I stuffed the tissue in my pocket knowing that the inevitable was about to happen. As much as I wanted to create a stalling tactic and pause time, I only had a few more minutes with my 19 year old son until I had to tell him goodbye. He was leaving us for a nine week summer job that was five hours away from home. I asked him to find a summer job, and he did. I should have said to find a summer job closer to home!
This is his first time living away from home, and what makes this farewell different than others is we weren’t sure if this day would ever happen. When my son was three years old, he was diagnosed with autism, and all of our hopes and dreams for him were suddenly up in the air.
For 20 years, my family has been on a journey that is different than most families. My husband and I were young and in love, and the natural consequence of young love is children. So at the age of 25, I gave birth to a precious baby boy. That boy was very precocious and he amazed everyone with his giftedness. No joke, he was reading before he was out of diapers, but he also had social and communication delays that concerned us. When he was three years old, we contacted our school system and had him evaluated. He was amazing and gifted, they told us, but they also told us that he had autism.
We tried everything we could. I spent hours on the computer searching for something, anything, that would undo our son’s autism. We tried nutritional supplements. We tried the newest and greatest therapies. We looked for underlying health problems that could trigger autism. And by the time he was five years old, I was exhausted, caught in a never-ending battle to find my little boy.
A friend from church dropped by the house and gave me a sheet a paper with a verse from Hebrews 4 on it. “There remains…a rest for the people of God.” Oh how I longed for this rest! I was caught up in a whirlwind of special diets, drawing blood, therapists, and doctors visits. Could I trade it all for rest? But what about my son?
God spoke to me clearly, an instruction that would guide the next fourteen years as we parented our child with a disability:
“TREAT THE SYMPTOMS. LOVE THE CHILD.”
It was a Sunday morning, and my teenage children and I were together at church. My son Gregory was in the worship band, rocking it out on his bass guitar. He was swaying back and forth, almost dancing, and belting out the song lyrics with a strong confidence. Later, during communion, I found a quiet place to pray with my daughter Hannah. I let her pray first, and she prayed so long that I didn’t think I would get to have a turn. She prayed a beautiful prayer that touched my heart.
It was later in the day as I was relaying these events to my husband that I realized that in spite of myself, my children had turned out well – they are hard workers, they have tender hearts and they unashamedly love Jesus.