A new beginning

… when God begins to do a new thing, old things must pass away. […] in order to experience resurrection we, too, must die.

Ruth Haley Barton

In the warm cocoon of my friend’s home, gathered with a few trusted mentors, I found myself saying words I had felt in my soul but not yet dared to speak aloud:
“I feel a stirring within me. I don’t know what God’s doing exactly, but I know I’m not going to be teaching forever.”

It felt indulgent and ridiculous to suggest I might leave my career, my students I love, and my family’s assurance of health insurance. Yet, as the awkward words hung in the air, I knew they were true.

I’ve waited several years for those words to make sense. As Emily P. Freeman says, “Logic and limits often get in the way of longing.” Many legitimate, practical reasons meant I couldn’t quit my job without a clear direction of what to do next.

So, I ran to every opportunity instead, even when it didn’t sit right within my spirit. I applied for jobs I didn’t want. I even interviewed for a job I didn’t want.

Somewhere along the way I let myself die the little death of seeking understanding and control. I allowed myself to want the Giver more than the gift, knowing in time He would reveal His way to me.

This doesn’t mean I didn’t battle frustration or confusion. It does mean I stopped grasping at straws. I stopped praying for clarity and guidance and prayed instead for peace.

***

In the years after Henry’s diagnosis, three things happened inside of me.

First, learning about my son’s beautiful mind and my own mental health informed and shaped my teaching. My thoughts became less concerned with innovative group activities and turned instead to the student suffering from anxiety; the one who told me she was sexually assaulted; the one whose dad was murdered in his convenience store; and the ones who need disability accommodations. More and more, I thought of the students’ emotional needs, not their writing.

Second, I became a passionate advocate for the rights of individuals with autism and also for the parents of children who have special needs and disabilities. Those parents often need care for their own mental and emotional health, despite the fact they often believe they don’t have the time or money to do so. The unfortunate reality is that the entire family suffers and no one receives the level of care they need if the caregivers don’t prioritize their own well-being. 

I’m called, emailed, or otherwise messaged on a regular basis by families who have questions or need a listening ear. I’m honored to be a confidante, but I found myself wanting to help even more and not knowing how. I often wondered, is there such a thing as a special-needs-parent life coach?

Third, I’ve dusted cobwebs off the memories of the question, “Have you thought about being a counselor?” I heard this right up until the point I enrolled in a Masters program for English. The answer was always, “Yes, but it’s not for me.”  In the last few years, however, a new idea began to form: Maybe all this time God knew the answer was really, ‘Yes, but not yet.’

***

The stirring within me, as you might have guessed, now has more shape.

After the years of both running and resting, wondering and waiting, a series of events led Keith and I to the undeniable conclusion: I need to go to school.

The end of ourselves is the beginning of Him, and the wandering and waiting that once made us feel lost can now prepare us for more. Fear, worry, and tension wash away as we’re no longer defined by our circumstances but instead are vertically aligned with the purposes of heaven.

-Logan Wolfram, Curious Faith

After selecting the programs to which I would apply, one day I stumbled across one that seemed too good to be true. My mouth fell open as I quickly carried my laptop to Keith. “If I could create a program for me, this would be it!” We read more together and glanced through the professor biographies until his face registered surprise as well. How could it be we never knew this existed a mere 8 miles from our house? Keith said simply, “You have to try.”

I did. And a few months later, to my great surprise and delight, I was accepted. In August I will start work on my MS in Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling at UNC.

What will I do? The real answer is that I don’t know what God has in store, but I can tell you my dream. I dream of counseling people with autism and other disabilities, as well as their loved ones. These unexpected issues bring both extraordinary beauty and unique challenges to family dynamics and other close relationships.  I want to support the mental health of the entire family. Our family has found this is a gap in the counseling field, and it is one I want to help fill.

I believe the same passion for people that drove my teaching will drive my next career as well. My calling, to glorify God by serving others, hasn’t changed. My assignment has changed. I am still in awe over the way God prepared me for this assignment all along, from childhood until now, and the way He led me to it. I give thanks for His sovereignty, goodness, and mercy and look forward to what is to come.

Good-bye, Tompkins Hall at NCSU. Hello, Bondurant Hall at UNC!

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New here? Glad you made it! I write about my unique joys and challenges as Mom to Henry, a smart, tender, quick­-witted, train-loving, autistic 9-­year­-old with an infectious smile. I long to encourage autism parents and empower all to see inclusivity doesn’t have to be difficult - it can be beautiful. Like what you see? Sign up here to receive news and occasional freebies just for insiders.

1 Comment

  1. I remember that day – where you were sitting and where I was sitting — and having the distinct feeling that something important had just been voiced. I give thanks to God for your calling, and for your courage to follow it.

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