Cancellations, Delay, Need

Last Saturday, Adrian and I had plans with another couple, close friends, a minister and lay person. They have a teenage son, Jacob, whom they adopted years ago, after the boy had suffered neglect and horrible abuse in foster care. Predictably, their son has lasting behavioral and emotional challenges, which our friends have weathered with grace. The day before we were set to go out, I received an email from the minister half of this couple, offering regrets that he needed to stay home because their son was bolting again: running away when he sees the chance.

I wrote him this note, which seems appropriate to share here, with permission:

Friday, when I saw an email from you arrive, I knew before reading what it would say. I’ve written the same email so many times these past six years—“I was really looking forward to our lunch, but Martin’s having a tough day . . . ,” “I can still make dinner, but I have to miss the movie. So much anxiety, he won’t go to sleep unless I’m home . . . .” Your cancellation, not unexpected, got me reflecting on our children, and what they’ve meant to our paths and relationships.

I never expected parenting to be the burden that it has become. Burden, yes. I mean the word without the negative connotation, or at least without only the negative connotation. Burden the way completing an education is a burden, or getting up to go to work is a burden. We carry these burdens in order to build a life. Some are heavier than others. Upon Martin’s diagnosis, parenting became heavy. Too heavy, sometimes.

People tell me that God makes special children for special parents, or that one day I will understand why Adrian and I were “blessed” with a child with autism. No way. I will never believe that a loving God afflicts children in order to test or to uphold their parents. Instead, I think our kids suffer the sins of this world. In Martin’s case, we have corrupted the food supply, toyed with earth’s natural abundance, believed we can overcome sloth with science, and set aside worldly order until we triggered sick kids, lots of them. Jacob’s tormentors—addiction, abandonment, abuse, neglect—are less modern but no less man-made. Autism and PTSD didn’t “just happen”; in both cases, our sons are left to absorb the sins of others.

—Which of course means that we as their protectors and caregivers are left to clean others’ messes. We chose parenting. We did not choose this parenting. But that, I suppose, is the nature of sin: Once we engage (as we must) with the world around us, there lurks evil. The Christian’s job is to fight back, and for whatever reason, you and I have Jacob and Martin as both the incentive for and the locus of our struggle. I wish it weren’t that way. I hate autism. I wish sin would have left my son out of it. Alas. For now, I try to be grateful for the weapons I’ve been given for the battle.

I’m not saying much with this note, and certainly not preaching to the preacher. I just wanted to share these thoughts, and through them to share my unceasing appreciation for your friendship and example.

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