hard, and the ones he encouraged and guided when they needed it too. These were Paul’s people and special needs parents are my people.

My thanksgiving today, and every day, is for parents who raise remarkable children and for the communities that surround them with unconditional love and support.

God of many blessings, I thank you for parents who are strong and parents in need of strength. I thank you for those who have wisdom and those who seek it. I thank you for those filled with hope and those who struggle. Woven together, parents strengthen each other. I thank you for the gift of community. Amen.

Image “Thank You on Post It Note” courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Boundary-Breaking Worship, REALLY!!!

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Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.   (Joel 2:28 NRSV)

Knowing about something and experiencing it, seeing it for yourself, are two entirely different things. Hospitality and welcoming in worship are things we all know about.  Hopefully we’ve all experienced both. Sadly, as parents of children with special needs that hospitality is often lacking, so when we truly receive it we know how precious a gift it is.

I recently attended worship at Parables, one of the worship services offered at Wayzata Community Church. I knew about the service.  I read about it, watched a video, and talked at length with the founding pastor, Leslie Neugent. KNOWING about Parables and EXPERIENCING Parables were different matters entirely.  It was boundary-breaking, joy-filled worship with surprises and the in-breaking of God at every turn.  If you live anywhere near Wayzata, MN you must experience this worship for yourself.  Even if you don’t live near, it’s worth the trip!  I flew all the way from Texas and know without a doubt it will not be my only experience of Parables. If your church could use an infusion of radical hospitality to the special needs community in worship, go to Parables!

What’s so different about this service?  It is worship created for and led by people with special needs.  I wrote in my blog recently a prayer, “Please God, let something happen in worship today that isn’t printed in the bulletin.” That prayer was answered.  Big time! Picture a parade of whoever cares to participate processing down the aisle, singing, shaking tambourines, hand in hand with the pastor.  A young man with sensory issues held his hands over his ears even as he marched in joyously, and then decided to go sit on the chancel steps for the rest of the service.  A fine plan! It has the best view!  And really, why should it matter?  During a break in the action a young lady who was late to church gave the pastor a seemingly never-ending hug, marching onto the stage to do so. Again, why should it matter? A young man who was until very recently non-verbal went around the room during the time of greeting saying, “Hello. How are you?” When was the last time you got truly excited about being greeted in worship? It made me cry tears of joy. I was seated by a young man who is learning to say hello by shaking hands.  We shook hands about 10 times during worship, including when I got up to talk about my upcoming book for special needs parent support groups.  He gave me the cue so I stepped out of the pulpit to shake hands.  I can walk and talk at the same time.  Why should it matter that he wanted to shake hands right then?

I saw the hands and feet of Jesus at work in the participants.  They know each other’s strengths and where they need a little help.  A young lady with challenged mobility had several of her peers help her up the steps to the altar to serve Communion. That’s right. Not just to receive, but to serve.  A request from the pulpit for a volunteer to lead the Lord’s Prayer received a round of applause as a teen stepped up to lead.  When was the last time the Lord’s Prayer brought you to tears? The same was true for a young lady who did a wonderful job reading the scripture of John 4, Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well. How often are people with differences celebrated in worship?  How often do they get to offer their gifts and let them shine?

There was a purity and innocence to worship.  Parents were at ease.  They knew their whole family was welcome.  No one was shushed. No one was made to sit if they didn’t want to. Noises? Who cares!  Again, why should it matter?  The sermon challenged me to think about hard things as a special needs parent. Where is the line between advocating for my child’s future and giving over to God and accepting? Yet, simultaneously the message was at a child’s level so there was learning for everyone in the room. It was the most genuine, unscripted, open-hearted worship I’ve experienced in a long time, and I go to church a lot so that is saying something!

I met a church member who retired from teaching a few years ago.  “I go to the big service too, but this is really my service. I see God here.”  Well, I did too and I want more. I wonder if my husband would agree to move from Texas to Minnesota…

Prayer: Boundary-breaking God, Open our eyes to see those who feel excluded, open our hands to reach out to them, open our hearts to form us to better be your people. Amen.

Photo courtesy of Parables: Red Fish Theology

To learn more about Parables worship, click here:

http://www.wayzatacommunitychurch.org/pages/page.asp?page_id=229208

You can order a “how-to” guide here:

http://www.uccresources.com/products/red-fish-theology-parables-a-how-to-guide-for-offering-a-radically-inclusive-worship-service-with-the-special-needs-community

 

 

Jesus Was a Foodie!

 

Grilled Salmon Image courtesy of amenic181 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus…When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” (John 21:4, 9-12 NRSV)

“Jesus was a foodie!” Thus said Dr. Len Sweet, currently one of the most influential Christian leaders. Well I’m a bit of a foodie too.  I love a good meal with family or friends.  This is yet another way that it is good to be like Jesus.

I recently traveled to worship with Dr. Sweet and in his message he talked about the importance of sitting down together at the table.  Sharing the results of a recent study, the number one indicator of whether or not a child will be successful (stay motivated, stay engaged, graduate high school, etc.) has nothing to do with all the typical predictors one would expect, such as school, economic advantage, and even IQ.  The greatest predictor had to do with whether or not the child regularly gathered at the table for a meal with the family. That’s all.  Simply sitting down together to eat as a family has much more influence than we might imagine.

How often?  Three times a week. That’s the dividing line.

There are plenty of other studies supporting the link between the family meal and better outcomes for children. I think the family meal is a great resource to add to our parenting backpacks.  Sitting down to eat together at the table is how we connect as a family. It’s where we share our stories about our day, finding nurture and support. It’s where we form social skills. It’s where we set aside the business and pressure of the outside world and say, “You are my top priority and I want to spend time with you.”

Jesus set his priorities around the table too.  His ministry in the Gospel of John opens at a wedding feast. The company he kept at the table raised the eyebrows of folks who didn’t want to dirty themselves by association with sinners and tax collectors. He was anointed by Mary at a table in Bethany. The night before his arrest he gathered with his disciples at a table.  After his death and resurrection he appeared to some of his disciples as they walked on the road to Emmaus.  They did not recognize him until they sat down together at the table and he broke bread.  In the Gospel of John we have the story of Jesus preparing fish at a charcoal fire on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Sharing table fellowship with Jesus is our promised future per Communion liturgy anticipating “when Christ comes in final victory and we feast at the heavenly banquet.” Dr. Len Sweet was right. Gathering at the table was at the heart of Jesus’ ministry.

How can we make family time at the table more of a priority in our daily lives? What gets in the way? I am curious to hear from my followers from outside of the USA about whether this is a uniquely American problem.  I have readers from many countries, with several checking in regularly from Brazil in particular. If you have the time to share your perspective I’d love to hear from you!

Loving God, we are so grateful for the way that you nurture our hearts and minds with your holy presence. Help us to be that nurturing presence to our own families, whatever their shape or size.  Help us gather more regularly around the table and create memories that form us as your people. Amen.

“Grilled Salmon” Image courtesy of amenic181 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Welcoming the Whole Family

Green Door Mat Image courtesy of Stoonn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.(Romans 15:7 NRSV)

“There is this family that attends my church and they have a little boy with autism.  I can tell that mom and dad feel really frustrated during worship because he has a hard time sitting still.  We are a really small church, only fifty members. There are no other children there and it’s so nice to see this family in worship. How can we be welcoming to them and make them feel more comfortable?”

As a pastor who has done welcoming ministries for fifteen years, focusing in caring for special needs families in particular over the last five, this question was music to my ears.  I explained to the woman that children with autism are going to have a really hard time understanding social boundaries about sitting quietly.  I suggested that they could work with the parents to have an activity bag for the child at church with things of interest to him. It would be something special that he would enjoy having when he is at worship.  When it got to the “boring part” (i.e. The Message) that is not going to be of interest, the boy could leave the sanctuary with a two buddies who would could lead an alternate Bible activity geared toward his age and abilities. The buddies would be nurturing adults or teens in the child’s life and the parents could enjoy that rare gift called “sanctuary.” They could have the parent’s cell number and send mom or dad a text if there is a problem and they need help.

The congregation member was nodding all along and agreeing these were great ideas. But then she asked, “Well, who is going to do all that?”

“I believe you mentioned that you have 50 members at your church.”

Blank stare.

I let it hang there. Still just a blank stare.

“Well, I’ll just show the mom where the cry room is located. She’d probably prefer to leave.”

I think we have the answer about why this is a small church and there are no children.  Sorry. I don’t mean to be harsh, but welcoming families means you are excited they are there. Excited enough to make an effort to include them as part of your church family. Rather than deciding for them what they would prefer, ask them. Rather than leaving them floundering in worship and frustrated, help them.

How do we create a church environment that is welcoming?  It’s simple really.  How do we welcome guests in our homes?  When we know someone is coming for a visit we get ready ahead of time.  We prepare the house, find out what folks like to eat and drink, plan things our guests will enjoy doing. We greet them with eager anticipation, “I’m so glad you are here! I’ve been looking forward to seeing you.” Then we show love and hospitality for our guests by trying to make sure they have a good time.

Church isn’t any different. Welcoming takes an intentional effort to be ready for the ones who are coming.

  • Prepare the house. Back to basics time. Is the church building accessible?  Is there a wheelchair ramp? Elevator? Accessible restrooms? Can people get into the building and navigate the hallways easily? If your congregation wants families with young children to be part of the body of Christ, anticipate their needs and prepare for them.  Children of all ages get bored in worship. Activity bags with scripture lessons, crayons, magnetic erase sheets, pipe-cleaners, and other quiet activities are great ways to keep kids engaged in worship at their own level.  Children with special needs are no different.  They want something to do. Modify as appropriate for their particular developmental capabilities.
  • Prepare the congregation. Often children with special needs do not understand boundaries and they make noise. Church leadership needs to model that is okay. I recall one sermon in which a young man was becoming agitated. Though non-verbal, he was loud at times.  Heads were turning. The pastor saw the parents were distressed and said, “That’s okay Cameron. This passage gets me upset too. I feel you buddy. You aren’t bothering me.”  The whole room was put at ease. Years later I cannot recall the sermon at all (nor any other sermon preached years ago!), but I can recall the radical hospitality of offering grace for a bit of disruption.  The Holy Spirit on Pentecost was pretty disruptive too, with the tongues of fire and all that.  I think church services can use more disruption.  A fine prayer, “Please God, let something happen today that isn’t printed in the bulletin.”
  • Learn from your guests. Have conversations with the parents and ask them what their children like to do and what is appropriate for them. For some parents, inclusion means finding a way for their child to be in worship with them. Perhaps they would like to be partnered with a buddy in worship who will keep their child engaged so parents can be more fully present to the sermon, etc. For some families, what feels inclusive is having a place that is geared to their child’s particular needs and is apart from the sanctuary. Either way, intentional conversation and a volunteer to work with the family says to them, “We are glad you are here and want you to be comfortable.”
  • It takes heart. There are plenty of resources for developing comprehensive special need ministries. Books by Erik Carter and Amy Fenton Lee are great starting points for practical ideas to get a ministry up and running.  The main ingredient is heart. It takes people who love families and want to be offer a welcoming place for them.  That’s it.  If you care, they will come. The biggest stumbling block to starting special needs ministries is fear. Congregations can “what if” themselves into a corner, frozen by concern of not being ready for every single possibility that may come their way. Having a heart for welcoming wins out over fear every time. Families that come don’t expect everything to be perfect.  We understand plenty about “not perfect.” We live it every day. What we want is a congregation that cares that we have come to church and wants us to be there even though we don’t fit the mold of the typical family.

I’d love to hear from parents about what works for you and makes you feel welcome at church.  Please post in the comments about your favorite experiences.

Welcoming God, we thank you that you call each of us to be in relationship with you.  A times it is hard to find a place that understands and prepares for the unique needs of our families.  Yet we know that what you call us to do you also equip us to do.  Open the hearts and minds of yet more congregations about ways they can welcome everyone who comes to worship you.  Amen.

“Green Door Mat” Image courtesy of Stoonn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Magnolia Leaves and Good Neighbors

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For your name’s sake O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great. (Psalm 25:11 NRSV)

If I knew magnolias were so messy I probably would not have planted them.  We moved to Texas twenty years ago into a new construction neighborhood.  The front yard was put in by the builder, the barren back yard was a constant mud pit with the pounding thunderstorms virtually every afternoon.  Add a four year-old who saw no issue with red Texas clay and new carpet… we needed some landscaping, stat!

Living in the south for the first time I made a snap decision that we needed magnolias. I loved the movie Steel Magnolias, the strength of the women, the way they kept going in the worst of times, the way they could rely on each other. Magnolias are the trees of the south! Magnolias on the fence line would be perfect!  Right after we got the yard put in a neighbor down the street commented that her husband wouldn’t let her have magnolias, “They are so messy.”

Messy?

Thus began the guilt.

The leaves fall year round.  Really?  When they get stressed in the heat they REALLY fall.  Drought? They throw a pouty, hissy-fit of leaves all over the place paying no attention to which side of the fence whatsoever. On our lawn or in the neighbor’s pool, those trees don’t care.

But I sure did.

I could clean up after messy trees in my own back yard, but it’s not like I could hop the fence and toss our leaves back over to our side.  Well, not unless it was the dead of night with a waning moon. Don’t ask me how I know this.

After twenty years those trees are really big now, dropping trashcans full of leaves at a time. Guilt by the bagful. I sometimes contemplate baking cookies for the neighbors as a sign of repentance. Then I’d get busy and the cookies never quite make it to the oven. I have even felt guilty about that!

New neighbors moved in two years ago.  We met over the back fence one afternoon. I apologized profusely about our trees.  “Let me know if they are a problem or if you need branches trimmed back. I’m so sorry they’re so messy…”

A gracious smile stopped by tumble of word. “We love your trees.  They are beautiful. We wouldn’t have a bit of shade in the evening without them. Just look at all the blooms about to come.”

Blooms? What blooms?  The guilt for messing up their yard took away the beauty of the blooms.

Funny how guilt is so insidious, yet serves no purpose. We beat ourselves up for things that matter little to others. We withhold forgiveness for ourselves when others offer it freely.

Special needs parenting can come with a heaping plate of guilt for so many things. Guilt for birth differences, lack of access to therapy and medications, lack of time for family and friends, short-changing siblings who get a smaller share of everything, to name a few. Does any of that guilt serve a purpose? Does it help in anyway?  Or does it just make the load heavier?  Do you work through it to a place of forgiveness just to find a few days later that you’ve picked it back up again?

Our lives are messy, like those trees.  So what? We grow stronger through the years, blessing others in ways we do not even see. We too have beautiful blooms. Do we take the time to recognize them for ourselves?

Whatever guilt it is that you carry, God is bigger. God forgives, wiping clean the slate for a fresh start. Allow yourself to live into that gift by giving over to God your guilt and taking back a life free of self-condemnation.

My prayer for you today, enjoy the blooms!

 

Image: Magnolia Grandiflora Flower by Andrew Butko [GFDL 1.3 (www.gnu.org/licenses/fdl-1.3.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Take Time to Take Care

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As special needs parents it is so easy to put ourselves at the bottom of the priority list. We give for our children, our spouses, our friends, our jobs, our churches, our schools.  There are so many needs and they are so pressing and urgent.  At times it can be a struggle to be enough. Compassion, like any muscle that is over-used, can tire and be stretched too far.  Compassion fatigue is the inability to continue to offer care at the level previously provided.  It is hard to continually offer compassion to others when we do not even offer it to ourselves.  When you reach the point where you cannot see your way to the bottom of your to do list, does self- talk criticize that you can’t do it all? Do you drive yourself to dig in and do yet more?  Self-compassion is the recognition of your own need for help, nurture and respite.

I think as Christians some may feel they are called to give selflessly and endlessly, but the Bible models for us self-compassion and self-care even in the midst of caring for others. In Matthew 14, John the Baptist was beheaded by King Herod, “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick” (Mat 14:13-14 NRS). Jesus tried to set aside time for himself, perhaps to mourn the death of his cousin, perhaps to move farther from the reach of Herod, perhaps to avoid crowds drawing attention to him. But the people have heard where he is going and they race there ahead of him.  His opportunity for respite turned into an opportunity for compassion and healing. When the evening came there was no food.  His disciples urged him to send the crowds away so they could get food in the local villages.  Instead, Jesus multiplied the five loaves of bread and the two fish and fed them all.

So where does the self-compassion and self-care come in?  Isn’t this an example of self-care gone wrong with life interrupting and taking away the chance for respite? Here is the rest of the story, “Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray” (Matthew 14:22-23 NRS). Though Jesus’ plan for respite was interrupted, by the end of the day he made time for it.  He took care of the pressing needs of the crowd and the disciples and then sent them both away so that he could be alone to pray. Was this to recharge spiritually?  Did he rest while alone to recharge physically?  Did he grieve for John during his time of prayer, processing emotions of loss?  Scripture does not tell us. What we do know is that Jesus offered to himself the same compassion he offered to others.  Being both human and divine, he knew his human limit and made self-care a priority, even in the midst of tremendous pressure. It may be easy to think the needs of our families are just too much for us to take a break, but could the needs of our families really compare to the needs and expectations laid on Jesus?

Taking time to take care of ourselves doesn’t mean we are weak, selfish or incapable.  It means we are human and the same need for compassion that we see in others is a need that we have too. Over the next few weeks I will post a short series with practical ideas for physical, emotional and spiritual self-care that can fit even into the busiest schedule. I hope that it will be a blessing to you so please check back next Wednesday.

“Ringing Alarm Clock” image courtesy of Paul at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Just One Friend Part 2

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Some friends play at friendship but a true friend sticks closer than one’s nearest kin. (Proverbs 18:24 NRSV)

Everyone wants and needs relationships. We are hard-wired for it. One of the biggest hurts I have felt as a parent is wanting my child to feel accepted and connected to others. In the support groups I lead it is a common issue that resurfaces again and again. I talk to parents about nurturing the relationships they do have and they switch to talking about relationships their children don’t have. I have been mulling around an idea that has not really taken shape yet, but it goes something like this. Wouldn’t it be great if churches could host a “Just One Friend” night. Invite the special needs community and anyone else who is looking for friendships. Set up games and activities. Parents stay and help foster connections. This in’t a respite night. It’s a relationship building night. Kids build relationships with kids.  Parents build relationships with each other. The general premise is that folks are coming to have fun and meet new people that they may want to connect with after game night is over. That’s kind of a bare bones snap shot, but I think it could be a way churches could offer important relief from isolation, which is a big part of healing on the journey with special needs.

Here are a couple of practical strategies I used for nurturing friendships when my son was younger. I recognize that this is not a universal list for all the various differences amongst our children. Hopefully it will at least provide some fertile ground for other ideas to spring up as well:

  • Remind your child that everyone will be looking to meet new people. They are not alone in that feeling of being in a class with new people.
  • Have your child talk to kids who are friendly and suggest they ask them questions. Kids love to talk about what they did over the summer. Be an interested listener.
  • Have them look for others who look lonely and talk to them. My son can spot a kid on autism spectrum in heartbeat. Like matches with like sometimes.  They get him in a way others don’t.
  • Have them make friends with grownups at school. The cafeteria monitor can be a great ally in finding friends and avoiding bullying.
  • Dress like everyone else. This sounds basic, but it is amazing what an impact it can have if a child is “over-dressed” for school, especially boys. If they look like they came from a fashion shoot for children’s resort wear change their clothes!
  • If you feed them they will come. If Craig had a friend over in elementary school (not an everyday occurrence!) I’d ask his guest what was his or her favorite cookie and then bake them while the kids played. Over the years Craig’s friends started calling our house Craig’s Pub. As teens, I started calling them the herd that comes to graze. BTW – 5 grazers coming for a half day video game birthday bonanza this weekend. (Number of gamers times number of pizza slices I think they want plus an extra two per person because they are boys divided by the number of slices in a large pizza…) Prayers appreciated that I don’t get trampled in the kitchen!
  • In keeping with the above strategy, drop by once or twice a month to the school cafeteria with a couple of pizzas or one of those giant cookie cakes. Some folks grab a slice and run. Others grab a slice and stay.
  • If you typically pack a treat in your child’s lunch, pack two so that they have an extra to share.
  • Invite others. Waiting around for a playdate invitation that doesn’t come feels lousy. Make the effort to extend yourself. Sometimes there will be rejection, but other times you get a winner.
  • Be intentional about fostering relationships. Even small acts of kindness are nurturing.

What are some friendship strategies that have worked in your household? Please comment and share ideas.  You never know what may help another parent spark a friendship.

Prayer: Loving God, We are wonderfully made to be in connection with others.  Please help those connections to grow among our children. Calm nervous feelings about meeting new people and open pathways for meaningful relationships to flourish. Amen.

Photo: “Calahan Colorado High School Cafeteria” by David Shankbone

Just One Friend Part 1

Calhan_Colorado_High_School_Cafeteria_by_David_Shankbone

Some friends play at friendship but a true friend sticks closer than one’s nearest kin. (Proverbs 18:24 NRSV)

Didn’t summer just start last week or the week before?  Yet there they are. Ads in the paper for back-to-school supplies. My Facebook feed is full of friends caught up in back-to-school preparations. Friends who are teachers are posting pics as they fit in one more vacation before the new school year.

As a special needs parent, back-to-school comes with an oddly mixed sensation of anxiety and hope. I am always hopeful for a new year and new possibilities.  It’s the “what if” gremlins that make me anxious. With a little experience I finally figured out the first day of school routine.  I pray my son out the door with a positive, “God’s got you, so you’ve got this!” and keep the anxiety part to myself as I sit by the phone and wait for the call from the school office.  Autism and the first day of school. The call was inevitable at my house. I learned just to go with it.

My biggest prayer for my son each year is to make one friend. Just one. One good friend will see you through anything. Barnabas traveled with Paul on long and dangerous journeys to share the gospel.  Moses had Aaron on his journey to and from Egypt. David had Jonathan through battles and political intrigue. Of course my dreams were more sedate. I simply prayed for a person to sit with my son in the cafeteria and maybe hangout to build Lego castles and help save the world in the latest video saga. 

Looking back over the years that prayer has been answered each year. Some of those kids my son connected with in elementary school are still friends after high school. Some are neuro-typical.  Others are not. In the long run those differences matter little between real friends. The truth is that sometimes friendships bloom out of the most unlikely connections if well-nurtured, though I did give Craig one piece of advice that really helped.  Look for the kid who is by himself at lunch and go join him.  I bet he would like to have just one friend too.

Check back tomorrow for my post with practical strategies for helping our kids make friends.

Prayer: Loving God, Watch over our children as they look for friends.  Create pathways for connections where they feel loved and accepted.  Amen.

Photo: “Calahan Colorado High School Cafeteria” by David Shankbone

Just Horsing Around

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If I had known the day was going to include a life or death, headlong, downhill race after my son, I would have worn different shoes.  In hindsight, I should have seen it coming.

We moved to Chicago from Alaska while my husband attended graduate school. Living on a tight, student’s budget, we were happy to find a family friendly event in the neighboring town of Naperville, an annual steeplechase.  It was a day in the country with horses jumping over fences (be still my heart!), gorgeous fall foliage, and a hillside picnic where our high-energy, high-rise dwelling three year old with ASD could enjoy the great outdoors and fire his afterburners. Perfect! Thinking it might be a fancy horse event, I wore casual slacks and flats.  That was mistake number one. Oh, I was dressed just like everyone else, but…

We parked in the freshly mown hayfield and climbed the hill to find the ideal place for Craig to run and play, spreading out our blanket with the perfect view of the finish line. Opening our picnic hamper, we settled in for the first race. Eight brush jumps, a beginner round taken at an easy pace.  Craig watched the horses jump the first few fences, bouncing away in my lap on his imaginary horsey, and shouted, “My turn!”

I thought he was joking.

That was mistake number two.

Back in the day in Alaska I rode horses and my husband would meet me at the barn with our son.  After I had finished my ride, we’d buckle on a helmet and Craig would sit in the saddle in front of me, kicking his tiny feet, “Go Alex, go!”  Each time he got to the barn, he’d see me jump a fence or two, call out, “my turn!” and he’d get a ride.

You know how kids with ASD are about routine?  Well, I hadn’t figure that out yet.

He jumped out of my lap and started running down the hill, “My turn!  My turn!”

I called after him that he couldn’t ride those horses, thinking he would stop. Ya, right. All I managed to do was let him get a head start.

That was mistake number three. Game on!

Mommy instincts finally kicked in.  He’s not stopping!  His tiny legs had remarkable turnover as he sprinted for the finish line.  “Craig! Stop! The horses are coming!”

“My turn!”

Dear God help me! No one else knew what was happening. The rest of the sparse crowd had their attention fixed on the finish line. I started running faster, flats slipping on the damp grass.  My husband, realizing the seriousness, was on his feet behind me.  There was no time to zigzag around the other picnicking guests.  I leapt entire families in hurdler form, screaming like a crazy woman, “Craig! Stop!”

“My turn!”

All dignity gone, feet skidding wildly, I finally managed to scoop up Craig about ten yards from the rail. Frankly, I was glad I didn’t fall on him and crush him.

Relieved. Scared. Embarrassed. Elated.

I tucked him under my arm like a wiggly football, full of giggles for his great adventure,  and started the long trudge back up the hill to scattered, polite applause, apologizing to far more people than I care to remember. I was embarrassed, they were amused.

I realized in that moment how deeply I loved my child.  I couldn’t think of logical consequences for a punishment, nor behavior plans. I doubt in that moment I even knew my own name, but I felt an overwhelming sense of love and knew nothing would keep me from chasing after him.

Perhaps that was for me a dim glimpse into the love that Paul writes of in his letter to the Romans.

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39 NRSV)

Absolutely nothing separates us from the love of God. God loves us in a deep and abiding sense. God, too, pursues us when we are headed the wrong way, flinging wide protective arms, even when we chose not to see them. When we finally turn to Him, He embraces us. “Welcome home, little one! I’m glad you’ve stopped horsing around.”

Photo by Jason Trommetter “Steeplechase” via Wikimedia Commons

Thank you Sandra Peoples for inviting me to guest blog today wiht this post at  specialneedsparenting.net.  If any parents out there are looking for a great book to use for parent support resources, check out Sandra’s book “Held.”