Monday, June 13, 2016

The Wisest Professor of Them All

Like many folks in our special community, I recently concluded another challenging school year with new teachers, difficult work, and new diagnoses which made living and studying in themselves an uphill battle. Despite these struggles, I find that the knowledge and the skills that are gained in a year far outshine the hardships.

To be honest, the most valuable of lessons which I received never came from my professors. The best knowledge which was bestowed on me happened to come from the world's greatest teacher: God. In one year, He has once again pulled me across hot coals and molded my malleable mind and heart into a better likeness of Himself. From this process of painful lessons and late night studying of His Word, I have received powerful insight and strength as a scholar of Christ. Of all that He has taught me this past year, there were three primary concepts of His which particularly stuck out among the rest:

1. You are your own best advocate

Following my new diagnosis, I learned very quickly that I needed to advocate for myself at my school, especially with my primary advocate--my mother--about an hour's drive away from me. This was a continuing struggle until the day that I moved out, given that I barely knew how my disorder behaved, I didn't have optimal nutrition or environment to keep my disorder in check, and none of the professional staff on campus would take my disorder seriously. I confronted the school nurses and the staff in charge of the residence halls about my condition, and both sets of people said I was overreacting or that it was of no concern.

I would cry out to God every other night, wondering why He would ever give my family one more disorder to deal with, or why He would not soften the hearts of the administration so that I could have some help in my storm. His reply was to trust in Him and wait (the opposite of what I wanted to hear at that time, mind you).

I reluctantly resigned to Him, and as I waited for His work, He spoke encouragement into me, bringing words to me like, "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you," (Deuteronomy 31:6 NIV). He worked in these gentle little ways in my own life, and soon He began to use me to work in others lives. He handed me the opportunity and strength to advocate for my disorder to all sorts of people who had similar conditions and felt as hopeless as I did. Moreover, with prayer and patience, He blessed me with a new primary doctor, one that would be able to understand my anxiety and symptoms of my condition. Indeed, this first school year, God taught me that relentlessly advocating for your needs and taking your strength from God is key in persevering through hardship.

2. Your behavior is how God speaks through you

After all of the previous work that God has done on my heart, I have become a naturally joyful person over time. I have been taught by Him to value much and love all, and I strive to respect those lessons to the best of my ability. These were of course lessons which I wanted to follow while I was in college as well.

In my first few weeks of school, I completely allowed my joy for God and His love to become my mouthpiece, a decision I wasn't even conscious of until people started asking me about it. I gained attention from many of my school's Franciscan Sisters with my attitude; I gained surprising friendships with international students as I continued to show them unexplained kindness; I was even asked by several people if my name was Joy. I strove to show love to everyone on campus, even if my human heart didn't quite care for some. 

When things started going downhill with my roommates, however, my attitude began to change. I showed more bitterness than joy and I criticized people's decisions like it was an Olympic sport. I also became aggressive with sharing my faith, going so far as shouting Bible passages at my roommate in an effort to make her see what I thought I saw. The world grew darker as I did, and people noticed this change as well.

God clearly spoke love into others when I chose to obey Him with my behavior. However, when I turned to anger, hatred, and gossip, my sin spoke to others instead. This past school year, He taught me that I have the ability to uplift others or tear down many with how I choose to live in response to Him. When we behave in opposition to Him, we feed the world the same darkness which they experience everywhere else. But when we obey with our voices and love with our actions, we allow God to speak life and grace to all those around us. When you think of your own behaviors, think of the lesson God has taught to us through Hebrews 12:1-2 (NIV): "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith."

3. God uses our community in extraordinary ways 

One of the most incredible lessons God taught me this past school year was in His work in our special needs community. The wonders He displayed in my little school alone were so incredible and impactful on our student body, while also bringing an unabashed hope in my own heart for my siblings and for children like the ones you too have at home. 

Of the small student body in my tiny college, we had quite the population of women who had visible disabilities and disorders. We had several women with distinct mobility disorders, some with canes, some in walkers, some missing appendages, and all of them were so incredibly confident and successful. When these women moved about the halls, they brought their joy and determination with them the likes of which none of the remaining student body could match. They were mature, strong, and experts in their fields of art and business and so forth. 

It was their independence and strength which brought joy and hope to many, especially myself. When I witnessed these women achieving their greatest dreams, it struck me with an overwhelming optimism for my own siblings, who strive to create a future for themselves beyond their conditions. Moreover, it fills me with excitement to think of all the wondrous things that the rest of your children may do with their own lives, fearlessly living for God and for the challenges which He sets forth to grow and prosper them. 

All year long I witnessed such people making an impact on their community through their determination. I saw those with trauma-induced mental disorders advocating to their own classmates on behalf of their experiences, I found those with depression or previously crippling bipolar disorders going out to help the community, and I even attended a special festival at my school honoring those with special needs. The festival sold gifts that were hand made by the special needs community: mittens sewn by female stroke victims, beautiful decorations created by students with autism, and gorgeous candles and metal lawn ornaments made by the special needs community.

Oh what glorious works God creates through even the most unlikely of these! Take heart parents, for your children are in the great hands of a God with great plans for their future. God touches and speaks through your children in mysterious and miraculous ways, no matter what state they may be in. For all of us, and especially to your children, the Lord says, "'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me" (2 Corinthians 12:9, NIV).

Pray: Father, no matter what my kids and I have faced in the past year, I pray that You would reveal the lessons that You have tried to teach us through our experiences. Help us to see the beauty of Your holy curriculum unfold in our lives, both in school and in Your creation, the most expansive classroom of them all. Help us to value Your lessons and to maintain hope for what You determine lies ahead.

~Alexandra Dittrich