What happens when 4 members of one family process the ups and downs of their story together? Spiritual formation occurs, and an amazing book is published! Join Rosanne Moore as she talks today with Dr. Stephanie Holmes about how learning to embrace neurodiversity within her family has drawn all of them together to become more like Jesus.
Bio: Stephanie C. Holmes is formerly a licensed professional counselor (LPC) in the state of NC. She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Campbell University, her master’s in counseling from Liberty University and her doctorate in education from Abilene Christian University. She is an ordained minister, author, autism researcher, speaker, and certified autism specialist. When Sydney was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, her world and focus changed from a thriving marriage and family therapy practice to a world of Individualized Education Programs, 504 educational plans, and understanding how to help students and individuals with challenges and needs in the classroom and the church setting. Today, she pulls from personal as well as professional experience to focus on neurodiverse marriages and family systems. She is the owner and founder of Autism Spectrum Resources for Marriage & Family, LLC, and she and her husband Dan co-founded The International Association of NeuroDiverse Christian Marriage, LLC and the podcast NeuroDiverse Christian Couples.
Show Note Links:
To hear more of their family’s journey, look for their book Embracing the Autism Spectrum: Finding Hope & Joy Navigating a Neurodiverse Family Journey.
Training and Tips are found on her YouTube: Dr. Stephanie C. Holmes by Dr. Holmes and her daughter, Sydney Holmes.
Emotionally Healthy Relationships by Peter Scazzero
Rosanne Moore: Hi, Larger Story audience. We’re so happy to have you with us again today. I’m Rosanne Moore, your host today for the Relational Spirituality podcast. I have a very special guest today. Dr. Stephanie Holmes was a schoolmate of mine in high school and we’ve touched base at various times over the years. She is Dr. Stephanie Holmes. She’s a board certified counselor, transitioning to a Christian life coach. You are an ordained minister. You are a certified autism specialist and autism researcher. Stephanie, I’m so happy that you’re here with me today. Thank you for being here.
Dr. Stephanie Holmes: I’m so happy to reconnect.
Rosanne Moore: Yeah, it’s great. Stephanie has actually been very helpful to me at various points over the years when I’ve had questions, because my oldest child is on the spectrum. I was wading through other things and she was looking into the neuroscience and from a counselor’s perspective and all of that. She offered some good, helpful points at various crossroads for me.
Stephanie, you wrote a book in 2015 about your experience of having a child on the spectrum and what that was like, not just between the two of you, but in the context of church and school and society in general. The challenge of how the response was to the fact that Sidney walked through the world differently. But you’ve come back and you’ve written a new book as a family embracing the autism spectrum, finding hope and joy, navigating the neuro diverse family journey. And you did it together as a family. Would you tell me some more about what brought that on? Why the family book?
Dr. Stephanie Holmes: So back in 2015 I waited to even put that one out because I wanted my oldest daughter to be out of high school, out of respect for her. She didn’t want some stuff about her childhood being written when she was still in a vulnerable space around bullies and not nice people. Really, the focus of that book was: I grew up in circles that were based on the prosperity doctrine. Back then, and it still is alive and well now, it’s not only that, if you name it and claim it. The darker side of prosperity gospel is if something is wrong, or if you are not financially blessed, or if you have a diagnosis, then you are then cursed or not in God’s favor or not under His protection. That being a foundation when my daughter was diagnosed and I had done all the good Christian things and got all my gold stars in church and school and Christian college. I did the Christian girl thing. This was not supposed to be happening. So from the infertility journey to then having a child diagnosed and not knowing what to do and just how the church received that and not having support, I was in a faith crisis for a while.
That book originally is me and that and going through infertility and going through this diagnosis and rediscovering God, not based on church or people who don’t represent Him well, but understanding who God is and really seeing that I wouldn’t have gotten through those times without His help.
I was just thinking this year, it’s time for a revamp of that book. At the same time, I was having those thoughts. My oldest daughter said, “Mom, I turned 25 this year and there’s a whole lot more of that story. You left me in middle school, high school. It’s really your version in your eyes of the story. I’d really like to talk about personal impact.” So she and I were going to make it mother-daughter. Then my husband said, “I’ve been diagnosed in the process too. And we didn’t know we were in a neurodiverse marriage. I really like to talk to dads and husbands and talk about my journey.” Then my youngest said, “What about a sibling’s perspective and my own ADHD? Because sometimes ADHD doesn’t get as much attention as autism.” So that set us on the path of writing this book together.
An unintended, but positive consequence was it really helped us see everyone’s journey from another person’s perspective and bridge some relationship. There’s been some healing there. My husband said, “Steph, I wouldn’t have thought to say these things and process things out loud unless we had a reason to write them down.” But no. One of my daughters said, “Some of the things Dad said, I really needed to hear, and now it’s there in this book.”
It was a long process when you’re taking four authors and integrating a story. We also wanted to take it beyond a story to invite the reader to have spiritual formation. So there’s devotionals and questions like: stop and pause. Is your view of God skewed? Is there someone in your life causing you pain? Where do you need support? What’s the next action step?
The girls, I love their transformational stuff, because Erica had to deal with having anger in her heart for her sister, and Sydney struggled with the verse about being fearfully and wonderfully made. Everyone’s perspective and spiritual formation from the book I think is something that’s unique. I think it would help a lot of marriages and families and people serving them to integrate faith in their neurodiverse journey.
Rosanne Moore: I was looking at some of these chapter titles and I just thought, this is so rich. “Unrealistic Life Maps: Trusting God’s Guidance on an Unforeseen Journey.” “When Hope Fades: Embracing God’s Presence in Moments of Despair and Hopelessness.” I thought, everybody who’s been a believer for very long, the terrain of their journey may be slightly different, but everybody’s been at these places.
Dr. Stephanie Holmes: Different trials, different seasons.
Rosanne Moore: Yeah. In this book the backdrop is autism. Those were the shaping events for you guys. But the spiritual journey that you are on was so much deeper and it’s very universal. That was part of the reason I really wanted you on here, both because as a mother. Actually, my oldest son is on the spectrum. I have a child with ADHD like you do and your younger daughter has ADHD. I have two children with dyslexia and one of them had a speech impediment as well. So we’ve had to work through all of those things. And there is a very real challenge, I think, for kids to feel defined by what they feel like is a deficit. I don’t think the church always handles it well, for reasons like you were talking about, sometimes it’s theological reasons, but sometimes it’s just things like not understanding and anticipating and therefore expecting everybody to fall in certain parameters in terms of how things work in a group or things like that. Often special needs families just end up having to back out or get lost in the shuffle because it’s too hard to stay connected or because judgments are made.
That was one big thing I did try when I was dealing with a new situation; I set it up by saying, “This is my son who’s going to be involved. He is on the autism spectrum. He’s very high functioning.” I’d start with, “He’s great at all of these things. This is the way he does need extra support and we’re really excited we’re going to be a part of this.” Most of the time, if people knew what was going on, they were willing to be supportive. Of course, if you don’t have a diagnosis, it’s really hard, but if they don’t know, then they’re far more prone to assume behavior issues instead of recognizing sensory things.
Dr. Stephanie Holmes: Right. And disrespect and dishonor and all of the D’s. One of my friends, who’s also a mom of someone on the spectrum, said, “You’ve got to know the D’s. What really is disrespect, disobedience and dishonor? And what’s really disorder, diagnosis and difference? Because if you confuse those 2 things, you can’t really punish a difference, a sensory issue. Can a person on the spectrum and ADHD be disrespectful and dishonoring? Of course they can, but in the moment when they’re dysregulated. That’s very confusing in church settings, especially because I’m Gen X and most of the teachers would have been boomer or older. There would have been a, “Look me in the eye. I told you to do this one time, sit down, stop asking questions.” If you have that kind of leadership with a neurodivergent child, which could be any form of learning processing, ADHD, autism. If you think about what church is supposed to be for our kids and their discipleship groups, whether it’s Awanas or Rangers or Missionettes or whatever your program is, there’s a learning aspect. There’s reading, writing, listening, and sitting still; making sure they understand the concept.
All kids are black and white thinkers, but autistic kids are super black and white thinkers. So do they really understand the concept? Asking questions is not being argumentative. It’s, I don’t understand, please tell me more. I’ll never forget this. My child was eight years old and she came home and said, “I don’t believe in Jesus and God anymore after today’s lesson at church.” I was internally, “Don’t freak out.” But I asked her questions. She said, “We read the scripture today and it was a translation that said when Jesus was in the grave, He slept.” She had said – and this is eight year old reasoning – “If Jesus didn’t die and He just slept, He didn’t rise again and He’s not really the savior. Therefore, I don’t believe in Him.” I was like, “Okay, let’s get another translation out and read the different ways. Slept sometimes meant death in ancient times.”
We had to really do that. If she had not said that, that was already starting to cement in her head. “Church is a lie. Scripture is a lie. Jesus never died, He just slept. I sleep and get up. That’s not dying and rising again.” At eight years old, we had to double back with different translations. What a Greek word meant there, and how it was translated into English, for an eight year old to understand it. Then she was like, “Oh, okay. So Jesus died and rose again. He’s the Savior again. I believe.”
We have to really make sure what’s happening at church and at home, we ask, “What did you hear? What does that mean? Let’s circle back and talk about some of these things.” Please answer my child’s question at church y’all. Please answer her questions.
Rosanne Moore: For sure. Oh my goodness. One of the things I can remember when Michael was… probably two years old because Anita Grace was a newborn. We were making cranberry orange bread and I had him put the cranberries into the food processor and as I turned to get another ingredient, he dumped them all back out. Then all of a sudden I realized, he looked very happy and smiley and he started putting them back in. He was shape sorting. He had a shape sorter, he was shape sorting. That was my first picture in my head very clearly of: this child always has a reason for what he’s doing, but how he’s looking at the world is very different from how I am.
Dr. Stephanie Holmes: It could’ve looked like disobedience. It could’ve looked like wrecking the project. It could have looked like just being contrary.
Rosanne Moore: Being curious at that point and asking the question, “What are you thinking? What were you doing? What are you doing? Why don’t you believe in Jesus? What was said in Sunday school?” is really important instead of panicking.
Dr. Stephanie Holmes: Internally I was panicking. I was totally in freak out panic mode.
Rosanne Moore: I’m sure
Dr. Stephanie Holmes: We are too young for a faith crisis.
Rosanne Moore: That’s so good. You brought up the whole issue of relationality because your response had to be instead of authoritarian, “This is what we believe the Bible says.” You instead engaged her question and explored where the thought was coming from. And then you could trace it back.
I think that’s one of the things that Dr. Larry Crabb talked about a lot. He talks a lot in his books about relational holiness, that being curious, following where the Spirit is going, actually listening and honoring the person who’s in front of you by engaging. That it’s not a matter of teaching. It’s finding out what’s happening inside the person in front of you, trusting that the Spirit of God is at work in both of you. You want to follow that instead of just assuming or trying to pour into somebody else.
What’s that been like in your journey? I know we’ve talked a little bit and you had your journey of finding out the external things about sensory disorders and how that works, but it’s always been in a Christian context of, what does this mean as far as relating to one another and loving each other and spiritual formation?
Dr. Stephanie Holmes: I think, back in my late twenties, early thirties as a young mom and kids early diagnosed and just trying to figure out like, how do I help each child reach their potential? I always would say to my oldest, “Autism is a part of you, but it doesn’t define you.” Or sometimes I would say, “Do you have autism or does autism have you today? It’s a piece of you, don’t deny that part of your identity.” So we got to understand that.
Erica with her ADHD was more inattentive, not really hyperactive or getting in trouble. She was usually the favorite child in any school or church activity, whereas Sidney was usually like, “Does she have to come back? Can you stay with her?” They had completely different experiences at church
I think then, I was in survival mode, I would call it. I was just trying to help my kids and help them reach their potential.I neglected their relationship to each other a lot. I wish for all the therapies that we had, I wish I could go back and do it again, because their relationship fell apart over the years. And I missed that. I also missed that because Erica was more compliant, a people pleaser, I didn’t ask her as many questions. Sydney was obvious if she was melting down or dysregulated, it was obvious. Erica wouldn’t, she wasn’t a squeaky wheel. I did not do my due diligence to say, “How are you doing? How did that interaction affect you?” So that was missing.
My husband and I were just talking about this week, where did we really start emotionally healthy spirituality? Because we grew up in a holiness context. It’s, how much of your shoulders are showing and your knees are showing or are you going to church? Are you reading your Bible? Are you serving the church for so many hours? We grew up learning that holiness is being set apart by doing and looking different, instead of relational love and loving each other. There wasn’t abuse or anything in our family and our home, but we weren’t relating well. It was really during this time of trauma when we were displaced from our home, because of a tree.
When you get to a place where you have no home and all of your belongings are gone and you have no vehicles, talk about being totally reliant on God for everything. It really put us – and then COVID. We were locked in the house essentially with two kids in different spaces in two different schools. We picked up Emotionally Healthy Relationships by the Scazzero’s. We’ve started teaching that and we started practicing those tools with each other and teaching other couples how to do that.
Each of our children had a “Come to Jesus moment” with us where they wanted to tell us some things. Because of that, we didn’t go into the authoritative, “I’m the parent. How dare you speak that to me?” But, “Okay, something’s really going on. There’s pain here. We’ve missed something here. Let’s listen incarnationally as theScazzero’s would say, and ask questions, be curious.” We say that all the time, be curious and humble, not prideful and entitled.
If you’re entitled, and you think you already know everything, and that you can’t learn something from the younger generation, that’s going to be a block, because the younger generation wants authenticity. They like organic stuff. They like feeling like they can impact you as much as you’re impacting them. They want that reciprocity and mutuality and relationship. They’re not as hierarchical as some of us grew up in. They want to be part of the discussion. Changing that learning mindset and learning to relate and ask questions.
The book just finished it off with a nice bow to help us really see each other’s perspectives better. But it’s definitely been a journey that holiness and set apart is also back to what Jesus said, “By this, they will know that you are my disciples: how you love one another.” Not how you serve your church, not how you read your Bible and get your gold stars, but how you treat the people in your marriage, in your home, and the people God’s entrusted you. Start there. That was really transformative for us.
Rosanne Moore: Not whether or not you preach all the right sermon points.
Dr. Stephanie Holmes: The younger generation is looking. They are watching that what you’re saying and what you’re doing match. One of the biggest things that I’m working on with kids who are deconstructing right now is: “My mom or dad was one way at church. The best volunteer, smiley, everybody loved them. But it was a completely different temperament and mood at home. If I could have lived with the person I saw at church, that’s one thing. But the person I see at home and how she speaks to us or lies on the phone or gets out of things or is harsh with each other. My parents’ marriage did not reflect anything that I was hearing about how a marriage and family should be.” I think that’s why this younger generation isn’t marrying, they’re living together. When I’m talking to them, the under-thirties, they didn’t see modeled in their parents what they were hearing at church was supposed to be a Godly marriage and family. That disconnect and cognitive dissonance is part of a lot of the deconstruction that we’re seeing right now.
Rosanne Moore: I agree. I think I’m seeing that. I’m working with a lot of women who are saying, “ I did all the things. I stayed sexually pure. I married a Christian. I did all the things and I ended up in an abusive marriage which was a disaster. And now not only am I divorced or trying to figure out what to do with this marriage that’s destroying me, but my kids don’t want to have anything to do with marriage because even though we have a 40 year marriage, it’s a nightmare and they know that.”
Dr. Stephanie Holmes: If that’s marriage, I don’t want it. No thank you.
Rosanne Moore: Exactly. When we miss the heart of the gospel – the fact that we are saved to become like Jesus in the way that we live, not in a checklist way like you’re talking about, but in the way that we treat other people and the way that we value other people – what motivates us? Because sometimes we have to say things that are hard to hear, but is the motivation for that the well being of the other person or is there entitlement involved? Things like that are really important.
Dr. Stephanie Holmes: That leads me to this special niche that we find ourselves in. A lot of times when a child is diagnosed on the spectrum, a parent or a grandparent has it too, because it’s 80 percent hereditary. We are working with what we are calling neurodiverse Christian couples. A little nuance here is like when I gave that story about Sydney and what she heard at church. Adults on the spectrum are also black and white and literal concrete thinkers. Sometimes a verse like, “Your body is not your own.” In 1st Corinthians, or “Women should be silent,” in Peter or “Wives submit to your husband,” in Ephesians 5, these very literal topics are taken. That’s already in some of our church settings, there’s rules and roles, and you follow the rules and roles, but take out more standard deviation here on our graph of someone who is on the spectrum and is a black and white thinker and was brought up in that church culture. That is usually setting up the household to be under a lot of control. Especially if the dad is on the spectrum, because if the rules mean this and the Bible says this, your feelings and your desires and what you want does not matter. Then add on top of that, I truly believe if I don’t thank you or be harsh with you God is going to be mad at me.
So I’ve got a black and white thinker who’s taking the Word as a weapon instead of a tool. And then I believe if I don’t, God will be mad at me. We have a problem in our neurodiverse Christian families if they’re operating that way. Everything you just said the wife said, “He was a Christian, we are pure and modest, we’re raising our kids well, we homeschooled, we did all the things that conservative Christianity told us to do, and I’m being emotionally abused. And I talk to the guy and this is his mindset. “I’ve never cheated on her. I bring home a paycheck. I don’t go anywhere after hours. So when I come home and I don’t help her do whatever, that’s her job, because she’s the woman. It’s okay you didn’t hit her or you didn’t sleep around.” But there’s emotional neglect and relational neglect and there’s abandonment and there’s rejection and all of those internally.
Research is showing us that emotional and verbal and psychological abuse do the same damage to your brain as physical assaults. One author is calling it domestic silence instead of domestic violence. Your brain has pain. Trauma is trauma, whether it’s physical trauma or another type of trauma. That is not being talked about in our churches because a lot of the women that I worked with their pastors will say, “Then you just need to suffer. You need to take up your cross and you just need to be a better wife,” The “do more” mentality instead of calling the husband into task and saying, “You’re not loving your wife. Some men in the church need to gather around you and help form a community and group identity on how do we help you love your wife and children?” Instead we’re afraid we’re going to lose a tither or a head of households going to leave the church and we’re not doing that level of work.
That’s one of my little soap boxes I get up on: if we’re really going to teach community, pastors, lay counselors, you’re going to have to do the hard work. When someone says “I’m being abused and harmed and neglected, and my kids are being physically psychologically and emotionally abused,” we have to take that seriously and we need to teach relational spirituality and not just holiness rules. That’s this huge issue. There’s so many divorces in my neurodiverse Christian couples, because at some point she’s like, “I’m out. I tap out. I can’t. My kids are not even respecting me because of the verbal and psychological abuse I take under the guise of submission. They don’t respect me. If that’s marriage, I don’t want marriage.”
It’s creating a lot of cracks in the family. I feel like the church really should be a hub of teaching more about relationships and spirituality, love, and that generosity and charity start at home before you’re volunteering at our church and being in any ministry. How’s it going with your marriage and family?
Rosanne Moore: Absolutely. You talked about the neuroscience. It’s interesting to me that there’s so much pressure that as soon as a woman comes forward or she comes to her pastor, usually what happens is all the things you’re talking about. “What are you doing to try to get him to be better? What are you doing? How did you pray more? You love him more. You do these things to try to get him to be better.” But what’s happening neurologically, the woman who is abused emotionally, her brain scans are like those of a prisoner of war. If we have a prisoner of war, somebody who’s been highly trained to withstand enemy torture and imprisonment, we don’t expect them to escape on their own from that, we believe that we have to go in and we believe it’s our responsibility to go after them and secure them and their wellbeing. The expectation that a woman should just stay in that situation that is so damaging and should just take it and nobody’s coming around her to protect and to intervene and to hold accountable is just wrong. It’s wrong on so many levels and it’s a misrepresentation of the heart of God for the oppressed. And it does no favors for the one who is not loving. That’s the other thing. It’s not just about the victim, the woman or the children. It can be a man in some cases, but statistically, it’s far more frequently the women and children. It also does no favors for the abuser who is going to stand before God and give an account one day and in the meantime, whose prayers are being hindered for not loving his wife.
Dr. Stephanie Holmes: Sometimes the hard thing – I guess if you’re a man, you don’t understand this, but if you’re a male pastor, understand the risk involved for a woman to leave. Especially if she is not the breadwinner, has homeschooled, doesn’t have a career skill and then could possibly lose her church community on top of it. In the time of need and pain, a pastor or an elders board is applying pressure and she tends to be the one excommunicated, not the one who was perpetrating the abuse, harm, or neglect. That adds a double injury. Now we have faith hurt and spiritual abuse and religious abuse. That’s what the kids see, right? The kids are watching and they’re like, “Wow, mom is trying to do what’s right for us and the church or the leadership is saying otherwise.” That’s not helping that next generation and what they’re seeing on who is God the Father. A loving father versus, you didn’t follow the rules, you got a divorce and it’s not adultery.
I heard this line from a pastor one time and it made me so mad. He said, “We have to pastor both of them.” I was like, I get that. You want to minister to both of them, but that might mean one gets to be ministered to in the church body and one is ministered to one on one over coffee. The one who is being abused or perpetrated against should not be the one kicked out of church or made to feel less than. You can still minister to him one on one on the phone, through coffee, during office hours, and say, “This is part of the Matthew principle. Someone came to you, you didn’t listen. Two people came to you, now we’re going before church leadership. So now it’s time for you not to be here until you change your heart and mindset and love your wife and family well.”
That is extremely complicated with a black and white concrete thinker when they are taking scripture out of context or too black and white. Again, if you stand on thinking, “I’m right because the Bible and God tells me” and your wife keeps saying, “You’re hurting me, you’re abusing me. I feel neglected by you. This marriage is killing me.” Those are the women I work with having an autoimmune disorder or have some kind of thyroid issue, something that is stress induced. And they’re still being told, “You just have to figure it out. You’re just going to have to choose your husband or choose the marriage to the detriment of your own body to the detriment of your own psychological and spiritual maturity.”
So I challenge that and say, “At the same time, somebody’s got to be parenting these children and someone’s got to still be around to be healthy to be the parent to the kids. So what does that mean for you? How are you going to be emotionally healthy and continue to work with the kids if you can’t even get out of bed in the morning because you’re in so much pain, psychologically, physically or emotionally?” That part is just so missed. Our clergy really needs to be updated on the neuroscience of abuse in all forms. We need to get out of the mindset that adultery is the only way out of marriage. If there’s abuse and addiction and it’s unrepentant, you’ve got to walk alongside the one who was being perpetrated against and not empower the one who was doing those things.
Rosanne Moore: Exactly. Amen. Have you worked at all with Called to Peace Ministries or Chris Moles?
Dr. Stephanie Holmes: I have not
Rosanne Moore: They’ve done a lot of work. Chris Moles works with abusers a lot, and one of the things he says is, “The major mistake the pastors make is like hearing the clopping of hooves on the cobblestones and thinking it’s a horse when it’s a zebra.” They hear certain things and they project the idea of what would be true in a good marriage. They don’t understand that the dynamic is one of control rather than love. Then they put the burden on the victim and they enable the perpetrator without even realizing that they’re doing it.
Understanding that, I think that there’s a huge problem in understanding what the dynamics of abuse actually look like. I know when I was going through things, I was trying to figure out what was happening. I didn’t want a separation, but it was looking like that was going to be necessary for safety. The thing that Larry said to me was, “Rosanne, it’s never right for a believer to kill a marriage. But when the spouse has, with their selfishness and their entitlement, killed a marriage, you’re allowed to bury it.”
Dr. Stephanie Holmes: Right. Because if we think about the breaking of the vow, here’s where people don’t understand. When you make your vow, it’s I, so and so, take you to love honor and cherish. That is the vow. The next part is the when. In good and bad, and all of that forsaking all others. So the vow was broken under the love, honor, and cherish piece. Forsaking on others is very important to a covenant marriage, but that’s not all of the vow that we usually vow in a Christian marriage. The opposite of love, honor, and cherish, you have apathy, dishonor, and not cherishing or not showing love. Sometimes that is abuse as well. We get all caught up in the adultery part, but wait a minute. Where’s the love, honor, cherish piece that was the vow and the promise that was made? That’s what’s broken. The vow is broken then, not just with an extramarital affair.
Rosanne Moore: In sickness and in health and all those things is when life does those. Better or worse that life does.
Dr. Stephanie Holmes: Not that the person is causing sickness and the person is causing financial detriment because they’re gambling or addicted or won’t get a job or won’t stay employed. That’s a whole different reason. It’s like you said, if life happens and there’s a job loss or there’s a cancer diagnosis. That’s what those things mean. It doesn’t mean when one person is causing these other things to happen and inflict them. upon you. That goes against the first part of the vow: to love, honor, and cherish.
Rosanne Moore: Absolutely. I want to go back to the book because you gave the mic to the kids. That’s the phrase my family uses whenever mom’s voice is the dominant voice and they’re not feeling heard, they will say, “Mom you need to pass the mic,” because as parents, we are the dominant voice for early childhood and really in their head for their whole life.
Being conscious of giving voice to your kids, what was most meaningful to you in what came out of working on the book together and hearing your children’s impressions of things? Were there things you learned from them that you’ve just hadn’t seen before until you worked on this project together?
Dr. Stephanie Holmes: Yeah, I think going through certain things, especially some of Sydney’s mental health crisis and bullying and exclusion and all of that/ When you’re in it and you’re like, “Thank God we’re out of it and we’re on the other end.” But reading her stuff and just seeing her perspective. She had never shared with me as a child that she struggled with Psalm 139 about being fearfully and wonderfully made. Again, is that a truth in the scripture? So reading through her thoughts and her feelings, and then where it led to her spiritual formation, one of my favorite things in hers was even once she came back to faith or whatever.
She even used Philippians 4:13 incorrectly. In Christ, I can do all things. It was like, “I’m going to do all things and prove all y’all wrong.” Even with Philippians 4:13, she was taking it out of context. Then it was like, “Oh, wait, now that I’m mature, it means in all things, I need Christ’s strength to do things. I was making it about me and my strength to show you. But now Christ’s strength is how I do things.” Just seeing her formation and her thought processing. She’s in such a great church and great community. They’re all about community and formation. The senior pastor specifically has a heart for the 20 to 30 year olds to make sure they are connected and in places of leadership.
So all of that, and then just seeing there’s mixed feelings of, man, if this could have happened, at an earlier stage, maybe some of these other things wouldn’t have happened. But then, maybe some of these things are part of the reason she’s in this different formation. So for Sydney, that was my mindset there.
For Erica, it was so painful to read because I told her, “When you write your first level of your chapter, you can put it out there and don’t worry about our feelings. Put it out there. We’ll shore it up.” But, she was first writing it out of still an angry and hurt place. The first draft was pretty tough. I had to deal with some internal shame and not go into toxic shame. Like, how did I miss that? How did I not do that? Where was my counselor brain, in those moments? I had a lot of lie apologizing and we’re still working on reconciling and what do we do differently now? She’s like, “Mom, get back to being curious. Ask questions about me, don’t just wait on something to go wrong.”
And then just seeing the internal struggle, the message she was telling herself about her father and I devastated me. Because that was definitely not what we thought we were communicating, but the way her little 6, 7, 8, 9 year old brain was interpreting things based on the chaos in her home with Sydney at times, that was just so important to the reason of inclusion and intentional relationships. Also the hope of the story is that we’re still in repair and reconciliation, and the girls are in the process of repairing reconciliation and Erica’s reconciling and repairing and forgiving us. It really took the book to bring the rest of the stuff to the surface that had been under the surface and give us that lens.
I would say, “We all have to read each other’s chapters too, because maybe after you read somebody else’s lens, that might change things.” Erica’s chapter is more palatable, more readable. It still reflects pain. It still reflects her true story, but there’s been a shift in her heart of, “Wow, what mom was going through,” or “I had no idea Sydney was suicidal in middle school. That’s why mom was on her so much and keeping an eye on her and wasn’t on me because I wasn’t suicidal.” All of these things from childhood and middle school. It’s now the adult brains going, Oh
I was afraid that at some point, maybe Erica would just get married and move away and never come back. If our relationship would have stayed where it was, that might’ve been the case. Obligation and duty to your mom and dad, visit them on Christmas. But through the book and really being honest about the good, the bad, the ugly, the things we failed at, the things we’re still improving at, then how to reconcile and repair. I think that’s really the most important part of the stories. No matter what you’ve been through, if you’re willing to be humble and curious, you can reconcile and repair relationships.
Rosanne Moore: I love that. That’s the hope of the gospel, right? The hope of the gospel is not that we get saved and now we do it right forever. The hope of the gospel is that we have joined in following a Savior who is there to save us at every point where we need saving and it’s ongoing. We walk with Him, we become more like Him. So seeing failure is the doorway to grace. Not being able to own our failure is not an impediment to the presence of God, it is the doorway to receive the grace that He wants to lavish on us. So I love that. I love that you were able to do that and do that as a family and to offer that to one another. Also to not have to rush the process to let it heal as it heals instead of trying to just sweep it all under the carpet and make it all okay quickly.
Dr. Stephanie Holmes: Which we like to do in the South. If there’s conflict, stick it under that rug and just move on.
Rosanne Moore: Exactly. That happens too often in the church as well. Everybody forgives and it’s all gone. The honest ownership is so important in letting people heal.
Stephanie, I don’t want to. I think I have to wrap up and let you get on with your day soon. Is there anything else that you want to share about the book before we close? I really want to encourage listeners to get this book and to check out Stephanie’s podcast too, especially if you’re in a neurodivergent marriage, or if you’re if you know someone who is, I think her podcast would be a fantastic resource. This is a great book for churches as well, whether or not you’re dealing with someone on the spectrum yourself, you’re going to be in society so it would be a great resource. But anyway, anything else you want to bring forward?
Dr. Stephanie Holmes: Part of our hope of this book is, first of all, it’s four different people’s perspectives. If you want to understand autism or ADHD or different perspectives, I think the book does that. If you are not on an autism journey, but you’re on a special needs journey or a child with differences journey, I think it still has some crossover. If you’ve been through infertility and all of that, I think that there’s connections there. If you are a husband who’s on the spectrum or you have a child on the spectrum and maybe you don’t go to the IEPs and you don’t understand all of that, this could be a quick way to catch you up on maybe what’s going on in your child’s life.
The second population we really hope purchases the books are pastors and children’s and youth workers. As Christians, what we want so much as a marriage and family is we want to be part of a faith community. We want to be included. We want our kids to be included. If you don’t include my child, I can’t come. If you don’t include that child, what are they missing in their spiritual formation and what are they taking on about how God sees them?
Sidney said to me one time, “If the Christian school and the church doesn’t want me, how do I know God really wants me?” She was kicked out of three Christian schools and asked several times to leave various church functions. So from a 6, 7, 8 year old’s perspective, Christian school and my Christian church do not want me present. How do I know God wants me and loves me? And why would He curse me? To make me this way where other Christians don’t want to be near me. That is devastating. So if you work in children’s work or youth ministry, you are so important for inclusion and belonging and acceptance. Dr. Wilder would say, “Hesed means I’m for you.” They need people for them.
We’ve created a workbook as well. That’s on another website, but we have a workbook where you could do small groups and we have these questions for you. We say if you are the person on the journey, you’re on the unforeseen journey, then you’re the family in the passenger sheet. But we also have a section that says if you are a caregiver, extended family, respite or someone who’s going to help this family along their journey, this will really help you. I’m super excited because, we did not have a blended family perspective, we’re still a nuclear family, but I partnered with Ron Deal, who is a stepfamily expert, so there is a chapter talking about blending your family if a child is on the spectrum and blending your family if a partner is on the spectrum. I think that adds one more layer to make sure stepfamilies have help. I have someone who was a single parent, John Felageller, of Joni and friends. He wrote from being a single parent’s perspective of someone on the spectrum and the kind of support he needed as a single parent dad. We didn’t get everything in there. Culture and diversity is a little bit lost, different people experience people of color, but we hope that at least you can get the book and either identify with the journey or learn how to better serve and minister to someone on the journey so that we can come back to our whole thing: Emotional and healthy spirituality transformation, belonging, attachment, Hesed, joy. That’s why we do this. We hope that will be a good resource for you.
Rosanne Moore: Wonderful. That’s great. Thank you so much, Stephanie, for being with us today. For those of you who are listening, check out the show notes, you can find the links to her book and to her podcast and some of the other resources that she mentioned. They’ll all be there in the show notes and we’ll look forward to seeing you next week. Thanks so much. Bye bye.