Posted in Autism, Autism and Church, Benji's Story, Christianity, Encouragement, Mom Confessions, Uncategorized

God, Autism, and the Fruit of the Gospel

When I was growing up, verses like Matthew 7: 18-19 both baffled and scared me:

A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 

I wanted to be a good tree: But how did I know if I was bearing fruit? And, furthermore, how did I know I was bearing GOOD fruit?

It was all very metaphorical and confusing.

Of course, the fruit that I wanted was the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self control (Gal. 5:22).

Those were Good Fruits. They had names and actions attached to them. Easy, right?

But I fell into self-doubt over and over again. How did I know if the fruit I was bearing was actually  Good Fruit? What if my efforts at love, peace, and patience were just my human attempts to muscle my way towards Good Moral Character?

If I took a deep breath and didn’t yell at my kids when they spilled their milk on my freshly mopped floors, was I producing Patience?

How could I know if I was actually bearing fruit?

I believe the answer lies within the very nature of fruit itself.
FullSizeRender[1]The defining characteristic of fruit is that it has seeds.* You can’t grow fruit without planting seeds, and all fruit has the ability to reproduce itself because it contains seeds within.

With this foundational nature of fruit in mind, my questions shifted:
Am I planting seeds?
Is the fruit that is growing reproducing itself?

The first question is a bit easier for me to answer. Yes, I am trying to plant seeds. In fact, I’ve been thinking a lot about seeds lately since it’s been a year since I published this post about planting seeds.

When I published this post, I had no idea that a little over a month later, we would be sitting in the kitchen eating breakfast and Micah would ask me, “What does it mean to believe in Jesus?”

So I talked to him about about what it means to make Jesus your king and follow him with your life.
“Do you want to follow Jesus with your life?”
“Yes, I do!”

And Micah made a decision to follow Jesus on May 15, 2015.

I think, for Christian parents, we rejoice in our child’s decision to follow Christ, but we still wonder, “Is this real? Does he really get it?” (Am I alone in my doubts?).

I wondered how I could know that my son’s faith was genuine and not just a child’s attempt to please his parents or go through some sort of religious ritual.

But looking back at this first year of Micah’s faith, I don’t wonder if it was real or not. I know it was real because I’ve seen growth.

He is sprouting all over the place!

I specifically remember one day where he was furious at Benji, mostly because of some of Benji’s Autistic tendencies.
“Benji is such a selfish JERK!” Micah cried.
We had had “a day.” I couldn’t disagree. But what could I say? I dug down deep and found the truth, growing in my heart.
“Honey, sometimes it’s hard to love people, ever brothers. But Benji needs love–he needs you.”
“I don’t want to love him!”
“I know. And I can’t make you love him. But I would like you to think about it and pray about it. Pray for him and ask God to help you know how to love him. Can you do that?”
Micah shrugged and gave a half-way nod.

The next morning he came into the kitchen and said, “Mom, I’m feeling a lot better. And I did! I prayed for Benji! I prayed and asked God to help me love him and understand him. And I do love him. I do!”

IMG_5341.jpg
One loved Benji

And there it was: Fruit. Luscious, juicy, ripe, wonderful, delicious fruit that was full of seeds.
It was fruit from my life, seeds of love that I asked God to give me for Benji that I then planted in Micah’s life.
The seeds germinated and grew in his little fertile heart, a heart that said yes to Jesus and yes to growth.

Micah’s faith is real. It’s growing and producing fruit, with lots and lots of seeds.

I’ve seen his tenderness toward Benji in other ways too.

In January, we joined Awana. Micah has soared (In fact, he just finished his first Sparks book–in 3 months!!)
Benji has struggled.

But there are so many weeks that I hear my twins earnestly conversing in the back seat of the car on the way to Awana: Micah patiently helping Benji with his verses.
“Ok, Benji: Repeat after me.” And they practice together, over and over again.

Week after week, Micah celebrates Benji’s small victories, even accepting less praise over his impressive scripture memorization in the light that “Benji said one verse tonight!”

Last night, as we drove to Awana, the boys practiced again in the back of the car. But the conversation shifted away from the verses Micah was helping Benji memorize to seed scattering.
“Benji, if you believe in God, you will have life with Jesus!” Micah said.
“I do believe in God, Micah!”

I listened intently. I was amazed at Benji’s confession. His Autistic mind is so fixed on the concrete; I honestly wondered if he would ever grasp the abstract concept of an invisible God who loves and cares for him. Coupling his lack of abstract thinking with his hatred of church, I seriously doubted if he would ever come to know and love God.

But for months I have prayed, “God, you made my son. You know how his mind works. I know you can reach him. Help him to come to know you.”

“You do, Benji?” I asked, looking at him in the rear view mirror at a stop light.
“Yes, and I believe in Jesus too! I want to tell God I believe in him and I want to follow Jesus with my life.”
And he did.

I asked him a lot of questions, my heart overflowing, but still tinged with doubt: “Is this real? Does he really get it?”
FruitI have faith that it is.

Benji received new life yesterday. God answered my prayers–I don’t know exactly how but I kept trying, I kept talking, I kept listening, I kept accepting him as he is, and I kept praying. And now? A seed has sprouted and I am going do to my best to cultivate this new growth with love and faith.

Every seed starts with faith. We put it in the ground and bury it, having faith that something will happen if we do. Sometimes seeds grow. Sometimes they don’t. But we have to keep trying because it is only by planting a seed that the fruit has a chance to grow, and in growing, multiplying in others to produce a good, good harvest.

*As opposed to a vegetable, where we eat the root (carrot), leaves (lettuce) or flowers (broccoli).

PS. Some other fruit stories:
The Other Side of Despair
Searching for Beauty
When Holy Desire and Motherhood Collide

I hope that our story can bring hope, healing, and happiness to you. TheBamBlog is trying to grow!
Did this post encourage you or would it inspire someone you know?

If so, please share! Thank you! 🙂

Posted in Autism, Autism and Church, Christianity, Mom Confessions, Parenting Ideas, Special Needs, Uncategorized

Benji’s Story: Pokemon is saving my Sunday

My son Benji is on the Autism Spectrum and he hates church.

My husband and I can’t quite put our finger on exactly what bothers him about it.
Maybe it’s the change in routine (it isn’t like school)
Maybe it’s the music (he does have auditory sensitivities but they are inconsistent)
Maybe it’s the sitting still.
Maybe it’s something else.

Disciplining and outlining my expectations of age-appropriate behavior were not working for him or for us as parents. I kept waiting for him to grow into church, to become more mature, to become more disciplined, to change, but it only got worse. We needed to try something new.

But what was “new”? My bag of parenting tricks was empty.

One Sunday, not long ago, Benji dissolved into a silent, furious meltdown in the service. While the music played, he threw himself on the ground, or buried his head in the padded seats, his bum in the air, refusing to talk, refusing to sit next to me. He forcibly pushed me away, only communicating through grunts and puppy-like whines.

I don’t know what to do.  I can’t help him. This is never going to change.

I felt myself falling into the familiar panic and despair, but before I did, I plunged my hand into my purse, hoping and praying that I had some toy in there to distract him out of his funk.
FullSizeRenderA toy train. That was it.

This? I held it up, my eye brows raised, as the congregation sang, the people unaware of the fierce struggle happening in the back pews.

Something clicked, but not in the way I expected. His eyes latched on the the toy; he grinned, but instead of reaching for the train, he flung himself across my lap.

I knew what he wanted, and slowly and firmly, I ran the wheels of the train over his back. He was allowing me to touch him when he was upset!  I was stunned, and pleased and I went with it.

This. This was something I could actually do to help him. It was amazing, rare, and empowering.

Back and forth, back and forth. Ten minutes passed, my baby in my lap.

Then, he sat up.
The fight had left his eyes. He took a deep breath and smiled at me. He went to Sunday School soothed.

The train now lives in my purse. It isn’t magic though so I’ve added a few more tools to my worn-out parenting bag:

One is a small therapeutic brush, given to me by his Occupational therapist. It works a lot like the wheels of the car; by brushing it over the skin, it soothes frazzled sensory input.  Weird, right? but I’ll take all the crazy voo-doo if it helps my son.

Finally, Pokemon  has joined Project: Good Sunday.

I’m going to be honest. Pokemon drives me crazy. I don’t really get it. It is awkward, repetitive,  has way too many characters, no plot, and is all about “battles.”

But Benji loves it. He loves it so much that I save Pokemon for Sunday’s only (otherwise, I go a little insane because I can only handle so much Pokemon monologuing).

If Benji participates in Sunday school with no meltdowns or fits, then he can watch one episode of Pokemon after church.

There was one Sunday a few weeks ago where he did not have any meltdowns or fits but he sat on the wall the whole time in Sunday School. He did not get to watch Pokemon that day. He was upset but understood the consequences.
But since then, he and Pokemon have had a standing, Sunday afternoon date.

Taking Benji to church is hard (and he is only one of our 4 sons!). I have been really close to giving up church all together; it has been that hard.

But I’ve kept trying because faith is important to me and my husband and we want to share our faith with our family. Going to church is a part of that for us.

My son has unique needs that frustrate and even infuriate me at times. And honestly, he doesn’t really care about singing, God, or learning about Jesus right now.

In the past, I’ve tried to discipline his behavior instead of trying to soothe his system or to give him incentives to be on his best behavior in a structured setting.

Changing my tactics and focus has helped. When I focused on his heart, seeking to love him and connect to the things that are important to him, Sundays got a little bit easier.

A yellow train, a therapeutic brush, and Pokemon have helped my son to feel loved.

And more than anything,  I want him to think, “My mom loves me” when he goes to church, and my prayer is that someday, by helping him feel my lovehis heart will be more open to a loving relationship with God.

Is Church difficult for you and your child?
What do you do to help your child, on the spectrum or off, feel loved?

Share your story below!

I hope that our story can bring hope, healing, and happiness to others. Would this post encourage someone you know? If so, please share!

Posted in Autism, Autism and Church, Humor, kids, Mom Confessions, Uncategorized

House Church, Cussing, and ASD

Kids say the darnedest things, don’t they?
While most kids can be pretty literal thinkers and lack some social awareness, these qualities are often turned up a notch in ASD kids.

…much to the mortification of their mothers.

Take Sunday morning, for instance.

Church was cancelled on Sunday due to #snowstormjonas but we had a fun alternative.  Friends who live up the street from us invited our family over for House Church.

Before the kids ran off to bury themselves in legos, my friend Jen had a short lesson for them from the book of James. The text was about taming the tongue, and how such a small part of your body can have a big impact.

Prophetic words, right there.

She asked the kids, “Can you think of an example of something you could say that would be bad?”

All the kids thought for a moment. Micah acted out a scenario where he buried his face in the carpet.
“That’s how I feel when someone says something mean,” he illustrated.

“Any more examples?”

Benji piped up. “I have an example of something bad.”

IMG_4994
Oh, you dear, dear, literal boy

He grinned in a way that made the alarm bells in my head jangle.

“What is it, Benji?” Jen asked.

“Holy Shit!”

Whoop! There I went. The “good parenting” rug was pulled out from underneath me and I landed straight on my butt.
I was absolutely mortified.
Everyone exploded in laughter and all the blood in my entire body rushed to my face.
I gave a “what in the world is happening right now” look at my husband.
All he could do was shake his head and wipe tears from his eyes.

Well, Benji was correct. He had the perfect example of something “bad you should not say.”

Context is king, right?

Our 3 year old decided that he wanted to be in on the joke too.

IMG_4975
Don’t be fooled by this sweet face. This little parrot has a potty mouth.

“Holy shit!” Silas said with glee.

I don’t think I stopped blushing for the next 12 hours.

Posted in Autism, Autism and Church, Benji's Story, Write31Days

Day 7: The Day People Stared and I didn’t Care

The beginning of our story starts here.

Some days I wondered if this whole “Sensory Processing Disorder” (SPD) was all in my head. Sure, we have some hard days, hard moments, but that’s life, right?

I felt stupid for putting the request for SPD testing on the letter to the school. I was probably just making things up.

But then Sunday came around again.BiggerButton

Church was (and still is) one of our biggest struggles and it is where I finally realized that while we do have a lot of “normal” days, SPD is real–I was not making it up the other 6 days of the week–and I really needed some solutions to help Benji.

Benji does not like the music at church. He can’t tell me exactly why. It is a bit loud, like most modern churches, but he struggles even during the quieter songs.
For a long time, we thought it was just a discipline issue. He needed to “buck up” and “act right!”
“Sit up!”
“Take your hands off your ears. You’re being disrespectful.”
“The music does not hurt your ears–stop being so dramatic!”

But after reading more on SPD, especially The Out of Sync Child by Carol Kranowitz, we realized that this is not a discipline issue–it’s real for him. If he had a choice to enjoy the music time, he would. He is not trying to make himself miserable.

So, now most weeks, we leave him be. He sits or lays on the bench seats with his hands clamped over his ears, his knees tucked to his chest. Any type of comfort I offer is met with furious eyes; he will flinch away from my touch or even shove me away.
He is also very defiant when he feels this way and acts and speaks disrespectfully, which on one hand, is understandable, but on the other hand, is not acceptable.

My husband is better at comforting him during these times, and can sometimes pull him out of The Funk by holding Benji tightly (Benji will struggle against Aaron’s hold but eventually The Funk melts out of him and he calms down), rubbing his back and head firmly, or taking him out and talking to him.**

Sundays started to get a bit better. Aaron’s methods of soothing took a while but they usually worked. In fact,  on the rare occasion, Benji  would stand next to me and sway or dance during the music.

One Sunday, right after Easter, music time was a smooth and enjoyable experience. When the boys skipped off to Sunday School during the sermon, Aaron and I looked at each other and smiled: See? We’re figuring this out.

What I really figured out that day was that a  trigger is a trigger and if the meltdown doesn’t happen now, it is going to happen later.

When we picked up the boys from Sunday School, the teacher meet us at the door. “Benji had a hard time today,” she said softly, telling me about how another child broke his Lego creation

Micah bounded out of the room but Benji didn’t appear. I peeked my head into the classroom and saw Benji sitting against the wall, his knees pulled tightly to his chest.

I went in and knelt beside him. “It’s time to go, buddy.”
He couldn’t speak. He made a noise that sounded like a hurt, scared puppy.
“Your teacher told me you had a hard day. How about we go home and talk about it?”
His body language spoke volumes.
“We need to go.” I put my hand under his upper arm to help him stand. He shoved me away, pushing his back against the wall.
“Stop. You need to stop. Come on, we need to go. ”
Then he kicked out,  slamming his heels into my feet over and over again.

My heart  pounded. “Aaron?” I called. “I need help.”

Later, Aaron told me that he should’ve handled the situation differently: He should have sat next to Benji and talked quietly, holding him or hugging him until he was calm. But hindsight is 20/20.

Aaron picked Benji up and carried him out. My 7 year old was out of control–he beat his dad on the back, flailing and kicking. He clawed Aaron across the face, pulling at his beard. I watched, horrified and helpless.

It was a scene that every parent dreads. The hall was so crowded. I knew people were staring but I couldn’t even care in that moment. There was nothing I could do about anyone’s reaction.
This was happening.
It was real and all Aaron and I could do was ride the wave of this moment with our son.

I walked through the large parking lot with my four month old in the car seat on one arm, my two year old in the other hand, and my other 7 year old, asking repeatedly what was happening.
“Benji is having a hard time today. Daddy’s helping him. Let’s go to the car.”
I buckled everyone in and waited, shaking.

Aaron and Benji came soon. We talked about what happened–the other child in Sunday School, the Legos, not hitting  or kicking people, talking about your feelings. Within a few minutes of being in the car, Benji’s system calmed down.

It took a bit longer for me to follow suit.

We learned a lot that day, about how to handle (or not handle) a meltdown, and about how once the sensory tension builds, it doesn’t dissolve on its own. The tension has to be released somehow. We’re still learning about how to help Benji release this tension in healthy ways.

Most importantly, I learned on that Sunday that This Is Real. I was not imagining things or making things up.

And I did the right thing by starting the process of seeking help for my son.

Tomorrow: The [un]predictability of SPD: How we’ve learned to plan for The Crash

**We’ve struggled to find a solution to this issue: taking turns taking him out during the music and sitting the lobby; ear plugs (he didn’t like the way they felt); discipline; encouraging him to dance and move; telling him that he just has to sit and be respectful; etc. We do not have a successful solution yet. Thankfully, we have not had a meltdown like this at church since that day in April.