We were doing well. Rhema and Hope were sandwiched between Brandon and me in the pew. Rhema colored happily, feverishly on the church bulletin as the congregation sang.
And then during the prayer time, Hope coughed.
I knew what was happening, but my hands – trying to hold one and protect the other – did not move fast enough. Rhema, overwhelmed, let out a strangled scream and lashed out. Brandon gasped and we scrambled to contain the situation but couldn’t help causing a little scene in the back of the church. Rhema’s marker cap rolled a couple rows forward under the pew and she frantically lunged for it, bumping a gentleman in front of us. Once she had her cap, she and I quickly exited the sanctuary. I saw Hope as we left, huddled next to Brandon with tears streaming down her face. Her hair had been pulled pretty hard. I saw the shock and sadness in her eyes, all too familiar now, and oh it hurt me to see her like that.
We went to a classroom upstairs and Rhema calmed. I tried talking to her about what had happened. Then we came down with more markers and paper and settled at a table outside the sanctuary doors. We would be fine, I thought, as long as we didn’t go back inside the sanctuary. I tried to listen to the sermon. But I was still reeling. The aggression and self-injury that sometimes accompanies our flavor of autism can be absolutely crushing.
My heart broke for Hope and Rhema. And honestly my heart broke for me. I sat there feeling sorry for myself and for the cup we’d been given.
During the service people were encouraged to write something they were thankful for on a paper leaf and bring it to the front. The sanctuary doors were opened and I saw Hope as she stood in line to pin her ‘thanksgiving leaf’ on a board up front. She saw us and waved and gave me a beautiful, peaceful smile, and my eyes filled. Love without condition. There was no doubt in my mind what she’d written on her leaf and who was at the top of her list.
(I found my phone later and Brandon sent a picture of Hope’s leaf).
I looked at Rhema, her head down and hood up, humming softly and delighting in the swirling colors on her paper. Thanksgiving, true and deep thanksgiving flooded my soul.
One of the church elders approached us. “Would you like to do a leaf? I can take it in for you or I can stay with her while you take it in.”
I hadn’t planned on writing a leaf (probably because I’m stubborn). But I took him up on the offer. Without hesitation I wrote down one word and handed it to him.
It’s not daisies and unicorns here. Eleven years and counting, autism has taken far more than it has given to my darling girl. She struggles daily to live in a body that does not cooperate, and I dream of a time when she can tell me something, anything of what it’s like to be her. Some days all we know is helplessness, heartache and frustration.
I am more inclined to find reasons to be thankful in the midst of a hard thing. But to me, giving thanks for a hard thing was thankfulness on a whole ‘nother level.
But in that moment I was grateful for the limp of ‘disability’ that forces us to lean on Him. For weakness so that we draw from the source of real strength. For God’s glory in struggle and eyes that see Him now in high definition color in the pain and the gifts and the triumph. For precious people in our lives who walk with us, cheer and uphold us. For knowing Gospel love every day that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
On a little paper leaf.
A joyful offering of gratitude with all my heart, broken pieces and all, to the Giver of all good things.