Over the years as I've shared stories about my family during our conferences for moms, many of them have been "Nathan stories." There were just so many fun and interesting happenings that involved him, I suppose! And so, afterward women would come to me and say, "I have a Nathan, too!" It seems many of us are parenting children who pull our strings and push our buttons all at the same time!
Of course, many of these children are just typical, busy, excited, full-of-life children, and even that by definition can be exhausting. Others are truly outside-the-box in diagnosable terms. Whichever type of different child you are personally dealing with, we hope our book, Different, will be encouraging to you. Nathan and I share a bit of our story, here ...
Nathan: I’ve always known I was different. It wasn’t something I chose or an identity I one day decided to wear. Being different is woven into the very fabric of who I am. Part of it comes from the various “disorders” that have challenged me and my family, and part of it simply comes from the outside-the-box personality God decided to give me.
Being different has made itself evident in every corner of my life, peeking out and reminding me whenever I start to think I might be normal.
I know I’m different because when other children were content with walking on the sidewalk, I felt the need to climb the rails. Because when others’ questions would stop, mine seemed to go on without end, often frustrating those who ran out of answers.
I know I’m different because when I was fifteen I began taking six showers a day and washing my hands until they bled.
I know I’m different because my mind seems to change channels at will, making it nearly impossible to focus on any one thing for more than a few minutes.
I know I’m different because no matter how hard I looked at the math problem or how many times my tutor explained it, my mind simply couldn’t grasp the simple numerical basics that seemed to come so easy to my friends and siblings.
I know I’m different because while I long for affection, I am often scared to touch the ones I love for fear of contaminating them.
I know I’m different because even now as a twenty-seven- year-old adult, there are times when the weight of the world seems so heavy I don’t feel able to leave my apartment.
I know I’m different because I’ve been told so by every important person in my life.
Sally: There are an infinite number of ways to be different and to feel like one doesn’t fit in. The difference can be personality driven. It can involve physiological issues, mental illness, or emotional issues, and can be shaped by experience. (Nathan’s case, it turned out, did involve several clinical disorders as well as a number of personality quirks that set him apart from the crowd.) And feeling different—being different—is something our culture, especially our Christian culture, does not talk about much. People often turn their heads away from people and situations they don’t understand and pretend they do not exist. And the words “mental illness” can make them positively squirm.
But the truth is, all of us are a little bit quirky in some way or another. All of us have Achilles’ heels, uniquely vulnerable areas of our bodies, minds, and personalities. And some of us, to be honest, are a little quirkier than others—which is why we struggle so much and why other people—especially parents, teachers, and authority figures—have a hard time dealing with us. We are not convenient to their expectations of how life ought to play itself out.
But these personality differences, these outside-the-box preferences and approaches to life, don’t have to be liabilities. Or they don’t have to be only liabilities. They can actually be a gift to us and to others who are willing to look at life through our unique lenses.
How are you or your children different? Have you learned--or are you, like me, still learning?!--to accept and see those differences as blessings?