And so the two of us begin our frantic search for our son. The hunt always involves escalators and elevators, trains and buses and airplanes. When I awake, always mid-search, my eardrums thrum to the wild beat of my heart, and damp sheets entangle my arms and legs.
Our son is moving away from home in six short weeks.
Joel, the youngest of our three sons, has autism and moderate intellectual disabilities. At 25, he functions at a grade school level, only he’s never learned to read or write or do simple math. He has no perception of stranger danger or the importance of looking both ways before crossing a busy street. Joel struggled with anxiety so high throughout his teen years that aggression was his most likely means of communication. For close to ten years, he cycled through a manic cycle every six weeks, which meant not only that daily melt-downs were the norm for two weeks out of six, but that no one in the house slept for those two weeks.
Intense is a word that comes to mind when I look back over the last 25 years.
Of course, there has been plenty of joy along the journey. Joel lights up our life with his zany sense of humor, his compassion for people who are hurting, his spontaneous prayers, his abandoned form of worship (sometimes he “breaks it down”—his expression for dancing—in the church aisle), his forgiving spirit, and his sweet smile.
Life with Joel has taken us deeper and deeper into that dark, creative place within—the place where new life teems just below the surface, waiting to break the ground in a riot of colorful blooms. It’s the place where Wally and I meet with God on a daily basis, because we’ve figured out it’s beyond our capability to parent this child completely in our own resourcefulness, energy, or sufficiency.
What a hole will be torn in the fabric of our lives when Joel leaves home!
I keep reminding myself that he’s 25 years old. He’s a young man. He doesn’t want to be with Mom and Dad all the time. He often pushes me toward the front door and says, “Time for Mom to go to work.”
“Sorry Joel, I work at home,” I answer.
“Time for Mom to go now,” he reiterates, letting me know he’s tired of my company.
What 25-year-old wants to hang out with Mom and Dad all the time? What 25-year-old male wants Mom wiping his face after dinner? Reminding him to put up the toilet seat lid every time he walks into the bathroom? Watching his moods like an investor watches the stock market?
Yes, Joel is moving from our home in six weeks. He’s moving to Safe Haven Farms, a community of choice for adults with autism, which is under construction at this very moment just 45 minutes from our home (www.safehavenfarms.org ). We joined the planning stages of this venture two-plus years ago. Wally’s on the board, we’re both on the parent committee. At Safe Haven, Joel will participate in meaningful work. He will help grow flowers, fruits and vegetables for the table as well as for sale at local farmer’s markets. He will have the opportunity to learn new skills on the computer in the learning center. He can create birdhouses, squirrel feeders, paintings, sculpture, or whatever he desires in the therapeutic arts center. He will help care for goats and sheep, alpacas and horses, and participate in a therapeutic horseback riding program (he’s been riding for 12 years and absolutely loves it). There will be four houses with four farmers in each house. Joel and his three housemates will help shop for and cook their own meals as well as keep their home clean and help with the laundry (Lord, help us!). The local church has already invited them to be a part of their congregation, with small group participation encouraged during the week.
I remind myself on a daily basis that we’re not losing our son. We’re finding our way into a future where new life is waiting to burst forth, in his life and ours.
I bet that’s what the escalators and elevators, trains and buses in my dreams signify. They’re all modes of transportation, whisking us into the unknown future.
You and I both know that the known world is always more comfortable than the unknown world. Plunging into the unknown is both scary and exhilarating.
A small framed painting sits on my desk; a colorful representation of a girl on a horse with a quote that I love emblazoned across it:
Be not afraid of moving forward. be only afraid of standing still.
I think—no, I know—it’s time for a new dream. A dream where Wally and I hop onto that train (or escalator, airplane, or bus) with Joel, tickets in hand, knowing that we’re accompanying him into the future of all that God has in store, not only for Joel, but for Wally and me as well.