“Of these three men, who do you think was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by robbers?”  The expert said, “The one who was kind enough to help him.”  Jesus told him, “go and imitate his example!”  Luke 10:36-37 GWT

One of the most important things that I want my kids to learn and to carry with them is compassion.  We talk about this often.  Don’t stare.  Always offer help.  Pray for those who need it and for those who don’t know they need it.  Offer the kindness to others that you would like to receive.  This is tantamount for living out the call of Christ.  Be Jesus for those around you.  Let them see the grace that He has given you so that they can wonder what it’s all about and so through you they can’t help but want to know more about Him.

I crave compassion.  There have been times, as the mother of a child with autism that I have longed for compassion in a way that I can’t even put into words.  People can be so cruel to anyone who is the slightest bit different.  So when you are talking about someone who is VERY different…well, let’s just say you don’t always see the best that people have to offer.  I remember the sight of Genevieve’s face when, as a very little girl, someone made nasty comments about her sister in the grocery store.  I remember having more heart-to-heart discussions than I could possibly count with a very sad big sister who could not understand why others couldn’t see the wonder that was her little sister and why people would choose to stare or offer unsolicited advice on what they would do different “if that child was mine”.  And more recently, I remember the face and searching eyes of one precious 10-year old who was completely confused by strangers’ stares.

At another time in my life, this would have made me bitter.  There were times when all I wanted to do was be angry.  I wanted to tell off that elderly gentleman behind me in the checkout line who suggested that perhaps my child needed more spankings.  But what I realized was that in those moments, my children were looking to me more than they were looking toward those strangers.  Those people may not have been showing compassion for our situation but I could certainly show them compassion.  Because I knew better.  Because I had a Savior who showed me the ultimate compassion.  He offered me mercy when otherwise I would have been left behind.  So, eventually, as my heart softened, my children saw me speak kindly to these people.  They heard me explain to the gentleman in the checkout line that he was not witnessing a tantrum but the evidence of too much stimulation.  They saw me deal patiently and with grace as I dealt with other parents who just didn’t get us.  My children saw me explain to other children that though the little girl they were staring at was different from them in a few small ways, she was just like them in the most important ways.  And what they learned from this was that it is always possible to extend compassion to others.  Even the ones to whom we don’t really feel like extending compassion.  Especially them.

And so while we may not be saving a life in the literal sense as in the story of “The Good Samaritan”, we are choosing to make our own lives better through the compassion that this story teaches us.  And we just might be pointing to the Author.

God’s Ways

I must admit that this used to be the time of the year that I struggled with how to teach my child who has autism about the Resurrection.  As Easter approached she sensed the anticipation.  She could feel that there was something different in the days as we waited with wonder and expectation for Sunday morning.  She understood the joy and even picked up on the traditional greeting, “He is risen!” and its response, “The Lord is risen indeed”.  The bigger issue, for me, became how to make this real throughout the year?  How do I make her feel and understand the enormity of the sacrifice made for her beyond Easter morning?

There are so many options available to us as modern day parents to teach our children, in a tangible way, about the truth of the Resurrection.  Resurrection eggs, empty tomb cookies and rolls, and countless books written just for them.  I used all of these when I served as a director of children’s ministries.  All of those and so many other activities are perfect ways to share the Good News with children.  Well…with typically functioning children.  For a child with autism, sometimes these lessons get through but, more often than not, they fail to make the connection for a child who is more literal.

The answer came in the simplest way.  Walking into pre-school every day we walked past a wall lined with crosses.  She was charmed by each and every one.  Every day she would pick a new one to stand in front of and just take in every little detail.  And so I began to ask her what they were.  She answered “cross” but wouldn’t answer any more questions.  I continued to talk to her about Jesus, hoping that it was all sinking in and that she was feeling connected to an ancient truth that I felt powerless to make truly real to her.  That her Savior had loved her so much, He had given His life in order to ransom hers.

Then one day, one beautiful day, we walked past the crosses.  She stopped in front of one that depicted the life of Jesus.  I watched as her eyes took in every little detail and I asked, “what is that?”.  She answered, “cross”.  I asked, “What does it mean?” and she answered “Jesus”.  I told her that the cross means that Jesus loves us.  And she repeated it to me.  Over and over.  “Jesus loves us.  Jesus loves us.  Jesus loves us.”  I watched while it took hold in her heart.

Though I had known that God’s ways exceed all my expectations, in that moment I felt that truth become so real to me.  I realized that God’s love was not something that I needed to push on my child.  She already had a relationship with Him.  He didn’t die on the cross only to ignore the needs of those who learn differently.  My job was simply to place truth before her and to let God do the rest.

Purpose in Struggle

This week led to some profound discussion in my home.  There were topics that seemed pretty heavy for a 10 and 13 year old.  “Why did He let them arrest Him?”  “Why did He heal the people who were there to kill Him?”  Our discussion (as always) steered us in a direction I did not anticipate.

Jesus came to earth for a purpose and it wasn’t so that we could spend too much money giving gifts and sing carols once a year.  He came, fully God and wrapped in confining flesh, to do nothing less that offer salvation to a lost world.  To save us.  To show us the greatest love that the world has ever known.  At any time He could have given up.  He could have decided that it was too uncomfortable to live a life limited by the constraints of a human body. He could have returned to Heaven. Every day that He lived on Earth he made a choice to finish he task that was set before Him.  A task that was more than difficult but had a greater purpose than the suffering He would endure.

Everyone has to make hard choices.  As Christ-followers we have the choice to seek out our purpose in life.  The purpose that God Himself placed before us.  We have to choose to carry on when things get hard, when our lives don’t turn out like we thought they would and even when it doesn’t seem fair or when we think that someone else has it better than us.  We have to choose to stick around and not run away, to lean into our struggles and accept them as they build our character and sift out the ugliness of our flesh even as they make us more like Christ Himself.  Our choice doesn’t lead to the salvation of the world.  But our choice can lead our families to salvation.

One of the choices our family has to make every day is how to view autism in our lives.  We could choose to feel sorry for ourselves and to get mired in the why’s.  We could choose to compare our lives and our calling with the callings of more “typical” families.  And sometimes we do just that.  We cry out to God for answers and for relief for us and for our sweet girl.  He is always gracious to answer us and that answer always remains “this is your purpose.  This is how my Glory will be played out in your lives.  This is how others will see Me through you.”  This answer is humbling and so full of love that it makes my heart swell.

What an amazing gift to give to my children at Christmas time: the gift of knowing that though God doesn’t always step in when times get hard, He always has a greater purpose in mind.  The greater Glory.  And if we are patient, and learn to listen and to wait we just might get to be a part of that Glory.