Toy Soldiers!

RCHS BAND 2015 LANDON GODAUTISMANDME 12-2015When I first saw the kids in their band uniforms the first thing that came to mind was toy soldiers. I’ve always been fascinated with them, ever mesmerized by all the Nut Crackers scattered about this time of year. The march of the toy soldiers from the old Disney Classic Babes in Toyland must have really made an impression on me. Somehow toys and life in general seemed a lot simpler then.

Now that I’m a grown up, my “Toy Soldiers” require a lot more than a few turns of a key to keep them going. People always say how parenthood changes you. As a new parent, you nod your head and think defiantly, yeah that’s what you say but none of that will ever apply to me.

Fast forward seventeen years. The children I once thought would never take over my life have inevitably taken over my life. Nearly every decision is made based on its impact on them. My “babes” that were so easily shuttled around and slung on my hip are now at least a foot taller than me and have schedules of their own. Winding them up and letting them go would be easy but life is not like that.

We can’t control our kids. We like to think we can but we really can’t.

Their thoughts are their own. We contribute to their development, but never control it. They are their own unique little beings individually and purposefully made.

Kids can be moody. They have good days and bad just like us. Pleasing their parents isn’t always priority. Children have agendas and interests of their own.  Imagine that!

My children have taught me how to bend without breaking. They have pulled me so far out of my comfort zone I no longer know what that is.  They have shown me how to laugh instead of cry. They have forced me to learn how strong I can be and that my weaknesses don’t weigh me down. They love me with all my imperfections and have taught me how to do the same.

RCHS BAND 2015-16 CamI’ve heard it said God sent His Son to earth not only to save us but to experience every imaginable emotion and pain. I think to some extent our children do that for us. Our kids make us love like we’ve never loved before. They also cause us to pray like we’ve never prayed before.

It would be easier if I could wind them up and they would obey my every command. But what growth would come out of that? For them or me?

In this season of giving, give thanks for the gift of children. Parenting is not easy. At times, it is brutally hard. However, we never have to go it alone. Even when it didn’t feel like it, God was there every step of the way.

God can do the same for you.

Merry Christmas!

Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them. Psalm 127:3 NIV

College Search!

We have been busy in our household helping our senior with his college applications. Lan has been quite interested himself in the application process. He stated, “When you’re done with him then we can get started on me.”

I easily recall wondering if this kid would be able to graduate high school. Now, these many years later, he is thinking about college.

Lan has always struggled in school. Though very bright, he can’t always verbalize what he knows. Years ago, when people would ask about possible plans for the future, a wave of dread would come over me. Now, I’m just waiting to see what happens next.

I learned from a close friend who happens to be a college professor that more and more colleges are incorporating transition programs and assistance for people with learning and developmental disabilities. I did a bit of research and actually found a few. Yet, many of the programs were in the Northeast part of the country. We live in the southeast. The idea of just sending my “baby” twelve or more hours away doesn’t sit well.

I eventually stopped worrying about it and decided God will make a way.

STAND TALL blessed devotional 10-2015Well, last night I came upon this article, “Students with special needs get own program at University of Georgia.” 

Now UGA is only about forty-five minutes from me. The article also mentions another school with a similar program that is only an hour away. It looks like there is a realistic pathway for Lan to “go off to college,” after all.

Years ago I never imagined the programs now available in higher education for kids like mine.

But God knew.

Sometimes when we are overwhelmed and it looks like situations are hopeless we must trust God for the answer.

I’m learning this more and more as Lan tackles things that were once impossible. The leaps and gains he has made have been miraculous. I suspect the progress made would never have come about if we held on to every negative word spoken over us.

I stopped looking at the statistics and looked for God to make a way.

A poor progress report can no longer push me into a state of panic. I keep telling Lan he is smart and can do whatever is required.  I truly believe Lan does better because we expect better.

What if that same principle applies to God?

I’m not sure what the future holds but I’m holding fast to God and expecting great things.

How about you?

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1 NKJV

But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Hebrews 11:6 NKJV

Homecoming!

Unlike Marie who quickly made herself at home in my yard, many of us have a hard time “fitting in.” You don’t have to be on the spectrum to experience this.

I am habitually wary of most new surroundings or people until I eventually “settle in.” It doesn’t usually take that long, but it is long enough for those who don’t know me to find me a bit aloof until I compose myself.

Last week was Homecoming at the boys’ high school. Lan has casually mentioned the dances the last two years but this time he was intent on going.

Freshman year took all of our collective energy to survive.  Slowly, Lan began to thrive sophomore year. He made great gains, yet for those two years Lan was more of a spectator than a participant.

This year Lan’s participation in marching band has upped his confidence. He is no longer afraid of the upperclassmen since he now one of them. He wants to mingle and socialize more.

Our question for him was, “Are you mature enough to go to the dance?”

He quickly assured us he was.

The hubby and I had to think on it for a bit.

Bullying is no longer a worry, nonetheless, I’m remiss to put my child and his enthusiasm into any situation where he can be taken advantage of or become someone else’s entertainment.

Thankfully, big brother was also going. It was now or never. I’m sure Lan was forced to listen to fifteen minutes of dos and don’ts as my oldest drove them the short ride there.

I was nervous but Lan won’t learn how to interact in various social situations if we never give him the chance.

The older the kids become, the more I realize I can’t keep them in a safe bubble, as tempting as that may be. It would only do them a disservice and keep them from becoming all they can be.

Anxiously waiting, I finally heard the garage door go up and both boys came rushing in. I asked Lan if he was mature while he was there.

He gave me a sly grin and nodded. Then added, “Most of the time. I kinda of got a little crazy at the end.”

The oldest child/third parent quickly chimed in, “probably something to do with the dance circles he instigated.”

Dance circles? Do I even want to know?

Lan behaved himself well enough to satisfy big brother.

And I was very happy for him.

Lan has progressed beyond looking in from the outside to becoming an active participant in high school. He has overcome his fears and gained confidence in what he can do.

This year Lan feels like he belongs.

Isn’t that what most of us want? To belong somewhere?

Anyplace that is safe, familiar and you can take pride in evokes feelings of home.

Marie homecoming Godautismandme devotionalIt may not happen for us as quickly as it did for Marie, but it can happen.

When we allow faith to fill us instead of fear, we can be “home” no matter where we are.

The curse of the Lord is on the house of the wicked, But He blesses the home of the just. Proverbs 3:33 NKJV

Take A Break!

Even busy bees need a break.

Take a break featured photo 2 God autism and me 10-2015 devotionalI found this bee napping in my flower pot. He was very much alive, just resting.

We had a chance to rest this past week as my kids enjoyed their Fall Break. And I must admit, I enjoyed it too!

The break relieved me and my husband from our normal sleuthing duties of determining if there is homework, has the homework been done, and you have how many exams this week?!

There was no morning rush to get out of the house on time and with everything essential.

Staying up late to finish homework?  Didn’t miss that either. Band practices that linger into the night?

Pleasantly absent.

Lan enjoyed his “vacation.” He could always study more for sure but at a certain point enough is enough.

The progress report he will receive upon returning to school Tuesday isn’t half bad. It’s not exceptional, but at this point “not bad” is great!

You see, this is a year to“stretch” for Landon. He is accountable for much more such as harder classes, band competitions, the practices that go with them, in addition to those other things we are trying to impart in him to make him more mature and self-reliant.

As he watches his older brother prepare college applications, Lan is increasingly giving thought to his future. He has made it very clear on many occasions he doesn’t plan on living with me and my husband.

We’ve told him that goal will take maturity, growth and much effort on his part. His response has been to act more mature and look at a larger picture he’s never bothered to view before. Trying to get him to this goal has put us all in a whirlwind it seems.

Yet, sometimes when so much is required of us and it feels like everything is swirling around in every direction, the only way to get on top is to stop.

Stop running.

Stop worrying.

Stop relying solely on our own abilities.

We can’t continuously go, go, go if we don’t take time to recoup and recharge.

We often push our loved ones so they can do more and be more but those efforts must be balanced.

BALANCING ACT BLESSED DEVOTIONAL 9-2015There have been times in my life were I wasn’t balanced at all. My sense of urgency didn’t move Lan any farther ahead. In fact, it was when I finally relinquished the control I “thought” I had that we both made huge gains for the better.

So if you haven’t been given a break, take one.

When our final days do come, I doubt any of us will wish we spent more time running around like crazy people trying to meet arbitrary goals dictated by people we will never meet.

Instead, take time to appreciate the color of fall leaves.

Live in moments of laughter.

Cast your cares.

Be still.

Rest.

Follow God’s example. If He took time to rest, we should too!

And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. Genesis 2:2 NKJV

Exempt!

Junior year has been one of conquests and challenges. Lan conquered the trials of marching band. He not only survived but thrives in the experience.

Yet, challenges loom as well. Lan is in harder classes this year. Thankfully, his teachers wants him to succeed as much as we do.

The most daunting challenge was getting Lan’s class schedule “fixed.”  

Last year, I proactively met with Lan’s counselor to ensure that his classes were appropriate. The counselor suggested anatomy instead of chemistry. Lan has already taken the mandatory sciences required to graduate. We thought it was a great plan.

Well, about three weeks ago we learned Lan was in the “wrong” anatomy class!

When he came home saying he needed scrubs for lab, I knew something was not right. Apparently someone enrolled him into the class for kids pursuing a degree in healthcare.

Panicked, we contacted the school and they changed his class. I figured we would muddle through catching up on the five weeks he missed.

I was not looking forward to it.

Another week later my husband meets with the “new” anatomy teacher. We learn his class is identical to the one Lan just left! The new teacher changed the scope of his class to mirror the other class.

Out of the furnace into the fire.

Eventually, we get Landon placed in an Environmental Science class. I ask him about his teacher. The only answer I get is “She’s cool.”

Visions of late nights, unending homework and struggling to catch up haunt me. I ask if his teacher gave him any work to start on so we can catch up.

He looks at me with a pained face and utters, “She exempted me.”

I nearly shout for joy.

He is responsible for learning the material but she isn’t going to make him to complete past assignments.

Webster’s defines exempt as “being free or released from some liability or requirement.”

Grace and mercy came to mind.

Grace kept me sane as we went back and forth with the school.

Grace kept Lan’s biggest advocate at the school long enough to get this rectified. She informed us yesterday she’s leaving for a promotion.

Grace is what the ES teacher gave my child when others couldn’t be bothered.

Exempt God autism and me 9-2015Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Hebrews 4:16 NKJV

I admit that there have been times I didn’t go boldly to the throne.

I may have been drug there.

Hopefully, I’m wiser now.

I never doubted God would resolve our “dilemma,” I just wasn’t expecting a painless resolution.

Merciful.

Our scheduling fiasco was a timely lesson not to anticipate the worst, but to instead acknowledge and receive God’s grace in all situations.

I must also remember to give grace as eagerly as I receive it.

Schools in!

May the Lord make me eager to learn.

Labor Less!

“Come to Me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and My burden light.” Matthew 11:28-30 NKJV

In my struggle to relinquish my control freak tendencies, I rely on this scripture time and time again. I learned that I don’t have to conquer my corner of the world in my power.

There was a time in my life where I was working very hard to give my children all my attention. I worked long hours. Then on my days off would I try to cram days of lessons in with Lan, never wanting him to fall behind his peers.

These efforts only brought forth fatigue on my part and frustration on his. When I was at a point when I could no longer do this, a funny thing happened. Lan’s grades improved.

I had no choice but to trust God. I didn’t have the time to prep Lan for those standardized tests. All those practice books went unused. I was at the mercy of his teachers to give him everything he would need.

I was tired. My job was wearing me out. I was trying to balance the needs of two kids who are polar opposites. I was attempting to be a real life “wonder woman” meeting unrealistic expectations I had imposed on myself.

Finally at this point of burn out, I stopped struggling so much and gave it a rest. I prayed more and worked less.  I found the more I trusted God, the more He did for me.

When I finally stopped running myself ragged and was still, I could hear Him.

I found comfort in the fact that I really don’t have to know it all.

When I don’t have an answer, I now trust God first. Whatever I need will find me.

It wasn’t the quickest transformation, but I don’t want to revert back to where I was.

Casting my cares has been liberating. I am sometimes amused, wondering just how God is going to work certain things out.

black butterfly blessed devotional 8-2015So, If you are tired, burned out, or at a loss, don’t wait years like I did.  You will accomplish more when you trust God instead of your own efforts. Choose to rest and labor less!

Upperclassmen!

The heart of the prudent acquires knowledge, And the ear of the wise seeks knowledge. Proverbs 18:15 NKJV

My kids just left the house for their first day of school. It is the last year they will do so together. This year, there are no first day jitters (for them or me). The transition to upperclassman is quite welcome.

Lan’s head is up with confidence. In fact, I think he is relishing no longer being handled with “kid gloves.” I’ve finally learned I don’t have to micro manage every detail.

Upperclassman God autism and me 8-2015He will be in the same music class as his brother so that should be…interesting!

They have both done well “detaching” their identities from one another. Yet, I hope this year as they share their marching band experience it will leave them closer than before.

We’ve both come a long way from that first day of high school when I started this blog. We have stretched a bit and hopefully grown wiser.

So, for those of you anxious about your school year, here are a few things I learned along our walk along the spectrum.

God can provide exactly what you need. It may not come how you expect it but any void that is lacking God can surely fill. God put the people we needed in our lives years before we really needed them. If you have faith, God will direct your steps.

There are angels among us. We have received favor and help from the least likely of sources. The people you think will ignore your child will later go to bat for him. Teachers, support staff, janitorial and other students all helped us along the way.

Advocate for your child. No one is going the extra mile if you aren’t leading the way.

Your worse fears rarely materialize. I am ever prayerful. I am also ever watchful! We’ve had to navigate a few bullies, but we survived unharmed.

Be involved! If you can’t be involved then don’t be a stranger. If your first time at school is due to a problem, rarely will things go your way.

Cut yourself some slack. If your child falters in some area it isn’t the end of the world. Stressing out only makes it worse.

Be willing to change. What worked one year won’t necessarily work the next. Kids grow and change just like we do. Don’t waste time trying to reclaim yesterday.

Utilize your resources. Lan has been the only student in tutoring class many times. On the upside, it got him one on one instruction!

Learn to step back. You will never know what your child can do if you don’t allow him to succeed and fail. This was hard for me. Still, Lan learned to thrive and not just survive!

Lan learned to work smarter.

My faith stretched farther.

My youngest wasn’t the only one learning these past two years.

And for that, I am grateful.  

God, autism and me Upperclassman 2 8-2015If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
James 1:5 NKJV

March On!

Lan completed a daunting band camp last week. To say he was thrilled is an understatement. Last week’s practice involved twelve hour days that quite frankly I wasn’t sure he would endure.

However, older brother said Lan managed just fine and didn’t once complain about the scorching temperatures. I guess all those years of karate strengthened his body and God miraculously managed the rest. Lan was probably the only kid disappointed that the rigorous camp did not continue into the next week!

Years ago, camp with a hundred or more students would have been unthinkable. Now, many years later, it’s no big deal.

I think as we pray for the changes we desire that will help our kids succeed, we often feel disappointed because we don’t always see the changes.

Still, just has the calm surface of a lake hides the activity beneath, our loved ones can change mentally and emotional as we are none the wiser. When we don’t see the changes we seek, it doesn’t mean they aren’t taking place. Just as we don’t always “see” God, it doesn’t mean He is not in our midst.

MARCH ON 2 GOD AUTISM AND ME DEVOTIONAL 7-15Talents and interests we may be completely unaware of may actually become a catalyst for change. I probably didn’t realize just how much Lan enjoyed music until a few short years ago. Now his musical interest has given him the opportunity to become a participant in something larger than himself and to do so successfully.

Marching band is an enjoyable physical outlet that forces Lan to stay focused on the expectations of good grades and study skills required for his participation. More and more, he is beginning to realize just how capable he is.

I’m not sure if Lan will follow a “traditional” path of high school and then straight to college. Nevertheless, I hope his love for music and art will find him a place where he can not only develop his talents but even get paid for them.

Do I have concerns about his future?

Most certainly I do.

However, I am learning to step out of fear and look forward to whatever God would do with Lan and through him.

Could I have imagined his current success all those years ago when school left us both in tears?

Not even close.

Yet, prayer and faith have opened doors we never would have dared knocked on before.

As God has been faithful in so many things, I must trust Him with our future.

Prayerfully anticipating whatever lies ahead, Lan and I simply march on!

I returned and saw under the sun that—
The race is not to the swift,
Nor the battle to the strong,
Nor bread to the wise,
Nor riches to men of understanding,
Nor favor to men of skill;
But time and chance happen to them all.  Ecclesiastes 9:11 NKJV

Lucky!

The following is an abridged version of story I wrote about our cat “Lucky.” His full impact on us and our journey along the spectrum can’t fully be put into words. Lucky prompted Lan to initiate conversation. Lucky also taught him responsibility. I strongly recommend parents of any special needs children to consider a pet. Their contribution is often priceless. 

One Lucky Cat!

I don’t like cats. 

To my dismay, the children I was desperately trying to get ready for school abandoned their oatmeal to see the pretty kitty.

Annoyed, I began shooing it away with a broom, and trying to coax it off my deck. I glanced beyond the cat only to find both boys staring at me like I’m Cruella Deville.

I take a deep breath and bite my tongue. At this point in my life I’m mentally fried. Two kids under the age of four, a husband who travels all week and I’m running late for my new full-time job!

I grudgingly decide I can teach my kids a lesson in compassion. Besides, the last thing I need is for Cam to go marching into school and telling everyone I tried to kill a cat. From previous experience, I’m confident that would have been his translation of the morning’s events!

So… I grab a can of salmon and stick it outside the door. By this time it seems that the cat is gone. I’m grateful, yet annoyed I just wasted a can of salmon.

When we return that afternoon, the first thing both kids do is run toward the back door. No cat, but the food is gone. I’m thinking the cat has found its way home.

No such luck.

Over the next couple of months this cat increasingly comes to my house. It doesn’t just come, it lingers.

Reluctantly, I finally concede. How much trouble can one outdoor cat be?

I never get to find out.

I come downstairs one morning to find my husband standing in the kitchen holding the cat….and a litter box!

By the way, he doesn’t like cats either.

One huge vet bill later, I name the cat Lucky. It’s a bit of a stretch for a black cat, but it saves him from being named after a Ninja Turtle.

By now, you’re probably thinking what does this cat have to do with God, autism and me?

I learned God sometimes answers prayers in the most unexpected ways. It is around this time that my four year has prayed for his brother Lan to talk.

Lan would occasionally say a word here and there. Yet, once Lucky entrenched himself into our home, Lan became more talkative.

“Where’s the cat?” “Can I feed the cat?” “Lucky where are you?” 

Lucky Raphel 7-15-15 ripLucky helped draw Landon out of his shell.

He hasn’t been a perfect cat but he’s come close.

As the kids watched television, I was horrified one day to find Landon’s pillow wasn’t a pillow at all. It was the cat!

I started to fuss but then realized Lucky wasn’t trying to get away. He looked up at me with those big yellow eyes as if to say “it’s okay. I don’t mind.” He then he turned away from me and back to the kids.

His kids.

Lucky worked his way into my heart.

The world didn’t end when I found him snoozing on my “good” sofa. Or, when I woke to find him asleep beside me… in my bed!

Did I mention, I don’t like cats?

I don’t know that I’ll ever consider myself a “cat lover” but I certainly love this one.

God’s answers to our prayers aren’t always how we expect them. Blessings and miracles often arrive in disguise.

I almost chased away one of mine.

Not all angels have wings. Some have paws, of this I am sure.

Lan is now a teenager and talks up a storm.

I look back on it now and realize we didn’t do the cat a favor at all.

We were the lucky ones!

**Rest in Peace “Lucky” Raphael, you loved us well!

A merry heart does good, like medicine, But a broken spirit dries the bones. Proverbs 17:22 NKJV

Believe!

Today my youngest son will attend his first day of marching band camp. To say he is thrilled is an understatement. I will admit I’m rather proud of him and share his enthusiasm. Getting to this point was a long time in coming.

You see, he has watched his brother perform for the past two years all the while longing to be on the field himself.

Freshman year marching wasn’t an option. We had a huge transition from middle school to high school without the familiar safety net of teachers to watch after him. There was no way my little grasshopper among giants could have withstood the onslaught of people, sounds and orchestrated chaos that comes with marching band.

Fast forward two years later and my grasshopper is now one of the giants. Now six feet tall, my “little” guy has grown not just physically but mentally as well. He is no longer overwhelmed by the masses of students. He can now manage his classes with the help of tutors.

It was only a few years ago that I couldn’t imagine his participation was possible even as I prayed otherwise. Thankfully, my prayers preempted all “rational” reasoning.

Years ago all the “facts” dictated that Lan was hardly a candidate for marching band.

He was uncoordinated, not very strong and easily distracted. The rigor of long practices with a hundred or so other kids would have been impossible.

But with God all things are possible.

Sometimes we rely so much on reports, grades, IEPs and diagnoses that it prevents us from imagining what God would do for us.

I am slowly learning that the sum of my blessings is proportional to my faith. My only limiting factor is me.

Time and time again God surprises me when things look hopeless. My audacity to dare and believe creates a “yes” when everything else points to “no.”

I’m learning not to allow how I feel to dictate what I believe.

Feelings are fleeting.

God’s Word is eternal.  

If we allow the imperfections in our lives to overcome us, we will never have faith enough to recognize and receive God’s best!

We may allow ourselves to be labeled by autism yet, it is crucial to have faith enough not to be limited by it.

Dependency on ourselves will always leave us wanting. However, God is more than enough when we trust that He can and He will.

beleive 2  God, autism and me 6-15 devotionalOur “situations” don’t have to leave us hopeless. We can instead allow them to direct us to different viewpoints and possibilities.

Listen to your gut.

Listen to God.

It is only what He says that truly matters.

His Word and our faith create the best outcomes.

 Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” Mark 9:23-24 NKJV

Faith Hope Courage

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