Lessons from a Squirrel & FINALLY back in Serbia

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After a lifetime of lessons being learned through Old Testament like experiences, I have found that asking God to show me what I need to know through simple observations is MUCH LESS painful and exhausting. And because He is truly good and kind, He has obliged my request.

See that squirrel up there running along my porch rail? Throughout September and October I watched that squirrel, day and night, busily working to build and fill her nest. She would pull twigs and dates from the trees on one side of my porch, run to her nest in a tree on the other side of the porch, deposit her findings, and run back to collect more. For a week or so I sat and watched her thinking that she had lost her mind. You see… we live in south Florida. While the temperatures may drop a little in the winter, there is still rarely a day that isn’t warm enough for shorts and flip-flops. The palm dates that the squirrel was gathering will continue to be produced throughout the coming months. Nevertheless, she diligently did what she was created to do.

After I realized that the environment the squirrel happens to live in had no impact on her motivation to fulfill her purpose, I became fascinated with her. I spent weeks sitting on my porch watching her work. She would sometimes pause to look at me, but would never stop for more than a few seconds and she always continued on with what she was doing. And then Hurricane Michael formed in the Gulf of Mexico. As the weather deteriorated on October 9th and 10th, I watched her through my kitchen window. She would brace herself on the porch rail during the gusts of wind, but as soon as the wind slowed, she was back to work. And when the winds grew steadily strong, she climbed in her nest and waited for the storm to pass. The morning after the storm I went to check on her. Her little nest was badly damaged, but by the end of the day she had made great progress in rebuilding it. She just continued diligently doing what she was created to do.

Which led me to here and now.

Remember my post back in June about the transition houses in Serbia? Well, when I first learned about them in April of 2017 I connected the founder Tatjana with my internet friend Pam that founded Connections Homes in Atlanta. Because God’s networking is a little mind-boggling, He sent someone from Orphan’s Promise to visit the house in Belgrade and that someone contacted Pam and asked her to visit and long story short, we are both in Belgrade this week. Today we met with government officials, social workers, and foster parents. We discussed how to care for children who age out of orphan care and how to best prepare them for independence. We also did a news interview. Tomorrow we will be training on trauma-informed care, fundraising, and how to recruit families to become mentoring families for life to those who age out.

HOP House dinnerBut tonight… we were invited to one of the transition houses for dinner. The young people prepared a beautiful meal for us and spent some time allowing us to get to know them. Y’all, they’re amazing! And filled to the brim with potential. But also… the needs to support them as HOP is preparing them to live independently are huge.

I am brainstorming ways to best support them and asking YOU to please pray! Pray for wisdom and God-given guidance tomorrow in every word that we speak. Pray for no time wasted in pursuing the wrong avenues of support. Pray for the young people and those who are working with them as they navigate the process of becoming independent adults in a society where there is little hope for dreams coming true. And also pray for Tatjana. Just before I boarded my plane last Friday I received a message that her Father had died unexpectedly. Her plate is full and her heart is heavy.

This is who you’re praying for… HOP2

Thank you for being on THEIR team and for being the team of people who remind me to diligently do what I was made for!

I can’t wait to share more…

 

URGENT NEED!

When we adopted Sofija in 2010 , our eyes were opened to many needs in Serbia. One of those needs was the lack of life skills children had as they transitioned from orphan care to independent living. Those who spend their life in an orphanage enter adulthood with very few independent living skills. And… There are A LOT of orphans entering adulthood without finding a family.

The need for transitional care weighed heavy on me, but after a few inquiries it was made clear that Serbia isn’t a fan of privatized care of their citizens being done by outsiders. Eight years have passed and Serbia is  now a member of the Hague Convention. Joining the Hague Convention greatly improved orphan care, legalized and legitimized the adoption process, and provided an extra layer of protection between orphans and traffickers.  Even so, for the last eight years, what happens to all of those who “age out” has continued to weigh heavy on me.

Fast forward to the spring of 2017…

I had lunch in Orlando with several coordinators of Operation Christmas Child distributions throughout Serbia. I took some time getting to know everyone around the table and saved the lady to my immediate right for last. Her name is Tatjana (Tanya). When I asked her what she does she replied with, “Well, I have to tell you the back story before I tell you what I do.” I responded by bringing my hand to my chest and smiling as I said, “Oh, we’re going to be friends!”

Tanja then told me that she has four biological children and that she and her husband decided a few years ago to foster a child who was about to age out. They then learned just how many children were getting ready to age out and they desperately wanted to help more than one. Because there is a limit of five children in the home for foster families, they decided to open a transition house. From their desire to love big, HOP (pronounced “hope”) House was born. It stands for House of Opportunity. 

Before Tanja had finished telling me the story, I knew I had to partner with her. I’ve learned SO MUCH about the odds against a child who ages out and has no transitional care. It’s U.G.L.Y. We’re talking about real, precious humans who are filled with nothing but potential that mostly just disappear. Their lives are lost to suicide, drugs, trafficking… Being accepted into one of the houses is literally the difference between life and death. The kids at the HOP Houses are going to school. They are working. They are learning to cook, and budget, and care for a home, and play instruments, and make crafts and candles that they sell at various venues in an attempt to support themselves. More importantly, they are learning what it means to be safe, live in a family setting, and to be loved unconditionally. They’re not just finding hope. They’re experiencing Jesus.HOP Houses are in urgent need of support! The houses currently have enough funding to carry them through July and they will close in August without an influx of money. Below you can see the exact cost of keeping the houses operating and what their current needs are. If you would like to help, you can contact Tanja or myself and we’d be happy to tell you how to get money to them. 

I hardly know a person who hasn’t been outraged by some aspect of the situation with families being separated at the US/Mexico border. I’ve seen countless people on social media ask how they can help. Here ya go… If you want to make a difference in the lives of children who’ve been orphaned or separated from their families, this is a great opportunity.

Nine Years!

I have no makeup on and I’m about to go to sleep, but I have to share this post before June 18th is over. See that rut in my neck? Well, there’s a story behind it. Today I celebrate. 

June 18, 2009 I paced my kitchen and wiped up every single fingerprint and crumb I could find.  Willing the phone to ring.  Willing the phone to ring.  Why wouldn’t the phone just ring?!?!

The call I was waiting on was one of those fork in the road calls.  After two years of living with thyroid cancer, I was about to find out if my summer would be spent undergoing surgery plus more radiation and isolation, or celebrating freedom from the big “C”.  The phone finally rang and the doctor said something like, “I can’t explain it, but you’re cancer-free.”  God will always get the glory for that moment.  I was healed.  I am healed.  I am cancer-free.

Since that summer day in 2009, I have had the opportunity to share what I learned on my cancer journey with a few other people battling it themselves.  The first thing I always say to someone recently diagnosed with cancer is this… If cancer doesn’t change your life for the better, it was a waste.  Hearing that I was cancer-free was a defining moment.  Hearing that I had cancer was a refining moment.  That’s what cancer should always be.  It should refine you.  For me, the physical healing that was confirmed on June 18th was simply a reflection of the spiritual and emotional healing that had taken place over the two years between my diagnosis and that phone call.  God used cancer to clean out my junk.  He took away layer after layer of scars and wounds until I was something worthy of being used by Him.  And then He set me on fire for purpose.  I don’t want to ever again lay my head on my pillow and wonder what my purpose was for the day I just lived.  Be it parenting, loving my husband, writing, cooking dinner, or weeding my garden, I want to live a life of purpose.

Now… all that gooey life-changing for the better stuff aside.  Here are a few unexpected bits of wisdom that came with thyroid cancer.

1. radiation + sunshine = instant age spots

2. iodine is in almost everything you eat (thanks to the 3-week low-iodine diet required before my annual scans)

3. What I once thought was my highest weight… Not even close!

4. I now know the exact weight when my muffin-top appears.

5. I now know the exact weight when my bought and paid for chest is a size bigger than I bought and paid for…. And two sizes bigger.

6. Without synthroid it is actually possible to gain a pound a day while eating absolutely nothing.

7. The rut left in your neck when your thyroid is removed can actually help disguise all the weight gain mentioned above.

8. Every dentist office has a thyroid guard that can be used to protect your thyroid during x-rays.  Yet…not a single dentist I know of actually asks if you would like them to use it. ~ Soapbox moment: Federal law only requires dentists to have a thyroid guard in the office. There is no law requiring that it be used.  Helloooo?!?!

9. Once you’re placed in the cancer corral, you will forever hear a little voice suggesting that every ache or pain or odd feeling just might be….

10. There’s a lot of other really awesome people in the cancer corral that I may have missed out on if I had never been placed there myself.

Happy NINE YEARS CANCER-FREE DAY to me!

the show…

If you’ve been anywhere in my personal bubble in the last five months, you’ve likely been introduced to the movie The Greatest Showman. If you haven’t seen it yet, please stop reading and watch it NOW. It’s packed full of life lessons, memorable quotes, and inspiring music. One of the more memorable quotes comes from the opera singer Jenny Lind in the scene above. I don’t want to ruin the movie for anyone so I won’t give the context of it, but she says, “When you’re careless with other people, Mr. Barnum, you bring ruin upon yourself.”

Six years ago, on Mother’s Day 2012, our family walked away from the church community that we had poured ourselves into for the previous four years. It had been less than a month since I buried my grandmother, six years since I had buried my Mom, and we were five months into the investigation that nearly destroyed us. If I had been outside of the situation looking in, I probably would’ve advised myself to just stay put until the rest of my life was a little less painful. But I wasn’t on the outside.

When our family moved to the DC area in the summer of 2008 we quickly began looking for a church. After visiting a couple that didn’t feel like home, my sister called. She had been to a church in Baton Rouge, LA that morning and heard a pastor from Jacksonville, FL talk about a new church in Alexandria, VA. DC Metro Church was planted by a couple from Louisiana. I’m a Louisiana girl. They went to LSU. I went to LSU. The church was less than a year old and met at a movie theater. Cool. I found their website, sent a message, and the next morning received a phone call that led to another phone call, and then another, and by that afternoon dear hubby and I were walking to a small group at a neighbor’s house. The people we met that night are the people who walked with our family through cancer, a deployment, and adopting our daughter. They are the people who God used to teach me how to have healthy relationships with women, how to be bold about my faith, how to chase my dreams, and how to live in community. Many of the people we met that night will forever be considered family.

Because of several circumstances, it was nearly two months before we met and heard a sermon from the lead pastor of DC Metro. By that point we were deeply planted in our little church community. I really didn’t care about the meat of the messages and I didn’t bother to ask questions about oversight and accountability. The people we were living life with on a daily basis were doing a phenomenal job of pastoring our family. Because of them, I have no regrets about any of the time, energy, or resources we poured into DCMC in the years that followed. I could never put a price on the relationships, growth, freedom, healing, and purpose that we found there. But… there were countless red flags about the church leadership. They were our friends. We got to know them pretty well and I can still say with sincerity that I love them. Because of my love for them, I prayed. Like on my face, on the floor, snotty crying prayers. I prayed for health. I prayed for humility. I prayed for freedom. I prayed for open eyes. As I witnessed carelessness in dealing with person after person after person, I began to pray for God to intervene. Eventually the carelessness came around to hurting my family. It turned out that adopting a little girl with disabilities didn’t fit the desired image of the church. Neither did a woman who repeatedly asked for leadership decisions to be explained Biblically. For many months we felt like we didn’t belong. Outside of the building, our community of people was still ours, but every time we stepped foot in the building we felt like square pegs in a round hole. On countless Sundays I cried for the entire drive home. I didn’t want to lose our people.

And then, in May of 2012, through very clear channels, God released us from DCMC. I won’t lie. Leaving was one of the hardest things we’ve ever done. I grieved. Our entire family grieved. My kids were angry and it was really hard to help them direct their anger. I kept telling myself and everyone I talked to that no matter what church we attended, we were all one family. We ARE one family. Nevertheless, we lost people. The loss hurt.

I’ve joked about writing a book on how to leave a church because I honestly believe we did it as well as it could be done. Once we knew we were leaving, my dear hubby scheduled a meeting with the pastor and told him. Me being me, I wrote a letter and mailed it to their home. In the meeting, dear hubby promised that we would not be divisive, but he also said that we would not lie if anyone asked why we left. We upheld that promise. Many people who were very close to us still have no clue about all of the decisions that were made that negatively impacted our family or how uncomfortable we were for the months leading up to our departure. They didn’t ask, and we didn’t tell. People were told to stay away from our family and people were told outright lies about why we left. It was a big huge yucky mess and each time something got back to us, we were just grateful that we were no longer under that leadership.

Fast forward to the spring of 2017. I awoke to a text message early one Sunday morning telling me that I might want to watch the DCMC livestream. I’m pretty sure I sat with my mouth hanging open and tears running down my face as I watched the Stines step down from leading the church.

“When you’re careless with other people, Mr. Barnum, you bring ruin upon yourself.”

I would like to add to Jenny Lind’s quote. You can’t step out of your own ruin until you at least attempt to reconcile the damage done by your carelessness. You have to make amends. You have to apologize. You have to humble yourself and accept responsibility for your actions or you will continue to live in ruins.

It was brought to my attention this week that the Stines are launching a new social media based ministry. Again, I’m pretty sure I sat with my mouth hanging open and at least a few tears in my eyes. Because our people have remained our people, I am certain that no reconciliation has taken place. No amends have been made.

My dear friend Julie wrote a piece Thursday in response to the news of the new ministry. It’s a powerful open letter. You can read it here. Before she published it she gave me the honor of a first look and had a discussion with me about her “why”. That discussion gave me great conviction. She explained that she feels a responsibility akin to those who are sexually assaulted and live in silence while the assailant goes on to assault others. Her “why” was the hope that by speaking out on a public platform she may cause someone take pause. This post is written with that same hope.

The six years between our leaving and the news this week of the new ministry gives me a unique viewpoint. Although I cannot count the number of people who I care about that were treated carelessly in the years after we left, my family was in a very safe church environment with healthy leadership for those years. We had the time to heal and to actually dig into the Bible and figure out what God says His Church is supposed to look like. However, around the time that the Stines stepped down I had a realization. As much as I thought I had healed, I had become a cynic about all things related to church.

cynical 

adjective

1. distrusting or disparaging the motives of others; like or characteristic of a cynic.

2. showing contempt for accepted standards of honesty or morality by one’s actions, 

especially by actions that exploit the scruples of others.
3. bitterly or sneeringly distrustful, contemptuous, or pessimistic.
Here’s the thing about cynicism. It drives me crazy! It’s one of the least attractive attributes I see in other people. I love sarcasm. I hate cynicism. Cynicism is ugly.
To quote Bob Goff, one of my favorite authors, “I’ve never met a courageous cynic.” It’s true. You can’t be brave and be cynical. The two just cannot coexist. Cynicism is just a scared coverup for unhealed wounds. So when I find myself being cynical about anything to do with church, I have to start looking for what bitterness I’m harboring and what wounds I haven’t dealt with. I just have to. Or I’ll live out my life as a scared, bitter person. Nobody wants to be around a scared, bitter old lady.
Which leads me to my second hope for this essay… if you’ve been hurt and you’re struggling with unforgiveness, bitterness, anger, pain, or fear… please deal with it. God wants SO MUCH more for us than to live out our lives miserable because we’ve been hurt by the people who hand out crap in His name. If you find yourself being cynical, spend some time with Him. Write down what hurts, ask God to heal it, and then LET IT GO. Life’s too short and there is way too much work to do for you and me to hide at home in fear, or go out in public with anger.
Also, don’t be careless with others. Just don’t.
One more thing, for those like me, who had a moment of fear or panic this week over the thought of the new ministry and more people being hurt in God’s name, remember this…
Revelation 3:7 “…what He opens no one can close and what He closes no one can open.”
Trust me. I’ve tried to force doors back open after God closed them. It’s never pretty.

marriage, a First Lady, and my guy

I haven’t written about marriage in a while, but today it’s on my mind. Yesterday America lost one of our Mamas. Barbara Bush was an amazing First Lady and First Mom and taught by example the value of investing in your family. Everywhere you look on the internet today, there are articles titled The Bush’s Fairytale Marriage and The Epic Love Story of Barbara and George. While dirty dishes sit in the sink and a pile of towels sits on the floor of my laundry room, I’ve spent my day reading everything I could find on how two people managed to survive 73 years of marriage and create a family legacy that is interwoven with our nation’s story. 

“You have given me joy that few men know,” George H.W. Bush wrote to her, according to a collection of letters published in 1999.

“I have climbed perhaps the highest mountain in the world, but even that cannot hold a candle to being Barbara’s husband,” said George H.W. Bush.

Marriage is hard, y’all. It’s not as hard as parenting and it definitely comes with better perks. Nevertheless, it’s hard. In 2016, when we celebrated our 22nd anniversary, I wrote a list of 22 secrets to staying married. It’s a list of hard-learned, good stuff. If you’re struggling in your marriage (or you just need a good laugh) read it.

In ten months we will celebrate 25 years of marriage. We’ve started making plans to celebrate with an epic adventure. But 73-year fairytale marriages are not made of epic adventures. They’re made of daily choices to love and honor the one you’re with. George and Barbara clearly made a lot of wise daily choices. They praised each other often. She always referred to him as her “hero”. He gave her public accolades for raising their children. They have shared that they prayed together nightly and sought God in every circumstance they faced. When life was hard after losing their daughter, they drew closer. I continue to learn that kindness and honor lead to peace and contentment. Thank you, George and Barbara for reinforcing that lesson.

This week my dear husband began a new chapter with a new job and new title. He is MY hero. Just as he served our nation honorably, he serves our family honorably. God uses him to provide a lifestyle that is more than I could ever deserve. He works hard, he makes me laugh and roll my eyes no matter what circumstances we are walking through.  He’s an amazing protector. He brings me joy. He calms me. And above all, he loves me really really well.

Also, he’s pretty cute in snapchat filters. 😀 

i met a girl

Eight years ago today, after sitting through a meeting at Serbia’s Ministry of Social Welfare and listening to the heart-wrenching story of our daughter’s first five years of ife, our family drove to the little village of Velika Plana and met the girl who was about to rock our world. 

I’ve been studying Gideon and I keep marveling at the similarities between Gideon’s battle story and the story we’ve lived over the last eight years as we’ve fought for our girl’s freedom and health. Dear Hubby and I are social creatures. According to Myers & Briggs we’re both about as extroverted as humans can be. Before Sofija Bea Brave joined our family our social circle was big. Like REALLY big. We were involved in ALL THE THINGS. We hosted dinner parties and small groups every single week and when we didn’t have a crowd at our house, we were out and about surrounded by people. What we considered our “army”, was HUGE.

Judges 7:2-3MSG God said to Gideon, “You have too large an army with you. I can’t turn Midian over to them like this—they’ll take all the credit, saying, ‘I did it all myself,’ and forget about me. Make a public announcement: ‘Anyone afraid, anyone who has any qualms at all, may leave Mount Gilead now and go home.’” Twenty-two thousand soldiers headed for home. Ten thousand were left.

One of the hardest realities to face after bringing our baby girl home was that our people were quickly disappearing. Our army was shrinking. It scared me and it hurt. It REALLY hurt. But God had called us to win a war. He knew who we needed on our team and He knew how easily it would have been for pride to take over and convince us after every small victory that “I did it all myself.”

And then, a year and a half into being a family of six, Dear Hubby’s investigation began.  The fire got REALLY hot and our army shrunk again.

Judges 7:4-6MSG God said to Gideon: “There are still too many. Take them down to the stream and I’ll make a final cut. When I say, ‘This one goes with you,’ he’ll go. When I say, ‘This one doesn’t go,’ he won’t go.” So Gideon took the troops down to the stream. God said to Gideon: “Everyone who laps with his tongue, the way a dog laps, set on one side. And everyone who kneels to drink, drinking with his face to the water, set to the other side.” Three hundred lapped with their tongues from their cupped hands. All the rest knelt to drink. God said to Gideon: “I’ll use the three hundred men who lapped at the stream to save you and give Midian into your hands. All the rest may go home.”

I always thought that it was weird that God told Gideon to keep the ones who cupped the water in their hands to drink it. But let me tell you something. As our army shrank from huge numbers to a handful, I learned very quickly to appreciate those people who not only took things into their own hands but who held God’s Word in their hands and drank from it themselves. Let me tell you something else. When you’re fighting for your family and the lives of those you love, you do NOT want people advising you that aren’t passing along advice that they receive directly from God. I appreciate a good sermon as much as anyone else, but when it comes down to matters of life or death, I don’t want to hear the words, “I heard this great sermon the other day and thought of you.” Nope. I want to hear, “I was on my knees the other day and God said…” or “I was reading the Bible this morning and God showed me something for you.”  When it comes to survival and winning the war, I’ll take an army like Gideon’s victorious three hundred over the thirty-two thousand of distracted, misdirected, and fearful soldiers he had in the beginning of the story, any day.

I won’t lie. The girl I met eight years ago scared me. The thought of parenting her seemed like the most daunting task I’d ever faced. It has proven to be just that. More days than not I have had moments when I cry out to God that I just can’t do it any more. And then, He reminds me that He NEVER said that He would not give us more than we can handle. What He will do is ALWAYS be there where we meet the end of ourselves. Gideon faced an Army of at least one hundred and thirty-five thousand Midianites with only the three hundred warriors God left Him with. God made it very clear that the Midianites could not be defeated through the strength of Gideon and his army. But where their strength ended, God got to show off.

Over and over and over again, in these last eight years, God has had opportunities to show off. Piece by piece my girl is being healed. In the process, God is replacing each of my own broken and weak pieces with huge chunks of His strength. My daily prayer and anthem have become… Less of me. More of Him. That’s how wars are won.

The feral five-year old we met in April of 2010 has turned into a mostly domesticated thirteen-year old princess. She holds my heart and has her Tata wrapped around her little finger. Although there have been many times when I’ve wondered what the hell I got myself into, I can’t imagine my life without her.

Eight years ago I met a girl. She rocked my world. 

 

Stimmer Day 2018

Tonight, all over the world, public buildings and famous landmarks are “lighting it up blue” for autism awareness. It’s a gesture that’s always irked me and that does nothing little for the autism community. But hey, we get a day.

I’d like to share how we acknowledged this day around our house. Around the time that the seizures began, Sofija started waking up at night. Her nights have grown shorter and shorter over the last several weeks and as of this morning we’ve gone four straight nights without sleep. Pray for us. I’m deliriously tired and my written communication is MUCH more coherent than my verbal at this point. In an attempt for us all to get some rest, we granted our princess’ wish to climb in bed with us around 4am. We have a queen-sized bed, y’all. Baby girl is 5’8″ or so tall. Ummm… yeah. No sleep was happening. Around 6am, after much tossing and turning I felt my back growing damp and warm. That’s what I get for buying cheap generic pull-ups. After cleaning us and the bed all up, sweetness decided to break a lamp and pour water all over the carpet. Then she spent four or five hours attempting to bite and hit herself. In case you aren’t aware, this is autism. A couple of days ago autism looked like a rockstar selfie-taker… 

In between seizures, and sleepless nights, and self-injury, that girl is the most charismatic thirteen year old girl around. Today was a very autismish autism day, but every day is not like today. Some days with her are filled with dancing, and laughing, and nail painting, and wonder. That’s the way autism works. People on the autism spectrum can often move around on that spectrum.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, autism awareness looked like this today… 

That man-child is the King of Cool with the BIGGEST heart on this planet. His doctor challenged him to drop a few pounds this year. He started walking all over our island for several hours a day and watching his carbs. He just weighed in and in three weeks he lost a little over ten pounds. He’s my hero. Today, while his sister was doing her darndest to make the world (or at least our neighbors) aware of all that can be hard about autism, our boy was busting his butt to get ahead on his schoolwork even though he had the day off. He kept headphones on all day and paced around the pool listening to an audiobook when his sister’s meltdowns overwhelmed him. There were hours today where he looked like a typical seventeen year old boy. And there were moments when I saw him stimming and  fighting pretend battles (complete with sound effects) all over the backyard. That’s how autism works. People on the autism spectrum usually fall into a specific developmental range, but just like every other person on the planet, they have good days and bad days and peaceful moments and moments when they are overwhelmed. Their good and bad and peace and overwhelmed just might look a little different than yours or mine.

With the number of people in this world on the autism spectrum, I really can’t imagine that there are many people who aren’t “aware”. However, there are far too many people who believe that autism always looks like the characters they see in movies or on television. When I tell people that my children have autism, without fail, they ask, “What are they good at?” That question has often stumped me. But if you really need to know… The boy stimmer is really good at beatboxing and video games. The girl stimmer is really good at kicking our butts.

If you’ve read this far and you really want a little more “awareness“, here ya go:

More than half of people on the autism spectrum have an IQ below 70.

30% of people on the autism spectrum never speak more than a few words in their entire lives.

By conservative estimates, at least 20% of people on the spectrum also have epilepsy.

The average lifespan of someone on the spectrum is 36 years.

90% of childhood deaths in autism are due to drowning.

And then there’s the cost of caring for a child or adult on the spectrum. On top of the thousands of dollars we spend each month for behavioral health, autism has cost us dozens of lamps, five or six televisions, several iPads, a couple of iPhones, two Macbook airs, gallons of spackle, countless drywall patches, an entire tiled wall behind a bathtub, two beds, four mattresses, several shoes thrown out of car windows, the steering column on a Land Rover, all of the A/C vents and radio controls in the same Land Rover, a few chairs, a dresser, dishes galore, etc., etc., etc…

Autism has also cost us more relationships than I care to count. But, after those who just can’t handle our family were sifted away, we were left with pure gold. We have an amazing village of people that are very much aware, who seldom grow compassion-weary, and who love our stimmers both for and despite all that they are. For the gold in our lives reading this, thank you for being our village! For those reading this and living in the autism trenches, find your village, embrace your village, and know that it’s okay for the sediment to sift away. Our kids need us to be their biggest fans and it’s really hard to be a fan if we have to spend all of our time apologizing for them.

I’ve been asked what I would want people to know if they see us in public and have questions about our children’s behavior. If you’re not lucky enough to bump into us out and about and have me scream-answer your questions as I’m sitting on top of a woman-child in the middle of a department store to keep her from ripping my hair out, here’s what you should know:

We’re okay with questions, but we’re not okay with condemnation. If you think we’re weird or we make you uncomfortable, please just walk away and talk to your neighbor about us when you get home. If you see a parent managing a difficult behavior and you desire to help, ASK FIRST! Follow the parent’s lead and instruction and respect their wishes if they ask you not to interfere. We SO appreciate a stranger’s willingness to help, but sometimes help can do more harm than good. We NEED encouragement. Chances are really good that there is some area of your life where you could use a little encouragement too and when you tell the dad holding his squealing son on the bench outside the grocery store that he’s doing a great job you’ve sown a seed of encouragement that you will surely reap. PLEASE have compassion. You’re teaching your kids how to treat our kids by the way you treat every parent or child that is different from you. Teach them well.

Be aware. Or beware. Or whatever.

Happy Good Joyous Rocking World Autism Day 2018!