Several months ago while in the midst of our bedtime routine, I kneeled beside Rachel’s bed to pray for her. I started with the usual: sleep all night long, learn a new word tomorrow, give her therapists love for her and wisdom to help her, and for her to keep her diapers on.

But then I kept going. I found myself thanking God for her beautiful smile, for the way it feels when she says Momma, for her ability to focus and concentrate, for her energy, for her sister that loves her, for her father who takes care of us and accepts her autism. I continued in my thanks until Rachel became restless—this was not part of the routine, after all.

I sat up and wiped the tears from my face. Then I realized God had revealed a mystery to me. For years I have pondered the words in James 1:2:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, when you face trials of many kinds.”

How can I be thankful while my heart breaks at the same time? I understand and have experienced the unexplained joy that God gives during trials, but it’s rare for me to thank God for something painful. Yet here I was—and still am—thankful for the whole gift I’ve been given in Rachel, autism and all. And she truly is that: a gift.