By Pastor Devin Strong. Spirit of Peace Lutheran Church
On Aug. 21, I had the pleasure of presiding at my son Oliver’s wedding, held at one of our Lutheran camps in North Carolina, where he’d been a camper for many years and served on staff for one summer. What an honor it is to watch your children grow into adulthood, help them buy their first cars, and see them become emotional and financially independent. Every parent feels those things, but because Oliver is on the Autism spectrum, each milestone felt all the more significant and amazing to his mother and me.
When Oliver was 10, he was diagnosed with a type of Autism called sensory integration disorder which, for him, means that he’s overly sensitive to various stimuli.
Too much noise or light or a clothing tag rubbing against his skin could cause him to become incredibly overly stimulated and agitated.
Consequently, when bombarded by too much stimuli that he didn’t understand, he was prone to get angry. At that point, we honestly wondered whether he’d ever be able to live independently. Fortunately, shortly after his diagnosis, we found an occupational therapist who specialized in sensory integration disorder and taught Oliver techniques to deal with the pent-up energy and stress he felt living in such a noisy world. Over the next few years, we went through five or six trampolines, and even installed a trapeze in our bonus room, from which he loved to hang upside down. As Oliver learned to engage his brain more, his schoolwork improved, and he mastered important tasks like sentence writing and learning to read. Little by little, he learned to cope with the world around him. I can tell you it was a great day when I finally got rid of that last trampoline!
Our son has come so incredibly far. He had some marvelous teachers in high school, some great mentors and, of course, we did what we could to help. He went on to graduate from college with a 3.2 GPA and works in the restaurant business. (Now he jogs to get rid of excess energy and is in great shape!) He’s done so well, but probably the thing we’re most proud of is his ability to manage relationships. When he was younger, he had such trouble getting along with other children because they, understandably, couldn’t handle his outbursts. But as he grew up, he learned to manage them and advocate for himself. He’s just a fantastic young man. All of which made Oliver’s wedding a huge celebration of his hard-won ability to share enough of himself to find a wonderful partner to love and be with for life!
When you raise a child, it’s amazing how much of their growth comes from within. Oliver deserves the most credit for all he’s accomplished. He certainly needed help along the way, for which we are grateful, but it was because of his own tenacity, curiosity, and raw intelligence that I was able to watch him grow into a kind, servant-hearted adult. What an awesome gift – a father really couldn’t ask for anything more. I hope Oliver’s wedding serves as an encouragement for all of us to remember our own blessings, our own spouses, and the amazing opportunity of having one person who we get to love, care for, lift up – and watch succeed! God loves you, and so do I!