You know that let-down feeling you get after Christmas? You've spent the last month (or more) listening to Christmas carols; you've pushed your way through countless crowds each time you dare to enter a store to shop for that perfect present; you've decorated with only red and green for weeks; and you've had to install a hidden camera in the family room to make sure no one touches those gifts under the tree. Finally, Christmas morning arrives! The kids dive into the pile, shrieking madly, while Mom attempts to take pictures and Dad drinks his coffee. Shredded paper, ribbons, bows, and boxes go flying as each person finally finds out what they got for Christmas. The joy, the delight, the unsurpassed ecstasy of this moment!!! And then….it's over. No more surprises to unveil, no more presents to unwrap, no more "I hope I got _____ in my stocking!" All that's left is a mountain of garbage and that sobering realization that there's nothing to look forward to for another year. Actual depression sets in, along with a sense of bleakness, as the thing you longed for for so long now becomes a thing of the past.
That is kind of what we've been feeling since Dale's graduation. That huge accomplishment we've all been working toward over the last several years is now, just, done. There's no more need to push Dale to finish his school work or remind him of his end-game goals or go through his backpack to find PACEs that have been buried. There's no more sense of anticipation mixed with dread over the looming deadline for school work to be completed. There's no more scouring the stores for decorations for the big party or hoping everything goes well. The announcements have been handed out; the ceremony has been concluded; the diplomas have been given; the streamers and balloons have been cleared away. Now we're kind of in that fog of unreality thinking, "Now what?"
Every week, someone asks, "So what are Dale's plans?" Honestly, I have no idea. Chad, Dale, and I have talked long about possible ideas for the future, and we've looked into various programs for someone with Dale's disability. But that's kind of it: there is no set plan for someone with Dale's unique disabled condition. Programs for disabled individuals range from requiring on-campus housing in Minnesota (no joke) to being tailored more for those in power chairs. Dale's inability to control his jerking limbs, his frequent shaking and falling, and his attention span deficiency make regular classroom attendance rather difficult. He would basically need someone to attend classes with him to assist him with whatever problem presents itself that day. Also, Dale struggled so much with recalling information and testing and writing in high school, I don't think traditional classes would work for him. We're leaning toward online classes in some field, but I have a lot more research to do before we enroll him anywhere. Plus, we're waiting to hear what programs or grants he may qualify for before making any major decisions about further schooling. This is a matter we would love to have folks praying with us about.
Another matter for prayer: Dale sees his new neurologist next week. Since he is now officially an adult, he can no longer see his pediatric neurologist, the one who's been with us since the accident six years ago. PLEASE, please pray with us that we'll like this new doctor and that he'll have a good understanding of Dale's case. You know how hard it is to shop for doctors! I don't foresee this doc changing Dale's meds or anything, but I'm still nervous. Dale, per usual, is oblivious. He'll probably ask me, "Why aren't we going to Dr. Al-Mateen any more?" despite my having explained it numerous times. (Did I mention he has memory difficulties and the attention span of a gnat?)
And yet another thing (because issues never wait patiently for a time when you are ready to think about them): School starts again in a few weeks! AAAAhhhhhh! Commence with the pulling out of the hair; stockpile paper bags for breathing; apply extra deodorant; and, whatever you do, don't make eye contact! Just kidding, I love teaching and am looking forward to another school year. We had intended for Katie to be "in charge" of Dale during the day while Emily, Ashley, and I were at school, because Katie worked afternoons and evenings. She, however, just landed a new job at a Gene Juarez salon, and we're not sure what her new schedule will allow. So Dale may still have to go to school with us every day, even though he's graduated and earned the right to never darken the doors again! I was hoping he would not have to get up at 6:45 every morning any more, but it looks like that may still be the case. Yea.
If you can't tell, our family uses humor and sarcasm a lot to diffuse our stress. And, like every other family on the planet, we have a lot of stress! Everyday things like the dog having accidents (how can it be called an accident when you just let her out five minutes ago?!), the TV going on the fritz (like, all the time), or dinner being burnt beyond recognition (why, no, that's never happened to me) can cause stress to anyone. Non-regular events like trying to figure out how your son managed to wedge himself between the toilet and the wall when he fell (too many times to count...), having to keep a bowl under the dripping toilet tank (cracked when Dale fell) until you can replace the unit, and realizing that there's an almost-pleasing pattern to the numerous indentations in the walls (caused, yes, by Dale's bum each time he falls!) cause our family extra stress. We choose to alleviate stressful situations with humor; we are a family that loves to laugh. It's sometimes a little scary when we are all "on a roll" because we feed off each other and deliver one-liners until tears run down our faces. And everyone gets involved: Dad and Mom until the kids are rolling their eyes, Amanda (from afar), Katie (who's got the driest sense of humor, hilarious), Ashley and Emily (goofy girls!), and Dale with his craziness. We use God's gift of laughter to relieve the strain of the burdens we carry. I can't imagine life without laughter, can you? I mean, who'd want to go through life with a straight face or, worse, a woebegone countenance? We all experience sadness, discouragement, hardships, depression, but we don't have to let those emotions rule us. We don't have to live sad, discouraged, hardened, or depressed. That is the choice we make when we dwell on or in those difficult times. Anyone viewing our family's history would believe us deserving of the right to the deepest depression, anger, and bitterness, but those attitudes are counterproductive to our well-being---physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. How can we be ready and willing to do whatever God asks of us if we are so resentful over His last request? How can the Holy Spirit guide us if we are not listening to Him because of our grief and disillusionment? I believe choosing to allay our stress, our anger, our fear with humor is, indeed, a gift God has blessed our family with. I imagine if you look, you'll find special gifts God has given you to help cope with the pressures of daily life.
All this to say, life simply continues for the Ostrander family. We are living and maturing and serving and loving and striving to please God in everything we do. I have previously mentioned my prayer to God before Dale's accident: "Lord, please use our family to bring glory to You." For months after the drowning, I would still pray that prayer, wanting God to know we desired Him to receive all honor and praise from Dale's miraculous recovery. Somehow, in the busyness of life, I stopped praying that. Oh, I still felt that way and remembered once in a while to tell God, but I stopped saying it on a regular basis. Recently, I've gotten back into the habit. "Lord, please use our family to bring glory to You." Not that I want another drowning---goodness, no. Not that I'm asking for some other horrific tragedy to befall us, no. And, not that I think the only way for God to be glorified is through His people's suffering, of course not. I simply want to remind my Heavenly Father (and myself in the process) that my desire is for Him to use us, however He sees fit. This continual surrendering of my will to Him is the only true way to keep from becoming bitter and untrusting. If I believe God's will is always good and I daily submit to God's will, I will never be angry at God's workings because I've already made the decision to trust Him no matter what.
Proverbs 3:5-6 says it perfectly: "Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths."
Psalm 28:7 is excellent at explaining too: "The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in Him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise Him."