“Gaahhhh!” I’m caught between a trash can and a tantrum. We’re at the park, and while the boys are eating their snacks, Travis drops a piece of his blueberry Belvita cracker on the ground. The “COVID crazy mom” in me panics as he grabs it just before I can, but am relieved to pry it out of his hand before it disappears into his mouth. Crisis averted. Then the “stealthy-sneaky-try-to-prevent-a-meltdown mom” casually creeps closer to the trash can to throw it out. Wham! Not stealthy enough as Travis screams and lunges at me just as the dirt covered cracker falls into the depths of the trash can. Crisis so NOT averted! Screaming and crying for his beloved “BV cracker,” he’s kicking, pushing, and scratching to get to the dreaded (potentially COVID covered) trash can. The “brace-yourself-time-to-put-out-the-fire mom” does all I can to keep my body between him and the trash can. My inner self is dying as tantrums are never welcomed or fun, especially when in public, and I’m annoyed because if it weren’t for COVID19, I probably would have just brushed the dirt off and let him eat the cracker, two-second rule and all.
But I can’t let him see my sin. With Autism, even though Travis never appears to notice other people, their moods, or how they are communicating, he is very aware of when I am upset or stressed and responds in kind. I know that my sin will escalate his sin until we are caught in a perfect storm of sin as we just keep sinning all over each other. So though I’m screaming on the inside, I quietly and slowly repeat “calm body, calm voice” as the muscle memory of my soccer playing days kicks in to keep me squarely between the trash can and a very determined, livid, and inconveniently nimble 6 year old. The “Autism mom” knows that the only chance I have at calming him down is to remove him from the scene so that the offending trash can and thus his precious Belvita cracker is “out of sight and out of mind.” Finally, oh so painfully late, the Christian, the new creation in Christ, the daughter of God, finally prays: Father help me! Give me Your strength, Your literal strength, to pick up this flailing wild banshee of a child and carry him away from this death can! Amen!
And praise God! Twenty yards and some blood, sweat, and tears later, we get to a shady spot on the grass where I put him down and slowly back away. He continues his rage, but thankfully for the moment it’s directed at the grass and not at me or Mitchell. A couple minutes later, the grass stops flying, the screaming subsides, and all is quiet on the western front. I look down to see Travis contentedly nibbling the remaining half of the Belvita cracker which was in his hand this entire time. Crisis over. #OhTrav. When the adrenaline wears off, I’m spent, exhausted, empty. But it’s in these post-battle, dead-to-self moments when God calls me and I gladly collapse into His life-giving arms. He reminds me that He was with me, right there between the trash can and the tantrum, and that He is with me now to refuel, replenish, and refill my spirit. Praise the Lord!
Since COVID19 altered our reality in such dramatic and unexpected ways, the sinner in me, who has always ran from or resisted suffering (or really anything that makes life harder than it already is), has been screaming for this pandemic to end and for life to go back to “normal.” Sin has trapped me in that age old lie of believing my hope, peace, and rest, are tethered to and exclusively dependent upon changed circumstances. I have foolishly believed this lie and its countless iterations before: once our bodies rid themselves of the stomach bugs of Nepal, life out here won’t be so difficult / once our two babies under two are no longer babies, we’ll finally sleep more than a couple hours a night / once he learns to express himself with words, he will be less prone to violent tantrums / once he understands why we enforce certain rules, he will stop impulsively and unpredictably running into the street. But even though I have followed the lie to its hopeless dead end before and should know better, there is something about the unprecedented enormity of this pandemic that lures me back into believing it again. COVID19 just made a crazy hard life, crazier and harder. The pandemic ushered both boys back into the home for me to expand my role of mom to teacher, speech therapist, occupational therapist, behavioral therapist, and let’s be real, survivalist. The thriving virus keeps my husband at work for longer hours and at higher personal risk to diagnose and care for the rising number of patients infected. And the safer at home orders cut us off from our loving and aging parents effectively eliminating any date night or respite opportunities for me and Tom. So why wouldn’t I believe that the end of this pandemic will yield an easier and better life?
But I have to remember that God is sovereign over it all and that His purposes for this pandemic are much greater than my myopic vision for just an easier and better life. So as this “new normal” is no longer new but just normal, God reminds me that He is powerful over it, He is present in it, He is drawing me near to Him through it, and that He is lovingly stretching my faith to new levels of trust in His goodness and provision. Though I long for a stable work schedule and a safer work environment for Tom, I am so thankful for his job security. Though I’m bummed for Mitchell, my neurotypical extrovert who was living his best life at school enjoying a few hours a day apart from his brother’s Autism that often rules our world, I see God’s grace in growing a relationship between the boys in ways that only proximity and exposure can yield. Though I’m dying for Travis to be back in school surrounded by neurotypical peers, teachers, and therapists to encourage and nurture his development, I praise God that his messy potty mishaps and dangerous impulse control issues are occurring under our roof thus sparing “Team Travis” from such stress at school! Though we desperately miss seeing our parents and extended family while also missing out on those precious respites and date nights, we are so humbled and grateful that everyone in our family remains healthy and safe. And though I am craving more than a few hours of sleep, I am finding the quiet hours of the night to be sweet times of prayer, meditating on God’s Word, and reading through my bookshelf.
So I praise the Lord that I can put on the whole armor of God and persevere in faith as His Word helps me fight the lies that my heart, feelings, and the world are whispering in my ear about this circumstance (Ephesians 6:10-20). As I draw near to Him and approach the throne of grace with confidence that He is there to receive me with open arms (James 4:8 and Hebrews 4:16), I can have peace and rest as the crazy dissipates in an atmosphere of worship. When I am lost in confusion and understanding these hard times eludes me, He soothes my soul with Jeremiah 29:11-13 and Isaiah 55:8-9. When I can’t imagine surviving for just one more day in this way, I find my strength in Him through the truths of Jeremiah 17:7-8, Lamentations 3:22-23, Matthew 11:28-30, Romans 8:32, 2 Corinthians 12:9, Philippians 4:11-13, and Philippians 4:19 knowing that He will provide for my every need and that His mercies are new each morning. I praise God for blessing me with a husband who, a sinner just like me, is fighting the good fight with me, alongside me, in it with me as one flesh, and continually pointing me back to Christ and His unending and perfect grace (Genesis 2:24, Psalm 34:3). And when we struggle and face practical needs, we are held up and spurred on by God’s Gospel-grace made visible and tangible through you, our dear church family (John 13:34-35). And ultimately, empowered by His grace and blessed by the example set by so many of you, we are equipped to be His ambassadors of grace (2 Corinthians 5:17-20) and extend to others the comfort with which He has comforted us (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).
In Christ and Christ in me is all I will ever need to persevere through these long days filled with Autism battles, teaching moments, and the multitudes of God-given sanctifying interruptions. Every day I find myself asking questions like: Why gravity, why?! How did he get up there? Where are his clothes? What is that in his hair? How do I get him down from/out of/free from there? Why is he so mad? What is with all the biting/scratching/pinching? How do I keep him and others safe in this situation? Which end will that come out of him? How long is this really sustainable? How do I convince him that his therapists and teachers are in fact real people even though they exist solely in the iPad? And every day, God’s good and perfect grace stops the downward spiral of sin, stops the madness, and draws me to Him in prayer. No matter how desperate or ugly my prayers, I can always turn to Him unashamed and beg for more of His grace. And armed with the sword of His Word, His truths battle the lies of my sin. He does not and will not ever leave me alone to waste away in sin. Turning from the darkness of sin to the light of Christ, I can behold Him Who is greater than any difficulty of this world. And because of Christ, I not only live to fight another day, but I can praise Him for the battles that sanctify and transform me into what He created and redeemed me to be, His image bearer, from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18).
So church family, thank you for answering your call to make God and His love radiant in these dark times. Thank you for walking with our family through this challenging season. Through the rich and solid Gospel-saturated teaching and devotionals always convicting and sharpening our hearts, your encouraging and faithful prayers, texts, emails, shared resources, Zoom hang outs, FaceTime calls, your meal provisions that nourish our tummies and our souls, sweet treat and fun gift deliveries, unending supplies of those oh so valuable blueberry Belvita crackers, and warm hugs through love notes in the mail, we are humbled and moved to praise God for His amazing and vibrant grace in and through each of you! I pray that we may all shine a bit brighter as He continues His gracious work to transform us into the likeness of His Son through these troubled times.