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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Something that will Live with Him Forever


My wife works with autistic children. She is part of a wraparound program, in which an autistic child receives help from an adult at school and at home. Betsy helps Tommy keep focused on his work in the classroom. There are eight children and five adults in this particular class. One of the adults is the teacher and there is a teacher’s aid. The others are like Betsy, adults who help a specific child. Little Tommy is nine years old and weighs in at 60 pounds. His size makes him difficult to handle when he wants to cause trouble. He is very smart and is progressing in reading and math. But he communicates only in nonverbal ways. He grunts or points when he wants something. And he screams like all kids when he doesn’t get what he wants. He is easily provoked to anger by the other kids in the class. Breaking up fights is a daily activity for the adults in this classroom. These kids challenge Betsy and the other adults, and yet Betsy loves it.

I can’t help but wonder why she can’t wait to get back into the classroom with Tommy. When he wants to cause trouble he can be very difficult. Betsy has been head butted in the chest, bitten on the hands and arms and had her hair pulled. She came home one night with five bruises on her arms and legs from bites. He has tried several times to grab her breasts, but luckily she has avoided any painful problems in this area. Sometimes Betsy comes home from a rough day and says she feels beaten up. When I see the bruises I can understand why she says that.

I still can’t believe that she stuck with this program after the rough start that she had. Her first child had severe emotional problems. The school district placed him in a regular classroom with Betsy to help keep him under control. He was a sizeable kid at 70 pounds. And he was violent. One day he lost control at the end of the school day and he was under his desk and wouldn’t move. Betsy, the teacher and his guardian tried to pull him out but he attacked them. It took the three of them to wrestle him to the floor and restrain him until he calmed down. After she told me about that episode I was convinced that she would give up. How can anyone handle such a violent kid? And then when she started working with Tommy and I heard some of the stories, I couldn’t believe she was hanging in. And yet she has kept up with the program and now is helping Tommy get through school. Why do Betsy and the other teachers work with these troubled kids?

This is a difficult question to answer. They are getting paid for the work that they do, but there are certainly easier ways to make a living. Many people all around the world work jobs that are equally challenging. And there are even more people who volunteer to do work like this. Some people do this kind of work for nothing! Can you believe it? A Red Cross volunteer has told me that she feels it is a privilege to help people. A privilege! What an incredible thing to say. There is something really important happening here. Something that is motivating individuals to do things which do not have an obvious return on their investment. When someone says that they are engaged in an enterprise that is a privilege and receive no apparent reward, then there is a question that needs to be answered.

I believe that the answer lies inside of us. We possess a desire from within that prompts us to reach out when we see someone in need. My experience has been that we respond out of deep-seated emotions that fill us with good feelings even when it is struggle to help. Can it be explained? Feelings of personal satisfaction are difficult to verbalize. Maybe these feelings come from complicated psychological developmental processes. Maybe they come from God. Does it matter if we can explain our feelings? What counts is that they are very real. People receive something powerful when they respond to the needs of others

What kind of power is that? The power of love. The power of friendship. The power of never being alone. When we help someone we become more than we are. We become partners in life with another. Tommy has received something from my wife. Something that will live with him forever.

The Rev. William "Bill" Whitehead is pastor of the First Baptist Church of Rahway, in Rahway, NJ and a graduate of the New Brunswick Theological Seminary. He is ordained within American Baptist Churches. For more about Rev. Whitehead, see his channel on YouTube by search "Pastor Bill Whitehead."

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