Goodbye to summer (with a few observations)

Taking time to thoughtfully think back about summer before rushing into fall. We’ve already finished almost a month of school, so the summer season for us has officially ended. Emily Freeman encourages other writers to join her on her blog to record what you’ve learned before stepping into another season. I like this approach because if we never reflect on the mundane to the serious, we miss learning from our own experiences, or just to be thankful for what was. Even if you don’t formally make your own list to share, consider jotting down a few things to see how God has provided and blessed your life.

 

  1. June is the best month of summer

The weather in Alabama has yet to reach full humidity and still pleasant enough to enjoy the outdoors. Excitement over the weeks ahead filled with no scheduling or school chauffeuring is at its peak. June is the month I want to do all things summer like eat watermelon, ice cream, take a trip to the beach, and pack as many pool days to the Y as possible.

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  1. I read more during summer vacation

It seems counterintuitive since a lot of my time is spoken for during these months. But reading (especially fiction) was how I relaxed best in my downtime. Jesse and I also visited our local library about once a week so that heavily contributed to my reading habit.

 

  1. Spiritual growth usually happens so slowly you barely notice it

 I usually equate change with results that are immediate or easy to see. But my spirit doesn’t operate that way. Some days I’ve wondered if God is actively at work in my life at all. Recently I was flipping through old journals from 5 years ago. I am not the same person I was then.

As I read those entries I can see now how God used life situations and relationships to shape who I am today. Little by little (sometimes at a snail’s pace) His own are transformed into the likeness of Christ. The best part is God’s promise to not quit on us until He has finished His purpose for us. His faithfulness to me prompts my heart to stay faithful right back.

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  1. Summer vacation is the hardest and sweetest time with my son

 I don’t know how two opposite realities are held together but they do. Jesse is my only child and 6 years old. Most days I am his main playmate and friend. While we did attempt a few play dates over the summer, his autism prevents typical social interaction with his peers, so it is honestly easier to keep things simple with just the two of us on outings.

Completely exhausted at the end of each day, I also realized that this was a season to cherish. He won’t always be this age, this size, forever. Jesse is still young enough where he wants to cuddle occasionally and spend time together. I don’t take that for granted but genuinely give thanks to God for the sweet moments – and even the hard ones. It may be messy, but summer vacation with my son is a very good gift.

 

  1. Laughing relieves stress and keeps me sane

 One of Jesse’s major struggles is his inability to sleep through the night. He either has a hard time falling asleep, staying asleep, or both. By default, I usually wake up when I hear him in the middle of the night, if not multiple times. By the second or third time, I am fully awake and have made the couch a makeshift bed for the remainder of the night.

I start scrolling through Instagram at 3am and find accounts dedicated to parent humor 🙂 Being able to laugh as a parent is key to not losing your mind when things don’t go well. I’m entertained for a while as I wait to drift back to sleep on the lumpy couch, my mood and outlook on life in motherhood a little brighter, and even funny.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

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Loving the Summer You Actually Have

We are right in the middle of our summer vacation. Maybe you and your family have gone to the beach, the swimming pool, played outside, grilled out or piled in the car for a road trip. We traveled to the beach at the beginning of this month which was a treat because we had not planned to go. Summer usually brings to mind ideal images of fun and sun, but it isn’t always like this. Summer vacation with children is not one big ray of happy sunshine the entire time. I know this, so by mid-May I was mentally preparing to “sink or swim”.

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I’m genuinely thrilled to spend this time with my son, but also slightly terrified. As the fun increases, so does the workload for mom. There is generally about a week of mental transition for me to shift my attitude in how I approach these “lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer”. I want to enjoy this precious time, to be fully present, not wish each long day away waiting for his bedtime to arrive. This can be hard on some days, but I know that my attitude sets the tone for the rest of the household. I don’t want to be the “grumpy mom”, so I wrote down a few ideas not just to endure the rest of the summer, but also like it.

Here are some ways to help you also love the summer you actually have:

1. Write a bucket list

Good for you if you have already done this! But it’s not too late to start if you haven’t. Jot down an overview of what you hope to experience or accomplish with your kids. Make sure to include lots of free and low costs options too. For example, make an afternoon of a water balloon toss and running through the sprinkler. Spend some time at your local pool, which usually costs a few dollars if you aren’t a member somewhere. Take note of interesting cities around where you live and make a daytrip to the zoo, aquarium, children’s museum, etc. Most afternoons Jesse and I go on walks in our neighborhood because that is something he really enjoys doing.

 

2. Write down dates of events

Is your city hosting a fireworks show? Or an outdoor family concert? Is there a $1 movie day? Write down the place and time or put it in your phone calendar so you won’t forget! Where we live there are a couple of websites that list things going on around the area. I look it over and make a list of the events I think might be interesting for us to do.

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3. Make a list of goals for that week

If I don’t write things down I either forget or feel very overwhelmed by my mental list. It just makes it easier to see on paper what I would like to plan for that week. This is also true in making lists for the grocery store and meal planning 🙂 Be sure to check your local weather so you can prepare for indoor activities if needed.

 

4. Have some kind of structure

I know this sounds counter-intuitive to the freedom of summer but I think having some idea of what to expect next actually helps children. For us, the days are separated into morning and afternoon activities. We usually come back home for lunch and have “rest” time (a.k.a. mom needs a break). Jesse lies down or plays semi-quietly in his room for 45 minutes to an hour.

We don’t pack each day from one activity to the next either. Leave time for the slow and even boring days because that is when creativity kicks in for you and for them! Remember that you are not an entertaining circus act – chores and adult life still happen, but don’t resent the interrupted moments with your kids either. It is definitely a balancing act, filled with lots of grace for moms and kids.

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5. Eliminate the clutter

I made a decision recently to try and stay off of social media as much as possible during summer vacation. I found myself constantly looking at my phone, as if the thing was glued to my hand. It made me wonder if that is how my son will picture me and it was convicting. I don’t want to send the message that this device or whatever I’m looking at is more important than him. So I decided to cut it out. Honestly it has been freeing for me because I needed to take a step back and make sure I had not become a slave to it. I think in our culture this is so easy to do because entertainment is literally at our fingertips so we never have to experience boredom…but I digress. I just know it has helped what I put my focus on.

 

6. Pray for how your kids will remember their time with you

Pray for a different perspective and attitude toward this ample amount of free time with your kids. Look at it as an opportunity to pour into them your time, love and wisdom. Seriously. Not every moment will be golden, but it can be a useful lesson for them and for you. (Sanctification anyone?) By God’s grace hopefully the good times will outweigh our moments of failure. Learning to love the realistic summer I have with my son, seeing it as a gift has helped me to enjoy our time together instead of looking at him as an obstacle to the “perfect summer”, because there really is no such thing to begin with.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

Need more ideas for the summer? Here is a little list I made just for you!

 

*Bowling

*Library- check to see if your local library has story time for your children’s age

*$1 movie days

*Children’s museums

*Roller skating

*Ice skating

*Putt-putt golf

*Water parks/Splash pads

*local pool

*hiking trails

*arcades

*bike rides

*coloring/crafts/play-doh

*playgrounds

*sidewalk chalk

*blowing and popping bubbles

*neighborhood walks

*building forts with sheets and chairs

*playing board games and card games

*reading a book together

*treat them to McDonald’s, Chic-fila, etc. and have fun in the play area 

*use Pandora and put on a kid station for random dance parties!

*bake brownies or cookies together….can I come over?

 

I’d love to hear what you and your crew are up to this summer! What are some fun things you are doing?

 

 

Conversation Starters

A boy in Jesse’s class invited him to a birthday party recently. I bought a gift and marked the time/date on my phone calendar. The day of the party we arrived to find a few of his classmates in attendance, which I silently felt relieved that we would know at least a couple of the other party guests. Jesse immediately ran to a girl in his class, who is Hispanic. Like him, she is also autistic with low verbal skills. I had never met her parents before since she rides the bus. Other parents who pick up their children after school usually congregate outside the building under an awning. After almost a year, I became acquainted with a few of them.

I walked up to introduce myself to the girl’s parents and was surprised that they knew very little English. In fact, the mother could say maybe five words in English, leaving her husband to do most of the interpreting which was shaky at best. All I could think about was how this couple must have a hundred questions related to their daughter’s school. I could not imagine how lonely it must feel to live in a foreign country, not knowing the language, while navigating/advocating their child’s special needs education!

We attempted a couple of times to talk but the few Spanish classes I had in high school and college completely evaporated from my brain. Knowing how to count to 20 in Spanish or recite the months of the year was not very helpful in the moment. I wanted to communicate with the mother and by the expression on her face I think she did too. She showed me a picture of their other child and I smiled back. We were reduced to facial expressions and pictures. My heart hurt for her and their family.

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Then it occurred to me that Jesse might feel isolated in a similar way. I have wanted so desperately to communicate with him that it is easy to forget how he must feel too. A book I just read from an autistic boy’s perspective called The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida gave me a little more insight and sympathy on this. At thirteen, Naoki transcribed in Q&A form using an alphabet grid with the help of his mother and teacher. The book was later translated into English and has become a national bestseller. I definitely don’t agree with his New Age beliefs sprinkled throughout the pages but the core idea I took away from reading it was that we sometimes limit those who aren’t just like us. Whether it is a language barrier, intellectual, or physical, we often view them as less than the rest of us. Instead of learning what life is like in someone else’s shoes we are quick to treat the disabled or disadvantaged with less respect than someone we can relate to.

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I still do this on occasion to Jesse when I struggle to communicate with him or when he can’t calm down or because bath/bedtime makes him super hyper and giggly. The underlying fact is, when I don’t understand his speech or behavior I’m tempted to give up because we aren’t speaking the same language. It can be exhausting and frustrating. Yet I wonder how many times people with Autism or any other barrier are quickly dismissed because the ability to communicate easily is absent. We assume that there isn’t another way or that the case is hopeless. Reading this book gave me a different perspective, and for the first time, hope. Just because Jesse can’t speak in complete sentences like other children his age doesn’t mean he lacks intelligence or is less of a person. Naoki says,

 

“One of the biggest misunderstandings you have about us is your belief that our feelings aren’t us subtle and complex as yours. Because how we behave can appear so childish in your eyes, you tend to assume that we’re childish on the inside, too. But of course, we experience the same emotions that you do. And because people with autism aren’t skillful talkers, we may in fact be even more sensitive than you are. Stuck here inside these unresponsive bodies of ours, with feelings we can’t properly express, it’s always a struggle just to survive. And it’s this feeling of helplessness that sometimes drives us half crazy, and brings on a panic attack or meltdown.” (p. 109)

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I imagine it might be like someone in a coma who can’t respond verbally or physically but can hear everything going on around him perfectly. His senses are a little thrown off, but mentally the coma patient can comprehend his auditory surroundings. Often doctors, relatives, and visitors talk over the patient as if he isn’t even there.

I’m learning to slow down and intentionally communicate with Jesse – mostly to understand him but also to treat him like I would anyone else without a disability. He’s only six so there will still be wisdom needed (and grace) for training and discipline because I often don’t know exactly what his level of comprehension is. But I don’t want to limit his abilities either. Sometimes that means pushing him a little, to gain confidence. Other moments are more grace-filled and tender, realizing he doesn’t have that specific skill-set yet. But it’s a start in the right direction. Conversation can happen in many forms, not just verbally. For us it looks like a smattering of sign language, spelling words out, hand gestures, pictures and one to two word phrases. We get by. And I am learning that I can’t put him in a box, because he always surprises me by refusing to stay in the mold that society has placed on him.

 

 

Grace upon grace,

April

Truth telling for Moms

I’m a mom who daily lives under a rock of guilt and failure.

I haven’t given my six-year-old siblings to play with.

 I haven’t worked hard enough (or at all) today on his developmental skills.

 He’s spending too much time in front of electronics.

 I could do this all day.

 

I don’t know if it’s because Jesse has Autism and is an only child that I put this added pressure on myself, or if all moms do this. I suspect we each have our areas we struggle in, the lies we tell ourselves. When I stop the merry-go-round of all the ways I’m failing as a mom, God is gracious to help me fight with truth.

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The truth is, my son operates differently than other kids and so his activities and interests will look different as well. The truth is, I’m doing a great job as his mom, but I’m not perfect either. God knows this. The Lord didn’t wait until I had my act together before He gave me a son. It is in the process of raising him that I am sanctified!

The truth is, I am already “enough” as a mom, wife, friend and woman because Christ is enough and He lives in me. Condemnation has no place here. When I remember this, I breathe easier again, my shoulders begin to relax and I get to enjoy my son instead of focusing on all the ways I don’t measure up.

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If I stay hunkered down in guilt, I can’t clearly see the amazing blessings right in front of me. God holds out this wonderful gift and I reject not only the gifts of freedom and joy, but God Himself when I’m wrapped up in my own shortcomings.

Mom life is hard, but the truth is He gave you and me specific children, with distinct personalities and skills, to love, nourish, and raise for His glory. We get to teach them about the Lord who is our life.

             Our kids are gifts to enjoy, little lessons to learn from, means of sanctification. Preach this truth to yourself today when you feel like waving the white flag. God gives us the privilege and responsibility to care for the least of these, right in our own tribe.

It first starts with us loving Him as our ultimate treasure. That’s the place where we parent well and do anything well. Our relationship and growing love for the Lord will overflow on whatever else we put our hands to do today. We learn that even when we mess up or they do, there is grace and forgiveness extended vertically and horizontally. We start to live the message of the cross and that is the truth we need to tell ourselves everyday.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

 

Grace in the cracks

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Before Jesse was 8 months old he had no trouble sleeping. What I mean is, he slept like every other baby. In the early months, a couple times a night he would wake to nurse. Then came a few longer stretches of sleep. Usually rocking would work or the amazing mechanical baby-swing. Wind it up and he was as good as gold.

I thought we were nearing the edge of the woods in the sleep deprivation world. My mom always said you can endure anything as long as it doesn’t last forever. Her words rang in my ears those 3 a.m. nights that seemed endless.

And yet, somewhere around Christmas his sleeping habits grew worse, and so did mine. Frustrated and foggy-brained, I went into survival mode. Just make it through this day. Steal sleep in the cracks. An hour here, a cat nap there, or just close my eyes for a few minutes.

As Jesse out grew the baby-swing, he struggled to sleep through the night. When rocking didn’t work even his naps grew shorter. He woke up crying most days and I scooped him up, weary and defeated, to cradle him on my chest while we both laid on the couch.

Jesse would often finish his naps cuddled safely in my arms. This forced me to stop everything else and just rest and be present. His breathing became steady and calm again, as I watched his little body relax into sleep. It was in these moments two verses came to mind as I marveled over God’s way of taking care of me:

 

“He makes me lie down in green pastures,

He leads me beside quiet waters”

 Psalm 23:2

 

“He gives strength to the weary and

increases the power of the weak”

 Isaiah 40:29

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            God made me physically rest when I needed to. He does this in a way that isn’t militant or harsh, but lovingly.

Tenderly.

Like a Shepherd over His sheep, God knows what is best for us before we do. And I remember laughing over the irony. I was trying to help Jesse rest as God helped me rest. I was a child in need of a nap!

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We sometimes forget how important physical rest is and that it can affect our spiritual health as well. We think we can “do it all”. It humbled me to find out that I can’t. Something has to give. It was about this time that Jason and I started praying at night for Jesse, and for us as well, to have the gift of sleep. I didn’t realize sleep as a precious gift until it was taken away.

And rest came in ways I didn’t expect. Even though the nights were still interrupted with Jesse’s hyperactivity, God’s grace took shape on that couch during nap time. There were dishes in the sink, laundry to be washed, and a list of to-do items, but the only thing that mattered was the only job I had in that moment: to be still.

And that was enough.

The Lord taught me that I often forget how much I need Him to take care of me as I take care of the sweet, autistic son He has entrusted to me. God delights in ministering to our hearts as well as our physical bodies! He reminds me that He will provide grace even in the cracks.

 

Grace upon grace,

April

The Life We Never Expected

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          The Life We Never Expected by Andrew and Rachel Wilson is an honest confession inside a home with two special needs children – both have different forms of autism. The Wilsons write about real life experiences mingled with sadness and hope. They taught me that it is okay to grieve the dreams I had envisioned for my son; the things all parents look forward to for their kids: little league sports, college, independent living, marriage and grandchildren. Some of those may eventually come true, but right now a typical life is not one of them.

Andrew, a pastor in the UK, is transparent with his own struggles, coming to terms with the life he never expected. All the “big” ministry opportunities he envisioned, traditional parenting, and a regular life, was thrown out the window. Rachel writes in a vulnerable voice, acknowledging that this is hard and messy; but they find moments of humor and sweetness too.

Having a child with any kind of disability is isolating. I feel like I’m in a foreign land most days, unable to relate to another parent’s struggles because we are on completely different plains. When I’m not in the right mindset seeing my son’s typical peers wrecks me. This book has been a lifeline to help me remember that I am not alone. Sleepless night after night? Yes. Multiple therapy appointments? Yes. Hyperactivity, missed social cues, and seizures? Yes, yes, yes. Sometimes it’s comforting to identify with someone else going through a similar situation. I highly recommend this book as an oasis for any parent with a special needs child. Furthermore, family, friends, and the church can glean a helpful inside look on what daily life is like in upside down parenting.

The hope Andrew and Rachel possess as believers is contagious. They live with a mindset focused on eternity – in a world free from autism, epilepsy, wheelchairs, tube feeding, or any kind of suffering. One day their precious children (and mine) will have fully functioning minds where normal conversation is possible. One day they will be finally and completely healed. The Wilsons have given me a breath of fresh air with their raw and truthful words. For that I am grateful.

Here is an excerpt from Rachel:

“We are, at best, sailing desperately into the fog, with ever-changing winds, choppy waters, blank maps, and no real idea what we’re doing.

But God is the Captain. He is the navigator, mapmaker, and expert […] as uncertain as our voyage is, there are solid landmarks ahead that are knowable and concrete because of the Captain.

[…] I know He will journey with us to the very end, at which point everything that is perishable and incomplete will be gloriously resurrected and healed.

So I fix my eyes, not on what is seen but on what is unseen. And I take a deep breath.” (p. 148)

 

Grace upon grace,

April

 

 

Confessions of a childless stay-at-home mom

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I have floundered this first full week of school- what to do with myself, what I’m good for, that type of thing. I’m a stay-at-home mom without a child now from 8-2:30 roughly. Am I lazy? Do I have anything else to offer in society?  I start examining the world’s standards of what I’m supposed to be doing with my life and the toxic game of comparison begins.

Even stay-at-home moms with children ALL DAY find the time and/or desire to volunteer in the community, teach Sunday school, work part-time from home and attend a Bible study.

So here’s me the jellyfish just floating through life – well its how it feels anyway. What do you do when you feel like you don’t matter? Go out and get a job? Volunteer at a soup kitchen? Those are wonderful things, mind you, I just don’t feel the need to do them personally. Am I “just a mom”? Or can I be more than that? Is it enough and can I learn contentment in being at home even when I have no one to mother during the day?

My work seems small and meager.

Invisible, insignificant.

…And that’s okay.

Most of the inner workings of the world go on without any fanfare, recognition, or even so much as a “thank you”. My self-worth is not wrapped up in what I do, how many plates I can keep spinning at once, but who I am in Christ.

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Shortly after winning their silver medals in synchronized diving, Olympic athletes David Boudia and Steele Johnson were asked by a reporter about their mindset with each dive. They admitted the pressure was intense to compete well, but that their identity is in Christ and not what they accomplish on the diving board. These young Olympians are secure in their worth because it isn’t tied to this world.

We may not be remembered in history (or win medals) for washing a pile of laundry, cooking dinner, or picking up our kids from school, but what will remain is how we reflected God’s character toward others. Whether your audience is one million or one, how you live should ultimately please the Ultimate One.

No one else has your life.

God gave it to you and the people in it to make much of Him, not yourself. There is a season and a time for everything. Thank God for the really good, the really hard, the really lonely, and the really ordinary times. As we focus on Jesus Christ, He will lead us, and our lives will culminate into worshipful living. Go to the Source of Life when you feel meaningless (or at least your work) and ask the Spirit to bless the work of your hands.

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Because when it’s all said and done, the most important thing you can do with your life is to pursue God and live out the faith you’ve been given. So for today? Enjoy God and His good gifts, big and small. Simply trust that in our unworthiness, Christ made us worthy of our calling. You are loved by God, and He is faithful to sustain you wherever He has placed your feet.

 

Grace upon grace,

April