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LDS Dad with 3 Special Needs Children Shares How God Brought Him Back from Spiritual Exhaustion

“We are taught many small and simple things in the gospel of Jesus Christ. We need to be reminded that in total and over a significant period of time, these seemingly small things bring to pass great things.” –President Dallin H. Oaks

I have been listening to the words of modern prophets all my life. I read the scriptures, attend my meetings, and try to live the gospel to the best of my ability. I have a testimony of the Savior and His plan for us. I have had trials and understand the purpose of mortality in the plan of salvation. I know the Lord answers prayers and loves me. When we sacrifice and obey the commandments, blessings come.

However, there comes a time in everyone’s life–for some several times, for others all the time–when a gospel-centered life does not seem to work. For me, what was supposed to be the greatest source of happiness was the greatest source of misery.

God blessed me with three beautiful boys. Two of those boys fall on the Autism spectrum with all the behaviors, fears, tears, grind, and emotion associated with it. I did not ask for this blessing. I did not want it. People used to tell my wife and I, “The Lord gives special kids to great parents.” I liked to think that was the case. I was trying to make it work, but the more our situation worsened, the more I came to realize, I was not that guy.    

“The Family: A Proclamation to the World” states, “The family is ordained of God….Happiness in family life is most likely to be achieved when founded upon teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ. Successful marriages and families are established and maintained on principles of faith, prayer, repentance, forgiveness, respect, love, compassion, work, and wholesome recreational activities.”

I was doing all of that! Hoping, praying for relief, for answers, for that moment when everything would turn around. I prayed more, read further, and churched harder! All the while, I thought soon I’ll have that moment. If I just church harder I will have that miracle moment. It will be just like a talk in general conference, when something miraculous occurs and my marriage and family will be saved and we’ll live happily ever after, just like that perfectly behaved and manicured family in the ward.

Then one day something amazing happened that I will never forget–except, it didn’t, but I was sure waiting for it. That 180-degree turnaround had to happen at some point. One day an angel was going to appear, my boys would be healed, and a stranger would drop a bag of gold at my front door.

Years turned into decades and the Alma-the-younger moment never happened and the solid gospel foundation I thought I had turned soft, then muddy, then into mire. Spinning my wheels in the bog of the gospel only made my tire ruts deeper. And so I spun, going through the motions, getting no traction and sinking deeper into the rut. The deeper the rut, the harder to get out. With my kids out of control and my wife in full mama-bear mode, our hardships continued to grow. Financial, emotional, physical, social, marital, spiritual. If it ended in “al,” we suffered from it.

But the Lord will not give me more than I can handle, right? Well, I am pretty sure I was not handling anything right. My prayers sounded like this. “Heavenly Father, I’m done. I don’t know what else to do. Would you throw me a bone?”

My First Bone

One Friday I evaluated one of my son’s week at school. My wife had received two calls home and made one visit to the principal to discuss his bad behaviors.  For most kids, this would not be considered a good week. But for my kid, this was a pretty good week. In fact, this was a fantastic week! This was a cause for celebration. And so we did just that.

During our little party, I thought to myself that I was learning what long-suffering is. It was not a self-pity moment. I could feel inside my soul just a little of the true meaning of long-suffering. It felt good, like I had accomplished something. Then I asked myself a question. Am I developing better patience? This is an attribute I have struggled with throughout my life. I suppose I am a more patient man, and, in that moment, I felt the Spirit confirm my thoughts. My wife would call this moment a tender mercy.

Shortly thereafter I had another sweet moment on a long overdue date with my wife. And then again in a quiet moment by myself, just in thought. The Lord had thrown me a few bones, and I was eating them up. In fact, the more little moments I had, the more I realized they were all around me. They always were. I simply could not or would not see them.

How Heavenly Father Teaches Us

 My children are all different with various needs. They have different sensory, emotional, and learning abilities. They all learn and are motivated in different ways and progress at independent levels. And so we teach them individually so they grow to their potential. House rules are the same for everyone, but we parent them according to their needs.  

Why would it be any different with my Heavenly Father and me? I wanted a custom-made, life-changing, heavenly proclamation. But why would Father send an angel to me when that is not the best way for me to learn? I needed to learn humility, and God knew how to teach me humility better than I know how to teach myself. Father wants me to become like Him and return to Him, and so He parents me individually so that “By small and simple things are great things brought to pass” (Alma 37:6).

When Mary saw the resurrected Jesus Christ at the tomb on Easter morning, she did not recognize Him. She thought He was the gardener. Later that same day, on the road to Emmaus, two disciples traveled and ate with Jesus, and yet they did not know in whose company they were. I always wondered how that was possible.

During my toughest struggles, I wonder the same thing about myself. Why did I not see the Lord by my side? Why did I not recognize the presence of the Holy Ghost? What was I looking for? Like Mary and the disciples, my eyes, at some point, were opened.

There were lessons and experiences and bones all around me, but my eyes were not open so I could not gather them up. I was looking for what I wanted to see. I waited for the Spirit to engulf my home and make everyone happy and healed.  When I did not see what I expected, I kept spinning my tires instead of opening my eyes to what the Savior had in mind. I began to understand my relationship with the Lord would be on His terms.

When I realized this, my turnaround began. It has not been an abrupt turnaround. If you are on a baseball diamond and you follow the curve of the outfield wall from right field to left, that was my pathway back to the Lord. The Lord teaches us differently because we learn differently. He is the ultimate teacher and guides me with small and simple lessons, line upon line and precept upon precept.

I am still on my turnaround walking the warning track of that outfield wall. I am approaching left-center field and progressing. I know I am progressing because Heavenly Father has blessed me with two more of His children. A sweet little girl and another son with special needs grace our home. Love and laughter rule our roller coaster lives as we strive to remind ourselves that the seemingly small and simple things bring about greatness and even joy.

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Read more from Rick Daynes in his book Keep It Together Man.

Marriage, children, money, and everyday battles take their toll on any parent. This book navigates a clear path through the roller coaster of life. Get ready to laugh, cry, and be motivated by author, Rick Daynes, the keeping-it-real father of five, three of whom have special needs. Although he speaks to dads of special kids, these life-changing solutions inspire All Parents who want to empower their marriage and shape the brightest future for their family.

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