This month, as I have been driving my three oldest back and forth to driver's education classes, I couldn't help but marvel at the work God has done in my oldest son's life. I remember so clearly the day he came home to us, I remember the days he left and then returned again. I remember the look in the psychologists eyes when he gave us what he believed was Daniel's future prognosis. I also remember the day the truth of Christ became real to him, and he made him Lord of his life. Each day, week, month, and year that has passed with him has been a miracle and a gift that God has given me to be a part of it.
That day no so long ago that Daniel came to us, as a frightened three year old, changed my life forever. He was dirty and scared. I remember bringing him into the house, and like every good foster mom, immediately giving him a bath and checking him for lice. As I spoke gently to this timid little boy, whom I was told spoke only Spanish, I could see the fear in his eyes. I spoke to him in my broken Spanish, and hoped it offered him comfort. As soon as the bath was over, I of course, offered him something to eat. He did not trust me, but fear of what might happen if he didn't eat made him pick up the snack and eat. After finishing the snack he placed himself in the corner of our small living room. He remained there the rest of the day, until we placed him in bed. The next day he spent the day again in that corner, day after day he stayed there. As he stood in that corner, he watched as we interacted around him. The children, TylerAnn (3), and Rachel (1), Adam (a special needs foster child who had been in our family for a couple years), and Lydia (Daniel's baby sister)played around him and even stopped to talk to him and try and included him. I cleaned and cared for the home and children, and would stop and talk and smile to him. I knew from being around foster children all my life, it was better to give him his time and space. Eventually, hoping he would start to feel safe and trusting. Finally after weeks, he started to interact with the girls and come out of the corner a little at a time. Once in a while, a light would show in his eyes and every so often something would make him smile and you would see the cutest dimple in his cheek. But then everything changed.
A strange thing happened the day we took Daniel and Lydia into our family. It was always our goal as foster parents to help parents and children reunite. We wanted to build up families. So we never planned to adopt the foster children we took into our homes. But, the day we took Daniel and Lydia into our home was different. When I got the call to take them in something deep inside me said, “make a life-time commitment to these two.” This was really weird and even more strange was I felt like accepting the placement even though I couldn't get a hold of Jeremy to ask him. Jeremy finally arrived home from work that evening, and the first words out of his mouth were, “where are the kids?” I looked at him with a look that said, “how did you know?” He said, “God told me we would get some kids today, and that we are to make a lifetime commitment to them.” As you can imagine, I was floored. To this day, I praise God for giving us such a clear word, because what happened next could have been so different for their future if God hadn't given us that word.
The court decided Daniel and Lydia should be moved to a fluent Spanish speaking home. Both their parents spoke Spanish as their primary language, and it was assumed that Daniel also spoke Spanish. Normally, in a situation like this we would send the children on with our love and prayers, and move on to the next children that God sent our way. But, for some strange reason, I felt I needed to tell the caseworker that when they needed to come back to us we would be ready for them. We got lots of calls for other children, but God said to hold the spot. After a couple months we receive a call, Daniel and Lydia need to be moved. This foster home abused and neglected them and the damage was evident. Daniel returns to his corner in the living room. We start all over.
Slowly, he begins to trust again. He begins to play with Tyler and Rachel again. Often, though when I am not looking the children near him are getting hurt, mysteriously. There isn't just fear in him now, there is anger too. He doesn't talk still, and it is clear he doesn't know Spanish or English at all. When people do speak to him in Spanish he becomes anxious and upset. We decided to not use Spanish at all, and ask all our friends and family to not speak to him in Spanish. Of course, as he goes for regular visits with his parents and relatives each week, he has a great deal of anxiety, and after each visit day, is a day of standing in the corner.
Then we get another call from the case worker. An aunt and uncle have requested to take the children in. So, Daniel and Lydia will be moved again the next day. I agree to take them to the aunt. I tell the aunt that if she needs any help with them at all she can call. I tell the caseworker when they need a home for them to call. A couple months pass, and I give birth to a baby boy, Brenden. Then the call comes, the aunt can't care for them any longer. Their needs are just too much for her to handle. My heart breaks for this aunt, because I can see she really wanted to care for these precious ones, and felt like a failure. But, she had three little ones of her own and they lived in a small apartment in a bad neighborhood. So, she was stuck inside with them all day, everyday. Lydia crying all day and all night, and Daniel standing in the corner scared. It was more than she could do. So, the Daniel and Lydia return to us again.
Visits with mom and dad continue often as well as visits with other extended family. These cause Daniel great anxiety and fear. Daniel's step dad (Lydia’s father) was very abusive man. He had been beating Daniel and his mom for all of Daniel's life. When Lydia was born he began beating her the very first day she was home from the hospital. But, when he would go to far with the abuse and the doctor was needed, Daniel was blamed for the broken bones that Lydia had. Daniel was told by these parents to tell the doctors and nurses that he hurt the baby. So, even though Daniel couldn't talk he did understand that according to his parents he was a “bad” boy that hurt babies. Yet, at the same time, these same parents told him at the end of each visit that he was responsible for his sister and to take care of her. He was very confused.
The parents make an astounding confession of all the abuse done to both Daniel and Lydia. This confession is done in an attempt to show the judge that they were sorry. But, instead of showing regret the dad made statements that made it clear that he believed it was his right and duty as a father to beat his wife and children. The judge finally makes the decision to terminate the parents rights. Daniel and Lydia are made wards of the state of Michigan. Daniel is now five years old. He still doesn't really talk much. He still spends lots of time in the corner. He still shows anger, distrust, fear, and anxiety. We take him to a therapist. After the first couple of sessions with Daniel, the therapist tells us that Daniel suffers from Post traumatic stress syndrome, reactive attachment disorder, and neurological damage. She suggests we go to a genetics doctor and have an MRI done. The look in that therapists eyes will always be forever in my mind. It was a look that said, you have a hopeless situation . We decide that to put Daniel through such tests and appointments would be terrifying to him. Hospitals scared him, due to the fact that that is where Lydia was always taken and that is where he was taken from his family and put into care. So, instead of taking the therapists advice we decided to trust God and just give Daniel all the love and security we could.
Unfortunately another aunt and uncle come into the picture, and want be considered for adoption. Daniel and Lydia have never met these relatives, but visits are started and they start seeing these strangers. The aunt requests to meet me, and writes me a long letter with lots of questions about the children. I hesitate to meet her, by this point my heart couldn't take anymore pain or loss for these kids. I ask my mom to go and meet the aunt for me, and to take a letter I wrote to her. In this letter, I encourage the aunt if she is seriously interested in giving Daniel and Lydia a good home to go online and research, post traumatic stress syndrome, shaken baby syndrome (Lydia), and reactive attachment disorder. I am not really sure what changed in the aunts mind, but after that visit they never saw the children or asked about them again. So, finally after three years we adopt Daniel and Lydia.
Daniel is six years old, and he is talking but not nearly at the level of the typical six year old. He teaches himself how to ride a bike in the backyard. He continues to hurt the other children, especially when no one is looking. We begin school work. It is clear that there is some kind of learning problem. But, we press on.
Daniel begins to trust us, the light returns to his eyes, the dimple comes out more and more. But, there are some serious communication problems, and development problems. But, we decided to just keep working with him and bonding with him. Finally, when he is twelve years old, we decided to have him see a psychologist and get the tests that were recommended when he was little. When we meet with the psychologist for the results of the tests, we are very nervous. We wonder if Daniel is going to be able to learn right and wrong, we wonder if Daniel is going to be able to be independent someday. We wonder if he is truly bonded and connected to us. So, we are so excited at the first words from the doctor, “Daniel is not depressed and he is bonded to his family.” We are thrilled. But, then the rest of the diagnosis comes. “Daniel has a genetic languages based learning disorder with additional neurological damage and autistic tendencies,” says the doctor. The doctor goes on to explain to us that the half of the brain that process communication of any kind is dull in Daniel and doesn't work. He goes on to say that this is probably common in his biological family, but that Daniels case is extreme (I realize that this is probably true of his biological mom too). In addition to this he has serious neurological damage probably due to neglect in the early years of life. Lastly, he let's us know that he doesn't want to label him with autism, but there are definitely signs of it. We are not sure what to make of all this. We are definitely impressed with the thoroughness of the testing, because they asked us very few questions but did get the results from working with Daniel that we knew were accurate. The positive information he gives us is that most people with Daniel disorder don't talk or read at all. The doctor actually asked us how we worked with Daniel, since he did talk and read. We of course knew it was a God thing. The doctor explained that Daniel probably only takes in 10% of what he hears, reads, and sees. This explained a lot. We now realized Daniel wasn't being defiant but truly did not understand what we were asking of him at times. We asked the doctor our big question,”Do you think Daniel can live independently someday?” I love the answer the doctor gave. He said he truly didn't know because Daniel had already exceeded the expectations given to someone with his diagnosis. He then encouraged me to continue to develop his communication skills, he said it would truly be a miracle if he could work up to a junior high level of reading and communication. The doctor suggested testing Daniel every couple of years to see how he is doing.
Well, it wasn't long after that first evaluation that it became evident that yes, Daniel is autistic. He has asperger's. If you have ever talked to Daniel for more than a minute, you can probably tell what his obsession is. Yep, Christian Rock Music. But, it hasn't always been Christian rock music. When he was in middle school he went through a short phase of being obsessed with the Presidents. But, then he became completely obsessed with sex and porn, and we were scared of what this meant for him and our families future. When we talked with the doctors and experts they said that once someone with asperger's has an obsession there is nothing you can do about it. I just didn't think that was true, and I remember him being obsessed with the presidents. I prayed about it and decided to get him help to deal with his confusion about sex (it was obvious he had been sexually abused, and that someone had mislead him). I also decided to help him find a healthy interest. So, I started buying him different things. Cars, models, tools, puzzles, music, games, dinosaurs, etc. Then one day it became clear he liked music. So, we started encouraging that interest. At the same time, we helped him work through his confusion about sex. We talked openly about it, and he admitted he didn't like how it controlled him, and it scared him. To help him feel safe, we put an alarm on his bedroom door at night, we locked him out of the computer, and we never let him go anywhere without his mom or dad. We did this for two years (it was difficult, but so worth the effort). During this time, he also went to therapy with a wonderful counselor. Over time his obsession did change completely to Christian Rock music. But, it wasn't til after he accepted Jesus as his personal savior that God helped release him from the bondage of sexual sin. That day will forever be in my mind too.
It was Good Friday, and I asked each of my children one on one to tell me what Good Friday meant to them. Daniel slowly explained in his unique way of conversing that Jesus died for his sins and then rose again to prove he was God. He told the complete story to me, I looked at him and asked him, “Do you believe that?” He said,”Yes.” So I asked him why he never asked Jesus to forgive his sins and be his savior. He didn't know. I said do you want to do that right now. He said yes, and we prayed right there. I have never had an experience like that before or since. But right as we prayed something heavy was lifted from that room and from Daniel. He and I both felt it. From that day forward, Daniel is truly a changed person.
He still struggles to connect and communicate with others. But, he is truly a miracle of God's Work. He is seventeen now, and last week he took his drives education exam and got the second highest score in his class (sister Rachel had the highest, and TylerAnn came in third after Daniel). I don't know what the future holds for him, but I am excited to see what God does. If you ever talk to Daniel I promise he will give you one of his bright eyed, dimpled grins that will make your week. God is good!
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Then he continued, "Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them." (NIV)