Faith in the Storm

The anxiety and stress of being a parent is something we all face. We are given this beautiful gift of a child and we pray we can help them along this journey of life without messing up. We love them more than we could ever imagine loving someone. It becomes a journey filled with both laughter and tears.

When you add autism to the equation, the highs of parenthood feel higher and the lows feel lower. Add one very prone-to-worry, very emotional momma and you have a recipe for chaos, or at least high blood pressure.

This is where my journey has taken me these last few silent months. The stress of every choice and the second guessing of every decision has kept me up at night. The questions replay over and over in my mind: Am I doing enough? Am I advocating for his needs enough? Is there more I can do? What if I fail?

Because of his autism, there are a great deal of unknowns left in Eli’s life, and it’s difficult to predict what he may or may not be able to do. But having so many unknowns can be daunting and scary, and only brings with it more questions: What effect will autism have on him as he grows older? Will he learn to cope and be able to be an independent adult? Will communication always be a struggle for him? While I can’t pretend these issues do not exist, I know it is not healthy to constantly dwell on them, and we have repeatedly seen Eli surpass expectations; we thought he might never speak, but he proved us and the doctors wrong.

Even as Jason and I work hard to meet his needs and formulate a plan to conquer these challenges, life continues to throw us a curve, and our plans continue to be pushed backward, how many opportunities for therapy have we lost, for how many different reasons? And as time passes, we feel the ever increasing pressure to start intervention immediately, when it will be most effective. Here we are, Eli is five, and no consistent intervention is yet in place.

The challenges grow. Drastic choices plague our mind. Should we relocate to another state with more services available for children with autism? Could we move to a new place like upstate New York or Pennsylvania? We could abandon everything because Eli is worth it, his future is worth it but what about Adam and Joseph? Is it fair to rip them away from family and friends?

This is where I have lived these last few months. I have dwelled in the worry and what ifs. The burden has been a load almost too heavy to bear.

I am reminded today of Peter in the bible. You can read this account in Matthew 14:22-33. The disciples are in a boat and the waves are tossing them around. Jesus walks on the water to their boat and they are terrified He is a ghost. Jesus tells them not to be afraid; Peter asks to come to Jesus.

First, let’s give Peter some credit for having the faith to even get out of the boat and walk to Jesus in that tumultuous sea. I think I would have been happy simply waiting for Jesus in the safety of the boat.  Not Peter; he gets out and walks out to Jesus. But as he is walking he notices the wind and the waves and becomes afraid. He begins to sink and cries out for Jesus to save him. Jesus pulls him out and says to him, “You of little faith why, did you doubt?”

I feel a little like Peter. I am being tossed around in the stress of life and somewhere along the way I have lost my focus. I am drowning in the sea of life.  Although I have never left God and still pray about every situation, I have had little faith in His ability. I may talk about faith but I am still trying to handle all the stress of the situation myself. “You of little faith” stings a bit.

But not anymore. I am letting go of the stress, the worry, the anxiety. I will place Eli and his future in the hands of God.

In Matthew 11:28 Jesus says, “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Psalms 55:22 says “Cast your burdens on the Lord, and he will sustain you.”

While I am doing everything I can do, and will continue to do to the best of my ability, I need to remember my strength comes from God. My hope is in Him, the author and finisher of my faith. I believe God is in control and I will give my stress to Him.  In doing so I am praying for the peace of God and the rest I so desperately need. I pray that if you also find yourself drowning in the difficulties of life, you will seek God and find rest – don’t try to do it all on your own. I have, believe me, it doesn’t work.

I think it is a process to let go of worry and replace it with trust. I need to remind myself that God has been faithful in this journey already and I can place my hope in Him. Jason and I can’t do this on our own.

So this is where I have been and this is where I am now. I am not sure of the future but I am trusting in the one who holds our future in His hand.

Tear Stained Burgers

It was your typical Saturday of errand running, busy and with numerous stops. That evening we decided to head to one of my favorite restaurants, well known for their yummy hamburgers. It was a big treat for me, and the boys’ first visit. As we entered and were shown our table, the hostess complimented us on our adorable boys.

The kids menu was a picture menu, which was exciting for me; Eli tries so hard to tell us what he wants to eat, but his verbal communication, although progressing, is still very difficult to make out. Picture menus provide him the opportunity to choose an item with a simple point of his finger. The drinks, however, were not of the picture variety. So I asked Eli if he wanted lemonade or milk. I heard “Lemonade”; that was mistake number one. When the lemonade arrived, Eli began to argue rather loudly and unintelligibly. I smiled gently and said to him,” Here, take a drink”, hoping that a taste would change his initial objection. He tried to take a sip, but he spilled some lemonade on his shirt.

Now, you should know that even though my son loves baths and swimming pools, rain or the slightest water sprinkle sends him into a tailspin.

Back to the spill: With a small spot of lemonade on his shirt, Eli lost it. He screamed and cried and yelled, “Milk! Milk!”  I tried very quickly to quiet him down, and as I gradually calmed him down, the waitress graciously handed him a new cup with milk. Crisis averted. And almost on cue, a nearby table started singing “Happy Birthday”.

Did I mention Eli cries in terror over that song? Yep, in our house, we do not sing “Happy Birthday” without first designating a family member to take Eli for a short walk.

At this moment, my husband quickly scooped him up and took him to the front of the restaurant, leaving me and the other two boys at the table. At this point I smiled and realized…wait, I have two other children! Poor kids! As I tried to make conversation with Adam, and avoid all eye contact with anyone in that room, my youngest, Joseph, began to cry.

I grabbed him out of the high chair and tried to soothe him. The waitress returned to our table, this time with coloring sheets and crayons. Poor Adam! He sat back in his chair and colored silently. Meanwhile, Jason walked back to our table with a now calm Eli and returned him to his seat.

Not even a half a moment later, Joseph cried out loud, and Eli erupted again, this time into an ear piercing scream, pounding his head against the back of the chair as if in total pain. I handed off the baby to Jason and took my crying son away from the table.

As I sat in the front lobby, Eli tightly hugging my neck, I looked out at the restaurant. I checked back on our table.  My husband was trying to engage our oldest, so he didn’t feel left out, and soothe the baby at the same time.  I looked at the hostess and guessed that she didn’t think our boys were so “adorable” now. I looked at the customers sitting near us and wondered if they wished they had been placed in a different seat, or worse – thinking they must be drawing massive conclusions about Jason and my lack of parenting skills.

I tried to hold in the tears as a calm-again Eli, noticing the front door being opened and closed, flapped his hands excitedly.

I am good at choking back the tears and wearing a smile. Why? It’s easier.  A smile makes others around me feel more comfortable.   It makes me feel stronger despite their stares, side comments, and judgmental glances. I refuse to let them see my pain.

When I noticed our food was being served, I took Eli back to the table. He bounced up to his chair like all was right with the world and the last twenty minutes had not happened. I gave him a smile and a kiss.  He squeezed my arm, and he began to eat

I looked at my husband; he shared quietly with me that the table close to us asked to be moved. I smiled – can you blame them? They paid money to enjoy a nice meal, scream-free. We chuckled a little to ourselves, but there was a tinge of sadness in our halfhearted laugh.

During our meal, we discussed if we should stop eating out with the kids. Honestly, we had only experienced this kind of outburst twice. Usually, Eli did well when we ate out; I mean, he has no volume button and can be loud, but we pick loud family friendly places on purpose.

Toward the end of the meal, I noticed Eli getting agitated yet again because, wouldn’t you know it, someone else was having a birthday. I quickly picked him up and asked Jason to pack my food up so I can finish in the car. I grabbed Joseph and Eli and headed for the door, expecting to hear some sigh of relief from everyone I pass.

As we walked to our car, Eli attempted to tell me something, but I could not understand anything he said. He started yelling out his words to me until, finally, he dropped to the ground in frustration. Though I simply could not understand his speech, I am sure he felt he was being ignored.

I walked quickly to the car, and now, I was unable to hide my tears. The pain of not being able to understand my son, and the reality of the entire evening, had taken its toll on me. By the time Adam and Jason came to the car, I was a mess. What a sight I must have been in the parking lot, crying and holding on to my husband.

This was one of those days that brought more questions than answers, and more frustration than peace. In moments like these, we feel very alone and helpless, but it is in these moments where we decide if we will allow it to break us. Are we going to hold onto each other, to our boys, to our faith?

Not all days are wonderful. Not all moments are easy.  There are many scriptures that have powerful meanings, but one that I turn to in the times I feel most distressed is Lamentations 3:21-23

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.