By Tom Stolle
Life in our world can be tough. Not everyone is pleasant. Not everyone is respectful. Some folks are just plain mean. We experience things at the hands of others which place lasting marks on us.
Scars. We all have them. We see some of them on our bodies, perhaps the result of an injury or surgery. Some are invisible, the mental and emotional evidence of pain and suffering endured.
Our scars evidence our story
My wife, Shelley, and I learned a lot about special needs parenting through Jimmy’s young life. We had become accustomed to our regimented routines, the doctor visits, and the stares from others when we stepped out in public. While boring, it was manageable to eat at the same places over and over again or to buy the same food at the store again and again because Jimmy would only eat a few items. It became the norm to be alone because our lives centered around care for a child who could not take care of himself. We lost contact with many friends during this period, as the battle in front of us was making the most of life for our son.
But nothing could have prepared us for what was coming.
Shortly after Jimmy entered puberty, I experienced my first beating at the hands of a family member. My son, Jimmy, attacked me, using his hands as claws to rip and tear at my skin. I was shocked. I hoped that he had just had a “bad day” and that this would not happen again.
But it did happen again, and again, and again, and again. Jimmy attacked either my wife or myself almost daily. As Jimmy grew, the attacks became more vicious. Many attacks lasted between 30 and 60 minutes. Our home became a war zone.
I remember one day when I was alone at the house with Jimmy. He had just come home from school. He began to attack me. The attack went on for an hour, while I tried to cover up to keep him from hurting me too badly and restrained him as well as I could. I would never, and will never, hit or hurt my son. Therefore, blocks, restraint, and covering up were my arsenal. It’s not much of an arsenal when you’re under assault.
Typically, the assaults would not end until Jimmy was exhausted from attacking us. After one particular assault, I retrieved two towels. The first was to wipe my blood from my body. The second was to wipe my blood from the floor.
Many days, Shelley and I would go to our places of work, I to the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware (BCM/D) offices or to a church and Shelley to the school where she taught, with open wounds and sometimes with bandages. This went on for more than four years.
We had to call the police to our home several times for safety reasons. Thankfully, the officers in our town seemed to understand that Jimmy had severe autism and showed great care and respect for our son.
Shelley and I had become something we never thought we would. We were victims of domestic violence. And we had many scars as evidence.
We quickly learned a couple of things. First, Jimmy seemed to not understand the consequences of his actions. After the attacks, he would often kiss Shelley and me, almost as if to say he couldn’t help it. We also learned that, while there are many programs that assist families with children affected by disabilities, there was almost no help available to families that suffer physical violence. Jimmy desperately needed help and it was difficult to attain that help.
Jimmy ultimately received treatment over a few years in multiple extended-stay medical facilities. Ultimately, the aggressions ceased. Why did they cease? I believe that God did not forget our struggle and God did not forget Jimmy. God provided Jimmy with medical professionals, medicines, a loving family, caring teachers and therapists, and many people who prayed for us. But the best thing that God provided was Himself.
God was there the entire time. As we struggled, searched for answers, and wondered if the suffering would ever end, God was there.
“I praise you, Lord, for being my guide. Even in the darkest night, your teachings fill my mind. I will always look to you, as you stand beside me and protect me from fear” (Psalm 16:7-8 CEV).
Although the aggressions have ended, the scars remain. Shelley and I bear hundreds of permanent scars. These scars are constant reminders of our journey with Jimmy. The question is: will we allow these constant reminders to take us to a place of loss? Will we allow these scars to make us want a life that is different, one without this struggle?
My emphatic answer to that is NO!!!!!
Marks of love
Shelley and I choose to view these scars as “marks of love.” They are permanent reminders to us of our love and commitment to Jimmy. These scars testify publicly to the world about our love and commitment to a special young man who God entrusted to us. I have many scars, especially on my arms. Those who know me know that it is rare for me to wear long sleeves. My scars tell a story and it’s a story that should be told. It’s a story about love, commitment, and sacrifice. I love Jimmy and I want the world to know. Because he is my son; Because I love him; And because God’s Son, Jesus Christ, wears scars that testify to His love for me. So, following His example, I wear scars that show my love and commitment to Jimmy.
“What if I could speak all languages of humans and of angels? If I did not love others, I would be nothing more than a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. What if I could prophesy and understand all secrets and all knowledge? And what if I had faith that moved mountains? I would be nothing, unless I loved others. What if I gave away all that I owned and let myself be burned alive? I would gain nothing, unless I loved others. Love is kind and patient, never jealous, boastful, proud, or rude. Love isn’t selfish or quick tempered. It doesn’t keep a record of wrongs that others do. Love rejoices in the truth, but not in evil. Love is always supportive, loyal, hopeful, and trusting. Love never fails!” (1 Corinthians 13:1-8 CEV).
Note that these verses nowhere say or even imply that the act of love is easy. But it is worth it.
Tom Stolle is the associate executive director of the BCM/D and leads the convention’s special needs ministries.