The return of the dark evenings and long nights recently reminded me of a time when our son James, who is Autistic and has Learning Difficulties, Epilepsy and Anxiety, was only able to leave the house for an occasional night-time drive due to anxiety that he might be taken to school. This was about four years ago now when James was 15, but the story is told as if it was this week… I hope that it will be a help and encouragement for other families in a similar situation as they support their child.
'Return of the Night Drives!!’ No, not a new film, but a recommencing of nighttime nocturnal adventures with James, the first for a few weeks! We were out earlier this week for well over an hour, having a wonderful time exploring the local area in the dark, visiting the airport, finding other places where there are bright lights that shine in the darkness.
James has been struggling to leave the house, his hesitancy to leave his ‘safe place’ is fueled by anxiety that he might be taken to school. We’ve had some success getting him to come out at night, when it is less likely that school would be the destination, although this had tailed off a bit in the past few weeks too… until Tuesday.
Suddenly, unexpectedly, and delightfully, on Tuesday evening at about 9 pm, James decided he wanted to go out, heading to the hallway and gesturing towards his shoes. That he (and I) were already in our pyjamas (or in James’s case his vest and shorts) added a frisson of chilly tension to proceedings as we rushed out to the car!
Inevitably, we were low on petrol; I tend to drive on petrol, then fumes, and finally on prayers before filling up, so had to call into a petrol station on our journey (and yes, I had managed to pull some trousers on before we left the house!)
Sadly, not many of the residents of Bournemouth had got their Christmas lights up early, but we did see some, and the runway lights at Bournemouth International Airport were on too, which James always enjoys. There was also a great big, bright moon to look at too!
On returning home, I opened the Celtic Daily Prayer book, as is my practice for evening devotionals currently. That evening’s readings totally blew me away, coming as they did on the back of such a lovely night drive with James. The first was this from Psalm 104 (verses 19 and 20):
"He made the moon to mark the seasons, and the sun knows when to go down. You bring darkness, it becomes night, and all the beasts of the forest prowl." (NIV)
We had seen the great big moon that God had made. God had brought the darkness, it had become night and we had gone out for our nocturnal adventure. Now we rarely go on our night drives alone and are often accompanied by James’ giant Winnie-the-Pooh. My friend Jane commented that she quite liked the idea that Winnie might be a “beast of the forest that prowls”, and so did I!
And then there was this from Isaiah 45 (verse 5):
"I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places." (NIV)
This totally blew me away… I really sensed the significance of these verses, and of God speaking to me through them, after our night drive. James and I had found treasure together in the darkness, had found riches stored in secret places. We had laughed together, enjoyed looking at the lights together, been slightly scared together as we drove through the dark woods (were there beasts of the forest prowling there?) Most of all, we had found the riches of spending valuable time together, just being “James ‘n’ Da-ddy!” as James himself said.
Through the tough times of additional needs parenting, of which there are many, through the battles to try to get help from the school, social services, health agencies and others, this treasure in the darkness is better than diamonds. It sustains us, it keeps us going; these wonderful moments, riches stored in secret places, help us and James to have hope. Hope that there will be a better day tomorrow, hope that James will be willing and able to come out of the house during daylight, hope that we can help him to return to school, to his favourite places. Hope for more nocturnal adventures, joyful belly laughs, amazement as we look at the lights together, of time spent just being “James ‘n’ Da-ddy!”
For us, our hope is inextricably connected to our unconditional love for James, and our eternal faith in God. The three come together as a package, and through them, we have experienced wonderful things together. For this is where the treasure in the darkness comes from, this is the secret place where the riches are stored.
Keep on going and I hope you find your own treasure in the darkness!
As a p.s. to this story, James has gradually worked to cope with his anxiety, even returning to school, and we can now go out to his favourite places in the daytime, fully clothed!
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