It was another one of those difficult mornings. Took me over an hour to wake up Peter and get him out of bed. He spent a long time in the bathroom, and when I went to check on him, I caught him unrolling large amounts of toilet paper again. As I rushed forward to stop him, he threw it all down the toilet and flushed it (one of his compulsions). The only thing he ate of his breakfast was plain bread, leaving his nutritious egg, fruit, and peanut butter behind. I was the last of the family to dash into the family car as I had to brush stains off his laundry before they settled in.
So I felt frustrated, as I waited for him to get himself out of the car. The rest of the boys leaped over the seat to get out of car, as they couldn’t get past Peter. Once he managed to get himself out of the car, he walked slowly toward the church, dragging on my arm. The other boys ran ahead to meet up with us later. Then Peter suddenly froze, getting stuck in the middle of the driveway. Fortunately, we were so late by then that there were no cars coming. I tugged and towed him safely to the sidewalk. “Well, Peter,” I said, trying to count my blessings, “it was good that you finally thought of setting the timer to get out of the bathroom. And you did get out when it went off!” Peter brightened a little, and tried to pick up his feet a bit faster.
Oops! Once we were seated in the pews, I noticed Peter tapping the pair of pink swim goggles that he loves to carry around and fidget with. His therapy team had agreed we should all work on having him leave them in the car when going out in public, to put some limits on the compulsion. I opened my purse to remind him to drop them in, and took out a laminated keyboard card for him to hold instead. Peter looked distressed, but dropped in the goggles.
The second reading at Mass was from 1 Thessalonians 3:12. “Brothers and sisters: May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we have for you, so as to strengthen your hearts, to be blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his holy ones. Amen.”
The verse convicted me. I prayed silently, “Lord, please give me the love and grace I lack which my son so desperately needs.”
Just then, Peter urgently grabbed my arm. “Pink goggles, please!” he pleaded.
Providentially the grace dropped into my heart in the nick of time. “Yes, dear. You did such a nice job asking me politely instead of grabbing. You may have them till the homily (sermon) is over. Then let’s try to put them back in the purse so you’ll have another something to offer up for Jesus.”
Peter’s eyes lit up at the affirmation. He happily tapped away on his goggles during the long homily, and peacefully dropped them back in my purse during Communion.
The homily was about how both the Old Testament and gospel readings were about the end-times, and the tribulation to occur before the Second Coming. The priest asked us to contemplate why the Church would use these readings at the first Sunday of Advent, when we start looking forward to the birth of Christ at Christmas. The trials of the tribulation may trigger fear and dread in us, but if we can only trust God and remain faithful throughout them, God promises a crown of life and new kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Advent celebrates the first coming of our Lord as a gentle child and our Savior. In the Second Coming He will return in power and glory as Righteous Judge. But in both, we look forward to his coming with joy and hope, as the gospel says, “… stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.” (Luke 21:28)
Also in both, the theme is death and rebirth; in the “First Coming,” it is the theme of Jesus’ story, for the Second, it is our story. The priest made the point that in His first coming, Jesus showed us how to live to prepare for the second. Jesus accepted the will of the Father and died on the Cross, then rose to eternal life. We imitate him with every small death we suffer, from all the sorrows, injustices, contradictions, and sufferings that inevitably come into our lives. Like Jesus, if we accept bear our Crosses with love and faith, trusting in God’s great love for us and obeying His commandment to love and forgive in turn no matter how difficult our circumstances, they will become instruments of our sanctification, as we grow in character to be more like our Lord, more fit for the Kingdom of Heaven, as in the same process we work to bring God’s kingdom on earth. Thereby in imitating the death of Christ, we too discover new life.
When I was younger, I used to rebel at the idea of a loving God willing the terrible suffering we see happening to people around the world. I have since come to realize that though I may never and probably will never understand the mystery of evil, I know by experience that Jesus is my loving Savior who leads me through the darkness, and that the Holy Spirit He sends is real. Peter battles his autism every day, including severe OCD, anxiety, inertia, and impulsivity. We get through it by constant prayer for God’s help, offering up our struggles, and each time, the Holy Spirit has sent that burst of inspiration and grace that has gotten us through, albeit sometimes just barely.
So I thanked God for the grace He gave me at Mass, to be able to give Peter the encouragement he needed to keep trying. Reminding him of his successes with the timer and in asking for instead of grabbing the goggles were little acts of love, but sufficed to get us out of two bad situations. Imagine variations of this scene repeated over and over hundreds and thousands of times, and you have a pretty good idea of how Peter and I get through life with autism. We live by faith, we live by prayer. These are essential to our survival. But this is how Peter has managed, sometimes barely, to live a life above and beyond his disabilities. It is through faith that Peter can write his Thanksgiving poem (see previous post) from the sincerity of his heart.
But it isn’t easy. At times the relentless assaults of OCD, anxiety, and inertia feel overwhelming. You get exhausted. The joy of the Cross is sometimes the only thing you and your child may have to fall back on.
The other day, Peter was exhausted from battling one OCD after the next. He had been cutting up the covers of my medical journals. Right after we finished talking about how that was a destructive thing to do, and how he might come to me for help next time he felt that compulsion, I found his little brother’s newly purchased book cover cut up into pieces. “What happened?” I asked Peter.
“I’m no sissy. I rebel,” he typed. ” I feel tired of resisting my lower brain. why should I always have to fight? I feel hemmed in.” He went on to explain how he decided he was like Elsa in “Frozen” and had decided to “let it go.” He told me that Elsa spent all her energy repressing her true nature, and finally felt better after letting it loose. But when I asked him what Elsa’s true nature really was, he admitted she was kind and gentle, and that he wanted to be that way too. I asked him what finally helped Elsa live out her true nature and learn to control and transform her destructive powers, and he said, “Love and learning not to be afraid of herself.” So true, I thought, but not quite as easily done as portrayed by Disney.
Love does transform bad into good, but it doesn’t happen in an easy, sudden, painless way, like in the Disney version. Jesus showed us the way, and it’s the Way of the Cross. How do we get through speech therapy without grabbing the green pens Peter is obsessed with? How do we walk past a bottle of soda that Peter longs to pour down the sink as part of his dumping compulsion? How do we get up out of the chair to start gymnastics when the body feels completely stuck? How do we make it through passing period at school or through a crowded shopping mall when the senses feel so flooded that one arm is over his eyes, and the other is gripping my shoulders for dear life? We pray and offer it up. Each time Peter offers up the terrible anxiety of delaying a compulsion or the massive effort required to get his body to move and do what he needs to do, he dies another small death. But this is how he improves. This is how he has built up the self control needed to live a functional and productive life, integrated in the community. This is how he has built the perseverance and courage that mark his character. How he has built his reliance and faith in God. The Way of the Cross has truly given him life, and whatever freedom he has from the slavery of his terrible disabilities.
So we thank Jesus for his sacrifice. Without His tremendous example of loving self-sacrifice and trusting obedience to the Father, His eternal spring of grace, and empowering invitation to offer up our sacrifices in union with His on the Cross, where would we be? The Way of the Cross has been Peter’s strategy on the battlefield, the grace of the Lord his armor. And where would I be? I certainly would not have it in me to be his armor bearer and adviser. Where would I get the creative ideas to inspire him, to encourage when feeling discouraged, or be gracious when tired? Self pity is my default. It has been my great privilege to witness the power of the Holy Spirit instead. Thank God for our Lord who searches for us, lifts us out of the crevices and chasms we fall into, and carries us lovingly upon His strong shoulders.
So each morning upon awakening, Peter and I think of all the people we know who need our prayers, and offer up the struggles we are likely to encounter for them, and for “all the intentions of Thy Sacred Heart, in union with the celebration of Holy Mass throughout the world” (words from the Morning Offering). “May we too learn to turn all circumstances and events of our lives into occasions of loving you, and serving the Church, Roman Pontiff, and all souls with joy and simplicity, lighting up the pathways of this earth with faith and love” (words from a prayer card to the saints). These prayers have given meaning to our suffering, and hope and purpose to our lives.
And joy. Because as members of the body of Christ, He invites us to unite our sufferings with His upon the Cross for the good of souls. What’s more, we know that faith, trust, and love for Jesus despite adversity more profoundly comforts Him on the Cross than anything we could offer in the midst of our blessings. As Peter said, at the end of our conversation about Frozen, “I am absolutely certain that I want to be like the loving Jesus… thanks for reminding me, Mom.”
Maranatha! Come Lord Jesus, as we enter this season of Advent with joyful hope and glad faith.
 1 Peter 2:15, Romans 12:1, Col 1:24
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