Sunday, May 12, 2013

Faith of Our Mothers

Shortly after Alex was diagnosed with autism, I remember Ed saying to me that since we could only have one child, it might be nice that he would be a little boy longer because of his developmental delays. While I wish that Alex were more independent for his own sake (and to be truthful, for Ed’s sake and mine, as well), his Peter Pan nature has endearing aspects that I enjoy. For example, because Alex doesn’t care what anyone thinks of him, he never gets embarrassed that Ed or I hold his hand in public because we need to make sure he stays with us in a crowd for his safety. Even though he stands nine inches taller than me and has hands bigger than mine, he gladly wraps his long fingers around my hand and walks beside me obediently, just as he did when he was a little boy.

My favorite shared activity is saying bedtime prayers with Alex, something we started when he was little. Even at 21, Alex likes for me to say prayers with him before he goes to sleep, and we still follow the format of his childhood prayer with “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep…” followed by asking for God to bless all our family members, whom we name individually. As he lies in bed, I lean over his bed and place my face beside his with my cheek touching his, and I can feel him relax as his breathing falls into a gentle rhythm while we recite the prayer. Actually, he usually barely murmurs the words as I say them aloud, but his “Amen” is clear. He always follows the prayer by asking why my aunt (who is included in his list of God blesses) has “a little voice,” something he finds amusing about her. Every night I remind him that she isn’t even five feet tall, which makes him grin and chuckle. After that, he lets me kiss him on the cheek or forehead, followed by exchanges of “Love you” and I tell him, “Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite,” which he also thinks is amusing. Even on the most challenging days, this bedtime routine ends the day on a peaceful note and reminds me what I love most about Alex—his sweet nature, his humor, and his faith.

A few months ago, Alex suddenly started asking about going to church. Because his behavior can be unpredictable, we haven’t taken him to church since he was very small, not wanting him to be disruptive during a church service and bother other people. Having seen enough “typical” children misbehaving during church, I didn’t want Alex to be one of those kids that people turn around and give a dirty look for making noises or fidgeting. Consequently, we have stayed home instead, where Alex has learned his faith from bedtime Bible stories and prayers and our answering his questions about God. The past few years, I have watched Pastor Joel Osteen’s Sunday sermons from Lakewood Church in Houston on television to help strengthen my own faith, and sometimes Alex comes and watches the sermons with me, smiling as much as Joel Osteen does. One day last week, I was watching one of Joel’s sermons on my computer, and Alex decided he wanted to watch it with me. As we listened together, the words of hope and faith seemed to have an impact on Alex, making him smile and bringing him the same sense of peace and calm he has after bedtime prayers. After seeing the positive effect Joel’s message had on him, just as they always have on me, I wanted to see if Alex would enjoy this as a regular activity. Since I have several of Joel’s messages on DVD, we can watch them anytime. This week Alex and I watched Joel’s sermons together each afternoon, and I have been pleased to see how engaged he is in the messages and what a positive effect the lessons seem to have on him.

Yesterday, we decided to go to the Valparaiso University campus so that Ed could stop by his office there, which Alex loves to visit. After Alex had studied the various books on Ed’s shelves and looked up words in the collegiate dictionary, Ed suggested that we walk over to the chapel so that he could take some photographs and Alex could look around there. With no one in the chapel, we didn’t have to worry that Alex might disturb anyone, but his behavior was excellent as he quietly looked around and then sat nicely in a pew. As Ed took pictures, Alex and I sat together, looking at a hymnal he had found. Recognizing a hymn I remembered from my childhood, I began to sing softly, “Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee.” Mind you, I do not sing well, but Alex likes for me to sing to him anyway. He immediately smiled and began rocking gently back and forth to the rhythm of the song. Since Alex is the only person I will allow hear me to sing, his joy was a nice reward for my awkward effort. As we sat together, mother and son, in this beautiful house of God with the Christus Rex, Christ the King, at the front of the chapel with His hands lifted high in victory, I, too, felt victorious. Despite all the obstacles autism has placed in our path, despite all the things that Alex still must struggle to achieve, despite all the frustrations we have faced, our faith has carried the three of us through it all. On this Mother’s Day, after more than twenty years of being Alex’s mom, I am proud of the young man we have raised whose faith in God never wavers. And in the words of the hymn I sang to Alex: “Ever singing, march we onward, victors in the midst of strife, Joyful music leads us Sunward in the triumph song of life.”

And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue His work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6


marjorie said...

Lovely post. Happy Mother's Day, Pam.

Mom said...

Beautifully written by a wonderful mother.

Pam Byrne said...

Thanks for your sweet comments, Marjorie and Mom! I'm thankful to have had such a wonderful role model when it came to being a mother; mine taught me everything important, especially love and faith. :)