When I was twenty-five, I went to a meeting where Chieko Okazaki spoke. I don’t remember what she said that day, except for one thing.
She said, “There are more miracles than we realize happening in our lives every day. If we are aware, we will see them.”
I had one little baby at the time and he was basically perfect. My life was humming along fairly seamlessly, and I remember thinking to myself, “Yes, miracles. Miracles are the things that happen to ensure our lives go well. Miracles mean that disasters are averted, that we will be protected from terrible things if we only keep the commandments.”
This was my inner dialogue as I listened to Chieko speak, and I wanted my life to be filled with miracles, keeping me safeguarded from tragedy.
Which is, frankly, a stupid notion.
The next year I had Jack, who as you know, has a rare syndrome whose hallmark is severe cognitive delay. He also has autism. This is when I began to learn about the actual definition of a miracle.
When we had Jack and things started getting really difficult, I no longer felt like the world was my oyster. I started realizing that no matter how hard I tried to parent my disabled son, I would never be enough. That’s the thing about disabilities–visible or invisible. They are bigger than we are, and they generally stick around for the duration.
I realize I’m not alone in feeling inadequate. Inadequacy isn’t a special-needs mom condition. It’s a human condition. We come to earth to learn and grow, which means we are separate from our Heavenly Father. I believe we miss feeling whole, as we must when in the presence of God. Feeling “not enough” is a pretty normal way to feel in mortality.
So we come to earth and experience growth. This sounds terrific on a general level, but more specifically, it looks like being deeply challenged. Like spinning our wheels. Like trying but failing to reach goals. Like discouragement. Like fear. Like anxiety.
I spent a lot of years feeling inadequate as a mom. I wasn’t smart enough/patient enough/consistent enough to change my son and make things better. And, I thought God wanted me to figure it out myself.
Over many years of living in this crucible, my thinking changed.
I stopped praying for things to get better. I started praying for the energy to keep trying. I started praying for wisdom to know how to approach my challenges.
I hung on to the concepts of Helaman 5:12 “Remember that is is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.”
I reached a point a couple of years ago where things were getting progressively harder with Jack, always more difficult. I felt like I had reached an enormous brick wall blocking my path, the kind I had figuratively climbed hundreds of times in Jack’s lifetime. But I had nothing left in me. I could not climb it.
I was driving one rainy night by myself and praying. I asked God to step in. I told Him it was time. We needed his help. We held a fast with our extended family. We prayed.
I had the weird sense that I was like a horse, harnessed and head-down pulling a wagon with a heavy load up a never-ending hill, and I couldn’t keep doing it. My friend Shirley taught a Relief Society lesson awhile back where she brought a picture of two horses yoked together, pulling a wagon. I just stared at that image all through the lesson and in my mind, heard the scripture from Matthew 11 that says, “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Things started to change that spring. Jack suddenly qualified for disability services, something I had applied for six years earlier and never expected to get as the wait list is enormous. Jeff and I got to take a vacation, without children. I went to yoga and while attempting to plank, felt the Spirit say that raising my particular children was hard, but I was doing it. I could do it.
It felt like, in the midst of pulling this heavy load, I looked to my side and realized that I wasn’t pulling the load by myself. Jesus Christ was pulling it too, we were yoked together and He was stronger than I was.
I have a dear friend in my writing group, whose name is Beck. She is smart, funny, kind, and has a completely radiant testimony. Her faith is strong and absolutely inspires me. Beck has some big challenges in her life. Big, never-ending challenges. Sometimes she has amazing dreams that are really spiritually charged. She told me about one particular dream.
Beck was sitting in the center of a large university auditorium, with rows of chairs raised like an amphitheater in front of a lecture platform. The chairs were full of students, and she saw the teacher over her right shoulder. He was dressed in tweeds with leather patches on the elbows–very academic looking. He walked down the stairs to the podium and as she looked at him, she knew it was Satan. He began to speak, telling the class that Jesus Christ was not real. He was using all sorts of arguments to convince the students that there was no such thing as the Savior.
Beck sat listening and was filled with horror, thinking, “All of these people are going to believe Satan. I need to say something. I have to tell them that Jesus Christ is real. I have to.” So she took a deep, shaky breath and started to stand up.
As she stood, the person to her left also stood. She looked to her side and it was the Savior standing beside her. She said he was dressed in regular current-day clothes but she knew it was Him. She thought, “Okay, we are doing this together.” And she told the auditorium that she knew Jesus was real and He is the Savior.
Beck’s dream and my personal image of the Savior pulling a heavy wagon loaded with my troubles have been so moving to me. These images have helped me process that even when I feel alone, I am not alone.
I recently was having a really rotten day where several people who work with Jack lost their tempers and said things that hurt me. I thought, “These are people who work in the field of special needs, and even they do not understand what it’s like. No one understands.”
I was thinking this and a thought pierced my thoughts. “Jesus does. He knows.”
Let me tell you a story about last winter. At Christmastime, Jack went off the rails. He became entirely aggressive and unpredictable. He also went through hormonal changes and a growth spurt where he gained twenty pounds and a few inches in height, so that really helped matters. He started attacking people in the car while we were driving places, including me when I was driving and the only adult in the car.
Over Christmas Break last year his behavior was so severe, that we could only keep our family safe by putting him in his room and locking the door, where he would pound his head on the floor. We resorted to taking him to the university’s neuropsychiatric hospital to see if he could be admitted and they could offer us some form of help from the devastation we were experiencing.
They did not admit him, for various reasons, but sent us home and told us to keep doing what we were doing—keeping him close to home and using his room as a safe space for him to de-escalate. It was taxing and exhausting. And sad.
So, this is when I talk about miracles again. Last winter was awful. It was painful to see Jack in such a state and not be able to help him. It was painful to see how Jack’s issues were weighing down my whole family. It was exquisitely painful to not be able to reach my son, who was so distraught that he would hurt people and then bang his head on the floor in frustration.
It doesn’t sound logical, but in this winter of sadness and difficulty, I learned about miracles.
Some of the miracles in my life are:
*That long-term suffering has not killed us. It has taught us to turn to God and eschew worldly things.
*That we have a Savior, and because of Him, all this is temporary. We can return to God and be whole again.
*That Jesus absorbed all the world’s sadnesses, wrongs, and despair. He knows exactly how we feel.
*That we can keep going with hope and peace even when the worst case scenario happens. Even when it is counterintuitive for us to be grateful or peaceful, we can be. Even when we are caught up in a whirlwind of disaster, we are not alone because our Savior is beside us.
The miracle for us is that we can keep going, even when it’s desolate. Jesus is at our side, standing with us.
Jack is a miracle in my life, not a tragedy. He has shown me that Jesus is at my side.