Sunday, December 12, 2010

Through the Valleys

Yesterday was a good day.

I could write about breakfast, when for the first time ever Ethan showed an interest in my cooking and wanting to help crack an egg and stir pancake batter. Or the trip to the Christmas tree farm where the kids wandered through the "forest," pointing out Charlie Brown-type trees, tripping over the dead brown grasses, jumping off freshly cut stumps. There the way Ethan curled in daddy's lap, cuddling and commenting as Dan played the "Angry Birds" game on his phone and the excited exlamations when the lights went on the tree: "Chris-chris lights!" There was my sweet girl in her polka-dotted dress and red bow in her hair singing "Away in a Manager" angelically in front of hundreds of people and getting it just right, and even the way she kept stepping out of her slightly-too-big sparkly shoes on her way up to and off of the stage. There was Ethan sitting through the entire Christmas show at church, albeit not perfectly, but content to sit on Grampy's lap and his comment after each song, "More song coming soon." There was Grampy, Dan's dad, bouncing Ethan on his knees and helping him wave his arms to the music, like a conductor, working to keep him engaged and happy so that I wouldn't have to take Ethan out into the foyer and miss any of the show. There was all of it wrapped into one big bundle of joy that left me climbing into bed thinking really, I don't need anything else for Christmas.

The day also left me remembering. I remembered last year, the day we got our tree. I should say, the day Anna and I got our tree because we'd tried earlier but the usual places weren't opened and it started raining a pelting, cold, miserable rain. Both the weather and my emotions were raw. Autism was still new. This was our first Christmas with it officially in our family. Ethan kept tantruming that day, something he rarely did, then or now. We had given up on the tree before lunch and in the car he kept crying, and crying, and crying. We picked up Chinese food and he was crying. We got home with it and he was crying. I went upstairs to change his diaper and he was crying and I was crying. God, get me through this, I kept praying over and over again. I'm about to break down. Get me through this. Something about the expectations of the holiday, the Hallmark commercials and kids sitting on Santa's lap in the mall and all of it, something made autism more real and more ugly and made everything more difficult to bear. The movies are saying we have to be happy. The commercials are saying it all has to be perfect.

And so that day Anna and I had gone out later while Ethan was napping and found some roadside place on Route 5 where the guy quickly threw the tree up on top of the car for us in the drilling sleet that was turning to snow. Huge, flat flakes filled the area. I rested in the beauty of it. I clung to the moment and also later when Ethan woke up and looked and called out "Snow!" That, at a time when he only had about 25 words.

Last year; this year. I was remembering both and thinking of peaks and valleys, both in my own life and in others close to me. There are numbers of people in my life right now who are hurting. They are facing the burden of financial challenges, serious health issues, prayers that have yet to be answered. They are traveling through valleys, and I think that becomes especially dificult this time of year when we are bombarded with this image of how things are "supposed" to be. Even if that reality technically only exists in the mind of some Hollywood producer.

We all have our times in the valleys. A year ago was mine and it will not be the last. In the past I would have taken a rather defeatist view of all of this, a "it's hard to enjoy now when something bad is eventually going to happen and rip it all away." But this is what you learn in the valleys, if you trust God. That poem, "Footprints," is not a cliche. He will carry you. And you will only realize it in that place. And when that happens, you don't have to fear the valleys quite so much anymore.

I am praying for all of those who are treading difficult paths this year, that their journey leads them somewhere more beautiful than they ever would have encountered, had they not had to pass through that way.

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