An Unexpected Calling
“A neurodevelopmental condition of variable severity with lifelong effects that can be recognized from early childhood, chiefly characterized by difficulties with social interaction and communication and by restricted or repetitive patterns of thought and behavior.”
“Students with autism want to be accepted like every other student.”
April is Autism Awareness Month, and every year I sit back and process a lot of emotions. We have lived in this Autism world for the past 18 years. Meltdowns, self-injurious behaviors, not being able to communicate thoughts or feelings; the list goes on. It’s very common for a family like ours to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) because we live in a constant state of questioning when the next meltdown will happen and how long it will last this time.
David has limited communication skills; he can tell us where he wants to eat and what he wants to eat, but he can’t express his emotions or if he doesn’t feel good. At the beginning of his diagnosis, it felt like he died. When I was pregnant with David, my husband Tom and I would talk about what sports we wanted him to play and if we were going to buy him his first car or make him earn the money to buy it himself. So, when we were told he had autism, all my dreams and expectations fell apart. In my heart, I knew he was severely autistic. However, through all of it, my faith grew because I knew God had a purpose and a plan for David (Jeremiah 29:11). I was given a word that one day I would get to see and taste the fruit of my faith in the Lord (1 Kings 7), and that God would reveal His glory through my son (John 9:2-4).
Being a mom of a loved one impacted by special needs or a disability can be lonely and isolating. It’s easy to stay at home and not venture out. It’s hard to let others in because there are always comparisons and phrases like, “I think my kid is a little bit autistic”, or “God only gives special needs kids to special parents”, or “He doesn’t look autistic. He’s so handsome”. These statements can be so hurtful, especially when I am grieving another milestone that David won’t hit. It’s in those moments that I focus on what’s lovely and pure and true, because then the Holy Spirit will give me peace (Philippians 4:4-8).
I feel like the Lord used these past 18 years with David. He used them to prepare me for the calling He has for my life and the calling on David’s life. There is an article called “Welcome to Holland”, I recommend you Google it and read it. The article talks about stopping and enjoying the sights and sounds of Holland, even though you were only prepared for Italy. I feel like the Lord has called David and me to help families impacted by autism and other disabilities to enjoy and embrace their journey; to not isolate, but to push yourself to seek fellowship. Allow others to help, and to build their village. To be a part of community. To find community for their loved one!
Tom and I started a community group at ONE&ALL Church just for those with special needs or a disability. It has been a blessing to watch them grow and learn about Jesus. It’s been a blessing to see the parents and caregivers bond and sit together at church. Community is so important, and I am thankful for mine. So, this month please pray for David and the others with special needs. Pray for the families impacted by disabilities. Be a part of our village, our community, and wear blue this Friday to show your support for Autism Awareness Month.
I’ve known Kristina and her family for a long time and have never felt such an overabundance of love from nearly any other family. I’m certain that David was a huge part of that. In fact, since I’ve known David, I feel like I have learned to be more loving and accepting of people who are different from me no matter where they’re from or what they’re like. While I haven’t been directly impacted by special needs or disabilities, I have learned so much from these individuals. I think the greatest lesson David has taught me is to love unabashedly and without shame.
To me, David embodies what it means to truly love and accept people as they are; to be a true neighbor like Jesus calls us to be. It’s because of David and Kristina’s encouragement, that I began serving with ONE&ALL’s special needs community group on Sundays when they started up at the Rancho Cucamonga campus. I don’t recall ever feeling as loved and accepted on a first meeting as I did that first Sunday. I met one of the individuals in this group and was immediately welcomed like a long-lost friend. I never had this sort of reception at a first meeting. I felt like this person was there for me rather than the other way around!
David and our special needs community groups have changed my life for the better. Because of them, I have learned to love and accept people the way that Jesus does. They have taught me to love the ones that society has rejected or forgotten, to see the world with childlike wonder rather than live in constant fear of what is going on in the world, to not worry about politics or what’s happening on the news, to not live in fear or anxiety over the future (I’m still learning that one!), and to understand that there is no limit to what God can do when you allow Him to lead. I never would have learned any of these lessons if I hadn’t gotten to know Kristina and David.
There are a lot of things that I don’t understand in our world, like why some have special needs or disabilities and others don’t, but I do know one thing: it doesn’t matter why. All that matters is what we do with it. One of my all-time favorite books and movie quotes comes from The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, when Gandalf tells Frodo, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us”. This couldn’t ring truer than in the lives I’ve witnessed and walked alongside through our special needs community.
If you want to know what true love looks like and if you want to learn to be more like Jesus, then look at our special needs communities. You can learn more from them than a million books on how to be like Jesus. These individuals are living it out, exemplifying the compassion and acceptance of Jesus to everyone they meet. They are a living example of John 13:35, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another”. These are the kinds of people that I want to surround myself with; that I want to keep learning from.
I can’t describe all the things God has shown and taught me through this group of people, nor how much more He still teaches me through them every day. All I’m going to say, is that if you haven’t served in any of our special needs community groups, then let me be the first to tell you, you are missing out!