This morning, Adam couldn’t find his favorite math worksheet.
“Three Steps?” he said to me, his face a few inches from mine, his body leaning in to where I sat sipping my coffee on the porch.
Adam and I had communicated enough about Three Steps in the last week for me to know (finally) that this was not a game (my first thought) in which I was meant to echo different numbers of steps. The first time he mentioned it, I had parroted “four steps,” which made him say “five steps.” After I said, “six steps?” He just stopped playing and kept hanging around me, lost for words, periodically repeating, “Six steps?” I’ve said before that there’s a good reason that the symbol for autism is a puzzle piece. It could also just be “???” and every AU parent I know would get it. Anyway, this had been enough, coupled with Adam’s lost expression, to tell me that Three Steps was the name of something he’d lost, and given that he mostly just wants to calculate continuously, I had a reasonable idea we were discussing a math worksheet which does not happen to currently be part of the stack of one million math papers (finished classwork) his teacher sent home a few weeks ago. All of which, by the way, Adam has redone, by choice, countless times since she sent them home. They are covered with his handwriting where he has rewritten and recalculated the problems. Every time we go somewhere, Adam gathers that stack of papers and puts them in a tote bag, along with a calculator and a pencil. Wither he goes, the math papers must also go. For Adam, math = play. And I get it. In a world where almost everything is out of Adam’s control, math is something he can expect to stay orderly and the same. The answer is the answer is the answer.
So, this morning, I smiled at him over my coffee mug and asked, “Adam, is Three Steps a math paper?”
“Yea. Where’s Three Steps?”
“I don’t know. Maybe it’s in your black tote bag.” His eyes, such a piercing blue, bored into mine.
He disappeared and returned a few minutes later, black tote bag in hand. He showed it to me, empty.
“It’s not in the black tote bag?”
“Hmm…maybe it’s one of the white baskets in your room.”
Adam looked at me so intently it was like he was studying his reflection in my pupils (and he probably was). He disappeared again and returned momentarily with one of the white baskets from his book shelf. He said, “…in a white basket in room,” and showed me how he was looking underneath the workbooks in the top of the basket.
“Not in there either?”
“Well, maybe it’s in a different basket. Take that one back and look in another one.”
He hefted the basket and left me once again. I sat there smiling. The exchange had filled me with so much joy that it’s difficult to find enough words for it. This all might sound very ordinary, but for Adam, it was evidence of growth. Raising a child on the Spectrum often feels like trying to drive stick shift without any experience. We stall, slowly creep forward, stall again, and then lurch forward with a jerk. Figuring out the transitions is everything.
For years, Adam has had difficulty following directions. I remember the days when I’d practice with him without success. “Adam, hold out your arms. Catch the ball,” I’d urge. Too late, I’d lift his arms for him, repeating the instructions, and the softly tossed ball would thump him in the stomach and roll away in the grass.
“Adam, go get the ball,” I’d say, pointing toward it. He’d look at the ball and then back at me, lost. So, gathering his hand in mine, I’d repeat, “Adam, go get the ball,” and walk him over to the ball, placing his two little hands on either side of it. With my hands still on top of his, we’d lift the ball and walk back to where Dad waited.
“Okay, Adam, throw the ball,” I’d encourage, pausing a beat, waiting, hoping. When he’d fail to respond, I’d move his arms in mine with just enough push from my own fingers to dislodge the ball and send it flying, too short to reach Dad.
We practiced directions constantly, not just in play, but in every possible situation. For a long time, when Adam lost things, he didn’t know how to tell me. Then, when he learned to make one word queries, I’d suggest places he might find what he was looking for and then take him there, showing him how to look, bending his knees and his waist sometimes with my own hands, lifting bed spreads so that he could look under the bed, talking to him the whole time about every step.
So, I don’t take it lightly that now I can sit and drink my coffee and offer suggestions often requiring not one but two steps, and Adam not only understands but wants to be certain I realize that he has understood and obeyed without success. For years, we have worked to help him not just to hear but to understand and act. And our work continues.
Lately I’ve been asking God to give me eyes to see and ears to hear.
I think for years, His Spirit has been speaking, nudging, trying to lead me, and somewhere in the hearing I grow weak and something—maybe fear—paralyzes me and I don’t respond. He is patient, but eventually He wraps His hand around mine and takes me there, repeating the message, bending my knees with His own hands. And because He is never willing to give up on transforming me, I am slowly learning to follow His directions.
Yesterday afternoon, Zoe ran into the house after school, all joy, following me upstairs. “Mom! Guess what God did for us today?!” Her expression swallowed up all of my weariness in one instant. The light in her eyes just danced.
I smiled, taking in the sight of her, treasuring it up somewhere deep. “What did He do for us today?”
“He found those library books,” she said, grinning, the joy making her bounce.
A few weeks ago, I’d gotten a note about some books Zoe had checked out at school that were overdue. I knew they weren’t in her bedroom, having just been through those books to give away the ones the girls had out grown. I also knew that Zoe rarely takes school library books out of her backpack, and that she is so concerned about being responsible with them that when she does remove them to read, she protectively returns them to their place at the finish. I had no idea what had happened to the books, but I told Zoe to ask the librarian if she would look for them in the library. I also said that if the books couldn’t be found, we’d just pay for them.
Zoe became distressed at the idea that we would have to pay for the books, and I could not seem to convince her that this situation was no cause for alarm. She began to pray in earnest that God would make it possible for the books to be found.
I’ve told you before about Zoe’s faith in prayer. God continues to use her to teach me. One day earlier in the week, she popped into my room and said, “Mom, guess what? I just prayed out loud, with my eyes open. I kept my eyes open and just talked to God, right out loud. Riley kept waiting for Him to answer me back, but I explained to her that God is just so big and so away,” she said this gesturing toward the heavens with her hand, “that we can’t hear His voice. We have to hear Him other ways. And I also told her that even if He says ‘no’ sometimes, that that’s okay.” Her eyes were wide, her face serious and intent. It wasn’t the time to say God draws near to us when we pray (Deuteronomy 4:7), but I stored it up, loving that she pondered on her own (and for her sister’s sake:)) why God didn’t just speak to her with a voice she could hear. I will forever remember the intensity of that away, the hand sharply cutting the air. If anyone knows in her heart that God is certainly not away, it’s my daughter.
So she had asked God, sometimes “right out loud with her eyes open” that the library books would be found.
Then yesterday morning, she’d told me that it looked like we’d have to pay for them. “Mom, the librarian says those books aren’t there and that we have to pay for them.”
“Okay,” I said nonchalantly, putting away a dish I’d been drying. “No problem.” I could see that telling me had cost her something.
But apparently that afternoon, the librarian called down to the classroom and asked Zoe’s teacher to tell her that the books had indeed been found, in the library all along, and that somehow they’d never been recorded as checked in. My favorite part of all of this, the part that reminds and corrects me, is that Zoe immediately thought, “God answered my prayer.” Not even for an instant did she entertain the idea that the books would’ve been found simply in the course of time, by human effort. She’d prayed, and so she’d watched and waited for the answer, and she’d seen the work of God. There was no question in her mind how it had all happened. No wonder Christ said, “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3).”
Lately I’ve been asking God to give me eyes that see and ears that hear.
Christ, the LORD, taught about the Kingdom more than anything else, and the Kingdom is here, and I want to live for the King. I want to see where He’s already at work and join Him there. But it occurs to me that I have to be looking in faith for His work to see it.
I feel a bit like the man born blind, the one who maybe jerked when Jesus spit in His eyes outside the village.
“Do you see anything?” the LORD asked Him.
He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”
Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’ s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly (Mark 8:23-25).
His healing happened in steps. He needed to be touched twice to see clearly. I feel like I need to be touched by the Savior’s fingers every moment to have eyes that really see, and even then it can only be but a poor reflection as in a mirror (1 Corinthians 13:12). And yet perhaps it is just this reality that Christ demonstrated in that healing. He spits in my eyes, touching me with the Spirit, making me a new creation so that I can begin to see if I will just look. “What do you see?” He asks, readying Himself for the day when He will touch me again, transforming me completely unto eternity and the perfect restoration of sight.
In the meantime, I really long to have eyes that see and ears that hear.
It seems that God has brought Kevin and me along together, drawing us to the same place at the same time, molding our hearts with His hands. These days, we find ourselves training our ears to listen for the voice of the Spirit. We pray for the faith to follow immediately, for hearts that count nothing as important as God’s glory. We want following, showing Him we understand who He is and what He’s done, to be our everything. We find ourselves, these days, looking for His work more and more, seeing our lives as an opportunity to participate in it, asking for glimpses of His face.
You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them (Matthew 13:14,15).