Conversation Starters

A boy in my son’s class invited him to a birthday party recently. I bought a gift and marked the time/date on my phone calendar. The day of the party we arrived to find a few of his classmates in attendance, which I silently felt relieved that we would know at least a couple of the other party guests. He immediately ran to a girl in his class, who is Hispanic. Like him, she is also autistic with low verbal skills. I had never met her parents before since she rides the bus. Other parents who pick up their children after school usually congregate outside the building under an awning. After almost a year, I became acquainted with a few of them.

I walked up to introduce myself to the girl’s parents and was surprised that they knew very little English. In fact, the mother could say maybe five words in English, leaving her husband to do most of the interpreting which was shaky at best. All I could think about was how this couple must have a hundred questions related to their daughter’s school. I could not imagine how lonely it must feel to live in a foreign country, not knowing the language, while navigating/advocating their child’s special needs education!

We attempted a couple of times to talk but the few Spanish classes I had in high school and college completely evaporated from my brain. Knowing how to count to 20 in Spanish or recite the months of the year was not very helpful in the moment. I wanted to communicate with the mother and by the expression on her face I think she did too. She showed me a picture of their other child and I smiled back. We were reduced to facial expressions and pictures. My heart hurt for her and their family.


Then it occurred to me that my son might feel isolated in a similar way. I have wanted so desperately to communicate with him that it is easy to forget how he must feel too. A book I just read from an autistic boy’s perspective called The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida gave me a little more insight and sympathy on this. At thirteen, Naoki transcribed in Q&A form using an alphabet grid with the help of his mother and teacher. The book was later translated into English and has become a national bestseller. I definitely don’t agree with his New Age beliefs sprinkled throughout the pages but the core idea I took away from reading it was that we sometimes limit those who aren’t just like us. Whether it is a language barrier, intellectual, or physical, we often view them as less than the rest of us. Instead of learning what life is like in someone else’s shoes we are quick to treat the disabled or disadvantaged with less respect than someone we can relate to.


I still do this on occasion to him when we struggle to communicate or when he can’t calm down or because bath/bedtime makes him super hyper and giggly. The underlying fact is, when I don’t understand his speech or behavior I’m tempted to give up because we aren’t speaking the same language. It can be exhausting and frustrating. Yet I wonder how many times people with Autism or any other barrier are quickly dismissed because the ability to communicate easily is absent. We assume that there isn’t another way or that the case is hopeless. Reading this book gave me a different perspective, and for the first time, hope. Just because my son can’t speak in complete sentences like other children his age doesn’t mean he lacks intelligence or is less of a person. Naoki says,

“One of the biggest misunderstandings you have about us is your belief that our feelings aren’t us subtle and complex as yours. Because how we behave can appear so childish in your eyes, you tend to assume that we’re childish on the inside, too. But of course, we experience the same emotions that you do. And because people with autism aren’t skillful talkers, we may in fact be even more sensitive than you are. Stuck here inside these unresponsive bodies of ours, with feelings we can’t properly express, it’s always a struggle just to survive. And it’s this feeling of helplessness that sometimes drives us half crazy, and brings on a panic attack or meltdown.” (p. 109)


I imagine it might be like someone in a coma who can’t respond verbally or physically but can hear everything going on around him perfectly. His senses are a little thrown off, but mentally the coma patient can comprehend his auditory surroundings. Often doctors, relatives, and visitors talk over the patient as if he isn’t even there.

I’m learning to slow down and intentionally communicate with my son – mostly to understand him but also to treat him like I would anyone else without a disability. He’s only six so there will still be wisdom needed (and grace) for training and discipline because I often don’t know exactly what his level of comprehension is. But I don’t want to limit his abilities either. Sometimes that means pushing him a little, to gain confidence. Other moments are more grace-filled and tender, realizing he doesn’t have that specific skill-set yet. But it’s a start in the right direction. Conversation can happen in many forms, not just verbally. For us it looks like a smattering of sign language, spelling words out, hand gestures, pictures and one to two word phrases. We get by. And I am learning that I can’t put him in a box, because he always surprises me by refusing to stay in the mold that society has placed on him.

Grace upon grace,


The Life We Never Expected


          The Life We Never Expected by Andrew and Rachel Wilson is an honest confession inside a home with two special needs children – both have different forms of autism. The Wilsons write about real life experiences mingled with sadness and hope. They taught me that it is okay to grieve the dreams I had envisioned for my son; the things all parents look forward to for their kids: little league sports, college, independent living, marriage and grandchildren. Some of those may eventually come true, but right now a typical life is not one of them.

Andrew, a pastor in the UK, is transparent with his own struggles, coming to terms with the life he never expected. All the “big” ministry opportunities he envisioned, traditional parenting, and a regular life, was thrown out the window. Rachel writes in a vulnerable voice, acknowledging that this is hard and messy; but they find moments of humor and sweetness too.

Having a child with any kind of disability is isolating. I feel like I’m in a foreign land most days, unable to relate to another parent’s struggles because we are on completely different plains. When I’m not in the right mindset seeing my son’s typical peers wrecks me. This book has been a lifeline to help me remember that I am not alone. Sleepless night after night? Yes. Multiple therapy appointments? Yes. Hyperactivity, missed social cues, and seizures? Yes, yes, yes. Sometimes it’s comforting to identify with someone else going through a similar situation. I highly recommend this book as an oasis for any parent with a special needs child. Furthermore, family, friends, and the church can glean a helpful inside look on what daily life is like in upside down parenting.

The hope Andrew and Rachel possess as believers is contagious. They live with a mindset focused on eternity – in a world free from autism, epilepsy, wheelchairs, tube feeding, or any kind of suffering. One day their precious children (and mine) will have fully functioning minds where normal conversation is possible. One day they will be finally and completely healed. The Wilsons have given me a breath of fresh air with their raw and truthful words. For that I am grateful.

Here is an excerpt from Rachel:

“We are, at best, sailing desperately into the fog, with ever-changing winds, choppy waters, blank maps, and no real idea what we’re doing.

But God is the Captain. He is the navigator, mapmaker, and expert […] as uncertain as our voyage is, there are solid landmarks ahead that are knowable and concrete because of the Captain.

[…] I know He will journey with us to the very end, at which point everything that is perishable and incomplete will be gloriously resurrected and healed.

So I fix my eyes, not on what is seen but on what is unseen. And I take a deep breath.” (p. 148)


Grace upon grace,




The Last Battle

471013925     There are some books that come at just the right time for me to read or re-read. They have great impact and staying power as I linger over the substance weeks after I’ve finished the book. Usually they are books of encouragement and inspiration. It is a bonus if the book is fiction filled to the brim with imagination. One such author who can do that is C.S. Lewis.

I am a C.S. Lewis fan, specifically for his beloved children’s series The Chronicles of Narnia. Every year I pick up a few of the books to read through just for fun. There are seven total. This month I enjoyed reading “The Last Battle” that is the final installment in the series. Some argue book one, “The Magician’s Nephew” should be read last and not first but I prefer to stick to the sequential order (rule follower: guilty as charged). If you have never read The Chronicles of Narnia series I recommend starting at the beginning and work your way through.

I was a little surprised how much I loved this book since the last time I read it because it used to be my least favorite. Lewis beautifully parallels the Christian life to the world of Narnia. The Pevensie children, Digory, Polly, Eustace, and Jill lead similar adventures like Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress. Aslan, the Great Lion, serves as the Christ figure and he physically appears in and out of the books, as needed, but the belief in him always remains. Just like the fingerprints of God are revealed in our stories, so it is with Aslan over Narnia. His supernatural presence is always there even when he is not.

In “The Last Battle” the setting takes place during the last days of Narnia. Perhaps that is why I picked up this book in particular because it feels like we’re living in the last days of Sodom and Gomorrah right now. From chapter one we learn that a deceitful, wicked ape named Shift decides to create his own Aslan with the help of an ignorant easily deceived donkey called Puzzle. Puzzle becomes the puppet for Shift posing as the great lion himself. (False prophets anyone?)

The Narnians, who are mostly talking animals and mythical creatures, follow blindly out of fear or because they truly believe they are obeying Aslan’s orders. The majority of them do this despite the contradictions they see in Aslan’s character, what little they know of him or have been taught. Their hope, knowledge, and faith in the true Aslan is not firm, therefore the Narnians are easily swayed.

So I won’t give the whole book away, I’ll just hit the highlights of my favorite parts of the book. Namely, the last few chapters where Lewis opens the doors to the new Narnia are mesmerizing. It alludes to Heaven. Just even the teeniest tiniest insight to what that might be like is wonderful to meditate on. Lewis brings a simple understanding to how this world is but a faint copy of what is to come. Heaven already exists even though we cannot physically see it yet, so this earth foreshadows something even greater.

One day our faith will be made sight and I believe our senses will not even be able to handle it as we fall flat on our faces, so unworthy, but accepted and loved by God. The comforting theme I take away from “The Last Battle” is that this world is not our home and this is not the end, just the beginning. This is where our salvation and sanctification occur but the actual life we have belongs in Heaven. The writer of Hebrews says the men and women of faith who have gone before us “admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth […] Instead, they were longing for a better country- a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:13d; 16).

When we become discouraged because the earth is worn out, people revel in wickedness, and believers are left weary, take heart friend. The battle has already been won for us. This is how the narrator describes the ending to the story and coincidentally a summation of what believers can look forward to as we wait in eager expectation for what is to be:

“And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before” (228).

Grace upon grace,