Jacob Alexander McCarthy.
Shirt inside out. Glasses missing. Clothes worn for the third day in a row (I promise he doesn’t stink, we just can’t get him to change and we ran out of energy to fight it). Mind racing. Body moving.
Too busy to eat breakfast. Too distracted to complete some tasks. Too full of questions and thoughts to make some simple decisions. Incredibly smart but perpetually scattered. Beautifully creative but organizationally challenged. Incredibly musically gifted but doubtful of his own talent because of the endless battle he faces within his mind. A mind that tells him that he’s a failure and that he can’t do it. A mind that runs away from him and leaves him feeling useless, worthless, alone.
These past five years have been hard on this guy. He underwent major transition multiple times, made an entirely new country his home, moved back to his first home, endured health scares amidst more major transitions, moved overseas again and battled ongoing anxiety made worse by so many Covid restrictions and changes in the world around us.
We have sought help and we have gone on a journey with this sweet boy that is still in progress. We have found help for his anxiety – both through counselling and medication and he has begun to feel like that mountain is not insurmountable but there is still the struggle of focus.
You see, the thing with ADHD is that it is hard to identify in a kid whose hyperactivity is primarily in his mind and only spills over to his body at certain times. Add to that the fact that anxiety is present alongside this challenge and you have a kid who might display anger and despondency before he displays physical hyperactivity. Add to that his desire for perfection and the first thing we saw with him, a number of years ago, was a complete mood change. Frustration. Anger. Lashing out. Actions of unkindness toward his siblings and then intense shame for how he was feeling. The anxiety was stifling his strengths and accentuating his weaknesses. His inability to cope with the anxiety and the inattentiveness was bursting out in anger and the only reason we were finally able to seek help was partly because I knew how he felt. I, too, felt prone to anger stemming from my anxiety. I, too, was stuck in a cycle of shame and I, too, needed to get some help.
This sweet boy who could not seem to stop his mind from over-thinking was wrestling with every decision, worrying about every possible outcome and wondering why no one else seemed enslaved to similar thoughts. He was too worried to worship. Too ashamed to accept God’s truth. Too wrapped up in the battle to see a way out.
The years of Covid provided numerous venues for us to see his struggles first hand. Anxiety as he tried to complete his virtual schooling from home. Fear and worry as he cautiously checked to see where all of his siblings were at all times. Despair and disconnectedness as we tried to worship as a family during house church – often sitting off to the side and being visibly in doubt of a God who could love him just as he is.
Fast forward to the past few months and the journey we are on with Jacob has continued. We still don’t have perfect answers for his ADHD and there are honestly times where it is exhausting to watch him try to finish a simple task but there are also reminders that God is at work. We don’t question Jacob’s abilities but we long for the day where he can feel as though those abilities are no longer stunted by inattention and rendered irrelevant by fear of failure.
While his school grades are wonderful, his musical achievements many and his writing samples far beyond his grade level, his ADHD leads him to feel defeated despite his successes and there are times where we feel the same.
But then God finds a way to remind us that He is in control. He finds a way to shout at us through our doubts and comfort us in the chaos. He speaks and He tells us that it will be ok. You see, this same boy who couldn’t sing of God’s goodness a year ago. Who couldn’t do anything other than sit there angrily while we listened to the truths of God’s word. Who couldn’t understand how God could possibly love him and who was filled with guilt and shame and a heart that admitted he was living for only himself and was miserable. This same boy is in the midst of a change and we are excited.
This beautiful boy walked past a community member on the road the other day and said ‘the Lord be with you.’ He walked past the wooden cross on the hill of our centre, left there from Easter, and he thought, ‘we have a great God!’ He stood in our living room on Sunday and sang for Jesus.
And as I looked at him from across the room and smiled – loving to hear his voice rise up in our house and not caring that his body had to be in motion, that his tendency is to do ten million things at once and therefore always appear to be accomplishing nothing, that his chaos so often intersects with mine and stresses me out. Instead, I looked at him and I saw the negatives as positives. His capacity for movement as a gift. His desire for stimulation as a strength. His incessant thoughts as an inspiration. His intensity as an unstoppable force.
And I found myself making a suggestion. I asked him to grab his violin, if he wanted to. No expectations, no requirements just an invitation to step into the perceived limitations of his mind and to offer those up to God in worship because we serve a God who wants us to approach Him boldly and who will welcome us always. To run to the Father. To fall into grace. To be done with the hiding. No reason to wait.
We don’t need to have everything figured out before we can accept that invitation. He wants us to come now – scattered, broken, shameful minds and all and what we will find is a Father who beams at our arrival.
And so he did. He grabbed his violin and played. He played from his heart. His ear kicking in. His focus narrowing in. His fingers busy. His body moving. His mind multi-tasking. His heart full. His weaknesses transformed into strengths and it was beautiful.
As I watched him play I was reminded of the Father who sees solutions where all we see are struggles. The One who sees the whole picture and exactly how we fit into His larger design. The One who is working even when we can’t perceive His movements. The One who is a way maker. Miracle worker. The One who is delighted by us and who is delighted by this little boy who is far from the end of his journey but who is seeking the answers.
Stumbling blocks often encountered.
He loves him. He loves me. He delights in our broken vessels and He deeply desires to show us that, in Him, even the things we are most ashamed of can be redeemed. Can be made beautiful. He never stops working and He never will.
So, we stood. We sang. Jacob played and my heart soared. It was beautiful. It was right. It was God-honouring and It was a moment I will always treasure. For a moment I think Jacob saw himself as God does. Talented. Created. Capable. Chosen. His struggles were not a shut door but a straight path to the unique things He might be called to do. More than all of that, He seemed at peace in worship and able to rest in the possibility that God’s peace might be available for him.
Isn’t that what we all want? To know that our doubts, while not irrelevant or to be trivialized, are not final or powerful enough to alter the master plan. That we don’t have the final say over whether or not our lives can be used by the God of the universe for our good and His glory.
To know that our weaknesses do not relegate us to the shadows but bring the source of our strength into the spotlight and to know that He sees the end of our stories and loves us even before they have reached their resolution.
This is what I”m learning. This is what Jacob is learning. This is what I hope that all of my kids learn and, if they have to learn it through struggle. If His strength needs to be highlighted through their weakness then I will stand with them in their weakness and keep pointing them back to the One who sees them as He intended and as He designed. I will stand with them, talk with them, pray with them and pray for them until they hear His voice loudly declaring that they are loved.
Shirt inside out. Glasses missing. Clothes worn for the third day in a row. Mind racing. Body moving.
Whatever your version of this is. He sees you. He loves you. He chose you and He wants you to worship Him with every part of your being today and, in doing so, to find that He is love and that you are loved.
When you embrace this, I can guarantee that the heart of someone standing next to you will soar and that this will only be a fraction of the joy and love felt by the God who made you just as you are.
Jacob Alexander McCarthy.