No Wallowing!

I am NOT where I thought I would be this week!

I am NOT where I planned, carefully planned, to be this week!

But I do believe that most of us are in the same boat and could say the same thing.  How many plans have been totally disrupted due to all this virus mess and stay-at-home orders?

Trust me, I know that there are some very heart-breaking situations in people’s lives right now – far worse than anything I’m going through.

So, where was I supposed to be this week?  Texas.  I was to be in Texas this week.

My husband and I were going to the Houston area this week.  Our daughter and her husband, Kyle and Andrea, live there.  And our son, Andrew, who lives near Indianapolis, was to be there as well.  Andrew works for an NHRA drag race team.  They have a big national race in Houston every April.

Gary had bought our tickets.  I had lined up caregivers for Aaron, who doesn’t attend these events with us.  He loves his own version of a vacation, which is to stay in his comfort zone of home and of eating out every night, loving the undivided attention from caregivers…and calling us multiple times every day, just because he always has something to tell us.

On Facebook this week, the memories from this time last year have been popping up on my page.  As if I need any help with memories of our fun time we should be having!

We should be doing this:

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Enjoying time together:

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And watching Andrew work:

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I was talking to my friend, Joyce, about it a couple weeks ago.  I told her it’s sad not to be going on our trip to see our kids.  How it’s OK to acknowledge that sadness, but that I can’t stop and wallow in it.  We laughed as we thought about that and laughed even more when Joyce mentioned being like a pig wallowing in the mud.

In the park where Aaron and I like to walk, Swanson Park, there is still a depressed area in the prairie grass where buffalo wallowed in the 1800’s.  In fact, there is a plaque there for us to read about it.  And it’s simply called a “buffalo wallow.”   I had to inwardly smile as he and I stood there looking at it once again the other day.

Then nearby, a short distance from the trail, is this muddy area.

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As we looked at it, I could imagine buffalo and wild pigs wallowing in the mud there.  I could see them with my mind’s eye rolling and relaxing in the goopy mud, in no hurry to move on.

Much like I am tempted to do as I think with regret about where I thought I would be this week.

Oh, I have reason to wallow.  Our kids live far from us and we see them so seldom.  In fact, for many reasons, we haven’t seen Andrea and Kyle since last July.  Their jobs, Andrew’s travels, Gary still working, the difficulty of finding caregivers for Aaron…all make it very hard for us to up and travel as we would so desire to do.

I could most definitely stop and wallow in my misery.  And with each roll in the mud, I could find plenty of reasons to condone and excuse my wallowing!

But there’s this verse that makes me stop my wallowing and listen to God instead.

“God is my allotted portion and my cup; You take charge of my lot.”  (Psalm 16:5)

Simply put, this means that God takes care of my circumstances.  Things around me may become shaky, but I can be unshaken as I stand firm IN my circumstances.

Why? Because I believe in God’s direction and providence in my life.  I love the note on this verse in my ESV Bible:   We can have “…contentment with the arrangements of one’s life, seeing them as providentially ordered.”

What a difference it makes to know and to trust God!  To know without a doubt that my interrupted plans are because of His plans for me that are far better than I can know or imagine.

Isn’t that what trust is all about anyway?

So, I acknowledge my sadness as I look at what might have been.

Then I move on.  I don’t jump in the mud and relish it.

“I have set the Lord continually before me.  Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.”  (Psalm 16:8)

And I will not wallow!

 

 

The Cold Snap

We have a little bush in our front flower bed, a perennial that we planted probably 17 years ago.  In fact, I can’t even remember the name of this little bush, so I just call it that – Little Bush.  This hardy bush keeps its leaves on all year long, which is part of its charm.  In the summer the leaves are green with some maroon mixed in, and in the fall and winter the leaves are mostly maroon.  Small berries also grow among the leaves in the fall, so by Christmas it seems to be all decorated for the season.  I really like my Little Bush!

Last year, though, probably starting in March, I noticed that Little Bush didn’t look so healthy.  Its leaves that always stay were falling off, until finally only stark, naked branches were there.

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This was quite unusual, and I was worried.  Was I finally going to lose my long lasting little bush?  Was there something that I could do to save it?

I kept looking at Little Bush, wondering what had happened.  Then one day an article in the newspaper caught my attention.  The headline said something about how certain trees and bushes in Wichita were losing their leaves.  I read the information with interest because of my little bush.  The writer explained that earlier in the winter we had experienced several nights when temperatures had dipped to -10 degrees or lower.  These frigid temperatures had damaged some trees and bushes that normally held their leaves all winter.

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There was my explanation, I thought.  This cold snap had damaged Little Bush.  Then the article went on to assure gardeners not to worry but to be patient…that most trees and bushes would begin to grow again in the warmth of spring because their roots were not damaged by the extreme cold.

So I waited and I observed.  I checked my little bush routinely and sure enough one day I saw tiny new leaves emerging on the empty twigs.

 

As time went on and the days passed, the warm spring sun and the rains did their restorative work.  Little Bush grew…

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And grew…

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Until finally Little Bush was back, as pretty as ever!

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I’ve had some cold snaps in my life, too…times and events that came unexpectedly and with little or no warning.  Everyone has.

Cold snaps hurt.  And they take many various forms.

An illness.  A diagnosis.  Sudden death.  Lingering death.  Rejection.  Accusation.  Betrayal.  Job loss.  Divorce.  A prodigal.  Regret.  Guilt.

I remember my dad’s victory over lung cancer…how relieved and thankful we were when treatments were complete and he was in remission.  But before the five-year mark came the blood work and the testing and the phone call…liver cancer…inoperable…four more years of chemo…hospice…

Cold snap.  Recovery.  Then another cold snap.

But through it all, our family verse brought us each the warmth and the hope that we needed: “God is our refuge and strength; a very present help in trouble.”  (Psalm 46:1)

Sometimes our hard times…our cold snaps…make us feel like David when he said, “My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all day long – “Where is your God?”  (Psalm 42:3)

Where is God in our pain?  Oh, He hasn’t gone anywhere!  He’s a very PRESENT help in our trouble, remember?  He’s right here with us.

Right after David said his tears were his food, he said, “Why are you in despair, oh my soul?  And why have you become disturbed within me?  Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His PRESENCE.”  (Psalm 42:5)

My little bush had hope because its roots were secure, and so do we who know and follow Christ.  We have hope in our despair because we know that God is sovereign…He is in control…He has a plan…He is present…and He has a purpose for the cold snaps that rock our world.

“I called on Your name, O Lord, out of the lowest pit.  You have heard my voice.  Do not hide Your ear from my prayer for relief, from my cry for help.  You drew near when I called on You.  You said – “Do not fear!”  (Lamentations 3:55-57)

God is near in our pain…near in our pondering…near in our praise that arises even out of hurt and unanswered questions.

I love these lyrics of Jeremy Camp’s song, He Knows:

 

All the bitter weary ways

Endless striving day by day

You barely have the strength to pray

In the valley low.

And how hard your fight has been

How deep the pain within

Wounds that no one else has seen

Hurts too much to show.

All the doubt you’re standing in between

And all the weight that brings you to your knees.

 

He knows

He knows

Every hurt and every sting

He has walked the suffering.

He knows

He knows

Let your burdens come undone

Lift your eyes up to the one

Who knows

He knows.

 

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Changes Ahead

If you know me, and especially if you are a Facebook friend of mine, then you know that I love sky pictures.  I have taken hundreds of sky pictures from our upstairs bedroom windows that face the western sky.

Sunsets:

 

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Storms moving in:

 

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Sunrise reflections:

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Even a Great Horned Owl that used to perch on the top of our big pine tree (sorry for the fuzzy picture):

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The view changes depending on so many factors.  Weather, the time of year, the time of day, trees that have been cut down due to disease, and so much more.

On a recent morning, as I finished my quiet time, I looked out the window and was drawn to the pretty sky outside.  But as I prepared to snap some shots of the sky, my eyes also saw this.

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Can you see it?  Where we once had a farmer’s field across the road from us, we now have a future housing development being built.

Civilization is encroaching upon us.  Some call it progress, but we are not exactly happy with how the building of 300 homes will change not only our view, but our traffic and so many other things as well.

But do you know what won’t change?  The sky itself won’t change.

I can still relish our beautiful sky, no matter what’s happening on the ground below.

Change is a fact of life.  Some changes are exciting and wonderful, while others are sad and fearful.

What’s looming in your view today?  Are changes possibly coming in your life that leave you unsettled and scared?

Our focus in those times is vital to our peace.  I can choose to be filled with apprehension or to be filled with peace.

Just like I can choose to look at the houses being built, or I can choose to gaze at the sky above…so I can choose to center my attention on my problems ahead or to center my thoughts on God above.

I control my eyes…my thoughts…my focus.

Psalm 123 states this fact perfectly.

 

To You I lift up my eyes,

O You who are enthroned in the heavens! 

Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master,

 As the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress,

So our eyes look to the Lord our God,

Until He shall be gracious to us.

 

God is sovereign over our circumstances.

God is also sufficient for us, whatever is our present or our future.

One more thing.  The word “gracious” carries the meaning of someone stooping down in kindness to an inferior.

Just like God stoops down in His mercy to me, time after time, to hold my hand and show me His kindness, so He will do over and over as I walk this path of life.

This is my prayer for myself, to keep my eyes on God and not on what is around me or ahead of me.

I control my eyes.

I am so thankful that it is God Who controls my life.

 

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Lens #1

Last week, I once again took Aaron to his yearly eye exam.  Doctor visits are always an adventure with Aaron.  Waiting for the doctor to come into the exam room is also a test of my patience.   Aaron stretches and wants to lay down.

 

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Or he eyes the tempting equipment and tools that the doctor uses, trying to pick them up and test them out before I tell him to stop.

 

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As I sat with Aaron last week and watched him during the exam, I was reminded of the following post from a couple years ago.  This was such a funny moment for me!   Here is what I wrote:

 

I took Aaron to his yearly eye exam today. God bless Aaron’s eye doctor. Next week I’ll be saying, “God bless Aaron’s dental hygienist,” but today all blessings go his eye doctor and to the staff. Oh, Aaron isn’t mean. He just has a very difficult time understanding what the doctor needs from him…..how to express what he is seeing or not seeing clearly…..opening his eyes wide…..not leaning back from every instrument that comes toward his eyes…..things like that. There was one very funny interchange, though, during the exam. You know how the doctor wants you to tell which lens helps you to see the letters on the wall the clearest.

 

Dr. Nelson: Aaron, is number one better? Or number two?

 

Aaron: Number one.

 

Dr. Nelson: OK. Now which is better? Number three, or number four?

 

Aaron: Number one.

 

Dr. Nelson: Let’s try again. Number three, or number four?

 

Aaron: The first one.

 

Dr. Nelson: You mean number three….here…..or number four…..here.

 

Aaron: Number one.

 

Dr. Nelson: Let’s try these. Number five, or number six.

 

Aaron: The first one.

 

Dr. Nelson: Let’s try number seven…..

 

Aaron: Number one.

 

Dr. Nelson: OK, let’s not do numbers anymore. Is this one better, or this one better?

 

Aaron: Number one.

 

HaHaHaHa!!!!!! How I wanted to belly laugh!! I do believe that number one was the winner, don’t you??!! 😎😵🤣

 

However accurate Lens #1 was, Aaron was sure that this was the lens he liked the best.  He didn’t waver one bit from that determination.

I’ve been thinking about this as I look at my own life, and the lives of many that I know and love.

Through what lens am I looking at my life?

I just ran upstairs to be with Aaron as he had another seizure today.  I’m thankful he was lying down, so there was no falling and no injuries.  But his seizures, especially after all these years, are serious and scary.  As we get older, and as Aaron gets older, Gary and I do wonder about our future and his future.

In the past days, I have communicated with family and friends who are enduring all kinds of trials.  Two with aggressive and serious forms of cancer, out of the blue.  Tragic family issues.  Separation.  Divorce.  Friends who just bought a house and now he lost his job, literally overnight with no warning.  Lots of chronic health issues with no end in sight.

So much suffering! And the way that I view suffering depends upon which lens I choose to look through.

I know the lens I NEED to be using.  I need to focus on the God that I know and on His word that He has given me.  I may be rattled and shaken, but my focus will be sharp if I’m looking to God.  My faith is in and on Him when I look to Him…not disrupted by all the suffering around me that I or others are enduring.

It’s like Aaron’s eye exam.  I need to realize that lens #2 or lens #3 are not right for me.

Fear is not a lens God wants me to use when viewing my circumstances, or the circumstances of those I love.  Neither is anger…or worry…or a host of other responses that are all too common for me.

I know that when I have my eyes off God, life becomes blurry.  I lose focus.  I lose peace.  I lose hope.

I need to go back to lens #1, for sure!!!

The best way for me to keep my focus is to go to my Bible…to read God’s promises and let His words soak into my mind and my heart.

My parent’s favorite Bible passage is perfect for me to use in keeping my focus:

 

God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Therefore

we will not fear, though the earth should change and though the mountains

slip into the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the

mountains quake at its swelling pride.  (Psalm 46:1-3)

 

God told us we would have suffering and trouble on this earth. But He also has promised to be our very present help, our strength and our refuge, no matter what carnage is around us.  He is a loving Father who takes care of His children.

This is the focus I need.  God is the focus I need.

God is my lens #1.

I love the old hymn, The Solid Rock.  Look at verses 2 and 3:

 

When darkness veils His lovely face,

         I rest on His unchanging grace;

         In every high and stormy gale,

         My anchor holds within the veil.

 

         His oath, His covenant, His blood,

         Support me in the whelming flood;

         When all around my soul gives way,

         He then is all my hope and stay.

 

         On Christ the solid rock I stand;

         All other ground is sinking sand,

         All other ground is sinking sand.

 

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The Hard Parts

Tuesday was my birthday, and an early gift for me that morning was that Aaron got out of bed much earlier than the day before.  Why is that a gift?  It’s a gift because having to wake Aaron up to get his day going often brings anger from him, but if he gets out of bed on his own it usually comes with a far improved mood…from BOTH of us!

Aaron’s bedtime logbook that he faithfully fills out every day shows that he got out of bed at 7:16.  Not 7:15.  7:16.  I just wanted to be sure that I was clear on that point, since Aaron is forever and always very clear and precise about his times.

My memory logbook in this brain of mine has recorded that on Monday, Aaron did not get out of bed at 7:16.  He was sleeping soundly on that morning, so I had to wake him up, which can be very tricky.  Being awakened by Mom is not on Aaron’s list of Happy Ways to Start My Morning.  It’s not on my happy list, either.  That’s because there is almost no way for me to get Aaron to wake up that suits him.  Monday was a rather angry morning for Aaron, but he did go to his day group and I was thankful for the reprieve.

So, Tuesday was wonderful!  Aaron was happy, not at all because it was my birthday but because I did not have to talk to him in my weird voice…or shake his leg…or look at him with squinty eyes…or any of the other very irritating manners that he thinks I demonstrate when I’m working to get him out of bed.

I offered to fix Aaron some French toast since we had time and since he loves French toast.  He readily agreed, so while he showered…in whatever form that process took that morning because we’re never quite sure…I began the French toast.  Later, as Aaron sat down to eat, I saw him immediately place something from his plate onto the table beside him.  Can you see the little dark spot there on the table near his plate?

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I knew what it was.  The small glob was a piece of the toast that had cooked harder than he likes.  Aaron always places hard parts of food off his plate because he will not eat them, and he doesn’t want them near his food that he IS eating.

Later, when we were both done with our breakfast, I saw that on his plate was one more bite of French toast.  I told him he had one more bite to go as he got up from the table, but he told me that he didn’t want it.

“It has those hard parts, Mom,” he explained.  I didn’t push the issue or make a big deal about it.  After all, why ruin our good morning over one bite left on his plate?

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But as I looked at his plate, I thought of how much like life those hard parts are.  Hard parts are most definitely a real part of all our lives.  I wish I could just have all the plump, juicy pieces that are easy to swallow.  But no, it doesn’t work that way.  Life, all too often, seems to have way too many of those hard parts.

I remembered those set-aside pieces the next day as I took Aaron to his Epilepsy doctor appointment.  It was time for more blood work for Aaron, so after his doctor visit, we walked over to the building next door and went up to the lab. We’ve been very blessed that Aaron, from the beginning of his seizures at a young age, has always liked watching the needle go in his arm.  Even when it hurts, Aaron wants to watch each time.

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I looked at him sitting there, taking it all in, and I suddenly wanted to cry.  I wanted to cry because he looked so vulnerable.  We get used to all these doctor visits and needles and medicines and tests, but today it was like I was seeing it all fresh and new.  He was my little boy again, with his life ahead of him…all of us unaware of all the hard parts that were ahead.

Soon we were waiting on the elevator, Aaron more than ready for lunch at Applebee’s.  The door of the elevator opened.  I hesitated to get on because there was a woman in a wheelchair inside, plus the nurse who was pushing her, plus another woman, plus a man.  That’s a lot of pluses!  The woman in the wheelchair saw our hesitation.

“Come on in!” she cheerily said.  “I won’t bite!”

I laughed, told Aaron to follow me, and we stepped inside.  I stood in front of the woman in the chair, facing her.  I saw then that she was on oxygen.  She was wearing a hat to cover her bald head, and her skin had the unmistakable chalky look of advanced cancer.  I thanked her for letting us crowd in, and then I asked her how she was doing.

“Oh,” she said now with weariness, “I’ve been better.”

“I’m so sorry,” I told her.  I wanted again to cry, and I hoped she knew that I cared.

As the elevator stopped and we all went out into the hall, I saw that the man from the elevator was walking with a badly deformed leg, or maybe a prosthesis under his pants.  His walk looked so painful.  And there outside the front door was a van from a hospice group, waiting to take the sweet cancer patient to her destination.

Hard parts.  All around me were hard parts.

Still fresh in my heart was the message from a friend about her impending divorce, received that very morning.  Other concerns for family and friends weighed on my mind…death, loneliness, health issues, fears, financial problems, job concerns.

Do I sound depressing and dreary?  I don’t want to leave it there, because for those who know God and follow Him, these hard parts are also precious parts of growing closer to our Savior.  Jesus suffered, and so shall we suffer.  But we have hope because we know that God is in control of every part of our lives…the easy and the hard.

This hope isn’t like saying, “Oh, I hope that works out.”

NO!  This hope is a certain expectation that all WILL work out according to God’s will, for our good and for His glory.  The outcome may not work out exactly as I want, but my wants are not nearly as important as God’s will.

Is Aaron cured of his Epilepsy?  No.

Is Aaron cured of his autism?  No.

So, how do I handle those “no” answers?  I handle them by fully embracing that a “no” answer is still God’s answer to me.  I trust Him to know best.

And I don’t try to push those hard parts out of my life and out of my heart.  I accept their reality with God’s grace.

Of all the Aaron issues that we deal with, his behaviors are by far the hardest to handle with love and wisdom.  Gary and I get tired…frustrated…overwhelmed…angry.  But Aaron is the whole package, the easy and the hard.  The sad and the hilarious.

We wrap our arms around Aaron and love the whole person, seizures and autism mixed in with all the rest.

Like Jeremiah said:

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose trust IS the Lord!”

              “You are my refuge in the day of disaster.”

And so must each of us see every part of our lives as just the right mixture that God intended, and not try to remove the parts that are hard as being too hard to handle.  Go in God’s strength and trust Him.

 

 

 

 

Work, Work,Work!

I believe every family has sayings that have been passed down over the years – sayings made by family members and then repeated again and again.  Often these comments are funny, laughed at every time they are uttered as memories of the person and the situation surface once more.

One of our family favorites is a comment made by Aaron years ago when he was very frustrated by having to pitch in and do some work around the house.

“Work, work, work!!”  he exclaimed.  “All I do is WORK!!”

No one understands the humor of his statement like we do.  That’s because we all knew…and know…Aaron.  He worked the least but complained the most.  Now when one of us repeats that phrase with great emphasis, we all just laugh and shake our heads…just like we did when Aaron first said it.

I do believe we now have a new phrase, thanks once again to Aaron.  Another one of many he has left us over the years, trust me.

Two weeks ago, Gary and I were packing up our vehicle for our annual trip to Houston.  We travel there every April to see Andrea and Kyle, and with the added bonus of spending time with Andrew, who is there for an NHRA race.

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This year we were taking lots of Andrea’s “stuff.”  That’s because she and Kyle are married now, and have a house, so her “stuff” is hers once again.

We had many loads to carry out and put in our vehicle.  Aaron was in the middle of all of it, talking and hovering, hoping that none of this activity was going to eat into our normal evening routine of watching a DVD or show.  He seems to think that his presence will continually remind me that he is my priority.

So, we put him to work.  He was willing to do so, thankfully, and really was a huge help.  He helped lift the heavy electric piano into the van, as well as carrying box after box outside for us.  Eventually, though, as we were nearing the end, Aaron’s impatience started to surface.  He knew that I still had other things to do before we could watch a show.  Bedtime was looming.  His routine was already a mess, and his nerves were showing.  He was excited at our leaving, with thoughts of all the restaurant meals awaiting him and his caregiver during the week, but also anxious at our being gone and his normal life being a little unhinged.

Aaron never offers to sit and talk about his feelings.  Goodness, no!  He doesn’t even understand what’s going on in his head and heart.  But he does SHOW his feelings by usually hurting ours.  Or by being confrontational, rude, stubborn…you get the picture.

His happiness at helping had turned instead to blame.  He blamed his anger on us for making him work.  He and I worked through all that for the most part, watching our show as he calmed somewhat, but then as I tucked him into bed later, he erupted again.

“Mom!!” he said.  “You made me do servant work!!  I don’t like SERVANT work!!”

It was so hard not to laugh!  But believe me, all of us…minus Aaron…laughed a lot about what he said as we spent a few fun days together.

Servant work!  Indeed!

In the week since we’ve been home, I’ve seen the other side of Aaron…the side that enjoys helping us.  He wanted to help me cook supper one night, and then to send a picture to Andrea – who told me that it looked I was making Aaron do servant work again.  😊

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He also wanted to share his Sonic mint with Gary that evening, so he put it on Gary’s supper plate.

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This past Saturday, he asked if he could help me with some pruning.

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He often takes our recycling to the container; brings down his laundry; sets the table; and other chores around the house.

Aaron is usually happy to help when things are going the way he wants.  But when his version of normal is anything but, then helping becomes “servant work.”  Not fun…not to be expected…not to be done!

I look at myself and I see this attitude of Aaron’s in me more than I like to admit, especially when it comes to caring for him.  I’ll be honest.  Taking care of a special needs child, even your OWN special needs child, is not all halo moments where we feel or act like angels.

Oh, my compassion is through the roof many times.  Like when I sat in the ER with Aaron for five hours four days before our Houston trip, waiting for him to be admitted to the hospital for seizures the day before and very low sodium.  Thankfully, we were sent home when his sodium level increased.

Home, where Aaron had a very long and a very scary seizure that evening.

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His seizures, injuries, staples, stitches, missed fun days, so many meds, the look on his face as he held his Subway sandwich on our drive home…so many times my heart just breaks for him.

But then he has those behaviors, rigid routines, expectations of me, nonstop talking at times, anger…

Seizures that keep me home, having to change all my plans…and his.  Extra laundry, sadness, worries for now and for the future…

A life unlike most of our peers for me and for Gary.  Not able to up and go, to travel at will, to plan for a fun life of retirement trips.

Special needs parents weren’t given our children because WE’RE so special and God knew we could do this.  God wants us to see that HE is the special One that we need, and that in no way could we live this life without Him and His grace and His strength.  Goodness knows I have none of my own.

Many times, and many days, this life that God has given me can only seem like “servant work.”

But really, there are two kinds of servant work, and it’s my attitude that determines which I will experience each day…each moment.

When I think of how God wants me to serve in every situation, and when I do this servant work with that in mind, my attitude is one of inner joy and peace – even if outwardly things are crazy, and I am frustrated.  My goal then isn’t about ME.  It’s about Aaron, and to serve him in a way that pleases God.

But when I get in my own way and take my eyes off God…and like Aaron, things aren’t going the way I want…then I sometimes get angry and frustrated.  When I do this, all too often, then I’m doing “servant work” in the way Aaron meant.  Unpleasant, yucky, unhappy work that makes me bitter.

So, to all of us…and ESPECIALLY to my special needs parent friends…know that God understands.  Just talk to Him when you’re exhausted, when you blew it, when you yelled at the child you love so much, when you’re envious of other’s lives, when you’re out of money and patience and even hope – just talk to God, lean on Him, and then know that each day is a new day.

A new day to do servant work, the way God intended.  After all, we have the best example in Christ.

“Have this mind in you, which was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a SERVANT, being born in the likeness of men.”  (Philippians 2:5-7)

Servant work is God’s work, really.  And He’ll give us what we need to do it the right way, every day.

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Wonderfully Made?

Today is World Autism Day.  It’s a day to bring attention around the world to the issue of autism – its causes, its impacts, its uniqueness – and so much more.  I can’t speak for others, really, but I certainly can tell you how autism has rocked our world.

I was a young wife but not a mother yet when Gary was in flight school at Fort Rucker, Alabama.  He was learning to fly helicopters for the army, and I was learning the bare beginnings of how to be a good military wife.  I particularly remember a warm Alabama day when I was outside our house on Sharon Lane, planting Zinnias, and wishing with all my heart that there was a baby – our baby – lying in a little crib inside.  I thought that life would be complete if we had a baby.

The army moved us to Fort Carson, Colorado, and in another house we did welcome our little Aaron Daniel.  He was perfect and tiny and complete, as was my happy heart.  A baby!  A son!

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I thought often of that stunning verse in Psalm 139:14:  “I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Marvelous are Your works, and I know this very well.”

Fourteen years later, I sat in a pediatric neurologist’s office in Tucson, Arizona.  I watched him talk to and examine our son…our Aaron…not so little now, but big and complex and confounding to us.  Gone were his sweet small innocent ways.  He was instead often angry, agitated, loud, embarrassing, and the center of much unwanted attention.

Gary and I at first thought that our unusual and perturbing Aaron was this way because of the effects of seizures he had endured since the age of seven.  Then we wondered if his behaviors were due to side effects from all his seizure drugs.  Or puberty, perhaps, added to the mix?

But Dr. Gray turned to me and told me that Aaron had Asperger’s Syndrome.  I was blank.  I had never heard of this, and I had no idea what he was talking about.  Only when he defined this syndrome as a form of autism did I have an idea…a small inkling…of what he meant.

But oh, little did any of us know what this REALLY meant.  Not until you travel on this unknown path of autism, with its myriad displays affecting every area of life…ours and Aaron’s…can you understand autism’s daily, minute by minute, impact.  Impact on Aaron…on Gary and me…and on Andrea and Andrew.

So, what was I to do now with that powerful, affirming verse from Psalms?  You know, the one that so eloquently said that God makes each baby…fearfully and wonderfully designs each one.  Really?

I choose.  I choose to trust God, totally…or not.

And then, even in my trust, I look up the words I don’t understand.  Really.

FEARFULLY:  means to reverence – so I know that I am to look on God’s design of Aaron and deeply respect what God has created.  I am to be in awe of what God has formed.  Of WHO God formed in my womb.  And trust me, some days I’m totally in awe of who and what I see in this son of ours…and not always in a good way!  And even as Gary and I shake our heads, we do know deep in our hearts that Aaron is exactly who God formed him to be.

WONDERFULLY:  (This meaning is the BEST!!)  This word means to “put a difference; to distinguish; to show marvelous.”

Aaron NAILS this one, people!  Oh my goodness, he is so different than the average bear…and he cares not one bit that he is!  He distinguishes himself everywhere we go and in everything we do…and he doesn’t mind one bit that he does!  AND…he does show himself…sometimes marvelous and sometimes not, at least in our way of defining “marvelous.”

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I decided to use some words to illustrate a little of who Aaron is, showing some recent pictures to boot.

Aaron is BLUNT:  NO picture to show here!  But earlier today I told him he could go to Dillon’s with me, so from that point he was impatient to leave.  He walked in the bathroom, where I was fixing my hair.  Wanting to leave NOW, he stared at me for a few seconds and then said, “You could just go to Dillon’s on a bad hair day!”   😊

Aaron is PERSISTENT:  Aaron talks and talks and talks and talks.  The other evening, he followed Gary to the bathroom, standing outside the door as he continued to talk and talk and talk.

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Aaron is PRECISE:  Look at his notebook in which he logs his times that he goes to bed and the times he wakes up each day.

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Aaron is LOVING:  He loves to share.  If you have junk to get rid of, just let Aaron loose with it, and he’ll give it to anyone that he sees.  He’ll also give away things that you prefer to keep.  Anyway, he has a big heart.  And he especially loves animals!

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Aaron is TOUGH:  He recently had 8 staples put in his head after a drop seizure on our stairs.  Tough hardly describes all he has gone through over the years, physically and in other areas as well.  But he was thrilled to get to keep those staples when they were removed…a trophy!!

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Aaron is THOROUGH:  Here he is yesterday, watching the movie credits with great intensity and delight.  After all, movie credits are part of the movie and are to be watched!  Totally.  To the very, very end.

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Aaron is RIGID:  We want him to wear a helmet for a couple days when we think his seizure pattern may indicate that he’ll have a dangerous drop seizure.  He does NOT want or intend to wear this helmet.  His Aunt Sandra struck a bargain with him, saying that she would make and send him a toboggan hat to wear if he would wear his new helmet.  So, he wore the helmet for an agonizing maybe three minutes.  He DETESTS how it feels!!  Tactile issues have never been ones he can overcome, from the time he was a little boy.  Here the helmet lays, where it was ungraciously tossed by a very frustrated Aaron.

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Aaron is FUNNY:  He does make us laugh, some days more than others.  He delights in the things that most of us ignore or take for granted…the cows in the field, the horses, things laying on the ground that he finds, funny commercials, store decorations, and on and on.

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And I could go on and on about our Aaron.  He truly is “fearfully and wonderfully made.”

In many moments, Gary and I don’t grasp that truth.  Have no doubt, there are deep tired sighs that you will hear often in our home.  We get frustrated, lose our cool, feel guilty, and then repeat the process again.

But also have no doubt that we know…we KNOW…that Aaron has been used by God to make a huge difference in our lives.  He has distinguished himself as God has taught us more about Him and about us than we would most likely have learned otherwise.  And Aaron has shown us just how marvelous God is in our weakness and in our pain and through our tears.

And God reminds us of how marvelous Aaron is, created with a purpose.

Yes, fearfully and wonderfully made!!

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One Thing

I’m sitting here looking at my blank computer screen, wondering how on earth to write this post.  I write better when I can be totally up-front and honest about life.  But sometimes I can’t be that way because some matters are private, involving issues and people that prevent open sharing.

Was that catchy enough?  Do I have your attention now?  HaHa!

I really wasn’t trying to reel you in with my first few sentences.  I am, like I said, just being honest.

Recently, Gary and I had a “thing” happen.  It’s easy to say the typical phrases that we often here, such as what I just said.  “Things happen.”  Or here’s another one – “Life happens.”

Yet as a follower of Christ, I know better.  I don’t get upset when others, or when I, make those statements.

“You know, things just happen,” I have often said.

But again, I know better.  I know that God is the One Who is in charge of my life and who allows every single “thing” in my life to happen.  In reality, my “things” don’t just happen…they are permitted or ordained by God.  I am His child and He is in charge of all aspects of my life.

Most often, when we say that “things” happen, we’re not referring to happy “things.”  Usually, we are talking about stressful “things.”

Gary and I have had some recent stress.  Don’t we all?  We had to make the difficult decision to put our sweet Great Dane, Jackson, to sleep.  Not long after that, Aaron had a drop seizure on our stairs and ended up with eight staples in his head.  And then this “thing” intruded into our lives.  It’s not a happening that occurred, and then is over and done.  It’s more like a dark cloud of long-term wrong that will hover over us…well, forever, really.

All these “things”…all this stuff, plus many more daily stresses…can just be overwhelming and exhausting.  But two other “things” have taken place as well…in my heart, which is the best place for God to work HIS things.

One “thing” is that my mother’s favorite verse has been rolling around in my head for days now.  It’s Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God.”

I love, though, the meaning of “be still.”  This is how I have been saying this verse recently: “Quit striving, and know that I am God.”

I can’t make “things” not happen.  I can’t always change situations.  And even if I try, the doors often remain closed.  The damage is done.

I have a mental image of being tied up with ropes.  Those ropes are the “things” that have or are happening in my life.  I twist and turn and pull and flex against those awful ropes, trying to be free.  But God wants me to stop that!  He wants me to relax and to simply trust Him…to rest, and to know that He is God.  And as God, He will handle all my “things.”

All this sounds so good, doesn’t it?  So spiritual and so right.  But how on earth…really, how on this old sinful stressful earth…do I quit striving?

God gave me a huge part of that answer over the past few days.  It’s found in the first few verses of Psalm 27.

David talks about his “things.”  He says that evildoers want to devour his flesh.  He is surrounded by enemies, adversaries, and whole armies…literally…who want to destroy him.  He was living in caves as he tried to survive.  His treatment by King Saul was totally unjust and evil.

It’s awful to be hated.  It’s awful to be the recipient of unjust treatment.  It’s awful to be on the run, either mentally or physically…running from the pain and the wrong and the hurt.

So, in verse 4, David says, “One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek…”

Let me stop to say that I can tell you what my one thing usually is when hard times come, especially injustice.  My one thing is to think that if I could only talk to this person or to these people, I’d tell them a thing or two!  Or on a nicer slant, my one thing may be to try to have a pleasant, open talk with them. Surely, they will listen!  Just give me one chance, Lord, to handle my situation…whatever it is…by doing that one thing that will make ME feel better.

But what was David’s one thing?  He asked God to let him behold His beauty in the tabernacle, to meditate and to dwell in the temple.

In other words, David’s one thing was to worship God.

And there is the answer to my question about how to quit striving against my “things.”

Worship.

David’s one thing that he asked of God when he was going through all of his awful “things” was the opportunity to once again worship God in the tabernacle.

“There is only one place where your heart can be healed, restored, satisfied, and protected.  It won’t be healed by winning human wars.  It won’t be satisfied in human acceptance.  It won’t be restored when you have meted out vengeance.  It will only be filled, satisfied, and at rest when it is filled with the beauty of the Lord.”  (Paul Tripp)

When I focus on God, I am not focusing on my “things.”  I am instead aware of God’s greatness in the middle of my “things.”  His power is what upholds me.  His plan, however vague and unknown it may be to me, is one which I can accept because in God’s beauty I see His love for me.  I experience His peace and His grace when my eyes are on Him, and not on my “things.”

We all have those hard “things.”  Some of you are enduring much more difficult “things” than mine.  May we all learn to worship God even when we are surrounded by our pain and fears and sadness.

Then to rest…quit striving…and let God be God in our lives.

“Quit striving, and KNOW that I am God!”

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Plan B

I heard Aaron’s first seizure at 4:00 a.m. night before last.  I went in to be with him until it was over, assuring that he was safe.  And always, when this happens, my fuzzy sleepy brain tries to remember what plans I had for the upcoming day, and how those plans may need to be re-arranged.  Usually one seizure means others will follow, though in recent days that hasn’t been the case.  We just never know.

Not long after Gary left for work, I heard Aaron getting out of bed.  He came downstairs, eyes very droopy and tired, with his typical post-seizure headache and stomach ache his first concern.  I told him that he should go back to bed.

“I can’t,” he replied.  “I’ve already put my time in my notebook.”

You see, Aaron keeps a log of the exact times that he goes to bed and the exact times that he gets out of bed.  Every.  Single.  Day.

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In his rigid and organized world, he needs a period of time before he will go back to bed.  I know not to fight this.

Aaron went about his morning as best he could, with me listening closely for another seizure.  His falling seizures sometimes occur after only having one seizure during the night, so I was on full alert.

I was hoping that Aaron could go to his day group.  Friday is movie day and he enjoys that.  But he didn’t feel like going anywhere, he said, and I could see that he really was struggling.  Besides, if he had a seizure while out with his group, that could be very dangerous.

I knew that my day now needed to be changed, my plans shuffled or canceled.  Nothing in my day was hard to change, but it was inconvenient…and not only for me, but for my friend whom I was going to see after dropping Aaron off at Paradigm.  My day would have been:  take Aaron to Paradigm; go to Lolly’s house for a visit; run to Aldi for some groceries before our weekend snow comes; home with groceries; pick Aaron up from the theater; take Aaron to Wal-Mart for his “end-of-week” snacks; zip into Sam’s; and home.

Changing this day was far easier than having to reschedule a doctor appointment, for instance.  Yet having to switch from Plan A to Plan B can be irritating and at times difficult.  Poor Aaron can’t help any of this.  I’ve learned to be flexible.  And to be thankful that I don’t have to work, as having a job would be impossible.

As it turned out, Lolly came to my house.  She even brought some delicious little Brazilian cheesy bread balls that she learned to make during her years as a missionary with her husband in Brazil.  And cake!!!  She brought me…oh, and Gary 😊…some cake!!!

I was able to later run Aaron to Burger King for a take-out meal, knowing that if he had a seizure at least he was sitting down in the van.  Later, as he napped, he did have a second seizure.  I was so thankful that he was in his bed, safe from falling down!  And in the evening, we got to make our Wal-Mart trip.  Gary went with us so that we could both keep an eye on Aaron.  It was fun!  And Aaron wanted to make sure that I took a picture of him with this turkey breast that he LOVED for some funny reason!

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Not every Plan B in life is fun, though.  Many times, our switch from Plan A to Plan B is pretty devastating, and certainly not easy.  And as believers, we know that God has a plan and a purpose on this path upon which He places us.  Yet He never said that our path will be rosy.  Most often, it is not.

God told us to take up our cross and follow Him.  He did not say to take up our basket of May flowers and follow Him.

One of the most impacting books I have ever read is The Cup and the Glory, written by Greg Harris.  Harris talks about what it means to follow Christ.  Drinking the cup of suffering is what brings glory to God and great growth to us as His followers.

In Acts 16, during Paul’s second missionary journey, we see a profound example of God’s perplexing leading in Paul’s travels.  Blessings had been abundant to Paul and Timothy.  The Greek phrasing in verses 5-8 is so telling.  The words “on the one hand” are soon followed by the words “on the other hand.”

On the one hand, churches were growing and being strengthened…but on the other hand, as Paul tried to travel to Asia, he was forbidden by the Holy Spirit to go there.  Later, as Paul and Timothy tried to go to Bithynia, they were once again stopped by God.  They finally ended up in Troas, where they never intended to go.

That road to Troas led through high mountains and was very difficult.  Why did God take Paul away from his intended destination, only to place him in such a strenuous and uncertain place?  Why did Paul and Timothy have to walk so long and so wearily through barren land full of dangers, and with no ministry taking place?

But Paul walked.  He kept walking in faith and in obedience to God, not understanding the reasons but fully understanding that God knew those reasons, and that was all that mattered.

Harris says, “It’s easy to walk with God when He exhibits the visible hand of His blessing.  However, Jesus calls us actively and continually to walk with Him – even when we can sense neither His presence nor His blessing – and not merely when you see Him feed the 5,000.”

Our goal in life should be to keep our eyes on God, not on our destination.  We may head one way, a God-honoring way, only to be re-directed by God onto another path.  Keeping our eyes on God during those disappointing times is key to experiencing His peace in the middle of our puzzling questions.

Our main goal on our journey is to be God Himself.  To know Him, to honor Him, to serve Him…wherever we are…is where we need to be focused.  God alone.  Through our questions, our tears, our concerns, our anger…God knows, and He cares, and He has a purpose.  His purpose is far greater than we will likely ever know on this earth.

Plan A?  Not today.

But on the other hand, Plan B!!

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not unto your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths.”  Prov. 3:5-6

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Special Aaron

 

No mother can ever forget the birth of their babies, each one so unique and completely amazing.  That first baby, though, holds a very tender place in a mother’s heart.  Our first baby was Aaron.  He wasn’t loved more than our other two children, but that first birthing experience was one of a mixture of fear and uncertainty that culminated in total wonder at the little squalling miracle lying in my arms.

A son!!  I remember a feeling washing over me that I had never experienced before.  Total love.  I knew that certainly no other woman could have ever felt as blessed and…well…as special as I did in those new moments of motherhood.  I know now that this wasn’t true, but you could never have convinced me otherwise during those first fresh days of holding my little son.

I examined him from the top of his fuzzy head to the very bottom of his wrinkled toes.  Every detail was so perfect.  He was so tiny and complete…wispy eyelashes, button nose, tee tiny little fingernails and toenails…just every single part was truly a work of art from God.

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Lots of years have passed since my first introduction to motherhood in that old wooden WWII hospital at Fort Carson, Colorado.  So many details of Aaron’s future, unknown to us back in 1984, have woven themselves into our own future now.  Never, ever did we dream that our Aaron would continue to be defined as “special,” but now in the sense that we often call “Special Needs.”

Sometimes I still shake my head in disbelief at that title.

Yet there is no denying the reality of this path upon which God set our steps.  Aaron’s first seizure in Germany at the age of seven led us to a diagnosis of Epilepsy.  Seizures have never been out of the picture since that time other than for brief periods of reprieve.

Then later, at the age of 14, came the surprising diagnosis of autism…Asperger’s Syndrome.  This wasn’t a common condition at that time.  I didn’t even know what Asperger’s was.  But we’ve all learned along with Aaron just what it means to live with what we call “Special Needs.”

It’s very interesting to look up this word “special.”  It’s a word that we so routinely use that we don’t give it much thought.  So, I did just that…I looked up this special word in the dictionary…and I was touched by just what it means to be special.  Especially what it means to Aaron, and so to us as well.

 

SPECIAL:  Distinguished by some unusual quality.

Our family would laugh at this one, not because we’re cruel but because Aaron has LOTS of unusual qualities.  Many days I wish it was only one.  Some are funny; some are annoying; some he repeats over and over; some are loud; some are very embarrassing….

 

SPECIAL:  Readily distinguishable from others of the same category.

Well, that’s one way to put it.  He’s very readily distinguishable when he stops in the crosswalk at Wal-Mart and holds his arms up just to be sure that traffic knows to stop!  He’s totally distinguishable when I remind him to look UP as we leave the store and enter said crosswalk again so that he looks for traffic and not at his feet…and he stops in the middle of the crosswalk and looks up at the SKY!!

He’s also very likely to hover at the door of the nail salon like a stalker, watching the women getting their manis and pedis…fascinated by the smells and the sounds…but a little alarming as he curiously stares.

He whistles…he claps…he sings.  Or he stands in the little restaurant in the Wal-Mart entrance and delights in the fact that the attendant thinks he wants to order.

 

SPECIAL:  Being other than the usual.

Usual is so boring to Aaron.  Some days I wish for boring.  But Aaron does add a spark to life on most days.  Sometimes a raging fire, honestly.  Like Gary and I envisioned Friday evening in Cracker Barrel when Aaron decided to take the globe off the oil lamp…that was lit…with real fire.  All was well.  Nothing to see here, people at the table beside us.  Move on.

 

But there is also one more meaning to this word…this special word.  And this meaning is by far my very favorite.

 

SPECIAL:  Designed for a particular purpose.

You see, Aaron was indeed designed by God, just as much as all the other babies ever conceived.  He was designed for a particular purpose.  I don’t always live in that reality, especially on the hard days.  But I know deep in my heart that God made no mistakes with Aaron.  God’s sovereign hand made Aaron just the way he is.  It’s up to me to live in that knowledge, especially when I’m tired or upset or discouraged or embarrassed.

Honestly, one of the huge purposes that I’ve seen Aaron have in my life is to remind me of how much I need God.  How much I need His love and forgiveness and patience and strength.  How when I am weak, then God is strong FOR me and IN me.

 

Aaron reminds me to give:

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Aaron reminds me to love:

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Aaron reminds me to laugh:

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Aaron reminds me to enjoy life:

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Aaron reminds me to keep going when things are tough:

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And God reminds me of these truths:

 

For You formed my inward parts; You wove me in my mother’s womb.

I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

Wonderful are Your works, and my soul knows it very well.

My frame was not hidden from You, when I was made in secret;

And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;

Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;

And in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me,

When as yet there was not one of them.    (Psalm 139:13-16)

 

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