Autism. The word reverberated off of the pale yellow walls of the pediatrician’s office and settled on my stomach like bad Chinese. I knew Hudson’s development was atypical. I was aware of the impending result of the 23-point questionnaire I had completed because I had marked the wrong answer more times than not.
Deep down, I knew. But nothing could have prepared me to hear that word out loud at that moment and in that room. I hated how much weight the suggestion carried coming out of the mouth of a professional. Her tone was even, cool, and matter-of-fact. I stood across the room in stark contrast—agitated, hot, and emotional.
I somehow managed to hold it together until we made it out to the car. As I secured my beautiful 18 month old son in his car seat, I could feel that dreaded lump begin to form in my throat. At that point, the flood gates opened and unleashed a torrent of tears. I cried all the way home. I cried off and on the rest of that day. I cried myself to sleep that night and many nights after.
On one particular day, as I sat in my self-imposed isolation and darkness mindlessly weeping, I came to the realization that the emotion I was experiencing wasn’t simply sadness. It was grief. But why was I grieving? What was I grieving? The doctor said my son might be autistic. If so, he would struggle in ways that would make life—put simply—very difficult for him. Shedding tears for my son and his plight would’ve been appropriate. But this? It was as if I was experiencing a loss—a death.
I looked down from my place in the recliner to spot my son playing on the floor. He was alive and well. Nothing about him had changed since before the word “autism” was spoken into our lives. Hudson was fine. But my hopes, dreams, and plans for him—for us—were dead. I had built our lives, our future, and the future of our home on the assumption that I would have a typical son. There would be makeshift forts, lightsaber duels, baseball practices, and sleepovers with his little buddies. There would be graduation, maybe college, then a wife and a family.
That small six letter word cast everything I thought would come to be into the darkness of the unknown. I had assumed he would have a circle of friends. Now I wondered if he would ever be able to make just one. Would he ever become independent enough to move out, much less, take on the responsibility of a husband and father? Would he ever say my name? Would he ever verbalize what those bright blue eyes communicated whenever his gaze met mine—I love you? I didn’t know. And it was killing me.
I always believed the mercy of God to be soft and gentle like the salty streams running down my cheeks. But here it felt like a raging sea—waves crashing against all that I thought was certain and an unrelenting current pulling me back toward the Rock of Ages. I had constructed idols out of normalcy, comfort, and the good life according to the world. I had placed my hope and joy in the temporal stuff of this life, as if Eden hadn’t happened. As if our world hadn’t been tainted and broken. God in His infinite mercy abruptly reminded me that only He is truly good and perfect. Always. Constant. Unchanging. Hope and joy found in One like Him is all-satisfying and eternal.
I do not know the purpose of Hudson’s autism. I don’t understand why he must struggle in areas that come easily to his peers. Or why our family must consider and wrestle with things other families will never work through.
I do know that God is good and, by extension, His purposes are good. Because I am finite, my scope of vision is severely limited. I can’t see entirely all the ways in which God, according to His good purposes, is working in and through our daily struggles for our good and His glory. But I do see how every morning brings with it a new set of opportunities to grow in Christlikeness. There is strength to triumph. There is grace for failure. I look back over the past 5 years and I can see God’s hands providing and His arms sustaining. He is good. And I am thankful.