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Thursday, July 24, 2014

The Joy Found in "Combat"

Today I am sitting in a bunker, piling up the bags, putting on my protective gear. My oldest son’s class was cancelled, the other kids are home (we were planning on having a relaxed summer “normal” day) and he is in a very, very bad and sensitive mood. Screeching, angry words, pushing, more angry words, demands, yelling. And so I prepare:  Strenuous sensory activities planned? Check.  Soft music playing? Check. Low expectations? Check.  Video games (educational non-adversarial ones so I can sit down to write this and get my head together)? Check. Warned other kids of the possibility of warfare? Check. Thrown away all plans for the day? Check. Prepared to feel like a failure? Check.

Combat. Recently another mom of a special needs child shared something she read (http://www.disabilityscoop.com/2009/11/10/autism-moms-stress/6121/) about research demonstrating how moms of children with autism have similar stress levels and health effects of stress to those who are fighting in combat. It was weird—her words felt like they were embracing me with a big hug. “So this is the way I’m supposed to feel!” I thought with relief, as I tried to recall the fog, the persistent heightened anxiety that I felt often made me look like I was on speed…the lack of sleep, weight loss, the fear—the sadness. Thank God it is supposed to be this way!

But the part of combat that the research didn’t mention or measure is the deep, God strong joy that roots itself in those who are struggling. It comes from suffering, pain, exclusion, and yes, even from fighting. This joy blossoms only after the pain. Because when you are in “combat”, you seek winning moments to sustain you, you see the substance and the growth-- you recognize the new life in every single day or moment your child and family have where things go right.

To clarify, my oldest son has not been diagnosed with autism, although specialists who treat him think that he has many autistic characteristics (along with many other labels that are scary and not worth writing here)…he is still somewhat of a challenging case to diagnose.  Sometimes, almost shamefully, I wish for the diagnosis that would help him and me find more commonality with other families. He has the mood swings, the obsessive nature, the tantrums, the high intelligence, the hyper-sensitivity, the unpredictability, and most difficult of all- the unsafe behavior. Each day I wake up with very little idea of how the day will go. So little control. So much of my family’s peace and stability hinges on his state of mind.

Though I’m prepared for combat today, I am also aiming and praying for a clear vision-- a glimpse of new life. Tiny growth is enough to sustain me (I just concluded). Maybe one of my kids will help the other learn something new. Perhaps I’ll have a conversation with one of my children that will touch them enough so they will remember it after I’m long gone. Possibly I’ll spend enough time honestly listening to my son’s obsessive talk about reptiles that I will ease some of his anxiety and he will feel a little better.

At the end of the day, no matter how “combat-like” it was, I’ll find that God joy that is rooted so deeply and strongly in love that it will never bend, never be buried, never break…I’ll let you know what it looks like when I find it (because the beauty and magic of this kind of joy is-- it looks different every day!)