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Rich in Mercy

By Kendra Cordero
In eLetter
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My phone was ringing. It was his Mother’s Day Out program. I checked my watch to see if he had made it an hour. My heart sank, and I could hear the conversation before it even took place.

“Mrs. Cordero?”

“This is she.”

“We need you to come get your son right now.”

I was only ten minutes away. The drive was a blur. The pounding in my ears and the warm tears on my face were my close companions those days. As I drove, I played the process out in my mind and each step went the way I envisioned when I got there.

I walked in. He came to me. His chubby hand slipped into mine and his two-year-old frame melted into my side. He was fine. I heard all the ways he misbehaved. I thanked her for her time. I was given a refund. We left. We wouldn’t be back.

My son learned a hard lesson early in life. If you misbehave badly enough, you will be rejected. If you cannot control yourself, you are not welcome. If you are not compliant, you will not be loved because no one will take the time to know the real you. They will only see your bad behavior. “He has autism. He has a hard past—we adopted him,” I would tell people and they would nod their heads as though they understood. They would look at us with pity and they would wave goodbye and wish us better luck somewhere else.

As my son grew older, the behaviors continued. Each day my husband and I worked with him to help him understand appropriate behavior, but his brain couldn’t connect our words with his reality. When he was scared, he spit or hit or threw things. When he was angry, he scratched or peed his pants or yelled at the top of his lungs. I never had to guess what he was feeling on the inside because he showed us on the outside. And as I watched him struggle, God began to speak to my heart.

God’s whisper to me was that I was just like my son—and so was everyone else I knew. Now, I don’t think God was saying that we all have autism. He meant that we all have places of fear, hurt and anger and tend to handle those emotions in very destructive ways, just like my son did. The difference between us and my son is that most of us are better at hiding those destructive behaviors. But we all know the same thing that my son knows: If we show people the worst, they will most likely reject us. If we aren’t who people want us to be, we will not be welcome. They won’t love us because they won’t get to know us. They will define us by our behavior. And sadly, like my son, some of us have had that confirmed over and over in our lives.

And then God whispered to me a deeper truth. This time he said, “I am not like all those people who reject you.” God, in his rich mercy, does not push people away because of bad or destructive behavior. When we reveal our worst to him, he showers us with acceptance and love. When we are angry or hurt, he comforts us. When we throw or hit or yell at him, he welcomes us. Over and over. The Bible calls God “rich in mercy.” As I watched my son, I understood a new depth to that phrase. I sat in that truth for a long time and asked God something that changed my future as a mom. “Will you help me love like that?”

Each morning I prayed something desperately, “Holy Spirit, I am weak. You are strong. Will you be strong through me?” And little by little I began to love my son more like God loves me. In the middle of an angry outburst, I would speak loudly over his screams: “Baby, you can yell at me all you want but I will always love you and I will never leave you.” He would crumble into my arms sobbing and we’d hold each other for a long time. You see, love like that may not come naturally, but it has the power to heal people.

As I grew steadier (but not perfect) living out this kind of love through the power of God’s Spirit in me, I started to help my son understand that he also has access to the same power to show love. I told him so that he would understand, “Everyone has a hard time with appropriate behavior. Not just you. But who do you belong to no matter what you do?”

“King Jesus,” he says (because we have rehearsed this conversation many times).

“That’s right, and God will always love you, even when you make bad choices. But because he loves you, he gives you his Holy Spirit inside of you and the Holy Spirit can fill you up.” His little eyes widen with understanding and his hands fold as we pray together as we do every day now; both of us knowing we desperately and completely need what only God can give.

“God, please fill us up all the way with your Holy Spirit so that we can show love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” His voice echoes mine as we pray. The words are memorized and second nature but they aren’t “old hat.” He is aware at a very young age that he needs what we ask God to give.

My son is seven now and still has severe autism. The phone calls haven’t stopped. I still get long lists of how he misbehaves when I’m not there. But something better than appropriate behavior and compliance is happening in our lives. We are both understanding that God loves us deeply and completely. He isn’t like the rest of the world. God will never define us by our behavior and reject us, because he is rich in mercy. We belong to King Jesus and because we are his, he comforts us and helps us understand that his Spirit in our lives helps us live out love, joy, and peace.

It’s true for my son. It’s true for me.

It’s true for you too.

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