As a little girl I dreamt about being an actress. Actresses always seemed so confident, so fearless and strong. For a shy child like me, their confidence was awe-inspiring.
My natural inclinations are those of an introvert; confidence is not my strong suit. My educational and career paths required a more extroverted existence, however, so over the years I learned how to become a forced extrovert.
Today I’ll need to be both an actress and an extrovert.
I’m in Washington, DC for a series of work meetings and will have to temporarily shut off in my brain the all-consuming autism journey of the last few months. It feels like an impossible role. It’s all still so new, so raw. Yet the world keeps moving, so here I am.
After a few hours of meetings I’m feeling drained, but am excited to get to my one reprieve of the day: lunch with a former colleague who has become a close friend. We served in government together at a time of great challenge and intensity. Bonds forged in battle last a lifetime.
As I walk into a favorite downtown restaurant, I scan the crowd looking for my friend K, and burst into a grin when I see her at a table across the room. She spots me as I approach the table and jumps up to give me a hug as we both begin talking at once, eager to catch up.
Laughing at ourselves we take our seats and jump into conversation, ignoring the menus until the waiter comes by to ask for our orders. That task completed, K leans in and says, “So tell me what’s been going on. There’s something. I can see it all over your face.”
I should have known she would see through the role I’d been playing thus far today. True friends know the real you, so it’s easy to spot a mask, even when the mask is just to conceal pain.
“You’re right. There is,” I say, pausing for a deep breath and praying I won’t burst into tears in the middle of this busy restaurant.
“A few months ago E was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder,” I begin. “We didn’t see it coming at all, though looking back now we should have. It’s been a really difficult time as we try to figure out what we need to do, how to get him help, what it means for his future, and just everything. Honestly, I’m completely overwhelmed and have just been trying to hold it together today.” My voice breaks as I grab the napkin from the table, trying to dab away the tears threatening to flood from my eyes.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do,” I whisper, almost inaudibly.
Without hesitation K leans forward, looks directly in my eyes and says: “Your mission is about your son. You are going to do something related to autism, and you’re going to have great impact.”
She’s not making a suggestion, she’s stating a fact. I can feel the weight of conviction in her voice. I can see the fervor in her eyes.
This is not the first time she has spoken into my life with that kind of clarity and conviction. Seven years ago I called her the night I’d been asked to take an assignment as part of a recovery team in a disaster zone. I had accepted the assignment, then called her immediately to share the news and get her gut check on whether I’d made the right decision. After hearing my 30-second summary of the news and next steps, she said only this: “You are going to meet your husband there.”
“What?!” I’d responded, the topic of dating or meeting someone the furthest thing from my mind in that conversation.
“I know. Trust me, you’re going to meet your husband there. I’m sure of it,” she replied. I had goosebumps from head to toe.
She was right. Less than two months later, in the middle of a disaster zone, my husband and I met each other and were married the following year.
Now, more than seven years later, she’s done it again. The goosebumps are back.
My mind is racing. What does this mean? Am I supposed to change careers? What can I even do that might have an impact in the autism world?
“Peace, be still.”
The words are as loud as if the waiter walked up and said them to me. But he didn’t.
I know this voice. And just like K, He is not making a suggestion. This is a command. A command to be at peace. To let go, to trust Him. To calm the storm brewing in my head as I race to figure things out on my own.
I am nodding my head at K, and I hear myself saying, “I think you’re right. I don’t have any idea what that will look like, but you’re right. This is part of my mission.”
At that moment, an unseen door opened. A door formed by a choice to believe a mission spoken into my life. A door opened by a willingness to act on it.
For the last few months I’ve been thinking about all of the doors closing in our life because of this diagnosis. The reality is the diagnosis opened a door to a world, a community, and specific people who E’s life is meant to impact in some way.
This mission is bigger than E. It’s bigger than me. It’s beyond my understanding at this moment, and certainly beyond my capacity. That’s how I know it’s right.
At the end of me is Him. His mission is the entire world. My mission is the part of that world that lies on the other side of the door He is opening. The door my son is leading me through.
Take a deep breath, forced extrovert. Here we go.