I was in need of a break! After four and a half years of doing biomed, and several years before that doing autism in general, I was exhausted, tired, burned-out, and in need of a break. Everything in my life just seems so INTENSE!!! When a good friend asked me recently what could she pray for me, I told her to pray for something good to happen to my family. We needed something to look forward to, and soon.
I know you can relate to what I am saying. Living the life of an autism family has a tendency to be stressful and draining and often times downright depressing. Throw breast cancer on top of that, and you’ve got a life that very few will envy! After doing some fundraising and coming up with a modest, but respectable, chunk of change, I decided to throw caution to the wind and plan a family vacation. Oh, there were so many other ways we could have used that money. A new toilet to replace my (still) leaky and rusty one, new paint job on the house, and of course, paying that growing stack of bills all seemed like the sensible choices for using that money. However, one look at my husband, who was growing unhappier every day with my distractions and the way I seemed to put him last, and I knew that what my family needed the most was a few days together, away from it all. Away from the stress, the pressure, the distractions that were tearing us apart as a family. We needed to put autism and cancer treatment on the backburner for a few days and do some “normal” family things.
I didn’t have enough money to do anything major, but what we did was take a few days and drive to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park near Gatlinburg, Tennessee. Gatlinburg is about a seven-hour drive from our house. We packed tons of GFCF food for our son and we headed for the mountains of East Tennessee for four glorious nights. A vacation!! I can’t even remember the last time we went on a real vacation.
I cannot even begin to tell you how amazing our trip was. Not only did I feel more relaxed than I had in ages, so did my husband and my son. My son, who is 10, had some of the biggest smiles on his face that I had ever seen. We did all kinds of fun touristy things: rode go-karts, went to the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum, and went to Dollywood theme park. At Dollywood we rode kiddie roller coasters and water rides and antique car rides. It was a lot of fun. On other days, we rode through the park, had picnics by the mountain stream, and drove through an old pioneer settlement, where we visited old churches, cemeteries, old mills, and old log homes. We must have seen two dozen deer and a handful of wild turkeys.
For me personally, this trip was a wonderful experience. You see, I used to visit this area of Tennessee a lot with my parents while I was growing up. It wasn’t as far from the town I grew up in, so it was an easy quick weekend trip for us. I always loved our trips there. But I hadn’t been back there since before my mom passed away in 1995. Since it was a place that meant so much to me, it meant a lot to me to share it with my husband and my son. We had picnics by the same stream where I used to picnic with my parents, and my son put his feet in the same stream that I used to wade in while I waited for my mom to get our food ready. This was so amazing to me. I felt like my parents were right there with me the whole time. My dad passed away in 2006, and I have missed both of them so much, and have hated that they weren’t able to be a part of Luke’s life. But during this vacation –- I felt like they were.
During this trip, I feel like I found a piece of myself that had been missing for a long time. What I found was the youth, the naivety, the innocence that I had before I lost my mother. It was like I was able to reach back and remember who I was back then, and be that person again, before so many of life’s troubles had reached into my life: before loss of loved ones, before autism, before cancer. Even if it was just for a few days, I became that person again. It was so rejuvenating. And my family felt it as well! On the morning we were to leave, I asked my son if he was ready to go home. “NOOOOOO!” he said. He had needed the break as much as my husband and I had.
When autism comes into your child’s life, it’s easy to succumb to a life of constant seriousness, even of anger, bitterness, anxiety, depression. I often struggle with all of those feelings! We are revolutionaries, warriors –- we constantly have our “fight face” on. We have to, I know, for our kids. After all, if we don’t fight for them, who will? But there is one thing we need to remember: we need to stop sometimes and take a deep breath, and smell the roses. We need breaks. We need to remember who we are outside of autism. We need to find some of the beautiful things in life and think upon those things. For me, I had an amazing “wow” moment standing on a mountaintop, and looking down at the mountains around me as far as the eye could see. What a beautiful sight! I stood there looking for a few minutes and I prayed, thanking God for showing me what a beautiful world that He created right when I needed most to see it. We all need to see the beauty in life. My prayer is that I will be able to see that beauty more often. That is my prayer for all of you as well.