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.)
I sat in my van doing something I never allowed myself the luxury of—screaming. Just for a second. As the primal sound escaped, hot, angry tears forced themselves from my eyes. I turned my gaze at heaven as I pulled out of the driveway and demanded at the top of my voice, “WHAT AM I SUPPOSED TO DO?!”
It’s been 18 months and one week since Kraig died. For 18 months and one week I have been moving—no, I’ve been thriving. I have been caring for my home and myself. I have been shepherding the hearts of four confused and wounded children through tragedy. I have been demonstrating that grief is real and stinks but life goes on and we can see God’s amazing faithfulness.
Oh has He been faithful.
He’s provided for my needs financially in ways that would blow your ever-lovin’ mind. Seriously. He has helped me start fresh at a new church overflowing with people willing to help the widow and her children. He has gifted me with amazing friends who encourage me, applaud me, and offer support. He has been faithful. I will forever shout that from the rooftops.
But sometimes this stinks and there’s no way around it. And sometimes despite my strength and my fortitude to do what’s best for my kids and keep moving forward with faith, sometimes life throws enough at me that I just don’t want to anymore!
Widows and single moms everywhere, you get it. Sometimes there are bills and checkbooks to be dealt with, laundry piles that seem to multiply like bunnies, household repairs and car problems and more. And even if you have the resources to take care of them, the endless list of things I must do because I’m the only adult here just hits its limit. Dealing with children who need me to make parenting decisions that grief complicates when there is no husband to weigh in or balance my crazy is too much. It pushes me to go buy a $5 pizza while screaming at the heavens.
And driving down the road, contemplating how to deal with a minor fender crack caused when a poor stranger bumped my van made me scream at the sky because I just don’t want to deal with it. The hot, angry tears came because of the myriad of other things I MUST do this week that I have no desire or motivation to. Parenting alone is the hardest because only I can parent my kids. But not doing it well isn’t an option and the unfairness of it all won’t change that.
I get the pizza and feed the kids. I put off deciding how to handle the tiny crack until morning. As I head off to see my eldest son shine in the school talent show, a song comes on. “Good Fight” by Unspoken beckons me to keep fighting the good fight. To remember that even when I’m on my own, God promises I’m never alone. And Galatians 6:9 whispers into my heart. “Let us not become wearing in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap the harvest if we do not give up.” (emphasis mine)
New tears fall now. This does stink sometimes. This is incredibly hard sometimes. Maybe sometimes I just need to let myself buy a $5 pizza for dinner and cry in my van for 10 seconds. Maybe I need to crank music up so loud teenagers tell me to turn it down. Maybe these are things God gave me to keep fighting the good fight.
So to any mom out there doing this parenting thing alone, keep fighting the good fight. It’s worth it. God promises to never leave us alone and to send us a harvest someday if we do not give up. Parenting is important. Its fruits are eternal and will play out in the lives of our kids. Keep fighting the good fight. Even if it means crying in your van and settling for cheap pizza some days. Know that doing that does not mean you are crazy. It means you need a pressure valve.
You can do this because God provides, strengthens, and never leaves our side. He believes you are the best choice to mother those kids no matter how hard this is. Keep fighting the good fight.
PS – You’ll notice on the image I’ve got a new website. I am in the process of getting it ready for reveal. Stay tuned for more updates here my fantastic followers.
The journey to become a real, live, bonafide author is anything but uncomplicated. Last year I had the incredible privilege of attending She Speaks conference in North Carolina with 699 other excited women of faith ready to offer God their talents in the areas of speaking and writing. Though the conference organizers and speakers did an amazing job of encouraging us with wisdom about trusting God and letting him direct our paths, they also informed us.
They taught us things about the necessity of public platform and the process a book takes to be published. They taught us about all a potential publisher wrestles with in her/his mind before they even take your proposal to look at. Things like what audience you’ll reach and how well this could sell. Things like all the books they have sitting in a warehouse that didn’t sell and whether your book is going to join those.
I can tell you my friends it is an overwhelmingly terrifying abundance of details! It can suck the creative life right out of you.
I made friends there with amazing women—gifted women from Texas, Minnesota, Iowa, Colorado, and so many more places. Several of us have been wrestling together with the overwhelming realities of publishing in this social networking age. How do I create a public platform? How do I pitch my idea for a book sufficiently to convince a publisher I’m a risk worth taking? How do I get enough followers on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, and a blog so that they see I have a persona resonating with the public?
The process of becoming a published writer is not simply about being a good writer anymore. It is so much more and can be so overwhelming.
As my friends and I have tried to build this thing called platform and figure out how to balance that with our everyday, time-consuming, budget-strapped lives, we’ve shared our journey. We’ve asked for prayer for God’s direction. We’ve encouraged one another with reminders of things we learned. We’ve experienced the power that comes in taking leaps of faith and learning to trust God for next steps.
Ah. Therein lies the answer.
Time and again we’ve returned to the encouragement we received at the conference from amazing authors and speakers. These quotes are from my notes:
“God’s trust in me will take me further than anything.” – Christine Caine
“God chooses. You don’t have to strive when you’re being led by the Shepherd. All I have to do is prepare.” – Christine Caine
“I have already got what it takes to be who he created me to be and do what he has called me to do.” –Renee Swope
“Never underestimate the power of how God wants to use the offering I bring.” –Renee Swope
“Share universal faith with the lens of your own life.” –Kathleen Kerr
“Provision follows God’s plan.” –Lysa Terkeurst
“You aren’t seeking the spotlight on yourself. You are seeking to be a vessel that shines the amazing light of who God is through you.” –me encouraging an introvert writer
I’ve taken a few leaps of faith lately. They simultaneously are terrifying and exhilarating. A few times I’ve gotten answers beyond what I expected; answers that made me cry and thank the God who will open doors I couldn’t possibly imagine.
So to any Christian writers out there, don’t lose heart. To my fellow She Speaks alum and those planning to take that leap of faith and go this year, take heart! If you are praying about going this year, ask the God of all Provision to make a way. It’s worth it.
When we surrender what’s in our hands to the God of the impossible, he does amazing things. When we let him take the lead, he will direct our steps to places we couldn’t have anticipated. God can be trusted. His view of the journey we are on is so much better than ours. Trust him and take that next step.
As I sit here on a chilly Saturday morning trying to figure out how to be productive with my writing and motherhood, I find myself visiting a favorite blog—Chatting at the Sky. Emily Freeman has come to be one of my favorite authors. I’m getting lost in her book A Million Little Ways. I don’t want to finish it because then it will be over. So as I visit her blog, I see her encouragement to reflect on this month and share things I’ve learned. She’s even fostering community by allowing writers to post their links. See why I adore her?
Reflecting sounds like a productive use of my writing today while I listen to my children creating: the girls make brownies, Ryan makes gluten-free brownies, and Jarod makes a movie. So what did I learn in February? Hmmm.
- Community is essential to my sanity. Whether with my writing friends online, my new acquaintances in my exercise classes, or dear friends (see #2), I need my tribe. When life is battering, God uses my various communities to help me keep going. They encourage me and embrace who I am – warts and all.
- A night out with my closest girlfriends is essential for the sake of my mental stability. When the majority of us found a way to escape kids and homes to meet up for dinner and laughter and conversation at Applebee’s, it was salve for my soul. Plus that was the best steak I’ve had in a long time. I keep ruining them at home. See #3.
- I hate making dinner. Oh, wait. That wasn’t news. That was just confirmed again and again. Now that my six-year-old has been inspired by Master Chef Junior, she wants to learn to do this. I can’t teach her fast enough. Does that count as child labor?
- My eldest daughter is a closet writer. She just didn’t want to share her writing with anyone. When I told her one of my fav authors never let anyone see her writing journal until college, her face lit up. She found a notebook and spent the next hour using writing prompts to launch ideas. She found a hiding place for her work that I will respect.
- There is such freedom in having a teen son with a license. Can I get an amen from any moms who’ve passed this milestone? And yet the first time he drove off alone, I almost tossed my cookies. That’ll drive you to prayer right there.
- Taking leaps of faith are terrifying and rewarding. This month I took risks with the future of my books. I have two done and one halfway there. I submitted the future of my writing to God a long time ago and as ideas for where to take a chance arose, I lept. Each time it was with white knuckles and held breath. And three of them turned into amazing answers. Stay tuned for more updates as God opens doors.
- I can only get three out of four of my kids to pause eating brinner (breakfast for dinner) to do The Twist with me when Elvis sings Jailhouse Rock on Pandora. Ryan thought we were all a little odd. So did the dog.
So there ya go. I learned quite a variety of things in February. I kind of like this idea of an end of month reflection blog. It reminded me that some really cool things happened this month in the midst of some not so cool ones. God is good even when life is hard; maybe especially when life is hard. I can’t wait to see what He does in March!