Lately I have been reflecting on the countless lessons the Lord taught me during the years that I cared for my oldest son, Justin, after he was left severely brain damaged from a lack of oxygen at age five. As the twentieth anniversary of that event approaches and I have been writing about that season in my life, I am amazed, awed, and forever grateful of how the Lord used Justin to open my eyes to the appalling condition of my own heart, to pry my fingers from the gifts in my hand and lift my eyes and my heart to the giver of all things, and to mold and shape my heart and my life.
When Justin came home from the hospital my world was turned upside down. He could no longer walk or talk. He couldn’t feed himself or even hold his head upright, and because of the damage to his brain and nervous system, he cried uncontrollably and inconsolably for hours on end. I remember becoming very angry at him after my efforts to calm him proved futile and my heart would seem to be void of compassion as I looked on him with detachment and wondered if I even loved him.
Then guilt and grief would come crushing down upon me and I would drop to my knees and cry out to God. During those early years my prayers were always that the Lord would heal my son, that he would restore his voice, his ability to communicate, and his ability to exert self-control; I wanted the Lord to remove this trial and to take it from me. I did not want to raise a handicapped son. I wanted my whole and perfect little boy back and I was angry that God had taken the child I once had from me.
Then one day after an angry outburst, I found myself locked in the bathroom on my knees in tears crying out to God in a prayer of complaint. I cried about how awful it was to have a child who would never grow up, who would never feed himself, who would never eat from our table and I begged the Lord to heal my son of his handicaps. Instantly, Paul’s words to the Corinthian church came to mind as he said to them, “I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able.” I suddenly realized that I was the one who was handicapped; I was the one who was still unable to eat meat from the table; it was my heart that was immature and weak; I was the one who needed to be helped and healed.
In desperation, I began to pray that God would help me to control my anger and that He would replace my anger with compassion and love. It did not happen instantly and many times I would stumble as anger and frustration poured out of my wounded heart, but I would run back to my Heavenly Father and once more ask for help and healing, fully convinced of my own inability to change myself. Gradually, the Lord did heal my heart and slowly He replaced my anger with compassion and a deep love for my son.
Although Justin has been gone several years, as I reflect on his life, the Lord continues to use those lessons to mold and shape my heart and I continue to praise Him for that journey which he allowed me to travel with a beautiful, little, red-headed boy named Justin.