So they let me talk at church again today. YAY! I love doing that. Love it. This is more or less what I said (I went off script a few times and I did use my kids' real names):
As always, thank you. I’m honored to be asked to talk and very honored that you didn’t find something better to do. :) Because of the impending closure of the church, we’ve been talking about grief this Lent, and the five stages of it that Elisabeth Kubler-Ross identified. Today, I’m going to talk about Acceptance, the last stage.
I'd like you to imagine something with me for a minute. You're walking downtown one day and you see a lady talking to a homeless person. The homeless guy is laughing and smiling. She hugs him, smiles and walks away. There's something about her. Something kinda awesome. The easy way she walks and smiles. The smile in her eyes. So you smile at her. She smiles back and says hello and introduces herself as Susan. Susan is the coolest person you've ever met. She talks all the time of how Victoria doesn't have to have homeless people. She has ideas on how to end poverty. How to fix the healthcare system. How to help the drug addicts. You’re seriously impressed. Her ideas are brilliant. Innovative. And simple. Not easy, but simple.
Susan tells you you can help. She convinces you and a few others to quit your jobs, sell your house, and work with her. SCARY! Your family thinks you’re nuts. They’re pretty sure you’ve joined a cult. You’re pretty sure they just don’t understand. But you have doubts sometimes. Like when Susan wanders off by herself and tells you to wait and then yells at you when she gets back because you had the nerve to doze off. But otherwise, you’re pretty happy. I mean, she’s got these great ideas and plans, and promises you it’ll happen. She’s just so damn sure of herself.
And then one day you hear that the government is going to cut down Cathedral Grove to make a few bucks. OH HELL NO, she says. You and Susan and a bunch of others march your butts up there and she blows a gasket on them. There’s none of this passive tying herself to a tree for Susan. Oh no. She throws them ‘em all right out. And draws some uncomfortable attention to herself. And you.
Now your family is really pissed off. Your friends are telling you to get away from her. People who kind of were sympathetic to her cause, they’re mad, because she’s telling them, “No. It’s not enough to throw a couple of bucks to the homeless. It’s not enough!” and “Yes, you really do need to help sex offenders”
And then she gets arrested. You all knew it was coming after that stunt at Cathedral Grove. The media is calling her an eco-terrorist, mentally ill, a cult leader. And then you hear the worst. She’s dead. Died mysteriously in jail.
Did I mention Susan is aboriginal? Yeah. So no one cares. She’s just another dead indian as far as the cops are concerned. The media doesn’t care. She’s got no family with political clout. You’re just some homeless lunatic who followed her around.
Well. Holy. Crap. She said she could fix things! She SAID it would happen! That it was happening already! How could this be?!
That’s what the apostles were facing [Acts 1: 1-12]. They were broke homeless followers of a dead Jew in Roman territory. They had some choices. They could have just closed up shop so to speak and went their separate ways, got jobs, went back to their families, whatever. But they didn’t. There’s no mention of screaming, crying, fighting, desertion... In the next verses they go about finding a replacement for Judas! They were definitely confused though. They were seeing the resurrected Jesus here and there, and they asked him just before he ascended, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ So, they still didn’t know. They didn’t understand. And then he said, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. “
What?! You’re not even going to tell us when? Then what are we supposed to do?! But no. He didn’t answer. He just rose into heaven in a pillar of light, leaving them standing there dumbfounded.
So how’d they do it? How did they just go on?
It’s very simple. They still believed Jesus. They still believed that the world he spoke of could exist. Even without his physical presence. Their mission didn’t change because he was gone. They didn’t believe they needed him there to do what they needed to do.
That’s what always stops us from accepting. Hanging onto beliefs that no longer serve us. I’m going to explain in a second how to do that, but let me go another direction for a minute.
I’m really good at grieving. That is, I can rock the stages of grief. All of ‘em. In one day. And back again. Heck, I can rapid cycle through them like I’m channel surfing. WHILE I’m channel surfing. I don’t just stop on acceptance, oh no. I flip back to anger. Example. The church closing. You’re probably wondering why I am the one talking about acceptance if you know just how I’m feeling about that! :) I’m damn good and mad. I hardly believe it’s happening! And I keep coming up with ways to fix it. And I’m sad. And I TOTALLY GET IT. It’s going to be okay. But damn it, I’m mad! See? All of ‘em, in seconds.
I think Erin asked me to talk about this because of my kids. And, as she put it, because I’m not Little Mary Sunshine. Not by a longshot. But I’ve done a very good job of accepting the loss of the dreams I had for my kids. I’m actually in a place now where I’m grateful for autism. Seriously. And here’s where we get to changing beliefs.
When I first started coming to grips with the idea that my kids are autistic, I was livid. SO MAD at God. SO MAD at pharmaceutical companies. FURIOUS with pesticide and herbicide companies. I’m still not a fan, but I’ve let go of the anger, by and large. I hated autism. It stole my children. That’s what I believed.
But I changed that belief. How? I got to the root of the issue which was that I was unhappy that they weren’t going to have the life I wanted for them. And I realized that children aren’t here to fulfill my dreams for them. I can be happy for them and with them no matter what life they live. If they had been neurotypical and chose to do things I disapproved of, I’d still love them and still be happy for them. So how is this different? It’s not. Simply put, I can be happy without getting what I want. I can be happy in any situation, if I choose to be.
And sometimes I don’t choose to be. Because I like the belief I am holding on to. And that is O.K. Period.
But how did I get to grateful. I love the looks on people’s faces when I tell them I’m grateful for autism. They range from disbelief to pity to utter incomprehension. But here’s why I’m grateful. Autism means I get to celebrate every single little step my kids make as a big giant step, because for them, it is. Crackle’s climbing up into his seat to eat at supper now instead of trying to use the table as a trough he can graze at. Doesn’t seem like much of anything to most parents. To me, this is cause for celebration! I miss nothing. I take nothing for granted. It’s absolutely the most rewarding thing ever. Pop is almost recovered from the parts of autism that are challenging. It’s so so so awesome. He’s still got all the quirky thinking, and I hope that never goes away, because he’s sweet and brilliant. He says things like, “Mommy, I am so proud of you. You are such a good Mommy” and “Mommy, Crackle can’t talk, but he loves you.” And he counts when he’s anxious. He counts things, counts by 5s, just counts. It helps him. And how cool is that. I have a 4 year old who can help himself calm down. And Snap! She’s 18 now (on Tuesday) and she’ll be graduating from high school in June. That’s HUGE for Snap. She’s got learning disabilities, Aspergers, and anxiety problems that make coping difficult. I have hope that one day she can live on her own, but no expectations of it right now. Scary, and I could choose to be upset about it, but I’m celebrating how clever she is to find a social community on the internet. She can use Skype to talk to new people. She’s got something like 4000 followers on her blog. I have a whopping 27. She’s trying so hard. I am so amazingly proud of her. Even though I never ever would have chosen this life for her. I am happy.
Acceptance is a pretty simple concept at the core. It’s “I can be happy even though I didn’t get what I wanted. I can be happy to work toward something else I want.” I didn’t want autism for my kids. But I can be happy with it, be grateful for the opportunities it has given me, AND work my butt off to help my kids recover from it.
Sometimes the beliefs that are holding us back are pretty ingrained. Mine are often based on judgements. I used to think I was very non-judgemental. Then I went for the Son-Rise course on autism where we learned this process of acceptance and happiness - it’s called the Option Process - and I discovered that I’m very judgey. Just in different ways from most people.
My deal? I can accept people as is if I perceive their behaviour to be reasonable. And I judge what is reasonable. Nice filter, eh? Old lady taking 10 minutes to count out nickels at the checkout? No problem. She’s old, blind and has arthritis. Reasonable. Young woman taking 10 minutes to check his lotto tickets ahead of me at the checkout stand? JERK! Same amount of time. Judgement about the reasonability of the situation determined whether I was going to be happy about it or not.
I’m working on it. I swear. For Lent, I gave up NOT letting people in in traffic. Because it made me SO MAD when people would jump to the front of the queue. How dare they? And then one day, I had to pee, and I did it. And it hit me. What if everyone had to pee? What if I just decided to believe they did? I’d already decided to believe they were jerks, why not turn it around and decide they just needed to pee? Or that the babysitter called to say their kid had a seizure. Or that their wife was in labour? Why not choose to believe the happy thing? Because it’s less plausible? Says who? Why do I have to believe that people are inherently bad when I can believe they just have a full bladder? I’m much less likely scream and swear in the car now. It’s nice. :)
Any belief can be changed. Anything we’re unhappy about, we can accept. That’s can. Not must. No one is saying that unhappiness is a bad thing - that’s a judgement. I’m saying that if you are unhappy about something and are tired of being unhappy about it, you can let it go.
Look at the grief people feel after losing a loved one. Absolutely no one is saying, “Be happy! Your Mom died, but who cares?! You can be happy!” Nope. But eventually, we move on. They’re still in our hearts, but we let go of the belief that we can’t be happy without them, or whatever belief we’re holding. Usually, we don’t do this consciously. Sometimes, like in the case of break ups, we do. “I loved him so much! How could he do this to me. We were perfect together!” “Oh honey! You’re better than him! He’s a jerk!” “You’re right! He’s a jerk! Good riddance!” And it’s more than sour grapes. It’s saying, yes, yes, I can live without him, and no, I didn’t need him. All those flaws I was overlooking - choosing to believe weren’t a problem - well, now I’m changing that belief.
And sometimes, all we can do is what those disciples did. Trust that Jesus was right. That God has a plan. That we’re part of it. And even if it’s not going the way we want, we can choose to believe that it’s the right thing, and that it will be okay. And that can be acceptance. Oh sure, I might rapid cycle back to mad, sad, outright denial, bargaining, anger again, denial again, but, if I want to, I can always find that place of acceptance if I trust God and let the Spirit guide me.