Come To My Party: Please RSVP

So we just talked about dancing. I waited to celebrate the 100,000 views I broke Valentine’s week with the 10,000 follows that were on their way. It’s not a medal or the Ph.D. from my alternative life but here I am. I’ll take it.

The show is 45 seconds. You know Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive? Mr. Wayfarer played it and I went with it. Here’s what I’m acting out:

Turn around now. You’re not welcome anymore.
You’re the one who tried to hurt me with goodbye.
Do you think I’d crumble, did you think I’d lay down and die?
No, not I, I will survive. Long as I know how to love I know I’ll stay alive.
I’ve got all my life to live and all my love to give. I’ll survive. I, I, I will survive.

It took all my strength not to fall apart, trying without my mind
to mend my broken heart. I spent so many nights feeling sorry for myself,
how I cried. But now I hold my head up high. And you see me, somebody new.
I’m not that lonely little person who’s still in love with you.
Now you come dropping in, expecting me to be free.

Now I’m saving all my lovin’ for someone who’s loving me.
Go on now, walk out the door. Turn around now, you’re not welcome anymore.
You’re the one who tried to hurt me with goodbye.
Think I’d might crumble, did you think I’d lay down and die?
No, not I, I will survive. Long as I know how to love I know I’ll stay alive.

But we hit a wall with the copyright and had to use a different song. Oh well, there goes the drumming.

Please rsvp and join the party. I will dance with everyone who asks. In a group – and sorry, no touching. I will also give you a guest spot if you can give me dance lessons.

Thank you doesn’t quite seem to cut it. But let me try. Deep appreciation to my most loyal likers and commenters and the quiet readers who haven’t missed a post. Thanks to those who’ve been with me from the start as well as those who find themselves coming back. Thank you to my newest readers and lastly, gratitude always to my husband and son who’ve let me be who I more fully am on the holistic journey.

 

 

 

I Think I Love My Body

My husband knew I was The One when he first saw me. I had (with a roll of the eyes) chalked up what he called love at first sight to the way the clothes happened to have flattered me that evening. He stopped me in my tracks, though, when he elaborated for the first time after 10 years of marriage, “But I wouldn’t have wanted to marry you if you were fat.”

Now, he’s one of the sweetest, kindest, most compassionate people I know but apparently all that’s besides the point when it comes to attraction and mate selection. And call him what you will but I wonder. Doesn’t he have the right to want what he wants in a wife? Who’s to judge our sweet palate? Here we plunge into the politically correct thicket. How many people are more attracted to overweight people than to those who’re thinner? Let me preempt the comments. I am not saying large – or can I say it? – fat people cannot be attractive. I know big people who are pretty. And yes, I do believe some men (some) do want “more to love” of a woman. I’m not saying that the large couple over there doesn’t enjoy romance and abiding love. Add to the mix of disclaimers the cultures that are less obsessed with the Barbies of the developed world. I’m obviously brushing with broad strokes. But do slimmer people, among women especially, have a better chance at love?

“I know I’m supposed to hate my body,” the patient said according to Kerry Egan, hospice chaplain and author, in a CNN article What the Dying Really Regret.

“But why…?”

“Well, Kerry, ” she looked incredulous that I even asked and laughed. “Because I’m fat!”

“The world’s been telling for me for 75 years that my body is bad. First for being female, then for being fat and then for being sick. But the one thing I never did understand is, why does everyone else want me to hate my body? What does it matter to them?”

Sometimes [what other people want them to believe is] based on their allegedly unattractive features. They might be ashamed of their weight, their body hair…It isn’t always the media and peer pressure that create this shame; sometimes it comes from lessons at home…Some women grow up thinking that their very existence in a body that might be sexually attractive…is cause for shame – that their bodies make bad things happen just by existing.

Clearly, we want to stay grounded in a sense of self that does not rely on our appearance and does not put too much premium on our effect on others (for better or worse). Not withholding sympathy from this woman, I have to say I don’t believe that I am categorically lovely no matter how I look or how much I weigh. I just finished saying in The Obligation of Beauty that it’s a show of self-respect to take better care of oneself, and that means inside and out. But the self-love this article talks about turns a corner when death encroaches.

There are many regrets and unfulfilled wishes that patients have shared with me in the months before they die. But the stories about the time they waste hating their bodies, abusing it or letting it be abused — the years people spend not appreciating their body until they are close to leaving it – are some of the saddest.

“I am going to miss this body so much,” a different patient, many decades younger, told me. “I’d never admit it to my husband and kids, but more than anything else, it’s my own body I’ll miss most of all. This body that danced and ate and swam and had sex and made babies. It’s amazing to think about it. This body actually made my children. It carried me through his world.”

It’s the very existence of being in a body, something you likely take for granted until faced with the reality that you won’t have a body soon. You will no longer be able to experience this world in this body, ever again.

So they talk about their favorite memories of their bodies. About how the apples they stole from the orchard on the way home from school tasted, and how their legs and lungs burned as they ran away. The feel of the water the first time they went skinny-dipping. The smell of their babies’ heads. And dancing. I’ve heard so many stories about dancing…I can’t count the number of times people — more men than women — have closed their eyes and said, “If I had only known, I would have danced more.”

Precious, isn’t it? Those drowning in the sea of mortality throw us pearls and we find their wisdom to be the simplest things. This one’s about love at last sight, so sad when the appreciation for self and breath and texture come so late. The self-love we are encouraged toward isn’t a stout call to self-esteem but a fresh vision of beauty birthed by the anguished promise of loss. Recast in this light, the distinctions between thin and big people diminish. We all have a strong, strong chance at love.

Blogitis

Holisticpedia: [Blog-eye-tis] Blog withdrawal refers to a group of symptoms that may trigger from prolonged hiatus of posting after chronic sustained blogging. There is no way to predict how an individual will respond in the abstinence. If you plan to break for a month after blogging drunkenly for a minimum of a year, you should consult a health care practitioner before going cold turkey or locate a support group near you.

Days 1-5
Brain has yet to process the trying spell ahead. It is still feeding off the sugar of the comments from the last post and is feeling okay enough.

Days 6-12
Brain knows something is up. Headache and mild agitation.

Days 13-21
Irritability coupled with mood swings, anxiety, paleness, increased appetite and caloric intake. Seeks comfort food, craves alcohol.

Days 22-28
The shakes, sweating, failing blood pressure, chest pain. Bad dreams (that you have forgotten your WordPress password and are calling out to your readers, the screen impermeable against silent shouts).

Days 29 – Day You’re Kidding Me.
Call 911.

 

My Vows…To You

Vows3I, Holistic Wayfarer, take thee [Insert name], to be my WordPress-registered partner. In the presence of God, our family and friends, I pledge to thee my abiding support in sickness and in health, in the homeschooling and holiday breaks (well, more during the breaks), for richer for poorer ~ no matter your blog size ~ in joy as well as in sorrow. I promise to support you in your goals, to honor and respect you, to laugh and cry with you, and value every like and comment ’til you should unfollow and do us part.

field of words

photobucket.com

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this epicurean sea of wildflowers and opus
white blossoms stirs beneath the rising day

she spills seminal secrets as the bees and the
winds drive pollen grains and promise past
the velvet parting into stigma and style

with the marksmanship of knowing.

this field, voluminous womb, awash with prose
drinks the sun that climaxes overhead. a rain
of white sapphire upon silken spires that
indemnifies last night’s shower,

and the dandelion memories too much
for me in the wind perish in a panoply of filaments

but here i lie on my earthen bed pregnant
with poetry, the story under stories of the grass,
translating the anatomy of nature’s mystery and
indulge myself upon this, my field of words.

The Idiot’s Guide to a Happy Marriage: For Men

If you haven’t figured out these tricks by now, there might still be time to save your relationship. Might. So here we go. Those few days out of the month:

angry-woman1. Keep a spare pair of boxing gloves on hand for defensive blocks. Think of it as a workout. Build muscle and coordination. How nice, you don’t even have to go to the gym. Hey, give it ten years and you’ll be looking sharp and buff. You should thank her.

2. Accept the fact that you are stupid and anyone who goes near her is stupid. She has a soft spot for the kids but keep kickable pets away.

3. Try extra hard to pretend you’re listening. You just might get away with it if you look up when those lips start moving faster than you can handle.

4. Here’s your chance. Fix something, anything. The shingles on the roof, camera tripod, all the stuff you love tinkering with when you’re not napping. Break it first behind her back if you have to – but be sure you can FIX it!

5. Don’t forget the trash. Gosh, don’t forget the trash.

Bouquet26. You know the Yes, Dear that you haven’t been practicing? Well, good news. The premarital advisers were wrong. You don’t have to say it all the time. Statistics prove the abracadabra works when used just two days a month. Pick your hardest days. Takes less than two seconds – that’s not even four in a painful week. Wow, a year’s worth of peace in 48 seconds. Tell me of a cheaper, faster kind of relationship therapy out there.

7. Take her out. A movie will keep her quiet and entertained. She may even laugh. But if the trip alone with her in the car scares you too much…

8. What does she like? Play her favorite songs. Bring home flowers. How could you forget she’s craving sweets? Run her a hot bath, get her out of your hair for half an hour.

FinalWeddingSolo9. Remember why you wanted to marry her. The way she looked the day you met. (Her body.) Her mind, (her body,) her spirituality (her body). In fact, make that a wedding photo on your screensaver or phone. Take saving advantage of your visual facility and stare at the picture until you hypnotize yourself into believing that person’s still in there. Somewhere. People have been using guided imagery to conquer phobias and lose weight for centuries. You can do it, rescue your beloved from the premenstrual invasion of the Body Snatcher.

10. If all else is lost, cry. Since you can’t beat her, join her. No need to tell her you’re weeping over the death of your dreams. Let her be impressed with how deep and sympathetic you can be and experience together a new level of rapturous communion that’ll usher in a fresh love. Not a big deal you’ll have to do it all over again in a month. You’ll feel so much better.

And Happy 10th Anniversary to the Holistic Couple.

Holistic Love Doctor, M.LoveEd., Ph.D., HMFT, LoveL.Ac., L.HChVoodoo

What If You Weren’t Afraid?

Fear dictates a lot of what we do, say, and don’t. Over the years, my husband and I have peeled back the face of harsh words, avoidance, and everything in between to lay bare this tyrant in the heart. The things I want from him will often lead back to my fear of finding myself out in the cold with hat in hand. In those moments I’m the little girl her parents let down, even while I now understand that they had done their best. Holistic Husband will hesitate to share with me what he really thinks, afraid of rejection. I am short with my boy for shedding clothes outside because I am afraid he will get sick. Not a 100 pounds, I could not relate to anyone with eating disorders. Until a few years ago when I showed myself I could overeat. I knew better. I was the health and nutrition consultant among moms, with over a decade of study under her belt. The worst thing you can do with your food is do too much of it. I realized something wild. Though my husband spared no expensive to meet our needs, the compulsive eating started from fear of going hungry.

There are many things we hold back from trying, scared to fail. We worry about what others will think and end up spouting dumb words or holding back when we should speak up. The wind of peer pressure blows on our kids everyday, right through the morning window when they decide what to wear before pushing them toward and away from other kids.

How would these things look different in your life, if you were not afraid?

Your relationship with your sweetheart
How you parent
The people you tend to befriend
The relational boundaries you draw
How passive or aggressive you are in conflict
How often you say no
How and why you study
What you would say in a job interview
Where you work
How you work, the hours you put in
Your relationship with your self, in exercise or ways you nurture your body and spirit
Your eating
Your career
Your blogging
Your art
Your dance
How and what you write
What you buy
The goals you set
Add your own.

Feel free to think before getting back to me.

Never Too Old To Dance

As fun as it was to shake it, I buried my dance clothes in the treasury of happy memories deciding that I barely got away with it at my age. Mr. Wayfarer disagrees. Forty-two is hardly a time for him to start hanging hats. Yoko Ono seems to have proved him right. She shows what it means for 60 to be the new 40. So now I’m rethinking my dance avocation. If you’re 50 or older (in real time) and inspired by the video to do a jig on camera, email me your work of art in motion and I’ll consider posting it. Actually, it can be any display of creative or physical activity that might inspire us to adjust our self-imposed boundaries.

That like button is still under lock and key, by the way. I can’t believe you went ahead and tapped the Reader. Please. I am very busy on the home front and will stress at the sight of my inbox spilling over. *scowl*

 

Thanks to Leprosy on the Wall for the fun link.
holisticwayfarer@gmail.com

Readers’ Choice

Please respect my wishes. I. Do. Not. Want. Your. Like. On. This. Can I be any clearer, well-meaning friends? Tell you what. I will let you know when I really want it. I’ve hidden the button under the post so please don’t go tapping it on your Reader.

We’re not done with beauty. But on the heels of the party the neighbors complained about, I wanted to take the occasion to ask: What are some kinds of posts you would like to see more of here? We’ve talked about dreams, persistence, hope, death, loss, love, shame, fear, faith, parenting, achievement, childhood, race, culture, identity, belonging. There are the posts on clear writing and effective blogging, my helpless series on men and women, the behind-the-scenes exchanges between Mr. and Mrs. Wayfarer, dialogue between Mom and Boy – the blog plaited with poetry, with a touch of song (and dance). You seem to enjoy how I’ve used series to kaleidoscope through a topic. Thanks for welcoming our guest writers. One said that her blood froze every time she saw mail from me (laden with the edits). Wahahaha. Let’s just say your spirited support smooths things over. So suggestions and requests? You’re welcome to help steer the ship.

Marry Me

At the time when little girls start playing dress-up with their mother’s clothes, I was living in a forest without food or proper clothes. Grenades were falling, people were dying. It was war. Being beautiful was something for princesses in fairy tales. Months later we were sleeping in a park in Austria, dirty, homeless and hungry, refugees from the former Yugoslavia. Our first home was a cellar, without heating or daylight. From two neighbors I received t-shirts that were too big for me.

We moved to the countryside. I started high school and mobbing became a daily routine. I was the only child that wasn’t blond and pale. Girls were proudly wearing their first bra, having boyfriends and experimenting with make-up, while I was “the ugly one”. Trying to dress up made it even worse, so I shaved my head to give them a real reason for their cruelty. The yearbook sold out in a few hours because of my picture. For months I had nightmares of their horrific laughter.

After graduation I moved, back to the city where my family had slept on park benches. The picture of the bald me hung on my wall like a curse. I now lived next door to the neighbors who had given me the t-shirts. They needed a sitter for their younger son who had leukemia. I needed the money and as a student of medicine was a good candidate. It was tough. He didn’t like me. He wouldn’t tell me when he was in pain, wouldn’t eat what I put before him. He sat there for hours, quiet, weak, bald. I considered quitting the job.

One day when it was raining heavily I missed the bus back home from university. I had no umbrella and by the time I reached my block I was drenched. I decided to grab some clothes from my apartment first, even though I was late. I ran up the stairs and saw him waiting by my door. The walk from his house to my place was not an easy one for him. He must have been really angry but agreed to wait for me. While I was in the bathroom, he suddenly knocked on the door.

“Who is that bald girl in the picture?” he demanded.

“Me, why?”

He didn’t answer. When I entered the room he was gone. The picture from the wall as well. I found him at his place, with a flower in his tiny hands, on his knees.

“Do you want to marry me when I kick this cancer’s ass and grow up to be old enough for that?”

“Danny, you hate me. Why would you want to marry me, when you don’t even talk to me?”

He looked at my ugly picture, reopening all my wounds. He got up and gave me the flower. “Because… without your hair you are the most beautiful girl in the world.”

Becky at Back to Whatever

I Will Sing: Faith

branches

Unless you’re helplessly tone-deaf, you’ll hear the unvarnished attempt of a songwriter
whose gift wasn’t singing. I can’t help wince at my voice but if the Scriptures sung in crude,
bare worship should bless anyone, the embarrassment will have been worth it. I thought
the song of hope would take us nicely from the last post Beauty From Ashes to the
one that’s coming up. You can zoom for the lyrics. Thanks for listening. Love, Me.

 

Faith01a

Faith04

Beauty From Ashes: Disabilities

In 1996, God gifted our family with a precious baby boy. Just like his two older sisters he was perfect in every way. But when he turned 15 months, we started to notice him “fading” and “pulling away” from us. At three-and-a-half, Justin was finally diagnosed with severe autism. Our world shattered.

Background
Beauty and brains are supposed to make for a winning combination in the future of a woman. From a young age I was taught hard work would make the most of these two elements. So as a little girl I wanted to be pretty and smart, and was willing to work as I needed to. My parents moved the family from Hong Kong to the United States when I was 12 years old. With only an elementary school education, my parents spoke very little English and worked long hours. I was the first in my family to get a college degree, with a B.S. in Civil Engineering. Upon graduation, I became project engineer for the U.S. Department of Transportation. I continued to work part-time as a professional model. A few years later, I added a Masters in Cross Cultural Studies to my résumé. I married a handsome man who is an accomplished doctor out of an Ivy League. All in all, not too shabby for a daughter of poor immigrants.

But becoming a mother brought out some of my deepest insecurities. Unlike the discipline of engineering, there is no exact science to motherhood. The more deeply I grew to love my children, the more I felt uncertainty and even a sense of helplessness. I applied every mothering principle I could out of every book on godly wisdom. But still nervous that I wouldn’t ‘measure up’ as a mom, I labored even harder to be the ‘perfect mom.’

Our first child was the compliant one that allowed me to play rookie Mom with relative success. Our second was the spirited one that challenged every word and boundary. We spent a lot more time praying on our knees and asking the help of others with this spunky child. Along came our third. Everything was normal until our outgoing, explorative child suddenly became a serious introvert who was attracted to objects instead of people. He eventually lost his ability to speak and had trouble engaging the world. His diagnosis was a death sentence. No longer were we on our knees. We were on our faces before God.

A simple dinner out as a family would turn into a problem when Justin made loud noises to drown out the sounds in the restaurant. Embarrassment would turn to disaster when he went on to bang his head to the table, punching himself before pouring the glass of ice water on himself. He also refused to leave the restaurant in tones so strident that some onlookers would look with judgment on our “obvious” lack of parenting skills. So many family outings have gone sour: like when he snuck away and got lost on a ship. Another time he hid himself at an amusement park. We searched for him for hours. Over the years I’m afraid we developed a sense of hopelessness and dread as parents. We’d opt to hide out at home where things were more controlled and there was no need to worry about stares or comments. Still, even at home were plenty of moments when Justin would become frustrated or overstimulated. He would start hurting himself or run around the house kicking holes in the wall. We got so tired of repairing those we just left them unpatched for a while. No amount of beauty, brains or hard work could save us from this 24/7 tragedy.

Beauty from Ashes
I knew the answer to our pain would not come by human means. My husband and I had prayed and grieved so much. But little by little, hope surfaced. Not because our beloved son was miraculously healed; he has grown in some ways – always a great joy and a deep encouragement. Over the past 19 years, we found we have been changed. Maybe the miracle we were praying for did indeed occur. In our own hearts. We started to realize how deeply our own lives have been enriched, in some ways beyond our imagination.

I would like to share with you the 10 most important lessons I have learned on this journey.

1. God is not surprised and He is in control.
The day we got Justin’s diagnosis, all the dreams we ever had for him were lost in an instant. Like most parents, we imagined he would grow up to be a typical boy who enjoyed sports, had lots of friends, went to parties, and had fun growing up. We looked forward to his graduating from college, getting a job and maybe starting his own family. We felt robbed. Some point later during prayer, God showed me in the first chapter of Genesis that He created something beautiful out of chaos. He reminded me that He is an expert at making the best out of the worst raw materials and situations. He created beauty from ashes. He showed me that He was and is in full control. And that He loved Justin very much. This divine assurance was the first peace and comfort I experienced since the “death sentence”.

2. Shore up the foundation for the long term.
When crisis happens we almost always run to solve the problem and put out the fire. But special-needs families like ours need to remember that life is a marathon and not a sprint. Statistics tell us that up to 90% of marriages with a special-needs child end up in divorce. My husband and I learned to put in place supports for our marriage even as we tackled the needs of our son. We set aside weekly date nights, quarterly getaways, and special times of prayer to reconnect and be refreshed. Marriage counseling improved our communication. These measures enabled us to walk the many deep valleys together as one. I understand it might not be possible for all parents to do all these things. But I have seen some really creative ways couples have found to strengthen their marriages. Some couples institute a daily 15-minute hugging/holding time with no interruption. Others exchange love letters of appreciation. Others reach out to needy families in their area to exchange babysitting and help one other in various ways. You are of no use to your child in the long run if you – and your marriage – do not survive. Your relationship is not something you can place on hold while you put all your energy into helping your child. You must prioritize your marriage, for that covering is super-important to your children. Knowing that the two most important people in their world both love and are committed to each other is perhaps the best gift you can give your child.

The other foundation you must shore up is yourself. Mothers will sacrifice everything for their children. There are seasons where this is called for in order to allow our children to thrive. However, these seasons cannot last. In fact, they need to be as short as possible. In order to make it for the long haul, we need to feed and nurture our own souls. This may be difficult, as many of us are wired to give selflessly. But we cannot give out of emptiness. I learned this principle from Jesus Himself. The Bible tells us that Jesus poured Himself out for others. He healed the sick, the blind and the lame. He encouraged the downhearted and taught all who would listen. He challenged the corrupt authorities and brought the Kingdom of God wherever He went. But He poured Himself out from His fullness in God. Even Jesus, the very incarnation of God Almighty, at times went off by Himself to commune with His Heavenly Father. He also needed to eat and sleep, at least sometimes. We need to find ways to refresh ourselves. I love to take occasional prayer retreats in solitude to nourish my soul. In those times alone with Him, I am reminded that I am first and foremost His beloved daughter. He reminds me that I am cherished and that He loves my family more than I do. With this strong assurance in my heart, I can return home as a nurturing mother to all my children and a faithful and loving wife for my husband as best I can.

3. It takes a community.
I used to pride myself in being independent and self-sufficient. Asking for help was very uncomfortable for me. In fact, I saw it as a sign of weakness. But after years of being humbled by my neediness and even suffering times of serious depression, I learned that I must lean on my community. Just as importantly, I learned that it is no shame to do so. I now seek out older parents with special-needs children for mentors and supporters. Together, we’ve trained college students who are energetic caregivers for our son and others. This network has been an incredible blessing, nothing less than extended family. I can no longer make this journey alone.

4. My worth is not based on my accomplishments.
When I was younger I believed that my accomplishments showed my value. This was part of the beauty, brains and hard work equation of my culture. I grew up with the constant fear that if I failed to achieve more and yet more, my self-worth would tumble. Whenever I felt unmotivated or perceived that I was underachieving, I would feel dreadful, guilty and unworthy. But in parenting Justin, I found that no matter what he was or wasn’t able to do my love for him remained steady. I realized that Justin’s limited abilities did not change my love for him. In fact, I loved him even more. I wanted to protect and care for him more as he depended so much on me. One day I was trying to get him to attend to what I was saying to him when he was absorbed in his own little world. I longed so much for my child to just take one glance at me and connect with me. God’s Spirit said to me, “Chrissie, I love you and long for you in the same way.” I could hardly digest the truth. “Really?! Father, you do?” I came to appreciate the unconditional love of our God in a new way. This has become an important part of my own healing: accepting that I am loved for who I am, not for my looks or brains or accomplishments. I am valuable whether I produce or not. I am not what I do. Wow! In our accomplishment-obsessed culture, this was a breakthrough for me.

5. Receive the gift of now.
As a planner who thinks strategically, I tend to put a goal in front of me and then figure out what I need to do to reach it. Everything needs to be purposeful and intentional, wasting neither time nor resources. Efficiency may be great for the corporate world, but taken to the extreme in everyday life it is a joy-robber. Living with Justin has meant living with uncertainty. So over time we have learned to be okay with the unexpected. In between meltdowns, we’ve learned to breathe deeply, to listen to the birds, or just feel the warmth of the sun. We’ve learned to appreciate the gentleness of a touch and the warmth of a smile. Everyone shouts in joy when a baby first says dada or mama. But soon, we take their ability to speak for granted. Autism affects our son in ways that we cannot understand. At one moment he might be able to say, “That’s great, Mom!” and the next moment have no words at all. We have learned to appreciate every small victory, like when he says, “Good morning, Dad” because we cannot know if those words will ever come forth from those lips again. We’ve learned to appreciate the miracle of the moment. The gift of now is priceless. Being too future-oriented has sometimes caused us to lose the joy of the moment. We don’t do that anymore because while the present is here only now, the future may never be.

6. What other people think of you is not really important.
One aim of successful modeling is to be able look effortlessly gorgeous at all times. Perhaps I mastered that to a certain degree. Even when I am lost, I can totally look like I know where I am going. My daughters still joke about that. The faking was important to me because I always wanted others to have a good impression of me and my family. Being Justin’s mom has forced me to abandon that silly desire and so has given me new freedom. It was hard enough to always look buttoned up when the girls were babies. When Justin came along, the unpredictable tantrums and meltdowns almost kept me from going out in public at all. I had to rethink my need to look composed and in control. I had to learn not to be bothered by the condemning looks of strangers. Gone were the effortless pretty days. Not worrying about what strangers think has been a blessing and freedom all its own.

7. Take the lemons and make lemonade.
The challenge of having a child with autism gave us the chance to get to know many other parents in the same situation. We came to know needs in this population that had not been addressed and we prayed we might be part of the answer. We discovered that 90% of the families with special-needs children do not attend church. One main reason is that there is almost never appropriate child care for autistic children. With support from our church, we started a special ministry for these families. I shared publicly our struggles with our child. Parents thanked me. It turned out that many of them were in my shoes but for the sense of shame had kept the truth about their children a family secret. We trained workers to understand the children’s unique challenges, set up classrooms specially designed for autistic kids, added picture scheduling so the kids could know what was coming next, and made sure that the Bible lessons, the songs and teachings were always appropriate. We worked hard to integrate these kids with other children to help them socialize. Our entire church community transformed into a more caring and understanding place. We broke down those walls of shame and fear. No longer do families with special-needs children in our area feel that churches don’t accept or love them.

8. Function as family, but let kids be kids.
Our tendency as parents is to protect children from harmful, bad or tough things. We never want to overwhelm children with adult-sized problems. But we do feel it is good to share with our girls in an age-appropriate way when challenges arise. They have learned lifelong lessons from these times. They have seen our family rally for one another and have grown to see themselves as indispensable members of our family. This is much healthier than hiding family needs and problems from the kids. A word of caution: do not load your children with more than a child’s share of duty. They are still just kids. Do not turn them into primary caregivers for their special-needs sibling – an impossible role for a child. If this boundary is not observed, typical siblings can become resentful and bear ill feelings towards the special-needs child. We have tried to remain sensitive in this area and our daughters have grown in a very loving relationship with their brother. Their care for him does not come from a place of obligation but of love.

9. Do not parent from fear.
Fear sells. Many of the commercials that target parents feed off our normal parental tendency to protect. I was a very conscientious mom who installed protective locks on the windows, plugged the outlets, checked car seat restraints, moved all dangerous chemicals to locked top shelves, etc. etc. etc. Yet it was my child who ended up falling out of our second-floor window when he was four. I was angry at myself. But through that terrible incident, I learned that all my fear and worry were not best for our children. My endless worrying and all my safeguards will never be enough. There will always be dangers in this world. It dawned on me. I really needed to trust in the only One who could truly protect my kids. This truth freed me from the burden of feeling I needed to do more and more and more. It helped me experience a new level of peace that has been a blessing not just to me, but also to my husband and our children.

10. God’s dream for my children is better than mine.
We had chosen a special name for our son before he was born. Justin means justice and righteousness. We prayed for him to be a leader in those areas. We thought he might become a lawyer or a social worker or a pastor. We had to give up those dreams but we had no idea that God would resurrect them in ways we never imagined. In training young people to work with autistic kids like Justin, many have shared how deeply blessed they have been; they experienced God’s unconditional love for them. Many look forward to coming to our home to work with Justin. Some have chosen to study the field of special education to become teachers. One day it occurred to me, “How many ten-year-olds do you know who’ve influenced this many people in such a profound way just by being himself?”

Despite the conscientious laws in the United States, not all children have automatic access to appropriate education. At times we have had to fight with the school system to get needed services for Justin and other autistic kids in the district. We felt that perhaps the teachers and school leaders resented us for advocating so strongly for our son. But it was a simple matter of justice for Justin and for autistic children everywhere so we never gave up. Out of the blue one day a teacher wrote us a card thanking us for fighting as we did. She said that the process of her adjusting for Justin had also benefited her other students and pushed her to be a better teacher as well. I was so deeply touched I cried.

Motherhood has been a humbling process for me. It has changed my definition of success. Life is no longer about outward beauty, big brains, hard work and a show of accomplishments. It is now more about inward beauty and hidden things that perhaps only my Father can see. I’ve learned that inner beauty comes from love and a spirit that has gone through ashes and brokenness. This is an eternal beauty that cosmetics cannot achieve. Brains are not just for stuffing knowledge into; they are for growing in wisdom. The wisdom of a parent will be one of the most important legacies we can leave our children. Effortless beauty and eternal wisdom flow out of a place of contentment, not striving. I have found that contentment in my heavenly Father.

“He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted…provide for those who grieve…to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor.”  Isaiah 61:1-3

 

I was amazed to find this piece written a year ago sounding so at home in this series. Christina shared her story originally as a contribution to a book in keeping with her passion to serve as a voice for the voiceless, the overlooked and vulnerable. Her husband is an esteemed professor and physician of gastroenterology in Southern California who made his recent second appearance on the TV show The Doctors. Christina is, among other things, a brave heart. She enrolled her two bright daughters in the Mafia Academy of Arts for instruction in writing and piano which the girls endured six long years.