My Broken Hallelujah

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And He tells me that my precious child, the one for whom I prayed, he is one big hallelujah.

He burst forth this side of heaven with a flourish, arriving earlier than expected.

It was there, in the hushed predawn light, before even the birds could herald the coming of the day, where I pulled him to my chest and breathed deep his nativity. For the holiness of that moment hung heavy and I lay still under the weight of it all.

In the months that followed I cradled my son continuously, in every crook and curve of my body. A skin to skin, breast to mouth, finger to toe rhythm emerged and soon we were connecting in thousands of ways, over and over. This sacred dance had no fixed steps. It was simply that Love led and we, the beloved, followed.

Both of us continued to grow in knowing and being known.

We leaned into the hard places, into the fevers and the pain.

And, together, we rose on zephyr winds, celebrating new exploits and the joy of new milestones.

My son was incredibly affectionate, with me. He would nestle down quietly into the folds of my body and he would fling his chubby arms around my neck, pulling me deeper into his heart space. I was enraptured with this little soul that longed for connection. He was mine and I was his.

We were growing into our God-stained selves and it was good.

We were together, always.

We spent hour upon hour curled up on couches, befriending the likes of Huckle and Lowly and Wilbur and Charlotte. We perched near our large picture window at every meal and, just as if he were learning his ABC’s, my son learned the name of every bird that visited our feeder.

Because we shared our home with other families, we almost always had one or two other children laced in and out of our every hour. My son learned the difficult realities of sharing and compromise early and he practiced them long.

I’m not exactly sure at what point I began to notice that things were changing.

Perhaps it was when, after a particularly difficult day that challenged his abilities to cope, my son’s response was not a tantrum. Rather than rage, he grabbed a book, found a quiet corner and simply melted away.

Or maybe it was when, at the age of three, he suddenly began to fear entering rooms on his own. Although he had previously explored our house with abandon and adventure, he now, inexplicably, dreaded corners and shadows. He refused to be sent on errands that took him away from me.

And then there was the pre-school music class. A room full of cranky loud instruments and rambunctious three and four years old proved too difficult for my little boy and the only way he knew to escape was to cover his ears and scream. Despite my self-conscious smile and humor-laced excuses, something, somewhere deep in my chest, caught hard.

This was not typical.

Belonging

But we love our children in ways intricate and complicated and so we will sometimes craft stories to support our hopes for our children rather than the truth about them. So as time pushed forward and the instances of non-typical responses became my son’s normal, I, unconsciously, began to weave my son’s narrative in order to help him conform.

For what mother can sit by and watch their child become isolated and set apart?

Who among us doesn’t want to belong?

I’m sure the challenges of social interaction would have surfaced earlier and more acutely had my son been enrolled in school. But we had decided early on that we wanted to learn from the center of our home and so, rather than flounder awkwardly in developing relationships, my son flourished in the context of freedom and exploration.

Intellectual Beings

I didn’t push independent reading, especially since my son was utterly content to pour over book pages despite his inability to read their contents. When the mechanics of reading were finally introduced, the understanding was almost instant. All those hours spent perusing pages suddenly proved invaluable and the information now available filled him near to bursting. He was unstoppable in his thirst for information. In addition to his own exhaustive reading, we continued to read aloud treasured books and stories and he acquired a rich and varied vocabulary as a result. I also attributed his verbosity to the extensive conversations we were able to have throughout our days and I marveled in my son’s intellectual acumen.

If my son read anything in a book, it was forever his, sealed in his memory and categorized appropriately. As the years passed, I secretly took pride in his academic successes and I gave myself pats on the back for doing such a fine job of educating my son.

But we are not just intellectual beings.

We are emotional beings, as well. And as such, we must learn to navigate the waters of feeling and nuance, emotion and subtly, empathy and discernment–just as much. Unfortunately, though, as each year folded into the next, my son began to discover that not everyone is gifted with sea-worthy crafts and sailing is not always an innate skill.

After many more years of questioning and rationalizing, fearing and wondering, hoping and believing  otherwise, at nine years of age my son was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. 

Asperger’s Syndrome is an Autism Spectrum disorder that looks different in every individual but there are three aspects that compose the general diagnosis: Individuals with Asperger’s have deficits in their ability to engage in social-emotional reciprocity (the give and take of communication); they lack typical nonverbal skills such as making eye contact and appropriate gestures; and, aside from their caregivers, they have difficulty developing and maintaining relationships. Restricted and repetitive behaviors are also indicated and my son’s strong fixation on particular interests (history, in his case), his hyper-sensitivity to sensory input (food, noise, and textures), and his extreme distress at changes in routine or expectations all combine to round out his diagnosis.

Diagnosis

It was March of this year when we received the diagnosis. That day, my husband and I rode home cloaked in thoughtful silence.

It’s hard not to relive every single moment of every single interaction or to replay every single word, thought or spoken, combing for causes and explanations and understanding. When things are not as they should be, there is this great grasping, this clamoring for meaning among the madness. And when the questions and fears and concerns regard your child–for whom the moon was hung and the stars were sprinkled across the black velvet–the cries are guttural and deep, even if muffled and hidden.

I don’t think I recognized the loss at first.

I stole furtive glances at my son and studied his aspect right round. I watched the way that he studied the sky and the earth, pensive and dreamy. I observed how he received the world’s offerings, timid and cautious. But the more I took him in, the more evident it became: nothing could extinguish the burning love that raged in my heart. The moment he was hidden deep within me, a holy fire was kindled.

But could my love save him from what lay ahead?

It’s been hard not to imagine my son’s future. He has friendships now, but they are the friendships of boyhood, built upon shared experiences and interests. What will happen when those with whom he associates want to talk deeper and longer and wider? How will he respond when others want to know how he feels about subjects that are outside his realm of expertise? So far, his peculiarities have been accepted, sometimes even endearing him to others. But I know that he must learn to operate outside the bubble of childhood and that he will soon venture into adolescence—a landscape fraught with clumsy bumbling and confused feelings in its own right.

How does one, for whom relating is so foreign, connect with others in ways that are meaningful and life giving? Will he find friends who are willing to look past his awkwardness and stoic perspectives to see the deep soul that God so beautifully wrought before the dawn of time? Will he one day find himself in love but be unable to express those feelings in ways that connect and develop? Will he always find himself an island, surrounded by moats of separation? Will he ever see the need, regardless of his deficiencies or his distance, for a God who longs to be in relationship with him? Will he ever feel fully known?

These are the silent pinings of my mama heart, the very same ones that slammed around inside my heart and mind the day we learned of his diagnosis. I am only now beginning to feel the weight of them, however. Some days, I can scarcely breathe for the fear of how they might be answered. Other days, I weep for what will never be.

But I can also say this: on the backside of those moments, when it feels as if nothing will ever be as I had hoped, I can feel the tremor of God’s love piercing through the inky blackness, drawing back the veil of mourning that I have donned for such occasions. He breaks through and He bears gifts and He promises me love-wrapped grace.

And He tells me that my precious child, the one for whom I prayed, he is one big hallelujah.

For, you see, he was made in the secret places, in pools deep with wonder and swirled with marvel.

And he has been known, all the days of his life.

That is truth and that is beauty and it sings and trills outright.

Whether holy or broken, my son’s life is a song of praise to God.

And I can see it now–how love has the power to spin gold from straw and that every moment we are becoming richer and richer.

“And even though it all went wrong

I’ll stand before the Lord of song

With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.”

–Leonard Cohen

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Holly Grantham
Holly is a wife, very relaxed homeschooling mom of three boys, snapper of photos, coming of age writer and a soul drowning in grace. After years in Atlanta where she attended college, married the love of her life and lived in an intentional community, she found her way back to her home state of Missouri. She now lives in an antebellum stone house, raises chickens (sometimes) and pretends that she lives in the country.
Holly Grantham

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