This past weekend my husband and I spent a few restful days in the bluegrass region of Kentucky. A verdant land of rolling hills, miles and miles of three-rail fences, horse farms that look like something out of a fairytale, and sleek thoroughbreds grazing in the fields, some of them nursing foals. Gorgeous.
It was so good to get away. Our son, Joel, who has autism, has been in a manic cycle for the past six weeks. Even though we only have him on the weekends, we were both tired out, emotionally and physically.
One of our stops was Shaker Village, a living history museum. I’ve taken Joel to Shaker Village many times over the years—mainly to ride their riverboat on the Kentucky River—and I was looking forward to the boat ride with my husband. Unfortunately, the river was flooded and the boat ride cancelled. We walked and drove the 3000 acre property instead.
Coming around a curve, I made my husband stop the car. An old stone wall was calling my name.
I climbed out of the car and stood there, taking in the sight of that Kentucky limestone wall undulating through the landscape. It seemed to stretch on forever. Suddenly, I remembered a metaphor my husband once used in a talk he gave, describing his prayer life as the father of a son with autism. This is what he said:
“I don’t feel like I’m real good at intercessory prayer. My prayers are not pretty. They’re short and sweet—Lord give me patience. Lord, give Joel peace. I love you Lord. My prayers are all the same size and shape. They’re heavy, like bricks, and I give them to the Lord, one by one, and He uses them to lay a path for me and my family to follow. I believe that all the prayers others have been praying for Joel have been used by God to lay that path also. Twenty years is a lot of brick, and I am still walking the path that God has set before me. Without that prayer, I would be lost. And we have seen amazing differences in Joel because of the power of prayer. We can look back, in hindsight, and know that yes, our prayers are being answered. Jesus said to ask, seek, and knock. We’ve been doing that together for a long time, and the Lord has been faithful in return.”
I look at this wall, just one of thousands so painstakingly built in the mid-1800's by Scots-Irish craftsmen throughout this region of Kentucky, and I think, that’s a lot of prayers. It’s been 34 years now, fourteen more than when Wally gave that talk. Since then we’ve navigated Joel's early adulthood, helped to establish a farm for adults with autism, moved Joel from our home into that farm, dealt with the fall-out when the farm did not turn out to be a good fit for Joel, bought Joel his own home, set up a unique, individualized day program for him, found staffing for that, and on and on it goes. And, of course, there has been the rest of our lives, the parts that don’t revolve around Joel, which are rich and relentless as well.
Meditating on this stone fence stretching into the distance, I can’t help but ask, How long, Lord? How long can we do this?
I stand and stare at this wall. Sunshine and shadow flit across its jagged surfaces. As a fence, it divides, and yet it also hems in and protects. I think of Psalm 139:5-6:
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain.
The power of prayer has led us here. One by one, our prayers have shaped this life we live. God hems us in—sends his angels to protect us, to protect this young man with autism. Joel is happier than we’ve ever seen him. As my husband and I enjoy this weekend trip, Joel is at home, where he will take care of his vending machines, and after work he will spend a few hours with his big brother. He will eat at his favorite Mexican restaurant two nights in a row, and attend a free outdoor concert not far from his home. He will take a walk through downtown Cincinnati, as well as walk the track and swim at Miami University’s Rec Center. Manic cycle aside, we are so blessed.
When I return home from our trip, I look up the history of these stone walls. I learn that dry stone wall construction has been used throughout the ages because it is remarkably durable. When damaged, these walls are easily repaired. They resist fire, water, ice, and insects. Designed correctly, they are earthquake resistant. Aesthetically pleasing, they enhance the landscape without depleting natural resources. As a matter of fact, these stones were dug out of the fields so that the pioneering families of Kentucky could plant their crops.
Isn’t that what prayer does? It makes us remarkably durable. When tough times threaten to damage us, prayer repairs us. God promises to walk us through fire and flood (Isaiah 43:2), and God is always true to His promises. Our prayers make us earthquake resistant. Even in the most trying of circumstances, which knock us down momentarily, the walls we’ve built with our prayers remain intact, those stones that fall out can be replaced with the help of our Master Craftsman, God.
I know now why this stone wall called my name. It had a truth to teach me.
Yes, this is my life. This is our life together as husband and wife, mother and father of a son with multiple disabilities, including autism. At times it is a difficult road to walk, but our prayers have built something pleasing to the eye, something that will endure throughout the generations for those who have the eyes to see.
Question to ponder: What prayers have built the wall that protects your life today as a special needs mom or dad?
Kathy’s life is a God hunt. She searches for God in nature, in prayer, in lectio divina, and in her son’s autism. She walks alongside others who seek God’s presence in her spiritual direction practice and in her award-winning books. She loves thunderstorms, rainbows, snowy days, wildflowers, and reading a good novel at bedtime. Check out her website and her contemplative retreat center at kathleenbolduc.com.