My son, Joel, who has autism and is 30 years old, has a hard time putting his thoughts into words. Years of speech therapy, music therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy have not done a lot to help him with that. Prayer has helped more than anything else. Prayer and walking.
“If you want to get Joel talking,” his adopted sister and best friend Sarah says, “just take him for a long walk.” The two of them have been hiking 2-3 miles every Sunday this summer on the trails surrounding Miami University.
Last Sunday Sarah called me after their hike.
“Something really wild happened in the woods today,” she said.
My heart started racing as my mind immediately conjured up all of the bad things that could have happened. Did he have a major tantrum? Did someone approach them in a menacing way?
“What?” I croaked.
“We were walking on the path through the woods. Joel said he had to pee, so I got him off the trail where no one could see him. The woods were pretty thick there. When he was finished he pulled up his pants, and then he stared into the woods behind him. Look, he said. Do you see that man over there? I looked, and said, “No, Joel, I don’t see anyone.”
Look! Over there. He pointed into the woods. There’s a man there. Do you see him? He’s right there!
The phone line went still as Sarah hestitated for a moment. “He was really insistent, and I knew he wasn’t kidding. He saw something, Kathy. But I sure couldn’t see it! I looked really, really hard, and there was no one there.”
“Maybe he saw an angel,” I said. “Did you ask him what the man looked like?”
Sarah laughed. “No, I just wanted to get out of there. It kind of weirded me out!”
Sarah’s story continued. “Just a few minutes later, as we were walking down the trail, Joel started talking about Jesus.”
Sarah, what those people did to Jesus was really bad. Why did they do that to Jesus? It was really sad. It will make you cry, Sarah.
“Was the sermon at your church today about the crucifixion?” she asked.
“No, we didn’t go to church this morning. The service was changed to this evening.”
We were both quiet a moment, thinking about what Joel had said.
“Maybe the man he saw in the woods was Jesus,” I whispered.
“Maybe,” Sarah answered. “He definitely saw someone that I couldn’t see.”
I pondered this in my heart, much as Mary pondered the words of the angel. I’ve always believed that the veil that separates this world from the spiritual world is thinner for Joel. Whenever the sermon is about the Holy Spirit, he sits on the edge of his seat and listens intently. Usually, sermons bore him to death, and he gets up and down several times to walk around or go to the bathroom. But mention the Holy Spirit and he’s all ears. And worship—he abandons himself totally in worship. He absolutely glows with his love for the Lord as we sing praise songs.
Why wouldn’t the Lord, or an angel, or the Holy Spirit appear to him in the woods?
The story of Joel’s spiritual encounter continued two days later as Wally, Joel’s dad, visited Joel at Safe Haven Farms (Joel’s home). As they fed the horses, Wally told Mohamed, Joel’s long-time caregiver, about Joel’s sighting in the woods on Sunday. “Wow, that’s amazing!” said Mohamed. “Let me tell you what happened on Monday! I had a terrible headache, and I sent someone to get some Tylenol for me. I know Joel prays for people with your healing ministry, so I asked him if he would pray for me. He put his hands on my head, and said, Dear God, pray for Mohamed. And my headache was gone, instantly!”
As parents of children with disabilities, we pray and pray and pray for our children to be healed. We want so much for them to fit into the world. We want so badly for life to be easier for them, easier for us. And those prayers are natural and normal.
But who knows what is happening in the spiritual realm as our children go about their days? Who knows what their guardian angels are saying to them, what the Holy Spirit is whispering in their hearts, whether or not Jesus appears to them to give them comfort in the midst of the hard times?
Scripture tells us “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8)
Would our prayers be different if we truly believed that?