Tuesday, October 17, 2017

For Those Who Did Not Say #MeToo

Harvey Weinstein got fired and went to sex rehab instead of prison after a bunch of actresses said he sexually harassed them, groped them, used his considerable Hollywood influence to pressure them to keep them silent.  And as the stories filled my newsfeed, reminding us that this is nothing new, that this has been known in the movie industry about him specifically and powerful men in general for decades, I began to notice a small hashtag.  It simply stated "Me too."

It was an effort on behalf of the regular, every day women who don't star in Oscar-nominated movies to join their voices to the conversation.  To point out that it's not just 17 year old size 0 actresses who are objectified and made to feel small in their place of employment.  It is a problem that pervades every area of industry in our society, really in our world.  And I had no problem typing out the words and posting my own status this weekend.  I am someone who has survived sexual abuse and sexual harassment, and most of the people who know me have already heard my story.

But you saw those words and you froze.

Your heart pounded and your mouth went dry.  Maybe your mind took you back to that night, that moment when your innocence was lost, when the choice was made for you.  Maybe it went blank.  Because you haven't told anyone, you haven't spoken about what happened.  Not once.

And we can debate all day long about how effective a social media campaign is, if anyone with the power to change things is actually listening.  We can argue if it is your duty to pull your pants down once more and expose yourself to a world that is only interested in using you up and spitting you out.  I know nothing I can say will convince you that you will be believed, and that you won't be marked as different, wrong, damaged.

Let's forget about everyone else for a moment, okay?  Because this isn't about bringing your perpetrator to justice or becoming another statistic.  This isn't about making noise about #NotAllMen or #YesAllWomen.  Dear one, this is about you.

This is about the shame you're pushing deep down into your heart.  This is about the flashbacks that come at the worst possible times.  This is about the disconnect you have with your body.  This is about the emotions you shut off so you wouldn't have to feel the hurt anymore.

You were made to live.  You were made to experience the fullness of life.  You were made to fall in love and give your body to another and feel pleasure.  You were born with a whole heart.

And then someone took that from you.

Maybe it was several someones.  Probably it was someone you trusted.  Most likely you reached adulthood with the sense that this was just how life worked.

Please believe me when I tell you, it's not supposed to be this way.

You deserve respect.

You have the right to say what does or does not happen to your body.

You have the right to go to work and just worry about WORK:  whether you're being paid in accordance with your responsibilities, whether you should contribute $20 to Cheryl's retirement card, whether that new position that opened is right for you.

You have the right to post pictures of your puppy instead of #MeToo.

Just promise me that you will speak about what happened to you.  Tell it to a counselor.  Tell it to a trusted friend.  Tell it to that lady you only know through Facebook who shared her story.  Because your silence gives the person who violated you all the power.  Your silence robs you of your dignity.  Your silence guarantees that you will continue to feel like a victim EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

It was not your fault.

You didn't ask for it.

It's not something all guys do.

You don't owe us anything.  You owe it to yourself.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

On Art Imitating Life

I started watching a new show on Netflix this past week called "Atypical."  The show's premise, which intrigued me while at the same time making me concerned, centers on a family whose teenage son is autistic and desires a romantic relationship.  The eight episode season follows not only Sam (the one on the spectrum), but his sister, mom, dad, and therapist as they each navigate the challenging relationships that are part of any full life.

Mostly I don't talk about TV or do reviews of shows on my blog, because there are plenty of entertainment journalists who (in my opinion), do this so much better.  And I've read a few articles about "Atypical" in between streaming episodes.  However, since I spend a considerable amount of blog space sharing about my own autistic son, and the larger world of disability into which I get a peek, I felt like talking about this show, and a few others, might be a good companion for anyone else looking to this program for a better understanding about autism.

So.  My son is ten years old, and I'm finding myself more and more curious about what adolescence and puberty are going to look like, not only for a boy, but a boy on the autism spectrum.  To that end, the first episode of "Atypical" seemed like it might paint a picture of what my son's life could look like in just a few years.  It sets up the characters: Sam, who wants a girlfriend, sister Casey, who has also never dated and maybe just met a boy she could like, Elsa, the mom who has made her whole life about taking care of her kid who isn't really a kid anymore, and Doug the father who has never actually connected with his son.  We also meet Julia, Sam's therapist, and while it doesn't become evident for the first few episodes that her romantic life will be part of the show, she is certainly the catalyst for Sam to explore the world of dating and sex.

The show makes some good points over the following episodes: everyone wants to be loved, relationships are hard whether your brain is typical or not, and every member of a family reacts differently to an autism diagnosis.  YES.  However, there is so much that just doesn't sit right with me, stuff like the Autism Support Group moderator who keeps interrupting Doug the FIRST TIME he visits the group, telling him that he's not using the right words as he shares about his relationship with his son.  Not only is this counter to my experience attending such a group, it's just a bad way to treat him.  The whole point of support groups is to find like-minded people who understand what you're going through, and for many family members, it can be the place where you say the un-PC stuff and the raw emotional outpouring that comes from being a parent.  Moments like that ring false because the show is attempting to insert little "autism 101" lessons rather than just telling the story.

Another problem that I have with "Atypical" is that I don't see my son in the autistic character.  I had this same problem with "Parenthood."  So many of my friends LOVED that show, and kept telling me that I should watch it, but after the first episode, I just couldn't do it.  The show's creator has a son diagnosed with Asperger's (which isn't a diagnosis anymore, but I know plenty of people who disagree with the DSM on that one, so let's just move on...), and he wrote a character that was like his child for primetime TV.  As the saying goes, though, "If you know one person on the autism spectrum, then you only know ONE PERSON on the autism spectrum."  It's true because the disorder manifests itself in a thousand different ways and makes each person markedly different from each other, while sharing this umbrella label.  Kind of like...people.  So when I see Sam lock someone in his closet for touching his stuff, or constantly ask, "What's so funny?" or seem completely oblivious to the fact that another person is upset, I find myself frowning.  My son is incredibly empathetic, and never responds to people outside the family with violence or anger.  Sure, he hits his brothers when they bug him, and he talks back when I give him an order that he doesn't like ("Turn off the TV" being the worst one), but he wouldn't do that in any other setting, no matter how overwhelmed he became.  He loves to laugh and enjoys many of the same jokes that other kids his age like.  There's a disconnect because in being so specific, "Atypical" departs from the realm of what my family is like.

I think my biggest criticism of the show encompasses all the little things that I don't like, and that is (as far as I can tell from researching) the lack of an actually autistic person in the cast or crew of the show.  The ultimate take away is that the writers spent a lot of time researching Autism without actually involving anyone who knows what it's like inside, and the cast rely on stereotypes that make the show seem clinical rather than personal.  This is especially evident to me because of another show I watched this year, one that I absolutely fell in love with, called "Speechless."  That show centers on a teenager (JJ) with a physical disability and his family, and yet, the final product is something so much more relatable than "Atypical."  The show's creator grew up with a brother who is very similar to JJ, but even more importantly, the actor playing JJ has the same disability!  Amazing!  It's almost as though people whose brains and/or bodies are a little different from the standard Hollywood cookie cutter can ALSO ACT (*sarcasm*).  And while "Speechless" certainly educates its audience about the difficulties of finding appropriate services for a person with special needs, and how caring for a disabled child plus a few more can make things like mowing the yard bottom basement level priorities, it captures something that "Atypical" completely leaves out.  JOY.  Yes, life is hard when you are different in a way that is not widely accepted.  Yes, caring for a child with special needs is hard.  No, there are not enough hours in each day nor enough dollars in the bank to give each of your children everything you would like.  But good Lord, there is so much laughter and love and delight in the days and weeks and years of this life.  We have certainly found it, in bike rides and movie theaters and donuts and tickle fights and Monday morning dance parties and snow days and swimming pools.

So I would encourage the creators and writers and actors of "Atypical" to take a page from Scott Silveri and Micah Fowler and company.  If your show is picked up for a second season, bring some autistic folks on board.  Bring them into your writer's room and listen to their experiences.  Hire at least one to be on screen.  They are beautiful and intelligent and incredible people who will make your show better.  And maybe they can even help you find ways to incorporate humor that isn't at Sam's expense.  Because my son will be a teenager soon, and he will be navigating these tricky situations.  I'd love to have something we could watch together that may actually represent his perspective.

Monday, May 1, 2017

On Parenting and Being Parented

I had a recurring thought throughout my childhood years.  I hoped that my parents would be there for me until I turned 18, that they would live long enough to see me pass into adulthood.  For one thing, I didn't think any other adults would do as good a job parenting my sister and myself (It's true guys...I really think you did a great job!).  I also assumed that once I was an adult, I would no longer need my parents.  Apparently I freaked my mom out by asking too many times what would happen to me when she died.  Sorry about that.

Although I no longer need my parents for basic survival (food, clothes, a roof over my head, keys to the car on the weekend), I have come to realize in my adult years that I still need my parents.  I need them for guidance and support through all the new experiences that come with aging:  how to maintain a home and how to fix a car and how raise kids and what is an appropriate wedding gift for a friend and which insurance plan to sign up for during open enrollment.  And don't even get me started on the free babysitting.  I don't know what we'd do without Nana and Papa's play house to visit and drop off children and fill up a cup at the Keurig.

I am reminded every few years how much I still need my parents.  At 23 and 27 and 31 and 33 and yet again at 35, as I watch my friends and loved ones lose their moms and dads.  As I sit in pews with tissues clutched in my hands, as I stand silently beside fresh graves, as I scroll through Facebook and see the heartbreaking news.  I watch as families splinter, because let's face it, moms are usually the glue that keep us all together, and grieving husbands don't quite seem to know how to take over that role.  I watch my friends, my peers, take the place of their parents, checking in on siblings and hosting Christmas dinner and determining what to do with Mom's closet full of clothes when it's time to move.

Friends, I don't know how you do it.  I don't know where you draw the strength to step into these new roles, to speak at funerals and organize fundraisers, all while you manage your careers and families.  I have so much admiration for the way that you don't give up in the face of your grief, but how you lean into it and make something beautiful and profound out of your loss.  I am watching you as the years pass and the inevitable day that I am in your shoes draws ever closer.  I hope that you will help me when the time comes, that you will show me how you kept calm and kept going.

Mom and Dad, I don't say this enough, and I don't want to use my best words after you are gone.  I love you.  I appreciate you so very much, more than perhaps you even know.  I would not be the person I am today without your influence, your love, and sometimes your example of what not to do. I am so glad we've had all these years together.  I am so glad my kids have had all these years with you.  I don't know how I'll go on when you're gone.  I imagine my mind will play tricks on me, so that I still turn my head when I see a black Nissan truck to see if you are behind the wheel, or still text you first when I have a question.

I know that when we can no longer make new memories together, that I will cherish every last one I have.  Even times we fought.  Even times you drove me crazy.  Even times I was convinced I was right and you were wrong.  I will never forget how it felt to be small and climb into your lap.  I will never forget how your hands can never be still when you talk.  I will never forget the times you kissed me on the head and told me you were proud of me.  I will never forget the things I learned from standing next to you, whether it was in the kitchen or the garage or at church or at a family reunion.  I will never forget the places you took me, the ideas you instilled in me, the home you created for me.

I want my own kids to have the kind of childhood I enjoyed, with bike rides through the neighborhood and basketball games on Saturday mornings and breakfast for dinner and trips to the library.  I want to embarrass them in front of their friends when they think they're too old for hugs and kisses at school drop off.  I want to accompany them on field trips and mission trips and college visits.  I want to ban them from reading books with content I deem too mature for them (remember "You can't read Sweet Valley High until you're in high school"?) and I want them to read those books secretly in their closets after I've gone to bed because their 12 year old selves are too curious to wait two more years to find out what happens to Elizabeth and Jessica after the party at Bruce Putnam's house.  I want to bust them for sneaking out to TP someone's house and I want to believe them when they say they've been falsely accused of vandalizing someone else's locker.

I want to provide for my kids but also teach them how to work hard for the things they want in life.  That new shoes and food on the table are a given, but getting into college and med school will require years of study and sacrifice.  I want them to feel like home is a haven, that no matter who doesn't like them this week or which friend they've fought with, when they walk in the door, they are loved unconditionally.  I want them to share my faith in God, but I also want them to know that I will do my best to answer any questions they have along the way.  I want my kids to know that they can count on me, that I will always show up to cheer them at their games or help them change a flat tire.

Most of all, I want for my kids what I have with you right now.  I want my kids to want to spend time with me.  I want to come home to find my adult sons taking a nap on my couch or cooking dinner in my kitchen.  I want to share donuts and coffee with them and talk about big ideas and current events. I want to take walks with them and spend long drives to family weddings arguing over what constitutes good music.  I want to meet them at the movies for a midnight show.  I want to run into them at the grocery store and spend thirty minutes laughing together in the baking aisle.  I want to sit with them and watch my own grandchildren play at Chick Fil A.

I want my kids to keep needing me long after they've turned 18 and moved into their own homes, because I want to have the same relationship with them that I've enjoyed as a daughter.  Mom and Dad, I hope we still have many more years together, because the bathroom sink is clogged and my car is making a funny noise again.  Also I love you.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

On Parenting and Celebrating Autism

I love writing.

For the past several years, I have been blogging about my life, and it has helped me process my ever-changing experiences as a woman, a wife and mother.  It has helped me share my story and connect with other people in a way that face to face conversations can't.  It inspired me to pursue my as-yet-unfulfilled dream of becoming a professional writer.

Expectant Mommy

The two subjects I return to again and again are my faith and my journey as a special needs mom.  Every April, I happily join with the voices around our country and around the world who share what life on the autism spectrum looks like, for those living it and for those caring for someone living with it.  I consider this both an enormous responsibility, to educate the world about my son, and an honor, to share this amazing kid with everyone else.

And I recognize my own limits, the point at which I am unable to write or share, because I am still just another person outside the experience.  I will never truly know what it is like inside my son's head, to go through each day as he does, to see the world as he has all his life.

But, thankfully, his ability to communicate is growing.

Learning the art of selfies
This past year, we have sat side by side and worked through the fourth grade together thanks to online school.  I have been his learning coach, his personal spell check, his cheerleader or his warden (depending on the day), his as needed occupational therapist, and it's been transformational.  I now know SO MUCH about how my son learns best, and I've seen so much more of his personality and thoughts as he completes his assignments.

I was particularly delighted this week that he is learning about writing to a prompt, and loved what he wrote when instructed to write a narrative about a time he played with another child.  After wanting to write about me, I directed him to think of an actual kid, and he chose to write about hunting easter eggs with his brothers.  The next day, the prompt was to share about someone who has made a difference and been an important part of his life.  Of course, I was expecting that he'd want to write about me.  There was a tiny chance that he might write about his beloved Nana, but I was gearing up for a little praise fest at the end of a difficult year.

That is not what happened.

After reading the question, "Who is the most important person in your life?" my son immediately began writing the answer.  He wrote about himself.  And my knee jerk reaction (no doubt influenced by my conceited desire) was to stop him, to make him think about the question again.  Then I realized he was probably right.  The person who has worked the hardest at speech therapy is James.  The person who has made the biggest gains in school this year is James.  The person who has learned to tolerate hair cuts and swallowing pills and loud environments is James.  I know I've made a difference to this kid, but I also know that I don't work nearly as hard as he does EVERY SINGLE DAY to make sense of the world.

And so, although I've written quite a bit already, I would like to share this space with my son, to introduce the next generation of autistic writers and let you all hear a bit from his side of the spectrum.

James is smart and capable.  He is strong.  He can
punch anything.  He is a boy.  He is great at scooter
training.  James has a beautiful brain.  He can love people
and control the body.  He is happy
because he has a heart.

And there you have it.  What is it like to be on the autism spectrum?  What is important to a ten year old boy?  What has made a difference in his life?  There are his answers, written in his own hand (transcribed by Mom), phrased in his own voice.  I look forward to sharing more and more as he is willing.

**Perhaps I'll write another post explaining "scooter training."  My husband and I are absolutely delighted by the hours of free time it gives us in the evening and the uninterrupted conversations we've been able to have because of it.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

On Parenting and School Choice

Learning about the first
My school experience began at age 5; after a mix of babysitters and daycare and preschool, I nervously walked with my mom into the kindergarten annex at my local elementary school.  My first teacher was Mrs. Hampton, who wore dresses with frilly lace collars and had a smile perpetually fixed on her face.  She taught us letters and how to share clothes in the dress-up station.  She showed us how to make goo and get fantastically messy.  Although we were only at school for half a day, we went outside for recess each morning, whether in the blistering Texas heat or the chilly months of winter.

I moved smoothly along, the hall of my elementary school beginning with First Grade at one end, with its tiny toilets and miniature desks, and growing towards Fourth Grade at the opposite side of the building.  Each year, I was taught by wonderful women and surrounded by an assortment of children from the area.  When I recall those years, I am just as likely to think about the Hispanic and Korean classmates who carried the smell on their clothes of their parents' ethnic cooking as I am to remember lessons in cursive and multiplication.  We learned songs for PTA meetings and wore our best clothes for picture days; our happiness was dependent upon how well we did in "Around the World."

My education continued in public schools, through the challenges of middle school (acne! boys! braces! changing classes! moving to a new state!) to the rigor of high school academics.  I was challenged by my teachers, I was encouraged to dream big for my future, I found myself accepting a diploma at graduation feeling as though I had exerted very little effort to arrive at that point.  I even managed to graduate from a public university in my new home of Ohio (a much harder earned degree), and everything told me that life could now begin.

The last thing I expected when I became a mother (nearly a decade ago...) was to put so much effort into my children's education.  My own experience as a student had truly been propelled by an invisible conveyor belt; my parents rarely attended parent-teacher conferences and expected me to handle disagreements with teachers and classmates myself.  But any expectation of self-reliance for my son went out the window when we received a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder.  After all, you can't very well expect a child to stand up for his rights when he can't even talk.  Suddenly, I was navigating a world I didn't even know existed in order to find the right classroom, the best teacher, for a child with very different needs from my own.  Once he had a place, then came the endless waves of evaluations and paperwork.  IEP meetings.  Speech therapy appointments.  Progress reports that were often blank or incomplete because my son refused to cooperate with his teachers.

There was no option to take his education for granted, to expect that he would attend school with his younger brothers, or even to rely on a classroom's effectiveness for longer than a year.  As his needs and abilities shifted, I had to re-assess which environment would serve him best.  By the time he was in third grade, he'd gone to four different schools.  Ideal for a child who struggles with transitions, right?

And now we find ourselves at the end of February, observing an anniversary of sorts.  A year ago, I got a phone call that changed everything, a call that determined my next steps as a mother who will do whatever is necessary to make sure her son is able to learn.  It was a Friday afternoon, and I spent the weekend ensuring that he would not set foot in his classroom again.  I kept my son home with me, my son who had transformed over six disastrous months into a ball of anxiety and emotion and couldn't even hear the word "school" without completely melting down.  I took everything I knew about third grade, about my son and his special brain, and I sat with him Monday through Friday, working on Math and Science and Language Arts.  We took a "green hour" each day at noon, a chance to walk outside and look at leaves and animals and lay in the grass.  We watched videos on pbs.org and created experiments in the kitchen.  We called it "work" instead of the dreaded "s" word.  Rather quickly, the sweet child I remembered from the summer before returned.

Doing schoolwork
on the couch
In the evenings, I researched the options.  After meeting with a district representative, it was clear that there was no solution within the district that would truly work for my son, especially given his strong feelings about returning to a school building.  I also weighed my own abilities.  I do not have a teaching degree, nor any sort of para-professional qualifications; elementary education was NEVER on my radar as a potential career.  So an interesting scenario presented itself:  what if my son enrolled in an online school, with my role basically serving as a tutor as he completed assignments and online lessons?  This prompted more research, as not all online and alternative schools are created equal.  We settled on k12 based on its reputation and recommendations from parents who had positive experiences with the school.  I spent several weeks of my summer scanning the extensive documentation for my son and coordinating with the school so that we were prepared for the first day.

It took a few weeks to adapt to the new curriculum and style of education, but with two-thirds of the coursework complete and summer break looming on the horizon, I can safely say that this option has worked well for us.  My son is thriving, both emotionally and academically, learning new concepts each week and pushing himself harder than he ever has (with more than a little prodding from this mama).  We've begun conversations about where he'd like to do school next year, with his emphatic vote going to online school.  It's challenged me in ways that I didn't expect, and certainly takes a huge chunk of time out of my days at a time when I thought I'd be luxuriating in the worst stereotypes of stay-at-home mothers.  But rather than eating bonbons and watching TV all day, I find myself wolfing sandwiches during math lessons and helping my son spell big words as he's writing a persuasive paper.

In the past year, I've become aware that I could have done more to keep my son in his brick and mortar school.  I could have escalated my concerns sooner, I could have demanded that the district enforce his rights as a student to a free and appropriate education.  But I didn't know the intricacies of the law the way educators do, I wasn't able to hold the system accountable for the services they're meant to provide.  And, quite frankly, my son's mind is too precious a thing to languish in a bad situation indefinitely.

A literacy outing
with fellow online students
I know that I did the right thing for him, just as sending my other children to the exact same school district every day is what is best for them.  And this post has been difficult to get out, because I feel so conflicted about the whole thing.  I love public schools.  I wouldn't be able to write this without the men and women who taught me year after year.  I wouldn't be the woman I am today without the experiences of changing in a girl's locker room and dissecting a fetal pig and having a teacher admonish me for talking too much and having my work praised in front of the entire class.  The traditional school system worked for me, as I believe it does for many kids.  But it doesn't work for everyone.  People like my son struggle with a barrage of sensory issues and communication challenges.  It was only because he had such compassionate and gifted educators that he was able to make it as far as he did in the system, because the single variable of being in class with a woman who was not prepared to teach him derailed the entire thing.

I don't know which side to join when people demand that public schools be given proper funding and teachers be permitted to educate their students rather than teach them how to take a standardized test...I fully support this attitude.  But then those same people insist that school choice is destroying our nation's public education system, and pulling my son from his school and switching to an online program is part of the problem.  I cannot agree with those arguments.  Likewise, I find myself nodding along with proponents of alternative schooling options, who say that not every child will do well in a traditional classroom, and having options for those kids is necessary to upholding our country's value of equal access to education for everyone.  Of course they are right!  I've seen this happen in my own house!  But they don't want schools to be held to equal standards, or they want to abolish the neighborhood schools and replace them all with for-profit charters, and I cannot give my support to such a ludicrous idea.

So here I sit in No-Moms-Land, believing in the ability to make alternative arrangements for my child as needed, but also wanting all schools to be held to high standards so that every student can receive their free and appropriate education.  I'm upset by lawmakers who don't seem to know anything about the very schools they are legislating and seem to care so little for the millions of children and teachers preparing for another day of hard work.  I'm disheartened that so many parents would rather homeschool their children than wade into the murky mess that our public school system has become.  I ache for the countless educators who abandon this most important job each year because shifting standards and changing evaluation systems have sucked their joy so they have nothing left to give their students.  And now I have to push all of this to the side so that I can prepare my son for his vocabulary test in the morning.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Today {it happened on a sunday} Day 31

What I believe today, and where my journey has brought me (so far):

1. Embrace Difficulty  I've learned that it is not in good times that I grow.  Not that I don't enjoy and welcome the periods when my life is peaceful, when there is plenty, when I am well-loved by those around me.  But I have come to recognize that difficulty and heartache are the necessary ingredients to change, and out of every hard stage, I have emerged stronger, braver, and more capable of loving others.

2. Live in Community  I wanted so badly to be an island, to accomplish everything on my own, to go through life hidden and unseen.  You guys, that is a horrible way to live.  My journey has brought me into the lives of so many amazing people, and it has shown me how important living in community is.  Of course it is hard at times.  Absolutely I have been hurt, and I'm sure I've done some hurting.  We aren't perfect, none of us.  But we need each other.

3. Be Open  I loved my walls that I put up.  I thought they protected me, kept me safe from harm.  And maybe they did, for a while.  But they also hurt me.  They kept me from truth, from love, from freedom.  Don't live inside the walls.  Live in openness to all that this messy, beautiful, challenging life has to offer.  Never stop learning.  Never stop trying new things.  Never give up.

4. Practice Honesty  My first experiments with lying centered around keeping painful secrets and trying to be someone I wasn't.  But deceit soon became a part of who I was.  Being honest and telling the truth are still difficult for me.  It's scary to offer myself up without half-truths and manipulations.  I couldn't be open, living in community, and embracing difficulty if I continued to be dishonest.

Thanks for joining me this month!  I hope everyone reading has had the opportunity to reflect on their own journey of faith and gained a better understanding of the people and circumstances that have contributed to who they are today.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Soul {it happened on a sunday} day 30

We spent yesterday at a funeral.  It was the first one we took our children in six years, since they spend the first five minutes of their great-grandpa's service screaming and pounding on a window and I excused myself and took them on a walk through the woods behind the church.  To be fair, they were ages 3 and not quite 1 (and the youngest not yet born), so thinking they would be able to sit through a Catholic funeral service might have been naive of us.  But the memory of that day, and my missed opportunity to mourn the passing of my husband's grandfather, and my inability to be there with him during an emotional day, was heavy on my mind.

I spent the past week talking to the boys about death, a concept that they don't entirely grasp yet.  I explained that death is something that makes us sad, because we will miss the person who has gone.  I explained that real life is not like video games, that people don't regenerate (or respawn).  We get one chance at the life we're given.  And I explained that I believe we each have a soul connected to our bodies in life, and that death is the departure of the soul.

I have attended, maybe not a lot, but certainly enough, funerals and calling hours in my life, and the existence of the soul is more evident to me in its absence.  I have looked upon the bodies of family and loved ones, and the strange stillness, the complete absence of them makes it an uncomfortable experience.  Whatever made that person laugh or cry or want to dance is gone; the love that they showed me, that I was able to return, has left.

And what more than these issues of life or death is at the crux of faith, of the major belief systems of our world?  None of us has first-hand experience, concrete evidence of what happens to that soul after it departs.  We are left to imagine, to wonder, to seek out the spiritual when the physical world has failed us.  For me, this is where I lean heavily on the writer of Hebrews, who states in chapter 11, verse 1, "To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see."

My beliefs about life after death, about the existence and nature of heaven and hell, have undergone many iterations, as I'm sure you can deduce from this series.  This is where I stand today, being certain of my hopes that the promises from the end of Revelation are true, and that one day God will bring all of His people together in a new city, where all the former things have passed away.  I long for God to dwell in my midst, to wipe every tear from my eyes, to bring about a place where there is no more death or sorrow or pain.  I cannot see a spiritual plane where men and women come together and worship God for all eternity, but I believe it is there, and I believe some day I will get to live among them.  I believe I will see familiar faces, though they may be altered from how I remember them, clothed in the fullness of who God made them to be.  I believe we won't struggle to understand each other any longer, that the defining characteristic of eternity will be unity in thought and purpose.

It also seems clear from my study of the Bible that some people won't be there, that some will miss out on this experience.  All I can say about that, is how glad I am that I don't serve in the role of judge.  I trust God to know the hearts of all mankind, to know our thoughts as well as our deeds, and to correctly designate the eternal resting place of every soul.  This certainly complicates things here, and we argue with each other and label religious ideas as "hate" or intolerance.  I agree that this is harsh, but I also know that if I claim to believe some parts of the Bible, then I need to own a belief in the whole book.  The promises of God are amazing and sometimes exceedingly generous.  So are God's warnings.

The most closely held belief I have, in regards to the soul, is that God desires an abundant life for every person.  I believe that abundance begins here and now and only grows in the world beyond what we can see.  I have experienced fullness in this life, as a mother, as a wife, as a friend.  I see God's goodness on display in a funeral service with 30 people gathered to celebrate 90 years of life, for the way we care for each other in our grief and continue the love and tenderness practiced by our parents and grandparents.  I feel that abundance in the laughter that accompanies the sharing of stories, the common memories, and the closely protected treasures of family.  With the awareness of life and death so timely, I continue to hope that when my life has reached its conclusion, there will be something worth celebrating by those I leave behind.