Life never seems to happen according to our plans. I have learned that grace abounds in the gap between our plans and our realities.
My wife, Brenda, and I were content with our happy little family that included a healthy little boy named Joshua. Despite the efforts of many to convince us to the contrary, we did not want to have any more children. Our plan and our reality would soon part ways when shortly after Joshua's first birthday we discovered Brenda was pregnant again. After a short adjustment period we began to make the necessary preparations to welcome this new addition to our family.
We were happy when Benjamin made his auspicious entrance into the world on October 25, 2005. Shortly after his first birthday we made a move from Oklahoma to Missouri. We eagerly accepted the new assignment we felt God was leading us into.
It didn't take long before we began to be concerned for Benjamin's development. Brenda, a teacher with training in special education, noticed that Benjamin was not using expressive speech and that he preferred to play on his own rather than interact with his brother or other children.
Through a series of steps we were put in touch with Missouri First Steps whose primary goal is to provide early intervention and therapies for children with delays or diagnosed conditions.
By this time, Benjamin was past his second birthday and, unfortunately, because of program restrictions, he could only receive services until he turned three. We felt blessed to have two caring workers who came into our lives to work with Benjamin. They became a great support system for us as well. We were still uncertain about what was happening with him. Looking back we realize we truly did not want to accept the possibility of the dreaded 'A' word, autism.
When our time with First Steps came to an end, we turned to our local Early Childhood Special Education Preschool program. Benjamin was fortunate to have a fantastic teacher we lovingly called 'the Child Whisperer.' She coaxed him into displaying his abilities and challenged him to try new and different things. A good speech program also had given Benjamin help in expressing himself, but his delays still persisted. It was at this time that we decided to have him formally diagnosed.
We met with a talented team of specialists and mental health professionals at Children's Mercy Hospital in Leawood, Kansas. After a lengthy evaluation time they sat down with us and said what we had not wanted to hear earlier, 'We believe he has high functioning autism.' I have to admit that the diagnosis gave me some sense of peace. Finally I had a condition to assign for our family's frustrations. We now had a word on which to pin the disparity between our plans and our reality. I knew the problem's name was not Benjamin. Now, I knew what name to call it when I took my frustrations to God.
In so many ways God has revealed His grace to us throughout the process. His grace has often been evident to me when I look at the way our church has embraced my family. We have never lacked for caregivers to love our boys and carefully embrace Benjamin in ways he responds to best.
The bond one of our teens has with him has proven to be a guiding influence in her life as she now plans to work with special needs children as her career. He has at times created some interesting and challenging circumstances, but with love and grace our church has helped him value the church as a place of acceptance. He is free to be himself. As any parent of a special needs child will tell you-that is priceless.
Benjamin received one of the first weighted blankets made by a women's group in our community who meet at our church. These faithful people of God do mending and other sewing tasks for the local personal care facilities. Known as the Sunshine Ladies, they bring joy into the lives of those they serve. One of the women, a member of my church, thought of Benjamin when they first began the project, and this one small gift of love has been a tremendous asset to our family. Since that first blanket they have made 54 more that have been distributed free of charge to families with autistic children.
The psalmist says it clearly, 'I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made' (139:14). I am amazed when I look at all God is doing in my family through the addition of this little man to our lives.
Joshua, who lovingly cares for his little brother, has learned to be compassionate towards those who are different. Brenda brings an educator's eye to his care and teaches me so many things about how to relate to him.
As for me, I have learned to hold onto the simple joys in life. One of the best is when Benjamin says, 'Daddy, I 'wuv' you.'
God's grace is truly amazing.
John D. Prichard II is lead pastor of the Butler, Missouri, Church of the Nazarene.
Holiness Today, Mar/Apr 2011