Gifted

As a child, I had a love/hate relationship with Thrifty drug store. Mickey Mouse Band-Aids and ice cream? It was the feel-good place of the 80’s. But a high-pitched squeal that haunted every Thrifty-Drug store we visited in the west cut into my ice cream/Band-Aid therapy as soon as I walked in the door. It didn’t seem to bother anyone else, but to me, it quickly led to a headache and left my eardrums thrumming like the leftovers of a rock concert. The fluorescent lights, perhaps?
The ancient TV at home squealed too. But as long as I didn’t sit at a certain few spots in the room, I managed just fine.
Same thing with other sounds, only inconsistently, and smells. During P.E. class, basketball day left me nauseous when the gym filled (at least to my sensitive nose) with the stench of a fifteen or so sweaty basketballs. Some thought I was making it up for attention. Because shy kids do that.
Along with a list of other goodies, people like this are considered HSP or Highly Sensitive People. It’s not a disorder, it’s just a thing. I only recently learned this after discovering about another family member who is an HSP. I thought we were just quirky.
Today, of course, there’s a diagnosis for everything, and the word quirk has gone the way of outhouses. For example, researchers believe grammar-sticklers may actually have OCD.
So I start thinking about my family member and myself, and all those tests they can do with MRIs now—all those people who we thought just had “that way” about them are turning out to have nameable ways of walking through this world. Before you know it, we’ll all be diagnosed with something. But it got me to thinking: Many people with nameable quirks are gifted in some way. Are we looking at diagnoses all wrong?


Are we so focused on trying to be normal that we’re missing the big picture? Let’s walk through this:
We know that many great artists, academics, etc. have struggled with mental illnesses, disorders, syndromes and all sorts of diagnoses. And then there’s the fascinating Synesthesia.  Billy Joel, Tori Amos and Vladimir Nabokov are among the many creatives with this condition, as are several of my author acquaintances.
To further my study on this, I found a few videos of struggling people who give clear pictures of what it’s like to walk in their abnormal shoes. One was a Ted talk video of a woman with HSP who called it a gift even though her children had it so severely she had to pull them out of school. Why a gift?
Another is this short video where Frank Stevens, a man with Down Syndrome, defends his value to those who would prefer to end the lives of D.S. babies in utero for failing to be normal. They see him as low-functioning, but I’m sure you’ll see something else when you watch him speak. His achievements, knowledge and willingness to offer his disorder as a means to find cures for cancer and Alzheimer’s, but most of all, his general happiness that’s common with those with D. S. is extraordinary. That’s higher than many people hope to function.
To say normal (or undiagnosed) people don’t have problems would be a blatant lie. Anymore, fewer and fewer of us are found to be what’s considered normal. (Of course, God made sure it was documented long ago:

I will offer You my grateful heart, for I am Your unique creation, filled with wonder and awe.
You have approached even the smallest details with excellence;
Your works are wonderful;
I carry this knowledge deep within my soul. Ps. 139:14, VOICE)

People need to be able to cope in this world, of course, and thank goodness there are wonderful resources to help.
But should we consider them less valuable? Because as we already know, people who aren’t diagnosed with something (yet) still have problems. So what is value?
Most people want to be happy—there are pills, therapy, articles, books, movies—you name it, that are all involved in making people happier. I believe God has approached this detail in those with Down Syndrome with excellence.
Perhaps when people like Rain Man, Einstein, and Frank Stephens step forward and pull their extraordinary gifts from places illogical, it scares those who can’t see past the quirks.
I believe the beautiful things that come out of our differences are the most valuable things of all, because they touch the very nature of God.
Whether or not more people are discovered to have disorders or nameable things than in the past, or more are just being diagnosed, I wouldn’t worry so much that there are more people with problems because there aren’t—there are just more people with gifts. Maybe God is opening our eyes to see that we all have them.

“You have to dare to be different if you’re ever going to dare to be great.”-Jeffrey Ford (Asberger’s Syndrome)

Eschew Obfuscation

I’m trying to do the near-impossible. I’m trying to teach my kids to be free. Really free, so when my son goes to school with wolverine hair, sweatpants and cowboy boots, I don’t make him change for proprieties sake. I tell him he looks cool. It’s true—he looks like him which to me is the coolest, most awesome boy in the world. I don’t warn him what others may say, because even though somewhere down the road some kid is going to come up to him and say, “you look weird,” I don’t want his first thoughts in the morning to be about other kids’ opinions. I don’t even want him to feel the breath of their stinky words on his face—I just want him to be wildly him. Same for my daughter. As long as their clothes fit (enough), are clean and self-respecting, I want them to throw caution to the wind and set the standard for being free. Free from the thousands of articles, blogs and essays from experts around the world who will all have differing yet authoritative opinions on how kids should dress, and make friends and score high on their SATs.
What defines an expert, really?


I love social media—except the constant flood of criticism: There’s the “Open letter” format in order to publicly humiliate someone, the latest book with the latest formula from the expert *who hasn’t had any real-life experience yet,* the celebrity who thinks being famous makes them an expert on everything, and the piles of articles by mental health experts who pontificate on the psychological effects of wearing cowboy boots and sweatpants together, and lastly, the facebook ranter who is angry and defensive and insecure about all things. Every five minutes.
I’m not as worried as their teachers are when my kids do poorly on a paper or a test. I experienced that in bulk, and I survived. In fact, I credit my parents for never comparing me to anyone and telling me that as long as I did my best and nurtured my in-born talent, my grades were cool with them. Really. That made all the difference.


We all knew I would never be a mathematician and we were ALL cool with that.
I credit my grandparents for boosting my self-esteem by always telling me I was pretty, even in the glasses/braces/pimples stage. My Grandma once pushed aside my report card where I actually (mistakingly?) made the honor roll, to point out and compliment a drawing I had done. She got me. She saw me. My identity was not rooted in my performance for a school who called the arts “just hobbies”, thank the Good Lord. That wise move on Grandma’s part had to have been a God thing, for so many reasons.


As a rule, I don’t like “how to” books, but sometimes I’ll pick one up—just in case. My favorite parenting book of ALL time is Boys Will Be Joys by David Meurer. Want to know why? He doesn’t give the readers a formula to copy, or a finger shaking for making mistakes, he just tells us his raw story of raising his kids, goof-ups and all. And it’s hilarious—there’s your key. If your expert can find joy in the big picture, that’s a good sign, and an authentic source.
Once upon a time, I worked at a boarding school for troubled teens. I had yet to have kids of my own, but after learning a bit about the students’ histories, psychological problems, tendencies toward manipulating their way through life (a sure sign of feelings of unworthiness and fear, and/or sometimes mental illness), I learned that no expert can replace the thing a child needs most: their parents love and acceptance. But even when they get that, sometimes a child has an itch to take a prodigal journey. Adults do it too. And it’s okay that we don’t have all the answers. Sometimes rebellion is a good thing as long as it’s not destructive. But those who were planted in a garden of love and acceptance will have that root to follow back home.


As cliché as it sounds, the world will benefit from more love. How easily someone can get destroyed on social media for one bad—or good—moment. That’s someone’s daughter. Someone’s son. Maybe they’re a mess because there are too many experts telling them things, but not enough people supporting them.
How many people really care what shoes Melania Trump wears? She was there—in the Houston flood zone—that’s what matters, but what made the news? The outrage the public had about her choice of footwear.
Should we tear apart Miley Cyrus for going through a difficult season, or send some love her way?
What’s happening with us? Our one nation, one people, with one God has been torn apart by many false gods called, unworthiness, anger, fear, and rejection.
So it’s time to be free. God made us unique—that’s how it is. Have you read those articles that criticize those who try to be unique? Those articles are based in fear, friends. Being different is God ordained. Something to be celebrated, for He is the great giver of joy and wisdom—the expert above all experts, and He didn’t make us to hate one another or to fit into fallible molds. If you’re following the crowd, please stop and question why. Is it healthy? Because you were made to have your own place in God’s divine plan.

How to be an Impressionist painting

In my teen years, I handled life with my hands dipped in paint. I found joy in the blues and reds, found peace in knowing I was good at something, and for my own entertainment, it confused those who kept trying to put me in the preppy box. Yes, I behaved myself. Yes, I was quiet and most everyone assumed I was an A student and read a lot (I did read a lot). But the messy paint and my “unique” way of fashion had more than one person scratch their heads. “How do I complete this picture?”

My art teacher encouraged me to paint big. He recognized that I was more of a free spirit and didn’t accept bashful art. I didn’t either, and I flourished with giant flowers and portraits of whoever was brave enough to model for a bunch of teenagers.

No erupting pimple could dampen the thrill of art class.100_2417

On one occasion he made what I thought a strange observation. “Your watercolor…it looks great from far away, but it loses something up close.”

There it is again. Up close I’m not quite. Not quite what?

I worked on my art, studying the masters, taking the passion to college—polishing up a bit and producing better work—but there was always that messy quality.

Of course, it worked for Claude Monet—if you look at his paintings up close, they’re a little messy. A little unorganized, but step back a bit and…hang that on my wall, please, and on every wall in my house. His work is an overall collection of wow.

Do we all really need to be normal? As one of my reviewers said about Faith Seekers: “… is occasionally like free-form jazz” (which, after mulling over, left me in chuckles). What do I do with this free-form part of me?

Twenty years later, Jeff Goins answered that question.

“Maybe the best moments in our lives aren’t meant to be so cut and dried. Maybe the mess is beautiful.”

Is this how God sees us? He knows we can be messy, and up close we’re far from perfect. But we’re His art. Why do we fight so hard to be accepted as normal? God made us unique from the beginning, and He calls it wonderful.