Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Sharp Right Turn Ahead

Life, it comes with twists and turns and sometimes even when we know there is a turn ahead, one that we can clearly see coming, we still aren't as prepared as we thought we were.

My oldest boy has autism.  While that was a twist in my life, one that I didn't see coming.  This is not what the post is about.

My oldest boy has autism.  To me, having autism has not limited Jona.  He is very high functioning.  He went to school and attended regular classes, even excelling in school work.  That's not to say he didn't struggle.  Jr. High was a difficult transition but isn't it for most kids?  He struggled with finding friends although the kids in his school always seemed to like him.  His Senior year he found a group of kids that welcomed him into their circle.  Which was nice.  He took drivers ed and passed and even got his learners permit to drive. He went out on a date (albeit it was only one date and the girl did the asking.)  He struggled and still struggles with the social aspects of life but he's a pretty regular young man.

Last June he graduated from High School. We are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and in our church when a young man turns 19 they are asked to serve a two year  proselyting mission (Young Women in the church can serve a mission at 21).  Nineteen (and 21) was the age, until October of 2012 when the prophet, spoke at our semi-annual General Conference and lowered the ages to 18 and 19 respectively.

I can still remember standing at the sink in my kitchen and hearing these words come through the radio...

"I am pleased to announce that effective immediately all worthy and able young men who have graduated from high school or its equivalent, regardless of where they live, will have the option of being recommended for missionary service beginning at the age of 18, instead of age 19. I am not suggesting that all young men will—or should—serve at this earlier age. Rather, based on individual circumstances as well as upon a determination by priesthood leaders, this option is now available."

I remember chills running through me and having to grasp on to the counter.  I remember having to catch my breath.  I remember thinking, "At this time next year Jona could be serving a mission."

Well it's "this time next year".  We submitted mission papers.  Because of the autism they wanted to do a pre-mission evaluation.  Jona had to fill out some questionnaires, as did Ty and I.  Then we had to go in and speak to a counselor, who basically asked us some of the same questions that we had filled out on the questionnaire.  At the end of our session with the counselor he told us that in most cases where there is a diagnosis of autism a full time proselyting mission is usually not recommended.

Going into this process we have had faith, and have said time and time again that "We know that Jona will go where he will be able to serve the best.  He will go where the Lord wants him to go."  

After the evaluation we waited.  Waited to see if a mission call would come in the mail.  Or if there would be something else.  

It turns out it was something else.  The something else came in the form of a telephone call that our Stake President wanted to meet with Jonathan.  Jona took that call and told us that they hadn't asked for us as parents to be there so when the time came for the meeting we weren't thinking we wouldn't be needed.  Ty was packing to go out of town and I drove Jona down and was waiting out in the car.  I told him that if he needed me to come out and get me.  He was in the building maybe 5 minutes before coming out and telling me that the Stake President wanted me to come in as well.

As we sat across the desk from the Stake President I was pretty sure I could see one of those life turns coming full speed ahead.  I thought I was prepared.  But when the words came out of his mouth stating that Jona was excused from serving a full time proselyting mission, I found that I wasn't.

This turn had way more g-force than I expected.  This turn was squishing my heart.

I watched as a sense of relief seemed to flood over my son as he heard those words.  I did my best to smile and nod my head as I listened to what else the Stake President had to say.  I listened as he spoke of the Family History mission located up in Salt Lake where he could live away from home but that it was a highly sought after mission and there were certain qualifications that needed to be met.  Jona needed to be 19 and had to have lived away from home for a year were just the starting qualifications.   I listened as he told us of YSA (Young Single Adult) missions that are available, where Jona can serve from home.  I listened as Jona gave the Stake President his email address so that he could email him more information about the YSA missions as this was the first experience that our Stake President has had with them.  I shook President Allred's hand and Jona and I went back out to the truck. 

On the way home I asked Jona how he felt.  He told me that he was okay and that he had felt like he wouldn't be serving a proselyting mission.  I asked him why he hadn't said anything about that feeling to us.  He had a difficult time with the explanation to that question but the feeling that I got was that he didn't want to let his dad and I down.

When we got home Jona went into the front room and I stood by the sink, in that same spot that I stood a year ago listening to the prophet lower the age requirements for missionaries.  Ty came in and sat on the bench in front of the table and looked at me.  I couldn't even speak.  I couldn't even say the words.  I just shook my head, no. 

I was shocked (and still am) at the effect this was having on me.  I had known all along that this was a very real possibility.  I could tell that for Jonathan this answer was a huge relief.  Why, then, was this causing me such pain and heartache?  I knew that there were still options for him to serve in other ways.  Ways that are just as valid and important as him serving a two year mission away from home.  Why was this so hard??  I tried to quell the tears as best I could but they continued to flow.  At family prayer I cried some more.  And that night Ty held me in his arms as I cried myself to sleep.

We didn't call family and tell them this decision had come down. It wasn't that I was ashamed or worried about what they would think.  I was just that I don't think I could have said anything to anyone without breaking down. 

These past couple of weeks I have had to take a long look at why I am struggling so with this.  Walking out to the mailbox to check the mail has taken on a different tone.  Seeing and hearing other parents talk and post updates about their missionaries, while still enjoyable, stings.  It's just been hard.  Not every second of every day kind of hard.  Just every once in a while something will hit unexpectedly, kind of hard.

This is the best explanation that I can come up with.  When we learned that Jona had autism someone directed me towards a poem called Welcome to Holland written by Emily Perl Kingsley...  This is how I feel now, except change "your going to have a baby" with "going top send a missionary off"

Welcome to Holland

I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It's like this…
When you're going to have a baby, it's like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guidebooks and make your wonderful plans. The Coliseum, the Michelangelo David, the gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It's all very exciting.
After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, "Welcome to Holland." 
"Holland?!" you say. "What do you mean, Holland?" I signed up for Italy! I'm supposed to be in Italy. All my life I've dreamed of going to Italy.
But there's been a change in the flight plan. They've landed in Holland and there you must stay. 
The important thing is that they haven't taken you to some horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It's just a different place. 
So you must go out and buy a new guidebook. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met. 
It's just a different place. It's slower paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you've been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around, and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills, Holland has tulips, Holland even has Rembrandts. 
But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy, and they're all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life you will say, "Yes, that's where I was supposed to go. That's what I had planned." 
The pain of that will never, ever, go away, because the loss of that dream is a very significant loss. 
But if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn't get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things about Holland. 
 As of now I'm still learning that "Holland" is not a bad place to be.  I'm looking around for a guidebook and trying to get the feel of things.  This really is the first time that Jona hasn't been able to do something that his peers are doing.  It's an adjustment.

We are still waiting to hear about the different YSA missions that are available.  Our family and friends now know and have given us much support and love.  

And this year as I listened to General Conference I had a different experience.  My heart and soul received comfort as I heard the very end of Elder Holland's talk "Like a Broken Vessel".  I had actually gone into another room to put some shoes on when I heard these words, it was like they were amplified a thousand times so that I wouldn't miss them.  And I got the same chills as I did a year ago.
"I bear witness of that day when loved ones whom we knew to have disabilities in mortality will stand before us glorified and grand, breathtakingly perfect in body and mind. What a thrilling moment that will be. I do not know whether we will be happier for ourselves that we have witnessed such a miracle, or happier for them that they are fully perfect and finally free at last."
 This turn has been a hairpin of a turn but, I know that Jona will serve where he is supposed to serve and he will be AMAZING wherever that may be.  I am looking forward, with faith, to see the road straighten out before us and I'm looking forward to see where he, where we, will go.


Funky Kim said...

I heart you, Shanna!

The Goff Family said...

You explained so beautifully what my mother and dad felt and experienced 15 years ago and have struggled with off and on. There are times when it hits them unexpectedly. Thank you for sharing. I know that Jona is an incredible young man who will serve valiantly when the right place is found as will my Michael when the time comes. ((HUGS))

Anonymous said...

Oh, sweet friend. You just wrote my whole heart. In the boat with you, and sometimes crying too.
Lots of hugs.

Knudsen's Corner said...

You are so faithful and brave! We just went through this ourselves...over a year ago with our oldest son who has Aspergers--very high functioning. It was a gut wrenching experience. I appreciate your story. Thank you for opening your heart and sharing your story with such honesty. The end of the story for our son is that he is currently serving his mission in the same mission in which he served his trial mission. He is doing GREAT. We knew he could do this from watching him his whole life.. we also knew this in answer to prayer, fasting and time spent in the temple. It just took a very long time to get him there and I am glad he survived. I am not sure I would put another of my children through something so hard again. Whatever happens with your sweet son our Heavenly Father's hand will be in it. He will make it right and wonderful and sweet. Best wishes to you and your family.

Janet said...

My oldest son returned from his full-time mission in May. My youngest son is 11 and is "developmentally delayed, no further diagnosis."

In June, we drove back as a whole family to St. Louis to visit my son's mission. Our youngest was immediately completely smitten with all the missionaries. He gazed at them with superhero like awe. He hugged them, high-fived them, and would follow them anywhere.

It was so sweet and wonderful. But as I watched him interact with the missionaries, I couldn't help but think of the turn you have so beautifully described.

My son knows he has limitations. But when he talks about his future with us, he doesn't ever envision a future with limitations. He fully believes that he will one day be the starting quarterback for the BYU football team. And of course, he is planning to be a full-time missionary as soon as possible.

I know that the chance of him being able and approved to serve a full-time proselyting mission is very remote. And I try to prepare myself to accept that reality. Yet I know when that day comes, if he's told that he cannot follow in his brother's footsteps, it will be a very hard day.

Bless you and your son and family for your faith. Thank you for reminding me of those comforting and powerful words from Elder Holland.

In the end, it will all be OK. If it's not OK, it's not the end.

Chantal Marie said...

I just wanted to leave a little note telling you how amazing I think Jona is and how incredible you and Ty are as parents. I have often thought to myself that if I were to ever have a child with autism or something of the like that I would only hope to be able to handle it as incredibly as you two have. Jona has always been able to do everything his peers have done because he has parents who not only believe in his ability to do so but expect him to do so. I watch so many parents with children with similar disabilities that are still so hung up on "italy" that they never settle in to "holland" and "holland" becomes a place they don't want to be. Not you. Your son is incredible as are all of your children.
Jona was in my class when I taught primary ages ago. Ill admit... he was definitely my favorite kid in the class (is that wrong?) He would sit next to me in sharing time and lay is little head on my lap. He never spoke out of turn or disrupted class. He often spoke about how he liked to study science with his dad because it was a "good bonding experience" He was such a fun and incredibly brilliant kid. This little "turn" while not in the plan will turn out to be an incredible experience for all of you. I have no doubt.

Dwight said...

Don't feel guilty or bad for taking it so hard. It's simply momentum. I'd say there are laws of psychology that are similar to the laws of physics. If you were in a car and took a sudden turn, even a turn you knew was coming, you would still be thrown against the side of the vehicle and you would be wise to have been wearing a seatbelt to hold you in place. The seatbelt is not there because you are weak. It is there because that's how physics works. You will automatically keep moving in the same direction until some force makes you change.

You have spent Jona's lifetime going in the direction of trying to do what his peers were doing. And for his combination of abilities, that seems to have been the right thing for him to do. You were given a turn in direction. It is quite natural that your momentum made you "lean to the side of the car" and that you needed the "seatbelt of faith" to keep you in your seat. It was not out of weakness. It was simply a natural result of your having gone in the direction you were supposed to be going -- up until now.

No matter how beautiful Holland is, it is still a hard left turn from the path to Italy.

Wear your seatbelt, obey the traffic laws, drive safely, and enjoy Jona's call to Holland.

ME said...

thank you so much for your blog entry. our Son that just turned 18 yrs old will be graduating in the spring. We have thought about YSA service missions & talked with our Bishop about it. I think this is the route we are going to go.
Thank you for being real & for being willing to share your heart & feelings.

Vanessa said...

What a wonderful post. I look forward to hearing where he will go!

Shauna said...

If only these words were warm and squishy and tight like a real hug. But I send them with that same intensity of feeling, and with love, and a few tears too. Whatever comes along, Jona has learned how to love, serve, teach, be obedient, and listen to the Lord. He will have more opportunities in his life to continue to learn those things. The turns are hard, but it sure can make for a more interesting ride. {HUGS}

Monica said...

Thanks for such an honest and emotional post. My step son has some challenges that would make it difficult for him to serve and right now I'm not sure if he even wants to. I think it is extremely difficult for his mom and dad to watch because of all of the reasons you just explained. Hopefully both your son and those that I love can realize what a blessing Holland can be.