Okay…So Now What?

Originally posted in April 2011 at A Gentle Answer Ministries 

Early Intervention specialists flooded our life with eleven therapy appointments a week. Occasionally they’d suggest we meet with a neurologist, but I just thought it was a casual recommendation. As educators and social workers, they were not allowed to offer medical opinions. In other words, they couldn’t come right out say they suspected Griffyn was autistic.  So truly, I had no clue.

When someone first said the word autism, it sounded ridiculous to me. I had never met a 2-year-old autistic child. My only exposure to it was from the movie “Rainman” with Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise. Certainly my two-year-old was nothing like that. But as it turns out, the only reason he was nothing like Rainman was because he was a baby and Rainman was an adult. Had the movie shown Rainman at two, the character might have behaved exactly like my son. Now, at 13, he’s very much like Rainman.

As the months of therapy followed, I noticed more and more how profoundly different Griffyn was from other kids his age. One day, I asked one of his therapists, “You don’t think Griffyn is autistic, right?” Silence, and then a slow, hesitating response.  “Well…the thought has crossed my mind.” What? I was stunned!

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the day we got the diagnosis. It was March 17, 2000, a cold and rainy day. The doctor spent a good half-hour just observing Griffyn, and then he conducted an extensive interview with me. When he was done, he leaned back in his big leather chair, crossed his legs, and closed the portfolio containing his observations of my precious little boy.

Perhaps he’d said the same words a dozen times a week. I was told he was one of the most sought after experts in the tri-state region. Maybe the repetition of this experience made him forget that all my hopes and dreams were sitting on the floor of his office that morning. It’s not that he was apathetic or even unkind, he just seemed completely unaware of the fear that was squeezing my heart. At that moment, it seemed as if my entire life hinged on the next few words that would come out of this man’s mouth. Perhaps in some ways that turned out to be true; I just didn’t realize then that there was nothing to fear.

The doctor was entirely aloof as he stretched his arms up, crossed his hands behind his head and assumed a position of relaxation. His work was done. “Well,” he said with a certain finality, “the diagnosis is clear. This is autism.”

In a moment I felt as if an avalanche had dumped on me, the weight of it dulling my senses. Had it lasted more than a fraction of a second, I would have been consumed with panic, clawing desperately through the swirling thoughts that filled my mind and clouded my ability to respond.

But in that fraction of a second, something amazing happened. God, the Creator of the universe, the very One who knit my son together in the depths of my womb, reached out with His amazing grace and poured it over me a like gentle waterfall, washing away the fear and the hurt and the desperation. In my own strength, left to my own thoughts, I would have crumbled. That fleeting moment of panic let me know that I was not able to manage this on my own. But in the power of God’s grace, I was suddenly bathed in peace. This is what the book of Philippians is referring to when it describes “the peace that passes all understanding.”

I breathed in His strength and leaned forward, and in that pivotal moment I looked the doctor soberly in the eye. God had pointed me in a new direction, and with great determination and focus, I said, “Okay…so now what?”

When our children are first born, they hold so much promise and mystery, and in our flesh it is tempting to imagine their future. When our son was diagnosed with autism, God showed me that I would need to let go of my ideas of what I thought he should be. Until I fully released my agenda into God’s hands, I would not be able to receive all the blessings that God intended to bring through this special child. And although God had guarded my heart and mind against despair, there was still a process that had to happen, a shifting and refocusing.

One morning a few years ago, as I was writing at my desk, my daughter brought me a 3-D picture to see if I could find the image. I held it close to my nose and let my eyes relax. As I slowly pulled it away, the image became clear. In relaxing, even allowing my eyes to go blurry for a time, my perspective was transformed. Once my focus shifted, the new picture was easy to spot. Instead of seeing the mish-mosh of seemingly random patterns, I could clearly see the crisp outline of a horse emerge from the page.

What a great metaphor! When we relax and allow God to refocus the eyes of our heart, a new image clearly emerges. Things may be confusing at first—blurry—but soon the events and circumstances of our life don’t seem so random, and instead of asking why, we are left asking how. Instead of crying out to God for answers, we cry out to God for wisdom and direction.

During my season of refocusing on Griffyn’s diagnosis, God gave me this verse: “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed.  But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”  (John 12:24) Once I let go of the child I thought I had, the one I’d created in my own imagination, I could open myself to so many new possibilities. God has so many riches in store for those who are willing let their own agendas die and trust Him for the harvest.

Jenni Stahlmann

Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of seven kids (ages 1 to 20) including one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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Jenni Stahlmann is the mom of seven kids (ages 1 to 20) including one on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Matthew homeschool the whole brood. Jenni has been a journalist for more than 20 years, having covered government, business and family issues for a wide range of magazines and newspapers. Currently, she and Jody co-host a weekly syndicated radio show, write a weekly newspaper column and freelance articles and speak at churches, political groups and homeschool conventions about parenting on purpose.

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4 thoughts on “Okay…So Now What?

  1. Jenni,

    What a wonderful testimony about how our Lord brought you to that peace that passes all understanding. I have often spoken about what an amazing advocate you are for Griffyn. I know it’s the Lord who has given you the strength to be all Griffy needs you to be for him. He is so special. I remember with such fondness a time when you lived on Hammersley when I stayed with him and Sky while you were out. We spent a couple hours jumping on your bed. He was having so much fun…and so was I. God bless you and Matt for bringing such glory to God as you parent him and all your kids. Love you both so much.

    Deb xxoo

  2. What a beautiful example of how to relax and allow God to work. Griffyn is as specail as the words of your story. I love your boy with all my heart. He is such a gentle soul with such love and fun in his heart. God knew what he was doing when he put Griffyn in our lives, he was bringing us sunshine in a very different form. So now what? Love and enjoy him.

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