I woke up at a loss for words. That wouldn’t necessarily be bad as I tend to be wordy, but on a day when you’re supposed to know what to say it’s a problem. That night at youth group I’d been asked to talk to my friend Daniel about a big change in his life. It was time for him to graduate out of our group and into other opportunities—something I knew he wouldn’t be happy about.
Like his peers he’s glad to be done with school but letting go of the social piece that goes with it is much harder for him than others. His path post-high school is far from traditional and offers no guarantee that he’ll meet another group.
I know this isn’t a politically correct perspective to take but perhaps life has afforded me that luxury. If there’s something I know something about, it’s how challenging it is for young adults with autism to transition into the next season of their life. I live it 24/7 just like Daniel’s mother.
While I’d like to say it’s not any different for him than my own kids I can’t. The same loss for words I woke up with is what he struggles with daily. Describing him as a man of few words is the way I like to put it but in the clinical world, which is not poetic, you would say he’s non-verbal.
This is a phrase used to describe a portion of people on the autism spectrum that is misleading. Daniel like others can speak, but sadly the wiring in his brilliant mind routinely betrays him. Fluency with language is not readily available to him. Saying more than a few words at a time is daunting.
I suppose this is why he’s become so dear to me. When my son Chase was three he barely spoke. It looked like his life would be much like Daniel’s. What changed for him in the years that followed I’ll never know. Why therapists were able to unlock his verbal skills and not Daniel’s is a mystery. A “why” question far too many families would like answered.
That same type of question was what was tripping me up when I woke. Lord, what will I say if Daniel asks me why it’s time for him to move on? He doesn’t want to so it’s the natural question. How do I explain to a kid at heart that he’s aged-out of one of the only peers groups he has? There’s no answer that will make sense to him when his heart hurts.
Upset about the prospect I set out with Buddy for a walk asking for inspiration. Where I would normally start my litany of prayers I kept quiet. I needed to hear God’s voice not my own.
After about 45 minutes nothing had come to me until Buddy and I spotted a dime in the street. Reaching to pick it up I knew God must have something to say but what? As I paused to wait for an answer Buddy, who normally would have walked ahead of me tugging at the leash, decided to stop too. Then he surprised me even more by snuggling up to me. It was like he was saying I’m not going to go ahead of you today.
I patted him down and gave him a hug and as I stood up heard the Holy Spirit say, “Don’t worry Kären. Daniel won’t get out ahead of you either. He trusts you. Show him how much you love him and that will be enough.”
A huge weight lifted off my shoulders. I still had no clue what I was going to say but I had an overwhelming sense that my conversation with him would go well—and it did. Daniel listened, accepted the news, and in his way made it clear that he knows how much I love him. What more could I have hoped for?
Where my day had started with a heavy heart it ended with my faith enriched. Daniel like he has so many other times trusted me. God told me he would and he did. Yet another quality this young man has that sets him apart from his peers—he doesn’t always have to know why. In a room filled with gobs of teenagers that is a rarity—modern minds always ask why and if you can’t answer the question to someone’s satisfaction they just Google it.
What Daniel modeled was what I think God wants from me as well—acceptance. Everything in life can’t be explained and faith doesn’t require God to fill me in on His grand design. When Job asked the why behind his suffering God didn’t offer any solace or explanation. Instead, he exploded responding to Job by asking him questions he couldn’t possibly answer. In the exchange Job is humbled and his perspective re-oriented to the higher dimension that God exists in—one beyond his understanding.
To be honest, in my own life while I like explanations they actually do little to comfort me. Knowledge is as clinical as the phrase “non-verbal” and often it stings as much as reality. Perhaps this is what my brother in Christ Daniel, has learned living a life much quieter than my own. To be still and silent before God makes far more room for His love to comfort me than a barrage of questions does. A wondering mind is easily a wandering mind that can lead us away from God not into His arms.
P.S. Not to worry I wasn’t in costume when I talked to Daniel. This picture was taken at the party we had in Daniel’s honor two week later. Daniel loves costumes and was truly King for the night. Brad Edwards to the right came as himself.