Starting Small


If I found a magic lamp with a genie inside I would

have to give some serious consideration to using "never having to supervise tooth brushing ever again" as one of my three wishes. If anyone can tell me how to get kids to spit toothpaste out - in the sink, which is an important caveat - I would be eternally grateful. There are days, sometimes a week at a time, when something goes so terribly wrong with brushing teeth for my son with ASD that I envision a future of him living in my basement with no teeth and some horrible stomach disease from swallowing too much fluoride.

As I type that it sounds totally ridiculous, but in my mind it's a foregone conclusion. I think about my child brushing his teeth properly, for an adequate length of time, without swallowing toothpaste, and I get totally overwhelmed because it seems almost impossible. Of course, it's not just the tooth brushing. It's the shoe-tying, bed making, potty learning, and on and on that goes into all of that. Everything just swamps me and I'm not sure how he's ever going to manage his life, or how I can do anything to really help.

I'm pretty sure any mom with a special needs child can relate. Physical, mental, or cognitive impairments can make even a small thing, like brushing teeth, seem like trying to climb Mt. Everest wearing flip flops with nothing to eat but a squashed granola bar in your pocket. There is always at least one point, often there are more, at which you sit down and say, "I just can't go any further, this is too big, it is too much."

I love the words of our Lord in this time. Let's consider the Gospel of Matthew:

He proposed another parable to them. "The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that a person took and sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all the seeds, yet when it is full-grown it is the largest of plants. It becomes a large bush, and the 'birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches.' " Mt 13: 31-32 (NAB)

The reason I find this parable so reassuring is actually one of those, "well, d'uh" kind of reasons; the sower sows seeds, not full grown plants. Most seeds are quite small and the mustard seed is no exception. This is the example Jesus uses to describe the kingdom of heaven? Yes. This tiny, seemingly insignificant, little thing grows and grows until it is large enough and capable of, not only thriving on its own , but making enough space for others.

I get myself into trouble when I'm looking only at end products. All I'm seeing is the mountain, the mustard bush, the kids with sparkly teeth, and I'm forgetting that those things did not just drop out of the sky like that. I see how big my problems are and I assume that the solutions are just as big. Really, though, it's just a mustard seed. Each seed sown, each tiny step towards a goal, counts for a lot.

James Clear, in his book "Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones" writes about getting 1% better everyday. At first blush you think one percent isn't much of anything. And it's not, but as Clear points out, after a year of 1% better everyday, you're at 40% improvement (PS- I totally recommend this book). A mustard seed isn't much either. There was a time when just putting a toothbrush in his mouth was a sensory nightmare for my son. Now, aside from reminders to brush until the timer goes off and to please, PLEASE, spit in the sink, he can pretty much get the job done, with occasional missteps. That's a lot of mustard seeds. I have to remember that every time I look to see where we're going, I take just a moment to look back and see how far we've come.

Of course, the real point is that even learning to brush teeth is not the end in itself, it's a mustard seed too. The end is to remember that I'm trying to teach my son all he needs to be the man that God has created him to be and that is going to happen one step at a time too. Fortunately , no one is alone in that process either. St. Paul reminds us; "I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Christ Jesus." Phil 1:6 (NAB) When it feels like the seeds aren't enough, when I don't see the fruit they bear, I am promised that God's spirit is at work and I can keep going.

Things to consider:

• When it seems like my child is going nowhere, can I take some time to consider everything they have already accomplished? Write a list of everything they have done , even in just the last few months. Celebrate every victory; not a single one is too small, every mustard seed counts!

•What if I am just beginning with new information, or a new therapy program, or a new diagnosis? What can I do to look at this as a series of mustard seeds? Do I need help to get started? Who can I ask for this help?

Let us pray:

Lord, thank you for your efforts on my child's behalf. Your patience is tireless, help me when mine fails. Your vision is eternal, help me when I can't see how far my child has come. Your kingdom begins like a mustard seed, help me to appreciate each small start. Remind me that as you promise to complete the work you have begun in my child, you make the same promise to complete the work you have begun in me! Amen.


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