The dragon of despair is a dreadful beast. He slides and slithers under the smallest of crevices, feasting on hope, faith and love. He leaves corpses wherever he goes, slaying with haunting words of past dead deeds—words that breed the very contempt from which he is made.
It’s been nearly five years since I ran into Donald and his aging father while patrolling the mall parking lot in my police cruiser. Five years since I dispersed the confused crowd that formed around the aging father and his large, imposing, combative, adult son.
Donald’s dad had picked him up at the autism group home where he resided and taken him to the mall for a new pair of shoes.
Somewhere between the pickup truck and the entrance to the mall, the large man with autism had a complete melt down, taking off his socks and shoes as he sat screaming in the middle of the parking lot.
After dispersing the crowd I helped the man-child put on his socks and shoes and then tried to console the aged dad who was just about to have an emotional meltdown himself.
“I’m getting to old for this.” The weary father whispered to the wind.
I placed my hand on his shoulder and shared the story of raising my own son with autism. We seemed to have an immediate bond of genuine kindred spirits. After helping the man get his boy back into the truck, I watched them drive away as the weary dad placed his arm around the disheveled son.
A prodigal never finds love so satisfying and sweet as he finds it in the arms of his father.
I surveyed the providential scene. Was this a prophetic picture of my life to come?
That single, brief encounter has haunted me for years.
The bawling shrieks of the agitated son were unforgettable, and the despairing face of the father seems to be forever etched in my soul. But it was the tired father’s parting words that left me staggering,
“You know it gets worse right? They get bigger and stronger, and you get older and weaker. You still love them the same, but it becomes impossible for you to take care of them. Even short visits like this become–impossible.”
Last week I sat on the edge of Jake’s bed as he stared silently out the window. My son lives in a one-bedroom apartment with round the clock staffing, twenty minutes from our home. He’s a man now. Twenty-one years old, with a scruffy beard and a deep voice. Long gone are the days of little boys riding on dad’s shoulders, swinging around and around, laughter filling the air.
He seems more distant now. So much of his bubbly personality has faded into medication, frustration, isolation and just plain life. The time I get to spend with him is brief on a Sunday afternoon. He doesn’t want me there and demands in repeated sign language to “go” as he waives to me and points toward the door.
I stay anyway, defying his rebellion with deflecting love.
Love never gives up.
He takes off his shirt to change clothes—a rigorous, rhythmic, autistic routine of shirts off and shirts on, all day long. Between changes I notice his chest and stomach covered with self-injurious wounds.
Like a soldier marked by combat he is covered with scratches and scars all over his torso. His arms have deep bite marks and gashes—his forehead also. Without meaning to give the devil credit, I often wonder what role the demonic plays in the realm of disability.
Lest we forget, Satan is real.
I want to spend time with him, but the only affirmation of affection he gives me these days is when I’m taking him to the corner convenience mart to get chips and a root beer, or when I’m leaving. “I’m just a bag of chips and a bottle of root beer to him.” I recently droned to my wife.
“You are so much more.” She encouraged.
Last week I took him to the corner store, and at the checkout realized I had left my wallet at home.
A simple mistake.
A conjuring of demons.
Without chips and root beer, there is no happiness. The biting, clawing and gnashing of teeth began. I carried him back to the truck as the onlookers looked.
“I’m getting too old for this.” I whispered to the wind.
“You know it get’s worse, right?” Those haunting words echo inside of my head. I’m not sure if they come from the old man or the old accuser.
They slay the same.
But there are other words—greater words—Holy Words.
As we sit on the edge of the bed and look out the window, I whisper them to my son, and more importantly, to myself.
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1)
The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)
Our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3:20-21)
And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you. (Psalm 39:7)
The verses are short, but the words are strong. Like sharpened swords, I carry them with me wherever I go. They shine in the darkness like a lighthouse on a stormy shore, bringing the ship of my faith safely through the jagged rocks of desolation.
Jake doesn’t respond but I know he hears. He continues to stare out the dirty window of his darkened bedroom and nothing changes, except my heart and my view.
“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:2)
The haunting words are drowned out by the holy words, and death is swallowed up by victory as the dragon of despair lay broken on the bedroom floor.
He is the disabled one today.
And I remember,
We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed. (2 Corinthians 4:7-8)
…are always stronger than haunting words.