I'm committing the cardinal sin of Blogdom and popping in for a short and sweet, uninspiring update. But I wanted to let y'all know that I finally made myself a big-girl website! Woot Woot!
I wanted to make it just right before the unveiling, meaning I wanted to completely move my blog and all it's contents over there- but alas, it was not to be, and that part is going to have to wait. So for now I'll have to link between the two of them which, yes, is a pain in the arse but also means I get to sleep more than two hours a night before we move in June.
(JUNE IS SO SOON!!!)
Anyway. I hope you love it as much as I do. The Upside Down podcast schtuff is there, my freelance work is there, info on the Catholic Worker is there, and best of all...
a huge list of my favorite book recommendations is there, categorized by Justice Issues, Spirituality, Novels/Memoirs, and Children's. It might be my favorite part of the site.
So head over to ShannonKEvans.com and tell me what ya think? (and pssst if the links don't work, let a sista know)
|Image: America Magazine|
We sat side by side on a hay bale, knees under a makeshift picnic table and bellies full of homemade bread. Samantha lived in a tent by the river. I could sometimes make out the tip of it when I drove by the woods in our SUV on the way home from running errands with my kids. I had heard that she and her boyfriend were troublemakers, a reputation no doubt fueled by their respective addictions, neither of which do any favors for one’s interpersonal skills.
But there at the table, I saw no signs of all that. I saw only a woman who cooed over the baby in my arms. We made small talk, or at least attempted it, until her curiosity could contain itself no longer: “Why are you here?” she asked. She could not keep the skepticism out of her voice, and I did not blame her. I was married and clearly middle class, despite my best attempts to play it down. Why on earth was I hanging out at the Day House, a place frequented mostly by people experiencing homelessness? I chuckled low and got honest: “Because we need friends.”
Read the rest at America Magazine!
I figured it out by watching Parenthood.
Little Max Braverman exhibited many of my son's own behaviors except, well, more mildly. My husband and I were saucer-eyed from the pilot episode; I filed mental notes away as if all our lives depended on it because in a way, they did.
It would be two years later, just this past January, that a psychologist would officially confirm what I'd known in my gut for two trips around the sun: my boy has Autism Spectrum Disorder.
He was about to celebrate his seventh birthday. Had he been a toddler, it likely would have hit me like a ton of bricks: I would have grieved, I would have cried, I would have been afraid. But when you're loving and living with a brain that spins in an entirely different pattern than your own for years, you've already known that fear of a life you can't imagine and don't understand- you've looked that fear in the eye and felt sure it would bury you. But it didn't.
Eventually, parents of children with Autism find a way to counter fear with joy, whether it comes before the diagnosis or after. Not because we are superhuman creatures, but because our children are. We see them make their way through a world that wasn't built for them, and we determine to change it. We see them overcome their debilitating anxiety to participate in mundane events, and we're inspired to be more heroic ourselves. We see them crumble when it all feels too much, and the deep groan of love propels us to fight when they can't. In laughter and in tears, in failure and in occasional success, we learn to find a way beyond our own doubts and limitations.
Our understanding of the world and our place within it shatters. It has to, for there to be room for our child in it. But as we rebuild a life out of the shards (occasionally bloodying our hands on the pieces and bandaging them up for each other) it becomes apparent that the window through which we view everything is now stained glass, fit for the most glorious cathedral and - wouldn't you know it? - the presence of God.
This is the gift that Autism offers the world; this is the song that Autism sings. It is in breaking open that we are made whole, and it is in embracing each other in all our imperfections that we can finally recognize the image of God that was right in front of us the whole time.
Today we are surrounded by demand for "perfection" on every side. Efforts are being made to systematically eradicate genetic conditions such as Down Syndrome, reeking heavily of a Hitlerian disdain for the differently abled. Well that's the "depraved world", a Christian might say. But within some streams of Christianity, the singular emphasis on God's healing power unintentionally sends the same message: an atypical life is somehow not as valuable. Maybe we don't believe weakness, dependence, and suffering can glorify God. Maybe we think He secretly only likes the impressively-abled ones. Maybe deep down, we think God is just like us.
My son is a phenomenal human being. The label of Autism helps us understand him but it does not define him and indeed, he often blatantly defies it. We have found strategies and medication that have been life-changing for him and much to our happy bewilderment his teachers report he is a model student. And yet still, life is harder for him than for many other kids. Life is harder for us than for many other parents. But a hard life does not mean a less valuable life. On the contrary, I would challenge us to question whether individuals with special needs don't invite the rest of us in to a life more abundant, one that transforms us from the inside out. It's Good News. It's Gospel.
If it's good news for some of us, it's good news for all of us, or it's not good news at all. And the Good News for people like you and me - the neurotypical, the "strong" - is that our weaknesses, our fatal flaws, don't disqualify us from bearing the image of a Loving God or of bringing good and dignified gifts into a world that needs them. We are enough, every single one of us. We have dignity and glory and beauty and complexity and we are so much more than enough.
Just as we are.
In my journey, I have been inspired by the words of other special needs mothers. Most are softened souls that speak into my literal ear and will never be known as internet famous, but there are also women like Mary, Micha, and Kelly, who write online for the rest of us to draw from their wells. If you don't know their stories, I invite you to sit under their wisdom for as long as your coffee stays warm.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE:
Blink (for the parents of the different kind of kid)
What It Means to Say Yes to Adoption
In Defense of ADHD
When You're Still Looking for the Kingdom of God
We write our way into writing, my friend Laura says.
So I trust that if I just start hacking away at these cold keys, something's going to come of it.
It is with great joy, anticipation, and gratitude that my family and I announce we are moving back to Denton, Texas this summer. Making this move to Iowa in 2015 was our third marital attempt at leaving Texas, and danggit if it seems we just can't quit her after all. This whole Midwest experiment has only solidified the importance of Place in my finite understanding of the world, and it's a topic I'll likely write more about in the future. We are Texans at heart, it would seem, and maybe we're more loyal than we gave ourselves credit for.
But even though we both spent most of our lives in Texas, and even though Eric's parents still live there (and I don't have to explain to you the treasure that is grandparent proximity when you have three kids), I don't think we would be returning at this point if we hadn't spent the last 2 years of our Texas days in Denton.
Denton is 30 miles north of Dallas, if you're wondering, and is a smallish town despite the fact that there are two universities there (Eric got his Master's at UNT). My dad maintains that it's the ugliest place on earth, but she's a beaut to us. She's home.
We're returning to the Catholic Worker community in Denton that we loved so deeply during our time there. (You may remember that it was based out of our home for about a year, which holds some of the truly best memories of my life.) When Eric graduated, the option of staying was a tempting one but he couldn't find a full time job in the area and we desperately felt we needed life to be stable for a while. We had been through the ringer as a family and needed a soft place to land. Iowa has more than stepped up to that plate.
Our life here is precious. While it took Eric some time to get into the groove of his job, it's now one he has come to love. In addition to the ministry aspect that fills his cup, it's flexible and accommodating of family life. Alyosha's public school is phenomenal. Our parish is bursting with young families to be friends with. Our priest loves our children, and they can feel it. (The loss of that brings tears to my eyes as I type.) Our nearly 100 year old home suits us perfectly. We walk downtown or to school multiple times a week for much of the year. There's even a Catholic Worker farm outside of town.
It is the closest to a "perfect" life that I've ever pictured for us. And I am convinced that it was the goodness of God that led us here.
But I'm equally as convinced that we're not meant to stay forever.
Do we have the choice? Oh certainly. For the weeks that we prayed fervently about the next year, we felt assured in our spirits that either moving or staying would be good. There was no wrong choice, and we could make beautiful lives for ourselves in either location. But in our heart of hearts, we also sensed that there was a certain fullness of Life for us in Denton that would be very difficult to create here.
In Denton we were folded in to the beauty that had begun there long before our arrival. Community had already been forged between college students, the homeless, the voluntarily poor, the mentally ill, the farmers. Literally all we had to do was jump in. And we did. And who can return to the typical American dream after that? There has been a hole in our hearts here in Iowa that we haven't found a way to fill. No matter what we tried to get involved in here, it wasn't the same. It wasn't our people. It wasn't our home. And maybe, for all our wonderings and wanderings, that is simply how the Lord speaks to us.
This summer our family of 5 is going rogue. We're moving back to the Catholic Worker community, prepared to be the root system that it's needed. Eric is my hero for walking away from a comfortable, satisfying, meaningful full time job and embracing the stigma our culture assigns to a man who offers his family an uncertain future. He and I will both be working part time jobs so that we can BOTH truly invest in the work of hospitality for others, as well as the rearing of our own children.
Speaking of the boys, they have not been overlooked in this decision. Far from it. In addition to getting more time with their dad, they will also be surrounded by their godparents (both official and of the heart) who love them as well as a human being can be loved. They will grow up with people who are living out their faith in radical ways, and that will be their normal. They will be accustomed to things that are still surprising to us: being friends with people who sleep in tents by the river, being given gifts that people find in dumpsters. We will keep them safe, be sure of that, but we aren't orienting our life around safety. We believe that giving them a faith that extends beyond church walls is the best thing we could ever do for them. This kind of faith is the reason we're Catholic. Frankly, it's the reason we're Christian. If we can't impart to them the truth that the image of God is borne in all people, and that the Gospel destroys walls and social hierarchies, then what kind of faith are we teaching?
Will we be poor? Well it depends on your definition of the word but to some extent and by our cultural standards, yes. We are choosing to shed the privilege we were born with and dare to imagine a different kind of world than one of looking out for our own and climbing imaginary ladders. We will share radically, but make no mistake, we will be the recipients of others' sharing too, because sharing is the culture of the community. I have no doubt that we will have everything we need.
What will we do? We're committed to taking it slow. For the first year we will give ourselves room to find our way. We will rejoin the weekly potlucks in the park that a modge podge of people attend. We will soak up the weekly Lectio Divinia prayer times and have daily house prayer too. Our roommate will start a garden, and we will learn from her and hopefully feed people from the wealth of it. We will be a home of welcome to the stranger, to the one in need, especially mothers and children. We simply are looking to BE in the world: to be good neighbors, good friends, to live with arms wide open to those who feel their need acutely, and to be transparent about our own need for others. We will discern as we go what our long-term charism is, and we trust that God will lead us where He wants us to go.
Will I still be writing? You bet. You can't get rid of me that easily. I imagine I'll have a thing or two to say. *wink*
Thank you for traveling with us spiritually. Thank you for your prayers and well-wishes. Thank you to my newsletter subscribers who got the news over the weekend and responded with such joy for our family. It's an honor to walk with you.
*I have installed a "donate" button on the sidebar that links straight to my PayPal if you want to make a donation to our work of hospitality. No pressure, ever, but it's there if you're interested.*