Tears used to be commonplace in my home. Tears from me, tears from my children.

My younger son was diagnosed with autism at the age of three. For so long, my boys didn’t play together. One drove his Matchbox cars while the other jumped on the trampoline. One played cowboys and Indians while the other meandered through the house like a traveler lost in a foreign city. I often held my older son and wiped away his tears as he asked, “Why won’t Bubby play? I just want him to play with me.”  

After one particularly rough afternoon, I felt as if a black hole had just opened up inside of my stomach and sucked in every ounce of me. It was an unstoppable force fueled by fear, worry, and anxiety. He had cried and screamed all morning, but I couldn’t figure out why. Was he hungry? Hurt? Sad? I offered him every snack and drink the pantry had to offer, but nothing stopped his tears. When I tried to encourage him to play ball with his brother, he wriggled and rolled until he got away from us and back into his own little world. 

RELATED: Before I Knew Autism

Later we tried to play outside, and I spent most of my time chasing him all over our huge yard. I carried him back to the sandpile over and over again. Drenched in sweat, I felt anxious and depleted. When it was time to go inside for lunch, he wasn’t ready to leave the sandpile. He tensed as if a bolt of lightning had just entered his body. His voice strained as cries escaped his tightened lips. He held his breath until his whole body turned a light shade of purple. His brother and I just watched and waited for him to inhale again, waiting for the air and calm to re-enter his body.

Later as they napped, I found myself lying face down on my bedroom floor.

Tears now poured down my face and pooled on our brand-new carpet as I tried to muffle my sobs so as not to wake my napping babies. I stared at the relaxing shade of blue on the wall, but inside, I felt more like an empty, dismal gray. My baby needed help . . . and I wasn’t enough to help him. Between my uncontrollable tears and muffled sobs, I begged God to help him. 

“Just take it away, God. Whatever it is. Help him. Give him words. Just let him play with his brother.” I prayed for specific thingslike words and play skillsbut mostly, I just sobbed and hoped He knew what I meant. 

RELATED: To the Mom Trying to Do It All, You’re In God’s Way

Those days were long. The early yearsthey nearly broke me. I wanted nothing more than for God to help my son. The more I pleaded with God, the more hurt I was that He wasn’t answering me. I was hurt, angry, confused, and sad. Sad for my son . . . and sad for myself. 

Four years have passed since my outcry on the bedroom floor. After much intervention, hard work, and dedication, our lives look different now.

And the tears returned to my house again today.

This morning I sat at our hand-me-down kitchen table with my two sons. As we played with Play-Doh, the smell of the salty-sweet dough took me back to my own childhood. I was overcome by the smell of childhood memories and answered prayers. 

We played. 

One simple phrase, but a monumental accomplishment.

This morning, as we played together, I snapped a picture. I remember the time when I prayed for this exact moment. The three of us, sitting at our little white table that has been through several generations in my family. Its uneven surface with cracked white paint, now covered with specks of green, blue, and pink Play-Doh. We sat calmly, rolling out long snakes and using cookie cutters to stamp out ocean creatures.

RELATED: I Am Proud Of My Autistic Sons

We were listening to a favorite Disney song of ours from the movie Tangled. As the chorus started up, I belted out the words . . . and so did my younger son!

His sweet little face, with a speckling of freckles and piercing blue eyes, met my gaze and sang, “At last I see the light.”

The tears immediately fell from my eyes. He had never sung with a song before, so those words touched a special place in my soul . . . but there was something else. A message that came through loud and clear to my mommy heart:

“At last I see the light.”

Just like Rapunzel, I couldn’t have known the amazing things that awaited me along this journey. This moment illuminated so much for me. 

At last, I see that God, in His infinite wisdom, knew exactly what He was doing those years ago when He said, “Not yet, not your way. My will be done.” 

Life’s greatest gifts come in the form of hard-earned triumphs and long-awaited joy. 

And in the end? It is breathtaking and humbling. Just as my sons shaped their Play-Doh creations today, I see God is using my son to continually mold and shape me too. 

Deidra Darst

Deidra Darst, MS, CCC-SLP, is a speech-language pathologist and autism mom. She is an advocate, author, and shares her family's journey at www.theslpmom.com.\She can be found on Facebook and Instagram @theSLPmom