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Retreat

Here's what I think happened:

When things fell apart with school last year, it was a bigger shock than I anticipated. I thought I had been holding the outcome loosely. "We're just going to see what happens," I told people when they asked how it was going. At every step forward, I cautioned, "It isn't over till it's over." But then when it was over, the result felt like a confirmation of what I had feared all along: that there is no place for Collin. No place for us.

And without realizing what I was doing, I retreated.

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Attack doesn't make me retreat. That's when I stand my ground or make plans to advance and overcome. It's disappointment that makes me want to circle the wagons, and I was deeply disappointed. So, I pulled back. My writing on the blog became less personal and less frequent. I stopped talking about homeschool in particular and sometimes felt reluctant to talk about Collin at all.

When I first realized what had happened, I felt ashamed. To retreat is to admit defeat. I'm supposed to be Collin's warrior mama, never taking no for an answer. But as I journaled one day, I noticed that if you take the word 'retreat' from verb to noun, its tone changes. To retreat is to give up, but to take a retreat, to go on a retreat, is to withdraw with the purpose of coming back better.

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Collin has outgrown a lot of the shows he watched as a little kid, but he is a long-time devotee of Yo Gabba Gabba. In one of his favorite episodes, Muno and Brobee build themselves a clubhouse. When their friends, Foofa and Toodee, come to play, Muno and Brobee won't let the girls come inside. They claim there is a secret password, but they won't share it.

Toodee and Foofa are surprised and hurt to be shut out when they thought they would be invited in. They get angry and want to make their friends do the right thing, but ultimately realize there's nothing they can do about it. So what do they do? They leave. They go somewhere else and build their own club house to their own liking. While they're learning this hard lesson, they sing "Do Our Own Thing," which I admit chokes me up from time to time:

We'll do our own thing, we'll have our own fun.

We'll do our own thing, we'll laugh, play, and run

We'll do our own thing, that's what we can do

When you want to play, but you get left out

When you want to go along, but get left behind

When you want to fit in, but there's no more room,

It's better not to let it get you down, and that's when we'll

Do our own thing.

A lot of Yo Gabba Gabba lessons are a little on the preachy side for my taste, trying to convince kids to act the right way through guilt or self-interest, but I love this one because it offers practical advice for what to do when you can't control a situation. When you can't make someone do the right thing. Which is always.

And now I realize that that's what we did. When the door was closed, we decided not to bang on it. We left. Yes, I was sad and didn't want to talk about it for a while. But we didn't spend much time sitting still. We were busy building our own place, finding our own people, doing our own thing.

Meeting Annie

We sat about halfway back from the stage in the weird half-gym where my niece would be performing as Mother Goose in the kindergarten musical. It was hot and loud. Collin was on the end of our row of folding chairs, because that's life with a wheelchair.

She came through the door bundled up in a coat, like maybe she had chosen to skip part of her recess to see this play. She had the confidence of a "big kid". Probably at least third grade. So it must have been a younger sibling she was there to see. She spotted her parents and moved toward them. Until she saw Collin.

She stopped in her tracks when she laid eyes on him. I heard her audibly gasp. Her face lit up with a delight that I didn't understand, but recognized immediately. I smiled back at her, mostly because I couldn't help it, and she took a seat close by as the play started.

I look at Collin a lot during events. I enjoy it more when I see his reaction. And every time I looked over, she was watching him too.

Before the applause had completely faded, she climbed between the seats in front of us and was in our row. She was touching Collin before the words were all the way out of her mouth: "Hi, what's your name?" When he didn't answer, she looked up at me, not willing to wait. "What's his name?"

She rubbed his head, just like he likes. She complimented his shoes. She squeezed his hand. She laughed at his happy kicks.

"What's your name?" I asked. She looked straight at me. "Annie," she said. "My dream is to start a school for kids like Collin."

How to Say Thank You

It's not as easy as you might think.

When hundreds of people step into your life and turn it upside down for good. When generosity exceeds the boundaries of comprehension. A thank you note just doesn't seem to cut it.

We are emerging from a period of overwhelm around here.  I think we're finally coming to terms with the fact that this really is our home and we're ready to really live in it.

And that is our ultimate thank you: accepting what we've been given by living a full, messy, shared life in this beautiful, accessible house. Singing in Collin's roll-in shower. Gluey art projects in his school room. Knocking into walls in his gait trainer. Quiet breakfasts at the wheelchair accessible kitchen island. Loud dinners in the wide-open dining room. Talking and reading on the roll-out patio.

By living and loving our own version of normal, we fill our days to the brim with gratitude -- we say our most heartfelt thank you to everyone who made this wonderful thing possible.

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?"