“Oh Sam!” My head is in my hands. It's been hours. Hours. Hours.
Every day I help Sam take notes from his History textbook. The whole pedagogical point, I believe, is to teach students how to read material and glean for the most important points that they will then highlight to remember. The filters required for such an undertaking though, require time, practice and interest. It should be getting easier, faster.
Neither is true for my middle son. He struggles. He clenches his fists, he cries tears of silent anger and fear. He looks at me, sheer sorrow contouring his face, “It’s not my fault that I’m slow Mommy.” I am silent. After a minute cataloging my own shame at pushing this most sensitive child, I take his hand and unclench his fist.
“What’s going on Sam?”
“I just can’t do it like everyone else. I can’t remember right. I try but I just can’t. I’m just slow.”
“Sam,” I swallow hard and try again “you are NOT slow. You are not anything but you. And who you are is pretty great.”
He nods, withdraws his hand and tries to look at the American Indians and consider the small section on the Trail of Tears. Maybe he doesn’t believe it, but it’s my job to make it okay. Because Sam thinks differently.
“Are there words here in this passage that you aren’t sure of? Do you know what all the words mean?” Shakes head. Okay, so give me one. We look up “crop,” “harvest,” and “territory” in our student dictionary. We talk about the meaning in the sentence. And we re-read the passage. His brothers are playing and laughing, Sam looks over at the noise, acknowledges it and sets his face forward. He doesn’t want to be here anymore than I do, but it’s what’s necessary for him to learn.
“So the tribe moved from Virginia to Oklahoma right?” He nods. “Why do you think the book calls it the Trail of Tears?” Shrugs. I move both Sam and myself to the huge map of the United States we have. “Find Virginia.” He does and he traces the path from Virginia to Oklahoma. He looks up at me with worry, “that’s a long way.” I nod. “They did that on foot?” Another nod. “That’s why so many people died. All they were doing was staying in one place the way they always had. Then one day they were forced to move. That’s not right Mommy.” He got it. It took the better part of this weekend afternoon, but he got it.
Sam thinks differently.
His brain processes information in ways that are visual and tactical. It is a much longer way of learning than our fast-paced system allows for. It means longer nights and varying methods other than memorization that allows an answer in and out quicker than a revolving door. For it to stay—knowledge, understanding—it has to be done differently.
Because of the different way Sam thinks he may be the last one to answer, but he’s the first one to go to another’s aid. He was the first of his brothers to receive a “caring band,” a rubber bracelet given between students at school acknowledging an act of kindness witnessed. In Sam’s case? It was seeing a child sitting alone at lunch and making sure he sat with him and stayed until that child was laughing and talking and feeling okay.
He may forget steps in problem solving but thinks fast to stop a hurt before it happens: “But why did Api say that to you?” asks Jake “JAKE! Mommy doesn’t need to relive that. She went through it once. Don’t do that!”
Sam has no shortage on love. And I believe that being different has made all the difference.
I’ve written about my remarkable middle son before, and he still stuns me with his optimism and his sheer tenacity. It’s easy, almost expected to boast about our child’s achievements, academic or otherwise, to demand excellence because its glory somehow shines a singular light on our own perception of our parenting. But Sam tries harder, fights harder and thinks differently, and I have to tell you, in helping Sam, in teaching Sam, I’ve found myself learning a lot more about how to think of everything differently.
And that’s what I’m inviting you to do this Christmas season. Whatever you have done or thought or considered—do it differently.
It may be unusual to have a holiday post begin this way, but I don’t think so, not really. This season of advent, of waiting, we consider the coming of Christ. A man who was very very different. Who sought not the high but the low, who spent time with the least to give them his best. Who did not judge or condemn but shared love and promises of a hopeful future. Then as now, different is difficult. Different is scary.
We need to be different.
Our thoughts about people, places, things—they need to be different. We can no longer accept blindly what is told to us. We have to search for another side to understanding. We need to look harder at what labels we have placed and the jars in which we have placed our dreams. Our categories need to be more fluid. Because when we open ourselves up to the possibility of difference, we find grace. And we are all in desperate need of it. Sam’s figured this out already. I’m a much slower study.
In one of the best shows on television, This is Us, the winter finale finds Randall’s biological father, William, in a Narcotics Anonymous meeting saying words that shook me hard: “I didn’t know if it was from God or what,” he said, “I did not expect God’s grace but now I had to open myself to the pain of it…to feel the joy of it.”
I had to open myself up to the pain of God’s grace
in order to feel the joy of it.
Because in that reconciliation is healing. Man, do we need healing. Our hurts are high as a people. Without allowing for the consideration of forgiveness, the idea that we can look at a situation differently, that no wo/man should be defined by one mistake, we can begin to feel grace. And grace doesn’t always come softly as a winter snow. It can come by fire.
|"If you are doing anything of worth, then the enemy is|
doing everything in his power to make you quit. The
pressure, the discouragement, the inadequacy all
is a giant ploy to shut you down. What are you going
to do?" Jennie Allen
So no, grace doesn’t always come to us softly and quietly and gently. If there’s a battle present that is being fought that is making you unable to turn your head in any direction at all, then it’ll come painfully. And as that bond breaks freeing you from whatever has held you back? Well, then there’s joy. So great and so plentiful. I want that for you. We need to be different.
Different can be twisting a situation from rejection to opportunity. That person you want to get to know better? Who you keep asking out for coffee only to get a non-committal answer? It’s time to let that go. It’s not that she doesn’t like you. She just doesn’t have the time to get to know you. And that is freeing. Because now you have the time to caffeinate with the friend you already have and deepen that bond or rekindle one altogether.
Different can be action rather than reaction. You have an opinion, a strong one about the refugee crisis. Look at your week. Consider what you could have done without. The coffees? The take-away meals? The $22 pizza? Calculate the cost and donate that amount to a service agency of your choice. It was money you never missed.
Different is looking at another and finding commonality. Right now what scares us? Islam? Blackness? Whiteness? Gender identity? In my son’s classroom there are many nations, many faiths, many layers of difference. But you know what? When I ask another parent how her son is doing (because help me sister, I actually became a room parent this year), she tells me. And it no longer matters that she is in a hajib, and I am not. What does she represent to me? A mother who is worried about her boy. I get that. We’re the same. Under all that difference.
Different is loving anyway. Remember the scene I described in This is Us? Well, shortly after William’s beauty of remarks, another man speaks. This one is white and talks of searing pain at being left behind suddenly and rejected absolutely. Later we find out that the man who was speaking about pain and rejection is William’s lover.
When asked about how the audience may perceive this shift for his character’s father, Sterling Brown said, “I think the writers came up with a really wonderful way of organically introducing that this man who has been an artist his entire life, who had gone through NA, who’s been fighting cancer for quite some time, was able to make a soul connection with someone.
And the reason why it sort of speaks to me in that way is that any time you get a chance to introduce someone to someone that they already love who may be different than what they anticipated them being, do they rescind their love, or do they now have an eye-opening experience of saying, ‘Oh, man, I love this man. I didn’t see that as being a part of him. But now that I know that it’s part of him, I love him. I love him.’ So, I’m hoping that it’s a situation like that, where people who are very much enamored with William, when they find out this new aspect of his humanity, will stay right there in the midst of that love.”
What I took from this was profound, and I wish I could imprint it on every billboard in America: “Love him anyway.”
In the nutshell of our souls, the fortune buried deep within? The lesson we struggle so hard and violently from? Love anyway.
If you loved William before, nothing fundamentally about him has changed—except the gender of someone else he loved in his long painful life. You can still love William. Because he’s still amazing William. And we can love our friends and family no matter who they choose to love because of who they are. LOVE ANYWAY. Any which way.
Love hard. Love constantly. And love absolutely. But more than anything—love anyway. Despite it all. And because of it all. You must love.
You are different. Thank God you are different. Thank God you think and walk and talk and act differently than I do. Because of your difference, I am who I am. What a horrible world if the colors were forced only to be primary and not a box of 120. I hope there will never come a time that I am in a room with people who only think like I do; I hope I will always have the opportunity to be asked to think differently.
I want to tell you an old story I know. Of a young girl, terribly young. She was promised to a man who was much older than she was. But he was in a good position in the community, it brought honor to her family, so she agreed to it. It wasn’t the practice for her to have an education, so she didn’t have any real schooling.
She didn’t understand a lot about anything, but she had great faith in her community to guide her and keep her safe. She was so worried about messing up, disappointing someone, her parents especially. So when she found out she was going to have a baby, she just didn’t know what to do. She tried to explain to her fiancé, and he was shocked and angry. She waited to find out what would happen, because to be so different meant causing a lot of pain to a lot of people. A young (potentially) single mother was tantamount to being an outcast, for someone with little education and no means of financial support.
I know the first thoughts: How could she be that dumb? To get pregnant so young? So now she'll never get a job or contribute. I bet she doesn't even know the father. And I'll be working just to feed her and her kids.
But what if we looked at it differently?
A young woman scared. Feeling that everyone will refuse her. Worried about how she will provide for her unborn child. Worried about what mother she could be when she was little more than a child herself?
What if we saw her as someone who was trying?
What if we saw her as someone who was about to embark on a most important task that we could help with?
What if we supported instead of assumed?
What if we saw her for who she was, not what we placed on her?
Because you know this young girl. You know her story.
Because that young girl was Mary. And her baby came to find you. Mary chose differently. And when she saw her son choosing a road that she may have found unsafe, saw him healing others, only hearing about him because he kept choosing differently, it must have been hard. But what would have happened to all of us had she not chosen differently? What would have happened if she didn’t encourage her son to do the same?
God picked the most unlikely, the least of whom anyone expected anything from to create a miracle. He chose an unwed teenager to be the mother of his only son. He chose differently.
He wants us to be different too.
He’s still searching for you, you know? And you can be found so easily. By thinking differently and loving well. Because in removing the obstacles you have set in your mind you allow yourself the room, the permission, the fire, the grace and the joy to come to you. And then just as much of a miracle born in the least of these, differences melt away in the light of the greatest of all.
It’s time. It’s time to be different. May the grace and peace of this season of possibility give you hope and courage. Merry Christmas to you.