Keeping the Peace, Life

Dog Therapy Supporting Autism

Shiloh Puppy

Growing up we always had a dog in my family. They were our family members. Our dogs gave us so much unconditional love. I believe having and loving them helped us to learn a little bit about caring for others, especially those who are most vulnerable. Dog therapy is a good thing for everyone.

I’m the only one in our family of four who has had pets. I know how much hard work they were for my parents. I am aware of all the costs associated with them. As a child, I experienced the heartbreak of losing a few doggie pals. But at the same time, I know how much joy they can bring and the positive impact they can have on a family.

Dog Therapy

She Loves Her Puppy

Our daughter is getting older now, and her needs are changing. In some ways it’s gotten a little easier, but in other ways, it’s much harder. Autism is crazy like that. I remember someone liking it to that wacka-mole game at carnivals. Just when you seem to get a handle on one issue, another pops up. Some of the challenges are always there and some of them they may progress past. It just depends on the kid and where they may be on the spectrum. Changes in our children sometimes bring changes in the therapies they need.

Many people look at our daughter and assume she’s not struggling with anything. But aren’t we all? Are all challenges visible? I don’t think so. You may not see a girl that has spent years in ABA and other therapies, who has been able to learn and grow a lot. It took a lot of hard work for her to get to where she is now. Sometimes you can have all of the hard work in the world and it may have little to no effect on a child. I wish I knew why she progressed so much and others don’t. But there is and will always be challenges for her, that’s just par for the course.

Right now, a lot of her needs as far as support goes are social, emotional, sensory, and some behavioral. Also, let’s not forget I have a pre-teen, so need I say more? I’ve taken on the role of primary therapist in our family because, well….it’s just easier than dealing with insurance and paying for new evaluations. I’ve seen how much being around animals like horses has helped our daughter. Dogs are known to be very therapeutic for people with all kind of disabilities. I knew dog therapy was just what she needed. We didn’t need a service dog and we couldn’t afford an actual therapy dog for our child with autism. But I knew that a dog would provide a lot of support for her and everything she’s going through. She needed dog therapy in her life.

The Puppy Search

Once I got my husband on board for this addition to our family, the search began. I searched for a rescue for several years. We needed one that was at least semi hypoallergenic, so that made things a lot tougher. If you’ve ever looked into adopting, you know how rare it is for one of those kinds of breeds to become available. I would spend hours searching on the internet. After a while, I would get frustrated and give up. It felt like it was never going to happen.

A Little Miracle

Then last fall, I decided to give my search some effort again. I was hoping there was a rescue center somewhere that I hadn’t heard of. So in a last ditch effort, I called on my facebook friends for recommendations. Lots of people listed places to try, but I still came up empty handed. It was the end of the line. I was pretty much done trying to look for our family dog. If it ever happened, it would basically be a miracle that just presented itself.

And that’s exactly what happened! Never underestimate the power of social media! A friend that hadn’t commented on my post remembered we were looking for a dog. She happen to see another friend post about their daughter wanting to give a dog to someone. The family has a son with autism. They got him a dog and it made a huge difference. As part of his sister’s Bat Mitzvah, she wanted to raise money for another child with autism to have a dog. My friend told them our family had been looking for a dog and suggested us. It looked like a furry family member and dog therapy was in our future!

Meeting Our Puppy Shiloh

The rest is history! We met the family and then we took a drive up to Orlando to meet our puppy. Right away I could see the sparkle in my daughter’s eyes and how much joy the excitement of getting a dog was bringing her. I was surprised how she let all the puppies climb all over her. My husband, who was never a dog person, completely fell in love hook, line, and sinker. But the one that actually picked out our puppy was my son. He was a bit shy about it all and when one of the excited puppies came to sit in his lap, that was it. Our Shiloh was chosen!

Grace’s puppy encounter
The puppy picked him

I picked the name because it is a town in ancient Israel mentioned in the Bible, but it also means “the peaceful one.” If you haven’t read the blog before, I’m big on all the ways I’ve tried to find peace as a mom of a child with autism. I knew this dog would bring us all some much needed stillness, as crazy as that sounds. It was one of the happiest days for our family when we got to pick him up and bring him home.

Bringing Shiloh Home
Puppy Peace

Shiloh is a mini australian labradoodle and he has the sweetest disposition. He’s still hyper, like most puppies, but he’s able to be chill a lot too. He’s learning so quickly and is very smart. Shiloh is really the best dog we could have asked for!

Meeting Our Puppy at 6 weeks old

The Doggie Difference

Puppy Love

Shiloh has been such a blessing to our family. Don’t get me wrong, dogs are a lot of work. It’s basically been like having a newborn all over again, but it’s been worth every second. Every time I see my daughter holding him and playing with him, I’m amazed. I was told so many times that dog therapy would help and it’s so true! I remember when she was very nervous around dogs, especially the bigger ones. She hated when they would jump on her. The barking bothers her, but he’s not going to be the world’s best guard dog, so we may be ok there. She has adapted really well to the dog and has really taken to the responsibility of having him. Every day after school she takes him out with her brother, and picks up his business. That’s huge!

Daily Dog Walks

The unconditional love this dog has given all of us has been so wonderful. My son has a new little friend that he loves spending time with. It’s a beautiful thing to watch. Our daughter is really doing well and the dog provides a lot of support to her emotionally and socially. If she’s having a tough time, spending some time with Shiloh really helps. A lot of her friends have pets, so it’s been a great conversation piece for her and a way to bridge one little gap socially. And my husband, well, let’s just say he fell the hardest and loves this little guy.

Puppy Therapy

Shiloh coming into our life was truly a little miracle and we are so grateful to the family that helped make our little dream a reality. He has already made such a huge difference in our family life and has had such a positive impact on both of our children. If you don’t have a pet and have a child with autism, I highly recommend looking into it. Dog therapy is a real thing. It really is helping our daughter in so many ways and giving us all a little more peace. That’s something we can never have too much of.

Best Friends
Party Of Five
Keeping the Peace, Life

Living An Ordinary Life In Extraordinary Ways

As a stay at home mom, I live a pretty ordinary life. Now that I’m not working, I have considered it to be a bit mundane at times. It’s a simple life, even amidst the sometimes difficult road our family navigates with autism. The challenges we have are not special. I’m not doing any big things nor am I accomplishing amazing feats over here. But I am trying to live this ordinary life in an extraordinary way.

Striving For Greatness

In this age, everyone is looking to be or do the next great thing. We live in a world where the number of likes and comments determines our worth. The pictures we take are solely to show others all the great places we get to travel to, all the great food we get to eat, or the next awesome thing we’ve done or achieved. We take selfie after selfie, hoping to convince ourselves and others that we are someone to follow. And I’ve fallen trap to these false notions of greatness too. I believed I was only making a difference writing on this blog if hundreds were reading it. As a result, I don’t feel satisfied and keep striving for that misplaced sense of greatness that is an illusion.

But recently a dear friend reminded me of something so important. She made me realize that a small life like mine is exactly the kind that can make a difference. An ordinary life gives me the opportunity to do the great things God calls us to do. Because the pride that comes with social media or internet greatness might get in the way of the kind of greatness that truly matters. Staying humble and living a simple, little life, can still be extraordinary in a few very important ways.

A Very Ordinary Life

So you’re probably saying, why would anyone be happy with an ordinary life? What can you possibly accomplish? The answer is, more than you can possibly imagine! If you are living an ordinary life with extraordinary virtue, you can accomplish the most important, amazing things in this life. It’s not to say any of us are perfect at it. I for one make a boat load of mistakes. But there are three little words that make big things happen in our world…faith, hope, and love.

They’re all so important and also very necessary in life, even in the parts of life that can sometimes seem monotonous. For instance, where is the love in washing dishes, doing laundry, and cooking meals every single day? It’s hard to see it, but it’s there. These things are little and ordinary, but they are fueled by my love for my family.

It’s especially evident when you have a child with special needs. Where is the love in shuffling my kid to different activities that may be a difficult experience, trying out different therapies, exposing her to social groups that may not be welcoming, and working with her on challenging behaviors that may never change? It’s easy to love her, but hard to love others who let her down or treat her as if she is less than. How do you show love when she’s not included? If there are unfair circumstances or things that are challenging for her and our family, those are tough ones to love too. But love them all (the things and the people), we must.

Love Makes Greatness

I find that love has to basically fuel my every move. It has to be a part of all the things I do. I have to share it with every person I come in contact with. It’s not always easy (I miss the mark often). But it’s worth every effort. It’s what we are all called to do in this life. Because it’s in our persistence to love people in all the little things that we make a positive difference in our world.

And those things I mentioned in our life are all little, ordinary things. Our life has no more and no less struggle than anyone else’s. I’m not over here doing anything monumental that anyone else isn’t doing. All I can do is aspire to do all these little things in my life, with the greatest love I possibly can. That’s the greatness God wants to see in me, not some great thing I accomplish.

Extraordinary Love

As Mother Theresa said, “None of us, including me, ever do great things. But we can all do small things, with great love, and together we can do something wonderful.” If we have faith, we know that having an extraordinary love for all the little things is where our greatness lies. It’s my hope that when things get really tough, that I will remember to love it all. I will not let the world determine what is true greatness and I will stop trying to live an extraordinary life. Because I would rather do small things with great love, then big things with no love at all.

I pray that if you’re struggling with what may be your ordinary life, that you too will discover all the ways you can live it with extraordinary virtues of faith, hope, and love. I hope the latter reminds you of where your true greatness lies. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13)

Keeping the Peace, Life

An Inclusive Summer Camp Like No Other – Camp Southern Ground

Welcome to Camp Southern Ground

I never thought I would send my kids to summer camp at such a young age, let alone find an inclusive summer camp for them. As a kid, I didn’t go away during the summer until I was in high school. I see so many kids who have been going to summer camp regularly for years now and I swore I wouldn’t feel pressured to send mine. I’m not about to give up eight weeks each year of our already dwindling summers together. But now I can’t imagine our life without our one week of summer camp at Camp Southern Ground. It’s had such a positive impact on our family’s life and it’s just that special of a place.

Girls’ Bunk
Boys’ Bunk

What Makes Camp Southern Ground So Special

Camp Southern Ground is unlike any camp you have ever seen or experienced. First and foremost, it is an inclusive camp. As described on their website, the camp brings together typically developing children, children with Austism Spectrum Disorder, learning and attention issues such as ADHD, and Dyslexia, and social or emotional challenges. This is what drew our family in from the start. When you have a child on the spectrum and they have a typically developing sibling, it isn’t easy to find activities that they can participate in together, nevermind a summer camp. It’s so important that they get to experience this amazing camp together and yet, they still get plenty of time to be independent and forge their own friendships. A lot of places claim to be inclusive and miss the mark. Camp Southern Ground really shows how easy it is to put inclusion first and it exemplifies the many reasons why it is beneficial for not just our kids, but for the community.

Hanging with the boys at archery

The camp also supports, hosts and includes children of military and veteran families. During the other weeks of the year, the camp teams up with organizations like Boot Campaign and Kyle Frog Foundation to provide great programming and support for these families. While at summer camp, the kids learn how to be good patriots and participate in flag ceremonies twice a day, where they learn how to take pride in the flag and care it. Children of military families are provided with a comforting experience at camp, as many are dealing with parents having been deployed or having lost a parent in service.

Bunk Crew

Zach Brown and His Dream

Before I go on and on about how awesome Camp Southern Ground is, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the person who dreamed up this wonderful place for children of all abilities. Not only is his music literally a staple (and on replay) in our household, but the one and only Zach Brown of The Zach Brown Band is behind this magical place. He wanted to create a place that was much more than the typical camp experience and he did just that! Zach was a camper and a camp counselor himself, so he knew the importance of children being outdoors while they grow and learn from each other. We’re so thankful to Zach and his heart for our kids because this amazing place wouldn’t exist without him.

Making New Friends
The Peterson Dining Hall

Our Family’s Experience

We had the opportunity to spend some time at camp, before and after our children’s session last summer. It was their first official summer camp since opening. Currently there are several beautiful facilities on-site with several more on the horizon. In the future, there will be a chapel, a state-of-the-art aquatic center, and a respite center. The staff is amazing and supportive of all the kids’ differences and challenges. There were behavioral experts, inclusion specialists, specialized counselors, and nurses on hand for our children. We were so impressed at the amount of support available to our daughter and how much thought and preparation had gone into serving her needs. As they build out the facilities and gain more resources, the camp will be able to serve campers with more moderate and severe challenges.

The Confidence Course

When we picked up our children on the last day, we had the opportunity to experience a meal with them. Chef Collins whipped up some of his delicious food for lunch, using produce from the camp’s garden. Right away we could see the bonds our kids had made with other children and the staff. I don’t want to give away all their secrets, so I’ll let you and your children experience the special little details for yourself. Let’s just say that they provide a really warm environment for everyone, even at meal time. The kids really enjoyed the family style setting for meals. They were so excited that they brought the ideas home with them and they’ve become a part of our daily life at home.

Camp Activities

There were so many great activities for our kids to participate in. Our kids loved the “floating” tree house where they enjoyed music classes and jam sessions. There is also a high ropes adventure course that includes ziplines. The camp has it’s own organic gardens where the kids got to pick foods to use in culinary class. They were also able to learn about nature and history through classes like mining. Campfire time was also a favorite for both our kids. They also enjoyed playing basketball, field games, gaga ball, water games and target sports like archery and sling shots. The kids also had plenty of down time to socialize, do arts and crafts or take a yoga class.

Making Salsa in Culinary Class
Playing Drums at the Floating Treehouse
Hanging With the Tribe
Bow and Arrow Ready
Art Class

The Mission

Camp Southern Ground has a motto….Where goodness grows It’s a concept that permeates every part of camp. It’s evident in everything the staff does for the campers and in everything they try to instill in them. They accomplish all this goodness focusing on three main goals: growing unique gifts, growing healthy bodies, and growing good communities. The kids tried new things, they were challenged to move out of their comfort zones and encouraged to discover their unique talents and gifts. They were taught to really connect with the food they eat. They spent time at the camp’s organic garden and learned where food comes from and how it fuels their bodies. The camp is a tech-free zone, so the kids focused on social interaction, making friends, and working together as a team.

Tribe One’s Performance at the Camp Talent Show
Picking Tomatoes at the Camp Southern Ground Organic Garden
The Tribe Eating Their Homemade Salsa
The Boys Getting Autographs With Their Bunk Counselor
Teamwork During Floor Hockey
Archery Target Practice Playing Baking The Cake
Hanging Out With The Bunk Crew

On a Personal Note

As far as our own experience, it’s hard to put into words what this camp and our children’s experiences have meant to our whole family. I can tell you we have all been changed for the better in so many different ways. Our kids discovered things they love and things they are good at. We have seen how they’ve grown in confidence and in their independence. They made friends with some wonderful kids who were accepting of their differences and found their tribe of people. It’s a family atmosphere at camp and both the kids finally felt what it’s like to belong. Since camp, our kids both participate in our garden at home. They love to be in the kitchen now to plan meals, cook, set up, and clean up. They will try pretty much anything we whip up.

Something we didn’t expect was the respite it provided my husband and I. Since camp is in Georgia, we were not ready to drop off our kids for a week without being close by and didn’t want to make that long drive twice. So we stayed nearby and had our own little getaway. As a married couple and parents of a child with special needs, it’s important to have that time to ourselves. We were able to take that time because we knew our kids were well taken care of, our daughter was supported, and we knew they were both being provided with an amazing experience. It helped us to relax and gave us the opportunity to enjoy time away without them .

“Where Goodness Grows”

There are so many other little ways the kids grew that have made them into even better little people and have brought our family closer together. I wish I could write about all of them. It’s been amazing to see how much our kids have grown in goodness since camp. The fact that they have the opportunity to bring all that goodness back to their own community is just a beautiful thing. Right from the start, Camp Southern Ground’s mission of growing more goodness in the world aligned with ours to raise our kids to be good people. They understand the hard things our kids and we as parents face in this world today. Our family has struggled with bullying. Both kids (especially our special needs child) have struggled to fit in. We deal with the pressures of technology. Even just trying to teach our kids to be themselves and have their own beliefs can be tough when many follow who or what may seem popular at the moment. They’ve created a special place, like no other, that helps to combat those struggles. Camp really fosters a loving environment where our kids can grow and goodness can grow in them. As they state on their website as part of their mission, “Camp Southern Ground wants to be the place where your child can have good fun, eat good food, connect with good friends, and learn the confidence to go put more good into the world.” That’s a mission we are so proud to support!

Hanging Out With the Bunk Counselor at the Southern Scramble Game
Gaga Ball Crew
Gaga Ball Game
Sling Shot Practice
Baking Cookies With the Girls

Support Camp Southern GroundS

We our grateful that our kids will have the opportunity to attend summer camp again this year. Special thanks to Camp Director Scott Hicok, Program Director Stan Tucker, our kids’ bunk counselors, and all the staff, who made our kids’ first experience at camp so wonderful. Each and every one of them have been so supportive of us as parents and of our kids’ needs. Camp Southern Ground has become part of our family and we hope it will always be part of our summers. We’d love to keep our special place a secret and all to ourselves. But when you love something this much you can’t help but share with the world! If you are interested in finding more information about camp, please visit the Camp Southern Ground website. You can also support Camp Southern Ground by giving a donation here to help this wonderful organization and all the families they serve.

With Program Director Stan Tucker
With Camp Director Scot Hicok

Join Us

Having Fun on Talent Show Night
At The Gagga Ball Ring

At Camp Southern Ground, they believe Love is the Remedy. Our family couldn’t agree more! These smiles say it all! If you’re looking for an inclusive, safe, supportive, loving and encouraging place where your kids can grow this summer, while having the experience of a lifetime, look no further! Camp Southern Ground is truly that magical place you’re looking for. It’s been such a blessing to our family, and we look forward to another year of our family growing in goodness because of it.

Nightly Campfire Get Together

Keeping the Peace, Life

My Daughter Is Not A Sports Girl And That’s Fine By Me

I’ve kind of dreaded writing this post. Especially because just three days ago, I posted the feature picture on this blog post. I wrote positive words and it had a go get it attitude. But today I have to let go of some of what I said and even retract a couple words. No one ever likes to be wrong and when it comes to my kids, I wish I got it right more. The truth is, my daughter is just not a girl who loves participating in sports.

My daughter has been swimming with teams for about three years now. When we discovered group organized sports weren’t her bag, we gave swimming a try. She’s always been an excellent swimmer. Since swim is more of an individual sport and encourages you to compete against yourself, it seemed like the perfect fit for her.

During her first team experience, we encountered some great coaches and some wonderful parents. But it was run by a person who was insulting to my kid and not at all accepting of differences. She progressed there and moved up in the groups, but the organization was lacking the inclusion and acceptance she deserved. She proved herself time and again, working hard every day, but they didn’t have the faith in her to allow her to grow in the sport.

Fast forward to her current swim team and it has been such a welcoming and encouraging place. She usually swims about four days a week. From the beginning, they have all been encouraging and supportive, from the owner down to her individual coach. She has grown so much in her technique and is now working on her speed. It all seemed to be going so well and I’ve been so proud of all the progress she has made.

I probably should have started by saying how excited about swimming our daughter became after watching the Olympics. It inspired her! She was determined to make it to the Olympics one day and was thrilled she had found something that fit within her interests. We were in full support of her dream and if you know her, you know there’s nothing she can’t do that she sets her mind to. Plus our kids are island babies, so they live to be in the water. Swimming seemed like her sport!

If you know anything about autism, you know change can be hard for our kiddos. They usually do well with structure and routine. That, coupled with exhaustion, hunger, and multiple emotions, can be a recipe for disaster for my girl. It must have been that perfect storm because three days ago at practice, all those things were at play. Her coach was absent, which had happened the day before too. But then there was a shortage of coaches and she was lumped into a higher group. Almost daily, she swims for an hour and a half straight, without any real break. Now that was happening along with a lot of additional laps, a coach’s style she wasn’t use to, and just plain fatigue. We eat early around here, so she finishes practice and is ravenous. I should have seen it was the beginning of the end.

She made it through the whole practice without complaining, to her credit. I actually didn’t even see it coming, but she finished and walked right over to me and started balling. In an instant, I knew what was happening. My child was a little broken. Her dreams of being a swimmer were over. I could tell she was beyond done. She realized that although she likes swimming a lot and is actually really great at it, it’s not for her.

Why didn’t I see it sooner? I was wrong to have her in something with such intense practices every single day. It’s not for her. I was wrong to think she had to be in a sport to be active. We can do fun things and be active together. I was wrong not to listen that she was tired. I should have paid more attention to what she really loves doing, not just what she likes. Many times I saw kids of our friends competing in sports and thought she needed to too. She was missing out. The truth is she detests competing unless it’s beating the pants off of you in a game of chess. Just because she’s good at something, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for her in the long run. She’s just not a sports girl and that’s totally fine by me.

I think I got a little caught up in what always seems like the glorification of busy that our society is so wrapped up in. I forgot about trying to enjoy a more simple life. It’s always been so frustrating to me that my kids could never just hang out and play with their friends because the kids are always so scheduled. Now, in my worry of what other people might think about our less than busy schedule, I was doing the same thing. I was in activities and busy as a kid. But I had down time. I had the freedom to play and discover my talents and interests. My parents never pushed me to do anything I didn’t truly love. I led the way as far as what I wanted to participate in and our daughter is just as much if not more the leader that I was.

My daughter’s childhood is too precious to spend hours of it pushing her to do something that’s not for her. She has everything she needs and what she doesn’t need is more pressure. In a world where she doesn’t feel like she has control of much, free time gives her a sense of control that will help foster her interests more than an activity that is slowly taking the wind out of her sails. Activities are great and they have wonderful benefits. But I don’t want busyness and over scheduling to become something we are proud of. I don’t want it to be more of a priority than spending time with each other or just having the chance to just be a kid.

Time is already going by so fast as we raise our children. I won’t have anymore of it filled with things that aren’t things we love. So my kid doesn’t do sports. Big deal. She’s so amazing in so many other ways that are way more important. Though I cheered her on daily from the bleachers and enjoyed watching her swim, I won’t miss the sometimes ten hours a week we spent in and by the pool. That time will be filled with being a kid, pursuing our interests, and going after all those other big dreams.

I know that whatever she will do and be one day has already been laid out for her. It’s what she was created for. She was always going be that thing and this amazing person, no matter what I do or what I try to involve her in. I just need to give her the time and space to enjoy the things she loves and support her in her interests. The rest will fall into place. So thanks for the lessons swimming. After this month, we’re moving on to pursue our passions. No sports for this girl. She loves watching them and she is an avid baseball fan that will blow your mind with statistics. But she will be sharing her talents in other areas and changing the world in lots of other ways. You’ll just have to watch and see what’s next.

Keeping the Peace, Life

Action Word For The New Year

It’s New Year’s Eve. I can’t even believe the year has flown by the way it has. A new year approaching always causes you to think a lot and in my case, write a lot. I’m sitting in my dark living room, nursing a horrible sinus headache and an annoying ear pain by the glow of my Christmas tree. It’s not the way I’d like to start ringing in the new year, but sometimes you just have to sit still in whatever moment has presented itself. So I’m using the time to think about the year that has passed. I’m thinking about where I’ve been and where I need to grow. A new year always holds so much promise and hope, but not without us committing to taking some kind of action.

Everyone is always so busy making resolutions and plans for the next year. It doesn’t leave a lot of room for reflection. But I can’t help but think about all the lessons learned this past year. It’s all been part of what got me here, to this moment. Some good, some not so good. None of it by accident. It’s all been in preparation for whatever is to come. Now that I’m older, I have so much more gratitude for the journey itself.

That gratitude has helped me to focus more on my every action, so that I do my best to live each moment in service of others. It’s really helped me to spend more time reflecting on the most important purpose we have in this world. That is to love others. So much more simple than we make it out to be. Although sometimes, loving people who are hard to love is just that…so very hard. But it’s still what defines us and what we were created for. Even so, loving doesn’t mean we have to accept every injustice or never say no. It definitely doesn’t mean we should let others take advantage of us. It means we forgive and accept what is.

Who doesn’t want more love and forgiveness in a new year? It’s how we navigate this human life, as every single one of us makes mistakes. Nouns like these are great to want more of in a new year. But for years now, I have been picking a word or words that define a characteristic I want or want more of. They’ve covered Peace to Courage, and everything in between. All of them have been nouns, but not one of them has taken action. They have been quite inspiring over the years. I’ve definitely gained many of those attributes and grown in many of those areas. But this year I realized what I need more of, requires me to take a specific action in every moment. What I need to do is Discern.

It occurs to me that my daughter, who has special needs, taught me a lot about this, although she doesn’t know it. She’s made me a bit of a detective. In most every interaction I have with her, I am trying to figure out if I’m dealing with something that is typical of a child her age or if it’s something that is a part of her autism. Discern means to distinguish someone or something with difficulty by sight or with other senses; to perceive or recognize something. Most of the time and after many years of experience, I’m spot on in my detection, but there are those times when I realize I’ve got it all wrong.

That is just one area in my life that I have to recognize differences daily. But what about every other moment? I’ve learned that while I am an ongoing investigator in the world of autism, I’m not choosing to discern in the way God asks me to in every moment and part of my life. When we discern, we are trying to discover God’s call for us. We are actively following the path he lays out for us. Though I try to listen, a lot of the time I feel I know better. My experiences have shown me otherwise. I’m reminded by Romans 12:2 that he always knows best. “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

This last year I have not discerned as I should. Actually, I’ve rarely asked God what he wants me to do. Instead I’ve made my own calls and assumed that I should stay stuck in whatever situation or relationship I was struggling with. There were things and people no longer meant for me, but I knew better. Our society has so many outside pressures. It’s a me first world, that is hyper-focused on self-fulfillment. I could have asked what he wanted for me and tried to discern between right and wrong. But instead, I wasted valuable time deceiving myself that I’m in control and I know best.

Of course, 2018 was chock full of beautiful moments and happy experiences, along with a lot of difficult situations and sad times. There is never a year that isn’t and I’m so grateful for all of it. But to truly discern, there are lots of little actions I should be taking that would significantly diminish the struggle. Life isn’t without hard times, but the amount of time we take struggling is optional. So to struggle less and discern more, I hope to do these things more:

Be conscious of past experiences
Pray more and ask for guidance
Be open to God’s will and plan for me
Know and use my gifts and talents
Know my worth and where it lies
Listen to my heart and what I’m called to do

Every decision calls us to discern. Then, if we feel at peace with our choice and have confirmation in that choice, we know it was the right one. We each are called for something and discerning is what helps us discover what that call is. We all have a personal vocation, and not all of them are particular professions or calls to religious life. But if taking time to discern means more of a religious life, then sign me up! If you need guidance in your life and don’t want to do it alone, than discern may need to be your word too.

So to all of those things, people, and situations I’m leaving in this past year, I wish you well. While you weren’t part of my purpose, even though I was dead set on you being a part of it, you taught me a lot. For that I’m grateful because I’ve still grown tremendously. I know better now. When you know better, you can be and do better. Whether you’re taking on a word, a resolution, or an action in this new year, I hope you’ll consider that no matter what you believe, your’e not alone and cant do this life alone. If you choose to discern, I can tell you it will be life changing. I’ve seen how it changes things through my own experiences and through others’ experiences. That’s why I’m committing to do it regularly in the new year.

And whether you believe or not, I hope that the words below in Proverbs 3:1-6 will help to inspire you to think more about your every action in this life. Because our actions affect our life path and the path of the lives of those around us. So isn’t that worth a little time to discern and try to choose the path we’re called to? If my actions can help to heal the world and transform it for the better, I want to take that time to Discern and choose wisely, with guidance. After all, we’re here to love each other and why not live every action as if we truly do.

“My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, for they will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity. Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

Keeping the Peace, Life

Time Stood Still This Christmas

Time goes by so fast, even at Christmas. But this year the Advent season and Christmas day itself went by so slowly. Actually, we are just at the beginning of Christmas, and there’s much more to enjoy. Every day we have enjoyed celebrating the season and have spent time in reflection. On Christmas day, the kids seemed to take their time and really enjoy their presents. It was so refreshing. Normally they’re ripping through it all in a split second. In years past, it has all gone by in a flash. But time stood still for a little bit this Christmas.

I think the kids have matured a lot and are understanding what this whole time of the year is truly about. And yet, I realized this year that while our kids keep growing taller and getting older, they’re still little and young at heart. They still believe in the magic of the holiday. They’re growing up but still childlike in their excitement and joy of the season. I saw them as my babies again, with an innocence that this world can’t take away. For a minute, you think, nothing and no one could ever steal their joy. It’s like that part of my daughter’s autism that keeps her blissfully unaware of the bad and constantly seeking all the good.

That’s part of the beauty of Christmas. You forget for a moment how the world is in such turmoil right now. It brings a certain peace, joy, love and hope like no other time of the year. At a time when there is so much chaos, Christmas reminds us what our world truly needs. There are so many lessons in it. The story itself shapes the very foundation and purpose of our lives. It takes us back to a simpler time in this world. A time when the worries were a little less and all people really needed was love and the basic necessities.

I wish I could freeze this moment, this Christmas. It is such a special time for our children. I’ve seen a change in both of them, but especially our daughter. The kids seem to be realizing they don’t need all the stuff. They just want to be surrounded by people who love them. Christmas is a time when that is exactly the case. Family and friends abound and they revel in the time spent with them. Recently, they’ve discovered that some people may not value them as they should. They have felt disregarded and they know the hurt it causes. I know they have questioned why they keep holding onto their good morals and principles in the face of pain. But they have come to understand that their worth is not found in those people or in any things. Christmas reminds them of that.

It’s just the fourth day of Christmas. We still have eight days to go. I hope we can take in all the moments and just be still sometimes during the rest of the season. It’s so nice to see them feel loved and safe within these walls and in our little bubble. There’s no denying our kids will keep growing and time will keep passing. But at least this Christmas, time stood still. This Christmas, my kids still feel the love, peace, joy and hope of the season in their hearts. At least this year, my littles are still littles, and they’re still keeping all the true magic alive.

Keeping the Peace, Life

The Advent of My Christmas Peace

Every year I try so hard to get in the Christmas spirit and I seem to come up short. I feel like I’m fighting the raging and completely commercialized Christmas machine, just like in the aptly named book Unplug The Christmas Machine by Jo Robinson & Jean Coppock Staeheli. When I was young, Christmas was this magical time, full of joy, celebration, and peace. Things were much simpler back then. These days it’s hard to find any peace in all the chaos. I was chatting with some friends about this yesterday and I realized it something many of us moms struggle with. I know I’m not the only mom that is just sitting here, waiting for her Christmas peace to arrive.

Year after year, I’ve tried to make my life easier during the holiday season. I’ve cut back on the Christmas cards. All the shopping is mostly done online. I even let go of many of our decorations so that I wasn’t spending hours placing them ever so perfectly around our home. We’ve majorly minimized our cookie baking to one or two of our favorite kinds. Our Elf does not stack marshmallows for our hot cocoa or hide candy canes around our house. The extent of my crafting this year was wrapping some twine around a few mini bottle brush trees and calling it garland. We’ve scaled back a lot, in my opinion, as far as all the extra unnecessary things go.

And yet, I still feel like it’s all whizzing by. It’s still not peaceful. My head is still reeling with all the things I still have to do. What are those things anyway? I have no clue! I’m counting the days I have left to get the things we need for people, instead of the experiences we had hoped to gift. The tree has been up since the day after Thanksgiving and it seems like we rarely get to sit in front of it and enjoy it. It all seems like such a hassle instead of a joy. When does that peace arrive?

If I thought we were focused on just the commercial holiday of Christmas, maybe I would understand the way I’ve been feeling. But this is the Advent season and it’s the most important part of this time of year in our family. We celebrate the birth and then the coming of Christ. Our traditions all start and end with the reason for the season. All the other stuff is extra and while it can be wonderful, it’s just a lot of noise sometimes. Noise is not peaceful.

I don’t have the answers except to continue to focus on what is really important and keep teaching our kids the true meaning of Christmas. That noise of the holidays can be so loud at times, that it drowns out the real magic. We’re struggling so much trying to be the creators of the magic, that we miss it happening before our eyes. And it’s not always big and showy. It’s in the little things that we fail to see right away. It’s in the things that are getting us closer to that peaceful place and we don’t even realize it’s happening.

As I look back on the last few weeks, I can now understand what magical things have been happening. I struggled to get my kids to write letters to Santa. When they finally sat down to do it the first time, they couldn’t think of one thing they wanted. When I asked my youngest what he wanted, no lie, he said he wanted love and to be with his family. Trust me, we have our moments as a family, so I kid you not. I cannot make this stuff up. They are less centered on the gifts and that brings me joy.

Another magical moment, my kids have been saying advent prayers every night and reading their action bibles. They fight over who will add the next symbol to our Jesse tree and who will light the pink candle for the third week of Advent. Now these fights, I can deal with. The kids want to sing songs about the season. They’re asking questions about their faith and this time of year. Now that’s something worth celebrating.

I’ve also noticed that even as much as I try to be in the moment, especially this time of year, they have learned to be more present than me. They’ll ask me to read a book with them, play a board game, or watch a Christmas movie. After we’ve done some things, they will give me some time to myself, even if it’s just a few minutes. They will go off and play together, quietly and peacefully, and for a minute I’ll forget that they seriously annoy each other and myself at times. I’ve had requests to bake with them. But probably the most special moments are the ones when they have asked me to talk to them about something important to them, whether it’s something they’re excited about or something that’s weighing on their hearts. It brings me peace to know they can talk to me about anything.

It’s not going to be a perfectly peaceful Christmas. Not the kind when there’s not a care in the world and zero stress. Does that even exist? And there will be gifts, because let’s face it, everyone enjoys opening at least one. It’s become part of the cherished holiday traditions we have maintained over the years.

But it’s the advent of my Christmas peace. The Christmas I remember having as a child. There were decorations, and gifts, and a lot of those bonus blessings, but there was also a slower pace, where we were mindful of the season and kept it front and center. A time where we focused more on spending time and less on spending money. I think this crazy Christmas machine will have to die down eventually. If we work hard on raising our kids to become people who see past all the unnecessary parts of the season and more on the true spirit of the season, they will bring Christmas back to what it once was. A magical time full of joy, celebration, and peace.

It’s coming. I look forward to it.

Joyous Advent to you all and may you find the peace that the true meaning of this season brings.

Keeping the Peace, Life

Seeing Rejection as Protection

I’m about to finish this book by Lysa Terkeurst called Uninvited. I love a good, faith-based, inspirational read. It’s been so wonderfully honest and witty, which is refreshing. Reading about rejection isn’t easy, but if you’ve ever experienced it first hand, you know that anything that lifts you up is a blessing. This book ties it all in biblically, and nothing is a better guide for me more than God and scripture. Seeing rejection as projection as this book mentions, really makes a difference.

Rejection is tough to deal with, whether your a child or an adult. But it has its benefits. There’s a part of the book that talks about how rejection can be helpful to people. Now, I’m a special needs mom, so you know how I feel about rejection when it comes to my child. I know she faces it daily, but by saying rejection can be helpful, I’m in no way saying it’s ok to make someone feel less than. Not ever. But hear me out on how being rejected is almost always for our greater good.

We’ve all felt left out or alone at one time or another. As a woman and a mom, I’ve been on the receiving end of mean girls and mean moms more than I care to think about. Sometimes people don’t intend to make you feel disregarded. They honestly don’t give some people a second thought or they’re just busy in their own little world. But whether rejection is purposeful or unintentional, it can be painful. But what if we thought about that pain having a purpose?

I think that rejection actually serves as a defense for us. A lot of times in life, we have no clue what’s best for us. We think we have it all planned out. The right friends? We know how to pick them. A lifetime career? We know the best job for us. That love of our life? We’re sure of the right person for us. But many times we are rejected from our own plans and sent off on a new path, one we probably wouldn’t have chose for ourselves. Who knows what type of poor choice or what future hurt that rejection saved us from.

It’s not a coincidence when our plans don’t pan out. Some people and things are just not meant for us. Rejection protects our hearts from more hurt down the line. I like to think of it as God redirecting us in the way he had planned all along. So many times in life I’ve not understood why things and people have been removed from my life. I always thought I knew better than the master planner. Now that I have a daughter who deals with rejection sometimes daily, I understand that things were and are happening for my greater good. It pains me to see her dismissed so much, but I think about how much better she is or will be for not participating in a certain activity or for not being surrounded by certain individuals.

If we look at rejection as our protector, it’s much easier to realize that everything in this life isn’t always in the plan for us. This is a concept that is way harder for an eleven year old to grasp, but an important one nonetheless. Just like failure is part of success, rejection is necessary to fully appreciate and experience complete acceptance.

I’ll have to do my best to explain to our daughter that not everything is for her or serves the path she’s on. We will have to have a talk about mom’s rejections in life and how even when I was determined to have something my way, God saw fit to remove that something out of my life and protect me from more pain. He always knows better. I will have to tell her how hard it is going to be to deal with rejection and how often she will deal with it in her life, even more because of her special needs. But if she can learn sooner than I did that rejection is really something he allows for her protection, and for her greater good, she will be able to move on from those disappointments and changes of her life’s course that much easier.

To see rejection as our protection can be hard when it hurts so much. It’s even more painful to watch your child experience it over and over again. All we can do is pray that whatever is not for our betterment will be removed from our paths. We can pray for strong hearts that can withstand the heartache and the heartbreak to come. More than anything, we will keep our faith. We’ll do our best to remember and remind each other that we’re not in control, and smile through the tears, because that’s a good thing.

Keeping the Peace, Life

Everyone Needs To Belong

Inclusion is a pretty easy concept to grasp. Most people understand what the word means and yet, inclusion isn’t at the top of our society’s priority list. As a society, we’ve actually become experts on exclusion. If you’ve ever felt like you don’t belong, you understand why inclusion should be important to all of us.

This week is Inclusive Schools week, an opportunity for discussion in our schools on how to educate all students successfully. Have you heard of it? Probably not, as there is little to no mention of it. The schools are just one place where the worth and abilities of every child should be recognized. There’s a broader need for the idea of inclusion in our country that needs to be promoted across the board.

As a special needs mom, I’m quite familiar with the lack of inclusion. It’s impacted our daughter and our whole family. Yes, schools need to do a lot more, but they can’t without the support of families and communities. It starts with every single one of us. We have a responsibility as a community to help foster and sustain a sense of belonging for all people. We’re not lacking in an example of how to treat all people with equal respect and yet, we still struggle doing what’s right for all.

I’ve been thinking a lot during this Advent season about how God is always inviting us in and how he never excludes anyone. He never turns anyone away. Why would we? We’ve all excluded or ignored someone at one point or another. At some point, we’ve all felt like we don’t belong. But if we could all remember to commit to decency for our fellow humans, no one would ever have to feel uninvited. We all have different beliefs and backgrounds, but we can agree that avoiding others who are different or treating them less than ourselves is not inclusion of all people. Valuing and respecting our fellow man and woman is where inclusions really starts.

Let’s stop being so good at excluding and start making including a part of who we are and everything we do. Each of us are needed to make the changes in schools and in our communities toward inclusion of all people. Everyone needs to belong.

Keeping the Peace, Life

Our Amazing Grace

This past weekend our daughter turned eleven. It’s so hard to believe that eleven years have gone by since she was born. Before my husband and I even met, we named her. Grace means God’s blessing. Her life has blessed our family in more ways than I could have ever imagined. She is an amazing little human.

It’s hard to explain how uniquely special Grace is. It’s not something you can understand unless you spend some time with her and really get to know her. She has this profound way of seeing the good in every person she comes across. Her personality lights up a room and her joy is contagious. She is someone we want the world to know and at the same time, we sometimes wish we could keep her safe in our family’s little bubble.

Autism is so different in every person. Grace is no exception. I’m the first to say that while we have experienced daily challenges, there is always someone who has it much harder than us. But it’s still our hard. It does not diminish the struggles she has or how difficult it can be for our whole family. But it has also made us appreciate and celebrate her achievements that much more.

Since I realized her 11th birthday was approaching, I had been thinking a lot about all of the challenges she has faced over the years and all the things we’ve learned because of her. So many times, especially recently, I’ve been told that she doesn’t look like she has autism. Many people have told me that she seems “normal” to them. Sometimes they think so much comes easy to her. They are well meaning people, but they just don’t get it.

I’m sure it makes some people more comfortable to believe she’s a typical kid, but she’s not. I guess they think autism looks a certain way, but it doesn’t. More importantly, there’s nothing abnormal about her. She is different in some really amazing ways and as the saying goes, that doesn’t make her less. They see the result of eight years of hard work, multiple therapies, social skills groups, and a long list of other supports and intervention. None of that has come easy to her or any of us.

I try to share our experiences on here in the hopes that it may help another person with autism or a family living with autism to know they’re not alone. One day I hope she shares her own story here. My hope has always been that our story will resonate with someone else and inspire them to have faith, strength, and hope when things get hard. Today, in honor of her 11th birthday, I want to share how she amazes me, despite what she has endured.

Grace has a strong faith and belief in God. This is a concept that can be hard for typical children to grasp, let alone a child on the spectrum. Yet she asks the hard questions, reads her Bible to grow her knowledge, and even did the work to receive her sacraments. She tries to model her life after her beliefs. It is inspiring and amazing to me.

She is a kind, beautiful, and sweet soul. She’s been bullied and treated like she’s invisible, and yet she still treats the people who disregard her with kindness. Even at this young age, she’s learning forgiveness which most adults can’t even grasp. That’s truly amazing.

I’ve noticed she’s gotten really good at telling jokes and picking up on humor. She has the most contagious laugh! She’s even starting to grasp the concept of sarcasm. For someone who takes most things pretty literally, that is a huge accomplishment. Many times she’s actually the object of a joke or someone makes fun of her right in front of me. Sometimes she’s still blissfully unaware of how cruel people can be, but lately she’s been becoming more aware of how people react to her. I’m amazed at how funny and how strong she is.

I always marvel at how hard she works to make friends. Not only that, but the effort she puts forth to be a good friend. This from a kid who has played alone for years. A girl who instead of having playdates and activities, was participating in social skills groups. Over the years, her hard work has made for a few amazing friends.

When she was little, we couldn’t go into a bathroom with automatic flushers and dryers without her having a total meltdown and covering her ears. These days, she holds it together and even encourages me to use the dryers instead of paper towels because it’s more green. There was a time when she had a ton of vocabulary, but couldn’t put a sentence together that wasn’t scripted from a television show. Now she’s conversing about the history of baseball, players, and their stats and schooling me on being more eco-friendly. It’s amazing how far she’s come.

It’s amazing to see her excelling in so many things. She swims regularly and is growing in her sport, when organized sports never really worked out for her. She sings on her own, sings in choirs, plays piano by ear, and is learning to play other instruments. In the art of music, she’s very talented. Yet she was turned away from dance and we were told we shouldn’t try to include her in a regular class like that. She gets straight As, earns kid of character awards, and keeps it all together day in and day out, all while being in a gifted classroom. This from a kid who struggled with reading comprehension, testing, behaviors and sensory processing.

Grace participates in clubs at school and is even a safety patrol. She went from having trouble comprehending instructions to enforcing the rules. She’s working on her Girl Scout Junior Bronze Award and constantly wants to work on more badges. Her science, math, and leadership skills earned her the opportunity to attend a special STEM program at a university this summer. A couple weeks ago she won a pageant. It has been so wonderful to see her recognized for her amazing abilities instead of ignored because of her disability.

But with all she has accomplished, we know there will still be challenges ahead. We know there will still be people that won’t expect much from her and people that will pretend she doesn’t exist. She is a big dreamer and has worked hard to build confidence in herself. Every day she pushes herself to learn more, do better, and be better. I’m in awe of all she does and I witness the hard work she puts into every part of her life.

Most importantly, she is a wonderful daughter, sister, and grand-daughter. She has learned to communicate well and express feelings. Her empathy is so touching, especially when she use to not be able to read facial expressions or emotions. She really engages with our family and has even been able to make good eye contact, when she still sometimes struggles looking people in the eye. Grace has such a big heart and loves with such a light. After a long time of never saying it, she tells us all she loves us regularly. Knowing the effort she makes in every moment she interacts with all of us, makes the love she shares with us that much more amazing.

So, yes, our Grace is amazing. Just like every person with autism, she has her challenges. None of what she has achieved over the years has come easy. Much of it has come with a lot of heartbreak and a lot of isolation from others. But it’s all helped her grow into this beautiful young girl. What is most amazing is the blessing that God bestowed on us by putting her in our lives to love and protect. She has made the world more beautiful by just being in it. That is our amazing Grace.

Happy 11th birthday sweet girl. There are no limits to what you can do. Keep dreaming big. Go out and change our world for the better. You are beautifully, wonderfully made and loved beyond words.