I had my day all planned today, my to-do list made, and the order of that list firmly in my head.Take Aaron to Paradigm, then the post office, return an item to Gordman’s, stop at the Vintage store to ask about milk paint, run quickly into Dillon’s, probably get gas, home for a quick lunch and indoor straightening, and then outside into this upcoming warm afternoon where I was looking forward to some leaf raking out of our drainage ditches and picking up branches and maybe pine cones and cleaning off the front porch and vacuuming out the van……whew!…..and pick up Aaron and home to make supper and then Wheel of Fortune and ironing and then bedtime before I know it.
What I wanted to get done today is based on what I need to get done tomorrow, and the next day, and the next.We all know how that is.None of these errands is life changing, by any means, so if they don’t get done today it’s really not a huge deal.
And they won’t get done today, at least most of them won’t.Poor Aaron had a night of hard seizures, so he’s having a day today of sleep along with a terrible headache……and the possibility of more seizures, so I won’t stray too far from him today.My to-do list pales in comparison to what he endures, and to how I hurt for him.
I’m extremely blessed in many ways and I recognize that.Gary’s job allows me to stay at home with Aaron.Gary is a faithful, hard worker.Aaron’s seizure clusters don’t happen daily, so he has many days where he feels good and is able to participate in life.And my greatest blessing?That I know God and I know that He is in control of our lives, including Aaron’s life.
Aaron came downstairs this morning, took his morning pills and some Ibuprofen for his terrible headache, and then lay back down on the couch with his soft pillow and his favorite fuzzy blanket and a trash can close by in case he needs to throw up.And as I listened to him breathing in sleep, I thought that this…..
This hard thing…..is what has continually over time drawn me ever closer to God.
If all I see, though, is Aaron and this sadness, then my faith will falter.But I have learned to look beyond the seizures…..the sadness for my son…..the pain…..and to look at God.
God….Who has a plan.I read in Psalm 25 this morning, and was so filled with joy.“O Lord, I give my life to You.I trust in You, my God!The Lord is good and does what is right.”And other verses this morning that confirmed to me that the very thing that causes me the most heartache is the thing that also deepens my walk with God.God does what is right, even when to me it seems far less than right.
It’s all in where I choose to put my focus.
Then my friend, Jill, posted an article on Desiring God…..an article on intimacy with God, written by Jon Bloom.It was excellent!And this statement in the last paragraph says it perfectly:“Intimacy with God often occurs in the places where we must trust Him most.”
Yes!!Lying on my couch is my son whom I dearly love, and whom I dearly wish could live a normal life, but God has not willed that to be the case.But in that pain of my mother heart has grown a deep trust in God, learned over time and in the hard, broken places.
I’m reading “Faith of Our Father” by Dale Ralph Davis, and is it ever good!Today I read about Abraham and his faith, but how faith isn’t always a piece of cake in the long term.Our faith can waver, so that’s why we need to keep our eyes on the One in Whom our faith rests.Davis says, “….if the object of faith is what matters, then don’t be overly worried about faith itself, wondering how much you have, anxious about the ‘amount’ of faith.”
I’ve heard people say, “Well, God didn’t answer my prayers.Was my faith not strong enough?”No, no!The strength of our faith has nothing to do with us but everything to do with the God that we trust.He is the strong one!And He DOES always answer prayer.It’s just that sometimes the answer isn’t what we wanted, so we tend to think that He hasn’t answered.In reality, what we’re thinking is that we just didn’t get our way.
I love Davis’ prayer at the end of this chapter I read today:“We give thanks, O Lord, for the trouble you take to help us go on believing.Teach us not to fret over the intensity of our faith, but convince us that even a weak faith may lay hold of a strong Christ.Amen.”
My faith can on some days be weak.If I just look at Aaron…..his seizures……his autism and behaviors……his here and now…..and his future – then I can most definitely falter.But like Davis said, may my weak faith lay hold of a strong Christ!!
I’m not a super parent, but I do have a super God!
And the more I trust Him, the more my faith grows.
The impossibly hard times are times rich with learning, if we but let go of our pain and place our focus on God, Who loves us more than we can know.When I open my hand and place it in God’s hand, then I have also let go of the pain that I sometimes hold too close.
“Bible faith looks away from itself to the One Who promises and finds rest there.”(Davis)
I can be thankful that God took my to-do list and added the most important thing to be done, at the very top of the list.
Trust Him and rest in Him.
And to be here for my Aaron…..this son that has taught me so much, even when he doesn’t know it.
We’ve been very encouraged lately to see Aaron in mostly good moods at his day group, Paradigm. He had some very discouraging struggles over the last few months of 2016, but now it’s like he’s turned over a new leaf.We certainly pray that it lasts.Perfection?No, of course not, but he’s been far happier than he’s been in a long time.
Honestly, one reason may be that we did reluctantly increase one of his drugs he takes for his autistic behaviors.I think it has helped to calm him.With this increased calmness, then, has come the ability to relate better to the people in his surroundings.
Aaron loves helping.He would rather be out somewhere helping with shopping or errands at his day group than to go on most of their activities.The smaller group is more suited to Aaron, but the helping itself also does something for his ego, too…..in a positive way.
We’ve been praising him for helping Amy, who works at Paradigm, with shopping at Sam’s or WalMart for Paradigm supplies. We praise him for helping Brandy or Barb with work at one of the Paradigm residential settings.Aaron, like any of us, thrives when he is commended.And for all of us, it’s wonderful to be praising Aaron rather than to be fussing at Aaron.
His personal relationships with Paradigm clients have been mostly better lately, as well.Take his friend, A, for instance.She is usually Aaron’s nemesis, and he hers. There is much bad blood between them.But this week Aaron had a taco that came with his meal from Taco Bueno……and he gave it to A!!Today Barb sent me a picture of Aaron hugging A!!!
All which goes to show that when Aaron is happy, everybody is happy!
Getting Aaron happy, though, can be tricky.
And there’s something else.Getting Aaron happy first thing in the morning can be virtually impossible.That’s why this morning was such a shock, and worthy of a blog.
It started last night, when Aaron saw me carrying two pink AMVETS donation bags down to our guest bedroom.He asked what I was doing, so I told him that I was preparing donation bags for AMVETS.
“I’ll carry them out for you!” he enthusiastically offered.But I thanked him and then told him that I wouldn’t be taking the bags out until morning.
“What time are you taking them out?” he asked.
“I don’t know,” I answered.“Just sometime in the morning.”
“What time?” he asked again.
“I don’t know an exact time,” I replied, knowing how Aaron loves exact times.
“What time?” he patiently repeated.
I knew that Aaron would need an exact time or he would go to bed still asking me what time I was carrying AMVET bags outside!!
“OK,” I said.“Probably around 7:45.”
“So, 7:45,” Aaron confirmed.
“Well, maybe not EXACTLY 7:45,” I said, “but sometime around there.”
I was sitting at the kitchen table this morning.7:45 had come and gone.I hadn’t taken the bags out yet.I heard Aaron on the monitor, up in his bedroom, stirring and then getting out of bed.Before long, he came down the stairs and into the kitchen.I looked up and saw right away that he had put on his tennis shoes, still wearing his pajamas, and I knew right away why.
“Mom?” he asked first thing.“Have you taken the bags out?”
“No,” I said with a smile.“But let’s do it right now.”
Aaron, who usually isn’t very chipper in the mornings and likes to talk about how he doesn’t feel well, turned and put on his jacket.Then he followed me happily to the guest bedroom, took two bags, and carried them out to the end of the driveway.He came back and carried a small table out for me.Then we were done and Aaron went about the rest of his morning.
I was pretty amazed.I thanked Aaron, but not in a way that was too exuberant.Aaron doesn’t like excessive exuberance.He can be excessively exuberant, but no one else usually can.We’ve learned this about Aaron.
I’m a realist, born of experience with Aaron. But I am, at the moment, a very happy realist.I pray that Aaron continues down this helpful path, learning how much fun it is to be needed.We all love being needed, don’t we?
Aaron really is no different than the rest of us, despite his glaring differences that at times show outwardly.His heart desires praise and love and usefulness, just like mine.
He also desires…..eating out.
I think I’m seeing a Friday night plan taking shape.
Today I had my yearly appointment with my dermatologist, Dr. Householder.She gave me a good going-over, declared me free of any skin cancers, and then smiled broadly as she said, “It’s been ten years since your first skin cancer, so I don’t need to see you again.You graduated!”She smiled broadly and I did, too.I like Dr. Householder, don’t get me wrong, but it’s nice to be told you don’t have to come back for check-ups anymore.And today she didn’t even offer me her standard advice concerning what to wear out in the yard.A bonnet.Yes, she always urged me to make or find a bonnet, and to wear it whenever I did gardening or yard work.I just never could go there.I think Gary was glad for that.
I drove away from her office and thought back to ten years ago when I had skin cancer surgery.Thankfully, it was not melanoma.I had noticed a rough patch on the very top of my right ear for a long time, but never thought a thing about it.It would come and go, bleed and bother me, and then heal some before repeating the same thing again….and again.Silly me didn’t even think about skin cancer, though with my dad’s history of multiple skin cancers and surgeries, I should have thought of that first.
I ended up in Dr. Householder’s office, where she confirmed that it was skin cancer and that it would need to be removed.However, since it was on my ear and was fairly deep, she wanted me to see a plastic surgeon.She had never referred anyone to Dr. Schoonover before, so I was the first.I don’t even remember in which office I saw him first, but he did schedule me for surgery.Not long after, I had a decent sized pie-shaped wedge taken out of my ear, the two sides pulled up and stitched together, and was sent home to recover.I carried with me my appointment date and location for my post-op visit a couple weeks later, along with an awkward bandage on my ear.
The day came for my return appointment with Dr. Schoonover. This visit was to be at his east side office.I must explain that in the history of Wichita, the east side has been known to have more of what some locals call “old money.”It’s like the east side is richer than the west side, or something like that.I’m from the west side.
Now, I’m just a simple person.Not fancy, not rich……but my mother always told me to dress nice when seeing a doctor and so I try to do that.On this winter day, we had a good amount of snow on the ground.Therefore, with my khaki slacks and my warm sweater, I chose a pair of practical leather lace-up shoes.I felt like I looked just fine as I headed over to the east side of town.
I pulled up in the snow-covered parking lot of Dr. Schoonover’s office.It looked like a nice building…..and then I noticed the sign, the one that said something about aesthetics and plastic surgery.I walked carefully to the door, stomped the snow off my feet, and walked inside.
I felt like I had entered another world.The waiting room was gorgeous, with plush carpet and ornate furniture.No standard waiting room chairs here, I noticed.No adult contemporary music playing on the sound system, either.It was classical, of course.I signed in with the receptionist who was beautifully dressed and sitting behind a very pretty desk.And then I turned to take my seat.
Oh dear.I sat down gingerly in a chair as I tried to get my bearings.In a corner stood a huge piece of furniture on which there were bottles of make-up and skin creams for sale.Lovely curtains hung on the windows.Soft light made everything…..well, soft.There was a gorgeous table in the center of the plush chairs.
And in those chairs, scattered around the room, were sitting other women.No one had on khaki pants. No one had on a normal winter sweater.No one had on practical leather lace-up shoes.These women looked very rich…..very well put together……very stiff.They sat in their plush chairs wearing their wool pants and expensive jackets and leather high heels.How did they walk in those things?In the snow!No one made eye contact and there was no small talk that I remember.Of course, I was trying to scoot my feet back under my chair as far as possible!
One of the assistants came out of a room and her shirt was striking.It was black, and on the front in large and very sparkly letters it said, “BOTOX.”I really wanted to laugh at that point.What did I expect in a waiting room that wasn’t just for plastic surgery patients, but was for “aesthetic” patients?Look up that word.It means, “Pertaining to a sense of the beautiful.”That would fit!
And there I sat in my normal clothes, with my leather lace-up shoes under the chair, and an awkward bandage on my ear.I noticed something else.There were no magazines.No Better Homes and Gardens. No Sports Illustrated.No Taste of Home.
But guess what was strewn over the ornate table in the middle of our chairs?Thick notebooks with pictures in them.I leaned forward a tad so that I could see them better.I should have known.I saw pictures of women and then on the notebooks the words, “Before,” and “After.”
Aaahhh yes, of course!And it was then that I wondered if all those fancy women were looking at me and thinking, “She’s a Before.Definitely a Before!”HaHaHa!!
Well, I had what I called an ear lift, for crying out loud!!That should count for something!
I was very happy to finish with my doctor visit that day.Dr. Schoonover was happy with my ear.Makes me laugh to even say that when I think of what some of those other women were probably there for.Botox and tucks and trims and suction……who knows?Oh, and he took a picture of my ear and then of me……my whole face!
I wonder if I was in the After notebook after all?
My final visit with him was at the location of my choosing.I chose his west side office that was nearest to my house.It’s called Eberly Farm.
Everybody has a story.I’ve always found it so interesting to hear people’s stories.Biographies are some of my favorite books to read.Nothing, though, can compare to listening to someone tell their story…..their real life story.I’m not talking about famous people.I’m talking about common, everyday people like you and like me.
There is a story……an all too true story……that I have wanted to tell for a long time.A story of love, of sadness, of betrayal, and of ultimate forgiveness.
The story of Rachel and Leah.But not the Rachel and Leah you might be assuming I mean.This is not the Rachel and Leah story found in the Bible.No, this story is one that is all too close to my husband’s family.You see, this Rachel of whom I speak is Mama Rachel……the affectionate term by which Gary’s Grandmother, Rachel, was known.
Her story begins in the year 1905, when Leaketh Rachel Eller was born to Joseph Adam Eller and Florin Bavaria Moten.I include their full names because I find those mountain names to be so intriguing……so full of the rich heritage of the Smoky Mountains where they lived.It was in Weaverville, North Carolina, where Rachel was born.This little mountain community in western North Carolina was home to the Ellers.
They later moved to Flat Creek, not too far from Weaverville, where Rachel was raised……along with Robert, Roy, Mary Jo, Leah, John, and Jack.At the age of 12, Rachel went forward in their small country church and made a profession of faith, as it is often called.But Rachel would later tell everyone that she really wasn’t saved on that day.She made a firm decision to follow Christ two years later, at the age of 14, after singing in the church choir and being under great conviction about her sinful heart.That day, after she had washed the Sunday dishes, she went out behind the house.She walked up through the garden into a clearing in the pine trees.There she knelt on a large granite boulder and repented, promising the Lord to faithfully follow Him all the days of her life.Her commitment to follow Christ and His desires for her life that day never waned.She lived that life both publicly and privately before her acquaintances, her friends, and more importantly, her family.That decision to follow Christ totally changed her life, evident more than ever in the coming hard years.
There was a man in those mountains, a good man, named William Edgar Edmonds.Edgar had been in the army, fighting in Mexico against Pancho Villa.When he was discharged from the army, he became a structural steel worker.And somehow he met Rachel.
Edgar and Rachel, he twelve years her senior, fell in love and were married in 1922.Rachel was only 18.Edgar was 30.Edgar lovingly called Rachel “Puny” because she had appendicitis shortly after they were married.Another, deeper pain entered their lives when Rachel lost their first baby.
But more children followed.Willene, Jay, Betty, and Mary Leah were born while Edgar and Rachel lived on Balsam Avenue in Asheville, North Carolina.Edgar was a hard worker whose steel jobs took him far away from home for extended lengths of time.
Edgar left the steel jobs to take over a service station and garage so he could be home with his family. One autumn day he came home for lunch and told Rachel that he was going hunting with two friends.The three men later got in a small boat and proceeded to cross the French Broad River.Recent heavy rains made the river run high and the current strong as they set out in their boat.There is much mystery about what really happened that day, but the tragic end was the same…..Edgar fell, or was pushed, from the boat and drowned.
It was November 19, 1932.The first policeman who went to Rachel’s door to give her the horrible news couldn’t bring himself to tell her, so a second policeman broke the awful news to her.Rachel was holding 3 month old Mary Leah, and in her shock she threw the baby in the air.Rachel’s sister, Mary Jo, was there and caught Mary Leah in her arms.
The heartache was made even worse by the fact that Edgar’s body couldn’t be found.The raging river made it impossible for searchers to find his body, even after using grappling hooks and dynamiting the river bottom.Rachel’s grief was deep and unending.For weeks, she walked the river banks looking for her Edgar.
Finally, on April 8, 1933, three boys decided to go swimming in the French Broad.They held hands as they waded in the cold water, daring each other to get wet.One of the boys stepped on something, looked down, and told the others that he had found Ed.Later, one of Rachel’s brothers identified Edgar’s body.No one would let Rachel see him, though she tried.And so she began her life for real as a widow with four young babies to care for.
It wasn’t easy for a young widow in those days to provide for herself, much less for herself and 4 children.Rachel was fortunate to have a mother and father who were still living and who loved her.They built her a house on Flat Creek, where she moved and where she set out to raise her children.
There was another man in those mountains……a man quite the opposite of Edgar.This man’s name was Wayne, but he is known by family simply and disdainfully as The Preacher.He did go around the mountains preaching, but by absolutely no means did this man know the Lord personally.You will understand soon why I say that.
The Preacher carried the mail in those mountain communities.He was married to a woman, but one day he told her that he had met another woman that he wanted to marry.He said that her name was Leah.Leah……Rachel’s sister.But in the meantime The Preacher found out about Rachel, now a widow, and probably assumed that Rachel had insurance money.So he wooed Rachel, all the while seeing Leah.Rachel, unaware of any of this……and probably in some desperation over her situation…..married The Preacher.
Rachel and The Preacher lived at Flat Creek where a son, Wayne, was born to them.The Preacher began moving his other chidren to Flat Creek.Yes, there were other children up in those mountains……children that Rachel knew nothing about……children that she began to care for.
The Preacher eventually moved the family down to South Carolina for a period of time.He made the children work in the cotton fields…..hot, hard work in the summer sun.Then he moved them all back to Flat Creek, where later a son was born to unmarried Leah.Rachel and her mother were both with Leah when her son was born.Unmarried Leah…..but they all knew that The Preacher was the father of this new baby.And in anger, justifiably, Joseph Eller disinherited his daughter, Leah.
The Preacher moved Rachel and the children to Bryson City, west of Asheville, deep in the Smoky Mountains.Then came the war, and The Preacher moved to Akron, Ohio.Rachel finished training as a machine operator so that she could help during the war, so The Preacher sent for her and some of the children to come to Akron.Rachel boarded a bus for the long trip to Akron.She finally arrived, exhausted no doubt, and stepped off the bus.There stood The Preacher…..and beside him, to Rachel’s shock, stood Leah…..holding a baby.
Leah lived there in Akron with Rachel and The Preacher.It’s hard to imagine how difficult that was for Rachel.At some point, The Preacher came back to Bryson City.Later, he told Rachel he had a heart attack, so she returned to care for him.Leah returned to Flat Creek.
The following years were full of great hardship and terrible times.When he was home, The Preacher was mean and selfish.Then he would be gone for long periods of time, saying he was preaching revivals.Rachel did what she could to make ends meet.She was a mail carrier, even traveling over the mountains to Asheville.She was a seamstress……a maid at a hotel…..worked in factories……and gardened and canned at all hours so that she could feed her children.And feed The Preacher’s children, whom she still kept with her.
Finally, one day Rachel had lived in that desperate situation long enough.The Preacher came home, yet again, but this time Rachel told him to be gone when she got home from work.Whether it was in the way she said it, or some other reason, The Preacher did leave and never came back.
Years later, Rachel and Leah’s mother, known as Granny Eller, decided to try to find Leah.She was ready to ask law enforcement for help, but guess who stepped in and found Leah?Rachel.
Rachel contacted Leah, living in Arkansas with The Preacher, and told her that she needed to contact their mother, now very old.Leah eventually came home to North Carolina for a visit.None of the family wanted anything to do with her, except for one sister.Rachel.
Over the remaining years of Leah’s life, Rachel kept in touch with her.The one person that you would think would never want to talk to Leah again, much less see her, was Rachel.But Rachel had learned some lessons since she gave her heart to Christ at the rock behind her parent’s house on Flat Creek.That young 14 year old girl never dreamed the turn her life would take, but she had given her life to Christ and by doing that, she walked on a narrow path not traveled by many.
It was a path of some joy, yes, yet for much of her life it was a path marred by pain and hurt for which she could never have prepared herself.But she was kept on that path by the God she knew and loved, to Whom she was always faithful, and Who taught her about forgiveness.His forgiveness of her, and so her responsibility to forgive those whom had hurt her so deeply.
I met Mama Rachel in 1978, when Gary and I were dating.I loved her from the start.She was kind and she was wise.She loved telling stories, with a sparkle in her eye and her mouth turned up in a grin before she would often let out her wonderful laugh.She was a faithful saint, a woman of prayer……and her prayers and her love are the reason that Gary came to know Christ.I never detected an ounce of bitterness in her.
When later I listened to this story of her life, I was stunned.Just stunned that she had endured such awful things, but more so that she wasn’t angry or bitter.She wasn’t angry or bitter because she had learned how futile and disobedient it was to live that way.To follow Christ meant you let Him have charge of it all, even forgiving the ones that to us were the most unforgivable of all.
To follow Christ also meant loving everyone, including Leah’s three boys.Mama Rachel always let them know that they were cared for by her and welcomed in her home.She also did the same for the preacher’s other children, laying aside any heartache she may have felt in order to help each of them.They sometimes lived with her and continued to visit her for the rest of her life. The fruits of her forgiveness were seen in the love that these children had for Rachel.
On January 21, 2005, Mama Rachel celebrated her 100th birthday.
Then 10 days later she entered heaven, free at last from age and pain and the hurts of her life.She was truly an amazing woman in so many ways, but none more so than in her ability to live her life in forgiveness…..and model to all of us how to do the same.
Well done, Mama Rachel!Such a good and faithful servant.
It’s been another very mild and very dry winter here in Kansas. It’s felt and even looked more like spring than winter this year. While it’s been nice not to find ourselves maneuvering over slick roads, we do need some moisture. And boy, did we get it! A huge storm plowed into Kansas this week, leaving us in our part of the state with at least 14 inches of beautiful snow. We woke up to a world of glimmer as the sun shone brightly on the newly fallen snow. The ground is encased in a sparkly white wrap, fresh and mostly untouched in our big back yard.
I also noticed another result of our massive snow storm as I looked out of our upstairs windows. There hang long rows of icicles. They have their own unique beauty, all clear and shiny like hanging crystals. No two seem to be…
Gary and I looked at lots of homes when we were house hunting here in the Wichita area over 17 years ago. Has it been that long?! The house we are in now was the second house we looked at during those rushed few days. We at first dismissed it because the inside of the house needed lots of work. No other houses were right, though, and so we were pulled back to this house for a second look. I remember standing in the upstairs window in what became Aaron’s bedroom, looking out over the back yard. At that time there was a large, beautiful pool in the back as well as the big yard. I was so surprised when I was told that the whole area out back was part of the house’s yard. And for me, that was largely what sold me on this house. That yard……
That yard has offered us room for running young children; for walking and playing with our dogs; for endless hours of swimming with family and friends before we covered up the pool; for our vegetable garden; for parties and fireworks; for ball throwing and bean bags and even boomerangs (we ended that idea pretty quickly!); for enjoying wildlife; and for a measure of privacy that we have enjoyed.
The look of the yard has changed with time, just as we have. The pool is gone; dozens of dead pines and other trees have had to be cut; fences are not there now; and once young trees are now tall and strong. But our back yard, despite the changes, is still a place that is home to us. That yard beckons us, whether it is to work or to play; to sit or to walk……our yard is home and is a place of comfort to us.
There are two big evergreens at the back of our yard, visible from our house but not too near. I sometimes think of our yard as ending there because you can’t really see around those big trees. You must walk around them to see what lies out there in the very back part of our back yard.
There is simply a small area out there that is our property, where Gary mows and where more trees grow to both sides. And it is there where a finger of the neighborhood lake weaves in a curve. This part of the lake is dry for a good part of the year, but is full of water when the rains come.
It is this section of our yard that is, to me, fairly creepy. There are some trees there, one especially, that is wild and untamed. Its branches are tangled in a mass of knotted wood and long thorns that threaten if you get too close. It’s a dark place, especially in the summer when leaves and underbrush are growing. I feel cold in this area, even though this is still our yard. It isn’t warm and welcoming like the rest of our yard, but is a little ominous and foreboding. I like to walk back around those large evergreens where I can see our house and the rest of our yard, safe and welcoming.
I was standing in this area of our yard a few days ago while Aaron and I took our Great Dane, Jackson, for a walk. Aaron was having fun exploring the dry creek bed, and Jackson was sniffing everywhere and everything. I still didn’t want to linger long here, but as I did stand there I was reminded of one of our favorite Psalms and of the very wonderful lesson we learn from it.
We often think of Psalm 23 as the one we read at funerals. But David wrote this Psalm from his life as a shepherd, before he became a king. He compared our God to a shepherd, a life that David knew well. Our Shepherd makes us lie down in green pastures and leads us beside still waters. But…..He also is with us during those times that we must walk through dark valleys.
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me. Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”
Often shepherds in Bible times found themselves in desert areas, where there were deep valleys. Those valleys were full of danger. Danger could come from bandits, from sudden raging floods, or from wild animals. The valleys were frightful…..a place of threat to the sheep. But the good shepherd kept a close watch, using his rod to beat off wild animals and his staff to gently guide the sheep away from danger. Sometimes there was no other way to go but through the desert valley, but the sheep knew that they could trust their shepherd to guide them through the dangers.
So it is with you and I as we live this life. Honestly, if left up to me, I would have chosen some different paths than those that God has chosen for me. But God knew best for me, and He continues to know where I need to be and what circumstances need to be around me. He has proven Himself undeniably faithful and loving to me, even…..and especially…..in the very hard times. He has a reason, a purpose, for every dark valley and every unwelcome event in my life. He may choose to let me know the reason now, and He may not. That’s where trust comes in…..the trust of me, a sheep, for my loving Shepherd.
I have dear family and friends who have been in, or are still in, one of those dark valleys. To each of you I say that God, your great Shepherd, is with you. He will protect you and He will comfort you as only He can.
To Paul and Goldie whose daughter, Jennifer, went to heaven only a month ago after such suffering. To Janet, my dear friend who is fighting cancer. To Nancy, whose sweet father was just put on hospice. To Steve and Dona, whose lives have been radically changed when Steve suffered a massive stroke over a year ago. To Dan and Wendy, who face untold stress and grief as they watch their precious Elijah suffer from severe seizures. To Sarah, Anna, and Kyle, who have had more loss this year than I can fathom. To Linda and Laura, who will always grieve the tragic death of their son and brother. To Kurt and Jill, whose son Nicholas just endured yet another infection and brain surgery. To my sister, Mary Beth, who somehow goes through each day with a smile as she struggles with a muscle disease. To Karen and Bill, who have heartache that just can’t be told.
And to so many more of you, each with your own battles……your own valleys…..your own dangers and fears. Let God be your Shepherd. Know Him and trust Him. Know that He has a reason for every path that you take, and His reason is one that is born out of deep love for you. Someday we will understand. And in the meantime, we need to trust our Shepherd to have our good nearest to His heart. For he truly does.
“Surely goodness and mercy (lovingkindness) will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
Aaron climbed in the van this afternoon when I picked him up from his day group.I talked to Katie, his staff, about his day…..which she said was excellent, with Aaron being kind and funny.What awesome news!!
Aaron was settling into his seat and buckling his seat belt as Katie and I finished talking.I had noticed that he walked to the van carrying two things in his hand, so before I drove away I looked down at the two items that he had placed between our seats.
“What are those things?” I asked him.
“Well,” he replied as he held up a cup.“K asked if I would be her Valentine, so she gave me this.”
K is a client, one that Aaron doesn’t see a lot, I don’t believe.But I guess she wants to be Aaron’s Valentine, so she hopefully sealed the deal with this gift.It made me smile.But it was the next thing that I saw that had me laughing.
The list.She wrote a list for her new Valentine.You know, just to give him a few gift ideas so he could seal his end of the deal.
This girl has been schooled, let me tell you!!HaHaHa!!
And good old Aaron, who loves to give and to share, asked if he could give those gifts to K.I explained, as we drove home, why these gifts were out of the question.Aaron was disappointed, and surprised, that he couldn’t buy K what she wanted.
At supper, Aaron showed Gary his gift from K, which made him smile.And then he showed Gary the gift list, which made Gary laugh out loud just as I did.Aaron was stoic, still disappointed at our reactions.
“You mean I can’t get her those gifts?” Aaron asked with a straight face.
“No, Aaron,” Gary replied.“You don’t have that kind of money for all those expensive gifts.Why, even your mother wouldn’t expect to get those kinds of gifts.”
Aaron and I sat down to play Skip-Bo the other night.It’s a familiar nighttime routine for us on many days, this game of Skip-Bo.As Aaron came to the table, I saw that he was carrying two bowls.One was empty, and the other was full of Tootsie Rolls.These Tootsie Rolls had been a sweet surprise from our friends, Jim and Joyce, this past Sunday.Aaron was very happy to have been given such a huge bag of Tootsie Rolls, trust me!
As we sat down to play Skip-Bo, while I was shuffling the cards, Aaron began unwrapping a Tootsie Roll.He carefully took off the wrapper, and I then learned the purpose of his second bowl, the empty one.He placed the Tootsie Roll wrapper into the empty bowl.Soon he was ready for his second piece of candy, so he once again pulled on the wrapped Tootsie Roll, removed the paper, and carefully placed it alongside the first wrapper in the proper bowl.
If there was ever a picture of how Aaron organizes his life, it would be in his use of multiple bowls.I have blogged about this in the past, especially this piece from a few years ago.It so fully explains Aaron’s use of bowls.Put That in a Bowl!!
So as I watched him eat his Tootsie Rolls while we played Skip-Bo, I was once again reminded of how Aaron wants……no, he needs……his life to be just a certain way.We all do that to some extent, but for an individual with autism, those needs are ever more acute.The smallest disruption in routine and expectations can totally pull the rug out from under Aaron.
Providing some fluctuations in his day and in his life can actually be very good for Aaron.Finding the balance, though, is tricky.Giving him consistency while also guiding him through changes can be very challenging for him, and definitely so for all of us who are a part of his life.
The staff at Paradigm can most assuredly attest to this fact.They endure changing Aaron more than anyone.Aaron can be very up and he can be very down at his day group.Sometimes we see and know the triggers, and sometimes we don’t.They have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly from Aaron during his nearly 11 years there.
Aaron has been home this week with a bad cold.He totally loves staying at home and would do so every day if we let him.But like I said, Aaron needs to be away from routine and predictability in order to grow and to thrive.He has friends at his day group and staff that he loves, but the atmosphere there is active and sometimes loud.He can’t totally control his environment there……what people say or do……what activity he will participate in that day……how he will feel.So for Aaron, staying home is much more preferred, but is not at all what he needs to do every day.
He was well enough to return to Paradigm yesterday, on Friday.I could tell he didn’t really want to go……didn’t want to think of leaving home for the day.I was encouraging Aaron to keep a good attitude as I poured his morning coffee under his watchful eye. He watches to make sure I do the coffee job JUST RIGHT!
“Mom,” he finally said.“I’m not trying to go MAD!I’m trying to go HAPPY!”
Wow!His insights floor me sometimes.
He really wants to process life correctly.Sometimes, however, it’s just a huge stretch for him to be able to do that.
For Aaron, it’s Tootsie Rolls in one bowl and Tootsie Roll wrappers in another bowl.
He can control this business of candy and candy wrappers.He can’t control, though, his atmosphere at his day group.Some days it’s just too much.But we must gently push……must keep trying……must understand how hard it can be for him.
He had a great day yesterday at Paradigm.They went to watch Rogue One at the theater.Well, I’m not sure if it was a “great” day, but Katie told me that it was a good day……and to me, that’s great.
Gary and I had Aaron with us at Sam’s on Monday.I was checking out the asparagus when Aaron walked up to me with a bouquet of flowers, his face all smiles while Gary watched in the background.Gary had pointed out the bin of flowers to Aaron, and Aaron instantly wanted to buy me some.We’ve watched those Iris’s this week, some blooms falling off as they wilt while other buds burst into bloom.
Again, just like Aaron.We wait for him to grow……hopefully to bloom……and in the mean time we enjoy him and his unique, colorful life that we see every day.
Candy and wrappers…….buds and blooms……it’s all part of what makes life with Aaron both challenging and beautiful.
Just a few minutes ago I waved goodbye to Aaron, went in the house, closed the door, and breathed a huge sigh of relief. He did it!! What did he do? He agreed to the reality of me not being able to drive him to meet his day group because our van is in the shop. He agreed to let the Paradigm van pick him up at our house. He agreed to go in early. EARLY! It wasn’t without some angst from Aaron…….some anger…….some rude words……some refusals. But he did get in the van when Katie pulled up in our driveway and he did go. Success! At least for now……for today.
Yesterday my van’s air conditioner wasn’t blowing cool air as I drove home in the afternoon from a nice visit with my friend, Jennifer. Since it was time for an oil change and tire rotation anyway, I just called…
A fresh start can be so nice. New everything. Out with the old, right? Well, not always, as I have seen on the past two days. We all know that to be true.
I ended my old year on a most familiar note…..playing SkipBo with Aaron right before bed. I guess that’s our version of a party, which suits Aaron perfectly as he really does NOT like parties. Parties have too much noise and emotion for him, thank you very much. But SkipBo with Mom is orderly, predictable, with nice piles of sequential numbers, and plenty of opportunity to cheat. Yes, cheat, of which Aaron is a master if not watched closely.
The next morning, our New Year morning, saw Aaron blandly staring at me as I very happily wished him a Happy New Year!! His lack of expression at these moments is often hilarious, but I can’t always laugh because he finds that emotional expression irritating or he thinks I am laughing at him. Which at times I am, but in a good way that he just wouldn’t understand.
Anyway, Aaron’s main concerns on our New Year morning were:
1) Can I have FOUR cups of coffee? (Don’t worry. The cups are half full).
2) Are there coupons in the newspaper for me to cut?
3) What time are we going to Chili’s for lunch?
Aaron had opened a gift during our family Christmas Bingo game. The gift was a Chili’s gift card that was burning a hole in…..well, in my wallet because I don’t dare give Aaron gift cards to keep. They won’t keep with him. They will be lost or given away.
I told Aaron that we would go to Chili’s after church. He wanted to know the exact time, so I gave him my usual ball park figure and he was happy. He was not so happy with the coupons in the paper for some reason. Still slow from his cluster of seizures on Friday night, the coupons did not make him show his usual sense of purpose. However, he settled in on the floor with his coupon trash cans as he sat on his coupon pillow with his coupon scissors…..and his FOUR cups of coffee on the bench nearby…..and he began to clip the coupons, very slowly.
I was in the bathroom later when Aaron came to the door. “Mom,” he slowly began. “I was cutting coupons but there were too much.”
“OK,” I responded.
“There were too much,” he repeated.
“Yes, there were a lot today,” I replied.
“There were too much coupons,” he said again.
“There were too much,” he once again asserted when he got no Mom reply.
Pause. Sigh from me.
“Aaron, just take a break. You can finish them later,” foolish Mom said.
“I ripped them,” Aaron flatly replied.
Pause. Another sigh from me.
I was following Aaron’s train of thought, one all too familiar. He didn’t want me to cut those coupons.
“Because you don’t do them right,” he continued. “You don’t cut them straight on the line like I do.”
He made his exit on that note. No surprise from me. It might be a New Year, but we are still living in our old ways…..always, always.
And sure enough, there on the family room floor lay his unfinished little stack of coupons……ripped, just like he said. Aaron’s thinking has always been this…..that if he can’t cut the coupons, NO ONE will cut the coupons. Especially Mom, who is a dismal failure at coupon cutting.
Those ripped coupons were a stark reminder to me that just under the surface with Aaron there is always that issue of how he handles stress in his life. He reacts, and often his reactions are very inappropriate. His behaviors are a huge concern to us. So I stood there being reminded that we were on our first day of a brand New Year, brand new beginnings, brand new opportunities……and here we were, being slapped into our old reality of life with Aaron.
Some things just never change. We know that.
But there were other reminders of wonderful things that never change, either. Gary and I finally got to church on time. Yes, we were one of THOSE people who totally didn’t see the memo on the changed time for church……one of THOSE people who didn’t give New Year’s Day a second thought…..and so on this New Year’s morning we drove to church TWICE. And we laughed at ourselves. We’re HOW old?!
Anyway, we walked into church to the hugs and handshakes of sweet friends. And there was Joyce, who handed me a bag containing a huge bag full of Tootsie Rolls…..for Aaron, because of my recent Tootsie Roll blog. How unexpected and sweet, in more ways than one! Later, Aaron was also surprised and full of smiles at this kind gift.
The care of friends is unchanging in our lives. Such a blessing!
The worship and the message on our New Year’s morning was encouraging and challenging. And we sang one of my most favorite songs – Great is Thy Faithfulness. What a wonderful reminder of God’s unchanging faithfulness in our lives!
And later, as we sat with Aaron at Chili’s, Gary and I watched him ever so slowly eat his enchilada lunch and his salad. His joy at eating out was very evident. Never changing, his love of restaurant food! And seeing that joy is always fun for us, despite our constant reminders to him that he doesn’t need to take 17 toothpicks…..don’t stare at the other people and their food……don’t make noises…..don’t clap…..please don’t loudly stretch when you get out of the booth.
I was able to salvage a few coupons later from the ripped pages. I didn’t let Aaron see me as I quickly cut them out behind his back. And I know that we will continue to try to salvage good out of the bad days that Aaron will surely have this year. It’s our reality with Aaron, New Year or not.
But through it all I know, like that favorite old hymn says, that God will remain the same, too. Faithful to us, as always.
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions they fail not;
As Thou hast been, Thou forever wilt be.
Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!