Wednesday, August 24, 2016

1 Corinthians 13: The Autism Parent's Edition

Photo Credit, David Niblack, Imagebase.net
Love is patient, love is kind. 
It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 
It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, 
it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 
Love never fails.
1 Corinthians 13:4-8a (NIV)
I have regularly made the reading of 1 Corinthians 13 part of a spiritual self-check. I read the passage, often out loud, and insert my name in place of the word "love." It is a humbling and convicting exercise. Recent interactions with my daughter have brought me back to this place - the place where I realize that to love her well, I have to love her in ways she understands and needs, not what suits me best. It has made me look at this passage in a new way:
Love is patient. It answers the question about what's coming next for what seems like the thousandth time in the past two hours, despite having visual calendars and daily agendas available for her to look at anytime. It deals with the child who gets out of bed over and over again before finding sleep, trying to find a way to calm her anxiety, praying with her for the peace and rest that her mind and body need.
Love is kind. It explains for the umpteenth time, in a calm and quiet voice, why your child needs a place to go and chill out when group situations become overwhelming, why your child can't eat certain foods, and why your child refuses to keep her socks and shoes on. It resists all urges to act in ways that are unbecoming and would cause an embarrassing scene.
Love does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It rejoices with other parents when they celebrate their child's milestones while their own children are far behind, and it resists the urge to accost everyone it meets with tales of the latest victory in occupational therapy or physical therapy or speech therapy or ABA or . . . .
It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking . . . . Love treats the stranger who stares at your child's public meltdown with respect and an attempt at humor instead of giving in to the immediate reaction that bubbles up - sarcasm, or worse. Love looks to see where others might be struggling and need a quick text or email of encouragement, even on the rough days, determined to remember that parents of kids with autism aren't the only ones who struggle.
. . . it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. It swallows frustration and hurt over and over again, as our children struggle to make themselves understood and communicate their needs, often in ways that hurt deeply. It finds ways to set the hurt aside, putting your child's needs ahead of your own, making sure that your child feels your love and acceptance instead of residual pain from behavior they are still learning to control. (All this while trying to teach them that their behavior has consequences and does cause problems for other people.)
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth. Love rejoices in hearing about families who are loving their children well, getting them the help they need, even if it is different than the choices I have made for my child. Love does not smile smugly at the misfortune of those who have made unkind comments about my child or my parenting, but reaches out with Christ's strength to see what I can do to help.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love works hard to look on the bright side, even when another diagnosis complicates things, a food allergy restricts the diet further, and sleep deprivation requires caffeine consumption at dangerous levels. Love continues to research, fight with insurance companies for coverage, and work daily with their child to help her reach her full potential, whatever that may be.
Love never fails. Love trusts God to get through each day and to give the strength needed to do whatever needs to be done that day, even while praying for a nap, drinking lots of caffeine, and eating dark chocolate. And love does this 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, because most parents of kids with autism don't get respite - or not nearly enough.
Pray: Father, please help me to continue to stay the course, even on the days that I'm exhausted and think I can't possibly do one more thing. Please help me to be more like Christ each day so I can say to my children, like Paul, "Follow me, as I follow Christ." Give us your peace and patience as we navigate the difficulties of this life, and help us to learn to love one another with the love that only you can give us for each other. As we are filled with more of your love, show us how to love others and be your hands and feet in a world that is hurting. Amen.

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