little girl looking up at parent

When our kids’ behaviors challenge us, it’s tempting to wonder why they’re not like ‘other kids.’ But in doing so, we miss out on who they really are: unique individuals, fearfully and wonderfully made, bearing the image of God. Vicki Bentley shares the eye-opening revelation that taught her to see her daughter’s differences in a completely new light. 

We took our seats at the large, rectangular table in the center of the meeting room, facing an imposing panel of educators and evaluators. As the chairperson cleared her throat and picked up the stack of papers with my daughter’s name at the top, we steeled ourselves for what she was about to say. 

What conclusions had they drawn from their gamut of testing? And what would it ultimately mean—for her education and for her future?

I wasn’t sure I wanted to find out. 

***

Almost exactly five years before, we stood in her newly painted, pink and gray nursery admiring our handiwork. There, on the wall above her crib, was the stencilled white lettering of Psalm 139:14:

“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”

This chosen verse—and its placement directly above her bed—was no coincidence. For it was our deepest desire that from the very beginning, this child of ours would know who she was, and, more importantly, Whose she was: a beloved child of God, a masterpiece of the Father’s creation. We wanted her to be reminded of it every single day—from the moment she opened her eyes to the moment she laid her head down to sleep.

Yet, ironically, that verse I saw countless times during the long days and even longer nights of early motherhood, was placed there for the both of us. It turned out that in the months and years to come, I would need to be reminded of its truth just as much—if not more—than she would.

dad holding little girl

 

NAVIGATING ‘NORMAL’

She made her debut into the world on a snowy February afternoon. A fierce, red-faced, intensely curious little thing with the bluest eyes I’d ever seen. And—landing herself back in the hospital at barely 3 weeks old with breathing and reflux issues—she soon made it clear this was not going to be an easy ride. A complete novice in the realm of motherhood, I immediately felt out of my depth, turning to the ‘experts’ to guide me through those turbulent first few months—experts my baby mostly ignored.

As she grew, however, more challenges continued to emerge—rigidity, picky eating, sensory aversions, social communication difficulties, gastrointestinal issues, night terrors, the list went on. Oh, she was downright spectacular in other ways too, of course—but more often than not I wasn’t focusing on ‘that’. No, I was more concerned with what she ‘wasn’t doing’—the things that made her different from the rest, stand out from the crowd, and—I shamefully admit now—the things that made me stand out too.

I vividly remember at a birthday party one afternoon, trying to coax her unsuccessfully into joining the other children digging into their pizza and juice—how obvious her differences were. Driving home frustrated and a little heartbroken at yet another ‘typical’ experience she had missed out on, a haunting refrain echoed in my mind. 

Why can’t you just be like everyone else?

It wasn’t the first time I had thought such a thing, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last.

 

DEFINING DIFFERENT

Finally, after almost five years of wondering and worrying, we had an answer: Asperger’s Syndrome, or High-Functioning Autistic Spectrum Disorder as it’s otherwise known. 

There was relief, of course. A diagnosis would help us more effectively understand her mind, her behavior, and her world. It opened doors for support and services, and demanded a greater understanding and empathy from others in a way that hadn’t been possible before. But I also balked at the significance, permanence, and harsh repercussions of such a defining label.

A torrent of questions raged through my mind, threatening to pull me into a spiral of doubt, worry, and fear.

What would her future look like? Would she have meaningful relationships? How would she navigate school, college, and beyond? Would she be happy, fulfilled, and accepted just as she was?

And then I remembered the verse on the wall. The letters were peeling a little now, tarnished with age and wear, yet their message stood firm. A message that drew me back to the only One who could provide solace to me in these fearful moments—the One who had created her. 

 

FEARFULLY AND WONDERFULLY MADE

As I poured out my heart, surrendering my doubts, fears, and many tears into His Almighty hands, His response resounded in my mind with piercing clarity. He wasn’t worried—and neither should I be. She belonged to Him first, after all, as we read in Jeremiah 1:5:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart” (NIV).

It was the jolt I needed to shift my perspective and start seeing my daughter through the eyes of her Creator. All this time, I’d been unwittingly viewing her through a lens of comparison, measuring her against unrealistic, worldly standards and my own misplaced expectations. Instead of delighting in her differences, I resented them or wished them away. I apologized for them, often downplaying them—and in doing so, inadvertently diminished her.

Yet, she was not merely a lump of clay created to fit the mold of this world. She was clay in the hands of the Master Potter—a Potter who molded her with tender love and exquisite care. He crafted every remarkable detail of her being, even down to the hairs on her head, with a purpose and a plan, and formed her in His image to reflect His glory and make her unique, indelible mark on the world. He intended her to shine His light brightly and unapologetically for all the world to see—in a way that only she could. And yet it was this very light that—in my quest for ‘normalcy’—I had been hiding under a bushel, lest someone might see it. 

I resolved then and there to celebrate her—every part of her—in the same way her Heavenly Father delighted over her with singing and great joy (Zephaniah 3:17). I decided to take pleasure in all that she was instead of all that she wasn’t, and be filled with gratitude and joy at the beautiful, curious, smart, hilarious, creative child He had entrusted to my care. I was determined to finally stop trying to fit her into a mold that was never meant for her. 

And when I did, it freed us both.

 

DELIGHTING IN OUR DIFFERENCES

Maya Angelou once said: “If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.”

For so long, I had regarded the traits that set my daughter apart as problems to solve or challenges to overcome. Instead, God began to show me they were treasures to be celebrated—gifts He used to reveal Himself, impact His kingdom, and gently transform my heart.

 

GOD USES OUR DIFFERENCES TO REVEAL HIMSELF

“So God created mankind in his own image, 

in the image of God he created them;

male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27, NIV). 

The Bible is clear: We are, each one of us, image-bearers of the God of the Universe. Each created in our own unique way to reflect the character and nature of the Living God. As the whole of creation sings His praises and declares His glory, so too, do we. 

We read in Romans 1:20: “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.”

My child’s creative, curious, gentle spirit; her compassion and empathy for all living things (especially those of the four-legged variety); her determination and drive; her zany sense of humor and infectious, abundant joy for life—they all point directly back to the Father. Her unique blend of characteristics reflect the different facets of the Father like a living, breathing kaleidoscope of color and light, through which I can see and experience Him in wonderful and surprising new ways.

We read in Isaiah 43:6b-7: “Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth, everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” My daughter was formed and made to reflect the glory of God. By dismissing her differences, I was, by default, dismissing Him; by embracing them, I was able to enter into a richer, fuller understanding of my God. And for that alone, I was truly thankful.

 

GOD USES OUR DIFFERENCES TO IMPACT HIS KINGDOM

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV).

As children of God, each one of us has been created with a plan and purpose in mind, divinely appointed to do “good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10, NIV). Our distinct personalities, passions, talents, and traits are no happy coincidence, but gifts He has given us in order to do His Kingdom work, and do it well (Romans 12:6). They are carefully designed tools, equipping us to touch the hearts and lives of the hurting, the hungry, the broken, and the lost with His message of hope, restoration, and life.

Therefore, as Paul concludes in Romans 12:4: “since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be” (MSG).

Who was I to stop my daughter from being who she was made to be? She had been given a distinct voice within the symphony of heaven to reach and bless those around her, simply by being herself. And if I diminish that voice I diminish her and the vital Kingdom work God is doing in and through her.

Coco Chanel once said, “In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different.” If my daughter’s differences make her an irreplaceable servant for the Lord, there is no greater reason to celebrate them. 

dad next to little girl

 

GOD USES OUR DIFFERENCES TO TRANSFORM OUR HEARTS

“Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind” (Romans 12:2, GNT).

Looking back, I had wasted so much precious time and energy attempting to conform my daughter to the worldly standards Paul warns us about in the Scriptures. But, for what? Why was it so important to me that she ‘fit in’? Why did it take me so long to embrace who she truly was?

One word: Pride.

Parenting a child with Autism forced me to confront my own sinful nature—to look deep inside the dark, hidden corners of my heart and bring my prideful motives out into the open. It forced me to clearly see the idols I was unwittingly bowing down to and the areas of my heart and life that were in desperate need of the transformative power of God.

It wasn’t my child that needed to change—it was me. And God knew it. He may have not given me the ‘perfect’ child—for such a child doesn’t exist—but He had given me the child that was perfect for me. 

One that would humble me, and lead me to seek God’s opinion first over anyone else. 

One that would direct me back to Him, seeking daily the strength, patience, and wisdom I needed to face every new challenge and parent this precious child with grace and love. 

Among so much more, through this daughter of mine, Christ would finally help loosen the chains of my striving and perfectionism, and help me find peace.

***

Parenting a child—any child—brings with it its own unique challenges. Being their advocate and their biggest cheerleader in a world full of people who simply don’t see them the way you do can be exhausting, defeating work. The pursuit of ‘normalcy’ can be an ever-present temptation.

Yet, repeatedly, God draws us back to His Word, inviting us to look upon our offspring with fresh eyes—with His eyes. For when we love them the way He loves us, we, in turn, point them back toward their Father, and show them who and Whose they truly are.

As I sat in that meeting room, holding my breath as the chairperson prepared to speak, I wanted more than anything for them to see my daughter as I saw her—fearfully and wonderfully made. To see the potential and possibilities in the midst of the challenges presented before them. To see her, as she truly was, and love her for it. 

And I wasn’t disappointed. 

“I just have to tell you before we start,” she began, “your daughter is simply a delight.” 

“I know,” I said with a smile. And this time, I truly believed it. 

What might God be trying to teach you about Himself through your child’s unique personality? How might your attitude and behavior toward them change as you begin to consider their more challenging traits as divinely-appointed gifts from God?

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Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

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