Birthday Cake

Seventeen Years Ago

My son, Jon, turns 19 years old this month. Seventeen years ago, I sat in a doctor’s office and listened to a kindhearted, brilliant man tell me my son had autism—an umbrella term with five major categories beneath it. All the while, Jon’s hand-flapping and toe-walking . . . and silence . . . and emotional distance . . . and . . . the doctor’s words kind of melted together.

I didn’t know what to think because I didn’t know a thing about autism, and I didn’t know who to call because I didn’t know anyone who had a child diagnosed with autism. Seventeen years feels like forever ago, yet it also feels like yesterday.

Time: A Strange Teacher!

When life smacks us with something so unexpectedly enormous, the passage of time enters another dimension; the dust settles in some places after a while, but it never settles completely in other places, as if it’s frozen in midair. The fact is, one of the hardest notions to acknowledge is that the dust under my feet will never really settle. Seventeen years ago, it was important to me that my life was nice and tidy because I believed it revealed a level of spiritual maturity. It seemed that if my home was orderly and my children were neatly presented, then my soul must be spiritually strong too. What a ridiculous assumption! One of life’s greatest lessons Jon taught me is about love: it isn’t given or not given by how well presented we are.

God Controls Our Future

When I was 13 years old, I was given an assignment to memorize the New Testament book of James. James is often compared to the book of Proverbs in that it contains practical wisdom for everyday living. Chapter 4 of James contains a section that reminds me to be okay with messy places in life . . . areas inside my soul that are upside down because we live in a world that is upside down and inside out and not eternal. The chapter begins with words regarding submitting our lives to God, about humility, about letting others off that bloody hook of the law and living by grace; then James gives an example of—as I would say—being a perfect little know-it-all. The NET Bible renders the passage as:

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into this or that town and spend a year there and do business and make a profit.” You do not know about tomorrow. What is your life like? For you are a puff of smoke that appears for a short time and then vanishes. You ought to say instead, “If the Lord is willing, then we will live and do this or that.” But as it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. (James 4:13–16 NET)

Essentially, James is saying, “Now wait a second, people! How dare you make plans—with some undaunted determination—about exactly what’s going to happen in your future when you don’t even have a clue about how today will end.” He’s reminding us that life is frail, people are frail, and it’s by God’s grace alone that we are able to live and breathe. God provides our every breath, not us. And He also provides what we need most: unconditional love—unchanging, unwavering acceptance when we are lovely and when we are messy too.

You Are Loved

As I celebrate my son’s birthday this month, I celebrate you too. Your life was created by God, you are made in His image, and you are of immeasurable value and worth. Whether or not you have it all together, you are loved by God, and nothing can change His love for you. Now that is something to celebrate!