Yesterday, my parents and I attended a morning service at a church that was not our own so we could hear my godsister, Mallory, speak about the missionary work she has been doing in Uganda for the past 18 months. Though she is, in fact, a missionary, she doesn’t like to be referred to as a missionary because she’s just doing God’s will where He has called her to serve. She has sacrificed a lot — seeing her family, spending time with friends, worldly possessions, a first-world lifestyle, things most of us don’t even realize we take for granted — in order to do the work she believes God has called her to carry out.
Now, I don’t usually get super-religious or super-political on Le Blogge because I’m not a believer in forcing others to read about my political agenda or my beliefs about certain laws or even my religious tenets. But I am a firm believer in Christianity, and just because I don’t blatantly paste it everywhere doesn’t mean I make a secret of it.
Anyway, the way Mallory got wrapped up (for over an hour, I might add) talking about the humbling and uplifting work she has done in Africa with the “street children” of Uganda and her calling to serve got me thinking… What’s my calling? What is God’s purpose for me? I’ve asked myself this question many times before, and I’ve never received what I would consider to be an answer. (It took me an exceptionally long time to learn that “no” is an answer, too.) I’ve always enjoyed the quote, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans,” as I believe that God has plans for me I may not yet have even imagined. I don’t think that God has in mind for me to give up everything (material) I have in this world and serve in a poverty-stricken, HIV-ridden, danger-imminent country thousands of miles away — a thought I’m not brave enough to stomach, let alone carry out. I think God may have plans for me closer to home.
During my junior year at Longwood, I was searching for a place to complete my mandatory internship experience. Most LU students fulfill their internship requirement during the summer after their junior year, but time was ticking by, and I still didn’t have a location in mind. One day, as I was probably panicking in a cold sweat in front of my computer, feverishly researching Richmond-area internship opportunities, my mom reminded me that my sister had completed a one-week sample internship in high school at the Faison School for Autism and that she had loved it. Then we both remembered that one of my mom’s dearest friends had a daughter currently working at Faison. Without any hesitation, I whipped out an email to the then-Director of Personnel and Hiring, inquiring about internship opportunities. Not only did he respond positively and with information that set my frenzied mind at ease, he immediately offered me an interview date and the possibility of 35 paid hours per week! I knew that I had struck gold even before I interviewed, but afterward, I felt incredible. I felt purpose-driven and useful and interested — something I hadn’t experienced at my previous thinkless Abercrombie or Aeropostale or Holiday Barn jobs. I didn’t know the first thing about autism, and I was frank about my inexperience and my lack of knowledge in my interview, but what I lacked in those areas, I made up for in hopefulness and willingness.
My first summer at Faison was 2010, and it was the learning experience of a lifetime. I learned more about autism and about myself than I would have thought possible. I learned that I can be patient. I can present the statement, Point to the green block, 40 times if necessary before a student responds. I can absorb sign language without being aware that I am learning. I can assist in an emergency on a spontaneous five-person team when necessary. I can handle poop and puke
with an iron stomach when necessary. I can refrain from texting for an entire seven-hour workday — something I would not have thought possible for my 21-year-old self (hell, something I might not find possible now). You get the point. Bottom line, I loved working at the Faison School, and I fell in love with autism. As strange as that sentiment might sound, I could not get the quirks and personalities and orderliness and spontaneity of those kids out of my head.
With my acceptance to graduate school the following spring came the obviousness of the next step: I needed a job that would hire me for less than half of May, all of June, all of July, and half of August. I returned to the Faison hiring body to determine my fate. Sure enough, they were able to hire me for another summer, and they even threw a small raise my way! (In truth, everyone who was hired that summer made what I made.) I enjoyed that second summer even more than I had enjoyed my first — all new (to me) kids, all new ages, all new behaviors, all new (to me) coworkers… same old passion for what I was doing. I was terribly sad to leave on the last day of summer school. I vowed then and there that if possible, I would return for a third summer.
Sure enough, I was rehired for the summer of 2012 in another entirely new setting. This time, instead of parceling out the summer students into already established classrooms, the powers that be decided to lump all of the summer school teachers and the summer students into one newly formed classroom. I admit, I had my misgivings about the system, but it worked beautifully. Every single day, I was impressed with the patience my coworkers demonstrated, the way people stepped in to help in emergencies without being asked, the way people volunteered for clean-up duties without hesitating, the flexibility and tolerance for change my coworkers displayed, and the hilarity we experienced on a daily basis. I truly would not have thought it possible to love each passing summer at Faison more than the one preceding it.
Now, here I am after three summers at the Faison School for Autism, preparing to begin a Practicum in two weeks at a day-treatment school for behaviorally- and emotionally-disturbed children and adolescents, some of whom have autism. I’m considering earning a certificate in Autism Spectrum Disorder Studies from the school where my fiance is studying medicine. Loving autism is a part of me now. It’s wormed its way into my soul and stolen my heart.
I think I have the answer for which I’ve been searching: maybe God’s purpose for me is loving and working with this misunderstood and rapidly-growing population. I don’t know for sure what God’s mission is for me as a future counselor, but I know that I have a passion for autism and for those individuals and families affected by it. I know that He placed this love and passion in my heart for a reason, and that He will guide me on His mission for me. I owe this realization to my godsister, who inspired me by speaking about homeless African orphans…
If you’d like to read more about my godsister’s work in Uganda, I’ve provided the link to her group’s most recent blog post. Or, if you’d like to learn more about the Faison School, here is the homepage.