Change Font Size:   A A A

Jun 01, 2012 | The Rev. Jimmy Grace

Hope and Healing: Perfect in Every Way

James Grace
James Grace Contemplates a Butterfly

[Diolog Magazine] The other day I was riding down a street in our neighborhood on a bike next to my six-year-old son, who had just learned to ride a two-wheel “big boy bike” all by himself. Riding down the street, the two of us smiled as the wind blew past our faces. This was certainly not an unusual sight in our neighborhood—but it was for me. I never thought my son would ever ride a bike.


My son, James, has autism.


Autism for James means that his challenges involve those things that we take for granted dailyconversation, eye contact, concentration, empathy. For James’ first four years, he spoke very little, and my wife Marla and wondered if he would ever speak. Speech has come for James, thanks to a lot of early intervention and schooling. His curiosity about the world never ceases to surprise me. It is remarkable to me how far James has come in only the first six years of his life. 


Before he was born, my wife and I went in for a twenty-week ultrasound to learn if we were going to have a boy or girl. During the ultrasound, the radiologist spent what seemed to us a lot of time looking at Jamesespecially his brain. As I remember that day, another doctor came in and examined the images on the screen, and then began to explain to us what we already knew: something was not right. A part of James’ brain called the cerebellar vermis, the doctor explained, was below the average size of a typical child’s cerebellar vermis at this point. Although the doctor was unable to tell us to what extent this might affect him, both my wife and I were absolutely devastated at the news. The vision of a perfect birth of our first-born immediately was snatched from our midst that day, replaced with a hollow anxiety and dread to fill a now empty space.


I remember days later at some point we were counseled to consider abortion. At this time I was finishing my final semester of seminary, and it is hard to remember a time when I felt more alone and frightened. I prayed. Our community at seminary came over on Monday evenings to our home and they prayed with us and for us and James. It was odd that during a time of great anxiety and chaos that I felt so comforted by the Holy Spirit in a way that I never had before. Something beyond all reason informed me that all things would be well. 


James was born a week or so after I graduated seminary, and soon after we moved back to Houston to begin work at Epiphany, Houston. Since then we have welcomed two other boys into our family, both of whom are typically developing (i.e., rambunctious!).


I have heard it said before that there is no such thing as a blessing without some blood being shed. I believe that to be true. In many ways James has blessed my life—he has certainly taught me more about love, humility and the nature of God than any priest, bishop, or seminary professor. 


James’ entry into my life forced my heart to break and open in uncomfortable ways. But as I think about this experience, I wonder about God. It wouldn’t surprise me if God has autism. Or Down Syndrome. Or multiple sclerosis. James is a sacrament of a paradox I was unaware of until his birth—that disability often seems to be God’s greatest strength. 


The Rev. Jimmy Grace is canon for Christian formation at Christ Church Cathedral, Houston.