God’s Work of Art

I love how Gary stops to enjoy the world around him.  Sometimes I may not quite agree with it, like when he found a huge Orb Weaving Spider on the back of our patio chair recently and instead of killing it, he placed it gingerly in our flower bed.  You who know my fear of spiders will also know that I am now avoiding that flower bed, or am stalking around it carefully like an NCIS agent at a crime scene. 

I wasn’t at all surprised this past Sunday afternoon to walk out in our garage and find a Cicada, a poor dead Cicada, laying on Gary’s work bench.  I knew that Gary had placed it there for me and for Aaron to see.  I didn’t even have to ask.  I paused to look at it, which prompted Gary to tell me about the Praying Mantis he had rescued from the ground and placed in the pecan tree.  And then Gary remembered that he had meant to get his magnifying glass so that Aaron could have a closer look at the Cicada. 

I got Aaron while Gary got the glass, and soon Aaron was doing his own examination of the Cicada.  Everything about this common creature…..this sometimes annoying insect…..was super fascinating when enlarged under the magnifying glass.  His sheer, intricate wings……his compound, bulging eyes……his very perfect camouflage design…..the hooks on the end of his legs. 

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As Aaron examined the Cicada, we took the opportunity to point out that all of this design was God’s doing.  Aaron knows that.  But still it’s nice to have the opportunity to again draw Aaron’s attention to the reality that we have a personal Creator Who put lots of thought and planning into the design of an insect. 

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Our Cicada encounter has made me pause, once again, to also examine another fact that I know all too well but sometimes struggle to remember.  Our own Aaron, unique and special, is also one of God’s extraordinary designs.  

Why would I struggle to remember that fact?  Because just as the shrill noise of a Cicada can be irritating, sometimes the daily-ness of Aaron’s behaviors can be irritating as well to me and Gary.  Yet when we stop to examine his intricacies, we do see how amazingly Aaron is wired.

Take his water bottles……his ever and very important, to him…..water bottles.  He must have three water bottles.  Since he has in the past struggled with low sodium and must watch his water intake, his three water bottles are smaller than they used to be.  I somehow snuck that change past him.   Here is the scene over Labor Day when we were on the patio visiting with my cousin, Jim, and his wife Patti:

Aaron came out on the patio…..yet again…..and interrupted our conversation by asking if he could have his three water bottles.  I told him that he should just drink one, considering that it was a little late and he had drunk a big glass of water at dinner.  He would not drink just one of his three water bottles, because the three must always go together as three.  You do NOT drink ONE of the THREE.  You drink THREE of the THREE.  However, he said that he would drink one bottle of water from the frig in the garage where we keep the water bottles.  That’s because the water bottles in the garage are not part of the THREE.  Getting Aaron to veer from this set way of thinking is like treading water…..in the middle of the ocean…..with no rescue ship in sight.  Trust me.

So as Aaron and I talked about this water bottle decision, I was internally examining him and realizing fairly quickly where he was coming from.  So amazing he is! 

Then there are his Star Trek videos that he is now watching:

 We got him the old Star Trek television series from the 60’s as a Christmas gift.  He has been watching them in his bedroom, at his desk, on his computer monitor.  But then he started coming down to the family room to watch any other video that he wanted to see instead of using his own DVD player in his room.  Why, you ask?  Well, at least we asked.  And though Aaron didn’t exactly verbalize his reasoning at first, we soon realized that for now, his DVD player is only for Star Trek…..since it IS a series and since he DID already start that series on his player in his room.  He MUST finish the series on his DVD player before watching anything else, even if it takes months.  Gary and I can go along with it, or we can fight it and suffer the unpleasant consequences. 

It didn’t take Gary and I long to decide how to handle that one.  Welcome to the family room, Aaron. 

Sometimes Aaron is the one who is doing the examination:

Yesterday Aaron had a doctor appointment, which always means that I take him to lunch.  Eating out is his favorite sport!  Yes, sport…..because sometimes I feel that I have run a marathon after running interference during the course of our meal.  Or maybe that’s football.  Anyway, yesterday during our lunch Aaron heard the couple in the booth behind us order Espinaca.  He asked me what that was, so I explained it to him.  He still wasn’t quite sure about it, so when the unsuspecting couple’s Espinaca was brought to their table, Aaron wanted a look.  Before I could say “Espinaca,” Aaron was up out of our booth and halfway to their booth….craning his neck to catch a glimpse of their mysterious dip.  I do hope they were understanding.  I didn’t ask.

This whole incident led to me showing Aaron pictures of Espinaca…..going to Wal-Mart to buy ingredients for Espinaca….putting Espinaca ingredients in the crock pot…..and eating Espinaca while we watched a video last night….in the family room. 

Yesterday evening, Gary and I were in the garden for a few minutes.  Then we sat on the new bench Gary got us, under our old oak tree.  It was so pretty outside, and so nice to sit together for a few minutes.  But then the back door opened and out walked Aaron.  Gary sighed, and I knew what he was thinking.  Our quiet time was about to end. 

“But look at him, Gary,” I said.  “Just look at him.”  And we both looked at Aaron lumbering across the grass, wearing his pajama sports shorts and sleeveless shirt, with his socks and tennis shoes.  And we both just smiled at the sight of him.  Yes, we knew what was coming and we were right.  Godzilla this and Godzilla that, because Aaron just discovered that there will be ANOTHER Godzilla movie in 2018!!!!  And there we sat, we three, scrunched together on the bench…..listening to Godzilla talk.  But Gary and I were smiling, and we were responding, because this is the family that God has made us to be. 

You know, I don’t have a magnifying glass big enough to examine Aaron all at once.  But each little piece of him is very fascinating all alone.  Put together, he is one very complicated…..very astounding….very funny….work of art.   

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The Surprise

I was walking through our vegetable garden one day in early summer, looking at the pretty little plants growing so nicely where Gary and I had placed them.  There was the summer squash on the front row, along with some zucchini.  The tomatoes were already inside their tomato cages that Gary had put up, and behind them were our okra plants.  Cucumbers were on the side of the garden near the tall oak tree.  We have a simple garden this year, not as full as it sometimes is, but enough for us and hopefully some to share with others.

Everything was where it should be, growing as we had hoped at this point, with no visible bugs or other problems that I could see. Weeds hadn’t started taking over yet, either, so I felt content as I turned to leave the garden.

But wait.  What was this?

I stopped between the tomatoes and okra as I noticed a plant growing in a place where we had not put a seedling.  It wasn’t a weed.  It looked for all the world like……a cucumber?  But what would a cucumber be doing here, when the rest of the cucumbers were all the way over on the other side of the garden?

I hadn’t planted it there.  Gary hadn’t planted it there.  Hmmmmm…….

I stood looking at it, wondering what to do.  There are any number of ways that a cucumber seed from last year ended up under the soil and then growing again this year.  I’ll never know for sure.

But what I did know was that I would not have planted that cucumber in the spot where I found it.  It was too near the edge of the garden, for one thing.  It might get all tangled up in the okra or try to climb the tomato cages.  It might want to grow out into the yard where Gary mows.  It might not flourish under the sunflowers that were soon to be planted right there where its leaves had sprouted.

Bottom line……that volunteer cucumber was just not at all where I would have put it.  I didn’t want it there.  I could think of all the reasons mentioned above that I didn’t want it growing where it had sprouted.

It hadn’t been in our garden plan at all.  Now here it was, intruding in a place and at a time that I hadn’t intended for it to be.  I hated to uproot a growing vegetable plant, however.

“Well, OK,” I thought.  “I guess I’ll leave you here while I decide what to do.  You’ll probably die anyway and then I won’t have a decision to make after all.”

And with that, I turned and walked out of the garden……my garden that now held a stray cucumber plant.  A plant that messed up my plan.  One that, honestly, I didn’t want.

I watched that vagabond cucumber plant over the next days…..days that became weeks.  I left it where it was, more curious as time went on to see how it would fare.  And guess what?  My stray cucumber plant grew beautifully!  In fact, it grew better than the other cucumbers that I had so carefully planned and planted on the other side of the garden.

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It wasn’t long before I saw the first tiny little spiny cucumbers growing under its leaves.  I tended it carefully, pulling its curly tendrils away from the tomato cages…..guiding the growing vine out of the yard and back to the garden…..watching another of its vines growing up a tall sunflower stalk.

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The fruit of that unwelcome cucumber has been beautiful and sweet.  We’ve benefited from it very much, and so have others with whom I’ve shared.  I’m so thankful that I didn’t follow my first response and pull the cucumber from the soil!  I’m thankful that I stepped back, gave it time, let it grow, and then enjoyed the sweet fruit…..and the lessons it has taught me.

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One thing we all know, if we live long enough, is that life is full of surprises.  We can be going along just fine, things working out the way we had planned, when BAM!!  We hit the proverbial wall.  Suddenly, things are NOT going as planned.  Now what?

As followers of Christ, we’re certainly not exempt from those detours in life.  In fact, God does put situations and events and people into our lives for a purpose that sometimes only He knows.  Maybe He’ll share it with us and maybe He won’t.  So again, what do we do?

Do we try to fix it?  Get rid of it?  Ignore it?  And if we can’t do any of those, do we argue with God?  Get angry?  Get bitter?

I mean, admit it, there are things that happen to us that that we just can’t see any reason for.  Really, God?  I would NOT have done that.  I would NOT have put that situation in that place in my life at all.  I mean, maybe another time…..another place…..or better yet, not at all!!

So, God, this wasn’t in my plan.  I had my life pretty well mapped out, you know.  Grow up….college….job….husband….kids…..family…..

I didn’t plan on Aaron falling back into my arms that Sunday afternoon 25 years ago, seizing and bleeding and unconscious.  That was most unwelcome.  I didn’t plan on being given his further diagnosis of autism 7 years after that.  I mean, isn’t Epilepsy enough?  I didn’t plan on still being his caregiver when he’s almost 33 years old.  Don’t You know about empty nest?  How welcome, on many days, THAT would be?

So…..this plant that You have placed in my life?  Why did You put it there?  I might agree to it in some form…..over there, in another area, to a different degree.  Here….just let me decide where it goes and how big it grows, OK?  Really, I would never have put it there in the first place…..in case You want to know.

But oh my goodness, what God has taught me over the years from that little unwanted seedling that popped up where I didn’t plan it!

What I’ve learned can be summed up with one verse in one of my very favorite Bible passages.  Psalm 18:30:

“But as for God, His way is perfect.”

There you have it.  Eight little words that speak incredible volumes about God and His sovereignty.

It doesn’t say that His way is easy…..fun…..pretty…..popular…..understandable.

Or fast.  Gary and I are in this life with Aaron for the long haul.

We each have our own situations that God has put, just so, in our lives.  As we stand and look at whatever that is, we must choose whether to accept God’s placement in our garden or to spend our life hating it.

But let me tell you, when you accept that God’s way is perfect and you let Him be that Master Gardener in your life, you’re going to one day see fruit.  You’re going to see growth in your life that you never thought possible.  You’re going to see beautiful fruit like peace, joy, thankfulness, wisdom.

And best of all, that fruit is what you’ll be able to share with others…..especially others who are suffering.  Comforting as you have been comforted…..blessing as you have been blessed.

God does know what He’s doing, after all.  His way IS perfect, and perfectly placed, in each of our lives.

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Lessons From the Spring Snow

Although the calendar doesn’t say that spring is here yet, officially, you sure couldn’t prove that by the gorgeous weather that we have been enjoying. Days have been warm and sunny, birds are singing, robins have been spotted, and even that particular smell of spring has been in the air. My Salvia, Black-Eyed Susans, Garden Phlox, Peonies, and Shasta Daisies are all peeking out of the soil, showing off their fresh green growth. Many trees and bushes are budding, and I’ve seen Bradford Pears in full bloom as I drive around town. It’s a refreshing and peaceful time of year – a time of stretching and breathing deeply of the warm air, full of the smell of damp earth and the promise of warmer days ahead.

Two days ago the winds began howling, not at all unusual here in Kansas. These winds, however, began to change direction as night fell. Instead of blowing strong but warm out of the south, they started blowing out of the north. The temperatures dropped dramatically and then sometime during the night the rain began to fall. In the wee hours of the morning there was a different sound. No longer did we hear just the strong winds and the pattering of rain on the roof and windows. Now we heard the sharp pinging of sleet as it was blown against our window panes. The early alarm from my clock only made me want to hunker down further under my warm covers. I didn’t want to face the unwelcome cold that had intruded upon our beautiful spring-like weather, or look outside to see what sight might await me.

Sure enough, one look outside confirmed what I knew in my heart to be true. A light snow was falling, mixed in with stinging sleet – covering the emerging new growth of my flowers and the fragile little buds on the trees and bushes. The wind mixed with the snow and sleet made me cringe, not only for those who had to venture out in such a mess but also for the tender new growth all around me that was being hammered by such ugly weather. Later it was my turn to walk outside and face the cold, to clean off the crusty accumulation on the van, and to hope that I didn’t slip and fall on the icy cement. The sky was heavy and gray as I scraped off the van, and though the snow and sleet had stopped falling, the clouds looked like they would soon open up again and shower us with more of the frozen mess.

 

Yet in the midst of this wintry scene around me, I heard a sweet sound. Loudly and clearly from a nearby tree came the welcome song of a bird. It seemed that this bird was singing as confidently as he could, unaffected by the cold and the ice and the snow. He continued as I worked to free the van windows of the ice and snow, singing his sweet melody over and over. And with that beautiful bird song, I began to experience hope. I knew that this storm was only an interlude in the cycle of winter becoming spring, and that spring would soon triumph. I knew that we would be hearing many more birds, and that they would build their nests and fill them with eggs that would hopefully hatch to produce more beautiful singers. The pretty flowers and bushes would continue to grow, and before long we would be delighted by the gorgeous colors all around us. The stony grey and white of this cold day would be gone!

 

All of us have enjoyed many days of blessings and peaceful periods when life is relatively smooth. The minor annoyances that occur are not enough to upset the flow of daily life. But then one day the winds begin to blow and things become a little uncertain. Finally, the direction of the winds changes and life really is turned upside down. The rain that was falling but was tolerable suddenly changes to brutal, stinging sleet and snow. Our beautiful growth, our pretty new flowers, our fragile buds, are threatened by the harsh circumstances around us. We want to hide from the trials, to pull the covers up and not venture out to face what we know will await us outside. But face it we must………the sting of death, the hurt of betrayal, the fear of a doctor’s diagnosis, the grief of a wayward child, the certainty of aging, the loss of finances. Whatever has clouded our lives and covered us with icy reality cannot be ignored.

But oh, we have hope! Just as clearly as the bird’s song filled me with the certain knowledge, the hope, of a coming spring – so we have a certain knowledge that God will never fail and that He has so much in store for us………..so much beauty, so much joy, so much sunshine and peace. The prophet Jeremiah knew about suffering and hope. He said, “Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness. Surely my soul remembers, and is bowed down within me. This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have HOPE. The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. The Lord is my portion, says my soul. Therefore I have HOPE in Him.” (Lamentations 3:19-24)

 

How powerful is that reminder from God through Jeremiah! As the bird reminded me of the coming spring, may we also be reminded of God’s faithfulness to us in every stinging storm that we face. And may we be faithful to sing out His praises and look forward with great hope to all that He has in store for us!

Matters of the Heart

Aaron is now 27 years old.  I know that he is a man, a grown man, and that fact is very hard to imagine.  28 years ago Gary and I were anxiously awaiting the birth of our first child.  I had made all the yellow gingham nursery curtains, bumper pads, changing table covers, and decorated with yellow, fluffy duck decorations.  Everything was as I wanted it.  And even though I went into labor 3 weeks early and Gary had just changed out of his flight suit when he rushed me to the hospital, we were really ready – for the most part – or so we thought.  What new parents can ever be really ready for the responsibility that awaits them?  And what new parents can ever comprehend the depth of love that washes over you when you first hold that little part of both of you?  Aaron was so little and perfect and beautiful.  And my radar screen was still showing sunny weather with not a storm in sight.

When Aaron had his first seizure and was diagnosed with Epilepsy, and then years later was diagnosed with Autism, we were completely unprepared.  We never, ever expected such a thing to happen to us.  To someone else, yes.  Someone we would read about in a magazine, or hear about from a friend, or receive a prayer request for at church.  The reality of this event in our lives with our Aaron was just so unexpected and unwelcome.  And as I said earlier, when I got home from the hospital after his Epilepsy diagnosis, I cried my heart out with tears for Aaron, for us, and with pleas to God for His grace and strength.

I had a choice to make and I chose to focus on what I KNOW.  And what I know is that God is sovereign.  God is in control and none of these events surprised Him or confused Him.  God loves me and God loves Gary, and God certainly loves Aaron.  I cannot and will not ever try to explain the ways of God.  There is no unfairness with God, I do know that.  So instead of wasting time and energy trying to explain the why of our situation, my choice was to trust the Who in our lives.  And that would be God.  I know from my walk with Him for all these years and from reading His Word, Who He is.  I know that His sovereign plan is best even when He doesn’t choose to reveal it all to me.  I trust Him and I love Him and I have found Him always faithful.  Those things I know.

While in Leavenworth, God gave me Psalm 18:29:  “For by You I can run upon a troop; And by my God I can leap over a wall.”  I just love this verse!  It’s my theme verse in so many ways.  Oh, the walls that I’ve run into in our life with Aaron!  I’ve shared many of them in the past few posts.  So many times I’ve run into walls, beat my head against walls, beat my fists on the walls, tried to climb walls with my own strength – but by my God, I can LEAP over the walls.  What a promise, fulfilled in so many different ways in so many different situations.  So I also know that with God, I’m a wall leaper!

But there are also some things I feel, and feel deeply.  These feelings come from within my mother heart.  I think of my heart as having various doors that open when needed.  Doors of love, of wisdom, of encouragement, of laughter, and on and on.  But there is a door that I rarely open because it is too painful.  That is the door of my regrets and wishes for Aaron.  I do not live in regret or in unfulfilled wishes for Aaron, but occasionally those thoughts slip in or that reality hits me in my heart.  Once after Aaron started going to the job skills school, he came home one day and said, “Mom, I’ve noticed something.  All the kids at that school have problems.  What are my problems?”  I struggled not to cry as I tried to talk to him about Epilepsy and Autism.  He was satisfied and seemingly unconcerned, but I knew he was pondering these issues very personally now.  And it broke my heart.  I remember when Andrew got his license and later came home with his used truck.  We had purposely not made this a big deal because Aaron was often jealous of Andrew’s life.  But Aaron looked outside and saw the truck, so he asked if that was Andrew’s.  I said yes and Aaron said, “I wish I could drive.”  Little glimpses like that into his heart made that door of my heart start coming open.  There are times for tears, but not time to wonder about what could have been or might have been.  Living in defeat is not God’s plan for me or for Aaron.

And there are so many reasons to be thankful.  Gary led Aaron to the Lord when he was 6 years old.  Aaron has that understanding.  He can walk, and run, and see, and talk (can he ever!).  Things could be so much worse.  He can read and understand, and even though he can be sooooooo irritating sometimes, he also makes us laugh – a lot!

In closing I want to post a piece that has always spoken deeply to me and I hope it will to you, as well.

 

“WELCOME TO HOLLAND”

 

 

By Emily Perl Kingsley, 1987. All rights reserved.

 

I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability- to try to

 

help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it

 

would feel. It’s like this………..

 

When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy.
You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans.  The Coliseum.
The Michelangelo David.  The gondolas in Venice.  You may learn some handy phrases in
Italian.  It’s all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives.  You pack your bags and off you go.
Several hours later, the plane lands.  The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”
“Holland?!” you say.  “What do you mean, Holland??  I signed up for Italy!  I’m supposed to be in
Italy.  All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy!”
But there’s been a change in the flight plan.  They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.
The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of
pestilence, famine and disease.  It’s just a different place.
So you must go out and buy new guide books.  And you must learn a whole new language.  And you
will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.  It’s just a different place.  It’s
slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy.  But after you’ve been there for awhile and you catch
your breath, you look around…………and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills and Holland
has tulips.  Holland even has Rembrandts.
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy………..and they’re all bragging about
what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life you will say, “Yes, that’s where
I was supposed to go.  That’s what I had planned.”
And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away………because the loss of that dream is a very,
very significant loss.
But………if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to
enjoy the very special, the very lovely things………….about Holland.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Lessons From the Battered Plants

On Thursday evening we stood helplessly at our windows and watched as the hail fell and the wind blew ferociously. The hail wasn’t huge but was relentless and seemed to go on forever. When the storm was over I stepped outside and felt very disheartened at what I saw – leaves that had blown off of trees and plants were plastered everywhere; branches were snapped and smaller twigs were scattered all around; flowers were shredded; newly purchased hanging baskets were twisted and broken; our vegetable garden partly flattened and mangled. I didn’t even want to deal with it after weeks of planting, nurturing, and then beginning to see the fruits of our labor that we noticed even as we walked around the yard and garden minutes before the storm started.

Today I stepped out on the back patio, gathered the hanging baskets together, and started trimming the dying and drooping limbs. I then turned to the two flower beds in the back to do the same there. And I noticed something amazing. In the midst of the damage there was new growth. There among the pock-marked leaves and shredded blooms were new blooms waiting to open, new leaves unfurling, and bees buzzing about. Life!! And you know why? Because these plants were not uprooted. Their root systems were intact, receiving nourishment from underneath the ground as well as stability to remain standing. Sure, they bear the marks of the storm, and some look very tattered and worn. But there is growth; there is an anchor in the soil; there is hope.

How many times I’ve been battered by the storms of life! All of us have endured the sting of trials in so many areas of our lives. Many trials are prolonged and seem to never end. I’ve felt beaten, defeated, discouraged, scared, tired. But through it all I know in Whom I have believed. My roots are firm in the God Whom I trust. Jeremiah said it very well in Jeremiah 17:7-8: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord and whose trust is in the Lord. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; But its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit.” I may bear the marks of the sufferings of this life but as I remain rooted in God my life can continue to grow, to prosper spiritually, to yield the peacable fruit of righeousness, to have peace and usefulness. I have hope as I anchor my roots in Christ – “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and stedfast…..” Hebrews 6:19.

And so I pray that I will bear the marks of my trials and hardships to the glory of God. I pray that I will continue to grow, to bloom, and to bear fruit despite the scars that may mar my leaves. I pray that through the heat and fierceness of the storms to come I will remain rooted in the Lord with no fear or worry, being fed by Him, and looking forward to the sure and stedfast hope that He provides!