Different: The Story of an Outside-the-Box Kid and the Mom Who Loved Him

Different: The Story of an Outside-the-Box Kid and the Mom Who Loved Him

Different: The Story of an Outside-the-Box Kid and the Mom Who Loved Him

Different: The Story of an Outside-the-Box Kid and the Mom Who Loved Him


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Nathan was different and Sally knew it.
From his early childhood, Nathan was bursting with creativity and uncontainable energy, struggling not only with learning issues but also with anxiety and OCD. He saw the world through his own unique lens—one that often caused him to be labeled as “bad,” “troubled,” or someone in need of “fixing.”

Bravely choosing to listen to her motherly intuition rather than the loud voices of the world, Sally dared to believe that Nathan’s differences could be part of an intentional design from a loving Creator with a plan for his life. She trusted that the things that made him different were the very things that could make him great.

Join Sally and Nathan as they share their stories from a personal perspective as mother and son. If you are in need of help and hope in your own journey with an outside-the-box child, or if you’re an adult trying to make sense of your differences, you’ll find deep insight, resonance, and encouragement in the pages of this book. Dare to love and nurture the “different” one in your life.

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781496420114
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers
Publication date: 01/24/2017
Pages: 256
Sales rank: 480,752
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Sally Clarkson is the beloved author of multiple bestselling books, including Own Your Life, The Lifegiving Home with her daughter Sarah, Desperate with Sarah Mae, and Different with her son Nathan. As a mother of four, she has inspired thousands of women through Whole Heart Ministries and Mom Heart conferences.

Nathan Clarkson is an author, actor, indie filmmaker, and artist. The son of bestselling authors Clay and Sally Clarkson, he coauthored the Publishers Weekly bestselling book Different: The Story of an Outside-the-Box Kid and the Mom Who Loved Him. He lives in New York and Los Angeles.

Virginia Wolf is a Connecticut-based actress and radio personality. In addition to appearing on stage throughout the state, she hosts a weekly radio show on arts and entertainment and is founder of Herstory Theater.

Rudy Sanda is a versatile actor, singer, voice-over artist, and fight choreographer. He has appeared on stage and screen in the United States and England, including productions at Laguna Playhouse, Ivoryton Playhouse, and Ocean State Theatre. Rudy holds a BFA in acting from the University of Rhode Island.

Read an Excerpt


The Story of an Outside-the-Box Kid and the Mom Who Loved Him

By Sally Clarkson, Nathan Clarkson, Anne Christian Buchanan

Tyndale House Publishers

Copyright © 2016 Sally Clarkson and Nathan Clarkson
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4964-2011-4


I'm Different

Learning to See and Celebrate God's Fingerprints in Our Lives


I've always known I was different. It wasn't something I chose or an identity I one day decided to wear. Being different is woven into the very fabric of who I am. Part of it comes from the various "disorders" that have challenged me and my family, and part of it simply comes from the outside-the-box personality God decided to give me.

Being different has made itself evident in every corner of my life, peeking out and reminding me whenever I start to think I might be normal.

I know I'm different because when other children were content with walking on the sidewalk, I felt the need to climb the rails. Because when others' questions would stop, mine seemed to go on without end, often frustrating those who ran out of answers.

I know I'm different because when I was fifteen I began taking six showers a day and washing my hands until they bled.

I know I'm different because my mind seems to change channels at will, making it nearly impossible to focus on any one thing for more than a few minutes.

I know I'm different because no matter how hard I looked at the math problem or how many times my tutor explained it, my mind simply couldn't grasp the simple numerical basics that seemed to come so easy to my friends and siblings.

I know I'm different because while I long for affection, I am often scared to touch the ones I love for fear of contaminating them.

I know I'm different because even now as a twenty-seven-year-old adult, there are times when the weight of the world seems so heavy I don't feel able to leave my apartment.

I know I'm different because I've been told so by every important person in my life.


"Do you just try to be different?" That was one of the most familiar phrases of my childhood and youth and even into my adulthood — though I was not consciously aware of this until I pondered my life while trying to figure out Nathan's.

The message wasn't I love your uniqueness, your individualism.

It was Why cant you just fit in?

"Since you are so pale and blond, you will have to try harder to have color in your face. You will need to wear mascara and lipstick every day to look beautiful."

"Are you watching your weight? And when was your last haircut?"

"That's a strange thing to say. Why would you even think that?"

"You try to think up every weird ideal and decision to pursue — just to embarrass our family."

These messages and others like them were the foundation of my psyche as a girl growing up. After I became an adult, the criticism was more often implied than spoken, but I heard it loud and clear: "Please don't tell my friends about the books you have written. Your values are a little bit 'out there,' and we wouldn't want to give anyone the wrong impression."

And the theme of all this communication was You're different — and that's not okay.

I was not trying to be different. I just was. I thought differently. I questioned things as they were. School bored me. I bounced my foot nervously during church and probably talked too much. I was definitely a little wild and dramatically idealistic in my values and dreams. And that made some of my family uncomfortable. They wanted me to fit in.

I realize now that I was probably one of those children who today would be diagnosed with an alphabet's worth of letters — ADHD, OCD, perhaps a couple of other Ds. Those terms are part of my daily vocabulary now, but that wasn't true back then. My parents certainly weren't informed of such things. There were fewer resources and less understanding of learning issues and mental illness. And of course I had no idea these issues framed my life. I only knew that I frustrated others from time to time by just being myself.

So I just muddled through. Because of training and peer pressure to conform, I managed (mostly) to hide my differences. Looking back through the corridors of my life, I now realize that I "stuffed" and suppressed my feelings and learned how to pull back so other people would accept me. I learned to avoid the conflict of being misunderstood again. Only much later, through time and experience and especially Nathan, would I come to a different understanding about being different.

I am writing this from the haven of my small, covered deck, sipping my cup of hot tea as I gaze out at tall pines swaying in the whispering wind. Yes, I'm out here again. Being outdoors is one of the best ways I know to find peace for my always active mind. And life is good, because finally I feel at ease in my own skin. I have come to actually like who I am, at least most of the time. But the journey of liking who I am, as I am, with all my strengths, passions, flaws, and imperfections, has been a long journey. It has taken most of my life.

I have always had secret dreams, pleasures, and ideas bubbling inside me as well as an adventuresome spirit — a willingness to take risks, to experience life at its fullest, to question hypocrisy, and to point it out when others kept silent. All this plus a larger-than-life personality type meant I was often just too much for some of my family, though others in my world of friends loved the "bigness" of who I was.

My sweet mama, especially, struggled to cope with what I was like. She was a devoted and loving mama, but it took me years to understand that she was probably insecure and terrified that I might do something that would bring her criticism from her family or friends. I wasn't the one with a problem, in other words. She was. She had no idea how to accept me and to validate the person I was on a daily basis.

Let me add that I am long past blaming my parents and especially my mother. She did the best she could within the limits of her own perspective. She was a generous person, and she gave me a love for life in many areas where she felt comfortable. She also (inadvertently) taught me a valuable lesson that has served me well as a mama — that it is easy for parents to pass on unnecessary guilt, shame, and insecurity to their children because we fear the rejection of critical and judgmental people in our lives. So if I can help other parents understand the profound importance of accepting children as they are, perhaps I can save those children from some of the anguish I felt for many years.

There are an infinite number of ways to be different and to feel like one doesn't fit in. The difference can be personality driven. It can involve physiological issues, mental illness, or emotional issues, and can be shaped by experience. (Nathan's case, it turned out, did involve several clinical disorders as well as a number of personality quirks that set him apart from the crowd.) And feeling different — being different — is something our culture, especially our Christian culture, does not talk about much. People often turn their heads away from people and situations they don't understand and pretend they do not exist. And the words "mental illness" can make them positively squirm.

But the truth is, all of us are a little bit quirky in some way or another. All of us have Achilles' heels, uniquely vulnerable areas of our bodies, minds, and personalities. And some of us, to be honest, are a little quirkier than others — which is why we struggle so much and why other people — especially parents, teachers, and authority figures — have a hard time dealing with us. We are not convenient to their expectations of how life ought to play itself out.

But these personality differences, these outside-the-box preferences and approaches to life, don't have to be liabilities. Or they don't have to be only liabilities. They can actually be a gift to us and to others who are willing to look at life through our unique lenses.

Through my years I have discovered that most of us hide a great deal of who we are deep inside, fearing to reveal our flaws, our failures, our weaknesses, our wildness, and especially our "craziness," because we do not want to be rejected by others. Peer pressure and the voices of authority teach us that we should conform to the boxes of cultural expectations because it will save us from criticism.

Yet psychologists know that "stuffing" our real feelings and thoughts only produces havoc in our bodies, hearts, and minds. Learning to love ourselves, to be humble enough to admit our limitations, to truly appreciate the gifts our differences bring while also being willing to accept help and healing for the most painful ones, gives us greater mental, emotional, and spiritual health.

God made each of us with a unique set of "fingerprints" — our basic personality, physical makeup, and mental capacity, not to mention our God-given spirit. And we each face a unique set of life circumstances — health issues, teaching and modeling, experiences such as success and failure, nurture and abuse. All of these shape our unique story, which often defines our external behavior. But even in this broken world, where our differences often come with burdensome baggage, the imprint of God on our lives still gives value to each one of us as we are.

We are so often encouraged to fit into the boxes of academic achievement, intellectual prowess, recognizable achievements, personality profiles, status, money, power, external significance — to perform, to fit in the box, to be acceptable. Yet our wonderful God loves us unconditionally, now and forever. We do not have to work to please Him. He values us for what is inside our hearts — our character and integrity, our ability to love, to be faithful, to help others, and to show compassion. Our individual personalities are a gift of His design so that we might add color and variety to the world. And He can use our unique combination of circumstances — even the painful ones like mental illness — for our good and His glory.

Perhaps my own background of feeling inadequate for being "me" prepared me, at least a little, for the gift of my own outside-the-box boy, Nathan. Because I always wanted someone to know me and still love me — to actually like me as I was — I was predisposed to champion him with all of his differences.

But that doesn't mean it was easy! Far from it.

In fact, God must have a sense of humor because he gave me the gift of a little boy who was really different. A boy whose outsized needs and over-the-top behavior would test the far limits of my love, challenge my desire to have a heart of compassion, force my ability to live slowly and patiently, and defy my ability to tame or control my circumstances.

Nathan's differences stretched me and challenged my own limits of wanting to fit in, to not bring more criticism and judgment, and my deep desire to have life be controllable. By loving him through the peaks and valleys of his own life journey in our home, I learned even more the meaning of the preciousness and value of each human being, who is crafted mysteriously by the hands of God. I learned to appreciate and celebrate difference (not just "cope with it") because all human beings are a work of the Artist and have infinite value to the One who made them.


Excerpted from Different by Sally Clarkson, Nathan Clarkson, Anne Christian Buchanan. Copyright © 2016 Sally Clarkson and Nathan Clarkson. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Read This First (Even If You Never Read Introductions), xi,
5. A Heart like Superman LIVING INTO A HIGHER PURPOSE, 61,
6. The Grand Performance THE THERAPY OF NATURE AND CREATION, 81,
8. Different Drumming EMBRACING THE SONGS OF OUR HEARTS, 105,
9. A Place to Belong A HOME BASE FOR THRIVING, 129,
10. Voices of Darkness, Voices of Truth THE TRICKY JOURNEY TOWARD MATURITY, 151,
11. Naming the Enemy WHY ACCEPTANCE IS ONLY A FIRST STEP, 163,
13. Watch Me Fly! LIVING FOR GOD'S APPLAUSE, 199,
Epilogue: Don't Give Up on Your Story, 217,
Notes, 223,
About the Authors, 225,

What People are Saying About This

Sarah Mae

Sally has protected her family by keeping certain stories hidden from the public sphere until now. In Different, we are offered a vulnerable look behind the curtain into the story of a son with mental illness and a mother who fought to love well even when it felt impossible. The stories and truths in Different have not been shared before, and they will absolutely bring hope and freedom to those who struggle with their “different” children and think, I can’t do this; it’s just too hard. If you have an outside-the-box child, this is a must-read.

S. D. Smith

For decades, Sally Clarkson has been a strong, wise guide for families. In Different, she is more vulnerable than ever before, recording a memoir of moving through a refining experience and sharing her notes from the journey. She and her son Nathan recount this ongoing struggle with faith-affirming honesty, offering insight and hope for families who face similarly bewildering battles. An at-times-painful story, Different is honest about Sally’s and Nathan’s progress without ending in a neat and tidy total victory. Instead, the book invites us into a faithful, resolved embrace of the story God is weaving even through the most painful and perplexing of our weaknesses.

Sara Hagerty

In Different, Sally Clarkson invited me to pursue God’s heart for my own outside-the-box child. Her seasoned and experienced words lifted this mama’s eyes off What could be wrong with my child? or What could be wrong with me? and on to Christ and all the possibilities of His beauty and power in the life of a person. This is a message for every parent’s heart. I recommend these pages both to those who feel like they have outside-the-box children and to those whose children color within the lines.

Elizabeth Foss

Mental illnesses are not casserole diseases. Well-meaning folks don’t show up on your porch with a covered dish and a shoulder to cry on when your child is struggling with mental illness. But you wish they would. With this book, Sally Clarkson offers weary moms the nourishing feast for which they are starved. With equal parts empathy and wisdom, she breathes hope into the lives of parents who daily labor to lovingly raise outside-the-box children. Nathan grants us unprecedented, invaluable insight into the mind of the child as he grows. Sally assures us that though we will certainly be challenged, humbled, and humiliated, this story is not about us, but about being faithful to God to raise a uniquely challenged and challenging child. With warm understanding, she gives us tangible tools and healthy, hearty food for the journey.

Sarah Mackenzie

Raw and uplifting, this book is the assurance for weary moms everywhere: You don’t have to feel inadequate or alone anymore. We all long to see our outside-the-box children as blessings, but sometimes that feels impossible. This book gives us the grace to struggle through it. Thank you, Nathan and Sally. Both of you are brave and beautiful.

Dr. Scott Turansky

I have watched the ministries of Sally and Nathan over the years, and I’m thrilled to see how God has used a “different” boy to bless so many. This is a book of hope and inspiration told through the eyes of a mom who, like so many parents today, must deal with the day-to-day challenges of working with a unique and special child.

Shawna Wingert

As a mother of two outside-the-box children, I found myself tearing up and nodding my head in agreement as I read Different. In the end, I felt so very grateful for this book. Sally and Nathan are both vulnerable and real as they describe the day-to-day life of a “different” child. Reading the unique perspectives of both mother and child is powerful. Moreover, the love that flows throughout this book makes even the most difficult experiences hope-filled and encouraging. I cannot recommend Different enough!

Jamie Ivey

Sally’s and Nathan’s voices are needed in this day and age of parenting. This book was an encouragement for me on so many levels, as a mama, friend, and woman in ministry. Both Sally and Nathan display the love and grace of Jesus toward each other, and that is a message that transfers to people all over the world.

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