Thirteen years ago in 2002, my family returned from serving a year abroad on missions. Fresh from a spiritual high, my husband and I committed to full-time ministry. Surely, God had even greater plans in store for us. He certainly did. Just not in the way we expected.
At the time of our return, our son Jeremy was 18 months old. He still wasn’t talking, so we assumed he was confused over all the different languages he’d heard. We had him checked out for a speech delay. It wasn’t a speech delay. We had him checked out for a hearing problem. It wasn’t a hearing problem.
After several more months of testing, a pediatric neurologist gently slid a piece of paper across his desk, and into my quivering hands: Diagnostic code 299.00.
You may not be familiar with autism. But rather than a clinical definition, it meant, emotionally, at age two, having to contend with the reality our toddler might never have a conversation with us. No friends, marriage or family of his own. No college or employment. He’d have to live dependent on others the rest of his life.
Our child could barely walk when his future up and ran out on him.
I wish I could tell you I responded in a spiritually mature way, in a manner befitting a former missionary. I wish I could tell you I responded in a gracious, faithful way. Like Mary the mother of Jesus had responded to the Lord, “May it be to me as You have said.”
But I didn’t. I was PISSED.
We had just stepped off the mission field, and this is what we get for all our Do Goodery? When I found out my child was disabled, my faith was crippled and flat-lining, too.
Broken and Rebuilt
Lots of well-meaning church friends and family tried to console and encourage us:
“God won’t give you anything you can’t handle.”
“Special Needs children are a blessing!”
“God understands everything you’re going through!”
Really? No, I don’t think I can handle this, thank you very much. How do you call this a blessing? How does God understand something like this? After all, His Son was Perfect, wasn’t He? I struggled with how the Bible could be relevant to the gritty, modern-day realities of raising a child with a permanent disability.
Through five years of spiritual depression, I duked it out with God, fists raised to the heavens. But as I wrestled, the Holy Spirit would breathe new life into His Promises, despite my seeking to disprove them. I would rediscover how the Word of God was, “living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword….”
In Genesis, God was like every first-time Parent. He anticipated with great joy, the arrival of His first children. He splashed out BIG, to prepare the perfect place to receive them.
But only a few chapters later, by the account of Noah, He experienced heartache when those children didn’t turn out as expected. And His heart was filled with pain.
In Isaiah, He’s the Father of Wounded Son. He understands how it feels to have a beloved Son misunderstood, bullied and rejected by the world.
He too, knew the anguish of crying out for another way. For deliverance. But He, too, received the answer, No. Yet, “My grace shall be sufficient for thee.”
Ultimately, He proved the same Power He held over sin and death, could also make us more than conquerors over autism. Conquer doesn’t mean mitigate, bypass or sugarcoat. It means conquer.
One piece of paper had wrecked my life in an instant. But a timeless compilation of God-breathed papers would also resurrect and refashion it. What the Enemy intended for harm, God redeemed and repurposed for good: to draw me even closer to Him.
Redeemed And Repurposed
In time, God did bring miraculous healing. Not in physical healing for my son, but in spiritual healing for His Child.
Me. I was the mission field.
What is the work of God, but to believe in Whom He sent, especially when we don’t get our way? I also knew He was calling me to minister to other struggling special needs families: To comfort others with the comfort I received from Christ. He had redeemed and repurposed my struggles, for such a time as this.
In the San Francisco Bay Area where I live, over 1.5 million people are affected by disability. That’s 1.5 million families. Meanwhile, Silicon Valley culture idolizes achievement and success. It devalues the lesser-abled. How much more so, the “disabled” are marginalized.
But who else desperately needs to hear the Good News, that their children are wonderfully and fearfully made? That they are not “broken,” but that God has a redemptive purpose for their lives. Who else needs to know that all along, God intended good, good and very good for His beloved Children?
Now, I know most people are NOT autism moms like me. And certainly not everyone is called to serve in special needs ministry. But no matter who we are, we all have these things in common:
We all live on a broken planet. At some point, we all get cut or pierced by the jagged edges of disappointment. No one is exempt from suffering or hardship.
God calls each of us to something: to be blessed and become a blessing for others.
We all have different “special needs.” Each of us have hidden disabilities, unseen areas that have been crippled in our emotions, in our relationships, our aspirations, or in our faith.
One Cure. One Savior
No matter what our different problems or spiritual diagnoses, we can all have the same solution: His name is Jesus. Our God can redeem and repurpose anything, when we let Him.
A heart of stone, He can transform into a heart of flesh. Rage and bitterness, His grace can dissolve, ushering us into a new place of trust, surrender and submission. A non-verbal child with autism, He can use to shout unspeakable blessings. A shallow, selfish and self-absorbed young mother, He can transform and woo into redemptive Mission with Him.
The God who turned water into wine, who overturned death into life. Only He can do such things.
Because our God is a redeeming God. The only kind He knows how to be.
“Many are the plans in a (wo)man’s heart. But it is the Lord’s Purpose that prevails”
~ Proverbs 19:20-21
What areas of “crippling” do you struggle with today? How might God be repurposing them, into expected sources of blessing? Press into Him, not away. Just as we delight when our children overcome challenges to gain new skills, so does our Heavenly Father delight over us, His beloved Children.