Hey there, faithful followers. I am moving to a self-hosted site. I promise this is my last move. And thank you, those of you who followed me here from my last spot. Please go check out the latest in my Autism Awareness series at my new blog, Jennbuell.com.
This is the second installment in my Autism Awareness Month, 2015, series.
He sat on the cooler behind the table full of snacks, a smile on his face. But he wasn’t fully focused on what was in front of him. His darting gaze and slight rocking movements told me his mind was far away. “You ready to do this, Ryan?” I asked. “Oh. Yes…ma’am,” he replied with a smile and a serious nod, coming back to the present. Part of me paused for a second, wondering if this was such a good idea.
It was Easter Sunday and our church was doing our annual Easter at the Civic Center. The goal was to be a welcoming place for people who might not set foot in a church comfortably. It was my family’s first year serving at this event. Finding a place for Kati, Jarod, and I to plug in was simple. Lucy was heartbroken that at age six she was too young to serve during a service. Bless her heart.
But what to do with Ryan?
Autism complicates things. One of the characteristics of autism is difficulty with social skills. Ryan is pretty high-functioning but I knew holding a door as a greeter was not the way to go. He’d need a helper to stand by to help filter whatever might flit into his mind and out his mouth. Oh the possibilities!
I approached Michael and Carrie, our children’s pastors, with my dilemma. Children’s ministry was where the rest of us were serving and they know Ryan. Hmmm. They agreed this would be a challenge but they wanted to help find a spot for him. God bless good children’s pastors willing to shepherd all kinds of kids.
Carrie finally came up with the perfect fit: Ryan could man the Snack Table, passing out cold water and restocking the goodies as they were devoured by grateful volunteers. It was in the small Volunteer Check-in Room, away from loud crowds of too many people. Ryan liked that idea. He had a place to serve.
He was cute when we signed in, heading straight to the table and offering suggestions on good snack choices for Carrie that made her smile. He sounded like a waiter. “Do you want protein? This breakfast bar looks great for that!” “Can I get you some water?”
Finding a place for an autistic teen to fit in at church can be daunting. As a mom, I can tell you it can make you self-conscious and nervous they are going to run into trouble. It can raise anxiety levels that they are going to say something wrong and offend someone who doesn’t understand they have special needs. Ryan has found his place in youth group and youth small groups thanks to great volunteers. But this was the first time I’d found a place for him to serve—especially without me at his side to keep an eye on things.
Ryan did great. He ate a lot which made Kristi, the volunteer coordinator, laugh. But he was polite and he chatted with people in a pretty normal way. And when the morning was over, Ryan got to say he was part of something amazing. There were 442 people who gave their lives to Jesus that weekend. And Ryan fed some of the 928 volunteers who made that possible.
God calls us each to serve as the Body of Christ. Not everyone is suitable for every job. Part of a good leadership team is plugging volunteers into the right spot. Finding areas where they can shine what talents God has given them and thrive with a sense of contributing to the work of the ministry. I’m thankful my leaders didn’t shy away from finding a spot to plug in my special son. He later told me it was fun and he’d love to do it again.
Everyone has something to offer the kingdom of God. He has given each of us something to contribute. Even with Ryan’s limitations, he has been created by a God who knows him and has a plan for his life. I’m honored to have good leaders who got creative in helping him find a small way to contribute. For an autistic teenager, that’s no small feat.
If your church is looking for ways to include special needs kids and adults, feel free to contact me. I love training church volunteers on how to include special families like mine.
Every mom likes to think her child is one in a million. My son is one in 68. I can say this with certainty because my second son, Ryan, has autism.
April is Autism Awareness Month with April 2nd specifically being “Light it Up Blue for Autism” Day. Tomorrow I plan to wear blue. Wanna join me? Other than blue, it will be just another day around here. We’ve been living with autism for quite a while.
Here’s the quick and fast basics about autism. It is a pervasive developmental disorder affecting speech and language, behavior, and sensory needs. “Pervasive” just means it affects multiple areas of the individual’s life. In 1980 autism was being diagnosed at the rate of 1 in 10,000 kids in the US. When Ryan was diagnosed in 2002, the rates were 1 in 150 kids. In 2014, the CDC declared this a crisis as the rates reached 1 in 68.
While some may blame better testing techniques or a knee-jerk tendency to label everyone with something for the climbing rates, those reasons cannot account for this level of increase this fast. Statistically that’s impossible in 35 years. Something is causing these rates to rise and no one knows what.
In another post I’ll talk about theories on causes and treatments. But today I want to share from my heart about my 1 in 68.
Autism is a spectrum disorder. That means that no two individuals with autism manifest it exactly alike. It ranges on a spectrum from severe to mild. Some individuals are severe—unable to talk or having limited ability to communicate. For some, it is mild, manifesting in a few quirks. These individuals can grow up to have careers in specific areas they excel in. Think Sheldon on Big Bang Theory. Any mom of an autistic child sees the signs in that character. “You’re in my spot.” “It’s Tuesday. We have Thai food on Tuesday.” Ryan falls in the middle, leaning toward mild.
While Ryan has autism, I don’t believe autism is all he is. He is my child. Ryan is as much of a blessing to me as his siblings. He is quirky and fun, creative and smart. He’s hit 6’1” at age 14 and I’m not certain he’s done growing. He possesses many interests including art, music, landscaping, and a variety of sports with Special Olympics. He is thriving in the regular high school classes—just with a little help. Since his father died, when he picks up that mom is stressed, he tries to give me backrubs. It’s sweet.
He has taught me patience I never dreamed I could have. He has opened doors for me to share what I have learned with nursing students, children’s workers at churches, and with moms fearful of the warning signs they see in their own children. Because of what I have learned I can offer them advice and hope. I have learned how to navigate special education systems and understand parents’ rights. I’ve learned how to balance being his zealous advocate with being an ally of teachers who truly desire to see him succeed.
It’s because of Ryan my first freelance article was published in Children’s Ministry Magazine several years ago (Meet My Son). Taking him to church used to be an experience that caused me such anxiety. I found a way to help other parents by sharing what it feels like with children’s volunteers and pastors. I still enjoy doing trainings with churches—large and small—to help workers understand how to include special kids.
Raising a child with autism requires I have patience. It requires I notify him in advance of change or new plans. He takes many medications and vitamin therapies and is on a gluten-free diet. I need to calmly help him work through frustrations or disappointments that other kids can quickly let go. It means making exceptions or different expectations because his abilities are unique.
Parenting a child with autism requires a new learning curve. It’s one I embraced early on. God gave me this child with special needs therefore it was my job to be the best mom I could be for him. I mess up, just like with his siblings. But more often than not I do a good job with him. So this month I will relish in sharing what being Ryan’s mom has taught me with my readers. The more people who understand autism, the better off the world will be.
If you are with a church and you’d like me to come speak to children’s workers about including special needs children, please contact me. Church is often a scary place for special needs families to attempt and every child should feel welcome in God’s house.
Don’t forget to wear blue for autism on April 2nd!
One of my favorite bloggers, Emily P. Freeman, encourages others to take time at the end of the month to write about what we learned. Be it silly or spiritual, sweet or just noticing life around me, I love this challenge. So enjoy what I learned this month and please share in the comments something you learned this month—be it silly or deep.
- I appreciate sunshine more than I realized. After a long winter (and this wasn’t even a bad one) the sunshine and the warmer temps are affecting me more this year. I want to drink them in and be outside more.
- My eldest child strives to be a classy dude. I knew that one but there were many reminders this month. From his love of wearing bowties and hats to his request that his sisters stop the potty humor so we can have a little class, I’ve seen it this month all over again.
- When I eat junk, I feel like junk. Again, knew that but had a couple of days where I felt stressed and just didn’t care. Only by the end of the second one I felt tired, heavier (not just on the scale), and slightly sick. Note to self: buy more fruits and veggies…except broccoli. See next item.
- I still hate broccoli. Seriously. The smell…gag. Ugh. I tried. I really did. Two of my kids love it and two tolerate it. So I will try to cover my nose and prepare it from time to time for their health. But don’t expect me to sample any.
- Time at Starbucks with workout friends can be calming on a tempestuous day. Talking about nothing and anything over a treat can help recharge my batteries before diving into the necessary. And thanks to warmer weather I’m enjoying a Refresher at 90 calories instead of a macchiato at 290 calories. So there’s that….
- A no isn’t always the end. Sometimes it is the change in direction you need. Sometimes, after you feel sad about the no, you can find new directions, new paths, and even new ideas. And reading new books to learn new things is exhilarating.
- Some of the movies I was sure my kids would LOVE from my past have bored them to tears and some have rocked their worlds. Ah well. I’ll keep trying. Some classics are just worth seeing. I mean I haven’t even gotten to the Lethal Weapon series yet and Mullet Mel Gibson is so worth a look.
- I think I would adore sitting and having coffee with author Kathi Lipp. Just started her book “The Cure for the Perfect Life” and I’m convinced we’d be fast friends.
- I was reminded, yet again, that I adore the privilege motherhood gives me of being part of these four little humans’ lives. I get to watch my beautiful daughter Kati run track and do things I never could–specifically hurdles and playing the cello (just not while she’s running). I get to see Ryan find joy in the water in Special Olympics Swim Practice and discover gardening. I get to watch the pride in little Lucy’s face as she describes to me her reading progress and how she’s getting better at flips on the monkey bars. I get to help my son Jarod grow in his faith as he dives deeper into the Bible and comes to me with good, sound questions. I get to be part of that! Best. Job. Ever.
So what did you learn in March? Was it a good month for shaking winter sadness and embracing spring? Are you starting new books? New adventures? If spring hasn’t sprung, hang in there. I saw a beautiful tree outside Starbucks today I hadn’t noticed before. Its branches tickled the sky and tiny buds poised ready to burst forth in green beauty. Ah. I’ll enjoy that today for sure.
Slap. Slap. Slap. My footfalls resound heavy on the track. They are slower than the rest of my TRX class. My bad knees and ankles prevent me from running but I’m trying to keep moving and not let that stop me completely. I do what I can, tossing in a few extra laps of power walking to compensate. I laugh it off as a friend passes me—yet again. “I’m the slow gazelle. You just need to outrun me to avoid the lions.” She laughs.
The truth, however, is that each step this morning has brought lions biting at my heels—echoes of lies I’ve heard and believed my whole life. I’m slow. I’m fat. I’ll never look like the rest of the class. I’m less-than. I’m not enough. And then the big one: Why do I even bother?
When trying to do anything that takes work and effort, isn’t that the biggest lie to combat? If I’m not as good as the rest, why even try?
But something comes to mind about this class full of more fit, more agile, and often younger people: the encouragement I get at random times. Good job, Jenn. Way to go, Jenn. You can do it, Jenn. No one judges me, at least out loud. As I take my time on the stairs and they whiz by me at double my speed, so many of them offer a smile or one of these encouragements.
Heather, the teacher, is always kind about offering different levels of each exercise for different abilities. She never singles me out and always graciously answers my questions. She’s the main reason I keep coming back to this class in particular. My friend Chelsea is the cheerleader that keeps me exercising in general.
There’s power in encouragement. Over the years I have strived to become better at encouraging others. I’ve seen the way it can impact someone’s day or even their life. I’ve felt the way it impacts mine.
So then I answer the biggest lie: why do I even bother? I bother because as a widowed mom my kids need me healthy. I bother because I want to keep active when I’m old. I bother because my late-husband didn’t and now he’s gone. I bother because it is the right thing to do—even if I’ll never be the fastest gazelle in the herd.
So now the slap, slap, slap of my feet fills me with truth to chase off the lions. I have fat, fat is not who I am. I don’t need to look like the rest of the class. God made me unique and as long as I am doing my best, that’s what’s important. I do this for Jarod and Ryan and Kati and Lucy. I do this to feel more fit and maybe to start looking more trim.
And as far as not being enough, being less-than, for that I go to the highest reminder—God’s word. I am fearfully and wonderfully made. (Psalm 139:14). I am loved with an everlasting love no matter what I look like or how fast I move in exercise class. (Jeremiah 31:3) I am God’s masterpiece, created to do good works He has destined for me to do. (Ephesians 2:10)
God has plans for me and comparing myself to others or trying to live up to impossible expectations is not in those plans. He has plans for you, too. You are God’s masterpiece—not his side project or his fixable mess. You are his MASTERPIECE, created in the image of Christ to do amazing things that He destined you to do.
That’s a whole lot better idea to focus on than what you are not. And focusing on it this morning helped chase away the lions nipping at this slow gazelle’s heels.
In honor of Throwback Thursday, thought I’d repost an old entry to my blog from June, 2014. Enjoy.
I had braced myself for “no.” Or so I thought. I had stepped out in faith and taken a huge leap. I had prayed and prepared and felt God beckoning me beyond what was possible with my own eyes. He had opened doors, I thought. He had given me vision, I thought.
But when the “no” came it was so much bigger than any of the contingencies I had worked out in my mind. My heart was crushed. My soul felt wounded. I wept. I felt the numb of shock. I felt the death of a dream.
Deep down, I wrestled with this feeling. What kind of faith do you have if one little “no” turns you into a weepy mess? You said God was the God of Impossible Things and yet here you lay on your couch crying because the steps outlined to make the “no” a “yes” are completely impossible. Some faith. These words mocked me even as I could not deny the sorrow that swept over me.
And then I realized, I was grieving. Not grief like when my husband died, but grief none-the-less. I was grieving the loss of this dream. Not forever but for right now, this second in time, what I had dreamt of happening would not be happening. I remembered words I had written and shared with others: Grief does not equal doubt. Weeping for what was lost, what was dreamed of, what was anticipated, does not make your trust in His will diminished. It simply means you need a moment to feel sad before you step into whatever He has in mind instead.
Too often we imply to Christians dealing with sorrow that this feeling is wrong. Too often we say they should rely on the joy of the Lord for their strength and that we should shake off a spirit of heaviness for the joy of gladness. Too often we equate sorrow with faithlessness.
But Jesus wept.
It’s one of my favorite verses in the Bible. Jesus wept. He knew their sorrow was temporary. He knew he was about to raise Lazarus—dead for many days and already in a tomb—back to life and yet he wept. He shared their sorrow at their deep, real, tangible loss.
I’ve heard it preached he wept because they had no faith. I think that’s bunk. I think the compassionate Son of God wept with them because grief often needs to be experienced before healing can come. I think he took a moment with them to let sorrow do its work. Oh but then he did something amazing.
Sometimes we need a moment to mourn our loss before we can dry the tears, pick ourselves up off the dirt, shake the dust from our garments, and ask God, “Ok, then, what now?” Taking that moment does not lessen who God is or our trust that He is faithful. Taking that moment can mean letting go of our ideas so that we are open to what He has in mind.
Even Paul wrote, “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9 NIV emphasis mine) We will get knocked down but it does not need to destroy us.
So today if you are mourning a loss—no matter the size—feel it. Don’t get stuck there forever, but let grief do its work so you can shake off the dust and get back up. Let yourself feel sad for a moment in time. Then dry those tears and give the broken pieces of what was hoped for, dreamed of, anticipated, to the God who has something better in mind.
(You’ll notice the graphic has my new website on it. Stay tuned for it’s release date. I’m still working out the design bugs. You, my faithful followers will be the first to know when it goes live.)