Topsy-Turvy Times

I got a phone call last Thursday afternoon, soon after I had gotten home from running errands.  I saw that it was from Barb’s cell phone.  Barb, who works at Aaron’s day group, often lets Aaron use her cell phone to call me.  Or Aaron often uses her cell phone even without permission so that he can call me and tell me something about his day, and then insist that Barb and I need to talk…and we laugh every time about that as we talk for a minute and make Aaron very happy.  So I was sure that this call was just another call from Aaron as I answered the phone.

But it wasn’t Aaron.  On the other end of the line was a staff from Paradigm who was using Barb’s phone to call and tell me that Aaron had fallen during a seizure.  Aaron was standing when he suddenly fell, seizing, and had hit the cement floor.  She said they were sure he would need stitches in his chin.  She was right.

I left for Paradigm as quickly as I could, thankful that our old Great Dane was beyond caring about the groceries left around the kitchen within his easy reach.  I walked in and found Aaron surrounded by Barb and the nurse, sitting in a chair with paper towels being held on his chin.  He was alert, ready to tell me all about his injury and ask if we were going to the doctor.

Which we did.  We went to the hospital nearest our house, out in the country, where the ER wait is next to nothing and the care is good.  The girl at check-in put an ID bracelet on Aaron’s arm…his arm on which he wears his watch, way up high.  There is plenty of room on that arm for both bracelet and watch, but Aaron doesn’t think so.  Immediately when we sat down in the waiting room, Aaron had me take off his watch.  I knew that here, as is true everywhere, Aaron’s way of doing things would be the way that things would be done, if he had any say in it at all.

He would sure enough need stitches, we were told.  No surprise there.  Aaron was taking it all in stride.  He doesn’t panic, thankfully, but he has questions during times like this, wanting to know about the process and the procedure…would he feel it…how many stitches would he need…and could he go home after this was all done.

When things were quieter, as we waited for the doctor and Aaron leaned his head back on the pillow, I looked at him and felt so sorry for all he goes through.  I couldn’t linger long there, though, in those thoughts because I knew I would cry and I knew that my crying would greatly bother Aaron.  He doesn’t have the emotional feelings about life that you and I have.  This is to his benefit, really.  But I do have those emotions, especially as his mother.  Looking at his split chin and his scuffed, swollen cheek just brought home to me the fact that life is hard for Aaron.

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Aaron doesn’t enjoy the pain he experienced.  He doesn’t like his seizures.  But Aaron also doesn’t complain about it or seem to feel at all sorry for himself.  That’s what I mean about the fact that he doesn’t display the emotional feelings about his life that others might do. He’s mostly concerned about the facts.  Will stitches hurt?  How many stitches will I have?  Can I go home afterwards?  What’s for supper?  When can I wear my watch again?

Not – why do I have to be the one with seizures?  Why can’t I drive like others do?  Why do I need so much help all the time?  Why is life unfair to me?

I’m SO thankful that Aaron doesn’t express those feelings…that they don’t even seem to be on his radar.  Once in a long while he’ll say something telling, though, like the time he asked me what went wrong with him.  Or is God mad at him and gave him seizures.  But those thoughts are verbalized very seldom.  Aaron is mostly about the here and now, and about living life in the routines that matter so much to him.  Predictability and sameness in his days are far more important to him than weightier matters such as the fairness of his life.

Gary and I are left with those weightier matters that are heavy on our hearts.  And I was feeling it as I watched Aaron flinch several times as he endured the stitches.  He told his Aunt Sandra about it that night as they talked on the phone.

“That doctor put on the numbing medicine and then he put on the stitches!” Aaron told her.   Somehow he can always make me smile.

But by the end of the evening, as I told my friend Sarah, I just wanted to crawl off in a corner and have a good cry.  That wasn’t to be, though.  As soon as Aaron got in bed later that night, within five seconds after I left his room, he had another seizure.  They happen so quickly!  Thankfully he was laying down in bed for this one, safe from falls.  I was in bed myself as soon as I could after that, very tired…too tired to take time to cry.

The next morning I sat at my quiet time desk, early, wondering what God would show me from His word.  He didn’t disappoint me.  He never does.  I’m reading through II Samuel – again – using a devotional commentary written by Dale Ralph Davis.  In chapter 7, God was explaining to David why he would not be the one to build Him a temple.  And this phrase, read so many times before, jumped out at me as I read it…and then read what Davis had to say.

God was speaking: “In all the places where I have travelled around with all the sons of Israel…”

God lived in a tent among His people as they wandered in the wilderness.  As Davis says, “Do you see what God is saying about Himself?  He is the God Who travels with His people in all their topsy-turvy, here-and-there journeys and wanderings.”

The God of the universe travelled with His people while they spent years in the wilderness…years spent there because of their sin and disobedience.  Davis continued: “That is only a pale glimpse of the condescension of the covenant God, the God Who will not enjoy rest until He gives His people rest , the God Who stoops down to share the hardships of His people, the God Who is not ashamed to say He has been ‘travelling around in a tent’ with them.  See how close He is to you!”

On my tired, sad morning as I hurt for Aaron once again, I was overwhelmed with joy for what God had shown me.  God never lets me down, especially when I need Him the most!  I don’t deserve His kindness to me but I sure did thank Him for His hand on my shoulder that moment…His arm around me and His promise to be with me so fresh in my life as I sat at my desk.

His presence doesn’t necessarily take away all pain or grief.  But He sure does pour comfort over me.  And the certainty that He has a purpose for all that goes on with Aaron fills me with peace.

It’s not a peace based on my feelings.  It’s a peace based on my God.

I felt that same peace as we realized over the weekend that Aaron had probably damaged a back molar during his fall.  I took him to our dentist yesterday, who confirmed that the tooth was broken beyond repair.  Off we went to an oral surgeon, who thankfully was able to extract the tooth right away.  And there I sat once again, watching Aaron sit in another exam room for yet another procedure.  I listened to his questions that he asked the dental staff and that he asked me.  I watched his eyes focus an all the items in the room, processing each one in the way that he always does.  I hurt for his fear that he expressed.

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But I also thought of my travelling God, and how He was right there with us in that room.  I was thankful for that, SO much!  Thankful, too, for the sweet nurse who told me about her young son with seizures, and how we talked about prayer and our faithful God.

When all was done, Aaron was done…ready to lead the way out the door.  Ready for his large chocolate milkshake from Sonic – with NO straw!  Ready for his mashed potatoes and a few deviled eggs for supper.  Very ready to show Dad his tooth and the roots, placed in the little pink tooth box that he can carry around and proudly show to everyone.

Ready to take a walk, in his pajamas, with Gary and Jackson.

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Ready to bring me his treasure that he had found, and that Gary had explained to him.

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Ready to touch my heart with his lopsided, numb grin as he showed me the dandelion seeds.

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Ready to be used by God once again to show me so much, in ways he doesn’t even know.

What Is

It happened to me again several weeks ago.  An innocent conversation…a random comment…and I found myself having to corral my thoughts into line with some principles that God has hammered home to me over and over again for years. 

I want to be honest about what happened, but I also don’t want to alienate family or friends.  I don’t want anyone to think they can’t share their life with me.  So here goes.

This person was talking to me about his upcoming retirement, and then the plans that he and his wife had.  Later, as Gary and I drove away, I shared with Gary how I had that twinge of longing as our friend talked.  And how I knew better than to dwell on it and to therefore give Satan that opportunity he always looks for, the opportunity to push that door fully open that I have allowed to crack open, even just a little bit. 

You see, our life with Aaron is a life far different from typical couples our age.  Gary and I are not fully free to do many of the things that our peers are able to do.  And that’s OK…truly OK.  But sometimes the comparisons come, and if I am not careful then I can wallow in misery, and therefore open myself to sin and defeat.

The very next day…literally…after this conversation, I was at my desk as usual in the early morning.  I opened my Bible and my study book to the section of I Samuel that I was reading and was soon amazed at how God spoke to me in those quiet moments.

I read about Saul’s son, Jonathan, and his deep friendship with David.  Saul was the king of Israel, but because of his sin and disobedience, God had told him that his reign would end with him.  His family would not inherit the kingship.  This meant that Jonathan would never be the king.  But who would be the next king?  David…Jonathan’s dear friend.

Jonathan knew this.  He knew that he would never be king.  In fact, in I Samuel 18, Jonathan gave his robe, along with his armor and his sword, his bow and his belt, to his friend David.  This act was a symbol of the fact that Jonathan was surrendering any right he had to the throne…surrendering it to David.  And not only that, but Jonathan continued to be an even better soldier and leader than his father, the king.  Jonathan certainly behaved in a godly, kingly fashion, even though he knew he would never assume the throne. 

As Dale Davis says in his book, I Samuel: Looking on the Heart: “For Jonathan, then, the kingdom was not his to seize, not his to rule, but his to serve.”

And then this, which impacted me so greatly: “Maybe a tragic life isn’t tragic if it’s lived in fidelity to what Christ asks of us in the circumstances he gives us.”

Did you catch that?  Living in loyalty to Christ IN the circumstances He gives us! 

That’s what Jonathan did.  He lived royally even though he would never in reality BE a royal.  He lived in covenant relationship to God, faithfully, IN his circumstances.

This is exactly what I am supposed to do, every day.  I thought that morning of I Timothy 6:6, of what Paul told Timothy.  Paul said that “godliness with contentment is great gain.”  The note in my study Bible says that this is “an inner satisfaction with the situation that God has ordained for him.”

But how on earth is that possible, day after day…that inner satisfaction with situations in life that are so often very UNsatisfactory?!

This satisfaction is only possible when I realize that it doesn’t come from ME.  I can’t manufacture this deep peace.  Only God can do that in my heart as I surrender all my rights to Him and then obey Him by trusting Him. 

It’s realizing that God Himself loves me, and He is the One that has given me what I have in this life, hard as some of it may be.

My circumstances are not the hand I have been dealt.  My circumstances are not bad luck…or good luck.  They are not the luck of the draw.  Nor are my circumstances due to karma, or any other such nonsense that we sometimes are inclined to believe. 

God chose me and He saved me, and as His child I know that each occurrence in my life…every situation…is entirely under His authority and in His plan for me.  I know He loves me and I know that I can trust Him, totally, to do what’s best for me and what will cause me to give Him glory.  What a waste if I don’t!!

So when the pain comes to my heart and my life…when I’m inclined to settle in the negative thoughts and desires and questions that pop up so unexpectedly…I have the responsibility to do one thing right away.  That one thing is to talk to my Father and let His loving arms surround me with His peace.  And then obey, like Jonathan did.  Just live in obedience, step by step, and know that God will honor that obedience in my life.

He may not honor my obedience by taking away my situations, but that’s not why I am to obey. 

So the bottom line in all of this is just this: 

May my circumstances not dictate my response, but may my response be dictated by God’s character.

What is…is…because God is the One in charge.

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And He is a very, very good God.

 

 

 

 

 

What Went Wrong?

Today is National Purple Day for Epilepsy awareness.  We are well aware of Epilepsy in our home because of our son, Aaron.  Aaron is 33 years old and has had uncontrolled seizures since he was in the first grade.  We were a military family living in Germany when Aaron unexpectedly had his first Generalized Grand Mal seizure.

It was a Sunday afternoon when Aaron fell back into my arms, thankfully, and began seizing on our kitchen floor.  I had no idea what was happening.  I remember seeing blood coming from his mouth…later learning that it was because he had bitten his tongue…and I remember yelling for Gary, who rushed into the kitchen and began trying to help Aaron while I called an ambulance.

The ambulance ride to the nearby military clinic…then another ambulance ride to the German Kinder Clinic, which is what we called the children’s hospital…was all a blur.  Aaron spent several days in the hospital, where the German care was good but the language barrier and the differing medical methods and practices were very difficult.  But the thing we did understand was the diagnosis of Epilepsy.

Over the years we’ve tried lots of drugs and other treatments, including hospital stays for video EEGs and surgery to have a VNS implanted, but the diagnosis is the same…Intractable Generalized Seizures.

Intractable – meaning not easily controlled or managed.

Generalized – meaning that the seizures quickly involve the entire brain instead of one small part of the brain.

OK, lesson over.

Because what I really want to do is to share with you the incredible strength and resilience of our Aaron…and of many others I know who struggle with seizures due to Epilepsy or other causes.  And to also share the incredible strength of God that He gives when needed the most.

This past Thursday night, Aaron had a seizure shortly before midnight.  I heard it on the baby monitor that sits on our nightstand beside our bed.  He had another just after 2:20 a.m.  And yet another seizure at 6:45 Friday morning.

He got out of bed not too long after that, heading to the bathroom and turning on the shower right away.  He cleaned up while I stripped his bedding and started the laundry process.  Soon Aaron was in the kitchen, telling me of his bad headache and asking if he could have his coffee.

He spent most of the morning here, as is so usual after these clusters of seizures.

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When he was more awake and feeling better, and after eating a little, he wanted to go with me to pick up a few groceries.  He was happy to come home with ice cream and cashews and sparkling water, and happy to have supervised Mom in buying what she needed to make for his supper request…Lasagna!!

Aaron went right back to bed when we got home, in his for-real bed now since part of his bedding was back on.  And at 3:33 – since Aaron appreciates such precision…he had the hardest of his four seizures.  Yet amazingly enough, within 15 minutes, he was out of bed…though slowly…and was happy for me to finish putting on all of his sheets and blankets.

Aaron always helps me change his sheets, but I certainly didn’t expect him to do that this time.  I told him to sit in his chair, but he didn’t acknowledge me at all as he stood by his bed, ready to help.

This is what I find so amazing about Aaron.  If I had been the one just finished with my fourth seizure, I imagine that the last thing I would want to do would be to help put sheets on my bed.  It was so heartbreaking for me to watch him stand there, part of the time with one hand on his wall and the other on the headboard of his bed, completely out of it.  Then he turned and bent over, just staring at nothing.  He couldn’t talk well at all, but when he saw a wrinkle in his cover, he reached out to correct it as quickly as he could.  I smiled as I saw his autism come out even through his very fuzzy brain.

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He stood there by his bed during the whole bed making process.  He tried so hard to function…to think…to speak…to move.  All of it was such a demonstration of how impacting seizures are on the brain.

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And it was also a commanding demonstration of how tough and brave Aaron is.  How he fights to keep going!  How much he wants his world to be his version of normal, even though it is anything but that.

He only had one piece of lasagna for supper.  That’s because he couldn’t taste food…another sad side effect of seizures.  His hand and mouth tremored, too…yet another side effect.   Then there’s the drooling.  And on the next day, extreme dizziness and needing help to walk because his legs didn’t work right for a while.  Even on Sunday, his sense of taste hadn’t fully returned.

Medicines that help seizures have side effects.  What is what, we don’t always know.  But decrease or stop the meds, and the seizures increase.  It’s a complicated situation.

It’s a reality for far too many people…far too many families.

But I want to answer the question that Aaron asked me on Saturday as he talked about his seizures.  He sometimes verbalizes his thoughts in profound ways, especially when he is thinking about being born to live a life with seizures.

“Mom?” he asked.  “What went wrong with me?”

A heart-piercing question from my son.

So to Aaron I said simply, and say here as best I can:

            Dear Aaron, nothing went wrong with you at all.  God made you wonderfully, as He tells us in Psalm 139.  You are fearfully and wonderfully made.  You were crafted by God.  I don’t know why you have Epilepsy, but I do know that God loves you and He has allowed this for a reason…one that we don’t understand right now.  But God loves you, and so does Dad and so do I.  We think you’re strong and amazing.  Even on our most frustrating days, and yours, we know that we can trust God because we know Who He is.  He is Sovereign, which means He is in charge and He knows best.  We’re glad you’re our son, and we will always be thankful for our Aaron.

“And we know that ALL things work together for good to them who love God, who are called according to His purpose.”  (Romans 8:28)

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All Aaron!

I heard Aaron through the baby monitor early this morning.  He wasn’t having a seizure but instead was making the unmistakable sounds of getting out of bed for more than just a trip to the bathroom.  When he turns his lamp on and moves his stuff out of his desk chair…his two back scratchers and his hand towel – always, always in his desk chair…then I know that he is getting up for the day. 

UGH!!!  I knew it was way, way too early for him to be awake for the day because I had just rolled over, unable to sleep myself, and saw that it was 4:00 a.m.  I turned the monitor off, tried to sleep but couldn’t, and later just got up and began my day. 

I was sitting at my quiet time desk, Bible and study book open, when in walked Aaron.  Another UGH!  And I don’t mean to sound mean.  It’s just that Aaron will not leave me alone if he is up and about in the early morning.  Without even looking at him, I said, “Aaron, do NOT come in here right now.  It’s too early.”

Total quietness.

So I turned my chair around and there stood Aaron, some videos in hand, slightly smiling.  He looked very chipper and very fully awake, and very happy.  Much happier than Mom.  But I had to smile, too, at the cute look on his face.

“Mom, I got out of bed…” he began.

“Don’t even go there,” I said.  “I know you were up at 4:00.”

“4:11,” he flatly replied.

I had to belly laugh at that.  His precision is always so funny, even before 6:00 in the morning!

We talked and compromised, Aaron saying that he would go back to bed if I would make sure he was awake at 7:30 so that he could say goodbye to Dad before Gary left for work.  Agreed.

I thought about yesterday when Aaron and I ran into Dillon’s before I took him to his day group.  If possible, whenever we are in Dillon’s, Aaron always loves walking up to the fresh seafood and fish display.  He loudly points out the shrimp, lobster, crab legs, and anything else he finds unusual and therefore very interesting.

But yesterday there was a surprise!  Aaron was beyond excited to see two whole fish, Tilapia, laying there on ice. 

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“MOM!!!  LOOK!!” he exclaimed as he pushed his way in front of a little family also standing there.  “He’s ALL fish!!!” 

How I love the way that Aaron expresses himself…well, most of the time!

Gary and I can truly say…He’s ALL Aaron!

Like taking him to Subway over the weekend for a sub.  Subway and Great Clips are two places where, for some reason, his autism just shines.  There in Subway he told the young girl waiting on us all about Dracula since he’s getting ready to watch the old, old Dracula movie.  He asked her if she had seen the movie, did she know where Dracula lived, and how his voice “sounds like England.” 

I kept re-directing him to think of his sub and not Dracula, so he told the girl that he wanted the bread with the black dots on it.  I had told him the correct name since this bread is new to him, but he couldn’t remember that.  She looked confused, I tried to interpret, but Aaron by then was already asking her if she could show him a picture.  And on we went from there until finally we had the sub with black dots in hand and safely exited. 

Later, as he ate his black dotted sub, I asked him if he liked that new bread.

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“I like it!” he answered.  “It tastes weird.”

That’s Aaron…ALL Aaron!

His take on food is so interesting and funny.  Last night he was eating peanuts.  He is often fascinated, over and over, by the outer skin he sometimes finds. 

“I’m afraid to eat those outering parts of the peanuts,” he told me. 

And orange juice pulp – “This orange juice looks like it has worms in it!”

There he goes…ALL Aaron!

Today describing his observation at Great Clips – “You know what I noticed they do to those women?  They take them to that water place and put their HEAD in it!!” 

YIKES!!

All Aaron again!

I could go on and on sharing many insightful, funny, amazing, and embarrassing comments from Aaron.  I have tons, trust me!  So why do I share?  To make you laugh?  Cry?  Scratch your head…like we often do? 

It’s like this not-too-great picture I took of Aaron awhile back.  We had just gotten home after I picked him up from his day group.  Aaron LOVES to share with his friends, so on our drive home he was already asking about what goodies he could take the next day to share with Natalie, or Simone, or Heather, or….

He didn’t even take his coat off, but just sat down on the floor in front of the cabinet, pulled out the snack drawer, and went to work searching for his next treat to share.

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In much the same way, I want to share with all of you what a unique young man our special Aaron is.  There are so many varied parts to Aaron.  Some parts I love to share, and others I may want to hide, but they all make up who our son is. 

Autism is not the end of the world, honestly. 

Instead, it can be the beginning of another world…a quite amazing journey.

And so I want to say to each of you –

“LOOK!!  He’s ALL Aaron!”

 

What Time Is It??!!

So today I have another Chicago song rumbling around in my brain.  A couple weeks ago it was the song “Color My World” that I wrote about.

But today…today it’s the song, “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?”

The chorus begins:

Does anybody really know what time it is?

            Does anybody really care?

Stop right there!!

Yes, somebody cares!!!

AARON CARES!!!

For anybody new to my blog, Aaron is our amazing adult son with autism.  And keeping the correct time is of paramount importance to him.  I mean, look at his log book that he keeps with his time to go to bed at night and the time he gets out of bed in the morning.

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And many of you still chuckle with me when I share conversations similar to this:

Aaron:  “Mom!  I woke up early this morning!  Guess what time I got up?”

Me:  “You got up at 7:00.”

Aaron:  “No!!  I got up at 6:58!!”

Aaron loves keeping his eye on the time, the PRECISE time!  Therefore, this change yesterday to Daylight Savings Time caused a huge bump in his road of exact time keeping.

And that’s why I waited until he and I were driving to Sam’s Club in the early afternoon to even casually broach the subject of another time change.  He listened and then didn’t have much response, but I’ve learned not to be fooled by his silence.  He was pondering this unwelcome news with each ticking second of his wristwatch…his wristwatch pushed way up his arm, always, for those of you who may not know that little fact.

His Sam’s food treasures kept him from dwelling too much on the time issue.  Pineapple slices…cheese cubes…dry roasted peanuts with sea salt (Aaron likes using their full description!) (and talking about what dry roasted means until Gary and I are sick of the topic of dry roasted peanuts with sea salt!)…strawberries…orange juice…and dog jerky for our big Great Dane, Jackson.

Once home and all unloaded, Aaron went out with me to the front yard.  He kindly picked up branches that had fallen in our last wind storm.  We praised him for his helpfulness, and how he was allowing Dad more time to work on our bathroom remodel.  Or as Aaron puts it – “tearing the bathroom.”  He was very proud of his job well done.

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And then it hit him.  The afternoon was moving right along.  We were going to watch our West Virginia team play Kansas at 5:00.  Aaron asked about what time the game started, which reminded him of that time issue discussed earlier, and the countdown began.

“Mom?  When do we change the time?”

“We’ll just change the clocks when we go to bed, like we always do,” I told him.

This question was asked in one form or another several times during the evening.  Then it got complicated.

It was 8:30ish when we finished watching a program.  “Maybe I should go on to bed,” Aaron said.  I suggested that we watch one more thing, and then he could call it a night.

“But when does the time change?” he asked again.

“Well, technically it changes during the night when we’re asleep, but we’ll set the clocks ahead when we go to bed,” I replied.

He was satisfied with that.  We watched one more NCIS and then it was definitely time to hit the sack.  Aaron ran down the stairs to say goodnight to Gary, remembering to have Dad change the time on his wristwatch.  We got all the bedtime routine taken care of, with Aaron pushing up his sleeve every minute or two to check the ever important time on his watch.  His eyes were darting, though, to the time on his satellite weather station.  We had told him that the time there would change automatically during the night.

Finally, he pushed up his pajama shirt sleeve, stuck his arm out for me to see, and said, “Mom, look.  It’s this time on me.”

He was struggling with having one time on his watch and another time on his weather station.  Nothing I said was helping much.

Then…THEN…the inevitable happened.  It was time for Aaron to write down his time to bed in his log book…and the time on his weather station did NOT jive with the time on his watch.

What to do??!!!

He wrote down the time displayed on the weather station.  I said goodnight.  I should have known it was not over.

Nine minutes after he went to bed, I heard his heavy footsteps coming up the hallway.  Soon there was a knock on the bathroom door.

“Mom?” he asked.  “Is it really 9:47?”

“Yes, Aaron, but during the night it will change while you’re sleeping.  Now go on to bed and don’t worry about it.”

Off he went.  I think it was 9:48.

I was starting to breathe easy, but I shouldn’t have.

More footsteps.  Another knock.

“Mom?  Is it really 10:03?”

Bless his heart.  These things are so, so urgent and of such great importance to him.  I dare not dismiss them or shrug them off or make him feel like he’s ridiculous to be so tied up in the stress of what time it really is.  Gary and I know to explain over and over, if needed…and it almost always is.  Small price to pay, really, for Aaron’s peace of mind and for ours.

All was well today.  Aaron was super excited to eat lunch at Carlos O’Kelly’s, so it appeared that all the time issues had been laid to rest last night, at the same time that Aaron finally decided to rest.

I think it was 4:43 when we were all walking in from the garage…and Aaron spied the time on the garage door opener.

“Dad!  It says 3:43!!”

And in no more than a couple seconds, maybe three, Gary had gotten that garage door opener in sync with Aaron’s watch, Aaron’s weather station, the microwave that Aaron had just watched me change, the oven, the radio…

So…

Does anybody really know what time it is?

            Does anybody really care?

Silly song!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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Lessons From the Lone Tiger Lily

In our back flower beds we have two patches of Tiger Lilies.  They were there when we bought this house 15 years ago.  Every spring they faithfully poke their shoots out of the ground and quickly grow.  Sometime in early to middle July they burst into bloom, with their bright orange color taking center stage for several weeks.

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This year was no exception, but somehow I thought they didn’t appear to be as strong and as vibrant as in other years.  They bloomed later this year, too.  They just didn’t seem to be the same old Tiger Lilies that we had enjoyed in previous years.

A couple weeks ago we had a thunderstorm during the night.  Between having the windows closed, the air conditioner running, and the dulling effect of sleep, it was hard to tell just how strong the wind blew or how hard the rain fell.  I got up that morning, and as soon as daylight hit I opened the kitchen blinds.  Instantly I saw it……the patch of Tiger Lilies, stripped bare of their pretty petals and standing there with nothing but their fading leaves.  The storm had blown off all the petals.  They looked stark and ugly in the morning light.

Every single Tiger Lily stalk was stripped bare of its beauty……except for one.  There in the midst of all the sad stalks was one lone Tiger Lily that still carried its orange petals.  It was actually only one part of a stalk, but there it was, alone with its blooms…….standing tall in the midst of all the damage surrounding it.

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That lonely Tiger Lily stood there for days, even through several other storms, with its petals intact.  And every time I looked at it I thought of a verse and I pondered the lessons that this little Tiger Lily was teaching me.  The verse:  “Be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might.”  And the lessons are many.

I’ve never seen a time when so many are so burdened.  I see it in the world……ISIS, Syria, Gaza and Israel, Ferguson…..I don’t need to keep that list going.  Even the death of Robin Williams hit many people deeply.  It’s exhausting to watch the news.

And then closer to home, in our own families and lives, so many are facing issues of deep concern.  Death, illness, financial hardship, marital stress, worries about children, pressures of all sorts, hurts and disappointments……

I don’t mean to sound depressing, but this is just how life is right now for so many.  And even for those of us who walk by faith, who trust in the Lord, who try to lean on Him for our needs…..we can find ourselves overwhelmed and ready to just give up.  We feel as battered as my bare Tiger Lilies……like our beautiful petals are just about to turn loose and leave us stark and alone.  Why read our Bibles?  The words seem empty.  Why pray?  I don’t feel like God is listening and my mind wanders.  Why obey?  Where has it gotten me?

These are lies of Satan.  These are his ways of stripping us of our beauty that Christ has given us, just like my ugly Tiger Lilies that I saw that morning.  I find it very interesting that Paul, when he was encouraging the Philippians to keep maturing in their faith, told them to press forward……to forget what’s behind and to reach toward what lies ahead.

Listen to this contrast in Isaiah 1, where Isaiah was describing sinful Israel.  He said that they had abandoned the Lord and turned away from Him.  Guess what that phrase “turned away” means?  It means to estrange themselves backward.  Going backward…….pulling away from the Lord and going backward instead of forward.

There’s my single Tiger Lily again……standing up and standing strong no matter what was going on around it.  Even when all the other Tiger Lilies let go and gave up, this one stood strong…….like he was pressing forward instead of going backward.  And that’s what we need to do.  Don’t give up when things get tough!  Stay true to God…….keep reading His word…….keep praying…….keep obeying…..keep walking in His ways…….keep trusting.  We may not feel like it.  We may be tired and discouraged.  We may even doubt God.  But don’t go backward…..keep going forward.  Keep your blooms on!

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It reminds me of a verse from the old hymn, The Solid Rock:

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.

 

Stand tall.  Stand strong.  Look forward.  And keep your petals on!

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