Joni and Friends Blog
Autism, not the word parents are looking for when describing the characteristic of their child. Playful, engaging, smart, witty, social…these are the words we are looking for to bring comfort and hope about our child’s development. But it was the word autism that left the lips of our pediatrician and fell on our ears so many years ago when our son Caleb was not even three years old. The last seventeen years since that diagnosis have been some of the hardest, painful, and most joyful years I could have imagined. It is an understatement to say that autism is an inconvenience – that word does not even come close. Some days are downright unbearable. And yet, other days I see the glory of God at work both in my son and in my family. Yes, the words “painful” and “joyful” are, I suppose, a juxtaposition of sorts. That is, they are in contrast with one another. And yet, are they really? When a bone breaks, does it not heal even stronger? When skin tears, is not the healing process of regrowth and repair not miraculous? In pain, is there is not healing at work and lessons to be learned?
Caleb’s autism has completely transformed the make-up of our family and the trajectory of our lives. My wife, Melissa, could easily be crowned “mother-of-the-year,” every year. Her undying love, sacrifice, and compassion towards others, I believe, is in part a direct result of mothering a son with autism. She is a nurse by training, but gives the compassionate touch of healing through her own experience of brokenness and tears.
Our son Jaron, now sixteen years old, has developed an empathy towards others that can only be explained by the impact of Caleb on his life. Oh, it’s not easy. Having a brother with severe behaviors and dealing with daily life of autism is no ride in the park, but it has taught Jaron that life is so much more than video games and movies. There is a depth to this young man that I have seen in few other teenagers. As a music artist, Jaron expressed the heart of a sibling in a song he wrote titled, Have to Wait, which communicates his desire for a deeper connection with Caleb. I’m sure it reflects the emotions of many siblings.
Of all the lessons I have learned over the years of parenting a son with autism, the one that sticks out the most is the reality that God is at work in my son and family. Autism can be seen as a tragedy with no purpose and meaning other than surviving the day. I see, however, that God has purpose in all He has created, including our children with autism. Ephesians 2:10 tells us, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (NLT). Did you catch that? God’s “masterpiece.” Our children and families affected by autism are not excluded. God has a plan and purpose for his masterpiece, that is, His work of art. What do you do with art? You display it!
This hit home with me one day as Melissa and I were at an arts-and-crafts fair. This was not a typical trip to such an event, because that day, we decided to take Caleb along with us. He was about fifteen years old at the time and although he does not usually do well in crowds, we thought we would risk it and just roll with the consequences.
As lunch approached the end of a relatively calm morning (thank goodness), Melissa got in line at one of the food trucks as I sat at a table with Caleb. As Melissa worked her way through the line, she passed several tables of folks who were enjoying the day and their food. Because Caleb and I had broken away from Melissa before she got in line, those folks at the tables did not know that she was Caleb’s mother. One by one, as she passed those folks, she could hear the conversations unfolding as they reflected on my interactions with Caleb. There we sat, Caleb going after my soda, me dodging his attempts and bribing him with snacks to keep him calm. I suppose we looked a little like Abbot and Costello from a distance. Little did I know that we were the object of so many people’s observations. In the midst of an arts-and-crafts fair, we were the art most on display.
Some folks commented how cute was the father-son interaction. One couple was expressing admiration for my handling of a seemingly difficult journey. And, yes, there was a comment from a mom that were Caleb her child, she would not be in public with him (ouch, that one hurt).
But, please, don’t get caught up on the comments themselves. Here’s my point. We were on display. God displays His masterpieces and the world is watching. As parents, we have the choice as to how we will display the glory of God in our most joyful and challenging situations. We are His witness at all times – that His strength, love, and endurance flow through us and that He is the God of hope. Autism does not define my son Caleb. God’s purpose for him defines who he is. Autism does not define our family. God’s purpose for our family in loving Caleb with autism defines who we are as a family. And as art on display, I hope we bring glory to the Artist!
As we celebrate National Autism Awareness Month, my prayer for you is that you have eyes to see the glory of God being displayed through your child with autism and family!
Hear more from Steve Bundy on this week’s episode of the podcast. He’s talking with host Crystal Keating about how Caleb’s diagnosis altered his faith and his family. He’s also sharing the encouragement and advice he needed as a new father to a son with disabilities. Subscribe today and don’t miss this episode!