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I sigh a lot during the Christmas season. I don’t mean to, and sometimes as soon as it escapes my lips, I’m filled with guilt. I don’t want my kids to remember me as chronically frustrated, annoyed, or exhausted. Yet here we are.
But not all sighs are the same. They are all non-verbal utterances of highly different emotions:
I’m so behind on everything. I don’t know why we are working so hard on decorating for Christmas when the house is still a mess.
My kids are growing up too fast. Someday I will look back and want this back.
I wish things were easier for us.
I can’t believe how much we have been through. God, why has it had to be so hard?
I can’t believe how much GOD HAS BROUGHT US through. God is so good, and He’s been so faithful.
I am so glad I didn’t give up on my marriage and that we have 16 years of Christmas memories.
Why don’t I have more energy? Why am I not enjoying this more? Shouldn’t I be filled with wonder and gratitude, especially at Christmas?
What’s wrong with me? Does anyone else feel this way?
A blog post that I wrote in 2012 always comes up in my memory this time of year.
“Breath of Heaven hold me together…” – a Christmas prayer for the weary
So many things have happened since I wrote those words. So many good things. So many hard things.
That was before Ezra’s multiple diagnoses…ADHD and DMDD…
…before we left the IFB…
…before my husband left the military, got on VA disability, and got a fulltime job with the Department of Veteran’s Affairs…
…before we had Little Brother…
…before we found our church home…
…before we started medicating…
…before special education preschool and gradeschool…
…before we started homeschooling…
How far we have come.
And yet, how far we still have to go.
Because, you see, yesterday Ezra got so mad he ripped something off the wall, taking the paint and part of the wallboard with it. There was no trigger other than that I had asked him to unload and reload the dishwasher when I had promised if the boys got their schoolwork done, we could set up the Dicken’s Christmas Village. I still intended to keep that promise (and I did), but I needed to run out for a few supplies and needed a few chores done first. Oh, and he was due for his meds. Those were the triggers – the thought of an unfulfilled promise and things not happening as quickly as he wanted. A permanent scar on the wall because of a fleeting moment of discomfort.
I told him that the scar would remain, as a daily reminder of the kind of person he doesn’t want to be. A reminder to regain control when his emotions are about to drag him out of control. Just like the door across the hall that is also scarred and remains as a daily reminder to Daddy of the kind of person he doesn’t want to be.
We went downstairs and had a talk with Daddy. Daddy told him about times Mommy had to push him out of Ezra’s room and lock the door because Daddy’s emotions were so out of control he couldn’t think straight.
My eyes started welling up at the too-vivid memories.
Daddy went on to tell Ezra that – NO MATTER WHAT – if and when he feels himself losing control, he needs to look to Mom and Dad for help and for comfort in calming down.
I was impatiently standing there, a silent support – part of our “united front.” I kept thinking about how we were running out of time to get to the store and back and still have time (and energy) to put up the village and keep my promise. And yet I also heard the still small voice that said, “These are the most important conversations to have…the conversations that Ezra so desperately needs to have with his father.”
Then I took Ezra out for some Christmas errands.
Over the weekend, I started listening to the book Different, by Nathan Clarkson and Sally Clarkson. I’ve been aware of this book for several years now, but hadn’t gotten around to reading it yet. I’ve been basically binging one true crime book after another this year, but as we head into the holiday season and I’ve been struggling to love the people in my life – I felt like I needed a change. I have loved the two Sally Clarkson books I listened to so far, so on a whim I decided it was the right time for her Lifegiving inspiration and encouragement. A friend and fellow special needs mama loaned me her paper copy of the book months ago, and it’s free with my Everand subscription, so I started streaming it while cranking out some laundry to fill my empty drawers.
The first chapter had me in tears almost immediately. Never before have I read words that so closely capture what I’ve been through as Ezra’s mom from the beginning. So many of both her anecdotes and her written musings have been so dead on to how I have felt through the years. This book is a treasure trove. As I opened the paper copy to write down a quote from Chapter 1, I saw that my friend had highlighted it too.
There is a memory from early in Nathan’s childhood that is burnished deeply into my mind, the vividness of which has never gone away. Perhaps it was the defining moment when God spoke to my heart: This child is truly a different kind of different. There is no formula, no disciplinary philosophy that is going to work with this little boy. This one will require blindly walking by faith, with a willingness to learn and understand how to be his parent. I made him. I will teach you. Are you willing to learn and grow?
Already just beyond toddlerhood, Nathan was clearly different from other kids. Not different because of his face shape or his freckles or his personality. A different kind of different. He did not fit into any boxes we could define. Agitation seemed to be a part of his internal motor that revved up each day. People and the world at large seemed to bring him frustration on a regular basis. Every ordinary moment held the possibility of an explosion.
That did it. I got to my feet and walked away, leaving my toddler screaming and kicking on the floor. I hoped that somehow Clay and his mother, who had joined us, would find the heart to stay with him, because I couldn’t. Exhausted and frazzled, having spent every ounce of patience I could muster, I could find nothing inside to deal with him at that moment. I was wasted from the embarrassment of everyone watching and whispering and pointing. After giving, loving, trying hour after hour (and day after day) to figure out something that would appease this little boy, I had reached what felt like the end of my rope.
And yes, I felt guilty. Guilty for leaving him, for leaving Clay and my mother-in-law to deal with him, definitely guilty for leaving his brother and sister quietly eating at the table and pretending they did not see what was going on. But at that moment I had no intention of going back. I had served, loved, held, comforted, run after, placated to the end of my strength. Somehow they would all have to cope without me.
…inside I was thinking, I don’t know what he needs, but he needs something I cannot give right now.
The memory was a defining one for Clay and me. We already knew that something was different about Nathan. He had moments of sweet little-boy antics, but we never knew when he would erupt in frustration, anger, and agitation at a moment’s notice—and we had no idea how to settle his little heart.
I could have written these words. And the next four chapters (as far as I am into the book) are more of the same. But hearing her grown son’s thoughts on growing up “different” into the man he is today has already been heartbreakingly beautiful too. That’s why I decided that it was something that Ezra and I should listen to together. Before I pressed play on the audiobook, I explained to Ezra what the book was about and why I wanted us to listen to it together: 1) So he could hear the story of another person who grew up “different,” with two of the same diagnoses, and know that he’s not alone. 2) So he could understand what I’ve been through and what we have been through as mother and son, to hear a mother’s perspective on raising a child with differences.
So we pressed play and pause and play and pause in between getting lattes at Dunkin (where he asked a gazillion questions), dropping and picking up books at the library, roaming the shelves of the Dollar Store (where he introduced himself to every person we passed) for stocking stuffers and Dickens Village supplies, and running into the grocery store for order pickup and pizza for dinner. We ended the trip by slowly meandering home through the neighborhood while looking at Christmas lights and trying to finish up the first chapter of the audiobook.
There were several points where I paused the book just to make a comment like, “I have felt like this,” or “We have had moments exactly like this.” It was so sweet when he repeated the above-mentioned phrase.
“Yeah, because you didn’t know what I needed, but you knew I needed something you couldn’t give.”
He gets it. “Exactly Bud. And you know what? Some days I still don’t know what you need!”
Which brings me back to the Christmas post I wrote back in 2012…
Do you wonder as you watch my face
If a wiser one should have had my place?
I know this song is about Mary. But I feel this way every single day.
And I guess I wonder every day why God chose me to live my life… I’m too young, too fragile. Couldn’t there have been someone wiser…stronger…to take my place?
Apparently, just like God thought Mary was capable of birthing and raising the Son of God, he thinks that I’m capable of loving a hurting man, of raising an energetic son who demands so much more of me than I feel to able to give…
Most days, I simply don’t feel up to the task God has called me to know. I daily feel that it is “…a trust too great for my Capacity…” (a phrase George Washington wrote to his wife upon receiving command of the Continental Army in 1775).
Surely…someone wiser, someone stronger, someone with more energy, someone more extroverted, someone more capable…
But instead, God chose me. I may never know all the reasons why, but He did. And the Judge of all the earth will do what is right. (Genesis 18:25) And I believe that one of the reasons is so that the world will know and see through my life that God is my strength:
…lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.
And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.
Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.
Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.
2 Corinthians 9:12
Sally Clarkson’s words echo these thoughts:
- How could I find grace for all the times I failed to connect to him?
- And what in the world was God thinking – entrusting me with this child I couldn’t understand and failed so often?
Ofetn I would rail against heaven and plead with God, asking Him all these questions and more in the dark, by myself.
I felt God whisper gently to my heart:
This is not a sprint. This is a long-distance marathon. Nathan can grow stronger over time and mature, but you need to leave him in My hands. You cannot figure it all out. But you can love him. I trusted you with him because I believed you would do this. I hoped you would see inside his heart to draw out his dreams, to see what he felt. I hoped you would try to understand how his brain works. Every day you trust him to Me is a day I am honored by your faith. Tending Nathan faithfully when no one sees is a way you worship and honor me.
He would fill in the holes of my inadequacy with His grace.
What if raising Nathan is an act of service I have called you to? Will you accept him as a gift from ME? Will you submit to the circumstances he brings to your whole family because you believe I am in control? Even if no one else ever see the battles you have lived through your knows your quiet faithfulness to love him and to believe forward into his life? Your service of worship to Me is not lost. I see you! You may feel alone because so few understand, but you are not alone. I am with you and with him every day.
In 2012, my post went on to say this:
And so…I offer all I am…For the mercy of Your plan…
Help me be strong, help me be, help me
Breath of Heaven, hold me together
Be forever near me, breath of Heaven
Breath of Heaven, lighten my darkness
Pour over me Your holiness, for You are holy
I find it interesting that, in this (albeit fictional) rendition, Mary didn’t pray to be an amazing mom. She didn’t pray to be a great wife. She didn’t pray for the health of her child. She only prayed to be held together, to be strong, and to be near to God.
I daily have to remind myself that if I feel like I’m barely holding together, then that’s probably right where God wants me. Because it is in that moment when He is there to lighten my darkness.
I always listen a little closer when “Breath of Heaven” comes across our family Christmas station on Pandora. But another Christmas song has risen to the top alongside it.
The first time I heard Francesca Battistelli’s “Behold Him,” I was at Planet Fitness on a Sunday morning. I have absolutely no idea WHY I was at the gym on a Sunday morning, because I almost never work out on Sunday, but there I was.
She put up the tree
Stockings, one, two, three
They all know one is missing
It’s been a whole year
Without him right here
Won’t be the same kind of Christmas
It was another one of those moments when a decade of memories came rushing back to me. Perhaps purposely ambiguous, the song could easily be interpreted to be about Christmas after the death of a loved one. But for me, it reminded me of the three Christmases Russ and I spent apart. In particular, the last one, because it literally had been “a whole year…without him right here,” as he was gone from December 29, 2010 to December 31, 2011.
Some years, it’s wonder and lights in the sky
Some years, it’s okay to cry
I’ve had those years of wonder and joy. Even then, the joy was a choice that I was making in spite of brokenness. Each Christmas, I have to make that choice again. But some years, it’s been harder than others.
In your silent night
When you’re not alright
Lift your eyes and behold Him
I love these lines, because they are the antithesis of the much loved carol Silent Night…Holy night…all is calm…all is bright.
While the night Christ was born was bright with stars and angels, I have the feeling it was silent…or even calm. “Calm” is a word we use a lot in our house:
calm down…calm your body…calm your emotions…what do you need to do to calm down…go to your room and calm down…
I know how hard it can be to find calm when you are simply “not alright.” Being turned away on a search for a place to rest and, oh, you know, birth the Savior of the world sounds anything but calm to me. More like panic-inducing.
Feel the thrill of hope
You are not alone
In this moment, behold Him
I love those words, grabbed from “O Holy Night…” A thrill of hope…the weary world rejoices.
Born to seek and born to save
Born to take our pain away
I am reminded that one day all things will be made new
And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”
He will dwell with them…God Himself will be with them. Again. For the second time.
God with us, Emmanuel
In His arms, all will be well
So when I’m “not alright” at Christmas because my world is not calm, my spirit is not bright, and my home is DEFINITELY not silent – I lift my eyes and behold Him.
I don’t know what you are facing this Christmas. Maybe, like me, your days are filled with wearily managing a child with special needs or a spouse with mental illness and you feel inadequate of the task. Maybe it’s a broken marriage, or a challenging marriage you feel like you are trying to hold together. Maybe you are grieving the loss of a loved one, even after many years have passed. Maybe it’s an empty bank account or the recent loss of a job. Maybe it’s a recent diagnosis or a looming surgery. Maybe it’s chronic pain and the realization that you just can’t do what you used to do. Maybe you have recently had your life turned upside down and now you are trying to rebuild something beautiful out of the rubble.
Some years, it’s okay to cry
In your silent night
When you’re not alright
Lift your eyes and behold Him
Feel the thrill of hope
You are not alone
In this moment, behold Him