I love music. Even from a young age, music has always been a big part of my life. I guess I have my parents to blame for that. I was listening to Dave Brubeck’s Time Out, The Beatles 1962-1966, Hootie & the Blowfish’s Cracked Rear View, and Alanis Morrisette’s Jagged Little Pill before I knew or understood what any of it meant.
But, as time went on, and my musical tastes expanded, I came to really like guitar-based music. Especially John Mayer. Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve been drawn to his blues/ jazz guitar driven sound. His first major record release, Room for Squares was one of the first CDs I bought when I was a teenager. While I’m not as much of a fan of his second, release, Heavier Things, there’s one song on that record in particular that I have come to love more and more as time has gone on:
I loved listening to the song as a teenager, but I didn’t really understand the deeper meaning until years later. I learned to play it on the guitar years later (it’s not that difficult), and even played/ sang it (poorly) during a Father’s Day service we had at church a few years ago.
It’s a beautifully heartbreaking story-song about a daughter whose father has caused her pain, whether intentionally or unintentionally, and, how, the songwriter is left to try to make sense of her past in light of his love for her.
Our oldest daughter, Abigail was not your typical baby/ toddler. She came into the world a month early, and for the first week of her life, spent most of her time under the weird looking light they have in hospitals for newborns who get jaundice.
I was terrified.
Her development continued, albeit at a slower pace than normal, but as new parents, my wife and I didn’t know what was going on right away. Around the age of two, she started babbling, which was seemingly normal to us, but didn’t progress further. She didn’t ask for food or drinks, instead she used to run into our teeny-tiny kitchen in our small, two bedroom apartment and stand against the back wall until I got up and opened the fridge, and she would go and point to what she wanted. That’s how I would know what to get for her.
My wife started telling me about Autism, and sharing with me that she thought it was possible that Abi might have it.
I dismissed it.
In the meantime, she knew something was wrong, so she set up to do testing with the early education center at our local school district to assess where she was in terms of development.
Finally, the day came when the test results came back. One of the teachers from the school came over to our small, two-bedroom apartment, and told us what we didn’t want to hear:
Our daughter had Autism.
I remember that day just like it was yesterday. I remember it being a cool, fall, day. I remember sitting on our love seat, beside my wife in our teeny-tiny living room, wearing a royal blue New York Giants hoodie I had just received for my birthday. I remember feeling crushed.
We asked some questions of the teacher, and then she left.
Over the next few weeks, my wife and I cried. A lot. I think I cried more than she did. There was a deep sense of loss for us. We grieved that which we thought was lost forever. A bit overdramatic? Maybe? But as a parent, you never want to hear that there’s anything wrong with your children.
Especially something like Autism.
I had so many questions, especially about my faith and Christian spirituality.
Some were practical questions:
What can we do as parents to help her?
Will we have a way of knowing how far she will progress?
Are we going to need to care for our daughter forever?
Will she ever be able to mainstream into the school system?
Others were theological/ philosophical in nature:
Why did God allow this to happen?
Why her/ us?
Are you angry with us, God?
Is there something I have done in my life that warranted this?
(Those last two are bad theological questions, and I recognized that later on).
I had just started my first semester at Asbury Theological Seminary, (as in started about a month before), so I was busy trying to get back into my “student” groove, working part time, and helping out at the church as much as possible. One of the first courses I took was an Introduction to Theology course, that laid out the process of “doing theology,” of seeking to understand God, ourselves, and the world around us.
So after a few days of tears, I got on the online classroom for this theology class, and laid it all out. I told them about the Autism diagnosis, I asked all my questions.
Then, I waited.
A few days went by, and no one responded.
One of the other classes I was taking at the time was called “Vocation of Ministry,” and I was leading a mid-week small group at the church at the time, working through some different spiritual disciplines. I remember sitting in the church sanctuary in silence, as everyone else prayed, silently crying more, silently yelling and screaming and cursing at God about the injustice of it all, how it’s not fair, how my 2 year old daughter didn’t deserve this, and neither did I. I did this for a few days, until I ran out of steam. I had nothing left to say. I was angry, sad, scared, and frustrated all at once.
Finally, my professor responded.
He answered my questions as best he could. He offered an explanation that was simple, easy to understand, and comforting for me, and told me to push back on anything I didn’t understand.
So I did.
He offered answers, I pushed back on things I didn’t get.
Our dialogue went on for a few days, as I sorted everything out.
He offered me hope through sound theology, and walked with me during a dark point in my life.
He helped me to see that grace abounds, even in the midst of pain.
So while the meaning for Daughters is very different for me than it is for most, I deeply love the “girl who puts the color inside of my world…” and my wife and I are doing the best we can to help her be the very best she can be.
And that, I think, can bear witness to grace, too.