I will be delivering my third child, Grace, in the next few weeks. Getting to the point of embarking on motherhood again was not an easy road for me. I struggled for several years with questions about whether or not it was fair to have another baby, given the higher risk that this child would have autism, or that this child’s life would somehow be diminished by growing up with a sibling with special needs – and yes, I also had to get over worrying about what other people who held these same concerns would think.
There are many who feel that special needs siblings “miss out” on social activities or don’t get sufficient consideration from their parents, and while I have done my best to avoid this, I’ll admit there have been occasions where we have left birthday parties early because Luke couldn’t take anymore stimulation, or when Faith has watched an extra hour of Dora the Explorer because Luke needed my attention.
What I do strongly believe is that being a special needs sibling is a call that God has on Faith and Grace’s lives – that special needs siblingdom is a key ingredient Christ is using to shape their character for His mission in their lives.
When I became pregnant with my daughter, Faith, I didn’t have these things to consider. I had no idea that Luke was different from any other little boy. His diagnosis came just weeks after Faith was born, but as time went on, I saw more and more of God’s goodness to us in giving us “Faith” at that time in our lives.
Faith’s relationship with Luke has become such a comfort to me. Luke is never different in Faith’s eyes. He is just her brother. Now that he is six and she is four, I take joy in watching how ordinary their brother-sister relationship is. They love each other. They play together. They annoy each other. And yet, it’s so extraordinary at the same time, because on some level, Faith understands that Luke requires special care.
The other night as I was putting them to bed, I gave Faith her favorite stuffed unicorn and then turned to Luke and began tucking numerous stuffed animals around his body. Since infancy, he has loved to sleep smothered in stuffed animals. As I turned to leave, Luke whispered, “Unicorn.”
“No, Luke,” I gently corrected, “that’s Faith’s unicorn. You have a lot of toys.”
“But I can give it to him if I want to, right Mommy?” Faith asked expectantly.
“Yes, sweetheart, if that’s what you want.”
And then I watched my four-year-old baby tuck her prized unicorn under her brother’s arm with joy in her heart. I hugged her close and told her how proud I was and how much I loved her, and then I thought to myself, “Truly, growing up with a special needs sibling is a blessing in her life.”
Faith is insight personified in a four-year-old body. Somehow, she has a way of expressing the most complex truths in the simplest of ways. Several weeks ago she and Luke were playing in the rain outside of our house and she stopped to sit with me under the covered patio for a moment.
“God made the rain?” she questioned.
“Yes, baby.” I answered.
“So we can see Him when we can’t see Him?”
I have not looked at the rain the same way since. Rain is now forever a reminder that God is present and we are never alone. What a profound truth about God and how he manifests Himself to us in His creation!
Over the years, Faith has assigned herself the role of Luke’s interpreter. Whenever Luke is upset, she is ready with an explanation. When he is happy, she has a reason for that, too.
But, the other day she gave an interpretation that stopped me in my tracks.
I recently read a post by Emily Colson that spoke of a pastor who counseled her that, “The Holy Spirit speaks Max’s language.” I had been pondering this thought and all of its significance. Then, that afternoon as I was driving Luke home from school, Faith piped up from the backseat, “Luke is happy, Mommy!” I looked up at my rearview mirror to see a big goofy grin plastered all over Luke’s face. No sooner than that, he started giggling and wiggling in his seat as if he were being tickled. “Look Mommy!” her little voice chimed, “God is playing with him!”
I have read many stories about how Jesus speaks into the lives of special needs children – how their experience with Him is unique from the rest of us, but this was the first time I had ever seen evidence for myself.
Less than a week after this incident, I put Luke on an electronics fast to encourage him to explore new interests. For four days, he was either having a tantrum or bored out of his mind. Luke had also just started a new school and his nerves were on edge. Then on Monday, just prior to leaving for school, he pointed to a place high up on the mantle. “It’s there,” he said. I looked up to see our miniature statue of the Lord Jesus, seated on His throne.
“You want this?” I asked.
“Yes,” he answered firmly.
It was the first non-electronic thing he had shown any interest in for days, so I brought the heavy statue down from its perch and placed it in front of Luke. When we left for school, he heaved it up in his arms and rode with it all the way there. As I watched him in the rearview mirror, thinking about how difficult the ride to school must be for him, I thought to myself, “He’s looking to Jesus. In his own concrete way, He is finding comfort in Christ.” I am so thankful to Faith for opening my eyes to see the Holy Spirit at work in my son.
I rejoice at the women that Faith and Grace will become as the result of having Luke for a brother. I rejoice at the treasure Luke is storing up in Heaven for his role in making them the women they will become. I rejoice that Faith and Grace will have a different perspective of the world – that they will see things through a lens of sensitivity and compassion.
I’m sure that there will be things Faith and Grace will experience that won’t come easy, but nothing of true value ever does.
Contributing Author– Chicken Soup For The Soul: Raising Kids On The Spectrum