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.

“CAILYN NO! NO PLAYING WITH POOP! I’VE HAD IT! I CAN’T DO THIS ANYMORE!”

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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“MONDAY NO SCHOOL! ALL DONE!”

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.

“MONDAY NO SCHOOL! BE CALM! 5-4-3-2-1! HEADPHONES!”

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 DON’T CARE ANYMORE! TAKE EVERYTHING YOU WANT! ROT YOUR TEETH, BE SPOILED, OR WHATEVER! JUST PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD AND HOLY, SHUT YOUR MOUTH!”

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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Warrior


“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.

  

My Valentine


I remember the conversation but I don’t recall a specific instance of it. That’s because it happened so frequently, throughout my childhood. Sometimes, it was as I was being tucked in. Other times in the car. Whenever I was alone with my parents and things were quiet, it seemed like the subject was inevitably going to come up. It started something like this:

“Craig, do you have any idea how much we love you?” they’d ask.
“I guess” would be my typical response.
“We do. We’d do anything to protect you. I’d lay down my life for you. If a bullet were coming at you, I’d jump in the path to keep you from harm.”

If not the most probable, this hypothetical bullet was apparently the most dramatic scenario they could muster…because it was ALWAYS the fictional way they’d demonstrate their love. It must have made an impact because I believed them. Wholeheartedly. It made me feel safe. It made me feel important. It made me feel loved. It made me feel the way that every child should, but so seldom do. Still, I could never imagine doing that for anyone else.

When Cailyn was born, I remember feeling awe. I remember being overwhelmed with fear and the weight of responsibility. I even remember wondering if her head was going to be shaped like a cone for the rest of her life. What I don’t remember was an immediate and overcoming feeling of unconditional love. That first night, as Cailyn repeatedly interrupted my sleep, I laid there and battled the guilt of these emotions. The next morning, while I played with her, I noticed that she didn’t cry as much with me as with others. I’d walk her around and sing softly to her and I swear I saw her smile. I learned that some sounds got her attention a little more and she cried less when I rocked her a certain way. I recall picking her up from her crib, putting her over my shoulder and patting her back. Suddenly, her back went rigid and her head flew back…she was choking.

The nurse, who happened to be in the room, told me not to panic. She walked over and stuck her finger in Cailyn’s little mouth to try and clear the obstruction. After a few, never-ending seconds, she looked over at me and said to hit the red button. I immediately felt the impact of the moment and how this little girl needed me so badly; That I understood her more than anyone else in the world and she needed me to be her hero and that I just wanted her to stop hurting. In my adrenaline-induced stupor, I couldn’t even find the button. I slid out to the hallway and yelled.

“Help! Someone help! My daughter is choking!”

If love didn’t happen instantly, it grew quickly and was in full force shortly thereafter, as I learned the intricacies of her personality. She was “daddy’s girl” in every sense of the phrase. She laughed for me, she fell asleep for me, she LOVED the way I played and wrestled with her and she completely trusted me. I can’t count the number of times people watched, in awe of the way I’d launch her up in the air only to catch her coming down. She’d laugh hysterically, almost begging me to keep going with her smile. “Wow, she REALLY trusts you.” the onlookers marveled.

…and so she should. Daddy loved her and with that love, grew to hate anything or anyone that would do her harm. I knew that I’d never let anything bad befall her. I ran at and frightened a little boy at a playground, who hit her. I despised people driving too fast down the road, because they put her in danger. I avoided people with aggressive children, because I couldn’t stand to watch her get hurt…intentional or otherwise. There is no question I’d take a bullet for her.

Protection, however, becomes infinitely harder when the person you love and are trying to protect hurts their self. So often, I’ve stood helpless, watching Cailyn suffer. She bangs her head against the wall and floor, she hits her face and chin, she pokes her finger into her eyes, she bites her own arm, and scratches are her back, legs and stomach. A few weeks back, I was called to her classroom at church, because she was hitting her head and elbows against the wall. I took her to the car and drove around town to calm Cailyn down. I looked back and saw the bruises on her forehead and couldn’t help but be overwhelmed my helplessness. I tried pointlessly bargaining with God, offering everything I own to find the source of her pain, which was apparently so intense that she tries to numb it through more pain. I told Him that I’d gladly give my own life to take this obstacle of Autism from her. It’s a bullet I couldn’t take for her.

This afternoon, on Valentines Day, we had to take Cailyn’s iPad away because she’s been obsessive with it and won’t be social. Her intense reaction to not having it, only confirmed that we had to stick to this and not give in. She screamed and beat her head. When I made her sit in time out, she began scratching her stomach. She picked up a toy and jabbed it into her face and started kicking her feet against the hard tile floor. When she started banging her head and wailing at the top of her lungs, I could no longer compartmentalize my love for her and my hate for things that would hurt her…I just wanted it to stop.

I picked Cailyn up and (surprisingly) calmly walked her to the couch. I sat down and restrained her completely. I made sure she couldn’t hit or scratch or kick. She then resorted to pressing her chin against my face and then banging her head against mine. I looked at my wife, defeated, but simultaneously determined to break my daughter’s will. Amber looked back at me with an equally hopeless stare…one possible solely from the one other person in the world that has lived our life. We wanted to stop each other’s pain just as much as Cailyn’s. Finally, minutes later, her violence stopped. As I let her down, my baby girl, my heart…my Valentine turned and looked at me. It wasn’t a look of trust or safety…it was one of anguish. Although I had done everything I could to protect her, it was emotionally painful to her. I had become the source of her harm…and I then hated myself for it.

I sat there, staring blankly for the following few minutes, but my mind moving at breakneck speeds. Finally, I dismissed myself and walked to my bedroom closet. I sat in the corner, with my head in my hands and cried in a way that people only cry when they’re completely alone. I began heaving and leaned over, into the wall, when the door to the closet cracked open.

“Daddy?” Dalton, my three year old son cautiously asked, peeking inside. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s sissy.” I respond, trying to compose myself. “She hurts herself and I can’t protect her.”
“Oh…” Dalton stands for a moment, obviously deep in thought. “I can’t fix that problem.”
“I can’t fix it either, buddy. No one can fix it.”
“I have an idea.” Dalton says, and he bends down, grabs my hand and lowers his head.
“Bless mommy, bless daddy, bless sissy, and bless me. Help sissy not have Autism again and help her talk good forever and ever…amen.”
He sealed his prayer with a hug as his dad, three decades older, bawled in his arms.

After I had to restrain her, Cailyn wanted to be alone. She went to her room and told everyone coming close to “Go away.” I went to the store to pick up some groceries and came back home, still completely entrenched in guilt. I walked into the door, took off my shoes and coat, and went straight to her room. I was expecting the look of hurt and pain, but was instead met with a smile.

“DADDYYYYYY.” Cailyn growled with a smile and her eyes wide. “Piano. Want piano pees.”

For the next hour, I danced with her, I tickled her, and I threw her around, as she smiled. She jumped around and asked for more, begging me to squeeze her and falling off her bed, into my arms. A peace came over me, as I had a comforting epiphany. I didn’t feel safe because my parents said they would take a bullet for me and I never felt loved because they said it, even though they always did. As much as teenagers will throw words around, love isn’t communicated in words. Despite our smut-peddling entertainment industries attempts to try to sell it, love isn’t proven in moments of passion.

Love is the practice of placing someone else’s needs before your own so consistently that it becomes habit. Love is an empathy that hurts you more than the person experiencing the pain firsthand. Love is taking a moment to pick up a hanger from the floor when you’re running late for work, because you don’t want your wife to have another inconvenience in her day. Love is willing to take an iPad away and let your daughter (and yourself) hate you for a moment…for her long term well-being. Love is established through a lifetime of selfless action and results in a trust that isn’t shaken because of a single moment. It’s a language of it’s own and, in those moments, my daughter’s eyes told me that love’s translation surpasses Autism.

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Perfectly Different


Just days before Cailyn’s birthday and I’ve already been to the store multiple times. This trip was already nearing an hour and I’d seen every single individual toy in the building…twice. I circle back to an aisle so bright and pink that it makes me dizzy. I pick up items, one at a time and read the packages carefully, pressing each button and pulling every cord. I’ve excitedly grabbed and held about a dozen boxes for varying degrees of time, even making it the checkout line once, only to relent and painfully and carefully put it back in it’s place. On my way, I pass several people shopping for their own children. Sometimes, my face is so warm and my eyes so glossy, that I’m sure I’m completely transparent. One mother walks by with a jewelry creation set she just picked out with her little girl, barely older than Cailyn. I wonder if she realized she just passed the most empty person in the world.

Every holiday, birthday, and special occasion, I go through a similar ordeal. Each time, it’s a little longer…a little darker. Like many men, I work hard and sacrifice my time to make sure that my family is comfortable. Children don’t REALLY understand why their dad is gone for the majority of their waking hours. They don’t get mortgages, the price of utilities, or the fact that food isn’t free. The only tangible result of a man’s efforts, sure to make a kids eyes light up, is triumphantly throwing open the door and proudly exclaiming “I have a surprise!” Sometimes, after the hardest days of work, I’ll bring something small home for the sole purpose of being the hero of the evening.

I can walk into a room and instantly identify something that my son will love. We intentionally get him things to stimulate his growth, while still playing to his interests. Cailyn, is a different story. Our home is littered with unused toys that we’d purchased, in the hopes that it could spark a more typical interest and potentially move her along in development. At one year old, we got her a train for fine motor growth and she sat there all morning, looking at the bottom and spinning the wheels. Her second Christmas, we bought a kitchen set for pretend play. Instead, she found the button that triggered sounds, promptly ripped off the oven door and just pressed that. These were actually success stories, as most of her gifts just sit unused. She’ll open them up and promptly toss it aside.

I dream of Cailyn playing with dolls, brushing hair, making jewelry, or modeling a dress. I’d pay a fortune to walk into her room and catch her playing out a conversation between two of her animals. I’d die a happy man if she could someday bat her eyelashes at me, because she wanted an expensive outfit…which I’d then promptly purchase, against her mother’s wishes. Instead, Cailyn goes for light up and sound-making trinkets. She’ rather hold onto disassembled, colorful plastic pieces, than to play with them as part of the whole toy.During Christmas time, I’ve begun taking for the “giving tree” and intentionally picking items for girls her age. I buy things that I wish I could get for Cailyn and I often pretend like it’s FOR her. Each time, I drive home feeling as though I’ve done something deeply disturbing. I sit in the garage and wipe away the lines of tears on my face, until I’m convinced that I can pass Amber’s inspection, when I walk in.

That is when this birthday became different. Immersed in another reminder of my daughter’s difference, I gave in to another warring faction in my mind. As if it were an army bursting through the gates of a fortified city, my demeanor turned. I immediately ran for a plastic magnifying glass I’d seen, earlier. I then ran to the candy and found something we’d usually not let her have. These were small things that she would love, to go along with other non-typical gifts she’d be getting for her birthday. I got home and immediately walked through the garage and into the house. Amber saw right through me and we held each other for the next few minutes, crying. It was definitely sadness, it was perhaps even more shame. It was the most recent instance of me casting aside selfish denial, in the best interest of Cailyn. I was no longer forcing my 30+ years of social conditioning on her, instead acknowledging and embracing the things that made her unique.

Every time that I’m convinced I’ve come to grips with Autism, I’m simultaneously and unwittingly entrenched in another battle that will eventually shake me to my core. Each of these are only symptoms of the larger war. While Cailyn has most, if not all, of the basic needs of any person…she’s operating on a different plane. Like two opposing wheels of a car, Cailyn is perfectly different. She and I turn together but our realities are engineered to never meet. The only way for us to exist together is through the pain of one or of us both. While there is a time and a place for her to come into my world for the sake of her growth, it’s even more important for me to grow by sacrificing my own comfort to give her the gift she really craves…company.

A few weeks ago, I hugged my wife and said “we’re the only ones in the world that understands what the other has been through.” In that moment of relative loneliness, I was hit with the realization that Cailyn is the one living Autism…and NO ONE understands her. Cailyn lives in a world of her own making. She isn’t privy to the norms and constructs of our world. She can’t communicate to anyone and likely never completely understands the depths of her own feelings. Society tries to change her and her needs are unintentionally marginalized by the ones, who claim to love her most.

So my growth as a husband, father, and man must shift. Instead of trying to “fix” my unbroken daughter, I need her to know that I’m her place of safety. I can no longer gift from my heart, but demonstrate through gifts that I know HER heart. Instead of asking her about her day, I take the time to sing her favorite songs. Rather than having her mimic me, I’ve memorized and now repeat the language that she uses. Since the day she was born, Cailyn and I never had the same outlook on things like language, gifts, or fun. She says “I love you” because Amber and I say it, but she expresses her love in smiles and squeezes. So, when I get stuck in my world, hung up in the differences of Autism and how life hasn’t lined up with my superficial expectations, I am simply fulfilling my own prophesy of separation and depression. As I move throughout the house, obsessed with myself, I could be walking by her room without even realizing that I’ve just passed the most empty person in the world.

God, give me Your eyes, that I might see her as You intended; Perfectly different.

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Known


It was late January, and I was on a yearly business trip. About mid-way through, I learned that Cailyn was sick. With each passing hour, I followed up more and inexplicably became more concerned. I was a thousand miles away and felt so helpless. I packed my suitcase a day early, so I could leave on a moments notice. I must’ve seemed distracted, because a coworker called me the night before we were scheduled to leave, with an opportunity to hop a corporate flight back…provided that I was ready to leave right away.

After finalizing the details, I rushed down to the lobby and called Amber on the way. Her reaction was more worry than relief. She assured me that Cailyn’s temperature was down before she put her to bed, and that she was doing better. I had left my old car at the airport exposed, somewhat low on gas, and we were dealing with sub-zero windchill back in Ohio. On top of it all, I’d be traveling on a late night flight in less than perfect weather conditions. Amber was worried and almost talked me out of the trip, but I decided to leave anyway and eventually made it home without issue.

The next morning, I was awake before Cailyn, which was odd. After an additional hour waiting, I went to her bed to check on her. When I found her, she was unresponsive. We rushed Cailyn to the ER and she was admitted to the hospital for multiple nights with a severe case of the flu and croup. The doctor was direct in his diagnosis.

“She’s in pretty bad shape and her oxygen is dangerously low. I’m glad you brought her in, when you did…she may not have been able to wait much longer.”

Nothing in life is more frightening than uncertainty, especially in situations where we lack control. Somehow, watching a recorded game is less gut-wrenching than a live one, even when I don’t know the result in advance. The decision has already been made, the path set in stone…the future known. It feels as though the limitless permutations are removed and the result no longer in doubt. Similarly, the scariest part of a suspenseful movie is BEFORE you see a villain pop out, when the hero is walking from darkened hallway to darkened hallway and nothing bad has actually happened…only anticipated. For much of my childhood, I was completely paranoid of roller coasters, without having ever actually been on one. Only when I finally rode one, did I discover that I wasn’t actually afraid of coasters, rather the idea of riding them.

There is a comfort in knowing our favorite TV characters are likely to to be scripted into the next episode, or that statistics are strongly in favor of surviving the next amusement park ride or airplane landing. Unfortunately, the statistics for a child with “severe” Autism aren’t quite as friendly. Every night for nearly 18 months, Cailyn would wake up between two and four o’clock in the morning, crying and screaming. We slept whenever we could, because a restful night could never be assumed. We felt almost terrorized and completely defeated. More recently, we went through a half dozen whole-hearted attempts to potty train. Each time, giving up after a couple weeks and numerous changes of clothes because she “just didn’t understand.”

Each of these seasons of our life were demoralizing, seemingly without script or hope. Only in retrospect can I look back on them and see the beauty and growth in the trials. The most recent of which resulted in every door and comfort in Cailyn’s outside-of-home life being stripped from her in the matter of months. Her teacher and aides were changing, we’d moved to a new church, and we were moving to new outside therapy programs. To make the situation more tenuous, we’d decided to move schools and every door we sought, seemed to slam in our face. Instead of pushing them open, I implored Amber to wait for the open one. We’d been down this road and I had a peace that everything was going to work for the better.

Within a week of Cailyn transitioning to the new (and public) school that was honestly our third or fourth choice, we received a note home that they were willing to be consistent with potty training, if we were willing to send her in underwear. This was a sensitive topic around our home. Amber broke into bittersweet tears when Dalton, although two years younger, was using the restroom before his sister. The hope was refreshing, but the uncertainty was stinging. Only a few weeks later, I was sitting at home when I heard Cailyn walk into the restroom. I ran in just in time to see her flush. She hasn’t had an accident since. One day, she looked at me, smiled, and said “daddy proud.”

Through Cailyn, I’ve discovered that fate is merely a cosmically impossible series of events which, in retrospect, work in perfect synchronization to save us from ourselves. Every new teacher, impossible task, change in school or church, or other adjustment in Cailyn’s life has been a gateway to improvement. Each mile marker on her journey was facilitated by a moment of crisis, not accomplished in spite of them. Every tear of pain has been book-ended by one of thanks and joy.

The Earth is full of people, asking for a sign. It’s natural to want certainty and guidance in storms. We seek any indication that we are valued, accompanied…known. In reality, these signs rarely come as a flashing light, burning bush, or hungry whale. Instead, they are revealed by examining the past as series of events, each of which absolutely foundational to our current existence. Although sometimes painful and perhaps unscripted, the guidance is undeniable. Whenever I’m feeling fulfilled, I can’t look back at any of my trials without realizing that my more abundant life would be impossible without having experienced them. When I’m suffering, I’ve come to accept that it will eventually be a pivotal season in reaching my next peak. I can have this assurance because I see evidence that I’m playing a role in someone, whose end purpose is bigger than my own…and you can’t plan the end without planning the means.

When Amber and I were dating, we talked about a lot of the things that a serious couple would/should. One of the most important topics was children. Initially Amber wanted two or four children. Although she had this number, she only had one name. She said that, if she had a girl, she always wanted the name to be “Cailyn.” Just as though I’m watching a game with the outcome set in stone, or a movie, wherein I know the hero is victorious, it gives me peace. It is yet another sign that, even before I was entrusted with her life…Cailyn was known.

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