Two years ago I wrote my first blog post, because of my daughter Cadence. She has shown us first hand the challenges of living with Autism (challenging for her, our other children and ourselves) but I started writing this blog because I wanted to offer hope to others. I have been honest about some of the victories and some of the tough days. I have shared how I have always cried on Cadence’s birthday….for a thousand different reasons.
Today is her 13th birthday. But there are no tears today. Here’s why:
Last year, a couple months before her birthday, we got some really hard news. The school Cadence attended felt it was time we should put Cadence into residential care. She was not quite 12 at the time. I was devastated. I’m not a big crier, but literally could not stop crying. I couldn’t imagine her not being with us, especially at such a young age, and the only options for her age being far away. In my Momma’s heart I felt this wasn’t the answer and asked God to show me what was.
Our research led us to Project Hope Foundation. We knew this was the answer we had prayed for and was desperate enough for a change that we asked God for a miracle to get her there. And we believed Him for it. He more than delivered. On December 10, 2014, just a couple days before turning 12, Cadence got the best birthday present she has ever had. We got the word that Cadence was accepted into the Hope Alive Jr. program. And better still, she had been approved for an incredibly wonderful scholarship program (Palmetto Kids First Scholarship for Special Needs). The scholarship was a godsend, making the impossible happen for us. In addition…we had invaluable support by our local school district, who agreed to pick up the difference, meaning her school program would be completely funded!
We knew this was an incredible opportunity and were thrilled! But a year later, I have to admit that there was some things I simply did not know.
I didn’t know that this school would change our entire life…and that of our whole family.
I didn’t know that I could face a birthday of hers with ONLY tears of joy.
I didn’t know how hope would feel the day I realized how many skills she was gaining and began to understand that I could dare to think the impossible…she will one day have a job.
I didn’t know the pleasure I would experience as l sat with my extended family, playing UNO and Cadence actually played a full game with us, on her own, because she was taught the game at school….and for the first time ever was not a spectator of her siblings, but a participant.
I didn’t know that I could get teary eyed at a basketball game (just yesterday) because Cadence used her iPad to tell the total stranger behind the concession stand that she wanted some M&Ms…..and knew how to pay for it.
I didn’t know the joy it would bring to me to throw my daughter a birthday party (for the first time ever….just this week) because she finally has friends.
I didn’t know the pride I would feel watching Cadence finish her first 5K last month for her school, and really pushing through the hard parts instead of quitting or melting down.
I didn’t know the relief that would come to have kind, capable people help me teach her some very basic, but extremely important hygiene issues that protects her dignity.
I didn’t know how thrilling it would be to see Cadence finally be medication free after an entire decade.
I didn’t know the peace of sitting through an entire church service without the worry that Cadence would disrupt the service. Who knew she could be as quiet as a church mouse?
I didn’t know that any child could love to go to school so much and would actually cry when she couldn’t be there.
I didn’t know the burden that would be lifted now that every day at school is a good day…instead of wondering who she had hit, hurt or how many meltdowns she was having. I didn’t know how much I actually dreaded hearing the phone ring before, for fear it was the school on the other side.
I didn’t know how much progress a child could make when they began to use their energy to actually learn instead of using it all to cope with their surroundings.
I didn’t know that it was possible to walk into a school meeting and have the teachers ask me, “what do you want us to teach her?”…and then they teach her the things we talked bout.
I didn’t know that I could have this much respect for a group of teachers. They are smart, well-trained, and know what they are doing. They have sacrificial hearts devoted to helping those who struggle to help themselves. They have instincts that can’t be taught and they have deep respect for the woman Cadence is becoming. They spend every day pouring into her future. And they respect my role as mom. Who could ask for more?
And I certainly didn’t know that I could have this much gratitude for two women that I don’t know and who don’t know me. But years ago two moms, who had their own struggles raising boys with Autism, decided to find a different way to help their kids. And now they have made a difference for hundreds of kids. Their vision and work has changed so much for us. Not just for us, the parents, or for Cadence, but for my other 4 children as well. Their experiences with Cadence are being impacted and this is shaping the adults they will become.
I didn’t know that one change in our lives could have such a far reach. But as I kissed my girl goodnight on this anniversary of her birth, there is one thing I do know. Although she has received many wonderful gifts because of Project Hope, SHE is one of the greatest gifts I have ever known in my life and I thank God for her every day.