Last night, I received a message from the county that we were under a tornado watch for the next four hours. A quick glance through the curtains revealed blue skies out front, but darkening clouds out back. Various scenarios scrolled through my mind, like one of those old View Masters that changed pictures with the push of a lever. Possibilities included lots of crying, meltdowns, insisting to look up pictures of tornadoes online and asking thousands of questions about what could happen, a sleepless night, and general perseverating fear over the weather outside. With each scene, I was already preparing for what might happen and planning how to get through it. We autism and special-needs parents are always at least 23 steps ahead, with a plan for each step, and maybe even a couple of alternate plans too. (Although let’s be honest; some of those plans involve hiding in our closets with our secret stash of chocolate.)
Living with a son with autism has looked a lot like the above story lately. I can usually tell when a storm is brewing. The clouds are starting to circulate, a funnel begins to form and threaten the ground, and my mind immediately springs into action. In that moment, I attempt to predict not only what’s going to happen, but what’s causing it, how to handle it, and hope it ends peacefully. But I can’t always prevent the tornado from touching down. I can’t stop the whirlwind that storms through my house, stomping down the hall, slamming his door over and over and over again, or knocking down desk chairs. I can’t control the words that spew from his mouth out of sheer anger and frustration. Telling my son to stop would be like trying to convince the tornado to stop spinning. I just have to find something to hold onto, strap both of us down, and wait for it to blow over.
Studies have shown that moms of children with autism experience chronic stress similar to that of combat soldiers. I’ve never been a combat soldier, but I can certainly see the parallel. We have to stay calm under pressure. Predict the future. Have a plan of attack according to those predictions, and a few plans in our pocket for those surprises we never see coming. Not to mention the actual “fighting” we must do: verbal bullets whiz by our ears, and our child’s body becomes a live grenade, unleashing an ungodly amount of energy fueled by a host of emotions that we must attempt to contain to minimize damage. Some of us even sacrifice our own bodies and dive on the “grenade”, as it were, in a desperate effort to protect our child even if it means we sustain our own injuries. We hold our children’s arms and legs, squeezing as tightly as they will allow (if we’re even allowed to touch them at all) and wait for the fight to subside. It’s like we’re trying to love the meltdown away with our bear hug. It’s all we know to do.
Sam has had trouble eating lately. He feels as if he’s choking on the food when he swallows it, so he spits it out. But then he becomes very angry and aggressive about it. He tries to swallow a couple of times, but when he is unsuccessful, he launches into a meltdown despite my attempts of reminding him how we stay calm, redirecting, and all those good ABA techniques we’re supposed to use. I try to control when the tornado touches down. Once he reaches a certain point though, the funnel has touched down. And it engraves a random, destructive path in the ground. Nothing is immune to possible damage.
During one such episode this week, I was holding Samuel in my lap in his nylon papasan chair, squeezing his arms to his body and resting my cheek against his back. I felt him wailing, his back rising and falling harshly. I heard his cries, “Why is God letting this happen? I’ll never be able to eat pizza again! I don’t — I can’t — oooh!!” My own shoulders began to shake and I felt the tears start to well up. I could have cried. I could have broken down right along with him. But I couldn’t do that. I blinked away the tears, shook it off and told myself I had to be strong.
But I’m no fool.
I’m not strong.
So there I sat, racking my brain for answers. Feeling helpless. Weak. I had no plan. I could only try to soothe him, but it wasn’t working. I stared out his window into our front yard, cool and green, gently warmed by the sun. Such paradise compared to the cold grayness that I felt surrounded us in his room. I, too, cried out to God. Silently, I prayed, “God, I need You. I need help. Please send help. Please send help now. Please… please send help.” I thought of the stories about George Mueller who trusted God for His every provision for sustenance at the orphanage. Stories about how they needed milk in the morning, but there was no milk in the house. But then a stranger would appear with a jug of milk, having been led by the Holy Spirit to bring it to him. I knew God was more than capable of providing help. But I didn’t need milk. I didn’t even know what help I needed. I just needed – wanted – something.
Yet nothing came.
No knock at the door.
No manna from heaven.
And though I already knew the answer, I continued my cry, “God, where ARE You?!”
No sooner had I finished my cry that I felt a whisper encompass my heart, “I am the Lord, the Holy Spirit is with you and will comfort you.” I was reminded of the verse in Isaiah 66:13, “’As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you,’ says the Lord.” I recalled 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
Have you felt alone, crying out to God for help – whatever that help looks like – now? Have you wondered where God is in the midst of such pain and turmoil? Do your plans go out the window and leave you flailing in the tornadic winds with no shelter in which to hide? Are you weak?
He is stronger.
Dear friend, cry out to God. He hears you. He listens to you. He is compassionate toward you. He loves you. Find comfort in the shelter of His wings.
Psalm 116:1-2, “I love the Lord, because He hears my voice and my supplications. Because He has inclined His ear to me, therefore I shall call upon Him as long as I live.”
Psalm 118:5-6, “From my distress I called upon the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me in a large place. The Lord is for me; I will not fear.”
Jonah 2:2, “I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice.”
Psalm 18:6, “In my distress I called upon the Lord, and cried to my God for help; He heard my voice out of His temple, and my cry for help before Him came into His ears.”
And my personal favorite, Isaiah 43:1-3, “But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel, do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, nor will the flame burn you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”
When the tornado touches down, throw yourself on the mercy seat of God and call out to Him. He will hear you, and He. Will. Answer.
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