>Before I was a high school teacher, I worked as a behavior therapist for the Early Intervention program. One of my clients was a 4 year boy who was on the lowest rung of development on the autism spectrum. He had limited (if any) spontaneous language skills. His motor planning and fine motor skills had never even begun to develop. I was told before I began that if I could teach him to use a spoon in the 6 months I was supposed to be with him, it would be as if I gotten him into Harvard. Every day with Shmuel was a challenge. He would bite. He would kick. He would wail. He would take off all of his clothes and run straight out of the door, down the block. He would play in the toilet. He would put anything and everything in his mouth (including things I cannot mention out of respect for those of you who are eating). But out of the two years I was with Shmuel (yes, two years- I fought to keep him and the agency finally agreed to fund my work with him due to his progress) I am quite certain he taught me more than anything I ever taught him. One of those lessons I recieved from him came back to me today during church and I thought I’d share it with you.
Shmuel never wore shoes. He hated shoes, in fact. On rare occasions when I would take him to a store to try to teach him about proper social behavior, he would sit down in the middle of the large, glass doors, point to his sneakers and defiantly pout, “OFF”. If I did not concede, something far worse was sure to follow. He would knock over racks of clothing. Break bottles of lotion. Run up and down the lines of people trying to find someone eye level to hit. Needless to say, Shmuel was often barefoot due to the weariness of his mother and his insane ability to out-run us all.
Being barefoot, however, has it’s disadvantanges. For several days in a row I had noticed that Shmuel had been favoring his left foot. This was rather interesting to me, considering that I had just (Victory!) taught him how to use a spoon and he always used his right hand. Feet usually followed suit. I watched for a few more days until one day I arrived to watch him limp around his bedroom. I asked his mother about it and she said that she hadn’t noticed. I convinced her to hold him in her lap while I took a look at the bottom of his foot. There, poor little boy, were five splinters so imbeded and festering that they left sore, red spots in his soles. No wonder he was limping. His mother called the doctor immediately, who, avoided all contact with Shmuel whenever necessary and told her that splinters were not something to bring a child to the doctor for and that she should just take them out herself.
And the dilemma ensued. Shmuel was uncommonly strong and very difficult to detain. He was stubborn and never concerned with whether or not he hurt others. But deeper than that, my heart ached that there was no way to communicate to him that something that was going to hurt him needed to be done in order to prevent something worse from happening. I couldn’t even explain to him why his foot hurt so badly. I couldn’t express how much better he would feel once it was all over. He didn’t speak my language.
I held him while his mother took over the task of removing each splinter. My legs were crossed over his to prevent him from kicking her and my arms were tight across his to avoid flailing. His fingers pinched into my arms so hard I had little purple bruises. I rocked him and sang as he wept like only a desolate child can cry. As if something awful is happening to them and they are powerless to stop it. He would clutch my arm tightly in a hug, then bite it, then clutch it again as if he wasn’t sure if he should hold onto me for comfort or punish me for allowing this to happen to him. I kept whispering in his ear, “I know you don’t understand this, but I’m allowing this to happen to you because I love you so much I want you to have the best life you can. That will only happen after this is done.” I cried with him as he called my name, one of the first times he ever used it properly. It nearly broke me in half to have to be the one to hold him down.
This morning this memory came back to me as I was praying. I am so much like Shmuel. Kicking and screaming. Feeling alone and lost in some dark place where I am powerless. Confused as to why this is happening and longing to hear a clear, audible explanation. It humbles me to think that God must feel an awful lot like I did. That God’s heart is breaking as he’s holding me down as I’m flailing. I almost heard him whispering,
“I know you don’t understand what’s happening to you right now but you have to trust me that I’m allowing it because I love you and it’s all going to turn out so much better than you’ve ever imagined.”
I have some serious splinters, but I’m so glad I know and trust the one who’s holding me down.