Thursday, January 4, 2018

Just tell me whether to dip or not.

We are still visiting churches. There are a million reasons. A dozen excuses. But the bottom line is that we still haven't found a place to fit -- and frankly now that we are moving it is harder than ever to make the effort to plug in short term.

So we found ourselves visiting yet another.

I sat in the pew -- all the way at the back of the church because oh man, we get tired of being conspicuous looking for a place to park the wheelchair -- and thought about the beauty of belonging. There is nothing quite as wonderful as being embraced by loved ones as you prepare to worship together. I used to be the last one out of my home church, only leaving after I had hugged everyone around. 

It has been a long long time since I felt that sense of belonging in a sanctuary. It has been a long time since I was the last person to leave.  But oh how I long for that sense of being with loved ones in a common worship.

So when the pastor called us forward for communion, I was ready. What better way to belong than to come to the table and accept the bread as the body of Christ, and the wine, as Jesus' blood.

We went forward pew by pew. I hung back with Benjamin as the rest of our family -- and the rest of the pew -- went forward. Benjamin was having some anxiety as he drove to the front of the church. Though he has no idea what triggers this -- it wasn't the first time a church sanctuary has been a problem. (Just one of the reasons we struggle to find a "home.") I selfishly wanted us to participate in communion but was getting nervous that he would not be able to, so as we went forward to the altar for our turn, I was also my own-brand of anxious. One of the pastors handed me the bread -- a piece for me and a piece for Benjamin. I bowed over it and placed mine in my mouth and his in his. Dear pastor leaned forward and whispered that she would give me another piece so that we could dip it in the wine.

Dip it.

Oh yes.

I tried to smile as I whispered we were accustomed to doing it separately.

She smiled and said she should have explained.

She handed me a second piece. And then she took another piece and dipped it for Benjamin and handed it to me.

As I turned to put it in Benjamin's mouth he shook his head and his eyes met mine with a panicked-look. He couldn't swallow. He couldn't do it again in front of everyone. I quickly placed his wine-soaked piece of break into my own mouth. And as reverently as possible, stood and tried to help him back to our pew in the back of the sanctuary. As I climbed over him to my own seat, I realized MY bread was still clutched in my fist, never having been dipped. I didn't know what to do so I threw it in my mouth.

(In an effort to make light, I assured the kids that I was too full from communion to eat after church!)

And though the pastor was kind and gracious with me, with us, nothing could have left me feeling less like I belonged than not knowing the nuances of how to take communion with this community.

Finding a place, finding a people is not for the faint of heart. Those of us who move around in the course of our life, have to find people, leave people, and find people again. And as we enter this weird season of transition -- of having one foot here and one there and flying back and forth -- I fear belonging might be a bit of a challenge. (In case you missed it...I am talking about our move here.

But this weekend my mother began telling the kids stories of our time in Germany -- she and a itty-bitty one-year-old me moved to Germany to be with my Dad when he was stationed there during the Vietnam War. She told about carrying me on the bus to do hair on the Army base. 

Kids: "Who kept Mom, Grammy?"

My Mother: "Keep her? She went with me and just played with the kids on the base."

My mom and her itty-bitty side-kick!

She told story after story. And always, I was there, fitting in as I must, making friends with strangers some who spoke English, some who spoke German. It was such a God-moment for me as I heard in her stories God's reminder that He has been preparing me for all these moves -- for meeting new people, for finding my place, since I was itty-bitty.

It isn't magic. We have been here two plus years and don't have that church, that community where I am the last one to leave. We don't have a place where people are accustomed to seeing our family and don't gawk -- even the kindest stares feel like gawking. That place where we know whether to dip our communion bread or not...

But we will press through. We will keep looking for our place here -- even temporarily -- and we will be ready to look again once we are all moved. We won't be perfect. There will be some days where the effort outweighs the need for community. We will celebrate in those who have embraced us here and do our best to love them well.

And one day, one day, when we find that safe place to worship in a community that loves us and allows us to love them, we will do our best to make sure others feel that they belong. I'll even show them how to take communion.

And I'll be the last one to leave the sanctuary. The very last one.

Carol - The Blessings Counter

Friday, December 22, 2017

Making merry DOES NOT require motor skill development.

We are three days before Christmas and amidst my sweet little social media community of special needs mamas, there is stress, and worry, and a pervasive sadness that I understand all too well.

And as I have read the posts this week, I have felt an overwhelming need to hug friends that I only know virtually -- but I KNOW them nonetheless.

I know for instance, that standing in a toy store can trigger a wave of grief that is hard to explain. Wade and I used to visit the toy store and just stand in aisles staring at toys that we feared would frustrate our boys more than delight them. We wrestled each year looking for toys that would not just be FUN but would also facilitate motor skill development. Because when you have Cerebral Palsy play can rarely just be play....

I know for instance what it is to buy toys that force my boys to sit up to play, toys that force them to use their hands, toys that encourage them to stand and play. 

I know that sometimes we buy toys that are age-appropriate even though they aren't really appropriate. The year Santa brought tricycles was particularly hard. Claire was more than ready and the physical therapist had said they would love to work with Mason on pedaling. We knew Benjamin might never be able to learn to pedal but Santa found a beautiful tricycle with a supportive seat and after Dad tightened the handle bars down as tight as possible so they didn't move AT ALL, Benjamin could sit on that tricycle and talk to his siblings as they went round and round him on the patio.

Christmas morning watching the parade from their trikes!
(We had to wait for the Minnesota snow to melt to take the trikes outside!)

I know for instance that sometimes our children want toys that just don't work for them. We have bought video games and taken apart joysticks and reassembled them in an effort to allow Benjamin to play. We have bought video games and wept because the movements required were simply not movements he could do. Even with the adapted joystick.

I know what it means to buy snow boots that never touched snow -- even in Minnesota. 

And I know what it is to fight to make memories that outweigh and overwhelm any sadness or grief.

The Shraders holding bunny rabbits on the wagon ride to pick the perfect Christmas tree !

And so this is what I want my special mamas to know:

My babies are adults today. 20 years old. They spent some time around the island in our kitchen this week talking about Christmases-past, and guess what? Never once did they mention a toy they couldn't work or a memory that was sad because of their Cerebral palsy.  They didn't dwell on a list of "toys of the year" that they didn't receive because they weren't appropriately designed for boys who struggled with motor skills. Nor did they mention the myriad of "therapeutic" toys they DID receive because...well, because they never knew that Tarzan playhouse was to encourage Benjamin to sit up and use his hands to manipulate the pieces. Or that the Dress-Up items had buttons and zippers that little hands needed practice on. 

They just didn't know.

Oh please hear me, the memories my crew were discussing were joy-filled and magical. They loved our traditions and only gave me the smallest bit of a hard time over dragging the walker, the power sticks, three preschoolers, two adults, a camera, a tripod for camera, and a saw to the middle of the Christmas tree farm in sub-arctic temps for that perfect tree!!

I am here begging you to find your merry. Don't be rigid in traditions that wear you out -- we ultimately chose to ride the wagon around the tree-farm but to buy our tree in the pre-cut lot because the memory-making part was about holding bunnies as we rode the wagon NOT about the actual cutting-down of the tree. And guess what, that is ok.

Feel the hard. I know it is real. But also, find the joy. Because I know you know that it is real too.

I'm loving you from over here!

Carol - The Blessings Counter

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Your college kids are finally home. Now what?

My college crew have been home for a total of three full days. We have seen the new Star Wars movie. Broken a washing machine. Discussed the new Star Wars movie. Bought a new washing machine. Had one or two conflicts about the mess I would prefer they not leave in their wake. Discussed the Star Wars movie a bit more.

I am so so glad they are here. Mess and all.

But I finally realized today -- this third come-home-from-college-Christmas, that in the hours before they get here, I fully expect these three to walk through the door.

You know....I expect the three who were totally dependent on me. Who needed me for their every need. Who um, you know, preferred me over all the other people -- even Santa -- on the planet.

I mean, I don't expect them to be four-year-olds. Benjamin and Mason's facial hair alone reminds me immediately that they are NOT four! But it is more than that...

The three who came home are amazing young adults -- on the cusp of 21 -- only three semesters from college graduation. They have -- all three -- done amazing things in their college tenures and I grin from ear to ear hearing them discuss, debate, and dissect everything from politics to you know, Star Wars.

But in an effort to be completely transparent, I will confess that the learning curve for having college kids has been far harder to adapt to than the actual being college students part seems to have been for Benjamin, Mason, and Claire. And as such, the having-these-young-adults-home-part has been harder to figure out.

I want to do it better. I want tangible tools to handle it emotionally -- in a way that is healthy for me and by amazing trio -- and eventually for my baby Red! So I googled it. I did. Someone out there HAS to have wisdom on handling college.

They do. But it is all about how to help our kids handle it. The experts say parents should hold in our emotions so not to stress them out. We should also keep an even disposition so that they not sense any angst we are experiencing.

What? How? What do you mean?

Ironically, these internet "experts" offer no real how-to, just a lot of should and should nots.

As such, I feel compelled to offer some words -- not necessarily of wisdom, I think I am far from figuring this thing out -- but words, nonetheless:

1. Give your college kid -- and yourself -- a couple of days to adjust to life back together. Whether you wanted to or not, you developed a new routine with them away. It might take you a minute to readjust that routine. And yes, they have grown accustomed to making all their decisions without your input. The back-in-the-parents-home part might be a challenge for them as well.

2. Don't expect them to rush in and be ready to bake gingerbread houses and Christmas cookies. At least not the first day. Your college kiddo is coming home off of exams. He or she might need to sleep before a recognizable disposition is visible. Possibly for days. I am not even kidding.

3. I am not a big supporter of holding in emotions. I think it is a dangerous habit, and frankly can lead to emotive-explosions down the road, possibly completely misdirected explosions. But I would caution that expressing too many emotions while your college kid is exhausted will lead to completely different explosions. You will want to avoid these at all costs! ;)

4. Throw out expectations. Really. The process of growing and evolving as a parent is not pain-less. Oh for the love, it is so NOT painless. But the for sure way to make it even more painful is to expect our child to return home unchanged by their college experience. If we try and fit them back into the mold they fit in prior to college, we are negating the growth and frankly failing to grow ourselves. 

5. Hear them. Once they wake up, they will want to talk. Undoubtedly, they will want to tell you all about their semester, what they are learning, where they are spending their time, and the things they are processing as they grow. Listen. You might want to jump in with some serious opinions. And more than likely they will want to hear those. But listen first. Hear them. Help them process by being an accepting sounding-board.

And then finally, pull out the flour, the sugar, and the sprinkles. Because no matter their age, somewhere deep inside, your college kids want to know you are still there ready to bake Christmas cookies. Ready to fit in the exact mold they expect YOU to fit in.

Carol - The Blessings Counter