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The Blessings Beyond Measure of Loving a Handicapped Child

During Advent each year, I pray daily, “Come, Lord Jesus.” Then I watch eagerly for special moments that help me recognize his presence.

Years ago, shortly before Christmas, my then almost four-years-old granddaughter spent the night with me. She had been diagnosed as having Autism at two. I asked God to somehow bless our time together. At that time, most words had no meaning for her. When we spoke to her, she either echoed what we said or resorted to a fast speed repetition of dialogue from a Disney video she liked. She could only express simple requests, mostly in sign language. This evening she set up her tea set on our kitchen table and to my surprise said clearly, “Have a tea party.”

So, she and I took turns pouring imaginary tea and saying, “Thank you” to one another. To break a long silence, I mentioned her little sister being sick. She responded by chattering incomprehensively to her image in the window, but then turned and looked at me and said clearly, “Cats go meow, dogs go woof-woof, cows go moo, and birds go cheep-cheep.”

I was both startled and touched, because she was describing the communication of others without language. And this was the longest understandable speech I had ever heard from her. Then, she yawned and a moment later smiled at me and said, “We go nighty-night.” Then she led me by the hand to our bed. There for the first time ever, she snuggled close and gently patted me saying, “Nighty-night.”

This amount of understandable verbal communication, direct eye contact, and her initiation of a physical show of affection and sustained physical closeness were completely new.

I thought of the Scripture in Second Corinthians where Paul quotes the Lord, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” With silent tears of joy, I recognized the presence of God and His grace within us. And my heart overflowed with love for my wonderful little granddaughter.

Here are the Blessings Beyond Measure that I have experienced in loving a handicapped child: Learning to love unconditionally. Recognizing that life is about becoming the person we alone were created to be. Wanting all others to succeed in their own journey. Experiencing sheer joy over others’ and our own small, but difficult achievements. Learning to live in the present moment. Finding freedom from living for image or others’ opinions. The gift of your own best self being called forth. Learning patience. Developing tenderness toward the vulnerable. Finding the courage to have humane values. Becoming able to see the beauty in those different from ourselves. Seeing with Jesus eyes.