Our son Brent turned 28 yesterday. That makes me really old. And Steve, his dad, even older! But honestly, we still feel (and act!) like we are 18.
Brent doesn’t like for me to tell his story. He rightly tells me that his vision issues are just a small part of who he is – so I shouldn’t emphasize them. At an early age, even though he turned down prosthetics that would have eventually made his eyes the same size saying he liked the way God made him, he still didn’t and doesn’t want to be known by his disability. But today I am going to tell the story anyway. Brent, if you are reading this, just humor an old lady, because your story is also my story and there are people who will be blessed by it!
Brent’s birth and the days afterwards were one of those surreal experiences in life that never quite leaves you. It was the night of the World Series and Fall Equinox when the time changes. I know, because my doctor watched the World Series sitting on my bed while I labored. And humorously because of the time change, I only got credit for 12 hours of labor in the official records, even though I was in labor for 13!
Brent was born early the next morning weighing in at 10 pounds 4 ounces. He looked like a linebacker next to all of the other tiny little babies in the nursery. When I finally got to hold him in my room, I noticed that his eyes were two different sizes. I called the nurse and told her. She dismissed me saying it was normal and no big deal. She tried to comfort me by emphasizing that the “expert” pediatrician had examined him at birth and that he was perfect. She told me I was just a nervous mother, but all was fine. Granted, I was an engineer and not an expert in newborns, but I was pretty sure a mistake had been made – something was surely wrong.
The next day, the pediatrician made her rounds and after giving him another clean bill of health, I pointed out Brent’s eyes. I watched the look on her face go from condescension at my concern to embarrassment over having made such a huge error to fear. He was rushed to the PICU (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit) where even more mistakes were to be made.
All sorts of doctors were called in – geneticists, ophthalmologists, heart and lungs specialists, and others with many degrees behind their names. My mother and husband and I sat and listened to them tell us that he had all kinds of problems. He would have seizures all his life, he would never see, he would not have a normal IQ, he might never walk or speak. The problem was likely genetic. The world came crashing down around me. I was overwhelmed with guilt that I must have done something wrong while I was pregnant. I felt like such a failure (this is a typical reaction of a mother whose baby is not “normal”). I was too shocked to even cry. They told us to make plans for a child that would need constant care for the rest of his life. He would never be normal.
Sitting there listening to the doctors, my mother was the only one who spoke. She said very matter of factly, “He can’t see very well, but other than that he is just fine.” She took a breath and added, “He is going to be a preacher one day.” The doctors firmly but kindly told her she needed to accept the facts and help us accept them too. My mother listened and then added just loud enough for all of us to hear, “You have made a mistake.”
How she knew, I do not know. She is a brilliant woman not prone to speaking prophetic words or contradicting doctors. But there was something holy about her words – even the doctors saw it. No one dared contradict her.
Turns out she was right. About everything.
Thank goodness that we did not accept the doctors’ diagnosis and give up on Brent. I shudder to think what would have happened. As Brent grew, we pretty much ignored what the doctors had told us. Perhaps it was because he compensated so well. He was speaking in complete sentences before he was a year old. At his 12 month appointment he said, “Good morning Doctor H” when the doctor walked into the examination room. He was reading long before kindergarten and by the time he started school, he was reading Star Trek novels on his own. There were no seizures. And his genes were completely normal. The doctors were right about only one thing, his IQ wasn’t normal. But they were wrong that it would be on the low end of the scale. His IQ was immeasurable, even beyond the 175-point mark that falls into the genius category. He was indeed very special.
We had no idea how to raise a 3rd grader who read Time Magazine and explained in detail to his friends why global warming was a bad thing. Who sat and listened to our adult conversations taking every word in. Who refused, to his preschool teacher’s serious disappointment, to color the duck yellow, because he had only ever seen white ducks. He not only understood facts, but he could translate them so that others could understand them at their own level. Those who took time to talk to Brent always walked away fascinated – and maybe a little better informed! We loved him so much.
I don’t know why, but we never prayed that God would heal him. Perhaps it seemed that he was just like God intended. But then, it became obvious as he reached the teenage years that not being able to drive was going to be a terrible burden on him. Therefore, though we had never prayed for Brent to be healed before, we began to pray that he would be able to drive.
God didn’t say yes right away. In fact, during his senior year in college, we got a call from Brent late one night.
“Dad, I have a problem.”
Steve knew immediately something was very very wrong. Brent had woken up that morning and his vision was a bit blurry. As the day had progressed, his vision went from blurry to not being able to recognize faces. It was now evening and he was calmly calling to tell us that for all intents and purposes, he was completely blind.
I called his doctor who told me to get him to Atlanta as quickly as possible where they had the expertise to try and help him. I drove all night picking him up and bringing him back to his doctor. His good eye had serious problems. A hole had opened in it and was leaking fluid. His doctor told us honestly that this was such a rare occurrence that she did not know what to do. She called experts around the country – and they didn’t know what to do either. Finally, it seemed the only hope was surgery – something they would have never attempted prior. What little vision he had before was too precious to risk – now with greatly deteriorated vision, it made sense to take the risk.
Six surgeries later, Brent and I sat together waiting to hear the results. Scared to death, I could hardly breath. Then his doctor’s beautiful voice announced, “Today you are going to go get your learners permit!” His vision was better than ever! Praise God!
The doctors, though well intended and kind, had made a mistake. They claimed things about Brent when God was saying something different. Not only was Brent healthy and brilliant, but one day he would even see well enough to drive! Grandma had politely and gently called them on their mistake.
Turns out, God had planned all along to make something amazing out of their mistake. I learned that day to listen to the plans that God has for us, not the mistakes of well-intending mortals who just can’t know all God has planned! Today Brent has his own car and is studying the Old Testament at Drew University. Last year, we heard him preach at the little church where he took his turn preaching all year last year. That was a day of celebration!
Thank you God! Thank you for our Brent. And thank you for making something awesome out of mistakes!
P.S. To Brent: It isn’t like I mentioned that you are single and posted your email address and phone number. It isn’t like I am encouraging women to contact you if they are interested! So it’s all good. 🙂 I love you! I am in so much trouble!
April is a Red Letter Christian who writes about scripture and spiritual disciplines. See her latest book, James in the Suburbs.