Saturday, June 14, 2008

Happy Birthday Ryan !!!

Today, my baby is 26 !!! Happy Birthday Ryan !!
I know as parents we think we raise our children, but in my experience my children have raised me. I have two children; they are gifts from God. Erin, the oldest, my daughter, delights me daily with her transparent spirituality and zest for life....she has been my inspiration in so many ways.

Today, though, is Ryan's day !!
A while back, I was asked to share my testimony at the women's retreat at my church and here on Ryan's day, it is appropriate that I share it with you.

I am tempted to apologize and give excuses for why I should not be doing this, I can't really see that I have a story, but it occurred to me that to hang my head and protest would be an insult to God. God created each of us and has given us experiences that He plans for us to use to help others. I know my situation is not unique; maybe something God has me to say will be just what you need to hear.
In studying The Purpose Driven Life, we were asked to determine our life metaphor...when I think of my life, as it used to be, I would say it was a cross between a movie and a race...maybe a "scripted race" and I was writing the script.
I grew up in a military family, both of my parents had roots in Henry County Alabama, so we always visited here. I knew my husband, Sidney, for as far back as I can remember--and for just that far back, I knew I would eventually marry him. I graduated from high school, sped through college in just under four years, got married, started teaching, hurried to get my master's degree, built my dream home, and had a beautiful baby girl all in short order...all according to my plan. And I did have a plan---we moved into our new home on Dec 16th, I received my master's degree on Dec 19th, and Erin was born on Jan 2nd. Life was good, I was in charge and everything was going according to my plan---why, I even accidentally fell into a perfect childcare situation. I had a lady coming into our home to keep Erin and I went immediately back to work. In keeping with the script we decided it was time to have another child and 3 1/2 years later (spaced well for college) after a normal pregnancy, Ryan was born. Sidney and I marveled that we could love another child as much as we loved Erin. Everything seem perfect. I didn't even miss any school since Ryan was born in June !! I went back to work so proud, so in control, and so in charge.
Does it seem I am leaving something out ? What were my priorities...husband, house, children, job ? Where was God during those years ? I am not sure where I put Him. I remember Him being at Sunday School and church...but I don't remember Him anywhere else. We weren't heathens...we said our learned blessing at meals, we owned Bibles, even a big family one ! We went to church and to Sunday School; we looked the part.
My plan was working just fine--I really didn't need any help--everything was under control.
Then a page fell from the script. In the late summer after Ryan was born, Sidney was laid off from a state job due to budget cuts. Shortly after that we began to notice that Ryan was not meeting the developmental milestones that were considered normal. He smiled; he was happy, but he didn't scoot, or sit alone, or try to crawl. The doctor's didn't seemed to be concerned and everyone we would meet had a story to tell of someone they knew was did everything late, but turned out to be just fine. On the outside the perfect picture was still there, but on the inside, I knew something was wrong. We live on the VBA School ( a school for special needs individuals) bus route and when I would see the bus come by the house I would feel cold was like it was taunting me. I who lived in the land of perfection was dealing with a very imperfect child. As time went by and Ryan wasn't advancing, my outside proud persona was still in place, but inside I was heartsick and struggling to be strong. The hardest time was at night, you know when everything multiplies. There were many nights that I would feel my insides physically gripped with a fear of the future, the unknown, and I felt like no one else had ever been where I was.
It was during this time that I came face to face with the distant God of my childhood. The God I had sung about in Vacation Bible School; the God I claimed to know as my saviour during my teenage baptism. The God I had never really bothered to get to know because my life had my own proud plans and priorities. When I ran out of my own answers, I had no choice but to call on God. I pleaded with Him to make my baby "normal". As I look back, I don't know if it was important for Ryan to be normal or that we be viewed as a normal family. I pleaded for my perfect life back. God answered my prayers; He didn't fix my baby. He began a work in me to fix me. God didn't change my circumstances; He began to change me.
It wasn't overnight. God began to slowly grow me, just as He is still growing me. He did it and He continues to do it using Sidney, Erin, my extended family, my church family, and a wonderful support system of Christian friends.
God supplied the courage it took to take Ryan to rehab and repeated therapies; I saw others like us and it was OK. God took away the fear and dread I felt when I saw the VBA bus and replaced it with a compelling need to get Ryan in school there. Sidney and I fought the system with a strength, courage, and resolve we didn't know we had. I believe God supplied our needs and I know He made the direct move that allowed Ryan to be the only school aged child from Henry County in VBA School.
Throughout Ryan's school years, I still had moments of gripping fear of the future as well as grief for the childhood Ryan didn't have. While others were playing t-ball and pee wee football,he was still saying single words and our only sporting events were PT and OT. Often, I would look at the families of my friends and wonder what it was like to have two children involved in school and extra curricular activities---I think I grieved for the things that seemed lost.
But one day--so quietly it crept up on me, my fear and grief were gone...replaced by the peace that passes understanding. I began to look more at what Ryan had done for our family rather than to our family.
He is loving and happy; he is always around and has a wonderful and funny personality ( who else do you know that can take any hymn and put it into a medley with the "wheels on the bus")? I am grateful to him. If we hadn't been looking for a church for Ryan we would never have responded to the opportunity to come to First United Methodist in many of you that have become so dear to me, I would never have known.
Ryan is often unpredictable....he doesn't live his life according to a plan.
Ryan knows that Jesus loves him..God and church are his top priorities ( Rick Warren would be proud).
I cannot imagine my life or my family's life without him. We cannot imagine him any other way than the way he is, and it is OK.
God uses the last, the least, and the lost to do his work; he uses the most unexpected situations to bring about his will. Living with Ryan has taught me much about patience, the beauty of simple faith, joy in life's small achievements and how to be content with my circumstances.
I am still listening, learning, and seeking God's will and God's plan. I am a lifelong learner and sometimes I take one step forward and two steps back, but everyday without fail this child who lives life so simply, without benefit of a plan, will bring a smile to my face or a laugh to my family, and I thank God for him. I thank God that He has the plan and he has freed me for joyful obedience so that all I have to do is listen and follow.


sandy said...

I can't image Ozark-First United Methodist without Ryan Owens or his wonderful family. Ryan always brings such joy anad happiness to me each time I am around him. God not only has blessed your family with Ryan, He has also blessed our church and especially me and my family with Ryan. Thank you, Susan and Sydney for sharing Ryan with our chruch but most of all I thank you for sharing him with my family.

kay said...

Susan, you write with such honesty, humility, faith, and peace--all those traits shine through every word. Happy belated birthday to Ryan. My baby will be 31 this week--where have the years gone?