“Life simply has a way of breaking us down to the point where we feel our uniqueness is a curse to the world instead of a blessing.”– Matthew Barnett
When I was a little, I was nothing like the other kids around me. I was noticeably different, and being different was weird. Often other children would avoid me or tell me to leave because I wasn’t cool enough or was too annoying. So, I began to conform.
My personality became an interchangeable mask that blended in with the environment. Like a chameleon, I changed with my surroundings. Personality was like a protective camouflage to hide me from the world. My likes, dislikes and opinions changed with the crowd. I would change so often that I became numb to who I really was. Yet, no matter how hard I tried, it never seemed to be enough to cover up my differences. I wanted so hard to escape my differences, not yet knowing that the differences and personality God gave me were a gift waiting to be unwrapped.
I was given the key to this gift shortly after my 16thbirthday when I was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. This was a great blessing. ASD gave me new opportunities to discover and finally understand why I was different. Through it, I was able to learn about the personality I tried to bury for so long, as well as learn about some of the obstacles I had been facing my entire life. But most importantly, when I learned I was autistic, I finally felt the freedom to show my personality, my likes, dislikes and my opinions.
Being autistic was the gift of an open door. God was welcoming me to embrace my differences, without shame, telling me that he had made me this way, on purpose, for his glory.
My God is not a God who makes mistakes.
Isaiah 43:7 highlights these truths in a simple and beautiful way. Isaiah writes “everyone who bears my name and is created for my glory, I have formed them; indeed, I have made them.” God created everyone in his image, for his glory, and he wrote a story of unique design for everyone.
For me, he gave me the unique design of being autistic. Though being autistic comes with many challenging obstacles, it also comes with beautiful strengths. I see the world in a completely different way than most. I view people and approach challenges from perspectives that would not be possible if I was not on the spectrum. So often society tells us that a little difference is good, but be careful not to stand out too much, or you will not fit it with the world. When we believe the lies that say we should not walk outside the confines of “normal,” we are speaking lies of rejection and teaching others that if they show too much of who they are, they are unworthy of community and love.
For those of us who serve overseas, we have chosen to leave what we know, enter a culture, and live with a people not our own. But we must remember that God created them in his image too. Learning and adapting to a culture not our own forces us to look at the world differently and to do things we otherwise might never have done.
As I was preparing to move to Southeast Asia, I feared the unknown barriers that would come with a new language and culture. I feared my ASD would make my transition and immersion harder. While there have been challenges, I now see how my ASD has been a great asset in learning how to live here. Having grown up struggling with communication and having to learn and advocate for myself in these areas, I was able to apply those to learning culture and language.
Yes, I have encountered obstacles because of being on the spectrum, but once I began to view my differences as a gift instead of a problem, it opened a greater opportunity for the Lord to use me. Matthew Barnett writes in his book Misfits Welcome,“being different doesn’t disqualify you from a dynamic life, it prepares you.” Once we embrace the gift of being different, we see and reflect Christ on a whole new level. Embracing our differences also shows others that our unique design is a gift. Our differences can and do help others and glorify God.
So, as we go about our day, take a moment, thank the Lord and embrace your quirky differences. Walk in confidence that he made you in perfect love, for his glory.
How has the Lord uniquely created you? I encourage you to ask him to highlight specific things. How can you use your unique personality and giftings to help others?
Are you preparing to return to your passport country after serving on the field? Are you in the midst of settling in to a new normal? Our Re-entry Kit is designed just for you! The kit includes a live class on May 22nd, hosted by Danielle Wheeler and Sarah Hilkemann, as well as access to a private Facebook community to help you process your re-entry journey, and a timed email series that shows up right in your inbox with tips and encouragement. Check out the re-entry toolkit by clicking on the button to learn more!