This past summer, my husband and I flew out west for my sister's wedding. Unfortunately, summertime isn't our autistic son's easiest time.
Keeping structure and a routine during a summer break is especially challenging, and Toby's ability to function at his highest level depends heavily on those two things. The stress of the relaxed summer schedule (despite spending a good portion of the summer in school) had prompted Toby to "self-injure." Basically, a dangerous combination of frustration and boredom ended in Toby pulling a still firmly-planted baby tooth clean out of his mouth. Right before my husband and I left for the wedding.
Traveling is stressful. Leaving your children, no matter how much you trust those you leave them with, is stressful. Leaving your children when one of them has expressed extreme annoyance with life by ripping a tooth out of his mouth is stressful to the max.
I spent the majority of my time on the airplane praying for Toby and for my dear in-laws who were watching the kids for us while we were gone.
The morning of my sister's wedding, was a combination of excitement for the wedding, stress, jet lag and worry regarding how many teeth Toby would have left when we got back.
When we arrived at the stunning venue, the anticipation for the wedding grew, and there was a general buzz of excitement in the air. We walked through the front doors, and as we turned a corner in the foyer, I stopped dead in my tracks. Everything seemed to fade away, and for a moment, all I could see was the painting.
Hanging on the wall was a colossal painting of the Savior, in his role as the Good Shepherd. He was on a beautiful hillside surrounded by a large herd of white sheep. What struck me about this image was that, lovingly cradled in His arms, was a black lamb.
The different one. The lamb not quite like the rest. The lamb that might be a little odd or need a little extra help with some things. Like my little black lamb.
My heart was flooded with the love and reassurance of the Savior. In that moment, I felt the Lord tell me He would always love and take care of my different little boy, whatever challenges he might face. I felt His promise that His loving arms would always be open to my little black lamb, no matter what. I had no doubt the Savior loves and knows each of those sheep, regardless of their walk in life.
I've thought a lot about this painting, and I've thought a lot about this day. Through the rest of our time at the wedding, I felt over and over again the reassurance that the Lord would always be there for my son, for my family and for me. Watching my sister get married to the love of her life was an even more powerful confirmation that He knows us and wants the best for us.
The black sheep is something almost everyone can relate to. The uncomfortable and sometimes even depressing feeling that we are "different" or that no one could truly understand us may happen at one time or another. I know I've felt that way many times in various stages of my life.
The Savior always understands us, loves us and will be a constant presence for us if we let him. No matter the struggle, no matter our differences, and no matter who we are or what path we've walked. He will be there with His loving heart and arms open to carry us safely home.
Thanks to heaven's blessings and diligent, caring grandparents Toby didn't mess with his teeth the whole time we were gone. I was so relieved when we got back. However, the very next week, Toby pulled another tooth. This time, I took a deep breath and reminded myself of what I learned on my beautiful sister's wedding day.
Though my little black lamb may have difficult paths to trod, he will always have the Good Shepherd to watch over him.