Letting Him Go

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If you are a parent, I believe you will understand my heart as I write this post. My son, Kendrick, graduates from university this coming Saturday. I am excited for my son. Four years (that went by way too quickly!) of long hours, studying, a myriad number of tests and field work culminates this weekend. He will approach the stage empty-handed but will leave that same stage with a degree. My son, in his early 20’s, has already had much real-world experience in his major. He is an excellent cinematographer who has witnessed first hand the heartache of hurricane Harvey, made videos for a non-profit that helps people around the world, and was part of a film group that won awards at a local film festival. Working in film entails a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. He would probably also add, a lack of sleep. As his mom, I worry he doesn’t get enough rest, and truth be told he probably doesn’t!

 

 

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I am proud of my son, as any parent would be when their child graduates. But, more than I am proud of his numerous accomplishments in his field, and the wise decisions he has made along the way, I am at peace about where he will go and what he will do in this life. Independent. Intelligent. Wise. A Warrior’s Heart……. and sometimes a little CrAzY. (Sorry, just sayin’.) My peace about him, and for him, does not come from me or how I feel. It doesn’t come from his accomplishments or travels. I am at peace because my son, my dear son, made the most important decision of his life when he was a little boy. He chose Jesus. Everything else doesn’t even compare to that most important, life-changing decision. I realize it is not always easy to walk the walk. I know he has made (and will continue to make) mistakes. But, some of life’s most important lessons come from our failures. Some of my favorite sayings come from this very thing. “This too shall pass”. (Just hang on!) “You can do anything for a short period of time.” (So when life feels overwhelming remind yourself that you will get through it.) and “A bend in the road is not the end of the road unless you don’t make the turn.” (Life isn’t always going to work out the way we wish it would. Stay focused. Stay on the road. Who knows? A new and exciting adventure might be right around the corner.)

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As a mom, I have to let my child go. Over the last several years I have had to slowly loosen my grip on him. As a baby, and a young child, he needed me. He needed me to take care of him, keep him safe, teach him well. At almost twenty-three he doesn’t need me in that same way anymore. I am not saying he doesn’t love me or need me, but it is not in the same way. If he reads my post to him he will know his mama’s eyes are “moist” as she types these words.

Kendrick will have family and friends celebrating with him this coming Saturday. In the midst of the days leading up to this event, my thoughts wander to my late husband, Kendrick’s daddy. He died when Kendrick was just five years old, in the Fall of his son’s kindergarten year. His daddy was there at the beginning of school, and I hope that God allows my late husband to witness Kendrick graduating college all these years later. He would be so happy and proud. Having been so young when his father died, these big life events are bittersweet. Tears of happiness and sadness mixed together.

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Letting go……loving you……Congratulations on your graduation, Kendrick!

 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 NIV

 

 

 

 

 

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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

 

 

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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