Monthly Archives: May 2014

A Phenomenal Woman Indeed

An Evening with Maya Angelou

I can’t believe she’s gone.  Maya Angelou was such a strong presence—a force—someone you expected to walk this earth forever.   For me, her words were a life changer.  For millions more, her advocacy for social reform made her a game changer.

I was fortunate to witness a presentation by Dr. Angelou at Westminster College’s Orr Auditorium in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania.  The presentation took place on a rainy night in March of 1995—a very pivotal time in my life.

For me personally, the 90s brought with them a deep restlessness and unquenchable search to find out who I was.  Becoming a mother at 17 stripped away a very necessary period of self-discovery.  Circumstances demanded I assume a role when I hadn’t a clue as to who I was as a person.  I hadn’t so much as discovered my likes and dislikes or interests, let alone determined what I wanted to be when I “grew up.”  It was during this time that I discovered the force (and fierceness) of Maya Angelou.  Her autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, ignited a fire within me.  The strength and fortitude with which she weathered a traumatic childhood spoke to my heart before settling deep into my soul.  Her words allowed me to see that I was not to be defined by my circumstances.  I voraciously devoured her subsequent books:  Gather Together in My Name, Singin’ & Swingin’ & Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas, And Still I Rise, The Heart of a Woman, All God’s Children Need Travelling Shoes.  I couldn’t read them fast enough.  Her books caused people to explore what it means to be human.  They made me explore what it means to be a woman.

You, created only a little lower than
The angels, have crouched too long in
The bruising darkness,
Have lain too long
Face down in ignorance.

~Maya Angelou, “On The Pulse Of Morning”

I lost my mind when I learned Dr. Angelou would be giving a presentation following a ceremony in which she would receive an honorary degree from Westminster.   And she did not disappoint.  Dr. Angelou’s voice was rich and deep.  Her strength permeated the venue.  Almost twenty years later I remember it as if it were yesterday.  But then again, why should I be surprised?   Maya Angelou had a grace and warmth that touched everyone.  She was of course, “a woman / Phenomenally.”

Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed.
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing,
It ought to make you proud.
I say,
It’s in the click of my heels,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need for my care.
’Cause I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.

~Maya Angelou, “Phenomenal Woman”

Memorial Day

My father was a great man whose life was unexpectedly and tragically cut short at the ripe age of 49.  My father had a heart condition and suffered a massive stroke shortly before Thanksgiving of 1970.  He died Thanksgiving day.  I was six years old and in first grade.  I still remember my first grade teacher, Mrs. Johnston, coming to our home to pay her respects.  Although I was but a small child, I have wonderful memories of my father.  I know God is sovereign over all things, I’d be lying if I said I don’t deeply regret not having my father throughout at least a substantial portion of my life.  There were so many things he could’ve taught me and so many things I want to know about him and his life.

Dad Dad Army Dad EiffelMy father was 21 when he joined the United States Army.  Assigned to the 775th Field Artillery Battalion, my father was deployed overseas.  He initially arrived in le Bastion de France before going on to fight in what Winston Churchill labeled at “undoubtedly the greatest American battle of the war,”—the Ardennes Counteroffensive.  This battle is more commonly known as the Battle of the Bulge—a phrase coined by contemporary press to describe the way the Allied frontline bulged inward on wartime news maps.

The courage and fortitude of the American Soldier was tested against great adversity in the Battle of the Bulge. The Bulge was a surprise attack that caught the Allied forces off guard.  The battle involved about 610,000 American forces and was waged in horrid winter conditions from mid-December 1944 through the end of January 1945, in the heavily forested Ardennes Mountains of Belgium.  While Allied forces ultimately triumphed, it was an absolutely vicious six weeks of fighting.  The Bulge was the bloodiest and costliest battle in terms of life, on the Western Front during the Second World War.  U.S. forces bore the brunt of the attack. Nearly 20,000 Americans lost their lives and tens of thousands more were wounded, missing or captured.

World War II was waged on land, on sea, and in the air over several diverse theaters of operation for approximately six years.  Following the Battle of the Bulge my father then crossed the river Rhine into Rhine, Germany.   The Allied advance from Paris to the Rhine was one of the final Allied phases in World War II.  According to “New York Port of Embarkation” documentation, my father returned to the United States February 26, 1946.

Blessedly, my father survived the Bulge or I wouldn’t be here to write this post.  I’m dedicating this post to not only the 20,000 Americans who lost their lives fighting alongside my father, but also to the countless men and women who paid the ultimate price throughout the history of our great nation, to protect and preserve the liberty and freedom we so often take for granted.  With gratitude and love we honor you.

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  ~John 15:13

Closing out another school year makes me realize just how far munchkin has come—especially over the past year.  At times it may not seem like we’re making progress (or not as fast as I’d like, might be a more accurate statement), however, when I take a step back and really think of those early days and the warning signs I saw, Jackson has progressed light years from where he started.

The other day I was compiling a mental list of the red flags that initially tugged at my heart years ago.  The list filled my head so quickly that I thought I should write it down, if not for any other reason than to remind myself of Jackson’s progress.  The following is a cursory list of things that used to send Jackson into a complete and total sensory meltdown.  The majority of these things have become non sequiturs, or bother him only minimally and only on rare occasions.

  • Hairdryer
  • Leaf blower
  • Hand dryers in public restrooms/being IN a restroom with hand dryers
  • Being in our swimming pool
  • Open car windows and/or sunroofs
  • Coffee grinder
  • Blender/juicer
  • Teakettle
  • Loud noises
  • Unfamiliar situations
  • Beach/sand
  • Standing in grass while barefoot
  • Having his photograph taken

It’s not a brief list.  Admittedly, I’ve taken his progress for granted and had forgotten most of these things.  It’s only when I really give pause to life’s day-to-day activities that I’m taken aback by all he has overcome.

The past few weekends have been busy for us.  We’ve had opportunity to participate in a couple of terrific autism-related events. Mother’s Day weekend Jackson participated in the local Surfer’s For Autism (http://www.surfersforautism.org/) event.  This is the second year we’ve been involved with this fabulous organization/event.  Last year, Jackson was terrified.  Although he had taken swimming lessons, he hadn’t yet learned to swim.   I understand how this would be overwhelming in and of itself.  Additionally, the prospect of getting water in his face was terrifying to Jackson.  This year, the event was a huge coup for munchkin.  Initially he was determined he was NOT going to surf.  He had convinced himself a tidal wave was going to sweep him out to sea.  But with much coaxing from me, my husband and the organization’s amazing volunteers Jackson gave surfing try.  With a death grip on the board he made multiple attempts to ride the waves to shore on his tummy.  That was all I asked for—that he give it a try.  I couldn’t have been more proud of my little bug.

An SFA wristband. A year ago Jackson wouldn’t even consider wearing it. This year he wore his band for the entire event. Small victories.

 

 

SFA Surf

 

 

 

 

 

 

This past weekend we participated in a 5K fun run/walk and kids’ walk for Florida Atlantic University’s (“FAU”) Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (“CARD”) (http://www.coe.fau.edu/centersandprograms/card/default.aspx).  My race took place at 7:30 AM and Jackson was excited to cheer me on.  The kids’ race was slated to take place immediately following the 5K.  Prior to Saturday morning Jackson had been excited at the prospect of running a race.   Once we arrived at the race, however, he stated he didn’t want to run.  I wasn’t going to push the issue.  I ran my 5K and while walking for my cool down I asked Jackson if he would run if I ran with him.  He said, “Sure!  Let’s go!”  We returned to the starting line and Jackson ran his first race.  He loved it!  Not only did he run, he was the first to cross the finish line.  He has already asked me when he can race again.  I’m so proud of Jackson for stepping out of his comfort zone.  That’s not an easy task for anyone, let alone someone with sensory processing issues.  And it’s not something he would’ve dared do just one short year ago.

CARD Race BibsJax Race

We also attended a birthday party for one of Jackson’s friends yesterday.  There have been many birthday parties we’ve attended where Jackson adamantly refused to participate in the activities and simply wandered off to lay on the floor, alone.  He had no interest in the excitement of the parties or the children.  Watching Jackson withdraw into himself at these parties was very difficult for me to observe as a parent.  On those occasions I honestly didn’t know what the future held for Jackson or for us as a family.  But watching him fully engaged, running and playing with his friend and the other children yesterday filled my heart with joy.

The past few years may not have always been easy and required much therapy and work, but it is so heartening to see the fruits of Jackson’s labor.   Of course, his progress makes this mama happy, but more importantly I’m thrilled to see Jackson overcoming, accomplishing and participating in things that were but a dream just a few short years ago.  I’m proud of you, Jackson.  You have worked so hard for these victories.  Savor them, my sweet boy.  Savor every minute of them.  You’ve earned it!

(If you’re interested, Jackson also participated in a Mother’s Day video at our church, Palm Beach Community Church (http://pbcc.cc).  Again, this is something he would absolutely NOT have considered doing a year ago.  Anytime the children’s ministry performed during a service, Jackson would bolt from the stage to the safety of his Sunday school teacher’s arms.   My husband and I both had tears in our eyes as we watched this video.  Perhaps you’ll get a chuckle out of it. Jackson appears at approximately minute 2:12 and at the end.  I hope you’ll take a look.  Enjoy!)

Mother’s Day at Palm Beach Community Church

I was out for a run yesterday morning when it started to rain.  My initial thought was:  Boogers!  I’m about to get wet.  And then I thought, is that such a bad thing?  It was hot and humid.  I was soaked with sweat.  As long as I protected my iPhone, a little rain should be nothing to fret over.  I continued on my run and as I approached a curve I looked up to see blue skies behind the clouds.

Look up!  Blue skies are ahead.

I thought, what a great metaphor for life.  Oftentimes we fear something we have no need to fear.  If we simply look ahead—past our current circumstances, we just might see a favorable outcome within our reach.  All we have to do is stay the course and keep plugging along.  Things will get better.

So whatever you’re facing today don’t turn back, my friend.  Forge ahead and know you are not alone.  You’re in good company.  Folks like me are running right alongside you.  Just remember to look ahead and keep your head up.

The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain. ~Dolly Parton  

It’s a good thing I don’t write to earn my keep.  If that were the case I’d be starving based on my last blog post.  Writing is indeed an outlet for me, but it is also a privilege—one I’m not often afforded.  The tradeoff is rich, however.  Our little tribe has lived a rather full life over the past few months.  Not full by the world’s standards, but full in the meaning of life.  We’ve shared a lot of quality family time, and Jackson and I have had a lot of special mama-son adventures too.  Throw in work and household responsibilities and well, you know what I mean.  Time escapes me.

Summer is fast approaching.  I recently finalized our summer schedule.  This is something new for me.  A summer “schedule” isn’t something I’ve had the luxury of planning in the past. However, Jackson has reached some major developmental milestones in the past year, so blessedly some opportunities have opened up to him.

One such opportunity is a weeklong day camp someone has very unexpectedly and graciously presently to Jackson.  The offer was completely unsolicited and I cannot express in words how very grateful I am at the prospect of this camp.

Over the years I have received countless empty promises of assistance and help from friends and acquaintances.  These empty promises, combined with the general disappearance and/or absence of folks I once counted as friends, have left me jaded to say the least.  I’m no longer bitter about it (admittedly I once was), it’s just a fact of life I imagine most parents of children with varying challenges face to one degree or another.  Once I accepted the exodus of these folks from our lives it freed me to be self-sustaining.  All this to say, opportunities such as this camp haven’t been extended to us in the past.  Every activity Jackson participates in has been a hard fought victory for which I’ve groveled and even shed a few tears.  Victories I do not take for granted for nary a second.  I was and still am blown away by this mere acquaintance’s gracious invitation.

I profoundly expressed my gratitude while speaking with her to complete the initial paperwork.  She downplayed the situation, stating she believes the world needs a stronger sense of community—something I wholeheartedly believe and try to live out daily.  The world would be a much better place if we all stepped out and stepped up to help those around us.  This may be something as simple as surprising your coworker or employee with a coffee or asking your neighbor if they need something at the grocery story.  Kindness and generosity don’t have to break the bank, and are oftentimes something as simple as holding the door for someone or saying, “Thank you,” to someone who opens a door for you.

So I emphatically say, “Thank you, kind woman,” for taking a chance on our son. It’s going to be a great summer.  My heart tells me so.