Thou dost show me the path of life; in thy presence there is fullness of joy, in thy right hand are pleasures for evermore. (Psalm 16:11)
“Why don’t you bring your son with you? We would love to meet him, and there are plenty of children’s activities here at the ranch. We’ll find a big buddy to hang out with him.”
Joel is welcome—welcome! It has been so long since Joel has been invited anywhere.
I’ve been asked to lead a retreat for parents and grandparents of children with disabilities at Ghost Ranch Conference Center. I fly to New Mexico with Wally and Joel. I carry my heart in my hand, hoping against hope that somehow this will be the place where Joel will break out of his pattern of anxiety-induced aggression.
I return from an intense morning session where we’ve been exploring the stages of grief experienced by parents when a child is born with a disability or becomes disabled later in life through illness or accident. Wally, who had left the workshop early to check on Joel, greets me at the cabin door. Yet another report of hair-pulling. Even with a big buddy accompanying him to activities, Joel is acting out. Will it never end? He’s sixteen, for heaven’s sake! Are we going to deal with this for the rest of our lives? How am I supposed to do my job when I’m worrying about Joel hurting other children? I’m so tired!
Frustration. Anger. Impatience. Powerlessness. A churning stew of emotions, quickly reaching the boiling point, forces me out of the cabin. The screen door slams with a satisfying crash. I walk, half-trot, head down, avoiding eye contact with fellow retreatants, until I realize I’m lost.
“Excuse me! Do you know where the labyrinth is?” My voice, to my surprise, sounds abrasive and rude.
The woman points, says something about wind chimes. I walk between buildings, the sound of satisfied voices in the art center grating on my nerves.
Melodic wind chimes. A carefully placed pile of smooth stones. A feather blowing in the breeze. An oasis of calm in a challenging week. No wonder I’d walked right by, oblivious.
For the first time since arriving at the ranch, I am alone. The labyrinth lies before me, a large circle, its outer rim delineated by bricks, buried narrow edge up; its inner paths consist of soft-ball-sized rocks, some round and smooth, others jagged and asymmetrical. The path in the circle is clearly marked. Nerve ends jangling, I remember the brochure’s assurance that the labyrinth is not a maze; as an aid to prayer, the path to the circle’s center is easily followed.
I take a deep breath, blow it out. Breathe deeply again, willing tension away. Wiggle shoulders, shake hands, close eyes for a moment.
I step onto the path. To my surprise, it leads directly to the center-most ring.
“This can’t be right!” My voice sounds foreign, irate. I turn and walk back the way I had come, until I’m standing outside the circle, looking in, willing a clearer perspective.
The entrance path definitely leads to the center, then wanders back to a circle mid-way between the inner and outer rings.
Deciding to forge my own path, I step over rocks into the outer ring and begin to walk, counter clock-wise. I run into a dead-end and have to turn back. By now my agitation is boiling in great rolling bubbles. My breath comes in gasps. Again, I close my eyes and inhale deeply, blow it out, breathe deeply again.
The path is clearly marked. Put one foot in front of the other and trust. The words rise up, unbidden, through seething emotions.
“I can do that,” I hear myself answer.
And so I begin. I step onto the path so clearly laid out. Walk slowly, deliberately. One foot in front of the other. To the center. Away from the center. One foot in front of the other. Trust. Left, right, forward, backward, I weave my way around the circle, the path I’m walking making no sense. Just when I think I’ve made my way to journey’s end, I find myself back near where I began.
The words come as a mantra with my breath. “Put one foot in front of the other and trust.”
Wind chime harmonies drift on the breeze. A blur of bluebird flashes through my peripheral vision. A mutter of thunder threatens as light rain begins to fall, releasing metallic scent from desert sand, dirt, and rocks. Still, I walk forward, one foot in front of the other.
Path opens, without warning, onto circle’s center. Several boulders invite rest and meditation. I sit. Skies open. Palms up, I greet the rain. Contemplating mementos left by previous wayfarers, I realize I have nothing to leave but my frustration, anger, and fear of the future.
I lay them down and walk, head up, to greet the self I left behind the screen door’s slam.
Teach me, Lord, to walk forward on a daily basis in faith, to put one foot in front of the other, trusting in your goodness, your mercy, your faithfulness, trusting in your plan for my life, for Joel’s life, for the life of our family. Amen.
Excerpted from Autism & Alleluias (Judson Press, 2010)
Autism & Alleluias
A national report released in October 2009 in the journal Pediatrics reveals that one in every 91 children has an autism spectrum disorder. Most everyone knows a family that has been affected. What is the role that faith plays in helping families cope? In this series of slice-of-life vignettes, God's grace glimmers through as Joel, an intellectually challenged young adult with autism, teaches those who love him that life requires:
- childlike faith
- openness to all of God's gifts
You can read another post by Kathleen Deyer Bolduc, author of Autism & Alleluias on my other blog HERE.