Top Posts of 2017

According to Google Analytics, these were my most viewed posts in 2017. Keep in mind these may not be the ones that resonate most with you, but I thought it might be helpful to know where to start if you’re new around here.

In descending order:

The gift of being seen

When the permissible becomes an idol

For all the new moms (and moms of the newly diagnosed)

The house that love built

The right way to raise a healthy eater

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And if you’d like to get to know me a bit better, here are posts to help you understand my perspective on parenting a special kiddo.

Why we need to have faith in our kids

I want him to be himself

Why I’m an advocate

Why I’m ok with the “autism” label

Saying good-bye to the Pinterest life

New here? Glad you made it! I write about my unique joys and challenges as Mom to Henry, a smart, tender, quick­-witted, train-loving, autistic 9-­year­-old with an infectious smile. I long to encourage autism parents and empower all to see inclusivity doesn’t have to be difficult - it can be beautiful. Like what you see? Sign up here to receive news and occasional freebies just for insiders.

The gift of being seen

The night I learned my beloved pastor was leaving for another position, the air left my lungs. It was like the time my friend pushed me on the monkey swing and my back landed squarely with a thud against the large tree trunk.

As I tried to tell Mitzi how happy I was for her, the sobs rolled in. I could not stop no matter how much I wanted to. Her departure was a shock. Our congregation adored her. In fact, she wasn’t looking for a new position; the dream job came to her.

I choked out, “I promise I am happy for you. The position sounds perfect. I’m just so sorry for me.”

As awful as I felt that night, another surprise awaited me. The very next day I learned Carl, our lead pastor, was leaving too.

BAM, another thwack against the tree. My breath left me again. While his departure was not as shocking (we’re Methodist and he was with us for 10 years, after all) and not as immediate, I loved him too, and the double whammy was just too much.

It’s so easy to understand in hindsight, but over the next few weeks I found myself irritable without knowing why. I struggled against the temptation to be snippy; I  sensed my fuse was short. Then, in our church’s last week with Mitzi, my feeble mind finally realized: Ooooooh, I’m grieving. My body’s response to grief always catches me by surprise.

So, I did the one thing I knew how to do. I prayed. I prayed for Mitzi and her family. I prayed for the hundreds, if not thousands, of lives she would touch in her new job. I prayed for our church, for God’s best for us, for us to open our hearts to our new ministers. I prayed He would send us gifts we didn’t even know we needed, much as He had before.

Last, I prayed for God to help me. God, help me not to compare the old and the new. Help me to remember your ways are always perfect. Remind me that you wouldn’t take Mitzi and Carl from us without great plans in store. And, God? I’m selfish. Heal my heart.

***

The first time I met with Tobi, our new Pastor of Discipleship, my heart’s crack closed up just a smidge.

When I met Justin, our senior pastor, for the first time, the crack closed some more.

During his first Sunday sermon, I could not stop my face from smiling.

I went home and wrote these words:

“I’ve seen a peek at our church’s future. It is good.  It will be new, exciting, and (in some ways) likely hard. With fresh faces come fresh ideas. My years have taught me to embrace change rather than wince through it. Grieve the old, yes. But withdraw from the new? No. These faces, these ideas are needed even when we don’t know we need them. They are welcome here.”

***

The fact I miss Mitzi every single day does not negate the sincere thankfulness I feel for Tobi. I’ve had the pleasure of spending time in her home every week for the last few months. I’ve fallen in love with Tobi’s family, especially her two daughters.

Some weeks ago, when Tobi shared that she and her eldest were traveling to Chicago to see Hamilton, I gushed over the news. I may have squealed right there during Bible study. I’m a fan of Lin-Manuel Miranda (since way before Hamilton), a word nerd, a theater lover, and a music geek. This was just glorious, enviable news!

One night in December I entered Tobi’s home and chatted with the family before the other Bible study gatherers trickled in. While the younger daughter brushed her teeth, I asked the oldest about her trip to Chicago and what she thought about Hamilton. She raved (of course) and then she presented me with a small gift.

BAM, my back hit the tree trunk.

They remembered me. On their special mother-daughter weekend, they thought of me.

I hoped the dim light of the Christmas tree wouldn’t betray my eyes. How to tell a ten-year-old and her mother why I’m holding back tears over a Hamilton pin? How to explain that grief has morphed into gratitude? How to share what it feels like to be seen?

I spend my energy making sure Henry and other special children are seen. When I  volunteer in his school, I take special care with children who seem neglected, overlooked, or misunderstood. This is my calling and it is my pleasure.

But I forget what it feels like for someone to see me, and I admit it feels good.

It feels even better to be seen in the most unexpected of ways. So, I will wear this pin with as much pride for Hamilton as for the lovely ladies who saw the pin and thought of me. I wear it remembering my prayer: Heal my heart.

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New here? Glad you made it! I write about my unique joys and challenges as Mom to Henry, a smart, tender, quick­-witted, train-loving, autistic 9-­year­-old with an infectious smile. I long to encourage autism parents and empower all to see inclusivity doesn’t have to be difficult - it can be beautiful. Like what you see? Sign up here to receive news and occasional freebies just for insiders.

A Christmas Letter to Henry

Originally published December 2012, my thoughts then aren’t much different from today’s.

Darling Henry,

I always wanted you. Even as a little girl, I knew I wanted to be a mommy. When I was pregnant with you, the devil attacked this deepest desire, where he knew it would hurt most. I battled daily the fear of one thing. Some parents fear disorders, disabilities, or illnesses, but not me. I was afraid I wouldn’t love you.

I have a lot of faults, my love, but that is not one of them. I hope you know this. I hope the ridiculousness of my fear makes you laugh.

Right now you are 3-and-a-half. Your marvelous brain presents us with joy and wonder, yet we are also challenged to understand you. But, Henry, I want you to know we are doing everything within our knowledge and power to change that. We read, we listen to your therapists, and most importantly, we observe you. You are our most important teacher.

Sweet Henry, I’m afraid I fail you more often that not, though it pains me to say this and I pray you will not notice my failures. I pray you will always feel the depth of my love and know it has driven every decision I’ve made as your mom. You are my greatest gift.

Though I will certainly continue to fall short at times, I want you to know I’ll always be here for you. These last few months, a song about another special little boy has been my love-song to you. To end this letter, I’m going to borrow his daddy’s words.

You’re gonna have all of me
You’re gonna have all of me
‘Cause you’re worth every falling tear
You’re worth facing any fear
You’re gonna know all my love
Even if it’s not enough
Enough to mend our broken hearts
But giving you all of me
Is where I’ll start


Even if it’s not enough, Henry, I’m giving you all I have. You’ve given me more than you’ll ever know.

All my love,
Mommy

New here? Glad you made it! I write about my unique joys and challenges as Mom to Henry, a smart, tender, quick­-witted, train-loving, autistic 9-­year­-old with an infectious smile. I long to encourage autism parents and empower all to see inclusivity doesn’t have to be difficult - it can be beautiful. Like what you see? Sign up here to receive news and occasional freebies just for insiders.

When we can’t be everywhere we want to be

Ahhhhh.

Fire, book, notebook, pencil…

It’s almost everything I want out of Advent.

I also want corporate worship, and my favorite of all is our Taize service.

I’ve attended only twice, but you’d think it was much more, the way I cherish it. My memories hold the music, the silence, the candles, and the contemplation. And, in one memory, I see the glow of a senior citizen I admired for years, surrounded by candlelight, wiping his nose with a hanky as he mouthed a fervent prayer. Oh, I treasure this night and longed to be there again this year.

I had to miss the service. It was exactly where I wanted to be, yet not where I needed to be.

At the same time, a hot-shot, superstar social worker and behavioral specialist was speaking locally about autism and bullying.  Students on the spectrum are more susceptible to bullying than students with any other disability. And some are also prone to becoming bullies (“bully-victims”) because they may mimic the behavior. So, it was kind of a big deal for me to be there.

I’m guessing you know what that feels like too. This happens to all of us, parents or not – this wishing we could be two places at once. And it definitely happens a lot during the holidays.

For a parent, the moment occurs when we must choose between the children’s wants or needs and our own, and it’s a tricky thing to know the when and how of this.

In all this talk of self-care and preventing our own burnout, which ultimately hurts our children, how do we discern when to say yes and when to say no?

How do we know when it’s the right time to choose them and the right time to choose us?

This week’s decision was only easy because it involved Henry’s safety. I don’t pretend to know the answers for every occasion in every family. Further, I might need to say yes today, yet no to the very same thing tomorrow or next week.  I do know, however, what values I consider when making decisions. Perhaps this list will help you sort through your own.

Henry’s physical safety and emotional welfare. Will this help him stay safe, either now or in the future?
Henry’s spiritual formation. Does this help us shepherd his heart?
Our needs. Do either of these options meet a need for Henry or me?
Henry’s wants. Is his desire in this moment also important for one of the values above?

To put a different spin on it, let’s pretend there was no superstar speaker. Let’s say Henry is in a robotics club and his team had an exhibition night for the parents on the same night as the Taize service. Let’s say he pleaded with me to be there – not just Dad but Mom too. In this case, I need to ask myself these questions:

Will my absence leave a lasting impression on him?
Has missing his special events become a pattern for me or is this a one-time thing?
Has he been particularly demanding of my attention lately? If so, is this an indicator of something else?
How important is this church service to my own spiritual formation at this point in time?

These answers can change from day to day, obviously. While most of us would say, “Hands down! I’m going to be with my child!” we know there could be situations in which tending to our own souls would outweigh the robotics night.

In these sticky situations, perhaps it is best to already have the parameters mapped out in our minds, like my 4 bullet points above. What do you think yours may be?

Might I suggest the following verse as a guide?

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8

I know my decision this time was based on justice for my son, but the next might simply be kindness toward him. It might be humility. It might even be kindness for myself.

The next time you’re faced with the desire to be in two places simultaneously, how might your decision be wrapped in justice, kindness, and humility?

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New here? Glad you made it! I write about my unique joys and challenges as Mom to Henry, a smart, tender, quick­-witted, train-loving, autistic 9-­year­-old with an infectious smile. I long to encourage autism parents and empower all to see inclusivity doesn’t have to be difficult - it can be beautiful. Like what you see? Sign up here to receive news and occasional freebies just for insiders.

The Key to a Hopeful Advent

I think it is safe to say that we want our days to count for something. We want our work to produce, we want our parenting to make a difference, we want this Advent season to be more meaningful than the last one or as meaningful. We don’t want to waste our time.

But what are we really saying?

Here is a quote from Oswald Chambers that I think sums it up nicely. He says, “It is ingrained in us that we have to do exceptional things for God — but we do not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things of life, and holy on the ordinary streets, among ordinary people — and this is not learned in five minutes.” (My Utmost for His Highest)

~ Emily P. Freeman, The Next Right Thing episode 17

Some years ago I wrote that I felt Advent was passing me by, that somehow I had missed something. 

No matter what I did or didn’t do, it just didn’t feel like enough. It didn’t feel… I  don’t know, special? Holy? I now realize I didn’t understand Advent, much like I didn’t understand Lent. New to liturgy and the idea of a Church calendar, I was enthusiastic in my appreciation of the season and wanted every moment to count.

I think somehow I confused Advent with doing.

Bake cookies for the neighbors!
Take treats to the firemen!
Decorate the tree!
Sing Christmas carols to shut-ins!
Look at lights!
Make a gingerbread house!
Ice skate in the park!
See the Nutcracker!

None of these actions are bad, understand. Done in the right spirit, they are faithful, fun, and festive holiday activities. But none of them have anything to do with Advent – not necessarily, anyway. I would argue even the Christian things can deplete our hope.

And that’s what Advent really is. Expectant, joyful hope.

We’re preparing for our Savior.

I’m an enormous fan of Christmas and love the festivities as much as anyone, but even I must admit that baking cookies doesn’t set my mind on things above. Unless…

Can I share those cookies with someone? Can I somehow share the love of God with them? Hmmm. Maybe this could be an Advent activity.

See, I believe Advent is less about the doing and more about the being. How will you be this season? Will you be joyful, peaceful, and hopeful?

If putting together a gingerbread house creates a family argument, maybe it’s time to stop that tradition.

If you discover no one actually likes the Nutcracker, why go?

If a family devotion wreaks havoc in your home, there is a different way to hide Scripture in the hearts of your children.

Does the Christmas Eve church service send your special needs child over the edge? If so, perhaps it is time to consider what Sandra Peoples* suggests:

The less flexible my child is, the more flexible I need to be. I’m the adult and I have to act like it, even when I’m feeling stressed or embarrassed. That means I may have to bend some of my usual standards to keep the peace.

Advent will truly feel empty – we will have missed it – if we don’t know what it is we’re trying to achieve. We will rush and do and give without meaning and purpose.

So, I ask you this important question today:

What prepares your heart for Christ?


* Sandra’s 5 Keys to a Calm Christmas is an exceptional guide for parents and other relatives who need to understand their special kiddos this season. Sign up here: bit.ly/calmChristmas

New here? Glad you made it! I write about my unique joys and challenges as Mom to Henry, a smart, tender, quick­-witted, train-loving, autistic 9-­year­-old with an infectious smile. I long to encourage autism parents and empower all to see inclusivity doesn’t have to be difficult - it can be beautiful. Like what you see? Sign up here to receive news and occasional freebies just for insiders.

Ask Meredith: Holiday edition

“Meredith, what might be some gentle ways to ask for a host/hostess’ help in making a holiday gathering more comfortable for children with special needs? What are the areas where a parent could take initiative to take care of their own child’s needs (such as excusing their child from participating in a chaotic, but long-standing family ritual everyone else loves) and where are areas where it is reasonable to ask for some modifications (such as a request to play soft and soothing Christmas music vs. Alvin and the Chipmunks).”

This is such an important question that honors both the child and the host. My goal is always to advocate for Henry (and teach him to advocate for himself) while maintaining respect and kindness toward others. That desire is what I hear in this inquiry.

Let me preface my suggestions with the disclaimer that I realize only you can know the best approach to take with your family. Family dynamics are unique, and what works for us may not work for you. Please know my intent is to help you provide peace for all involved, never discord.

Additionally, the right tone and word choice can go a long way with fostering mutual respect and demonstrating your intent. You are not responsible for another person’s interpretation, but you are responsible to speak with love and clarity. Convey that your child’s needs are real and that the right accommodations will benefit everyone – not just your child. With that said, I would consider these reasonable requests:

  • Ask for an idea of when food will be served so that you can prepare your child. Example: “Hi, Cindy! I’m preparing a schedule for Johnny. Any chance you can tell me the approximate time we’ll have dinner? Will we have a special blessing or toast beforehand I should tell him about? Thanks so much; this really helps him feel excited instead of anxious about the holiday!”
  • If you need to prepare special food for your child, make sure to let the host know you will take care of it so as not to burden them.
  • Ask if there will be guests who are unfamiliar to your child.
    “Hey, Dad. I’m showing Sally pictures of all her extended family and reminding her who will be at Christmas dinner. Do we have any special guests or friends coming? I’d love to tell her their names beforehand.”
  • Let the host and other family members know the specific situations in which your child may experience discomfort, pain, or emotional fatigue.
    For example, if your child has sensitivity to touch, he may not appreciate hugging.
  • If longstanding traditions have been uncomfortable for your child in the past – or if you suspect they will be – let your family know that your child may need to separate herself from the crowd for brief periods of quiet and decompression.
  • If the host or other family members offer to change a tradition for your child’s benefit, gratefully and graciously accept. This is not the time to be a martyr or to be prideful.
  • Finally, it is always appropriate to ask how you can help the host/hostess. At the least, you have shown kindness and courtesy. At best, this request can open the lines of communication and may give you an opportunity to share what will help your child. For example, the host may enlist your assistance in preparing a calm environment. (Create a quiet zone, tone down the table decorations, avoid smelly candles, etc.) She may even offer to prepare your child’s favorite food or change the music. (No more Alvin!)

I hope these suggestions are helpful for you and create more peace and joy this season! Do you have great tips too? Please share them in the comments or on Facebook.

New here? Glad you made it! I write about my unique joys and challenges as Mom to Henry, a smart, tender, quick­-witted, train-loving, autistic 9-­year­-old with an infectious smile. I long to encourage autism parents and empower all to see inclusivity doesn’t have to be difficult - it can be beautiful. Like what you see? Sign up here to receive news and occasional freebies just for insiders.

When they don’t want to trick-or-treat

You may have noticed I’m in favor of empowering the disenfranchised and remembering the forgotten, even for something as trivial as Halloween. I encourage parents of neurodiverse children to tackle the holiday in non-traditional ways.

But guess what?

If your children with autism or sensory processing disorder DON’T WANT to participate in Halloween activities, that’s ok too.

Yes, really.

It’s not a requirement of childhood to wear a costume, to ask neighbors and strangers for candy, to take a hayride, or go to a carnival. It’s not. If your kids are making their own fun or even treating Halloween as an ordinary day, then pat yourself on the back for giving them the space to do what they need.

This – allowing them to do their own thing – is usually harder for the parents, who grieve what they feel their family missed. What we tend to grieve are our expectations, not our reality. Allow yourself the grief, especially if this is your first set of holidays post-diagnosis. It is normal and healthy to grieve and there’s no timetable for how it’s done. Let yourself feel it. Don’t squash it. And then… one day… it won’t sting anymore or will sting less sharply. The beauty will be stronger than the grief. Remember, love is stronger than hard.

 

“You didn’t lose a child to autism. You lost a child because the child you waited for never came into existence. … We need and deserve families who can see us and value us for ourselves, not families whose vision of us is obscured by the ghosts of children who never lived. Grieve if you must, for your own lost dreams. But don’t mourn for us. We are alive. We are real. And we’re here waiting for you.”  – Jim Sinclair in Loud Hands.

New here? Glad you made it! I write about my unique joys and challenges as Mom to Henry, a smart, tender, quick­-witted, train-loving, autistic 9-­year­-old with an infectious smile. I long to encourage autism parents and empower all to see inclusivity doesn’t have to be difficult - it can be beautiful. Like what you see? Sign up here to receive news and occasional freebies just for insiders.

How to trick-or-treat with autism

If your children with autism or sensory processing disorder WANT to participate in Halloween activities, there is no reason why they can’t.

Yes, really.

Your Halloween might not look like your neighbor’s or your best friend’s or even your own from childhood, but that doesn’t mean it’s less special to your child. Find out what your child wants to do, and then:

1. Prepare, prepare, prepare.

* Let them choose costumes that make them feel good. Superhero pajamas, a favorite hat, or even their favorite regular clothing are just fine.
* Practice the words or signs to use.
* Talk through what to expect, if this is their first time.
* Make or find a social story.
* Act out the plan with their favorite toy. (Use dolls, action figures, trains, cars, blocks, crayons – anything can have a “voice.”)

2. Plan an escape.

* If traveling by car, don’t hold yourself hostage to another person’s timetable. Drive your own.
* Know the layout of where you are going (carnival, festival, neighborhood, etc.) so you can quickly get to a “safe zone” or your car.
* If your children seem nervous or hesitant, assure them that they can stop/leave at any time.
* Have comfort items on hand for decompression.

How does your family do Halloween? I’d love to hear!

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New here? Glad you made it! I write about my unique joys and challenges as Mom to Henry, a smart, tender, quick­-witted, train-loving, autistic 9-­year­-old with an infectious smile. I long to encourage autism parents and empower all to see inclusivity doesn’t have to be difficult - it can be beautiful. Like what you see? Sign up here to receive news and occasional freebies just for insiders.

For the autism moms who dread Halloween

I see you, the moms carefully prepping for October 31.

I see you carefully creating costumes that won’t irritate.
I see you scouring the web for the perfect pieces.
I see you sewing.
I see you driving all over town.
I see you ripping out the tags.
I see you crossing your fingers.
I see your sigh of relief when it works and the frustrated tears when it doesn’t.
I see you rehearsing the way to trick or treat, preparing for the sensory assault, and fine-tuning your evacuation plan.

I see you on October 31, moms of the children who want to be brave.

I see you sending off your anxious but resolute daughter into the carnival.
I see you assuring your son it’s ok not to wear a costume.
I see you crouching, soothing, whispering.
I see you cheering them on, showering them with praise.
I see you holding everything together.

I see you, too, moms who are proud of your children’s self-advocacy.

I see you treating October 31 like an ordinary night.
I see how you somehow make the night special for your family anyway.
I see your children handing out candy instead of receiving it.
I see you together inside, hiding from trick-or-treaters, watching favorite cartoons for the thousandth time.
I see you popping corn, reading books or playing games.
I see you watching “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!”

I see you, moms who are speechless when friends show kindness.

I see your gratitude when they ask how to include you in their plans.
I see you answer the door with joy when they stop by to bring your child a treat.
I see your lip tremble as you read the text, “How are you? Is the day going ok?”

I also see you when you feel alone.

I see how you lay down all your dreams to make new ones.
I see you when the friends don’t call, don’t message, don’t stop by.
I see you when you feel forgotten.
I see you cleaning up the remains of dinner, eyes threatening to spill, as you carry the tension between contentment that your child is happy and disappointment that you aren’t.
I see you holding your overwhelmed and exhausted child, drying their tears and holding back your own,

And I see you on November 1, when life returns to normal, whatever that means.

I see your shoulders relax because you made it.
I see you already preparing for the next big thing.
I see you loving, guiding, and praying.
I see you shepherding your child to be the man or woman God designed him to be,
and I see you making the world better for your child.

I clap for you, moms. I’m proud of you. I am you.

No matter what you’re feeling this October, I see you.

New here? Glad you made it! I write about my unique joys and challenges as Mom to Henry, a smart, tender, quick­-witted, train-loving, autistic 9-­year­-old with an infectious smile. I long to encourage autism parents and empower all to see inclusivity doesn’t have to be difficult - it can be beautiful. Like what you see? Sign up here to receive news and occasional freebies just for insiders.

Love is stronger than hard.

I follow a lot of special needs writers, organizations, and networks, and I see 2 basic attitudes:

Life hurts all the time.

Life is hard, but love is stronger than hard.

I choose to adopt a voice like the latter, not because it’s the easiest way but because it is the best way for me. The way that builds my character to make me more like Jesus. The way that leads to life and not destruction.

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.  (Matthew 7:13-14)

This is not to say the writers voicing the pain every day are becoming less like Jesus. No, in fact, I believe they are making sacrifices each day that bring them closer than breath to Jesus. The other folks have their own purposes (or not) and I am in no position to judge. To look for the beauty and love is the way Jesus has called me to live, because he knows what is good for me. 

On my birthday, my dear cousin wrote to say she loved that I see the bright side in everything.

She is right. I do. My smiles aren’t false; my joy is real. Unfortunately, so is the tendency to grow stormy when I’m alone, whether I’m navigating interstate traffic or sitting on my porch in the sun. It is with my intention and God’s grace that I fight the demons of the dark.

My factory setting is melancholy. While I easily forgive others, I find it harder to forgive myself. (I am a Good Girl in perpetual recovery.) I see my flaws and failures; I feel worthless and unloved; I long for death and not life. This is my default.

But we do not have to stay in our default settings. We have a hope and a realistic power to be more. It’s called Christ.

It is neither my strength nor my gumption that makes me see the bright side. It’s Him. He fills me with warmth and gratitude. He lifts my head when I cannot and opens my eyes to life when I see death. The law of the Spirit, alive in Christ Jesus, sets me free.

My life can be hard, but greater is He who is in me than the one who is in the world.

New here? Glad you made it! I write about my unique joys and challenges as Mom to Henry, a smart, tender, quick­-witted, train-loving, autistic 9-­year­-old with an infectious smile. I long to encourage autism parents and empower all to see inclusivity doesn’t have to be difficult - it can be beautiful. Like what you see? Sign up here to receive news and occasional freebies just for insiders.