Sunday, September 11, 2016

When Someday Finally Arrives

This past week was one that should have thrown Alex off course, but it did not. With his dad and I settling back into school routines the past few weeks, Alex could have resented that we are not always home. With additional appointments and job responsibilities of meetings and schedules that strayed from their normal times and interfered with family dinners twice this week, Alex could have felt anxious. With his own schedule packed every day meeting with one of his support team, Alex could have been overwhelmed. However, he remained calm, cooperative, and pleasant all day every day. Moreover, he thoroughly enjoyed dinners downtown four evenings as part our community’s annual Popcorn Festival and seemed to ignore the intense heat and sensory overload of having a meal in a crowded outdoor pavilion. I would venture to say that he was having a grand old time sharing meals with the other festival goers. A few years ago we never could have dreamed that he would handle a week like last week that amazingly well.

A few days ago I was explaining to a friend what Alex was like before we had to hospitalize him for extreme anxiety and agitation. I discussed his drastic change in grooming habits from wanting to be immaculate to being extremely difficult about brushing his teeth and combing his hair. His sleep patterns became erratic, and we dreaded when he would awaken because he was usually belligerent. In fact, most of the day he was a ticking time bomb ready to explode in anger and aggressive behavior, blaming us for anything that went wrong and even things that he simply imagined were wrong. Something had stolen our sweet son from us and sent all three of us into the depths of despair, a period I call “when the wheels fell off the bus.” However, our desperation and Alex’s extreme behavior propelled us to find the help we needed, and God led us to professionals who understood the motivation behind his behavior, and more importantly, knew how to treat his extreme anxiety that triggered the aggression.

While we would prefer to forget those terrible times, stowing them away in an attic of our minds where we never have to see them, remembering them from time to time can be helpful. For others going through similar turmoil, I share our experiences as a way to give them hope that they, too, will get through ordeals and be able to look forward to a time when their lives will return to a new “normal,” whatever that may be. When I look back on the times we were waiting for Alex to get better––to not throw things in anger, to not overreact about minor things, to not live in constant fear––I just kept praying and thinking that someday we would look back on those days and feel thankful they were behind us.

Along with helping others, recalling those upsetting events makes us even more grateful for the progress Alex has made. When Alex refused to talk to us, overwhelmed by his emotions, we prayed that someday we would be able to have real conversations with him where he could express what he was thinking and feeling. Now that the words flow more easily for him, we are thankful that someday has arrived. When we couldn’t take him any place and basically kept him under house arrest because his behavior was so unpredictable, we hoped that someday we could enjoy typical family outings. Now, as we sit with him at restaurants and concerts and sporting events and family gatherings without any fear that he will erupt in anger, we feel fortunate that someday has arrived. When at least one of us always needed to be with him because we didn’t trust what he might do unsupervised, we waited for the day when he could behave himself without constantly being accompanied by us. Now, he goes off on his own to read, watch television, do Google searches on his iPad, and Ed and I never worry about what he’s doing because he has regained our trust. Someday has arrived, and it is sweeter than we could have ever imagined.

As we reflect on how autism has impacted Alex’s life––and in turn, ours––we realize that waiting is a key element. I can recall all the different things we were waiting for him to be able to do finally, such as talk, toilet independently, or sleep through the night, and eventually he was able to accomplish these seemingly simple tasks after many struggles. One would think that I would clearly remember the exact dates of these milestones––when those days we’d prayed for had finally arrived––but they remain vague in details yet strong in feelings of relief and gratitude.

What gives those days of accomplishment even greater meaning is that they remind us that God is always faithful and has a plan for Alex’s future. When I wonder if Alex will ever be able to live on his own, I remember that I wondered if he would ever be able to use the toilet on his own. When I worry what will happen to Alex when I’m not able to take care of him, I remember that God provided mental health caretakers who took precious care of him and knew what to do when we did not. When I pray and hope that God will heal Alex of autism, I remember all the times He restored Alex’s health and led us to caring and dedicated medical professionals who provided what Alex needed to be healthy. By looking back on how far we’ve come, I realize that someday we’ll look back on these times and our current concerns and know that God had us in the palms of His hands, just as He always has. Even though we don’t know when that day might be, we can trust as we wait, knowing that someday will eventually arrive.

“For the vision is yet for the appointed time; it hastens toward the goal and it will not fail. Though it tarries, wait for it; for it will certainly come, it will not delay.” Habakkuk 2:3

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