He is Our Hope

 

He is there as our hopes are fading.

He is there as the waters rise.

He is there as we cry out, Why?

He is there for us.

 

He is our source, our fuel, our strength, our hope.

 

When we despair, He shows compassion.

When we lose it all, He fills our needs.

When we lack strength, He gives His power.

When the earth gives way, He sustains us.

 

He is our foundation.

 

We might not sense His sturdiness.

We might not grasp His strength.

We might not hear His encouragement.

Yet He protects us like a mighty seawall.

 

He is our great I AM, our Savior, our Faithful One, our Rock.

He is Jesus.

 

–Teresa Wells

 

Photo by Ameen Fahmy on Unsplash

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

 

 

 

Dear Special Needs Parent: Take Care of Yourself

 

Dear Special Needs Parent,

 

Take care of yourself. The life you live is intense. Your peaks and valleys are extreme. At times, it seems like you’ll never stop living in the valley. Then suddenly, things ease up. You wonder, Will this last? If I celebrate peace, will I jinx things?

 

Friend, how stressful it is to go from one extreme to another. Long term stress, or chronic stress, is not a good thing.

 

Are you managing your stress?

 

That may seem a trite question but the ramifications are far reaching. Recently, chronic stress has been linked to Alzheimer’s Disease.

 

As a special need parent, this is sobering on many levels. There aren’t many things within your control, but there is one: how you react to your situation. Friend, it might make a great difference in the long run.

 

How you react to the valleys, peaks, constant changes and all the unknowns in your life as a special needs parent will make a critical difference now, but also 20, 30, 40+ years from now.

 

 

Think of all the thoughts that float through your mind throughout the day.

  • How is my child?
  • Am I hovering?
  • Should I be jotting down my observations for the doctor?
  • Am I doing enough?
  • How will my child do out in their world today?
  • Who can I call to check on my child? Or should I be calling?
  • How will I present my child to the world today via clothes, shoes, cleanliness, etc?
  • Do I worry too much?
  • How are my other children?
  • Do I have too much on my plate?
  • Have I focused too much on my special needs child?
  • How are we as a family?
  • How is my marriage?
  • How are my relationships?
  • How are my finances?
  • How is my child’s medical condition?
  • Am I vigilant enough?
  • How am I communicating with the schools?
  • How can I do more?

 

Those are just the random thoughts. Then there are the critical decisions, like

  • When do I set up guardianship?
  • What does my child do after high school?
  • What happens to my child after I am gone?

 

This just scratches the surface. No wonder you’re stressed.

 

Yet it is in how you cope with these thoughts and decisions and all the many changes in your life, that ultimately makes the difference. Here are some suggestions.

 

Exercise

You don’t need a gym membership. You don’t need special equipment. You don’t need a lot of time. But you DO need to start something, now.

  • Go for a walk. Take your child with you.
  • Jump around in your den.
  • Put on a yoga dvd.
  • Anything, but do it.

 

Rest

Whatever is keeping you up at night, change it.

  • Go to bed earlier. Eight hours is a good goal, and less is undesirable. Remember, your life is intense.
  • Make your sleeping environment dark and comfortable.
  • Cut out sweets, caffeine, and electronic devices a couple hours before you sleep.
  • Eat your last meal several hours before you go to bed.
  • Get in a routine to help your body wind down and know it’s time for sleep.

 

Relax

Different from rest, but equally important.

  • Enjoy a hobby.
  • Put yourself in another world for at least ten minutes.
  • Get outside your own world and bless someone else. Your life is a challenge, but others have different challenges. Write a note. Bake a cake. Have coffee with someone who needs to get out. You’ll bring them joy, but the joy you will experience will be soul-deep.
  • A good belly laugh is good for your spirit, and good for you physically. Laugh with people, laugh with books, or find a good television show that consistently makes you laugh.
  • Gather with friends and family. Challenging sometimes, but the people we love, love our special ones and all their idiosyncrasies. You need these people. You need this time. Don’t avoid fellowship.

 

Above all, pray.

  • God loves you. Explore the Bible and find out how deep His love is.
  • Spend time praying. Prayer is a two-way conversation between you and God. Remember to just be still and listen after you’ve poured out your heart to Him.
  • If it seems that you don’t have time to sit with God, you are wrong. This is the one thing that will get you through the stress of everyday life, the intensity of special needs parenting, and the crucial decisions you must make for your child. Take heart: God will lead you. Even better, God will love you unconditionally as you make mistakes, as you succeed, as you fumble your way along. No matter what you do, if you put your faith in Jesus, He will never leave you.

 

Dear friends, embracing stress is not a good way to live. Let’s embrace a better way to live within the boundaries of special needs parenting. Let’s be happy, loving people who happen to walk a difficult path. We can do this—with God.

 

 

Blessings — Teresa

This beautiful photo: Nathan Anderson, Unsplash.com

 

Lead photo credit: Andre Hunter, Unsplash.com

 

 

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

dear-special-needs-parents

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

Viewing God Through Circumstantial Lenses

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When Kristen was first diagnosed, I wondered why. Why, God?

Then my Why, God turned to Did you cause this, God, or did you simply allow it? Cause or Allow?

It was important to me, because it shaped who God was for me. I was swimming in a pool of disillusion. My circumstances were reshaping who I’d always thought God was. I was redefining God in terms of my new life i.e., my life as a special needs parent. A person who suddenly, undeservedly walks a very bumpy road. I was caught up in my circumstances, and I viewed God through the lenses of those circumstances.

Now, years later, I realize I wasn’t being fair. I was angry and wanted to lash out at the One who controlled things, because I felt so out of control.

I asked the wrong questions. If God had answered audibly, maybe He would’ve said, “Cause, allow…both are irrelevant.”

There is a Bible passage where God, in the form of a sword-wielding man, speaks to Joshua and tells him, pretty much, his question is irrelevant. When I read Joshua 5:13-15, along with Lysa TerKeurst’s commentary, it made me remember my own irrelevant questions:

13 Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?”

14 “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”

15 The commander of the Lord’s army replied, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.” And Joshua did so.

As Joshua was looking at the fortified city of Jericho, we might be seeing his courage falter a bit. The Lord tells him, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9) Despite this, seeing reality up close is another thing.

Suddenly a man with a sword appears before him, and Joshua jumps to the defense: Declare yourself! Are you for us or against us?

It was the wrong question. The angel of the Lord was neither for him or against him. He had a different purpose altogether.

He was there to remind Joshua to focus not on the circumstances, but focus on the Holy God who controlled all things, even the Promised Land Joshua stood on.

When I was faced with challenges beyond my ability, I looked at my circumstances instead of my God. I ended up angry, disillusioned, and fearful.

Then God reminded me where I could find Him: I felt compelled to open my Bible and flip through the pages. My soul was raw. I needed hope.

I found my hope, in verses I’d not read before. Passages from Isaiah, from Luke, from Psalms. By the time I finished reading, my soul felt refreshed. I didn’t find my answers, yet I was more than satisfied.

When we look at God through the lenses of our circumstances, we won’t see Him clearly. We will ask unfair, irrelevant questions. We won’t find answers.

When we look at God with no lenses, no filters of expectations, we will see Him for who He is. He is God. Whether or not we find our Why matters less the more we know Him.

From Awful to Wonderful, Hope is the Bridge

ej3-zfjxr6q-eryk-fudala-hopeYou never know how good you have it until you don’t.

I always think that whenever I’ve been sick. Afterwards, I think, It feels so good to feel good!

I haven’t been sick lately, but we’ve had a few things occur that have jarred our little world. Enough to make me appreciate normalcy.

Now, after weeks of wishing for normal, longing for boring, it’s back: Routine! Blessed monotonous, always a dull moment routine. How I craved it! If I could hug it, I would!

Have you ever felt this way? If you’ve been through a surprising, bumpy road that maybe you knew was temporary, but seemed unending at the time, maybe you know what I’m talking about.

In the beginning, your adrenaline surges. Eyes wide open, you’re taken aback, but you’re ready for this! Your mind is on high alert. You’re a prayer warrior. Bring it on!

But then, the adrenaline settles, and so does your situation. Reality sets in…this could be awhile. Hmmm. This could be a drag. But we’ll get through it!

Then…there’s no question. It IS a drag. And it seems to drag on and on. Your mind tells you there’s an end, but your spirit is losing hope. The words coming out of your mouth don’t even sound like they belong to you. Who is that grouch talking? You need an intervention, the heavenly kind.

Just when you think you can’t get any lower, you pour your heart out to God. You tell him you can’t do it anymore. You’re sick and tired of it. It’s wearing you down. You can’t even remember how it felt to be the real you.

Friend, that’s when God swoops in and shows his abundant love! To be sure, he treats us in different ways according to our needs and personalities. But we walk away knowing without a doubt God loves us, without condition. We walk away with hope.

And hope is the one thing we cannot live without.

Hope is the bridge that gets us from awful to wonderful. If your day is awful, tell God about it, right now. You need his hope. Your situation won’t change, but your outlook will. If you look at an awful situation with hope, you can make it.

I know.

Leave me a comment and I’ll pray for you, friend. We all need hope.

–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.

Finding Common Ground in the Dentist Office

takeabigbreath

When they came into the waiting room, I summed up our differences quicker than our likenesses. She was tall and willowy, a single mom, brunette, all business. Her son’s special need diagnosis was known to be “happy” and “sociable,” and sure enough, he sat in the chair right next to me, listening to his iPod through cool headphones. My own child sat as far away from me as possible, her posture tense, a pouty frown on her pretty face. She kept reminding me that she didn’t want to be here.

This dental visit wasn’t going to be fun.

A half hour later, in a different waiting area, the brunette mom slipped into a comfy chair next to mine. I noticed her out of the corner of my eye as I was speaking to the dental assistant about the plan for my daughter’s treatment. The brunette mom had the whole empty room to choose from, but she chose to sit in the seat next to me. Just like her son had earlier.

After the dental assistant left, I looked at the book in my lap. I’d looked forward to reading it, knowing I’d have about an hour to myself — no wifi, no excuse to plug in. Just read. But a little nagging voice inside me said Talk to her. Tell her what you’re thinking.

So I did. I turned, shook my head, and said, “It’s never easy, is it?”

She knew exactly what I meant. “It sure isn’t,” she said.

You see, both of our children — adults, really — were under general anesthesia in rooms closed off from our view. That alone is stressful. But after years of seeking dental care without anesthesia, and either the rare dentists enduring kicking, screaming, and biting, or in most cases, dentists turning Kristen away, saying “we just don’t have the resources to treat someone like her,” this is the only way to get treatment. It tears me up every time. I’m so thankful for this place, but it’s hard.

So this brunette woman and I have common ground, right here in this hard part of life.

My book remained closed, but my heart opened. Though her son had a different diagnosis initially, our kids shared many characteristics. She told me about her breast cancer. We traded special needs parent tips, chuckled about things our kids did and said, and talked about faith. When Kristen and I left, my soul was full.

I don’t know why I thought they were so different from us. We share the same heart.

–Teresa

 

Photo credit: Joey Sforza, Unsplash.com