Joni and Friends Blog
To Strive or Not to Strive
“I thank God for the mountains and I thank him for the valleys, I thank Him for the storms he brought me through, for if I never had a problem, I wouldn’t know that He could solve them, I’d never know what faith in God could do.”
These are lyrics from an old hymn, “Through it All,” by Andraé Crouch. A song that my lips would hum in times of trouble. A song that personifies trading self-striving for striving to abide in Jesus with a courageous trust in his all-sufficiency. As I look back over the years, I have witnessed the faithfulness of our Lord amid sorrow, tears, and triumph.
As a single parent for over 17 years, I often reminisce about the days when autism consumed our family’s life. At age three, my son Sizwe was diagnosed with Pervasive Development Disorder (PDD). This is a diagnosis given when a child or adult who are on the autism spectrum does not fully meet the criteria of “classic” autism. This obscure diagnosis enabled Sizwe to receive interventions that targeted his specific needs. And so, his affliction was the priority of the household, while his sister Brooke became more and more invisible. Her priorities were often deferred due to the social, emotional, and practical attentiveness needed to navigate the abyss of disability. Sizwe suffered from echolalia, which triggered meltdowns, frequent ESCAPES, and countless emergency visits with fevers and seizures that exceeded the norm – not to mention behavior that broke every socially acceptable barrier.
One spring day, Sizwe left the house through our unlocked back door. We were unaware he was gone until the silence in our home felt eerie and unusual. We frantically called out his name, knowing he could not answer because of the communication deficit. You can imagine a mother’s horrific fright of abduction, shame for carelessness, and fear of irreversible circumstances. For several hours my daughter, former husband, and I aimlessly walked the neighborhood horrified, particularly because we knew he could not tell anyone where he lived, his name, or the name of his family members. After everything humanly possible failed, I began to pray, cry out, lament, and passionately petition our Heavenly Father. Like a bolt of lightning, 1 Timothy 4:10 came to mind,
“For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers.”
A Mama’s assurance welled in my soul – a hope that our ideas, plans, and the world could not satisfy. That day my motherly striving to fix or compartmentalized disability and issues of my family dynamic was given over to Jesus. I entered into a rest, a green pasture as Psalm 23:2 exhorts. Minutes later, a Hispanic family came walking down the street and low and behold Sizwe was leading the charge. Ironically, they didn’t speak English! But language had no place because unspeakable joy, gratefulness, peace and affirmation that our Lord created us for community did all the talking.
I guess as special needs Moms, particularly single Mothers, you may be saying, “But my circumstances are different! …My child is more severely disabled! …I have more children to pay attention to!” You are right, disability is hard and messy. And I spent years in a perpetual whirlwind of striving for survival, resulting in parenting the disability, while leaving in the shadows a “real boy.” One who had a purpose. One who is fearfully and wonderfully made by God and one whose life needed to count. But what remains constant is the Lord’s desire to intervene in our lives, open pathways, introduce us to godly community, and encourage us to sing a new song. A song that lays our burdens down so we can see the plans of God for our children. He has a mission statement for your children. I imagine our Lord says, “This is a child whom I love, take my yoke upon you, because it is easy.”
Are you courageous enough this Mother’s Day, to lay down self-striving and pick up striving to know the plans Jesus Christ has for your special needs loved one? Can we break out of the self-isolation and be a part of teaching others about our families? Can we provide opportunities for these “hidden figures” to have a mission statement that can only be found through Jesus Christ? Can we strive to pray while walking, caring, making provision and seeing the highest plan established in the life of our children living with disability and in the lives of their siblings? How? Turn your eyes toward a loving Father, who provided every answer under the sun through Jesus Christ…. a reliance that’s sure.
TODAY, Sizwe attends college, sings on the praise team at church, and holds a part-time job. He and his sister Brooke are extremely close! And by the way, the first word he spoke at age 7 was Mom.
Written by Cynthia Berry
No one is an island. We all need community. On this Mother’s Day episode of the Joni and Friends Ministry Podcast, Crystal talks with Cynthia Berry, a woman who has faced a series of challenges as a single mother to a child with special needs.
And through each challenge, Cynthia has found her lifeline of help and support through the community of her church.