Word of the Week

Can anything good come of autism?

As the days of Lent continue, I'm glad in this Birthed series to introduce you to my colleague, Anne who shares her family story. She reminds us that even in the hard places of life, the best surprises are possible! 

Our oldest son will be 21 this year! He is the child I birthed at age 39, long after friends and relatives thought my husband and I would never become parents. Surprise! I have discovered how much I resonate with Abraham and Sarah!

In the baptismal liturgy of my tradition, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America the minister prays these words as a sign of the cross is placed upon the forehead with oil: “Child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit, and marked with the cross of Christ forever.”   Our son was baptized at 3 months and his identity as God’s beloved has always been not only God’s claim upon him, but our conviction as well. “This is my son, the beloved,” God says to Jesus at both his baptism and transfiguration, and God certainly echoed those words on that day for our son.

At the age of 3 we learned he was developmentally delayed. It was determined several years later that he had a form of high functioning autism, called PDD-NOS, Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified.

In the late 1990’s there was not much information about autism. Most school systems in rural areas such as ours had little experience with anyone on the spectrum. In fact, our son was one of the first so diagnosed in our elementary school. That began my years of going to conferences to bring needed information about social skills and advocacy to the school until they grasped the necessity of teachers receiving such training. It began many conversations with those who grasped his needs and those who ignored them.

But this story is about those who rose above expectations, who persevered with our son, who saw him as beloved-- those who recognized and celebrated his quirkiness, his passions, his uniqueness as a beloved child of God.

What my son's autism has birthed in me is gratitude for the love around all our lives.

Thank you from the depths of my heart. For you have been the light of Christ shining in the darkness of those who fear, judge, dismiss, or condemn. In your giving, you have restored for me the reality of a gracious God who loves everyone. For God so loves the world, Jesus tells us in the Gospel of John. Not those who are the same, not those we believe deserve it, but everyone. Especially those who we in our human limitations and brokenness cannot even imagine God naming beloved! But the wondrous good news is this: everyone is a recipient of this overwhelming, generous, healing love rooted in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

I can't help but mention a few of them.

Thank you, Matthew! We adopted you into our family at birth and you have been a steady, sure presence in our lives. You brought your giggles and love of life to Adam and have been an advocate and friend even when it was hard to do so. As the youngest you have diligently challenged, provoked, and tested your older brother, all to his benefit!

Thank you, Tasha, Nathanael, and Brian!  Your families were the ones who extended invitations to those early school age parties. By your inclusion, by your acceptance and hospitality, I saw the Christ who  welcomed the marginalized and outcast.

Thank you, Jamie! As a teacher you saw beyond the label of “special needs” and believed, encouraged, and advocated.  Your vocation is a blessing, a gift of God.

Thank you, Ann! You were a special 4-H leader. You invited our son to participate, loved his quirkiness, and taught him to sew and cook, receive his first awards, and most of all, belong to a group.

Thank you to Diane, Jen, Paula and Miriam! Sunday School teachers extraordinaire!  You invited, included, and rejoiced in his participation in the life of the church. You lived out the promise of Romans 12:6 - We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.

Thank you, Robin, master of social skills! You pursued your passion to help students on the spectrum grow and mature and learn to communicate with others. Your self- sacrifice gave new life to our son.

Thank you, scholarship committee. You recognized our son’s love of history and awarded him! The beaming smile he displayed that night was a sign of pure joy. It is etched in my memory and my heart forever.

Thank you, Dave. As a college advocate for those who learn differently, you encourage and support with patience and kindness. Thank you for being there. Thank you for giving hope and confidence to our son.

Thank you to all who think outside of the box.

Thank you to all who recognize the gifts which lie beneath the surface of who we are.

Thank you to those who recognize the Christ in others.

And thank you to the medical staff who helped me birth this beloved one of God, after 40 hours of labor and an emergency C-section. Born with a beating heart but needing to be resuscitated, you helped breathe the breath of God, the breath of life into his sturdy 9 lb. 6 oz body.

Adam, child of the earth, beloved of God, happy 21st birthday!

And thank you, God of all creation, for you continue to birth new life in us. Your Spirit is alive in our midst as you tend to your beloved. And we are the blessed recipients of your love. Thank you for all that has been, and for all that is to come. To you be all blessing and honor and glory and might, now and forever. Amen

Rev. Anne Roser is a mother, wife, sister to 5 younger brothers, daughter, gardener, music lover, and Lutheran pastor. At the age of 2, with her parents, she immigrated to the US in 1959 from Sweden. Ordained in 1985 in what is now the ELCA she serves currently as an intentional interim pastor in Portland, Maine. She lives in the mountains of New Hampshire with her family and Rocky the gecko, Mandy the cat, and Ben the dog, as well as all the wild animals of God’s wonderful creation (deer, moose, coyotes, lynx, bear, etc.) in the woods around her home.