Every evening for the last two weeks, I’ve read a page from a book called The Jesse Tree. Bought years ago when I was still teaching, the book rests on a shelf in my living room for most of the year. Filled with hope and thoughtful reflections, I look forward to using it with my own children starting the first week of Advent. The book is very simple and helps us remember the reason for the season. Read aloud right before we eat dinner, the kids learn something from it. Most days, I do, too.
The book I have encourages conversations about Jesus, about His lineage, and about how we’re called to serve others in His name. The messages are quick and concise, and the symbols that accompany each story are meaningful as well. The very first symbol is a family tree. The tree’s branches are empty on day 1, but the excitement of which story and which symbol will be next keeps my kids interested. Ronan isn’t as in tune as his siblings are, and he offers no input when I ask the kids about what they think the next story will be, but he sits and listens to the chatter around the table each night.
One message that popped off the page at me on Tuesday evening had me going back to meditate on the passage and the short prayer that accompanied that day’s devotion. The reading was from Exodus, the reflection was about Moses and the people of Israel, and the symbol was the Ten Commandments. But it was something else that the author stated that caught my attention: “People live in the kind of society they build.”
As a child, the society that I envisioned I’d be living in as an adult is much different than the one I am living now. Plus, never did I ever think I’d be part of two societies–one where my typical kids hang out and one where my child with special needs hangs out. Sure, we crossover, but many times Ronan will stay in his own world while his siblings frolic and thrive in another. As a family, we try to bridge the two societies as much as we can. Ronan joins the siblings at their sporting events. They join him for some of his therapy sessions. They share some time together which we all find inspiring. Some things shouldn’t be shared, though, like when Ronan becomes aggressive and attempts to pull his sisters’ hair. We work through those terrible times always praying that positive encounters will be right around the corner.
As a child of the 70s, I knew nothing about autism. As a teen in the 80s, I still hadn’t heard of the disorder. As a teacher in the late 90s, I had yet to see a student who struggled like so many children do today. By the 90s, I’d finally heard of autism, but it wasn’t until the next decade did my son’s autism introduce me to a society where I have become a long-term resident.
Thinking about who’s helped me find my way in a place where I had no direction and that I had desire to be, I recalled past conversations with other newbie parents. I remembered other parents, the veterans of the community, and their words of wisdom. I also thought about the groups and companies that helped me learn how to help Ronan. Honored to serve others, each person I’d encountered had become a beacon for me. Their acts of kindness were forever etched in my heart, and each one is still very much cherished by me.
We’ve been helped by many people. Through prayer, through donations, through heartfelt messages, I couldn’t do what I have to for my son without the help of others. I couldn’t contribute to or build up both societies that I now belong to either – Ronan’s and his siblings, without that help. The author’s words reminded me of that last Tuesday night. That night I thought, if I had an autism Jesse Tree, the symbols I’d place on its branches would be of those people, those groups, and those businesses who continue to provide hope to families like mine.
Helping us to prayerfully prepare for Christ’s birth, my children are happy with the simple tradition we’ve created with our Jesse Tree book. We begin by lighting the candles of the Advent wreath. We then recall a short Bible story. We think about each symbol presented and also reflect on a question or two. Saying a simple prayer that ties in that day’s topic as well as naming some special intentions, we get to enjoy a few peaceful minutes together. Peace and autism don’t always go hand-in-hand, but those 5 – 10 minutes that this devotional experience has provided us has been such a blessing to me and my family. This season and always, I pray that each of you may also filled with an abundance of blessings.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.