A Change In Plans

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Life’s plans rarely work out the way we would like. Instead, life happens through twists and turns and trails diverted. The map we created, never really existed. The things we knew we wanted, and yes expected, in our twenties are not necessarily the same things we treasure in our forties. My vision was extremely short-sighted when I was young. The things I knew would make me happy, are not what brought me real joy. I gripped my life map in my young hands, holding tightly to my dreams. The edges frayed, the ink ran, and the words faded as the years went by. My grip began to loosen on what I once wanted, to open and accept what life was giving me. old-retro-antique-vintage-163182.jpeg

I just knew I would go back to my home state of Maryland, after graduation, to teach in my familiar home turf. Several resumes and interviews later, it wasn’t happening. Then at the end of that first summer, I got a phone call from my former professor, would I be interested in teaching in a small school, in a small town in the mountains of Appalachia? I look back on my first couple of years of teaching with wonderful memories. Wonderful co-workers, friends made, bowling league, small-town football and basketball games, and a community talent show. I guarantee my life was richer for having said “yes” to this turn in the road.

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I thought I might marry my boyfriend that I had dated on and off since the summer after our junior year of high school. I loved him. He loved me. We went away to different colleges, ended up in different states. We still kept in touch, we had a strong friendship. But, it wasn’t to be. We closed that chapter an ended up marrying different people.

Married at twenty-four, widowed at thirty-two. When my husband and I said “until death do us part”, I wasn’t expecting it so quickly. Eight years can seem long when one is waiting for something, but far too short when death steals dreams. My grip loosened even more on my life map, as part of it was torn from my grasp. I learned resilence. I learned to be at peace with being single. I learned priorities during this time period.

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I have memories of my son that I cherish (and continue to do so). For many years it was just the two of us. I learned how to juggle and multi-task and chauffeur my son as a single parent. He made me a mom, a joy that makes my heart full.

I found out what it meant to struggle and sacrifice. I also learned the value of time, and laughter, and friendship. I appreciated family more. I said thank you and I love you more often and I meant it.

I met my second husband on an online dating site. I took a chance. He took a chance. He had also been widowed at a young age. We knew what we wanted in our thirties. We both serve a God of second chances. The God who loves us through all of life’s trials and wonderful moments.

I’ve taught in different states and different school systems. When I was in my forties I decided to go back to school to get my Masters degree. I didn’t know if I should. I didn’t know if I could. But, I did. I graduate in two and half weeks with a 4.0. My life’s dreams zigged and zagged to the finish line.

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I always loved New England and secretly dreamed of living there someday. Instead, I moved from the Mid-Atlantic to the south, and now am in the rural farmland of the Mid-west. My plans have changed. My life has softened. I look at life differently now. I appreciate it more. The surprises that life throws at me remind me that I am not in control. I never was. God is. He is the Master Planner and His ways are always perfect and exactly on time.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.  Isaiah 55:8-9 NIV

 

 

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Autism Is More Than Just A Word

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I first wrote this post about ten years ago……. So much has changed in those ten years. I have met, worked with, taught, tutored, and loved individuals on the spectrum. I will be graduating next month with my Master’s degree in Education/Special Education with a Graduate level certificate in Autism Spectrum Disorders. When I first wrote this post, the stat’s were 1:150 children being diagnosed on the spectrum. Now, autism is 1:36. Let that sink in. What used to be considered rare has now become a diagnosis where most people know someone who has a child on the spectrum. Over my 28 years of teaching/consulting in special education, I’ve watched autism go from 1:10,000 to 1:36. Autism is at pandemic proportions.

Autism Is Not A Dirty Word

As many of you might know I worked with and taught people with special needs for many years. (17 professionally as an educator and for 6 years before that as a volunteer, camp counselor and as a house counselor in group homes.) My goodness, have I been privy to some good stories over the years….some hysterically funny, some frustrating, some sad….but all interesting and good learning experiences for me. Well, about 6 years ago I had a kindergarten student enter my classroom. His entering my classroom began an adventure for me, an adventure that I am still on. You see this particular little boy with chocolate brown eyes and with skin the color of latte was my teacher. He taught me about autism by living out his story every day. When he first came into my life he was wild as a little animal. He threw himself to the floor in tantrums, he bit me, he was all the time spitting at me, he smacked me and he cried. I knew he had autism but I didn’t know much about autism back then. I had never had a student with autism before in all my years of teaching. I remember one day in particular. This little boy was having a difficult day. We were getting nowhere. Finally, mid-morning, I told my teaching asst. to watch my classroom. I was going to take this child outside to the playground. I didn’t care that it wasn’t recess. We needed to get out of the room. He loved the up and down motion of the swing, it soothed him. So that is what we did. At this point, I was mentally and physically exhausted. I sank down on a bench on the playground and tears rolled down my face. “God, I can’t do this! It’s too hard! He doesn’t understand me…and I don’t think he even likes me at all! I’m tired of the spitting and slapping and school has only been in session a few weeks. I just can’t do it.” These thoughts continued through my mind as I sat and watched him swing..back and forth, back and forth. Then I heard the voice…well, not audibly, but the voice was just as clear to me as if God himself was sitting beside me conversing with me. “DAWN, HE HAS AUTISM. IT IS PART OF HIM, BUT IT IS NOT ALL OF HIM. YOU WILL GROW TO LOVE THIS CHILD AND HE WILL BE SPECIAL TO YOU. RIGHT NOW I WANT YOU TO ALLOW ME TO LOVE HIM THROUGH YOU. ” What peace that came over me. Just like that. Now, those of you reading this might think I had some sort of mental breakdown or something that day on the playground. It’s okay with me if you think that…..but I know the Real Truth. From that day forward things changed. Sure, I still got slapped and spit on. There were still tantrums. The thing is something changed IN ME. Days turned into weeks, weeks to months, months to years. I worked with this little boy and he made progress…so much progress that other teachers were amazed by his transformation. I learned about autism and figured out his strengths. This child was intelligent in so many ways. His visual memory and his spelling skills were incredible. He learned better communication skills so he didn’t need to tantrum, or slap anymore. He was special to me and to my teaching assistant. Yes, he was even a bit spoiled by us. He had come so far….and so had we. Later on, my supervisors gave me more autistic students because of my success with this little boy. Over the past several years I’ve become fascinated by autism and what having autism means to a person that has this diagnosis. I’ve met people with autism, I’ve read and researched, asked questions, and had real relationships with children that happen to have autism. I’ve talked with their parents. I’ve learned a lot. There was another of my students that I also got in my room when she was in kindergarten. Talk about a stubborn little firecracker! But funny…I really enjoyed her in my classroom. She has become quite the artist at age 8 and has made so much progress. Sure, she has autism….but that is only one thing about her. She’s so much more than that label. That girl is going places and I’m very proud of her.

Now, I’ve been touched by someone in my own family that just recently was diagnosed with autism. He’s four years old. He has big, beautiful eyes. He’s crazy about movies and he looks mighty sharp in his dress shirt and cowboy boots. His grandfather and I enjoyed spending time with him this summer. His journey is just beginning. It will be a long, hard journey. It is a road that at times will be frustratingly difficult. His parents will want to cry as they get bogged down in the mire of school politics. My heart goes out to them…..but this journey will change them, and make them stronger as they advocate for their son.

Today, one in one hundred fifty children is diagnosed with autism. That is far too many. Hopefully, one day doctors will understand what causes autism. Hopefully, in the future there will be a cure….but, in the meantime, we can’t give up.

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We Are Family

Yesterday, on my way home from work I was thinking about my childhood in rural Maryland. There were seven siblings in my mother’s family. No one moved very far away, and so grandmother, brothers and sisters, and cousins got together often.  My head is full of wonderful memories. Birthday parties, holidays at each others houses, summertime kickball and whiffle ball games with the cousins, church, picnics, Saturday afternoon drives for ice cream, spending the night at my cousin’s, graduations, marriages, babies being born. I was born in 1968, the first granddaughter, after three grandsons. I, the first granddaughter, was born on the same day (not the same year) as the first grandson. My cousin and I have had fun with that throughout the years. There are ten of us cousins in all. Six girls and 4 boys.

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Sometimes I think back on my own childhood in the 70’s and 80’s, before 24-hour cable, the internet, and cell phones. My childhood was making up our own games, playing outside, riding bikes, catching lightning bugs, cake and ice cream at birthday parties, slumber parties, and watching my cousins play ball. (Football in the Fall, and Baseball in the Spring and Summer) We all loved each other. None of us are perfect, but we love family. reading-77167.jpeg

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As time went on, and we all grew up, we went our separate ways. College out of state, careers, marriages, children…. I sometimes wish my own children could have known what it was like to have the family so close by and to bond together in ways that now seem nearly impossible. Life is much faster, more frantic, and further apart.

I will be celebrating my fiftieth birthday this May, and as an adult, I can now look back and realize the gift our parents and aunts and uncles gave us. The gift of time. The gift of love. The gift of family.

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Kindness, Matters

Last week I was at Aldi. For those of you that aren’t familiar, it is a grocery store. It was a Friday evening, I was tired from a long week and just wanted to get my groceries and get home. At this point in the day, I am sure I looked like a weary woman on a mission. You all know what I mean. We’ve all been there. I got through the store, pretty sure I had everything I needed. There was one line open at the time (isn’t that always the way at grocery stores?) as I began to heft my boxes, jars, bags, and cans on the conveyor belt. There was quite a line behind me, lines always make me feel guilty like I am holding everybody up. It wasn’t my fault, but I usually have “full cart” guilt.

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It is at times like this that God will use my circumstances to teach me a life lesson.

“Hey, may I help you unload your groceries?”, said the petite dark-haired woman behind me in line. Me, being in a tired daze, looked at her, “Um, you don’t have to do that.” “I don’t mind. My teenage son is usually with me to help me get all the groceries up here and then helps me bag stuff. I know what it is like to have to feel hurried when you are doing it yourself.” “Well, okay. If you want to help me.” She shook her head and began loading cans and boxes well……like a mama. She knew what she was doing. I appreciated her help and told her so. She just shook her head and smiled. I finished going through the line and bagged my stuff and loaded it in the truck. As God would have it, she was in the SUV parked next to me. As she came out and unlocked her vehicle, I thanked her again for her help. She said no problem, now “go home and relax”.  I smiled at her.

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I was tired. She took a few moments to offer help. She loaded cans and containers. She wasn’t attempting world peace, she was attempting to give me peace through her simple act of kindness.

She made a difference to me, that evening at Aldi. She understood that small acts of kindness can mean a lot to someone in need.

 

“Dear Heavenly Father, please bless that dark-haired woman from Aldi. I don’t even know her name, but I know that You do. You saw us that evening. You know who we are. Thank you for this simple, sweet lesson. Help me to step out of my comfort zone and show kindness to others.   In Jesus name, Amen”.

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“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me…” Matthew 25:40  

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control…” Galatians 5:22-23

Winter’s Last Hurrah!

I’m sitting at the kitchen table in my colorful cozy socks, pajamas, and a long sweater. I’m wearing comfy clothes to winter’s last big party. Here in Ohio, we’ve had several inches of snow overnight and the wind has caused drifting. I love snow, so I am happy, but several of my warmer weather friends are miffed that there is snow and it is supposed to be Springtime! March is always a wild card, what can I say?

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I suppose I will wait a little longer before bringing out my spring decor. I’m okay with that, after all, I am the one that doesn’t do well with excessive heat. I enjoy spring, but I struggle with the heat and humidity of summer. I will complain about that later, say about three or four months from now.

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Here are some of my completely unintellectual and funny insights into snow days.

  1. When one has three dogs, beautiful white snow doesn’t last long. Why do the dogs always want to pee outside right in front of the windows? Snow loses it’s sparkling beauty when it is streaked with yellow. Just sayin’.
  2. Snow always ends up inside. Between boots, and dogs……I just noticed a big puddle in the front entry. One of the dogs rolled around in the snow and then came inside and “melted” all over the floor. At least it is just water. It could be worse. (I have mud season coming up in a month or so—mud is way worse. Ugh. April showers bring May flowers, hmmppffff. It is more like a stinkin’ monsoon. Rain and dirt= mud. Mud thick enough to make me lose my boots.)
  3. I lit my candle lanterns on the mantle this morning. Candlelight is so much better than sunlight streaming through the windows. Sunlight highlights streaked windows and dust. I try to ignore this fact. I hate dust. Dust mocks me. I just need to live in the semi-dark. It is so much easier that way. Everybody and everything looks better in the soft glow of candlelight. Don’t argue with me.
  4. I like sweaters. Well, really I love sweaters. I am so happy to live in a state that for a good part of the year I can wear a sweater and be comfortable. The other part of the year (namely summer!) I sweat like a horse and probably smell like one too. I can’t wear sweaters in the summer. Heck, in order to try and stay cool, I try not to wear much in the summer at all. Well, I wear what I can get away with and still not get arrested. It is a real struggle.
  5. Our mailbox has survived another winter of the snow plow. When the plow goes down our country road one can hear it coming! All one can see is a wall of snow flying through the air and when all the snow settles, one looks to see if the mailbox is still intact. This is a real thing, people. A lot of people around here have summer and winter mailboxes. The winter mailboxes look like they have been through a war….and I guess they have. Banged, dented, with lids that one has to jiggle to get closed, you’re lucky if your box still has a workable flag left on it. All due to the savage attacks by the plow.

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Everyone have a great day. Yea, for snow days!

Learning To Be Comfortable With Myself

I recently read a quote by Matt Haig that has stuck with me.

“To be calm becomes a kind of revolutionary act. To be happy with your own non-upgraded existence. To be comfortable with our messy human selves……”

This quote came from a post about how society works hard to make us feel less than, so we will buy more, want more, try more, expect more—because we mistakenly think those things will make us be more. What a lie, straight from the pit of Hell.

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I am coming up on the big 5-0 birthday in May. I am more “fluffy” than I was in my 20’s. I am beginning to get the smallest little crinkles around my eyes, and my hands are starting to resemble my mother’s. Some days my grown kids get on my nerves and my frustration leaks out. I stress myself with deadlines, and timelines and not enough free time. I am not perfect, at all…not even a little bit…but, I am okay with that.

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I don’t know if it is because I am running headlong toward my fiftieth birthday, and I feel by this point in my life I am more comfortable with my decisions, I’m fairly comfortable with myself, and I am relatively happy. Or whether I have become wise to how discontent happens, and I make the extra effort to not allow that to happen to me. Of course, I am not happy all the time and certainly not every day…but I am content the majority of the time.

Something else I have figured out over time is that my mistakes, my less than glorious messes, my pains, and my flaws are often what draw others to me. Not because people want to wallow in mistakes, but more like it encourages them and they know that they are not alone in wading through this life one day at a time. C.S. Lewis reminds me of this with his words.

“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, “What? You too? I thought I was the only one…”

Today I am content with: 

  1. Dining room furniture that has served us well, even though it now has scratches and chipped paint and the wood top needs to be refinished.
  2. Dust…..it is everywhere. House will never look like Better Homes and Gardens. Oh, well.
  3. Pet fur….it is also everywhere. I love my animals.
  4. A bed that wasn’t made, but is still so comfy. A place I can snuggle with my husband at the end of long days.
  5. Trash that needs to be taken out…..because we have so much.
  6. Stuff that should be thrown out of the fridge because it is starting to look funky. Needless waste! I have never gone hungry.
  7. Bad hair days. I have learned to embrace my cowlicks.
  8. A scale that weighs me, but doesn’t show my true value.
  9. A stack of books that I will one day read. I will. I know I will.
  10. Mistakes I’ve made. Too. Many. To. Count. Tomorrow is a new day. A “re-do”.
  11. Words were spoken out loud that shouldn’t have been. Why did I say that? Ask forgiveness.
  12. Tears shed. I have found that I cry a lot more than I used to. Sometimes sad tears, but a lot of times happy tears. I hope my heart is always tender.
  13. Eyes that squint when I smile. They are happy wrinkles that show the map of my life.
  14. A yard that looks like a bomb dropped on it. The bomb is in the form of a friendly, furry, collie mix that loves to dig and rip up plants by the roots and trot around the yard with the root ball still hanging out of his mouth like it is the first place prize. I am at peace with never having pretty flower beds.
  15. I like to be comfortable. Yes, I can dress up, but I find myself caring less and less about being fashion forward and more and more about eternal beauty.
  16. It is okay to say no to things. I need to do it more often.
  17. Sometimes it is fine to do nothing, as a matter of fact, it is necessary.
  18. Loving my husband. The one that will be there for me, after everyone else is grown and gone.
  19. I’m okay with reused and recycled. I like things that have a history.
  20. Relationships with family and friends…..the faces of the ones I love fill me until my heart overflows. Priceless.

 

 

 

 

I’m So Sleepy…

The blankets were pulled back, and the pillow fluffed. I was so ready for bed. On most days, by the time bedtime rolls around I am so exhausted I can barely keep my eyes open. The busyness of life can be, and often is, draining. Don’t we all feel it?

I over-think. Over-stress. Over-worry. My head aches, my neck is sore, and if I sit for more than a few moments I will fall asleep. I need to keep going…….

What I really need is rest. Body relaxing, spirit rejuvenating, mind soothing, rest.

In peace, I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, LORD, make me dwell in safety. Psalm 4:8 NIV