Smell These!

I encountered a very simple yet perfect illustration of autism this past Saturday, at least autism for Aaron.   It wasn’t a profound experience, but was – like I said – very simple, yet spoke volumes to me.

I decided to plant a few flowers in an empty spot in one of the front flower beds.  I also needed some mulch.  Aaron is like a dog sniffing the air on weekends, waiting for one little whiff of either me or Gary running an errand.  Then he’s on it!  He wants to go with us, no matter where we’re going.  I do know I would cross the line if I told him I was shopping for clothes.  He would nearly go anywhere but clothes shopping!

I told him I was going to a couple nurseries to look for flowers and mulch.  “Can I go?!” he immediately asked.  And of course, I said yes.

Off we drove, with Aaron turning on his latest CD choice.  He rubbed his hands together and gave his low chuckle as he listened to the song that played.  He LOVES hearing music while we drive, his latest CD always on the very beginning of the current song selection……because Aaron will never, ever exit the van until the song he is listening to is over and the next song number pops up.  Off goes the CD quickly before the song starts!  That way, the next time we get in the van, the next song is all ready and waiting for Aaron to push the “on” button……and away we go, happy as can be. 

We eventually ended up at Denning’s Greenhouse.  Aaron and I walked into the section where I hoped to find the flowers I wanted.  I was immediately struck by the beautiful hanging baskets with their unusual fluffy flowers hanging down. 


“Look, Aaron!” I exclaimed.  He reached up to touch the soft growth and I let him.  They were so pretty and so soft!  I was going on and on about them, but Aaron had seen and had touched and he was ready to move on. 

But everywhere I turned there was more beauty to behold.  The large yellow flowers….


The dainty purple and white blooms……


And then I saw the one that always makes me laugh….


“Aaron, see this one?  It always reminds me of my hair!” I told him with a laugh.


But Aaron was less than impressed.  In fact, all through the nursery he was sighing and becoming impatient.  Aaron, who usually loves the unusual, was acting bored and very ready to leave.  Was it too warm?  Too colorful?  Was Mom acting too weird?

Probably that last one.

So I went to the pretty little Verbenas growing all in a group, and I began to choose the three I wanted.

Aaron stood there sighing.

“Why do you have to pick out flowers?” he dully asked.  He was the epitome of rank boredom.  You would have thought we were clothes shopping! 

I knew it was time to leave.  No exploring the other greenhouse to check out garden veggies for future planting, I decided.  I was a little mystified by Aaron’s lack of interest in all the different plants, but then again we never totally know about Aaron.  Who can tell, but Aaron, why he is interested in one thing one day but not the next.

I was busy at the register paying for my three little Verbenas.  I wasn’t aware that finally something had grabbed Aaron’s attention.

Onions.  Yes, common everyday onion sets in a little net bag. 

“MOM!!” I heard him say loud and clear.

I turned and saw him holding the small bag up to his face, his nose planted in the mesh. 

He lowered the onions and turned to me.

“MOM!!” he said again, loudly.  “SMELL THESE!!”

So I stepped over to him and he held the bag up to my nose.  I took a deep sniff while Aaron laughed happily. 

“Those are ONIONS!!!” he told me as if I had no idea what I just sniffed.

“Yes, they are!” I replied.  And Aaron did one more face plant into the net bag while he sniffed with joy.

“Those are ONIONS!!” he exclaimed again as we walked out of the nursery.  Everybody there knew that those were onions at this point. 

“They hurt my NOSE!!” he informed me, and everyone else, as we opened the door.

I just laughed.  Aaron has always had a fascination with onions and with how they smell, so I wasn’t surprised at his unusual show of delight over a simple bag of onion sets.

I thought that surely Aaron would show the same level of enthusiasm for all the unique and pretty flowers that we saw blooming in the nursery.  And maybe on another day he would.  But for whatever reason, on this day, the blooms and colors and shapes did very little to interest him. 

He was drawn to what I didn’t notice.  And how true this is of Aaron’s life!  He notices what to me is mundane or common or just off my radar, and he makes it into the grandest thing ever.

It might be funny……or embarrassing……or awkward…..or frustrating, to us.  But it’s none of those things to Aaron.  He immerses himself in the moment, and tries to take us with him. 

We can hardly ever make Aaron enjoy what we enjoy if his level of interest just isn’t there.  He can’t even fake it!  We know, trust me, if Aaron isn’t into whatever we want him to be excited over. 

So onions it was on Saturday!

Who knows what it will be today! 


Simple is Good

I can hear our Kansas wind outside blowing like crazy. We’ve had several days in a row of very strong winds, typical for flat Kansas. I can also walk by a mirror and see that I’ve been out in the wind as I look at my fly-away hair!! The winds remind me of living with Aaron in many ways. He’s like shifting winds most days. We never know what we’ll wake up to find with Aaron as far as his mood or his physical state or his general attitude.

Lately, though, he’s been mostly very happy. I wrote about that a couple blogs ago. It’s been fun for us to experience, and definitely a relief for the staff at his day group, I’m sure.

But I should have known that on the very next day after posting my happy blog, Aaron woke up in a mostly grouchy mood. Why does that happen? Anyway, he kept coming into the bathroom where I was putting on my makeup, fixing my hair, and doing all my getting ready things that morning.

“Mom, can you hurry?” he impatiently asked.

“Mom, why are you taking so long?”

“Mom, did you clean my glasses?”

“Mom, why aren’t you ready?”

I know that when he’s like this it’s better to mostly ignore him instead of returning his impatience, so that’s what I did. But not before I made one observation.

“Aaron,” I said. “You were so happy yesterday. So why are you angry this morning? What happened during the night?”

He just stood there and stared at me. I continued with my face preparation as he stared. Then he simply turned and walked out of the bathroom.

Soon he was back, of course.

“Well, All Star is boring!” he informed me. “I found that out during the night.”

It was really hard not to laugh. So that’s what he found out during the night? That All Star Sports, their activity for that day, was boring? Since when?!

Aaron went on to his day group and he had a reasonable day, from what I was told. I went in to his day group with him to talk to Barb about whether Aaron and I could take supper over to one of their residential homes on Friday. Aaron’s best friends, all girls, live there and he had been wanting to go back there again as we have done in the past. It cheered him up to have that planned at last. This was on Wednesday.

The next night, Thursday, Aaron had two hard seizures during the night. He stayed home on Friday, feeling crummy, but wondering over and over if we could still go to “Shawna’s house,” as he calls it. He insisted on going to get a few groceries with me, walking like a zombie through the store. He slept off and on during the day, but had no more seizures. We did take chicken enchiladas and No Bake Cookies to his friend’s house. I was so thankful that it worked out for Aaron to do that. He slept all the way there and most of the way home, but he had a good time at their house as we sat around the table, eating and talking. The girls had missed him that day at Paradigm, and they were so sweet…..rubbing his back and asking him how he felt. Each of them has significant special needs, so it’s just very touching to see them worry about Aaron.

Aaron was in bed a little after 8:00 that night, totally exhausted. But he kept coming back downstairs to be sure that it was OK for him to go to bed so early. It was fine with us, but not so much for Aaron and his rigid schedule. Bedtime is 10:00 or later!! Not 8:00!! But he slept for 12 hours and woke up a new person.

A very new person!!

Look at what Aaron did with Gary and I on Saturday.

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Aaron, who resists most work…..and definitely yard or garden work….actually got outside with us and helped!!

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And he helped happily!!

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He gathered up the big Crepe Myrtle limbs that I pruned, and he pulled up old tomato stakes with Gary in our garden.

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And Jackson supervised all of us.

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It was a really a pleasant afternoon, and a surprising one for us as we watched Aaron willingly help.

Simple pleasures mean the most to us. The warm sunshine, the fresh air, trying to find the pecking woodpecker we heard, laughing at Jackson encounter our neighbor’s trying-to-be-brave cat, and ending the day with a simple supper…..Wheel of Fortune and Blue Bloods…..and a couple games of Skip-Bo.

The older we get, the more we know that simple is good. Simple is better for Aaron. And the things that make him happiest inevitably do the same for us as well.

Lessons From the Beetles and Worms

It’s been an interesting June here in Kansas.  We’ve had lots of rain…..over 10 inches!  It’s been really nice.  Our grass is so green, flowers are pretty, and our vegetable garden is thriving.  But looking closer the other morning, as I was finally able to gingerly walk on the muddy ground among the vegetables, I was very disappointed to see a familiar sight.  Some of the squash plants had a familiar wilt about them……sagging leaves that point to that old squash beetle that attacks the roots.  Sometimes you really have to look to find the beetles, but you don’t have to look hard to see the evidence of their destruction. 
Then over the past several days, Gary and I have made another discovery in our pecan tree in the front yard.  Caterpillars.  I know there are technical names for the variety of caterpillar they are, but suffice it to say that these web worms are destroying the leaves on our pecan tree.  We fight them every year, but this year they have just multiplied tremendously in a short time…….and now we have quite a mess.  We can definitely see these ugly worms, and can surely see the damage they are causing.
This morning I walked out to the garden to take a quick look.  It was still too muddy to venture in yet after receiving several more inches of rain night before last, so I just stood there at the edge in the wet grass, looking at the summer squash and the zucchini and the cucumbers.  The summer squash plant that I first saw made me really stop and think.  The right side of the plant was droopy even in the morning coolness.  Not just droopy, really, but downright wilted……gone…..dead, I do believe.  You could definitely see the tall weeds growing up around the dead leaves………weeds that had been able to proliferate because I had been unable to spend time fighting them.  Weeds that were clearly seen now because the leaves were hanging over, dead as can be.
The other part of the plant looked healthy and strong.  Its leaves were upright and vibrant in the morning sun, belying the fact that right beside it was its wilted half.  It’s like a fight was going on there… and death……good and evil.  Again, I couldn’t see the culprit……the squash beetle was hidden from my sight.  Yet I sure could see the result of the battle that was taking place there.
I later walked around to our pecan tree, checking once again on our worm situation.  There they were, thousands of worms doing their dirty work for all to see.  Both of these plants need our attention if they’re going to live and grow.  Both are in real danger if we don’t do something soon.  

I’ve been feeling like my squash plant looks lately.  Part of me is all vibrant in my walk with God, and some days I feel strong and spiritually productive.  But on other days, no matter what, I have a heaviness around my heart and feel like I’m wilting.  What are the culprits on those dead days?  Why is it that I can spend time reading my Bible and praying, and still feel like I’m just getting nowhere? 
Like the squash beetles, out of sight, I know that Satan is trying to eat away at my roots.  I find it hard to concentrate, find it difficult to pray, and often can’t really put my finger on the problem.  It’s easy to just want to give it up…….to wilt and say there’s no use in continuing to try.
Other times, I’m like the pecan tree.  I can see the problem for sure, just as we can see the worms crawling all over that tree bark.  I can point to the sin that so easily besets me and then confess it.  
I feel like some of you are like me.  I know that God warns us to be alert.  Satan is slinking around, working overtime to discourage us.  Sometimes we can’t identify the cause of our weaknesses, and other times we can see the cause very clearly.  Either way, we need to take action.  Paul told the Ephesians to “be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.”  He told them to put on the full armor of God in order to stand against the schemes of the devil.  Paul told the believers in Ephesus that they were in a battle against spiritual forces in dark places, and he told them how and what the armor of God is……how to take it up, put it on, and use it to its full capacity.  God’s Word…….truth…..righteousness……the gospel.
And to pray at all times while being alert.  Pray…..when we don’t feel like it.  Pray…..when we’re wilting.  Pray…..when we see our sin outright.  Pray….when hidden sin is eating away at us.  Pray…..when we don’t understand why we’re weary and tired.  Pray…..when we do understand why we’re weary and tired.  Pray anyway.  Pray always.  Just pray……faithfully pray, with thanksgiving……with confidence……every day.
We’re going to fight our beetles and our worms that are trying to destroy our squash and our pecan tree.  And I’m going to fight, with God’s power, the schemes of Satan that are trying to bring me down. 

Lessons From the Garden Shoes

We had finally received some much needed rain here in this very dry and hot Kansas summer.  It was more than just a few disappointing drops, too.  We actually had enough rain to drip off the leaves on the trees and in our flower and vegetable gardens.  Enough rain that I had a reprieve from my watering duties and could let nature do her work for a few days.  Enough to more than just settle the dust – we actually had some mud amongst the vegetables.  The cooler temperature, the damp smell of the earth, and the grass greening up a little were all very welcome to every two and four legged creature around as well as to every struggling plant. 

I allowed a couple days to go by after the rains before I walked out to the vegetable garden to check on things there.  Sure enough, the rain had done her good work.  I stood there looking at the cucumbers, squash, and okra that needed to be picked.  Then I looked at the soil, still dark and wet from the recent moisture.  I slipped on my garden shoes and decided to give it a try.  Stepping over the wire fence, I gingerly put my weight down on the soil as I stood inside the garden.  Not too bad, I thought, and so I walked carefully over to the cucumbers to pick the ones that were plump and ripe.  Next, the squash – not many there but a few.  Time for the okra, in the very back of the garden.  As I walked I noticed that the garden was muddier than I thought.  “Well, I’m already in here,” I reasoned, and so I continued on.  It can’t be that bad.  But with each step I noticed that my shoes were feeling heavier and heavier with the buildup of mud, and I could see my footprints that I was leaving behind in the soft soil.  I told myself that I would get out soon, after I picked the okra, and so I trudged on through the mud.  When I finally stepped back out onto the grass, the bottoms of my shoes were covered in mud that needed to be cleaned off.  There was no mistaking where I had been, and the mark that my decision left on my shoes was messy and ugly indeed. 

Our lives are full of decisions in so many areas.  Many times the way that we should go is very clear and other times we’re just not sure.  Whether it’s an actual place or event, or if it’s an attitude of the heart, our prayer should be as David’s was in Psalm 143:8 when he said, “……teach me the way in which I should walk.”  Before we realize the danger, we can easily step over that fence and venture out into the messy areas of life or thoughts that will only mire us down.  What may have even appeared to be right or to be justified soon turns into a trap that weighs us down.  Wrong friendships or relationships; ungodly entertainments and activities; carnal or impure thoughts – all will leave a residue in our lives that builds up until finally we are having to bear the consequences of our decisions.  Our friends and family can without doubt be able to tell where we have been because the effects are so evident in our lives and in our attitudes.  Thankfully, God will clean us up as we ask for His forgiveness but often we will still bear the messy marks of our decisions.  So the next time we stand at that fence in our lives and have some decisions to make, may we say with the prophet in Hosea 14:9:  “…….for the ways of the Lord are right and the righteous will walk in them.”  Show us Your ways as we seek Your face, Lord, and keep us from venturing out into the muddy messes that are all around us.

Lessons From the Little Salvia

In my front flower bed that runs along our sidewalk, I have two Purple Salvia plants that have grown there for several years.  Being perennials, they return every year to please us with their pretty purple flowers.  However, I have noticed for a couple years that they are quite different from one another in their size.  The one on the left of the bush that separates them is large and full.  The salvia on the right is much smaller. 

This spring I watched them and saw that the same thing was happening.  In fact, I wasn’t sure for awhile that the salvia on the right was even going to make its appearance.  One day, though, I saw little green salvia shoots that were pushing through the soil and the faded mulch.  It seemed to take forever for any significant growth to emerge.  Yet there it came, slowly pushing upward from the soil. 

I watched the process continue.  The poor little salvia was faithfully staying alive, but its sluggish growth could not be compared to the rapid, beautiful growth of its fellow salvia.  The small salvia was just no comparison to its large companion.  Seeing them nearly side by side, only separated by a small bush, only exaggerated their differences.  The one salvia was full and healthy, exhibiting such pretty blooms that attracted bees and our attention alike.  The other……….well, it was so puny and small that I stood one day staring down at it in pity………pondering whether I should just pull up the pathetic thing and plant a whole new salvia there. 

But something stopped me from replacing the struggling little flower with a new one.  I saw that even though the growth was stunted, it was at least still growing.  This slight salvia was persistent, not surrendering……….so how could I give up and just yank it from the ground and replace it with one that I deemed more beautiful?  And as the days progressed, so did this meager salvia continue to grow.  Then one day I saw them……the petite beginnings of blooms!  Not only was my tiny salvia living, but now it showed the promise of flowering.  Sure enough, it did just that.  One morning I walked over to my little plant and found pretty purple blooms.  How exciting! 

Oh, if I stepped back and compared the two plants to one another, the left salvia was still far more lovely……….all showy and bright.  It was indeed an eye-catcher, whereas the right salvia was puny and unimpressive.  Yet it was the lesser of the two plants that taught me the most.  I realize that the ups and downs of my life…..and probably yours as well……can often be compared to that small little salvia.

Sometimes we are that salvia on the left……….full of life and vitality in every area.  We are effective and bright, useful in the lives of many people as we see the evidence of our gifts being used. But then comes a time when we find our effectiveness seemingly dwindled down to a bare minimum.  For whatever the reason, we see ourselves and our service being replaced by others who shine brighter now.  We have become that salvia on the right……..smaller and struggling……yet not without hope, because there is still life!

So do you feel rather small today?  Do you feel stuck in the corner or put on the back burner, while nearby there are those who are full of usefulness and beauty?  It’s OK!  God loves small!  He brings us to these lesser times in our lives in order to teach us some very valuable lessons. 

Moses went from the palace to the desert; Daniel went from royalty to the lion’s den; David went from the king’s side to hiding in a dark cave; Job went from wealth to a time of unimaginable loss; Paul went from prestige to prison.  And the most important example is Jesus Himself.  Jesus did not think that his position as the Son of God was something to be grasped, so He took upon Himself the form of a servant (Philippians 2:5-8). 

Jesus……the Son of God…….royalty indeed……was born to a little virgin girl from the dismal town of Nazareth.  Jesus……born in a dirty cave with animals all around and a trough for a bed.  Jesus……..taken by Joseph and Mary to live in Egypt for several years of anonymity.  Jesus……then raised back in Nazareth, that town of no reputation.  Jesus…….a humble carpenter by trade.  He walked the dusty roads and ministered to the least of these, not garnering a huge and faithful following…….but faithfully following the call of His Father.  And He willingly suffered the most humiliating death of all……..the death that even Roman criminals were not made to endure………..the cross.  A death so awful that it was performed outside the city.  Jesus…….taking upon Himself our sin and being forsaken by God as he suffered our punishment.  And then He walked out of that tomb, alive and victorious!

Jesus humbled Himself, and so He often asks us, in our walk with Him, to be humbled.  There are so many lessons to be learned during the time of smallness in our lives.  It is often a prolonged time as God speaks to us and teaches us the particular things that He has ordered just for us.  Yet what a time of growth it can be, if we don’t become impatient at the slowness of our progress.  Just wait, and one day you will see a bloom…….a flower……..the promise of usefulness still ahead.  Don’t compare yourself to the others who seem to be so much more beautiful and useful than you.  Thrive in the place where God has put you, and bloom in the way that He has allowed.

I’m so thankful that I didn’t pull up and toss away my scant and unimpressive salvia, for from that little meager plant I have once again learned a huge lesson!

Lessons From the New Sprouts


Yesterday was a beautiful first day of spring.   The bright sunshine belied the fact that we may get some snow this weekend.  Ah yes, spring is a fickle time of year for sure!  By this time of year, everyone is ready for the cold, gray days of winter to give way to the bright colors of spring.  We are ready to listen to the happy chirping of birds and to enjoy the fresh smell of spring that is somehow in the air.  Snow is not something that we look forward to when everything in us is longing for warmth and for open windows and walks in the great outdoors.
I’ve become used to looking outside and seeing our brown flower beds.  They are full of faded mulch and the ugly stubs of once pretty flowers.  I didn’t get the dwarf crepe myrtles trimmed back last fall, so those tall dead limbs stick up as a constant reminder that they have had no visible life for several months.  Crunchy dried leaves are piled among the straggly remnants of last year’s growth.  Almost everything is dusty and crunchy, a drab brown and gray palette that does nothing for the senses.  It’s a scenery that is a reminder of what has been……….of what once was………. but now of uselessness and decay and death. 


Yet as I drove to an appointment, I saw what looked like the beginnings of buds on some trees.  I saw some pale yellow daffodils blooming beside some one’s house.  Later, at home, I went out with our Great Dane and while he explored the yard, I decided to do a little exploring of my own in one of the flower beds.  I bent over and looked closely.  Then I gently moved aside some of the dry and faded mulch.  And there, under the all the dullness of the mulch and the dirt, I found the tender green shoots of our garden phlox poking through the soil.  Behind me, as I searched some more, I found the young sprouts of our tiger lilies coming out.  Jackson and I walked to the front yard, and there as I did some more gentle digging I found the fresh green of my salvia showing among the dead growth of last summer.  In the corner of that flower bed, without any digging needed, was the unmistakable soft and fuzzy newness of my lamb’s ear.  From a distance, the scenery was still dull and lifeless.  But when I took the time to look, I could see the beginnings of new life.  I could see the hope of a beautiful spring starting to emerge from the seemingly lifeless ground. 
My journey on this earth is full of ups and downs………..the seasons of life shift and change as time goes on.  There are seasons of growth, seasons of calmness, seasons of joy……….and then there are those seasons when I feel a chill in the air, seasons of storms when the sun is hidden, and seasons when I feel that around me I only see the fading of what was.  The drabness of my current sad situation threatens to overtake my vision.  Looking out the window of my life only reveals a dusty mess.  We all have these seasons of life.  Sometimes the seasons change suddenly.  In a flash, we go from happiness to despair.  At other times the shifting is more subtle.  Days and months flow by, and we begin to slowly realize that life has altered and there seems to be no way to get things around us back to the growing, thriving standard that we once knew. 
I know that in the dreary days of winter, my perennials in the flower beds around our house are safe underground.  They are alive, though not seen, and they are being fed by the moisture that comes.  Even the cold, harsh snow will give them the sustenance they need in order to survive.  So it is in my life…….in your life…….as we follow Christ.  The seasons where we only see gloom and coldness are really the times that we have an opportunity to rest under the care of our heavenly Father.  Let Him nourish us with His Word, with how He speaks to us in the listless times through the Holy Spirit, and how He uses friends to encourage and lift us up.  The reasons for our dark times don’t even always need to be understood or explained.  Many times, God just wants us to be still and to let Him work as we lay buried in Him.

Then one day without even digging, we will see the sweet evidence of growth.  New shoots will be emerging from the gloom of our lives…………shoots of hope, of joy, of peace………the fruit of many lessons learned.  Isaiah may have been talking about the millennial kingdom in Isaiah 61:11, but I believe we can claim these verses for our lives as well:  “For as the earth brings forth its sprouts, and as a garden causes the things sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.” 
Just as sure as I know that my garden phlox and salvia and lamb’s ear will return, so I know that God will cause His righteousness to prevail and His praise to spring up in my heart once again.  No matter what stress and change and disappointment we face, we can know for certain that God has a season of growth ahead for us………a season of beauty……….a beautiful spring up ahead.