This post will be a little bit self-indulgent as I am making this a tribute to my daughter Luthien. The truth is that I could call it a 'Tribute to God's Grace' but I used that on the last post! So, Happy 18th Birthday, Luthien!
Luthien was born my last semester at Seminary in Texas. She is the only one of my four children who was born in the US. Her mother went back to work teaching High School science just three weeks after Luthien was born. I took care of her between classes and my Mom helped out the rest. I remember thinking as we drove home from the hospital with her, 'What are those doctors at the hospital thinking! I don't know anything about how to raise a child and they are letting me just walk away with her!' I went on to prove those words right any number of times. We really didn't know what we were doing. It is a wonder that any of our kids survived but I want to talk about Luthien today. She is not a normal child- maybe there are no normal children. Luthien was quite different from early on. She walked at nine months and we were proud of her. She could count to ten on her first birthday. She talked very well with an excellent vocabulary for her age and she had a brilliant imagination. She would talk constantly and to anyone and we thought we had a really special child. Then something changed when she was three. She kept talking but only to herself. We put her in Montessori school and she went more than two months before she acknowledged the teacher. The other kids would get very frustrated with her and could not understand why she would tell her stories constantly but never talk to them or acknowledge them. Her sister, Goldberry was almost two years younger than her and she would sometimes find herself in the story Luthien was telling but for the most part Luthien lived in her own world. She had an imaginary horse and an imaginary friend named Vanish. I thought Vanish was a pretty clever name for the imaginary friend of a three year old.
We then applied to the IMB to go oversees and serve the Lord in Middle Earth. When Luthien's Montessori teacher put on her evaluation that Luthien was the most 'different' child she had ever taught in 16 years of teaching the Board took notice. We had to have her tested for autism. The test was negative and we were appointed and went off to Middle Earth. My wife, Arwen began home schooling Luthien and put her through Kindergarten in about 7 months. Luthien loved to read and learned quickly. She played on the street with the other kids occasionally but refused to learn the local language. I told her that we would be here for a long time and that if she was going to be happy here she should learn the language. She said, 'Nope, I am going to teach them all English!' She tried. She did not like our new life for the most part. One day she came in and ask her mother why we were here. Arwen told her that we were here to tell people about Jesus. Luthien replied that Arwen should asked her language helper to tell her how to say 'Jesus loves you' in the local language so we could tell people that and go back home!
Transition was very difficult for Luthien. She did not know the food and would not eat it. I took to force feeding her as we really believed that she would starve to death if she didn't start eating. Culture shock hit us all pretty hard but Luthien was especially despondent as we finished our first year on the field. One day I came in and she was watching TV. I asked her if she wanted me to turn it on and she said, 'No, I'm fine.' She wasn't. Home Schooling was the biggest nightmare. She had learned to read quickly but writing and math was another story. Often I would come home and I would hear Arwen teaching Luthien in the back room, "Luthien, do the next problem. Are you looking at the problem, look at the problem, 4 plus 3, what is 4 plus 3, look at the page, Luthien, look. Are you looking? Say it with me, 4 plus 3, look at the page, no, Luthien, look are you looking. What is 4 plus 3?" I fled. This would go on for hours and hours a day. Most missionaries don't like to be referred to as heroes. Arwen is a hero. Period. Later we joined a home schooling cooperative. As Luthien grew she became more, not less, socially dysfunctional. We were at a loss. I blamed myself. I thought perhaps I had done something terrible to unbalance her. Luthien was constantly preoccupied. Her little mind would never stop working and as a result she wouldn't sleep through the night. I remember the first time she did sleep through the night. She was nine years old.
As Luthien grew her education issues became more pronounced. She was virtually incapable of writing anything down. It would take hours of badgering and heartache to get her to produce two or three sentences. I remember once she was practicing handwriting and she was supposed to do a row of 'P's. She drew one 'P' and then began telling a story about a princess. When Arwen came back in to check on her she had drawn just one 'P' and it had a hat and a flower. We felt like failures and Luthien just became more and more lost in her own little world. By the time she was 12 I really believed that she would never be able to survive a classroom setting and I had serious doubts that she would ever be able to grow up and live on her own.
That year, when she was 12 we went on home leave and had her tested- again. This time a man from a local school district agreed to see her. He spent just ten minutes with her and saw the problem immediately. He said she had Aspergers Syndrome. We had never heard of it. Apparently, there is some debate as to whether it is related to Autism but it has about half the characteristics of Autism. The cure? Well, there is no cure but there were a number of coping techniques. My wife and Luthien both wonder from time to time whether she actually has Aspergers but what I say is that the interventions for Aspergers work for her so I don't care what you call it- for the first time we knew somewhat how to deal with it. She cleaned up her room. Everything had to be in order. We made out a schedule and began to give her more order in her life. Also, she was depressed out of her mind because she never slept. We did not want to put her on medication so, we would make her go to bed- but we could not make her sleep. We decided then to let her sleep in. She would sleep in till ten or eleven sometimes but when she finally got up she would complete her school work in less than half the time she normally took and she was happy. Now, we live a lifestyle that is not good for people who need structure and dependability. But we did what we could and it made a huge difference.
When she was in 9th grade she said she wanted to go to boarding school. We really didn't think she could survive. We tried internet school but that was a complete disaster. Not only did we not have good internet but we are not nearly disciplined enough as a family to get through internet school. So, the next year we sent her to boarding school- three time zones away. We didn't know what would happen. I had visions of her sitting and reading a book and forgetting to go and eat and starving to death. But she thrived. It was hard. She learned some hard lessons socially, but she grew. She changed.
She also grew in her faith. She was baptized along with her sister when she was 12. Her sister, Goldberry, was very much ready and had made a firm commitment to Christ but Luthien was hard to figure out. She said she wanted to be baptized and she answered the questions right but what was she really thinking? We didn't know for sure but I decided we would baptize her as she requested and then make sure we kept on her about discipleship. It turned out to be the right decision. When Luthien went to boarding school she consistently made good decisions and showed wisdom in her choices about social things. When she was sixteen she asked permission to date- which at this boarding school I was required to give before students were allowed to date- and I gave it. I knew I could trust her to make good decisions and she proved me right. She had been pursued by a young man who was having a very difficult time. He was about ready to quit all his classes and drop out- or get thrown out of the school. Luthien encouraged him to study. He began to study as he realized if he got thrown out he would not be able to see Luthien any more. Luthien kept a level head throughout the relationship and as a result the young man graduated. He would like to have continued the relationship but Luthien had no interest in a long distance relationship and so she broke up with him. I was proud of her for making good decisions and having a very redeeming relationship with this young man. How many of your High School relationships were redemptive?
Luthien went on to graduate from Boarding School this last June and she is now half way through her gap year with us. She is taking language lessons and finally learning the local language. She is learning guitar. She has been accepted into Liberty University in Virginia and will start there next Fall. How proud of my 18 year old daughter am I? She has faced huge obstacles and succeeded. An evangelist has said, 'David without Goliath was just a shepherd boy.' Well, Luthien has faced several Goliaths and won. The other day we had a family over for dinner. They are friends of ours with another agency and they are struggling. Their daughter has Aspergers and the Mom is at her wits end. I invited Luthien to share some of her journey with them and she ministered to that family in remarkable ways. I was very proud of my articulate, intelligent, sensitive, spiritual daughter. She is 18 today but she has faced more difficulties than many twice her age and she has overcome. She will face many more obstacles and the road ahead will not be easy but this father is not worried. Our heavenly Father is guiding, directing and creating a future for Luthien that will be special and I am sure that she will persevere.
Keep growing in love and grace, Luthien!