I once heard a professor describe blame as a way to discharge pain and discomfort, and that made a lot of sense to me. When we feel something that we don’t want to feel, pointing to a source and somehow making that source culpable in our minds might temporarily ease that pain. Blame gives us a way to say, “this is not my fault.” And I think when it comes to difficult things, those five words, and whether or not they are true, make a big, big difference.
Two weeks ago Cannon and I sat in the office of a Pediatric Developmental Specialist at the Children’s Hospital. The wait for the doctor felt exceptionally long in that small space, partly because two-year-old boys are hard to impress with crinkly bed paper for long and partly because I knew exactly what was coming the moment that door opened. The doctor would come in, we would exchange niceties and then he would ask the ten questions I’ve answered at least a dozen times the same way: he sometimes does but sometimes doesn’t. There would be a very brief glance at my little boy’s eyes, ears, and spinal cord; and then that hardest part: the watching. I hate the watching. A perfect stranger who couldn’t pick your son out of a crowd for a million dollars just watches him, tells me not to help him in any way, makes a few comments about all the things he is not doing, and draws his conclusions. All the while I sit on my hands to keep them from directing my sweet boy, pray for a moment of breakthrough, will him with my determined eyes to do his very best, and force the tears that want to escape back down to my heart, because they have to at least wait until we are in the car.
And then in what felt like the same amount of time I waited for that door to open, the doctor tells me to return to the waiting room while he writes his diagnosis.
Autism is real tricky. We’ve known this diagnosis was imminent since May, but still, the word stings. It brings with it an avalanche of questions, almost none of which can be answered today but, like many things, will sort themselves out one way or another over a lifetime. But there is one question that lands on a mama’s heart like a bag of bricks heavy enough to crush you. Its implications are enormous, because it determines the landing place for blame and the reaction we will spend our lives living out.
Is my son’s autism my fault?
Since I started writing about Cannon's journey, we have gotten a lot of well-intentioned advice and a fair amount of well-meaning questions:
“Katie, based on Cannon’s history I hope you consider not vaccinating Jordi.”
“Have you tried the natural route? The naturopath I see has told me she can help kids with autism.”
“I’m a speech therapist, and you should consider trying this.”
“Isn’t autism mostly food related?”
“I’ve had a few autistic students in my class over the years. Some of them actually have friends!”
Again, all well-intentioned. And I listen to all of it, because my honest assumption is that everyone is so for Cannon.
But it’s a lot for us. Because at the very same time, I have my own questions; thoughts that keep me up and night and leave me restless as I go over again and again what we both did and did not do for Cannon. But they all come down to wanting to know one thing: who or what can I blame for this?
Like I said, autism is real tricky. Every child with this classification looks very different from the one next to him with the same classification. Every parents’ story is different. Every moment of recognition different. Some therapies work well for one child and don’t make one noticeable difference at all for the next. One doctor says “mild” and another says “significant accommodations needed.” One camp says “diagnose” and another says “don’t put a label on him.” It feels like an endless game of chess, of moves and counter moves. I’ve never even liked chess.
Dwelling on all the questions and comparing the myriad opinions has served only to take the joy out of my life. I’ve spent too much time feeling low, too many hours anxious, too many days fixing my eyes on a future of special needs instead of on Jesus.
Because here’s the thing: even if I did have all the answers, if there was someone or something to blame, would that really help?
In his sermon on John 9, John Piper said something that has left a profound impact on us. In the text, as Jesus and his disciples passed by a blind man, the disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, nor his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
And Piper goes on to say this: “…this blindness—this specific suffering—is not owing to... the parents or the man. Don’t look there for the explanation… The explanation of the blindness lies not in the past causes but in the future purposes.”
Isn’t it amazing that God’s word is not silent. Even in this, even in autism, God has not left us alone. We could spend our lives—as many despondent parents do—looking for a place or a person, even ourselves, to throw this pain at, and then spend our energy and emotions fighting that very thing. But I don’t think that’s where we are supposed to stay.
Here’s the thing: God is either sovereign or He’s not. Either or. He cannot be sometimes in control and sometimes not in control. He has not ordained only the good days and simply said, “Hey, good luck!” for the bad days. He said he is working all things for His glory and our good.
And His glory is our good.
And even autism falls under the category of “all things.”
There is a lot I may never know this side of heaven. But when I focus on what I do know, everything looks different. And I do know that God’s word tells me his power is made perfect in our weakness, that Jesus has the power to subject all things to himself, that God is not a God of confusion, and that Jesus himself is our peace. When I say these things out loud, and when God helps me believe them, brick by brick, the weight comes off my heart.
And when I hear my sweet boy belly laugh, another brick gets moved.
And when a friend shows up with food on a particularly full and emotional week, another one.
And when Cannon makes the occupation therapist laugh, another one.
And someday when we look back on Cannon’s life, and we see God’s goodness woven through each chapter of his story, I think we will see that with every moment of glory given to God and every purpose of his fulfilled, the weight of blame got lighter and lighter, until it wasn’t even there anymore. Until it was all glory.
And you know, I think that might be the whole point.