To Notice or To Ignore

The other night, Aaron and I were watching a DVD as he munched happily on his jar of peanuts.

“Mom!!” he suddenly exclaimed.  “What’s this on my dry roasted and salted peanuts?”

That by itself was funny, the way he says the complete name of the peanuts printed on the jar. Of course, Aaron sees nothing unusual about that at all.

WP_20180225_14_06_34_Pro

What WAS unusual, to him, was the little thing that he held up for my viewing.

“What’s what?” I asked as he held something miniscule up for me to see.

So Aaron quickly pushed back his blanket, crawled out of his chair, and stood beside me with his open palm carrying the mystery object.

Before I could tell him what “it” was, Aaron decided to first inform me of what he thought “it” was.

“It’s the cover that’s on some of the peanuts,” he told me.

This isn’t the first time that Aaron has called the thin skin on peanuts a “cover.”  It had been awhile since we had carried on this conversation.  I therefore told him once again that the “cover” was actually a thin skin that remained on some of the peanuts after they were processed.

“A skin?” he asked.  “Can I eat it?”

I assured him that he could eat it.  Later, after he had gone to bed, I found several peanut coverings on the table…ones that he had set aside, not to be eaten along with his dry roasted and salted peanuts.

WP_20180224_16_28_35_Pro

Yesterday, Aaron and I ran down to Dillon’s to buy him some lunch.  There in the entry were some little Girl Scouts selling their Girl Scout cookies.  Aaron had walked ahead of me, so as I grabbed a cart one of the girls focused on Aaron.

“Would you like to buy some cookies?” she asked him.

But Aaron had spied the salad bar.  At that moment his entire focus was on lettuce and cheese and boiled eggs and lots of ranch dressing…not on little girls with yummy cookies for sale.

Aaron completely ignored the girl’s question as he barreled in the open door and headed for the salad bar.  I was hurrying after him, because Aaron is sometimes a disaster at salad bars.  My job is to keep his fingers out of the tempting toppings, his head out from under the plastic shield, and to minimize spillage as he insists on “doing it myself!!”

But as I rushed by the sweet little scout, I definitely saw the look on her face.  She was confused by Aaron; for many reasons, I’m sure.  One of the big reasons, though, had to have been the way he completely dissed her and her question.  She was totally ignored.

I smiled at her as I scurried by, thanking her and saying no thanks, and wondering what she must have thought.

I survived the salad bar with Aaron, even as he told me I was rude for taking the tongs away from him as he spilled first some lettuce and then some cheese, and as I yanked the ranch dressing bottle from his hand before he squirted half of it on his salad.  A man was awaiting his turn, and as I turned to walk away he just smiled at me.  Aaron does have a way of becoming the center of attention no matter where we are.

I grabbed a few more items and then we went through the self check-out, me reminding Aaron over and over to stand beside me.  No wandering off to inspect other’s purchases, engage a random stranger in conversation, or sit down at a Starbuck’s table up the aisle while he ignored the worker who asked him if he wanted something.  All of the above…and more…he has done, trust me.

It was easier this time, though, because Aaron was keeping his eyes on his salad.  After I had paid for everything, he took his salad and held it in his two hands.  He walked this way out of the store, holding that salad ever so carefully, as if he was carrying a delicate Ming vase that he dared not jostle at all.

Aaron was once again so focused on his salad that when the young man who was overseeing the self check-out spoke to Aaron, Aaron once again totally ignored him.  And once again I saw that look on the employee’s face, the look that mirrored the one on the little Girl Scout.  A moment of confusion at being dismissed in such fashion.

But I also saw the young man’s face relax with understanding as I was sure he was quickly processing the reality that is Aaron.  And as I walked by, I spoke to him as I chuckled, and he broke out into a huge grin.  He got it!

How is it that Aaron can pay attention to a tiny little peanut “cover” while totally ignoring human beings who are speaking to him?

Elementary, my dear…elementary.

Autism.  Pure and not so simple.

Aaron often notices what we don’t notice, and ignores what we do notice.

When it comes to ignoring people, we can be downright embarrassed at times.  And then there are those times that it’s probably better for him to not notice certain people.

Anyway, the complexities of autism take many years and many experiences to understand.  Plus each individual is just that…an individual who is unique in how autism presents itself in their life.

That’s why it’s called a spectrum.  A “broad range of varied but related ideas or objects.”

Except Aaron is not an idea or an object.  He is a unique and varied human being, one who delights and engages and ignores and yells and frustrates and…

Well, you get the picture.  At least I hope you do!  Because then you can smile more as you enjoy the broad and varied view.

 

 

 

 

Lessons From the Carrot Patch

Gary and I were doing lots of outdoor work one autumn weekend, partly because it was our neighborhood clean-up time and partly because the coming winter was urging us to ready our gardens before the cold weather hit. On Saturday I had been clipping and yanking out the dead growth in the flower beds. There was plenty to do and the piles were filling up our big outdoor trash can quickly. I had decided that if I had time I should visit the vegetable garden to see what I could pull up there. It was certainly time to be done with it, tidy it up for winter, and begin dreaming of a hopefully better vegetable season next year.

 
For several days I had been thinking about what I would try to clean up over the weekend and it hit me that I hadn’t even checked the status of our carrot patch. I had walked by our dying garden several times lately and had seen the sparse, stunted growth of the carrot plants. They were very unimpressive and hardly merited a second thought from me. The familiar lacy growth did remind me of the time several years ago that we first planted carrots. I was so excited about pulling up carrots that I became very impatient and was checking every few days to see if any had grown underground. One evening Gary, the kids, and I were outside when I stepped once again in the garden to bend over and do a little digging in the carrots. I gasped when I saw a large, orange protrusion in the dirt. A huge carrot!! I scooped back more dirt, reached down to pull it out, and discovered a very large and very fake plastic carrot. And out in the yard was some very loud laughing from my very amused family! They got me!

 
I grabbed my garden bucket from the garage, stepped over our little used-to-be electric wire fence into the garden, and walked over to the small carrot patch. We had planted quite a few carrots this year but many of them had died in the brutal heat and the awful drought of that past summer. I wasn’t at all hopeful that these measly few plants would produce anything of significance. They were hardly worth the effort, I assumed. Plus I remembered the beautiful, lush potato patch from earlier in the summer and how its yield was laughable and disappointing. Surely I could expect no more from this puny little row of struggling carrots.

Wichita-20111015-00327

I bent over and gave a pull – and was surprised to see a pretty orange carrot slip out of the dirt. Well! After several more pulls and several more carrots, I was greatly encouraged. Certainly these were not state-fair-worthy carrots, but they were far better than what I had expected to find. Gary helped finish out the row with a pitchfork and we ended up with a healthy little pile of carrots. Despite their small size and their dirty exteriors, they were a delight to us – an unexpected gift at the end of our difficult growing season. And guess what I had just bought the day before when I shopped for groceries? Yes – a bag of carrots! O ye of little faith, I thought.

Wichita-20111015-00330
I must admit that I am so often attracted to what is outwardly appealing, like the lush growth of our potatoes that fooled us into believing we had a bumper crop of delicious spuds. In reality they were only showy to the eye but had no substance and no real growth. It can be so tempting to participate in the ministries that are evident to all but to neglect the ones that are considered menial or boring. Or to not give much time or attention to people who are marginal to us – who maybe even annoy us. Can we lend a helping hand; make a phone call; fix a meal; send a card; clean a toilet? Sometimes God takes away the up-front, public ministries to put us in a place where we struggle; where our efforts seem puny and small, unnoticed and unimportant. Everyone gathers around the public persona but the unimpressive one is rarely given a second thought. Who wants to be a little dirty carrot when we could be a big, beautiful tomato that everyone looks at with pleasure?

Wichita-20111015-00328
But God knows the work that is being done away from the public eye, the glory that is being given to Him through the efforts of those that He is using to quietly further His kingdom work. Paul talked to the Corinthians about this in I Corinthians 1:26-29: “For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God.”

 
All ministry with pure motives is valuable to God, but if our lives are changed for whatever reason and we find ourselves feeling like our work is sparse and we struggle with insignificance, may we be faithful to grow and serve where God has placed us. Remember that the work God is doing underground will one day shine for His glory and praise.

 

 

Other’s Colors

Do you remember that old song, Color My World, sung by Chicago?  I’ve always LOVED that song!  The meaning of those lyrics takes on a different hue when I think of our life with Aaron, and how he most definitely puts his own color on everything that we do. 

For instance, on Sunday after church I took Aaron with me to our local Dillon’s.  The grocery store is one of Aaron’s very favorite places!  Every aisle is full of discovery to him.  And since those discoveries involve his taste buds, he is especially eager to go along if offered the opportunity. 

Sunday was a chilly day, but not a super cold day.  However, Aaron decided that it was super cold, no matter what I said.  So he walked outside to the van with his toboggan perched goofily on his head and wearing his thick winter gloves.  I could have insisted that he take them off, but after suggesting such, he still wanted to wear his arctic garb and so I just let it go.

We went in the store, and as I headed to the pharmacy, Aaron veered off to explore the candy and snack aisle.  No surprise there!  When I veered up the same aisle to join him later, I had to laugh at the sight of him standing there examining the selection of peanuts. 

WP_20180218_11_24_29_Pro

He did not think it at all unusual to still be wearing his hat and his gloves.  Nor did he think it at all unusual to talk loudly when he saw me coming toward him. 

“Mom!!”  he bellowed.  “I’m looking at the peanuts!!”

And with that update, he proceeded to bend over to examine the jar that he thought he wanted.

WP_20180218_11_24_35_Pro

And then he had to stretch his arm out to retrieve the perfect jar.

WP_20180218_11_24_49_Pro

“See, MOM?!” he continued to bellow.  “These are lightly salted!  Is that good?”

I assured him that this jar was a great choice, and off we went to the self check-out…where he proceeded to talk to the attendant there about his lightly salted peanuts, in his commanding voice and his even more commanding presence…hat and gloves still included.

Sometimes it’s easy to be embarrassed by Aaron.  He doesn’t need the funny hat and gloves to be noticed, trust me!  So on this day, as he was even more noticed than usual, I just smiled and tried to see Aaron through fresh eyes…to relish how unusual he is…and to enjoy the moment.

The colors of that moment could have been red from my red face, and maybe my face was slightly red some of the time.  But that’s OK.  A little red doesn’t hurt me one bit! 

Another aspect of my colorful life with Aaron has been the joy of getting to know other moms of special needs children and adults.  The special bond we share is a rare treasure.  It’s very encouraging to walk the same path with others, though none of us would wish our circumstances on them.  But here we are, together on this journey, and our shared experiences make us all stronger. 

One of those friends, Joyce, has a particularly rough path as she mothers two adult sons with very significant special needs.  I truly am in awe of what she must handle on a “normal” day, much less on the kind of days she has had lately.  One of her sons had his wisdom teeth removed.  Then sickness hit the family, including Joyce and both her special sons.  Intestinal…respiratory…fevers…seizures…many, many sleepless nights. 

Her world is most certainly colored right now with the colors of poop and puke and puffy eyes, to be honest.  So on Sunday afternoon, I called her and I asked if she might want to escape for a bit…go somewhere and catch a breath of fresh air.  Change the colors a bit.

“Yes!” she said.  And a short time later, when I pulled into her driveway, she strode out to my van with a big smile on her face.  I was amazed, though knowing Joyce, I shouldn’t have been.

“Look at your smile!” I told her as she climbed in. 

“Well, I know what I want to do!” she happily declared.

I was expecting her to name a restaurant…or a park…or maybe the mall. 

“I would like to go to Dollar Tree,” she continued, “and get five vases.  Then I want to go buy some tulips and take them up to Oxford Villa.” 

And again, this woman amazed me.  Oxford Villa is a senior assisted living center where her mother used to live.  Joyce wanted to take some vases of flowers there for some of the residents who might not have anyone who loves them and brings them flowers.

Wow!! 

Joyce, I thought, needed some color in her life.  But instead, she wanted to GIVE some color to others!  I was so touched by her unselfishness!  So impacted by yet another lesson taught to me by this dear friend!

Instead of sipping a coke or coffee while eating a piece of dessert somewhere, I watched Joyce buy pretty colored vases and then examine the beautiful colors of tulips at another store.  We realized that Sunday was not the best day to deliver the flowers, though, so that job will be completed another day.  I hope I can help make that delivery!

Sometimes the best way to mix up our colors in this all-too-demanding life of parenting special needs children…or any other part of life that is draining you…is to look beyond yourself and see the needs of others.  To reach out and help carry their burden while taking your eyes off your own for awhile.

There was joy for me in watching goofy looking Aaron find just the right jar of peanuts.

There was joy for me in watching Joyce’s delight in finding just the right colorful vases for some unknown, needy seniors. 

Looking beyond ourselves causes us to see so many stunning colors that otherwise would have remained hidden. 

It’s so worth the effort, even with red cheeks or through tired eyes!

Thank you, Joyce, for your wonderful and colorful friendship!

untitled

A Heritage Worth Leaving

We hated to do it, but the time had come.  Our last two remaining pine trees had, or were, succumbing to Pine Wilt disease. 

WP_20171002_11_49_45_Pro

WP_20171002_09_53_36_Pro

The destructive nematode had done its dirty job and now it was time for the tree service to come in and do theirs.  It’s always sad to see once beautiful trees that have stood for years come crashing down in a matter of minutes, then chopped up and hauled away like so much trash.

WP_20171002_14_40_13_Pro

WP_20171002_16_09_03_Pro

In our front yard lay the biggest heartbreak, though.  Our one remaining evergreen…we called it our Gumdrop Tree…that we had decorated every Christmas for many years was dying as well, so down it came and off it went. 

WP_20171002_16_10_19_Pro

WP_20171002_16_16_18_Pro

Just like that.

Gone.

No evidence remains of our once gorgeous trees.  Every piece was cut down, cut up, and driven away in huge trucks. 

Even the stumps were ground down.  Gary finished the clean-up in the following days, planted grass, and that was the end.

I thought of these scenes the following week when I was reading in my One Year Bible.  This phrase jumped out at me in Jeremiah 16:19:  “…our ancestors left us a foolish heritage, for they worshiped worthless idols.”  (NLT)

I instantly thought of my role as a parent, and have pondered since then the sad prospect of a foolish heritage.  My role as mom and Gary’s role as dad has drastically changed over the years. 

We have gone from this:

10321645_10151991825936895_990989796717116957_o

To this:

15181450_10153839935696895_7437498101379347333_n

And it all seems to have happened so very quickly!

Plus…we are planning a wedding this year!!  Yes, Andrea and Kyle are to marry in October!! 

So I see with my own eyes the passage of time…how true is the scripture that says all flesh is grass that withers away.  Like a flower that fades, God tells us.

That’s quite a reminder that life passes quickly.  The picture of our fallen trees was a stark example to me of that truth.  Once stately and strong, they are now gone. 

But I am not that tree.  Though my life may fly by quickly, I have the opportunity to leave a heritage behind, especially to my children. 

To young moms and dads beginning on this journey of parenting, I would encourage you to be intentional as you set out to raise your children.  Live with the end result always in mind, as my friend Jill loves to remind young mommas. 

What will matter most when your children say that dreadful goodbye and leave your nest?  I can tell you that it isn’t whether they have mastered a sport or a musical instrument.  It isn’t whether they have excelled at school and have college scholarships awaiting.  It isn’t that they have tons of friends and a super active social life. 

What matters most is their personal relationship to Jesus Christ.  What matters most is their mastery of God’s Word.  What matters most is that they have owned their faith. 

We leave our children a worthless heritage when we focus our time…our energy…our money…our every effort…on things that will not matter one whit to their eternal souls.  Sports, music, grades, friends, a social life…these have their place, but they are not to take THE first place in our child’s life.  And it’s up to us as parents to guide their focus to what holds true value in their lives, even when they don’t see it that way. 

What useless idols do we worship as we raise our children? 

Fame?  Money?  Popularity?  Technology? 

It’s so easy to get sucked into the mold of this world, thinking that these issues are all important while we ignore the eternal and the spiritual. 

Foolish heritage.  What a tragedy! 

Don’t let that be said of you, dear young parents.  Start now to look ahead to the end result…to think of where each activity and each focus of your child’s life will lead them. 

Remember that God also said:  “The grass withers, the flower fades, BUT the Word of our God stands forever.”  (Isaiah 40:8)

Now that’s a heritage worth leaving!

CYmzdZkUoAEAFt6

 

 

 

 

Lessons From the New Sprouts

Written several years ago: The seasons where we only see gloom and coldness are really the times that we have an opportunity to rest under the care of our heavenly Father.

He Said What?!

Yesterday was a beautiful first day of spring.   The bright sunshine belied the fact that we may get some snow this weekend.  Ah yes, spring is a fickle time of year for sure!  By this time of year, everyone is ready for the cold, gray days of winter to give way to the bright colors of spring.  We are ready to listen to the happy chirping of birds and to enjoy the fresh smell of spring that is somehow in the air.  Snow is not something that we look forward to when everything in us is longing for warmth and for open windows and walks in the great outdoors.
 
I’ve become used to looking outside and seeing our brown flower beds.  They are full of faded mulch and the ugly stubs of once pretty flowers.  I didn’t get the dwarf crepe myrtles trimmed back last fall, so those tall…

View original post 782 more words

I’ll Be Your Friend, Part 2

I wanted to quickly share with you another sweet Aaron moment from today.

I wrote yesterday about Aaron’s sad day on Tuesday, but how that episode confirmed to him that he truly does have wonderful friends at his day group.  Here’s the link to that blog – I’ll Be Your Friend

He not only gave Natalie a card yesterday, but he also filled a baggie full of Cheez-Its for her, which he happily carried with him to Paradigm that morning.  I’m sure he was all smiles as he handed that baggie to Natalie. 

WP_20180130_19_13_05_Pro (2)

But he also has another friend there, one who is on a very restricted diet.  Aaron has often felt sorry for her and has wished that he could give her some of the snacks that he takes to share with others. 

When Aaron took his baggie stuffed with Cheez-Its yesterday, he asked Barb if he could give some to his friend, H.  But Barb said that he couldn’t due to her strict diet.  But, Barb added, H. could probably have four or five of those crackers. 

And so today, before we left for his day group, this is what Aaron did.

WP_20180201_09_39_55_Pro (2)

Five Cheez-Its, just for H. to enjoy all by herself.  To me, this is a picture of simple kindness.  I love that beneath all the complex layers of Aaron’s personality and of his autism, he has a heart that loves to give to others. 

Gary and I have talked occasionally over the years about how, when Aaron was young and we lived in Germany, we met with a professional.  This man talked to us about Aaron.  We were pretty offended by some of the things he said…things about how Aaron would probably never go to college, get a big job, yada yada yada. 

So O.K.  Aaron hasn’t been able to do many of the things that his peers have done.  But today, Aaron put five Cheez-Its in a little baggie for his friend, because she can only have five.  He didn’t find a cure for cancer…or put a man on Mars…or finish his fourth doctorate.

But he made his friend, H., very happy. 

And my mother’s heart is as proud of him as a mother’s heart can be. 

I’ll Be Your Friend

I pulled up to the curb in front of Aaron’s day group yesterday, a little early to pick him up at the end of his day.  Soon Aaron walked outside, heading toward the van, followed by Barb.  Barb is like Aaron’s second mom.  She is also a manager at Paradigm.  Sometimes Aaron wants Barb to come out to talk to me so that she can tell me something fun about Aaron’s day.  However, fun was not part of our conversation on this day.  I realized this right away as I looked at the tears on Aaron’s face when he sat down beside me in the van. 

“Mom!” Aaron choked out through his tears.  “Natalie got mad at me and called me…….”  And on and on he talked, his voice thick with emotion and his hands rubbing together in frustration. 

Aaron loves to give his money to his friends, especially to Natalie, and it’s sometimes a real problem.  Aaron isn’t supposed to give away his money, and Natalie isn’t supposed to ask him for money, and when they are found out, it can be touchy.  Both Aaron and Natalie have trouble controlling their emotions when things get stressful, which certainly happened yesterday.  Words spill out…tears are shed…accusations made… 

If you close your eyes, and if the voices were far younger, you would think that once again we were on the school playground trying to settle a spat between two kindergartners.  But these are two adults, who because of their special needs happen to, at times….many times….still operate as little children. 

Aaron was being very dramatic, which showed me how much his giving heart was hurting.  He had done wrong and tried to deny it.  Natalie had done wrong and got very mad at Aaron.  Both were hurt and upset.  But Aaron…his heart wants to give everything he has to his friends and when it all messes up, he feels betrayed and lonely and adrift.

“I don’t have any friends,” Aaron sadly declared as his voice broke with emotion.  “And I don’t want to come back tomorrow!!”  Just then, standing behind Barb, came the voice of Koren.  She’s Aaron’s friend, and though at times she’s hard to understand, I clearly understood this.

“I’m your friend, Aaron,” she said.  “I’ll give you a hug.”

So Barb stepped aside and Koren gave Aaron a dear, kind hug along with a few pats on his back.  It was just the sweetest thing!!

Aaron and I sorted through the story with Barb before finally pulling away from the curb.  But soon Aaron said he had left his billfold with Barb, so I quickly turned around and drove back to Paradigm.  I went inside, and when I came back out, there was Aaron leaning inside the van that held Natalie.  I was concerned!  But as I stepped closer, I heard Natalie say, “I’m still your friend, Aaron!” 

Aaron backed out of the van, his face a picture of relief…and Natalie’s face alight with a smile. 

Later Aaron, as he so often does, asked me if he could give Natalie a card the next day.  After saying he didn’t want to go to Paradigm the next day, I knew that wanting to take a card was a good sign that he was softening about going.  So I found a card for Aaron and he carefully wrote Natalie a note…a short note with a huge message.

WP_20180130_19_12_23_Pro (2)

We all need a friend, don’t we?  One thing that amazes me at Aaron’s day group is to walk in and see the interactions of these special adults.  They love being and having friends, just as much as you and I do.  Life is so very hard for them, harder than I can even begin to imagine.  Sometimes it would be easy to feel sorry for them, sorry to the point of tears. 

But then I see them welcome Aaron when he walks in the door.  I see their smiles, their hugs, their concern for each other expressed in various ways.  I see Aaron welcomed and loved, even after having a hard day previously. 

His friends there are a picture of love and acceptance.  I don’t see jealousy or judgment or bullying.  Maybe those things happen at times.  But there, among all the varying special needs and all the medical conditions…from wheelchairs or braces…with halting speech or deaf ears…curled hands and bent bodies…I see so often the joy and the love of friendship. 

That scene has touched my heart more than I can express.  I would love to share pictures, but privacy issues won’t allow it.  So you must take my word for it, and try to imagine it yourself. 

Sometimes the most needy ones are the ones who give to each of us a picture of what we need the most. 

Genuine, unconditional friendship. 

WP_20171030_10_25_08_Pro 1