Monday, July 28, 2014

Life is staggering

When I was growing up in the 1970's we had a glossy pottery Buddha on shelf in the living room. It was a gift my parents received. I had no idea what the Budda symbolized but he was such a cute and happy chubby little guy that I loved him. I thought he was a magic genie and you were supposed to rub his tummy and make a wish. I'd invite the neighborhood kids over to make their own wishes too.

Please let Mary be able to spend the night tonight, I would wish extra hard while rubbing in clockwise circles on the familiar bulge. And sometimes they actually came true, for my wishes were often quite simple. I remember thinking about God then too. I couldn't have been more than four or five. I would hold our metal cross that I wasn't supposed to be holding or playing with. Dried palms from the previous Palm Sunday tucked underneath. What does it all mean? What was the world before I was born? How do I know I was born? Why did God pick to create me? What existed before God made man? Will it hurt if I staple my finger? (I tried and it did). I looked around at the world, or my feet and it astonished me. It was almost painful to think about how outrageous everything about being alive felt.

And now so many years later I've changed but stayed exactly the same. I can easily fall deep into a well of thinking. I need thinking like a drug, it keeps me company yet it tortures me daily. I think that's why I love the author Donald Miller. I can follow the path of his thinking mind. I like his take on God. I picked up his book, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years today (which should TOTALLY be required reading for college and LIFE), just to get a quick morsel of words and thought. I do that sometimes with the Bible. Randomly open a page like- Hey God! Wadda you have in store for me today?! And then I read something random that I usually don't even understand at all. 

"Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces " Umm.... okay. What does that look like in 2014, God? Because I'm up for an adventure but I'm not quite sure what that just said. And I actually don't have any pearls. Or pigs.

So today I did it with A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. At least once a year I re-read this book because it reminds me how I want to live and look at life and beauty and God. It seems like there's nothing more important than that- HOW TO BE ALIVE- but I trick myself into believing the little things matter. The stupid things. I opened randomly to page 57 and felt like the earth was conspiring to make this exact moment occur. Woah. Never before have I so thoroughly believed a message was so specifically selected for me to hear.

                                                                *****

My friend Anna works at a soup kitchen, a cafe downtown run by Catholics. I volunteered there one day, cutting celery, and there was another woman working who had a son who was autistic. Her son sat in a booth and stared at his hands, flicking his fingers in front of his face, watching them like flames. 

The boy's mother said he was autistic and sometimes spaced out, staring at his hands, but because I didn't know what autism was, really, I figured he was more of less mesmerized by his existence. I was romanticizing the situation because the kid was probably distracting himself or daydreaming or something, but I thought maybe he was like Hamlet looking at his hands, thinking sincerely about what it means to have been born. 


Back when I got out of high school, I used to think about stuff like that all the time. It was a phase, I think, but I used to suddenly realize I was alive and human. I felt like I was in a movie and had two cameras for eyes, and I'd swivel my head around as though I were moving my cameras atop a tripod. I even wrote a poem about it and said we were "spirit bound by flesh, held up by bone and trapped in time." Back then I wondered why nobody else realized what a crazy experience we were all having.  Back then I'd be lying in bed or walking down a hallway at college, and the realization I was alive would startle me, as though it had come up from behind and slammed two books together. We get robbed of the glory of life because we aren't capable of remembering how we got here.  When you are born, you wake slowly to everything. Your brain doesn't stop growing until you turn twenty-six, so from birth to twenty-six, God is slowly turning the lights on, and you're groggy and pointing at things saying circle and blue and car and then sex and job and health care. The experience is so slow you could easily come to believe life isn't that big of a deal, that life isn't staggering and we're just used to it. We are all like spoiled children no longer impressed with we're given- it's just another sunset, just another rainstorm moving in over the mountain, just another child being born, just another funeral. 

                                                           *****

AMAZING- right?! Maybe YOU are blown away and were supposed to hear it too. Parker and Grey do that with their hands and I always think- They see something amazing right now that I cannot see.  Life really is staggering. I don't want to take for granted how incredible it is that the sun sets every night- and it is BEAUTIFUL. And our feet- just inches long hold up our entire body. And our tiny little eyes get to see ALL the things in the world that we let them look at. I want to look at things and be amazed.


It helps having little kids and fresh eyes to be amazed. It's so easy that it almost feels like cheating.

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Exploring down the street at an inlet of the San Joaquin River at the nature conservatory. It's like a big piping cup of Heaven.

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(No one fell in the pond today.)


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And exploring at a Fish Hatchery, a place they grow Trout and Salmon, with Grandma and Grandpa (my parents) who are in town from St. Louis Missouri for the week. We are so lucky! My sisters arrive tomorrow.

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I'm always amazed that the fish intuitively fight the current that would pull them into the next pool. It's exactly the same experience, the same water, the same temperature- but they flip and buck and fight it like mad. It's easy for me to think them silly for doing that because I have the big picture view. Us humans do it all the time too. Sometimes it's good to stop fighting the current and just let go.

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Preparing to be astonished by ice cream


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Mission totally accomplished

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And cake. Why the heck not- we are Summer adventuring. Turning it over and shaking out every last drop.


If you don't have kids don't let that stop you from soaking up the every day as if it were an astonishing experience. Because it is. Poet, Mary Oliver wrote: Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.

Some days I really do believe it's that easy.

Big fat hugs,

Chrissy

Thursday, July 24, 2014

working on genuine

I try to be a genuine person. My definition of genuine means what you think and what you say and do line up. They harmonize. They sway together in the breeze. 

I actually try to be genuine and kind- because I've certainly met some very genuine people who I didn't care for very much at all. They were blunt or self focused or boring or blah. But they completely owned themselves and their opinion, they didn't try to be anyone else- and no matter what I find a certain beauty in that alone.


Today I felt bat shit crazy all day long. It's not shiny and I'm still going to talk about it. It all lapped up overwhelmed me at once. I felt hopeless. Lonely. Michael and I struggle to communicate and connect. Plus he's gone a few days for work each week. And Greyson and Parker can't talk to me. Sometimes out of no where the quiet swells up and fills the whole house and doesn't leave any room for me. There are many days the only adult interaction I have are the kid's therapists and YOU. I think that's why I take writing so personally. For the past three years our life is therapy. And it's not going to change any time soon. Monday through Friday. Today's sessions were 9-12 (both), 1-4 (Grey), 4:30-6:30 (Parker). And something about not doing much of anything and not going much of anywhere is exhausting to me. MUCH more exhausting than going and doing. And when I am sad I also get EXHAUSTED. Like could sleep at any second. I took two naps today.


What makes someone genuine? That's harder. I think we all want to be genuine- we just don't know how or we aren't comfortable living in a relentlessly honest fashion. We are afraid of what people might think if we showed who really really are. I looked back at some old blog posts of mine right after Greyson was first diagnosed with autism. I remember feeling so much less shiny than my writing came across. It didn't feel like my writing. I didn't lie about anything, I just omitted some of the darkest parts of how I really felt. I packaged everything up with a bow by the end. Not even knowingly- almost as of I was trying to convince myself even. I think sometimes us glass half fullers are sometimes so busy sewing in a silver lining that we don't allow ourselves to completely come undone nearly enough.

I had an literary agent review the first chapter of the book I'm writing- Little Light Bulbs. She was fast and New Yorky and smart and she HATED it. "The fact that you have two children with autism isn't a big deal", she told me. "I mean- I'm sure it was a big deal to you in your life, but it's not a big deal for a memoir. I hope you don't take that the wrong way. You need to be much more raw and honest. You never even mention how horrible it was when you lost control or came undone. I want to hear how you really felt. I need to hear more drama. Not everyone can be a Christina Braverman* and do the right thing." 


"Listen", I told her politely STEWING and DESPERATELY wishing I was the type of person who could go off on strangers. "Coming undone- going completely crazy is a luxury you don't have when your child is diagnosed with autism. Because you have to function, like it feels as if your child is going to die if you don't give them all the help you can IMMEDIATELY because you already failed them once by letting them get autism. So you learn to cope without getting to hit rock bottom.  I didn't stop my life or stay in bed for days or do drugs or run away. I barely even drink. I just got up every single day and breathed in and out and that ghost of me took care of my boys. And for so long it was more painful than any physical wound you could ever imagine. Like surgery without anesthesia. And I thought that level of pain was going to be a constant lifelong companion so I learned to function while it rode shot gun."

But I do realize that at times I'm trying so hard to look at the bright side that I don't notice the dark side that has the ability to overtake me if I don't acknowledge it. And being genuine means good and bad and REAL, it doesn't mean always happy. 

And I'm glad I told you all of that. The fact that an agent said I suck because it has felt like something I needed to hide. It was the first and last contact I made with an agent and it sucked out my steam. However I also realize if I can write about it- and be honest and real it means I am ready to move on. It's more important to me to be genuine than to try and be perfect.


My parents, my sisters and their families are coming in town next week so as a special treat I hired a cleaning lady to give our house a good scrub down. Our bathrooms and baseboards are certifiably disgusting. Today I noticed a poo skid mark in the toilet. I don't want the cleaning lady to think we are filthy animals (which we kind of are) so I cleaned the toilet. For the cleaning lady. And then I proceeded to clean all the toilets in our house. And then I swept, and dusted and then cleaned the windows. And the counter tops. And the kitchen. 


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Look how clean my house is. For the cleaning lady.

And I had to stop myself from changing the sheets in the guest bedroom. And I'm not the first gal ever to do this- clean for the cleaning lady. Sometimes I even clean for the baby sitter. And it's absolutely harmless but not exactly genuine. Genuine people are also allowed to be dirty.

I think at the root of it all, we all urgently, desperately want to be loved exactly the way we are. But we are afraid we won't be because we think we are much more bat shit crazy** than everyone else. We think we are the only ones with poo skid marks in the toilet or skeletons or depression or shadows or incapable or ugly or unlovable or unworthy. So at times we present ourselves a little more how we WANT to be because we are afraid of looking as insane as we feel. And it feels harmless, but it also sends a subtle message to ourselves. The real you, they way you naturally are isn't good enough.

Let's practice saying this. I am good enough AMAZING exactly the way I am. 

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Doodle smuging up the window so the cleaning lady will feel productive tomorrow.


And now I am deep breathing because the hardest part of the day is over and I see the finish line. All these feelings will pass. And come back and pass and come back and pass. They always do. Life isn't like a blog post that gets to be tied up with lessons learned in a pretty little bow. Sometimes it just ends- just like this. Somewhere imperfect in the middle. 

XOXO,
Chrissy


*awesome mom of a child with super powers on the show Parenthood.

** if you in fact aren't even a little crazy and are so confused as to what I am even talking about, please do not tell me. Do me a favor, let me just think everyone feels this way. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

wednesday in pictures

Today was three days long. If you don't believe me check your clock. It's still today. Crazy-right? Tonight crap TV wins out over writing. And look at it as a sign for YOU to take it easy on you too. Instead some pictures...

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We are making progress. He no longer screams his bloody murder face off every time he goes under water. He doesn't love it or do it on his own but HE'S DOING IT!!!



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And my oh so sweet Doodle. My love nugget. He makes me laugh out loud every single day. I call him my sinker because he doesn't swim. He literally just jumps or walks into the water (like fully immersed) and then waits for someone to pull him back up. No kicking or thrashing or waving of his arms or anything. He's jumped into the water a few times without anyone waiting for him and scared the bejezuz out of us a few times. At this past lesson he FINALLY started to kick (just a little but we will TAKE IT). 

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And this never gets old. There have been so many weeks that Frank is the only non-therapist I see. After moving to a brand new city it's hard to rebuild a life. I can't tell you how many times I have prayed to God to fill my life with community and friends. I get lonely but Frank's friendship reminds me that God listens and even sent a friend to me. I am slowly creating a life that makes me happy.

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Cha cha cha

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Makes my heart happy.


I love endless Summer days. Even though it's still Wednesday. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

in the middle


I thought by the time I was 40 I'd have it all figured out. I'm pretty sure some issue of Glamour Magazine promised me something close to that. Something like: 

By 30 you'll finally feel comfortable in your own skin. Petty things will no longer matter. By 40 you've finally realized what's important in life and have the confidence to go for it. 

I thought like it would feel like this big swooping thing. This calm and strength and peace and pulsing capital C Confidence. Not so much. Actually- most days really not at all. Because I keep finding new things I'm supposed to be figuring out. New lessons. New challenges. New stages. New things about my body to accept, to appreciate. Or at least try to appreciate. New stages to guide my children through. New stages to guide myself through. I thought maturing was figuring it all out but I think real maturing is realizing I will NEVER ever have all of it figured out- only some of it, some of the times and I just have to be ok with that. We are mostly in the middle of all the big and important parts of our life. In the middle but clawing desperately to get to the finish line where everything is complete- which then becomes our perfect. There's no such place- at least I've never found it, because once I get to the finish line three more races start. 

I think the key to getting older is realizing you'll never have most of the things figured out. And then find a way to be good with that.

Tonight we explored at the Fresno State University campus. 

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The boys LOVE it there and It's so good to go to a college campus to reconnect with the infinite feeling of possibility. It feels just like the campus where I went to college in Springfield Missouri. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life but thoughts about it made me excited and scared.  I thought (and hoped) that when my graduation day came I would receive a degree and then have a certainty about life and my future. I thought I would have it all figured out yet again. Some lessons I have to learn repeatedly. 

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I told Grey- Some day you may go to this school. Wouldn't that be amazing?! You can explore every day. I will even move into your dorm room with you! He started laughing really hard. Sometimes I'm pretty sure he understands way more than I could ever imagine.

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Save the clock tower! (what movie?!)

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College and life. Time simply to explore everything.

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A time to be flappy, whenever the heck you feel like it.

                                                                     
                                                                      *******
It's the beginning of a new week. 

How is your week going to be, Friend? What will it look like? I don't mean your calendar or your to do list- I mean you mind, your spirit, your flappy- the real things. Those are the real things- right? What if it felt like endless possibility instead of Sunday blues? Sometimes I have a hard time believing it's up to me. It feels like life just happens to us. At us even. It just keeps happening so fast and we just have to make last minute decisions in order to survive. We need to swim and run and jump and chase and beg and learn and talk ourselves into change over and over. What if instead of the week happening to us- we happened to the week?

Wow.

What would that even look like I wonder?

Let's try and think that way for a minute. And only in that blissful unbearable silence can we connect with the part of our mind that knows life isn't about obligation, it's about possibility. We automatically label the unanswered questions as wrong or bad. But this isn't a college calculus test. We can leave some of the answers blank until we get a chance to live them.

Ready, set, go.


Thursday, July 17, 2014

keep swimming

Watching Greyson and Parker learn to swim the past couple of months has felt like its own little epic journey. The first couple lessons were really quite terrible. Stomach hurting awful. I didn't take any pictures so you'll just have to believe me. Something about crouching behind a slated bench watching your child sob and scream themselves hoarse doesn't really feel like a Kodak moment. At one point Greyson's eyes caught my hiding ones.

"Maaaaaaaa!" He calls out to me with white cold fear in his eyes, confused as to why he is hurting and I am not making it better. "MAAAAAA!" A precious term that I rarely hear, and I just sit there, doing nothing. Sometimes nothing is the hardest thing to do, but I know it's exactly what I must to in order for him to grow and to learn. If I want him to learn to swim I can't do it for him and I can't rescue him. If I rescue him he won't grow at all. I will be doing him an incredible disservice and stripping him of all the beauty that hard lessons bring. But his pain is like second hand smoke- it kills me just the same. I just sit there and watch him struggle.

And with shaking hands and legs and everything else, he did what was asked of him, over and over again. I knew that things will get easier and better, (or at least I hoped) and that's the thought I repeated over and over in my head. He needs to learn to swim. This will make him safer, stronger, better. He's going to have to suffer first, but it will be worth it. I saw the entire big picture while his view was only of fear and pain. Water floods up his sinus cavities, burning. He couldn't bear water on his face- yet it is covered in droplets that trickle down and assault him. And I sit there and watch his agony.  Kinetic and potential energy collides in me, leaving me twitching. My momma heart says- SCREW IT. DON'T MAKE HIM DO THIS. My momma head says- SIT RIGHT THERE- HE NEEDS THIS.


But with each lesson came growth. By the second or third lesson I could watch out in the open. And he still struggled, but I could see his strength and hope and he kept trying.

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And now that a couple of months have gone by, I witness the greatest doggy paddler in the world.

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And he loves it so much that most of the time that he is swimming, he is also smiling.




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And while watching Grey swim I thought about all the things I prayed and begged for with the boys. Why God? Why autism? Why Greyson? I asked in fear. And then, Please- Oh God, not Parker. Please, don't let it happen to Parker, I said. 

But it did.

I didn't feel like God hated them or me. I didn't believe he gave me pain because I could handle it. I just felt like I was all on my own. Like he forgot about me- or maybe he was just too busy to help me or stop the inevitable from happening. 

I think of the times that were the hardest and I felt the most scared and in pain and alone. I now realize He was there all along. Watching intently, twitching in discomfort- wanting to jump in and stop it or save me, but he knew he couldn't because that would stop me from learning and growing. It would stop me from becoming exactly who I am supposed to be. We really don't learn or grow or change when everything is perfect and easy- do we? Yes, I'm certain God was there all along- and if I would have actually started to drown- he would have jumped in. And looking back- it felt I was dying, but that was me actually getting stronger. 

God was just teaching me to swim. Maybe you are learning now too.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

the greatest band on earth

Tonight I was rocking Parker to bed. It's one of my very favorite moments of the day. It's always the same; soothing and comforting. A chance for quiet and calm. Where breathing goes from restless and scattered to deep and calming. I think about the day and somehow the hard parts don't seem nearly as hard. And the good parts, they rise to the top like bubbles. As they float away I can't always comprehend that these little beings belong to me. Sometimes I don't feel good enough or perfect enough to be their mom. But then I realize it's all by design and this is exactly how life is supposed to go down. I was chosen to be this lucky.

Imperfect me
Imperfect them
We are all imperfect now and then

Tonight Grey tried to join us on our little tiny glider and he kept leaking off. He looked around the room with concentration and amusement in his eyes- in a way I could tell that he was formulating a plan. He pushed a side table to Parker's crib and climbed in so he could have a place to sit. I smiled and saw the outline of Parker's profile in the faint golden glow of light leaking in from the hall.  And while we were there doing our evening dance- I could already miss it. I strangely and achingly missed this moment. This time. This life with two so dependent on my at times it makes me overflow with crazy.

What a gift. Life. If you don't believe me, ask someone who is dying. They'll tell you what's up.

I can count the number of times Grey has sought interaction with other kids on one hand. And I'd even have a few fingers left over. Last week-while phone free and connection full -we had a group of friends over. At one point everyone congregated upstairs and started playing "music". That term MUST be quoted. It sounded like screaming and singing and the banging of the drums- OH MY, I cannot forget the pounding horrible banging of the drums. At one point my friend said- "I hope that's not too loud for Grey. Do you think he's okay?" So I peeked upstairs and my jaw fell right off. Grey was actually standing in the middle of it all, jumping and flappy and happy and shaking some maracas. And almost every single night since then he takes Michael or I to the drum set - and says "Help me". He wants them back where they were when our friends were over. He wants to recreate that moment again and again. Like me, he loved it so much he probably already missed it while it was happening.

And today he had his wish. And I went upstairs to check on him and saw this. And my eyes found it so unbelievable it could barely tell my brain what was going on.

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All the boys playing together. MY BOYS playing together with all the boys. Did this really happen? In the moment it was just so fast and sweet and then life happened and I had to do something or go somewhere but now I sit and relish this picture and this moment and this memory and this life and these boys all playing together. I think I may just burst.


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And today they made the prettiest music I think I have ever heard.

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Doodle and his bestie Liam swimming today.

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And the afternoon ended perfectly and unexpectedly when this drove by while we were walking the last of our friends out.  (Frank had to take off today).

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Going, going, gone. The day and this life. 



I'm so glad I get to spend it with them and with you.

Love,
Chrissy

Come check out my words on my favorite topic- Everyday Adventure at Mamalode today!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

let it shine

Hot summer sweat trickles down the back of my legs. A perfect evening of memories collected and stored up in my head as this week's happy. 

Tonight I was so tired and all I wanted to do was lay in bed and read. At 7pm I was ready to put on my jammies and call it a night. "Do you want to go to the Farmer's Market?" Michael asked, referring to the weekly event that occurs a few miles from our house which is usually my favorite (next to smiling- smiling is my favorite) (And name that movie). 

Ughhh...nothing sounded worse- leaving the house in NOT pajamas, finding a parking place, chasing the boys through the 100 degree heat. So I even surprised myself when I responded with a "sure".

As soon as we arrived a sea of black shirts poured in. I saw a sign that the Fresno County Youth Choir was going to perform and as they lined up my excitement grew.

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Greyson can not speak in words, but he can hear in music. He lets the symphony of sounds overtake him and it's powerful to watch him. "Grey- MUSIC!" I exclaimed and pointed, practically jumping and flapping myself.  I couldn't wait for his excitement, because he always shares it with me and everyone around.  The director announced the first song- This Little Light of Mine. The tears rushed up my head and were ready to pour out my eyes before the singing even began. Because that's how I always think of my boys- a light that I want to shine. And I want to share their light because it makes the whole world brighter. I felt like God wanted me to be here to let this music fill my ears and break the heat/life/tired funk I felt all day today. 

Ahhh, you should have heard them sing. It was like a great episode of GLEE times infinity. The music vibrated and shook the world and filled the outside, swirling instantly to all the sad parts and making it better. Music has the ability to take people everywhere all at once.


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Grey inched his way into the choir, mesmerized.




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Sometimes he stood and watched, still and quietly fascinated just soaking it in to his core...

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And then you could see his unfiltered joy bubbling and building up...

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And then he would just kind of explode into a million pieces of happy that scattered all around.

Which I'm now quite certain is exactly how we should do music. And life.

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Grey jumped

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photo by michael gutierrez


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And Parker watched and even clapped- which is something that he's worked really hard in Behavior Therapy to learn how to do. Because they have autism, they have to be taught how to do almost every single little thing in life. Sometimes it's sad, but mostly it's inspiring and amazing. 

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photo by michael gutierrez



It was the perfect Summer night.

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We ate ice cream

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And deeet-sa (pizza)- in that order.

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And got filthy and made wishes and stayed up way past our bed time, because that's what Summer is for. That's what childhood is for. Sometimes that's even what adulting is for too.

The perfect Summer night and the whole thing almost didn't happen. Sometimes it's good to stay in bed and read- but sometimes it's even better to say "sure" to Life. God may be somewhere waiting with a present he created just for you. His fingers are crossed that you are going to come open it.

And I just want to remind you (and me) that we all have our very own personal light to shine. Gifts that we need to give and others need to receive. Every one of us is really darn good at something- something unique, something special, something good. Yes, even you- maybe you just haven't found it yet. Stop looking so hard and say "sure" to life a little more.

So Much Love,

Chrissy

A very special thank you to Fresno County Youth Choir for sharing your gift and your light.