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Finding Rest: Part One

This is my one hundredth post. Blog tradition dictates that I tell you that I like soft chocolate graham crackers and hate mushrooms and was once a flute for Halloween. But enough. I will tell you John's story instead. It is a story of human frailty. Mine. For it is against the backdrop of our frailty that the God's glory shines most brightly.

John adds spice, energy, and texture to our family. His innocence, quick wit, and academic mind are exceptional for a boy of twelve. His personality pours from the pages of our family journal. A few quotes from years gone by reveal his essence. "I fixed the hole in your sheet, Mama. I stapled it." (He put the hole in the sheet in the first place.) Once when instructed to finish his dinner, John responded, "But I ate forty-five minutes of it." (That would be 3/4 to the rest of us.) After I asked him to stop talking: "But I have to talk, I'm a Yak-In-The-Box." A boy with a thousand questions, "Where does steel wool come from anyway? Mechanical sheep?" "Do sharks have tongues? It seems like if sharks had tongues, they would bite them."

John is my firstborn. My crucible child. Sent by the Refiner to remove my dross. I was twenty-six when he was born. He dawdled into the world after three days of intermittent labor. He nursed vigorously and continuously and slept little. He was born to a prideful mother and for years, John fed that pride. He spoke words at six months and sentences at a year. He knew all of his letters and was making up original jokes and puns at two. He played chess and read at three. He was a fierce Scrabble competitor at six. A tenderhearted, funny, creative and strikingly beautiful boy.

Underneath this image of perfection lurked puzzling oddities. He slept through the night for the first time on his second birthday. 4 days after Christmas. I still remember waking up in that morning, first panic stricken, and then elated. At four and five, we were still reminding him that snow pants go on before boots, underwear before pants. We cut the tags out of all his clothes, as they were too scratchy. When friends came to visit, the John Show became overwhelming. The child who was content to play and pretend clung to me and needed me to deal with one “emergency” after another. At six, he started looking at things out of the corners of his eyes. Some days he didn’t look straight on at anything. At four, he could read and spell and once he came in from the back yard and announced, “I just figured out that there are numbers smaller than zero.” But at six and seven, he couldn’t put anything down on paper without me sitting next to him and writing for him. If I walked away, his schoolwork and his chores were left untouched because he had no system for breaking down small tasks into sequential steps. If there was more than one thing to do, he couldn't. I was mystified by his incongruent abilities.

In October, when John was seven, Stuart came home with the news that he was being transferred. John responded to the news by touching me with his right hand and then his left. He touched the table, the cat, the wall, me again. Right, left. Right, left. Day after day. He left Rhode Island as a sweet boy and arrived in Chattanooga a stranger. The first week in our new neighborhood, he snuck off. I called and called and hunted frantically. The sun sank low in the sky. Neighbors searched and I phoned the police. Stuart found him in the trailer park behind our house. So much for perfect parenting.

John began to throw raging temper tantrums that lasted for hours and left us all limp and exhausted. At the time, Stuart and I didn’t understand the role that anxiety about the move played in John’s behavior for his life was essentially the same. Same family, same routine. He didn't even have to adjust to a new school because we homeschooled him. My nightstand was piled high with The Strong Willed Child, Dare to Discipline, To Train Up a Child, Making Children Mind without Losing Yours…All good books, but books that said essentially, “If your child does this, you do this…” I was left with the impression that I could control my child if I could only find the right combination of ingredients. I did not know mercy; I did not know grace. I knew discipline, rules, time out, and spankings. I used all of these with consistency.

Testing began. A team of specialists administered tests for days. A hundred pages came back with the diagnosis of Pervasive Development Disorder. A disorder on the autistic spectrum. Autism? My son was particularly interactive and engaging. It couldn't be. One of the main things that a child exhibits with PDD is speech delay. That was not my child so I mentally threw out the ambiguous report. We visited more pediatricians and added a dose of stimulant medication that was so high it made doctors do a double take when they read his chart. The medicine worked. But when it wore off, we paid the price. I became a slave to the clock and the medicine cabinet.

John continued to need me at his side every second at ages eight and nine and ten for chores and schoolwork. He was destructive to property and awake all hours of the night. We finally put him in a sleeping bag in our walk-in closet at night so we could be sure he was at least in bed. I responded to John's antics with words spoken through clenched teeth, cold words delivered in a cold tone, words of ridicule and swearing. He would weep with remorse and ask for forgiveness but my heart was so hardened toward his unpredictable behavior that I would “forgive” him while reminding him of his transgression in the process. I was the saint, he the sinner. When my rage passed, it was my turn to feel drained and empty and incompetent. I loved him fiercely and hated him in turns. I was a prisoner to my emotions. I was paralyzed with worry that we were raising a child who would not experience success in the adult world. I took the things that he couldn’t do and added ten years to his age and believed that in a decade he would make no progress. I screamed at God. “This is not right! He should have had a different mother! I am no good for him! I am ruining him!"

Tomorrow: The Conclusion


ValleyGirl said…
In a way, I feel like it doesn't make sense to respond because the story isn't finished yet. What you went through sounds incredibly heart-breaking, but I'm on the edge of my seat, looking forward to reading about what I'm guessing has become a blessing to you.
Faith said…
Like valleygirl said, it doesn't feel right to respond just yet, but I wanted to thank you for sharing your story. (((HUGS))) to you and I, too, am on the edge of my seat waiting for the next installment.
lori said…
It sounds like you have journaled this before, if even in your mind...I too am waiting, for I think, I too, know how this one is going to turn out.."loves enduring power"

beautiful with my early morning cup of coffee...and how well the Father knows EXACTLY the refining we need...I remain amazed...

What a beautiful story already. Not an easy story to share, I'm sure. And even harder to live through. Still, certainly a testimony to the Lord.

Can't wait to read the rest!
Love you Kate! Thank you for sharing this intimate part of your story with us.

Amy said…

What a PRIVILEGE to have lived even a small part of this story with you! I can think of no better parents for John than you and Stuart!

Watching your family grow in grace in mercy within, around, and through John's quirkiness and struggles has been to see God's transforming power at work. I've seen, first-hand, grace outpoured, mercy redefined, and love abound.

Kiss John's cheeks for me!
Janelle said…
I agree with all your comments. This must be very difficult to share. I can't wait to read more. Thanks for sharing.
kittyhox said…
Wow, Kate. I had no idea.

I, too, am on the edge of my seat. John's childhood journey sounds challenging and mysterious, but also miraculous.

I can't wait to read what God has been up to in his life and in yours for the past two years.
Thanks for seizing the 100-tradition to share such a personal and intense story. I am anxious to hear the conclusion, and to hear how God has been refining your family because I've seen evidence of refinement.
Susan said…
Kate. Wow. How incredible you are to share this with us. I am sitting here weeping, touched beyond measure. Looking forward to the redemption that will surely be coming in tomorrow's continuation.
I am hanging on to the conclusion of your story. I have one like this too however different the situation it is still one I can freely relate to. I am tearing up with you as I feel I am living something similar at times. I just want to throw my hands up at times. I cannot wait for the wisdom and what God has shown you through this. I hope to learn the same.
Love you Kate! And congrats on the 100!
Xandra said…
I am amazed at the stories I read every day on these beautiful blogs created by Christian women. Blogs full of honesty, self-evaluation and daily life.

When you write, I feel as though I am standing there with you experiencing the highs and lows of motherhood. You put the emotions of love and hate perspective....there is not a mother out there who has not felt inadequate and small when dealing with her children.

I can't wait to hear how the story ends, and know that your honesty has touched my soul.
Wow Kate...I'm with everyone else about feeling the need to respond later, but more urgently I feel the need to respond now.

Because, I know I would have reacted the exact same way you did. I know my limitations, my impatience, my expectations of my perfectly healthy yet rambunctious kids. I am so looking forward to your sharing what God has taught you during this continuing journey!

much love,

Mary@notbefore7 said…
I too am torn on the responding, as it feels best to wait. But, I want you to know I am eagerly waiting to see God's work in your heart and in the lives of the people in your family.

Thank you for sharing this very personal story.
Anonymous said…
I can't begin to comment what I'm thinking...
It doesn't matter what our children are like, or how they behave, they all need grace. Yes, we are prideful if we fail to realize that, for our children or for ourselves. Your post was timely and powerful for all of us moms. God has specifically told us, "do not exasperate your children." Obviously, He understands our tendencies! Why do I "major on the minors?" Why do I "kick against the goads?" It is difficult for me when I do so. (not to mention the kids!)

This was a beautiful reminder to me that 1. God tenderly loves my children, and 2. He also tenderly loves me. His love truly does cover a multitude of our sins! The children are safe, and we are blessed. We are all "well known to God."


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