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The works of God are manifest: LDS mother learns to recognize God's love as she raises 2 sons with special needs

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Editor's note: This article by Megan Goates originally appeared on Aggieland Mormons.

It was a cold day just before Christmas a year and a half ago. I sat in my car, on the side of the road. I was panting and sweating from deflecting the blows of my large, mentally disabled preteen son, Jack, and holding him from climbing into the backseat and hurting his younger brothers.

Jack had had a violent outburst as I ordered his fries at a drive-thru window, and everything went horribly awry. He attacked me, relentlessly, as I tried to drive us home to safety. When we reached a busy intersection, Jack kicked the gearshift into reverse. The car stalled. I screamed. Cars barreled past. Jack punched and kicked me. He bashed his head against the car window and tried to unlock the door to escape.

“Lord, help me!” I yelled.

It was the first but not the last time I have shouted a prayer.

Jack suddenly quieted down. He stopped hitting. He began to cry. Miraculously, no cars hit us in the intersection. I put the car in drive and pulled off the road to call my husband, Jeff, to come help us.

Jeff wasn’t far away when I called. We sat in silence, waiting. Jack and I both trembled. My eyes prickled as I wondered, "Is this our future? Has our already challenging, tightly wound family life become something that is also terrifying and dangerous?"

“What will happen next?” I asked silently.

The Spirit responded instantly, with gentleness: “It isn’t going to get easier with Jack.” Though it seems counterintuitive, I was filled with peace.

A thought pierced my mind. “Look into group homes.”

But that will mean I have failed as his mother, I thought with desolation. If I can’t even care for the special-needs son God has given me, then I am failing in my life’s work.

If you’ve ever argued with the Spirit, you probably know how this goes.

A thought again entered my mind. “This is part of Jack’s journey through mortality, and it will be all right.”

I sat beside Jack in the car and thought about his life — the difficult, nonverbal, limited life that he valiantly lives. I wanted good things for him. I didn’t know if that’s what would come to be, but I felt that God saw our struggle and that God loves Jack.

In the Gospel of John, Chapter 9, Jesus passes near a blind man. His disciples ask, “Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus replies, “Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.”

I’ve pondered this passage of scripture many times in the 12 years since I gave birth to Jack as well as his 8-year-old brother, Charlie, who has autism.

I’m fascinated by this account in John because Jesus does not immediately heal the man of his blindness, as he often does elsewhere in the New Testament. Instead, he sees the blind man and teaches that God’s works are manifest in his disability.

For many years, I read the New Testament with pure, fervent longing for Jesus to heal my sons. I knew he could, even as I knew he wasn’t going to cure them of all their disabilities. I felt, though I didn’t fully understand why or how, that my children’s special needs were something we needed as part of our mortal instruction and growth.

As Jack and Charlie grew, I accepted that healing for my family would look different from the miraculous healings with which the Gospels are replete.

But still, what does it mean, that the works of God are made manifest in the blind man? This question underscored everything I did to care for my family for many years.

I saw my sons struggle. I helped them with therapy, medications, surgeries, IEPs and behavior intervention meetings, specialist appointments, and behavior plans. It seemed that everything Jeff and I and our two other sons did revolved around Jack and Charlie and their complex needs.

I wondered, “How are the works of God manifest in my life?”

I knew they were there, even though raising my children wasn’t easy. God’s works were more likely there because it wasn’t easy.

I had a dream not long ago that I was eating an enormous brownie topped with a dollop of whipped cream. Like all reasonable people everywhere, I really love a good brownie — dense, chewy and rich. In my dream, I tried to stretch the whipped cream because when it comes to whipped cream, my policy is: lots.

Then I noticed that on the same plate, right next to the brownie, was an enormous mound of surplus whipped cream. The extra whipped cream was larger than the brownie itself.

I find meaning in my dreams because they seem to reveal things about my life that my conscious mind just isn’t realizing. So when I dreamed about a brownie with endless whipped cream, and I felt an accompanying sense of joy at this abundance, I immediately came to this conclusion: God loves me.

He gives me figurative brownies.

When I am quiet and still enough, I can see a decadence, a richness of good gifts in my life. There is a surfeit of strength, a profusion of solace.

I dreamed of chocolate because God knows it's my love language, and it effectively helped me see that his divine hand has brought people into my life that have helped and inspired me. I have friends who know what it’s like to raise special-needs children, who understand and lend support. I have friends who don’t know what it’s like, because they don’t have the same challenges, but who want to know and who care enough to really listen. God has brought into my life mentors, who have shown me a better way to parent, to live and to believe.

I am blessed with a web of people who help me with my children. We have teachers, doctors, therapists and sitters who use their gifts to help our family. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a bustling metropolis to raise a child with special needs.

Mostly, I acknowledge the unmistakable, continuous strength I receive from my Savior.

So many people in my life are the brownie.

Jack still lives at home with our family and is doing much better. An amalgamation of time, different medications and the right therapists have wrought a positive change and brought back Happy Jack. There is much rejoicing in my house about this progress.

Nevertheless, I still did what the Spirit told me to do. I looked into group homes, and I found that in our area, no such option exists for minors. Why, I wondered, would I have such a clear prompting if it’s not even a possibility for Jack, at least not for many years?

I don’t have an answer to my question. Maybe I need time to prepare for this eventuality. But in the last 18 months, my fears have diminished.

The Spirit spoke to me on a roadside when I was desperate for peace and yearning for help.

I heard that God is aware of us.

He whispered in a dream that he is preparing good things for my family, often before we even know what we need.

The whipped cream in my story is resilience, acceptance, strength and discernment.

He’s giving all of this to me.

There's enough and to spare.

Megan Goates lives with her family in Utah, where she raises boys, teaches college writing and blogs about the strange beauty of special-needs parenting at