Prepare for Storms

 

 

Spring in Texas makes me think about tornadoes. Maybe it’s because we came face to face with a tornado on May 27, 1997 as we drove down I-35 bound for south Austin. Imagine how it feels to look out your car window and see a big, picture perfect funnel only a couple miles to the west. It was the first tornado of the day, and the violent storm system was headed south, just like we were. We managed to stay thirty minutes ahead of the ominous black skies, tuning in to local radio stations the whole way. When we finally arrived at my sister-in-law’s house, the kids took cover in the bathtub while the adults listened to the grim news reports and gawked at the small trees in the front yard spinning franticly.

 

There were 20 confirmed tornadoes that day, lasting six hours. It was an unbelievable day.

 

That day isn’t the only reason I connect Spring, Texas, and tornadoes, though. I grew up hearing how my mom sheltered at school when her town was devastated by a killer tornado. My grandparents, aunts and uncles had tornado cellars. Tornadoes are just a part of the landscape around here, especially in the spring. However routine, though, they are never welcome, they are never predictable, and they are always stressful. Just ask the people of my community who lost their homes the day after Christmas in 2015, or the people of East Texas just this past week.

 

My family is prepared to weather storms. We have a history of preparedness. We know the signs of a tornado day. We know where to go, what to take into our safe place, even what to wear. Rick and I have been ducking and covering as a family for almost 36 years.

 

My family is prepared to weather other kinds of storms, too. For 32 years, we’ve been weathering storms as a special needs family. At first, we ducked and covered. What else can you do when you’re slammed with a reality you’re not prepared for? Then you learn to trust God in a real, honest, everyday way. You get to your feet and stand in faith. With every storm, you might be knocked down, but it’s to your knees. And you stand on the truth of Psalm 91:4 when it says, “He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.”

 

We don’t always enjoy the storms of life—in fact, we never do. But we love the benefits that come afterwards: we grow. We persevere. We experience God in a deeper way. Personal growth, perseverance, and experiencing God on a deep level are things that happen when we depend on Him when times are hard. These are extraordinarily good things that happen during extraordinarily hard times.

 

When you go through a storm, just know this: it will pass. You will get through it. Have faith in Jesus. He will walk you through the storm. Afterwards, reflect on how far He brought you. Even when it seemed like He was silent, be assured, He wasn’t—He was covering you with His feathers. You were safe under His strong wings.

 

When you look at the damage your storm has spawned and realize you’re still standing, fall to your knees in gratitude for His faithfulness that shielded you, even though His protective touch was as light as a feather.

 

And prepare for the next storm, because it will come. But so will He.

 

–Teresa

 

Image: Tulen Travel, Unsplash

What a Wonderful World: the Song of Sunday’s Win

The beautiful swell of violins envelopes the Italian restaurant, and the raspy, familiar voice croons the words that make the whole world smile:

 

I see trees of green, red roses too

I see them bloom for me and you

And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

 

Across the table, Kristen listens and asks, “Who is that?”

 

My husband, Rick, says, “Louie Armstrong.”

 

Kristen’s eyes widen as she repeats, “Louie Armstrong?”

 

We nod, knowing her incredible memory for singers will catalog this name forever.

 

But this is not what brings sudden tears to my eyes. It’s the song itself.

 

It is, indeed, a wonderful world…now. The world has changed for my little family, just in the last hour or so.

 

Call it redemption, call it a turnaround, call it whatever you want. I just know God gets the credit.

 

You see, before our peaceful lunch at the Italian restaurant, we attempted to eat at a Mexican restaurant elsewhere. Sunday lunch at a restaurant is our tradition, and it’s Kristen’s favorite activity. She had given a thumbs-up to the Mexican restaurant, which catered to our family’s various food allergies. All was right in the Wells’ World.

 

Until it wasn’t.

 

When we got out of the car, Kristen slammed the door, began shrieking, yelling, and amping up for a temper tantrum. Why? I don’t know. The last time we’d eaten out, she’d done this very thing and had continued her shrieking as we stood in line. People around us had been startled, probably frightened, and of course stared at us, trying to figure out why this person was so upset. Now, Kristen was repeating the same behavior, and one peek through the window told us the Mexican restaurant was shoulder-to-shoulder with the after-church crowd. Rick and I concluded we shouldn’t attempt taking a shrieking, yelling girl into an already chaotic place. (You’re welcome, Chiloso)

 

As we all got back in the car, Kristen alternately yelled, screamed, begged, cried, and said hateful things to us all the way home. Not fun.

 

But please don’t misconstrue her behavior for that of a spoiled-rotten person who just wants her way. With autism, it is so much more complex. I don’t have everything figured out, but here’s what I think I know:

  • She has no confidence in herself.
  • She feels like a failure in many areas.
  • When she gets in a rut, she doesn’t know how to get out. She is in a rut in terms of appropriate behavior while eating out (her favorite activity).
  • When we leave the restaurant and opt to eat at home, we are essentially allowing her to stay in her rut, even though we know we can’t take her inside a crowded place in her frame of mind. It’s the proverbial rock and a hard place for us as parents.

 

We came home, terribly discouraged. In the front room, Kristen was sobbing. She had wanted, more than anything, to go out to eat. It was the highlight of her week. Yet, she had done the one thing that would keep her out of the crowded restaurant. It was like the old saying, cutting off your nose to spite your face.

 

At loose ends, my husband, daughter Sarah and I talked through what had just happened. We felt so helpless. But the more we talked, the more we realized the answer. Sarah went in the front room to talk to Kristen. Rick and I listened to her soothing encouragement.

 

Sarah’s words were simple, and Kristen hung on them. Sarah’s words reminded me of Abilene’s encouragement in The Help. Sarah told Kristen how much she believed in her. That she was a good girl. That she was kind. That she loved her.

 

To each affirmation, Kristen responded, “You do?” or “Yes.” She needed to know she was loved no matter what, even if she had screamed how much she hated us. Unconditional love was what her sister was offering, and Kristen gratefully accepted it.

 

That was the moment the day went from horrible to wonderful.

 

At Sarah’s suggestion and Kristen’s insistence, we all prayed, linked together like a football huddle. Then we gave lunch another go.

 

Another restaurant, again with Kristen’s thumbs up approval. Italian food, no line (the after church crowds were long gone). We had a relaxing lunch, praising Kristen’s quiet, appropriate behavior. She confidently overcame her rut. There were lots of hugs, smiles, thumbs up and affirmations.

 

And when Louie Armstrong began crooning, I almost lost it. Because that song says it all. Enjoy the happy, easy moments. The little things, like flowers blooming. Your child smiling at you across the table. Enjoying life together. Breathing easy. These moments are magnificent and simple and fleeting and sometimes, hard won. They make life truly wonderful.

 

And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

 

 

–Teresa

 

 

 

 

 

Image: Alex Jones, Unsplash

Song: What a Wonderful World

Written by George David Weiss, Robert Thiele

Sung by Louis Armstrong

 

 

 

Don’t Lose Hope: A Letter to Special Needs Parents

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Dear Special Needs Parent,

This unexpected life is weird, wonderful, wild and ugly, isn’t it? I think we, of all people, are the ones who can rightly say, “It’s complicated.” Hang in there. You are brave, even when you don’t feel brave.

The best advice ever given me is what I offer you: Don’t ever give up hope.

It might not look great right now. In fact, things might look pretty bleak. You might not imagine how you’ll ever be lighthearted again. Your life is so intense, you can’t think about anything but big, heavy issues. Things you never used to think about. Things your friends never have to think about. Things you wish you didn’t have to think about, but you must. It’s not an option. It’s your life.

You may wonder how in the world you went from such a blessedly normal existence to this slightly bizarre life, where suddenly you understand medical terms without the benefit of a medical degree. At times, your existence seems surreal. You never thought life could be so different than what you expected.

You may have lost friends. Oh, not all at once. But little by little, the friendships fell by the wayside. Some you can trace back to relocation, some…you just lost. Maybe you saw their compassion turn to impatience, or maybe they couldn’t handle your pain. But some friends have faithfully stayed by your side. And new friends have joined you in your journey. These are the true friends.

And pain…pain is now part of your life, whether you like it or not. It’s like an unwelcome member of the family, speaking up at inconvenient times. Sometimes your pain is quietly managed in the private places and cover of night. But other times, your pain overwhelms, shouting for recognition in the sunshine of day. Pain is that ever-present thorn in your side that must be addressed. When it is, pain can be reasonable. When shoved aside, pain becomes a monster waiting to pounce, grown beyond proportion.

Why? you ask. Why me?

There are no easy answers to why. But take heart, friend. The best news is this: God is on your side. When you wonder if there is anything good left in this world, the answer is YES. Yes! Look in the mirror. You are God’s creation. Your child is God’s creation. You are the reason Jesus came to the earth to bridge the gap sin left between God and man. Because of Jesus, we have hope for our future. We have hope for our children. We have hope for our happiness. We have hope for our world. Jesus loves children, and He loves you. Even when we think our children suffer unimaginably, He never leaves them. He is faithful. We have hope through Him that we will never be alone. We will always be loved. Our struggle here on earth will not be in vain but for a purpose. His purpose.

Don’t lose hope, friend. You have Jesus.

–Teresa

A Perfectionist’s Christmas: Jesus, Not the Hoopla

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No Christmas will ever live up to the hype.

I don’t know about you, friend, but all the commercials, Pinterest posts, magazine covers can make me feel my Christmas doesn’t live up to expectations.

My tree isn’t perfectly trimmed, even though it holds ornaments that are cherished and important to my family.

My house looks more cluttered than decorated, even though I dearly love each one of my displays. They have significance and precious memories, and I’d like to think they’re pretty, too.

My kitchen hasn’t yielded beautifully shaped, meticulously frosted Christmas cookies– because who am I kidding? I don’t like to bake.

My car has made the rounds of looking at lights exactly once this year, even though we adore piling in the car and gazing at brightly lit homes in our area.

My shopping is still incomplete, and maybe, just maybe, I won’t finish. Some years are like that — this is one of those. Life has interrupted our normal. How about you? Has life interrupted your normal?

Maybe you’re like me, trying not to compare yourself to the Pinterest-perfect posts and commercials. For me, it’s a struggle. I’m a perfectionist. I want to get everything right. But this year especially, my struggle to get everything right will be pure stress, so I’m trying not to try. I’m taking a breath and saying, It’s fine. And if it’s not fine with somebody, I’m going to try to shake it off. (I think that somebody will be me, mostly. I’m pretty hard on myself. You, too?)

Are you dealing with this, too? I think there are lots more women who, for various reasons, are finding it hard to muster a cheery smile while they try to do all-the-things, like bake beautiful cookies and invite friends and family to beautifully decorated, perfectly clean homes for gourmet meals and have brilliant, meaningful conversation.

Does anyone really do all that? If so, please don’t tell me. I’d rather think it was the legendary June Cleaver. It’s not me. I’ll bet it’s not you, either.

A week ago, when life interrupted our normal with a health issue, I couldn’t have cared less about Christmas decorations or gifts or gatherings. What I kept thinking was, It’s Jesus, not the hoopla. Today, with things getting back to normal, I’m still thinking along those lines. It’s Jesus. He is the reason for this Christmas season. We’ve allowed all the shiny things take our eyes off our Savior, but the distilled, pure message of Christmas is Jesus.

Sometimes it takes a life interruption to focus our vision. At least, it did for me. It doesn’t matter that my house isn’t just-so when my family gathers, or that I’m not the “perfect” hostess. I just want to be with the people I love, and I want to celebrate the One I love.

Christmas isn’t about the hype. It’s about Jesus.

Do I Speak Stress or Jesus?

 

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“You jerk!”

 

When Kristen yelled those words at her dad, he and I both gasped. Rick looked at me, wide-eyed, as if to say, Where did that come from? Heat crept up my neck. My face burned.

 

I knew exactly where that came from. Me.

 

Jerk.

 

It was my word. My way of dealing with rude drivers in our big city. It was stressful driving in all that traffic. Calling other drivers jerks under my breath was how I dealt with it. Better than raising my fist or letting off a string of cuss words. Right?

 

Maybe not.

 

My special needs daughter was having a hard time telling the difference between my calling other drivers jerks, and calling her father a jerk. Hey, honey, it’s fine for Mommy to call rude drivers jerks because they can’t read her lips — they can’t hear her — they don’t know her…but it’s totally disrespectful for you to call Daddy a jerk. You should never, ever do that.

 

The gray I was living in was turning black and white.

 

And just to drive the point home, out of nowhere, words I’d read earlier that day flooded my mind:

 

Luke 6:43-46

 (NIV)

43 “No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. 44 Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn bushes, or grapes from briers. 45 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”

 

So, I get it. If I am living a Jesus kind of life, then all my words ought to reflect that. Even those in the car, in private. Even something as seemingly innocuous as “jerk.”

Apparently it’s not so innocuous. I have someone with me much of the time – someone who absolutely adores me. She watches my every move. I’m under her microscope.

 

But is that so bad? If I’m living for Jesus, shouldn’t I be open to inspection? Not perfection, just inspection. I’m not perfect by any means, but shouldn’t I aim to reflect His goodness?

 

As Christians, shouldn’t this be our goal? Yet, don’t we feel justified saying, “I’m so stressed!” It’s our blanket excuse for acting less-than. It’s acceptable. Certain words and behaviors are accepted under the heading STRESS.

 

But Jesus doesn’t go along with this. While He is compassionate for our stress and anxieties, Jesus has higher expectations for us. He doesn’t want us to settle for second-rate living. And stressful living is second-rate.

 

When Jesus says, “For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of,” He is making a point: change your heart.

 

I love Jesus. My words need to reflect my heart, in good times, in bad times, in traffic, and in stress.

 

How does that happen? For me, it will be unlearning anger, impatience and fear. I have a strategy.

  1. Pray.

Everything should begin with prayer, but if I’m honest, sometimes I just start. I can’t do this without the strength of Jesus.

  1. Memorize Scripture.

No small feat, this. I’m a lousy memorizer and a great paraphraser (being a big picture thinker and all…), but I’m dedicated.

  1. Abide in the Word.

Every day I read and study the Bible. I do this along with Proverbs 31 First 5 Experience Guide (I’m reading Luke now). It works well for me because it’s short but every day I learn something valuable.

 

How about you, friend? Do you have someone watching your every move? Have you thought about what your words reflect? Believe me, I’m not pointing a finger at anyone except myself. As Believers in Christ, we’re on this journey together! The good news: Jesus wants the best for us! We can do this through Him (Philippians 4:13).

 

By the way, when I confessed to my husband where Kristen had gotten her phrase, he started laughing. “No way! I thought she heard it from me!”

 

As always, he and I are in this together, for better or worse.

 

–Teresa

 

Photo credit: Matthew Henry, Unsplash.com

 

A Few Lines in a Journal

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The times, they are stressful.

 

Last week, my husband was out of town. Not a big deal, except that Kristen had constant pain from her dental visit. This worried me because she held her jaw, acted extremely grumpy (code for she screamed and yelled), and told me she felt fine (code for it really hurts a lot but I’m sure not telling you because you won’t let me do anything). Disseminating truth was difficult.

 

So, I’m glad this week is better (code for Hallelujah, thank you Jesus!).

 

Last week was one for the books – but we’re still around, and after a second visit to the dentist, Kristen is fine (code for great!).

 

Our motto has always been, “You do what you gotta do.” That’s a “true-grit Texan” kind of motto that’s inspired us to do the hard stuff that comes with special needs parenting.

 

But this week, I had to dig deeper. Mottos like that might get me headed in the right direction, but as far as keeping me going, I need Jesus.

 

So I remembered my prayer journal.

 

For the past few months, I’ve turned my prayer journal into something more. Instead of just prayers, I’ve been writing how thankful I am for God. My focus is on Him, not what He can do for me.

 

“Lord, you are faithful. You are loving and wise. You are just. You are righteous and perfect in all your ways. You are the comforter, the judge, the mediator, the listener, the righteous ruler. You are ever faithful, never abandoning us.” (excerpt from my 9/26 journal entry)

 

When I was too stressed to murmur Bible verses, I thanked God for His attributes. As I spoke them, I felt my shoulders relax. Kristen stopped yelling and started listening. It was as if God was spreading balm on our spirits by taking our eyes off our circumstances. Talking about the character of God was healing. It took our thoughts to a higher level.

 

Even though our situation hadn’t changed, our mindset had. We were calm.

 

Who would’ve thought a few lines in a journal could change the day.

 

 

—Teresa

 

 

A Loving Legacy

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We had a party at my house recently. It marked a very significant birthday for my wonderful mom. My brother and I honored her by gathering all the family to celebrate.

 

And when I say all the family, I’m talking close to 50 people. They came from many miles away, traveling hours in order to be celebrate.

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Four generations!

It was a glorious day of madness and mayhem and endless fun, with children running all over the place, guitars strumming tunes, people young and otherwise clustered around tables laden with food and drink, leaning in to hear each other, the walls ringing with so much laughter.

One sentence was heard repeatedly:

“We have such a great family!”

And we do. Every one of these people are great people.

The funny thing is, as a group, there are many differences:

  • Different faiths
  • Different political beliefs
  • Different careers
  • Different educational levels
  • Different geographical locations
  • Different recreational past times

In a lot of families, any difference would be a division. So what makes our family harmonious?

It’s an easy answer: love.

We love each other fiercely, tenderly, protectively. It was what we all saw in our grandparents, our mothers’ parents, Glen and Irene Rothell. They were humble, sweet and loving. Their love showed in every smile, every gesture, every hug and kiss, every word they spoke or letter they wrote. They loved God, they loved their children, they loved their grandchildren. They loved their parents and honored them. They were honest, good, God-fearing, humble people.

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Grandpa and Grandma Rothell

Grandpa and Grandma were farmers. They weren’t famous. But their rich legacy of love gives them more renown than any spotlight, stage or newspaper ever could.

 

The day of Mom’s party, we felt their presence, even though they’ve been in Heaven since the early 1990’s. Their legacy lives on in all of us. It lives on in our love for one another.

 

That’s what I want my legacy to do, too. How about you?

–Teresa

Thanks to my cousin DeRenda for most of these great pics!