In the months following my sister Sanchia's death the song Hills and Valleys by Tauren Wells made me bawl. Of course I stopped to listen to it every time I heard it. I sat in driveways and parking lots to catch the last strains before getting out of the car. It's in my playlists, which is how I ended up writing this post. The song was one of Sanchia's favorites. As I listened to the song memories floated to the surface.
Following my sister's sudden death I was in my valley, walking in the shadow of death, wondering how long it would take for the pain and sorrow of the loss to become familiar friends. Each day I found new places in my life that Sanchia used to fill. The shock of stumbling into each new empty space was a fresh new wound to my tender heart How long, oh Lord?
It has been eighteen months of getting used to finding the empty places where Sanchia used to be. No more late night "Talk me down!" sessions when everyday injustice and indifference to suffering of others grate on our collective nerves. Y'all might want to behave by the way, she's not around to talk me down when I decide the world needs to change and it needs to change yesterday. Also pretty sure a couple of internal filters broke the day I realized I wouldn't hear her laugh ever again.
I'm starting to find new strength in places once weakened by grief. Old hurts are beginning to heal. In the place of open wounds healthy flesh is beginning to grow. They are still tender, some raw to the touch. I discovered this as I tried to hold back the tears that came while I wrote this. I'm learning to let the tears fall in remembrance of a beloved sister and out of respect for experience.
These tender healing wounds will one day be supple scars, the beauty marks of a survivor. Climbing in and out of these valleys, and up and down the hills, has kept my emotional muscles flexible. Sometimes I freeze. Sometimes I stumble. Sometimes I fall. Sometimes I wipe out so bad, I'm not sure I have the strength to get back up again.
"Life sucks. Bad stuff happens. Time to put your big girl panties on." I've found a place where sis managed to stay with me. She said those words to me so many times. I've already gotten back up so many times. How long, oh Lord?
One. More. Time.
I only need to get back up one time more than the times l fall. There's treasure in the hills and valleys. It's the truth of who I am, what I'm capable of, and what happens when I get back up.
There is a proverbial squirrel running around in my head. He or she, it never stops long enough for me to check, has been with me all my life. This critter is tricksy, especially around women and girls. My children helped with identifying the squirrel. ADHD.
ADHD, here after known as Squirrel, is my idea dynamo and my arch nemesis. I stopped counting the book projects I’ve start when I hit ten. Beautiful ideas spring to life in my head, and while I write one down Squirrel produces three more to twerk for my attention. Really Squirrel, twerking?
I have three jobs that I’ve created for myself. Squirrel keeps me busy. We are fabulous at starting things. Not so much with the finishing.
It’s okay to ask for support with the finishing. Squirrel and I have an understanding now. Bring on the big ideas, hunt for the support to make them happen.
Squirrel is my BFF when doing background research. Two hours researching gravity, microgravity, aerodynamics, gravitational force calculations, general relativity, estimates of exoplanet gravitational fields, quantum mechanics. Oh, dark matter! No, put that down, the thorium reactors are over here. I need a thorium reactor in my backyard! These energy bills are killing me.
So, research. I discover so many incredible things with Squirrel as my sidekick. I let Squirrel run wild on the page as I write. The results are ever so entertaining.
Wait, there’s more. Squirrel gives terrible advice concerning sleep. Squirrel did give me the confidence to know that this piece would stay well away from the max word count limit.
We all have challenges, things we perceive as limitations or that have been presented to us as our limitations. Do you accept them as limitations?
Disclaimer: I'm a nerd not a doctor. Discuss anything you read here with a healthcare professional you trust.
We’re hitting that time of year when the sun goes on vacation at the higher latitudes in the northern hemisphere. Many of us take exception to the shorter days and lack of sunlight. I know I do. Around this time of year, I start feeling like I’m wading through thin molasses. By February the molasses is good and thick.
Sleep helps. Seven to eight hours every night is gold. No, don’t believe that “I’m a night person I don’t need that much sleep” mess. Yes, you do need that much sleep. You will be amazed at what happens to your body and mind once you start getting adequate sleep. Psst, you burn calories in your sleep.
Beware the blanket burrito. While getting a solid minimum of seven to eight hours of sleep every night is good for you watch out for oversleeping. When I crack an eyelid open and it’s pitch black out, but the clock says it’s time to be awake, I want to roll back into my blanket burrito. It’s a trap! Don’t do it! There’s a whole day’s worth of adventure waiting for you, don’t succumb to the lure of the blanket burrito. I have an alarm clock that simulates the sun rising to help wake me up. Others use apps that require solving puzzles or math problems before the alarm will stop sounding.
Go. Out. Side. Stay out there for at least 30 minutes. Your brain will thank you. There are parts of our visual cortex that help regulate our internal functions based on the amount of sunlight that hits our retinas. If you live on the snowy tundra like I do, a full spectrum light may be your best friend as the days get shorter and darker. Be careful not to over expose yourself. I got a little carried away with the first light box I owned.
The ancient Dell desktop unit sat on the table before a group of wide-eyed children, my students, one Sunday morning during church. I’d promised the young ones the week before that I would bring them some computer components to take apart. Don’t ask me how it happened, I don’t quite remember. I’m sure I was blinded by their bright-eyed eagerness. We were discussing Jeremiah 1 and Jeremiah’s non-excuse of being too young for the job God gave him. Age is not an excuse to not do something.
The children and I found ourselves talking about taking things apart. They liked taking things apart, I’ve been known to take things apart, I had a collection of computer components that I wanted to make go away. The idea slipped out of my mouth before it was fully formed.
My students were ready to tear the computer apart with their bare hands. After giving it a good cleaning. But before the demolition we talked about Psalm 139:13-16.
13 For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. 14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. 16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them
Perfect fit for taking apart a computer, right? Well, you see kids, this piece of technology is humanity’s creation. Each one of you is God’s creation. Intricately designed, unique, one of a kind, never duplicated. As intricate and powerful as human technology becomes it still cannot match the power, beauty, and creativity of humanity itself.
My brilliant young students peppered me with deep questions. What about when people are born with different kinds of disabilities? What about when people get sick and don’t get better? What about when people are teasing and bullying? The stuff they experience each day.
The answers to their questions were not, are not easy. Understanding the depth of God’s love helped smooth some of the rough edges. Children can contend with moral and theological issues when given honest answers steeped in patience and grace.
And then we tore into that computer.
Raise your hand if you've ever done the parent calculus of I'm sick but how much time can I spend on being sick. This is how it goes done at my house when mom comes down with something.
They mean well. I'm 100% sure of that. But without mom running the show, well, things go sideways. Sometimes this happens because mom is intent on debugging a problematic spreadsheet. Often it happens because mom is delving deep into a new sector and needs to concentrate on learning the lingo. Nonprofit legalese anyone? I can give you a primer now.
Sometimes things run amok because hardworking "eat something, coffee is not a vegetable" mom succumbs to the realities of immunology. Poor sleep, poor diet (look coffee is a fruit extract that has to count for something!), stress (duh), allergy season, plus children and adults who don't do as well with the hand-washing and cough/sneeze covering as they could. Mom didn't really stand a chance.
So here I am, trying not to cough up a lung and what not (five pregnancies, five births, no c-sections that's all I'm saying), wondering how much time I can afford to spend on recovering before the rest of the family reaches the point of critical chaos and everyone loses their damn minds. An ill advised foray to the kitchen for ice water suggests mom's sick time is up, my ailing body doesn't get a say in the matter. No clean cups left, no clean pots either but mysteriously no food to eat. How did the pots get dirty? A mystery for the ages. Or the hungry teenagers. And the little ones are going through growth spurts.
I place the Cloak of Invisibility over the Hydra, my affectionate pet name for the laundry, in its various stages of not done. If I don't see it maybe it will go away one its own this time. That strategy's never worked before. Maybe I need a better invisibility cloak? Anyone have one to spare? How about a fairy godmother to enchant the neighborhood wildlife to clean the house for me? No? All right. Where's my broom (stick)?
I've been busy. All right lets be honest, I'm always busy. I get bored and make poor decisions if my mind isn't occupied with something complex. This time I've been occupying myself with the details of building a nonprofit organization from scratch while also developing a number of collaborative projects with community partners working towards a common goal. Short version: I'm doing all the things.
A friend nominated me for an award and I won. I was Facebook famous, in a good way, for 5 minutes. My introvert self went into hiding being used to laboring in obscurity. The work continues. Check out the links below.
Sanchia A Callender Foundation, Inc
Autism and Mental Health
Project Hope for the Children, Inc
Some people will have a hard time understanding why I have a positive attitude about autism, my autistic children, and my family's life journey with autism in the mix. I chose not to ride the doom and gloom roller coaster when it came to my children's live. The following oped first appeared in the Christian Post. In it I discuss the perspective my faith gives me on my family's circumstances.
What My Faith Says About My Children's Autism
I committed my life to Christ one Sunday morning sometime around the year I turned eight. The Sunday school teacher explained about choosing a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ. I turned to my little sister and told her, “I want that. You’re coming with me.” We marched up to the teacher, declared our intentions, and never looked back.
Years later with imminent parenthood looming I thought about that moment. I knew I wanted my children to choose a relationship with God for themselves. How did I make that happen? I’d have to present the gospel in the best light possible. I would do and say all the right things all the time to show my children how awesome God is.
Don’t laugh. A lot of young parents have this delusion that they can get it right all the time. Some of us get the message early on that such perfection is humanly impossible. Others struggle on striving to reach that unattainable goal making themselves and their children miserable.
Most Christians who’ve been around for more than a minute understand that our plans and God plans are two different things. I couldn’t have imagined raising two autistic children and three neurotypical children if I tried. Through moments when I cry out to God, “Dude that is awesome!” to moments where I grumble, “Really, this is what we’re doing today?” There’s no making this stuff up. Yes, I call God dude. We’ve been friends a long time and we’ve been through some stuff.
Thanks to a gracious God and inventive children, I understand more the fullness of Psalm 139:13-16. As I learn more about who God made my children to be I appreciate the time and care he took in creating them. I marvel at the way their minds work and how they see the world. I rest in the knowledge that for all the things about them I may never understand God knows each quirk, gift, and flaw more intimately than I ever will. I am humbled by the knowledge that as much as I love my children God loves them more, and more perfectly, than I ever could.
On those nights I fall asleep on the floor outside a child’s bedroom, because drama, or those days I grumble that my husband and I really should have bought stock in a cleaning supply company, because more drama, I know that God’s truths about my children will never change.
For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.
Psalm 139:13-16 ESV
I guess I'm not really an "autism parent" and I definitely don't play one on television. Many parents experience a great deal of fear when they are told their children are autistic. It's understandable if you don't have a clear idea of what that means. Even more understandable if the only picture of life with autism you have has been painted for you by people consumed with their fears and frustrations over their lives with their autistic children.
I got into a bit of trouble for voicing my frustrations with the negative parent perspectives of autism that dominate popular culture. At this point in my life I'm okay with ruffling feathers. Okay, okay, I've always been okay with ruffling feathers.
Fellow would be autism parents there is another way. You don't have to let fear, frustration, and disappointment be the story of your lives or your children's lives. I guess that makes me something of an anti autism parent.
Lets talk about that great parenting tool bacon a bit more because that's where my head's been at lately. Bacon is a great attention grabber. Have you ever had to yell your child's full government name in that voice? You know, the don't want to met you in a dark alley voice, only to have them ignore you like it was their job? No need for all that with bacon in the house. Just fry, or bake, a batch and let them come to you.
Now once they storm the kitchen looking for some smoky greasy bacony goodness the patient parent has several options. Hold that bacon hostage until their rooms are clean, their hair is combed, or whatever unsavory necessity of life is done. Sleepy teenagers become remarkably alert in the presence of bacon fumes. It's almost better than coffee and definitely better than and alarm clock.
If you can't have bacon for cultural reasons you have two options. Find out what the culturally acceptable alternative is for you or invent one.
In an effort to keep myself out of the grocery store and the family fed I bought an extra turkey during the holidays. Working on the premise that one of those suckers would feed the family for a week I recently thawed it out and slung it in the oven. Pleased with my culinary accomplishment I went to bed with a flawless roast turkey ready for carving in the morning.
Next morning my husband says one of the kids helped themselves to some turkey. Well okay, that's what I made it for. In fact, my darling child had helped himself to two turkey legs, most of a thigh, and a wing. About a quarter of a bird in the 15 to 20 lb range downed by one child.
I was caught somewhere between pride and chagrin. The ability of children, in this case a teenage boy, to make food disappear shouldn't shock me any more but dang son. I'm going to have to get another turkey.
I take a general what happens if I do this approach to life. It keeps things interesting.