To continue the series for Autism Awareness Month, this is a guest post by my dad that was originally written as a devotional. He truly captured the blessings and sanctifying work Christ has done in my family as we have embraced Richelle and her story.
Written April 30th, 2007 by Richard E. Buckner
Sometimes Christ visits us in the most unexpected ways. Take for example my little girl Richelle. She’s ten and will soon be eleven, and she likes to pretend. Whatever she sees on TV, whether it’s on video or a Saturday morning cartoon, she imitates. Sometimes she’s a princess, dressed in a pink robe with a plastic tiara atop her head. Or she’s a penguin tapping her happy feet, or maybe a puppy who dispenses puppy kisses and nose nudges to everyone she meets.
Richelle is a merry little pixie flitting through life sparkling with exuberant delight–but that is not the complete story of Richelle. There is something else you should know. When she was about three, she was diagnosed as moderately autistic. That means she lives in two different worlds. She’s in the one we all know, where teeth need brushing, shirts need buttoning, and shoes need tying. But she also lives in Richelle’s world, where unicorns fly, fish talk, and mermaids sing. Richelle lives in both worlds and often brings one in touch with the other. Sometimes that can be embarrassing, but often it’s not only wonderful but also enlightening.
When your child is autistic, you’re fraught with mixed feelings. Sometimes your grief is deep–especially when you see your four-year-old son talking, playing, and learning in ways that are beyond the ability of your daughter who is over twice his age. Sometimes the ache is especially wrenching when she sits with a book, pretending to read because her mommy, daddy, and big sister do, all the while she can barely decipher a single word and much less make sense of an entire phrase.
“She’s a doorway for us into the world of others like her. Because of her we are a little more patient, a little more understanding, and maybe even a little more Christlike. She is a means of grace.”
Yes, when your child is autistic, you are sometimes heartsick for what your child will never become or ever get to do. But more often than not you see what a wonder your child truly is. Before Richelle came, we would see special people like her working in Hy-vees and Wal-Marts, greeting people or laboring away at some task. We would pass them without a second thought or maybe even secretly see them as annoying distractions. They just didn’t make sense to us and we could overlook them easily. But since Richelle has entered our lives, we look at people like her differently. Behind each is a story–parents grieving over lost hopes but rejoicing over small triumphs; courageous first steps mixed with heart-wrenching set backs–each life story is filled with much of the same living and loving we find in our life with little Richelle.
We have all been touched by Richelle to see those challenged like her in a whole new way. At school my 13-year-old writes poems about her and befriends kids like her, knowing her sister will also need a friend someday. My sister-in-law has redirected her studies so she can help other little ones just like her special niece. We all have changed a great deal since Richelle came into our lives. She’s a doorway for us into the world of others like her. Because of her we are a little more patient, a little more understanding, and maybe even a little more Christlike. She is a means of grace.
“…we all should see traces of Christ in each person we meet, especially those in need. When we allow the Father to change us so we love Him and all He loves, we will start to see people a little differently.”
When I think of Richelle, I think of what Jesus said about the sheep and goats in Matt. 25:31-46. He said the righteous—the sheep—would be known by how they treated the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned. In serving them they unknowingly served Him. I think Jesus wanted us to see that all people have a special story and if we look close enough, we can see His story in theirs. Just as my family can see traces of Richelle’s life in the lives of other special kids, we all should see traces of Christ in each person we meet, especially those in need. When we allow the Father to change us so we love Him and all He loves, we will start to see people a little differently. If we get a glimpse of God’s Son and His love when we meet others, maybe we all will be a little more patient, a little more understanding, and maybe even a little more Christlike.
Christ does visit us in surprising ways. Sometimes He meets us in a coworker having an especially rough day or a next-door neighbor needing help with her yard work. Sometimes He’s that person with special challenges who greets us when we enter a store. And sometimes He’s right up close to us, giving us puppy kisses and nose nudges and letting us know another more wonderful world is breaking through into our own. Let’s keep our hearts open to where Christ is in the people we are with today. Let’s ask Him to help us see His story in theirs. When we can do this, we may just find ourselves loving and serving others in just the same way we love and would want to serve Him.
So may God bless you and visit you this day and throughout this brand-new week. May He show you himself in everyone you meet.
About the Author
Richard E. Buckner is the ministry product line editor of Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City. Richard holds a BA and MA in religion from Southern Nazarene University and an MDiv from Nazarene Theological Seminary, where he served as reader for the professor of Christian history and graduated summa cum laude. He has edited numerous books for pastors and church ministries, including several textbooks. Richard loves and cherishes his wife and three kids through his endearing use of dad-jokes and consistently pointing them to Christ.