Sometimes, someone comes into your life so unexpectedly, takes your heart by surprise and changes your life forever. (viacuriano.com)
The past two Tuesday evenings, I "cheated" on my husband and went on two dates. The first was with a little beacon of light, my five-year old friend named Olivia. We went and got ice cream FIRST, poked into a pet store and checked out the fish and the hamsters, went to Staples and spun around on chairs and bought Silly Putty, ate pizza while we bowled, and ended our night playing arcade games. The second one was with my friend Robby, a man who thinks he should have something called "Up Syndrome." He is right. We ate hamburgers and french fries (only pickle, ketchup and a bun for him), enjoyed ice cream (see a running theme here), played a matching game that he handily beat me 12-8 and sat and watched a couple of episodes of Full House while we waited for his dad to pick him up.
Of course, I made these "dates" to bring help to my friends who are the caregivers of these precious souls. I mean, what parent wouldn't want someone to come along and love on their child while they get a much-needed break? But as usual, God seems to have had something else up His sleeve.
God is wise and knows what He is doing. He knows exactly how to reach deep into our hearts and souls and bless us, heal us. Many times, when we think we are helping others, we are being helped.
These two people I spent time with couldn't appear more different. One is a typical little girl who is navigating Kindergarten (learning her ABCs with the Super Kids reading program - anyone heard of Cass who loves to Cook Casseroles in the kitchen with her Cat, Coconut). The other is an adult male with Down Syndrome (and I totally agree with him, why isn't it called Up Syndrome?) who goes to Pride College (as he calls it), a school for adults with special needs.
They are so dissimilar at first glance. Olivia is 5. Robby is 30. Olivia is a fireball. Robby is chatty. Olivia likes soccer. Robby likes swimming. Plain, straight-up different. But, as you know, God is filled with surprises and likes us to repent (all that means is THINK A NEW THOUGHT) for our own journey of healing and wholeness. These two beautiful souls are alike in so many ways that really matter, thus bringing me to tears filled with gratitude (hence the Thankful Thursday post).
They BOTH see the world through fresh eyes. Everything is exciting to them. The simple things I take for granted and go through the motions doing are seen with a new vision. Spinning around on chairs at Staples (don't judge me) and imitating Joey imitating Popeye while watching Full House are enjoyed to the full (check out the video below).
They BOTH are very smart and want to learn and grow. Olivia is able to tell me all the rules in her classroom along with counting in both English and Spanish to 20. Robby is able to tell me all about his family (who is still alive and who has passed on and what towns they live in and how they are all related to him) and also actually spelled out words for me when I had a hard time figuring out what he was trying to tell me (he has a speech impediment).
They BOTH are free with their love. And I mean FREE! No holds barred. When I look at how closed off and closed up I am, it is such a beautiful thing to watch and then experience personally. Their complete, uninhibited love for me frees my own heart just a little bit more. I don't have to hold back either and I am free to love them in return (this is not a lesson to be learned, but a heart to be changed and healed).
This all sounds so magical. But to be honest, this is how it really played out. The first date was super easy and I was looking forward to it. I have spent the better part of the past 30 years immersed in children: children's ministry and having my own children. I love children. They are easy for me to figure out. I actually play a little game with them to see if I can get each one to open up and light up when I interact with them. My goal is connection and I like the hardest and most closed off ones the most. It's an adventure that I embrace fully. And I am usually successful.
Leading up to the second date was hard for me. I knew I wanted to stretch myself and go outside my comfort zone, but I was very nervous. What would we talk about? Would there be awkward silences? How much do I have to keep him occupied? How long should it be? Will he be bored or afraid? What happens if something goes terribly wrong? It's sad to say that I have never spent time with anyone with special needs other than in passing during child ministry. I feel downright confused and uncomfortable, and there is probably some "special needs phobia" I struggle with. But this is a man I kiss every Sunday (he's the only other man in my life I kiss right on the lips other than Allen) when I grab my church bulletin from him. A date was certainly the next logical step (I hear you. Kissing usually comes after you've had a date or two).
Like I voiced earlier, God is a God of surprises. The first date was not a surprise, but filled with all the goodness I expected. Olivia was a bundle of light, joy and curiosity that touched the depths of my heart with exactly what I needed that evening. However, the second date was one of the happiest surprises of 2018 so far. Robby made it easy to connect. He answered all the questions I asked. He shared his likes and dislikes without fanfare. He embraced each activity I had planned for him. He even put his feet up on our coffee table and relaxed in his socks while we watched his all-time favorite show. He was happy and made it so easy to be with him. It was one of the best first dates I've ever had, filled with all the goodness I did not expect.
These will not be the only dates I have with these two. Next time, Olivia and I might paint together (I learned that about her on our first date) and Robby and I will go bowling, but still eat hamburgers and have Diet Coke (I learned that about him on our first date). I want to get to know both of them better so our time together is even more to their liking.
Isn't this what so much of our journeys are all about? Meeting others, getting to know them and loving them right where they are. Connection. Relationship. Intimacy. Freedom.
I don't do this often, but today I will ask this question: how about you? What surprise can you be on the lookout for, that God has up His sleeve just for you, possibly a person that might bring more healing to your heart? It might be a typical individual or someone with special needs. It might be someone in your family or a complete stranger. It might be someone similar to you or a person completely and utterly different. It might be someone you already know or a brand new person you've never met. Expect the unexpected! Right now, I just envision God crouching down behind His heavenly "couch" and jumping up when you come in the door and shouting "SURPRISE!"