The Normal Road

As I drove Aaron to his day group one day this week, we passed a big traffic accident in the other lanes of the highway we routinely travel.  We took our normal exit, only to discover that the exit we usually take when getting back on the highway was closed due to the accident.  I told Aaron that I would need to go another way home after I dropped him off.  This concerned him but I assured him that it was no big deal.

All was clear on the highway and the exits when I picked Aaron up later that afternoon.

“Mom?” he immediately asked when he got in the van, “can we go up the road we’re normal with?”

It took me a second, but then I understood what he meant.  He was very happy as I turned into our exit that we could go up the road that we are normal with.

Aaron was completely unaware that he had just perfectly described his life with autism.  And he had especially given the perfect picture of why our recent trip to Texas was full of our usual Aaron ups and downs.

Aaron wants to stay on the road that he is normal with.  Any variation of that road will most certainly be full of potholes and unexpected detours. 

The road that Aaron is normal with is only at home.  It is only his room…his bed…his computer…his games…his food…his bathroom…his day group…his routine.

His desire for his normal is why he wants to take as much of his normal with him as possible when he travels with us.  He takes more books than he will read in three years.  More music than he will listen to in the week that we are gone.  Way more food than he will eat and way more games than he will play.

And he takes way more out of all of us than we feel that we can give.

Patience and understanding are our goal on every trip, but they are often stretched very thin.  If only my scales would show how thinly I am stretched!  😊

One evening we were setting the table for supper at our daughter’s house.  I gave Aaron one fork just like all of us were using.  But look at his place at the table after he ran back to the kitchen and corrected my silly mistake.

Always, always, Aaron will take two forks and two spoons and two knives.  He doesn’t use them but what we need to understand is that for some reason he does NEED them. 

Again, here is a perfect description of living with autism – this time in picture form.

You can see Andrea’s one fork beside Aaron’s multiple pieces of silverware. 

Aaron needs more.  He can’t even tell you why he does but he indeed must have more.

He must have more than the rest of us in so many areas of his life.  Sometimes it’s hard to remember that.  It’s hard to be patient with him and understanding of a need that we don’t have.  A need that seems so unreasonable. 

But the complexities of autism are not to be trifled with. 

There are many ways that we as parents can guide and train Aaron, and we have.

But we must be wise in choosing our battles.  Some battles we will always lose, and such a loss is not worth it.

The road that Aaron is normal with is also a road that Gary and I travel right alongside him.

I guess you could say that over the years we have a new normal…one we could never have dreamed of having.

Some days the trip is long, and we feel near empty.

Then we see a view like this, and our hearts are full again.

Planted For Purpose

I visited a local nursery a few months ago to buy vegetable plants for our garden.  I took Aaron with me, hoping that he would enjoy seeing the various goodies that we were going to plant in our garden.  But Aaron had eyes for one thing only – sunflowers!

“MOM!!” he exclaimed as I stood at the counter to pay, “can I get some sunflowers?” 

I turned to see him with the packet of sunflower seeds already in hand, so I agreed.  He watched carefully as the cashier scanned the small package, all the while talking excitedly to her about how we were going to grow SUNFLOWERS!!

We decided to plant the little seeds between our house and our neighbor’s house, near her raised garden beds.  This way, their children could also enjoy the sunflowers.  Amanda loved the idea, so one afternoon Gary dug the holes…I handed three seeds to Aaron to plant in each hole…and Aaron bent over to place them in the ground.  We covered them up and went about our day.

Aaron wanted those sunflowers to be growing the next day but growing takes time.  Growing takes lots of patience.  One day, though, we saw the tiny shoots emerging from the ground!  Aaron was SO excited!  Over the next weeks we watched each little bitty plant become more and more established.  They grew!

But not into the huge sunflowers that we have had in the past.  These seem to be smaller sunflowers, or maybe they are responding to the harsh heat and the dry weather we have had.

Then one day, Amanda texted me with some exciting news.  We had a bloom!  Later, Aaron and I walked out to the row of sunflowers and sure enough, there was one bloom.

I noticed something that day.  The pretty sunflower that had been the first to bloom was the smallest of the others in that row.  Its flower wasn’t large and impressive like ones you typically see in Kansas fields. 

Yet the happiness that our little blooming sunflower gave all of us was huge!

Sometimes I feel like my life is that of the small sunflower.  Others are living more impressive lives similar to the taller sunflowers that stood on each side of our shorter plant…lives, quite honestly, that I thought I might have.

But God has taken that measly sunflower that bloomed first and has used it to reinforce a lesson I know well in my head but don’t often practice in my heart.

Yesterday God gave me a verse that says it perfectly, as only God can:

        “The Lord has made everything for its own purpose…” (Proverbs 16:4)

God has planted me where I am for a purpose.

And more importantly, God has planted Aaron in my life for a purpose as well. 

If I believe in God’s sovereignty…and I do…then I must also believe that every area of my life is sovereignly planned with purpose by Him.

My idea of great purpose is usually not God’s idea.

Yet God’s idea is always best and right.  Not always easy or even fulfilling on many days…but always best.

I can live a life that shines for God as I care for Aaron, or I can live a stunted life of anger and questions and comparisons to others.

I can see Aaron as a weight that keeps me down, or I can see Aaron as a means of experiencing God’s joy.

I can bloom or I can wither.

And here’s the catch.  Often no one…NO one…sees my bloom.  I feel like my life has no purpose.

But God clearly says that He has made everything for its own purpose.

I am to bloom brightly for Him, not so that my bloom will necessarily be seen and admired by others but so that I will grow in grace and be more like Christ.

So, little sunflower, I am thankful that you were planted where you were.  I’m thankful for yet another lesson that God planted in my heart using the least of these.

May I live a faithful life no matter how small I think it might be.

Feeding on Faithfulness

One of Aaron’s favorite things to do in all the world is to eat out at a restaurant.  The promise of eating out makes every doctor visit or dental procedure totally worth his time. 

Aaron might vary a little in what he will eat at the different restaurants that we visit, but always…if possible…he will order a side salad with “no croutons and two ranches.” 

And often he will order another of his favorites…French fries!

Not long ago, while he munched on his fries at lunch, he had an idea.

“Mom?” he asked, “can we make French fries?”

“I kind of made them last night in the air fryer,” I answered as I reminded him of the potato wedges that we had eaten.

“I didn’t see them that way,” he responded.

I smiled at Aaron’s response. 

He has, yet again, given me something to ponder.

A couple blogging friends mentioned Psalm 37 last week.  I decided to read slowly through that wonderful Psalm in the mornings after my regular Bible study.

Verse 3 jumped out at me.

“Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.”

Guess what the word ‘cultivate’ means?  It means to ‘feed on.’

Dwell in the land and feed on faithfulness.

‘Dwell’ can also mean ‘rest.’

The land is wherever God has put me. 

So, I am to rest where God has put me and feed on faithfulness.

That sounds pleasant at first glance.  But what if the place God has put me is less than ideal? 

What if it’s just downright hard?

Fact is, God didn’t say that I am to be faithful when my pasture is lush and green…when my place in life is fun and easy and fulfilling.

He just said to dwell there in the pasture where He has placed me…stay…rest.

And while there, feed on faithfulness.

Here I am, approaching the age that I used to think was REALLY old, and I am still in a large sense raising a child.  This time of my life was what I used to hear being referred to as having the time of my life. 

Empty nest and all that.

Hasn’t quite worked out that way for us.

But I can’t deny the fact that God didn’t qualify the type of land He would ordain for me.  He just told me to rest there.

And to feed on faithfulness.

You see, we can all be faithful where we are.  The form it takes is what sometimes trips us up.

Caring for Aaron, in all the shapes that caring takes, is me feeding on faithfulness.

But many times, I’m like Aaron as he compared the air fryer potato wedges to French fries.

I don’t see it that way.

I don’t see managing Aaron’s medicines, doctor visits, tons of paperwork, or driving him everywhere as having a lot to do with my faithfulness to God.

I most definitely get tangled up in tiredness and complaining as I work to keep him fed, active, happy, encouraged, and clean.

Sadness at seizures and frustration during behaviors jerk my emotions in all directions.

And as the days turn into weeks and the weeks into months and the months into years, it sure is easy to lose the sense of living in faithfulness to God.

Seems like I often compare my grass to others, and usually theirs is so much greener than mine.

Their feeding on faithfulness seems exciting and fun.

Mine?  Pretty dull and daily.

And often dirty. 

But something I’m learning…ever so slowly…is to look up to God when I feel like looking over to someone else’s land.  Keep my focus on my Shepherd and on the land He has given to me.

To see every tiring moment as an opportunity to trust Him, to do good, to rest in this place, and to feed on faithfulness.

To remind myself, at the end of another tiring day, that God smiles on my faithfulness. 

“I didn’t see it that way, God,” I often think.

“Oh, but I did, my dear,” God whispers. 

And I rest.

Remind Me That I Love You

Mornings for Aaron are definitely the time of day that he struggles the most.  It can really be hard for him to get out of his warm bed and face the day.  Not every morning is difficult, but let’s just say that for Aaron the majority of mornings do not have a right side of the bed.  Both sides are wrong!

Aaron realizes this about himself.  Therefore, sometimes he will tell me to give him a morning reminder that will hopefully help him to be cheerful.  The reminders are about something that the day will hold…something that he is looking forward to and so will encourage him to get up happily. 

For instance, he loves going to Meals on Wheels on Thursday mornings but sometimes he knows on Wednesday night that he may be grouchy the next day.

“Mom,” he says, “tomorrow morning if I don’t want to get out of bed just say Buster.’’

Buster is the little dog at one of our homes that Aaron loves to see and to pet.  And Buster loves seeing Aaron. 

Or on Valentine’s Day, when we were going to pick up roses to take to his day group friends, he knew the night before that he might be irritated about getting up.

“Mom,” he told me, “if I start getting mad in the morning just say roses.”

I love Aaron’s plan of action.  I know he truly does want to be nice in the mornings.  Sometimes his plan works, and well, other times it doesn’t.

One recent evening we were watching a favorite show.  Aaron was all comfy and relaxed on the couch, legs covered in his ever-present blanket, and enjoying a yummy snack.  He was the picture of contentment.

Such was not the case hours earlier as we worked to get Aaron out of bed and on his way for the day.  That morning he was the picture of frustration and anger.

As we sat on the couch enjoying our program, Aaron was filled with happiness.  He finally looked over at me.

“I love you, Mom,” he said.

The moment was genuine and so sweet.

“I love you too, Aaron,” I replied. 

Then he seemed to remember our unhappy morning.

“Tell me I said that in the morning when you’re getting me up,” he added.

His words were a stop-me-in-my-tracks moment.

How many times in my life have I been filled with contentment as things are going well?  Then it’s easy to tell God that I love Him.  And I mean it when I say those words to Him. 

But sometimes the bottom falls out. 

Gary and I had been married for five years before Aaron was born.  That positive pregnancy test was SO huge to us!  How thankful we were!  How full of love for God and His sweet blessing in our lives!

Now here we are, 37 years later, in a place we never dreamed we would be with Aaron. 

Seizures.  Autism.  Behaviors. 

Can I still lift my eyes to God and tell Him that I love Him?

Those warm fuzzy ecstatic moments of my first pregnancy are long gone. 

In their place are many moments of worry, sadness, frustration, and bone-wearying exhaustion.

But here’s the thing.  I know God in a deeply personal way. 

And I know that often His ways in my life are filled with heartache and pain so that I will grow to be more like Jesus.

God hasn’t changed one little bit.

But He calls me to change, and His word tells me that this change toward likeness in Christ will involve the hard things. 

Sometimes I have to will myself to remember all the reasons I have told God that I love Him.

And those reasons cannot be based on my circumstances that are happy and fun.

The reasons I love God are based on WHO He is…His character and His attributes.

I cannot base my love for God on how comfortable I am.

So, like Aaron, there are times in my life when I need to look at God and ask Him to remind me that I said I love Him.

Through my tears, fears, anger, hurt…through all the questions I have about God’s reasons and logic in my life…I must not lose my love for God.

Oh God, tomorrow…when things aren’t going too well, and I feel upset…remind me that I said I love You. 

Remind me that You are the same yesterday, today, and forever.

And remind me of how very much You love me, too. 

Don’t Try to Change Me!

The word “change” is not a welcome word to many who deal with the issues of autism. 

You can phrase that concept any way you want.

“Come on, just roll with the flow.”

“Be flexible!”

“Try it.  You’ll like it!”

I have told you how Aaron won’t eat his popcorn at the theater until the actual movie begins.  The commercials before the movie are NOT the movie.  Neither are the sometimes endless trailers that are then shown.  Trailers are NOT the movie!  Aaron will continually look down at his big tub of popcorn that he has placed on the floor beside his feet, waiting expectantly to dig in when finally THE movie begins.  Then he will pick up his popcorn and visibly relax as he begins to eat. 

Aaron does the same thing at home.  When we sit down to watch a show, he will lay his snack close to him, but he will not begin to eat it until the show actually begins.  He will sit through opening credits.  He will sit through a long intro such as Blue Bloods has.  You’re not going to fool Aaron.  He knows that these programs are tricky and that they have opening music that hasn’t played yet, so don’t EVEN try to get him to eat until all the preliminaries are over and done.  Ice cream may even start melting, but Aaron doesn’t care. 

Aaron has carried this “waiting for the actual event to start” idea over to his music that he listens to in the van.  This past Thursday we started on our way to pick up our food delivery for Meals on Wheels.  We had been listening to Brad Paisley.  I pushed the button to start the music.

Aaron pushed the button off.

I pushed the button back on.

“MOM!  I don’t want to listen to music right now!”

“I know you don’t, but I do,” I replied.

He pushed the button off.

I pushed the button back on.

“MOM!!” he protested, “I said I don’t want to listen to music!”

“It’s not just about you, Aaron,” I responded with more patience than I felt.  “I do want to listen to music.”

Aaron was still and quiet for a few seconds.  Then off went the button again. 

I sighed a very deep sigh.  My lungs are in such great shape, living with Aaron.

“Aaron,” I began, “you want to wait until we actually start delivering our meals before you turn on the music, right?”

“Yes,” he replied.

“But we can listen to music now.  It won’t hurt anything to do that,” I told him.

I pushed the button back on.

I could feel the pressure building in Aaron, just like my pressure cooker at home.

He pushed the button off.

“Mom,” he began, “uh…you know…uh…”

And thus began Aaron’s attempts to start a conversation under the guise of wanting to talk instead of listening to music.  I just decided to let it go.  Hey, that’s a song!  It should be my theme song!

Bless Aaron.  I know he can’t help it, but really…!

Later that afternoon, Aaron was very happy that Gary was going with us to Nellie’s Pond for a walk.  But there was that issue of Aaron wanting to sit in the front seat of the van because that’s where Aaron sits when I drive and he and I are usually in the van by ourselves so the front seat is his and that’s the way he likes it and that’s the way it should always be…..

“Mom!” he began as he was processing his plan, “I know.  Dad can ride in his truck and you and I can take the van!”

“No, no Aaron,” I said with a laugh, “that’s not the way it’s going to be.”

But Gary, in order to give Aaron a perfectly happy experience, sat in the back seat while I drove, and Aaron sat in his front seat.

Just the way it should be, in Aaron’s world.

And sometimes we do put ourselves into his world…actually, lots of times…so that he can relax and have total fun.

Walking through life with Aaron…balancing discipline with the rigidity of autism…is certainly an exercise in patience and wisdom. 

Gary and I do not possess either of those qualities in the abundance that is usually needed but I am so thankful that God gives and also forgives.

So often, too, I find that it is me who needs to do the most changing.  God knows that all too well!

I wonder how often I am the Aaron in God’s life.   😊

The Special Quarter

I had taken Aaron in for his physical at the air base, which in itself is full of interesting Aaron moments. 

Here’s one:  He was very worried that he would need to give a urine sample, which he completely does not want to do.  We walked up to the counter at the Immunization Clinic to sign him in for a TB test.  I always try hard to be the first one at these windows in order to spare the poor airmen from Aaron’s loudly blurted and random comments or questions.  I indeed was in front of Aaron but this in no way deters Aaron.  As I signed him in and explained what we needed, Aaron pushed his head around the side of the window.

“DO I NEED TO PEE HERE??!!” he loudly and nervously asked.

I have to say that the look on the faces of the two airmen in the clinic was priceless.  I have no idea about the look on my face, but on Aaron’s was a look of panic.  I explained to the airmen as best I could while I tried to calm Aaron and sign him in on the clipboard.  And Aaron continued to ask his question over and over, bless him. 

Most people who encounter Aaron are treated to an impromptu lesson in special needs.  Like the lady yesterday at Wal-Mart in the produce section…the one that Aaron followed as he asked her if she liked cabbage because we were buying cabbage and he just HAD to know if she liked cabbage and why did she like cabbage…  All while I was calling to Aaron to come with me and trying to distract him from his quest to discover if this woman liked cabbage like we like cabbage.

And the dear cashier, who had to answer lots of questions from Aaron and listen to his commentary.  Do you like chocolate cake?  Do you like chocolate icing on your chocolate cake?  Guess what we’re having for supper?  Steak!  Do you like steak?  What kind of steak do you like?  I like boneless.  Do you like boneless?  Mom, what kind of steak are we having…….

Outings with Aaron, of whatever kind, often leave me with a variety of emotions.  Humor.  Embarrassment.  Frustration.  Joy.  Relief…when it’s over!  But mostly, I really do love my times with Aaron, stressful as some situations are. 

After his physical, we went to Jose’ Pepper’s to eat.  His favorite thing to do in all the world is to eat out.  And when he has gotten to know a server, like Emily at Jose’ Pepper’s, then his fun is doubled.  He walked in the door laughing and rubbing his hands together, oblivious to any stares from others.  He immediately spied Emily and he was off, trying to talk to her as the hostess was trying to figure all this out and get us seated, and I was trying to calm and quieten Aaron, and Emily was smiling broadly. 

We do make an entrance.

We were nearly through with our meals when Aaron spied something on the floor beside us.  I followed his gaze as he leaned out of our booth for a closer look.  There on the cement floor was a quarter.  Aaron was out of the booth in a flash!  He picked up his great find and proceeded to examine it closely.

“MOM!!” he very excitedly said, “it’s a state quarter!!  It’s HAWAII!!”

He was beyond happy at this treasure that had been laying right there on the floor for who knows how long.  Look at his wonderful smile.

He did not have a Hawaii quarter.  It is now safely in its place in his state quarter folder. 

For that day, for that moment, Aaron had found a priceless gem.

And I thought, as I watched him so full of delight at something that would be less than impressive to most of us, how this moment is so like my life with Aaron.

Do I focus on the routine life we have?  Do I see him through eyes of frustration or embarrassment?  Yes, I often do.

But I CAN make the choice to view him as a real gem, full of his uniqueness and spontaneity.  Sure, he can be aggravating and especially embarrassing in public, but how funny he is!  How refreshing…sometimes.  😊 

How full of lessons for Gary and for me, and hopefully for many others who encounter him. 

So, when we are walking to our car after our excursions, and I take a deep breath in order to settle my mind and calm my nerves, may I also use that same breath to thank God for the special treasure that He has given me right beside me in this life. 

And may others who bump into Aaron in the produce aisle, the check-in counter, the check-out lane, the restaurant…wherever we are…realize that there are many walking among us who are very special indeed!

What a gift it is to find them!

Stuff or Kindness?

Every Thursday, Aaron and I deliver meals for Meals on Wheels.  This has been such a beneficial activity for both Aaron and me.  I didn’t really expect to see the relationships that have developed between us and the dear people that we briefly visit every week.  Relationships or not, helping others is always a joy but getting to know our older ones on our route has been an extra blessing.

One of those men, Carl, has taken a real liking to Aaron.  Every week now, Carl gives Aaron some special items that he has set aside especially for “my buddy,” as he likes to call Aaron.  Aaron bends over laughing and rubbing his hands together when he sees Carl coming to the door with a little bucket full of shells and special rocks and pictures and all sorts of other random goodies…even a small lantern last week that Aaron has carried all over the house. 

A day or two after our delivery last week, Aaron asked if he could write a thank you note to Carl.  I was very happy that this was Aaron’s idea.  Soon Aaron was hunched over my desk, writing his thanks in his own words.  I smiled when I saw what Aaron wrote.

Well, that was short and to the point, right?

Aaron and I have had some discussions this week about showing kindness.  We always try to instill in Aaron the desire to be kind, no matter his feelings that sometimes overtake him and cause him to be too blunt or unfeeling.

This morning as we were getting ready to leave for our deliveries, Aaron asked about the thank you note.  I told him that it was on my desk.

He stood there looking at the card he had written.

“Mom,” he said, “I don’t want to give Carl the stuff one.  I want to write another one.”

I gave Aaron another blank card and he quickly wrote his note.  I was so touched when I saw his words.

I was blown away to see that Aaron got it.  He realized that kindness is what matters most, not stuff.  The stuff was a sign of Carl’s kindness, but kindness was the greater gift. 

Never ever underestimate the impact that kindness can have upon every single person that God puts into your life, whether for a moment or for a season or for a lifetime. 

Glamorless Glory

“Mom,” Aaron quietly said as he was getting ready for bed, “my toilet is stopped up.”

Aaron dreaded telling me this.  It was the third time in a few days that he had managed to stop up one of our toilets.

And this third time was NOT a charm, but instead was a huge mess.  I could have gotten Gary to do the dirty clean-up. 

“No,” I thought, “I can do this…yet again.”

I did think a few times that I really should have called Gary.  UGH!!

This was an opportunity for me to practice the patience that God is trying to teach me.  And to…once again…school Aaron on the proper treatment of our toilets. 

Why do these things happen so often at night when I am most tired?!

You know, being a caregiver of any sort can be exhausting.  Being a mom…a homemaker…the one responsible for the needs of whomever is under our care…has its many moments of humbling work.

Special needs or other health issues certainly add to the mix a new level of care.

And a new level of seemingly lowly service. 

Because face it, cleaning stopped-up toilets or throw up or wet bedding is not exactly something to write home about.

Even as Christ followers, we envision that the far-away mission field is more glorious and honoring than the dirty work we often do within the walls of our own home.

Not long after this third toilet episode, as I lay in bed reading, I felt compelled to check the FB page of my favorite author, Dale Davis.

His son had posted this piece.  I hope you will read it slowly and fully.

“When Mary was not nursing her son, she placed Him in an unused feeding trough (of wood or stone) right next to her…But a feeding trough! Let us never be surprised at the humility of God. The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks (Question 27) Wherein did Christ’s humiliation consist? Its answer begins: ‘Christ’s humiliation consisted in his being born, and that in a low condition…’ Its scriptural proof text for that ‘low condition’ is Luke 2:7. In a feeding trough, needing a mother’s breast and a change of diaper. How very incarnate the incarnation is! And yet what encouragement is here. For if Christ stoops so low, to such a ‘common’ level, does this not sanctify all that seems common and ordinary and unimpressive in the lives of His people? To be quaint and go back a few years–the weaver laboring at his loom, the farmer putting up hay, the mother cleaning her oven, or the teacher tutoring her ‘slower’ student in reading, the accountant preparing tax returns, the pastor reading in his study, the doctor diagnosing a perplexed patient. Jesus’ feeding trough suffuses all the glamorlessness of our callings with a touch of His humble glory.” (Dale Ralph Davis, “Luke 1-13: The Year of the Lord’s Favor”, pp. 46-47)

Tears slid down my cheeks.  For Christ, who stooped so low to be born in a dirty animal cave, and laid in a feeding trough, does sanctify and will honor the grimy and the mundane work that I do…even if I do not see the results of it.

God has always chosen to use the less than exciting places and people and moments in order to draw attention to His glory.

Jesus’ mother, Mary, was a very young teenager in a town that was looked down upon by everyone.  She and Joseph were poor and unknown.  They were no doubt the subject of malicious gossip because of Mary’s pregnancy.  Then Jesus was born in the humblest of places with no great fanfare.  Mary and Joseph had to escape to Egypt in order to survive Herod’s wrath. 

And all through Jesus’ ministry we see Him using the most common people in the simplest of places in order to proclaim His message.

How can I wonder if He is doing the same with and through me? 

I have no doubt that many of you are feeling like me so many times – like I am in a rut of caregiving and for WHAT?

But may we not allow the allure of the world’s values concerning glamor to be ours.

May the touch of God’s humble glory turn our glamorless callings into moments of praise and joy.

And may we be grateful for every stopped-up toilet as we see it through God’s eyes…an opportunity to share in His humility and to give Him glory. 

Choosing to See

I was sitting on our couch near our Christmas tree a few days before our kids were going to arrive when I suddenly saw that one strand of the lights had gone out. 

“Oh bother!” I thought as I got up to look closer.  “How does that even happen?”

I decided to just let it go.  It was so close to Christmas and the last thing I wanted to do was remove that string of lights and try to place a new one amid all the other decorations. 

Yet every time I walked into the living room, where the tree prominently stood, this is what I saw.

I saw the missing lights.  I saw the dark space. 

This is what I wanted to see. 

But no, my eyes were inevitably drawn to the area where the lights were missing.  Every.  Time.

Things with Aaron have been a little tough lately.  Actually, a lot tough.

Aaron has shown more than his average share of anger.  He can put a whole new spin on the concept of being angry. 

Many of his seizure meds list anger and other behaviors as possible side effects.  One of those med dosages was recently increased.  So, there’s that.

Then there is his autism, with or without the interference of his medicines.  His structured life was becoming more unstructured as the holidays loomed on his horizon. 

And years of seizures have done untold damage to his brain and to his ability to function in our world.

Gary and I know all this but living with his outbursts of anger is at times more than difficult.  His shattered supper plate full of lasagna, or the hole in his wall, are just two examples that can attest to the stress we have been under.

This morning, as I am slowly finishing my study of the book of Deuteronomy, I was reading Moses’ blessing to the tribe of Joseph in chapter 33.  God promised, through Moses, to give the people of Joseph “choice things…best things.”  The Hebrew word here means things of highest quality.

Then in verse 16, God said, “…and the favor of Him who dwelt in the bush.”

Remember Moses and the burning bush in Exodus 3?  God spoke to Moses in the bush that was burning…the bush that had attracted the attention of Moses as he shepherded his father-in-law’s sheep in the desert wilderness. 

There was God, burning bright in that bush, and telling Moses that this was holy ground.  Telling Moses that He had seen the affliction of Israel, and of His plan to use Moses to rescue the people out of Egypt.

But what impressed me about all of this was the fact that Moses was in a wilderness place, a place of severe hardship, when God spoke to him out of the bright burning bush. 

Moses had been banished from all he knew in Egypt.  He was running for his life when he ended up in the desolate wilderness.  Now he was a lowly shepherd of sheep that weren’t even his.

How easy it would have been for Moses to look at all the darkness in his life…to have his eyes drawn away from God’s glory in the burning bush to focus once again on his dismal circumstances. 

But God, despite the early reluctance of Moses, promised to go with and before and all around Moses.  He urged Moses to look at His glory, the glory that shone in the burning bush, and not at his dark and scary surroundings. 

It’s tough to live with and care for a child with special needs of any kind.  To live with Aaron, a very verbal adult, when he is angry is exhausting at times.  It’s not something I like to display or talk a lot about, but this part of Aaron is a very real part of our lives. 

I think many of us have those areas of our lives that we want to keep more or less hidden.  I’m very thankful for family and friends that I can confide in…those that I know pray for us.  There are ways that I know I need to be more open.  Maybe that will give others the courage to do the same.

Life is just hard right now on so many levels for all of us.  Satan really wants to discourage and defeat us in whatever way he can. 

But I want to look at this life we live and see God’s glory, His hand, His light over every bit of it.  I don’t want to focus on that dark part. 

I want to live under the knowledge that as God’s child, I am living in “the favor of Him who dwelt in the bush.”

THAT God of Moses is also MY God.

I can focus on His promises to me, and even in the darker times I can make the choice to see His light…the light that shines brighter than my dark.

Secret Things

If there is ever a time that it’s OK to keep secrets from each other, it’s now, at Christmas.  We buy gifts and then try to find the best hiding places around the house so that little…or big…snoops don’t find them.  We rush to grab that delivered box off the porch before our husband or child grabs it first.  It’s fun and exciting and perfectly allowed.

Then we must wrap the gift when prying eyes won’t see what it is.  I used to love stacking our children’s wrapped gifts in their individual piles and having them put their own gifts under the tree.  There was lots of shaking and guessing going on while they worked.  It was so much fun!  I knew the answers to their many questions, but I kept it to myself as I watched them wonder what was in each box. 

Last year, as Gary and I sat by our tree, Aaron joined us.  It wasn’t long before he was on his knees in front of the tree, taking out boxes to see which ones were for him.  He went through that ageless process of trying to guess the content of the gifts that bore his name.  And I went through the same ageless process of telling him that he must wait for the answer.

You know, God has secrets, too.  I just read about that fact this morning.  Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God…”

There are things that God keeps to Himself, things about my life and about His doings in my life.  I don’t always understand why God orders my life in the ways that He does.  I don’t always know what’s in each box that ends up on the front porch of my life.  

And perhaps more importantly, I don’t often understand the “why” of some of the gifts that God gives.  In fact, there are things that I wouldn’t even classify as a gift in many ways.  A gift should be fun and wanted and needed, right?

I think of Aaron, of what a gift it was when after five years of marriage God allowed me to finally be pregnant.  Of the immense joy I felt as I held my little baby son 37 years ago, feeling like the most blessed woman in the history of the world.  Of watching him grow, smart as a whip and cute as a button.  Then the sudden huge seizure when he was in the first grade, the years of medicines and tests and doctors and still seizures.  The unexplained behaviors that manifested more and more as he got older, that set him apart from his siblings and his peers.  The diagnosis of autism, the challenges of his anger and his very particular way of conducting his life.  The forever care that he needs and the way that this impacts Gary and me now in our older years.  The questions about his future, and ours.

But on the hard days, in the sadness of seizures and the frustrations of autism, I have a choice to make about this gift that God has given me.  I can question it, I can resent it, I can let it make me bitter.

Or I can look beyond the gift into the heart of the Giver and know that He only has my good…and Aaron’s good…in His loving heart.  God has some secrets that only He knows about concerning Aaron and his life, and therefore mine.  I don’t need to know God’s reasons before I exercise trust in Him.  I just need to know Him.  Period.

When I grasp that concept…and so often I don’t…then I can experience some other gifts that God has given me. 

Peace.

Joy.

Contentment.

Those attitudes, those gifts, come and go with me. 

“What IS this, God?” I can imagine me asking Him as I shake the box.

“Go ahead and open it,” He responds.

“But I didn’t ask for this,” I tell Him as I see what’s inside.

“No,” he lovingly says.  “But I know that you need this very thing.”

“Why?!” I ask through my tears.

“Oh,” he answers, “that is a secret for only Me to know right now.  Someday I will let you in on the secret, but not today.”

“But…” I so often begin.

And God answers:

“Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”  (James 1:17)

Like the old hymn writer said:

And we wonder why the test when we try to do our best, but we’ll understand it better by and by. 

By and by, when the morning comes,

When the saints of God are gathered home,

We’ll tell the story how we’ve overcome

For we’ll understand it better by and by.