"We wish we had known she was feeling this desperate, because we would have done what we could to help her.”
Those were the words of the Morgan Autism Center executive director, Jennifer Sullivan, in San Jose, CA after hearing about the tragic death of one of their clients, George Hodgins.
George was a 22 year old autistic man who lived at home with his parents and had attended the autism center since he was 6 years old. "He was a good kid, a very good kid. He loved to be outdoors, he loved hiking and walking and doing things like that." Sullivan said.
This was probably a great description of the man-child everyone at the center knew as “George”, but there is a darkness in the world of disability that few people realize. Even the professional caregivers that work so close with these special lives often seem to miss the extreme physical and emotional difficulties of parenting children with severe disabilities.
There is a shadow of hopelessness that often looms over the families struggling through the valley of disability. George’s mother, Elizabeth Hodgins found herself deep in that dark valley last Tuesday as she shot her autistic son to death in his bedroom before turning the gun on herself.
I cannot even begin to imagine the desperation and depression that leads to this kind of atrocity as a viable solution. (Or perhaps I just don’t want to allow myself to imagine things like this.)
Either way, there are many feelings that went through my mind when I first heard this story. I have to admit that anger was the first. How could a mother murder her disabled adult child? My anger quickly turned to frustration as I read the statement from the director of the autism center, "We wish we had known she was feeling this desperate, because we would have done what we could to help her.”
Really? You knew this family since George was 6 years old, and you had no idea that they were struggling so deeply?
And then my anger and frustration dissolved into personal conviction and self realization. I have been in this valley. I have stood in this darkness where no hope can be seen. I have looked into the future and seen nothing but pain and sadness. Jacob’s father is no better than George’s mother. (This is the real reason I do not want to imagine things like this.)
After the shooting, the autism center sent out a note to the parents making them aware of the situation. "I got back lots and lots of comments saying, 'We have all been there,' and, 'We've seen the black hole.' There's no question these children are difficult, and these families need help." Sullivan said.
"But let me tell you," she said, "parents of kids with autism are under a terrific amount of stress. Many of these children don't sleep at night. They wake up at 2 or 3 in the morning, and one of the parents has to get up, because they need constant supervision. It's an exhausting experience."
Exhausting, relentless, desperate...often hopeless. Those are all words that enter the thoughts of these weary parents.
“Parents of autistic children can focus so much on day-to-day tasks that they rarely look ahead at their future.”, Sullivan said. "Then it hits them...my child is going to always be with me.' They ask, 'When is it going to end?' But it doesn't."
As I read and reread this tragic article, the urgency of ministry ignited my resolve.
This is why I write, teach and preach. This is why faithful men like John Knight blog and proclaim the glory of God in disability in the midst of great suffering. This is why Justin Reimer labors relentlessly (often in poverty) keeping The Elisha Foundation afloat like a rescue boat for these hurting families. This is why ladies like Julie Brown and Carrie Fellows and The Lakeview Ladies sacrificed to bring these families together. This is why Joni Eareckson Tada procalims God's glory from a wheelchair and writes of hope in the midst of the darkest suffering.
We’ve all been there. We are fathers and mothers and men and women and children who have walked through this valley. We know this darkness well.
We also know the only light that can shatter this darkness is the light of the gospel. And so for us, the “If we had known...” has turned into “We now know...”. And because we know, we will proclaim the hope of the gospel to these desperate, hurting, and often hope-less families.
If you are reading this today, I want you to know that there is hope. No matter how dark it may seem--there is hope. No matter what you have done--there is hope. No matter how unknown your future may be, there is a gracious God that has gone before you to prepare the way. He stands with outstretched arms proclaiming through the cross of His Son, "there is abundant hope waiting for you!"
- Psalm 39:7 “And now, O Lord, for what do I wait? My hope is in you.
- Psalm 42:5 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God.
- Psalm 62:5 For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from him.
- Psalm 71:5 For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O LORD, from my youth.
- Psalm 119:114 You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word.
- Psalm 119:147 I rise before dawn and cry for help; I hope in your words.
- Psalm 130:5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope.
- Proverbs 23:18 Surely there is a future, and your hope will not be cut off.
- Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
- Lamentations 3:20-22 But this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end.
- Acts 2:25-26 For David says concerning [Jesus], ‘I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope.
- Romans 5:2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.
- Romans 5:3-5 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
- Romans 8:24-25 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
- Romans 12:12 Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
- Romans 15:4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
- 1 Corinthians 13:7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
- 2 Corinthians 1:10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.
- 1 Timothy 4:10 For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.
- Titus 1:1-2...for the sake of the faith of God's elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began.
- Hebrews 16:18-19 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain.
- Hebrews 10:23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.
- 1 Peter 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
- 1 Peter 1:13 Set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
- 1 Peter 1:20 [Jesus] was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Romans 15:13)