God In the Ugly

It’s a cold, cloudy, and blustery day here in Kansas.  I was doing Gary duty with our Great Dane this morning.  Gary is out of town right now, so I was the one shivering out on the back walk while our elderly Jackson took his jolly time doing his morning business.  Why must he sniff every single leaf??!!

I looked over at our Rose of Sharon bushes, standing there in an ugly brown row.  I could hear their crunchy dead pods brushing together in the cold wind.  There was nothing inviting there, that’s for sure!

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But something did catch my eye as I routinely scanned the dead scene.  I walked over to further examine a cluster of branches at the end of the row.  It was what I thought it might be.  A bird’s nest, all tucked in securely among the brown stalks. 

As I looked closer, I saw that this bird had repurposed some plastic to help line her nest.  There were little dead leaves inside the nest that had blown there in our Kansas winds.  I have no idea how old this nest is, or what kind of bird built it, but there it lay nestled safely in the branches.

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I immediately was drawn to how God has told us that He cares for the birds of the air.  He created them, He feeds them, and He knows when even one has fallen. 

He also tells us that if He cares for the little birds, how much more does He care for His children?

I pondered all this as I hurried inside with Jackson, who was finally done with his doings.  I thought about why I was able to see this nest.  I could see it because the once pretty, green Rose of Sharon bushes were now bare of their beauty.

I could see a picture of God’s amazing care because all the beauty, for this particular season, has been stripped away. 

How like our lives at times!

This is the scene that I far prefer.

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I love the lush green growth, and all the beautiful blooms.  And in my life, I love it when things are going well.  I like it when life is pleasant; when I feel like prayers are being answered the way I want them to be; when I’m at peace. 

But we all know that life isn’t that way…not all the time.  Yet when times are tough…when my life feels like my winter Rose of Sharon, all dead and dreary…is when something amazing happens.

It’s in the empty times, when all the goodness seems gone, that I can more clearly see the goodness of God.  I can plainly see His care without the distractions of all the fun and pretty things around me. 

Sometimes I must step nearer and look closer, but there I will see God and His loving care in my life.  God isn’t hidden by all the luster that I sometimes have, and honestly desire to have. 

“As for me,” the Psalmist said, “I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me.  You are my help and my deliverer…”  (Psalm 40:17)

If things are pretty all the time, I won’t always give as much thought to the Lord’s thought for me.  But when life is rough and even feels empty, I can better see His thoughts for me.  I see the form that those thoughts take…the loving care He has for me…the help He brings to me…how he strongly delivers me.

Sometimes seeing God happens best when I’m rid of the most. 

I’m loving the view of this little nest today, unhindered by eye-catching distractions.

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And I’m loving that I have a Heavenly Father who is thinking of me today and using such simple means to show me how truly awesome He really is!     

All I Need to Know

God promises to relieve my burden, even if the situation remains.

He Said What?!

He threw the glass across the kitchen this morning.  At least it was a plastic glass……and at least it was empty.  So began our morning.  Aaron got up just in time to go out to Gary’s truck in the driveway and hug him goodbye.  He was happy and I was hopeful.  Yesterday was up and down with Aaron.  He didn’t like me for awhile but then settled down and we had a nice evening.  We watched Wheel of Fortune, and played Skip-Bo later while eating strawberries.

Simple pleasures, but not always such a simple life with Aaron. 

This morning as we walked back into the house after his goodbye hug for dad, he decided that Mom was the bad guy again.  He told me he wasn’t going to go to Paradigm today, and on and on. 

Oh, the complexities of his mind!  The challenges of autism!  Physical issues I can…

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Remember When?

Aaron loves looking at a particular picture of me and Gary, taken back in the day.  WAYYYY back in the day, to be clear.  This picture was taken at Gary’s Army Flight School Banquet upon his graduation.

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Aaron has always said that he thought this photo was of our wedding, so I am often correcting him about that as I repeat over and over that this was taken four years after we were married.  Aaron doesn’t sweat the details, though, and he continues to tell us…and others…that here are Mom and Dad at their wedding.

But there is another detail that Aaron loves to share the MOST as he either talks about this picture or gets to show it to people who come to see us in our home.

“In her wedding picture,” Aaron begins (and I know exactly what is coming!), “Mom used to be skinny!!”

Emphasis on “USED to be skinny.”

As in I was…in the past…not the present…in the FAR distant past…skinny.

Aaron will randomly tell this bit of news to anyone who has ears, including people who barely know me.  He will share it within the context of any conversation, out of the blue, ignoring people’s curious looks and my rolling eyes in my red face.

Yes, Aaron, I USED to be skinny.  Those WERE the good old days.

I’m able to laugh as I tell this story, even as I constantly try to keep Aaron FROM telling it in order to hopefully teach him some manners or some tact.  Yet Aaron’s focus on the past…on MY past…has also taught me an important truth.

The prophet, Haggai, helped with this as well.  I’ll explain.

Haggai was the first prophet that was heard in Israel after the Babylonian exile.  The Israelites had returned to Jerusalem and Haggai encouraged them to finish building the temple.  Fifteen years had passed since any work had been done on the temple.  God promised to be with them as the people agreed to once again build God’s house.

Yet later, as they stood at the site of the temple, God knew that the people were very discouraged.  He also knew why they were so down in their spirits.  So, God spoke to the leaders and to the people through Haggai.

Haggai 2:3 – “Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory?  How does it look to you now?  Does it not seem to you like nothing?”

God, through His prophet, just cut to the chase.  He hit the nail on the head as He revealed openly what He knew they were thinking.  And what they were thinking was that compared to years ago, this beginning of a new temple looked dismal and ugly.  In fact, the Israelites…especially the older ones who remembered the former glory of the old temple…knew that the new temple they would build would in no way compare to the beauty of the past temple.

Who could help but be discouraged as they stood there remembering the glory that used to be, but would not fully be again?

But God didn’t just leave it there.  He continued to speak, telling the leaders to be strong, and ended by saying:

Haggai 2:4-5 – “Be strong, all you people of the land – declares the Lord – and work, for I am with you, declares the Lord almighty.  This is what I covenanted with you when you came out of Egypt, and my Spirit remains among you.  Do not fear!”

I’ll tell you that there are times and there are ways in which I am much like these Israelite Jews as they looked at their current circumstances and compared them to what used to be.  And for me it goes WAY beyond remembering my skinny days!

Ten years ago, God set Gary and I on a path of great hurt and loss.  The details are not what matter.  What matters is that God was surely with us each step of the way.  He did indeed tell us to keep working for Him in very difficult circumstances, just as He did to Israel.  He told us to be strong even when we were tired on every level.

What kept us going?  The two promises that God gave to Israel were ours as well.  God said, “I am with you…and my Spirit remains among you.”  I can promise you that God kept His promises to us.  His strength, His peace, His Spirit, was always present and enabling in our lives.  His Word was powerful!

I love what John Mackay says about God being with us: “This is what distinguishes the advice of the world, ‘Be strong.  I know you’ve got it in you,’ from the counsel of Scripture which recognizes that we have NOT got it in us, but that God’s presence with us will make all the difference.”

Circumstances can get very ugly sometimes, but I am not to focus on what’s around me.  I am to focus on God and on the fact that He is with me.  He will not fail me.  He will not desert me to my enemies or to my runaway thoughts.

God also gave Israel a simple three-word command.

“Do not fear,” God said.

Again, John Mackay: “The Lord’s faithfulness in the past and the present is the basis for future encouragement.  It is not the appearance of the building, but the presence of his enabling Spirit that will make the crucial difference.”

Not the appearance of the building.  Not my surroundings, but rather the God Who surrounds me with His protection in every way I need.

So, what’s your “Remember When?”

Remember when:  You were loved.  You weren’t alone.  You were important to that group.  You were included.

Remember when:  You had a job you loved.  You had the money you needed.  You made a difference.

Remember when:  You had your health.  You had your spouse.  You had your children close.

Remember when:  You sang.  You taught.  You were a part.  You mattered.

Remember when:  You had your parents.  You had a family.  You laughed.  You talked.

The list is endless, isn’t it?  Life changes.  Sometimes suddenly…other times, slowly.  But change is inevitable for all of us.

What doesn’t ever change is God.  His presence is with His children, steady and stable, always constant.  He’s the same yesterday, today, and forever.

When the past tries to capture my attention, I know I must look to today…to what God has for me today…to Who He is today…and to His promises that are true…TODAY!

And I can declare from experience that out of our deepest pain of yesterday will come our most beautiful usefulness TODAY!

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Aaron and The Wedding

 

Two weeks ago we had…a WEDDING!!!  Our first wedding!!!

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Our daughter, Andrea, was wed to Kyle Kester in a perfectly beautiful outdoor ceremony at the Texas home of Kyle’s grandparents.  It had rained a lot there, even the morning of the wedding; but God told all the weather forecasters that He was sorry to spoil their forecast…that He had lots of people praying for no rain, so no rain it was. 

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It was a small wedding, the way Andrea and Kyle wanted it, and was full of close friends and family who helped with everything and shared in our joy.  Even my brother, John, married them…and his wife, Jeanie, was the coordinator. 

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Family.  When all is said and done, is there anything or anyone more precious to us than family?  And especially at an event as special as a wedding, family is there.  The pictures are taken, the hugs shared, the laughter abounding.  Family love is everywhere during a wedding.

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Yet when all the wedding photographs are finally ours to see and enjoy, we will look at our family wedding picture and have one missing member. 

Aaron.

Aaron could have been there…and yet he couldn’t.  Let me go back in time and explain.

Kyle, from the first time he walked into our house nearly three years ago, was a natural with Aaron.  We love that about Kyle.  He is patient…treats Aaron as an equal…knows how to talk to Aaron…and knows when to redirect Aaron more than most people do at this stage in their relationship. 

Aaron has a very close relationship with Andrea.  Aaron is the older by 18 months, but he still sees Andrea in somewhat of a mother role in his life.  He loves to talk to her on the phone, almost always about himself, but still he wants to tell her everything about his current movie or game or activity. 

But two things happened when Kyle came into this perfect picture.  The first thing is that, to Aaron, Kyle was taking Andrea away from him. 

“I still want Andrea to be my sister!” Aaron exclaimed when he realized that Kyle just might be here to stay.  We explained and explained, over and over, that nothing would change…that Andrea would still be his sister, forever…and that she would still come to visit, and we could go visit her.  And that if they got married, he would gain a wonderful brother!

The second thing that happened to Aaron was the process of figuring out just who Kyle would be in our family, and particularly who Kyle would be to him…to Aaron.  Aaron struggles with just who is who in family relationships.  He may meet a couple and later say that the man is the woman’s dad, not her husband.  Uncles, aunts, and cousins are completely impossible for him to understand.  And brother-in-law?  Forget it!!

Aaron wants to forget in more ways than one! 

“I don’t NEED a grand-brother!!!” he blurted out one day as he expressed disapproval over the upcoming marriage. 

We didn’t even tell him that a “grand-brother” isn’t a thing. 

Many of Aaron’s thoughts about all this marriage business, and the dynamic driving his thoughts, will hopefully be the stuff of another blog one day.  Back to our decision now about Aaron and him coming to the wedding…

Andrea called late one Saturday night last December with the very happy news that this had happened:

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 Kyle and Andrea’s engagement was not unexpected at all, but the reality of it was cause for so much joy.  We were happy, happy, happy!! 

Yet with Aaron, we were slow to tell him the great news.  We knew that he would not be happy, happy, happy.  The next day, on Sunday afternoon, we told him what he suspected to be true…that Andrea and Kyle were engaged to be married.

Not long after, I looked out the window and this is what I saw.

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 Aaron was crunching up mulch.  This is his long-standing way of relaxing…of unwinding…of thinking…of dealing with stress. 

My heart just went out to him as I looked at him sitting there, alone with his mulch and his thoughts.  How difficult it was, and would continue to be, for him to adjust to this huge change looming in his relationship with Andrea.

I opened that door of my heart and I cried.  I cried off and on that whole afternoon…some happy tears for the engagement…some sad tears for the reality that is always Aaron.

My thoughts had already, for months, turned to how we would fit Aaron into a wedding.  Initially, I tried to figure out ways that we could make it work, having a wedding down in Texas where we wouldn’t have someone who could help us with Aaron.  I knew that Kyle’s sweet family would do whatever they could to help us.  But still…

A couple weeks after the engagement, everyone was home for Christmas.  We have such a fun time all together, laughing and eating and telling stories as we catch up.  But Aaron doesn’t have such a fun time.  He does for awhile, but then reality hits him.  He is not the center of our time and attention.  He must vie for his place, take his turn talking, and eventually come to the dawning conclusion that our interest in aliens and nanomites and volcanoes and outer space is waning after several hours…and most definitely after several days.

Then there is all the hilarity as we laugh and tease and hug.  The cherry on top is our annual Christmas Eve Bingo game, with gifts to be won or to be stolen…loud and long…and miserable for Aaron.  He does not like parties…he does not like emotion, including too much laughter…he does not like Dad being goofy as he directs the game…and he does NOT like having his gifts stolen. 

It inevitably leads to what Andrew calls, “Aaron’s Annual Christmas Meltdown.” 

And it is not a tradition that we treasure. 

But this is who Aaron is, down to his core.  He can’t help it and he can’t change it…and certainly neither can we.

So when we were all here this past Christmas, while Aaron was occupied in his room and with Andrea’s beautiful diamond sparkling on her finger, we had a family wedding talk.  Specifically we had a “how do we fit Aaron into a family wedding” talk.  And the consensus was unanimous:  Aaron would not fit into a family wedding.

It sounds harsh, maybe.  Unbending on our part.  Heartless.

But you see, Aaron doesn’t see things like we do.  He has no emotional interest in family events like we do.  What matters to Aaron…is Aaron.  I say this a lot, but it’s because it’s totally true.  Aaron wouldn’t care about a wedding, on many levels, just as he never cared about family funerals or celebrations or anything else that was full of other’s emotions.

Emotions drive Aaron nuts.  So does having his routine disrupted…sharing attention with others…sleeping in strange places…and having to be around lots of noisy people who are not aliens.  He would love it if they were aliens, but they are not.  Just another bummer!

And what if Aaron was having a bad seizure day on the wedding day?  That would have been just awful.

So our only reason for having Aaron with us would be FOR us.  For us to say that Aaron was there.  For us to have the whole family together.  For us to have the photos taken (which Aaron would HATE, by the way). 

Andrea and Kyle’s wedding day was a day for them, and for both our families.  A day to relish each other and to enjoy every sweet moment to the fullest.  Aaron, honestly, would have made it impossible to do so.

Therefore, Aaron stayed back in Kansas.  Abigail “watched over” him, as Aaron says.  She and her fiancé Corey, and Abigail’s parents, David and Melissa, had tons of fun with Aaron.  At least I like to think it was tons of fun for them.  Ha!  It certainly was fun for Aaron. 

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And let’s not forget Gracie and Cosmo, who became Aaron’s furry friends.  He loved every minute of doggie licks and snuggles!

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We all live life wanting no regrets.  But when you have a child with special needs, especially behavioral issues, you sometimes must shift around your definition of “regrets.”  We do regret that Aaron couldn’t be at the wedding, but we don’t regret our wise decision to not make him attend an event that he would truly detest. 

Our special Aaron definitely makes our life unique and forces us to sometimes make very difficult decisions.  Often the best decision for Aaron, though, is the hardest decision for us to make, but Aaron’s needs and his happiness is what must come first.   

And trust me, we’ve all learned that lesson the hard way over the years…more times than I can say. 

Now the holidays are right around the corner, and we’re about to see how Aaron handles his new…

GRAND-BROTHER!!! 

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