My grandson, Brayden, was diagnosed with autism at age two. He is now nine. Watching him grow into a kind-hearted, bright child has been one of the true joys of my life. God has demonstrated his immeasurable grace again and again.
Friday I went for what I thought would be an uneventful three-mile run. Brayden joined me, riding a bicycle given for that exact purpose. The giver had said, “This is for Brayden when he comes to visit.”
The first part of the run had a little gain in elevation. I helped Brayden by jogging alongside him with a hand between his shoulder blades, pushing just a little. I encouraged him, saying, “Pedal hard! The reward will be great at the top of the hill.”
Sure enough, topping the rise he enjoyed the fruit of his labor. I watched the distance between us grow, only to see him turn out of sight when he got to the next small rise.
When I arrived at that spot he was nowhere to be seen. I asked a fellow jogger if he had seen a boy on a bike pass by. He answered, “Yes! By now he is probably at that next curve.” That next curve is where the trail passes the Burleson Cemetery. I got to that curve and Brayden wasn’t there.
I picked up my pace, running to where the trail crosses Memorial Plaza and past Hidden Creek Golf Course. I still could not find Brayden. I asked a family walking along the secluded stretch of trail if they had seen a boy on a bike, only to be told they hadn’t.
I quickened my pace a little more and ran to the end of the trail near Open Door Church. Still no Brayden. Panic was setting in. The nearby creek was flowing high and fast after recent rains. My mind raced with images of him losing control and rolling through the weeds and brush into the creek. Panic now turned to terror.
I called 911 and told the operator that my grandson, autistic, had disappeared and that I had no idea where he had was. I continued to run, calling out Brayden’s name at the top of my lungs. Ten minutes passed before a Burleson officer approached in his patrol car. The officer asked if I was looking for a lost boy. Imagine my relief and my shock when he said, “We have him in another car. We picked him up on Renfro near Sonic.”
I stood still, eyes closed, attempting to regain my composure. Tears began to flow. I thanked God for watching over the boy. Phyllis pulled up about that time. I had called her right after calling 911. She, too, began to cry upon learning that Brayden was safe.
Stacy Singleton, Burleson’s Fire Marshall then pulled up, accompanied by a third Burleson law enforcement official. Out of the marshall’s vehicle stepped Brayden.
I learned that at the end of the trail he had ridden up Scott Street to Nola Dunn Elementary School. He then rode to City Market on Renfro. Seeing the I-35 bridge he knew where he was and knew he could find his way from there to our house.
That evening Brayden spoke of cars honking at him as he rode through a construction zone along the shoulderless stretch of Renfro east of the interstate. He described how he spoke aloud, forgetting that the drivers could not hear him, saying, “OK, OK, I’m trying to get home!”
You may expect me to conclude with a reminder to trust God, to know that he is always with us, and that he will always provide for us. Instead, I want to remind us all, myself included, to “be kind and compassionate to one another,” as Ephesians 4:32 instructs.
Lately I’ve read many harsh comments on social media by people who point their bony fingers of condemnation at strangers. I have read criticisms of pastors and churches. I’ve seen harsh judgments leveled against parents perceived to be utterly irresponsible. Such accusations could be leveled against me. People might say, “How could that man, a pastor no less, foolishly allow an autistic boy to ride his bike without supervision?” I can see it now; “He shouldn’t be allowed with that child anymore! CPS should get involved!”
I’m not a bad grandparent. I wasn’t neglectful. My grandson wasn’t disobedient or reckless. He was simply enjoying the feel of freedom, the rush of the wind in his hair, and the excitement of a new adventure. He was having a great time and had no idea whatsoever that his actions were dangerous. He was being a typical nine-year-old boy.
Ephesians 4:29 reads, “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them. (NLT)”
Harsh words flow easily, don’t they? We tear away at others in an insensitive rush to judgment, all the while mistakenly concluding that we would never commit the sin we see in others. We would never “be like that person.” We would never be guilty of the irresponsibility and thoughtlessness we perceive to be present in others.
When the police officers left, leaving us to finish our outing, Brayden said to me, “I’ve never been pulled over by the police before!” That wonderful boy was still oblivious to the panic I had experienced or to the danger he had faced. He was still being a boy, full of life, and ready for whatever the rest of the day held.