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It Is Blessed to Receive

This time of year we talk a lot about the importance of giving. "It is more blessed to give than to receive," right? (Acts 20:35)  We give at Christmas because of what we were given in the incarnation -- the beautiful mystery of God With Us. And so we take care of those in need. We think of ways to demonstrate our love for friends and family through gift-giving.

Unfortunately, this is a teaching that can get twisted. Instead of emphasizing the goodness of giving, it can become an indictment on receiving. It turns into, "YOU are better if you give than if you receive."

But receiving is the other side of giving. Just because one is better doesn't mean the other isn't good. And I'm learning that it's important to be able to do both well.

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We're wrapping up almost two months of living in a furnished apartment across town from our home. We brought only the essentials with us and packed everything else in a pod. We have spent our evenings and weekends cozily and simply: swimming at the complex's indoor pool, feeding the ducks at the park across the street, watching Christmas movies by the light of our tiny potted Christmas tree.

Meanwhile, dozens and dozens of people have been working hard on our house, bringing about Something Wonderful. Making it accessible. Making it practical. Making it beautiful. And all for us. Next week, we will get to see our home for the first time since we moved out, and I have no doubt it will be overwhelming.

I was talking to a friend about this incredible experience recently and she shared that her hope for me is that I will be able to really receive this great gift. 

She knows that receiving isn't always easy. It takes a humble admission that you can't always be the one giving. It takes vulnerability to the goodwill of others and a willingness to fully enjoy without trying to repay. Not exactly strengths of mine.

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My favorite Christmas scripture has always been the last verse of the nativity story I read every year. It comes right after the description of how the shepherds reacted to encountering the angels and then finding the baby Jesus: they ran all over the place, telling everyone who would listen.  Then the author, Luke, writes, "But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart." (Luke 2:19).

She had just come through the strangest year of her life. Angels and pregnancy and displacement and the Son of God. It was all too big to wrap her mind around. And what did she do? She received it. She treasured it up and thought about it without fully understanding it.

Next week, when I walk up to and through that house in the presence of our loved ones and of the people who worked so tirelessly to bring this about, I want to have a heart like Mary's. I want to receive this thing that is so much bigger than me. I want to treasure the love behind it. I want to ponder the effects of radical generosity, truly taking it in so that it makes me a different kind of giver.

Something Wonderful

For years in Collin's early life, I spent my days clenched in anxiety over what terrible thing might come next. I was constantly braced for the next hard thing. That has eased some recently, but it is still my default.

This September, we sat down at our dining room table with a couple from a local foundation and they told us that they wanted to build a large, fully accessible bathroom for Collin. That two other local businesses had approached them and asked if they could participate, too. That the three of them wanted to work together to redo our kitchen, open up walls in our living spaces, and make our house beautiful and completely accessible for Collin. 

I had been submitting grant requests for that bathroom, getting turned down. We had been trying to come up with a sustainable plan for making those adaptations bit by bit while still allowing us the time we need to care for and spend time with Collin without running ourselves into the ground.

My tears didn't start in earnest until our visitors, sensing our hesitance, asked us to please let them do this for us. They explained that no matter how gorgeous and useful this house turned out, the benefit to us would be nothing compared to the benefit to those lucky enough to work on the project and get to know us.

As they prepared to leave, I couldn't find words for my feelings. "I'm in shock," I admitted to the man. "I'm having trouble wrapping my mind around this."

Their foundation is named in honor of their daughter, who had a rare genetic disorder. Its mission is to improve the lives of families who have children with special needs. These people get it.

"Isn't it nice," he said, "to be surprised every once in a while by something wonderful?"

Firsts

In the early days, the pain was searing when other babies sailed through their milestones while we struggled just to keep Collin healthy and make it through the days. Over time and through healing, I've come to terms with the fact that, though Collin's firsts are not the same as other kids', they are no less exciting or beautiful.

We've had lots lately. First time mowing the lawn with Daddy. First marshmallow roast. First campout. And something about celebrating these surprisingly meaningful and joyous occasions all in a row made me remember what I think of as our first first. 

Collin was not quite a year old. It was between two long hospital stays. We were still raw from the terror of Infantile Spasms and starting to accept that the new seizures were not going away. We hadn't seen a laugh yet and smiles were rare. Then it snowed. Collin had a beautiful snow suit that was buried with the other unused baby gear behind his medical supplies. I dug it out, zipped him up in it, took him down the front steps, and laid him right in the snow.

He wriggled. He flashed a couple of small grins. But what grabbed my attention was that he kept raising his eyebrows. Over and over. My scared mama heart kept analyzing it, trying to figure out if it was another new kind of seizure. But soon I realized that he was taking in this new experience. He was appraising the situation with what looked like mild amusement. 

And that's when it hit me: my baby has a personality.

It sounds obvious, but it was a revelation to me. For almost a year, I hadn't been able to distinguish symptoms from side effects from "normal" behavior. I was fully focused on caring for Collin, but had not gotten to know him. And here he was. In spite of everything, here he was -- warm, alert, funny. 

He still makes that face all of the time. On the lawn mower. At the campfire. In the tent. His eyebrows reach high and a gleam comes into his eye. I'm liking this, he says. I'm interested. I'm here.

Strange Gift

We just got back from a week in paradise. Just the three of us in a little house a three minute walk from my favorite beach. We ate seafood, took long walks, read books, and generally did as little as possible. It was wonderful.

It took a day or two before I noticed something strange going on.

On our walks, out at restaurants, everywhere we went, people were genuinely happy to see Collin. 

He got waves, broad smiles, peace signs. People insisted that he move to the front of the line. Employees reserved choice tables for him. People brought their dogs up for him to pet. Kyle and I got free dessert from a server and free breakfast from a stranger and we were under no illusion that those gifts had anything to do with us.

It was like walking around with a famous person. One night, a man riding by on a bike pointed at Collin in his beach wheelchair, grinned like it was the best thing that had happened to him in a long time, and waved and waved and waved as he pedaled away. I actually looked around to see if I was missing something. 

I'm still not sure what was going on. Part of it is probably that people feel more generous and open on vacation. Part of it is also that I didn't realize I had gotten so used to stares, pity smiles, and awkward avoidance, making this treatment even more impacting. But even those two things together couldn't account for what we encountered last week.

Regardless, I'm taking it as a gift. As a tangible experience of grace. I'm treasuring this gorgeous picture of inclusion and acceptance, knowing that I will pull it out on the hard days to remember what can be.

What Am I Doing?

I'm discouraged.

After our wonderful, inclusive pre-K program last year, I slipped into thinking that a positive long-term educational experience might be possible for Collin. The teachers and administrators trusted that we knew Collin best. They listened to our input and acted on it. We all learned together as we went, asking questions and adapting as needed, thus creating a mutually beneficial learning environment. 

Some people hint that I'm being naive when I explain what I want from Collin's school experience, but I'm not; I've seen it.

However, every step since our first contact with the public education system has been a fight. Every answer is no. My calls aren't returned. Every 'authority' throws up his or her hands and claims there's nothing they can do. The advice I'm getting from other parents and experts involves filing official grievances and contacting professionals. I haven't been squeaky enough, they tell me. 

But as I read books on special education law, pen letters, and make lists of people to call, I find myself asking: What am I doing?

One part of me says: It's Collin's legal right to receive a free, appropriate public education and I dare somebody try to keep him from having it. I will not allow my son to be placed in a certain school or classroom or situation just because it's cheaper or more convenient. I will not give up on the idea that I can send him to his local school without fear for his safety. I will not let go of the image of Collin surrounded by typically developing peers with every support he needs to be integrated to his fullest potential. I will not accept reasons like "policy" or "protocol". I will not defer. I will not be put off. 

But another part of me asks: Why am I really fighting this? Just to win? Will Collin be getting anything better from the public schools than he would get from a combination of homeschool and community activities? Is this battle for Collin, or for the principle of the matter?

I don't know. And I don't know how to sort through the questions and motives that inevitably surround an issue like this one. For now, I am taking small steps in both directions. I'm flipping through curriculum books, thinking about fine motor activities, and scouting out groups of peers. I'm making calls and getting things in writing and educating myself. And - all of the time - I'm reminding myself that, either way, Collin is going to be just fine.