Love, Faith, and Anxiety

Maundy Thursday is the day that Christians commemorate the gathering of Jesus and his disciples for the Last Supper. Maundy comes from the Latin word mandatum, meaning commandment, in reference to Jesus’ teachings about a new commandment. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John. 13:34-35, NRSV). That piece of scripture, and it’s message,  has been woven into my life for as long as I can remember, but last night I felt those words in a way I had never experienced them before.

I’ve written before about the internal struggle my son wages between his love for God and church, and his inability to be in large groups of people. After a year on medication to ease his anxiety, he is generally good on Sunday mornings – he knows what to expect, can position himself in the sanctuary in a way that offers an unobstructed escape route, and has figured out how to entirely avoid the over-peopled parts of church. He has found a balance that allows him to participate in worship and fellowship, without being too overwhelming.

But every now and then, he finds himself in a situation at church that is outside of his comfort zone.  With the decrease in predictability comes an increase in the potential for anxiety or a panic attack. Such was the case last night as we observed Maundy Thursday.

He was trying so hard to stay in control. I could see it and I could feel it in his tense body seated next to me. But shortly after we were seated – in a sanctuary that was darker than he is accustomed to, in a seating arrangement completely different from on a Sunday morning, in a worship service filled with heart wrenching words and haunting music – he realized he was not in control. And his chosen means of attempting to hold off the panic attack was to bury his head in my lap and squeeze his eyes tightly shut.

So it was that I found my sweet boy – who is almost as big as me – curled into my lap as the words of this Taize chant washed over us both…”Nothing can trouble. Nothing can frighten. Those who seek God shall never go wanting. God alone fills us.” Over and over I heard and sang those words which were simultaneously heart breaking and soul filling. My heart broke for Jesus, for the world at large and for my son – as I sat holding my son, I felt my heart-break wide open.

The message of Maundy Thursday is love. Love in its purest form. Love for one another. Love in action. And while I am still reeling from the pain of last night, in the light of this day I know that above all else it is our collective love and faith that will see my son through this world.

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Choosing Grace

Should.

That’s a trigger word for me. I know I use it with myself too much, but I make an extreme effort to not use with it other people. In my opinion, “should” feels critical or judgmental. It diminishes the possibility that there is more than one “right” way to do or be or feel. Should lacks empathy and limits perspective. It is a word that has the ability to make a person feel small and question their choices. It is not a positive word.

Clearly I have an opinion on this. But why?

I am my own worst critic. Truly I am harsh on myself. There have been periods in my life when I constantly and consistently “should-ed” everything I did or said, or didn’t do or say. Those were seasons of self doubt. Hand in hand with the shoulds I put upon myself,  I would also absorb the shoulds that that world put upon me.

Life and time and age bring the gift of perspective, if we are open to receiving. Thankfully, those long seasons of self-doubt are somewhere back in my younger days (along with big hair and questionable fashion choices). That’s not to say that I don’t still occasionally slip a “you should” into my own self-talk, but it does mean that I am infinitely better at not allowing the shoulds of the world color my perspective or choices. It also means that I try really hard to not limit the perspective or choices of others – I’m not perfect, but I am certain that should is not a word that passes my lips toward another person very often.

Bottom line? Should removes the space in which grace – toward myself and others – can thrive. And instead of choosing to live by should, I have chosen to live with grace. Dozens of times each day, my inner voice reminds me “Grace in. Grace out.” When I remember to treat myself with grace and treat others with grace, I counteract the shoulds. Living with grace means allowing for possibility and perspective and choices. Living with grace means allowing for mistakes and second chances.

As a parent, wife, daughter, sibling and friend – instead of choosing should, I choose grace. With my voice and my actions – instead of choosing should, I choose grace. In a world that is becoming increasingly divided – instead of choosing should, I choose grace.

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On the Bookshelf -Love That Boy: What Two Presidents, Eight Road Trips, and My Son Taught Me About a Parent’s Expectations by Ron Fournier

I am a voracious reader. I love words. I love stories. I love ideas. I love to escape into a good book.

Some of what I read is for pure pleasure, some of what I read is to help me be better at my church job, some of what I read is to expand my understanding of our world, and some of what I read is to help me figure out how to help my polar opposite kids navigate this world. When I come across a book that I think is insightful or important in some way, I am going to share it with you all – just a glimpse of what is on my bookshelf.

“Love That Boy: What Two Presidents, Eight Road Trips, and My Son Taught Me About a Parent’s Expectations” by Ron Fournier

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My son is a current events and news junkie. It has been a challenge for us to find outlets for his interest that provide balanced and non-sensationalized reporting. The only televised news he is allowed to watch without parental supervision is the News Hour on PBS. Several months ago he was watching the News Hour and I happened to walk through the room during an interview with journalist Ron Fournier. They were talking about his recently published book “Love That Boy: What Two Presidents, Eight Road Trips, and My Son Taught Me About a Parent’s Expectations.”

I can’t say for certain what caught my attention and caused me to stop and listen. But something did, and I found myself standing in a room with my son who lives with a level 1 autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and my husband, listening to Ron Fournier talk about his own son who lives with ASD and his own emotional and physical journeys that changed his relationship with his son. I was riveted, and I instantly went to my computer and added the book to my Kindle.

Several weeks went by before I had an opportunity to begin reading the book, but when I did I found it difficult to stop reading.

Ron Fournier is a long time political columnist. He started his career in Arkansas covering then governor Bill Clinton, followed President Clinton to Washington DC, and covered the next 3 presidential administrations. He is also a son, a husband and a father to 3 including his son Tyler. This book is part fantastic reporting and part memoir. It is full of historical and social background, current research on childhood development and interviews with other parents; right alongside a recounting of his deeply personal journey to a stronger relationship with his adolescent son.

The book is set against a backdrop of a series of road trips Fournier and his son Tyler take to visit the homes and libraries of a handful of past US Presidents, including personal meetings for Tyler with both President Clinton and President GW Bush. Along the way, Fournier and Tyler forge a deeper and more empathetic relationship.

As I read, I could see so much of my own son in Tyler and so much of myself in Fournier. This is a book that broke my heart and then filled it back up again. “Love That Boy” is everything I write about on this blog – Family. Real. Raw. Broken. Beautiful. It is brutally honest look at parenting – not just parenting a neuro-divergent child, but parenting any child. It is a story of struggle and grit and love, and a family coming out stronger on the other side. It is a love letter to the relationsip bewteen parents and children everywhere – with the added bonus of some really amazing reporting on history, society and presidents.

 

Trust and Life Preservers

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Summer break is slowly rolling to a close. We’re not at the end yet (11 days to go if I were to count!), but we’re close enough that new backpacks, shoes and some clothes are ready and waiting for the first day back.

It’s been a long summer. My son has been with me most of the time – including being at work with me – while my daughter has made a circuit of local day camps. There was very little rest for me, but my daughter has had an amazing summer and my son is in a much calmer state of mind now than he was back in June. The combination of being given the space to step back from the world along with good medication levels and cognitive behavioral therapy has taken the edge off for him. There has been progress that we really could not even imagine back in June. So I know without doubt that it was worth it to keep him close all summer.

But school will start, and he is anxious. School will start, and we are nervous. School will start and I won’t be able to keep him close all day. It’s time to trust the accommodation plan we put in place with the school and trust my son to recognize when he needs to access those accommodations. I am hopeful that we have paved  the way for him to find his place in the day-to-day life of the school, but I am struggling with the trusting that will happen.

In the midst of that internal struggle this week, I came across an article that articulates our parenting philosophy in a very thoughtful and thorough way. The article commends a style of parenting that the author refers to as Lifeguard Parenting. The author describes the parent I try to be to both of my kids at all times, saying “a lifeguard parent stands by, encouraging their child to take risks and only jumps in when the child is in over her head and calling for help.”

There is no doubt that my son was in over his head at the end of the last school year. He needed us to jump in and save him. We have spent this summer providing our son with all the tools he needs to be successful at school and in the world. We gave him an opportunity to rest, heal, and grow stronger. We surrounded him with a life-preserver of love and support. We did what needed doing, and that included keeping him close all summer. But now he’s having more good days than bad days. Now it’s time for me to be the encouraging voice from the side, and give him the opportunity to find his own voice. It’s time for me to step back and be watchful, but not to interfere unless my son calls for help. It’s time for me to trust both my son and the school. It’s time…

 

 

 

Life Lessons from Anne of Green Gables

I was scrolling through my Facebook feed yesterday morning and noticed that a friend from college had posted about Netflix airing a new original series based on the Anne of Green Gables books by L. M. Montgomery. I “liked” the post, and thought about how it was probably time to begin sharing one of my childhood literary obsessions with my own daughter.

Later in the day, I was scrolling Facebook again and noticed that several women had commented on the original post about the new Netflix series….and all of those women were friends from college. At this point, I added my own thoughts to the comments – including the question “What is it about Anne and Wells women?”

I attended Wells College in Aurora, NY.  At the time I was a student, it was a women’s liberal arts college. (The college became co-ed in 2005.) It was a time, and place, and an experience that shaped me into the woman I am today. It was a magical place and time, (I graduated one year before the first Harry Potter book was published, but in the years since I have been known to describe the college as resembling Hogwarts), where personal growth was encouraged, community was fostered, laughter and tears were shared in equal parts, and grace was lived out loud.

So what is it about Anne and Wells women? If I took a poll of my friends who graduated from Wells, I’d venture a guess that the vast majority of them would say they did read the Anne books as young girls, or at least watched the movies sitting in a dorm room.  Anne Shirley is fearless, unpredictable, intelligent and compassionate. She isn’t perfect. She’s real. She’s somebody I could both relate to as a young girl, and also aspire to be like. The women I went to college with came from a wide range of backgrounds, and we have all gone on to an even wider range of “adult lives”, but there is something at our very core that unites us. It’s a spirit that lies at the center of each of our beings. I recently was back on campus for my 20th reunion, and wrote about that spirit as being Joyful Confidence. Anne Shirley personifies joyful confidence. Wells women personify joyful confidence. That’s what it is about Anne and Wells women. That and the fact that Anne Shirley understood, “Young men are all very well in their place, but it doesn’t do to drag them into everything, does it?” (L. M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables)

Once I had followed that thought thread to the end, I picked up the next thread. What lessons did I learn from Anne Shirley,  and the other characters in those book, that I want my daughter to learn and own as she is teetering in the space between childhood and adolescence? There are so many life lessons in these books, but these are the ones I want most to pass along to my daughter.

Be yourself and speak your mind, but always be open to people and experiences that may shape you or change your opinion. “I do know my own mind. The trouble is, my mind changes and then I have to get acquainted with it all over again.” ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of the Island

When you live life with confidence, people will often be influenced by what you think and what you do. Use that influence for good…be a change maker and live with compassion. “We ought always to try to influence others for good.”  ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Life won’t always be easy and you won’t always win, but never be afraid to try. If you learn from your mistakes, you will always come out a stronger person. “Next to trying and winning, the best thing is trying and failing.”  ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

Find your people. Build community. “Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.” ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

No matter how bad things seem, know that there is always tomorrow. Each day brings a new opportunity to be your best self and shape the world for yourself and others. “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?” ― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

It IS nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it. It is also nice to think about how much fun it will be to share Anne Shirley and her friends with my daughter,  and discover what life lessons she is able to pull from the works of L. M. Montgomery.

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Your Most Important Tools

I was able to do one of my most favorite things today – chaperone a class field trip. I was with my daughter’s 3rd grade class at a living history presentation about the daily lives of Native Americans. The educator giving the tour asked, “What was the most important tool the native people had?” My daughter raised her hand and without hesitation answered, “Hope and positivity!”

The answer momentarily threw the educator off – it was a good answer, just not the physical thing that he as actually asking about (by the way – the answer he was looking for was tree sap!) After I got over stifling my giggles behind my hand, I stopped and thought about her answer. There is no doubt they did need a ton of hope and positivity, as well as perseverance, faith, (and tree sap) to make it through. Then my thoughts went a little deeper and I realized that the most important tools I actually have in my personal parenting tool kit are…hope, positivity, perseverance and faith.

Hope for a better tomorrow for both of my kids. Positivity, along with humor, to get me through the toughest of times. Perseverance to get my son the right diagnosis in order to get the help he needs. Faith that even in the darkest times, God has us in his hand.

Hope, positivity, perseverance and faith have served me well so far in both parenting and life. I’d like to think that my daughter’s answer is something of a reflection on what she sees in me, but I think she was probably echoing something her amazing 3rd grade teacher said in a social studies lesson. Even so, if she has latched onto that concept at the age of 9, I feel pretty good about how she’ll fare in this world as she grows up. Being a neuro-typical younger sibling to a neuro-diverse older brother who also struggles with anxiety and panic is hard. I spend as much time worrying about how she is fairing,  as I do getting my son the care and support he needs. Hearing her unwavering conviction in the power of hope and positivity helps me to know she’s going to be just fine. 

My son, is a different story. It’s hard to have hope or be positive when you’re struggling under the weight of anxiety and panic. It’s hard to persevere when it takes so much energy just to survive. So I need to have enough of all of those things to get us both through the the dark days and have faith that there are better days ahead. 

Hope, positivity, perseverance and faith are my most important tools.  (Although I also now have a wealth of information on ways to use tree sap should the need arise!)What are your most important tools?