Boys Live. Fathers Sacrifice.

The poison of masculinity is often the way we men treat ourselves. Long before a branch we can plot on our family tree, many of our male traditions were a matter of survival. Being a father meant unrelenting sacrifice for the good of his family, spending every bit of energy in pursuit of food, protection, and warmth. It meant being strong and stoic; not showing a single crack in resolve…as any sign of weakness could be an invitation for danger. Fathers had to be self-sufficient, able to solely accomplish all that was needed in order to keep competition and threats at arms length.

The times have changed but the responsibilities have not. And so the self-inflicted expectations persist. Whether by nature or nurture, the hard-working, unemotional, isolated male archetype lives on.

Many families will never see their father leave for work. He’s up and off while they sleep, making widgets, shuffling paperwork, or otherwise laboring for others. He’ll rarely experience the pride of placing his day’s labor directly on the table for his family to eat. He’ll often feel insignificant, wondering whether he’s making any impact at all. If he’s really “successful,” he’ll work longer and harder, watching work from a device in his pocket. He’ll keep chasing the ghost of comfort; a bar that changes each time his family adjusts to a new lifestyle. His can feel like a Chuck-E-Cheese life, where he cashes in his valuable time for meaningless tokens and trinkets…but he loves his family and has been taught to sacrifice for them, so he exchanges freedom for comfort and meaning for money.

Despite this growing access to work, a father can feel like he never checks the box. He’ll pull into the driveway with a longer list of things to fix, bills to pay, emails to read, behaviors to remedy, practices to attend, decisions to make, and problems to solve. He won’t let how he feels become the priority, because he feels a responsibility to be the steady calm in the storm. He’ll jump head first into the screaming cycle, losing track of days and feeling as if the perfect man he’s supposed to be…the one he remembers seeing in his father, is pulling ever further away from his grasp. He’ll take a day off to recoup. Something for himself. Time to get away, only to fill it with guilt for not working hard enough or being selfish. His can feel like a failure-ridden life, wherein each of his problems is inflicted by his own flaws…but he loves his family, so he clings to the granite-clad facade and lets the waters rage behind.

A father doesn’t ask for directions, even when he knows he’s lost. A friend in “father-ese” means a fishing trip, woodwork, or football…shared interests that won’t dig uncomfortably deep. He withdraws from real conversations with anyone, even his wife. The truth is that he wants her respect even more than he wants her love…and he’s afraid talking about his flaws would cause her to lose both. His raised chalice of success belies the cracks in the dam, and so he will forever hold his conversations on the emotional porch…because when a man lives in isolation, his house is almost always a mess.

It’s easy to laugh at the simple, compartmentalized, male mind. It’s fun to joke about our quirky and superficially predictable nature. The truth is that, in a rare moment of public reflection…usually as they near the end of their journey, you’ll find a father has a much greater depth of complexity than he ever lets on. He finally accepts it was wrong to hide, but it’s not his fault; it was the way we’re all taught. We’re taught to love you enough to keep our insecurities from you, so that you feel safe in our superhero grasp. We’re taught to fight our battles alone, so you can’t be hurt in the crossfire. We’re taught that boys live and men sacrifice.

Chances are, your father sacrificed far more than you ever knew. Thank him for it, today.

Happy Father’s Day.


No Room at the Inn

When I mentor aspiring project managers, I push my own personal golden rule of sand-bagging: “Expectations are the single greatest factor in the perceived success or failure of any project and one that you can set at the beginning.”

When it came to Holidays, those expectations aren’t wholly set by us. They are a product of how we grew up. They are molded by a barrage of outside messages from advertisers, consumers, influencers….”friends.”

Christmas is the “most wonderful time.”  That’s the message I lived, growing up. I baked cookies and making homemade candy with mom and siblings, with sounds of Crosby and Sinatra ringing in the background.  We’d always do Christmas puzzles, finishing a piece or two with each trip through the room. The anticipation of presents was only bested by the promise of a night with my cousins, aunts, and uncles, where we’d eat, talk, and play games all night. It was a time without school, filled with activity, but free from stress. We never truly experienced need and my dad led an annual family “Christmas project” to help those, who did.

My first year with Cailyn warned of change. When she awoke from a nap on that first Christmas evening with my extended family, she was surrounded by a home she didn’t recognize, filled with loud sounds, tons of people, and overwhelming senses. At the time we didn’t understand why she cried, inconsolably, for nearly two hours. I held her and walked around the house, completely emotionally disconnected from the activity. There was a familiar pit now growing in my stomach. It told me that something was different. Something was wrong.

We now attend only one Christmas outside the home. My mom sets up a room for Cailyn to get alone time. Amber and I acquiesce to all of her demands, knowing we’ll have a bill to pay later because she doesn’t understand we’ll have to say “no” again when we’re home. We often drive two cars, because one of us often has to leave with Cailyn early. As I drive home, I see houses lit up with cars stacked in rows. I see people walking in and out, playing as a family. I remember the unencumbered joy and belonging I felt as a child…

Because you can’t understand how lonely a village can feel, until there’s no room at the inn.

Each year I shop for my daughter and I’m completely confused. Cailyn has anxiety in public, screaming and kicking when we try to take her to the store. When we look at gifts online, she gets frustrated and wants them immediately. She’ll obsess for weeks on end, so we’re often left to guess.

“Will she play with it? It’s expensive. What if it sits around the house?”

I see other parents with little girls, picking out dolls, jewelry, technology, and crafts. Meanwhile, I’m looking at toddler toys for a nine-year-old aspiring woman, nearly as tall as her mother. Sometimes I resent the other families, so I try try not to go out. I’m often rude and condescending; annoyed as I push through the aisles of seemingly happy people.

Every Christmas I pull a “giving tree” name of a girl around Cailyn’s age. Maybe I want to help her and her family. Maybe I want to pretend for a moment that she’s mine. Whatever the case, I watch myself balancing on this razor’s edge of philanthropy and shame. It’s my tradition nonetheless…

Because you never realize your envy smells like the pigs, until there’s no room at the inn.

Cookies and candies never last in our family. Often, we decide not to make them. If Cailyn knows we have sugar in the house, she’ll want more until they’re gone. Afterwards, she’ll beat herself up and scream for an hour out of frustration.

Christmas songs aren’t novel, we hear them all year long. Cailyn is obsessed with the same album and requests it in July as much as December. We know every minute musical detail and it don’t invoke nostalgia or Christmas spirit…only repetition and memories of sadness.

Cailyn is out of school for the Holidays, which is more stress-inducing than free. She doesn’t understand she’ll have to return again soon so the months after Christmas each year is filled with notes from teachers.

“What happened? What changed? Send a helmet. Rough day.”

We read the notes each day for weeks…sometimes months. We know they’re coming from the scratches and bruises on our daughter’s face. We’d do anything to help but everyone who loves her is helpless. We can’t seem to soothe the anxiety of change. Last year, the timing of the holidays made us miss church for multiple weeks and Cailyn wasn’t able to cope with returning. We were called back from service weeks in a row because she was a danger to herself…we now attend separately, switching off and on weeks with our son.

Each year invites a new demon into our home. A holiday switch inevitably flips and turns our lives dark overnight. We don’t cut loops on a paper chain or cross out days on a calendar in anticipation, but rather in apprehension. The next shoe will drop, the next depression will begin, and the next hole will emerge.

Because you’ve never been so afraid of where you’ll wake up until there is no room at the inn.

Christmas in our house looks Instagram-worthy. Amber’s decorations are always first-rate. The tree and fireplace is perfectly coordinated and the presents are stacked just right. We take photos and videos as best we can, but Cailyn gets overwhelmed and stays in her room. She cries when we try to open more than one present and doesn’t want to do it with her brother, who is loud when excited.

Each smile created by my son’s joy is dulled by that perfectly stacked pile just feet away. It’s one where a smiling little girl should sit. It’s like one of the beautiful puzzles I’d worked on as a child…but with a single piece missing.

This year, Amber was decorating again the day after Thanksgiving. I snapped at her when she asked for help. I didn’t want to participate, I just wanted to complain. After a bit, I dutifully performed my errands with a terrible attitude and made her day miserable in the process. While she was at the store with Dalton, I was asked to finish and “fluff” the tree in the main room.  As I moved around the tree slowly, I began mumbling aloud.

“I freaking hate Christmas. I don’t know why we bother with this crap.” I went on and on until my eyes welled up with tears. “God. I don’t want to go here again.” I started to pray. “I can’t live like this. I can’t make it through another winter like last. You’ve got to do something here, because I can’t keep watching everyone living the life I’m supposed to have…the one I used to have.”

It was then I was reminded of the reactions I’d received to my blog posts this year; The people, who thought we “had it all” and thanked me for being so open with the struggles of Autism. I began to recall others, who shared stories with us and how I found fellowship in that transparency. I started praying for people I knew, for whom Christmases meant financial worry and debt. I prayed for people, who had sickness and an uncertain future. I listed some people we’ve lost in the past few years, and the families who would be left with an empty stack of presents in their minds on Christmas day.

In that moment, I realized that we weren’t so different from others. The weight of expectations is something we all bear this time of year. The monkeys on our backs and elephants in our rooms should be shared with those we love as freely as the elf on our shelf. A broadcast of hope for the broken should outshine the perfect little lies we all frame and filter for our followers…

Because I never realized that we are all Christmas projects…
I never understood how much we all need a savior…
I never appreciated that a little child could light my stinking stable…

…until there was no room at the inn.

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“I am giving up my voice, so Cailyn can find hers.”

The tears in Amber’s eyes belied her resolute strength, as she first informed me of her plans to step down from music ministry. The revelation was startling. From the moment I met Amber, “Worship Leader” was always the title that followed her name. She loved to sing, she was meant to sing…she LIVED to sing.

…and now that identity was gone. At the time, I didn’t completely understand.

Following her decision, when Amber was overcome by “mom moments” during her day, she would quietly step into the sound room I created for her. We would hear a couple of slow chords on the piano and the rest of the house went completely silent…even Cailyn. It would usually begin as a whisper or a groan, but Amber’s voice always evolved into an unrelenting roar, as she summoned strength from whatever song was connecting her heart to God. The emotion in the house was palpable and thick. A shiver would run down your spine.

One day, I thought I heard Amber’s warm, airy, treble tone from across the house. As I got closer, I realized it was Cailyn.

“Head and shoulders, knees and toes.” Cailyn repeated over and over, becoming increasingly irritated.

While this was an interesting anomaly at first, it quickly turned into a regular event. Whenever Cailyn was growing upset, she would begin singing that same song.

“Head and shoulders, knees and toes.” she repeated over and over. Although we grew to despise the song, it filled an important void in Cailyn’s development. While she couldn’t describe when she was sad or angry, she sang to give us early insight to when she needed attention. This allowed us to address it before she became violent.

The second evolution in Cailyn’s songs occurred when she started using them to describe her more complex emotional needs. One day, I was entrenched in my phone after work as she tried to grab my attention to take her to her room and play. She soon grew upset and violent, when I finally looked up.

“Cailyn, what’s wrong? What do you need?” I asked, exhausted.

“Daddy car ride song.” She responded.

As we pulled out of the drive, she made her music request.

“Cinderella song. Daddy Cinderella.” she asked.

At first, it caught me off guard. “Cinderella” is a song by Steven Curtis Chapman, which describes a busy father setting aside the business of his day to spend time with his daughter. I dismissed it as a coincidence and turned the song on. As soon as it ended, she looked at me and emphatically made her next request.

“Play Cinderella song!” she yelled, staring directly at my eyes.

We repeated this cycle countless times on the one hour car ride, never listening to anything else. Finally, I realized she needed something else from me.

“Cailyn, daddy is sorry. Want daddy to play?” I asked.

“Daddy go home. Take you room. Daddy tickles.” She responded firmly.

What I had interpreted as an inconvenient routine was apparently a deep emotional need. By punishing me and forcing me to listen to that song, Cailyn was using it as her voice. Now, I’ll often surprise her and come straight to her bedroom after work. I’ll sing “Cinderella” and begin to tickle her, as she puts aside her iPad and giggles.

Perhaps most amazingly, Cailyn uses music to heal. I first noticed this the Christmas after Amber gave up music ministry. We were at a Christmas program when a teacher from the school pulled me aside. Her eyes welled with tears as she told me a story.

“I’m so grateful to have Cailyn in the school. Whenever I think I’m having an awful day, she always seems to comes over to me and begins to sing ‘Yes, Jesus loves me.’ Every time, I just begin to cry. If this little girl, who can barely communicate, can sing about God’s love, who am I to complain?”

But years later, Cailyn was facing a crisis of her own. Each night, she sat in bed and repeated everything making her nervous about the next day. Sometimes it was school, others a doctors appointment. We went downstairs to be with her several times each night. She cried, screamed, and hit herself…even to the point that it wasn’t uncommon for her to bust her lip and bleed all over her pillow.

One night, I thought I heard something different so I checked her security camera…Cailyn was singing.

The song was familiar but we couldn’t quite figure it out. We started trying to decipher the lyrics and searched for the song. When I finally discovered what my anxiety-riddled daughter was singing to get herself to sleep, it nearly broke me:

“Oh Lord, oh Lord I know you hear my cry. Your love is lifting me above all the lies. No matter what I face, this I know in time. You’ll take all that is wrong and make it right. I will stand my ground where hope can be found.”

As we discovered the important therapeutic role specific songs played in Cailyn’s life, we started incorporating them into her most traumatic experiences. Eventually, she found a song she wanted for showers. There was a different song for bedtime and even a playlist she liked specifically for her ride to school. Her entire school would know the last song she heard, because Cailyn insisted that “mommy sing” it with her as she exited the van. I’m convinced this is to soothe and anchor Amber as much as it is for Cailyn.

Even more recently, Amber and I were dealing with anxiety of our own. We had just scheduled an appointment to meet with an attorney about our will and a special needs trust for Cailyn. We discussed the inevitable questions, including what would happen to our autistic, poorly communicating daughter when we could no longer be with her to interpret. At one point in the conversation, Amber just huddled in the corner of our entryway and bawled.

“NO ONE ELSE KNOWS HER! THEY WON’T UNDERSTAND!” she almost had to yell to break through the sobs. “SHE’LL BE SO SCARED.”

The only thing I could think to do was hold her. That was, until Cailyn apparently had a better idea. She came upstairs, pulled out some slime, and sat at our kitchen island.

“Youtube. Hallelujah Music.” she demanded, asking for her praise and worship playlist to be on in the living area, instead of her room.

Just an hour later, Amber had to take Dalton to another appointment so I drove Cailyn around town. I was still battling, distracted by our previous conversation. That’s when one of the songs Cailyn asked for struck me. I began to sing along.

“So let go, my soul, and trust in Him. The waves and wind still know His name.”

My thoughts fell back to the day I realized that Cailyn had Autism. It was a moment that everything was crashing around me…one where I saw God as distant; asleep on my boat. That night, I logged on to Facebook and posted one thing…

“Peace. Be still.”

Eight years later, in a car, Cailyn began to sing it with me.

“It is well with my soul.”

By the end of the song, she was laughing and clapping as a tear rolled down my face. She had a new demand.

“It is well song. Daddy sing!” she would repeat for the rest of the ride.

Early last week, I began making plans for Thanksgiving. While many people love the holidays, Amber and I have come to dread them. In our family, the darkest seasons have always begun on Thanksgiving or Christmas. They represent change to Cailyn and create a huge rut we end up spinning in for the next few months. Just last year, the extended break began the worst cycle of our lives…one in which we stopped being able to attend church as a family. As my own anxiety began to get the best of me, Cailyn again walked up the stairs with a request.

“Daddy, yellow guitar sing it is well.” She asked, laughing.

Although it had been years since I’ve done much with a guitar, I got it out, tuned it, and began to sing with Cailyn. As we went through the song over and over, I listened to the words and a flood of thoughts and emotions poured in.

If a nine-year-old child with borderline uncontrollable and violent anxiety can find rest in praise, who am I to be troubled? Maybe the lesson is not that waves can be calmed, but that I can rest while they crash. Perhaps faith isn’t a belief that our situation will improve, rather the knowledge that I’ll be okay even when it doesn’t?

I looked down at Cailyn, who was no longer jumping around and playing. She was sitting next to me, looking at my eyes and interested in my every expression. It almost immediately struck me.

She wasn’t singing for her. She was singing for ME.

My voice cracked and I stopped for a moment. I flashed back to the moment Amber delivered that startling news to me. Looking back I could clearly see the vision Amber had years earlier. Amber gave her voice so that Cailyn could find one. In turn, Cailyn was giving her voice to help others (including me) find theirs.

That’s when I was interrupted…

“Daddy sing it is well.” Cailyn instructed, as we finished singing:

“Through it all. Through it all. My eyes are on You and it is well with me.”



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Hoping Mechanism

“Dad, I’m ready for the new house to be done so you can play with me again.”

I adjusted the rear view mirror to see my son, looking down and fidgeting with his hands. In hindsight, it’s apparent he was hurting and neglected. Instead of comforting or listening to him, I just rationalized my behavior.

“I’m sorry, buddy. Daddy has to make sure everything is going good with building the house. I know that it’s not fair to you that we don’t play as much. I try to take you with me so we can spend time together. There is only a little more of this left. When it’s all done, things are going to be so much better. You’ll have a huge room and Cailyn will have what she needs. This will all be over soon and we’ll have more time to play again. I promise.”

That’s how I lost nearly eight months of my son’s childhood.


The process began with noble intentions. Cailyn had less than 100 square feet of space in our old house. That tiny room was adjoined by the master bedroom, Dalton’s room, and the exterior wall beside our new “party” neighbors. One night, those neighbors made so much noise that Cailyn stayed up wailing and hitting herself past midnight. We approached them multiple times and couldn’t come to a resolution, so it became the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. On memorial day weekend of 2016, we decided to take the opportunity to build something perfect for us AND Cailyn. We put our house up for sale.

We were in a dark place, wrestling with Cailyn’s behavior. The new house represented a chance to reboot and would, in theory, fix all of our problems. Cailyn would have two rooms, a bedroom for sleeping and a play room for playing. This would alleviate her confusion with “bedtime” and “playtime.” The play room would be sound-proof, so she didn’t have to wear headphones or hide in the bathtub whenever neighbors mowed their lawn or had parties. Her bedroom would be under her playroom and separated from both our master suite and her brother’s room. We fixed almost everything we didn’t like about that old house and even planned for a semi-independent living area for Cailyn in the basement, for when she got older.

Once the changes began, things instantly felt better. There was hope in everything we did. The house we were renting was smaller. This meant Amber had to move her home-based personal training business to a building downtown. We signed a lease and began renovations. This allowed her to get out of the house and kept me busy and productive. In addition, I was starting a new job so all of my projects were fresh and exciting. Our entire life felt different, as if we were living in a state of “temporary.” Whenever something bad happened, Amber and I would just talk about and imagine the new house. We viewed it as a finish line; a destination that we pretend we could put our current sadness behind for good.

Looking back, Dalton’s statement was a cry out to a parent, who had been lost in this alternate reality. I was using a utopian dream as an escape from all my problems, a “hoping mechanism” for everything wrong in my present. Amber and I were both convinced that our sadness was dictated by our situation…that we were victims of uncontrollable circumstance. Whenever I felt out of control, I visited the work site. Whenever Cailyn had a bad day, I visited the work site. When I should have been helping with homework or throwing the ball, I invited Dalton to the work site. My drug of choice was to look so far ahead, that I blurred what was right in front of my face.

…but future eventually has to intersect with the present.

Everything with the house started out well enough but quickly fell back to our “normal.” It was never quite as good as we’d dreamed. Then, at the beginning of 2018, Cailyn’s behavior got worse. Much worse. Amber and I started to resent our decisions and the house that didn’t fix anything. We began to to discuss how we should have moved into the country instead. We talked about downgrading and using the extra money for vacations. We even looked into and imagined living in different states or countries. One day, I found the perfect home, next to the perfect school, where we could have Cailyn live. As I researched and fantasized, I looked beside me, where my son was laying on the floor with his iPad…and I realized I wasn’t exhibiting healthy behavior. This was one in a myriad of symptoms I was displaying, all of which pointing to an overwhelming absence of joy in my life.


One of the most frustrating behaviors Cailyn exhibits is repeatedly asking for things on her schedule. We’ve tried writing it down, setting timers, and making up songs but it does no good. Sometimes, she can go fifteen minutes or so without asking but sometimes she’ll ask every 30-90 seconds…for hours at a time. This summer, we promised to take her to Great Wolf Lodge for vacation. Unfortunately, we scheduled it too far ahead and she obsessed over it for weeks, to the point of self-harm. On the day of our visit, she had fun for only a few hours before asking to go home. She immediately began to ask for “slime.” Apparently, the promise of fun in her mind didn’t live up to what we delivered and she was already onto the next thing.

As I drove Cailyn home, I became irritated. Why can’t she just enjoy the nice things we try to do for her? Why does she always need something else? Why does she always need so much more? Why do the things she asks for never make her as happy as she thinks they will? As I started feeling sorry for myself, I recognized the irony in my self-pity. That’s when I turned the music up, rolled down the windows, and put my hand on Cailyn’s hand.

We laughed, danced, and sang the entire way home.


The human brain is extremely efficient, using “shortcuts” to handle the constant barrage of data coming at it. A vast majority of what your eyes take in is just “noise” to your mind and goes completely unnoticed. The benefit is that you filter out the unimportant signals, focusing on meaningful changes or patterns you recognize. There are numerous cognitive biases that result, including one known as the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. This describes what happens when you pay attention to a previously unknown pattern and suddenly begin seeing it everywhere.

This is why you’ll sometimes hear the definition of a new word for the first time and begin hearing it much more frequently in conversations. It’s also why, when you are looking to buy a car and start researching it, you begin to see that car everywhere. It’s not that people are suddenly buying the car more. You have trained your brain to now recognize a pattern that was previously insignificant and filtered out.

As a child, I went to church camp every year. Our camp speaker, Jim Smith, had a fun challenge, wherein he would allow a camper to bring a box to each morning service. We could put ANYTHING inside that box and he would preach about it for five minutes. I remember him opening that box to discover rocks, a frog, a diaper, or dirty socks…it didn’t matter. He always managed to frustrate us and accomplish (even excel) in his mission.

It wasn’t until I had to abandon that Great Wolf Lodge vacation, that I began to understand his proficiency. As I drove down the highway with my Autistic daughter, laughing and singing. I saw our camp speaker’s sermon skill through the lens of Baader-Meinhof. Jim Smith lived a life, where he looked for God working in all things…and when your brain recognizes the pattern of God working, you can’t help but see it everywhere that God works: Everywhere.

The same can be said for joy. In that car, I learned that true happiness is neither a condition nor a situation. Our outlook on life is the pattern we’ve trained ourselves to observe. We are the common denominator in all of our sadness, because joy is a function of perspective and not position. When we look forward to a change in our environment to bring us fulfillment, we’re moving all our old problems into a new house. When you make a choice to look for the pattern of God working in all things, however, it becomes a habit…until eventually it’s difficult NOT to see Him.

When God replaces change as my “hoping mechanism,” I can stop waiting on a new home to make me happy. I can stop waiting for my daughter to sleep, for a sickness to end, or for neighbors to be less annoying. When I can find joy in my present, it doesn’t matter if I open a box with a rock, or frog, or stinky socks; I can see God working and I stop throwing away the gift of today by waiting for a tomorrow that never comes.

Live every day with the reverence, that your future self would give ANYTHING to get it back. I only wish I could go back to that moment where my son cried out for his absent father. I would turn the music in the car up, put the windows down, turn around and throw the ball with him…because I now know he will never be five years old again.

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Lesson 3: Your TODAY is not your TOMORROW

I jumped up, out of bed to a thumping sound and screaming. I grabbed my phone for light and looked at the time, trying to quickly move from our room to the one adjoining it.

Just after 3:00 AM.

I grabbed Cailyn from her bed, along with a blanket and pillow. I held her in my arms, laid her head on my shoulder, and whispered to her as we walked carefully down the stairs.

“It’s okay sweetie. Daddy has you. We’ll go downstairs and lay down and go back to sleep.”

I changed my five-year old’s diaper, held her for a bit longer, placed her on the mattress we left downstairs just for her, patted her back and sang softly. Finally, I began to back away and move slowly up the stairs, down the hall and back to my bedroom. Just as I placed my hand on the doorknob, I heard the sound of soft whining…then loud crying…then screaming.

I would ultimately lay downstairs with Cailyn, mostly awake, until my alarm for work went off at 5:30 AM.

This was just another typical morning in a multi-year, sleep-deprived pattern that had Amber and I alternating who would get to sleep and who wouldn’t.

The first time I decided to take a transfer at work, I had a lot of trepidation. What if I didn’t like the new job? What if I didn’t like the boss? I went to my former manager and mentor to share my concerns and get advice. His words stuck with me.

“A man can do just about anything for two years.” he opined.

The two years referred to the literal amount of time I’d need to be in the position, before I could apply for something different. The philosophy was much more profound: we can endure a surprising amount of time-bound, finite pain. Conversely, placing no limits on duration can take a small amount of suffering and turn it into emotional torture.

The most cliché greeting for the parent of a newborn is often “How are you sleeping?” Most everyone with children understands the value of a night of uninterrupted sleep. They also understand that it’s only temporary and that they will eventually move past it and into a more normal pattern.

That wasn’t happening with us and the prospect of a lifelong struggle over basic needs was a frightening prospect. Cailyn was now five-years old and she wasn’t sleeping. She wasn’t potty-trained. When she was sad, she couldn’t even describe why. This tyrannical carousel, a frustrating day played on repeat with no promise of ending, turned inconvenience into torture and colored the lens we used to see the world.

In that respect, we’re more similar to our daughter than we realized.

Cailyn doesn’t understand time…only cause and effect. She knows lunch comes after waking up, breakfast, her shower, and changing her clothes. Therefore, logically, she believes she can do all of those things at 5:00 AM and then go to the Mexican restaurant for her favorite meal. Unfortunately, the restaurant doesn’t open until 11:00.

We tried a stoplight alarm clock to teach her the cause and effect of time. “Light turns green THEN chips and salsa” we’d bargain. She’d ask dozens of times, each more and more impatient…each closer to a violent meltdown. The breakthrough didn’t happen until the school recommended an app that shows a visual representation of the time remaining and time elapsed, so that Cailyn could see EXACTLY how much time she had left until her wait was over. 

If we just ask her to wait, she gets upset immediately. When we tell her to wait until the light turns green, she get’s impatient and upset after about a half hour. When we show her how much time is left, she can last much longer. Neither the conditions (wait) nor the promise has changed…only her perspective has.

Looking at God’s plan from the lens of a father, I begin to see my own impatience on full display. My third lesson while battling with my daughter’s battle with Autism is that His promises and conditions are the same but that I had to change my perspective. I needed to recognize that my TODAY isn’t my TOMORROW.

Potty training a child with severe Autism is something I wouldn’t wish on an enemy. For years we tried, sometimes with limited success and others a resounding thud. The process makes it frightening to walk into a room. I’ve seen Cailyn sitting half-naked in the middle of a laminate floor, in the middle of her feces. I’ve walked into a room, where she’s wiped it all over the walls like a cave painting. I’ve smelled unholy things on her breath that defy description. 

Even after we relented and gave up, she decided she liked doing it and continued to play in her diaper. There was a time where we had to literally follow her from room to room, to correct her before she did it. This went on and on for months. Occasionally, we would step away for a minute or miss her. I remember walking into her room and smelling it immediately. I would find brown streaks on her walls and face. Once, I was at the end of my rope and just screamed.


I hit her door, which slammed shut violently and hurt my hand. I shook my hand for a moment when I heard the sound of Cailyn laughing. She found my reaction so funny that she could barely stand, she could barely breathe. She didn’t understand our anger or desperation. She just found the reaction hysterical. That’s how disconnected our communication was.

After a falling out with the Autism school Cailyn was attending, we were right in the middle of this disconnection and trying to find somewhere for her to attend. Amber was opposed to public school, convinced they couldn’t meet her particular needs. Door after door slammed in our faces, when I finally caught the signs.

“Amber,” I said “we need to give [our local public school] a try. They’ve contacted us about speaking to the special education teachers multiple times and touring the classroom. Other doors have been slammed in our face and I know I can break through them if I try hard enough, but every time this happens it feels like God is opening a window for us…and maybe we should give it a shot.”

So we skeptically (and tearfully) sent our nonverbal child off at public school for the first time, fearful of all of the bad things that could happen…things she couldn’t tell us. That afternoon, we ran to her backpack to read the notes from that first day of school. When we opened it, our jaws fell to the floor.

“Send her in underwear tomorrow, if you’re comfortable. We’re willing to be consistent and try if you are.” the note read.

Cailyn was using the toilet by herself within the month. 

Most everyone knows the famous wilderness story of Joshua and the battle of Jericho. When I read the story, I think about it differently. I imagine the story from the perspective of a man, who only knew wilderness. I’m currently (slightly) under 40, the number of years the Israelites wandered. Therefore, leading up to to Jericho, my last few days would’ve looked something like this…

  1. Moses, the only leader I’ve ever known, dies.
  2. New guy immediately performs “minor surgery” on all the men.
  3. Manna, the only food I’ve ever known, stops falling from the sky.
  4. New guy tells me I’m going to have to do WHAT around those giant walls?

The glory of the story is at the end, where the walls came down. All I can think about is lap seven. I’m a dude, who has been limping for days around this wall. People have probably gathered to watch and laugh at me from their luxury suites atop that wall. I’d probably be elbowing the guy next to me and complaining…

“Hey man, what’s your take on Josh? Do you see any cracks, yet? These walls are still looking pretty healthy to me. Nope…no structural damage to wall. Hey, is your stomach a little off too? Thirty-six years of manna didn’t prepare me for digesting corn. By the way, should I still be THIS swollen?”

What I’m trying to say is that there is a lot of uncertainty around this event. There is a lot of pain. There are 40 years of walking and a covenant with an entire lineage hinging on the outcome of one more lap…and they’ve got NOTHING.

This is not a unique lesson in the Bible. In 1 Kings God promised rain but Elisha’s servant had to climb up a mountain seven times to check, before there was a cloud to be seen.  In 2 Kings, Naaman was told to wash in the Jordan river seven times to be healed of leprosy. If it were me, I would’ve expected these miracle divided up into sevenths: A cloud that grows bigger every time I climb to the summit, a wound that disappears with every bath, or a wall that cracks and crumbles into more pieces with every lap. 

Faith, it seems, doesn’t work that way. God’s promises aren’t always a dangling carrot that we can see, to keep us moving forward. Our darkest moments, biggest doubts, and most pain often come in that last lap. When God promises that all things will work together for our good, He’s not saying that we can see that good coming from a distance. He’s telling us that we have a promise that our TODAY isn’t our TOMORROW and there is yet another lap up ahead.

The hardest revelation in my third lesson has been that our tomorrow isn’t always here on Earth. It’s apparent to me that God doesn’t view this life as the destination, but a way point on the journey; a training and recruiting ground. Often, we have to look for our promise to be fulfilled in a different life…by a God, who is playing chess on our checkerboard.

Paul, the man who wrote much of the New Testament, said he was tormented by a messenger from Satan and begged for this affliction to be taken from him. God declined, His rationale being that His strength would be made perfect in Paul’s weakness. When I read this, I see a man who needed to need God; one whose path to his eternal best outcome (his tomorrow) could only be achieved through Earthly pain and the grace that accompanies it.

In God’s message to the Church at Smyrna, He acknowledges their suffering and poverty. He tells them not to be afraid, because they are about to be imprisoned and will suffer…even facing death. His only promise is that their tomorrow would include the crown of life. He signed the letter from the One who was dead and now is alive…the evidence that His promise is possible and extends to those who suffer faithfully in this life.

I’ve come to accept (and often resent) that I may never truly get to experience the promise of Cailyn’s restoration here. The Bible tells me that God is not ignorant to our sorrow but that He collects our tears in bottles and records them in His book. Some days it would seem to take a lot more than bottles. On those days, I look back to our promise: Cailyn was given to Amber and I for a purpose. Before she was ever named, she was known.  My hope is for tomorrow; That someday, the morning will swing all the Earthly wrongs to right and I will get to know my daughter as God always has. I pray that I can look her in the eyes with the confidence that I’ve done something to make her proud in the only realm that matters.

Solomon, the purported richest and wisest man in history once bemoaned the meaningless he observed in attempting to enjoy this life, suggesting seeking pleasure was futile because everyone ends up dead, everything repeats itself, and all of our progress is like “chasing the wind.” Even a man who had everything struggled with the purpose in his pain.

I’ve seen the same symptoms first-hand in myself and others, who have talked to me. Everyone experiences pain and suffering. It’s neither greater nor less than ours, only different and relative. I’ve talked to people who suffer in finances, in their marriage, with health issues, and addictions. The bottom line is that we all experience time in the wilderness. We all need strength to move to the next lap.

Only through careful reflection, journaling, and sharing have I begun to rediscover my altars, ebbs and flows in life; mountains and valleys bringing periods of strength and growth, respectively. Solomon (along with The Byrds) would later observe that there are seasons littered throughout these cycles of our lives. Things here will never be perfect but we have the hope that they change. Endure and grow in the bad, thank God and build strength in the good, and put your effort into eternal things that matter…because that alone is the hope that your TODAY is not your TOMORROW.

My wilderness had already taught me that God is always at work and that He has a purpose for your pain. When I believe that the process is short but the promise is eternal, I am given strength to wander another day with hope. I may be on my seventh lap.

I pray that I’ve shared that hope with you.

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Lesson 2: God is your FATHER, not your FRIEND

My heart broke as I watched Dalton beside me. His eyes were red and his lip occasionally quivered. He just sat there, quietly staring at the floor of his karate dojo. I wanted to wrap my arm around my boy in comfort but this was not the right time. His friends laughed and practiced, occasionally glancing to him the crowd of onlookers with confusion. Although the most passionate about karate, Dalton was sitting to the side in street clothes.

As the class wound down, the Sensei always presents a sticker to “honorary ninjas” in the crowd. These are often younger brothers and sisters of participants. When the time came, the children in the class spoke up.

“DALTON! Dalton should get an honorary ninja sticker.”

Dalton’s head began to rise and he fought back a smile. He started to rise from his seat, when I placed my hand on his shoulder and whispered in his ear.

“Sit. There is no honor in the way you treated your mother today.”

I felt a stinging in my chest, as I watched my son return to his seat, fight back tears, bite his lip, and shake his head towards to classroom of confused students.

I, the man who loves him more than anyone else, was the source of his pain.

The concept of God always being at work (lesson 1) isn’t necessarily comforting, in itself. It fails to fully address why bad things happen, how He could allow us to suffer, and why He doesn’t snap his finger and remove the struggle from our lives. What we discover through experience and study is that God doesn’t waste pain. He takes what was intended for our harm and uses it for our good (Gen 50:20).

It wasn’t until after this particularly strong punishment for my own son, that I began to understand one purpose for my own pain. As we tucked our son in bed, that night, he cried and apologized to his mom. After we explained what he did and how it made her feel, I went on to make sure he was clear in my role in his life.

“Dalton, I want you to understand that I love you as much as anything in this life. That’s why I punish you. When I do something that makes you miserable now, it’s for your PROTECTION in the future. There is a grown up world you don’t understand, one where being rude and talking back to your leaders might mean that you don’t have a job. It’s a world where disrespecting your wife might lead to you being alone. I love you so much that I’m willing to let you be mad at me now, so that you can learn a lesson that will keep you from pain in your future.”

And like a child, we may also experience pain as God PROTECTS us.

When Cailyn was just learning to use her legs, we let her move around in a rolling walker. The first day, she delighted in the freedom and was exploring virtually the whole house. Unfortunately, the house wasn’t exactly “Cailyn ready.” Everything seemed to move in slow motion as I watched her move towards an outlet and reach out her hand to touch it. Instinctively, I ran to her and slapped her hand…hard. Although she was inconsolable; Obviously hurt by my action, she has never touched an outlet again.

Much like we protect our children from a reality they haven’t grown enough to understand, God protects us from enemies we don’t even recognize. I think we’d be amazed at the daily protections that litter our lives. I often say that fate is simply an impossible sequence of events which, in hindsight, acted in perfect coordination to save you from yourself. Sometimes, it’s as obvious as a relationship ending painfully, so that you don’t suffer a lifetime of incompatibility. Other times it’s a job you lost or didn’t get because another was waiting. In some cases, God may also be protecting you from a more abstract and confusing enemy…like comfort.

Many people are confused with this concept and absolute truth: God is your comfort but does not desire you to be comfortable. He is your comfort in affliction and a strength for your weakness. When He “works all things together for my good” it implies that He has to produce good from things that aren’t all good to begin with. He isn’t interested in you being comfortable. In fact, I would argue that being comfortable is our enemy. When was the last time you saw a 100% comfortable, well-financed, socially-surrounded, and fulfilled person crying at the front of the church for God’s help? When all things are already good, you don’t need God to work and you don’t need to change…you don’t need to PROGRESS.

Therefore, we may experience pain as God PROGRESSES us.

In the literal wilderness, God shows an example of stretching His own children through increasingly uncomfortable and often painful acts of faith. Bringing them out of Egypt was a freebie…a faith builder. When He delivered the gift of Manna, they only asked (complained) and had to take action to gather it after it had fallen. When attacked by the Amalekites, God showed an immediate response to faith during their distress by providing victory when Moses’ arms were raised. Later, they would be asked to take steps of faith without immediate gratification…to conquer comfort and fear.

I’ve already written about Cailyn’s fascination with the alphabet and reading at a young age. I held onto that for months as a sign that she was going to be okay. Whenever things felt uncertain, we’d go over reading words. While it was certainly a development step, we focused on it extensively and missed an opportunity to develop her in other ways. She enjoyed the alphabet and it made her comfortable. When the child psychologist suggested it was an obsession and NOT in her best interest, I tore her alphabet play mat apart. I still painfully recall her reaction; crying and breath heaving, as she tried to impress me by repeating her alphabet over and over. She didn’t understand that her comfort was preventing progression and that this pain was necessary to prepare her for bigger things (giants) in the future.

After all of their preparation, Gods children were at the precipice of their promise, as well. They sent spies into the land to scout and determine their next steps. Even after the building of their faith, the sight of giants in their path led the spies to lie to leadership and recommend not stepping into their destiny. As a result, they were forced to wander through the wilderness for forty years before getting another opportunity to put faith into action. I often wonder what things I’ve been too fearful to do, which may have led to me extending my wilderness journey. Could it be that the only thing standing between us and a victory is the willingness to take on a battle?

Had our family been thrown into “9-year-old Cailyn” on day one, we would have sunk like a rock. In the past seven months, she has been more violent, needy, and trying than in any other. We’ve been fastened in and hardened over time, seeing just enough of God to get us through yet not enough to allow us to be comfortable. Cailyn has had progressive and regressive seasons. About a year ago, she began wetting the bed again. This happened every night. As a result, I had resigned myself to waking up with her every night and taking her to the restroom. It was difficult and draining for us both be I had become accustomed to the routine. One particularly bad night, recently, she was not able to go back to sleep. She screamed and hit herself and none of us slept at all. This horrific night led Amber to ask, “Maybe we should try to let her sleep through the night again.” We did and she has…for a full week and with no bed wetting.

If we continue to progress and take (even sometimes small) steps when called into God’s purpose, we have assurance that He will work these things together for our good and he will PROMOTE us as a sign of his faithfulness.

It may just be that we’re experiencing pain so God can PROMOTE us.

I came home from work one evening to find Dalton was distracted and upset. After a little bit of prompting, I was able to pull some information from his day at school.

“Dad, another boy from school watches things that I’m not allowed to watch. He was talking about it and I didn’t want to feel alone and different so I lied and told other kids I like it too. It’s making me feel really bad.”

He looked down, ashamed to allow his eyes to meet mine. I answered him immediately and with empathy, but a confidence that I wanted him to adopt as his own.

“Dalton, look at me in the eyes. I’m so proud that you came to me and told me the truth about this. You’ve told me the story of that boy and how he’s had a really hard life. You need to stand up and be yourself and live your values, whether nobody is watching or if everyone is. You are in his life to help him, not to be exactly like everyone else. I wish I could tell you that you’re never going to be alone and different, but I am still alone and different every single day. It’s never going to get easier. You just have to live your “Great Man values” and be honest about it with other people. Some will fall away and not want to be around you but I promise you will change some people’s lives forever…because they will want to have what you have in your heart.”

Research by the Association of Psychological Science suggests that pain actually has positive social consequences, acting as a glue to deepen bonds between groups of individuals. The ramifications of this (besides the immediate supernatural connection between two individuals wearing Cleveland Browns gear) is that the only way we’ll ever be able to relate to some people is when we share in their sufferings. When we can face our pain with uncompromising purpose and be transparent both about our faith and failures, our victory serves as a PROMOTION of Christ in our life to others.

It’s not always comforting to think our journey (pain and suffering and all) may be nothing more than an example for others. Yet, by embracing it, we find that relating to and helping others not only feeds other people, but it also gives us purpose and allows their victories to feed us. The people we impact is often the only lasting remnant of our victories.

Although a naturally introverted and private person, I started writing and speaking to others about our challenges when I heard a sermon about the Biblical concept of building altars. People were often instructed to do this during monumental (pun intended) events in their journey. These marked milestones or victories in their journey…things they needed to remember and also tell others. When God’s children crossed from the wilderness into the land He had promised them, they were instructed to build an altar out of uncut (rough) stones. This inspired me to both be unabashedly public and transparent (rough) about our journey.

Since then, I’ve received numerous private messages of thanks, from people who are still battling the journey and thought they were alone with thoughts that most others are too private to share. I’ve received outpourings of support, prayers, and (mostly welcomed) advice from other people who wanted to help. I’ve also been able to reflect on past victories to give me hope in more difficult times. Even today, I’ll occasionally see statistics on someone, who gets onto the blog and reads every single post. Each time, I imagine myself, nearly eight years ago, looking for information about Autism…seeking answers…wanting hope. Every time, I pray that the reader found something that will help them feel less alone in that same journey.

When I take that perspective, I’m finding joy through a purpose in our pain.

As a father, I’m constantly faced with the temptation to be a friend to my children…to MAKE them happy. While it’s not always bad, I’ll sometimes fall into the trap to allow something that it not in their best interest. It’s usually out of fatigue or for the personal gratification of seeing them smile. More often than not, this ends with a stomach ache, a tired/grumpy child, and an extra bump or bruise. Because I understand childhood is only preparation for life, a dress rehearsal for a larger purpose, I have the responsibility to make them resilient instead of happy. When I am a friend, I make them happy for a day. When I am a father, teaching how to have resilient joy, I make them happy for a lifetime. I do this BECAUSE of my love for them and not in spite of it.

When we believe that God is our hope and not our hedge (lesson 1) and that He is always at work, we can praise and rest in the comfort that we aren’t spinning wildly or uncontrolled. When we accept that He is our Father and not our friend (lesson 2), we learn to seek the purpose in our pain and bloom in whatever field we’re planted. Are you being protected from something that will harm you if left unchecked? Are you on a progression from your comfort zone, which is preparing you for a greater purpose? Are you being promoted as an example of God’s faithfulness through trials, the scars of your journey serving as the only connection to the heart of someone else?

Sometimes, stepping into that purpose with faith is your 7th lap (coming in lesson 3)…

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Lesson 1: God is your HOPE, not your HEDGE

Dalton and I were preparing to go to the mall to pick out a gift for his grandmother and I knew just the way to entice him. I scavenged through the house and came up with just the thing. As we walked through the store, his head predictably turned as we walked, eyes fixated on the gumball machines. This time, I did something new and unexpected. I stopped. He immediately stopped, his mouth opened out of shock, and then his eyes hit mine. My smile and a single raised quarter confirmed his hope.

“I hope it’s purple!” he said over and over, as he hopped. Purple was his favorite color. Not just a casual favorite color, but one on which he based many of his preschool-level decisions. Donatello was his favorite turtle, Randall was his favorite Monsters Inc. character (don’t tell him he’s a bad guy), and he even favored Fear over all of the “Inside Out” characters. During that phase of his life, he LOVED purple.

He suddenly went dead silent and crowded in close, crouched, and watched. We heard the slow roll as, down the spiral, emerged a bid red gumball.

“It’s okay, dad. Red is my second favorite.” He reasoned, as we continued our shopping journey. “Thank you!”

Nearly an hour later, that gum had lost it’s flavor and Dalton was getting antsy. I was in the check out line and he was jumping around tiles of the store. Suddenly, I hear a gasp and he freezes. I follow his shocked and sad gaze to a small piece of gum, laying on the floor.

On the way out of the mall, Dalton’s head was hanging low and he walked slowly by the machines again.

“Dad, can I have another one please.” He asked, hopefully. “I was super good in the store.”

“You were very good and I’d love to get you another but that was my last quarter and I never keep quarters in my car.” I explained, nearly as disappointed as him.
“Can you look? If you do have a quarter can we come back in and get one?” He negotiated, still clinging to hope.

“Okay.” I replied, hoping primarily to finish the conversation. I knew that I rarely used cash and always took quarters into the house. The only thing in my change tray would be pennies, so another trek across the parking lot would certainly not be necessary.
When we got out to the car, Dalton jumped into the back seat and stood up to watch me open the change tray. As I lifted the lid, I saw a pile of pennies…with a solitary quarter laying on top. It was at that moment I remembered that I got cash out the week prior and I used what was left over for the drive-thru. My change was exactly a quarter and I had placed it in there a few days prior. This was an anomaly birthed of anomalies; something that almost never happened.

“Dad! God gave me the quarter and now I’m going to get a purple gumball!” Dalton shouted, as if he were certain he was living out a real-life remake of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and he just found the golden ticket.

As I turned the gears on the machine one final time, he and I were both begging to see a purple ball roll down the chute. He’d been so good and helpful through the trip and he deserved it. He crouched and started whispering.

“God, please give me a purple! Come on, purple. Come on, purple.” he said repeatedly, squinting his eyes as if he couldn’t bear to watch.

“Come on, purple. Come on, purple.” I echoed in my mind, certain that this was the perfect reward to end a good day.

We heard a clack and both went silent as, down the spiral, emerged a bright white gumball.

Prior to my walk through the wilderness, I viewed God as a master computer programmer. My simplified theology was that He coded the laws of the universe, booted up the computer, and mostly just got involved for major course correction or intervention on behalf of those, who needed Him. This appealed to me as a self-sufficient and hard-working person, who was reasonably successful and confident in my capabilities. I believed, much like the gumball machine in our mall, God wasn’t responsible for what color came out. It was  either my hard work and persistence or the result of some pseudo-random algorithms, set into motion long before I was ever born.

When Cailyn was diagnosed with Autism, this theology helped me reconcile a loving God with the existence of such an instrument of suffering. It also left me with a deep pit of resentment in my stomach. As Amber continued in her faith that Cailyn would be restored and healed of her condition, I began to blame God for His inaction. One night, Amber’s crying set me off. She had done nothing but good and had more faith than anyone I knew. I put my hand on her, to try and comfort her. Then I looked her in the eyes.

“I hope God doesn’t exist. It would be far easier than to serve someone, who would allow our daughter…our family to suffer like this.”

Dalton recoiled in disgust at the sight of a white gumball in his hand.

“I HATE white gumballs.” He exclaimed, tears now beginning to well up in his eyes. “I even said a prayer. Why wouldn’t God give me a white gumball?”

We got back into the car and took off but Dalton was still in the back seat pouting, a whole gumball still sitting beside him in his drink tray. Just to make sure his displeasure didn’t fade out of my mind, he would occasionally huff and throw his crossed arms out a bit. This was an exaggerated (and frankly annoying) gesture, which I decided had finally gone too far. I adjusted my rear-view mirror so he could see the seriousness on my face.

“Dalton.” I said loudly and firmly. “I want you to listen and listen well. You have no idea how good your life is. There are a lot of other boys and girls in this world, who will never see a gumball in their lives. I have an amazing job, we live in a nice house, we have food and clothes, and we’re safe. You were born to a mom and dad, who love you very much and will do anything for you. You are healthy and have had every advantage imaginable in your life and you got TWO gumballs today. One of them, with a quarter that we shouldn’t have even had. Your life is so blessed that you mistake it for ordinary…”

By the end of this lesson, my comments to Amber came to my mind. My elevated voice suddenly cracked and I was barely able to finish. “…and the FIRST TIME in your gold-plated life, something goes wrong, you throw a hissy fit and blame God for it?”

The first lesson God was trying to teach me in the Autism wilderness was that He is my HOPE and not my HEDGE.

For people with confidence and provision, the illusion of self-determination is comforting. Having control of our fate allows us to keep life manageable and safe. By relegating God to the back seat in our journey, we handle the speed and turns but keep Him close enough to play the cosmic State Farm Agent when the unexpected arrives.
“Like a good neighbor, God is there…when my child has Autism.”

This is a long-standing generational curse, it seems. It was one of the first lessons God teaches (and re-teaches) the Israelites in their literal wilderness. While multiple plagues and walking between walls of water should build enough faith to sustain you for a few years, they immediately start lamenting their freedom because their stomachs start growling.

“If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” they begin to belly-ache.

God’s response is one of Sunday School lore…

While the story of Manna falling from Heaven is often portrayed as a huge blessing, it’s actually a 40-year lesson, meant to teach hungry and ungrateful people who provisions their sustenance. In the story, a “scarcity” mindset takes control and the people try to hoard the food, thinking that they can gather enough to be their own source again. The next morning, their excess had spoiled, forcing them to go out and gather their “daily bread” every day with the exception of the Sabbath, the one day on which the food would miraculously keep.

(Spoiler Alert: lesson decidedly NOT learned)

In Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs, once the body’s immediate physical needs are met, a desire for safety takes over. In both the story and in our lives, we insist on this safety to provide physical, visual, and tangible reassurance. With the Israelites, it was a golden idol. In my life, I began to recognize a variety of not so different tokens. Money and job security has always been a part of it. Early in our process, I committed to Amber that we were going to try every therapy, see every doctor, and beat this. We had little appreciation for the expense involved and my income actually became a barrier, as we couldn’t even apply for most assistance.

Later, we found a medicine that seemed to curb her behavior problems. We sang the praise of it to nearly anyone who would listen. It worked miraculously…until it didn’t. After nearly a year of being on the upswing, our lives fell apart as Cailyn regressed into a pit of self-harm and sleepless nights. Our daily dose of prescription faith was relegated to a slow withdrawal, just as we became comfortable with it…as we started to figuratively worship it. Even the teachers, whom we trusted so completely, couldn’t figure out what was happening. It was all unravelling.

…but at least there is coffee to get me through the morning, right? (You can see how easily this happens)

Even at the bottom of it all, my son Dalton provided a constant beacon of God’s faithfulness. We learned Amber was pregnant JUST prior to our realization that Cailyn had Autism. The timing seemed cruel. Statistically, as a boy with an older sibling with Autism, he would carry a nearly one in four probability of the same affliction. While this pregnancy was filled with fear, he quickly showed all of the signs of normal development that his sister lacked. Whenever I fell…he became my reason to get up again. I told him he’s my hero because he saved my life. He has been the greatest gift and one I never knew to ask for.

What we call “fate,” begins to look altogether different when viewed in the rear-view mirror. Our current reality, blessings, curses, are all the result of an impossible series of events, working in perfect synchronicity to save us from ourselves. When we learn to view our present from the perspective of a God, who has been and will be ALWAYS at work, we can be comforted in our future.

The best way to achieve this perspective is to PRAISE. Not because God is an omnipotent Tinkerbell, who needs us to clap and believe, but because it changes our mindset to one of gratitude.

To get a morning boost, start waking up and exercising your faith by going through the following short list (Read the end of Job) of things, over which you had/have no control:

  • Statistically, you had an under 5% chance of being born in the United States. If you earn $32,000 USD, you are in the top 1% according to global income.
  • As you slept, in a state of semi-consciousness, your heart continued to beat and lungs continued to breathe air without your consent or concern.
  • You are spinning on a giant rock, rotating around a massive series of nuclear explosions, suspended over infinite nothing and hurling through the universe at speeds we can’t even fathom

Personally, I’m trying to thank God at a minimum every time Cailyn sleeps through the night, every time she has a meltdown and doesn’t hit herself, and every time she goes to the restroom without a mess. These things were all once impossibilities in our lives and can still threaten our sanity. This Manna has shown itself to be too fragile for me not to gather and offer praise.

When viewed in hindsight, it begins to feel insulting to ask God to step into a situation. The ONLY time God can fail to act in your life is now. He is at work, even in our pain. He moves in your suffering and you can rest in the knowledge that he has victory and a plan. Wake each morning, collect enough grace for today, and go to bed knowing He will provide again, tomorrow.

I pulled the car into a parking lot to finish out our conversation and compose myself…
“Dalton, I’m not mad at you. I’m on your side and I love you more than you can ever know. I sound angry and sad because I want you to learn how to be happy. You need to understand that life doesn’t always give you what you want but it doesn’t mean you aren’t blessed. When you learn to be grateful for the gumball, it doesn’t matter what color drops out…because you already have joy.”

I was speaking to myself, as well. I journaled this event and it became the foundation of an altar I was led to uncover nearly two years later. While I thought this was a victory lesson meant for others, I would carry it along my journey through the darkest time of my life. The first lesson of my personal wilderness would be that God is my HOPE and not my HEDGE…one I learned in the simplicity of gumballs and gratitude.


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It was over an hour past her bedtime but Cailyn was wide awake, screaming and hitting herself in the face. The next morning, we were going to send her back to school after an extended weekend. She didn’t want to go and decided to engage in a battle of wills. I tried speaking calmly, fruitlessly working through clapping and breathing exercises. She flailed around violently and battered the sides of her head as she huffed and puffed, mocking my breaths. Next, I took her headphones away as incentive. I told her she could have them when she was calm. We tried counting backwards to no avail. She began scratching and ripping at her ears. I got close and tried to provide pressure by giving her a hug. She had an overpowering smell of body odor and was drenched in her own sweat. She dug her chin and nose into me and then slammed her head against my shoulder. I was exhausted. Out of options, I grabbed both of her hands and held them against her side to keep her from doing any more damage. With tears in her eyes, scratches up and down her face, and a now bloody quivering lip, she got an inch from my eyes and let out a hybrid growl scream reminiscent of a modern day exorcism.


After a few more minutes, we were both exhausted. She finally relented and went to bed. I set my alarm to wake up just three hours later, when I would need to wake up in the middle of the night to take her to the bathroom. Unfortunately, I never needed it. My adrenaline, thoughts, and tears conspired to ensure that I wouldn’t fall asleep. This is not an isolated incident…it was an emerging pattern.

The bedtime fight is one of many new routines, in a season of escalating anxiety and violence in Cailyn. Overnight, she went from loving church to refusing to go. We got called out of service several straight weeks due to her meltdowns until we relented. Amber and I started alternating services with Dalton, each week. We now go nearly everywhere separately because we can’t count on being able to stay. Cailyn melts down at the mere mention of school and screams and kicks at us when we try to take her out of the car to go into the store. She loves car rides (especially when Christmas lights were out) and sometimes forces us to drive around for over an hour, but violently kicks at the dash and windows when we tried to take her home. I had to try to invent ways back ways to sneak her into the neighborhood without her realizing it. One time, she threw such a fit that she kicked my car into neutral in an effort to keep me from going a direction she didn’t want. In the past six months, she’s broken multiple iPads, pulled out her own teeth, eaten feces, and generally tormented nearly everyone in our house.

We haven’t just been sitting back and taking it. Cailyn had been on a medication that seemed to help for around a year. When things deteriorated, the doctor increased the dosage, tried another medication, then increased the dosage of that one. Since they stopped working and would assuredly have long-term side effects, we began to ween her off both. We’ve been to multiple specialists, one of which had to call assistants in to restrain Cailyn during testing. Completely baffled, they recommended immediate behavioral intervention and sent us home with a sedative used in surgery “for emergencies.” Amber was called into the school to discuss the new behavioral issues and came home with instructions to send Cailyn a helmet to wear because they were afraid she’d concuss herself. We recently received approval for respite care, which we viewed as a silver lining. Unfortunately Amber has tried for six months to find an assistant caregiver but every lead falls through. Not even so-called “experts” felt equipped to handle her behavior.

Almost overnight, we entered the longest, furthest, most painful behavioral regression in our daughter’s history. To this day, we’re still searching desperately for the source and solution.

My own personal slide was far less sudden. We recently built a house with a special room for Cailyn, thinking that all of our problems would be solved. Initially, it seemed to work. Her behavior improved and she enjoyed being home. With everything clicking on all cylinders, I grew comfortable in a season of relative ease in our lives and was certain that we’d turned a corner in our battle. When things turned so suddenly and our wheels began spinning again, I felt helpless and out-of-control…so I hid.

It started simply. I decided not to take Cailyn out into public, since it would exacerbate her behavior and resulted in stares and ridicule. Next, I began avoiding Cailyn’s room. I knew if I went in, she’d ask for something. If she asked for something, I might have to say “no.” When she was being calm, it was easier to just stay away and be grateful for a moment of peace. I told myself it was best for everyone. All of the sudden, our family was bored and trapped. Almost all of our activities split us apart and someone was always left behind. Self-pity began to fester in my mind. I couldn’t break from it, so I began obsessing over mindless games on my phone. If I honed my focus just right, everything else would melt away…until I was snapped back into reality by Cailyn screaming in the other room. I stopped feeling empathy for her. I was left with only resentment and anger. Her cries were pulling my mind back into a life I no longer desired.

At the same time, health problems resurfaced and I feared my ulcer was returning, so I wasn’t eating well. I couldn’t turn my mind off long enough to sleep, so I started staying up late and falling asleep to television shows, which I used as another life escape. There were times I would intentionally come back later from work because I didn’t want to have to walk through the door of my own home. I was ashamed and couldn’t talk about it with others. Nobody would understand or be able to help anyway so I avoided meaningful interaction with anyone. I faked interactions when forced, but isolated myself in every way imaginable. Outside of a few fleeting moments with my son or wife, there was nothing I truly enjoyed or looked forward to. I was alone, in hiding, and barricading the door.

It’s not a huge jump from “hiding from life” to “wanting to escape.” I began looking at real estate around the country and fantasized that it might somehow change our situation. I looked into turning Cailyn over to a full-time residency program. This proved too expensive and too wasn’t a realistic option for Amber, who was still thinking empathetically (and rationally) about Cailyn’s need for us. The guilt of being willing to part with my child overwhelmed me, only surpassed by the realization that I wasn’t enough for her. With all other avenues seemingly closed, I began just wishing it all would end.

While my distance wasn’t beyond notice, Amber wasn’t aware of the depth to which I’d sunk. Admitting I had lost control of my own mind was emasculating so I even hid it from her. Instead, I trusted the internet for answers, taking tests and reading the stories of others to determine whether I needed intervention and to seek strategies to begin a climb back up. I dialed a helpline several times and hung up before anyone could answer. Like a medieval superstition, I was afraid of admitting it aloud…even to myself. I feared the stigma, the judgement, and the pity. As a control freak and perfectionist, I couldn’t imagine accepting someone’s pity. I tried to convince myself it was a phase I’d eventually beat…until finally I couldn’t keep it hidden. One evening, it all flooded to the surface when I snapped at Amber. Now exposed, I knew I had to explain. I approached her with eyes red and full of tears.

“I think I have a problem.”

Transparency is easy when unveiling a conquered past. Sharing comes natural in a flattering light and at the perfect angle. Social media is filled with families on Easter, staged for a selfie in their Sunday best. You might not recognize those same people if you saw them running late and fighting just moments earlier. People always tell me I’m an amazing father but they don’t live with me when I’m tired. You see the “I’ve got this” version of myself on WordPress, weeks later. You never get a real glimpse into the frustration, doubt, and despair. I call this version the “this could be forever” me. This is the side that goes to bed, wondering if I’m just a hamster on a wheel, doomed to this cage until death. That is why I hide. I won’t share a lie and can’t stomach the public failure. Every struggle needs a victory; each mistake, an accompanying lesson. When I stopped winning, I stopped sharing.

Little did I realize, I’d been given my lifeline six months prior. It was a tiny breadcrumb I left myself from what I considered to be the height of our journey. On one particularly bad day, I found that breadcrumb while sitting around the house, waiting on some contractors to finish up work. Bored, I went back and started reading a journal entry I made in the previous year. I had titled it “Where is God when I’m suffering?” and it contained three “wilderness” lessons. I started to research and document these lessons, convinced I needed to share them with others struggling through difficult periods in their lives. When new priorities and comfort emerged, I let that mission die and never got around to finishing it. As I read this journal entry, it was now from the lens of the very people I’d intended to help. It was as if I was reaching out to myself; providing a mountaintop perspective of my current season…and maybe the way to climb again.

Once the workers finished, I went down to examine the final product. The foreman asked “Do you mind if I ask what your daughter’s situation is?” They had all heard Cailyn throwing a fit, as Amber ushered her off to school so it was apparent that there was a problem. I told him the situation and he explained his empathy. He recently encountered a health situation with his son which, although mostly resolved, still left their family with challenges. In that moment, I saw his pain and so I shared what was immediately on the top of my mind…my three lessons. We chatted for nearly a half hour and, by the end of our discussion he had tears in his eyes. He reached out and grabbed my hand to shake it.

“I am so glad I met you. Thank you for the encouragement.”

As they left the house, I texted Amber. I felt a sense of joy that I was able to help someone. I also felt a renewed sense of hope. In the process of trying to convince him that there was a purpose in his pain, I had somehow flipped a switch in my own mind and began to see my own. Since that first opportunity, I’ve sought out and had similar discussions with at least a dozen other people. Each time, it becomes easier. Each time it lifts my spirit further. I didn’t understand the mechanisms behind it until Amber shared a sermon based on a story in the fourth chapter of 2 Kings.

In the story, a woman had lost her husband and everything she owned except for her sons and a small bit of oil. When she asked the prophet Elisha for help, he asked her to gather up empty vessels from her neighbors, take what little she had and pour into them until they were all full. This continued until there were no empty left. The symbolism is that we don’t need to be whole in order to pour into the lives of others. In fact, it may often be the act of sharing from our emptiness that leaves both vessels full.

I share this all from a perspective, with which I never thought I’d identify. One I often boasted of not being able to understand: Depression.

With the renewed media attention on the subject, I felt compelled to go one step beyond just sharing my hope. I feel like I needed to be transparent in my doubt, which is made more difficult by the fact that I don’t yet have an ultimate victory story to share. Cailyn’s behavior is as bad as it’s ever been, with no immediate end in sight. As I look back at the bottom from what you might describe as foothills, I can only provide some basic direction.

If you’re struggling, remember that everyone has a story. Don’t pretend. Don’t hide. You have something to offer to others and others have something to offer you. Seek casual opportunities to talk and slowly share your experiences. You’ll be shocked how often others are struggling and will reciprocate. Journal any small victories, lessons, or positive things in your life and use it for reflection in the “lean” times. You don’t have to reveal everything to be authentic and you don’t have to be a sage to impart wisdom. In a world where everyone is their own brand, I’m finding that transparency is one of the only meaningful broadcasts left. If you can provide support to others, that will be the tide that lifts your ship as well.

If you’re doing well, your responsibility is greater. Posting a phone number to call for help isn’t enough. Every time you reply “Good. You?” when someone asks “How’s it going?” you are complicit in their lie. I’m not suggesting that you host a deep dive with every person you meet but you should be exploring the lives of of people, for whom you genuinely care. Make it just a little harder for friends to stay in the shadows. At worst, you’re strengthening the bond with another human. You may just be the last lifeline for those, who choose to hide.

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To Fall but not Fail

I woke up, half-dazed, to the sound of Cailyn screaming in her room. I glanced at the clock…just after 5:00 AM. Amber had already left to go work out so I was on my own. We didn’t get to bed until late the night before because Cailyn fought sleep and screamed herself to sleep. Of all the days to have an important (and early) meeting.

She asked to go downstairs and watch “Nemo” so I took her to the basement, got her a small breakfast and went upstairs to get ready for work…and now I was running late. Minutes after I hop in the shower, I hear  screaming and banging again. I jump out with shampoo still in my hair, throw on a towel and run out to Cailyn screaming for fruit snacks.

“No, Cailyn. Eat your breakfast and go downstairs, you’re going to wake up your brother.” I say firmly, but quietly, as I usher her back down to the basement.

“FRUIT SNACKS!” Cailyn yells, as she immediately begins hitting her chin, stomping her feet and screaming at the top of her lungs. I start to walk back up the stairs, when suddenly I’m face to face with Dalton, who is standing there holding his stuffed dog by the tail.

“Daddy, I couldn’t sleep. Sissy was loud. Can I have fruit snacks too?”

Cailyn sat on the bottom step and just kept yelling.

“FRUIT SNACK! FRUIT SNACK! FRUIT SNACK!” Each successive rang louder in my ears, yet I could hear my own heart beating.

“QUIET!” I yelled, myself, cutting the entire scene with silence. “FINE!”

I walked over to the cabinet, pulled out a bag of fruit snacks and threw it at the wall and it slid down the stairs.


I turned around and went back to the bathroom, imagining that both kids were just standing there scared and watching me leave them.

On my way to work, my mood was’t helped by the traffic. After repeatedly watching a car change lanes, slow down and turn their signal on, only to speed up and then cut immediately in front of me to turn, I had enough. I laid on my horn and started screaming again.

“WHAT IS YOUR PROBLEM?! YOU HAVE NO FREAKING CLUE WHAT YOU’RE DOING! CAN YOU GET ANYTHING RIGHT?! AHHHHHHHHHHHH!” If anyone were in the vehicle with me, they would be sure I was having a breakdown. This was the culmination of what I term a “dark period” in my life; One that would soon bring me to beg for help from my wife. I was only partially yelling at the car. I was partially yelling at Cailyn…I was mostly yelling at myself.

Later, after I came home from work, it was time to push Dalton to practice riding his bike. Dalton is a perfectionist and demands a lot from himself, just like his father. He hated riding that bike because he was embarrassed but I’d watch him admiring the kids across the street. He wanted it so badly. Just as things were going well, I watched his foot slip off the pedal. Then came the ensuing meltdown, as he yelled and started to walk off.

“I JUST DON’T CARE! I’M NOT GOOD AND I DON’T WANT TO RIDE THE BIKE EVER!” he yelled, nose scrunched, eyes wet, and face red.

“Dalton, you can’t quit because you messed up. You just don’t know how to do it yet. You have to be patient and practice. Someday, you’ll be good at this and you’ll be so glad that you didn’t give up.” At this point, I realized the irony of the conversation and, choked up, I struggled to finish. “It’s okay to mess up. It’s never okay to stop caring…to stop trying.”

It’s hard to hear people say that I’m a good dad or that Cailyn is blessed to have me. Most people who say that will never spend more than a couple hours around us with Cailyn. I go back and re-read my own advice, philosophies, and stories and don’t always recognize the person talking. Posts are so infrequent because the path to each success is covered in scars. Looking back, I sometimes feel like I’m being chastised by a better version of me, ridiculed as a failure, completely incompetent…an abject hypocrite.

The truth is that perfection doesn’t exist, nor does fate. Life is messy. One of the most damaging myths, especially in the church, is that there is one perfect path or destiny. We grow to believe that, if we make the right decisions, there will be a current that ushers us to immediate and lasting success. It doesn’t prepare us for the struggle and too many quit when they fall. There are no 15 minute abs or miracle muscle pills, and there is no superhighway to your happiness.

Not everyone has a child with Autism. Some are losing their marriage, their job, or their health. Others have lost a sense of purpose and feel like they’ve missed the only on ramp that would lead there. In reality, the past is over and you haven’t missed the boat. Each day, we are called anew; Called to learn from the pain and respond by being better in the now.  Even if you fell yesterday, you can only fail today.

It’s not easy for a perfectionist to publish their struggles but it’s one of the last remaining meaningful broadcasts. In a world, where everyone is their own brand, we crave transparency. There is beauty in the fall, because our own hope hinges on the redemption of the inherently imperfect.

Autism is just another facet of this imperfection; a view into a tainted life and world, that would otherwise be exposed through another lens. Normal is an illusion and perfection is a lie. Your satisfaction with life will never be dictated by external happenstance, but by your willingness to rise above it.

My rise began when I came to the realization that Cailyn isn’t the reason I fall short…she’s one of the only challenges that I’ve ever loved enough to face the fear of standing back up.


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“I had a dream about Cailyn. She was around ten years old and we were playing and talking just like any mother and daughter. I woke up and I just felt like everything was going to be alright. She’s going to be okay.”

These conversations were typically very one-sided. I’d listen to my wife, Amber, smile and nod my head. Some days, it seemed she was trying to convince me and other times I almost felt she was trying to believe, herself. I’d act and be supportive as best I could but, in the world of Autism, hope is a hobbled antelope amongst lions. I’d learned not to let myself go there. I’d prepared for the worst.

I’m the realist of the family, perhaps as pragmatic as anyone I know. If dreams are for the sleeping, I’d been awoken to the reality of my daughter’s plight the day that we drove home from a consultation with a child psychologist in 2011. I read pamphlets and stories of people who had “conquered” Autism through years of intense therapy. They had resources we could never hope to approach and they bragged of the results; Children, who were mostly self-sufficient but still needed care and frequent check-ins. Until that moment, I was just a naive boy, convinced that I could save my daughter and work our lives back to “typical.” It was then that all hope laid slowly to the ground and succumbed to its inevitable fate.

As grounded as I am, Amber is far more ambitious. In her mind, she can accomplish anything and she won’t hesitate to push for it. With her love for music and vocal talents, Amber knew right away that she was destined to be a singer. She went after it with all her might. We’d talk about her dream to sing and I supported her with everything I had, using what marginal skills I possessed to try and help her put out CDs. Still, as much as I believed in her talent, I knew how unlikely it is for anyone to get just the right breaks to “make it” in the ways she envisioned.

Then she started to get opportunities. She was singing at events and getting to lead regularly at church. She even got an opportunity on the radio and put two songs on iTunes, when she came to me with a startling revelation.

“I think I need to take a break from singing and focus on Cailyn and my family.”

After a while, the hours of working with Cailyn and an increase in self-injurious behavior began to weigh her down. Amber needed an outlet and she found it through exercise. She was already in shape and did a lot of cardio, but she wanted to really get her frustration and energy out. I bought her a heavy bag and she started going to the gym. After a particularly rough session of therapy, it wasn’t uncommon to hear her beating the life out of that bag, her face dripping with both sweat and tears. This was a necessary outlet for frustration and gave her the opportunity to socialize in ways that having a child with Autism can restrict. This activity led to shifts in our interests. One day, we were watching “American Ninja Warrior” when Amber turned to me and started dreaming again.

“I think I can do that. I want to train to be on American Ninja Warrior.” She said, with that familiar sparkle in her eyes.

At this time, Amber couldn’t do a full, strict pull-up. She was fit, but not strong by any means. I just smiled and nodded. I’d do anything I could to support her but I didn’t REALLY consider it being a reality. There is just too many people, who have been committed for years. She didn’t have a chance.

If my hope had died when Cailyn was two, its grave was trampled near the end of 2014. Cailyn’s violence and tantrums had hit a new level. During the subsequent months, she would get down on all fours and bang her head against the floor. She began to regress and was peeing herself frequently. She started to wake up in the middle of the night, again, and her school was even looking for suggestions to help with the behavior. I felt that everything was going backwards and that life had begun to spin out of control. Amber and I were both at our end, when she told me about that most recent dream she had of Cailyn. I smiled and nodded as she talked but I had a much more frank conversation with my dad, who called that evening.

“Son, I just wish there were something I could do to make this all go away.” he said, his voice  unfamiliarly helpless.

“It won’t go away. This is permanent. This is my life for as long as I’m on this Earth…and my only prayer left is that God will have mercy and take me soon.” 

I was finished.

The day after Amber’s dream, Cailyn had a good day. It was followed by another. She strung several together and started sleeping better than she had ever before. Then she started asking for things more calmly and reacting with less violence. The accidents stopped and then came the shocker; She started spontaneously stringing together words. We listened in wonder, as she started using verbs and adjectives with her nouns. She was describing things appropriately and began using “Mommy” and “Daddy” correctly, to ask for us.

I found myself falling in love with my daughter all over again and felt a frightening spark of hope return.

I did Amber’s American Ninja Warrior submission video. As I looked through the video clips, I couldn’t help but watch the hours of therapy sessions that Amber put in and painstakingly documented. Each challenge had passed and Cailyn had conquered with her warrior mother at her side. This inspired me to do all I could to make Amber’s dream become a reality…but it was a long shot. She had a ton of talent but was far from unique in that regard. In the coming months, I tried to subtly prepare her for not getting chosen. 

Then, during Dalton’s birthday party, I received a call.
“Hi, Craig. This is American Ninja Warrior. I need you to be very calm and try not react, but Amber has been chosen to be on the show and we want you in on the surprise.”

Cailyn’s best days have come in the sunrise since our most recent war with Autism. As we prepared for the show, Amber asked for a new shirt. Immediately, “Cailyn Can” came to me. I designed it specifically for her run, to give testimony to the future, inspire her to push, and to use this impossibility as a proxy to speak life into a defeated father.

In the moments before her run, Amber needed that inspiration. As we witnessed strong contestants go down early, she was shaken. 

“I don’t think I can get past, she said. I would be happy if I could just make the snake.” She said, eyes wide with fear and hand shaking.

“You’ve got this. Trust your training, hold on and don’t leave anything out there. Hold on for Cailyn.” I said, as I pulled her head to me and kissed her forehead.

I wasn’t just nodding and smiling. I believed it.

With each of the first five steps, my breath stopped and, as she clung to the log, I could barely watch. Just coming to her feet on the second platform, completely dry, was an accomplishment. Still, staring her in the face was the demise of many other ninjas…the snake.

As she took the first careful steps, all who knew her could see the nervousness in her body language. She made it carefully through the first three quarters when everything shifted and she began to lose control. I remember a feeling of disbelief…it felt like it shouldn’t be over. Then, as if propelled back up, Amber shifted her weight, stopped her momentum at the last possible instant, crossed legs, regained balance and hopped to the next platform.

Her next and final obstacle would prove to teach a lesson in fear and regret, which she’ll take with her into future training and apply to our true battles. Still, our pride was undeniable. What she had done was impossible just two years earlier…but it was only the outward evidence of a determination that has kept us afloat.

Amber was a warrior, long before she could ever do a pull up. She held her daughter and family up when lesser dreamers would fall. The emotional revelation of this new world was wrapped in the irony that, on this massive stage, the cynic had become the believer and Cailyn was the one holding up her mother.