It was a little over sixteen years ago when Ken Copeland’s wife woke up feeling a little queasy. It was a Sunday, he remembers. The big deal that day was the football game later that afternoon. Redskins and Cowboys.
Ken never saw that game, because his wife decided to take a pregnancy test later that morning. In the two years they’d been trying to conceive a child, she’d gone through dozens of those tests. All had produced nothing but a disappointing minus sign. On that day, however, a vertical line appeared and bisected that familiar horizontal one. It was a plus.
Ken and his wife celebrated that day with tears, fears, and a steak dinner at the Sizzlin’ in town. They told everyone (even the waitress, who discounted their steaks as congratulations). Everyone wanted to know if Ken wanted a boy or a girl. His answer was the usual one. Ken didn’t care, just so long as the baby was healthy.
Matthew Brent Copeland was born nine months later at the local hospital.
Fast forward sixteen years to the playground at the local elementary school. Father and son are at the swings, Ken pushing Matthew. It’s the younger Copeland’s favorite activity, one that somehow calms the storms that rage in his mind. Ken thinks it’s the back and forth motion that does it, that feeling of flight and peace. He takes Matthew there every evening.
There are smiles on both their faces, though that hasn’t always been the case. The Copelands went through a tough time when Matthew was diagnosed with autism at age four.
In quiet conversation, Ken will tell you that almost killed him. He’ll admit the anger he felt toward God and the despair over his son, whose life would now never be as full and as meaningful as it should have been.
And he’ll tell you that deep down in his dark places, if he and his wife would have known what would happen to Matthew, he would have preferred abortion over birth. There would be less pain that way. For everyone.
Yet now, twelve years later, he smiles.
I watch them from the privacy of a bench on the other side of the playground. See him push his grown son and yell “Woo!” as he does. I see the perfect and innocent smile on Matthew’s face as he’s launched out and up. Hear his own “Woo!” in reply.
When they’re done, Ken takes his son’s hand in his own and together they walk across the soccer field toward home. Their steps are light, they take their time. It’s as if their world has stopped for this moment between father and son to marvel at the bond between them, proof that the hardships life sometimes thrusts upon us don’t have to break our hearts. They can swell our hearts as well and leave more room for loving.
Ken has made his peace. Peace with God, with his life, with his son’s condition. It hasn’t always been easy, but nothing that is ever worth something is easy. There are still times when he looks at Matthew and wonders what his son’s life would be like if he were normal and healthy. He’s sixteen now, that age where a boy’s world should expand in a violent and glorious eruption of girls and cars and sports. But Matthew’s world will never expand. It will always remain as small as it was when he was four, and just as simple.
Ken says that’s okay. That it has to be. He’s learned that in a world that seems full of choices, there are really only two—we can hang on, or we can let go. Ken has let go. Of his anger and his disappointment, of his despair. And he’s found that what has replaced those things are peace and fulfillment and joy, things he’d always chased after but until Matthew came along never really found.
If Ken would change anything, it would be what he said to all those people who’d asked him if he wanted a boy or a girl. His one regret is what his answer always was, that it didn’t matter as long as the baby was healthy. Because an unhealthy baby is no less precious, no less valuable, and no less life-changing.