I was listening to L.A.'s Christian talk station the other evening when the afternoon drive guy was asking people to call and say what they were thankful for this year, specifically to tell stories of how God had answered their prayers in the past year. Now I am ALL for proclaiming God's goodness ALL the time, and it's certainly a GREAT thing to be thankful for any and ALL answered prayers, but let's get this straight right now: God is good ALL the time and ALL the time He is good. Answered prayers are NOT the only, or even the best, evidence of God's grace and mercy, and how He is at work in our lives. You don't see it? You don't feel it? Bummer. That doesn't change the facts of WHO God is: He IS good. All the freakin' time. He is ALWAYS working on behalf of those who commit their lives to Him, give their hearts over to Jesus, and who daily want more of God in their hearts and less of themselves.
So that rant aside, it just got me thinking, what do I have to be thankful for this year? Notice I didn't ask, "What prayers did God answer this year?" No, it's more like "What are the events of 2011 that I could put in the "thankfulness-column"? Quite frankly I'm ending this year on an incomprehensibly sad note. I feel like I've taken a cannon to the chest and at any moment, indeed at any point in the day, I could dissolve into tears. Sometimes I do. It's Christmas Day, just a little over one month that my beloved nephew, Jason, died. Twenty three days ago was his funeral. On one hand it seems like an Edgar Allen Poe nightmarish tale from a very long time ago and then all at once it seems like it was just yesterday and I start to cry again. So what am I thankful for in THIS nightmare scenario that Jason was taken from us in his early 20's, in THE prime of his life? I'm thankful I got to know him. I'm thankful that he knew Jesus personally and that Jason was a GOOD person. No, I mean he was really a GOOD human being. I have moments where I'm nice; I can be polite, I can be caring and kind. I'm not talking about that. Jason LIVED it 24/7. He made this world better because he was in it. From paying for groceries for total strangers, to showing kindness and love (gigantic bear hugs) to EVERYONE he knew, Jason was good through and through. I'm really, really glad that my husband and my kids and I got to know him and that we chose to invest in his life while we lived near him for three years. (see my previous blog posts to get to know just how amazing Jason was)
I'm SO thankful that our daughter is getting some MUCH needed help through resources like an autism/anxiety study we participated in at UCLA to now weekly counseling closer to home. I'm thankful that I'm letting go of the self-condemnation and self-imposed stigma of asking for chemical intervention on her behalf. I'm thankful that God doesn't beat me with the "bad parent" stick and that I'm learning to recognize that when that stick comes out, it's the devil himself who's holding it. I'm thankful that our family is beginning to heal from years of incomprehensible insanity stemming from autism-related behaviors. I'm thankful we have a knowledgeable and conservative doctor who truly CARES, not only about our daughter, but that our family survives intact. I'm thankful that as I write this, we ARE a family; our daughter is sleeping soundly in her bedroom and not in a group home, or a residential treatment facility, or even a hospital. If you have a child with emotional challenges, you KNOW that words cannot describe the pain you suffer as it looks at times like your child's psyche might be dissolving in front of your eyes.
I'm thankful for the friendships I've made on-line through social media and various listservs I belong to that bring parents of kids with autism and special needs in general, together. The bond we parents share is very strong and the safety of the forums is like a fortress standing against the gales and hurricanes in a world, filled with family members and total strangers, that has NO idea what it's like to live with kids with special needs and the unfathomable amount of pressure that we live with on a daily basis. I'm thankful I have a place where I can ask questions, cry, rant, laugh, share every single victory (no matter how small it seems to most people), and to just be able to ask for help to get through the rough days.
I'm thankful that God is IN CHARGE of the details of our everyday lives, and I mean every MINUTE of our days. In February of this year God took Jeff off of his career path, and away from what brought us here to L.A. We still don't know what exactly we're going to do, but so far, God has made it clear that we're supposed to remain here and while we're here, He's providing every single thing we need. Daily bread. Only what we need. We want for nothing. It is a powerful way to live. Everyday I press in to know God more intimately. Everyday He answers. I'm thankful that God reveals WHO He is in the pile of unanswered questions that start with "What about.......?"
I am thankful for the powerful, powerful friendships that bless me everyday. There's just no way I could have made it through the last month without them, plain and simple. I think there is a level of friendship here on earth that just defies words--like that person is the other half of your brain, your oxygen when you can't breathe, and who truly doesn't judge you for anything--not that she WOULDN'T slap you upside the head if you needed it, but short of doing something illegal, immoral or fattening, she just doesn't sit as the judge and jury in your life. Words fail me, I just thank God EVERYDAY for that person, or in my case, these two people, and pray over them everyday. I NEVER want to take them for granted and I am SO grateful to call them friends.
I'm thankful that after three long years, it looks live we've found a church home. I don't know why it took us so long to visit this place, as we've known about it since we moved here. Maybe we weren't ready, who knows, but it offers ASL interpretation and literally from the first night there, we've been embraced and welcomed. I'm still getting used to it, this strange feeling of being welcomed, but I'm getting more comfortable every week. So far no one's asked us to leave the sanctuary, people aren't staring and gawking at our merry little band. In fact the second week we were there, after I had taken our son out of the sanctuary during a quieter time when our son decided it really wasn't HIS best time to be quiet, the sign language interpreter turned around to Jeff after the main sermon was done and told him NOT to take Hayden out just because he was making noise. She told him Hayden was WELCOME to stay in the main sanctuary, no matter how loud he was. I think my husband teared up a little at that. No one has EVER said we were THAT welcome ANYWHERE. For that spirit, that EVERYONE is welcome, I'm VERY thankful.
I'm thankful that both of our kids continue to learn and grow so much. Our son is saying and signing more and more words everyday, every week. He's following directions, riding a bike, and he seems to be understanding life in general more and more everyday. He has joy in his heart and is genuinely a happy person. Our daughter's anxiety is probably at least half of what it was last year at this time and that touches EVERY aspect of our lives together as a family and we know she's feeling so much better. She is genuinely happier, she can concentrate better (night and day from last year), and she's now ABLE to cooperate now, which is a HUGE change. For all of these little miracles, which we are still witnessing everyday, I am SO thankful.
I'm thankful I'm exercising again. The Newfoundland and I are schlepping ourselves around the park for an hour almost everyday and that's a good thing. I need the time for mental health and I'm glad I'm making me a priority again.
I'm thankful I'm learning how to knit and that I have a group to go to every week where I can sit under excellent light and think about nothing other than knitting and purling. I've always enjoyed the group, but didn't realize until my recent absence with the funeral, Thanksgiving, and then a bout with the flu that kept me away, that I was genuinely an authentic member of the group. Everyone seems sincerely concerned about me, and the possibility that the kids might not be okay, when I was gone. It felt nice to be missed. It feels nice to belong.
I am thankful that no matter what happens, I am not alone. God IS with me. He DOES speak to me through His Word and through His "still-small voice" in my heart. There are NO guarantees in this world: jobs come and go, loved ones die far too early for your time-frame, and sometimes your land-lord gives you two weeks to move out of your house because he wants it back, but God IS in this stuff we call LIFE and He is ALWAYS working behind the scenes, because He's developing HIS character in our hearts as we go through all these challenges. My daughter will always have autism and that's cool by me. Will she always have emotional struggles? I hope not, for all of our sakes', but God continues to prove WHO He is in our lives everyday, even when she DOES have rough patches. I am thankful that God's mercies are truly NEW every morning, no matter what kind of day we've had before. I need to do a better job of remembering that.
So to you God, I say thank you for bringing me through this year. You ARE good. You ARE kind. You ARE comforting and you love even the darkest parts of my soul. You love me even though you know I'm about to fumble and stumble....probably by Noon tomorrow. Thank you for your patience. Thank you for how you're working in our lives and thank you for giving us Your Son, Jesus, through Whom we can have a life IN you.