Gather in Your Hearts

Not being with family this Thanksgiving is a bummer.

We have alternated that holiday between our two families for many, many years. When both of our parents lived in the same city, we actually shared a meal in both homes on Thanksgiving Day. That was too much and I wouldn’t recommend it.

This year it was my family’s turn. We had decided it would not be wise to get together with parents, siblings, kids, and their kids. Goodness, that was sad. (Not so much for Jacob. He doesn’t enjoy a crowd and prefers to hide out.) Too many of us to safely share a meal. That hurt. But not as much as it would have hurt had an outbreak of COVID occurred amongst us afterward.

Thanksgiving is a time to reflect. The slower pace forced on us this year, this season, has given me plenty of time for that.

A month ago, we got a call. The call. ‘It’s chordoma cancer.’ A small tumor had been found and my husband’s biopsy confirmed something we were hoping not to hear. Not just the word cancer but the type—chordoma. Crazy, rare. One in a million.

I started reflecting on the last 12 months that led to that diagnosis. Below are the things that lead me to say, Thank You, Lord. Most occurred in the last two months.

Mike experienced enough pain to see a doctor.
An oncologist friend.
A MRI that covered the entire hip region, which isn’t always the case.
A deductible met.
Mike researching and asking the right questions. Many times.
A surgeon friend that didn’t agree with a radiologist report.
A local orthopedic oncologist.
My one in a million man.
A stash of homemade sourdough bread for Jacob, from Granny.
Localized cancer rather than spread to other areas.
Getting biopsy results over the phone to prepare us for the appointment the next day.
A friend’s shoulder to cry on.
A grape-sized tumor rather than the size of an orange as when typically found.
Assurance of prayer by family and friends.
A friend agreeing to stay with Jacob at the last minute.
No radiation necessary prior to surgery.
No chemotherapy necessary at this point.
Sufficient time to set up sitters for Jacob.
Sitters that love us well and go the extra mile.
Bouquet of fresh flowers and cut herbs hand-delivered to us.
People we don’t know lifting us up in prayer.
Jacob accepting my explanation of cancer and pushing me out of his room.
Surgery at an area hospital rather than option #2 which would have been 900 miles away.
Hearing the words, ‘the tumor is out’.
Out of recovery, Mike wasn’t groggy, grumpy, nauseated, or writhing in pain.
Nausea patch. Pain meds.
A two-night hospital stay that could have been four or more.
Mike’s sense of humor remained intact.
Technology of FaceTime and texting to keep us connected.
Second son helping out at hospital and at home.
Friends that provide. I’ve lost count of the number of meals and sweet treats!
Many, MANY cards, calls, texts, emails, and stopping by to wish us well.
Jacob has been great. Content and happy!
Minimal pain which is hard to believe considering what the surgery entailed.
A bag full of magazines, for Jacob, dropped at the front door.
Retirement came for me the same time the diagnosis did. Not having work to worry about was just what I needed.
A surprise of cinnamon rolls (plain because as you know, he doesn’t like rainbow ones), chocolate, and fast food gift card all for Jacob.

There are many other things for me to be thankful for this season. I’m focusing on the cancer and how we’ve been blessed around every corner. I have, no doubt, failed to list a kind deed or a God arranged circumstance. But, I won’t forget. And, I’ll pay it forward as I thank God for the many, many blessings poured over us.

Make you own list, whether in your mind or on paper, of things you are thankful for. It will make this holiday better.

This year our Thanksgiving will just be the three of us. But, I have already gathered each person, each family represented in the list, in my heart. So, it turns out, we are going to have a really, really big day with very full hearts.

Won’t you Gather in Your Hearts with us?

Work Ethic

Work ethic means different things to different people. Obviously. My parents didn’t grow up with a silver spoon in their mouths. Quite the opposite. Their parents’ generation experienced hardships around every corner. But, they did what they knew to do. Kept going. I watched my grandparents live with determination and honesty in every aspect of life. That included providing for their families.

Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies have no sense.

Proverbs 12:11

My dad was self-employed. While the thought of ‘being your own boss’ sounds appealing, it isn’t easy but he did it well. Both of our parents demonstrated a positive work ethic. The four of them exhibited the above traits. That display trickled down to us.

I was blessed to be able to stay home once Jacob was born. My only employment outside of our home, before then, was with an insurance company in the Claims Department. When our second son was born I started teaching a few aerobic classes a week. I could either take the boys with me or I’d teach a night class after Mike got home from work. I did that until burn out struck and then found a new career. It was always great to be able to get paid while doing something I enjoyed.

We are in an interesting season of our lives. Retirement. Put in the time and now the time has come for a change of pace. When I think of retirement, I picture friends who are empty nesters. My mind goes to traveling for weeks on end. That doesn’t describe us and we won’t be traveling the globe. But we will find satisfaction, at a more relaxed pace, exploring new adventures.

Not going into the office, nor taking calls, and the work email account disabled, all those things have already proved to be a welcome respite. And, I think we’ll transition easier than most since we’ve worked from home for most of this year.

This is a blog about our autism journey. How did I get sidetracked talking about work ethic?

Working outside the home brought me pleasure, challenge, spending money, friendship, etc. But, let it be said that the most rewarding and by far the most important ‘job’ title I’ve held is Mom. Being a homemaker and mom to special needs, I often feel that my real work is never done. I won’t be retiring from that role.

When I was an Aerobic Instructor, the team did secret pals. In the reveal party one year, M.K., who had drawn my name, had written a poem. It was beautiful and touching. I won’t share the whole thing, but this part came to mind:

While tackling each endeavor she never forgets
To look to the heavens for the guidance that is sent.
This year has been trying with two special boys in her life.
One placed in a gifted program and the other gifted not once, but twice.
Yes, you should have guessed. Both boys gifted.
Because God searched for a mother as special as you to be uplifted.

I hope it is always evident that my guidance comes from the Lord above. Yes, I have learned from my grandparents, parents, family, and friends but ultimately my decisions need direction from God. I feel like an ordinary person who has been gifted with an extraordinary life. What a blessing to be lifted up in so many ways along the journey.

This poem speaks about Jacob’s brother being ruled eligible for the gifted program. I suppose every parent thinks (and should, to some degree) that their child is exceptional. Somehow, Josh had what it took to succeed. Hopefully our values, morals, beliefs, and work ethic trickled down to him, too. There is certainly nothing exceptional I can claim that I did in raising him. Other than to admit that he was sometimes left to his own devices because Jacob needed the attention. And here’s the crazy thing, at under 40 years of age, he retired the same time I did because his work ethic created a marketable business that others wanted. The only thing I can boast, is to proudly say, ‘that’s my boy!’

And, Jacob. Sweet Jacob, gifted twice means exceptional ability and disability. Gifted in some way but faces learning or developmental challenges. Gifts that some considered exceptional and others a disability. He was never ruled a savant but that doesn’t mean he has no skills. While there is disconnect in his brain, he has proved there is so much more to him than could be reflected in a test score. Unfortunately, nothing that we’ve found that could strengthen a work ethic. His major challenges kept him from interviewing for a job or pursuing work.

I think a retired life of luxury is more what he has in mind.

And, I’ll repeat with pride, ‘that’s my boy!’

Good Job!

In special education school programs, daily living skills are often the focus. That was great and necessary but Jacob just did not see the point in learning to make a bed. Oh, that he could one day live on his own and decide for himself whether or not he’d ever change the sheets or make his bed! Super important skills, such as using a fork, never came easy for him.

Once he was out of high school and started attending a day program, the focus shifted to some sort of work training. It might be sorting bolts or stuffing envelopes. Something to give them a task to learn and complete.

In the program he attends now, they had a shredding business when Jacob first started. Although, he wasn’t interested and couldn’t be coaxed to participate. The manager would tease about Jacob’s office and that he wanted to be in administration. We’d all smile because that seemed as likely as making his own bed.

Not long ago, Jacob was doing everything he could think of to annoy me. I had just finished folding laundry and had a basket of his clean clothes ready to be put away. It dawned on me to get him to carry the basket. Excellent. That would give him something to do which in turn would, hopefully, get him to leave me alone. He took the basket and headed to his room. I was sooooo proud. And he was too. I saw a sense of pride in him that isn’t often caught.

Jacob is pretty good at doing a job if you encourage him along the way. He isn’t going to take any initiative, but given instructions, he may follow through. Pick up your shoes. Bring me that cup. Put this in the refrigerator. Pick up your toys:

I am guilty of doing it myself because that is easier and faster. He doesn’t believe ‘if you pull all this out, you’ll have to pick it up’ because too many times, I’ve had to finish a job such as him pulling out every shirt to find the right one and then him putting them away, looks like this:

Another day and a basket of clothes and Jacob was just the fella to do it. Nicely carried the basket to his room and watched as I got them out.

This may sound silly but it makes me sooooo very happy when he helps in a simple way. Truly couldn’t wait to show his dad photos of him carrying a laundry basket. My expectations are low but I’m not doing him favors by always waiting on him hand and foot. Only so much can be taught but I’m determined to require more him.

Good job Jacob! I’m proud of you.

P.S. The same day Jacob helped with the laundry recently, I heard a commotion and went in the kitchen to find Jacob moving a plant. The one circled here weighs 13 pounds. It’s a heavy pot and he had it by the top edges carrying it about 18 feet. He barely got it on the counter when I intervened. No time for a photo when a pot full of dirt is about to fall!

We have had that potted plant for a long, long time. But, I had moved furniture around and he noticed it. He was clearing off the wooden trunk so he could see what was inside. Soooooo, if you need something moved, Jacob is your guy! Sorry, but we cannot guarantee his work! He is not licensed, bonded and insured.

Stinkin’ Thinkin’

Does not get you anywhere! Ya hear me?

I take that back. It gets you depressed, sad, angry, and isolated. Sometimes those emotions are motivation to make a change. Or get help. Hope so.

Do you have that internal chatter? ‘This is your fault.’ ‘You should have thought about that.’ ‘Why me?’ ‘Why now?’ ‘This is your punishment.’ ‘If you had (or hadn’t) done_________ , then ________, wouldn’t have happened.’

The devil is on your shoulder causing stinkin’ thinkin’! Realize it for what it is and stand your ground! Turn and run from anything or anyone that weighs you down with negative thoughts.

Ten days ago, we got some tough news. Hard to hear and harder to process. Sinking into despair sounded simple.

But, there were good things to count. Some were evident immediately and some came over the week. I wrote them down to remember. It would have been easy to embrace a negative attitude if I hadn’t tried to focus on God’s strong arms around us.

Looking for the positive is hard when you’ve had a blow. But while you are down, look up. You’ll see hands offering assistance. The sun peeping through the clouds. Caring hearts holding yours.

As we methodically moved forward with bothersome information, it dawned on me that Jacob had been more fussy than usual. Was he bothered by our conversations? You better believe than he’s taking it all in whether he appears to be listening or not. Did his meds need adjusting? He’s now been away from his day program for eight months. Maybe he is just TIRED of us. Who can blame him? How could I help him?

Many years ago, I started hearing the word, gratitude.

grat·i·tude /ˈɡradəˌt(y)o͞od/ noun – the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness

I’ve not been good at consciously writing down something every day that I’m thankful for. I think this is the year for that, whether you create a gratitude journal or jot down thoughts on scrap paper. With Thanksgiving being three weeks away, why not try it?

I thought about how God blessed me with three guys. So very thankful for my husband and two sons.

And, How wonderful life is while they’re in the world!

If you express thankfulness, your view will change. If you show appreciation, your joy is magnified. If you give kindness, it will find it’s way back to you.

So, appreciate what you have.

Try to find contentment where you are.

Don’t forget to say, thank you.

Look for the good.

Reach out to someone hurting.

Make eye contact and let your eyes smile.

Commend someone out loud.

Pay it forward.

Be nice.

How can I help Jacob? And the rest of my family? Defy despair and turn stinkin’ thinkin’ into winning thinking!!