An Introduction to Divine Mercy This is the handbook that has introduced millions of souls to the life-changing message that brings hope to a hurting world. Covering every a... Read more
'Everything is Beautiful. Everything is Blue.'
By Debbie Slavin
He looked at the sky. He looked at the sea. He knew God must have made these things.
"Everything is beautiful," he said. "Everything is blue."
We were walking the beach together, Tim and I. He loves blue, and he knew "God made beautiful things."
Tim and I had many conversations about God, but I had never been sure if he heard or understood. Clearly, he did.
Timothy Patrick Slavin was born in December 1988. We named him after the character in Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," a name that spoke of joy, gratitude, and hope. Tim, my son, was, and is, my Christmas joy.
At the age of 3 he was diagnosed with autism. Thus began a journey in which God's hand was ever-present.
No, the diagnosis didn't make me bitter. Quite the contrary. What it did was strengthen my faith. What it did was solidify my desire to reach for Christ's mercy, to receive His mercy, and to prepare Tim to be all that Christ made him to be. Prayer, gratitude, hard work. I could see God's hand in all the people who showed us kindness, particularly the caregivers — his therapists and his teachers. I call them "angels" — these kind and loving people who worked with Tim at a time when he couldn't even say his name, say hello, or understand why he should say hello.
Having a child with special needs means the milestones are often small, but the Merciful Lord gave me the grace to see that Tim was surrounded with warm and loving professionals. It was common for me to remind them that they were a gift from God.
Because of Tim, I got involved in many community activities: volunteering at school, becoming a den mother for Cub Scouts, Special Olympics, etc. The reason being that I wanted him to be a part of the community, especially our church community. I prayed that Tim — along with his older brother Sean — would be given the gift of faith, to know and love the Merciful Lord who would always love him.
Our friends in our parish understood how we were moving forward in — and with — faith and, yes, embracing the Cross through which true joy can be found. By embracing the Cross, Christ has given me the strength to carry it.
First Holy Communion
As many autistic children do, Tim had many sensory issues. He could not sit still without me rubbing his back or walking with him in the vestibule. He had a difficult time with any break from the routine. Also, he needed to dress comfortably — sweat pants and T-shirts, no collars, buttons, or belts. Our priest at that time, Fr. Ken Suibieleski, was very understanding, which allowed Tim to grow in his knowledge of the faith. For instance, when it became time for Tim's First Holy Communion, Tim said, "I am going to get Daily Bread, I am getting God!"
For his First Holy Communion, I bought him a white shirt, tie, and dress pants. We practiced having him wear these "uncomfortable" clothes. I prayed all would go well. And it did! He had a catechist near him to keep him focused. I sobbed, as I knew the Holy Spirit filled Tim with the ability to sit still and receive our Lord.
Importance of Family, Community
Family is so important, and I am blessed with a witty husband and Sean, who is two years older than Tim. Not that things had been easy; we definitely had difficult times and frustrating times. During such times, I would immerse myself in prayer. Sometimes the cross became heavier, but always it was made easier through faith, a kind word, smile, all sent by the Merciful Lord, which allowed me to keep moving forward.
The fact is, when we look for them, we receive such beautiful graces. Most people were so supportive and saw the beauty and innocence of this little boy.
For instance, I can remember the stuffed toy, Jemimah Puddleduck, which accompanied Tim everywhere. It had been left behind in an aisle at the market. Tim was in tears, ready to have a meltdown. In the nick of time, an employee came to our aid. She assembled a group to search. Thanks to them, we found her on a box of pasta. All of these people were so eager to help. It's a reminder of how our children are an inspiration for others to perform acts of mercy. It's a lesson that we need to be able to not only perform deeds of mercy but to also be able to receive deeds of mercy. In my case, to let others be strong for me.
When Confirmation time came, Tim was in high school and functioning well, but he still struggled with sensory issues. It has been tradition in our parish that all the Confirmation candidates would have their feet washed on Holy Thursday. For two weeks, nightly, he and I practiced. I poured water over his feet and over time he learned to tolerate it. On Holy Thursday, he sat, a little anxious, but these young men and women in his class looked after him, joked with him, helped him to relax, and he allowed his feet to be washed. He made it through the entire Easter Triduuim. Thanks be to God!
Tim's pick for a sponsor was his elementary school speech therapist, Mrs. Beatrice Sharkey, because, he said, "She gave me words"
What's in a Name
The Confirmation name picked by Tim was significant: Christopher, patron saint of travel. The name was significant because Tim had great anxiety about what his life would be like when he got older. He'd wonder, "Will I drive? Will I work?"
We would sit and pray together. Tim would say, "O dear Lord, if you want me to drive, please help me." Prayer has given him so much consolation. Till this day, when worried or unsure, Tim asks me to pray with him. He prays for others, too — for people he knows who are sad, or lonely, or scared.
As for Tim's future as a driver, two years after Archbishop George Pearce confirmed him, Tim started learning to drive.
I recently had the opportunity to visit with Archbishop Pearce. I informed him that after high school graduation, Tim took a job with the supermarket Stop & Shop. He drives his black pick-up truck to work. Thanks be to God! (I say that a lot!)
Also, for about four years now, since his Confirmation, Tim has been an usher at Mass. Everyone knows him. Some from my parish who witnessed Tim's journey are now grandparents, and a couple of them have grandchildren on the autism spectrum. Tim has become a light for them. In Tim, they have seen the Merciful Lord at work.
A Mother Grows in Faith
After Tim's First Holy Communion, to express my thanks and gratitude, I decided to try teaching religious education for one year. I was asked to take grade two, preparing the children for their First Holy Communion. One year of teaching turned into nine years and ended as I was asked by our current pastor, Fr. Robert Bailey, to be his sacristan for daily Mass. Now I can't even imagine beginning my day without receiving the Lord.
Among the many things I've learned over the years is that when you are feeling most unable, it is most beneficial to reach out to help others. The Merciful Lord will give you the strength and courage, and you will receive countless blessings.
Nourish your own faith. Find your "yes" with the Lord. Pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance to enlighten, strengthen, and console you.
In my case, I nourish my own faith not only through my parish activities but also as an emergency room staff nurse at the Miriam Hospital. Also, I am part of the family of the Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception, a member of the Marian apostolate, Healthcare Professional for Divine Mercy.
Here's my advice for all:
Love your children. Pray with and for your children. Pray with and for your family. Put the Merciful Lord first, and He will show you an abundance of love and joy in your journey, and yes, even in your crosses. You will find in your walk with the Lord that you will be transformed into a vessel of His mercy, filled with the love and compassion that comes with knowing your own sorrow.
Keep a journal. Make note of what's unfolding in your life, the moments of blessings. Take the time to look for them and at them, recognizing them for what they are: a gift to feed you, to keep you strong, bread for the journey.
Also, let Our Lady be your guide to her Son, and she will cover you in her mantle as only a loving Mother can.
The Lord has patiently waited for me throughout my adult life. Now in retrospect, in everything I did, I can see His hand. I now know He had never left me even when, years ago for a period of time, I had left Him. That experience lead me to realize God's mercy for me, a mercy I now seek to share with others.
The 'Right' Time Comes
Frequently in prayer, I would let our Lord know that when it was time, when Tim did not need me as much, I would do whatever He planned for me. I did not know when the time was right. It's difficult when you have cared for a child for so long to know when to step back. I knew I needed to wait for the Lord to let me know, and then in obedience, I could begin this next part of my faith journey.
In 2005, I attended my first Healthcare Professionals for Divine Mercy conference at Holy Cross College in Worcester, Mass. I was away from home for three days. I was anxious about it. I felt guilty about being away. During lunch, I went to confession. The priest was Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, world-renowned Divine Mercy expert. In my confession I talked about my guilt.
Father Seraphim asked me how old my two boys were. At the time, they were 19 and 17. Father said, "Don't you think it is about time?" I'm convinced those were words from the Merciful Lord. They were the words I needed to hear. I knew it was time, and in profound gratitude, I began to enter into retreats at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, in Stockbridge, Mass. I do the work of the apostolate. I am a spiritual mother for priests in the Diocese of Providence, R.I., praying for priests and vocations, meeting monthly for Mass, Adoration, the Rosary for our beloved priests.
My prayer life includes doing the Liturgy of the Hours, morning, evening, and night prayer, and when I do this, in spirit, I am with my Marian family. The National Shrine of The Divine Mercy has become my spiritual home, and I am blessed to have a spiritual director who walks with me on this beautiful journey of faith. Thanks be to God!
At home, in my parish of St. Maria Goretti, in Pawtucket, R.I., I am part of the healing ministry. Father Bailey has told me on more than one occasion that I am where I belong, caring for the Church. How beautiful to enter the church in the morning, and while kneeling before the Tabernacle, saying my Good Morning, offering my day to my Merciful Lord.
I write this with abundant love and gratitude to the Merciful Lord who continues to move me forward on my journey. I also write this for all those who are raising a child who has special needs. Faith can get you through. Faith will help you withstand the challenges. It will help you learn not only how to give, but how to receive. Faith will help you see the many graces the Lord bestows upon us and how through the weak, we can see the face of Christ Himself.
I extend special thanks to my spiritual director who asked for and inspired me to write this story. May you be blessed in everything you do.