Kyle: Bobbie and I were blessed to grow up in godly homes. When we were married, we committed ourselves to continuing the examples of faith our families had given us. We went to church, attended Bible studies, served others, and did our best to live godly lives. And God blessed us in many visible ways.

We assumed these blessings were directly related to doing all the right things. We believed that if we obeyed God and served Him, He would protect us from difficulties. And since our belief system had never really been challenged, we had no reason to believe it wasn’t true.

Now that’s not to say we had never faced difficulties. We had, but it seemed we could always fix our problems with our minds or with hard work, perseverance, and our connections.

So when Bobbie and I couldn’t get pregnant, we reacted as we’d always done. We sought our options, developed a plan, and did what we could to conceive—medically and physically speaking. And, of course, we prayed.

We had both always wanted children. And although we knew going into our marriage that conceiving might be difficult, we still had faith. We hoped against all hope for a child, just like we’re told Abraham did in Romans 4:18.

While we waited for our little miracle, we made promises to God. One went like this: “God, if You’ll allow us to conceive, we will give You back our child to use however You decide.”
We followed the example of Hannah in the biblical account found in 1 Samuel 1. Like Bobbie, Hannah had also faced infertility. For decades, she had prayed fervently for a son and tried hard to conceive.

The Bible tells us that God heard Hannah’s plea and blessed her with a son. She named him Samuel, which meant, “I asked the Lord for him.” Bobbie and I decided Samuel would be a perfect name for our child one day.

Bobbie: You can imagine our excitement when we discovered I was pregnant for the first time. God had even helped us conceive naturally. Our faith soared!

But then came the miscarriages. Five of them. Kyle and I did our best to keep our eyes focused on the Lord. We clung to hope, reminding ourselves that nothing was impossible with God. But it wasn’t easy.

Finally, on August 17, 2011, our child was born. Kyle and I praised God for His kindness and the beautiful gift of our son. We knew God had a grand purpose for Samuel, and we couldn’t wait to see it unfold.

Grateful, we set out down the path of parenthood. It wasn’t long, though, before my mother’s intuition told me something was wrong. Samuel wasn’t developing like other children. He wasn’t using his hands, making eye contact, or smiling at us. Most of the time, he just stared off into space or rocked his head back and forth.

We took Samuel to his pediatrician and to other doctors, including neurologists, but no one had answers. I had suspicions of what might be wrong, but the doctors assured me that Samuel would grow out of whatever he was going through. Months passed without change. Desperate, Kyle and I begged God to show us what was wrong with our son. It seemed, though, that God had gone silent on us.

Kyle: As Bobbie and I went from elation to grief, doubt and confusion began to set in. God was supposed to be a good Father with amazing plans. How was what we were going through good?

We had been faithful servants of the Lord. We had even dedicated our son to Him. Where was God? Why was He allowing this to happen to us? Wasn’t He supposed to protect His children from hard times?

Too many nights, Bobbie and I sat on our bed and just cried. Our dreams for our son and family lay shattered around us. We felt like we were walking alone through the valley of the shadow of death, and we were terrified.

It was such a dark time for us as we wrestled with our faith. Nothing made sense. We’d done everything right and God had miraculously given us a child, but now, something wasn’t right with him. He wasn’t “perfect.” Samuel was an innocent baby—why would God allow this?

Bobbie and I prayed over Samuel as he lay in his crib and begged God to heal him—we knew He could. God could do anything! Really, though, we just wanted God to make him normal. We wanted people to look at our child and see something beautiful, not someone with a disability.

Surely, we reasoned, God would answer our prayers. Any minute now, He would wave His hand or speak a word, and everything would be okay for us and our son. Bobbie and I were determined we’d give Him the honor and glory when He did.

Bobbie: This was our hope, but as time went on, we finally had to admit it might not be God’s plan. I felt like a rug had been snatched from underneath me.

Pain gripped my heart every time I saw another mother hold her child close and soothe them. I was Samuel’s mother, and just like those mothers, I was supposed to be making everything better for my child. But I couldn’t. And no one around me could make it better either. Not my parents, who had always been there for me, not my husband, not even the doctors.

And God wasn’t making it better either.

Kyle and I continued to beg and plead and make deals with God. By the time Samuel was a year old, we had exhausted every avenue humanly possible. Self-pity, anger, anxiety, and disappointment overtook us. But then, one night, we came to our senses. We got on our knees, threw our hands in the air, and finally surrendered our son and how we thought our lives should look to the Lord.

“Father,” we prayed, “we don’t understand Your ways. But we choose to trust You and Your plan, whatever it is. God, we don’t know what to do. Please help us. Hold us. Use us. We know You gave Samuel to us for a reason—take him, he’s Yours. Amen.”

For the first time, we recognized that, outside of God, we had no hope. We needed the Light of the World to illuminate our darkness. Incredibly, as Kyle and I finished praying, the Lord whispered to my heart, “I’ve got this.” Relief washed over me.

God was with us, and no matter how bleak our situation seemed, He still had a plan. Life for us wasn’t over, and we weren’t alone in this dark valley. I had heard Psalm 23 before; now I finally understood it. Sure, I still had questions, but I had peace too. And that was greater than having answers.

Kyle: God’s presence ushered in His peace for me that night too. As a husband and father, I had been anxious and frustrated. I should have been able to make things better for my wife and son, but no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t change a thing.

Through our prayer, I had cast my burden of fixing our family’s situation—a burden God never intended for me to carry—onto the Lord’s shoulders. And because of His great love for my family and me, He had accepted it (1 Peter 5:7).

I physically felt lighter as I came out from under the weight of my cares. The fog of doubt, anxiety, fear, and disappointment had lifted. My perspective pivoted, and I could finally see our situation differently.

I understood that, just because life had taken an unexpected and challenging turn, that didn’t mean God had left us. He hadn’t messed up either, and He certainly wasn’t trying to punish us or teach us a lesson. God was inviting us to join Him on a life-changing journey.
As these things dawned on us, Bobbie and I realized we needed to rise out of our self-imposed prison of pity, fear, and anger and start fighting for our son and our family in the spiritual realm.

Bobbie and I had read Mark Batterson’s book, The Circle Maker, with a small group from church. We had learned the importance of “circling” something or someone in prayer.
We decided to start circling Samuel in prayer. We literally took turns walking around our house, praying that God’s will would be done for our son. At night, in the middle of the chaos, we’d turn on the floodlights and take turns walking around our home, praying out loud. I am sure the neighbors thought we were crazy!

When Samuel was 18 months old, we finally received a diagnosis of autism. It was what Bobbie had suspected all along.

Bobbie: It was a relief to finally have an answer, but it brought with it a host of new questions. What would Samuel’s future look like? Would he ever be able to communicate with us? Would he be able to attend school one day?

We quickly learned that every case of autism is unique. We often tell people now, “If you’ve met someone with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” Autism comes in so many forms, and we had no way of knowing where Samuel would fall on the spectrum.

Kyle and I grew tired of fighting for answers no one could give us, so we focused on the one question we could answer: How could we help Samuel reach his God-given potential? Our response to our situation was the only thing we could control.

We knew the sooner we got help, the better outcome we’d have. We didn’t want to look back one day and think we could have done more, so we began researching available resources for children with autism. The closest  center was in Winston-Salem, almost a three-hour drive from our home in Greenville, NC, and Samuel needed daily therapy. My parents lived in that area and invited Samuel and me to move in with them. Kyle remained home due to work commitments. On weekends, either he drove to Winston-Salem to be with us, or Samuel and I returned home to him.

Our whole world centered on Samuel’s therapy. Many sacrifices had to be made, and not just by us. Incredibly, my father put off his retirement to help us cover the mounting expenses from Samuel’s therapy.

It was difficult to accept help from family, friends, and even strangers. We had always been so independent. But Kyle and I quickly learned that we wouldn’t make it unless we humbled ourselves and received help when offered. We also had to learn to ask for help; the road was too difficult for us to travel alone.

The facility in Winston-Salem was a godsend. Within months, Samuel was making noticeable progress. He began making eye contact and using his hands. He picked up a pencil and tapped it on the table. Kyle and I celebrated every milestone as a gift from God; we took nothing for granted.

When Samuel turned 3, we heard his voice. It was the most beautiful sound ever. A year later, he said the words I’d longed to hear, “Love you, Mama.”

Kyle: I’ll never forget the day I walked into the house, and Samuel called out my name, “Dadda.” Samuel was four, and I hadn’t known if he would ever understand who I was. I broke down and cried.

We clung to every victory, big and small, as we faced the ever-present challenges of raising a child with autism. We still do. Remembering how far Samuel has come enables us to press on through each unpredictable day. Thankfully, God continues to give us His strength. The weaker we are, the stronger He shows Himself to be (2 Corinthians 12:9).

At the treatment center, we met many families who were walking the same uncertain road we were. Bobbie and I were thankful to be a part of such a wonderful community of people and to have access to these life-changing services. But we couldn’t help but think of the many families who weren’t as fortunate as us.

In one of our prayer walks years before, Bobbie and I had both had the idea of starting a therapy center in Greenville. After witnessing the effects of therapy on Samuel and how it had helped our family, we began to seriously consider the idea. Families from eastern North Carolina needed access to therapy. Was God leading us to step out on their behalf and shine His light onto their path?

It was an exciting but frightening concept. We had no idea how to move forward or what to do. (And if we’d known all God had in store for us, we might have run in fear.) Nonetheless, we said, “Yes, God,” and stepped out in faith.

God quickly revealed our first step. We were to secure one therapist to help Samuel and be available for other families. Friends and business leaders held a tennis tournament called “Aces for Autism” to raise funds for that therapist’s salary. That was in 2015, and Aces was born.

In 2016, we started offering services at Oakmont Baptist Church. We held an event there for families to learn about therapy opportunities. We wondered if anyone would come. We were shocked at the long line of families winding around the room.

Bobbie: There were so many kids like Samuel, so many families with shattered dreams. And here they were, all waiting to speak with us! We could see the desperation on their faces. How would we possibly help them? It felt like an overwhelming and impossible task.

As we looked at the line, Kyle and I reminded ourselves that God was with us and that He had not called us to help all these people on our own. He was with us, and not only that, Aces was His idea. God would ultimately provide for these families—not us. All He asked of us was to listen and faithfully take the next step He would put on our hearts.

We were determined that Aces would be more than just a center for services. It would be a ministry of God’s love. We wanted to walk alongside these families, provide life-changing tools, and wrap our arms around people. We tell all our families: “You’ll get through this. Yes, it will be hard, but God will help you. And we’ll help you too. Together, we’ll take it one day at a time.”

Kyle and I had no idea how God would grow Aces over the years. It’s been an incredible adventure. Since 2016, we’ve had the privilege of coming alongside 81 families. And we’ve outgrown several locations as we’ve added needed services and therapists.

In 2022, Aces will break ground on a new 30,000 square foot building in Greenville. Over 300 families are waiting for services. To God be the glory. Not only that, God is using Aces as a model for centers across the country. And He has used Kyle and me to fight for new legislation for better access and accommodations for families with autism.

We laugh when we think back to our prayer for God to make Samuel “normal.” God never looked at our situation—or Samuel—the way we did. He had a plan, and it was far better than anything we could have imagined.

Suppose God had answered our prayer the way we wanted. We’d have missed the joy of Samuel and experiencing God in such a powerful, personal way. Our situation forced us to rely on the Lord, to trust Him as our constant source of provision. Further, we’d have missed the privilege of knowing and helping hundreds of families in our area.

Kyle: It’s been an adventure, for sure. We’ve experienced incredible highs and lows, but God has been with us every step of our journey. Bobbie and I wouldn’t trade this life for anything.

Samuel is 11 years old now; and he continues to make progress. This once nontalker now talks nonstop! It’s unbelievable how he went from not making any sounds to having this vibrant personality that says hello to everyone. Samuel has the biggest heart, and he puts a smile on people’s faces everywhere he goes.

As a family, we still face many challenges, especially now that Samuel is growing bigger and stronger. Every day, Bobbie and I must trust that the same God who helped us navigate the obstacles of the past will continue to provide for us in the future. He will meet all our needs—Samuel’s, our family’s, and the needs of Aces.

God has also blessed Bobbie and me with two more children—a son who is now 6, and a daughter who is 3. Only by God’s grace can we maintain balance and ensure that each of our children receives the love and attention they need. It’s not an easy task.

Maybe you are walking through a similar dark valley. Maybe you feel alone and afraid, or angry and confused. Bobbie and I know how you feel. But we want you to know that there is hope. With God, you will make it. He is with you, and no matter what it looks like, God still has a plan for your life. And He will bring it to fruition.

If you haven’t done so already, surrender the way you thought life should look to the Lord. Give Him all the pieces of your shattered dreams. He will put the pieces back together in ways you can’t imagine (Ephesians 3:20).

That doesn’t mean it will be easy or that there won’t be any pain. God doesn’t always protect His children from hard things, but He does help us through them.

Take one day at a time. Trust the Lord to give you His strength, wisdom, peace, and joy. When He sends people to help you, accept their help. Don’t isolate yourself; you cannot walk through the valley of the shadow of death alone. You need the Lord, and you need community.

KYLE AND BOBBIE ROBINSON are the founders of Aces for Autism. Families seeking support for autism may contact Aces for Autism by email or call (252) 689-6645.