When I was in second grade, my teacher would send me to the special education building (yes, in the 1970’s it was not only a separate room but a small separate school) for a few hours in the morning. Back then I thought I was there so I could have help with my reading. My parents and teachers had held me back the year before and I thought these special sessions were to help me with the letters dancing on the page. I loved it in the special education building. I remember one boy was blind and so we would do braille flashcards together. He would feel the card for the word and then I would read the word on the card and together we would learn the word. I also remember a little girl who had cerebral palsy. She was always happy to see me, as I was her. I would read to her. She was always so patient while I stumbled on word after word. She was one of the kindest friends I would have in elementary school. And while I was sad that the message I felt I received was that I wasn’t “smart” enough to stay in my other class all day, going over to the building where my friends were and where learning was exciting and fun, was my favorite part of the day.
If you are a dear friend, you know this story. I tell it all the time. I was in special education as a kid. This was my memory. Until that is, I was 37 years old. While out to dinner with the family, we were telling stories and I was talking about this experience. My mother stopped me and asked, “You do know you weren’t in the special education class, right?” I was floored. She went on to tell me an important part of the story that I never knew. Because they had held me back, I was ahead in all other subjects besides reading. I would finish early and was bored. I also loved going over to the special education playground and played well with the children there. The teachers agreed that I was patient and kind with the children and that it would helpful for everyone if I went to the classroom to help out. The teachers had presented the idea to my parents and they said that it would be okay.
Part of my heart broke when I learned that I was no longer part of a group of people that seemed to love so easily and freely. This big part of the story that I had missed for many years also made me wrestle with who I was. I grew up with a piece of my identity being I was in special education. And while it has given me an affection for people that have an obvious disability, it has also made me believe that I had an obvious disability. It took many years of therapy to learn that we all have disabilities. Some you can see when first meeting a person and some we hide in hopes to fool the world that we are without any frailty or vulnerability.
This one false belief about myself set off a chain of false beliefs about myself. It made me feel lost and confused about who I was. However, it has also taught me so much about how powerful my thoughts are when it comes to my identity. There have been so many times in my life when I have lost myself or lost my way. I believe a hateful lie someone says about me or a horrid lie I make up myself. I am a bad mother one day so I believe the lie that I am a bad mother all the days. You can replace the word mother with wife, friend, daughter, or human and that sentence and it will still be true. I seem to stumble most when I forget who I really am. When I forget who I am, I always return to the One that doesn’t change his mind about who I am. He says I am his beloved, his friend, his treasured possession. He says I am blessed, redeemed, and blameless. I am the apple of his eye. This identity doesn’t change with time or circumstances.
And this truth does not stop with me. I can put anyone’s name in the above sentences and they would all hold true. I believe whether we have a disability that is obvious to the world like blindness or cerebral palsy or one that we hide inside like depression or anxiety, we are his beloved, treasured possession and the apple of his eye.
Where do you go when you have lost your way? How do you fight that voice that lies about who you are and what you are capable of?