Some days I wake up and feel like I can conquer the day. Today is not one of those days.
Last night my anxiety-ridden mind would not shut down. I made the mistake of surfing the internet before bed, reading more articles about autism and stories from other parents. One story was from a Mom of a severely autistic little boy very close in age to E, and in it she referred to herself as an “autism Mom.” My breath caught in my throat when I read that description.
Autism Mom. Is that what I am now? Will this diagnosis so consume our life that my entire identity outside of it will no longer exist? The mere thought is like a dagger plunged into the heart of all of my dreams.
To attempt to short circuit the fear threatening to arrest me, I began to read from the Psalms:
“The Lord gives strength to His people; the Lord blesses His people with peace,” read one.
“My soul clings to you; Your right hand upholds me,” read another.
Then the familiar words of Psalm 139: “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”
I went to bed repeating the verses to myself, praying that as I slept my heart would adopt the truths I was speaking, and I would wake up peaceful, hopeful, empowered. Things always look better in the morning, after all, after some rest.
Here I am, the morning sun peeking over the horizon, its rays starting to pour through our bedroom window like a kiss from the Creator.
How could I NOT feel hopeful? Ready to take on this day? Ready to conquer it? Why am I still burdened with fear over the idea of this identity – of being an “autism Mom”?
Grief. I’m grieving, I realize suddenly. Grieving a death without the illness. A sudden, unexpected death. It’s like a truck came out of nowhere and crashed into my identity – killing the vision of what I thought my life would look like, of the dreams I had for my family and me. Or at least a lot of them.
I’ve curled up in my bed now, crying over this death and not ready to get up to face the day. Frustrated with myself for sinking into this place. Despair is not me. But it’s all just so overwhelming right now.
As I reach over to the bedside table to grab tissues my hand brushes across my Bible, laying there from last night.
“God, are you here?” I say out loud, between sobs. “Can you feel this pain in my heart?” More sobs. “It’s crushing me right now, God. I can’t do this. Help. Please.”
I make a silent deal in my head with Him. I’ll open my Bible and read, and He has to show me something there that will help me process this. Help me to get through this day. (The audacity, I know.)
The pages fall open to Deuteronomy and I begin to read chapter 6. Moses is speaking to the Israelites, still in the wilderness after years of wandering.
Wilderness – check.
He’s instructing them on how to live as free people, something they had not been for centuries.
Unfamiliar lifestyle, needing instruction – check.
Moses commands: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”
“These words which I am commanding you today shall be on your heart,” the passage continues.
My heart. My heart should be defined by the fact that I love Him with all of it. With every ounce of my soul and might. That is to be my heart’s identity. Wow. I’ve read this a hundred times and never had it hit me like that.
Then this: “You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.”
Teach my son. My job is to teach my son to love God with his whole heart. And to rise up. Moses didn’t say “if” you rise up, he said “when” you rise up.
I sit up in my bed, fully aware that God is answering my challenge. And He’d answered it before I ever asked the question.
My identity is not rooted in any label others might ascribe, and I can’t fear those labels. Fear chokes out the love that should define me.
My son needs me to be love. My husband and daughter need me to be love.
God called me to be love.
That’s my identity. When I'm secure in that, my son will be too.
“Autism Mom” is simply a description, one that will lead me down a path lined with other parents like me.
And I will love them too.