Hello Lighthouse families. My name is Sunghee Park. I’m married to Roy and we have three kiddos together. Our oldest son, Evan, is 13 years old and has severe autism.
There is a saying that if you meet one person with autism, you met one person with autism. Autism can vary greatly from a person to person. In Evan’s case, it significantly limits his communication skills and cognitive ability to understand the world around him.
I still remember how much I was mesmerized whenever baby Evan was breathing. Each breath he took immediately filled my entire body with boundless joy. From that very moment, I knew what it meant to be a parent. You will love your child unconditionally. You will love your child sacrificially.
Because you and your child’s bond is so strong, it’s extremely painful when your child suffers. When they’re suffering, their pain spirals and echoes within you. My own suffering and pain are endurable. In contrast, my own innocent child’s suffering feels as if I’m bleeding inside. Having a child with autism means that you will have this feeling very frequently because your child suffers constantly in this world.
When Evan was pushed and called “retarded” by another child in the playground, when Evan was feverish and sick, but he couldn’t tell us how he felt and just wept uncontrollably, sorrow and pain filled me up inside, leading me to ask this question, “Why does God let Evan suffer so much?”
I’ve been asking this question quite frequently this past year as it has been an extremely difficult time for Evan. The COVID quarantine situation brought new challenges. Not knowing why everything was shut down, Evan seemed confused and frustrated. He did not know how to express his frustration verbally so he started to hit the wall with his elbow over and over. As a result, he injured his arm and couldn’t lift his arm or used his hand properly.
Last May, Evan and I visited the pediatric orthopedics office to have his elbow examined after multiple incidents of self-injurious behavior. There were happy smiley wall stickers all over on the office wall. On the other hand, Evan’s eyes were full of tears, looking completely defeated and weary. Holding back tears myself, I quietly whispered, “God, make me suffer, instead.”
Each day was a battle for Evan. He was suffering emotionally and physically. In Shusaku Endo’s book Silence, the main character Father Rodrigues couldn’t endure the suffering any more and shouted, “Lord, why are you silent? Why are you always silent?’ That was the hardest part during COVID. It seemed to me that God was completely silent.
However, as the COVID quarantine continued, beautiful moments started to appear and brought blessings for our family. Lighthouse families reached out more and more and became an ever-present part of our lives. Home-cooked meals or meals from our favorite restaurants became a regular occurence. So were Costco runs and trips to the grocery stores – while never forgetting to include Evan’s all-time favorite Cholula sauce. Families were also generous with their time such as watching my two other little kiddos so that I could give Evan some special alone time. The Bridge ministry dropped off gifts and goodies for Evan. And finally, I received a lot of encouraging calls and texts.
As pastor Kim described during his teaching of John 17:9-10, every enjoyable and every unenjoyable event that passes into our lives, is Grace. Lighthouse families’ acts of love were true grace. When I struggled with God’s silence, God placed loving and caring people in my life. With God’s grace, I was able to endure and see enjoyable moments from unenjoyable circumstances. Lighthouse families’ acts of kindness brought me back to God’s steadfast love, which I often forget about during those moments of suffering. I belong to God as pastor Kim beautifully described during the same sermon.
As Lighthouse families continued to have an even bigger presence in our lives, I was able to slowly come out of my own suffering during the COVID quarantine. I became more thankful and humble as I was consistently reminded of God’s grace and that God will always be with me because I belong to Him.
Evan’s autism is a lifelong disability. He will continue to face enormous challenges due to his disability. I will never know the purpose of Evan’s suffering. However, I know that I belong to God and it is such a comfort for me to say, “God, thank you for choosing me as your child and making me closer to you each day through suffering.”