Where was God?

Since the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy on December 14, my heart– like the hearts of parents across the world– has been heavy.  I have not let my second grader out of my sight since I picked her up from school on Friday afternoon.  We have cuddled more, talked more, touched more.  I have listened more.

And I have thanked God for every minute because I know how precious and un-guaranteed our time together is.

Before I collected Hannah at school on Friday, I went to my son’s residential treatment center to pick up clothes and medicine for his regular weekend visit to his Dad’s house.  Alex had been in the hospital because of stomach issues since Tuesday afternoon.  He was discharged after lunch on Friday.

When I left Alex’s room and crossed the hospital lobby Friday morning, I said a silent prayer of gratitude.  We are blessed to live close to a world-renowned children’s facility, and everything about it is exceptional.  The lobby has wide open space and designs that catch the light and make patients feel like the folks who work there don’t have to commute to work because they must just descend from the heavens right through the skylight, like angels.  Everyone– from the security guards to the surgeons– loves children and cares for their families as if it were second nature.  When I walked through the hospital on Friday, I felt comforted, cared for, safe.

That was before I heard about the shooting.

On the drive back to our neighborhood with Alex’s things that had been laid out on his bed by his staff neatly tucked into a bag beside me, I listened to our local news station and began to cry in the car.

Eighteen children, they said then.  It couldn’t be.

Between the ages of 5 and 10, they said then.  No, no, no….

A familiar pain pierced my insides, the sort of heartache that makes new parents leave the movie theater after a child-abduction scene or stop eating beef when they hear a news story about a school-age kid dying after ingesting a half-cooked piece of hamburger.  You know– the kind of pain that is not from your own family experience, but that threatens your security anyway.  That makes you want to hug your kids right-this-minute and find some-kind-of-comforting words to say to the other parents, because you know it could easily be you who needs the comfort-that-no-one-can-really-bring-you-no-matter-how-hard-they-try.

I dropped off Alex’s bag and sped to Hannah’s school.  More cars than usual were waiting early.  I walked to the front lawn and stood with my hands in my pockets, trying to keep casual and not let the thousand words in my head explode on the scene all-at-once.

I looked around at the other parents, a beautifully diverse crowd of every color, background, family arrangement.  I looked at the school and the artwork in the windows.  I looked at the houses across the street with their holiday decorations and shutters and shrubbery. 

I realized in a more-than-speculative way that no one, anywhere, is really immune from the tragedies that hit the news.

I caught the eye of Hannah’s first grade teacher and she crossed the lawn to meet me.  I had been keeping friends updated about my son’s health and sending prayer requests over the previous days and she was happy to hear that Alex was out of the hospital.  As she embraced me, she said:

“I gave Hannah two big hugs today– one for her and one for you.”

Again, I felt comforted, cared for, safe.  And grateful.

Hannah and I spent a quiet “girls’ night” watching movies, eating popcorn and chatting with friends who were staying with us for the weekend.  I thought about how we will talk about this terrible thing that happened, and I wondered what she will hear at school on Monday and what questions she will ask.

As the weekend continued, I learned more and more about what happened at Sandy Hook.  Now they were saying twenty children…

… first graders….

Last year my first-grader Hannah amazed me with what she learned and how she grew.  She was a compassionate, beautiful light in our family and my proud mama heart secretly felt there was no way she could ever impress me more.  Then came this year, when she has blossomed beyond my expectation.  I listened to more news stories and I cried for the parents who would never know that second-grade feeling.

I choked through a video of heroic teacher Kaitlyn Roig explaining how she hid her students in a tiny bathroom and told them they were loved because she believed that was the last thing they would ever hear.  I sobbed reading about 27 year old Victoria Soto who hid her students in cabinets and closets, saving their lives by telling the shooter the kids were in the gym before he shot and killed her.

Aubrey told me I had to stop watching the news and reading the stories.  But I didn’t.  Like everyone I knew, I was searching for some meaning, wrestling with questions no one can really answer: 

Where was God in all of this?

What precipitated such horror?

How would the press, the doctors, the “specialists,” the politicians, the parents respond and explain?

When the reporters said the words:

“… autism spectrum… mental illness…”

I looked for the first time at the face of the 20 year-old killer.  I have only seen one picture of  him because I cannot bear to look any closer.  In the picture he looks young, skinny, with a mop of brown hair.  More innocent than his actions would reveal him to be.

And more like my son than I had expected.

I read a beautiful post at ProfMomEsq by the mother of a 5 year old daughter on the autism spectrum.  She writes:

“My little girl has so very much in common with the 20 young lives cut short by a senseless act of violence.”

She goes on to describe her heartbreak at hearing implications by reporters that the killer may have done what he did because he was somewhere on the autism spectrum.  When I read her post, I felt heartbroken too.  There is something about people making the connection between autism and what happened to 20 innocent children at Sandy Hook Elementary that is not only wrong and unfair, but that saps the energy of parents like me, somehow twisting the sadness we feel into anger and defensiveness.

And the truth is, as Prof Mom Esq plainly and clearly stated:

“Autism is a neurologic disorder; it is not a mental illness.”

Still, even as armed with information and resources as I am, a choking, cold grief encompassed me last night as these different stories and images came together in my head.  My daughter, so like the child victims.  Her compassionate teachers and suburban school, so like Sandy Hook Elementary.  The parents…

And a troubled boy in a photograph who did this terrible thing.  A person we all will speculate about and condemn and probably never, ever understand.

Autism does not cause violence.  And violence does not always come from expected or explainable places. 

My autistic son is not a murderer and I have to believe he is not in danger of becoming one.  But he is challenging and misunderstood and often troubled.  And I am a parent who has been asking for help for him continuously since he was a toddler.

How many other parents are out there, asking for help for their troubled children right this minute?

Another post crossed my desk today, written by yet another mom, Liza Long, with an important, heart-wrenching, difficult-for-most-to-imagine perspective.  She is raising a son who has intense behavioral challenges and she questions the available resources for those with mental illness.  She writes:

“In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it’s easy to talk about guns.  But it’s time to talk about mental illness.”

This mother passionately advocates for “a meaningful, nation-wide conversation about mental health.”  And I agree with her.  We need to talk openly about the needs of families and individuals in crisis so we can find things that work instead of creating more problems for them within a flawed system.

So where was God on Friday?  And where is our Higher Power, the Universal Good now?

I remember a story years back about a special needs child who was given a chance to play in a little league baseball game.  Thanks to his peers who made sure his attempt at bat was successful, he scored a home run.  The boy was overjoyed of course, and his father later remarked that he felt the true miracle was not so much in how his son experienced that day, but in how the other kids came together to make it happen.  The boy’s gift to the world– what the father believed his son was put on earth to share– was the opportunity for such miracles to take place.

I believe that is where God is– in the middle of those miracles.

God is between the conversations we are having right now.  He is in the pain we feel, in the ways we are compelled to reach out to each other.  He is in the actions we take to give another person the sense of comfort, security and safety we so desperately crave.

There is nothing that can be done to put the broken pieces of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary back together the way they were.  Humanity is broken and imperfect all the time.  But perhaps all the bits and pieces, the grief and the sorrow can come together in a way no one could ever have predicted.  Perhaps God did not desert us.  Perhaps the miracle is not hidden somewhere in those horrific events or in all those circumstances that came together in all the wrong ways to cause unimaginable suffering for the Newtown, CT community.

Perhaps the most important miracle is yet to be uncovered.  

Maybe it is in the way we will come together now to make a change,

to create a different future,

to have a “nation-wide conversation,”

to open our minds and hearts to the misunderstood,

to protect the innocence of children,

to heal the traumatized…

Perhaps God is here.

unexpected miracles 003

I am grateful for everyone who has felt compelled to write over the last 48 hours and for their honest, raw, heart-felt words.

I have found my higher power in-between your letters and essays, and in the courage you found to share your thoughts.

Thank you.

Be Like Buddy!

autism home rescue 081720121Ohmigosh have I got news for you! 

You all know how I love finding good autism resources to share, right?  Well stay tuned for more information on my latest discovery:

Be Like Buddy!

 

Created by the father of a child with autism, the “Be Like Buddy” educational videos and resources are right on target. 

I mean…  RIGHT.  ON.   

As in– the guy who put the videos together knows autism.  The website creators know autism.  The folks who made the educational materials know autism.  The entire team– plus the absolutely adorable and loveable puppet named Buddy who stars in the videos– really understand and connect with families like mine– and YOURS too!

Stay tuned to Autism Home Rescue for more info next week on how YOU can get absolutely free  resources for autism parents, educators & professionals this month at the online launch party for Be Like Buddy”

In the meantime, please go to the Be Like Buddy” facebook page and Like them to make sure you stay in the loop! 

And while you’re on Facebook, dear loyal readers, please Like Autism Home Rescue’s facebook page too!  (see the handy dandy button to the right on this page!)

:~) Quote for the Moment (~:

autismhomerescue11241101“Through the practice of deep looking and deep listening, we become free, able to see the beauty and values in our own and others…”

~Thich Nhat Hanh

Can you see a fish in a tree?
How about the world through a child’s eyes?

:~) Quote for the Moment (~:

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In any moment, we can take refuge in awareness & love. When we get lost, we need only pause, relax open to what is Here & re-arrive in the natural presence that is our true home.      ~Tara Brach

How to meditate (remember to breathe!)

… a fish in a tree…

 goldfish tree reflection

Everybody is a genius.  But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.

~ Albert Einstein

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About a week ago I saw this quote for the first time.  It struck me in such a profound way that an entire expanded blog post has been wandering around in my head since then, unpacking & rearranging & dissecting & analyzing & marveling at these words.

fish_in_a_tree_by_itsmebrownmindpopper-d2ztpxtA fish.  With a tree.  Climbing, not climbing.  Pondering the situation.  Wondering maybe why the heck someone would expect it to climb?  Maybe a slightly annoyed fish waiting for someone to recognize its fins are for swimming.  Like, duh!  … Or maybe a fish not really caring about trees, just being a fish and being content.  Not caring if someone else judged its ability at all, as long as it got the water it needed to live.  You know what I mean?

Or are you staring at the computer screen with your mouth hanging open, thinking maybe I’ve completely lost my mind?  Well, that would be okay too.  It’s all good, really it is.  See, it comes right back to the beauty of that quote in the first place:

We judge because our minds are constantly trying to make sense of our world.  Einstein’s quote is perfect to me because it clearly illustrates how ridiculous and imperfect our judgements of others really are, and then gives a gentle reminder of our silliness and sends us back out into the world to look at others through a new lens.

456088-sandy_cheeks_squirrel_largeDid I think that fish could climb a tree?  Did I expect it?  Was it fair?  Or should I set up a nice little oval aquarium and invite it to show me how it can swim better than a squirrel?

Can you see it?

I smile as I write this because I can see it, and I can feel it.  And just being able to do that brings a whole universe closer to me somehow.  I believe there’s a higher power who created the world, and I believe that everyone is special and important, every living thing has its place, things happen for a reason, and that we have lessons to learn in life.  Seeing that fish, imagining that tree, makes me realize the immensity of ALL of this.  I’m only one part, and me with my own judgements and ways of seeing the world…. well, maybe I have a lot more to learn, too.

Are you with me?  So to take this quote one step further into my life…

fish-and-monkey-jarsMy son is a fish.  He can swim like nobody’s business.  He loves the trees– all the typical stuff– but he’s not good at a lot of it.  For years I thought I’d find the “cure” that would change his fins to feet, would make him be able to survive without water, so that he could live in the trees with his little sister (whom I’ve always affectionately referred to as my “monkey”) and be happy.  Then I realized the key to everything, the key to really being a good mother (in my humble opinion) was to recognize his fishy-ness, to get him what he innately needs for the way he was created to live.  So that’s what I’ve tried to do.

But about a week ago, Albert Einstein reminded me that I missed another important part:

If in my world of trees, I had missed an obvious point entirely about the abilities of my little fish and about my own judgements of others, then what else could I learn from a fish?  What else was I missing about what fish *can* do?

flying-fish

As often happens in my life, an answer to these silent questions swirling around in my curious brain came to me in a truly beautiful and touching way.  Alex’s former ABA teacher Steph (of “Tigger Takes a Swim“) emailed me out of the blue yesterday:

“I’ve been thinking about Alex a lot lately… I just started doing consulting work and I’ve been going back over my years of doing therapy [with kids] and I keep coming back to him. … I don’t think [that’s] because of what and how we taught him during his [early intervention] days, but more about what he taught us and reminded us. …

“Alex taught me that answers aren’t always in books.  He taught me that patience and love get you a lot further than sitting at a table and doing things by the rules.  He taught me that sometimes you have to look beyond the obvious and search for the deeper meaning…  And even after searching if you still can’t find something, then just act goofy and laugh because laughter makes everything okay, at least for a bit.

I owe you a much needed thank you for allowing me to be a part of his life and learn from him.  I honestly believe it has taught me to be the best I can be in my job and that when A and B don’t add up, then maybe they aren’t supposed to so just move along!  I hope beyond hope that he is doing well in his new environment and learns all he can and continues to teach and inspire those around him.” 

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It seems my beautiful boy fish is already doing much more than I had expected — he is making impressions, teaching lessons, causing people to pause & reflect & remember.  And because of him, lives of other little fish have been and will continue to be changed for the better.

Thanks, Steph, for showing me the deeper meaning of my new favorite quote.  And thanks Alex, as always, for swimming to your own beat.

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:~) Quote for the Moment (~:

autismhomerescue11241101

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures.

~ Thorton Wilder

Our first teacher tribute: Tigger Takes a Swim

:~) Quote for the Moment (~:

autismhomerescue11241101“Sometimes I have believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

~ Lewis Carroll

A tribute to the unwavering faith of children:

Sabine’s Lesson

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