• Dana L. Butler

On Goodness, Grief, and Living Held

I sit in bed to write tonight. Got my kiddos in bed and was so chilly I couldn’t imagine heading back downstairs to hang out — warm covers sounded better. High temp was somewhere around 73 today, but most of the day felt cooler.

I’m certainly not complaining. Been longing for fall like I can’t even tell ya.

I dug out my Autumn Spice candle today, lit it in my kitchen while I baked sweet potato fries, and oh my gracious, my house smelled perfect.

There’s so much goodness to these days. Maia’s rockin’ the kindergarten scene — she’s everyone’s buddy, knows bazillions of both kids and grownups around her school by name.

We’re continuing various forms of treatment to address her multiple diagnoses, and y’all, it’s helping her. She’s becoming this much-more-attentive, peaceful student, able to control her behavior and impulses more of the time.

She adores school. It’s already been such a beautiful, hope-filled journey. Her teacher stays in close touch with us, is understanding of Maia’s needs, and just generally does a phenomenal job with her.

At home, Maia hangs out with our neighbor kids, plays with Isaac (yes, they are PLAYING together sometimes these days. Miracle of miracles.), or sits at length drawing, cutting paper, writing letters and numbers, chatting with Stan or me.

She loves practicing the piano with me, and will sometimes sit through being read an entire (age-appropriate) story, which is a newer accomplishment for her, attention-span-wise.

The kiddo is amazing. I couldn’t be prouder of her growth.

I’m still homeschooling Isaac, taking his education in these little, bite-sized pieces, in the quantities and spurts his anxiety levels and attention abilities can handle.

It’s been a shock to me, how much I have to organically ebb and flow and feel him out from day to day. Moment to moment, actually. How I can’t decide, okay, let’s use this curriculum, and make plans and set a pace and go for it.

How long can he handle working on, say, math today? Thirty minutes? Nope. Eight minutes? Four minutes? Ten minutes maybe? It’s lots and lots of breaks, lots of singing and dancing to Toby Mac in the kitchen, climbing the tree in our front yard, walking our dog.

We do “tree math” and practice spelling words while he rides his bike. Everything changes, all the time. When he’s anxious or obsessing or overwhelmed by his schoolwork, I’ve learned the best thing to do is make him laugh, and then try getting back on track.

And, as you know if you ever glance at my social media channels, we hike. We explore and do outdoor research projects and this week? We will be trackin’ down some fall colors fo’ sho’. I’ll likely post pics when we do.

In all this ebb and flow, we’re finding a groove together somehow. It’s hard, but it’s so very good.

And I sit with him lately at the kitchen table, or over a pumpkin spice steamer (thanks to a recently gifted Starbucks card), and we read, practice handwriting a bit at a time, and I ponder God’s gentle shepherding of my soul.

How he leads my heart, teaches me tenderly, with unwavering attentiveness; how his rod and staff are comforting as much as they provide direction, stability, structure; how he moves in perfect step with me according to my shifting needs and pace in any given moment.

His love is life to me, keeps me moving forward through the gut-wrenchingly painful facets of special needs parenting, the parts I can’t mention in detail here. Sustains me through the painful parts of life in general.

Several months ago, Stan and I began to feel strongly like we needed to move on from our (then) church family. (Keepin’ it real, it was more my decision than Stan’s, since Stan no longer considers himself a Christian. But he was in full agreement with my sense that moving on was the healthiest choice for our family for a number of reasons).

I knew the move would be terribly difficult — the people at our former church are so dear, and any church move when you’ve given yourself deeply in partnership is legitimately painful for everyone. I also knew it would be some degree of messy — so much humanity, emotion, and imperfection involved. My own, and others’.

What I didn’t foresee, though, was that it would cost me some of my most treasured relationships in the actual whole wide world. That while some of my friendships at our previous church would remain solidly intact, this transition would amount to what still, months later, appears to have become one of the more massive losses of my life.

I’ve alluded briefly on my Facebook page to walking through grief in recent months, and honestly, I’m still in the thick of it. I cry out to Jesus continually for restoration in those beloved friendships. I wade through mourning some days that feels so heavy I almost can’t keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Yet… Jesus. He’s my Shepherd. He’s faithful and kind, and he gives new mercies again and again, morning by morning.

He holds me up. Holds me together. Comforts my heart when comfort feels impossible.

And there’s new community. Imperfect of course, but profoundly healing. Restorative for my soul. They’re a tangible outworking of the Father’s kindness to me and my family in this season. All four of us — Stan included — are connecting deeply. Being embraced.

I’m reading Abba’s Child (by Brennan Manning) for — gosh — maybe the 4th time? How this book recenters me, you guys. Reminds me of my real identity, how Jesus is imminently, intimately present in my day-to-day, how I’m called and invited to live before the Father as his confident, beloved child, and that that is my only true identity, and what other option do I have but to let these truths bathe my mind and heart every. single. morning before I jump into another day of special needs parenting, homeschooling, therapy transportation, grocery runs, attempting to keep up with housework, and trying to keep my beautifully quirky, highly-functional autistic boy (and my girl… and dog… and SNAKE. we got Isaac a SNAKE, y’all.) — and myself — peaceful throughout the day.

So, I frequently struggle to stay this way, but at minimum, I start out my days peace-filled. Stilled, simply loved, held in my Father’s embrace. And at least this way, when my crazy life happens all. day. long. and it’s overwhelming, or grief hits my heart afresh, and I waver from this place a hundred or seven hundred and fifty-three times during the day — this place is familiar.

It’s home. And my soul’s path back to it is well-worn, and I can quickly feel my way back into my Father’s arms.

To be held there. And stilled.

And re-, re-, re-reminded Whose I am.


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