An Antidote for an Introvert

{This is the tenth of twelve in a guest blog series I am hosting through March. The series will zero in on a variety of themes from my book, Here Goes Nothing: An Introvert's Reckless Attempt to Love Her Neighbor. The writers of these posts are people I deeply admire for their wisdom and their constant seeking of Christ’s Kingdom on behalf of their neighbors both near and far. This particular post was written by Ann Payne, a dear friend of mine who I met at the church we attended in Chicago. Even typing her name kind of makes me want to cry, because she was - and still is - such an important support to me in losing our daughter, in writing my book, and in life in general. Ann has so many heartfelt things to say about being the mom of a child with special needs, about being an introvert, and about how kind words can be just the right antidote for whatever we might be going through.}

{This is the tenth of twelve in a guest blog series I am hosting through March. The series will zero in on a variety of themes from my book, Here Goes Nothing: An Introvert's Reckless Attempt to Love Her Neighbor. The writers of these posts are people I deeply admire for their wisdom and their constant seeking of Christ’s Kingdom on behalf of their neighbors both near and far.

This particular post was written by Ann Payne, a dear friend of mine who I met at the church we attended in Chicago. Even typing her name kind of makes me want to cry, because she was - and still is - such an important support to me in losing our daughter, in writing my book, and in life in general. Ann has so many heartfelt things to say about being the mom of a child with special needs, about being an introvert, and about how kind words can be just the right antidote for whatever we might be going through.}

The first time it happened was in an airport.

Christmastime. Crowded. Waiting and watching.

When you travel anywhere - across country, to the store, down the street - with a little boy in a tiny red wheelchair who is non-verbal but very vocal, you attract attention. People are people-watching you. More stares than smiles, I might add. Hard on an introvert, who thinks people are staring anyway. But when you know they are staring? Yikes!

It’s part of the world of disability.  And part of that world includes people, lots of people, and interaction because of the disabilities. Just what an introvert does not want.

Jeff.png

Our second, Jeff, was born with cerebral palsy {or terrible palsy as our first, Joanna, called it} and severe to profound hearing loss in both ears.

The icing on the cake, however, was the diagnosis of autism.

He is thirty-one now. Lots of memories in the early years are blurry - if even there - from sheer exhaustion. Just thinking about the first five years, ten years, even fifteen, can make me cry. And laugh. And wonder how we survived. 

I have no doubt that God has been with us each moment and in every detail of our lives with Jeff. He placed people specifically in our lives for this big adventure, from the flight nurse who whisked our newborn away to the nearest children’s hospital {a friend who happened to be on call that New Year’s morning}, to the sweet friends now who offer the gift of time from their busy lives when my life gets too full.

It seems like a very long time to be in boot camp to learn how to love others, or at least get better at it, but we partially learned by how others loved us in our need.  And we are still learning. 

Although Jeff has now contentedly lived in a group home since he was eighteen or nineteen {blurry memory, remember?} we continue to have him home with us on weekends.

He is still non-verbal but vocal, and dependent on us for everything. Our weekends are happy usually, but tiring. If something isn’t right in his world, life can be difficult. I still sometimes feel swamped, or like I’m sinking, which results in feeling that I don’t have lots of time to spend loving others.

However, there were a few words that stood out during our thirty-one year journey with Jeff that were kind and gentle reminders we were noticed and remembered. They didn’t take long to deliver. And at the most cost only 41 cents. And the deliverers were probably unaware of the impact their snippet of words would have on us.  

One Christmas in an airport, trying to keep an older sister occupied and a little boy with autism calm and content while we waited for a flight, we received some anonymous words.

We never knew what would set Jeff off in a tantrum, or what we might need to calm him down. But apparently that day he was having a good day. And a young girl, maybe high school or college-aged, walked over and handed us a note and fed our weary souls with some simple words. 

"What a sweet version of love - your family...Merry Christmas!"

"What a sweet version of love - your family...Merry Christmas!"

When Jeff moved into his group home, there were so many details to cover and so many people {think “introvert’s worst nightmare”} involved in the intake interview.

When it was the head nurse’s turn to speak and ask questions, she spoke first about what she’d observed. “It’s obvious that Jeff comes from a family that loves him.” How affirming. She noticed. I could have cried.  

A pediatrician friend whom we haven’t seen in more than twenty years wrote us a note on the occasion of Jeff’s twenty-first birthday. He remembered the long ago traumatic birth day, the journey we’d been on and thought of us at that milestone.

We have been gifted by words. By just the right words. 

By “gracious words that are like a honeycomb, sweetness to our soul and health to our bodies” {Proverbs 16:24}.

Even simple words are powerful. They can be cheap as we’ve seen in the recent news. But they can also be priceless. Healing. Affirming. Remembering. And everyone wants to be included. To be recognized. To be noticed.

In the season of life we now are in, there still isn’t a lot of time to “love neighbors,” but there is time to offer a word or two, to those we know and love and see their needs, but also to those we bump into in passing.

Last week I met Mary. She and I were in a parking lot, being shoved into the grocery store by a cold wind. “I love the way you are wearing that red coat in a sea of black coats!” That was all it took from me to hear her story about how she got the coat. Not off the rack, but as a caregiver who had always admired the red coat of her employer. When she had finished her service, her employer had gifted her with the beautiful coat. Then she pulled out her wallet and showed me pictures of her grandchildren, and we chatted like old friends.

Or Lucy, my favorite mail carrier ever. “I’ve missed seeing you.” Her mother had surgery and wasn’t recovering as expected. So I heard about the trips that she, her children and sister had been taking to visit her mom in Wisconsin.

Or Matthew, stocking the shelves at a big box store. “How do you get anything done with us {shoppers} interrupting you all the time?” In response to my statement that I was interrupting his work, he told me his story of being adopted by his grandparents and his plans to save money to go to school. And he couldn’t tell me enough about how much he loves his grandparents for the life they had given him.

Just a word or two to the people whose paths I stumbled into, and somehow they felt safe and noticed enough to let me know them a little bit more.    

You see the irony, don’t you?  It’s actually a little tactic I’ve learned to let others speak so that I don’t have to.  I do have to start the exchange, but words are available to introverts as much as they are to extroverts. As an introvert, this I can do and hopefully get better at. That which is difficult for me actually has value for others. Words matter. And in the same way that I’ve been given safe and healing words, I can offer them to others.

The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught,

that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary.

Morning by morning he awakens;

he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. {Isaiah 50:4 ESV}

The true antidote for an introvert isn’t a giant character at Disneyland, although it can helpful!  It’s found in Philippians 2:1-11, especially verses 3 and 4:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. {ESV}

 

Grace and Peace,

Ann

 

{Bio: Ann Payne is an introvert who reads…not an original thought at all.  As a member of the super-size Sandwich Generation, she loves blogs as much as books, since you can finish reading one with a few free minutes.  Although there are many more words in this story about the things people did to help in the Journey of Jeff, this is hopefully her first and final foray into the world of selfies, social media and blogging.}

{Bio: Ann Payne is an introvert who reads…not an original thought at all.  As a member of the super-size Sandwich Generation, she loves blogs as much as books, since you can finish reading one with a few free minutes.  Although there are many more words in this story about the things people did to help in the Journey of Jeff, this is hopefully her first and final foray into the world of selfies, social media and blogging.}