When my youngest son, Luke, was diagnosed with autism our family was distressed and confused. But through the years, the Lord has used Luke to teach us all.
I was devastated when he lost nearly all of his speech between the ages of 3 and 3½ years old. Luke would come with me to drop his big brother, Brandon, at school and would say, “Bye-bye brother.” Brandon wanted to know why Luke stopped saying that and when he would start talking again. My husband, Mike, and I wished we could assure him that Luke would get his speech back.
Luke started attending pre-school in our district’s early childhood program. He began Applied Behavioral Analysis therapy in our home. He attended speech therapy. We thought his speech would return. Instead, the words continued to dry up. He was down to only saying “more” — and then that word disappeared too.
Luke is now 10 and even though we barely hear him speak words (when he is angry we will hear him scream the occasional “Oh No!”), the Lord is using him to teach me, our family, friends, his teachers and therapists so many things. An overarching theme hard to put into words sometimes is that Luke embodies the Scriptural truth that God works through our brokenness, weaknesses, our un-wholeness. Let me be clear here—I am NOT saying these are the only truths about Luke or anyone else with special needs. Just like the rest of us he has God given gifts and strengths! And also just like the rest of us he has weaknesses and brokenness.
I am super proud of how he has learned to navigate his iPad, an area of strength. He has a communication application on it (Picture Exchange Communication System, known as PECS for short), as well as various games and puzzles he likes. At school during speech time he is supposed to keep his PECS app open, but he is tricky boy. Marian, his school speech therapist, says when she turns her back or goes to get something, Luke navigates to a game he likes. When he sees her coming back he will quickly switch back to PECS program! He is a smart cookie.
That said, Luke faces many challenges and requires constant supervision. His senses get overloaded so going to social gatherings is difficult. He has a hard time sitting down or staying still. He doesn’t understand (or maybe just doesn’t care?) about car danger when outside or in the community. He loves to strip down and be naked which makes life interesting.
Yet he has shown me through his joyful innocence and megawatt smile what my attitude should be. Luke gets so much joy out of the little things, like having one of his favorite snacks. Shouldn’t I then be more joyful and thank God even for the little things, like my favorite piece of chocolate?
When he surprises me by plopping his 10-year-old self down on my lap and laughing, I take so much joy in just having him near me. This gives me a glimpse of how our Father wants me to run to Him and plop down in His lap (so to speak). What joy He must get when we come to Him like that! I could go on and on and share with you how being with Luke helped our friend Jason get back to his calling of working with people with disabilities/behavioral issues or how he helped our friend Lizz find her calling and profession.
One of the things I am most thankful for is how Luke has expanded our family’s world view to include those who are differently abled. One of our favorite things is going to Joni and Friends Family Camp. Getting to be around all these special families every year truly is a piece of heaven. I long to see more of our InterVarsity chapters include those who are differently abled, to be strategic about reaching out with the Gospel to this population on campus and to more fully reflect God’s people because of it.
This Christmas season I am thankful for my family with all our warts and challenges. I’m thankful that just as Jesus entered our world as a baby, we will someday be able to enter His world —heaven— because of His payment for our sins on the cross. And I just can’t wait to hear Luke tell me all his thoughts and stories someday when we are there together.
For further reading by Deb Abbs, check out Whose Missing from the Church.
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