I met Diane Kim and her family at a Joni and Friends Family Retreat. I later found out that Diane is a very gifted writer and speaker. For Autism Awareness month, I would like to share the letter which she wrote to her son, Jeremy who has Autism. An edited portion of this letter is being featured on Parenting.com, so happy for you, Diane!
Happy birthday. I don’t know if you’ll ever understand all this, but here’s a list of the things I celebrate about you today:
Thanks for not being violent or an aggressive biter, hitter, or non-sleeper. Thanks for being ok with taking you out of the house to different places, and to eat different things. Thanks for being a really sweet and compliant, happy-go-lucky kid, all things considered. Sure, you still require 24×7 supervision, totally blow off instructions and greetings, and shred most things you lay hands on. But thanks for reminding us that things could have been worse, a whole lot worse.
Thanks for keeping my megalomania and ego in check, daily. Without you, I’d be a much more frightening and harsh person. Thanks for breaking an otherwise unbreakable woman. You’ve been the sharpest tool God ever used to drill into me that I’m not All That, and that I need Him; I need others. It’s the most important thing I’ve ever learned.
Thanks for teaching me the humanity, compassion and confidence to intentionally look into a person’s eyes and smile, especially if they’re in a wheelchair, or looks, acts or smells weird, rather than look away uncomfortably.
Thanks for keeping your dad and me together, for teaching us life’s too short to be petty. We need reminders that there’s bigger fish to fry than bicker over who started it, or who’s turn it is to empty the dishwasher. Yeah, we’re stupid like that. Thanks for reminding us we need to be on the same team — for teaching us how to partner and have each other’s back, so we can tag team on the burning out and refueling.
Thanks for driving us to the end of our limits that much quicker, because then we end up on our knees, earnestly praying for answers, patience, time, money, help, sanity, deliverance, understanding or at least acceptance. That’s exactly the point God waits for. Once we shelve our self-imposed martyrdom, then He can start raining down the manna. Life is much more exciting that way.
Thanks for unintentionally training your brother to be a junior therapist since birth. Three is too young to understand that you’re different yet –I’m sure his school friends will make that clear him in time. But for now, we’re grateful for the way he’s always in your face, protecting you, adoring you, demanding a response and refusing to be ignored by you. It’s the only way he knows how to be with you. Especially after your dad and I are gone, you’re going to need such an expert caretaker, bodyguard and friend. You will have provided him lifelong, free training.
Thanks for extracting out the noble and selfless in all of us. Without any of us ever making a single speech or plea for help – no bake sale, telethon or carwash– you managed to move the hearts of a church community to covertly cull together $25,000.00 in post-tax, out of pocket cash to support you and all your treatments. That love offering was really, really, really hard for me and your dad to accept. But it also forced us into an opportunity to be humbled even further, demolish our pride and self-sufficiency, and be lovingly carried on the mat. You gave the church an opportunity to be Jesus with some serious skin and teeth on.
Even in Sunday school, that one glorious time you ran in the balloon race with the other kids, the entire room erupted with joy and freaked out to see you actually PARTICIPATING with them, even for just 30 seconds. It was pure exhilaration to witness how you had transformed their attitudes, from viewing you as That Weird Kid, to one worth celebrating. You taught them to rejoice over what a person could do. You were a living, breathing, running culmination of every Sunday School lesson that day.
Thanks for inspiring a dedicated team of over 20 professionals, each with highly specialized, advanced degrees, to rally every week for you. They labor, collaborate, brainstorm, discuss, strategize, trouble-shoot and vision-cast for you, one single kid! Me, I birthed you so I’m stuck following you around, wiping your poop and various other messes. But those people just floor me. They have no biological obligation to help you; they run daily risk of being bitten, slapped, scratched, hair-pulled or ignored by kids like you, yet they keep coming back for more. You keep these marvelously gifted and passionate visionaries employed, despite being vastly underpaid and undervalued by society.
People who don’t even know you devote their lives to autism research, write books, establish foundations and support agencies. They march in walkathons to raise money and awareness, then on to Capitol Hill to get laws passed – all to help voiceless people like you. Our cash-strapped government even thinks you’re important enough to give us some money to educate and take care of you, to keep you out of institutions. Wild, isn’t it?
Thanks for bringing out the best in everyone around you. This is what you do best, your greatest talent and contribution to the world around you. You sure have impacted a lot of people and done a lot of impressive work in just eight years. I mean, really, that’s quite a list of accomplishments for a kid who doesn’t talk, whom the world labels, “severely handicapped.” Ironically, you put the rest of us “normal” people to shame. Your own mom wakes up every morning, and she’s already six months behind in her To Do list. I guess God does use the foolish and humble things of the world to teach the wise.
So, Happy Birthday, buddy. Today, we celebrate that God gave us you, exactly the way you are. Thanks for teaching us that God’s greatest blessings can come gift-wrapped in hardship. Thanks for connecting the dots for us, that the same God who conquered sin and death, can conquer autism –albeit in mysterious ways. Conquer doesn’t mean remove, bypass, sugarcoat or even alleviate. It means conquer. We are more than conquerors. Thanks for validating all these incredulous, audacious claims from the Bible for us. Very nicely done, son, exquisitely done.
As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him,”Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”
Jeremy, thanks for displaying the work of God in your life, through your life, because of your life.
P.S. I’m sorry for all the times I get frustrated, stress out and holler. I’m glad your dad steps in and spares the both of us, whenever it happens. You’re expensive and you’re a lot of work. But know that I’d eat dirt for you if I had to, because I love you that fiercely.
P.P.S. And you can forget about that mean lady at the Maui Hyatt, the one who huffed over her shoulder, “Whew! I’m glad he’s not my child!” and moved her kids away from you. You just made her more grateful that her own kids were normal and well-behaved. I’m sure you’ve done that for a lot of people: make them appreciate their healthy kids and not take them for granted. The same goes for that guy at the post office who snickered, “Outta control demon child!” when you freaked out and ran into traffic. Sorry, that was my fault. I accidentally had you doped up on too many meds because I thought I was supposed to after you got that additional diagnosis of ADHD. My bad. But still, good job on making all walks of people feel happy, grateful, purposeful and altogether transformed. Keep up the Good Work…
If you would like to read more of Diane Kim’s writings, visit her blog at: Diane Dokko Kim Faith, Family and Special Needs… Post Autism Diagnosis.