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The Blessings Beyond Measure of Loving a Handicapped Child

The gift of learning to love unconditionally.
The gift of realizing that life is about becoming the person we alone were created to be.
The gift of learning to want all others to succeed in their own journey.
The gift of sheer joy over small, but difficult accomplishments.
The gift of living in the present.
The gift of freedom from image and others’ opinions.
The gift of your best self being called forth.
The gift of patience.
The gift of tenderness toward all who are vulnerable.
The gift of humane values.
The gift of courage.
The gift of seeing beauty in those different from yourself.
Anyone who has not been blessed with the opportunity to love a handicapped person, needs to attend a Special Olympics to experience these gifts.
The moment of pure grace for me was when one of the children fell down in his race and the other runners all turned back to help him up. And every child was thrilled with finishing the race no matter in what order they came to the finish line. Each parent cheered equally hard for every child in the race, not just for their own.
The greatest blessing is realizing that life is not about winning, but about loving.

The Healing of Our Autism

Because one of our grandchildren was diagnosed at two years of age as suffering from Autism, I’ve attended many classes and conferences on the subject.
The documentary Looking for Me of dance therapist Janet Adler working with two pretty little girls, who were severely autistic, seems to me to illustrate beautifully what God has done for us by becoming fully human in Jesus.
One of the girls was close to three years old and the other was almost four, when they began therapy. Neither of the girls had ever wanted anyone, even their parents, to hug or hold them or even touch them. They made no eye contact. In fact, they didn’t respond to anyone’s presence except to try to keep their distance.
One little girl walked on her toes while waving or shaking her hands. She was in constant motion. Even when she tired, she would sit on the floor rocking back and forth. The other little girl made strange little movements with her fingers, curling them in and out and shaking her head a lot and sometimes standing, licking the wall. Neither child paid any attention to her own reflection in the mirrors in the large dance room or to the therapist.
The therapist worked with them separately. She put music on and just stood to the side. Slowly she began to copy their movements, watching them carefully, so she could get it right. She skipped around the room on her tip toes along with the one child, but giving her plenty of space. When the child sat down and held herself, rocking back and forth, the therapist sat in front of her, but at a ‘safe’ distance, and did the same thing, until the child did something else. She copied the hand movements of the other little girl and even licked the wall.
This went on for months.
Very gradually, the children let the distance close between her and them, but never touching. Slowly, you see them watching her intently and changing behaviors to see if she would. They began to look less tense and even began to seem to be enjoying the ‘interaction,’ such as it was. Finally, in a breath taking moment, when the therapist and the child are skipping side by side all around the room, we see the child reach out and take the therapist’s hand as they are skipping.
Soon, the other little girl, when she and the therapist were sitting facing each other almost in touching distance, suddenly got on her knees and reached over to put her arms around the therapist’s neck and even snuggled her head on her shoulder.
Both children progressed slowly to sitting on her lap, establishing eye contact, and even feeling her face and body over and over, like a baby learning the shape of her mother. Then and only then, they began to notice themselves in the mirror and to spend time looking at themselves, turning away and coming back over and over. They would touch their reflection, lick their reflection, see their movements copied, touch their own face and body, connecting the feeling with the reflection and finally smile at their reflection. Then, they would move back to relating to the therapist.
In the last video the children would hug and snuggle and smile and laugh and play and dance with the therapist.
The video didn’t say when or whether they began to talk, but it did say that they began to relate to other people also.
Can you imagine the joy of their parents?
Do you think perhaps God’s (and the universe’s) joy is like that, when we finally accept unconditional love and begin to respond?
It seemed to me, that the therapist in reflecting the children, took on their limits. She communicated not only acceptance, but even a valuing of who they were. She spoke their language and walked in their skin with them, freeing them to grow in the safety of that relationship. Finally they were able to generalize from that relationship and risk the vulnerability of relating to others.
It seems to me that God, through fleshing out His love in Jesus, has shown us that he not only accepts us, He understands our humanity from the inside out, that He knows first-hand what a rough gig life is. He says to us, like the therapist to the children, “You are not alone.” Then He loves us gently and patiently into wholeness, or holiness, freeing us to love ourselves in our imperfection, and thus, to then risk the vulnerability of loving one another.

The Incredible Blessings of Loving a Handicapped Child

Learning to love unconditionally.
Realizing that life is about becoming the person we alone were created to be, no more and no less.
Freedom to want everyone to succeed.
Experiencing sheer joy over another’s small, but difficult, accomplishments.
Recognizing the gift of living in the present moment.
Freedom from living for image or other’s approval.
The gift of our own best self being called forth.
The gift of patience.
Developing tenderness toward the vulnerability of others.
The gift of seeing beauty in everyone.
Developing humane values.
Growing in courage.
The greatest blessing is learning that life is not about winning, but about loving.

Ode to Those that Climb the Mountains of Disabilities

A granddaughter and a great-grandson graduated from different high schools this weekend.  They each beamed with pride as did I.  It has been a long and arduous journey for both of them.  One suffered the confusion of spoken language that Autism brings and the other the confusion of written language that Dyslexia causes.

They were blessed because they each had caring parents and grand-parents, special teachers and even therapists. But ultimately the challenge was theirs and no one else could do it for them.  They made it because they persevered.

I never was sure that the hours I spent trying to help them made anything easier for them, but it formed a bond for me with them that will always keep them in my heart in a deep tender spot soft from tears unshed and I pray that I will always be in theirs, even when I’m no longer here.

Their journey isn’t over and neither are the challenges they face, but their graduation days mark an accomplishment that few can understand.  Often it has meant struggling with things that seemed simple to others, so their amazing achievements went unnoticed and unsung.  And because their differences set them apart, they often walked alone, unnoticed and unaffirmed.

But those of us that have shared their journey know that while others jumped small hurdles, they climbed mountains to get to the same goals.

We saw and heard the fears, discouragement and frustration they overcame, so we celebrate their achievement as unsung Olympian Medalists in courage, determination and perseverance.

The Gifts Beyond Measure of Loving a Handicapped Child

The gift of learning to love unconditionally.
The gift of recognizing that life is not about competition, but about becoming the person we alone were created to be.
The gift of wanting others to succeed in their own journey.
The gift of awesome joy over small, but difficult, accomplishments.
The gift of the present moment.
The gift of freedom from living for image or others’ opinions.
The gift of your own best self being called forth.
The gift of patience.
The gift of tenderness toward all those who are vulnerable.
The gift of humane values.
The gift of courage.
The gift of seeing beauty in those different from you.
Every person who has not been blessed with loving a handicapped person, needs to attend a Special Olympics to experience these gifts.
The moment of insight for me was when one of the children fell
down in his race and the other runners turned back to help him up.
And every child was thrilled at finishing their race, even if they were the last to come across the finishing line.
And every parent cheered for all the children, not just their own.
The greatest blessing is learning that life is ultimately not about winning, but about loving.

Autism Awareness: An Ode to our Hadley

An Ode to Hadley…….Who makes life shine for me even on my worst days.

This is Autism awareness month. It helps me remember how far my granddaughter Hadley has come and how much of that is because of her parents. They got her cognitive therapy very early, helped her communicate with sign language and build verbal language on that, and they have given her every chance they could, even now at sixteen driving her across town to a peer Social Group. Her journey has involved all types of therapy, tutoring, meds, hard decisions, time, money, courage, perseverance and love. And every bit of it is visible now in her competence and kindness.
She and I talked today about Autism making language skills take longer to learn, but that she is persevering and getting better and better at reading and speaking and understanding language. We talked about how competent she is at visual learning. She watches people do mechanical and electronic things and seems to be able to do them immediately with confidence. She knows that I am not good at that sort of thing, and she often steps in to save me the struggle. We have a road sign Bingo game she played on the hour trip to my house as part of preparing her to learn to drive. She picks up on the visual signs and their meaning very quickly. She simply doesn’t give up.

Two days this week with Hadley:

Several days this week, I felt really good and managed to get a lot done toward getting our house ready to put on the market. Saturday was not one of my best days, but when my Tylenol kicked in, Hadley and I got the carport and entrance area blown off, hosed off, and spots scrubbed!! I just directed and helped
move stuff and unwind the hung-up hose. Hadley was awesome. I had blown and vacuumed the porch and washed furniture and toys on Friday, so I just poured soapy water on the porch floors and Hadley scrubbed with a push broom. Finally everything dried and we put the furniture back in place. What a difference her help makes! She loves clipping shrubs and I had planned to let her do some today. but I did a little a day or so ago and I’ve got what looks like some spots of poison ivy in among my psoriasis and heat rash!! So we will skip that! Later after dinner, Hadley, energized by tacos, was determined to earn more money. She went back outside to work on something for granddad for another hour. I headed to a hot bath. Couldn’t eat tacos, because I broke one whole side off my upper back tooth, the tooth that anchors my upper front teeth. Oh happy day!!

This morning, Sunday, I was paying for Friday and Saturday with aching muscles, allergies, sinus headache, inner ear dizziness and nausea, the cracked molar, poison ivy on my right inner arm, and a pinky nail torn to the quick…..just some of the joys of being seventy-six.
But in spite of all that, I was amazingly happy, because my heart rejoices in Hadley. She is so kind and helpful, extremely patient, and very self sufficient. She even accepted graciously that I couldn’t take her to the mall like I had promised. How many teenagers with hard earned money in their pocket would be gracious about delaying the gratification of shopping? Never-the-less a teenager who struggles with Autism. She has come so far, fixing her own meals, being careful to put down a mat when eating at my desk, and cleaning up after herself, often even spontaneously hugging me and telling me she loves me.

Thank you God and Tommy and Heather for the gift of Hadley.

Blessings of Blogging

The last couple of weeks have been full of tests of faith. I always fail tests of faith. Luckily, God seems to grade on the curve and I am not alone in being in his “slow to get it” class.

At seventy-seven my husband is still working six, nine-hour days a week. But since he now spends quite a few minutes a day looking for his glasses, the phone book, and his computer passwords, it seems like an uphill battle against the law of diminishing returns.
Being self-employed has meant that our retirement is what our investments have managed to accumulate over a career that spanned a couple of serious recessions and raising five children. Unfortunately our timing for retiring hits before those investments have had time to recover from the most recent recession.

We finally decided that the only way he could at least cut back on his work days was if we sold our house and office and moved to an apartment with an extra bedroom as an office. Week before last we met with a realtor to set this in motion. However, after three days of going through fifty years of architectural drawings stored in the office basement, my husband’s allergies to dust and mold sent him to the hospital fighting for breath and too shaky to walk on his own. Eight days in hospitals on steroids and antibiotics, after having numerous tests, have finally brought him home breathing, but still weak and wobbly. I considered just covering him with a spread while he lies on the couch, and warning potential buyers to not sit there, but I finally took pity and postponed showing the house.

I confess that I too am exhausted from staying overnight at the hospital, overwhelmed by the challenges we are facing, and am very nervous about a biopsy I have scheduled for next Monday.
This morning I wearily crawled out of bed, got some coffee, and went on-line to one of my favorite blogs, Unshakeable Hope.

This blog is written by a husband and father with ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. He has had this for over seventeen years, since his children were young. He is now paralyzed and only able to write on the computer with his eyes.
His blog is honest and real, not at all pollyanna like, but his faith always overcomes his doubts and fears. Today’s post was Prioritizing Our Hopes and spoke perfectly to my situation. What a blessing. I was both humbled and strengthened.

Another blog that has touched and changed my life is everyday gurus which was the launching pad for B4Peace, a blogging group writing about peace. This challenged me to start with myself and has brought about significant forgiveness and reconciliation in some important broken relationships.

Another is Yogaleigh’s Not Just Sassy on the Inside, which has added a call to other bloggers to pray or chant for peace each Sunday evening, including praying for specific people that we find unloveable. See her post Collective Prayer Sundays. Attempting to be faithful in this has continued my process of healing and reconciliation that started with B4Peace.

This in turn has motivated me to support and participate in a Scripture based class in conflict resolution using the book Resolving Everyday Conflict by Ken Sande and Kevin Johnson.
And this book has introduced me to Peacemaker Ministries and their resources that are available through http://www.Peacemaker.net

Another blog, Raising 5 Kids with Disabilities and Remaining Sane has given me awesome insights and deep hope for one of my grandchildren who suffers from Autism.

There are many other blogs, such as Make Believe Boutique that have touched, challenged, and taught me in amazingly diverse areas and ways over the last fourteen months. Blogging continues to enrich, inform, bless, and even transform my life at seventy-six.

Blogging is like reading favorite books exactly when you most need them and being able to talk with the author at the same time.

Gifts of Age (Part Seven): Aging Like Fine Wine by Dancing in Our Hearts

Dance of Youth

New bottles seldom hold particularly fine wine. Likewise, the gifts of age don’t come in teenaged bodies. On the outside I’m a short, plump, white-haired old lady on a walker. But inside me still live all my younger selves. And the imp inside has gotten braver with the passage of time, so I challenge other little old ladies on walkers to races and to consider themselves armed and dangerous. I plan to get tee shirts that say, “Bare Toes Beware” and “I Can Do Anything You Can Do, Just a Whole Lot Slower.”
Being in my mid-seventies, not only means that I’ve run out of a future full of possibilities, it also means that I’ve actually seen the consequences of some of my major screw-ups in my younger years. And part of my spiritual journey has involved developing enough self-awareness to recognize a self-serving element even in the good things that I do. Parting with delusions is a painful process, but like most difficult things in life, it has an up-side. It eventually makes it easier to live lightly, unburdened by carrying pockets full of stones to throw at others. All those cracks in my façade make that quite hazardous.
Letting go of physical agility and mental acuity as major parts of our self-image is one of the most frightening challenges of this part of the spiritual journey. When I was young and lithe, one of my few natural talents was ballet. In fact, I often expressed my emotions through dance. Once, I danced in sheer joy at the awesomeness of God, while reading The Well Springs of Life by Isaac Asimov. He used several diverse sciences, that study both the macrocosms and the microcosms of the universe, to trace the incredibly orderly and unifying processes of evolution in all aspects of creation. Even such a small glimpse of the brilliance and glory of God was almost blinding. Verbal praise was simply not enough. This cried for praise with my whole self. I put the book down and danced to express my overflowing  joy.
I can no longer physically dance, nor do I have enough mental energy or short term memory to explore complex scientific descriptions of the glory of God in His creation. But age brings simple moments of grace that lift my heart and mind to dance on butterfly wings.
A grandchild whose journey through autism began with learning a few simple signs to ask for basic needs, now keeps me awake chatting past our bedtime. As I pray for energy to stay awake, I dance with delight in my heart at having this once unimaginable experience.
In another part of my series, Gifts of Age, I describe the timely sight of a cow-pile covered in golden Monarch Butterflies just as I was telling God that I was up to my neck in manure down here and asking where the heck He was in all this.  What a perfect symbol of grace.  Butterflies, the classic symbol of transformation, happen to need certain chemicals found in manure.  Problems that go beyond our human ability to solve can open us to God and the grace to grow.

And, believe me, old age is full of that kind of fertilizer.

Dwindling energies and a sense of time passing at warp speed force me to re-evaluate my priorities. Where do I want to focus my limited resources? On image? On possessions? On my aches and limits? On pleasure as a temporary distraction? On a past that I cannot change? On a future that may never come?  It seems more important now, to focus on recognizing the footprints of God in my daily life, on celebrating God’s presence in the small and ordinary, even in the heartbreak, and to share that awareness however I can.

No matter what our age is; today is the only day we actually have.  We can seize it, rejoice in it, and  dance in our hearts.