My children live for what’s coming.
One of the first things autism parents learn, while the word still tastes bitter in our mouths and progress feels an odyssey away, is that a well-used schedule can change your life. In the old days, when I still couldn’t quite explain out loud why we all floundered, I thought I’d never quite get the hang of using all those laminated picture cards, the ones you attach with Velcro that makes your fingers gummy and pulls off the top layer of skin.
1000 pictures, more, of all the things we do, I printed, cut, laminated, dotted with Velcro, filed neatly away in a recipe box. Creating our first schedules, white poster board attached to the refrigerator like pillars, took hours sitting Indian-style in the living room floor. My hands cramped from the cutting. But those schedules changed our lives.
Knowing what’s coming gives my children peace.
I used to store the pictures high, making it clear that I created the schedule. Every night, I’d think about the next day, ripping off pictures and adding new ones, re-ordering events. These days, we’ve moved on to a written schedule, a white board on the wall in the kitchen. The kids no longer need the pictures to understand all the curved and looped letters, the shape of my words. I draw embellishments with dry erase markers—Christmas Holly, a Fall tree, flowers covering a hillside.
Every day, Riley and Adam start the day standing in front of that board, memorizing what’s coming. Sometimes, Adam argues with me about the time I’m going to pick him up from school. He’s already ready to come home before he leaves for the work of learning. If I forget to change the date (I have magnets for each day of the week), the kids are quick to point it out and drag me back over to correct it. And if, for some reason, I forget to write the schedule, Riley will find me.
“You need to write the schedule, Mom. You didn’t do it.”
They want to know what’s coming, every detail I can spare, the times, if possible. Riley wants to know what I am doing while she’s away from me. If I don’t write it all on the schedule, she questions me repetitively. My two children with autism love calendars, watches, dates to remember. They live for what’s coming. 85% of the conversations Adam initiates with me revolve around what’s coming, everything that stands between him and his favorite thing on the schedule. Anticipation is his lifeline. It really should be mine.
Just recently, Zoe wanted me to attend a performance at school, but I couldn’t remember what time it started. I checked my calendars, looked for papers from school, checked the school website. Nothing. I mentioned to Kevin that I might need to send a text to one of our teachers, and then my eyes fell on Riley. She sat nearby, doing word finds at the bar. “Umm, Riley? Do you know when the assembly is at school?”
She looked up. “Yes. 9:00.”
Why had I not thought to ask her before that moment? She always knows what’s coming.
Two weeks ago, Riley started asking our small group to pray for Mom and Dad’s safe trip here for Christmas. It was a month before they’d pack the car. And now, I have a countdown posted to the big day, and the kids are already talking about our traditions and when, anticipating. Every day in December, all the way up to Christmas, the kids rush in the door after school to see what I’ve decorated that day, what new gifts sit under the tree. They wait for gifts from their secret Santas in the neighborhood, for the day when it’s their turn to go out to eat and go shopping with Dad (a tradition my dad started with us that Kevin has carried on), for Christmas movies, and for cold days when I show up at afternoon carpool with kid-sized mugs of hot chocolate. Christmas is the season of anticipation.
So when I tell them that Advent means coming, they understand. They nod, resting chins on knees, when I mention that the Israelites waited for the promised Messiah. They understand the frenzy, the insecurity that erupts when they know someone is coming, when they can’t wait, but they don’t know when.
God had been silent for hundreds of years.
If I want to be sure I have their attention, I wait too, until they notice I’m not answering their questions.
I wonder…for what, or for whom, do you wait?
Advent has begun, the beautiful season of waiting, anticipating, remembering. And every breath we breathe anticipating remembers the ones who desperately hoped, waited, watched for the prophesies of the promised Messiah to be fulfilled–Simeon and Anna in the temple, shepherds watching the flocks, Zechariah and Elizabeth, Mary. This is the coming I want them to remember as they stand memorizing the schedule on the white board, now–during Advent, always.
The Messiah came as a baby, walked this earth, died, rose, ascended.
Knowing what’s coming will always bring them peace.
But if Advent means coming, isn’t it Advent always? Don’t we still wait, just as desperately, for his coming? Don’t we still scour the scripture for every detail God can spare? Don’t we start every day looking to see what’s ahead, memorizing the details of the only thing ahead we can ever know, the only thing coming that promises peace? When someone asks, do we look up, answering?
I am so mixed up, so often too distracted to wait. I become the Pharisee, too wrapped up in my own agenda, too selfish for influence and admiration, too legalistic in my approach, expecting more from others than I do from myself. All the anticipation is so easily deadened by the days and days and the not knowing when.
Sometimes, I argue with Him about the when. Just like Adam, I am ready to go home before I ever do the work of learning, and I am selfish, because I know why He waits.
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9)
If you don’t know Him, He waits for you.
I want to live delicious anticipation. Advent…every day. Because I’m living in the pause, while all heaven holds its breath, waiting. He is coming again.
This coming, too, I want my children to anticipate. In all their happy waiting, anticipating, looking for what’s coming— this season, always–it’s Him I want them to seek, Him I want them to stretch their eyes to see, coming in clouds and glory (Matthew 24:30).
Because this knowing is the only thing that brings peace. And oh, how I live for what’s coming.