May 262011

A few weeks ago, I sat in my family room with Craig and said, “There are so many Monkees who have little ones with autism. I need someone to teach me about it.”

Two days later, my beautiful and brave neighbor, Heather, emailed and said, “I’d like to write about my son.”

Of course you would, I said.

Monkees, meet Heather and Preston.

My baby boy turned seven this week, and I’ve been a little weepy.It’s not just a case of the mommy blues – a little wistfulness that life is “passing by so quickly,” or a touch of nostalgia for the end of “little-kid-dom” coming to end.

My son’s birthdays – while always happy occasions marked by the standard moonbounce-jumping, cake-eating celebration – are touched with a hint of sadness for me.Each year I come a little closer to understanding the challenges my sweet boy will face in this world, and I worry. Fret.Lose sleep. And yes, even let myself indulge in a little self-pity for a moment.

School’s going to be tough for him; athletics – frustrating; and making friends, well, we just pray that he does.

You see, my son, Preston, has autism.It’s something that’s taken me nearly four years to say without getting a huge lump in my throat or tear in my eye.And yet, sometimes speaking the words aloud still feels like a kick in the gut – like when I’m sharing the news for the first time with a long-lost friend.A surge of emotion waves over me, flooding me with a feeling of sickness and disbelief that autism is our reality.

Let me introduce you all to Preston.He might just surprise you.He doesn’t fit the bill of what you may have heard about autism through Hollywood portrayals or headline-grabbing stories.He’s not a number-crunching genius like some, or in his own private world, like others.

Preston has charmed many-a-therapist with his wide grin and mischievous sense of humor.He adores his big sis, and tries to negotiate a playdate every day of the week.He makes us laugh – and scream – almost every day of our lives!At first glance, you might just mistake him for your typical pizza-eating, Chuck-E-Cheese-loving 7-year-old boy.

Autism takes many, many shapes, and we are greatly blessed that Preston is on the higher-functioning end of autism. Still, it’s been a long journey to get him where he is today, and we’ve learned to celebrate the little victories that we simply took for granted with his “typical” big sis.

To understand the so-called “autism spectrum”, picture it as an umbrella, where each spoke has a different specific label: autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, pervasive developmental delay (often referred to as PDD-NOS), and some are even now saying ADD.But under the umbrella, there are common themes: language impairments, difficulty with social interactions, obsessive behaviors or fixations, and behavioral problems.For some kiddos, the issues are obvious;others, not so much.

Preston’s particular “brand” of autism is marked by significant speech and language delays, and difficulties communicating and interacting with his peers. So, while he can easily rattle off a list of 10 different fruits, he would have difficulty explaining the differences between an apple and an orange.Though he has the vocabulary of a nine-year-old, he has a tough time translating what he knows in to conversation.And while he desperately wants to play with other kids, he lacks the social skills to be able to ask if he can join in the fun.

Think of a file cabinet in the brain that’s supposed to be alphabetized so the information can easily be retrieved.In children with autism, some fool has come in and shuffled everything up, filing away important information using a secret code that can only be deciphered through repetitive and persistent therapies.

He also struggles with fine-motor tasks like writing, and other tasks that require the two sides of his body to work together seamlessly, like swimming or even opening a jar.

And then there is the quirkiness.We all have our idiosyncrasies, but for children on the autism spectrum, eccentricities are just part of the package.Some days it can be frustrating, but over time we’ve learned to find the humor in it all.

Preston gives us a kick out of his ability to tell us every single make and model of car that every family member and neighbor on our street has.

You also didn’t hear any complaints from me when one day he woke up and decided that he must have his bed made, clothes picked up, and doors closed to his closet if there was to be any peace in our household. This lasted for a few months, and then one day, that chapter was simply closed.

And who can forget Mario, of “Super Mario” that is.Preston is the reigning king of Mario Kart WII in our household, and can tell you everything there is to know about the courses, style of cars and characters.Strike up a conversation with him about Mario, and he may just never shut up – something I never thought he would do even two years ago!

Then there’s the “bad behavior” – the big B.For us, one of the first clues that something was amiss with Preston was his delayed speech and “bad behavior.”When he was a toddler, he screamed all day, every day, frustrated by his inability to communicate and unable to control his feelings – picture terrible twos on steroids.

The word finally came down when Preston was two-and-half.A team of specialists from Georgetown Hospital sat my husband, Brad, and I down and told us they “couldn’t rule out” that Preston was on the autism spectrum.It was just too soon to know for sure. You could have knocked me over with a feather. We both knew deep down that our lives would never be the same from that moment forward.

Still, we argued with ourselves and the doctors over the next year.But he’s not anti-social; he laughs; makes eye contact.I told the doctors, “It’s just that a light bulb hasn’t gone off for him on how to communicate.”Little did I know, I was actually defining autism.By the time he was three-and-a-half, we got it.

I now see Georgetown’s squishy diagnosis as God’s way of easing us into the idea of what lay ahead.

Talk to any parent of a child with autism, and they’ll probably describe the first year or two after the diagnosis as the “dark days.”What does it mean?What do we do?Will he grow out of it?Could they be wrong?

I just wanted someone to hit me over the head with a frying pan and just tell me what to do to make it all better.Of course, that didn’t happen.

But what happened is I realized, maybe for the first time, that I couldn’t – and shouldn’t – try to “do it all” on my own.God has equipped me with the tools and strength to go to battle for my son.Yes, fight, because that’s what it takes!

Stealing from a Mother’s Day sermon at church last week, I am a “mom on a mission” – a mission to help my son fulfill his potential and purpose on this Earth; a mission to defeat autism; and a mission to “pay it forward,” helping other moms out there on there on this bumpy road.

I thank God every day that he gave me a wonderful husband, Brad, to share the joys and hardships of this life.He’s been my rock and partner every step of this journey.

God also gave me a beautiful daughter, who loves to be a helper and friend to her brother; he brought my dear friends Kelli and Ann Marie in to my life, who have shared their own personal autism journeys with me and helped me with mine; he’s made it possible for my parents to move hundreds of miles to be closer to us;and of course, introduced us to true angels walking this Earth in the form of special needs therapists and teachers.Nikia, Tina and Jess – we couldn’t have survived without them!

Five weeks from now, Preston will graduate kindergarten at our local school, hand-in-hand with “typical” kids in a regular old classroom. Just a few short years ago, we questioned whether this would ever happen. We’ll be cheering him on from the sidelines of graduation, just as we will as he makes his way through life – so proud of his accomplishments; so grateful he’s our son.

Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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May 242011

One of my dreams is to write a memoir-ish type of book. I’d write it in short essays, just like I write this blog. I’ve been asked if I think about writing a chapter-y normal book, and I always say: No way, I can’t write like that. Because the way I write – in short bursts of hope and despair, is the same way I live – in short bursts of hope and despair. Everything changes on me and in me too fast to write long pieces. I write in short essays because I only know things to be true for a few minutes at a time. The only thing I can ever really tell you about myself or my world is what I think is going on right now exactly this minute immediately NOW. In five minutes everything will be completely different.

Craig learned early in our marriage never to ask me, “How was your day?”

How can anyone possibly answer that question?

My day was everything, obviously. Do people have all good or all bad days? I don’t. Every day is everything.

So when I get emails from readers that say: I wish I could be as loving and kind and peaceful and funny as you are in your writing, I always think: yes, well, that makes two of us.I’m just saying that if one morning you read a post from me about how joyful and hopeful I’m feeling and then you stop by twenty minutes later to find me in a puddle of tears on my kitchen floor, don’t be surprised. That’s just the way it goes over here. And I am fine with it. I used to be afraid to write anything down unless my tone and ideas matched the type of person I want to be . . . but I think I’ve figured out that there really is no type of person. We’re all the same type: a little hopeful, proud, peaceful, frazzled, afraid, brave, loving, mean. Usually all in the same day. So the most important thing for us to remember is: This Too, Shall Pass. Since everything passes, it’s best to keep breathing during the bad times and pay close attention during the good times. Cause they’re both on their way out, always.

Even though This Too Shall Pass is the most important thing to remember . . . I don’t remember it, hardly ever.

Things seem quite clear and simple when my soul speaks here at Momastery, but when I walk away from my keyboard and my head and heart and other people start speaking: I generally forget most everything good. I forget hope and patience and peace and I start floundering in a sea of fear and doubt and irritability and restlessness. My soul is steady and still . . . always, but my heart and mind are freaking lunatics. They should both be locked up, honestly. Craig agrees because he fields most of this lunacy. I have never seen a more perfect illustration of our marriage than this. When I showed Craig he pointed at the screen and said, “YES! YES. THAT’S IT!”

So sometimes when I lose my peace and start to feel sad or WAY UP or WAY DOWN, I tell someone other than Craig or Sister. Because everyone in my family secretly agrees that people have jobs, for God’s sake and so my dramatic heart needs to be shared. It takes a village. This weekend, I started to feel sad and panicked about the adoption again, so I reached out to my friend Shauna, who has been through two adoptions and is now a passionate advocate.

So I emailed her and told her how upset I was about possibly losing our adoption. I explained how beleaguered and abused I felt and how totally unfair it all was and then I added that I knew she was very busy with her newborn so she definitely didn’t have to write back.

Then I sat at the computer and waited for her to write back.

I was hoping that Shauna would say that yes, I’d definitely been wronged and that yes, God was letting me down and that YES, I had every right to pout for as long as was needed.

But when Shauna wrote back, which was right away, she didn’t say any of those things.

She said some loving, soothing, simple words and she ended with: Yes, there is a lot of pain in adoption. There is a lot of loss. Adoption is born from loss.

I’ve been letting that sink in for the past three days.

What the hell was I thinking anyway? That I would be the first person in history to mosey through the battlefield of adoption unscathed? What about the birthmothers who can’t keep their babies? What about the infants separated from their birth parents? What about the women with years of agonizing infertility behind them? What about the poverty, the pain, the disease, the death . . . all the sadness from which adoption is so often born???

Did I think I could step into this ring of pain and not get knocked down a few times?

Did I believe that for me, adoption should be a walk in the park ending with a parade for me and my family?YAAAAAY US!!!!!! That I would show up on the adoption scene and those already there would stop what they were doing and say: THANK GOD. YOU’RE HERE! IT’S ALL BETTER NOW. PARTY TIME!! Jeez. This is serious business for serious people.

I learned a lot from Shauna’s response to me. She was loving and honest and true and she ignored my lunatic heart because she knew that my soul needed to hear the Truth.

“I’ve come to ignore your cries and heartaches. I’ve come to closely listen to you sing.” – Joe Pugg, on Jesus

Adoption is born from pain, from loss.That, in the end, is part of the beauty. You become connected through loss. So in the end, you understand each other. And if I’m going to throw my hat into this sacred ring, I need to expect to get knocked down a few times. The good news is that it’s not how many times I get knocked down. It’s how many times I get back up. Even if the whole world would prefer me to just stay down, for Christ’s sake. Only I decide if I stay down or get back up for more. That’s between me and God.

So I’m okay over here. Preparing myself for a blow. Might even get beat in this round. Might not. Either way, I can handle it.

I’m little, but mighty. Like the mouse, Lovies. Like the mouse.



Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
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May 122011

I’ve been planning this post for months. I’ve spent entire afternoons imagining how I would announce to you where my heart and head have really been for the past fifteen months.

It’s been fifteen months now.

Fifteen months since we began our paper chase to adopt a baby boy from Africa.

I was going to write a hell of a letter to you to share the news. The letter was going to be about redemption and victory. It was going be about how God comes through for people who lay it all on the line for their dreams that are His dreams, too. But even though I always believe it will . . . life doesn’t work out that way, does it? Life’s not like a movie, where you just have to hold on for another hour to get to the big victory scene. Things don’t always fall into place easily, or ever, sometimes. God doesn’t seem to work that way, even though I really, really think He should. I don’t get God at all.

The past year has been, well, it’s been ridiculous. I’ll get into the details later but in short, we have lived, breathed, and bled this adoption. We have witnessed miracles along the way and lost weeks worth of sleep and traveled all over God’s green earth and cried and cried and cried and learned how to use spread sheets and visited three different police headquarters and taken trips to embassies and spent an entire month worth of time listening to elevator music on hold and met with congressmen and spent our life savings, again. We did most of the adoption preparation on our own. No agency, just me and Craig, with help from a few friends and Sister, putting together a dossier. And each morning, no matter how tired or scared or anxious I was in anticipation of the adoption events of the day, I showed up here. I wrote to you about how Life Goes On even when ours is on hold. I showed up for you because we show up for each other even when we don’t want to. Even when we’d prefer to curl up into a ball and drink forty nine Captain and Cokes. I stayed awake . . . I kept showing up. I did my job. I am really, really proud of myself for that. This past year I’ve come the closest I ever have to loving God with my whole mind, body, and soul. I sure as hell don’t want to come any closer, anyway.

I’ve kept this all secret because, well, because I’ve been completely consumed with this baby. I have learned that when I’ve lost all perspective about a situation it’s best not to write about it yet. Wait for a hint of clarity, is my rule. If I am currently angry, terrified, suspicious, jealous, etc…I don’t hit publish, because those things are the opposite of love and I need for every word on this blog to come from a place of love. That’s why it works. There’s the secret. But I’m breaking my own rules today. I’m writing even though I’m terrified and suspicious and a little angry. Because I’m worried that the other reason I haven’t announced this publicly is that I’ve feared God won’t come through in the end. I’m afraid He’ll leave me hanging. And then God and I will be left feeling stupid. Again. It’s like I secretly and ridiculously believe that I’m His publicist, and it’s my job to spin everything He does in the best light, so He’ll come across looking good for the paparrazi. So I wait to see what He does and then find a way to wrap it up in a bow and hand it to you. I make it seem like a gift no matter what the hell it is, because mostly, I feel like everything is a gift. But I don’t feel like spinning anything this time. I don’t even know how. I’m going to stop trying to be a writer and just be a reporter.

In sum: we thought we were weeks away from receiving our final approval from Africa. We thought we’d be traveling this summer to pick up our boy. We have a name picked out. I’m planning his nursery. Tish keeps saying: WHEN ARE WE GOING TO GET OUR BROWN BABY? I know. We need to talk to her about that terminology, I guess.

But this week, after fifteen months, (seven years and fifteen months) we learned that this adoption might fall through for us. I can’t share those details now. But it’s not looking good, all of a sudden. It’s going to take a miracle. Holding onto hope and expecting miracles are completely exhausting. I just want to expect normal for once. But noooo…right up to the end, miracles. Jesus.

So anyway, I’m not waiting to see if the miracle happens this time to write about it. I’m telling. I’m putting God on the spot. At this point, I don’t have much faith. If I had to bet, I’d bet that this is going to fall through. Again. I just can’t see how or why God will fix this. We’ll find out together, I guess, in a few weeks. Until then, if you would – do your thing. Pray, vibe, think of us. Think of our baby. Will him to exist, please.

And one more thing: please, please, please don’t remind me that Jesus said not to put God to the test. Please don’t quote scripture to me, or I’ll turn this car around. Yes, I will. I’m living scripture right now. I’m waist deep in scripture. I’m trying desperately to make the world more beautiful, to prove that We Belong To Each Other, to Do Hard Things, to care for widows and orphans. And my job on this blog isn’t to tell you how I should feel…but how I actually feel, And right now I feel like this:

I’ve done what I can do. I have risked it all, again, for this dream, for this baby. I have spent every ounce of love and energy and money and hope I have. I’ve told people who’ve said No, NO, NO to STEP OFF. I’ve done this sick and exhausted and I’ve picked myself up, literally, from the floor time and time again. I’ve left it all on the field. Again.

Your turn, God. Let’s see what you can do. You better be real, Mister.

Carry On, Warrior
Author of the New York Times Bestselling Memoir CARRY ON, WARRIOR
Join the Momastery community on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram & Pinterest

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