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.
I've always wanted to give fencing a try. I got the chance to indulge my curiosity about the craft. I liked it. I liked it a lot. Turns out, it works a lot like I thought it would. Of course my next thoughts after, "Squee, this is so awesome!" were, "This is so going into a story!" What better way to write a good sword fighting scene than to learn to fight with a blade, yes?
Not every writer has the option of taking up a new hobby, or learning a new skill, for the sake of their writing. But we have to build our domain knowledge somehow. Domain knowledge is what an individual knows about the environment, the subject matter, they're working in. If I wanted to create a story in a world where animals used magic, I'd have to understand animal behavior to decide what kind of magic to give the animals as well as how and why they would use their magic.
Thanks to the internet, building domain knowledge is often only a few (thousand) clicks away. This is a two edged sword. Who has ever searched for something only to find themselves deep into a completely unrelated topic hours later?
For the domain knowledge that can't be gleaned from the internet, one has to get creative. How do you build your domain knowledge for your writing?
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.
Bacon is a fabulous parenting tool. It is a great motivator for children. At least in my house it is. Need to get their adorable bedheads off the pillow? Fry some bacon. That smoky aroma wafting through the house is better than an alarm clock. By the time the first batch is done their eager wide awake faces appear in the kitchen declaring, "I smell bacon!"
Need to get their attention? Bacon. It's better than calling their full names in that voice every parent develops without even trying. No need to scare the neighbors. Pop some bacon into a pan and voila. I have the children fighting for my attention.
Need to bribe, er offer an incentive? Bacon. I can get a lot of good work out of a child on the promise of a few strips of crispy bacon. Who doesn't like a good reward?
Bacon is even great for teaching life skills, fire safety, and first aid. "Mom stop it with the grease fires! Somebody get the baking soda."
That time I found my living room dusted with sugar, nobody knows what happened, I thought at least it's not glitter. Because there was that time I came home to a glittering household.
"Why are you sparkling?" Famous last words uttered by me at the front door.
"It's fairy dust!" That child was so proud of herself. She'd covered herself, her siblings, her father, and a good deal of the house, in embossing glitter I'd forgotten that I had. Things I learned that day.
I take a general what happens if I do this approach to life. It keeps things interesting.