Joel loves to dance. He’s a study in joy on the dance floor—arms flailing, feet shuffling, eyes shining. Joy bubbles up in my veins as I watch him, inviting me to get up and do my own celebratory dance.
I was shocked when Joel was too agitated and anxious to enjoy the last monthly dance held at his home, Safe Haven Farms. He walked into the brightly decorated multi-purpose room where music was blaring, took one look around and turned on his heel, running for the door. Dan, one of his favorite staff, followed closely behind.
Within five minutes Joel returned. He refused to sit down for dinner, which had just been served. Out the door he ran, again. I continued dishing up food, watching my son run in and out of the building several times over the course of twenty minutes. Finally, my husband Wally whispered in my ear. “Let’s go.”
Parents of kids and adults with autism know when agitation teeters on the edge of a full-blown meltdown. It was definitely time for a fast exit. We apologized to the other parent volunteers for leaving them in the lurch, gathered up Joel’s backpack and meds, shepherded him to the car, and headed toward our home, where he was scheduled to spend the night.
Just seven o’clock on a beautiful evening, bedtime was still a couple of hours away. We decided to take a cruise on our new pontoon boat, located just up the road from our house. Joel relaxed the moment he stepped onto the boat. Putzing around the lake at a leisurely pace, we surprised at least ten great blue herons from their rookery in a tree near the bank. We watched in awe as they took off in flight, lifting into the air with great, measured strokes.
We sang Joel’s favorite praise songs—“This is the Day,” “I Love You, Lord,” and “This Little Light of Mine.” After singing Joel hunkered down in a lawn chair on the front of the boat, peering out from under the bill of his baseball cap, relishing the wind in his face. I felt my body and spirit release all tension as his eyes crinkled up with a face-transforming smile. “Thank you, God,” I whispered.
Toward the end of the ride a flash of silver to the right of the boat caught my eye. I turned to see a bald eagle flying past with a fish in his beak. Wally turned off the boat’s engine, and we sat for several minutes, watching with rapt attention as this majestic bird, unusual in this part of the country, landed in the top of a tree and devoured his catch, white head bobbing up and down as he tore at his prey.
This evening we celebrated. It wasn’t a special occasion. As a matter of fact, we’d narrowly avoided what could have been a major meltdown. It was a perfectly ordinary Saturday evening in the middle of May. The lake reflected receding storm clouds, water and clouds alike fading to lavender in the slanting rays of the lowering sun. Herons continued winging over our heads with effortless beats of their great, wide wings. A beautiful wake streamed out behind the boat—waves that made Joel particularly happy because Joel has always had a love affair with waves. The three of us praised God, praised creation, praised this time with one another.
Adele Ahlberg Calhoun writes, “The world is filled with reasons to be downcast. But deeper than sorrow thrums the unbroken pulse of God’s joy, a joy that will yet have its eternal day. To set our heart on this joy reminds us that we can choose how we respond to any particular moment. We can search for God in all circumstances, or not. We can seek the pulse of hope and celebration because it is God’s reality…Every small experience of Jesus with us is a taste of the joy that is to come. We are not alone—and that in itself is reason to celebrate.” (The Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us.)
Read Zephaniah 3:17:
The LORD your God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.
Close you eyes and take a few deep breaths. Tense and relax any muscles in your body that are holding on to tension. How do you imagine God rejoicing over you with gladness? Can you imagine God quieting you with his love? Exulting over you with loud singing? What feelings does this evoke within you? Take a few moments to journal your experience.
Excerpted from Kathleen Deyer Bolduc‘s new book, The Spiritual Art of Raising Children with Disabilities (Judson Press, 2014).