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I went to church alone today. I could have brought my two younger children but honestly, I needed 60 minutes to myself to sit and think.

I chuckle at what I consider to be a relaxing break now.

Anyhow, I don’t often talk about church. Because like politics and vaccinating and puzzle pieces and the color blue, it can anger people. And that isn’t what my mission is about.

I refuse to argue about autism. Not anymore.

I’m too busy making sure my son doesn’t run into traffic or get misjudged in the community. That’s what matters to me.

But, in saying all of that, I get asked often about my faith. Do I have any? Did it ever waver? And how has it changed?

The answer is yes and yes and immensely.

Our pastor spoke about Revelations today. I’ll admit—I don’t understand it. I am not what you would consider a super religious person and Revelations feels foreign to me. Complicated to understand.

RELATED: Dear Tired Mama, Sometimes Church is For Naps

As I sat there, trying to pay attention, I found myself thinking back. Back to the beginning. To the really hard parts.

The word autism had not been said out loud yet. Just in my heart and mind probably.

A search in Google on my iPhone. And a whisper in the dark to my husband.

But the struggles were visible. The delays. There was no denying that something was happening. Almost like a train picking up speed.

People told me to pray. That was the advice from the people in my life. The people who loved me.

Just pray, they’d say.

The Lord will lead him through. Trust in the Lord.

What I heard was: If you pray enough this will get better and God will fix this.

So, I prayed. I prayed so much you wouldn’t believe it. I prayed like a new mother who was scared to death.

I prayed for him to say mama and for him to catch up and for him to wave and smile and play.

I prayed for him to learn to jump and to stop crying and to stack blocks.

I prayed for him to see the bubbles the early interventionists were blowing and for him to see the airplane in the sky.

RELATED: These Days, I’m Praying For More

A constant message in my head. Like a ticker on a TV. The words endlessly flowing through.

Please, God. Please, God. Please, God.

But it didn’t work.

It felt like no one was listening. Maybe I wasn’t praying enough. Or for the right things.

Then one day, we weren’t accepted at church anymore. The angry stares coming from other parishioners as we tried to hush our screaming boy in the crying room.

See, he didn’t understand why he couldn’t line up the chairs or tap the glass window to hear the sound.

RELATED: Why Special Needs Families Sometimes Skip Sundays

And I got angry. I am no saint. I’m no angel.

I was just a first-time mom whose baby hit himself in the head and screamed and refused to sleep.

I felt alone. Abandoned. Isolated.

I needed a life raft. A Savior. Hope. Faith. Anything.

The anger consumed me. I felt like we’d been forgotten. I started snapping back at people when they’d say, “Just pray.”

And maybe it was because people were offering to pray for me instead of actually helping. Prayer felt cheap.

RELATED: The Intersection of Faith and Autism

I needed someone to sit up with my son through the sleepless nights that lasted six years so I could sleep, or hold my hand at the children’s hospital, or take my other son to a park so he could have a chance to be a kid, or even offer to do a dang load of laundry.

My prayers stopped.

That was years ago though. I was a different person then. I’m not there anymore. I’m not angry. And I’m not lost anymore.

I’m right where I’m supposed to be. And so is my son. He is exactly who he was meant to be. He’s amazing.

I’ve found my way back to church, too. To God. To my faith. And I learned a very valuable lesson in my not so graceful journey.

I was praying for the wrong things.

I should have been praying to be the best mother ever to my son.

RELATED: When You Don’t Know What to Pray, God Still Hears

I should have been praying for a voice that does not shake when it speaks out about inclusion and acceptance.

I should have been praying for strength as we faced never-ending challenges.

I should have been praying for peace and grace. For my heart and for my mind.

But most importantly, I should have been praying to see the breathtaking beauty and magic in my son. Because I was missing it.

And I truly believe, God taught me that. He showed me what matters.

I get it now.

Previously published on the author’s blog

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Kate Swenson

Kate Swenson, founder of Finding Cooper's Voice, is a writer and an eternal optimist. She resides in Minnesota with her husband and three sons, Cooper, Sawyer and Harbor. She has created a community online where families of children with special needs can come and celebrate the unique highs and lows that accompany this journey. 

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