Tuesday, September 30, 2014

What Wasn't and What Was and What Should Have Been

We’ve had a few interesting days with Aaron.  I think the older that Aaron becomes, the more evident his autism behaviors are.  And boy, we’ve seen some good ones recently!  I’m using “good” in a loose sense.   I’ve never been the kind of mom that tries to blame my child’s poor behavior on anything other than his willful disobedience.  “Yes, I know my child destroyed your flower bed, but he’s just tired.  He didn’t have his nap today.”  Nope, that was not me.  But with Aaron, we see more clearly with each year that his behaviors are indeed the result of something that we sometimes barely understand and can rarely control.  Of course, some things he does are very funny or amazing…..but not always.  

Take the fishing trip that wasn’t.  Rosie’s mom had told me about Fishing Without Boundaries several weeks ago, but I dismissed it as something that Aaron wouldn’t want to do.  He doesn’t like to fish…..he doesn’t like being out in the heat all day…..he doesn’t like crowds for long periods…..he doesn’t like his routine messed up.  I’m not being negative.  I just know Aaron.  But there’s one thing I didn’t take into account…..Rosie.

I was in the garden a couple weeks ago when Aaron came home from his day group.  I looked up when I heard the back door open and heard Aaron’s unmistakable, “Mom!!”  I looked up to see him marching resolutely across the yard toward the garden….and me.  “Mom!!” he repeated.  “I’m going fishing!!!”  He was so excited, and I was so surprised.  It took me awhile to figure it out, but I eventually learned that Aaron wanted to go to the Fishing Without Boundaries event at El Dorado Lake.  

Over the next couple days I talked to Aaron about the logistics of that day, including the very early morning.  I was positive and upbeat, and Aaron was determined to go on this fishing outing……..not because of his love of fishing or the lake or the great outdoors, but because Rosie would be there.  He wanted to spend this day with Rosie, doing what Rosie enjoyed.  So we filled out the form, ordered his tee shirt, and sent in the money for his big weekend.  

I saw a little crack in his armor when, a couple days before the big day, he began to worry about the very early time to meet his ride.  So I told him that we would take him to the lake and could go later in the morning with no problem.  All seemed well.  But on Friday, the day before the fishing trip, he woke up rather worried.  He told me that he wasn’t sure about the fishing…..he wasn’t sure about being gone all day……he wasn’t sure about not being home doing what he enjoys.  In other words, he had decided not to go.  I knew it for sure, but I didn’t want to give in too easily.  Yet as we talked, and I saw him getting tense, I knew I had to give him an out….or we would all pay.  So I told him that he didn’t HAVE to go fishing.  Everyone would understand.  

But the only person that Aaron worried about disappointing was Rosie.  I felt badly for him as I saw the struggle that he was having.  He wanted to be with her, but he didn’t want to leave his weekend routine.  He came so close to going, and it was really disappointing that he didn’t quite make it…..but maybe next time, although we have said that same thing for years about various trips and events to which he says a definite, “No!”

On Saturday, Aaron said, “Do you think that Rosie misses me?”  And I felt sad for him.  Then later, “Was it my fault that I didn’t go?”  I knew he was struggling with his decision.  And finally, in the evening, he said, “I feel like I betrayed Rosie.”  That one made me really feel sad, but we talked about it and I could only hope that he felt some peace about his decision.   His routine and his way of doing life is the most important thing in the world to him…..but when he has a reason, a big reason like Rosie, to interrupt his routine….it’s so tempting and he wants so much to be able to make himself comply.  Then he struggles when he just can’t do it.  And we can’t force him to go…..or take away the guilt he had about not going.

So that’s the fishing trip that wasn’t.  And then we had the friends that were…..as in, were here for a visit or to join us for supper.  But Aaron wished that they were also friends that weren’t…..as in, weren’t here for a visit or to join us for supper.  This is when his autism becomes frustrating……humbling (to Gary and me)……and oh, so embarrassing!

First came Kristi, our sweet friend that we have known for 20 years.  Kristi’s dad was our pastor when we lived in Leavenworth, and our families became good friends.  She is now a missionary in France, and is here in the states for five months of furlough.  She is in the Wichita area for awhile, and so she spent Thursday night with us.  Aaron greeted her at the car when she arrived, even carrying her heaviest suitcase upstairs to the bedroom where she stayed…..as he complained all the while that he was not her servant.

He was up and down emotionally with her for the rest of the evening.  He wanted us to watch Wheel of Fortune with him, which we did…..though we turned it on a little late.  He wanted us all to take Jackson on a walk, even handing Kristi the leash to hold.  And he walked a second time around the circle with just me and Kristi, minus the dog.  He would pop up at various times to talk to me and to Kristi, usually about a movie.  But in the midst of it all, he was also rude several times.  He informed Kristi that she was not his boss…..though she wasn’t being bossy…..or she was not his mom.  It’s like he needs to be in charge, controlling his world at home when someone else is there.  A visitor becomes an interloper…..an annoyance…..when Aaron’s schedule is disrupted.  One minute he can be chattering happily and the next he just might puff up and be very rude.  Kristi took it in stride, as our friends always do.  Gary and I are the ones who are the most affected.  Kristi understood and we talked the next day about it after Aaron was gone.  Still, it’s frustrating.  Explainable, but embarrassing.

And then there was Saturday, when I asked our elderly neighbor, Nora, to come over and have supper with us.  Nora is recently widowed, and on Saturday she found out that an assisted living apartment will be opening in one month.  She is overwhelmed with moving.  I felt like she needed company that evening…..some food and talking and laughter.  But there was Aaron, who for some reason has decided that he doesn’t like little Nora.  And he especially decided that he didn’t like Nora coming to our house for supper on this Saturday evening.

Thankfully, Nora can’t hear very well so she didn’t comprehend all of Aaron’s muttered comments.  But she heard enough to know that he was displeased with her being there.  One thing led to another, and by the time we sat down to watch Wheel of Fortune (of course!), Aaron had had enough.  It was not a pleasant scene as he fought over keeping the remote, paced the floor like a wild animal, and was very verbal.  Finally, he yelled at Nora with all his might and stormed outside…..where he sat in the mulch to wind down.  He sat under the pecan tree, where he never sits, but where he was more hidden and farther from the house…..and from his problems. 

Again, our friend understood…..but I knew she was hurt.  We were hurt…..and terribly embarrassed.  It was the worst display of anger toward a visitor that we had ever seen.  Aaron came in and out of the house, even watching the last few minutes of Wheel of Fortune from the kitchen, standing there gazing at the television but not talking to us.  When I walked Nora home, Aaron sat under the pecan tree still breaking mulch…..and glaring silently at me when I walked past him to go home.  Later that night, we were able to talk to Aaron about friendships…..about how to treat our friends…..about how we treat his friends.  I think we made some headway as we compared our friends to his special Rosie, and the importance of being polite and kind.  What if we were mean to Rosie, we asked?  That thought seemed to register with him.

But who knows what will happen when Aaron is once again pulled from his routine?  We might see when Kristi comes back this Thursday night, brave soul that she is.  Aaron wants everything to stay the same in his world, and he will react strongly to whatever disrupts that sameness…..whether it be an event or a person.  Aaron doesn’t care if he hurts with his words.  He just wants his life to be the way he likes it.  I can say that he is selfish, rude, inappropriate…..lots of undesirable traits…..but I can also say with confidence that he is autistic and that we see it more clearly with every passing year.  What registers with our brains does not register with his.  What we can control, he cannot.  If he fell down into a seizure, we would be so empathetic.  But when he falls into an emotional meltdown, empathy becomes anger and embarrassment.  Yet both scenarios are an evidence of his disability……and a struggle for us to always understand and handle correctly.

And I realize that I will always be that mom……THAT mom……who tries to explain his behaviors while wondering if I’m sounding like I’m trying to excuse them.  There’s a huge difference there in the two.  Explaining means we grasp at understanding.  Excusing means we dismiss with no repercussions.  But in explaining I feel that we sound like we we’re excusing.  It gets complicated.

So this morning Aaron got up very early for him.  He came up the hall and into the room where I was having my quiet time.  He just stood there behind my chair, looking at me, so I said, “Aaron, you need to go back to bed.  It’s just 6:00.”

“6:11,” he said with no emotion.

And another day with Aaron has begun, as I smile…..and see what the day will hold.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Lessons From the Fire Ants

We just returned from a trip to Houston to see our daughter, Andrea, with a side trip to Dallas to see our son, Andrew, in an NHRA race there.   Oh, and I mustn’t forget to mention that we also enjoyed seeing our Granddogs, Darcy and Oakley.  Hey, it’s the closest I have to grandkids right now, so humor me.  In fact, the story I’m about to share involves these cute little doggies, in a way.


On our first evening there we headed right away to the dog park with Andrea so that Darcy and Oakley could have some outdoor play time before the park closed for the night.  Darcy and Oakley ran and jumped and rolled, and spent lots of time romping and splashing in the water.  They were so much fun to watch.  Soon we meandered off the gravel path and stood in the cool thick grass, talking to another dog owner and enjoying the happy dogs.  I had worn sandals instead of tennis shoes, and the grass felt damp and pleasant on my feet in the humid air. 

As we stood there talking, I noticed a faint stinging on my feet……especially my left foot.  I moved my foot a little, but the stinging persisted.  I thought that this grass must be pricklier than it seemed at first.  Before long, the stinging was increasing.  I again wondered why, but couldn’t see a reason as I looked down at my foot buried in the thick grass.  Finally, I was uncomfortable enough to raise my left foot up out of the grass……..and to my surprise, I saw tiny little ants crawling all over my foot.  The same was true of my right foot, though not as many ants had found their way to that side.  

Fire ants!  The stinging wasn’t coming from irritating grass, but from tiny fire ants.  I shook as many off as I could, and then went to the path, where I took my sandals off and continued to brush little ants off as quickly as I could.  They were between my toes, going up my legs, and caught in the folds and crevices of my sandals, as well.  Yuck!!!  When I was convinced that I had rid my feet and sandals of these attackers, I put my sandals back on and we continued to walk around the park.  Yet every now and then I would feel another sting, and would look down to find one miniature ant still on my foot.  

It was hard to believe that those sharp stings could come from such little creatures, but those tiny guys can pack a wallop.  I hadn’t been stung by fire ants since we lived in southern Alabama, when Gary was in flight school at Fort Rucker, over 30 years ago.   It was a memory I was wishing not to re-live.  However, soon the stinging sensation was gone, and other than a very few little dots on my feet, I was none the worse for the experience.

Or so I thought……and hoped.  Over the next few days, my foot has increasingly shown the effects of those small prickly bites.  The little dots on my feet have turned into larger and larger bumps.  They sometimes itch.  They sometimes sting.  And they look very large and ugly today…….like pimples on my feet and even between my toes.  I just thought I was escaping that experience largely unscathed, but not so.  I am reminded of those fire ants and their damage, both in the discomfort I feel and the unpleasant sight I see every time I look down at my feet.

Isn’t this just how sin is in our lives?  We set out on a path that is safe and protected as we follow God and obey His commands.  Soon, though, it’s so easy to veer off that path into a life that isn’t what He desires.  It feels good, though, just like that cool grass felt good to my feet.  What could be so wrong about this little diversion?  Isn’t everyone else doing this?  Come on!  Lighten up!  Don’t be so serious and intolerant.

Then we feel the first little sting, but we ignore it.  A few more stings…..and maybe we look around a little to see what’s causing that feeling, but we choose to disregard it.  Nothing appears very alarming, anyway.  Over time, though, the little stings become increasingly painful and more of our life is affected by the discomfort caused by our decisions.  And hopefully, we run……we run away as fast as we can from our sin.  We change our direction, we confess to the Lord our wrong, and we set out on the right path once more.

Yet sadly, even though we are forgiven, we often will bear the consequences of our sin……sometimes for the rest of our lives.  At first it may not seem like our sin is any big deal, but it is.  Like Moses told the people of Israel in Numbers 32:23, “Be sure your sin will find you out.”  In other words, you will suffer for your sin.  Sorry.  I didn’t say that.  God did.  The longer we stand in that grass and let the ants crawl on us, the more we will bear the results of our choices.  Days, months, even years later, the choices we made yesterday can……and often does……greatly affect us and those we love.  

Thank God for His grace, and His redemption, and His forgiveness.  Thank God that He doesn’t hold our sin over our heads and beat us up with it every day.  Thank God for His love, and for His patience in directing us back to the right path.

Yet what if I hadn’t gone off into the grass in the beginning?  What if I had worn the right shoes?  What if I had run away quickly when I felt the first sting?  Then today I wouldn’t be looking down at these painful, ugly bumps on my feet.  My story today would have been very different……much less harmful to me, for sure.

Don’t veer off God’s path for your life by walking into what feels good and looks great.  Don’t be wearing the wrong shoes.  Flee temptation, as Paul said to do.  Put on your running shoes!  Don’t linger in sin, enjoying the moment until they become many moments.  Don’t ignore God’s conviction in your heart.  Don’t let the stings of long-term sin leave you with irreparable damage.  God will forgive, but He won’t necessarily take away the natural consequences of our willful actions.  

Painful lessons.  May we all use wisdom in where we walk.