The Miracle of the Boy and the Wooden Letters

Wooden letters

According to C.S. Lewis, “Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.” Recently, my faith has been lacking so I was missing the miniature and miraculous letters forming a story before my own eyes. I have previously written about my family’s journey of finding out our youngest son, Josiah, has autism spectrum disorder, but I will provide a short recap for any new readers.

Josiah’s Journey [So Far]

In the summer of 2017, my wife and I noticed our son struggled to make sounds and form words. Because Josiah could not communicate with us he started to  bang his head on the ground when he got frustrated. This habit became so bad that we were basically homebound unless both my wife and I were off work at the same time. On good days we could only take our son out for one errand as any transition proved too overwhelming for him.

We knew something had to change—he had to get better help then what we could offer at the time. In December 2017, Josiah was evaluated and diagnosed with autism. We enrolled him in a birth to three program offered by the city. He received speech, occupational, and development therapy. Eventually, his speech therapy was increased to weekly hour long sessions. It took a lot of time, focus, and diligence, but with consistent therapy with professionals and reinforced at home Josiah made tremendous gains. He was able to learn to talk and show us his needs for water, food, a preferred toy, and diaper changes. This summer he said his first 10+ word sentence!

Hello My Name is

Power of Words

Over the weekend, Josiah hit another milestone goal—telling me his full name and recognizing the letters to his first name. As I was in the playroom getting him dressed, Josiah pointed at the letters on the wall. For each kid, my wife and I hung their names in wooden letters in their rooms. We recently moved Josiah into the older kids room so the wooden letters remained in the “new playroom” (formerly Josiah’s room). This following was our exchange centered around those letters:

Me: “Yes, Josiah that is your name on the wall. What letter is that [pointing to the ‘J’]?”

Josiah:  “J, O, S, I, A, H!”

Me:  “And what is your name?”

Josiah: “Jo-sia-ah, Fabian, Sha-qin [Chicoine]!”

Practice Makes Progress

Some people have told my wife, “Aren’t you hoping that scientists find a cure for autism? Then you won’t have to waste all the time doing therapy.” This is the wrong thing to say to a parent of children with autism. Thankfully, my wife is quite professional and always tactful otherwise a vicious verbal exchange may have ensued. Autism is not something to be cured. Instead, it is something to be explored. Different does not mean diseased. Unfortunately, people naturally fear the unknown and treat it with disdain.

The reason I continue writing daily and sharing my thoughts is because I want to provide hope, perspective, and joy to families and individuals going through similar situations. Our world does not readily accept differences. I want to be a help change that. I want to bring tangibility and reality as to how autism looks in our little boy.

The Gift of Healing

Rainbow Baby

Before he was born, I struggled mightily with depression. Our previous pregnancy due to miscarriage. We named our unborn child Jeremiah. Josiah proved to be God’s healing gift to us. His name literally means “healer”.  All our triumphs are intricately tied to our struggles, doubts, fears, and worries parenting Josiah. We all have a cross to bear. Our cross is not more difficult than most people’s. It is merely different. Josiah’s smile and giggles are infectious.  Hearing him tell me his name meant everything in during that moment in the playroom.

Do you have special needs or have a family member with special needs? I would love to hear your story. Please feel free to share in the comments.

Miracles do happen we just are too busy to see them sometimes. Our son’s special needs forces me to slow down and view the world differently. I am thankful that I embraced that change of pace this past Sunday. I pray for the strength and humility to be more willing and ready to learn from my son in the future!

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3 Ways You Can Actually Get Rest through Play

According to Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” This weekend I found a temporary fountain of youth—at a pumpkin patch!  Celebrating the birthdays of two of my nieces and my daughter, we visited a small-town Nebraskan pumpkin patch on Saturday.  This experience was what I needed to infuse live into me.

Rest and play

My overnight work schedule has been challenging.  Getting naps throughout the day are hit or miss depending on how fussy or not my teething 8 month old daughter is on a a particular day. Balancing work and life has like trying to battle 16 monkey ninjas on your own. Our three year old has regressed over the past few weeks, meltdowns are on the rise, I only get to see my wife about 30 minutes most days, and the list of struggles goes on and on.

The purpose of this post is not to complain, but rather give a bit of context as to why my content has been irregular recently. I am thankfully for people providing guest posts in the midst of my chaotic schedule. I will be publishing more guest posts to help give me a break during this season. Rest. I did not appreciate sleep until I lacked it. This post will focus on a few ways I have been able to discover how to get rest during a grueling schedule. If you are in a similar or more serious situation than my family I hope you find value in these tips.

Play and Positivity

A common factoid you may have learned in school is that it takes less muscles to smile than it does to frown. If you never heard this amazing fact, please check out the link in the related resources section at the end of this post to read about the science behind smiling. This weekend I smiled.

Traveling on a zip line, sliding down the barn slide, pedaling a cart, and chasing my kids on the pumpkin patch playground incited smiles. We need playtime help reset our mindset. Going into work on Monday I was much more motivated and cheery. Playtime leads to positivity.

Observational Play is Still Fun

According to Angela Schwindt, “While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.” During the breaks between pumpkin patch activities I got the chance to watch my children caper with their cousins. The joy and excitement in their faces caused me to beam with gratitude. I rarely have the opportunity to simply rest and observe them in the middle of play.

Overcoming from a recent sinus infection and my continual job hunt for work from home opportunities has drained much of my energy the past few weeks. This weekend provided me the chance to pause and have fun watching my kids play!

Recapping the Day is Restful

Another way to fit in play during a busy schedule is to reflect on the revelry throughout the day. We had a three hour drive back home so I spent some time replaying the fun our family had in my mind. Next, my wife and I talked about our favorite moments. I asked each of my children which activity they enjoyed the best. “Pumpkin, I have a pumpkin daddy!” my three year old exclaimed from his car seat. Looking back, I saw a wide grin on his face and the orange vegetable proudly held in his hand.

Pumpkin Patch

Memory gave me the ability to play again while sitting down in the car. As I recapped the day, I regained my energy that was completely drained during the week.

Make it a priority to get daily playtime. It is necessary for a healthy body and mind. Play renewed my endurance. Rediscover joy in life by embracing playtime. A work and life balance is important. How do you plan on resting and playing this week?

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3 Reasons Why Children are Good Teachers

schoolhouse

George Washington Carver once stated, “Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.” Over the course of the centuries education has changed, developed, and evolved. As a society we are becoming more aware of the benefits of education, both at an early age and at later stages in life. Continual learning past the traditional high school, college, and even post-graduate levels is essential for living a healthy and fulfilling life.

Learning is Life!

As a husband of a special education teacher and a former educator myself, I am attune to the importance learning holds for a person both professionally and personally. Having earned a Master’s in Theology, I once thought myself to be an expert, or master, in that particular field–the study of God. My vocation as a father proved this arrogant premise to be contrary to what I once believed. Children–my three incredible adorable and sometimes obstinate offspring–are in fact good teachers in the school of life.

children teach

“Knock, knock who is there?”

Eight o’clock at night arrived in my household. Both my wife and I were scrambling to get our older children to bed. My son and daughter finished their evening snack of a cheese-stick, clothed in their pajamas, and teeth brushed. We prayed the Guardian Angel prayer before shipping them off to the bedroom. I thought we were in the clear when I heard my daughter asking, “Daddy, can I get a book? I don’t have one in my bed!” Begrudgingly, I harped, “Yes, go quickly into the living room and pick one off the shelf.”

Oddly enough–or maybe not so oddly– my daughter grabbed a joke book filled with riddles, knock-knock jokes, and other corny puns. As I tucked the blanket around her, my daughter insisted I read a few jokes. I conceded and read a couple knock-knock jokes. Her eyes lit up and dimples appeared in the corners of her smile. Reflecting upon this seemingly mundane experience now, I realized that laughter is okay–even during bedtime routine. My children taught me that lessening my serious demeanor will not kill me. Instead, laughter enlivens my spirit. New life is breathed into me as I gaze at the humorous antics within my home.

pinky swear gif

Keep Your Promises

Our oldest son is a “rules kid”. What do I mean by this? He is quite bright, detail-oriented, and observant. I am convinced he possesses a photographic memory. My children taught me that the stakes for making–and breaking–promises exponentially increase when you become a parent.

During the hustle and bustle of daily living, I sometimes say things to assuage my son’s persistent pleading. I am not proud of it. As a member of the human race, I suffer from original sin as much as anyone. My promises do not always get fulfilled. Oftentimes, I fall short of the expectations my son and daughter have for me. What parenthood has taught me is that I need to be honest when I break a vow. I need to continually strive to be better at keeping my promises. Most importantly I have learned that children are fairly quick to forgive– I have learned forgiveness is key to becoming a better father.

little things calvin hobbes

Joy in the Little Things in Life

 Our youngest son was recently diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. Daily life is frequently tough as he struggles to communicate his needs and wants effectively. Meltdowns and tantrums occur regularly. Despite his struggles and limitations, my son teaches me everyday to look for the simple joys in life. For instance, he finds an inordinate amount of joy in anything containing or resembling the shape of a circle. If we go grocery shopping, his eyes light up whenever we pass a helium-filled balloon or whenever he gazes up at the round light bulbs in the store ceiling. Similarly, at house he plays with the same toy cars and trucks without getting bored. Although he has a social-communication disability, in some ways my son has a special ability– to see joy in the seemingly mundane.

Fatherhood reminds me of the words of Aristotle, “The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.” Personal growth and learning take time and oftentimes are painful. By focusing on mere snapshots of my parenthood journey I fail to see the fruit that family life fosters. I am incredibly grateful for the life lessons of humility, humor, and joy that my children taught me. I pray that I continue to strive towards being an open and honest student!



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Unity Over Division

we-are-only-as-strong-as-we-are-united-as-weak-as-we-are-divided.-j.k.-rowling

News from the past weekend exhibited just how much division and separation exist in the world. A Buzzfeed story about a group of Covington Catholic High School students taunting a Native American leader Nathan Phillips displayed only part of the entire picture. Things taken out of context and contentious headlines incite quick reactions and rash judgments. I am not writing today to provide an opinion on which of the parties involved were right or wrong. I am not a judge–by trade or by ontology. The title of True Judge is resolved for God alone.

What I do know for absolute certainty is that unity is preferred over division. Through dialogue, patience, and perspective taking greater consensus will be reached over arguments both large and small.  Why does discord exist? Why do people of various creeds, nationalities, races, and backgrounds fight? The simple answer is due to fallen human nature. Because of Original Sin, humanity disharmony entered the world. Can society provide unity? Can governments legislate unity? No, granted some bills may help promote unity, but such sinister division, tension, and strife is a matter of the human heart.

Unity begins in the domestic family unit, but not merely the civil family structure. Instead only through the sacrament of marriage is true unity able to be fostered between husbands and wives and between siblings. According to Saint Pope John Paul the Great, “[Speaking of marriage and family] In this entire world there is not a more perfect, more complete image of God, Unity and Community. There is no other human reality which corresponds more, humanly speaking, to that divine mystery.” In fact, the first miracle in the Public Ministry of Jesus occurred at a wedding feast. Changing the water into wine helped save the newlyweds from a stressful bind, but more importantly Jesus demonstrated the importance of the institution of marriage.

Since the birth of our fourth children in late December, my wife and I experienced both intense unity, but also some division. Although this may come as a newsflash, most likely not, newborn babies tend to not sleep very well at night! Our daughter is not different. Successive days from minimal or less than minimal sleep limits the capacity for my wife and I’s patience.  Without the aid of God, my marriage would be fruitless and joyless. This is not an indictment on my wife, but rather myself. In my natural state, I am not the most gracious or joyous person. However, through the sacramental graces received in matrimony God provides couples the grace to increase in unity. The Catechism of the Catholic Church backs up this point as well,

By reason of their state in life and of their order, [Christian spouses] have their own special gifts in the People of God.”147 This grace proper to the sacrament of Matrimony is intended to perfect the couple’s love and to strengthen their indissoluble unity. By this grace they “help one another to attain holiness in their married life and in welcoming and educating their children (CCC 1641).

love begins at home.jpg

Authentic unity only can occur if the human heart is healed from the destructive effects of sin. Legislation and social media awareness can only go so far in promoting unity. Baptism is the doorway to the supernatural and unitive life of grace. That is only the beginning holiness begins in the home. Please pray for married couples and their children to be open to receive the graces to love more tenderly, increase their patience, and capacity to forgive!

 


“As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.” —Saint John Paul the Great

 

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Red Wagon Ruminations

The great Irish poet Oscar Wilde once penned, “With freedom, books, flowers, and the moon, who could not be happy?” While I definitely would not dispute any of those items on his list, I recently came across an ordinary item that provoked a spirit of joy and gratitude that I would most certainly add to Wilde’s list! Before I do that I have a riddle for you, “What has four wheels, colored in red, and brings happiness?? Answer: While, technically a crimson corvette, may still be correct—the answer I was looking for was a red wagon! 

 

Over the past week we celebrated Christmas with my wife’s side of the family. One of the gifts that my father-in-law gave to my kids was a red wagon. I assembled the crimson coach while watching Sunday football. When my two year old woke from his nap his eyes lit up and shouted, “Wheels, wheels!” So far this week, I have taken the kids for a ride at least 5 times.  The following exchange between my 5 year-old daughter and I demonstrates how a simple children’s toy brings happiness.


 Daughter: “Wagon freedom!”

Me: “What does that mean?”

Daughter: “Freedom means I am happy.”


J.R.R. Tolkien once wrote, Little by little, one travels far. His words perfectly summarized our wagon experiences. Through merely traveling a few blocks, either around our neighborhood, or to and from the elementary school, the short trip brought an immense amount of knowledge. From the click-clacking of the cotter pins as the wheels turned to the giggles of my children as I lugged them behind me, I traveled down Memory Lane to the nostalgia of my childhood and simpler times. 

Experiencing Christmastime with the attitude of gratitude, not only brings out the best in the season, but also the unexpected. Although at face value, a red wagon is not the most alluring, expensive, or glitzy gift, the joy it brought me and my childrencertainly exceeded expectations and brought joy!

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Unexpected Joy in Expected Suffering

“Is your happiness contingent on whether the cat peed on the carpet or not?” This question was posed to myself, other catechists, and parents by our parish’s Director of Faith Formation. She was referring to events that frustrate us on a daily basis where we may question the purpose of these interruptions in our daily life. Her unique query provoked some thoughts about my recent attitudes towards situations that appear to evade my control. Over the past week and a half, my two-year struggled with allegories, constipation, and changes with his schedule. As both a toddler and someone diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, my son certainly hated these disruptions. Consequently, these sufferings spilled over into our family life. Chucking of food items and toys ensued when he did not get his way or when my son could not fully communicated his needs.

For a control freak, such as myself, toddler temper explosions wreak havoc on my patience levels. Is my happiness dependent on whether everything is in my control? Would I be truly happier if my toddler followed my commands robotically to the “t” and never had meltdowns?  This question about the source of my joy and happiness continued to sow its roots into my heart, mind, and soul.

The work week began with the traditional Monday agitations: technology issues, annoyed customers, and confusion. To add to these annoyances, I woke up with an intense headache that lingered throughout the day. What is more, my personal goal of finishing the month with an impeccable quality score hit a potential hurdle when I failed at a complex call. Hopefully, the quality monitoring team does not review that call! Despite these expected sufferings, an unexpected joy [and peace] existed within my being. My natural inclination to messing up on a call or the craziness of home life would be to develop an anxiety and anger at things outside of my control.

Something provoked me to change my attitude from focusing on the suffering to looking at the opportunity for joy to be found in the suffering. More accurately, Someone provoke me to look deeper beyond my suffering and see the purpose of pain. St. Madeline Sophie Barat declared, “As iron is fashioned by fire and on the anvil, so in the fire of suffering and under the weight of trials, our souls receive that form which our Lord desires them to have.” God cannot get more real, as He is the fullness of all reality, but through the trials of our life we can enter into a deeper relationship with Him. The grace of unexpected joy in my expected suffering cannot originate from my own willpower—it is a free gift granted by the Holy Spirit.

I desire to impact the knowledge of peace and joy to my children. Among caring for their primary physical needs, I am charged with passing on the Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, safeguarded in the Catholic Church to them. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2223,

Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule. The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery – the preconditions of all true freedom. Parents should teach their children to subordinate the “material and instinctual dimensions to interior and spiritual ones.”31 Parents have a grave responsibility to give good example to their children. By knowing how to acknowledge their own failings to their children, parents will be better able to guide and correct them:

He who loves his son will not spare the rod. . . . He who disciplines his son will profit by him.32

Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.33

What struck me most telling about this passage from the catechism is that the home is likened to an apprenticeship. My children will learn how to love others and God from my interactions with them. While home life seems like corralling a bunch of elephants, lemurs, birds, cheetahs or bears depending upon my children’s mood, I am able to control my emotional state. This morning I failed by provoking my kids to anger unnecessarily—my own pride failed to humbly step away from the situation and to listen to their pleas for help.

Actively picking up our crosses daily will not be easy, Jesus never guaranteed this, however freely choosing to embrace suffering instead of fleeing from it will provide an immeasurably and unexpected joy. Still impressed with the candor and articulate manner of phrasing, I am going to conclude with the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s list key items for embracing freedom [and as a result joy too!]. “The home is well suited for education in the virtues. This requires an apprenticeship in self-denial, sound judgment, and self-mastery – the preconditions of all true freedom” (CCC 2223).

Is the lack of suffering the driving force of our happiness and joy? Do we only love life when things go our way all the time?  If you let the Holy Spirit into your life, be prepared to experience an unexpected joy in expected suffering!

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Happy Autism Awareness Day!

autism awareness day

This is the first year that I actually paid attention to Autism Awareness Day. With a second child diagnosed on the autism spectrum as a parent an awareness increased in my personal life that children with autism are unique. My oldest son excels in language and articulating complex sentences, yet he still struggles to formulate his needs at times. On the other hand, my younger son was diagnosed with a more severe form of autism. He qualified for more special services such as speech therapy, OT, and special education.

My hope is that I continue to grow as both a parent and citizen of the world in my knowledge and compassion towards individuals with autism spectrum disorder and the families who support them. Parents naturally strive to attain to find all the answers. When questions abound and various strategies need to evolve to best serve your child tensions sometimes rise. I often struggle with doubts and depression as a parent to children with special needs. My wife and I constantly worry about if the world will accept and love our sons. Autism Awareness Day is a start–a sign that hope is on the horizon! I am comforted through the intercession of St. Thorlak an individual commonly believed to be on the autism spectrum [see link below for more information]. During sessions of stress I mediate on this short prayer:

“Holy Thorlak,
Cut with the scythe of your workings
the thorns casting shadows
in my unclear mind!”

For more information on St. Thorlak please click this link: http://www.mission-of-saint-thorlak.com/patron-of-asd.html

I thank the Lord for the blessings of my children. I am also appreciative that greater awareness is being brought to people with autism. Knowledge is truly a necessary step towards a truer and deeper level of compassion for our fellow brothers and sisters. I will conclude today’s post by reflecting on a simple, but powerful anonymous quote, “As special needs parents we don’t have the power to make life ‘fair,’ but we do have the power to make life joyful.” 

choose joy

 

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