There are just so many moments where I just feel we stick out like a sore thumb! As a family we have our own unique way of being that has evolved over the years, shaped by our limitations, particular aversions, and our strengths. Together as a family unit we are shaped by each other, and for us that includes being shaped by autism too. It makes us do things in a different way from the norm, it makes some things really difficult—quite often things that everyone else seems to take for granted, and it encourages us to pause and take notice of things that often seem insignificant to those around us.
I’m reminded of this fact so often. When I’m picking up from school and my had-a-tough-day-girl throws her lunch box in my face. When we’re the parents that, as always need to stay behind to have a word with the teacher. In the shops when sensory overload takes over. In the shops on other days when sensory cravings mean that absolutely everything has to be touched and examined before we can move on. When we can’t cope in a restaurant. When my children can’t look at well-meaning strangers and say Hi. When we’re more interested in the ladybird on the park bench than we are with the friends we’ve met up with. When we’re the only parents staying at the club or the party with our child. When getting somewhere remotely on time means, yet again, we’ve arrived without all the things we need. When we have to say no to so many things, and equally when we invite others to join us doing something just a little bit unexpected.
We are urged in the New Testament to “shine like stars in the sky” (NIV), to “shine out among them like beacon lights” (TLB), quite the opposite of being urged to blend in or behave just the same as everyone around you.
“Do everything readily and cheerfully—no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night.” (Phil 2:15 MSG).
Now obviously in this verse Paul is talking intentionally about behavior being different because of our faith not because of anything else, I get that, but I wonder too if our family life is actually an advantage—we’re already used to standing out, we’re very visible wherever we go, we’re being looked at whether we’re wanting it or not. In a way we have a head start!
Someone said to me the other day, after watching me interact with my youngest in a difficult public moment: "I can’t be a Mum like you. Where do you get your patience from?" Now I know I don’t have anywhere near the patience I would like to have, or the amount that I find in the heart of God but maybe, just maybe the way it’s growing slowly in me is a bit different from what those around me are used to experiencing. Maybe the ways that we try to speak to each other respectfully (an uphill struggle some days), or the priorities we make as a family; the way we have to show our vulnerability or the ways we include others; our hopefulness in difficulties, our tenacity or the prayers we utter when we’re wrung out again, are that bit different, and maybe through them Christ’s light can shine out.
It doesn’t feel easy emotionally to be always sticking out like a sore thumb. It can feel very negative, like we’re always at a disadvantage. We can look around us and see families that look as if they’ve got it easy, that all is plain sailing for them. It probably isn’t. But with a different perspective we could perhaps (on a really good day) see our standing out as a positive advantage. It’s an opportunity to live differently for God as much as it feels as though it’s beyond our control sometimes.