Have you ever felt completely blown away by the unexpected? Every now and again I too get the thrill of an unforeseen marvel that seems to drop from the heavens above. Now some might not see the extraordinary nature of this recent testimony, but I beg to differ…..this one has left me grinning at some of the oddest times lately. I will bring it to memory and feel the joy of the moment all over again. The awesome moments remind us of how far we have come, and to press forward and continue to believe for more.
This past summer both of my sons attended a vacation bible school that my church put on. I as well volunteered to help out and be one of the group leaders. The sessions met once a week for about five weeks, and the theme was ‘weird animals.’ That kind of theme is right up our alley. One of the rewards given to help motivate the kids and reinforce the Bible lessons was cool character ‘dog tags’ that included the weird animal of the week on one side with a scripture verse laminated on the back. There were not enough tags for each child, so each week, one child was picked from each group to receive the coveted tag. There were about twelve or so groups averaging 6-8 kids in a group. Clearly, not everyone would be receiving a tag, let alone more than one.
I quickly learned that Nathan really wanted those dog tags. He would talk about them at length,….what they looked like, which animal would be on it for that given week, and he would ask me over and over what he needed to do to get the tags. Yes, I heard a lot about those dog tags in those summer weeks. The major hurdle was that a child somewhat needed to be an active participant in his or her group to be picked for this prize. For Nathan, participation in such a setting is almost painful. My sweet boy with autism shuts down in social settings and is too overwhelmed to engage in conversation or dialogue. This makes it tough for him to have the courage and resolve to actively participate with the other kids. Many times he knows the answer or could give input, but he just does not respond or open his mouth. Anxiety will get the best of him, but we continue to pray for breakthroughs with that. Now I also knew that the leaders were trying to be sure that as many kids got to have a tag as possible, so the possibility of getting more than one was slim to none as well. As he asked over and over every week how he could get the newest tag, my heart stammered to find the right words to both encourage him, but also make him realize that other kids too would receive a tag, even when he tried his best and was brave enough to answer a question or two. My explanations seemed to only confuse him, and each Wednesday night I would watch as his eyes eagerly anticipated that his name might be called at the end of the night. I was so proud when he kept his cool when it wasn’t, and I clapped for joy when I saw a tag finally handed to him by his group leader. His grin stayed with him that whole night, even as he was sleeping. Yes, I checked!
I had hoped that having that one tag would satisfy him, but he indeed kept inquiring about more in the weeks ahead. Each week had a different animal tag, and he of course wanted them all. I even considered going to the website and buying the set of tags myself, but something about that did not seem right at the time. He was learning some valuable lessons about patience, and the art of being a good sport and an honorable ‘loser’. I was proud of how he repeatedly handled the upset of not getting what he expected. There was a time when he would have fallen apart at such a thing. My boy is certainly growing up and maturing.
When the final and closing night of VBS came, Nathan was once again discussing the particular animal of the week. Now these were not common or domestic animals that we all know, but truly ‘weird’ and unique ones. The animated characters to portray these animals on- screen each had a name as well, and Nathan had those perfected in his mind. He even knew which animal went with which week, and what each of their names were. I cannot get him to recall some simple math rules, but these animals were stored well in his brain! And yet no one at church would even know it. He would clam up about it as soon as the crowds were in sight.
As the night ended it was time for the final tags to be given out. The last week was an animal that looked like a bearded dragon and his name was Iggy. I only know this through Nathan. He had it in his mind that Iggy would be his. I had informed him on the way that he needed to be happy with the one tag he had already been given, but he had his sights set on Iggy. As I watched his reaction when Iggy went to another in his group, I could see the disappointment in his eyes. I was all ready to give the momma pep talk about rejoicing with others when they receive a good thing and having a good attitude, when suddenly there was an unforeseen twist…..
The children’s leader Dawn announced that if anyone could recall the names of all five of the animals that they could have ALL FIVE! Yes, she dangled all five dog tags for the crowd of eager kiddos to see. There were ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’, and many kids frantically asking each other what the names were again, as the previous five weeks left much time to forget one or two. I immediately looked over at Nathan, as I was certain that he knew each one, and in order. But would he have the courage to raise his hand and offer what he knew?? He looked nervous and I could see him wringing his hands repetitively. I began to pray in that moment…’please God, give him courage to do this. This is his moment.’ And in the midst of the noise and commotion, my boy not only raised his hand, but he stood up. He approached Dawn at the front of the room and the words came toppling out of his mouth…
“AXL, FERN, MILTON, SHRED, and IGGY.”
And with that, the room exploded into an eruption of applause. Way to go Nathan!!! It was his moment, one that was so rare and precious to see. His smile took up his entire face. As she handed him those tags, he could not keep his feet still. He kept walking in a fast pace around that room as he could hardly contain his excitement. He finally found his brother Caleb and held up his prize for him to see. When his eyes met mine, he must have wondered why his silly mom was crying a river. Many kids gave him a high five, which sent him soaring.
I never dreamed the night would turn out like that, but none of us know when some of the most beautiful moments just might happen. We must keep our eyes and hearts open to the possibilities.
Caleb too was a winner, as Nathan told him in the car afterwards that he would share all of them with him. What a fine young man that Nathan Nelson has become. Hard to believe that I once had such little hope for his future. That was before the Lord got a good hold of me. Now, nothing is impossible!
Here are Nathan and Caleb celebrating this victory with those tags. It may seem small, but God does mighty things amidst the small things, at just the right moment.