I walk in the room and see Love:
Tears leave slow trails on her cheeks and he leans over her, catching the drops with one finger. He slides his finger along her cheek bones, drawing wet crosses over the smooth, tender skin as she cries.
She weeps quietly, the way she used to live. ”I’ll be okay, Adam,” she says softly, bending over the notepad he’s handed her, clenching her hand in a fist around the pen. ”What did you want me to write?”
“I want write Disciple: Horseshoes and Hand Grenades, please,” He says, still leaning over, still watching her tears fall. I wonder, watching, if he even connects his request to these streams of self-sacrifice, if he even understands that his needing is the reason for them. And it hits me that this is our messed up version of love, the needing without really owning our need: I don’t really need you. I won’t let you. But, please. Adam knows that tears mean sad, but I’m not sure he even completely understands his own sadness, much less his sister’s. It occurs to me that his inability to own the cost of what he asks diminishes what he receives but not what she gives. Oh, to own the need and also the true wealth of Love.
“No, no, no, no, no,” He says to her, without a hint of malice. She’s never heard of this one. She’s not sure how to spell Grenades, like he wants. She doesn’t even know what Grenades are, but neither does he. She tries, but it’s not right.
“I don’t know what you’re saying, Adam,” she says to him with a rush of tears. ”I don’t know how to write it.”
It’s a game Adam plays—this listing, a game only a person with autism could love. He makes lists of his music CD’s, carrying the torn off sheets around the house in his hands. He shuffles and sorts them until the edges are curled. It’s a pursuit as meaningless as everything under the sun, a chasing after the wind, but to Him, it’s important. Sometimes he loses a piece of paper and we all search, because he can’t rest until we find the missing sheet. The last time, I made a mental note to give him one of the partially used composition notebooks I collected when the girls cleaned out their book bags, something bound for all his listing, to save us all the searching.
Adam loves to select a scribe and ask us to write, dictating an album he’s remembered, or one he wants. He starts conversations about to whom each title belongs, gently trying to convince all of us to part with our discs. Music is his obsession.
Kevin, Zoe, and I have learned to tell Adam to write for himself. Adam needs the practice. He doesn’t enjoy holding the pen, forming the letters, working patiently for something legible. But Riley never says no unless she’s finishing some work of her own, and Adam has caught on to this. He seeks her out, pen in hand, and she shows herself the most patient among us. She understands his compulsion. She shares his affection for repetition. She feels no need to understand why this is something he asks of her. It is enough that he asks. She never considers whether or not she wants to do it. She loves him.
And love is the choice to sacrifice self, to die to self, for the sake of another.
Word says, This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters (1 John 3:16). We yearn for real love here, lifting our hands up to cracked, parched lips, thirsty for streams to flood this crooked, weary place—not the taking to fill ourselves, but the sacrificial emptying to fill another. Love poured out falls like tears and blood and sweat. Love costs. I stand watching the cost, dripping in streams down my daughter’s cheeks, knowing I am my son, drawing crosses with my longing, twisted fingers, leaning over pools of sacrifice, never quite understanding the cost of my needing. I’ve said it before: I have spiritual autism. I don’t see. I don’t understand. I stumble to speak in the heavenly tongue. And I don’t often think of how Love looked the night before the cross, when He prayed with such anguish that His body leaked sweat like drops of blood (Luke 22:44). Sometimes I want Love, but I don’t want to own the cost, the sacrifice I needed. So I diminish what I receive, though, by grace, I can never diminish what He gave.
And so my Riley weeps unbidden rivers of Love. The hot, frustrated tears blur her vision. I stand in the doorway, watching her blink, watching her try to see beyond. Her voice betrays no loss of patience. She bends over the paper, determined. ”What did you say again, Adam?”
“I want write Disciple: Horseshoes and Hand Grenades, please.”
“Riley?” I say her name gently. It is an ache, pushing up from my gut. Her Love is a sword cutting me apart.
She looks up at me, startled, pen in hand. I can see the place on her finger where the writing has rubbed a smooth pink valley.
She nods, wiping her cheek with the back of her hand. Her eyes shift down to the list in her lap and back to me.
“Why are you crying?”
I know why, but I need her to tell me. I need to teach her to understand herself, that sometimes she needs to be filled to be able to give away more.
“I don’t know. I just don’t know what he’s saying, what he wants me to write.”
“I think you’re frustrated.”
“Yea, I’m just frustrated. That’s all. I’ll be okay.”
“It’s okay to need a break.” The Spirit breathes behind the words. Hey you, Loving till the tears mark your cheeks: It’s okay to need a break. Sometimes you need to be filled to be able to give away more. Why do you think He prayed so hard then in that garden, His knees pressed to the earth while the darkness gathered?
“Yea, I think I just need a break, Adam. I just need a break.”
Adam leans down further, breaking her view of me with his body. ”I want write Disciple: Horseshoes and Hand Grenades, please,” He says, ignoring me and my words. For now, it is finished, but he doesn’t want to offer her the freedom.
Riley sighs, a weary breath reluctantly expelled. ”But he just keeps asking me to write, and I don’t know what he’s saying.”
“Here’s how you do it,” I tell her, walking into the room, turning my attention to my son. ”Adam. Riley needs a break. She will not write until…” I turn to Riley. ”How long do you need? Two hours? Three? All day?”
“I don’t know,” she says. She doesn’t really want a break, doesn’t know why she has to need one. She wants to have more for him than she does. Love always makes us want to be more, to give more than we are.
“How about till at least three?”
“Okay,” she says, standing up, laying down the pen and the lists, leaving her brother on the couch, gripping the red piping in his fingers.
I turn back to Adam. ”Riley will not write until 3:00. You need to write it. Or do something else.”
“I’m sorry, Adam,” Riley says, looking down at her brother. ”I’m just frustrated, I guess. I think I need a break. I’ll write later.” She moves past, swallowing her tears, drifting away.
Adam’s blue eyes hold mine for a moment, and he blinks, accepting. He glances at his watch, a quick flick of his wrist, and then stands, gathering the papers, the pen. He follows Riley to where she now sits in another room and carefully places his treasures on the table beside her. It’s the only way he knows to tell her he still needs her, that he’ll remember what she promised. One more glance, and he leaves her to her rest. She watches his back, and softly she calls after him a promise of return; a promise of Love; a promise never ending and never to fail.
“I will, Adam. Later, I will. I promise.”