“I love you!” Missy whispered with her lips touching my right ear sending hot air and saliva deep into my ear canal. “This is my favorite week of the year. I love my friends!”
She gave me a big bear hug, awkwardly pinning my arms to my sides, and taking away the option to step back and regain my personal space. She let me go, looked deep into my eyes, and smiled — I took a deep breath. Missy grabbed my hand and turned back toward the ice-breaker game in the middle of the room while I grabbed the corner of my shirt and wiped spit out of my ear. I had never met this girl before, and yet she was violating, no, decimating my personal bubble.
Missy had curly brown hair, a huge smile, and a beautiful laugh. Her welcoming personality filled any room, and her bubbliness was contagious. But I had never met Missy before. She was not my special friend for the week, and we had never shaken hands or even introduced ourselves to each other. But she didn’t care because she was at the retreat – and EVERYONE at the Joni and Friends Family Retreat was her special friend. As soon as I got the spit out of my ear she turned back towards me, and lifted up her hands to whisper in my ear again. I tried to move over, but she followed — blowing another wave of moist hot air into my ear.
“My mom and dad broke up,” Missy told me as we began walking around the gym. She stopped over a black line separating two parts of the basketball court. One side of the line was orange and the other side was brown. “My mom and dad are these two colors, and I’m the black line. I get pulled in both directions and it really hurts.” She stopped and almost started crying. To stop the wave of tears she buried her head into my shoulder, and threw her arms around me once again.
“I love being here!” She whispered, “Friday will be so hard because it’s another year until I can come back!”
Missy was affected by IDD (Intellectual Developmental Disability) which includes a range of disabilities like autism or down syndrome. This means that she lacked certain “normal” social skills like understanding someone’s personal space. Chances are, you know someone like Missy. People affected by disabilities are everywhere. We see them at the store, at church, or at school. Sometimes it’s hard to know what to say to them, or how to act. But it’s actually pretty easy.
Missy just needed someone to talk to, a friend. We can all do that — we can be friends with people that are different than us. I think that’s one way we can make a difference in the world every day, simply being a friend to someone who doesn’t have any (or few).
Who can you be a friend to today? Feel free to comment below…
p.s. I met Missy, at a Joni and Friends Family Retreat. If you don’t know what a JAF Family Retreat is, click here and learn more. Family Retreats happen all over the U.S.A, and they need volunteers to help serve. Would you be interested in volunteering as an STM?