It's another 100-degree-plus day -- almost too hot for the beach. But my autistic son loves nothing more than to be carried out into the ocean and gently supported while he paddles in the waves and laughs at the breakers that sometimes cover our heads. So we brave the molten sand, never knowing what a surprise this day would hold for us.
As we walk toward the surf, my son, eyes averted yet alert, makes high backhanded grabs for the gold cross that always hangs on a piece of leather around my neck. For some reason, he seems to take almost as much comfort in running the cross through his fingers as I take in wearing it. Our feet hit the water and we are swept into the power of surging currents and breakers that try to thwart our advance. He chortles as I lift him above the biggest waves and soon we are past them.
In the peaceful lifting of the waves beyond the break point, I find myself thinking about God. Do I trust Him so much that I dare take my non-swimming son out here, where one great wave could rip him from my grasp?
I think of Abraham taking his son, Isaac, to the high place where he might be sacrificed in Genesis 22. Surely, my faith is not that great. But is it great enough?
My musings are interrupted when I see, on the horizon, a wave swelling higher than the others. Bobbing in water nearly over my head, I know there is no time to swim with my son to shore, so I begin to move us deeper, hoping to avoid the breaking wave.
My son continues to laugh, unmindful of my own sense of urgency. The wave rises up, tendrils of white announcing its impending break, and it crashes down on us as my fingers convulsively grip my son's swimsuit.
Despite my anxiety, my son is not ripped from my grasp. I swallow some salt water, but he bobs to the surface still smiling at our great adventure.
Still, I think we've had enough swimming for now and we begin to swim, paddle, walk, wade to shore.
As we emerge, my son returns to his old habit, grabbing for my dangling cross. But it is gone, apparently lifted from my neck at the moment I was panicking under the wave.
Clear as a bell, the thought comes to me, or is it the voice of God: "You don't need it any more."
I think to myself, "OK. It is just a symbol. But sometimes it is nice to have it where people can see it and know I belong to Jesus."
The voice comes again: "Be the cross."
I am temporarily stunned. Could I do that? Could I live in such a way, speak in such a way that people would know I am a Christian?
God, as always, has an answer.
A woman approaches my son and I on the beach.
"I was just watching you and your son in the water," she says. "He's autistic, isn't he?"
I nod and she continues, eyes filled with a sadness.
"We have an autistic son," she says. "We have tried everything to help him and nothing seems to work. And now I see you here enjoying your son as if there is nothing wrong with him. How do you do it?"
I tell her we see our son as an amazing blessing from God. I tell her about the times our son has blessed others, without words, dancing in indescribable joy at church or placing a loving hand on someone during a hospital visit.
I tell her our son taught me about unconditional love and helped lead me to Jesus.
She thanks me, tears in her eyes.
I think to myself, "Be the cross?" And I just shake my head.
Through God, all things are possible.
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