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Giraffe 2
February 16, 2024

Giraffe

6 min read

I must confess, I was quite pleased with myself.

I had discovered my 11-year-old autistic son rooting around the back of the sofa for some unknown reason. He seemed to be looking for something, but what? In our house, whenever our child starts searching, my husband and I grit our teeth as he becomes increasingly agitated over the lost item. Worse yet, he also becomes increasingly inarticulate, unable to actually say what it is he wants. We start getting on hands and knees with him, asking, “What color? Is it a marble? Is it a ball? Is it [name a thousand toy parts and possibilities]?” It’s one of the worst scenarios that regularly plays out in our home, due to his verbal deficits and keen emotional need to have things just so.

Sometimes we get lucky and mention the object in question as we go through our laundry list of options. He then repeats the word back, and we’re that much closer to our goal of appeasing him. Sometimes, however, the search goes on and on while he gets louder and louder, shouting, “All done! ALL DONE!” That’s when my husband and I abandon all hope of resuming whatever it was we were doing before as we are conscripted into our son’s all-consuming quest.

This time, my husband happened upon the piece in question pretty quickly. He brought me a small toy giraffe, about five inches high, that had lost one of its green antlers. Why my son thought the missing part was located behind our couch I cannot say. I just knew I had to come up with another antler so the giraffe’s head would be complete and balanced.

Immediately, a picture of a container full of colored toothpicks came to mind. I went over to a kitchen cabinet and found them. Yes! There were green ones among them. With the help of some kitchen shears and a glue gun, I soon had a custom cut-and-fastened antler in place to match the first one. Giving that giraffe to my son, I held my breath. After evaluating it with the highly discerning senses kids with autism often have, my son stopped yelling and ran off contentedly with his treasure.

Incredibly, he was satisfied with my fix—which I had accomplished in about five minutes flat once I understood the problem and drew upon the resources I had at hand to solve it.

Amazing how that little victory made me feel like a million bucks, mama-wise—when I so often worry that I’m failing to pass muster. Parents of special needs kids constantly fight a nagging voice that says they are not doing enough, being enough, for their children to take a step closer to being “normal.” Perhaps because I so often fight—and lose—this battle of self-condemnation, something in me seized upon this rare success and fed it right into the gullet of my ego. For a few moments, I was all that, and it felt decadently different.

Then a Thought came, one that both humbled and reassured me.

A still, small voice inside of me asked where that mental picture of the colored toothpicks had come from. And I immediately knew—it wasn’t from inside me. I was its recipient, not its source, that much was abundantly clear.

Then I realized: if I could be so resourceful with my own child, how much more could God be resourceful with me, given the infinite reserves He has at hand—including a loving heart toward me?

This comparison between human and divine parenting, of an image-bearer of God (Gen. 1:28) doing His kind of work, has stayed with me. And I have to wonder why, because the fact that God loves me and intervenes on my behalf—often so very creatively—is one of my most fundamental beliefs as a Christian. Now I am beginning to see that I have been carrying this belief around in my head, not so much my heart. Repairing the giraffe made that golden nugget of truth drop down inside of me to a different place—one where battles against dark emotions rage every day.

Feeling this shift in perception, I felt it important to identify what I may have been harboring unawares in my heart all this time. I can now narrow it down to two things, a twin set of doubts that intertwine like a strong rope. (The better to hang myself with.)

First, I have doubted that God really has exactly what I need. I have fervently believed that He has exactly what He needs to do what He wants. But when it comes to me needing help in a very specific context, I have secretly pictured Him coming up short, unable to implement the elusive piece(s) of the puzzle that will bring balance and peace. And that’s because of doubt number two: being extremely uncertain that He is perpetually on my side and working for my good. Period. Full stop. No exceptions.

This has been my private confession, my skeptic’s creed. God only comes through some of the time, with aid that sometimes feels inadequate or ill-fitting. Thus, I am basically on my own when it comes to scrabbling out of the various crises that I find myself in. Only I know who I really am and what I really require at any given time. I am, in a terrible sense, I AM. The founder and fixer of my own life.

I have a very early memory of standing next to a tall bookcase in my childhood home. I used to bring a stack of books to my mother to read to me before I was in school, I loved narrative so much. But this memory is not a happy one. In it, I am frozen inside and out, experiencing a novel emotion—that of being completely alone. I may have been around four years old, too young to articulate the huge wave of fear overtaking me. My books couldn’t save me. Nor, I was divining, could my mother. At least not all the time. The world was turning out to be a bigger place than I thought, and the feelings I experienced in the face of its enormity could drag me into a darkness I did not wish to enter.

King David knew a thing or two about falling into fear, if his poetry provides any indication. One of his well-known psalms, which details who he is and what he does from God’s point of view, opens with a statement of faith I could have used during my frightful episode:

O Lord, You have searched me and known me!

You know when I sit down and when I rise up;

You discern my thoughts from afar

You search out my path and my lying down

And are acquainted with all my ways

(Psalm 149:1–3 ESV)

What strikes me most about this opening is David’s fundamental sense of God’s interest in him. God seems to be following him around, examining every detail of his movements. This implies that the one observed is absolutely known to the One observing, such that it is virtually impossible for Him to ignore the object of His intricate and loving attention.

The poem ends on a note that brings this notion of divine interest in David full circle. The psalmist seems to be saying: if You’re going to scrutinize me all the time, please do something about what You see! Don’t just be a distant observer—I invite Your intervention!

Search me, O God, and know my heart!

Try me and know my thoughts!

And see if there be any grievous way in me,

And lead me in the way everlasting

(Ps 139:23–24 ESV)

Interestingly, the Hebrew word for “search” (ba-CHAN) also describes the process by which a precious metal is refined by melting away impurities.

The Hebrew word for “thoughts,” (sa-rah-PHIM), can also be translated as “cares” or “doubts.”

Finally, “grievous way” (oh-TZEV) can be translated as “agony,” and is related to the root-word for the pain of childbearing.

Together, these images of smelting a person’s innermost anguish so that it rises to the surface and can be taken away leave me feeling unsettled. The process sounds like it involves significant discomfort, even outright pain.

But what is the alternative? Rooting around obscure places, looking in vain for that which will plug the hole, bring balance and well-being?

No, thank you. I will take the former alternative, as long as there are other, actual persons who will reach into their cupboard of wisdom and blessing and help the process of healing along. God often works most powerfully through other people, provided you ask for such help and let the right persons into your struggle.

O Lord,

Thanks for never taking Your eyes off me

I know that can be disconcerting

But it is far worse to go it alone

Bring those alongside me

Who can help in just the right way

Show me the benevolence

Behind Your unbroken gaze

Give me courage to surrender

To the refiner’s fire

So I can find rest in Your light

And Your love.

Amen