Recently someone I know posted on facebook about it being special needs/autism week. You’ve seen the statuses. They ask for understanding. Underneath the status the person commented about God loving people with ADD/ADHD, special needs and autism. This sat with me wrong. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I didn’t feel like this addressed the issue at all.
Never once in my journey as a mother of an autistic child have I doubted God’s love for me, for Shelby or for anyone else for that matter. Have there been difficult times? Yes, multitudes of them, but that never meant God didn’t or stopped loving me or our family. I began to re-read the status and think about the idea of God’s love.
How are we shown God’s love in our life? Well, there are two main ways. One is through the blessings we receive. Good health, financial well-being, fulfilling work…those types of things. But there is another, and to me, more important way: the love, as witnessed by the actions, of others. I think back to the second reading from my wedding:
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved the us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us.
This is how we know that we remain in him and he in us, that he has given us of his Spirit. Moreover, we have seen and testify that the Father sent his Son as savior of the world. Whosever acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God remains in him and he in God. We have come to know and to believe in the love God has for us.
God is love, and whoever remains in love remains in God and God in him. ~1 John 4:7-16
This led me to re-read the Gospel of John and the new commandment given by Jesus:
I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. ~John 13:34-35
So, to be perfectly clear, Jesus commanded us to love one another and through our love, His love would be made known. AND God is love and when we love others, we are showing that we are “of God.”
The question then becomes, how to do love others?
In the case of our example above of the family of a special needs person, that is first by acceptance. Acceptance that this family has a situation that may or may not be experienced by us and that they need our love and our help. We show our love through our works as well as our words. Someone who constantly says, “I love you,” without the actions to back it up, is not loving his or her neighbor as Jesus loves them. In romantic relationships, we often use the phrase, “talk is cheap.” The offending partner is invoked to “show” that he or she loves the other. The same is true in our example.
While each of us has some limitations in what we can do, let me assure you from personal experience, no act of kindness or love is ever too small. When Shelby was an infant screaming in her carseat as I tried to get her in the car in a sudden downpour outside a grocery store, a woman and her two teenagers approached. The woman held an umbrella over Shelby while I got her in the car, her two teenage sons began loading my groceries in my trunk and put my cart back for me. When I thanked her, she said simply, “We can’t all do it alone. That’s why God gave us each other.” I have held that saying close to my heart since that day. When a friend who lost her job offered to watch my kids so I could go to the eye doctor, I tried to pay her for babysitting but she refused although she could use the money, she felt better helping out and felt we needed our money more than she needed it. She knew it was difficult for me to find someone trusted enough to watch Shelby and stepped up. I have a million small stories like these. And in each of them, I felt God’s love.
If you know a family in your community or parish struggling with an illness or a special needs child, rather than offering your facebook status to them, offer to take a meal over or to watch the kids for an hour. Recently I saw a mother struggling with her son in a store. While others stood in judgment, my heart went out to her. Could her son be normally developing and just cutting up? Sure. But for all I knew, he could be autistic and this could be me and Shelby one day. As I walked past her I reached my hand to her shoulder and said, “I just want you to know, you’re doing a great job,” and smiled. She looked back with tears in her eyes and whispered, “Thank you.” It wasn’t profound, but it filled that need when it was needed. Imagine if I had just smiled goofily and said, “Jesus loves you!” Would that have been in anyway helpful or significant. If someone had done that to me I would have been confused. Really? What? But by showing her I cared and knew that parenting wasn’t hard, conveyed that message two-fold, “I love you and Jesus does.” It doesn’t have to be huge or cost money. Jesus’ love is very abstract. Human love is not. So remember, to show Jesus’ love, show your own. As St Francis of Assisi once said, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary…use words.”