Guest post written by Cindy Belleque.
In 1993, when the sweet lady at the child development center put her arm around me and said, “We believe Andrew has autism,” it was a bleak diagnosis indeed.
At the time, autism was classified not as a neurobiological disorder (as it is today), but as a mental illness. The diagnosis conjured up pictures from an outdated psychology textbook of a feral, silent child under a table, hands over ears, rocking back and forth in an effort to soothe himself. It was a stark contrast to the happy child in our home.
Fast forward twenty years to a smiling, handsome young man who now lives in my home: He is independent in his self-care and loves bowling, movies, and Legos. He laughs at funny jokes on TV and delights in being the first to solve the puzzles on Wheel of Fortune. This young man has friends from church and introduces himself to people he is interested in. He works in the community, and he lights up our lives and the lives of those around him. His life is not bleak.
In the world of autism, 2014 is very different from 1993. Autism has become, in many ways, the soup du jour. It is almost hip to have a child or know a child with autism. Colleges offer majors devoted to it, celebrities sell books about it, and foundations have sprung up to fund research for it. Now technology gives a voice to the child who cannot speak. Brain research has mapped the brain of a child with autism. There are music therapies and play therapies and whole schools devoted to changing the outlook for kids with autism. All of this is good. In fact, it is great! I almost envy parents who receive the diagnosis now. The road into the future is so much brighter for their children than it was for my son.
But the journey in our lives from 1993 to 2014 has not always had such a clear road to follow. I could tell you many stories, both good and bad, about our journey, but the story I want to emphasize most is the story of God’s amazing grace and how it has made our lives beautiful in the midst of autism.
Grace is defined as unmerited favor – getting something we don’t deserve, especially when we have done the wrong thing. The ultimate view of God’s grace is His gift of salvation through the Lord Jesus Christ. Because of Christ’s sacrifice, grace has covered my “wrong things,” making me right in the sight of God.
But in my life, it is the everyday grace that makes God so apparent. Everyday grace is God’s taking the hard things – the sorrow, grief, anger, and frustration – and through Jesus Christ, making them right. This is what our journey has been – autism and everyday grace.
Every parent, when given a diagnosis, goes through a period of grief. I learned a lot about the stages of grief and even got stuck in a few of them during the past twenty years. The first time I got stuck was the year after Andrew was diagnosed – in the anger stage. I skipped right over denial, because it was obvious that something was going on with our non-verbal three-year-old, but I leaped into anger and built a house there! Anger is good fuel for someone running low on energy. It helped me get out of bed in the morning and got me through the day as I managed preschool, therapists, three other children, and the duties of a pastor’s wife. Anger gave me energy, but it sapped my strength and joy.
After I lived for a year in a house built of anger, a very wise woman spoke into my life. I will never forget her words, spoken during my complaining – “You are so angry at God, and you need to fix that.” I think that I finally recognized what had been eating at my soul for so long. I was angry at God – not so much for the autism, but for the interruption in my picture-perfect life. I was angry because He dared to change the path of my life, take it out of my hands and my control, and rewrite the story. That was the root of my anger.
I learned an important lesson that year: If I say that I am a follower of Christ, then that means I give up everything to follow Him, including my plans for my life. Some of you may laugh at the obviousness of that statement. But for me, it was a profound moment in my walk with Christ. It became the foundation of how I live my life – Oh, the mighty grace Of God!
The path that changed the day that Andrew came into our lives has been a wild rollercoaster ride! And through it all God’s grace has ridden with us. In our house grief is an uninvited guest who lives in the corner and every once in a while sneaks in, ninja-style, to take our breath away. Anger and frustration live there, too, behind closed doors. They come out once in a while when fatigue unlocks the door. But you know, they used to live in the main room! God’s grace has a place in every room, behind every door, and in every closet. Like a welcome friend, grace has its place now in my life.
Each day is different. Each day offers hope, not fear. Each day offers an opportunity to find joy. Each day offers a chance for me to be Jesus to my child, my family, and my friends.
My strength is no greater than anyone else’s. But My God is greater, and His strength is greater.
There is much to say about this huge grace of God – but for me the big picture shrinks down to everyday moments of sorrow, joy, anger, and fear. This everyday grace – not the “big picture” grace – sustains my life and the life of my son.
When I grasp this grace and see its fruit in my life, it molds my thinking and my attitude.
Grace covers the grief and sorrow that my son is not like other young men.
Grace covers the meltdowns and the tantrums when he doesn’t get his own way.
Grace covers the heartache of illness and weakness.
Grace covers arguments and frustrations in my marriage.
Grace covers financial worries and fears.
Grace covers my failures and selfishness.
Grace covers me. And Andrew. And Brett.
Grace covers autism.
God isn’t deaf or blind to what is going on or what He has allowed in my life. God has never left or turned His back on me.
If you are reading this and struggling with your kids or marriage or whatever, I will tell you this: The only thing that will make a lasting difference in your life is your relationship with Jesus. Your belief in your salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the only thing that will change you and give you lasting hope. Therapies, diets, support groups, IEPs, and education will not. They are all good things, but they are not good enough.
Our only hope is in Christ. Only that will give you lasting peace and joy in this life.