Picking Up the Pieces—The Story Behind the Song.
There are no guarantees in life. There are surprises tucked within the curve of every turn. He was such a good baby. He hardly ever cried, except of course when he was hungry or cold. He set his own time clock and he held firmly to it as a baby. He was a night owl from early on. I knew something was very different about him, although I wasn’t too concerned. Every child develops differently, and the doctors voiced no concern. He was so bright, so full of life, and he could communicate in every nonverbal way…and I understood him.
He was growing to be a normal male in every sense of the word, even down to the part where he got easily frustrated when he “couldn’t make things work” the way he wanted them to. He brought so much joy, even to his sister who quickly saw herself as “second mama” and the only natural choice to be his “teacher.” He loved his sister and would stand at the door and cry every time she went outside to play with her friends if he wasn’t allowed to go with her. Every day set a new level of achievement in the learning curve. Even so, I thought it strange that even at 18 months old, he was still not verbal. He made sounds, grunts, sat down in the floor and cried out of frustration but he would not speak. At two and a half years old, he finally started repeating words and by the time he was three, it became apparent he had listened intently and was learning everything he was being taught, because once he finally started talking, it seemed he would never stop. But I didn’t mind. At least he was finally talking.
Although my heart’s desire was to work at home, I had to spend time working away from home in order to get experience. During this time, I had to depend on childcare. I knew something wasn’t quite right, but after my son being kicked out of two childcares for erroneous reasons, I had more on my plate to deal with trying to find childcare so I could continue working, rather than exhaust every idiosyncrasy to see what was “wrong” with my son. By God’s grace and divine provision, I found a woman who kept kids in her home, and she didn’t mind if my son was a little “busy” and tended to be “easily frustrated.” She felt sure she could work with him. And work with him well, she did. My son responded well to her too. He was growing, adjusting and showing signs of high intelligence. By the time my son was four, I was able to teach him how to use a computer and play simple computer games. He was able to identify colors, shapes, numbers, the alphabet and even simple counting games on the computer.
He had a heart as big as the Atlantic. Compassion for others abounded in him, especially all of God’s creepy-crawly creation. God help us all if he saw anyone mistreat his favorite jumpers–frogs. “Stop! Don’t hurt God’s creation!” he would say. He was grossly misunderstood by most people, but I understood him. When the teachers at church couldn’t handle him, I would always say just under my breath, “One day, he’s gonna knock your socks off.” I knew God had great plans for him.
Finally, Kindergarten was here. I was so excited about how he was growing and learning. I was sure he had learned enough to be ready for this new beginning. My son would be in school all day and since his sister’s school was next door to his, she would walk him home and stay with him until I got home from work. Life was good. Everything was coming together for us, again. At least, I thought so.
It wouldn’t be long until my first meeting with the teacher. I had become used to getting calls about my daughter, but now I would get calls about my 5-year-old son. “He had a stick in his hand and was turning and turning and turning around in circles and he hit a little girl upside the head with the stick. She went home with a pump knot on her forehead. I assured the girl’s parents this would be handled and would not happen again.” To which I assured her it would not happen again. Although no one else endured injury as a result of my son’s inability to understand how what he was doing was affecting those around him, the phone calls and insistence that I take him to a doctor and have him put on medicine to make him sit still in class continued. There was only one problem. The doctor refused until all testing was done. This would take months. Finally, the summer before 1st grade, he received a diagnosis that would permit medication. Unfortunately, time would prove that the diagnosis of ADHD was incorrect.
Even with medication, 1st grade would prove to be too stimulating for my son to adhere to strict classroom rules and I was called by the alternative school officer. He quickly surmised my son’s current condition of disruptive behavior was due to my being a single parent, “I mean no offense,” he said. He simply went on to imply that my son was “the type” who needed the firm hand (of a dad) to disciple him. I was told that if my son’s disruptive behavior did not stop, my son would be sent to the school’s Alternative Learning Class. First grade. Six. Years. Old. Incredible.
We moved to a different town, changing to a new school. At the very same time, the Lord opened the doors for me to come home to work. Talk about perfect timing. Yes…look at God go! My son did well. He grew, learned and developed. He had his quirks, but don’t we all. It was when we moved back to my hometown to get my daughter into a safe environment after run-ins with the law due to drugs and alcohol that would prove more challenging than before.
He did okay until the fourth grade. He just couldn’t keep up with the homework assignments. I mean he literally could not keep up with keeping them organized in a folder. He also couldn’t cope with changing classes. It was more than he could handle. Talking with the school was of no help. In my plea for help and trying to explain my son to them, they saw me as “making excuses” once again. We changed schools again, this time to a small, private school. There were only five in his class. Perfect. My son was flourishing. Then God….
When I moved back to my hometown, God told me it would only be for a few years and then he would move me forward into the “plans” he has for me. After a few years, the time came for me and my son to move…again. By this time, my daughter had graduated high school and was starting a life of her own with her husband and new baby. So, at the appointed time, I packed up me and my son, and we moved onward…forward…another new beginning. This time, it would be to a new state where we knew no one. Absolutely no one. But I knew since I knew it was God, and God had more than once confirmed this move was directed by him, I knew God would provide for everything. I stood firm and confident in my faith in him.
New beginning. That’s an understatement. My son left a school of total population of about 40 to a school of total population of about 1500. I was concerned about culture shock. But not him. He was so excited! He had calculated all the new friends and new adventures he would encounter at a school this size. It started out great too. His grades stayed high. As and Bs. His teachers were elated. He was essentially ahead of the class as far as the information being taught at the time on that grade level. Then things changed. My son became more withdrawn. He wasn’t completing all of his assignments and his grades started dropping. Something was very wrong. I took him to the doctor. They tried different medications but the situation was not improving. They tried raising the dose, but it was clear my son was spiraling into depressive/anxiety episodes at a rate faster than anyone could manage. The fact my son was becoming a teenager only served to complicate matters.
I knew socially, he didn’t easily fit in. He just couldn’t seem to connect with and understand basic social cues and his insistence of voicing his opinion of expertise was not always well received by others, but he was learning to take his differences in stride. His growth and development was progressing each year, but he was always about two years younger than his age group emotionally. At the same time, he was always about two years ahead of them intellectually. It was most definitely hard to find balance. Even as a child, my son never met a stranger, but after most of the kids in the neighborhood met him, they began to run the other way when they saw him coming.
My son sought out help among kids at school. Suddenly, I didn’t recognize the names of the people he referred to as friends. A meeting with a teacher would expose his demeanor in class had changed drastically when he started involving himself with kids who did not have his best interest at heart. He desperately wanted friends and he didn’t care who it was. When I began redirecting him, his aggression became more directed at me. He adamantly defended his new friends, of whom he had no understanding. I tried to fit the pieces together.
He finally got old enough to fulfill his life-long ambition of playing football. I thought this would be the answer for his woes. He worked and worked and was allowed on the team. He was even made one of the captains because the coach said he “had heart.” Even as hard as he tried, he simply couldn’t get the hang of the plays and there were, of course, plenty of negative backlash from diehard fans who could not resist the opportunity to voice their grievances. This only served to drive my son into further despair. He found another outlet that he enjoyed. And this he was really good at! Acting. That boy could play a drunk better than anyone I’ve ever seen on TV. And, I’m not saying that just because I’m his biggest fan. He is really gifted. He could easily displace himself into whatever character he chose. His foreign accents were quite realistic as well. I was beaming and more than encouraging. I was even trying to get him involved in community theater. However, time would prove the joy he received through this would be short-lived.
All the years of being laughed at, mocked, beat up, (which started when he was 6 years old when his head was pounded against a brick wall) and ostracized finally took its toll. When my son was 13 he started cutting himself. The doctors tried different medications but none seemed to work. I tried to talk to my son but every time he felt cornered, he became more aggressive. All my efforts to help my son were failing. When my son turned 14, he tried to hang himself. Later, he told me this wasn’t the first time he tried to commit suicide. Thank God, his attempts failed. By God’s amazing grace, my son tried one last time to reach out. He texted a friend who immediately told a teacher, who then immediately called me. She gave me intervention information and after a phone call, two women were knocking on my door to talk to my son. That fast. They were able to convince my son there was hope, that people really do care and there was help available for him. He agreed to go. After immediate stabilization, my son was admitted to long-term hospitalization.
With the many trials, tribulations, ups and downs we’ve been through, I would have never imagined that just 15 years earlier I would be facing this—and oh my! This was hard. Especially, with no family close by to support us. I know we’re never alone. God is always walking with us—through it all! But this…wow. Working at home can keep a person isolated. We attended church each week and made a few friends there, and I know they were praying for us, his pastors certainly reached out to him, but I didn’t have any friends I could “hang out with.” But God…
I had volunteered with the mobile medical unit at our church a couple of months earlier. During that time, I met a woman who was going to school to become a psychologist. She told me about her son, whom she found she had to be his advocate because of the unique nature of his disability. She also told me of a therapist who was her “God send” and had been so helpful to her and her son. I listened intently and didn’t think much more about it. Until my son’s hospitalization that is. The Lord told me to “call her,” which I did. I asked for her therapist’s information. After one meeting with this woman and her non-stop series of questions, we both knew what was going on with my son. My son was born autistic.
I spoke with my son’s hospital therapist and he immediately responded with, I agree, there is something deeper going on here. I began to write memories of his behavior from the time he was born. Memories started flooding my mind almost faster than I could write them down. Pages and pages of memories. After a few weeks of in-hospital treatment where my son could be observed on a daily basis in every conceivable irritating, frustrating circumstance of his stay there, his therapist confirmed what I deep inside knew all along. He told me he was convinced my son had Asperger’s disorder. My son’s psychiatrist confirmed this diagnosis and my son was finally properly diagnosed. My son did not have “the worst case of ADHD I’ve ever seen” after all. He was autistic. Why was he not diagnosed properly before now? Half the battle is knowing the right questions to ask, and I certainly didn’t. But God…
At our next family session, my son’s therapist and I met and informed Aaron of the newly discovered diagnosis. We went to great lengths to explain to my son what Asperger’s disorder is and what exactly it looks like. I wish I could have bottled my son’s expression of relief. “Now it makes sense. All this time I thought I was a —-.” No. My son was by no means a loser. Yes, he was different, but I had always been able to see the greatness inside of him.
I wish I could say the road to recovery was that simple, but it was not. My son underwent a few more years of therapy and two more in-patient stays due to major depression and anxiety. But there is a light at the end of this tunnel. God is so concerned about every detail of our lives. Especially when our hurt is so dark we can hardly breathe. By his unique and divine intervention, God hand-picked the therapists, caregivers and friends who loved my son right where he was, even when my son showed every sign of being unlovable. They helped my son obtain the courage to step out of his fear, out of feeling abandoned and out of his loneliness to embrace the beauty of the uniqueness God made in him. Through this, my son stepped out in faith to allow God to love him too. Once my son made that enormous step, his life has never been the same.
My son will tell you, his relationship with God is unique. It doesn’t look the same as anyone else’s. But, that’s how it’s supposed to be, because that’s how God is. He meets us where we are—in the beauty of our uniqueness, in the beauty of who he has created us to be. God will do that with you too. He will do that with all who are willing to give him a chance.
I look back on my life and at many points in my life, my life could have ended, as it could have for each of my children. But God…. The Lord showed me once how much easier it is when we cease striving and allow God to pick up the broken pieces of our lives. I look back at the brokenness of my son and look at him now and can see God’s handiwork each step of the way. God truly hears the cries of our spirits, and it is God who is able to pick up the broken pieces of our lives and make us whole. Today, my son actually smiles. He knows God loves him just the way he is. He knows it is God who has picked up the broken pieces of his life and is working his plan in and through my son.
I started writing this song in the year of 1996. I could only get as far as the chorus and was not able to finish it. After my divorce, I was awarded the house but not the property. We lived in a modular home so it could be moved. There was one problem. We had underpinned the house with cinderblock and the house could not be moved until the cinderblock was removed. So me and a friend of mine got up early one morning with our sledgehammers and proceeded to tear down the wall. After about an hour I was spent. I do not remember a time in my life I experienced such complete exhaustion. I was so sore I could hardly move for the next four days. Literally. I found every muscle in my body and they were screaming “you’ve gone too far this time!” What was I thinking?? But, my determination paid off. Through that experience, the Lord spoke to me. A few days later other friends came and helped me pick up all of the broken pieces of cinderblock to dispose of them. As I was picking up those broken pieces of cinderblock, the Lord spoke to me and said, “Isn’t it easier picking up those broken pieces than it was to break them up? Let me pick up the broken pieces of your life. I can put the pieces back together and make you better than before.” God is faithful and has done just that for me and for my kids. The rest of this song was inspired by the events of my sons life.
Now, you know the rest of the story. Hold on to hope. New strength will come. See the dawn break with the rising sun. Your best days are soon to come. Reach for the hand of His perfect love.