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Strawberry Blessings

A year ago, I was washing and hulling strawberries that my boys had picked. I wrote this about the events of the day and the state of my heart and life at the time. Today, I was doing the very same thing. But it was different this time, because this time I was counting my blessings.

A year ago, I was processing the news that I was terminally ill. That all of my chances had been used up and there wasn’t anything I could do. Except *maybe* this one more thing. I was thinking about all of the things I would miss if I’d died when I was told. If I believed that one person could number my days, I would only have 365 left. Instead, I trust in a living God who loves me – and look back over what 365 days of blessings can look like.

Three weeks after I received the news, I was surrounded by people I love listening to my neice tell spooky stories around a campfire. We had a lovely time with family, even having the opportunity to see my Gramma. But the most memorable was visiting my friend Lisa who was dying of cancer, and talking about her going HOME. When she passed away two months later, I cried and thanked God for the gift of that day and the birding of her friendship.

A few weeks after that, our family took some day trips around our province of New Brunswick. I couldn’t walk well, but I wasn’t going to give up seeing all the beautiful places that God created for us to enjoy. It was hard, it was exhausting, but it was ultimately worth it.

After summer vacation ended and school was back in session, it was harder to count the bigger blessings because you know how it goes – the days are long but the months are short and roll all together. But one notable gift among all the others was that I celebrated my 35th birthday and finally felt comfortable in my own skin. I am who I am.

Christmas brought much excitement to our house. We had a lovely Christmas Eve service and then a bonfire at some friends house, but Christmas Day everyone was housebound due to extreme ice and freezing rain. We spent the day at home and didn’t feel guilty. It was lovely.

In January, I got a phone call that changed everything. That *one more shot* that might work was happening. I had my first of many appointments. And it WORKED. It is working. I’m just days away now from starting the next phase. And each phase has decreased my pain and increased my mobility. So when my sister was in town for a business trip, we snuck out for a sisters only day and walked around for hours and I barely even noticed. It was amazing, I can’t even describe how much of a gift that was.

Not only are my treatments working, but I got a second opinion. And those 2 years I was given by that one nurse were turned into decades. I could live much longer than anticipated, but I already knew that. I already knew that my God was in control.

I already knew that mushy strawberries still taste sweet and that I’m more beautiful than I appear to the rest of the world. I already knew that I was a daughter of the King who can move mountains. And over the last 365 days, I’ve seen this mountain crumble bit by bit. I’ve seen amazing things over the last year. And I can’t wait to see how many more blessings I’ll be thinking about when I’m hulling strawberries next July.

I can’t look at strawberries the samee way anymore. Now, strawberries remind me of two things – I’m a beautiful princess and I’m loved by THE King.

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Mixing Dreams

I keep seeing the same thing, day in and day out when I close my eyes at night and it breaks my heart. I see a little boy, busting out a tune on his harmonica that only he could perform. Giving it everything he has, but feeling defeated because he just wasn’t good enough to take home the prize. We can’t all be the winners, and it’s an important lesson to learn. But when it’s your own son, you wish he wouldn’t have to.

I never knew my heart could break so much, could ache so much before I became a Mom. I also never knew that it could burst with happiness and pride until the first time it did. It’s a funny thing, the heart.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the future. I try not to, I really do. Because the future is so uncertain, so delicate. We don’t know what it will bring. We don’t know the heartache and joy we will experience, and if someone could truly tell me I’d be afraid to ask. Because as an autism mom, sometimes you don’t want to know.

Like today, when the boys and I were baking cookies. The hand mixer was overheating, and I told them we’d have to give it a break. We talked about the motor inside, and I mentioned the one their aunt and grandmother owned had a more powerful one. They insisted we get one, but I explained that KitchenAid mixers were quite a bit more expensive that my handheld Betty Crocker one from Walmart. Then I said words I can’t take back, words I wished I’d never said. “I can’t afford it, but maybe some day when you’re making the big bucks you can buy me one for mother’s day and I’ll make cookies for my grandchildren.” I was thinking of the future, that uncertain time. I was voicing hopes and dreams that died long ago that somehow resurrect themselves from time to time, when I least expect it.

In truth, I was thinking about my oldest who dreams of being an engineer. He could be, someday. Always thinking, that one. The wheels are always turning. He’s a logical thinker, sometimes too much. He loves figuring out puzzles. I still think about the way his face lit up when he saw his very first blueprint. I don’t worry too much about his future, really. But I still wonder about a wife and those grandchildren.

Today, I was blindsided by my younger son. My boy, who is so much like me, it breaks my heart. He dreams of being an artist. He’s hardly ever without a marker in his hand. He’s filled dozens of sketchbooks over the years, colorful pages that tell a story. He’s creative, but he’s also so full of joy. He’s fearless – he’ll try anything once. He’s friendly, making a pal wherever he goes. But he’s sensitive, and his heart breaks often. Just like mine. All of this just like me. At the same time, he’s got some challenges. Struggles that mean he’s never going to be good at math. He’s probably not going to have the same kind of skills as his brother. I know that is normal, I know it’s okay. But if I think about his future, I’m terrified. It’s a big, black hole.

I always thought as parents, we need to lovingly guide and direct them as they pursue their interests and hone their skills. I know my parents did that for me, and at his age I was already writing. But he’s just a question mark. An unmarked path. He is so willing to try anything, and he gives it his all. He’s not always as successful as he would hope. He says he’s the best at losing, but I don’t think that’s true. I think he’s the best at trying.

I know he’s only ten, but it’s hard not to notice his classmates and friends carving their paths. Winning awards and accolades for all their accomplishments. It’s hard not to get caught up in the fact that he hasn’t found the one thing that he’s excellent at, the one area that might propel him into his future. Sometimes I cry myself to sleep at night because he wants to do big things that he may never accomplish.

But then my heart remembers a favourite verse from Proverbs. One that has molded and shaped my life. One that pops up all over my story.

We can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps. Proverbs 16:9

I’ve made plans so many times that seemed perfect and good, but the Lord has turned them around completely. All for my good and His glory. Time and time and time again. God always has a way of shaping my plans into something far better than I can imagine. If He does that for me, why do I doubt He will do it for my sons?

A few weeks ago we were away at our church conference. Someone mentioned in passing they had a vision of youth who would learn languages to bring the gospel to those who needed to hear it. My heart leapt at the thought that could be meant for my son. The creative one, who loves to draw. Who also can carry on a conversation in Chinese with a stranger at a hotel because he’s good at learning other languages. I don’t know if that is part of his path, but suddenly I felt my broken heart mend a little. Maybe not because of this journey that may or may not include my son. But because I remembered that God has my little boy’s life in His hands. And if my son listens to where the Spirit leads, and follows after Him, everything else will fall into place.

At the end of the day, when the last of the cookies had been put away, I knew this truth in my very soul. I don’t care if he doesn’t make much money. I would love grandchildren, but if I never have any it will be okay. I’ll put all those dreams away if my son just lives for Jesus with his whole heart, following in whatever path He’s laid out. I want that for both of my sons, always.

It’s a million times better than any KitchenAid mixer.

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Stories

I sat three tables over from him, and I could tell. Every move, every twitch spoke a story. My heart broke when I watched him eat the same veggie burger as me – because it was easy for me, but it wasn’t for him. He couldn’t eat without his head jerking. He couldn’t sit still, his feet moving and shaking in rhthym. I have seen this before, in a childhood friend. Tourette’s is his story.

I walked the halls of the mall, searching for the perfect gift for a friend. That’s when I saw her. Tall, slim, with gorgeous caramel coloured skin and flawless brown hair. Her clothes were elegant. She carried her designer handbag on her arm, which amazed me because she didn’t have a forearm or hand. Somehow she confidently walked with her bag on her arm, without fear of it falling and spilling its contents on the floor. She was beautiful. Amelia syndrome is her story.

I was in high school when we met for the first time. We were lab partners, and she missed a lot of time from class. She’d call me from her bed to get her lab notes. She hadn’t moved for a few days. Endometriosis is her story.

Her eyes were so empty it broke my heart. Where there was usually a sparkle and laughter there was nothing but grey. She was talking to me with her lips, but her eyes were silent. And eyes say everything. Depression is her story.

He sat next to me with twenty two staples in his head. Glistening in the morning sun, sending dots of light on the wall. His hands shake more than they used to. A brain tumor is his story.

Each person left an impact on me. But not because of their disability. Because of their character.

Tourette’s was surrounded by a group of friends, happy to be sharing a meal with someone whose company they enjoyed. It reminded me of the importance of friendships where you can just be yourself.

Amelia was absolutely beautiful. She was the kind of beautiful I always wished I could be. But it was her confidence that blew me away. She was comfortable with herself. I want to be that comfortable and confident too.

Endometriosis overcame all odds and had three children after trying for over ten years. How she loves them and pours into their lives inspires me.

Depression persevered through so many hard days. I know her well, I can see she still battles. But she’s such a warrior. When she smiles, there are laugh lines because she’s forever seeking joy.

Brain tumor was filled with faith for healing. He never wavered, and the Lord healed him. It seemed so simple, to have his child’s faith that God loves and so he heals.

There are so many stories to tell. If we could only see the many life lessons we could learn if we allow ourselves to look deeper. I’m so thankful I can learn from other people’s stories, and I pray that other people can see something valuable in mine.

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Good Gifts

The warm spring breeze blows through the trees and the sun glistens on a sea of blue. A sea of crushed blue metal, broken and cracked, shattered and smashed. Broken lights, broken doors. And I look away, because my heart is a little bit broken to see it that way, this wonderful car of mine. This beautiful gift of love.

About this time last year I was standing in front of a clerk taking ownership of my very first car. A car I couldn’t even drive, but still – my car just the same. Beside me, my Dad, signing paperwork and giving me the keys to a car that was his favourite. A gift of love, from a father to a daughter. He gave me this car because it was easy for me to get in and out of, and it perfectly accomodated our family. And it was wonderful.

Little did I know a year later I’d be saying goodbye to my car. Standing there at the towing lot, watching as my husband and son pulled out our possessions, it was so final. I wasn’t ready for it. I’m not ashamed to say I cried a little bit as we left the lot, left behind such a lovely gift from my father. Tears welled up as I thought of the daunting task of finding a new car, something affordable and reliable. Knowing nothing would be as nice as the car we’d just left behind.

And as we drove away I was suddenly overwhelmed with peace, as I thought about good gifts from my father. Just like my Dad gave me the beautiful gift of a car that was good for our family, so my heavenly Father gives good gifts. Like the beautiful gift he gave me this week, allowing my husband to walk away from a collision with no injuries. Safe. As I went to bed that night, and thought of the events of that day, I was filled with gratitude that my husband was still beside me, snoring loudly. (Sorry honey, you know you do it!) And suddenly that sound of snores was a precious gift from my heavenly Father. His hand of protection was over us that day, and still is.

My father loves to give good gifts. His gift of love continued as we got our appraisal for my vehicle and we realized we could purchase a good quality replacement. A very yellow, sunshiny car. With everything we’d hoped for in a new car and then some. And my Father had His loving hands on that as well, in a way that only God can. And just like my Dad’s gift of love continues, how much more will the good gifts of my Lord?

Sometimes we don’t always see the beauty in the broken. When our hearts are hurting, when we’ve been dealt a blow it’s hard to see it. But sometimes we can catch a glimpse of it if we lift our eyes to the Father. As I stood there, watching the sun bouncing off my totaled car, I saw it. It was in the hug that my husband gave me, the way he squeezed my hand as we drove away. Because he’s still here. A gift of love from my God, allowing me to have a wonderful man to do this life with. And at the end of the day, as I crawl into bed, I know it was just a car. There will be more. But the gifts from both of my father’s still stand, wrapping me in love.

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Brick by Brick

Tolerance. It is becoming a difficult word in a difficult world. Every time I scroll through social media I see posts, articles and pictures demanding our tolerance of different social issues. You know what those issues are as well as I do – those controversial issues that rock the boat. Those issues that leave you walking on dangerous ground. Those issues that cause you to fear you might upturn the boat, sink the boat. I’m just going to say it. Those issues like gender identity, the LGBTQIA+ community, women’s rights versus the rights of an unborn child. Those issues.

To navigate the world today, tolerance is key. It’s expected of us. It’s demanded of us. Even when it goes against the very core of what what we believe in. Even when it breaks our hearts and leaves us confused and unsure of what to do, what to say, what to believe.

Right now I live in a country that by the charter of Canadian Rights and Freedoms allows all Canadians the following fundamental freedoms.

Section 2 lists what the Charter calls “fundamental freedoms” namely freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, freedom of thought, freedom of belief, freedom of expression, freedom of the press and of other media of communication, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of association.

Freedom of religion. According to the charter, that means the following:

Freedom of religion is a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or community, in public or private, to manifest religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance without government influence or intervention. It also includes the freedom to change one’s religion or belief. Freedom of religion is considered by many people and most of the nations to be a fundamental human right.

Unfortunately, all that means is that I’m allowed to attend church and meet socially with my Christian friends and family to worship God, without government interference. Because if you look on Wikipedia for an explanation, you get this.

Freedom of religion does not persecute believers in other faiths. Freedom of belief is different. It allows the right to believe what a person, group or religion wishes, but it does not necessarily allow the right to practice the religion or belief openly and outwardly in a public manner.

Do we really have freedom of belief? Because where I’m standing, it sure doesn’t look like it.

I remember being in a doctor’s office waiting, mindlessly watching what was on TV. A few ladies were arguing over something current on a program called The View. One of the women started to share something but was interrupted by another, trying to get her to shut up. She slammed her hand down on the table and said No. She said it didn’t seem fair that she was required to tolerate all the things they were sharing, not to interrupt them or put them down…but the second she opened her mouth to talk about Jesus, the rules didn’t apply. Christianity wasn’t tolerated. And just like that, Candace Cameron Bure put Raven Simone in her place. You go, girl.

Even though I don’t typically watch The View, I do know that it wasn’t long after that episode that Candace left the show. As a professing Christian in Hollywood, she sure does handle a lot of negativity for her views. But then, don’t all Christians?

We live in a culture that openly tolerates (read: supports and encourages) many things that we as Christians can’t support and encourage. We don’t support and encourage these things because they go against the core of our beliefs. We live in a country that has crossed the line between moral and immoral, between sinfulness and godliness. We live in a country that persecutes Christianity – if you don’t agree with their set moral standards, you pay for it. I never thought living in a “free” country would be like this.

But then, that’s what God intended. It seems strange to think that way. But it’s the truth – this isn’t our home. But while we live here we have one important mission – to go out into the world and spread the Good News. The news that Christ died for sinners.

Even though I find it it’s disheartening to be here in this world right now, even though it discourages me deeply that we are encouraged to tolerate everything, yet we as Christians are not tolerated. Even still, we are to be the light. We are to be the ones who stand out, the ones who are different. We are the ones who are to extend the love of Christ to others. Even when it’s hard.

Suddenly I realized I’ve built myself a brick wall between my beliefs and the world. Thinking I’ll be safe over here behind this wall – as long as I don’t say anything or offend anyone. But I look at my wall and I realize it’s not what Jesus would do. And if I keep layering brick on top of brick, how will His light shine through?

The tricky, sticky thing is that if Jesus were here on the earth right now He wouldn’t be avoiding these people. He wouldn’t avoid these issues. He would be reaching out to them in love. Reaching out to them in forgiveness. And so should we be. Even when it’s hard, even when we are discouraged and frustrated at everything that is the world right now. Because the fact of the matter is, right now the world just needs Jesus.

For this is how God loved the world : He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16

God STILL loves the world. He doesn’t love the sin, but He loves the people. And while I was thinking about this the other day, frustrated over yet another issue to tolerate, I was moved. Because God sees my sin, and He still loves me. So how am I any different from all these other people? I’m not, and neither are you. I desperately need Jesus, every day. And so do they. Yes, tolerance can be frustrating when it goes against what I believe in. But love is stronger than frustration. God’s love can make a way. It can break through. And sometimes, God uses His people to do it.

I don’t have perfect answers. This isn’t a self-help blog that will deliver the miracle idea of how to deal with hard issues. This is just a girl, who desperately wants to share Jesus with people who need Him. A girl fighting with herself to be part of the city on a hill. A girl who recognizes we can replace tolerance with love, because Love covers a multitude of sins.

Brick by brick, I’m tearing down walls to make room for Love. It’s not always easy. But the more the bricks fall, the more His light shines.

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Juggling with Jesus

I’m standing on the driveway in the hot summer sun. The new asphalt stings my nose as I watch one of my best friends show off his talents. Justin is good at everything – he can scissor jump a fence, swing higher than I can. He can jump great heights and land on his feet. He can beat me at a race every single time. But today he’s showing me how to juggle. So I stand, watching him. He’s got three balls going and then he gets me to toss him more. The balls are flying through the air, but he seems to have them under control. With the heat of the sun beating down, I try to do the same. But the sun is in my eyes, and I can’t see a thing. The balls slip from my grasp and I lose them all, one by one. We share a laugh and sip some lemonade, because it’s just a silly childhood game.

I’m not laughing anymore. And somehow, the balls have multiplied. If responsibilities were balls we juggle, I would have more than even the finest juggler could handle.

As an autism mom, there’s a lot of things to remember. So many things. And it all comes down to me, because my husband works to support the family and I keep us running smoothly. Because I’m coordinated and organized. It’s how we work. It’s how it’s always worked. I’ve juggled all the special needs balls for so long – scheduling therapies, doctor’s appointments, school meetings, outings, respite care. And then the regular mom balls – laundry, housework, after school activities, homework help, meal planning, grocery shopping. Then the balls for holidays – birthdays, Christmas, Mother’s and Father’s Day. And then, my own personal balls – work, volunteering, ministry and health. That’s a lot of balls for one person. And I’ve been juggling them well for years, until suddenly I realized I was exhausted.

And balls started to drop. One by one, they started slipping from my grasp. Little things started throwing me off my game. Phone calls from the school requiring extra balls for me to juggle, when I felt like I couldn’t handle one more thing. Appointments that needed to be rescheduled, and rescheduled again. And then disappointments added in the mix – which to be honest are their own set of balls. And it all stacked up against me and I did something I never do – I missed one of my treatments. Completely, didn’t even cross my mind, kind of miss. And all the balls came crashing down around me.

What do you do when you don’t even know how to recover? What do you do when you’re so exhausted, completely spent, so over-the-top discouraged that you just.can’t.even?

I didn’t know the answer, or maybe I was just so weary that what was obvious didn’t seem to be. I spent a few days there, with these balls I juggle scattered all over the floor. Picking through them each day, scrambling to make sure everyone had what they needed and all was accounted for. And in my heart, as I stared at these invisible balls that only I could see, I knew what I needed to do.

Sometimes when you’re weary, and something is broken, you just need baby steps. So I opened the curtains and let the sun pour into the room. And while the sun was shining on my face, I listened to worship songs until my lips and my heart were aligned. Until the words I was singing sank in deep, watering the deep roots that were already there.

And then I was back on the driveway of my childhood home, in the hot summer sun. With the asphalt stinging my nose and the colourful balls scattered in every direction. Instead of my thirteen year old self reaching for the balls, it was me as I am now. I picked up these balls and noticed they had words on them, names of my responsibilities today. I picked up the important ones, and started to juggle. And suddenly, I wasn’t alone. Another set of hands were picking up the rest, juggling right alongside me.

Jesus.

Sometimes when you’re weary, and something is broken, you just need Jesus. It’s not that He’d ever left, really. It’s just that in my exhaustion, and my deep discouragement, I had forgotten I could just call His name. A friend reminded me today that sometimes when the stuffing is knocked out of you, you just need to whisper His name and He will come. And suddenly, the fog was lifted for a moment and everything was clear.

When discouragement comes, when juggling alone seems too much to bear, we can call on Jesus. And we can call on others, too. God has placed many people in our lives to support and come alongside us when we are weary. They are a testament of His care for us. Even the little things that they do speak His name louder than you can imagine. And at the root of all of this is Love.

Because sometimes when you’re in the thick of it, losing all the balls, you forget who you are. You forget that you are loved. You forget Who you belong to. And when you forget, that’s when discouragement creeps in to your heart. Don’t let it. Don’t be like me, staring your responsibilities down, trying to do it on your own. Remember Love, and call His name.

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Stained Glass

I stood in front of a wall of glass. Beautiful, colourful glass. The light was shining through and splashing colours all over the walls and it mesmerized me. I wanted to reach out and touch it, but was scolded. Stained glass was special, I was told. Stained glass was not to be touched, but only to be appreciated from a distance.

That was when I was young, standing in a church building that I didn’t know. I liked the pretty colourful glass that featured Jesus as a shepherd, Jesus with the children, Jesus praying in the garden. A few years later, I wandered into my mother’s workshop in our basement and was mesmerized again. I could see the dim basement light, shining through her stained glass creations. Smaller scale, but still beautiful. A jewelry box, a cardinal, a blue jay. She made me a trio of balloons that happily hung in my bedroom window. But the piece I most remember was a stunningly beautiful small box. The main colour was green with little flashes of white woven through the glass. And in the middle, she had created a beautiful red and pink rose. Something stirred in me as I watched her gingerly working on that beautiful box. Maybe it awakened my creative heart. Or perhaps it was something more.

Stained glass became even more meaningful to me decades later, after I was married and had children. Someone asked me if they could pray for my children to be free of their autism. It surprised me a bit, because I didn’t know they needed to be set free. I didn’t think autism was a disease. I still don’t. But it did give me pause, and it made me think about what autism is, and what it isn’t.

It is different than you and I. Different programming, different processing, different mechanics. But still useful, still important, still significant. It is harder to appreciate the good when you don’t experience the bad. Harder to celebrate successes when you haven’t been battling trials. It’s life, really. It’s like a life that you or I live, only different. Sometimes I can eloquently describe what autism is, how it affects our lives, the good and the bad. And sometimes, I just think of stained glass.

I am transparent. I live my life in a very transparent way, because I choose to. Because it’s hard not to live life that way when your children spill your secrets to anyone who asks. Because living a transparent life can be a blessing to others. And yet, while I am transparent glass, my children are not. My husband and I have a key to all their locked up places no one else can see. And when you use it, it unlocks the door and inside is beautiful walls of stained glass. So beautiful. It captivates me, but to you it doesn’t look the same.

Because autism is different. Because it’s uncomfortable sometimes. It’s not what you expect. Autism can’t be molded and shaped into a uniform piece, easy to tuck away in a box. There really isn’t any box that autism can squeeze into. Because it’s different for everyone. Because no two autistic people are the same. Because it’s a million different pieces of glass – different shapes, different colours, different patterns. Uncut, uncreated. Raw.

A lifetime is spent creating something beautiful with this glass. Refining, shaping, laying down patterns. And if you, like me, allow yourself to understand autism you might just have a chance to catch a glimpse. And it might just be the most beautiful stained glass that you will ever see.