What a wake up call the last week has been! We’ve gone from beautiful, sunny spring-like days, to crisp fall, to falling snow, to flooding rivers all in the span of a few days.
I don’t necessarily consider myself to be a fearful person, but the prospect of raging flood waters sets my heart at a quicker pace, especially when they are flowing between our home and where we need to get to.
Last week brought some of the worst flooding ever known to west central Illinois, particularly in the London Mills area. London Mills has a special place in Janssen hearts as my husband is the JH/HS principal at Spoon River Valley schools. When we learned the town was being evacuated, we said “goodbye & be careful” as he headed out the door to help. My husband is a firefighter, so it’s not unusual for him to head out at odd hours of the night to enter potentially dangerous situations in an attempt to help others. In fact, it’s quite the norm and I do love that about him. He has a heart for others I’ve not found in anyone else and he’s teaching our children amazing lessons just in the way he lives out that servant heart of his. But I have to admit, I was never so glad to hear he had arrived safely as I was on Thursday night. He spent the night at the school, keeping it open as a storm shelter for folks who had been evacuated from their London Mills homes. He made it home in time Friday morning to pick up our daughter and head to the hospital for some tests, winding through back roads taking the long way to avoid road closings, and still going strong after being awake for 27+ hours.
Early Saturday morning, I loaded up two carloads of preteen girls to make that same trip, winding through back roads to avoid road closings and flood waters, for them to support a sister Girl Scout and her family through the 10th annual Walk for Fragile X and family fun day. Fragile X syndrome (FXS) is a genetic condition that causes intellectual disability, behavioral and learning challenges and various physical characteristics. Though FXS occurs in both genders, males are more frequently affected than females, and generally with greater severity. One of our sister Girl Scouts from Canton and her brother are both affected by FXS.
When the opportunity for this walk was offered up to my Girl Scouts, we discussed what exactly their responsibilities would be for the morning, the purpose of the walk, and of course, Fragile X. My heart was touched when one of the girls said, “Fragile X sounds a lot like autism. And Allison and Parker sound a lot like Ben. I think we should help them.” It was a unanimous vote, and I choked back the tears. Our boy is impacting a new generation, raising up caring souls. It never ceases to amaze me when I realize what a difference our little guy is making in the world around us, just by being him.
We are nearing the end of April and with it the end of Autism Awareness Month. I hope we’ve made a difference and that more people are aware of autism and its impact than there were at the beginning of the month. I hope that our son’s contagious smile and warm heart has won the heart of at least one more person. I hope that awareness continues to grow until it turns to understanding, and finally acceptance.
A stop at our local Casey’s tells me we’re making progress. Throughout the month of April, they’ve been selling puzzle pieces for $1. The money raised will go to Autism Speaks, the world’s leading autism science and advocacy organization, dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. I stood in line, waiting my turn to check out, in awe of all the puzzle pieces. They lined the wall all the way from the back corner around the drink stations, on an end cap of an aisle, around the doorway to the bathroom, along the front wall and by the door. There’s a sea of blue puzzle pieces. I never thought I’d find myself choking back tears while standing in line at Casey’s but being surrounded by all those puzzle pieces was just overwhelming to this momma’s heart. Those puzzle pieces represent more than a dollar going to Autism Speaks, which is wonderful in itself – THANK YOU!!! To our hearts, they represent awareness; they represent understanding; and they represent acceptance. Thank you just doesn’t seem enough, but it’s all we have. The expression isn’t merely a phrase, it’s truly straight from our hearts. Thank you for becoming aware of this disorder that affects 1 of every 88 children born, 1 in 54 boys. Thank you for understanding that our son is one of those 54. Thank you for accepting him for the amazing little guy he is.
This reality hit home over the weekend when my husband stopped in at the Casey’s in another small town about 45 minutes from us. There were hardly any puzzle pieces posted in their location. He said it really just brought home the fact of how supportive our little town is. No town is perfect, no people are perfect, no life is perfect, but there sure are some perfect moments.
Hearing about his experience in the other Casey’s brought me back to a moment during the Fragile X walk with my Girl Scouts. We were about in the middle of the group of probably about 300 or so folks, walking together, enjoying the warmth of the sun and time together when I looked up and saw it on the back of a shirt ahead of me, my new favorite quote about life: “Life doesn’t have to be perfect to be wonderful.” This shirt was being worn by a Fragile X dad who was walking with his wife and boys, one of which is affected by Fragile X. My heart was so deeply touched by this moment. It’s one of those moments I will never forget. In that moment, I saw a picture of my own family walking hand in hand, surrounded by people who are aware of the challenges we face; people who understand that life is not perfect by a long shot but that it certainly can be wonderful; and people who not only accept us and our children, but celebrate them.