Parenting is the hardest job there is. Raising a child with autism can be particularly difficult in the day to day.
As a parent, you’re always in teacher mode, never off. Always trying to create and capitalize on teachable moments. Always trying to find ways to engage your child and draw them out. Our daughter has great difficulty with language and is still nonverbal at age 4. So we have been “modeling and labeling and signing” for years. Everything we do, everything we see, gets a word label. It’s now just a habit. With or without the children, Brandon and I will descend a staircase and say in our most engaging voice, “Down, down, down the stairs.” Once I was at a gym and an 11-year old boy was chasing a stray ball. I scooped up the ball, looked intently into his eyes and said quite demonstratively, “Ball.” It was only when he grabbed his ball and looked back at me like I had three heads did I realize what I had done. And we speak in that funny, simple ABA-speak all the time to our children: “Good keeping your pants on in public!”
There are the endless therapy visits, doctor appointments, school meetings. The daily tantrums, the messes made while your back is turned because you are trying to clean up earlier messes, the up-all-night sensory-seeking antics of furniture moving, jumping from window sills, giggling and/or screaming. The constant, constant vigilance. The special foods, the meds and supplements and methyl B-12 butt shots. The strange behaviors and obsessions that come and go (or never go). The uncertainty of the future.
One morning I complained, “You know, Lord, if she could just show me one smidge of appreciation I might feel a little more inspired… a simple hug, she’s never even given me a kiss or even called for me. I just want to hear her say Mommy.” Of course at that moment, Casting Crown’s song “Lifesong” was playing in the CD player: I want to sign Your name at the end of this day…let my lifesong sing to You. The verse I had learned in Sunday School a million years ago came back to me:
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men. Col 3:23 (NIV)
It really hit me, then, that all my work in mothering Rhema was not really for her or even for me. It was for the Lord. Hadn’t I always wanted to serve the Lord? (I’d had a loftier, grander vision in mind – my dream was to go to Ethiopia and open a medical clinic). At the moment I understood that I was right where God wanted me – serving my family, which ultimately meant serving Him. What I do for them, I do for Him. When I really grasp this, it changes my perspective on the hard days. What an honor it is to serve the Lord – it may not always be acknowledged, easy or glorious, but it is always an honor. In light of all that my God has done for me – saving me from Hell and destruction and heaping myriad blessings on my life – it seems like the least I can do is serve Him with what He has given me, offering every detail to Him. Cleaning up the poop art is really just a small sacrifice.