Don’t run from tests and hardships, brothers and sisters. As difficult as they are, you will ultimately find joy in them; if you embrace them, your faith will blossom under pressure and teach you true patience as you endure. And true patience brought on by endurance will equip you to complete the long journey and cross the finish line—mature, complete, and wanting nothing. If you don’t have all the wisdom needed for this journey, then all you have to do is ask God for it; and God will grant all that you need. He gives lavishly and never scolds you for asking. (James 1:2-4 The Voice)
Ever since Joel was a little boy, I’ve prayed for him to find friends. And God has answered that prayer along the way. But when Joel moved out of our home in 2010, he entered a new friend desert.
“Oh Lord, send my son some friends!!!” became my heart’s cry.
God answered in His timing, as God always does.
God sent us Grace.
Grace came into Joel’s life in a serendipitous way. When Joel was living at Safe Haven Farms, a farm for adults with autism, a group of students from Miami University’s Speech Pathology program volunteered at the farm’s monthly dances. Joel loves to dance, and he and Grace hit it off on the dance floor.
Joel is very shy, and it had been difficult for him to find a good match in the Best Buddies program at Miami. Seeing the connection he and Grace made on the dance floor, I asked her if she might be interested in being Joel’s buddy. She didn’t know about Best Buddies, but said she’d look into it.
Before we knew it, Joel and Grace were matched up as Best Buddies. Twice a month they met with a large group of Miami Students and young adults with various challenges for an organized event—dances, sporting events, picnics, etc.
Never one to do something half-way, Grace took their friendship to the next level. She and her therapy dog, Lance, stopped by Joel’s home to visit on a regular basis. They played games on the iPad, looked at Joel’s favorite photos, read books, and walked Lance around the neighborhood.
For our typical kids, this is just life, right? But for someone with autism - someone like Joel - this is HUGE! Joel has a hard time communicating his thoughts and feelings. Those who know him well mostly understand what's going on behind that Mona Lisa smile, but it's difficult for new people to build a relationship with him. It's hard to make friends when there doesn't seem, on the surface, to be much reciprocity.
But Grace persevered through those first months of getting to know Joel. She discovered what he enjoyed - being on the move, listening to music, singing, hiking, riding his bike, being silly. She found tht he was more communicative when Lance was around, so she brought Lance to visit as often as she could. Grace came to understand that Joel's smile said more than 100 words could ever say. She was content just to hang out together, like friends do.
So, where does the Scripture at the top of the page fit in?
Joel has taught me so much about patience along the journey. Patience, endurance, fortitude, perseverance. So often I’ve wanted to run away from the difficulties that autism has brought into our lives. So often my heart has broken because ofJoel’s struggles to fit in and find friends.
Yet, God’s Word tells me, as difficult as these challenges are, I will ultimately find joy in them. If I embrace the difficulties, my faith will blossom under pressure and teach me patience as I endure. And true patience brought on by endurance will equip me to complete the journey and cross the finish line—mature, complete, and wanting nothing.
It's so true! I’ve found those wins that come easily do not contain a fraction of the joy found in victories requiring a monumental struggle.
And when that struggle leads us to acknowledge that we don’t have the wisdom to know how to move forward, all the better! Scripture tells us, If you don’t have all the wisdom needed for this journey, then all you have to do is ask God for it; and God will grant all that you need. He gives lavishly and never scolds you for asking.
The word grace means, “the free and unmerited favor of God.” A second meaning of the word is, “simple elegance or refinement of movement.”
Both of these meaning define Joel’s friend Grace. She is a free and unearned gift from God. And she radiates simple elegance wherever she goes.
Grace graduated from Miami University last month. She intends to get certified in ABA over the next year as she works as a Speech Pathology Assistant. She hopes, after a year of work, to continue her studies in graduate school. She intends to continue working with children and adults with autism.
May God’s hand rest upon you, Grace, as you move into your future. We will miss you, but we know that God has a plan and purpose for your life. Joel's life is so much richer today because of your friendship.