I once told a Christian Counselor colleague of mine he should see the movie Signs. After all, it’s a story of a man battling a lack of faith. My colleague came back a few days later and said, “What are you talking about? Signs was about an alien attack!”
We picked it up on a Sunday night. A final means of entertainment for the weekend. But we started the movie late and were unable to finish it that evening. So we watched the scenes of the family, having recently experienced the loss of their wife and mother, engage in grief-riddled, and in some cases, bazaar behaviors. Interesting, but no aliens … yet. We planned to finish the movie the next night.
Then Monday came. My husband went off to work and I took my three and a half year old son to a follow-up neurology visit with a doctor who had, in the past, assured me my son was healthy, though he sometimes “beat to a different drummer.” Yeah, he and the rest of the family. However, my son still didn’t speak, and this delay was beginning to exceed the path of others in our immediate and extended relations, who had overcome similar delays.
This was the day the neurologist changed his tune.
He examined my sweet, little boy, sat me down and heaved a sigh. “Your son will never exceed fifty percent of normal development.”
My heart hit the floor. My son was only half of normal? I looked at the child whose smile could light up a room. And I could tell stories of how his gentle, sweet, thoughtfulness had wordlessly lit up troubled hearts. But he would only be half?
As hard as it was to take those words, it was a million times harder to repeat them to my husband. The man who counted on me to care for his son while he went off to the daily grind. A man who was the strength of the family … and yet he crumpled in pain, and grieved like I’d never seen him do before. By the end of the night neither of us could muster enough energy to speak, let alone finish watching a piece of entertainment about aliens. So we just dragged our bodies to bed and prayed for the merciful blanket of sleep.
The next morning, my husband schlepped off to work, a new burden on his shoulders he had no idea how to master, and I sat like a lump on the couch not bothering even to get dressed. I couldn’t move from my space where I sat, practically fetal. So I decided to watch the rest of the movie Signs. What else could I do? I had no plans to clean. Who cared? Maybe it would distract me a little from the thing that saturated my thoughts.
In popped the movie and on went the video player. I scanned through the scenes to find where I left off and drifted into numb oblivion as the screen displayed the characters. The story, as I saw it, of a man struggling with his faith after a terrible tragedy. I could relate. But what astounded me as I watched the remaining action unfold, was how all the bazaar behaviors and occurrences were used by the all-knowing God to prepare them for a battle against evil. The little girl’s obsession with water. The boy’s need to obtain information. The uncle who was the strike-out king of the minor leagues. And yes, even the death of a loved one.
In the end, the father holds his limp son in his arms and praises his Creator for the child’s asthma. I sobbed until my chest ached. I was reminded again (this wasn’t the first or last time), that God had a plan, and my son’s autism would play a part in it. I may not like it now. And sometimes I truly rail against it. But I trust in the One who created him. God’s power is made perfect in our weaknesses.
Whenever I write or talk about my son and his giftedness in heart, I feel I need to caution readers who do not experience the effects of autism on a daily basis. Yes, I can see my son as a gift from God. His autism has made him quiet and even serene. His particular gifting is in how he seems to read the emotions of others in a room better than the average person. Others struggling with this disorder have a very opposite experience. Their affected child may speak and understand, read and write, but are emotionally distant, and may engage in violent behavior. If you know someone struggling with the effects of this disorder in their homes, please do not press on them how they should see autism as a gift from God. Though I truly think God can reveal Himself through their struggles and their child is also a gift, this kind of intrusion can only leave the afflicted feeling alone and misunderstood. Pray for them … and in any way you can, help to bring them relief!