Posted in autism acceptance month, book review

autistic #ownvoices fiction: the boy who steals houses by c. g. drews

Title: The Boy Who Steals Houses
Author: C. G. Drews
Date of Publication: April 2019
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

So I have to admit that I have a not-so-secret love of angst, longing, and heartbreak in the books I read. Every time I read a story of someone searching for family, home, acceptance, love, etc., and especially of working through the challenges of trusting in those things when they show up, it hurts my heart in such a hopeful way. I remember back in high school telling my dad that I just wanted to feel like I belonged somewhere – like there was someplace where I could be completely exposed and still be completely accepted – and I think it must be a fairly common human desire because so many books touch on it. In The Boy Who Steals Houses, C. G. Drews beautifully describes both that longing and the thing itself: the desire to be loved unconditionally, and the shapes that unconditional love can take in very imperfect people and circumstances.

I can’t think of another book I’ve read that looks at autism from the outside (the main character, Sam is not expressly autistic – his brother Avery is) with such tenderness and acceptance. Sam gets frustrated with Avery and Avery gets frustrated with Sam, like any two siblings, but they love each other so fiercely, so intensely, with such mutual protectiveness. Sam tries to protect his big brother from a world that doesn’t accept or even care to understand his autism; Avery tries to protect Sam from his own anger and from the justice system. Avery stims; Avery gets overwhelmed; Avery has meltdowns and has to be rescued and pulls Sam in to the lowlife world he’s ended up in; and through it all Sam just loves and loves and loves him – and Avery loves him back. At the beginning of the book, since it’s told through Sam’s perspective, most of the narrative is showing Sam’s love and care for Avery; by the end of the book (letting the reader realize it along with Sam, I believe) the narrative shows also how Avery has always been there for Sam loving and caring for him as best he could, through all the bad decisions they’ve both made and all the bad things that have been done to them.

But Sam is really the heart of this book, with his anxieties and his desperate longing for home and family and acceptance and belonging and love. I was instantly drawn in to his story; I’ve read it twice already and will probably read it again since I can’t get him out of mind (and since Drews ended on what was essentially a cliffhanger!). To be seen and known and loved no matter what – that is the treasure Sam is searching for, and the book holds out hope that he may finally find it.

The only reason I’m not giving the book 5 stars is that the writing was a bit over-dramatic at times. Sometimes the stylistic effects really contributed to feeling the characters’ emotions; other times they seemed over the top (but that may just be due to my own intense discomfort at overtly expressed emotion). Oh, and the ending 🙂 If only a sequel were forthcoming!

C. G. Drews has written one other book, A Thousand Perfect Notes, which I have not read (I’m still too caught up in the lives of these characters to move on!). She just posted a Q&A post celebrating the one-year anniversary of The Boy Who Steals Houses that is great in itself and also links to an article she wrote about writing #ownvoices fiction and autistic representation in fiction specifically, which I found to be quite good.

Posted in family life

making space for beauty

Aubade (who loves all things sparkly and frilly and fancy) discovered today the few formal dresses I have saved over the years, and convinced me to try one on. She was really rooting for the wedding dress, but putting that one on is not a one-person endeavor, so I ended up in a navy blue full-length gown from high school.

I am still surprised I managed to put it on; my ribs are definitely wider post-pregnancies. And it felt far more elegant than I remembered, which was nice. But the best part was when I walked out wearing it and Aubade was overwhelmed with delight that Mommy was wearing a pretty dress like she was and Limerick ran to me instantly to exclaim over the dress and claim a hug. I was reminded of the time my mom dressed up in the most gorgeous burgundy outfit with sheer sleeves for a fancy event with my dad – how I thought she was just the most glamorous and beautiful person I’d ever seen, and how it made me so happy to see her so beautiful, like my heart swelling inside me. And now somehow I found myself in her role in the cyclical drama of life, the mother instead of the child, the familial archetype for human beauty as well as human nurturing.

I’m still figuring out where it comes from, this child’s joy in seeing their mother beautiful. I remember feeling it quite strongly; I could tell my children felt it, as they demanded I not change back into normal clothes even when I had to do dishes and get ready for work; but I’m not quite sure of the source. My guess is that it has something to do with the overflowing love a child has for their mother, because when a person loves someone else they delight in that person’s beauty.

And knowing my children have this deep unconditional love for me, as children typically do for their parents, makes me want to be beautiful in character and not just in appearance, to be truly worthy, somehow, of this love pouring itself out for me for these short years of childhood. If it takes dressing up more frequently to remind myself of this, then (despite my love of the comfortable and casual) I am all for it.

Posted in musings

thoughts on fasting

The discipline of fasting, I am coming to think, is a discipline of perseverance.

The opportunity to indulge in whatever I am fasting from is continually around me; my mental routines and physical habits both bring it to my attention regularly. So I cannot be content with saying at the beginning of Lent that I will fast in a certain way, nor even with waking up each morning with that intention. Instead, my commitment must be renewed every time I am faced with the opportunity to choose otherwise.

It is a fitting type of discipline for this season leading up to Easter, because it is the same discipline Jesus would have had to have to endure the suffering beginning in Gethsemane and culminating in the Crucifixion. As God, he had the power to end his suffering at any point – to step away from the path he had started on. He had to choose, moment by moment, to stay the course, to remain committed to our salvation. The crowds taunted him, saying that if he were the son of God he could save himself, and they were right about his power and opportunity. They just failed to see that his endurance was greater: great enough to enable him to make the sacrifice his unfathomable love demanded.

Fasting cultivates in us that same kind of endurance. Through it we can walk with Jesus in his suffering (though our steps be small and halting indeed), and in him begin to develop the kind of perseverance that can hold fast to something painful – even faced with a way of escape – when love requires it.

Posted in musings

to the end

As the narrative of the gospel of John transitions from Jesus’s ministry into his final teachings before Passover (which in turn are the build up to His suffering, death, and resurrection), there stands one of my favorite verses in the whole Bible.

“Now before the feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.” – John 13:1

With the end of Lent in sight now that Holy Week is at hand, I’ve been thinking a lot about the ends of things. So often I start with high ambitions and good intentions on a new and brightly fascinating idea, only to peter out into nothing before I complete anything (and oh, that phrase of unknown etymology calls up some interesting analogies here: the disciple who strode out on to the water in faith, only to end by sinking in doubt; who boldly proclaimed that he would never forsake Jesus, only to deny him three times not long after). The daily grind of discipline and maintenance required to see a task through to its end, after the shine has worn off and the hardship and tedium has set in, is not something that comes naturally to me (does it to anyone, really?). But eventually, the end comes. The deadline approaches – time runs out – what is left undone must still be called up and held accountable. At some point there is no “tomorrow” left to finish up the chores, to do something special with your child, to read the last chapter of your book, or to turn your heart towards God.

What do you want to be focusing on, when the end comes? What do you want to have finished, or to at least have put your best effort into? And if it is not what comes naturally, how can you give yourself the motivation and support you need to do what you truly, deeply, desire to do?

Jesus, here, was approaching the end, and he knew it, and he was most definitely not looking forward to it. The task he was about to complete was not a pleasant one. But as the end came, he held fast to the bright and beautiful idea that had started it all: he loved his people. Having loved them from the beginning, he loved them to the end. He would prove that love, on the cross, that great and terrible end towards which he was at this point rapidly proceeding.

And what happened then? He loved them to the end – the end of his earthly ministry, the end of his very life – and then he showed them, showed us, that the end is not final: that hope and redemption and life and restoration continue on. He loved us to the end – and his love did not end. Peter sank into the waves, and it could have been the end – but Jesus pulled him up onto the boat. Peter denied his Lord and Savior, and that could have been the end too – but Jesus forgave him, redeemed him, equipped him, and built the church upon his shoulders. He caught hold of that unending love, and it pulled him past the end and into the eternity awaiting.

I know what I want to be focused on, when Lent ends, when I end: that same unending love. I know what I want to have put my best effort into: leaving behind my vices and sins, into loving the people around me and fulfilling my responsibilities to them, into making my small corner of the world more beautiful and more illuminated by the light of heaven. And since it does not come naturally, most of the time? I pray that I might strive (for righteousness) and rest (in grace) both now and at the end: Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Like Peter, I stretch my hand over the raging waters to catch hold of the ever-strong grace and the never-ending love of Jesus.

Posted in family life, musings

getting through a bad day

Sometimes motherhood is the hardest thing I’ve ever set out to do. Sometimes I wake up already tired, already touched out from a night of nursing a sick baby, already talked out from a friend’s birthday party the day before, wanting to do nothing but bury my head in a pillow (or maybe a book) and isolate myself from the world around me until my equilibrium has sufficiently recovered. As everyone knows, of course, parenting doesn’t typically allow for such unplanned luxuries.

Sometimes every interaction is a battle not to yell or speak harshly. Sometimes the worst part of me wants to scream until everyone feels as awful as I do. Sometimes I can’t even handle the baby sitting on my lap with a book because I’m so sensorily overloaded that my skin crawls at the touch. Sometimes I pray for peace and gentleness and stumble again into anger the next minute.

Sometimes I look at my child and the tears in my own eyes – at my own imperfection, at the horrible way I’m acting – are mirrored in theirs.

Somehow we make it through the day anyway, with lots of apologies along the way. We get outside, if we can, and the calming influence of the outdoors leads to laughter and connection and positive strength. We read our bedtime books and the kids still ask for their “Pookie kisses” of Sandra Boynton inspiration. I tell them what I saw in them that made me proud, and apologize again, and we snuggle to sleep. And at last, the closeness of their bodies to mine can be felt as love by even my chaotic mental processor.

And I remind myself that these bad days are few, and that tomorrow is another opportunity to be compassionate, gentle, self-controlled, loving, present, and joyful with my children – to put in again the hard work of cultivating the fruit of the Spirit, and hopefully do a better job of it. I will fail, and the kids will fail, and I pray that we will in our failures learn both to be humble and to forgive, both to self-advocate when we are overwhelmed and to serve unthanked when we see others overwhelmed, both to grow closer to God who is alone perfect and who gives unending grace and to grow closer to each other even as our sin threatens to tear us apart.

Posted in family life, musings

overcoming the fear of differences

Difference doesn’t need to be a reason for separation, distrust, or conflict.

This morning I watched as kids from 18 months to 10 years old played together. Everyone waited patiently without pushing or complaining when one of the toddlers wanted to climb up the ladder to the water slide, and the big girls helped her slide down when she was scared at the top. Four year olds and 8 year olds batted balloons across the house together; 3 year olds and 9 year olds danced to music videos together. The difference in their ages – a very significant difference, honestly, in both physical and mental development – was not an impediment to enjoying their time together.

This morning I watched as children with multiple developmental disorders and disabilities played together. A girl with Down syndrome held hands with two “normal” girls as they careened down the water slide together laughing. Four boys with varying levels of autism and speech and language delays and two neurotypical boys took turns on the slide, crashing into each other, trying new ways of going down, splashing themselves and each other, without any comments on the different abilities or behaviors represented. The point was to enjoy the water, and they all enjoyed it in each other’s presence without being held back by the very noticeable differences between them.

This morning I watched as people gathered together to celebrate the life of a boy who is different in multiple ways, who faces unique challenges, and who is very much loved. I am sure that it was this love, spilling over from everyone present, that smoothed out all the potential conflict that could have been caused by the myriad of differences there this morning. By learning to love at least one other person unconditionally, with complete acceptance, with eyes to see them for who they are, with ears ready to hear them however they are able to communicate, we begin to learn how to extend that love to others as well. We look for the bright shining highlights in each other, instead of the behavioral challenges or the confusing differences. We strive for connection and communication even in the most difficult moments, instead of letting those difficulties drive us away. We begin to learn to say, and think, and live, with this perspective: that I am made in the image and likeness of God, and so are you, no matter how different we are from one another; let us meet in the heart and center of that image; let it bind us together in love.

This morning I watched a small microcosm of the kingdom of God play out before me, and my heart was filled to see it.

Differences are so often a cause of fear and suspicion. This person acts and looks and speaks differently than me, so I don’t know how to predict their actions, so I am afraid and want to stay away from them, or I speak more harshly to them because of my unease and discomfort. These people are not like me, so maybe they don’t deserve the same freedoms that I have. An older couple may ask their neighbors why they don’t just keep their children inside, as if because of their age the children have less of a right to access public outdoor space. A concerned citizen may call the police if they see a developmentally delayed adult acting strangely and defend their actions by protesting that the individual should just stay inside their group home if they can’t behave “normally” in public. A group of fairly enlightened founding fathers may preserve slavery and oppress native people because they see them as less capable or even less human. White southerners may institute separate facilities for themselves and legislate others out because they are afraid of being “contaminated” by people of other races. And normally compassionate Americans may applaud strict and trauma-inducing policies of family separation because they are afraid that these immigrants may be lawless criminals and traffickers.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. And we who are parents have the chance to shape the future world into a more understanding and loving place by giving our children the chance, here and now, to experience difference and to see how little it really matter when it comes to living and enjoying life together.

“So yes. It had flaws, but what does that matter when it comes to matters of the heart? We love what we love. Reason does not enter into it. In many ways, unwise love is the truest love. Anyone can love a thing because. That’s as easy as putting a penny in your pocket. But to love something despite. To know the flaws and love them too. That is rare and pure and perfect.” – Patrick Rothfuss, A Wise Man’s Fear

loving despite

Posted in family life, musings

love

Love is such a difficult thing to describe; it is impossible to quantify. Rondel and Limerick have been attempting to articulate how much they appreciate or enjoy something by telling me they love it “even more” than they love something very special to them, including people (so one would say he loved Grandma more than Mommy, and the other one would state the opposite, or they would say they loved a new type of popsicle even more than swimming). They have also asked me a few times who I loved the most – talk about a question with no right answer!

What I’ve been explaining to them, and how I answered their question, was that I love all of them in different ways, because they are different people and our relationships are likewise different. I love them all just the same amount, but it looks different; in a sense, my love for each of them is a different color, but each color blazes with the same intensity, beauty, and brightness.

If they asked me which color represented my love for each of them, this is how I would respond…

Continue reading “love”

Posted in sqt

seven thoughts on motherhood

Today I’m linking up with Kelly at This Ain’t the Lyceum for the weekly Seven Quick Takes – head over to read the rest of the posts! And if you have time, catch up on Kelly’s May blog series highlighting different titles of Mary from around the world; it is undeniably worthwhile, simultaneously fascinating, inspiring, and convicting.

  1. I first learned what it was to be a mother from watching my own mother. There’s a theological term kenosis which describes how Jesus emptied Himself out in accordance with His Father’s will out of love for us – and I think the commitment, self-giving, and love my mother shows for her children is a human reflection of that quality. If one of her children is sick, she will offer to help even if she hardly has five minutes available in the day. If one of her children suffers from physical illness or emotional pain, she suffers too, and wakes in the night to pray on their behalf. If one of her children makes a decision that confuses, hurts, or disappoints her, she responds with a genuine desire to understand, constant forgiveness and unconditional love.
  2. I also learned from my mother that mothering is not limited to one’s own children. The posture of provision, nurturance, patience, and love can be extended to almost anyone – and she lives and has lived it in so many ways: with her struggling students as a professor, with other homeschooling families as a mentor and veteran, with kids at church, with her brother and nephews, with anyone who has ever entered the doors of her home, and more.
  3. Motherhood is one of the hardest and best things in my life. Perhaps more than any other experience, it has given me a desire to truly strive for holiness and sainthood, while never failing to expose the weaknesses and sins that make me dependent on the grace of God for that holiness.
  4. In addition to my mother and my own experience of being a mother, the person who has taught me the most about motherhood is (unsurprisingly) Mary herself, Mother of God, Mother of the Church. Ever since Limerick was born I found myself being drawn to her – finding peace in prayers inspired by her, finding comfort in sharing my struggles with her, asking her to lead me closer to her Son. And in every situation where I have turned to her – in labor with Aubade, in the depths of my postpartum depression, in the daily turns of life with young children – she has responded by opening and softening my heart to God, and by increasing my desire for and faith in Him. For Mary, motherhood is about bringing her lost and hurting children to their Savior and Healer through a relationship of love, compassion, hope, and connection.
  5. A mother will never desert you, never give up on you, never stop loving you, and never stop praying for you. She will probably never stop teasing and/or embarrassing you either, of course! But this persistence and constancy is but an echo of God’s maternal love, according to Isaiah 49:15: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, yet I will not forget you!”
  6. If mothers are awesome, grandmothers may be even more so. I have to mention my own mother again here 🙂 because if it weren’t for her wisdom and support as the grandmother of my children, my journey through motherhood would be much more difficult. As it is, my children reap the full benefits of her experience and have a huge amount of extra love poured into them. We watched a documentary this week in which an elephant baby became stuck in deep mud, and her panicked first-time mom was just making things worse attempting to dig her out. Things were looking bad when the elephant grandma noticed the situation, pushed the mom out of the way, and helped the baby out. It just seemed so emblematic of every great grandmotherly relationship! Grandmothers are crucial to passing relational knowledge and experiential wisdom down through the generations.
  7. Here’s an amazing quote – succinct and powerful – from St. Edith Stein to wrap up. “To be a mother is to nourish and protect true humanity and bring it to development.” (The Significance of Women’s Value in National Life). There you go. That is what we do, fellow moms – that is why we pour ourselves out in all the little and big things of each day with these children we’ve been given, that we might nourish, protect, and bring to development the intrinsic humanity within each of them.

Don’t forget to head over to This Ain’t The Lyceum for the rest of the linkup!

Posted in musings

pastor barbara and the out-of-sync girl

Once upon a time there was a church which had a female pastor. Now, this pastor wasn’t the lead pastor, or even the primary teaching pastor; she led the family and children’s ministries, actually, and spent most of her ministry time with women and youth. But she had the title of pastor – Pastor Barbara.

She was beautiful. She had long, curly brown hair and a nose with that perfect spark of defiance bringing its straight lines singing up from her face. She had a gentle way of moving – never too fast or too sudden – and a gentle way of speaking – never too loud or too harsh. And when she saw the children she loved and taught and prayed for, her whole body would glow with that love and light, like an emanation of the Holy Spirit through her presence.

There was a small girl at this church who adored Pastor Barbara wholeheartedly and unstintingly, although mostly from a distance as she was a quiet child. She enjoyed above all the new songs that Pastor Barbara would sing with them! For her, songs were a release from the uncertainty of social interactions, because the songs (at least the children’s songs that she knew) would specify how you were supposed to act. Take for example “Father Abraham:” no one would ever move that way in everyday life, but the song says to do it so everyone does it and no one has to worry about being out of sync.

Continue reading “pastor barbara and the out-of-sync girl”