(Guest Post By Angie Auldridge)
There’s a sloped spot along the bottom edge of our back yard which gives way to an eroded area of rock and shale, and it beckons to my son each and every time we go outside to play. My other two children beeline for the play-set, but not Mark. He heads right to his spot, out of the way, and partially out of view. He bends over to get a closer look, studying the rocks, holding each one carefully and then putting them back. He’ll then run along the edge of our fence delicately dragging his fingers against the mesh wire backing of the wooden rails. He is the most peaceful and gentle soul I’ve ever met.
Most evenings after dinner I keep watch over our yard glancing in Mark’s direction, monitoring to make sure he hasn’t tried to eat the rocks as he often tends to do, but on this particular night, in the anxious space of the current state of uncertainty in a world gripped by a pandemic, I decided to join him in his world of rocks and fencing. Words generally don’t elicit a response from my mostly non-verbal boy, so I began to sing to him the song his music therapist often begins their sessions with; “My name is Mark, I am six years old, I have blue eyes and I have brown hair and I’m feeling ____ today.” And on this particular evening, he smiled and filled in the blank with a breathy, barely audible “happy.” He took my hand and led me to the rocks. I squatted down in front of the widest crest of the shale and picked up a sharpened rock. I carefully used its sharp edge to make marks on the flat section. I drew an M, and then an A, and so on. Mark smiled and sat down next to me. He gently took my hand and guided me to write on the rock once more, giggling as I formed the different letters of his siblings’ names. Quickly tired of the game, he drew me up off the ground and took my hand as we walked the fence’s perimeter. In silence, he squeezed my hand as we walked and looked out toward the mountain our backyard faces. He stopped to face the setting sun and closed his eyes; half-smiling, no creases across his forehead or looks of stress or anxiety; the looks I often have permanently etched across my face as I worry and wonder about what’s next, for the rest of the evening, and for the years ahead. During these moments, instead of the peace he exudes, I am often filled with tension, with the wish I could know what’s going on in his mind and the desire for him to communicate beyond his basic wants and needs. I yearn to know his heart, his opinions, and his thoughts. He will be seven next month and he’s currently working very hard to be able to communicate what TV show he wants to watch and to develop the patience for the episode to start. Knowing his deep desires, fears, and opinions seems so unattainable and unfathomable. So I mourn those things as if they will never come to be. I continually bury those hopes and dreams because their existence is too painful to bear. It’s a quiet dance I do, a mixture of accepting my beautiful boy with autism as he is, and wishing so desperately for him to come alive and be a real boy filled with longings he could express and thoughts he could make known. And then the guilt floods in for wishing him to be something he’s not, to be a boy I’ve crafted in my mind not the one God gave me. In those moments I am continually reminded it is me who needs the work, the molding and changing to love Mark as he is and not how I wish him to be. I am the one who needs the repetitive practice of accepting him while also acknowledging and recognizing his capabilities. When I spend too much time wishing the differences weren’t there I miss out on the greatness that exists. When we focus too heavily on what they’re not, we miss all that they are. Even so, I’ve come a long way from those first dark days of his diagnosis filled with “cure for autism” Google searches and desperate attempts to diagnosis him with anything else but what he had. I looked everywhere for answers but to God. I flew Mark to California for brain treatments, enrolled him every possible research study, and drove him all over the state for therapy and treatment. The desire to fix him was strong and ruled my universe. It was a tumultuous time filled with emptiness and worry. Five years have gone by and we have settled into our new normal, and the thing that has changed within me is the ability to see that despite my stubbornness, and intense desire to control and fix everything, God has been there all along, continually pursuing me in the dark, and I’m finally beginning to notice. I see now that God uses Mark, in all of his gentleness and quiet, to speak to my heart. I find God in the moments of clarity when Mark looks right in my eyes, when he softly whispers, “Mom” as he walks by, and when he lights up like a Christmas tree when I’m the one to pick him up from school. God’s there in the twinkle of Mark’s eye, and in the crease of his single dimple on his right cheek. He’s also in the hard places where I find myself stretched beyond comprehension, and thinking that I can’t do this. God meets me on the rock, in the hand squeeze, and across my son’s peaceful face as he tilts his face toward the sun, and for that, I am forever grateful and humbled by His grace.
Angie Auldridge lives in western Maryland with her husband Isaac, and her three children, Jillian, Mark, and Luke. Her son Mark has autism as well as a rare genetic mutation, SCN2A. Angie has a master's degree in clinical-community counseling and works as a Disability Advisor. She chronicles her family's journey on her blog, mightyandthebean.com, and co-hosts a podcast called https://embracingholland.buzzsprout.com/, where she interviews families who have done amazing things in the disability space as a result of their child’s diagnosis. She is passionate about creating community, sharing stories and supporting others in the face of fear and uncertainty.