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livingwater

If you can imagine one of those desert movie scenes where the main character is all haggard-looking, stumbling in search of water, that is pretty much me.  All. Summer. Long.

Towards the end of fifth grade, my boy’s anxiety seems to build ferociously, likely due to the anticipation of  starting middle school this fall.  “Easy” transitions are a rare phenomenon in the world of autism and this is going to be no joke.  Plagued with the obsessive need to pick at the skin on his fingers and feet, my boy spends most of the summer pitifully trying to care for his self-inflicted wounds, smothering them with Vaseline, putting on Bandaids, lifting the Bandaids to see if everything is “okay” and replacing those that are about to fall-off. All day.  Every day.  Crying, whining, excessive fast-paced talking and pleading for reassurance.  “I am so tired of suffering!” my boy laments.  “I wish I could be in someone else’s body!”  My boy suffers. Our family suffers.

This is not the first time along our 12-year journey that autism strips me of my calm composure, leaving my nerves raw and exposed.  Angry and exhausted,  I steal away to our bedroom closet, slump against the mirror and sob, cursing, and shaking my fist at God.  Why are you allowing this to continue?  Where are you?! I can’t take it anymore!  The storm inside me subsides temporarily.  I breathe.  I ask God to pray for me because I am just too tired to think.  I open the door, quietly descend the stairs and pick-up where we left-off.

Later in the summer, I glance at the dried-up stream bed beside the path I walk on a rare morning alone.  That stream is just like my soul.  All dried-up.  I smile to myself as the Bible story comes to mind where Jesus tells the Samaritan woman sitting at the well that she needs to ask for Living Water.  Water for the soul.  “Give me Living Water,” I pray.  And God offers me small drinks of water, just to get me through until the end of summer.  Until I can breathe again.

An unsuspecting friend asks about my summer and before I can say much of anything, tears stream down my face and she puts her arms around me while I quietly let out a few sobs.  “How can I help?” she asks.  “Just do what you are doing, ” I tell her.  “Sit here with me and listen.”  She shares my pain. My mother-in-law spends time alone with my girl, allowing her to enjoy a few hours away from the tension in our household. My parents bravely take both my girl and boy for a weekend at their house on the farm while my husband and I enjoy a quiet house by ourselves.

These desert seasons have taught me that we are not meant to live life solely on our own strength.  There are times when we have to admit our own thirst so that others can provide Living Water for us.  Sometimes just enough to keep us going until we can reach a long stretch of fresh flowing water. For me, that life-giving stream comes in the form of a new school year. I will take this time to breathe in quiet.  To listen and give my soul what it needs. And then with a quenched spirit, I will offer a cup of water to the next thirsty soul.

 

 

 

 

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ConquersResized

In my dream, I am trying to find my way home.  I am walking.  When I ask Siri for directions, she keeps changing routes and finally settles on the one right in front of me.  I have to travel through a decaying urban area and climb the steep concrete wall of a dam.  I’m scared, but I start climbing anyways. Higher. Higher. Higher.  I near the top of the dam and notice water starting to leak through a crack in the wall. A flood gate has been opened.  Cold water rushes out in big torrents and I am tossed about.  As I fall downwards with the thundering water, I open my mouth every so often to get air and allow myself to be carried downward.  Crashing into the churning water at the bottom of the dam, I rise-up, arms in victory, waving my phone around in the air.  “I made it!  I made It!”  I yell.  “I’ll show you just what I made it through because I caught it all on video!”

This was my dream the other night. And it is also my family’s reality as we travel with our boy on this journey with autism.  The only way home is precipitous and hard and scary, at times.   Our climb is fraught with rigid thinking,  pervasive anxiety, intense sibling rivalry and hairy family dynamics. We never know when the dam is going to break and we’ll find ourselves sitting in an anxious, angry mess, wondering just what happened.  And yet, we keep on climbing.  We climb because we love each other.  And we know that love surpasses any fear that threatens to thwart this journey that is ours to travel together.  To keep climbing means that even when the flood wall opens and we find ourselves thrashing  around at the base of the dam, once again, we are alive to tell about it.

While my particular “wall” happens to be autism,  I have come to know so many beautiful souls who are climbing different walls.  Just as scary.  Just as hard or even harder.  Cancer.  Broken Marriages. Addiction. Chronic Illness.  Abuse.  Depression. Racism.  We all have stories.  Stories of a season(s) in our lives during which we discover our souls being hurled against a concrete bottom, weary and unsure of our ability to stand-up and start climbing again. Perhaps, if we can see ourselves as the heroine of our own stories, raising our arms in victory because we are still here to tell about it, we will be more likely to share our experiences with each other.  We can replace fear and judgement with “Me, too.” and “Being human is hard.  Let’s climb together.”  We can conquer our fear with love.

Ben&meflying(Another little peek of Ben’s Dream.)

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (KJV)

With my boy and girl settling back into the fall school routine, I was all ready to dive-into creating art and taking steps to helping my business grow.  And then, life being what it is, the whole family came-down with a cold, the toilet overflowed, and a mysterious blistering rash showed-up on my girl’s elbow, then her face, and later my boy’s butt cheek…Yeah. I know. Gross.  Along with several previously scheduled autism-related doctor’s appointments, we threw in a couple of extra trips to the pediatrician to figure-out the rash, and before you know it, two weeks passed and not much art had been made on my end.

Sensing the discouragement, the little “Brain Bully” in my head seized the moment and started whispering things like,  “This is why you’ll never reach your dreams!  Your family life is just too demanding!  Do you really want to put all that energy into something that might not even work out?”   To drive the point home, I started an online art class, and immediately felt overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work being shared by my fellow classmates on the group Facebook page…Really, do these people have families?

So, yes, I felt a little anxious, if not a bit cynical.  Still, I  picked-up my paint brush for a few hours here and there throughout the following week. I crocheted some beads one afternoon while my boy and girl played contentedly outside. I pushed-through a class project that felt foreign to me.  Gradually,  the momentum  that I feared losing started to return.  Evidence of things not seen.

I am realizing that creating art and living life are continuous acts of faith.  While I carry these visions and dreams that God has placed in my heart, with gentle hands, I must surrender the final outcome and how it will look to God.  I find such beauty and relief in knowing that it is not up to me to figure-out how long it will take or exactly how I will get there.  All God is asking me to do is to listen to his whispers and keep picking-up that paintbrush.  I think I can do that.

No one could have prepared me for the journey my heart would travel upon becoming a mom over 9 years ago.  A journey bursting with love for my long-awaited child, a little boy entering the world in hushed awe with wide open eyes – windows to an old soul. And, at the same time, a journey fraught with  uneasiness over the feeling that my beautiful boy did not seem comfortable outside the womb.

To continue reading this post, please visit http://zoemmccarthyblog.wordpress.com/2013/03/27/how-to-use-art-to-free-your-anxious-heart/, where I am honored to be a guest blogger today.

Oh, it’s been one of “those” days here at my household.  Tantrums and drama over homework time, a Pyrex dish shattering on the kitchen floor (Really, I did not throw-it; it slid off the pile of pots and pans drying on the counter!), bad day for the husband at work, and the clothes dryer deciding not make even the hint of warm air.  It now takes a whole day to dry a load of clothes.

Fortunately, the kids are now in bed, I sit with a mug of warm tea beside me and am writing “raw.”  I am so glad that days like these don’t last forever and that I managed to keep myself from coming totally unglued during this afternoons festivities.  Yes, I did yell a few times.  But I also remembered to stop and take breaths.  I prayed at the kitchen counter before going to discuss matters with my girl splayed across her bed upstairs.  And I remembered to apologize to my boy for yelling at him for obsessively asking if I was going to help him finish his homework in the middle of my girl’s melt-down.  Really, does it look like it’s a good time right now?!

It’s all about imperfect progress, right?  This fall, I have been participating in a weekly discussion with a group of wonderful and real ladies around Lysa Terkeurst’s book Unglued.  Oddly, for the first few weeks of this study, things at my house had been pretty “hunky dory,” almost utopia like.  I was gulping in the long periods of rich play between my boy and girl, noting how happy everyone seemed, all the while wondering when the other shoe was going to drop. ‘Cause you know weeks like these can’t last forever!

So, today the other shoe dropped.  Actually, it started the day before when my girl stayed-home sick.  How dare her mess-up my carefully planned week!  Now, I had to cram two days worth of chores and errands into one afternoon!

What I really want to say is that this messiness is real life and it can be hard sometimes.  Downright frustrating.  How nice it was for me to be able to sit in my Unglued book study reflecting on my own unglued moments as if they were a thing of the past.  It’s easy to show joy and calm when life is going along smoothly.  But what about the other times?  How do I find joy in the ugliness?

Well, I am still on the chapter in Unglued where I try to define what kind of “unglued” I am.  I think I tend to be an exploder at home and a stuffer everywhere else.  I haven’t gotten to the part where I learn what to do about my ungluedness; however, I have learned a few things over the past year or so, through the wisdom of my lovely friends and some insightful books.  One, I need to take care of myself, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  In general, this task has become easier now that my boy and girl are both in school, but it still can be a challenge.  While some can handle a lot of things on their plates, I recognize and honor my need for quiet and for room in my schedule to create.  Regular quiet-time spent with my Creator and intentional blocks set-aside for art and writing can go a long ways on the emotional and spiritual front.  Physically, I am learning the importance of taking care of my body through regular exercise.  I am not a gym person, but I do enjoy walking and can certainly pop-in a yoga or Pilates DVD on rainy or cold days.  A little endorphin release can definitely keep my mind from coming unglued so quickly.

I still have a way to go with this whole idea of not coming unglued.  Through it all, I want to extend my family the same grace that God shows me.  I am grateful for today.  No, I didn’t enjoy the downward spiral, but I was reminded of all that I have learned and am still learning.  Thank you, God, for granting us new mercies every day!

Up and dressed much earlier than usual, my boy and girl perch themselves on the front steps 45-minutes before the bus is scheduled to arrive. It is the first day of a new school year and they are ready to get on with the transition.  Taking advantage of the extra-time on this particular morning, I get a little creative with my first-day back photo (hence, the chalkboards)  and then sit-down next to their squirmy little bodies and try to make the wait easier by reading aloud a Berenstein Bears book.  After hearing the stop and start of middle-school buses making their way through the neighborhood and anxiously watching neighbors drive away in route to daycare and work, we finally see our little yellow bus  round the corner.  I walk my boy and girl out to the mailbox and watch them climb onto the bus together for the very first-time.  While my boy is not so sure about this new transition, my girl is over-the-moon about attending the same school as her big brother this year.  Tears brimming, I wave good-bye and remind myself that my new work is waiting for me to show-up.

Last Spring, I began to uncover this need to create art, both in writing and mixed-media work.  In the process of peeling away the layers of self-doubt and opening myself to this calling, I discovered a calmer, more full-filled me. It seemed that just as I unearthed this “new” me, summer arrived, which meant writing and art would need to be put on the back burner while I returned to my role as full-time mom for the summer months.  I tried my best to weave writing and art into the daily rhythms of  my family throughout the summer, writing a blog post here and there in the evenings and planning art projects to do with my boy and girl.  These activities did add a new dimension to the summer days built around swimming lessons, summer school/camp, tutoring, recorder lessons and trips to the library.  And, while I believe that shaping the souls of our children is an art in itself,  I found myself eagerly awaiting the arrival of that little yellow bus, just as my boy and girl did on this first day of school.  All summer, I had been squelching my craving for longer periods of uninterrupted time in which I can show-up at the computer and/or the art table, for the sole purpose of creating whatever it is that God whispers to my heart.

In her book, The Creative Call, Janice Elsheimer, states that “in order to practice our art – to breathe out what God wants to express through the talents he has given us – we must become servants to the work. Servants do; servants act.”  In essence, when we set-aside the time, show-up and do whatever it is we are called to do, even on the days when we feel uninspired, God will be there to take it to the next level.  This seems to be true for the creation of any work of art, whether it be raising our children, taking care of our homes, cooking meals, writing and yes, creating “real” art, don’t you think?  I thank God for the gift of this time to create.  And as I commit myself to showing-up to my work in the coming months, I pray that God will use my words and my art to breath out what he wants to express through me.

The artist must be obedient to the work…Each work of art, whether it is a work of great genius or something very small, comes to the artist and says ‘Here I am.  Enflesh me.  Give birth to me.’

-Madeleine L’Engle

Every so often, and fortunately, usually not at the same time, my husband and I reach a breaking point within our parenting roles.  A point at which, if we don’t find solace from the talking, the bargaining, the repeating, that we just might run down the street, screaming like a raving lunatic.

Today, it was my turn.  The build-up started this morning when we arrived at the movie theatre.  Before I could park the car, a young theatre worker ran across the parking lot and waved me away, saying that the building had no electricity.  Luckily, we were early and had the time to drive to another nearby theatre showing the same $1.00 summer special, Arthur Christmas.  I turned the car around to leave the parking lot when the questions started firing-up from the backseat.  Are we going to be late?  Is this a main road?  Will we be able to see the same movie? How come we are going this way?  Nerves a bit plucked, I made my entrance onto the highway and drove a mile or so when I couldn’t figure-out whether I was headed in the right direction.  At the risk of stirring-up any additional panick from the backseat, I chose not to say anything, took the next exit, turned around, and drove a long round about, but familiar route to the theatre.  I simply could not think straight. With 2 minutes to spare, I entered the theatre parking lot and heard a voice from the backseat question my choice of parking spots.  Irritably, I suggested that we go home if my girl cannot walk the distance from the car to the theatre.  At the same time, if we did go home, it would require more of me than I had to give on this particular morning.

Needless to say, we did go inside the theatre.  My boy and girl and I scrambled over  legs in the dark to some empty seats just as the movie started.  Once we figured-out that the main character of the movie was not the Arthur (the aardvark) that we were expecting, we settled-in and escaped into the magic of Christmas, Santa and elves.

Now, I know that the scenerio above is not all that awful in itself.  I say that and yet, I am embarrassed to admit that by the time my husband walked in the door later today, I could barely listen to the talking and sibling arguments without feeling like I might explode.  I even closed my eyes to try to block-out the constant assault to my senses.  I was on overload!

This is how I ended-up in our bedroom after dinner with a box of tissues, my Bible and journal, trying to figure-out why I felt so fragile.  And, in those quiet-moments, I sensed God saying to me, “Pick-Me!  Pick-Me, my child!”  You see, now that summer school has ended, I am “on” all day, every day.  I really have tried to stay positive and recharge when I can. Dabbling over a page in my art journal here and there while my boy and girl are drawing.  Fitting-in exercise by biking together as a family.  Tossing a prayer of gratitude up to God when I think of it.  What I have been lacking, though, is uninterrupted quiet-time drinking-in God’s word and conversing with Him.  Instead of picking God, I check my e-mail, much more than necessary.  I scroll down my Facebook news feed.  I watch another episode of Pickers on the couch with my husband.  I move God down on my list, because, well, it’s just seems easier to fill what little time I do have with whatever is right in front of me.  Basically, the equivalent of spiritual snacking.

I start to chastise myself for not being enough for my family when God reminds me that he doesn’t expect me to be enough on my own strength.  I am kidding myself and everyone else if I expect to be a loving, gentle, and patient wife, mother, and friend at all times.  The good news is that with God’s help, I may not do it all perfectly, but I am much more likely to do it better than I can by myself.

With a few more weeks before my boy and girl head back to school, I am going to do my best to fit-in as many full-meals with God as much as possible.  I guess that means I’ll need to cut-back on the “snacking.”  I’ll let you know how it goes.

Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.  They will soar on wings like eagles;  they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.   – Isaiah 40:31

A young girl pulls-up a soft armchair and settles her elderly friend near the bookstore window.  She looks a bit confused and uneasy, asking when they will be picked-up from their outing at Barnes and Noble. Her young friend, likely a paid caregiver, kindly replies that they have another hour before her next appointment. The two sit in comfortable silence for a few minutes while the older lady stares blankly at the large plate-glass window and her companion  casually flips through a cooking magazine. Every few minutes, the young girl looks-up from her magazine and engages her friend in conversation. She asks her questions pertaining to her past. “Did you like to cook when you were a young girl?” “Yes,” answers her older friend in a quiet voice. “What do you like to do?” asks the older friend of her companion. “I like to cook. I like to garden. And I like to read,” she replies.  A few minutes later, the young girl initiates more conversation and the older friend asks again, “What do you like to do?” As if this is the very first-time she has answered her question, the young girl patiently replies, “I like to cook. I like to garden. I like to read and help-out with my brothers and sisters.”  Their conversation continues in a similar fashion for the next half hour or so. Each time, the caregiver responding with kindness and patience.  Not even a hint of being annoyed by the repetitive nature of their dialogue.

Writing pen and journal in my lap, I sit nearby and can’t seem to keep my mind from drifting to these two ladies.  I am struck by the gift that this young girl so easily gives to her elderly companion.  The gift of unconditional love and grace.  While my boy does not suffer from the ravages of dementia, he shares the same driving need for familiarity and repetition.  Each day, much of our conversation consists of a series of question and answer sessions.  Do I have school today?  Yes, Ben, today is a school day.  Do I have enough time?  Will I have to rush?  I have too many chores!  Just relax, Ben.  All you need to do is get dressed and make your bed.  Is my backpack zipped?  Do I have everything that I need?  Yes, Ben.  Your backpack is zipped.

With each transition, we move through these question and answer sessions throughout the day.  My boy asking for reassurance.  My husband and I offering-up the same answers. We sometimes liken our daily life to the 1990’s Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day.  Each day, we wake-up and repeat these same conversations every day, all day, with just a few slight variations.

Now, don’t get me wrong, there are days when my boy totally blows me away with his deep questions and unique ways of seeing the world.  But if I am being honest, sometimes, the daily grind just really gets to me.  These are the days when my responses are laced with sarcasm and weary sighs.  These are the days when I need to remember that scene in Barnes and Noble.  I accept the reality that I am human and will not always respond in the most loving way.  Throw-in an afternoon of loud, rambunctious pretend play, complete with impersonations of hissing cats and screeching birds, a few escalating sibling arguments, a melt-down over masking-tape not “listening,” and a lengthy dissertation from my boy describing his latest 5-page neighborhood drawing and I consider it a success if I am able to stand in the middle of the chaos without running for the door, even if I am in a comatose state.

At the same time, if my desire is to show God’s love to my family through my daily words and actions, I need to learn how to respond to these Groundhog Days with more patience.  On particularly messy days, I am trying to direct my initial response to God before the sting of harsh words spill from my mouth onto my children.  This is my prayer:  Dear Lord, I am exhausted and irritable.  Please help me to see my boy and girl just as you see them and not through my human eyes.  Give me the strength to respond with loving words.  Amen.

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Proverbs 15:1

It is the first week of summer and I watch my boy perched on the edge of the pool during his swimming lesson.  The instructor has him hold his hands in front of his mouth so that he can feel the air as he breathes-out.  When she brings my boy to me after the lesson today, the instructor notes the importance of focusing on breathing techniques.  The reason my boy is afraid to go underwater is that he doesn’t know how to breathe-out when he puts his face in the water.  While he has come a long ways from the trembling 4-year old clutching our necks with white knuckles each and every time we entered the water together, now, at 8 years old, he struggles to conquer this last step, again.

My boy is perfectly content to paddle around holding onto his lime green noodle, head sticking-out of the water like a turtle; however, we know that he needs to become a proficient swimmer for his own safety.  Each year,  he takes to the water with a little more ease and excitement.  And each year, come time for swimming lessons, my boy faces his fears and learns to put his face in the water all over again.

I admire my boy’s perseverance.  It seems that I, too, have to learn how to “breathe” again each summer.  I have to learn how to breathe amidst the loud all day talking, the drama of being “bored” and the unbridled energy filling the air.  I suppose we all have to learn how to breathe again.  To find a new rhythm in living and breathing together during these hot summer months.

Admittedly, I have floundered through these first days of summer.  A fish out of water.  Trying to strike a balance between planned activities and down-time that fits the needs of both my boy and girl, at least most of the time.  And, as I struggle to breathe again, I find myself returning to the lessons I have been learning over the past several years.  I pay attention to the rhythm of the knife chopping lettuce for a simple salad.  I notice the colors in the soap bubbles as I wash the pots and pans.  When my boy and girl read after lunch, I open my copy of In Celebration of Simplicity and remember the joy of slowing-down and living lightly.  And, in doing these things, I find myself learning to breathe all over again.

I am eating a bowl of granola and dried blueberries at the kitchen table when my girl sits down in the chair across from me.  She chats about the Easter Bunny, asking if she can bring her basket to Mamaw and Papaw’s after church on Sunday.  Calculating the number of days before Easter, my girl ponders why there is no school on Friday.  I explain that Christians often attend church services on Good Friday because that is the day that Jesus was hung on the cross.  How did they put Jesus on the cross?  My girl asks this question somewhat matter-of-factly Nails were driven through Jesus’ hands and feet.  I answer her quietly.  What did they do with Jesus’ body after he died?  They put him in a tomb, a cave where a huge boulder blocked the entrance.  Is he still there?  I smile at this gift.  The opportunity to tell my girl, one more time, the real meaning of Easter.  That heavy boulder which sealed the cave’s entrance?  It was found three days later, rolled away from that dark cavern, revealing only the cloths which once wrapped Jesus’ broken body.  Jesus rose from the dead!

My girl then returns to her original question.  The one about Good Friday.  Why can’t we talk about the real meaning of the Easter egg at school?  Because not everyone believes the same thing as we do.  What are you called if you are not a Christian, if you don’t believe in Jesus?  Well, some people are Jewish.  They believe in God, but they don’t believe that Jesus was His son.  And, some people just don’t believe in God or Jesus.  They are atheists.  Satisfied, my girl grabs her ukulele and belts out an original song.  “I believe in Jesus!” she sings right there in the middle of the kitchen.  The lyrics are simple and repetitive.  I hear my boy’s small voice join-in from the next room where he is drawing.  Does my guitar sound good, Mommy?  Like the guy who plays at church?  Wanting either a bigger audience or a bigger stage, I’m not sure which, my girl moves her performance onto the front porch where she strums her ukulele and sings right up until my boy’s yellow school bus rounds the corner.

I watch her from the door and I think about this art of being present.  How I might have missed-out on this conversation with my girl if I had been rushing about my morning duties, as I have been accustomed.   Towards the end of this season of Lent, I made a decision to practice the art of being present for my family and for God each morning.  For me, this means not checking e-mail until my boy and girl are off to school, I have journaled, quieted my mind, and spent time in prayer.  Now sometimes, like today for instance, the journaling and meditation don’t happen until later in the afternoon, but this routine is one I now strive to carry-out whenever possible.  When I connect with my family and with God each morning, I ground myself before the day gets underway and takes me along with it.  The result?  I arrive at the end, more often than not, content and fulfilled.  In learning to be present, I am better able to show love to my family, to myself, and to those I encounter throughout the day.  And love?  Isn’t that the real meaning of Easter?

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