The most memorable holiday gift I received this year, the thing that most made me smile through the whole Christmas season, was to see my nephew Matthew and his emergence into our crazy extended family.
Because at least outwardly, it wasn't always this way when he was a younger lad.
Not that he wasn't a part of our family before, he's always been loved and accepted, same as his brother, Joshua.
But now Matthew, in some way, for whatever reasons that his mom and dad attribute only to him, appears to be opening up to us.
This has not been an easy post to write. I don't want to sound over-emotional about it or anything except what I really do feel: amazed and extremely surprised and happy about Matthew's progress.
Matthew is autistic. He and I have always gotten along fine together, but autism, to the extent I understand it, is a condition that often keeps people affected by it within themselves, in their own little worlds.
(Check here if you want more: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Autism)
And that's how I had always accepted Matthew, although loving him unconditionally.
He was always there, as much as he could or wanted to be there...but aloof, distant in some way, off in a corner or doing something else, most often by himself.
And I accepted that.
He always enjoyed it when I picked him up and swung him around or turned him upside down, sometimes far beyond what my aging bones could manage, but there was also a time just to let him be.
And that was OK.
But he so much has always loved just doing the things we all want to do. And that's HAVE FUN!
I had always understood the amazing caring his parents always had for him and the work they did with him, and the sometimes rough roads they had travelled to get him all the help he needed.
And I believe those have paid huge dividends.
This Christmas, when we had our family get-together, Matthew was an entirely different child.
He was communicating. He was opening up to the world. He was teasing me and others. He was talking. And it was amazing and it made me very happy. And so here was Matthew, breaking onto the scene.