I have always wanted to make a difference.
As a child, when I saw another child being bullied, I would sit beside them. I didn’t know how to make friends. To be honest, I’m not sure I ever will but that wasn’t why I sat beside them. I sat beside them because I felt this physical pain when I saw someone else in pain.
As a teenager, I would do random things like put my spare change on top of pay phones with a note that said “Pay it forward.” I was so determined to simply make a difference in someone else’s life. I was mocked for bringing my Bible to school, bullied for not ever fitting in….My clothes never quite seemed to be good enough. I thought I needed to be popular to have friends as I went from school to school. It never happened and I usually had very few friends. I was wrong in my thinking but I would learn an important lesson later on.
As I got older I looked for ways to do simple acts of kindness. There was something so incredible about seeing joy on someone else’s face. To see them light up. It made me light up too.
When I graduated from high school I moved to Los Angeles where I saw poverty and felt it just the same. I remember the day I cut up my moving boxes and laid them down on steel springs with a blanket. This was to be my bed for awhile. I started to feel some bitterness but I was still determined. I still tried to find ways to help the less fortunate regardless whether it was handing someone my bus pass on my walk home from work or buying a sandwich for someone pan handling. They didn’t know that I often ate only once a day myself.
There were relationships I endured thinking “What would Jesus do?” I started feeling… tired and I will never forget hitting rock bottom living in a motel in a city I barely knew singing myself to sleep. Although rock bottom seemed like it was to be the norm for awhile.
That was ten years ago. Let me tell you what I’ve learned since. I just turned twenty nine years old and I wasn’t diagnosed with ASD until I was twenty-three. I still want to make a difference every single day but there was something missing. I had missed the mark somewhere in my journey.
Selflessness and unconditional love are important and were something I believe Jesus wanted us to show others more than anything else but they are lost when you lose sight of self worth. I had forgotten to take care of myself. I had forgotten that I meant something too. I was so consumed with taking care of others, I had forgotten that in order to give back, we first need something to offer.
This means something different for everyone but to me, this Easter, as I reflect on the Cross, I feel gratitude. I think of how Jesus had nothing Earthly but everything Heavenly to offer every one he met and served.
For some reason, this year, everywhere I turn people seem to be offering joy back. At first I felt a deep sense of shame. I thought “Why would someone care so much about me?” At first I thought, perhaps…they must pity me. Then I realized that there is something magical about learning to accept joy and love. That it’s not always about offering it. Learning to accept love in return is not an easy task for me and I have a feeling I’m not the only one.
This year…I am letting go of pain and hanging on to love. I still feel dedicated to finding ways to give back but I’m taking the time to absorb and reflect on the many ways others have shown me the same. That’s where my cup fills up. That is what inspires me to keep going.
As most of you know, this month is also Autism Awareness Month, I want to ask you this – when we look at the example we have been given by whichever religion we follow- was there ever a moment where our God (or Gods) ever suggested we should offer anything but compassion for those around us? Were we ever encouraged to judge others for being different? No.
So let us be different but united by what moves us to stand firm and advocate for ourselves or loved ones or both. Let us give back but accept what we are given. Let us find peace in the knowing that our struggles only make us stronger. Let us find that the red, blue, and yellow ribbon is not just an unfinished puzzle, but something that ties us together.