A Real God Encounter

My oldest son is autistic. He has always been autistic.

The Mrs had a normal pregnancy and the birth was normal. He progressed along normally and was walking at the exceptional age of nine months. He began to talk a little around a year old.And then all progress stopped. He was about two and a half when my dad, who had just read an article on autism, convinced us to have him tested for mental handicaps. The news came that he had some long scary sounding thing called “Pervasive Developmental Disorder- Autism Spectrum.” His diagnosis has changed several times and now they have a fairly long list of things “wrong” with him but autism is the big one.

Diagnosticians around the country now diagnose lots of kids as being autistic but they are not autistic like my son. My son is almost totally non-verbal. He almost never even tries to speak. He will copy what someone else says from time to time but he almost never originates speech himself. He is very adept with his hands but will go outside bucknaked in a snow storm. He won’t say many words but he can make himself understood and then when the answer is no he will get upset and bite himself to the point of drawing blood. Potty training was about a ten year chore.

Life with him has been a challenge. I won’t tell stories about some of the adventures that his Mother and I have been through. Let it suffice for me to say it is a lot like you’d imagine only much much more intense. And the intensity never subsides or goes away. I remember one season in my life which was a fairly tense part of my life. The place where I work had been bought out by another company and things were not going well at all. The tension at work was nerve wracking. Everything was changing and everybody was up in arms. In my position in middle management I got the brunt of everyone’s griping from the top man to the lowest on the totem pole. This had been going on for several months. I was exhausted and stressed to the max. One day was an especially bad day for the business and for me personally. The Boss had yelled at me about something and I had pretty much pouted all day long wondering why I stuck around this land of nonsense.

Now when I pout it is a grand affair for me. It is not just stomping my feet and yelling that “I’m mad at Daddy.” When I get into these moods I begin to feel that everyone in the world is gunning for me and I can’t figure out why because I really am no one of any importance. Then I get mad again about being no one of any importance and the cycle starts over again. Suffice it to say that I was in a bad way by the time I got home that evening. I pulled into my driveway and sat there in the truck for a moment trying to cheer myself up so that I wouldn’t worry my wife about anything and I remember being almost to the point of tears and saying “God, I REALLY need to see a miracle today.”

I got out of the truck and walked through the door and back to the kitchen where The Mrs in a loud voice was saying “Tell me what you want!”

Ryan held out his hand and in the monotone voice only an autistic could have said “Want cookie, dammit.”

I almost passed out.

For the first time in my life I had absolutely no doubt that there was a God and that he loved me and worried about me and he was using a mentally handicapped kid to show me this love. As I look back over the last eighteen years with my son I am amazed at just how much I have learned from someone most people would write off as a lost cause. He, a kid that can’t even bathe himself, has shown me things about God and this world that to this day amaze me.

I have learned unconditional love. Ryan loves his Dahdee- it is hard to write in his accent you just have to hear it for yourself sometime. He is a very loving kid. At 6′ 5″ and 250 lbs he cuts an imposing figure but he really is a big teddy bear most of the time.

Everyday has it’s share of small miracles, I’ve learned how to look for them. I realize that this sounds like something straight out of an Oral Roberts TV show but believe me it is true. Each and every day your children do something amazing. They may no be building the Eiffel Tower out of fudge or anything like that but they each do something everyday that is miraculous to me. Ryan instinctively lines up his crayons in the same order that a prism shows color. He has done it since he was a baby. Kids walk and talk, draw pictures, and say something profound to the adults in their lives everyday. In addition to that there are a billion miracles out there everyday that don’t involve your kids. The quiet just before sunrise, the hawk swooping down for a meal, the smile on a person’s face when you help them out or laughter. Just being alive is a miracle. Learning to look for the miracles eases life’s pains and struggles… look for them.

Some folks truly do not understand what they are doing. They can’t change their lives because they don’t know how. I think Ryan realizes that he is different somehow. I don’t think it matters that much to him. That in and of itself is a tremendous lesson for us but even if he wanted to change to be more like us he wouldn’t know how to begin let alone bring his personal development project across the finish line. We all, I believe, have people in our lives who have messed up lives. Standing on the outside looking in we can see the problems and know what to do to fix them but the folks in the fire can’t see the solution, they are too busy fighting the flames.  We can tell them all day long what to do and how to do it but they just don’t understand. Be patient with them, progress comes not in giant leaps but in small steps.

Don’t sweat the small stuff. The other day I was reminded about a former coworker of mine that was distraught. After a couple of days of watching him wallow around in despair I pulled him aside and asked him what was wrong. After some hesitation he told me that on Monday his kid, a first grader, had said a bad word at school. Now this young man was totally messed up that his sweet little kid had said this word and he didn’t have a clue what to do about it. “Do you know what I did last night?” I asked being a smart alek. “No. What?” “Well when I got home last night Ryan had mixed poop and peanut butter together and had it smeared all over the bathroom. I spent an hour or more cleaning that up and I can still smell it.” He started to cry, believe it or not. “I am being to hard on him?” “No, you are being to hard on yourself. Your son is his own person and will do what he wants to. Correct his mistake and move on. You have not failed him as a parent. This is just one of the things you must go through when you’re a parent. Well that and remember to hide the peanut butter.” The sad truth is if it wasn’t for Ryan in my life I would probably have been just as wound up as my coworker.

God has provided time and time again. One of the greatest crimes in our society is that we spend trillions of dollars for guns and missiles when we aren’t at war with anyone and spend less than one percent of our military budget on things that could actually better the lives of our citizens. So many people would benefit from good cancer, alzheimer’s, heart or mental research but no one is will to give up anything to help the needy. Just imagine what could happen if a billion or two were dumped into cancer research! But it isn’t there. As I look back over the last 18 years I do not have a single clue how we have made it this far. It has to be a God thing because it sure wasn’t me that got us here.

I’ve learned that sometimes times all folks need is a babysitter. Somebody to sit with him for a couple of hours while the parents go out by themselves. Many many times the help that folks desperately need is so simple. When we are confronted with an issue it is our nature to look for solutions to the problems. When we can not find the solution we throw up our hands in despair and walk away with a nice “I’ll be praying for you.” Many times all I wanted was to able to go out to dinner with my wife for a couple of hours or to have some one help me with mowing the lawn. Problems like Ryan’s have no solution. They are just the way things are. I know that. Many were the times I just wanted someone to shoulder a corner of my load for a few minutes.

I’ve learned what it means to be helpless. Most of the time when you have to deal with these issues you really have no idea what is going on. Things move so fast at times that you feel that you are in a whirlwind and that nothing you do will make anything better.

I’ve learned to trust people. I am not really the trusting type. In the past I have been accused of being rather cynical. When thrust into a situation like this you have to trust people, most of them strangers.

Sometimes the battle is rough. Sometimes you get kicked in the teeth. But somehow God gives us the strength to get back up and do it all again tomorrow. This would probably fall under God’s provision too but it bears repeating. Only God could have gotten us through this adventure. I am not that smart or skilled. It was a God thing!

Many well meaning people are dangerous. I cannot count the times I have heard two phrases- God only gives special people to special parents or do you think you think your sinX caused Ryan to be this way? As to the first- believe me I don’t feel special neither does any member of this household. We are just normal everyday folks who do the best we can with what we are given each day. Sometimes we shine other times we smell funny. Thanks for the compliment but I think that God thinks we are all special. As to the second- In John chapter nine we have the story of a blind guy who was eventually healed by Jesus. When Jesus and his disciples first encountered the man they asked “who sinned this man or his parents to make him blind?” Jesus responded with one of the most beautiful verses of the Bible- John 9:3 “Neither did this man sin, nor his parents; but, that the works of God might be revealed in him.” WOW! It doesn’t have to be judgment from God for sin or wrong doings on my part on The Mrs’ part. God might have made Ryan autistic to bring people to God.

After many years of wandering around away from God my experience with Ryan brought me back. Ryan brought my wife to God. To tell you the truth this young man who can’t even talk has brought more people to God than the vast majority of professing Christians. I think Ryan is a special work of God. Many people over the years have been praying for Ryan to be healed. Please notice the first sentence of this piece. My son IS autistic. He can no more be healed of autism than I can be healed of being blue-eyed. It is who he is. I admit it has taken some time to come to grips with what this means but a “healing” at this point in his life is truthfully not the best thing for him. It’s hard to explain but in the simplest terms he’d be 18 years behind his peers in development if he had a sudden “healing.”

My son is the single greatest God follower that I have ever met. He has brought me to God and taught me many of the mysteries of God. He has no choice but to act the way God wants him to act. It amazes me to see that God does use the simple things of this world to confound the wise.

Living with Ryan has been a God encounter.