True, Special Friends

Aaron attends a special needs day group on Monday through Friday.  This day group, Paradigm, has clients of various ages – all adults – that have a variety of special needs.  They are out in the community nearly every day attending a host of different events and activities. 

Aaron has developed friendships there over the years.  Like any group that is together as often as they are, there are ups and down.  Then you throw in the special needs, medicines and side effects of medicines, behavior issues, lack of filters, and so much more – and there can be plenty of noise and drama and action. 

But there is something else I have seen there that is very touching.  I have seen empathy for each other.  I have seen real caring.  And I have seen forgiveness.

Aaron is in a very good place right now with his behaviors.  He has, in the past, struggled with anger and has had eruptions because of his lack of control.  He has come home with broken glasses, broken watches, ripped clothes, and many tears…his not being the only tears, for sure.  So while he is still loud in his playfulness, and loud in his talking, and loud and sometimes inappropriate in his teasing – he is basically very happy and helpful. 

When he was having behavior issues at Paradigm, there were very many times when it was his friends who warmly welcomed him back the next day.  He may have hit one of them, or insulted them, or yelled at them…but they would warmly tell him that it was all right, that it was a new day, and that they still liked him. 

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When he would have a rough day, he wouldn’t want to go back to Paradigm the next day.  Almost always, though, with our encouragement he would return.  I remember times when he would want me to walk into the center with him, as if my presence would buffer him from either being rejected or from bolting back out the door before he faced his friends again.

I would hear his friends call out to him.  “Hey, Aaron!” one would say, and then another.  I was just amazed at their forgiveness and their fresh start as they helped Aaron pick up the pieces and have the courage to face them again. 

Once I walked with Aaron over to a table filled with his best friends…all girls, by the way.  😊  Aaron was very nervous about talking to them after whatever had happened the previous day, but they spoke to him as if nothing had happened at all.

Aaron’s eyes filled with tears as they darted around the table, afraid to make contact. 

“I told Mom I was afraid you wouldn’t like me,” he finally said, his voice trembling and thick with emotion.

He was so like a child, this adult man.

“We like you, Aaron,” one of the girls said.  And they all said those same words as they affirmed to Aaron that he was their friend.  What wasn’t voiced, but was as clear as the morning sun, was that they understood Aaron, and they loved and accepted him just the way he was.

Aaron has made huge strides in learning to accept his friends there, as well, on many different levels.  He is sometimes curious about their physical handicaps…wheelchairs, muscle issues, deafness, seizures, etc.

He has seen many behaviors that are disruptive, loud, angry, and irritating.  And other behaviors that are just very unique – the young man who wears a suit and tie every single day, or the one who keeps a towel around his neck, or the person who rocks – and so many, many more. 

He has been curious about those who can’t hear or who can’t talk well.  About those from different ethnic backgrounds.  Or ones who are from different countries.

“Mom!” he said one day.  “Giselda said she was sorry in a Mexican way!” 

What is very sweet to me is to see how this setting is now so very normal to Aaron.  I hope that makes sense.  We might walk into Paradigm and see special needs.  Aaron walks into Paradigm and sees friends.

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Not long ago, as Aaron and I stood at the card counter trying to pick out a greeting card, Aaron remembered that he wanted to tell me something.

“MOM!!” he bellowed for all around to hear.  “I forgot to tell you something!!”

“You did?” I asked when he paused in order to see if I heard him.  How could I not?!

“YES!!” he continued.  “Guess what?!”

Aaron is great at making an effect.

“What?!” I obediently asked.

“Shauna got a NEW wheelchair!!!” he exclaimed.

My emotions tumbled at that point.  I didn’t let Aaron know this as I responded with excitement and asked him to tell me all about it.

You see, most 33 year old men would be saying things like:  “Guess what?  So and so got a new job…or a new car…or is having a new baby.”

But Aaron was just as excited about Shauna’s new wheelchair as anyone else would have been about those other life events.  It was sweet, but sad to me in a way, too.  It was just something that drove home to me once again, out of the blue in front of the card counter, the reality of Aaron’s life.

As I dropped Aaron off at Paradigm a few days later, Shauna and some of his other friends were coming down the sidewalk.  Aaron quickly lowered his window.

“Shauna!!!  Come and show my mom your new wheelchair!!” he yelled.

So she rolled over to the van to show off her new ride, and I loved every minute of it.  Aaron was so very excited as he jumped out, rubbing his hands together in pure delight.  Shauna was all smiles. 

How could I be sad when there are so many reasons to be thankful?

Watching him walk into Paradigm with his friends just gives me every reason in the world to be happy as I drive away, on so many days. 

And to the business owner across the street who one day called the Paradigm clients “a circus”:  I would choose that “circus” over yours any day of the week. 

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Happy, Helpful, and Forgiving

It’s beyond time for an Aaron update.  I do believe I could write every day about life with that young man of ours.  I wish I had that kind of time, so since I don’t, I’m sitting here wondering how on earth to corral my rambling thoughts on recent…or not so recent…Aaron antics.  And not only his antics, but what those actions show about the real Aaron, deep in that brain of his.

Aaron has been mostly happy lately.  He is showing that happiness in various ways.  One way is by being extra helpful, so he’s been taking out the trash and the recycling; setting the supper table; carrying in groceries; and even helping others in ways that are…well…a little intimidating.

I saw that for the second time yesterday as we left Sam’s.  We were walking to our van when Aaron spied a lady near where we parked, putting her items in her car trunk.  She had a couple heavy packs of drinks.  Before I knew it, Aaron was running toward her.  I knew what he was going to do because he had done this same thing last week at Wal-Mart.

“Aaron!” I said.  “Come back here!”

But he was determined to help this random lady.  She looked up, a tad startled at first, but then she quickly relaxed when she saw Aaron.

“Hey!” Aaron blustered.  “I’ll help!!”

She smiled and actually let him!  Then she looked at me with a big smile, which made me very happy, as Aaron proceeded to put her two heavy drink packages in her car.  She thanked him as he stood there with a huge smile, rubbing his hands together in his Aaron way, and then came back to the van.  And I don’t know who was happiest at that point…Aaron, or me!

The lady last week at Wal-Mart was kind but said no to Aaron.  So as I did then, I once again explained to Aaron that his offer was very nice but that he had to understand that running up to various women at their cars might be scary to them.  Aaron thought this to be strange, even after I explained it to him.  It’s so amazing that he doesn’t get it, that social norms elude him. 

I had just seen this demonstrated a few minutes prior to the parking lot incident, while we were in the self-checkout lane inside Sam’s.  A man in the other lane beside us was trying to get the attendant’s attention.  She was talking to someone else and was unaware that this man needed her help.  He continued to try to get her to notice him.  What I was noticing was that this exchange was bothering Aaron.  He was bothered by the fact that the man’s voice was rising, and he was bothered by the fact that the attendant didn’t hear him.  Therefore, Aaron decided to be helpful once again.

“HEY!!!” he yelled out. 

Well, well, well.  This did get the attendant’s attention.  And Aaron got a very annoyed look from her, with a raised eyebrow to boot.  I apologized to her while correcting Aaron, and then she realized about Aaron, and she was kind and understanding, and Aaron’s face turned very red, and I have no idea what the irate man was doing. 

WHEW!!!!

It was another teaching moment for Aaron, with me doing the teaching and Aaron looking around for someone else to help. 

OK, where was I?

Oh yes, I was talking about how happy Aaron has been and how he shows it.  He was so happy to see my good friend, Jennifer, in Sam’s that he gave her a big hug.  Yeah.  SO big and strong that I texted her last night to see if she was hurt.  She said she’s not.  Oh, Aaron!  Just another social norm and boundary that Aaron doesn’t get. 

Sam’s was pretty exhausting yesterday, can you tell?

In fact, by the end of the day, Gary and I were at the end…of our patience and our wits and our nerves.  I don’t know, it was just such a tiring evening with Aaron.  He wasn’t bad at all.  But goodness, he LOVES to talk!!!!

That’s another way that he shows his happiness.  Talking!  Almost incessant talking!!  He’ll be in his room for a few minutes and then we hear him barreling down the stairs.  He finds us no matter where we are…outside, downstairs, in the garage, on the porch or patio, or in the bathroom.  It matters not!  Aaron has something to say and he WILL say it, even if he’s said it a million times before.  You think I’m exaggerating?  It certainly doesn’t feel like it to me and Gary.

We often tell Aaron that we just talked about this…that he needs to look that up on his computer…that we don’t have a clue about it…and we even throw up our hands as we say, “I DON’T KNOW!!!!”  But Aaron is not easily deterred as he pushes on with his comments and his questions and his observations…over and over and over. 

I wish I could say that I’m ever the wise and patient mom.  I wish I could give examples of how to always be on top of these issues.  But in all honesty…and I do try to write this blog with all honesty…I’m just not.  Not always patient and calm and understanding, much as I want to be. 

At the end of last night, when I was at the end physically, Aaron and I were in the kitchen.  He was talking again and I was just so done.  He, I thought, spilled a little water on the kitchen floor and that was it.  I didn’t yell, but I talked through…I’m ashamed to say it…gritted teeth. 

“Just clean up the water,” I said, in my “gritted teeth” voice.

I hurt Aaron’s feelings. 

“Shut up!” he responded.  More than once.

This prompted a stern rebuke from Gary.

Well, the rest of the evening went fine as Aaron and I went through his bedtime routine.  But when it came time to give him his hug and a kiss on his cheek, he put his arms under his covers and said no.  No goodnight.  No hug.  No kiss. 

“Because you were mean to me,” he said.

So I left his room.  But before long he was at my bathroom door.

“OK, Mom,” he said.  “I’ll say goodnight.”

He walked into his room with me following.  He got under the covers, held out his arms for my hug and accepted my kiss on his cheek.  Bless his heart.  He so wants our love.

Forgiveness is a big part of our life.  We have to forgive each other a lot. 

God forgives, too, and I’m surely thankful for that.

And God understands, as my dear friend Linda reminded me this morning.  She understands this kind of weariness as she reminded me that Jesus often tried to get away to be alone…but the crowds still followed Him.  I’m so thankful that God understands, and ever thankful for the forgiveness and peace He gives.

I’ll end on a funny note.  I am sometimes amazed at how quickly Aaron can be irritated by me.  I mean, really – ME?!  Be irritating?

It is very puzzling, though, at what can set him off.  Like the other morning, when feeding our Great Dane and fixing his pills in some peanut butter, I dipped into some peanut butter for myself.  This really bugged Aaron. 

“MOM!!  You act strange!” he said angrily.

“How do I act strange, Aaron?” I asked.

He stared at me a minute.

“In lots of DIFFERENT ways!” he replied as he turned and walked away.

Now if that’s not the pot calling the kettle black!  HaHa!!

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Laughing Again

Sometimes Aaron talks in his sleep.  He has conversations that are so clear it’s as if he’s awake, talking to me or Gary.  I hear him because I keep a baby monitor with me when Aaron is asleep, to listen for seizures.  One recent morning, I heard this “sleep talking” from Aaron, and I quickly wrote it down so I wouldn’t forget.

“Mom,” he said.  “In the movie theater, when I was laughing, I couldn’t see myself laughing.  I want to see myself laughing…..again.”

I have no idea what he may have been dreaming that prompted this little conversation.  But I sure have been thinking about it, wondering if deep in Aaron’s mind there is more meaning to this than I…..or Aaron…..knows.

Aaron goes through highs and lows emotionally as well as physically.  Lately, we’ve been having more lows.  He doesn’t want to go to his day group, Paradigm.  Then he goes, and is at times verbal and physical with staff and clients alike.  Sometimes he’s trying to tease and other times he is genuinely angry, but both times he can be hurtful.  He does so much better one-on-one, and most times he doesn’t participate in the group activities.  It’s just sometimes one thing after another during these low times.

Aaron is unfiltered.  Sometimes it’s funny…..sometimes it’s not.  He can tell you to shut up one minute, and the next minute be wanting to tell you something funny……and then wondering why you’re not laughing.  He’s so complex!!!  So frustrating!!!  And so endearing and heart breaking, too.

He knows when he’s done something wrong, but he just can’t seem to stop himself from doing it first, before the knowing kicks in – in time to stop the doing.  Make sense?  That’s our world.

So when he said that he wants to see himself laughing….again….I had to wonder if he is deep down genuinely wanting to be happier, like he used to be more than he is now, and hopefully will be again. 

When I pick Aaron up from Paradigm, I never know if I’m going to see happy Aaron:

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Or pensive Aaron:

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One night last week, I was so tired and so done with some ways Aaron was acting that I was the one who lost control.  I laid down the law with him, but I did it through gritted teeth and a pointing finger.  Yes, I was that tired and upset.  So the next morning, Aaron stood by me and said, “Mom, I’m telling Barb that you grind your teeth!!”

Barb is his second mother – his favorite Paradigm person.

“I don’t grind my teeth,” I replied to Aaron.

“Yes you do!!” he asserted forcefully.  “Last night you went like this!!”  And he clamped his teeth together and bared his lips, much like a rabid dog.

Oh dear.  Is that what I looked like to Aaron?  Probably.

But more than how he said I looked, his comment was a glimpse into how it hurt him for me to respond to him the way I did.

I’m so thankful for every new day, and for God’s new mercies that He shows me every new day.  Those are the same mercies I must extend to Aaron, hard as it sometimes is.

You know what’s really hard?  It’s really hard to remember who has the special needs here.  Sometimes Aaron is so high functioning that it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that his brain does not operate like mine.  And also easy to lose sight of the reality that he deeply feels his struggles more than we can know.

A day or two after I gritted my teeth with Aaron, I noticed that our house was getting a little dark.  The sun had been shining so brightly, but I looked outside to see a dark storm cloud forming right over our house.  Then I heard thunder, and next came a few large raindrops.  Nothing even showed on the radar at this point, but I sure saw and heard our little storm that soon moved on east of us and became a big storm in Wichita. 

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And I thought of what a picture that is of life with Aaron.  He can be our personal storm, loud and disruptive, and then move on to Paradigm to do more of the same there. 

But on this day of our storm cloud, Barb had called to say that Aaron had a bad day.  She said that her daughter, who has Barb’s kind heart, wanted to take Aaron to Wal-Mart.  I agreed, and then when I picked him up later he was so very happy.  He held a Dr. Pepper, and was full of laughter and talk about their little adventure.  What a difference Casady made in Aaron’s outlook with that one simple kindness!  The rain had ended and the sun was shining, both literally and in Aaron’s heart.

And this week, Aaron hurt his friend’s arm by being too rough as they were goofing off or as he greeted her…..I don’t know which.  He broke his glasses in anger on the same day.  Another storm cloud.

He didn’t go to Paradigm the next day.  I took him to Carlos O’Kelly’s for lunch.  It’s one of his very favorite places.  We had a wonderful server who has two special needs boys.  She was so good with Aaron, and I relaxed.  I just watched Aaron eating his food.  He loved every single bite.  He asked to go to Best Buy.  I’ve been saying no to that, but I agreed and off we went…..with Aaron happily pocketing two toothpicks to add to his toothpick collection.

He strolled through Best Buy, looking at this and that, and not asking to buy anything.  He just wanted to look.  It felt good to make him happy in such a simple way……lunch and Best Buy. 

He’s so dependent on us for these times out…..and so dependent on us for his happiness.  Despite our tiredness…..our frustrations…..our ineptness…..our failures…..he needs us. 

I want to see Aaron growing, learning, controlling himself, being responsible.  Like any parent, right?  It’s just a little more difficult for those of us with these issues like we have with Aaron.

But I must agree with Aaron.  Maybe on most days, more than anything, I want to see Aaron laughing again…..laughing from his heart.

And I want AARON to see himself laughing again, happy and having fun, knowing that he is loved. Loved by his Paradigm staff……loved by me and Gary…..loved by friends and family.

And most of all, created and loved by God. 

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Take Time

Last year, especially in the fall, we were having a terrible time with Aaron’s behaviors.  He was generally miserable, and so therefore everyone around him was miserable as well.  Poor behaviors, no filters, and an inability to figure out cause and effect, can certainly produce some headaches for everyone.  It’s the side of autism as well as the effects of seizures, at least for Aaron and for others that I know, that is most difficult to understand.  Difficult, too, to have compassion and empathy for our adult Aaron when he is hurtful with his words and careless with his actions. 

Aaron seems so high functioning.  He is, in many ways, just that.  So it’s very hard to decipher when he is manipulating us and being willfully disobedient, and when he is truly on a track that he just cannot control. 

We see a wonderful psychiatrist for Aaron’s autism.  Gary and I resisted any drug intervention for a long time, but eventually years ago we decided it was time to see if medicines would help Aaron.  Several have been tried over the years. We feel that we have found a beneficial drug now.  The change in Aaron has been dramatic, for the better.  Perfection?  No.  But the improvement we’ll take, for sure!

Since we increased Aaron’s dose of this medicine in January, he has done so well at his day group and at home that it’s been like a vacation.  Well, not totally – but definitely we have seen positive strides. 

But then this week happened.  It’s not been over-the-top awful with Aaron, but he hasn’t been his chipper and happy self as much as in the past few months, either.  He had been collecting steam for two days, disgruntled in the mornings and just very edgy.  Yesterday morning he was fully on track for a bad day, and I didn’t have the ability to derail him, try as I might. 

To add to the volatile mix, I am very vulnerable right now.  Honestly, I don’t handle holidays very well sometimes.  That’s because I miss our two kids who live too far away to come home quickly.  My loneliness for them runs deep during holiday time…..any holiday……and I am more emotional.  Easter is this Sunday.  I love what this time of year is all about.  I long to live every moment in the victory that is mine in Christ.  Then along comes Aaron…..

God bless him!  I picked him up from his day group yesterday.  For maybe one minute things were fine.  Then he told me that he had given his money away….again….and that he did do this and didn’t do that.  And I was just done.  I didn’t yell, but I lectured, which is almost always ineffective with Aaron.  We can do this and we won’t do that and maybe so-and-so……  And I was cold and distant, which makes Aaron feel abandoned. 

We were home, I was in the kitchen, and Aaron kept coming in to say one more word…..to throw one more barb at me.  It’s amazing to see how he thinks.  How I can be making a profound point, eyeball to eyeball with him, and then to have him open his mouth and still be way back at where he was in the beginning, totally not connecting things the way most of us would. 

He finally bent over, hands rubbing furiously together like he does when he’s excited…..but this time he was NOT excited……and his eyes were wide and wild. 

“I don’t love you anymore!!” he said through firm lips. 

And he waited for my response.  I turned my back and it hit me.  I am vulnerable.  I am tired.  I am emotional. 

It’s the perfect time for Satan to attack.  He is no gentleman.  He loves to kick Christians when we are down.  I knew that the adversary of my soul would have been thrilled for me to lash out at Aaron with my words……to release all my pent up anger at him……and then to blame my reaction on Aaron and on my emotions and even on the upcoming holiday! 

I had asked some friends earlier in the day to pray for Aaron.  I know they were praying for me, as well.  And there in the kitchen, with my back to angry Aaron, I prayed, too.  I asked God for peace, for wisdom, and especially for Satan to be defeated right then and there.  I claimed God’s power over our home and over this situation, recognizing that His power was and is all that I need. 

I hoped for time with Gary alone when he came home from work, before Aaron bombarded him unexpectedly with all the sordid details of the day.  That doesn’t often happen, but God was so good.  Aaron was busy in his room when I saw Gary’s truck pull in.  I was able to meet him in the garage, where he knew right away that something was wrong.  We had alone time to talk before Aaron burst through the door.  Gary was ready then, able to be kind and calm, with understanding. 

I was amazed at the happy Aaron that came in the house soon after!  He ate supper with us and acted as if nothing happened.  I was so thankful!  And after Gary and I cleaned the table, Gary told me to come with him as he headed out the door for a walk around the yard.  That sounded wonderful to me!

But it also sounded wonderful to Aaron, who of course knew what we were doing.  My heart sank a little as he followed us outside.  He didn’t care that he was wearing his pajamas already…..didn’t care who might see him……didn’t care that he wasn’t wearing shoes.  So I told him to take off his socks, and he happily joined us for a stroll outside. 

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It actually turned into a very sweet time.  Gary showed Aaron the sunflower plants that were popping up in the garden from last year’s seeds that had dropped in the soil.  Gary pointed out the deer tracks all around, the toad jumping in the water, the clearing he’s been doing out back, and the new grass seed planted.  He pointed out an ant hill and how busy the ants were working.

He showed Aaron how the oak tree is budding and how the buds look like baby pineapples.

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He showed Aaron the oak tree seed pods that fly like a helicopter when you throw them in the air…..things that Aaron knows but that are fun to see again with fresh eyes.  Then Aaron threw one up and watched it land.

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Suddenly Aaron remembered something that HE wanted to show Gary.  It’s something that I had pointed out to Aaron a couple days earlier. 

“DAD!!!  Come look at this plant!” Aaron insisted.

We followed Aaron, with me knowing where he was headed, and we found him standing there just staring at the Lilac bush.  I love the way he stops and stares at things that interest him, as if he’s absorbing every detail…..which he probably is.

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Aaron then leaned over and smelled the sweet lilac scent, and Gary and I followed. 

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I was filled with more than the smell of lilacs.  I was filled with reminders of how important it is to give Aaron time…..time to work through his frustrations and anger without losing mine.  Time to hopefully express himself better.  Time to join Gary and me in a few moments of simple pleasures.  Time for him to see and to know that he is loved.  Time to hopefully show him how to live in thankfulness for all that God has given him. 

If I’ve learned anything with Aaron and with autism, it’s that taking time is absolutely necessary. 

Take time to smell the flowers.

Take time to understand our Aaron.

What Will I Wear?

Aaron notices much more than we sometimes give him credit for.  I love how he will point something out to us, often something that we never paid attention to at all, and then offer his comments on it…..of course……whether we want to hear them or not.  We usually DO want to hear what Aaron has to say, but trust me – there are times when we do NOT want to hear what comes out of Aaron’s mouth. 

Aaron rarely gives any thought to whether we want to hear his observations or not.  His insights may be new, or they may be ones that we have heard over and over and over and over…..and over……again.  It doesn’t matter one whit to Aaron.  He would probably implode if he didn’t talk, so talk he does……and we listen, regardless.

He shares things with perfect strangers, too.  I took Aaron to Wal-Mart with me after I picked him up from Paradigm on Friday.  Aaron was happy that I had found a soft fuzzy blanket on sale and that I had put it in our cart. 

“Is it for ME?” he hopefully asked.  But when I told him it was for our aging Great Dane, Jackson, Aaron was not at all disappointed.  He loves Jackson. 

Aaron sat on the bench near the register as I checked out.  I loved the look on his face as I looked at him and smiled.  Inside I was hoping not to hear him blessing us all with his ear splitting loud clapping…..or a silly ‘meow’……..or a fox whistle……or a very embarrassing farting noise. 

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But Aaron didn’t stay on the bench for very long.  No.  He saw the cashier ring up the soft fuzzy blanket, which reminded him that he had something important to share with her.  He didn’t care one bit that he didn’t know our nice Wal-Mart associate.  He did know, though, that she needed to know something.

So he got up from the bench and purposefully marched over to where she and I were finishing my transaction.  He pointed to the soft fuzzy blanket.

“That’s for our dog.  He’s nine years old and he has weakening in his muscles.”

She thought that was so nice to be buying our dog such a nice soft fuzzy blanket.  She and I were starting to have a dog conversation when we heard Aaron again.

“LOOK!!” he blurted out.  And there he stood, lifting up his right arm and showing the poor unsuspecting soul his yucky yellow and purple bruise on his arm. 

“Aaron…..” I started, but he barreled right over me.

“My desk chair fell on top of me when I was reaching for apples and peanut butter, and I got a bruise!!” he explained. 

She showed him his desired amount of shock and sympathy while I tried to hurry up my payment.  Knowing smiles were exchanged between us as I readied to leave.  Well, knowing smiles shared quickly between her and me. Aaron was already off in search of his next victim, so I had to run.

So back to what Aaron notices, and then shares all too fully with us…..or anyone else who is fortunate enough to be nearby.

On Thursday I wore this blouse.

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Aaron came into the kitchen, looked at me with his head tilted to the side, and then offered his opinion.

“That shirt looks like it should be colored,” he commented.

This forced me to look with new eyes at my shirt. 

“Aaron,” I asked.  “Does this remind you of the adult coloring books that you and I have seen?”

“YES!!!” he replied, so excited that I had gotten what he was trying to convey.  “It looks like it should be colored!”

“Do you like this shirt?” I asked.  And he told me that he did like my coloring shirt, very much. 

So on that day I was fun.

The next day I wore this blouse. 

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Aaron had come in the bedroom and seen me wearing it, before I added a sweater.

“WOW!!” he said, in awe.  “You look like a princess!”

I just laughed.  A princess?  But there was something about this blouse that he loved, and so he saw me as someone very special as I wore it. 

On Sunday, as I was getting ready for church, Aaron came in the bathroom and saw me wearing this blouse.

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“Ewwww,” he said in a measure of disgust.

“What’s wrong?” I asked him.

“What you have on,” he answered. 

“Don’t you like it?” I asked.

“NO!” he replied.  “It’s ugly.”

There was something about it that wasn’t fun like my coloring blouse and wasn’t special like my princess blouse.  This blouse, to Aaron, was ugly……ugly enough to him that he reacted instantly to it.  He wasn’t trying to be mean.  He was just being honest.  The design; the colors that he saw since he’s color blind, perhaps; or maybe the style – whatever it was, he didn’t like it one bit.

I’ve thought about all this since our morning yesterday.  Aaron was not one bit happy to be going back to Paradigm after enjoying his weekend.  I’ve learned to just let him work through it, to not force the issue, but to let him make the decision.  He knows the consequences of going and of not going, so it’s good to let him be the one to choose. 

But yesterday, on this Monday, he was extra unhappy and extra grouchy.  Downright hateful a couple times. 

“I want a break!!” he angrily told me.

“You just had a break,” I told him back, but not angrily.  I know better.

“When was my break?!” he wanted to know.

“Saturday and Sunday,” I answered as I fixed my hair.

“Don’t say that Saturday and Sunday were my break!!” he told me.

“OK,” I said.

So I’m fairly certain he came in the bathroom a dozen times, each time saying with more and more anger, “Don’t say that Saturday and Sunday were my break!!”

He continued on down his anger path.  I didn’t react……I breathed deeply……I prayed…..and I looked forward to Aaron making up his angry mind about what he wanted to do. 

He finally came in the bathroom, bent over while he rubbed his hands together, and said, “I don’t love you anymore!!!!”

Then he was spent.  I was, too.  He walked away, calmed down, went to Paradigm while he happily listened to music, and the storm passed. 

What I wear, in a sense……what I display to Aaron when he is so angry…..makes a huge difference in the outcome.  It’s much like my blouses that caused a reaction in Aaron.  If I show anger when he is angry, the result is explosive and nothing is accomplished.  If I show patience, then he sees that his anger isn’t accomplishing what he hoped it would.  If I ignore him totally for awhile, he becomes uncomfortable and realizes that he has crossed a line. 

I can choose what I wear during these episodes just as much as I chose those three different blouses on three different days.  Will I be fun, or special, or ugly? Every situation with Aaron is different, too, so I need wisdom…..which is a big reason that I pray.

Oh, I get upset, too.  I mutter under my breath……think not-so-kind thoughts……and if Gary’s here, he is at times my sounding board, as I am his. 

But still, what I wear in front of Aaron is so important.  Above all, I must wear unconditional love.  It’s hard sometimes to do that, especially when he tells me he doesn’t love me anymore.  Thankfully, that doesn’t happen often, but when he does go that far, I struggle.

When I picked Aaron up from Paradigm that afternoon, he acted as if nothing had happened between us at all.  And last night, as we watched Wheel of Fortune, Aaron starting rubbing his hands together wildly.

“MOM??!!” he loudly said, “I LOVE YOU!!”

Which is Aaron’s way of saying that he is sorry, and that he does love me for real.

I slipped on some forgiveness right then.

“I love you, too, Aaron.”

It felt very nice, maybe like the princess blouse.  And fun, like the coloring blouse. 

I’m thankful the ugly was gone, at least for now. 

Mama Rachel: A Life of Forgiveness

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. 

 

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Rachel

 

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. 

 

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Edgar and 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.

 

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Rachel

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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Mama Rachel on her 100th birthday, 2005

 

 

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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.

 

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Mama Rachel with Willene, Betty, Jay, and Mary Leah

 

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Mama Rachel at our wedding, 1979

 

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Mama Rachel with Aaron, Andrew, and Andrea

 

 

 

 

I’ll Go Happy

Last Monday, Aaron had a rough and grouchy day at his day group.  Sometimes we can pinpoint the cause and other times we just can’t.  I’m so thankful for the understanding staff at Paradigm.  I don’t know how they do what they do on some days, but I do know that they don’t get paid enough for all they endure on those days.  I love their philosophy:  Tomorrow is a new day and we start all over.

As I said goodnight to Aaron at the end of his rough day and gave him a hug, Aaron said, “Mom, tomorrow I’ll go happy!”

So on the next day, the new day in which we were starting all over, Aaron was indeed happy.  His attitude was entirely different than the no good very bad yesterday.  And on this better day we also got some wonderful news from our daughter in Houston.  She has a break between jobs and was coming home for a visit!!!!  Not only Andrea was coming, but also her boyfriend Kyle!!!!  Not only Andrea and Kyle were coming, but also Andrea’s two dogs and Kyle’s dog!!!!!   

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Can you tell I was excited?  You bet!  Aaron was excited, too.  He loves and misses his sister.  He’s getting to know Kyle and to realize that Kyle is a new part of our family.  But oh, I know Aaron and I know that having a house full of people and pets can be challenging for him.  We face this issue any time that we have extra people around…..extra noise……extra routine disruptions……extra attention grabbers away from our usual main attention grabber.

We work to prepare Aaron for those disruptions before they occur.  I went over several things with him, like how he would use Gary’s and my bathroom while Andrea and Kyle were here.  We talked about the dogs and how we need to act with having four dogs in the house.  I tried to cover all the bases with Aaron, but Aaron brings out new bases quite often……based on what’s happening around him at the time…..things we just can’t predict. 

I let Aaron stay home from Paradigm on the two Paradigm days that Andrea and Kyle were here.  Aaron was SO happy with that idea!!  He loved going with us to eat lunch at Freddy’s.

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He loved going for a walk in Swanson Park.

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He loved being here with us and the doggies.

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He loved us watching Independence Day Resurgence with him while he ate snacks and snacks and snacks.

He loved trying to sneak snacks and snacks and snacks to the doggies.

He loved talking to all of us, especially to Andrea and Kyle, about all his favorite topics.  And this is where we usually start seeing some issues with Aaron, because Aaron doesn’t know when to stop talking.  Sharing the stage is hard for Aaron.  He truly wants to be included in our conversations as we sit around the dinner table, for instance.  We do listen to him and try to include him, but Aaron isn’t going to talk about the subjects that we talk about. 

Here is a sample conversation:  We may be talking about Andrea’s new job or talking about Kyle’s summer at sea.  Then Aaron will loudly call one of our names.

“Andrea!!”  he says.  When she responds to him, we often hear this from Aaron:  “Ummm.  Ummm.  Ummm.”  We wait.  “Ummm.  Did you know what the Queen Alien on Independence Day Resurgence looks like?!”

“No, Aaron, I don’t know what she looks like,” Andrea answers.

“Well, she looks like a…..I don’t know.  Mom, what do you think she looks like?” Aaron asks.

So I try to answer but I don’t really know how to describe the Alien Queen because it’s been awhile since I saw that movie….and I don’t really care what the Alien Queen looks like…..and in trying to muster some enthusiasm and interest in this question that I’ve heard a hundred times, Aaron can sense a shift in my emotions.  As much as Aaron struggles with social norms, he is very adept at picking up the subtle cues that we are not as animated about Alien Queens as we are about Andrea’s job or Kyle’s schooling. 

He views our world from afar, wanting so much to enter in, but never knowing how.  But he does express his frustration by comments that we later hear.

“Mom, you didn’t want to talk to me.  You just wanted to talk to Andrea or Kyle,” he will say. 

I try to explain that we do want to talk to him but that we haven’t seen Andrea or Kyle in so long…..and we want to catch up with them on their lives…..but to Aaron that doesn’t make sense.  Round and round we go, and where we land nobody knows.  Or when we land.

Which happened on Friday during supper.  Andrea’s friend, Sarah, had come over to see Andrea and Kyle.  They sat in the family room visiting and talking and laughing.  Aaron was up in his room, then down in the family room…..up in his room, down again.  He wanted to be a part and he was in many ways.  He just can’t be the whole part and so conversation would swirl around him.  Kyle was talking and laughing at one point, and Aaron whacked Kyle’s leg with a book.  I heard it but didn’t see it.  It was a sign of things to come.  Aaron was frustrated now, truly frustrated, and when that happens he picks a target.  Lucky Kyle.

I don’t remember all the details of what happened at supper.  I was up from the table getting slices of cheesecake ready to serve.  Aaron was at a boiling point and we didn’t realize it.  His system was on overload…..his pressure gauge was maxed out…..and he erupted.  He leaned forward and yelled at Kyle. 

Aaron left the table.  We apologized to Kyle.  He was understanding and patient.  Aaron came down later and apologized.  We watched the movie later and Aaron was very happy, as if nothing ever happened.

Why do I tell you this story, one you’ve heard before if you’ve read this blog for very long?  Because this scenario is just a very real picture of how Aaron processes…..or doesn’t exactly process…..the world around him.  Our world is ticking along like normal, but Aaron’s isn’t.  He is so impacted by nuances that we don’t even notice.  Sounds…..loud laughter that he doesn’t understand…..hilarity……silliness…..his routine changing….   All these things greatly affect him, more than we can begin to know. 

So he reacts, usually loudly and hurtfully.  Then he’s sorry.  It takes great understanding, as I’ve said, to deal with this about Aaron.  He doesn’t think like we do or process as we do or react over time as we do. 

But he truly wants to. 

Andrea and Kyle left to go back to Houston the next day.  Aaron was with us in the driveway, entering into things, when Andrea asked for a hug.  Aaron ducked his head and walked away, through the garage and into the house as he muttered to himself.  A hug in front of everyone?  Are you kidding me?!  We know this about Aaron and it makes us smile.  He can yell, but spontaneous hugs are very, very difficult.

One of the first things I did after they left was to get Aaron’s things put back in his bathroom.  “Us kid’s bathroom,” he calls it.  We got his cup with his toothbrush and toothpaste put back on the counter.  We got his body wash and wash cloth back in the shower.  We hung his towel on the towel rack. 

Aaron then noticed that his razor attachments were not in the correct place.  He rearranged them the way he wanted them.  He stood back and observed the counter for a few seconds. 

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Then he said, “OK.  It’s looking good.”

That night at supper, Aaron asked the blessing.  He nearly always says two things when he prays.  He doesn’t say the same thing with each prayer, but he says two things.  On that night he said, “Lord, thank you for the food.  And thank you that Kyle and Andrea got to come.”

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Yes, it was looking good now for Aaron.  He was happy that Andrea and Kyle were here, along with Darcy and Oakley and Aries and our own Jackson.  He will be very happy when everyone comes for Christmas. 

Aaron will have every intention of saying, “I’ll go happy!” 

He’ll go happy into our family time, but it will be a time of upheaval for him and of struggle as well.  It’s up to us to understand that and to allow that for Aaron, all the while trying to help him know how to take time to decompress and not to blow up. 

Only when things are back to normal…..Aaron’s normal…..will he be able to step back and say, “OK.  It’s looking good.”

And it’s very important for us to be able to look at Aaron’s world through Aaron’s eyes, and still be able to say, “OK, Aaron.  It’s looking good.”

Let’s go happy!  It’s sometimes the hard choice, but always the best choice.