Finding Belonging in Christ
The author lives in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan.
As the walls of prejudice regarding my sons’ challenges came tumbling down, my family found a sense of belonging—and the great joy that comes from the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We often hear that love can heal all wounds, but I didn’t know just how true this was until I lived it.
For years, my family struggled to find a place to belong. My two boys were diagnosed with autism and ADHD at a young age, and due to their uncontrollable and often disruptive behavior, many people weren’t understanding of their situation. In my home country of Japan, 98 percent of the population is Japanese. In any area with low diversity, it can be difficult for society to accept those who are even a little bit different.
When my children were young, I tried to enroll them in preschool. I began applying to schools in the area, but with each application, I encountered the same difficult response: as soon as the staff met my sons and found out about their condition, we were informed that the school no longer had any openings. Eventually a facility in a neighboring town welcomed us, but this was only after we were rejected by every preschool in our city.
It was incredibly painful.
Riding public transportation wasn’t much easier. Sometimes, when I would scold the boys for making too much noise on the train, they would act out, causing strangers to tell me that I was being abusive. Other times, I would restrain myself from quieting the boys out of fear of how they might react, only to have other passengers tell me that I was being neglectful.
I even had social workers insist that I place one of my children in a semipermanent facility, with contact only once every two years, because they believed I’d never be able to raise two children with autism and ADHD as a single mother. However, having personally experienced the pains of a difficult childhood—my parents divorced when I was a toddler and for various reasons weren’t able to care for me—I was determined to do my best to give my sons the deep love that every child deserves.
Safely Gathered In
Several years ago, I attended a work seminar, and I noticed that some of the seminar leaders would fold their arms and bow their heads before eating lunch. These people are usually so nice, I thought to myself. Why are they in such a bad mood whenever they sit down to eat?
I quickly learned that they were praying—not sulking—and I couldn’t help but ask more questions about their faith. They were overwhelmingly kind and had such a unique spirit about them, and I yearned to know more. I learned that they were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and we quickly accepted their invitation to attend church with them.
Due to his autism, my younger son was afraid of being in large groups and meeting new people, but the ward welcomed us with open arms and did everything they could to accommodate our needs. The members set aside a special room at the back of the chapel just for my son, and they fulfilled our request to avoid making eye contact with him until he felt more at ease. Even when one of my children would disrupt sacrament meeting, we were treated with the utmost respect and kindness.
I saw my sons unfold in the warmth of the ward’s embrace. They quickly made new friends, and my sons even started to attend Primary classes on days that I was unable to attend church.
We were eventually baptized, a memory that still brings tears to my eyes. At the baptismal service, the ward members—understanding my children’s fear of crowds—tiptoed into the back of the room after the boys had been seated to avoid frightening them. Afterward, we were offered a mountain of congratulatory sweets, and the love in the room was so palpable that my sons remarked, “I want to be baptized again!”
I have nothing but gratitude in my heart when I think about the deep love demonstrated by the members in our ward—a love that ultimately allowed us to find the light of the gospel. The ward perfectly encapsulated what it means to have our “hearts knit together in unity and in love one towards another” (Mosiah 18:21). My family was truly blessed by the kindness of these welcoming Latter-day Saints.
Finding Peace and Belonging
It’s now been two years since my sons and I were baptized. Both of my sons have been ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood, and I’ve seen an incredible change in their demeanors.
I’m grateful for the many caring individuals who accepted my family and who helped my sons overcome their fears through the power of love. I’m grateful for the gospel of Jesus Christ, through which even the deepest wounds of prejudice can be healed. And above all, I’m grateful for a loving Heavenly Father, who prepared a way for my family to find peace and belonging, even when I couldn’t see what that path would be.
I’ve learned that as we make room for our differences, we make room for greater love. Each of us is a beloved child of heavenly parents, and as we remember this truth, we can all—no matter where we are or who we are—become one in Christ (see Doctrine and Covenants 38:27).