It was a gray and gloomy morning, but I was putting on a brave face. I grabbed an umbrella and sunglasses. One for the predicted rain and the other so I could avoid eye contact and hide my tear-filled eyes. As I walked through the gate to the local Special Olympics and looked around, I figured out why the day felt heavy to me. It took me back to years ago and conversations of potty training and new words that I felt awkwardly left out of. It reminded me of meetings in concrete rooms and recited lists of delays that strangers had noted in my child after spending an hour with him. It reminded me of the first handflap. Strangely, it occurred during his first ever psychological evaluation and directly in front of a two-way mirror with scrutinizing professionals looking on from the other side. It reminded me of all those moments and so many more. The hard, ugly meetings, and doctor appointments, and evals and diagnosis. I felt that morning like I didn't belong. No, my child is not "typical" but he is lots and lots of other awesome things. It's an odd situation to find yourself in a crowd of people, surrounded by noise and life and yet feeling alone and lost. I felt almost out of body, looking out at the other folks who probably felt alot like me. Our kids, our loved ones break the mold. It is impossible not to feel the tension of being different than the rest, different but not less, even though we feel comfortable and confident (ish) in our daily living of our lives. That particular morning, I felt the weight of being different.
This weekend, I heard a sermon that really put it all together for me. What I was feeling, what I was experiencing was a sense of shame. Our pastor described shame as different than guilt. He defined it as more like a label that we put on ourselves, maybe because of something we've done or maybe something done to us, or maybe just life and it's circumstances. The thing about shame is that we can't remove that label on our own once we put it there. It sticks and we live it until we find a replacement. We need people to share it with. We need to shed some truth, some hope on it. We need to let God take it from us, and lift up our eyes to Him and his glory. God is always faithful to teach me new things everyday and that morning at the Special Olympics, he helped me to look up and I saw a few things that changed my perspective. I saw the sun peeking out and drying up the the ugly. I saw the familiar and perfect faces of my mom and dad. They were both sporting their "team G" shirts and my dad had his ever -present camcorder. Last, I saw G coming in with the other athletes. He was holding a sign and ran excitedly over to meet me at the fence line. His smile, the smiles of the others around him and the cheers of the people who love them the most, reminded me that different really is not less, and we all belong wherever we are planted. We can find others to love us through life. I wasn't alone, none of us are. We can find hope in the everyday blessing of our all-the-time God. I will not feel shame, or alone, but I will proudly wear the label of "autism mom" as will many others. We are different and so are kids but they are special in more ways than what you think. They love and they live in amazing ways and we get to do it alongside them. This label is not shameful or lonely. It is beautiful and perfect. It is a part of me, a part of us, and it suits us just fine! None of us know how to live the life we are given but my prayer is that we find a way to do it well. No life is "typical" or comfortable all of the time but it is all we get and I am grateful to live mine with my tribe.
I texted my husband that morning when I felt sad and pulled down by the load of it all and I needed a lifeline. Once again, God shows me things in new ways everyday and that morning he used text messaging! Ryan reminded me that G isn't the only thing in our life that makes us different. There are times when we feel or have felt out of place because of our beliefs, because of our choices, because of our life circumstances. Sometimes being different is right and worthy. His words, his insight. they helped me to refocus. If given the choice, I wouldn't change any of it. The hard, the easy, the "non typical"-I wouldn't want another life or to go back make different choices. I am who I am because of my beliefs, my choices, my life's circumstances. Can it be lonely and heavy? Absolutely. Can it be beautiful and inspiring? Everyday. All of us have things that make us feel unworthy in some way. It could be a decision you regret or, maybe, don't regret. It could be something you did or had done to you. It might be inherited or passed down to you, something that is a part of your DNA. I recently read in 1 John 1:7, "But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his son, purifies us from all sin." The Light removes the darkness and brings us all together in fellowship, sharing and living together. It heals and binds us and lights our way. As I looked back over this crowd of moms and dads and caretakers, I want to find all their eyes and remind them that their babies, their sons and daughters and students, were all made in the image of an incredible, loving, and powerful God. Every single one of them. I wanted to tell them that He never makes a mistake and that he has perfect, purposeful plans for each and everyone of us. I wanted to tell them and myself that we aren't alone but we are exceptionally blessed. So, I smiled my secret smile, put my umbrella down, took my glasses off, and breathed deep. The breath of living a full and different life without shame.