Rhema went through a phase in which she was extremely sensitive to various types of clothing. She loathed socks and shoes, shirt sleeves had to be pushed up, and pants with buttons or zippers or anything “heavy” were not tolerated. No hard or scratchy materials, no tags.
For her, dresses were absolutely out of the question.
But in my mind, she had to wear a dress to church on Sunday. That was my thinking, anyway. From the moment the ultrasound technician declared she was a girl, my mother and sisters had stocked the closet full of beautiful, elegant dresses. Nowadays, people do not really get dressed up for church, but I grew up in a culture where you always wore your Sunday best to service. It was not about vanity; it was about revering God and trying to give God your best. Even though church happened once a week, every Sunday service qualified as a special occasion.
O.k., so it was about vanity. For me for Rhema, at least. She’s the granddaughter of a pastor, for heaven’s sake. She may hurdle the pews, color her face with an ink pen, spill juice, stick her head in a wind tunnel and mess her hair Medusa style, but she was going to do it in a fancy dress, dagnabbit!!!
And so the battle would rage on Sunday mornings. I would launch a surreptitious attack:
1) Give her a popsicle
2) Ever so casually slip on a tagless, cotton T-shirt
3) Quickly come from behind and throw her dress over top, hoping the fabric would not offend.
It would offend. She was like a pig in a dress, contorting, thrashing, tantrumming and nearly ripping the dress off, popping buttons, tearing lace. Then we would repeat the steps, she and I. If I managed to get her buckled in her carseat with a dress on, she would disrobe as soon as she was free.
Finally, one morning during Dress War, Brandon said quite simply, “Just let her wear pants.”
The thought had never crossed my mind. He gave me a look that said, ‘It’s not the end of the world.’
We were already late for church and I was battle weary, so I finally waved the white flag of surrender.
I knew it was my pride. Rhema was already so obviously different. Her special needs made her different. Her diet made her different (she’s the only kid with GF pretzels while the others eat animal crackers). I didn’t want her to be the only girl without a dress on. Especially when she had a closet full!
She was down to one or two pairs of “soft” pants that she actually kept on (sometimes). She always wore them to school, so they were worn and faded.
But for months she wore those same pathetic pants to church every week. One child at church always liked to point out that ‘Rhema wore that last Sunday.’
It sounds silly now, and it was. But my mind was set on the way things should be. So many of my expectations for my “perfect” family and my “perfect” kids seemed to be crushed, and this dress thing was something I was trying to hold on to like a stubborn child [thanks, Shanda!]. Truly, it was me who was done up on the outside, but undone on the inside. “The LORD sees not as man sees. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Sam 16:7
Looking back, I am now grateful that this is one of the small ways God had to humble me. Of course, there have been other expectations for her life – our lives – that I have had to re-adjust (such as “typical” kidnergarten — that was a hard one for me).
But lately, my focus has shifted to see all the ways God goes beyond my expectations. Rhema is my shining example, and every day she makes me proud. More times than not, she manages to do something I think she’s not ready for, and she does it well. Just when I think I’ve got her figured out, she’ll surprise me with something new.
At first, autism crushed my expectations. Funny thing is, now, my expectations are greater than ever before.
My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from Him. Psalm 62:5