FIRST-PERSON: I could hear their heart
CHURCH HILL, Tenn. (BP) -- I signed up my oldest son on a whim and without his knowledge for a camp hosted by a local church that serves the community through their Upward Basketball program.
Normally, I would discuss these types of things with him, but with the way things are going right now, I felt led to see if God would do something with it.
It was just a three-day camp from 6-8 p.m. I am planning to leave it completely up to him whether to participate in the full program this year. He hasn't played on a basketball team since the second grade. I needn't go into the details of why I did this, but if you've ever parented an 11-year-old, you could probably make some close assumptions.
My son was quick to let me know that he wanted to get to the church for camp early. I compromised with him because I didn't want to overwhelm the volunteers with our premature arrival.
We were there around 5:40ish. My husband hadn't returned home from work, so my youngest son was tagging along.
As we approached the entrance, I recognized a couple of the volunteers walking through a side door that leads into the kitchen right off the gym. I immediately had a remorseful feeling because of their sacrifice and us intruding on their prep time.
A gentleman made a friendly comment about our early arrival. I laughed with him and told him that my son couldn't wait to get there. He high-fived him and was all smiles.
Then he directed his attention to my 5-year-old and asked him why he wasn't playing. My guy didn't much acknowledge the question (he had become preoccupied with trying to look through the glass on the doors).
I gently answered with the best short answer I could give in the moment.
"He has autism."
His response? "I don't care!"
His wife was standing with him holding the service door open and she began telling me about another little boy with autism who had played basketball. It was an encouraging story and I knew they were letting me know that they welcomed children with different needs.
Once again, the man focused on my youngest son and even said his name. He held out his hand with the gesture of a "fist bump. Miles recognized what that meant and responded in like fashion.
I felt a tear building in the side of my right eye but I have learned how to control the flow.
In their kindness and openness to include my autistic son in their program, I could hear their heart. I saw God behind their words and I was hopeful in that moment. Perhaps my son could join in one day and there would be people there to help. Even if he didn't, they were still willing.
Inclusion starts with a willingness to try, a burden to help and a heart for those that are different -- not less.