Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Rich Tangle of Emotions

Yesterday I dropped Josh off at his winter day camp at his autism therapy center.  We walked into the waiting room where kids were meeting up with their one on one therapists for the day.  As I took in the sights and sounds, I was inundated by a rich tangle of emotions all at once.  These are a few of them:

Empathy.  One tall, well dressed Asian dad with an ID card from a well known local high-tech company pleaded with his child.  His clearly autistic son, about 5 years old, was not happy about being transferred to his therapist for the day.  As the boy escalated into a full blown tantrum, I could feel the rising desperation of the father. "Please.  Please Jacob."  He begged his son.  "Please don't do this.  You'll be ok.  Mommy will pick you up soon.  Please, sweetie.  Daddy has to go to work.  Please."  Compassion cut through me like a hot knife through butter.  How many times have I experienced this very same "bad transition" moment?  I could almost read this man's mind.  He was probably thinking about what they could have, should have done to prep his son for the transition, knowing that it might not have mattered anyway.  He was already dreading the costs that they might have to pay in the evening if his son had a bad day at the program.  He was probably already late to work but couldn't wait to get there so he could feel like a normal person again with the possibility of experiencing competence and productivity.  I offered a knowing smile but stayed out of the way and said a quick, silent prayer.  

Pride.  The whole time while this was happening, my own son was choosing to behave with shocking maturity. He chose a spot on a couch as far away as possible from the upset child.  He stuck one finger in an ear then focused his attention on eating his apple.  Oh, how far we've come on the journey of auditory sensitivity.  There was a time when a situation like this could have resulted in hours of crying.  Now, Josh is clearly not happy or relaxed but he is dealing with it.  I'm filled with admiration for this kid who has had to work so hard to overcome so much. Over the past thirteen years, we have come so very, very, very far.

Anger.  I could see in an instant that the younger sibling of another autistic child was typically developing.  The three-ish year old girl had the intuitive sense that her brother was struggling and she knew to keep quiet and out of the way.  She contented herself with reading some of the books which were available in the waiting room yet ignored by all of the autistic kids.  She found a picture in a book that excited her and had an immediate impulse to share her discovery through pointing and eye contact.  I watched her and saw how her brain was a meteor of learning, making cognitive and social connections by the second.  I was gripped by the thought that it's so unfair that some kids get to have brains that almost seem to self-develop.  Other kids, like my son, have brains that are so slow that they never learn their ABCs.  Some kids are able to integrate the world around them and make growing sense of it.  To others, the world is a places of constant threats and chaos.  Why?  How is that fair?  It's not and sometimes it makes me so mad that I want to shake my fist at God.

A few minutes later I sat in my car, zombie like.  These and other emotions swirled in my head, preventing me from driving to work and moving on with my day.  How are you supposed to transition into being a centered, productive adult when moments like this assault you with such a barrage of emotions?  How can I walk into my day without wearing all of these feelings on my person like heavy jewelry?  

As I took a few slow breaths I sensed the ever-present invitation of Jesus:  "Give me all of your thoughts and emotions.  I will keep them safe."  

Safe. Oh, yes.  I closed my eyes and remembered the safety of the One who can handle every whirlwind.  Jesus, He is not overwhelmed, even when I am.  He always sees us with eyes of love, with attentive ears.  

One by one, I let go of these disparate feelings and laid them at His feet.  I felt my spine lighten as I shared my emotional load with the one who offers to yoke Himself with me.  

How do you walk through life when you face intense moments of varied emotions?  You must let the One who is your constant companion lead you. You accept that you are never alone and never left to carry even your momentary burdens by yourself.  

Monday, November 2, 2015

How to Help Your Typically Developing Kids Love Their Special Needs Sibling

I’m as desperate as the next mom for my kids to get along.  My girls are one year minus three days apart and pretty competitive for airspace and attention so I pretty much pray desperate prayers every day for their relationship.  But I have a special hope that my girls will love their brother in a free and unburdened way when they grow up.  After all, God willing, their relationship with him will last longer than mine.  I realize that every family is different but here are some things that I am learning about how to help foster love and bonding between typically developing kids and a sibling who has special needs.

1       Create and reinforce a culture of snuggling. 

When my husband and I became adoptive parents, we were taught about the significance of “skin on skin” time to bonding so we tried to maximize touch and hugs whenever possible.  In the early days after we brought our adopted babies home, my husband used to rip off his shirt whenever he could and hold them close to his chest.  

Nowadays we try to get some time together in jammies as a family on Mom and Dad’s California King sized bed as much as we can during our precious, lazy weekend moments.  Sometimes we read quietly.  Sometimes someone will read a book aloud.  Sometimes Josh will request a song that we sing part of and he sings part of like "He'll be coming 'round the mountain . . ." or "This little piggy".  Josh will ask to sing or say it over and over until I have to put a stop to it in order to not lose my mind.

Being autistic, Josh has a limited tolerance for being around other people, especially when the girls were more wiggly and vocally eruptive.  But Josh appreciates the sensory input of this kind of family time.  He loves having his head and face rubbed and getting to smell his mama’s hair so he’s willing to be us for short periods of time.  Whole family snuggle times are some of the happiest times in our life together. 

The other day, Hope and I woke up inexplicably early and so we decided to invade Josh’s bed to snuggle with him.  Touch is a nice way to connect, especially with a mostly non-verbal person.  After a few blissful minutes, Hope said to me, “You know what, Mama?  When I grow up, I want to marry someone who can help me take care of Josh.”  I told her how much I appreciated that and that I expect that there will be a lot of people in Josh’s life who will help to take care of him. And then I smiled and almost cried for the rest of the day.

2       Debrief stressful moments.

My husband and Hope were out of town for Halloween this year so it was just Josh, Anna and me left at home to take on trick or treating.  We had plans to walk around our neighborhood with one other family.  Everyone had been prepped with the knowledge that Josh might not make it walking around in the dark with crowds of other people around.  Indeed, he lasted about 7 houses before having a major crying, screaming meltdown on the sidewalk.  (He was unhappy that I wouldn’t let him eat every piece of candy immediately upon receiving it.)  The other family graciously offered to take Anna with them while I walked Josh home.  Anna was very motivated to stay on the mission of pursuing a more ample stash of candy so she was willing to go without me. 

Later, at bedtime, I asked her how she felt about Josh’s public meltdown and having to trick or treat without a parent with her.   Her emotions were complex and layered.  It was good to get to talk about the evening in retrospect.  In the end, she seemed to come to a place of satisfaction and declared it the “best Halloween ever”.  I think that getting some space to talk about how it was for her enabled her to ultimately focus on the good parts and let go of the bad parts.

3      Try to give each child their own special times. 

I am aware that Josh and his needs invade a lot of Hope and Anna’s lives.  They have both spent more than their share of their lives being schlepped along to Josh’s medical or therapeutic appointments.  There are a lot of things that our family can’t do because of Josh.  Their brother often takes more than his fair share of their parents’ attention. 

I have found that it’s important for my girls to each have special time where they get to have our undivided, undistracted attention.  For example, this year each girl got to have their own small birthday parties (In the past we’ve had a larger, joint one because their birthdays are so close together).  Significantly, their brother did not come.  He would not have enjoyed Anna’s soap making party or Hope’s movie watching party anyways.  But the critical piece was that I was able to fully focus on the birthday girl each time without needing to make sure that Josh was not overwhelmed or eating non-food items when we weren’t watching. 

For the past two Easters, the girls have received gift certificates in their Easter baskets for a special overnight with one parent at a local location of their choosing.  This has been a special way to get to have experiences that the five of us could never have because of who Josh is.  Anna and I went to a small amusement park about an hour away.  Hope and her dad explored Alcatraz in San Francisco.  Both trips were definitely good deposits into the love tank.  Both sets of us came home with a sense of overflowing with stories and affection to spare and share.  

Well, those are a few of my ideas thus far in our journey.  Do you have any other suggestions for us?  We are eager to hear your ideas and stories. 

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Snapshots from the Short Bus

For years I’ve been so preoccupied with getting Josh onto or off of the bus that I have rarely paid attention to the other kids who ride the bus with him.  We live on a busy street with two elementary schools on it so the morning and afternoon bike and car traffic is pretty intense.  I’m aware that there is usually a line of people behind the bus waiting for me to load or unload so I try to move quickly. 

Most of the kids who ride the bus with Josh are not easy to get to know, especially when you don’t have a lot of time.  Many are non-verbal and do not make eye contact.  

For example, one boy never, ever looks up, even if Josh sits near or next to him.  He always has his eyes closed or seems to be looking out the window at nothing in particular.  In over two years of being on the bus with Josh, I have never heard him utter a word, much less try to interact with anyone.  One day, I was surprised when he handed me an envelope on which he had written Josh’s name in shaky letters.  It was an invitation to his birthday party. 

I moved heaven and earth in our family schedule so that Josh could attend this, his first “drop off birthday party” for a peer at school.  When we arrived at “Bill’s” home, Bill greeted us at the door with absolutely no affect on his face.  However, his mother greeted us warmly and told me that her son had really, really wanted Josh to come to his party.  Apparently, he has a great affection for Josh and often tells his mom about how Josh seemed to be doing, like if Josh cried on the bus or if he sang along to songs being played on the radio.

The party was a sweet gathering of 10 young teens mostly from the other special ed. class at Josh’s school that is comprised of slightly higher functioning kids.  Bill’s mom assured me that she and her husband could handle Josh if I left for a few hours.  I did and came back slightly earlier than I said that I would.  I found Josh to be a picture of contentment, happily eating his fourth piece of pizza and humming to himself in the sun.  Apparently, they had played a game where you look for hidden pieces of candy in the garden and he had done quite well.  (My visually impaired child always seems to have excellent vision when there are treats involved.)  The other kids were occupied with riding or analyzing the zip line that they had installed on their property.  I was struck that Bill and his friends were sucking the marrow out of the moment together in their own autism spectrum kind of way.  Bill seemed very energized yet relaxed.  He buzzed back and forth between his other friends and Josh, expressing in his own way that he wanted Josh to be happy. 

As I chatted with Bill's mom and just watched him work the crowd, I realized that Bill is a young man with a rich, beautiful, engaged life, which you would never know from just observing him looking catatonic on the bus (when he is probably tired and uncomfortable).   Apparently, he has all sorts of passions and interests such as VIP baseball (for kids with special needs) and ballroom dancing.  I wonder how many other times I make false or shallow assumptions about kids just because they initially present differently from neuro-typical kids.

The other day, I took a moment to ask a girl who has ridden on the bus with Josh for a long time how she was doing.  She smiled and told me, in her halting way of speaking, that she really, really wants Josh to go to the next school dance and that she noticed that his sister’s haven’t been coming out to get him off of the bus as much as they used to.    She even remembered Hope and Anna’s names!

I laughed out loud with surprise and joy at how sharp this little girl is and how much is going on in her head.  I saw for the first time that she, too, is a complicated, beautifully-minded person.  There is so much beneath the first layer of what one can see or experience with kids like this who ride the special ed. bus.   Far from being “simple” people, kids with intellectual disabilities are just as dimensional and profound people as anyone else.  It’s just that you have to be even more patient and observant to access it.  I’m so grateful that Josh gets to “be in community” with these complex and wonderful kids who are much more than what they seem. 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Overnight Summer Camp: Pick Up

Yes, I was a bit of a mess while Josh was gone at overnight camp;  not a full blown "can't deal with my life for a while, send out a mass email to all of my friends, stop meeting the needs of the rest of my kids" mess but a more subtle, internal mess.  My thoughts kept wandering toward dark scenarios of Josh getting lost in the woods or crying all night.  I kept having that jolting feeling of realizing that I've left my cell phone somewhere but then I would realize that it wasn't my phone, it was my first born, my thirteen year old baby who NEEDS ME DARN IT!

But surely, they would call me if he was having a really hard time... and they did not call.  So I tried to enjoy my weekend.  I went to my daughters' musical performance that came at the end of their summer day camp.  I helped them run a lemonade stand in our driveway. I took them out to a movie.   Admittedly, all of these things were much easier without also managing Josh.  I tried really hard to let it be a true respite weekend.  On Sunday morning at church, I had someone pray with me so I could let go of my worries and be more of a mom that trusts my son into God's hands.

Finally, after lunch after church, the girls and I drove back up the hills to the respite camp.  I race-walked to the check out station and signed all of the forms.  It seemed to take forever for Josh and his counselor to come out and when they did, my beloved boy had a silly hat on his head and a smile on his face.  "Hi Mama" he said, without prompting.

I asked his buddy how he did and this is what she said, "Honestly, in my three summers of being a counselor at this camp,  Josh was the easiest, most happy camper by far."  She told me that he had not once cried out or gotten upset.

She handed me their schedule/ list of activities and it turns out that Josh gladly participated in the following:

- Rode a horse
- Swam at a pool party with games (where he won the prize for "Best Underwater Dancer")
- Attended a dance after dinner
- Participated in a squirt gun fight
- Made a hand puppet
- Watched a talent show
- Ate a lot at an ice cream party
- Made sand art
- Packed up his own bag
- Enjoyed a slide show of the camp and picked up his camp award.

My relief was like a fresh wind on a scorching day.  What is this new world that we are in?  What is this new reality where I could possibly have a few days off and my son is having fun??!!

As I drove down the hill with my beloved son, who is no longer my baby, I realized that I had a little bit of sadness mix in with my joy.  He does not always need me in the same way as he has.  For all of my talk and goal setting about independence skills, honestly, that's not as easy for me as I thought. I'm used to being the one who keeps this boy alive day in and day out.  I am learning that letting him grow up means getting a chiropractic adjustment on my sense of my own identity as a special needs mom.   It's a little painful but I'm glad and willing.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Overnight Summer Camp: Drop Off

She drove an expensive looking SUV and had an accessorizing small dog.  Her shoes, hair and nails looked like they would be appropriate in a big law firm or a clothing boutique where one makes appointments to be assisted in shopping.  Everything about her said "put together" except for the expression on her face.  Her mouth and her eyes exuded the same apprehension that I felt.  She seemed stressed and distracted as she helped her daughter out of the car, which was right next to ours. The girl, blond, well groomed and about Josh's age, had Downs Syndrome.  She seemed unsure as well. They must have been first timers.

I wondered if this girl's mom was also doubting herself for signing her child up to be dropped off at this overnight respite camp for the weekend.  Did it feel wrong to her to leave her daughter who had so many needs in the hands of people who seemed to run a good program but didn't know or love her child?  Was she tempted to drive back home and protect her beloved child with the safety of known routines?

I happened to have a dog with me as well so we chatted briefly about our dogs.  We did not talk about our children.

Had we been in a different context, we probably could have talked for hours about the complexities of raising children with special needs.  We might have given each other advice about how to forge our own path when our kids are not neuro-typical.   Maybe we would have compared notes on the zillions of programs, doctors, and therapies that we've tried.

But we were not there to be friends or compatriots, we were both there to drop off our kids at overnight summer camp.  I have been taking Josh to the Saturday day program at this camp for kids with special needs every couple of months for the past year.  Josh has done well but he has never gone anywhere overnight without either Alex or me.  An overnight is a completely different thing because it involves meds and, well, sleep.  Establishing good sleep has been a long, Tolkienian journey for us.  Also, Josh is not at a place, cognitively, to understand that I would be dropping him off on Friday morning and then picking him back up on Sunday afternoon.  What if he thought that I was just leaving him there?  He has no way of asking questions like, "Where is my mom and why are we doing this thing that is so out of our routine?"

And the med thing is complicated too.  If Josh does not get one of his meds, he will eventually dehydrate and pass out and, possibly, die.  Also, if he doesn't get his artificial cortef, the "fight or flight" hormone, he could fall into seizures or, even death.

Even with these dark scenarios, I couldn't help but to smile a bit when I reached the front of the line at the nurse's check in station.  Some of the kids who had already been checked in had come with multiple bags of medications that made our stash look minuscule in comparison.  The keen and appropriate questions that the nurse asked me assured me that they knew what they were doing. Everything was neatly documented and double checked.

Josh's one-on-one buddy for the day, Andrea, was chatty, energetic and confident, like a compassionate chipmunk.  She walked us to his cabin and reminded me that there would be two staff on duty in the 20 kid cabin all through the night just in case there was a need.

Josh seemed serene and mature.  After we went over all of items in Josh's overnight bag and double checked details about his personal routines, Andrea asked Josh if he was ready to go horseback riding.  After doing a little hand flapping, Josh stood up and said, "Yes".  My heart both rose and broke a little as I drove down the hill from the camp.  Oh, man.  I hope I'm not a mess this weekend.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Preparing for Summer Camp

One of my goals for this past year has been to get Josh ready to go on a three day overnight camp at a respite center in the mountains about a half an hour from our house.  My baby just turned thirteen this week and I know that he needs to stretch his wings and experience more of life independent from us and from the emotional safety and auditory comfort of just listening to music in his bedroom.

Every other month, this past year, Josh has gone to a day long camp on a Saturday at this camp which has been especially designed for youth and adults with special needs.  He's done well spending the day doing various campy activities like swimming, hiking, and attending an evening dance all with his one-on-one buddy.  Last winter, the camp trucked in a huge pile of snow and Josh enjoyed slipping around on it on a sled.  Another time they went to a baseball game together.  Each time Josh has seemed to enjoy it.  I am encouraged by the fact that when we drive up to the camp, he seems relatively willing to get out of the car and engage in the activities of the day.

In less than two weeks Josh will go for his three-day stint.  Even though we've been building up to this all year, I feel really nervous.  How will he do at night?  Will the nurse keep track of his medications?  How will toileting go?  What if he hates it and feels like we've abandoned him?

So much of parenting is about making sure that things go well, being prepared, protecting our children.  This feels especially true for a child who is visually impaired, has limited verbal communication skills and has to take daily medications in order to live.

Yet, my life experience and my faith tells me that if you don't take risks, you don't grow and you don't really live.  And I know that taking (hopefully, wise) risks is a huge part of the teenage years.

So I'm nervously looking forward to what this adventure might bring.  I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Grace and Stress: A Day in the Life of a Mom

Sometimes I feel like my life is so chock full of moments of profound grace sprinkled with immense stress that I can't process either one.  Today was an especially demanding, full day because my husband is out of town so I'm single parenting this week.  Here is a brief description of the mixture of grace and stress in one day.

6:33 am       I wake up to a small, formerly unfriendly dog licking my toes.  We are dog sitting Frankie who was very anxious when his owners dropped him off.  I guess sleeping at the foot of my bed has made him decide that I am worth his affection.  This is a small but welcome little grace.   I get up out of bed to let Frankie out for his morning pee.

6:58 am       I discover that Frankie has elected to take his morning poo on the carpet immediately outside of our family bathroom.  The poops are lined up very neatly, almost like Morse code.  Is he trying to tell me something?  I fly into a whirlwind of deep cleaning my carpet with a variety of chemical cleaners and two different vacuums.  Stress.

7:30 am       I coax my the girls out of bed and encourage them to get ready for the day.  They are unusually compliant.  Small but significant grace.  We need to leave the house by 8:10 so I can drop the girls off at their respective summer day camps and get Josh to his doctor's appointment.

7:45 am     I pull Josh out of bed and he is one grumpy pre-teen.  He is standing at the toilet screaming the words which I usually say to him every morning, "Aim for the middle, Josh!  Aim for the middle!" He is not aiming for the middle.  The combination of autism and visual impairment usually means that I have to clean the bathroom after every morning pee.  Today is no exception.   Stress.

8:25 am       We finally pull out of our driveway after 7 separate trips back into the house to bring out various forgotten items which are necessary for the day; sunscreen, swimsuit, snack, can of pink hair color spray.  Stress.

9:18 am    Josh and I arrive at his endocrinology appointment only three minutes late.  This is a minor miracle.  Despite my having made the appointment as early as I could in the day, they are already running late.  Clearly, these people do not understand that most autistic children are seriously not good at waiting.  Josh inhales all of the snacks that I have brought with me and has moved on to wanting to eat breath mints, the only food-like items left in my purse.  I let my son eat 13 vanilla mints, spaced out for as long as I could.  Josh and I spend some time taking selfies on my phone.  Finally, an administrator walks into our room to try to work out a complication that we are having getting Josh's growth hormone covered by insurance. Without coverage, growth hormone is several thousand dollars per month.  This lady talks to me with a mix of cloyingly sweet words and a strong undercurrent of hostility and blame. She reminds me three separate times that this complication is due to my missing an appointment six months ago.  She also tells me that I should be grateful because other patients of hers have it much worse.  Stress.  I resist the urge to talk back to her with full snark or to slap her upside the head. Grace.

10:52 am     I meet up with Josh's summer school class at at the Magical Bridge Playground where they are on a field trip.  This is a place that has just opened in our town after a number of moms with special needs kids raised many millions of dollars.  It's an amazing, inspirational, inclusive space that is designed to help kids of all abilities to play alongside typically developing kids.  Today, there is some sort of event going on with a band, free pizza and about 50 kids with special needs and their caregivers having a blast.  I drop off Josh and watch him head to his favorite sensorily safe play structure.  The kids in his class are excited that Josh has arrived and head toward him to greet him with high gives.  Big grace.

11:11 am   I arrive at my work place only eleven minutes late for our staff meeting.  My colleagues greet me with friendly, empathetic faces.  I love my job.  I love that I have a place to work and belong that uses parts of my brain that have nothing to do with taking care of children or managing their needs.  After eight years of being a full time mom, I have recently started to work part time.  I cannot express what a blessed grace this is to me.

7:54 pm    The children have been picked up from their various camps, fed, and bathed.  Medications have been given.  At evening prayer time I have to tell the girls the news that the dog of some dear family friends was hit by a car yesterday and died.  Molly was the first dog that has ever stayed with us.  She was our introduction to becoming dog lovers and dog sitters.  Hope and Anna respond with loud wailing and big, fat droplets of tears.  I imagine that this is how the wailers at funerals in the biblical times sounded except that, I think a lot of those folks where hired.  My daughters' sadness comes straight from the heart.  Out of our lamentation comes a conversation about heaven, grief and the purpose of pets in our lives.  During our prayer time, while I am praying, one of them starts to make vague whispering noises.  When we stop to ask her what she was doing she tells us that she was "praying in tongues" because someone has told her that sometimes he prayed in tongues when he was overwhelmed by a situation and didn't have the words to pray but still wanted to pray.  We decide that this was fine.  In that moment, I conclude for the millionth time that parenting is wonderful and worth all of the nonsense.

8:52 pm     I have my first moment alone all day.  I am thinking about how life is so full of  beauty, ugliness, life, death, kindness, rudeness, stress and grace all in a big, fat jumble.  Contrary to what reading Facebook might make you think, life is not a constant stream of joyful, sweet, picturesque, insightful moments.  It's more of a tangle of the good, the bad and the mind numbingly boring stuff in between.  But I thank God for His gift of reflection for it is one of the things in life that help us to digest it and make sense of it all  it.  As I process and pray about my day, Grace wins over stress.

Monday, April 20, 2015

How is My Son Different From a Dog?

A few months ago, my husband saw a request for a dog sitter on a neighborhood email list.  It was Christmas break so we thought it might be a good opportunity for our girls to learn responsibility and to see if Josh was at the place where he might enjoy or benefit from a dog.  Well, one thing has led to another and we are now on our ninth canine guest in our home having become official dog sitters on  Hope and Anna have become quite the savvy internet business gals, updating our website regularly and passing out our business cards to anyone with a dog at the neighborhood park. The girls are saving up to buy Kindles and thanks to our dog sitting business, they are pretty close to their goal.

One of our favorite guests was Molly (the black dog in the photos above).  We really bonded with her because she stayed with us for four nights.  She's a passionately relational family dog from a household with three energetic kids.  Molly was a long-suffering angel with Josh, snuggling in his bed for hours at a time patiently abiding his awkward pats and obsession with her tail.  We all bonded quickly and deeply with her.

During Molly's visit, I was running errands with the kids and the dog when Hope astutely observed, "Hey, Molly is like Josh in a lot of ways.  She doesn't talk, she has black hair and she has to be taken on walks, just like Joshie."

I smiled because Hope was tapping into a conversation that Alex and I have been having.  Don't tell anyone but sometimes we (sort of, semi-jokingly) ask each other "What is the difference between having Josh and having a dog?"

After all, life with Josh is still based on primarily non-verbal communication.  We still have to help facilitate his toileting, manage his food needs, and make sure that Josh gets proper exercise.  Josh communicates his love and affection for us primarily by snuggling, just being around and being himself.   Honestly, having Josh is not unlike having a pet.

And a part of me realizes that this is not entirely an insult to Josh's humanity.  Having had a number of dogs in my house recently, I've come to realize how precious and profound animal companions can be.  When one of  my daughters found out that she didn't get into a play that she had auditioned for, the first thing that she asked me was whether we had a dog at our house that day.  She wanted some unconditional love and connection to comfort her.

I also read an article from a local psychologist who was commenting about what parents can do to help our stressed out adolescents to grow up with good mental health.  (Our town has had a disturbing number of teen suicides in the past couple of years.)  One of his suggestions was to have a pet.  The role of pets in enhancing human well being is both well-documented and intuitive.

Some theologians such as Andrew Linzey have written about a "theology of animals" exploring what the Bible may have to say about a compassionate, respectful relationship between Christians and animals.

We live in a country that clearly values our pets, even to the degree that we are projected to spend $80 billion on our pets this year.  This is remarkable given the fact that the United Nations estimates that the cost to end world hunger (for people) would be about $30 billion.

Yet, the reality is that although Josh is like a pet in some ways, Josh is not our pet.  He is our son. Genesis 1:24-31 illustrates God's intention that people are the pinnacle of God's intent for His creation.  People alone, of all of God's creation, are created in the image of God.  Despite Josh's limitations in communication, productivity, and independence, he still embodies a special reflection of who God is.  Even in his brokenness, he has a place among those of us who, as people, have a unique, though not exclusive, role in the history of God's redemption of the world. Furthermore, I'm not sure what the eternal destination of animals or pets will be.  I do know that all people, no matter our physical or intellectual abilities, have set before us the invitation to eternal communion with God.

It's hard to explain these thoughts to my nine year old daughter.  To her, I simply said, "Yes, Hope, Josh is like a dog in many ways.  But he's not just a member of our family like I dog might be if we had one.  He's your brother and our son.  And that's very, very special."  She smiled and said, "I know, Mommy."