Looking back 12 years, I adored our family of four. We had two happy, silly, lovable boys who were just beginning preschool and kindergarten. My partner, Steve, and I were starting to feel like real adults, with jobs and kids and a house to take care of. Life was complicated but beautiful. Our son, David, had a disability, Cornelia de Lange Syndrome, which meant he needed to be fed, diapered, and assisted with most activities.

It seemed like there was always someone who needed my attention. I wanted to give each of my boys—my sons and my husband—what they needed, but that required more time and energy than I had. So I defaulted to my old strategy of setting myself aside.

In our little family, denying my needs and wants meant there was one less complicating factor to manage. Plus, I reminded myself that I was doing a good thing by loving and serving others. I felt confident that this would not only make my boys happy, but it would also fill my heart and make me happy. Best of all, if everyone was happy, I would be okay. I would be enough. I would be lovable. Deep down, that's what I really wanted—to be loved.

Although we had finally found our way into a new normal, I felt tired and, to be honest, increasingly bitter. I resented that the boys and Steve took and took from me, never considering my needs and wants. These feelings ebbed and flowed.

There were also occasional moments when the house was clean and the fridge was full when the boys were happy and Steve and I felt connected. In those moments, I could exhale. Everything was all right. I was doing a good job. I was a good wife and mom. I was lovable. But those moments were fleeting.

Soon the house would be messy again; the fridge would need to be restocked; someone would get upset; Steve and I would disagree. Then I went back to feeling like a failure. Nothing was right. I wasn't doing a good job. I was a bad wife and mom. I wasn't lovable.

I remember a lesson David taught me on a sunny Sunday morning a couple years ago. We arrived at church a few minutes early. Once inside, he pulled away from me. He wanted to explore the sanctuary before the service began.

David was nonverbal, but we were learning that he still had much to say. He communicated by taking our hands and leading us to what he wanted. He spoke through gestures, physical touch, and heart connection. I followed him around the sanctuary as he slid his hand over the smooth wood of the church pews, weaving in and out of the narrow spaces. Then he crossed the aisle and made his way over to a woman sitting by herself. She looked to be in her late thirties, and she had a kind face and gentle presence.

We had never met this woman, but that didn't stop David from approaching her. As he got closer, the woman looked up and smiled at him. Once beside her, David turned around and backed up to her—his way of asking to be held.

"He wants to sit on your lap," I explained. "He can sit next to you if you prefer." "No," she said, ''I'd love to hold him." She carefully lifted him onto her lap. He tenderly wrapped his arms around her neck and laid his head against her shoulder.

"Is this okay?" I asked, anxious to be considerate of her. "Would you like me to move him?" She looked up at me with tears in her eyes.

"My mom was diagnosed with cancer a couple days ago," she said in a quiet voice. "I just needed a hug so badly. He knew exactly what I needed."

I knelt beside them and touched her knee softly as she and David embraced. It was a holy moment of connection that soothed her hurting heart. At that moment, David, who had a disability and was nonverbal, poured out love to a stranger, offering her comfort and connection.

David, my gentle teacher, was showing me how to be my truest self. I simply needed to listen to my heart and consent to be me. In this holy moment, something clicked.

I did not have to be good enough.

I did not have to be kind enough.

I did not have to be perfect.

I did not have to try so hard.

I had nothing to prove. I simply needed to be me.

Taken from Brave Love: Making Space for You to be You by Lisa Leonard. Copyright © 2019 by Lisa Leonard. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.

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