A couple of days ago something extraordinary happened… something totally unexpected… something that in its own way was delightful and wonderful… James had a bath! An hour-long soak!
Now granted, expecting any 15-year-old lad to have a bath isn’t a given… but James isn’t any ordinary 15-year-old. James is autistic, and also has learning disabilities, which means that he sees and responds to the world in different ways to most people. For several months now, regular readers of my blog will know that James has been pushing his boundaries, continuing to develop his own personality, determining more for himself what he will do or, more commonly, not do.
Washing has been part of this journey for several months now, with James refusing to shower and only grudgingly agreeing to be washed using a bowl of soapy water and a flannel… Not exactly ideal, and hair washing being particularly difficult! But on Wednesday, something amazing happened. Something that reminded me of Jesus’ encounters with people with disabilities by pools of water at Siloam and Bethesda in Jerusalem.
James had just used our downstairs toilet, located in the bathroom, and we were helping him to change out of his day clothes and into his pyjamas. In a moment of God given inspiration, I turned the taps on the bath and as the warm water flowed suggested to James that he might like to have a bath (James hasn’t had a bath for 8 years, preferring until these recent difficulties to use the upstairs shower).
As bubble bath was added to the water, James watched in fascination as the foam grew. He reached into the bath and touched the foaming water, a look on his face clearly articulating the anguish he was experiencing… “I want to get in, but I also don’t want to!” James lifted a leg tentatively towards the bath, and then put it back down… He lifted it again, up and over the side of the bath and into the water! He giggled, and then stepped into the bath and sat down in the warm soapy water. We were stunned, and it took us a few moments to take in what we were actually seeing!
Not knowing how long James would stay in the water, our initial reaction was to wash everything that moved as quickly and thoroughly as we could. James’ hair was properly washed for the first time in ages… three times! But James showed no sign of wanting to get out of the bath, lying happily in the water as we played with the foam, brought in things for him to play with, and as we slowly relaxed into the wonder of it all! James stayed in the bath for an hour, until we had to pull the plug out and empty the bath of both water and boy before he became any more prune like!
It was a truly miraculous event, a phrase I don’t use lightly, and one that we hope and pray will now become more regular. Thinking about it afterwards, it reminded me of those encounters that Jesus had with people with disabilities at the pools of Siloam and Bethesda…
The pool of Siloam was constructed under the reign of King Hezekiah around 700BC, as a safe and secure water supply inside Jerusalem’s walls as the city came under siege by the Assyrians (see 2 Chronicles 32). We’ve felt under attack for a while as James has struggled in so many ways, and yet James has felt safe and secure at home… a wonderful answer to prayer. We are hoping this feeling will continue to extend to the bath!
In John 9:1-12, Jesus heals a man who was born blind… Part of the way this happened was that he sent the man to wash in the pool of Siloam (see v5), and afterwards the man came home seeing. As James washed in our bath, we saw things differently… we saw into his world just a little more clearly as he happily soaked in a safe place for him, a place where he could just be himself. We “came home seeing” better as a result of what God revealed to us and what James taught us in that moment.
The pool of Bethesda was located just outside of the city gates, and John 5:1-9a tells us that many disabled people would lie by it as they believed that an angel would sometimes stir the waters and that the first one to then enter the pool would be healed. Jesus arrived and healed a disabled man who had been there for 38 years.
As we sat by the bath watching James thoroughly enjoying the warm soapy water, we stirred the water for him. Now we are far from angels, and there was nothing miraculous about the water, but as we delighted in that very special hour with James we felt Jesus ministering to us, healing our souls from some of the anxiety and stress that being parents of a disabled child brings. One of the meanings of the name Bethesda is ‘mercy’ or ‘grace’, and we experienced this in abundance during this beautiful hour with James!
We don’t yet know if this special experience will just be a one-off, or if bath-time will return to the Arnold household as a regular, delightful, happy time together. We pray it will, but whatever the future holds we will always cherish this special, precious moment!
Now, where did I put those bath bombs?! J
17th November 2017
Image rights: Header (unknown), Pool of Siloam (Yoav Dothan, Public Domain), Pool of Bethesda (Robert Bateman 1877, Public Domain)