Love That Overcomes Darkness
In the Chinese language, the word for good is made up of two parts: the word for feminine and the word for son or child. I am considered thoroughly lucky and blessed to have borne a daughter, followed five and a half years later by a plucky son.
It is good. It was good, until the darkness arrived.
The entire year while he was in utero, I was mostly in pieces, after having a huge crisis in church that led to our family leaving a community we loved and felt loved in. Then when I was seven months pregnant, I got into a car accident. I was too shocked to even respond and a passerby who noticed I was heavily pregnant asked if I needed an ambulance. My daughter who was in the back seat only burst into tears at this point.
Weeks later, during delivery, I hesitated for a long time about the epidural as I had spine issues, and when I decided to have it injected, it sent me into violent shivers. In the end, my son shot right out of the birth canal with one push, and he didn’t cry. In fact, thereafter too, he rarely did.
Kel surprised me with how chirpy he was as a baby, the way he would awake and coo and gurgle merrily instead of cry.
But soon that would change.
One evening when I was nursing him, I felt God tell me that my son is different, that there are gaps in his brain. I did not know what to make of it and soon forgot about it.
As he grew into toddlerhood, Kel became explosive. He would be calm one moment and eruptive the next. A few times when we were walking along the street, he would just pull away from me and run off! Almost all play dates ended up in hot angry tears, with the other child looking bewildered. Soon no one asked us out.
In preschool, the teacher complained that he would not stay seated. I was exhausted from my responsibilities and needed him to be in preschool for a few hours each day, but I was heavy-hearted to know that he was not enjoying himself.
I wrestled with the idea of homeschooling him, but it was not a decision I could undertake all on my own. Singapore has strict restrictions and requirements for homeschooling, including the expectation that homeschooled children will also take and get a higher than pass grade on the national exam.
Born in December, Kel was also younger than his classmates. Within the first week of grade school, I heard him say something that truly shocked me: he talked about ending his life. He found it hard to retain friendships, and soon the school teacher was labeling him as a child with anger management issues, best dealt with by the school counselor. His school routine included regular visits to the already overworked counselor. ADHD was relatively new to all of us, and there was simply no recourse or resource at our public schools yet.
I was wracked with guilt about my pregnancy and the decisions we had taken. But there seemed to be no alternative at the same time. Kel continued to be a happy child who would be overcome by dark storm clouds too huge for him to shoo away. The dark moods were fierce and often suffocating. Simple things had to be taught in a concrete fashion. We had to role-play how to shut the door quietly. I gave him vocabulary for his big feelings. I taught him to breathe deeply and to go to Jesus.
It was hard to get through a day without feeling emotionally wrenched.
I prayed often with and for him. I began to read up on neurodiversity and all the conditions I thought he may have. I called on friends and learned that I have to protect and champion my child when society did not have a place for him.
Kel is seventeen today. He comes to me for hugs each day. His wit is great, he hardly raises his voice, and he manages his academic endeavors by himself. He even intoned one day that he is grateful for how deeply loved he is.
But the journey of acceptance, healing, and self-mastery was a long, painful roller-coaster ride.
Acceptance required that my spouse and I learn to get on the same page. We had many disagreements and grievances over how we responded to Kel and what he truly needed. We were afraid of having him assessed fearing the label would stick with him and he would identify himself as a problem. After that, we wondered if we should put him on medication so that his grades would improve, which would impact his self-esteem. We were exhausted from the weekly reports of his behavior in church that seemed to only highlight his weaknesses.
Yet at every step of the process, God gave me the light to take the next one.
He reminded me that I was the adult and the parent. I had to be steady for Kel and model regulation for him.
He gave me insights into how to communicate with Kel when the usual ways of instruction did not work.
He sent friends who pointed me to resources, including a free assessment that allowed Kel to request assistance for exams.
He kept us both laughing through tears, sharing prayer, intimate moments of confession, and silliness.
He gave me resilience and courage to get back into the “ring” after what felt like a dismal defeat—when I was yelled at, accused of being a lousy mom, and a few times even throttled.
ADHD may be a physical condition, but I felt there was a darkness that wanted to follow it. Once Kel was so ballistic as his brain went catastrophic that he grabbed the kitchen knife and threatened to end his life. I cannot explain the calm and presence of mind I had then to speak gently to him. We both ended in a puddle of tears.
So often he would be remorseful and deeply sad about how things went. I could feel the darkness trying so hard to swallow up my son, and I just had to keep pushing it back. It was not easy to frame what happened in a hopeful light, but each time God gave me wisdom and words.
I know my fellow moms all over the world battle with this darkness as we seek to birth and raise life. Mornings when I sit in the dark and wait for the day to begin, I hold on to the hope that the light will come and the darkness will not overcome it.
When Kel was twelve, God whispered to me that his journey will be long. This word helped me to relinquish any last vestiges of hope that my son would “catch up” with his older sister or the world. I laugh now at how silly those notions really are. But that word helped me to soften and allow his life to unfold as the gift it is. My son, or any child, is never a problem to fix. They are gifts to savor and steward.
I cannot imagine what kind of person or mother I would be today if God had not given me Kel to tutor me in His Loving heart.
Jenni Ho-Huan is a city pastor leading small communities towards bountiful faith-filled living. Her favourite job of all time is being mom to her two children and one cat. She has written six books included When God Shapes a w.i.f.e and Simple Tips for Happy Kids. You can find her at www.toreally.live.