Crossing the desert

“Trust the Lord with all your heart

and do not rely on your own insight .

In all your ways acknowledge him

And he will make straight your paths “

Proverbs 3:5-6

Those days , my prayer was all for complete healing I wanted our lives to be totally free of Autism And I firmly believed it was possible , if we , the parents would lead lives acceptable in the eyes of God .

Like Napoleon Bonaparte, I thought nothing was impossible if we set our minds to do it ! So there I was, at that juncture, checking every action , every thought of mine , striving for holiness with all my might ! Needless to say , I failed miserably… It didn’t occur to me that I am just a weak human being and without the grace & mercy of God , I will never be anywhere near the pearly gates of Heaven .

Meanwhile Jeff was being prepared for his Holy communion with the rest of his class at our parish church. He knew the basic prayers and the commandments but had no idea about sin . He couldn’t lie ; nor did he have any ill feelings towards anyone irrespective of their attitude toward him . He was exempted from confession . A nice long chat with the priest instead was arranged for him so that he wouldn’t feel left out .

This is it ! I thought to myself . The time of healing is here ! What time would be more suitable for healing than the time he received the body of Christ !! The more I thought about it , the more convinced I became.

It was only after my charismatic prayer retreats that I came to believe in transubstantiation- that the bread & wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ during the Holy mass . It was further strengthened by my own personal experience of a healing – some years ago a blister in my mouth was healed soon after I received the communion.

” I am the living bread that came down from heaven ..”

John 6:51

I started getting excited about the Holy communion day .We had organised a grand buffet for our family & friends . Members of our extended families flew in . All those who had worked with Jeff and those with whom Jeff loved to interact were invited for our celebration .

I tried to spend my days before that date, praying . One part of my brain had already jumped ahead , imagining our life without the stigma of Autism . I was eager to reclaim our lives , which I felt, was in the clutches of this disorder . I vowed to myself I would never think about Autism ever again once Jeff comes out it .

The Holy Communion Mass celebrated by the Archbishop was quite long but surprisingly my son held on , showing no signs of restlessness! I looked eagerly for more signs of recovery but there was none .

The grand party was over and we were back home … My heart started sinking lower and lower with the passing of each day .. I asked God , why ?? (again after so many years .. ) Why didn’t you touch this innocent child of yours ? I got no answer.

Soon the questions faded away and I entered a dry patch in my spiritual life – God seemed so remote and I couldn’t reach out to him .

At the same time I didn’t want to feel that way ; so I read the psalms over and over again , found my cries similar to those of the psalmist .

“My soul clings to the dust

Revive me according to your word “

Psalm 119:25

Slowly I made my way back . If God didn’t heal him then , he had a good reason . I must not expect God to follow my timetable . All I need to do is to trust in him and he will act !

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways , says the Lord

For as the heavens are higher than the Earth , so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Isaiah 55:8-10

Unfailing love

‘O magnify the Lord with me ;

Let us exalt his name together ‘

Psalm 34:3

It is with a tinge of regret that I start this blog ; I have been away too long . I have made a promise to myself that I wouldn’t let the the cares of this world come in the way of this little task of mine . God help me keep that promise!

To continue with my journey- Those days there weren’t many therapists or educators who knew much about Autism here in India , making it difficult to get regular sessions with the ones who knew how to work with kids of the autism spectrum . The sessions gave us guidance for our home based therapy , usually done by the parents themselves. Sometimes a perceptive therapist would leave all of a sudden, throwing me into dejection . I learnt to wait in prayer and God , true to his promise, always, provided another , even better professional, more suited to Jeff’s needs .

“You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle . Are they not in your record?”

Psalm 56:8

Due to his difficulties in expression,no one was sure of my son’s intellectual abilities. He was good with puzzles . He was also playful . Often would he conceal what he learnt , watching gleefully the look of desperation on our faces ! I was watching him closely too , for any flicker of hope . And I wasn’t disappointed!

When the story of Adam & Eve was narrated to him , he seemed to be upset . I was clueless as to why. After a few days , when he was unhappy with something else , he blurted out , “Adam is still hungry !”

I was amused and happy at the same time, that his little mind had not only comprehended the story but even empathised with Adam ! The image, those days was that autistics do not have any feelings and they might never relate to others . Now I know they are extremely sensitive & perceptive ; the difficulty is in expressing their feelings. Here’s my son wondering why God wouldn’t give Adam an apple !

I taught him the Lord’s Prayer too ; though he had difficulty learning rhymes and stories , he picked it up quickly. Every time , he passed by the picture of Jesus on our Living room wall , he would pause , point his finger at Jesus and remind him categorically , ” DO NOT bring us to temptation ”

I could almost visualise Jesus , smiling at him !

However life wasn’t easy for Jeff; he was going to a regular mainstream school which provided no help for kids with special needs . Those days , very few schools would accept these kids ; fortunately things have changed for the better . Lack of awareness about autism among the teachers must have caused him a lot of anxiety. He was punished even beaten for his restlessness. This, he disclosed after a period of five years ! When he told me who all beat him ,I was surprised to find his sports instructor in that list . I recalled how Jeff had abruptly prayed over his fractured arm after this person had a fall. This was smilingly recounted by another teacher .

One of the several instances that make me admire his forgiving nature . His autism keeps a record of every event , every wrong . But he forgives unconditionally. I used to find it almost impossible to forgive especially when it concerns Jeff . As years rolled by , there have been more & more instances and I realised that I needed divine assistance to forgive from my heart .

“Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone;so that your Father in heaven will also forgive your trespasses”

Mark 11:25

Even after so many years, I struggle to forgive those who wrong my son ; and I constantly seek God’s help to do so .

The Divine Visitor

Come to me , all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest ‘

Matthew 11:28

These are the words that greeted me as I step into the Divine Retreat Centre in Kerala.

And I was truly weary ! Autism weighed heavily on my mind . It gave me no assurance . Since it is a spectrum disorder, even with steady intervention, there was no guarantee that my son would be able to lead a ‘ normal ‘ life .At the time of diagnosis, he just had fifteen words ; most of them intelligible only to us . There were so many questions on my mind – questions that I asked God in the silence of the night .There was hardly any time for me to think during day time as we were hopping from Montessori school to different therapy and activity centres .whenever he took a nap , I was busy making study aids or saying the rosary .

Annual Retreat at Divine was our resting time . But I must confess that during those initial years , I was in my infancy as far as my spiritual life was concerned. My one & only prayer was for Jeff’s healing ; For that I was ready to forgive anyone , make amends for any of my own wrong doing .. All I wanted was Jeff to be completely healed . My focus was on that , rather than on Jesus .

With eyes full of wonder , I watched the priest declaring healings , calling out names with quotations from the Bible ! Initially my sceptical mind did wonder if the priest had gone through the records and got some names . But then when some of them came up on stage and revealed what the particular word of God meant to them in their situation,I was truly stunned . Later on , I too found this to be true !

But not at that time ! How I longed for my name to be called ! After every worship session, I waited with baited breath , in vain .

And then something amazing happened. My son at that time must have been four and a half years old.On a Thursday day might , I was awakened by the light he had switched on . I found him sitting on the bed He had never done anything like this before . Thursday was the day of fasting and I was exhausted. When I asked him what was wrong , he just said ‘ open door , mum , Jesus come !

All that flashed through my mind was that I had to get up early the next day for the morning session and I heard myself saying that there was no one around and that he should go back to bed .That was it ..

The next morning , I was the most repentant person on the face of the Earth! Why didn’t I just kneel down and pray ?why didn’t I ask Jeff anything? What exactly did he see or hear ?

But Jeff had nothing to say the next morning other than Jesus come ! That precious moment was gone …. forever !

Blessed are the pure in heart , for they will see God

Mathew 5:8

The Promise

Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you;therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you.For the Lord is a God of justice;blessed are all those who wait for him.

Isaiah 30:18

When my son was diagnosed, I had very limited knowledge of autism. The only reference was Rainman, the famous Hollywood movie starring Dustin Hoffman& Tom Cruise . Though I had read the review , I had never watched it . From childhood, I had tried to avoid unhappy movies and unpleasant situations as best as I could.

But this time , there was no escape…I was confronted with this huge tree ..I started my climb , weeping and mourning about the future which to me looked lifeless ..

Internet was in infancy here in India those days. All I heard was some discouraging stories of Autism/ that ,at its best they can be intelligent with some deficiencies , robotic individuals with no feelings even towards their caregivers .

That was the time I turned God and cried out to him in despair. My first blog mentions the image of crucified saviour that I saw .. The tree of autism was no unknown monster ; It was a sycamore tree !

I needed more assurance and guidance; then I remembered Divine retreat centre , Kerala where I had gone once before my marriage-A place with mighty anointing of the Holy Spirit, where I saw miracles happening . I made friends with another girl and we both were quite cynical at the beginning of the residential retreat much to the chagrin of the elders in the room.. I was perplexed with the Charismatic Movement in the church ..I really wondered – Was truly God behind all the healings or was it just the power of a positive mind ? I had asked God to give me a sign , a definite sign to show that it was all his doing. It looks so silly now but what I asked was the power to wriggle my toes separately.I had tried that at home and had discovered that it wasn’t possible.And guess what ! He did it ! My toes moved like the keys of a piano .. I felt so overwhelmed & a bit ashamed of my cynicism. I also begged God to retain that for a few more days to show my mother ..It was a quite a surprise for her too ! It was at Divine that Mass became meaningful for me ..Most if my doubts were cleared and I discovered the joy of praising and thanking God .

However after my marriage, I slackened in my journey. I was too busy adjusting to the new environment of husband and in-laws .. (In India we are often married in to the family! ) Soon we moved to a bustling city , again new job , new environment, new responsibilities.

At this juncture, Divine retreat centre was the only place ,I thought ,would give me an answer- “Why “was the agonising question keeping me awake at night . We drove down with heavy hearts and met the priest who was in charge ; he prayed over us and said God allowed such misfortunes often to make us listen to his voice ; there was something that God wanted us to do .. we talked about the changes that are needed in our lives . He assured us God would heal my son but in his own time . We had to offer our suffering along with the passion of Jesus Christ to God almighty , interceding for others especially for those who are unable to break the shackles of sin.Rev Fr had also prayed over my maid who was looking after my son while we were at work ; He exhorted us to take her for an inner healing retreat. Sadly she refused ; she just wanted to go back to her village .Eventually I resigned from my job and plunged into the world of Autism.

My son had no eye contact with anyone else other than us ; After we returned, his speech therapist who knew nothing about the purpose of our trip , remarked that there was a lot of improvement in his eye contact ! She was totally puzzled!

This was the beginning of the positive changes that we started observing in Jeff !

More to follow…

Of death and dying

I am the resurrection and life. Those who believe in me , even though they die , will live

John 11:25

I dread the occasions when I need to break the news about demise of someone dear to my son . Being on the Autism spectrum , he has difficulties in both comprehension & communication.

Often have I wished, if Only I could peep into his brain and decipher what his fears and worries are ! How do we help him when we do not really know the exact cause of his anxiety? Sometimes even our wildest guesses have been proven wrong.

Death , especially when it is totally unexpected, is difficult for him to accept as his brain looks for logic & predictability behind every occurrence. Two weeks ago , I encountered such a difficult situation. His computer instructor, a very kind , patient person passed away due to a massive cardiac arrest , with no prior warning signs whatsoever. Jeff ( that’s my son ) was supposed to resume his classes the following week .

God is truly mindful of us ; I came to know about this distressing incident when he wasn’t around which gave me ample time to think of a way of breaking this news gradually to him . .It took us another week to do that , we could see him worrying over his ‘ sick Anthony Sir ‘ , praying every night for his healing and finally accepting that he’s no more . There were no ‘ whys ‘this time as was ,in the case of his grandparents.Now he prays for his soul every night without fail.

Jeff had really bonded with Anthony Sir over the past six months when he did a diploma in computer applications. Though his knowledge of Autism was limited, Sir was able to make him open up , even initiating some interactions with his class mates . He was a willing partner in our mission to make Jeff more independent.

The centre is run by the local parish to train the school dropouts for a meaningful occupation. Sir was able to place them also in small firms through his network.

He had touched many lives ; I have seen him interacting with those youngsters, encouraging them to do well , celebrating their small victories .. . The institute had a very open & friendly air about it , thanks to him .The most poignant image was that of the paraplegic boy from the home of missionaries of charity , a regular at the institute, weeping inconsolably at the funeral. There was an easy camaraderie between them ;it was a pleasure to watch them tease each other !

“And the king will answer them , Truly I tell you , just as you did to one of the least of those who are members of my family, you did it to me ‘

Matthew 25:40

So it was , with Jeff , Manu and many others. Anthony Sir will be sorely missed . May his soul rest in peace !

Under thy wings …

“He will cover you with his pinions and under his wings , you will find refuge ”

Psalm 91:4

Right from childhood, I have prayed for divine protection. In fact , during my teenage years, my prayer had even shrunk into a loud “God , protect me ! “before I turned in for the night . And He did, despite my foolish misadventures,He kept me safe under his wings .

One such incident that is indelibly etched on my mind involves my son . He must have been 4 or 5 years at that time and I was a super busy mom , driving him around the city for his intervention classes.

On evening I was rushing back after his speech therapy session, keen to get back home before the traffic becomes unmanageable.The sign of a popular bakery caught my eye and I remembered that Daddy ,who was visiting us ,would love to have something to munch on,with his evening tea .

Without a thought, I swerved the car from the main road to the cross road and parked it near the entrance of the bakery, promising my son that I would be back in a jiffy . At that time my son spoke only in two word combinations and that too in a very feeble voice . Unfortunately, there were already some customers waiting at the counter and it took me some more time to come out of the bakery,than I had imagined.

To my horror, I realized that the car was not at the entrance; nor was it on that cross road . I was too shocked even to think . Just then a young boy came by in his bike and asked me if I was looking for my car and I answered in the affirmative. “Is that the one ?”,he asked ,pointing to the other side of the main road .

Sure enough, it was my car . The car had slid down the cross road to the main road , down to the cross road on the other side and had come to a standstill , resting against Autorickshaw that was parked on the side!! There was a crowd of curious drivers and passers by around it too..

I raced across the main road my eyes straining to catch the little disheveled head in the car . And there he was , standing on the seat, looking confused.He hadn’t cried out apparently, possibly because he didn’t realise what was happening.

I jumped into the car ,shivering; the auto drivers were already making noisy demands, justifiably so ,for the dent caused by my car .

After handing over whatever money I had with me , I sat inside all shaken,feeling let down – How could you let this happen , God ! my mind cried out silently ” Didn’t you hear us singing of your glory on our way ? Didn’t you hear us asking for your protection? ”

With trembling hands, I switched on the ignition, only to be startled by a firm knock on the window. It a man , presumably an auto driver , with long , unkempt hair & strange gleaming eyes . I was scared, yet I rolled down the window.

The man gave a very toothy smile and said in his broken English, “Madam , God bless son, Madam .. Main road , Bus come Madam ”

My mouth went dry as I understood the gravity of the situation. Strangely enough no buses had passed by , all this time ! I gulped and managed ‘Yes’ in a hoarse whisper..

While driving back , I found it difficult to hold my tears

Wasn’t it my mistake that I had forgotten about the hand brake totally? How could I not see the mighty hand of God covering my son as the car cut across the busy street where buses are a common sight ?

I do sometimes pass through that road.. The bakery has gone ; the street has become busier ; But my heart still leaps with joy as my mind travels back in time , to that beautiful evening when not only God preserved my son but sent a stranger to open my eyes !

The beginning

Where do I begin ?

Let me start with the sycamore tree. Those who are familiar with the Bible will remember Zacchaeus, the short man who climbed up a sycamore tree to catch a glimpse of Jesus who was passing by.(Luke 19:1-10).To his amazement, Jesus stops at the foot of the tree and says he wants to stay in his house for the night . What follows is a complete spiritual make over . A corrupt tax collector transforms into a true follower of Jesus.

I remember the first time the name Zacchaeus made a personal connection with me . A class mate of mine , in the catechism class was apparently overjoyed at the discovery that this name suited me the most ! She turned back gleefully & called me Zacchaeus and there I was ,really upset as I felt she somehow ended my hope that I might grow taller … I didn’t retaliate verbally but my expression must have been quite uninspiring that she never dared to call me that again !

A decade or so later I was reminded of Zacchaeus.and the sycamore tree. I was rudely shaken by a sycamore that emerged out of nowhere !It looked sinister and callous , standing firm and unmoving in my path . I wished I had taken another path or would it emerge abruptly in any path that I would have taken ? I spent many sleepless nights blaming myself .

My sycamore tree had a mysterious name ‘Autism ‘ My son was diagnosed at the age of three as having pervasive developmental disorder which comes under Autistic Spectrum . .. I wished the tree would just vanish one morning but it never did . It was real. Finally I started my climb – clumsily as I couldn’t see through my tears . WHY pounded on my head . All of a sudden an image of crucified Christ flashed before my eyes -bleeding & bruised, his face sunken eyes half closed , the crown of thorns pressed deep into his head.

I had heard that part taking of Christ suffering is a blessing. I was okay with suffering in small doses , may be at regular intervals but I never wanted this all pervasive agony .

That image somehow helped me accept the pain and I resumed my climb , marked with slides and nose dives . But I have never landed face down as the strong hands of my mighty Lord catches me , always at the right time !

View from the sycamore tree is not always inspiring as there are crowds of people passing by too.. Some of them doing the things I always wanted to do . I cannot dream of doing them anymore – the tiny hands placed in mine are no longer tiny yet they are still feeble .

But then Jesus passes by too , not just once , many times and he stops at the foot of my sycamore, looks up at me with those loving comforting eyes – that makes every moment on the tree worth it.