What is that quote? Something about “God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called.” I think I saw it on a poster or card or something once. I’m starting to see how that is true for this new venture we are on with Samantha. Last night as I lay awake, trying to keep the tears at bay, I began thinking back over the ways God has been preparing me for her over the course of my life.
As a kid, I was pretty sheltered – in a good way. We lived in a tiny town (less than 400 people) and I could ride my bike anywhere I wanted by myself as long as I didn’t cross the highway. How many kids can claim that from the time they know how to ride a bike? I didn’t know about homelessness or poverty or disabilities. I didn’t see those hidden parts of the population, the ones that a lot of people can easily ignore or even deny the existence of.
I remember one of my first experiences with “different from me” was attending Catholic mass with a friend. Hey, when you grow up as a Lutheran pastor’s daughter, you rarely venture outside of that context. From there, God slowly expanded my horizons. I learned early on that the word “retard” is offensive, and I can’t ever remember being ok with racist commentary, though I also didn’t really hear it outside of television or movies until I was an adult.
Then later I started working at Camp Okoboji and saw Ginny working with her Joy Campers. It was a weekend camp she ran for kids with developmental disabilities. Ginny was a long-time teacher who did not allow the staff to say words like “shut up” or “stupid.” Oh, if those were the worst words people used today! She loved those kids with all her might, and spent the whole year collecting stuffed animals to give out to them during camp. If Ginny were not already home in heaven, I would be giving her a call.
In college, I began to be exposed to my own fears – I went to a school that valued community service, particularly serving in poverty-stricken areas. I avoided all of it. It’s not something I’m proud of, just a fact that I look back on now and see where my fears were. What was I scared of? I’m not sure any more.
At one point I thought I was going to be an elementary teacher, so I took a semester of education classes. The semester showed me I am NOT meant to teach children in a classroom every day, but I also was blessed to take one class called Inclusive Classroom. The class covered all of the ways in which education needs to and can be made available to every child, no matter what mental, physical, or emotional challenges they have.
Towards the end of my time as a student, I began working for a group home company that serves adults with developmental disabilities. That’s where I remember learning about the “hidden population” idea. I spent a lot of time with two women who were beautiful inside and out who taught me a lot about what people can do when they are given the opportunity to overcome their obstacles. I learned about the concept of putting people first – as in, “there’s a woman who is blind” as opposed to “there is a blind woman.” It’s a small difference but one that makes an impact – the person is first, not the disability. I spent a short time doing similar work after graduation, but the values of the company in St. Louis were different and I was frustrated not by the clients I worked with but by the massive amounts of time I had to spend driving to get to them.
Then finally, when we lived in New York, I spent two years working for a charitable organization, a clearinghouse ministry that served the poverty-stricken in our community. I burned out rather quickly between compassion fatigue for the countless individuals who were unable to get the services they truly needed, and frustration over the ones who worked the system instead of just working. Believe me, it is not always easy to distinguish the difference, particularly when someone suffers from a mental disorder.
These aren’t the only experiences or memories that come to mind, but they are some of the most significant.
I can see now, looking back, that God used these experiences to help prepare me to be Samantha’s mom. I have a greater awareness of the kinds of services that will be available to her in her life should she need them. I may not know exactly what is around here, but I know what to look for. I know what kinds of things to advocate and fight for. I never expected this calling, and I am still very frightened by it. But I see God’s hand in my life.
I also believe that is why we weren’t blessed with Samantha until this point in our marriage. The two of us needed to grow and mature both separately and as a couple in order to be ready for the challenges ahead. We also need family support, which is coming in by the bucketful this year, and to be in a place where so much health care is available to us.
Time to go – she’s awake and needing some snuggles.