The pastor at our church has been working hard with all of us faithful churchgoers, trying to coach us into an authentic intergenerational community. He has spoken about how we need to share our stories with each other in order to develop this authenticity and community. Time and time again I have seen the power in this simple process. When we share our stories, we share what God has done in our lives. We share our hopes, our fears, our sins, our redemption. We begin to appreciate other people for who they are, and how they inspire us. We end up joining our journeys together, becoming stronger, more resilient, and more alive in the process.
God did not create us to live alone. We are designed for community.
April is Autism Awareness Month. Our first Autism Awareness Month as an official autism family. As such, I have struggled with what to do. I am interested and excited to view Autism Awareness Month from an “inside” position, from a place of more knowledge and more curiosity.
I also feel called to share something of our story. This isn’t so easy. We are connected to real people here in our real lives, friends and family who know us and our story, who have been supporting us all along. And we have other people in our real lives, those acquaintances and facebook friends that don’t know all the gritty details. Finally, we have the extended family and distant friends, separated by distance and busy lives and yet connected through history and love. Who do I share our story with? How? What do I say?
This year I have decided to start small. I don’t feel comfortable explaining Jake’s diagnosis on facebook, and I don’t feel like all the people I am loosely connected to online need to know all about it yet. I am not ashamed of him or the diagnosis, rather I want to protect him, allow him to form his identity before I go about creating one for him online. Also, the way information travels through facebook troubles me. People he hasn’t yet met could hear about him and form opinions about him without meeting him in person.
However, our there are some people who are different in a few interesting ways. One, they will probably never spend much time with my kids. Life is just too busy, we are separated by so many miles. People who I spent so much of my childhood with are creating childhoods for their children and the only way we are currently related is online.
And yet, this is a good way to connect and form an authentic community. I can share our journey so far, be open about what we are going through, and create a deeper connection between us. I know when I get an email, a phone call, or even a Christmas card, it thrills me. I feel like we are still related, connected, on different paths but still journeying together.
The reason we don’t have authentic community is often fear. Fear of being misunderstood, of being judged, or of bringing up something that will offend. There is a huge desire in my generation to be heard, to tell our story, to share what is going on with my life. This partially comes out of living a life saturated with social media. I don’t think that all we crave is our fifteen minutes of fame, however. I think we are craving a community, a support, a sense that we are not alone in our journey. I know how much I’ve changed in the last six years. I feel like I am a completely different person. One with more sympathy, more empathy, more real friends, and much less judgment and fear in my life. This is because I have been on a journey, and I have had people to share it with me. People to cry with me, encourage me, pray for me, and inspire me. Some of these people are very close to me and others have never heard of me.
It comes from sharing our stories. Being authentic with people. I don’t invite shame. I don’t invite judgment. Not happening here.
Bruce Springsteen wrote in his song “Into the Fire,”
May your strength give us strength
May your faith give us faith
May your hope give us hope
May your love give us love
This prompted me to send an email explaining Jake’s diagnosis, autism, and the blog a little to some treasured, more distant, people. I am so happy about it. I know they can relate to some of the parenting stuff that we are all going through. I know they can relate to caring so much about our kids that we are diving in without a thought. I know that they don’t know what to say, don’t know how to respond. It’s all good. I feel like I am spreading awareness, I am hoping I am spreading hope. Thank you for being a part of my community.