I hear the front door of our house open and shut swiftly on a warm summer afternoon in Central Indiana, where we’ve made our home for the past 15 years. It’s a few days before school starts and all of my kids are a bit stir crazy. The unbearable August heat drives us inside most days by the time the clock strikes high noon.
After a minute I don’t hear the door open back up so I head to the front porch to see who escaped for a minute. I gently open the front door and peer out. There, by our front flower beds, is my 7-year-old son Jacob. He’s smelling each of the newly blossomed hibiscus. He sniffs, then picks, then sniffs, then picks. In between each sniff and pick of a bud, he stops, grins from ear to ear, and says loudly, “Ooooooo, that smells so goooood!”
Some may call his behavior … odd. A little off, or even weird. Truth be told, he has been called all of that and more before. But my heart fills with joy as I watch each step he takes. In the seven years since we adopted him, he brings me nothing but exuberant joy and happiness.
At an early age he was diagnosed with alcohol-related neurodevelopmental disorder (ARND). In layman’s terms, his birth mother consumed alcohol and drugs when he was in her womb and it left his brain permanently damaged. ARND affects children in many different ways. Some are aggressive, or delayed when it comes to academics. Some take on the characteristics of other disorders. My son’s mannerisms and personality closely resemble autism. In fact, he displays all the signs of being autistic.
He suddenly catches sight of me out of the corner of his eye and jumps back. He thought he was alone.
“Umm, Dad, what are you doing there on that front porch?” he asks very articulately.
“I’m just watching you buddy,” I reply with a smile.
“Are you mad at me for picking the flowers?” he asks. “Cuz I was picking them for Mommy.”
Gosh I love his giving heart, I think to myself. “No, I’m not mad, but remember our rule about picking flowers?”
He looks around for a minute before answering me. “Oh yeah, don’t pick the flowers unless you ask first!” he replies joyfully.
He bounds off excitedly toward the fort in the backyard that he and his brothers have worked tirelessly to build this summer. As he does so, he turns back and shouts at the top of his lungs, “DAD, YOU NEED TO SEE THIS AWESOME FORT WE’RE BUILDING … COME ON!”
At times, I think that kid sees the world around him in technicolor while the rest of us see it in black and white, or solids.
As I walk back from having a look at the amazing creation they’ve set up in our backyard, my heart suddenly fills up and I’m overwhelmed. “If only I saw the world the way he does,” I whisper as I walk through our back door. And with that, I sit down at my desk, open my laptop, and begin to jot down the valuable lessons, viewpoints, and perspectives I’m learning about the world from my son.
We need way more compassion.
He’s taught me so much about compassion. Specifically, that we need much much more of it in this world. The cold winds of mistreatment blow us around like a January wind. However, my 7-year-old son has figured out that giving it freely changes the world. He never sees others as being different from him, and he’s always first to make sure you’re OK if you’re sad or bummed out about something.
When my wife takes care of our good friend’s son Charlie, who has cerebral palsy, Jacob volunteers to go along with her and help. He loves Charlie. He’ll sit for hours next to Charlie’s wheelchair and play video games, or watch movies. He embodies compassion for other people, especially those who have special needs. Imagine that! A child with special needs loving and caring for another child who has special needs.
For as kind-hearted as my son is, I’ve watched him deal with his fair share of mistreatment for being different than other kids. Often, the inequality that still exists more than ever in our world sticks out like a sore thumb when you’re parenting a child with special needs. I’ve watched the way other kids react to him on the playground when he’s a little too loud or over-excited about playing with them. I’ve watched other boys push him away and tell him to go play somewhere else because he’s different from them.
I am reminded how much equality matters every time my heart breaks over the way my son is treated. You have an entirely different perspective on this when you or someone you love deeply is the victim of it. My son is a beautiful human being. It saddens me that there are some in this world that miss that entirely because they’re too busy thinking about themselves first.
We will never live in a world of ultimate peace until we begin to see one another as equal participants in this great thing we call life.
There’s immeasurable joy in this world when you look closely.
If it’s raining, my son is happy. If it’s sunny, he’s happy. If the week’s been a little too stressful and we haven’t been able to do much more than hang around the house, he’s happy. If the extent of our trip away from home consists of a grocery store run, or a prescription drop-off at the pharmacy, he’s happy to go along and just be with others. Joy is not being happy all the time; it’s choosing to be content with life, regardless of the circumstances. It’s a consistent belief that you’re okay, even when you don’t feel okay. Sometimes that’s happiness, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes that’s just a peace in knowing that you’re alive. You still have a heartbeat. You’re not dead!
If there were a poster child for joy, it would be my son. Even at 7 years old, he lives with a contentment that I sometimes envy. I pray he never loses that.
It’s pretty safe to say that, in many regards, my son has become the teacher. I’ve learned so much from him. Mostly, how to see the world around me. When others see darkness and hopeless circumstances, my son sees light. He sees hope.