December 19, 2007

Autism in God’s Economy: Parents of Autistic Children

“Disabled children are a blessing”.

It is something that we have all heard, even long before we were parents of disabled children. It usually is offered in a way that makes it seem like if you have a disabled child, you also have some indefinable, magical fairy dust kind of ‘blessing’ where an angel waves his hand and, poof, you are blessed.

Once you become the parent of a disabled child, you begin to see what that ‘blessing’ really means in concrete terms, because one of the first things that happens to you, in your early grief, is that you become grounded. All of the trivial distractions, the petty rivalries, the BS ego trips, the vain ambitions and the frivolities of life suddenly become very unimportant. The crap in your life starts to fall away and it is replaced by seriousness about things of true value.

Diagnosis brings with it a choice, to continue to serve yourself, or to take a hard look at your life and begin making greater and greater sacrifices for the wellbeing of your child. Because we love our children, very few of us choose the former.

In light of Matthew 25, this is the blessing of the autistic child. God eases you into falling in love with the Least of These, just like He is, so that when diagnosis comes, the choice to serve them is automatic.

For our children’s welfare, parents in our community give up their careers, their houses, their retirement, their health, their relationships, their free time, their dreams, their pride and a hundred other things that typical parents ‘get’ to hold on to. When we discuss the sacrifices that parents make, it is usually from the perspective that parents are loosing out on the better life that should have been theirs.

Making this even more painful, some of these families will turn their lives upside down for children who may not ever ‘get better’ or live independent lives or even be able to acknowledge their parents at all. Some fathers will never be greeted with excitement by their child when they come home from work. Some mothers will never hear, “I love you, Mom.”

But Matthew 25 puts this phenomenon in a whole different light. What Jesus is telling his followers, just as He is about to leave them, is that whatever they sacrifice for the vulnerable in their world, they sacrifice for Him.

In the Bible, God asks believers to give just 10% of their income to Him. What do you think it means to God when a family who has lived all their lives in one place, tear up their roots and move across the country to a state that has better services for their disabled child?

Read Matthew 25:31-46 again and pay particular attention to verses 35 and 36.
For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink;
We don’t just feed our children, many of us feed them gluten free, casein free, organic, hormone free, dye free, non-allergen, supplement enhanced diets that cost more money and take more effort than we would ever dream of spending on ourselves.
I was a stranger, and you invited Me in;
Our children are strangers to us in so many ways, yet many of us spent much of our time working hard to draw our them out; to know them and to be know by them. The invitation is constantly being extended.
…naked, and you clothed Me;
If the time and energy that we spend clothing and diapering our children were invested in the space program, we could have colonized Mars by now.
I was sick, and you visited Me;
How many hours have you spent in doctor’s offices, at conferences, in training seminars, listening to lectures, and reading books so that you could attend to your autistic child's health? How many nights have you stayed up trying to comfort your little one who could not sleep?
I was in prison, and you came to Me.
How many times have you looked at your child who would not or could not respond to you and longed for him to be free enough to tell you what was going on inside his mind? How many times have you held your little one and cried because you just missed him?

All the love, all the acts of service, all the sacrifices, all of the other plates that you have let go of so that you could keep just this one spinning… He sees it all, and He says:
“You did it to Me”.
Remember that night that you were up cleaning poop off the wall in tears at 3 AM after eight consecutive months of broken sleep? That injury you sustained trying to save your child’s life for the third time that week? That beloved thing that you gave up because you needed those resources for your child? He was right there, He saw it all, and as far as He is concerned, you did it all for Him.

When your child was diagnosed with autism, or with any disability, God put you on a new road. It is rocky and dangerous and to journey on it is hard. It humbles you and strips away pride that would have been yours had you not gotten the diagnosis. But Jesus said that He can only use broken people. People whose egos have melted away, people who have been brought to the end of themselves and had the love of the world’s economy squeezed out of them. People who are dieing to themselves. It is only then that they can begin to see, and to love, God’s economy.

Your child’s autism lays the ground work for God to be able to make you into a person who really knows Him and understands the world the way that He does.

The Corps has to strip away much of the man that showed up on their door step before they can build a Marine. My first three years as the parent of an autistic child have been a spiritual Paris Island. I am having the crap in my life stripped away by trying things based on the old paradigm, failing and having to go back and relearn the basics.

It has brought me back to a faith in God that I have not known in 15 years. A more child like faith that was less concerned with how I appeared and more concerned with just trying to learn from God how to get it right. His ‘Right’, not the world’s right. It is a faith that is removing my independence and accomplishments and taking me back to the dependency and instability that I knew when I first met Jesus. As I am pushing forty, I am learning how little I really know, how weak I really am, and how much the smallest thing that I give to God really counts.

And God has used Chandler to do it.

THAT is the blessing of the disabled child.

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