The Challenges and Gifts of Winter for Special-Needs Families

I’m a warm weather girl. Give me heat and sunshine, long days with bright flowers bursting from the plants and trees. I grew up with a perpetual growing season, year round tropical temperatures and flowers everywhere. The NE winter has been a persistent shock.

After years of resistance an aversion to cold weather, I was recently encouraged to listen to God in nature. This is typically no hardship, since I LOVE listening to God in nature.  At any other time of year, that would be a great spiritual practice to engage. Unfortunately, it’s winter. About to suspend my practice for 6 months, I heard a wise friend comment that even the aspects of nature that we don’t like has messages from God. "The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship.” (Psalm 19:1, NLT)

Hearing God's Voice in Winter

Reluctantly, I decided to stay outside for 5 minutes, after putting my son on the school bus each morning. I’d stand and look and listen for the whispers of the Eternal One in the frigid, barren coldness. A suprising thing happened. I heard. I saw. I felt. The beauty in the mystery of winter broadcasts His Presense and I was compelled to pay attention.

My lessons over the past few days has been about my real response to winter. Not the ‘I hate winter’ response, but the one I have when I allow myself to forget that the cold is somehow bad. When I let go of angst and bother.

Lesson 1 - Still Inside

To even notice my response, I have to become very still. Somehow, I’m already programmed to notice the beauty in warm weather and flowers. I don’t need meditative stillness to feel the rapture of it. But I’m a winter novice. I have to teach myself to notice and that requires stillness.

Lesson 2 - Pay Attention

In the stillness, I try to pay attention to what I’m feeling in my body. If I’m outside and not well covered, my muscles are tense and I pull in on myself. I seem to use a lot of energy when I’m that cold, because when I’m warm again, I feel completely drained. But that's not how I feel all the time. Sometimes, I feel calm, steady, snug, ready to make stew and wrap up with a good book. What's the difference?

Lesson 3 - Be Prepared

I did not embark on this discipline foolishly. Even in unseasonably warm temperatures, I'm outside in my -35 degrees boots, and a stout coat over my hoodie. When I’m adequately dressed, though, I feel… peaceful. My shoulders slowly release and I can feel my environment in new ways. The winter landscape outside my home has a dimension of quiet that is hard for me to describe. When I stand outside, the quiet gives my thoughts space to exist and flow without the demand of some urgent issue. It's as if I've been given a gigantic blank piece of drawing paper, and a stash of ons and paints, and I get to fill it up with all the colors of my thoughts. If only I had the time...

Lesson 4 - Let Go, Pay More Attention

For this to work best, I have to press the pause button on the urgent things clamoring for my attention. All the emails at my desk and the kids inside and my internal pressures and crises... they get to wait. It’s actually easier for me to put aside my "to-do" list when standing outside. Somehow, the earth and trees settle the chaotic swirl. As my thoughts clear, I notice the land, the ground that I couldn’t see before (caught as I was by looking at leaves and flowers). The naked trees advertise the strength and power of the land, and when it’s covered with snow, the glow is a statement of power and peace that is beyond my ability to articulate.

In the end, I have more. The miracle happened. Energy, capacity, hope are all renewed.. enough to move ahead, in faith, with the Eternal One holding my hand.

Winter feels different when I pay attention while not fighting it (in my mind), when I reduce my list of demands and if I prepare for it. Wow!

Winter in Spectrum Land

There has been a sort of winter in our home these past several weeks. I talked about our period in the sick bay, and the challenges of sleep deprivation. J (18, ASD, SP) has been having a doozy of a time. He’s at a new school and the person they met at the intake and had over the summer is different from the person they see in class now. I get phone calls and notes and live on pins and needles each day, wondering how things are going. When he’s home, OCD is at an all time high and his rituals cannot be interrupted. Sleep has improved somewhat, and he’s asleep by 1am. However, he’s up again at 1:30am, climbing into bed between me and his dad. I’m adjusting to sleeping on 8 inches of the bed... winter in spectrum land.

Rest in Winter

Yesterday morning, my nature explorations collided with my autism winter. The weather forecast predicted snow all day and I decided to keep J home, in anticipation of the early school closing. Getting onto the bus at 7:30am is hard enough with fragmented sleep and OCD! Seeing in meant we started the day slow. I let go of some homeschool requirements for my other two kids, and kept a loose hand on my "to-do" list. I think that looseness helped me notice a few moments of stillness in J, and I used them to do sensory exercises, and even read a story with him (something that’s always on my "to-do" list and never gets done!). At 1 am, I heard stirrings and I muscled up for the fight of trying to convince J to go back to his own bed… and then didn’t. He climbed into my bed and was immediately asleep.

I watched him, out cold. It was an unusual sight. Quite peaceful, actually. Rest is a fundamental need for all of us at this point. So, I let go of work, and yielded to rest. The quest to help him heal and create the right routines and teach him ADL skills and reduce his OCD and help his teachers understand him better and figure out plans for his future… all stopped, faded into the stillness of the rest that was offered, and I took it.

Winter in Spectrum Land feels different when I pay attention, while not fighting it, when I reduce my list of demands and when I prepare for it.

Universal Winter Lessons

  1. Slow down, stop and be still
  2. Notice, without judgement, what’s happening around
  3. Listen for what the Heavenly Father, the one who is not startled or anxious, may be saying through the occurrences
  4. Prepare, based on what is observed (vitamins, coffee, winter jacket, truncated "to-do" list...)
  5. Accept the limitations and boundaries in the winter season as gifts. Yield, don’t fight. Rest.

I’m embracing the gift, dressed as limits and boundaries, in this season, relaxing my hold on the fixing and doing. I’m focusing on the noticing and the gifts available in each micro detail that I notice. There will be another season for flowers, green leaves and harvest time. He’s promised it to me and He never lies. Now’s the time for rest.

I am leaving you with a gift--peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don't be troubled or afraid.“My peace I give to you…”  John 14:27 (NLT)

For all who have entered into God’s rest have rested from their labors, just as God did after creating the world. Hebrews 4: 10 (NLT)