We had just arrived ourselves and were standing in the back. The music was starting; people rose to their feet. We moved just slightly out of the way to let the family pass by. That's when this woman spotted Anna. She raised a gnarled hand slowly up towards my daughter's face. "Will you?" she asked. "Will you please pray that my grandson will talk?"
Her grandson. I will call him "Sam." Every time I look at Sam, my heart is full. Sam is severely autistic. He is, in fact, the one person I've met who most reminds me of my brother. I remember when they had him in the toddler room when he was seven because there was no way he could sit through a Sunday school class. These days he either sits in church, or has a helper who will bring him downstairs.
Sam has gotten overwhelmed and become close to violent. He sometimes flaps his hands and makes unconventional noises in the middle of church. His stepmother and father are unfailingly patient. They work with him to get himself under control, or leave if he is becoming too disruptive and help him settle himself in the foyer or downstairs.
Anna didn't know the story or the family. She looked confused but answered sweetly, "Okay..." and tossed me a sidelong glance, for help or clarification.
In a split second a hundred things flashed through me. Memory; hurt; hope; longing. I saw my brother running out of the nursery before the helpers could stop him, yelling unintelligible things, running down the side aisle of a long-ago church, and flipping off the lights so the congregation went dark. I heard the questions that had run through my mind, for so many years..."Why?" Not just "Why him?" but more -- "Why the prayers that go unanswered?"
In an instant I thought of the wishing and praying, of watching the years go by and seeing things go on just as they always had; of well-meaning people; of ministers who tried to make God's role in all of this something much bigger or much smaller than it actually was.
I wanted to tell her...oh, I wanted to tell her I knew what it was like to wish things were something other than they were. To feel overwhelmed by something so overwhelming that you think, "If he would just talk, this would be better."
I didn't want to say in some ways, maybe I, half her age, was more jaded than she, still pleading for prayers. I didn't know how to describe that somehow along the way, after wrestling with God and faith and everything I believed and didn't, I'd come to a peace. Some might call it a resignation, I suppose, but I would say surrender.
I don't know the why's and never will, but I know this isn't the end of the story. I know my brother, Sam, so many others, are no less loved by God. Their lives are of value. They are teaching people lessons that need to be learned. I know in the grand scheme of eternity, these days will be like one grain of sand on a beach that stretches endlessly.
But there was no way to say all this. I stepped close as the woman passed by. Up to her ear I whispered, "I have a brother who is severely autistic. I understand." She looked over at me with hopeful eyes, and walked on.
I will pray. I'll pray that Sam finds words; that he is able to better communicate with his family. And I pray that his loved ones will be able to come to terms with the tension, with that grand gulf between what they see, and what they believe.
Where our Father waits
And every tear
He'll wipe away
The darkness will be gone
The weak shall be strong
Hold on to your faith
There will come a day
- Faith Hill, There Will Come A Day