In my peripheral vision I noticed 5-year-old Gabriel looking in my son’s direction during Divine Liturgy. He was curiously studying some behavior that I could not see because my father was next to Michael, and between us. I leaned back to see what oddity Michael was up to this time. Sporty blue, gray and red Tommy Hilfiger knock-off sweater pulled over the top of his head, he looked back at me with his sweet baby blues and long eyelashes – he looked like a cross between an ancient head-covered woman disciple of Christ and an other-worldly, cherubic alien, save the newly budding mustache.
There was a time when Michael’s odd behaviors would send shivers of shame throughout my body, and to be honest there are still times – though fewer and farther between. I have come to a place in our walk with our child’s Autism and Down Syndrome and Sensory Processing Disorder that is one not only of acceptance, but even amusement over the little quirks that are a part of who Michael is and what his body experiences. What once was embarrassment at abnormal behaviors has morphed into feelings of endearment. Once apologetically I would sigh, “Yes, that’s my child;” now proudly and smilingly I boast, “Yes, that’s my child.”
I am thankful for his life.
My nearly 95 year-old grandfather has some interesting habits. As a child I would often feel a bit embarrassed and even queasy, when at a red light he would open up his driver side door and spit out dollops of chewing tobacco-laden, brown grossness onto the street. Last year we talked him into handing over his car keys, but there’s no talking him into handing over his Copenhagen. He shuffles along with his walker, often balancing a plastic “spittoon” in one hand as he goes. I watch him persevere with one perpetually tobacco-bulging cheek, hunched over, slow yet determined, in his long gray cardigan. My heart swells with love for this man, and gratitude to the Lord that I still have the honor of beholding my beloved Gramp this side of heaven.
I am thankful for him.
It’s a funny thing how the fragility of life can make us that much more grateful for it. When my heart is full of thanks there’s no more room in it for shame, embarrassment, or sadness. Behaviors I once thought dreadful have become emblems of beauty – because of the beauty of the people who express them. Sometimes this happens when we are separated from someone we care about because of a relocation, job change, losing touch, business trip, illness, or even death. The absence of the person we once saw frequently may at first be a relief or feel like a needed break; over time though we begin to miss them more and more – quirks and idiosyncrasies included.
How much more then does our Lord miss us - quirks, weaknesses, bad habits and all - when we wander from Him. If we fallen human beings love and cherish people with all their oddities, weaknesses, and even sins, imagine how infinitely much more Christ loves us! We have moments of clarity when we see the beauty of the person before us for who he or she really is. He sees who we really are with all the beauty He endowed us with, always.
Today, I am full of thanks for all the quirky, abnormal, obsessive behaviors that accompany the family members and friends who surround me. It might take me longer to say the same of myself; it’s harder for me to accept my own weaknesses. Nevertheless grateful for the love I believe He’s put in my heart for others, I trust that He sees me the same way. I imagine Him watching me with all my strange, (well-hidden), unpleasant habits and weaknesses and still He smiles and says, “Yes, that’s my child.”
Presvytera Melanie DiStefano is the Resource Coordinator for the GOA Center for Family Care.