I grew up next door to a family whose youngest child had autism. She was barely able to communicate or care for herself and I saw the stress her parents were under as they attempted to create a "normal" environment for their other children, while meeting their daughter's physical and emotional needs.
Growing up, I was taught the basic social rules for encountering someone with an obvious disability - don't stare, don't gawk, don't probe or ask impolite questions. While I'm sure my parents were well meaning, and I do believe that it's impolite to stare, the truth is that in practicing these "manners," I developed the mindset that there was something to fear or be embarrassed about for those classified as "disabled."
In my college years I knew several classmates majoring in special education. I always admired their drive and calling, but secretly thought "I could never do that."
Apparently God thought this wasn't a satisfactory answer, and in the last two years he has been transforming my heart and opening my eyes to a community I never stopped to see before.
First, came the birth of our sweet friend Addison. Born with down syndrome, Addison has shown me that God makes no mistakes, and that the labels and limitations the medical community and society may assign someone don't have to mean anything. In turn, Addison's parents and siblings have shown me that raising a child with a disability is nothing to be afraid of. I've seen the worry and stress that Addison's diagnosis has added to their lives, but I've also seen the joy and pride. They've set high expectations for their almost 2 year-old and do everything in their power to help him reach each milestone and ensure that he feels loved.
Then I stumbled across a job description on a nonprofit website. I say stumble because that truly is a case. It was for a position I didn't think I was interested in, or had any knowledge in - working with young adults with autism and learning differences. But I felt called to applied and subsequently interview. At the end of my first interview I came home transformed. The passion of the staff and the energy and community of the students was incredible.
The last few months have been amazing. While the organization I work for isn't Christian, everyday I see God at work. I see him in the teachers and advisors who tell their students that they can succeed and focus on their strengths. I see him in the students who accept one another's differences with true patience and understanding. And I see him in myself as I recognize the power of giving hope to a family who thought they'd reached the end of the line.
I could go on forever, but I think this video clip from our recent Gala explains things a lot better. Trevor is a junior (we are a 3 year life skills college) and gave an incredible speech this year (please note that our Gala theme this year was "A Night at the Movies " - thus Trevor's A Knight's Tale costume :)).
So what do I think now?
I think an illogical fear has kept me from getting to know some amazing people. More importantly, having and raising a child with disabilities isn't something I'm afraid of anymore. I know that each and every child God chooses to bless Brandon and I with will be a perfect gift.
"There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear..."
1 John 4:18