Raylan's Story (So Far)

I preached a message at our church (The Pentecostals of Bossier City) a few weeks ago in which I briefly discussed our oldest son, Raylan. This has led to a few posts on Facebook celebrating certain milestones, as well as several rapid developments that we believe to be directly associated with a prayer that we prayed Sunday, April 26. Our immediate family, friends, and POBC members generally know what’s happening, but many others have expressed an interest in knowing the story.

Since so many people have asked, I’ve decided to share a bit about the incredible blessing in our lives that is our firstborn son, Raylan Mason Dean. I’m doing this for several purposeses:

  1. To eliminate potential misunderstandings.

  2. To describe Raylan’s situation in full.

  3. To establish my family’s perspective.

  4. To establish Raylan’s future testimony.

A warning: this will not be brief. If you want the quick summary, just scroll to the bottom, where you will find a fairly concise synopsis.


Even before Shari and I were confirmed by a doctor to be pregnant with our first child, we had already begun praying for him/her. We prayed for all the typical things -- a healthy pregnancy, safe delivery, a happy and healthy future, etc.

However, I also prayed for one thing that some might misinterpret: I prayed for my child to be different. I don’t mean better, and I don’t mean weird; I simply mean that I wanted God to use my child in a special way, for a special purpose, and for God to design him or her with that purpose in mind.

We eventually discovered that we were having a boy (initially much to Shari’s chagrin), and decided to name him Raylan Mason, with Mason being the name of Shari’s maternal grandfather. The pregnancy was fantastic; Shari felt great, was almost never sick, exercised frequently, and ate properly. As the day approached, Shari realized that it was a very real possibility that not only would she be having a boy, but she might also give birth to that boy on Halloween. Her exact words: “I don’t want a devil baby!”

Sure enough, with an hour and a half left on All Hallowed’s Eve, the doctor performed an unplanned C-section to bring Raylan into the world. I’ve mentioned it before, but as I held him in my arms for the first time, just moments after the cold, unfamiliar air hit his skin, I had a newfound perspective on the love of God. I didn’t just love this frail, tiny, old-man-looking little boy. I really, really loved him. Every priority that I thought I had changed in a matter of seconds. I leaned over to Shari to show him to her, and her shivering lips (a side effect of the anesthesia) formed into a smile, and I knew she felt the same way.

Upon arriving home, Raylan’s initial problem began to surface: colic. I had heard people say many times, “Oh, so-and-so’s baby has colic. They’re about to lose their minds.” I would always nod, not really knowing what colic was, and certainly not realizing that it meant their home had become a post-apocalyptic wasteland of anguish and insomnia.

We never slept. Raylan continually cried as if he was being stabbed in the abdomen. He wailed and curled his legs into his chest. We read everything that we could and tried every remedy, both medicinal and homeopathic, but nothing seemed to help. Our baby boy barely slept and rarely seemed happy for months. The colic gradually faded, but gave way to a barrage of ailments over the next three years.

We have done our best to compile a list of some of the sicknesses that kept us in and out of the pediatrician’s office:

  • Over 20 ear infections, resulting in...
  • Two sets of plastic tubes (the second was colonized in bacteria, leading to…)
  • A third, titanium set of tubes
  • 8 cases of croup
  • 2 instances of scarlett fever
  • 13 staph infections in 16 months (at least one confirmed case of MRSA)

We were so consumed with caring for Raylan’s health complications that we hardly noticed until around 18 months that he wasn’t hitting some of the verbal milestones in his age bracket. At two-years-old, our doctor told us that he had spent the majority of his life with his world sounding as if he were underwater due to the severity of his ear infections. This would seem to account for the delay in speech, but not entirely.

Raylan has always been different. We noticed that he wasn’t speaking sentences or responding to people as early as we expected, but in other ways, he has shown himself to be incredibly advanced. We started becoming curious (i.e. scared), and I began reading everything I could find in regards to late-talking children.

The first question we asked was, “Does Raylan have autism or Asperger Syndrome?” Despite having been screened by child behaviorists and a professional team during an examination to be approved for behavioral and speech therapy, Raylan has not been officially confirmed to have any disorder. At the present time, we’ve been forced to analyze his behavior ourselves.

Raylan has demonstrated the following suspicious traits:

Verbal Delay: though we have heard Raylan say countless words (easily in excess of 2,000), he doesn’t often communicate in sentences. And though we ask him questions like, “What do you want to eat?”, he usually either points or drags us to the desired item. The entire process is usually a facade; the answer is almost always “Cheetos.” Though he’s gotten much better in the past few months, he’s still noticeably behind his peers.

Selective Mutism: Raylan interacts with his family and friends fairly well, but when strangers or people with whom he doesn’t regularly interact approach him, he is perfectly capable of pretending they don’t exist. Questions will be ignored, and physical touch or “getting in his face” will result in a dirty look and turn of the shoulder. I know I’m supposed to be embarrassed by this (or something like that), but I find it secretly hilarious. I’m sorry.

Social Delay: Raylan initially had no interest in his peers. He thought he was an adult. He showed little interest in social interaction with anyone who wasn’t a parent, cousin, grandparent, aunt, uncle, or friend whom he saw on a weekly basis. Almost everyone else in the world was to be shunned. Complete strangers in Target didn’t make the cut.

During the past year, Raylan has developed a much stronger interest in children his age. We give most of the credit to his speech and behavioral therapists and the Sunday School teachers at our church, as most of his progress began after they entered his life. We now have to watch Raylan like a hawk, as he’ll burst into a full sprint if he sees children 100 yards away, and will begin laughing and playing with them as we struggle to keep up and tell him he can’t just run away from us at a moment’s notice.

Hand Flapping: Here’s where things start getting confusing. Family and members of POBC may have seen Raylan flapping his hands in excitement. In the world of autism spectrum disorders, hand flapping is usually associated with stimming, or “self-stimulatory behavior.” In includes hand flapping, rocking, head banging, repeating noises or words, and several other repetitive behaviors. Stimming is believed to be a response to overstimulation in those with autism. It is supposed to relieve anxiety.

However, we have only observed Raylan flapping his hands out of happiness or excitement, and never during moments of stress or anxiety. He doesn’t enter a trance-like state, but is usually hopping around and grinning or laughing while flapping his hands. It’s unclear as to whether he is stimming, but it’s fairly clear that it’s not textbook stimming.

Sensitivity to Loud Sounds: If Raylan is in a crowd, he’s fine. However, if the entire crowd begins screaming wildly or if he stands in front of a loud speaker at church, Raylan will cover his ears and give us a “Please make this stop” look. We recently observed this at the Dallas World Aquarium — if a large crowd of schoolchildren passed by, screaming, Raylan would cover his ears until they passed.

These “warning signs” have often been so mild that we never really considered some of the possibilities. In fact, his therapists have been unable to form a solid opinion on whether or not the signs are solid enough to confirm a diagnosis. Even Raylan’s amazing strengths have been somewhat ambiguous. I’ll list a few of those now.

Incredible Memory: Though Raylan has been delayed in speaking full sentences, we have heard quote entire 60-minute cartoons, word-for-word. He sings dozens of songs (and always sings perfectly in tune). He has also demonstrated us that he remembers places and things that he hasn’t seen in over a year and a half. These are only a few examples, but he has repeatedly demonstrated this unique gift in a variety of ways.

Academically Precocious: Despite Raylan’s speech delay, he is academically advanced considering his age. He was counting to 20 and saying his ABCs by 18-24 months, and apparently became sufficiently bored with his ABC’s that he began reciting them backwards after turning two.

His memory and perception has been most pronounced in dealing with shapes and colors. After Raylan turned two, we pointed to the moon in the sky and said, “Look, Raylan, moon!” He shook his head and said, “Crescent!” Sure enough, the moon was in either its waxing or waning crescent phase. He recognizes shapes everywhere — rectangular couch cushions, conical construction markers, and so forth.

On another occasion around his second birthday, Raylan looked at a caution sign leading up to a construction zone, pointed through the window, and instead of pointing out something like, “Yellow,” he shouted, “Equilateral triangle!” He can distinguish between octagons, hexagons, rhombuses, and many other odd shapes in addition to the typical squares, circles, etc.

During his weekly visits with his therapists, Raylan has impressed them most often by his approach to puzzles. They told Shari that it’s usually as if he analyzes the puzzle and puts it together in his head before ever touching a piece, then rapidly assembling it. He has put together several puzzles which the therapists told us they had never seen a kindergartner complete. They have told us several times that he has the mind of an engineer.

I know what you’re thinking, because I’ve asked the question many times: wouldn’t these strengths also lend themselves towards an autism diagnosis?

While it’s true that those who fall somewhere on the autism spectrum often demonstrate savant-like behavior, Raylan fails to show many of the other characteristics associated with autism, including the following behaviors that do not indicate autism:

  • Has no trouble with eye contact
  • Doesn’t engage in repetitive behaviors
  • Shows empathy to those around him
  • No problems smiling or expressing joy as an infant
  • Babbled consistently as an infant
  • Reciprocated gestures by 12 months
  • Doesn’t throw uncontrollable fits (at least not atypical toddler fits)
  • Responds to his name and commands (and has for a long time)

Many times, it seems to us that the only indicator that points towards autism is Raylan’s limitations in complex verbal communication, but the truth remains: we’re not experts, and we don’t really have any answers.

In reading two books by Thomas Sowell, Late-Talking Children and The Einstein Syndrome: Bright Children Who Talk Late, I found more similarities in Raylan’s behavior to Einstein Syndrome than in autism. Einstein Syndrome can typically be seen in late-talking boys who sometimes do not speak in sentences until the age of four or five. They are usually gifted in fields such as mathematics, music, or analytical areas, and their social development lags behind that of other children. Their memories are far above average, and they love to figure out how to take things apart. Yes, they are also very good with puzzles. Their families often consist of engineers or musically-gifted individuals.

Out of the behavioral characteristics, Raylan has only failed to demonstrate one, which is precocious reading ability, but it may be too early to tell. Again, we’re not experts, and this might be wishful thinking.

These questions have stuck with us for about two years, and though we don’t currently have any solid answers, we want to make the following points clear:

IN SUMMARY:
 

Raylan has demonstrated a verbal communications delay.

Despite proving himself to be capable in most areas and consistently surprising us in areas such as memory, puzzles, and music, Raylan is not communicating at the level of a three-year-old, and actually speaks in very few sentences despite understanding and speaking in excess of 2,000 words (obviously an approximation — we don’t keep a list).

We don’t know what has caused Raylan’s verbal delay.

Raylan is receiving therapy and has been monitored by professionals, but there is no diagnosis to which anyone has attributed his delay. He might have Einstein Syndrome. He might have high-functioning autism. He might be delayed because of hearing troubles that lasted over a year due to severe ear infections. The truth is that we don’t yet know, and to be honest, it’s not incredibly important that we attach a label to him.

We have sought out assistance, and will continue to seek aid in tracking and accelerating Raylan’s progress. We’re not in denial. We’re involved parents who want our son to progress.

We are not embarrassed or afraid of Raylan’s verbal development.

Yes, Raylan should be speaking sentences more often. Yes, we see the looks of confusion on people’s faces when they try to hold a conversation with him and he strongly rejects their advances — we’ve even seen people get offended when he completely ignores them (again, it’s kind of hilarious).

However, we don’t just love our little boy, we’re actually incredibly, immeasurably proud of him. He’s hilarious. He’s incredibly smart. His interactions with us on a daily basis leave us laughing and amazed, and we can’t imagine him any other way.

In other words, don’t “Bless their hearts” or pity us. Our boy is awesome. We’re happy with him, and we don’t lie awake and cry about it at nights. There was a time when we were fearful, but that day has long since passed (more on that in the next section).

He also happens to be super cute.

God is already answering prayers and helping Raylan

I already mentioned the sermon I preached that discussed Raylan (you can find it on our podcast — just search for The Pentecostals of Bossier City on your podcast app. The message was entitled “Thou Mayest”).

Several weeks later, during an incredible move of God in an altar service while Pastor Todd Johnson was with us, I felt compelled to publicly pray for Raylan. I don’t use this phrase lightly, but I felt impressed by God to pray for Raylan in a public manner. We cannot be afraid to pray bold prayers and let God declare His own glory through working miracles in a demonstrable fashion, and it seemed like that’s where God was pushing me.

I anointed Raylan and prayed for him, and felt the presence of God move on us both. There was no light beaming down from Heaven or a dove floating over our heads, but I felt that God touched my son at that specific time.

Later that night, we were going through our typical routine with Raylan. I heated his “milky,” he counted down the seconds on the microwave from twenty, and then I told him to go give his mom “sugies,” where he lets her kiss him on the cheek. Each night, Shari tells him, “I love you,” but Raylan has never reciprocated. That Sunday night, just two hours removed from our prayer, Raylan turned around, looked at Shari in the eyes, smiled, and said, “I love you!”

This was the first time he had told his mom he loved her. She cried for half an hour.

During the course of the next week, Raylan began not only speaking more often, but constructing sentences. It’s been nearly two weeks, and he continues to show rapid progress. We’re not remotely close to the end of our journey, but we feel that it was a direct result of the power of prayer, and that God is going to help us every step of the way.

That’s why we’re not afraid — we know God is with us. Raylan isn’t typical, and we’re absolutely okay with that. However, we do believe that God will progress his speech, he will lead a “normal” life, and the unique abilities that God spoke into him while he was in the womb will lead him down his own, divinely-ordained path.

When Raylan was a few months old, Bro. Lee Stoneking looked at him and without hesitation said, “That boy is going to be a prophet.” It wasn’t a passing statement — it was a declaration. One of the most powerful men of God that I have ever known, who was raised from the dead, having not breathed for 45 minutes, looked at this boy in the early days of his life and prophesied over him. For anyone that knows their Bible, they know that the prophets of God always walked, spoke, and carried themselves in a peculiar manner. We wanted a “unique” son, and we now believe this is all part of God’s plan.

So once again, please do not read this post and say, “Bless their poor little hearts.” The journey we’re on isn’t filled with fear, anxiety, or doubt — it’s all made enjoyable because of one incredible, smart, blonde-headed, dimple-cheeked little boy who brings light into our lives every single day.

We wouldn’t trade him for the world.

(REPOST) Defeating Depression: My Story and Solutions

The following is a repost from April 9, 2011. It is from my old blog, and I've had several ask me for it, so I'm making it available again. Thanks for reading!

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DEFEATING DEPRESSION: MY STORY & SOLUTIONS

(Warning – I discuss some slightly harsh topics in this post. If you are the squirmy, uptight, or cynical type, you might not want to proceed. Also, this post is thoroughly introspective, and I hope that it doesn’t come off as self-aggrandizing. If it does, that certainly was not my intention. If you are here solely because you want to read my own tips for defeating depression, please skip to the numbered points in the second half of the post.)

This post is not a plea for pity — I neither want it, nor require it. Actually, if anyone offers it, I am usually quick to dismiss it and become greatly embarrassed, even ashamed, by it. I am quite content in who I am, but only when viewed through the perspective of God’s grace. I have struggled with depression for many years, and I thought it might be beneficial to share my perspective and solutions with someone who might be struggling through similar circumstances. I’ve thought about writing this post for several years, and am finally getting around to it.

I am a depressive.

I can’t remember the first instance that I felt genuinely depressed, but it was almost certainly between the ages of 8 and 10-years-old. Understand that when I refer to depression, I’m not speaking of sadness or fleeting moments of helplessness. I’m speaking of depression in the clinical sense, defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “depression of sufficient severity to be brought to the attention of a physician and to require treatment.”

Let me be clear: if you have never experienced depression, please do not dismiss the claims or the emotional distress of those who struggle with it — it is real. It can even be annoying to be around a depressive, especially since so many who claim to be “depressed” are attention-seekers searching for a quick hug and reassuring nod. In reality, those who are truly depressed often keep their feelings underneath the surface. They don’t want for you to know.

At a very young age, I developed a harshly self-critical perception, and began focusing almost exclusively on my inadequacies. When I underperformed, whether at school, in basketball, in church, or one of my own personal endeavors, I beat myself up until there was little left in regards to ego. I didn’t need anyone to tell me I didn’t meet a goal: I was already well aware of it. I was a classic INFP (which I was unaware of until I was 25), and had higher ideals than I could hope to achieve. To put it simply, I was a mess. I altered my appearance, my vernacular, my, goals, and even my beliefs.

I had suicidal thoughts first in junior high school, and began discreetly making small cuts on my arms and legs, not because I found the process cathartic, but because I wanted to be able to imagine how badly it would hurt if I actually cut my wrists. I planned my suicide out, from little details like the video I would record to what music I would play as I committed my final act. In all honesty, there were two reasons that I never followed through: one, that it would hurt my family too much, and two, I was genuinely terrified of spending eternity in Hell, despite my reluctance to admit there definitely was a God (I identified myself as agnostic during this time period). I was hopeless, but not heartless. I was godless, but not without a fear of God.

Throughout high school, I struggled with the notion that I would never become what I was “supposed to be,” whatever that meant. Suicide remained in my thoughts, even during the good times. My friends knew that I wasn’t happy, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t know how bad it had become. I wanted out, and I didn’t know how to work up the courage to make it happen.

One night at our church, I stood in the fourth row of pews (not going to church wasn’t an option as long as I lived with my parents) and listened to a missionary couple from Malaysia sing and speak. Bro. Marshall and Sis. Vani would continue to play a significant role in my family’s lives, but the first role they played was that of the catalyst that would draw me back to God. Near the end of the altar service, Sis. Vani crawled on top of the pew in front of me and began to pray, close enough that I was the only one to hear it. She spoke of things that I had never told another person, and she spoke as if God had filled her in on all the necessary details of my life which had me bound since before adolescence. I cried, I prayed, and I turned around. My life was God’s, and I haven’t wavered since.

But my depression did not end with my repentance. One night in Alexandria, Louisiana, I felt something come over me during prayer, and I felt the depression leave my life. I was convinced that I was healed of it, but it came once again around six months later. I was praying, studying, fasting, and loving God with my whole heart, but I could not shake the self doubt and despair that might have originated from my borderline unhealthy idealism. I no longer dealt with thoughts of suicide, but depression was still present — it was just taking a slightly different form.

My perception of depression has been continually re-shaped. I noticed that my best writing and prayer seemed to take place during the more severe bouts. Many of what I consider my best sermons were studied for, written, and preached during those same times. After reading John Keats’ “Ode on Melancholy,” which asserts that one better understands the joys and beauty of life only after experiencing the bitter lows and darkness of it, I started thinking that my depression might even be a vital and even valuable part of my personality. I can’t say that’s entirely healthy or even correct, but there was some logic behind it.

Over the years, I have successfully combatted depression with understanding, determination, and prayer. It is a daily battle, but if you want to end depression, you have to be willing to fight it on every front.

In between all the rationalizing and confusion, I’ve actually stumbled across, studied about, or instinctively arrived at certain solutions to overcoming depression. I am personally opposed to medicinal solutions (for myself, not for everyone), so I’ve made an effort to remember these and practice them as often as possible:

1. Prayer

This might seem like an obvious inclusion, especially when coming from a student pastor, but prayer and a relationship with God are the two most important steps in overcoming crippling depression. There are temporary solutions, but I can honestly say that my battle with depression has never reached the severity that it had during the darkest times when I had excluded God’s power and authority from my life. Prayer works!

I have not yet fully defeated depression, but I daily fight against it, and most days…I win. But I don’t do it alone, and it’s when I’m most aware of that fact that I feel most at peace. God does not forsake me during the dark times, and He has reminded me of that time and time again. Thank God for His presence!

Prayer can bring comfort, but Godly living also brings consistency and contentment. Every significant character in the Word of God was deeply flawed, but each of them who turned to God and turned themselves over to Him prevailed. God cares about the broken, the underachieving, the lonely, the fearful, and the neglected. The first step towards defeating depression should always be the same, and it should always be toward God.

2. Family/Friends

The natural inclination of introverted depressives to to exclude themselves from social activity.Depression feeds on loneliness.

I couldn’t begin to count the number of times that my mood shifted from sour to joyful as the result of those close to me. After some of the most gruesome days, an evening spent with my wife, Shari, has lifted me up when my original desire was to stay home and read in a chair, completely alone. Dinner with family on Sunday mornings after church has been a long-standing routine for the Deans and Stanleys, but they’re also therapeutic for me. I love my family, my family loves me, and whether they know it or not, their very presence soothes me.

I’ve been blessed with a number of friends, but particularly so with a smaller number of close confidantes. They know what makes me laugh, and they seem to know exactly what to say or do to put me in a better mood. The funny thing is that they likely don’t even realize that they’re doing it. They might not even know that I’m down (as I said, chronic depressives become good at hiding it).

No matter what your mood tells you, spend time with other people! They’re a blessing from God, and they can help you. Since we’re so often victims of our own minds, it’s good to make sure we’re not allowed the source of the problem to be the only brain the in the room.

3. Read and Study

I can’t recommend a particular book for everyone, but a number of them have helped me. Among them are Unmasking Male Depression and Boundariesthe latter not really being a book about depression, but is currently helping alleviate me of some sources of stress, which is definitely a factor in depression.

You need to understand your problems. You need to know what makes happy, angry, sad, content, and depressed. There is still a certain stigma attached to depression and other disorders — we don’t want to be considered a victim. Well, if you don’t want to be a victim, then find out how not to be! There is a wealth of reading material on the subject, and you would be foolish to ignore it. Speak to a counselor for recommendations.

4. Ask for Help

This, like many other personal battles, is not one that you can win alone. I unashamedly admit to having been assisted by counselors over the years, and I would recommend it to absolutely anyone who has faces depressive tendencies. This should not be a source of shame!

Half a century ago, the field of psychology was still derided as something that only the kooks required. Only the mentally disturbed were thought to require psychological attention. Times have certainly changed, and while there are some things that only God can fix, there are many others that I believe He uses godly counselors to help solve. For many of them, helping people defeat their problems is their ministry. They are gifted by God, just as a preacher is gifted to preach the Word, and a music leader is gifted to lead in worship.

Do not be too fearful, skeptical, or ashamed to ask for help!

5. Retrain Your Mind

Depressives often follow a pattern. There are certain triggers that can alter a person’s state of mind for days. You can retrain your mind to react to circumstances. It takes dedication to make it work, but it is possible!

This is where reading and studying about your particular issues come into play. Combine that knowledge with the insights provided with therapy and prayer, and you have yourself a game plan. If you simply try to pray yourself out of it without taking an actions for yourself, you’re likely asking God for help with something for which He’s already provided a solution. Cognitive therapy is almost always successful when properly applied, but it must be applied. Don’t think depression will go away by itself.

This post might have been too forthcoming, but I hope that someone who battles these same issues might find something of value in it. Since my turning point at almost 19-years-old, I’ve continually felt a burden for those who battle depression, particularly young people who little to no idea of how to handle it.