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Limitations do not impede the living of a dynamic life

Jason is my foster brother. It’s hard to think of him as a brother, because he joined my mother’s heart when she was in her late 60s and I was in my late 30s.

Jason was born with a very serious heart defect and, as an infant, he was placed in my mother’s home with the understanding that he would live only a short while, perhaps as little as three weeks. Mom was informed of his many health issues and of his certain death, and told that what the agency mostly wanted from Mom was to keep him comfortable until his passing.

Though terrified of his frailty, Mom did what my mom does. She rocked him, fed him, sang to him and loved him. His medication was so powerful that, if she gave one drop too much, it could end his life early. My sister, Amy, is a nurse and, they along with my sister, Ruth, made sure Jason’s health needs were met. More importantly, they made sure his heart and spirit needs were abundantly filled.

Mom was already suffering painful knee issues when she became a new mother at 67 years. To entertain Jason as he grew, she would place him in a clothes basket and using her cane, would push the basket away from her easy chair, then pull him close. This brought laughter from both of them.

Multiple times during his childhood, we feared his health issues would end his life. I can’t count the times Jason had to be hospitalized due to intense heart failure. Mom never left him. The hospital staff came to know them both very well. They knew that when Jason was placed in the oversize crib with protecting bars that limited his contact with her, Jason would cry from fright. They also knew Mom would push a chair next to the crib, lower the bars and climb into the crib to hold Jason as he slept.

Little Jason was Mom’s sidekick.  He was beside her, no matter where she was or what she was doing. While holding on to Mom with one hand and a small bear in the other hand, Jason and Mom traveled many paths. The medication he was on during his preschool years caused him to drool excessively. Mom protected his little boy pride by keeping a bandana wrapped around his neck, making him to look like a miniature cowboy. What a pair they were together!

The first time Mom had to put Jason on a school bus was a bit frightening. But as fate would have it, Jason’s first school bus driver was Tonnia Meadows. She lives just up the creek from us and has been a part of our family since her birth and, by nature, Tonnia is a mama bear. She kept Jason in the front seat near her and constantly talked, laughed and encouraged him.

During a short period of Jason’s teen years, he lived in Tennessee with Amy and her husband. He loved Tennessee and made many friends there, but would always say, “I miss you, Granny.”

Jason’s life looked very bleak at birth, but looking back at this young man’s 21 years, it’s evident that he has been richly gifted. Jason has traveled to many states, his favorite being Alaska. He participates in all family activities. Every Saturday is a movie and dinner date with Ruth. He is active on social media, where he daily posts happy thoughts to friends and frequently asks for prayers for those in need.

Jason has been able to go to Open Door School in Ironton most of his life. His teachers are sensitive to his limitations, but constantly encourage him to learn more and grow into the strong man he is meant to be.

He is the manager of the Open Door basketball team, never missing a game and proudly cheering for his team. He frequently has crushes on pretty girls and goes to school dances, dressed in his finest suit, hoping to impress someone special.

What I admire most about Jason is his intense faith. Every night, he says his prayers out loud with my niece, Nikki, listening. His prayers are sincere and often so raw with honestly that he can bring you to tears. If he knows a friend is in need, the first thing he does is to pray.

Jason loves to sing worship songs. Once my sister, Terri, had a group of women visit her home for a time of devotional singing. Here, 20 women (and yes, Mom brought Jason) lifted our voices together. We sat on the porch of Terri’s cabin in the woods, sweetly harmonizing, a capella, the beautiful old hymns. That was a few years ago and Jason still speaks of it as one of his favorite memories.

Autism is part of Jason’s life, along with several other health issues. And yet, look how dynamic and fruitful this one life is.  Often if a person must cope with diagnoses that limit what we consider productivity, we excuse them as unimportant to society.

If this is your perspective, I challenge you to look at my foster brother, Jason.

Nora Swango Stanger, a Lawrence County native and Appalachian outreach coordinator for Sinclair Community College, can be reached at norastanger@gmail.com.