I have told this story many times before, and will continue to do so…and felt led to share it now. It is still one of my favorites.
Back in the early dog days of autism, I was full of agony and fear. Nathan was just under two years old, newly diagnosed, and I was a wreck. I had no idea what autism was really, and I was baffled at the lack of medical wisdom in regards to what type of progress or quality of life my son might have. There were endless questions, but no real answers. The various doctors and specialists had no guarantees, but kept stressing the importance of early intervention and therapy for the best possible outcome. What did that mean anyway????
All I knew then was that my son seemed lost in another world in which I nor anyone else were invited. He could open and close the same closet door for hours without a peep, but would wail out in loud protest when approached by a neighborhood child to play. I left various ‘play groups’ in tears as my child would seek out a lonely closet to ‘play’ in by himself: the doors of which seemed to be his only companions.
The signs had actually been there well before this time. I will always remember Nathan’s first birthday party. I had our house all gussied up with ribbons and balloons and was ready for a landmark celebration As soon as the first guests arrived, Nathan began to cry. As more guests came, the cries became high-pitched shrieks that were barely tolerable. Of course everyone kept asking ‘What’s wrong with Nathan??…Is he OK??…Is he sick?’…I got used to such questions in regards to my precious boy. I gave the usual answer…’He is just really tired.’…which on this day especially was a lie, as he had just finished taking a two hour nap. He was so inconsolable and out of control that I placed him in his crib and closed his bedroom door. The crying stopped…immediately. I recall going into my bedroom in which more of my crying began. What was wrong with my son? I would peek into his room periodically for the next two hours of his party to find him wide awake, staring up at the ceiling. No cries, no standing up or yearning to come out. He seemed at peace. He finally made an appearance after the last guest left.
Autism….It had a name. But what did it mean??
The fears in the first three months after diagnosis confined me to a dark pit. Would Nathan be able to function independently in this life? Would he ever become a husband??…a father??…a best friend??..Would he truly be able to love someone? Would he have joy???……The worst possible scenarios would play through my head all throughout the days and nights back then, and depression had set in. I recall one painful night in particular when I felt hope slipping away from my desperately clinging fingertips. I had been holding on, but I was falling deeper and deeper into darkness. The sadness was so real, and so huge. I began to pray and cry out to God that night in my bedroom closet. I was crouched on the floor weeping and sobbing uncontrollably. I could not even form words, but the deepest cry of my heart was to have some type of assurance that Nathan would understand the things of God….that he one day could comprehend who the Lord Jesus Christ was, and understand what the Lord had done for him. How can there be true and lasting joy without such knowledge??..In that moment all of the countless other questions about Nathan’s future did not matter at all. Only one did….”Will he know YOU Lord?”….
The computer was in our bedroom closet back then (I was up past 3am most nights researching how to ‘fix’ the autism, and Grant was fed up and put it in there!). I picked myself up that closet floor and felt the need to do one more search for the night. I typed in ‘Jesus and Autism’ on our browser. All kinds of links came up of course and I just scrolled down and hit on one. What I came upon was a blog from a mother. Now, I knew nothing of blogs back then, and had no clue how to navigate one, but the particular page I opened to was discussing the very question I was sobbing about moments earlier. This mother was sharing about how God was revealing to her that He had a very special and wonderful purpose for her son with autism and that He indeed knew very well how to communicate with a child that the world might have trouble communicating with.
She went on to assure that God is not and would never be limited in any way by autism, and that He would plant His truths in the heart of anyone….no matter the delay or disability. Now, these might seem like simple truths, but they were the exact truths I needed at the exact moment I needed them. This one mother, who was walking a path very similar to mine, was reaching right through that computer and holding me up. I desperately needed her testimony…her witness. She knew the pain of autism, and I could trust her words. ...(Somewhere out there someone needs your testimony by the way)…Next to her post was a beautiful picture of her embracing her precious son. His name was Alec, and he looked to be about Nathan’s age. This was back in early 2005, and Nathan was two and a half years old then. I fell to my knees and praised God for such a touch. I knew He had brought me to this woman’s site and I can honestly say that it was a turning point in the journey. I prayed for that mom and her sweet boy. I had no idea where she lived at all. She could have lived anywhere in the world, but that night she was right in that closet with me in Gilbert, Arizona…passing on some much needed love and encouragement, mother to mother.
Fast forward to 2008 and the Nelson family find themselves living in Matthews, North Carolina (quite small in relation to Gilbert AZ). We up and moved on direction from the Lord, and we continue to live in NC to this day. We love it here, and continue to feel His glorious hand on our lives. Nathan had been attending an amazing private school with special programming for children with autism named Garr Christian Academy back then. I had been doing some work trying to assist in some fundraising efforts at the school when I came across a link on the school’s website. It was not a familiar one to me and I opened it to research further. The site had a picture of a young boy who looked to be about six years old or so. There was something so familiar about his face, his eyes,…and yet I could not place him. I had met all of the special needs children at the school, and so I wondered who he could be. There was another link on this site to a blog and I hit on that. What came across my screen left me motionless. I could scarcely take it in at first. There he was…that little boy being held by that beautiful mother!! It was a very picture that I knew well. My mind went flooding back to years earlier in my dark bedroom closet. Through my bitterness and tears it was this very mother and this very child that God used to break through the walls of depression. ALEC…it was him! Now I have cried a few rivers on this journey, but the tears that came with this realization were all mixed in with screams, laughing, sobbing. Grant thought I had really gone mad! As I navigated further I learned that her name was Kelly Langston and that she lived in Charlotte NC!! As it would turn out, her Alec had attended preschool at the very church/school the Lord had led us across the country to attend. Some of the other parents at the school knew Kelly and all about her gifts for writing/blogging/etc. My angel now lived a mere fifteen minutes from us, and Alec was born at the very hospital that I now work at. YES, the Lord God is the master of every last detail. It is not even possible in the human realm for such a series of events to occur, so I am grateful for a God that is bigger than what my mere eyes can see, and what my mere brain can comprehend. He is without limit.
I went over in my heard what I would say to Kelly when I called her. I did not want her to think I was a lunatic stalking her or something!! But this woman needed to know what the Lord had done through her, and I needed to meet her desperately. As I told Kelly OUR story, she cried on the other end of the phone. She had no idea of course what an impact she had made. I am just one life…I know there are many others that God has used through her gifts. Kelly and I indeed met, and are now forever friends. She is a constant reminder to me of a faithful and perfect God.
Both Alec and Nathan are doing amazing today…and both can talk about the Lord Jesus out loud and not care one little bit about what anyone thinks on the matter! They have a freedom that many people will never realize. Autism indeed can be a very beautiful thing. And the Lord continues to bless Kelly and me, and has allowed us to team up together for an annual women’s retreat up in the Blue Ridge mountains of NC at Camp Lurecrest. Two years ago I was trusted to be the speaker at the women’s retreat, and Kelly led us in worship as she is gifted with a beautiful voice in praise to the Lord. AND, we are headed up to that same mountain this September to do it again!! I cannot imagine doing it beside anyone else but my song bird and friend to the end…Kelly. Who would have known??…GOD DID!!!!
God always has a bigger plan and a beautiful purpose in our lives when we trust Him. As I was sobbing in a pit that night many years ago, I could not see any of His plan. I could not see what was around the corner, but it was always there. We are to walk by faith, and not by sight. We are to trust in His goodness, and not stay stuck in our hard circumstances. Let the pain we all experience in this life be a part of our testimony, and may we use it to strengthen others, just like Kelly did. Hold on, because something eternal and valuable awaits…just around the corner.
Lamentations 3:22-24 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness! I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him!”