Every day of the week has the potential to be a challenging day in the face of autism, but Sundays in particular are the most susceptible to difficulty. Even though it can be a busy day, there is routine every week; and with autism, where there is routine, there is safety. However, the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season is upon us which affects every facet of autism. The sensory overload of lights, the angst in the change of the look of our home, the excitement of being a 7 year old looking forward to Santa’s visit, the continued temperature drop outside coupled with the sensory issue of not being able to tolerate long sleeves – much less a coat on top of long sleeves…it all adds up. The most likely time for the straw to break the camel’s back is of course on the one day of the week that is the most stressful: Sunday. It’s the only way I can make sense of what happened today. Allow me to walk you through the first 4 hours of our day.
The kids have children’s choir rehearsal for a half hour prior to Sunday school, so we had to be there early today. It’s really not much different than any other Sunday when I’m on praise team and we have to be there early, except I wasn’t on praise team, so we had an extra 15 minutes this morning. Sam seemed okay this morning, just extra distracted. I had to prompt and remind him several times to eat his breakfast before we left. He didn’t want to wear his coat, but I made him anyway since it was cold enough to warrant layers. As far as I know, children’s choir and Sunday school went well. It seemed to be a good morning… until we got to the worship service.
As I was greeting people in the sanctuary on my usual Sunday “good morning tour”, talking to people I haven’t seen all week and don’t get to see often outside of church, I heard Sam and Josh fighting. I quickly went over and led them both out to a private room with Samuel yelling, “Am I in trouble?!” I told him we needed to have a talk, but he continued to question me at the top of his lungs. The three of us had a little “meeting” and went back in calmly to wait for the service to start, but it didn’t last long before another tragedy caused them both to become upset again. Just a foreshadowing of what was to come.
The congregation rose to sing, but now Josh was crying over paper. I held him, whispering in his ear that it was time to sing, and then I caught Sam not standing and singing with us, as he is expected to do. Holding my heavy 5 year old, I reached over his brother to get his attention to turn to the song in the hymnal (which he knows how to find and follow along), but because the song had already started, he was upset. During our family devotion and song time at home, he makes us start over if we start the song and he misses the entrance. Obviously, we can’t do that in corporate worship. He was crying, but he tried to follow along anyway, and I tried to help leaning over his brother again and pointing to our place in the song (still holding the heavy 5 year old). He was upset again during the last song before the sermon, so I had him move to sit by me from his place on the other side of his brother whom I had been leaning over. But he doesn’t do things without questioning, so he was arguing with me as he moved next to me. The last song was out of the hymnal and he was getting upset because he couldn’t get there in time. Luckily, I was prepared and gave him mine so he could start with everyone together. Point 1 for Mom.
Amazingly, there were no qualms during the sermon. Nothing big anyway. That’s good, because I needed today’s sermon. Our pastor is taking time between his usual method of preaching through a book of the Bible to preach a series on The Apostle’s Creed. Today’s sermon was on Christ’s return. He talked about all the various perspectives on the second coming of Jesus based on various Scripture passages intertwined with humorous anecdotes, including an upcoming book and past song lyrics by one Pat Benetar. Poor pastor, no one seemed to know who she was much to his chagrin. But despite all the ill-reasonings behind the end of the world predictions for December 21st of this year, and despite arguments over the interpretation of eschatalogical passages, the main point was this: Jesus Christ IS COMING BACK. Regardless of the when and how, He IS coming, and He WILL make all things new.
As is normal, we sang one last full song after the sermon. Today, it was “I Will Rise” by Chris Tomlin. As we ended the second verse and the music was building to go into the bridge with drums and cymbals, I heard Sam cry out. He had his tablet on his lap, and I saw it was powering off – dead battery. He made fists with his hands and was growling, then threw it beside him on the pew and proceeded to kick his legs and beat his head with his hands as he screamed. I don’t know how I did it, but I managed to convince myself not to cry as I turned to reach out to him and show a face of love and compassion so he knew I wasn’t mad. I felt embarrassed by his behavior, but was just barely worried about anyone watching – the understanding of our church family is truly astounding. I knew there was no judgment being passed on either him or myself if they even saw what was happening.
I was able to pick him up, but he continued to cry and yell at me that he didn’t want me to carry him. I put him down in front of me, and in his frustration, he walked to the end of the pew on the aisle. He wasn’t crying anymore, he just wanted to stand on the aisle. But somehow, he banged his back on the edge of the pew, so he was now crying again. I sat with him rubbing his back trying to say calming words in his ear, but no amount of consoling could assuage his tears. The sermon was now over, the pastor was giving the benediction, and I could hardly squeak out the last few lines of the benediction chorus. I was mentally exhausted, unable to process any more distress.
My mind began to wander to just a few things that need renewal upon His coming, and the tears were only held back by the dam of desire to maintain the appearance that I was not about to have a complete mental breakdown. Here I was with my autistic son who had just barely survived the last hour, my very dear friend in front of me who faces her second chemo treatment tomorrow for breast cancer, another dear friend across the aisle whose husband was just diagnosed with prostate cancer and who herself struggles with anxiety and depression, still another beloved family’s husband in the back who is in the midst of cancer and treatments, blind and bald, and yet I just heard God’s inspired Word preached that the One in whom I place my hope and trust is coming back soon. Not only will He come back, but He will make all things new. All things new. Those words alone were the only redeeming value of this Sunday morning. Jesus Christ is coming soon, and will make all things new.
I can’t wait.