Monday, July 16, 2012

A Love Letter to My Son (by JoAnn Durgin)

My theme verse is Matthew 5:16 (NASB): Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in Heaven.” I’d like to tell you a little about my son, Matthew. The above photo is out of date now, but it's one of my favorites because--although a more relaxed pose--it shows the distinct personalities of all three of my children. His “light” shines bright, and as a writer, I try to see the world as he does. As a result, it’s made me a better writer. You see, in Matthew’s eyes, the world is beautiful: there is no hate, no distrust—only a deep compassion and love. In essence, the way God wants us to see others.

Matthew is now 16 and diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism on the high-functioning end of the spectrum. It’s often misinterpreted by others as a mental deficiency, but nothing could be further from the truth. If he met you today and didn’t see you for months or even years, he’d call you by name from memory. He disconcerts strangers by waving, saying hello or telling them he loves them. Our son is atypical for the syndrome in that he’s extremely social and looks others straight in the eye. Experts don’t have definitive answers as to what causes Asperger’s, and there is no “cure.” In Matthew’s case, I wouldn’t want a cure. He’s not perfect, by any means, but he accepts life—and all that comes with it—with an untold measure of grace. He teaches me more than he knows.

We lived in the Boston area when we first understood Matthew was developmentally delayed. He didn’t walk on his own until he was 15 months old, didn’t speak “our” language until well past his third birthday. He wandered off and got lost at a busy mall when he was a toddler, found by an anonymous angel of mercy we never met. Not long after, he wandered out the front door and into the middle of our fairly busy street. I thank the Lord every day for His faithful watch care over our little guy, and know He has big plans for him.
The church secretary heard him “preaching” in the sanctuary one day. He’d pushed a chair to the podium and was pointing to the Bible. She couldn’t understand anything he said except for “Jesus!” every other word. When he was six, we took Matthew to a highly-esteemed child developmental psychologist in Boston who basically questioned his IQ and gave us the “he can become a functioning member of society” speech.

Through the years, Matthew was in special needs classes. He wore a weighted vest to keep him upright and received help for speech and motor skills. He’s always been coordinated, never clumsy. His drawings and Lego structures reveal an uncommon sense of depth and perception. He’s never been bullied in school and his schoolmates and teachers have overwhelmingly embraced him. What a blessing! Now, he only needs extra assistance in English; he made the honor roll last term with the highest grades in his biology and algebra classes.

Matthew looks “normal,” but when he speaks, others notice something is different. It’s in the slight head tic every now and then or his body language. He adores his sisters and has always been a loving child, but with none of the emotional difficulties often associated with autism. At a special school event, he befriended a girl born with no arms. He asked her, “Does it hurt?” and ended up pushing her wheelchair all evening. In church, he asked an elderly widow, “How are you doing today?” In both instances, he listened, he cared, and he gained a friend for life.

We dropped off Matthew at church camp recently. It was the first time he’d ever been away from home without anyone he knew. My husband, Jim, seemed hesitant to leave him. I felt a peace and said, “He’ll shine.” When we picked him up six days later, Matthew was on the front row, clapping and singing along with the praise band. The kids made posters where they wrote their names and others added comments. Beside Matthew’s signature? “An angel in disguise” and “Lives and breathes his faith.” The director of the camp as well as several counselors told us our son led the prayer in chapel twice. Many embraced him and hugged Mathew goodbye. Part of Asperger’s is inappropriate emotional reactions. He used to laugh in sad times, but this time he cried when he said goodbye to his new friends. Our boy is growing up.

When I write, I try to incorporate that life-affirming positivity and let my light shine for His glory. My characters struggle with the inevitable challenges of life, but strive to live for Him the best way they can. My Matthew is embodied in a young boy named Michael coming later in my Lewis Legacy Series, at a time when I’ve hopefully gained more readers to bring more awareness and attention to autism. All in all, I strive to live my life the way my son does—for the Son.


  1. JoAnn! We'll have to get together. I have twins, age 17, with autism. One of their friends, age 15, has Apserger's but is about mid-functioning as far as behavior and autistic characteristics go. They are having such fun this summer together. It's the first time the three of them have had true friends their own age. It's such fun around here this summer seeing life through their eyes. Their Aspie friend does perfect Joel Olsteen impressions. It's a riot!

    My middle son, age 21, has Aspie characteristics, bipolar and schizo-affective disorder (which looks a lot like Asperger's). Aren't our special children a BLESSING? I'm so honored to be their mom!

    I have a special needs support group called Possibilities that meets once a month:

    We'd love to have you join us sometime!

    Thanks for this wonderful post. Write on!

  2. Hi, Karla! Yes, they ARE blessings without a doubt, and true gifts from the Lord. I was hoping you'd see this post since I know we have several things common in our lives (being pastor's wives and autism among them). Congrats on all your recent writing success! I'm so excited for you. I'd love to join your support group sometime. I'll check out the link, but I live in southern IN across the Ohio from Louisville, so it's probably too far of a drive. If you'll be in Dallas, I will, too, and perhaps we could meet up. Many blessings.

  3. Beautiful and may God heal our hearts so that we may accept the beauty of all the different ways he's made his children perfect.

  4. Lovely family, beautiful son and beautiful attitude, JoAnn! May the Lord bless you as He weaves these special threads into your life and your writing.