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Last year,  I spelled out the word “Steward” with our  Scrabble letters and set them upon my kitchen windowsill to guide my intentions throughout 2014.  When I chose the word “steward” as my focus, I remember thinking that I really needed to be a better steward of my time at home, as I had lots of aspirations for my creative business, but often became derailed too easily.  This was the year that I would not allow things like Facebook and internet surfing to steal precious time.  I would set business hours and art hours and stick to them!  I even bought Julie Morgenstern’s book, Time Management from the Inside Out, to give myself an added boost.

By mid-January; however, it did not take me long to realize that God had a different vision of what it meant for me to be a good steward of my time last year.  The power struggles between my girl and me had reached an all-time high and I was failing miserably at being the calm, loving mom that she needed me to be.  The anger I felt inside felt a little scary some days and I knew it was time to ask for help.  My time this past year was meant to be spent in healing.

I spent a good 4-5 months working with a counselor,  just healing my spirit.  Allowing myself to grieve parts of my life journey, my boy’s autism diagnosis, and my girl’s unique struggles.  As I released the trapped feelings from my brain, their physical grip on my heart loosened, as well.  With a new found sense of calm, I was then able to move on to other aspects of our current situation that needed attention.

As a preschooler, my girl had been diagnosed with sensory processing difficulties, an anxiety disorder and ADHD.  I often describe all these diagnosis  as the “leftovers” of autism.  While we sought interventions for my girl when these things first became apparent, the symptoms lessened over time and I guess I just pushed those very real struggles to the back of my mind, as we were still heavily in the throes of addressing my boy’s autism. That said, it was now time to better understand and address my girl’s needs.

So, my husband and I began meeting with a counselor together to hone our parenting skills.  While we share a number of strengths in our marriage, we also made the realization that we needed to communicate and be more assertive about our own individual needs.  We both felt like “martyrs” for our family, working somewhat independently to survive.  Recognizing the importance of validating and supporting each other so that we can function better as a unit has been big for us.  And, as you can guess, a happier, calmer Mom and Dad sets the tone for a more loving, peaceful household.  Apart from our counseling, my girl is now receiving occupational therapy each week to address her sensory needs and we are in the process of completing some educational evaluations to see if there are any other areas that we might be missing.  Lots of hard work going-on here!

As our family continues to heal and move forward together, I have decided that my word for this year is going to be “Trust.”  Trust the process.  Trust that life will reveal itself and unfold just as it supposed to.  And while I keep dreaming and setting goals for myself, I will hold these things loosely, allowing God to gently guide my path.  He’s got this.  I just need to trust Him.

If you want to stay close to Me and do things My way, ask Me to show you the path forward moment by moment.  Instead of dashing headlong toward your goal, let Me set the pace.  Slow down, and enjoy the journey in My Presence.                                                                                                                                                                                                                             -Sarah Young, Jesus Calling


CircleBen and Emma

Last month, I began praying circles around my boy and girl. Prayers that their hearts might feel more peaceful and less anxious. Prayers that they might recognize their unique strengths and be at home in their own skin. My boy has courageously struggled to fight anxiety since the age of 2 or 3. Just falling to pieces over changes in schedule or a change in the environment, the hallmark of his autism. While he has developed much better coping strategies for these realities over time, he still comes face to face with anxiety on a daily basis. Lately, the sight of his sister’s untied shoes can send him over the edge. And then there’s my girl who would run and tremble, gripped with fear, at the mention or sound of someone throwing-up. She’s come a long ways, too, but being the product of a long line of anxious genes on both sides of the family, she still does her share of worrying.

This decision to pray circles around my children and their anxious hearts came as a result of a study that I completed with my girlfriends around Mark Batterson’s book, The Circle Maker.  Mark tells of the legend of Honi, the circle maker. Honi was a sage who brought rain to his drought ridden people after drawing a circle, stepping inside it, dropping to his knees in prayer and vowing not to move from that circle until God provided the quenching rain which had eluded them for the past year.

When I chose to pray circles around my boy and girl, I had no idea that I was about to be blindsided by a telephone call a week after beginning my challenge. My children’s principal called and asked if it was a good time to talk and the alarm bells immediately started going-off in my head. Uh oh. What did my child do? What has happened to my child? Did something happen to his/her teacher? After reassuring me that my boy was fine, the principal explained that due to a new autism program being started at another school  in the fall, my boy was going to be moved on the basis that we lived closer to this new site. Actually, we live .25 miles further from said school; however, the real issue is that a blanket decision was made, requiring my boy, with autism, anxiety, OCD, and ADHD, to leave a school where he is thriving to transition into unknown territory, likely causing significant regression academically and behaviorally. This decision would not only affect my boy, but my girl, as well. For she attends the same school as my boy on a waiver so that they can be together.

My initial reaction was to sob off and on all day long. My husband, on the other hand, was ready to fight. And while I appreciated his passion, I wasn’t there yet. I really wasn’t sure how to read the information in front of me. Could this change be an even better opportunity? In spite of looking for the positive, though, I really didn’t see how a school could be any better fit for my boy and girl than where we are now. After a day or two of grieving and praying for guidance, I felt like God was leading me to “go to the mattress” for Ben. I needed to advocate for Ben to stay where he is in order to support the peaceful hearts for which I had begun praying on behalf of my boy and girl.

This is where The Circle Maker really kicks into high gear. Once I jumped on board with my husband, we spent the following days and weeks writing letters, seeking guidance from advocates, making comments at a special education advisory committee meeting, and checking-in with the staff at Ben’s school to let them know where we were in the process. While we received full-support from the school staff, our letters and pleas with those in charge of this decision were met with silence. No recognition of having received our letters. No calls. Nothing. The more time that went by without hearing anything, the harder we began to fight, forwarding our letters onto school board representatives and finally the Superintendent. In the meantime, I am fervently praying circles around our situation, praying as if my prayers are already answered. I refused to leave my circle until we were heard, reminding myself to pray through, as we so often tend to give-up right before the miracle is about to occur.

Our final plea was to be made at the School Board Meeting. The night before we were scheduled to speak, my husband and I submitted our comments along with a heartfelt letter written by my boy’s teacher on his behalf. Mind you, I am totally ill-at-ease with public speaking, but I needed to advocate for my boy. Exhausted, but at peace with the knowledge that we were doing all we could, our heads hit the pillow around midnight the night before the meeting.

That morning, I joined several of my girlfriends on a visit to a nearby retreat center to wrap-up our last session before summer break. Tired and distracted, I considered opting-out this time around, but figured it might be a good thing to get away from everything for a few hours. After finishing our study together in one of the retreat rooms, I climbed the stairs to the cupola overlooking the city. There, I opened my Bible and silently prayed for our meeting that evening. I prayed that our words would be met with a compassionate response for what is best for Ben.

Driving home afterward, my cell phone chimed, interrupting my thoughts. My husband and I aren’t in the habit of calling each other much throughout the day, so I figured it was something important when I answered. “I just got a call and it looks like they are willing to work with us.” The decision had been made to allow Ben (and Emma) to continue attending their current school, minus a few logistical transportation issues! All I kept thinking was, “Thank you Jesus!” I felt  like I had won a major court case!

Later that afternoon, upon letting the clerk of the school board know that we no longer would be speaking, we learned that it was the clerk, herself, who acted as the pivotal person in our case. We’re not sure whether she chose to speak-up for us as a result of reading our comments or if she received directives from above; however, I am convinced that God used that clerk to bring about a resolution on Ben’s behalf.

This circle is not the first and certainly won’t be the last to be drawn around my family. And when the time comes, again, I will find strength in God’s faithfulness amidst the many circles drawn and answered throughout my life.

I stepped into today just like pulling-on my favorite fleece sweatpants.  For various reasons, I have not been taking my morning walks this week until today, Friday.  The cool air brushes against my skin and with each step, I think to myself, “It is well.”  Fall’s vibrant reds and yellows delight my eyes and the sounds of birds chirping against the background of chainsaws buzzing through a neighbor’s tree fill my ears.  An early morning thunderstorm washed away any tracks left behind from the day before, making the wooded path feel all the more luscious.  A once dry creek bed gurgles gently.  I stand still in the middle of the path.  In the middle of God’s most beautiful painting.

Over the past several weeks, I’ve felt at the mercy of both planned and unplanned schedules.  Life and obligations coming together all at the same time.  Packages to be mailed, meals to be delivered, prescriptions filled, pills counted and dropped-off at school, all amidst the unplanned – a broken dryer and a stone blocking a saliva gland on one side of my neck.  So, I’ve been moving through the days with one side of my neck swollen-up like a chipmunk storing nuts and hauling laundry back and forth to a most gracious neighbor’s house.  Yes.  My body has been a bit more tired and fragile than usual.  At the same time, though, I am noticing the absence of a most familiar friend – anxiety.

I started noticing the calming of my heart after pushing through the first few weeks of my challenge to write for six-weeks in the raw while taking a writing class at the local Visual Arts center.  You may remember those first few posts written with sweaty hands and a pounding heart.  Fear of just letting go and putting myself out there.  Well, I finished my last class for this course earlier this week which also marks my last totally “raw” post.  With each week and each reading of my work, I noticed my body relaxing and my thoughts less focused on how things sound and more focused on just putting my thoughts down on paper.  I have done this before, in my journal, but never in a context where I have to share what I have written with others.  I’m not really sure whether I am a better writer because of taking this course, but I do believe that I am a more peaceful writer.  I am at peace with where I am in the world.  At my core, I know that I am supposed to create with words, paint and glue.  I don’t know where this need will lead me and for the first time, it is okay just to walk the path without knowing where I will end-up.  It is well with my soul.

I come to the screen this evening feeling like I am writing more of a journal entry than a blog post.  I guess that’s a good thing, but it is so very hard for me.  You see, up until recently when I began this 6-weeks of raw writing, I still had the option to “pretty-up” things when I didn’t like the way they sounded, but now I can no longer hide behind my words.

I came home from my writing class this afternoon just a big bundle of nerves.  This class is actually very layed-back.  It’s not a college course or anything too demanding, but somehow, by the end of each 2 1/2 hours, I leave with my heart pounding in my ears and my chest as tight as a vice grip.  I want to be there.  I need to be there.  And at the same time, it’s driving me crazy listening to the beautiful writing of my classmates!  I swear there are some budding novelists in my midst – mixtures of Jeanette Walls (The Glass Castle), Ann Lamotte, and Maya Angelou all wrapped-up into one.  It’s not that I even feel jealous of their gifts.  I just feel confused.  We are all writing for the same 10-minutes and the images that come from their pens so effortlessly astound me.  Perhaps, with lots of effort and editing, I might be able to come-up with something similar; however, I truly don’t think my mind works in the same manner.  I have all kinds of thoughts and feelings rumbling around in my head demanding to be expressed.  But images and poetry?  They just aren’t there for easy retrieval.

Lest you think I’m having a pity party for myself, really I’m not.  I’m just trying to figure-out why I feel so uptight about this process.  When my husband came home from work, we had a rare few moments by ourselves in which I muttered something about being laced with anxiety over my writing class.  He didn’t say much at first, but came downstairs after changing out of his work clothes and made a comment that totally changed my thinking.  Sometimes, I have to ask myself what it is that I am wanting to get out of my work/my career or I drive myself crazy knowing that I am surrounded by a bunch of geniuses.  I try to focus on what it is that I can offer.  What makes me unique.

That’s it.  I am becoming more aware of the talent around me and wondering what it is that I want to get out of writing.  Do I want pats on the back on what a good writer I am, or do I just want to make a difference?  While I admit, it is nice to receive compliments and to feel stellar, what I really want is to help other women through the sharing of my experiences both in writing and art.  I feel like I have God-sized dreams with mediocre gifts to carry them out.  I suppose there comes a point when we realize where our power runs-out and God steps-in and this is where I am right now.  God doesn’t put desires in our hearts and then just leave us on our own.  I think of Moses and how he tried to argue with God about his less than stellar speaking abilities.  I think of David, the small little guy, who knocked Goliath off his feet with a sling-shot.  These fellows didn’t carry-out God’s will on their own power.  They simply allowed God to work through them.

So, I am accepting that I am where I am right now for a certain reason.  What a comfort it is to know that God uses the weak to do mighty things.

My writing teacher, Valley, said that someone once told her that unless you feel like you are going to throw-up at least one time every day, you are not challenging yourself.  Well, I don’t relish the feeling of being nauseous for the next 6 weeks during this Six Weeks of Raw Writing project, but I do want to face the challenge.  Right now, I can feel the tension building in my head as my heart quickens at the thought of what I have committed to do.  This is a feeling all too familiar to me – anxiety!

I keep thinking, lately, that my daughter is just me turned inside-out.  My family sometimes asks how we ended-up with a child so outspoken and loud.  My girl is quite the little personality, at least when she is at home.  Like me, she struggles with anxiety on a daily basis and yet, she doesn’t let it get in the way of her sassiness.  I say that with much endearment.  Just like me, my girl seems quiet and angelic when she is in a group situation, especially at school or at church, but when she is really at home with herself, she lets it all hang-out.  If she is unsure of something and wants reassurance, she will ask for reassurance over and over again.  My equivalent of that is to check my e-mail for comments, obsessively, after writing a post.  It’s as if until someone validates my thoughts, my writing, my thoughts don’t exist.  This need for approval is something I want to get past.  I want to just enjoy writing without needing the feedback.  I so admire one of my favorite writers, Anne Voskamp, for actually turning the comment section off on her blog.  Seeing how she has now written a book, One Thousand Gifts, that has been on the NY Times bestseller list for over a year now, I suspect she has received plenty of feedback, but I know that she is not writing to receive pats on the back.  She writes what is on her heart, what God puts on her heart, and by golly, she is changing the world with her words!

My girl is obsessed with picking the scabs from all the bug-bites on her legs – another way that she lets her anxiety hang-out for everyone to see.  Her legs look like battle fields right now and complete strangers will stop and ask what happened to them.  We just sigh and say, “She likes to pick her scabs!”  What else can you say?  It doesn’t seem to bother my girl though.  She just keeps on picking.  Or I guess her need to pick outweighs the need to have scarless legs.  Do I do this on the inside?  Pick at my wounded places over and over?  Revisiting the things that cause me to feel anxious?  Maybe my girl has the right idea.  If you are going to be nervous, just let everyone see.  Then there is nothing to hide.  The worst is already out there.


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