My oldest son, TJ, turns 16 on Saturday. What a milestone! We have tried to create rites of passage for our children at important ages. At 12, we let them plan the family vacation to anywhere we can afford in the continental US. At 16, we are planning a party with friends to speak truth into our kids about what it means to be a man (or woman for our girls). As TJ’s party approaches, I’ve been reflecting on his life and journey to this point.
Who sinned? This man or his parents?
When TJ was just under 3, he was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, which is part of the autism spectrum. To be clear, TJ’s issues with Asperger’s are not as severe as others and we count ourselves blessed by Him. However, early in the process, I remember filling out paperwork with Cheryl answering questions like, “Do you anticipate that your child will live on his own, with you, or in some sort of assisted living situation as an adult?” We were shell shocked and devastated.
In John 9, the disciples ask Jesus about a man born with a disability,
“Who sinned? This man or his parents?”
Their worldview was that if there was something wrong, it was the result of someone doing something to displease God. The first part of the question never found any acceptance for me—that maybe TJ had done something for which God was punishing him. However, the other part of the question did bounce around in my heart in the following ways.
- What did I do? I believe the gospel, can teach the gospel and love the gospel. However, there were dark moments when I did wonder if God was punishing me. I needed to remember that God has good for us in this. I was reminded by God’s Word, by faithful friends, and dear brothers of God’s faithfulness.
- How could God do this? Again, I know God’s kindness, but I would be lying if I said this never crossed my mind in the darkness of my heart. Each time it would creep in, I would hear Spurgeon say…”I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.” And I would ask God for such faith.
- What will this mean? I remember when we first got the diagnosis—wading through assessment questions and tests—wondering what the future would hold for our son and our family. We read the stats about divorce in families with autism and we were not encouraged.
I don’t know a parent of a child with any type of special needs who hasn’t walked a similar path. Questions, doubts, and fears seem to be part and parcel of parenting any child. Special needs bring an additional layer to those already ever-present issues.
That the works of God might be displayed in him
Jesus—as he usually does—turned the disciples’ worldview on its head.
It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.
There have been times when this truth from this story has brought great comfort to me, not because this is a direct promise for TJ, but because it has provided real hope for me to think that the works of God might be displayed in my son. And what works we have seen!
TJ takes God’s Word at face value.
I remember more than once when he would come to Cheryl or me with a problem he is dealing with and we would encourage him to pray. He would stop at that moment and pray out loud. Something in me would think, “Well, I didn’t mean right now,” but TJ needed to pray—so He did. He takes God’s Word at face value. I need to do the same.
One time, at a school assembly, a young girl was struggling to do her presentation. TJ kept trying to encourage her out loud and we kept trying to silence him. Afterward, we were trying to explain the decorum of the moment and the need to be quiet during others’ presentations. He said, “Mom, I just wanted to tell her that God was with her and so she didn’t need to be afraid.”
He takes God’s Word at face value.
TJ serves Jesus in our church.
It’s a blessing to see TJ serving Jesus in our kids’ area each week. He uses his gifts of organization and administration (his part of his room is the cleanest, neatest section of any room in our house) to serve our church. So, I’m really grateful that TJ has found a way to use his gifts. He’s a blessing to so many through this.
It’s also a blessing (sometimes) as I watch TJ walk up to people without any sense of fear or pretense and start talking with them. He doesn’t get most social cues and really doesn’t understand pretense very well. So, he doesn’t meet many strangers. Sometimes, I care more about how that will reflect on me or how the people will react if it goes in a negative direction, but most of the time it’s just funny to watch.
I’m also blessed to watch TJ in worship at Exodus. He loves to sing and he sings really loud. He sits (most weeks) through a longish sermon where he has to be quiet, focus, sit still, not talk to himself, etc., all of which is really challenging for him. I try to remember when he has rough days, that this environment is not an easy one with someone with his unique challenges. Watching him fight through that and hearing how God is still working in his life through our gatherings is the work of God being displayed.
When TJ started kindergarten, he struggled to hold a pencil due to some fine motor developmental issues. Last week, we were studying Algebra and Latin. So, it’s been a joy to see him grow. As TJ turns 16, Cheryl and I still have a lot of questions about what the future holds for him. He wants to be a zoologist. Who knows? We are hopeful, prayerful and calling him up to be all that God has called him to be.
TJ stands for Timothy James. Timothy means “one who honors God.” That really is our hope for him—that TJ and any who get to observe his life see the works of God displayed in him. My prayer is that TJ would love Jesus with his whole heart and that He would glorify God in the world. I want people to see Jesus in TJ—as the works of God are displayed in him.
Happy Birthday, TJ. Thank you for being a frame through which Jesus might display his beauty.