It had been years. Years of longing to hold her, to breathe her in. I missed her. I would think back to the day I met her. She slept in my arms as I snuggled her close. Then, quickly, it came to an end. The distance between us became so vast…all of me ached to be near her again. I watched, on the outside looking in, as Autism swept my little girl away to another world. She wouldn’t let me hold her anymore.
It became our new normal. I could help her get dressed and tie her shoes before preschool, but there were no goodbye kisses. I watched as the other kids ran excitedly into their mother’s arms at the end of the day, while I carefully led my daughter to the car by the strap of her backpack. I couldn’t get too close. She didn’t want to be touched, even when she was sad…I couldn’t comfort her. My heart was breaking as I felt a loss over a child who was still with me. I’d look back at those first months of her life; all those moments I held her, not knowing…taking for granted the sweet way she’d lay on my chest in the early hours of the morning. The pain was overwhelming.
Autism brought me to the end of myself. I’d watch her there, alone in her playroom, as she’d recite her Little Quack books over and over again from memory. Her soft blonde curls covering most of her face, (She didn’t like her hair brushed, much less pulled back.) she would gladly stay alone there for hours if I’d let her. In her own little world, she remained…and I felt trapped in mine.
We were just beginning; just entering the world of intense therapies and IEPs. I didn’t even know what to hope for. All I knew was to fight…to fight for all that my baby needed, all that she deserved…to fight to know her more and to let her know that she was longed for; that she was seen, loved, and carried in my heart whether she be in the middle of a period of progress or in the middle of another epic meltdown. I longed for her to let me into her world; to feel her love and to know she felt mine.
Fast forward seven years, to the week before Christmas. We stood in the front row at church. Our family had been asked up on stage to light the advent candle. She was nervous. Her usual swaying and singing to the worship songs replaced by that dis-regulated look I knew all too well. I was envisioning us having to step out, as she struggled to find a way to calm herself. No matter how I’d tried over the years, I couldn’t get her to connect my presence with comfort. She was trapped in her overwhelming anxiety but wasn’t able to reach out in any way and accept the care I offered. Autism created a chasm between us, even as we were only inches apart. This distance, one of the most painful experiences of my life…until that night.
I could feel her stress level rising. My heart sent up the same prayer it had thousands of times before- a silent plea for a deeper connection to my child. This time, the answer was a big, beautiful, life-changing “YES!”
My daughter looked up at me and said, “I’m feeling pretty nervous. Can I hold your hand?”
There it was…One moment. One sentence. One breath of new life into my weary heart. She came to me. She was scared and, instead of the usual withdrawal into fear-filled isolation, she reached out for my hand. My baby girl was letting me comfort her, the way I’d longed to for so many years. I finally entered her world on a deeper level- one most moms reach with their children the very first time they hold them in their arms. The waiting, the hoping and the dreaming was over…I had just been given the greatest Christmas gift anyone could ever ask for. God’s love moved mountains.
I stood there, her hand in mine, through two more Christmas songs with a smile on my face and tears in my eyes. No one around me could’ve possibly known that my entire world was shifting and changing. I was experiencing a glimpse of Heaven; of restoration and life-giving joy…and I’ll never forget it. This journey, once again, teaching me that the “little things” are the biggest of them all.