Sunday, May 29, 2016

Wonderful Joy Ahead

After writing this blog for nearly six years, each week I wonder when I’m going to run out of ideas. Some weeks, the inspiration is clear as a bell: Alex does something interesting or reminds me of something important, and other weeks I find articles or essays that inspire me. Either way, I know what I want to write. Other weeks, I feel like a contestant on the Food Network Channel competition show Chopped during the mystery basket round. For that challenge, the chefs must prepare a dish using four items found in their mystery baskets. Usually three of the items seem to work together, but the fourth food item throws them for a loop, and they must figure out how to make it work with the other three. For example, they might be given chicken, rice, and soy sauce, and the odd item is chocolate syrup. Somehow, the successful chefs figure out how to make all four items blend together in harmony.

This week, I had a mystery basket of my own of ideas for my blog, and I need to emphasize that I know what I’m supposed to write because these ideas roll over and over in my mind and are the first things I think about when I awaken in the morning. For this week's blog entry, I was moved to write about an inspirational blog entry by another special needs mom, a scripture I saw on Instagram, Alex’s experience during a lab test this week, and the Facebook viral video of a mom wearing the Star Wars' Chewbacca mask. Let’s see if I can pull these four items together.

Yesterday, I read a heartfelt blog entry written by special needs mom Lindsay Franks entitled “When God’s Plan Doesn’t Seem Wonderful.” [To read this essay, please click here.] As she describes disappointments and struggles that all people face, she notes, “my own sufferings have shown me the sufferings of others.” From my own experience, I know this is true. I have gone from being a sympathetic person to an empathetic one. She goes on to say that we try to face these obstacles with a positive attitude: “And we slap on happy faces and pretend that all is good.” However, I think that over time, this optimistic attitude becomes real, and we no longer need to pretend because we know that all is well, in spite of the storms. Certainly, we may face setbacks and discouragement, but the joy is genuine.

Noting the frustration we feel when these obstacles are ongoing, Lindsay Franks asks, “What happens when you cry out for Him to take a burden away and He doesn’t?” She explains that these trials build our character and shape our faith, and she notes that God gives us grace to deal with problems that could overwhelm us. In addition, she contrasts “earthly sufferings” with “future glory (heaven),” reminding us that these struggles are only part of this brief time on earth and that we will understand God’s plan when we begin our eternal lives in heaven. Of course, this is where we must fully trust God.

I confess that I have always believed Alex will be healed of autism some day. While I know for certain that his body and mind will be healed in heaven, trusting that God will heal him here on earth, especially since all the so-called experts say that autism is a lifelong condition, requires constant fighting of doubt as well as fervent and hopeful watching for signs of improvement. You see, I have witnessed enough goodness in my own life that makes me confident God can take the autism away at any time. I hold fast to the promise of Psalm 27:13, “Yet I am confident I will see the Lord’s goodness while I am here in the land of the living.” While I look forward to heaven, I also believe that on earth greater joy comes from suffering because we know God has given us strength to overcome obstacles in life.

Yesterday, I was reminded how despite the obstacles autism creates for Alex, God has also given him remarkable strength. While it’s not fair that Alex must undergo regular blood draws to monitor the effects anxiety medication has on his body, he never gets upset by the procedures and never complains. When we asked him if he wanted to go to the lab to have blood tests last evening, he immediately said yes and happily skipped to the door. During our brief wait at the lab, he was calm and pleasant, and he was happy to see a familiar friendly lab technician who would draw five vials of blood for the tests. As she chatted with him, he answered all of her questions, and he watched as his blood ran into the test tubes. Holding his hand, I was amazed by his calmness, never flinching the entire time. She enthusiastically remarked several times how good Alex always is and told him what a great patient he is. Of course, Ed and I are pleased that he cooperates so nicely, but I also know that God has placed peace within Alex so that he doesn’t get upset by a situation that is uncomfortable to most people, even those who don’t have autism. While most would dread having a blood test, Alex isn’t bothered a bit and sees the experience as an adventure. He walked in smiling and left smiling; now that is pure joy.

Recently, a Facebook video of a woman who was delighted with her purchase of a mask featuring the Star Wars' character Chewbacca received record views and national attention. [Yes, Chewbacca mom is the chocolate syrup in the mystery basket this week.] What made so many people want to watch this woman putting on a mask? Of course, it was funny to watch a typical mom put on a mask intended for a child, especially since it made funny noises, too. However, the best thing about that video was how something so simple made her so happy. As she laughed with delight and talked about how happy she was, the viewer couldn’t help but laugh and smile with her because her unabashed joy is simply contagious. How much better life would be if everyone could find happiness in unexpected places, like she did!

Thinking about her joyful attitude, I realized that Alex is like that. He has also been blessed with a joyful spirit that allows him to be happy in spite of what autism has taken from him. Give him some shrimp to eat, some little kids’ voices to hear, a song on the radio he likes, or any other seemingly small good thing in life, and he is delighted. A smile spreads across his face, he begins to shudder with excitement, and he leans forward and puts his hands between his knees as though to keep from exploding with the genuine joy he feels. How much better life would be if everyone could find happiness in unexpected places, like Alex does!

My musings on joy this week––from Chewbacca mom to blood tests to Lindsay Franks’ essay––actually began with seeing a Bible verse I don't recall reading before. My cousin posted on Instagram a picture of a plaque her daughter had painted for her with the scripture from 1 Peter 1:6. After reading this verse in various translations, I know that seeing it was no accident; I was meant to be reminded that God, indeed, has a good plan for Alex, who seems to know already that “wonderful joy is ahead.” No wonder he is “truly glad”!

“So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you must endure many trials for a little while.” 1 Peter 1:6

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