Community

Why My Path is Different From Yours

I know better than to compare my son to his peers, who have no special needs. But the desire for affirmation, to know that we’re ok (because most days, it honestly feels like we are all but ok), has often led me to the comparison trap, even comparing my child and myself to other special needs families. Though some of us, who have children with special needs, seem to walk side by side, we each have our own path to follow. And even though I might know what it’s like to walk in your shoes, it’s good to know we are hiking along different trails.

At a time when you don’t want to feel alone in your hardship, why is this a good thing?

Special Needs Mom, Don't compare.

Because We Are Different

I’m a checklist-dependent, time-obsessed, overly organized control freak. But that all changed when I had children. The constant changes that come from having children in your life fought against every part of my Type A personality. And the way I handle my son’s special needs may be different from the way you respond to yours. But that difference could be useful. When I face the same battles day in and day out, my reactions can sometimes be on auto-pilot. But seeing how a friend handles her special needs child allows me to see these challenges from a different angle and perhaps change my responses for the better.

Because Our Children Are Different

The world of special needs covers such a wide spectrum of disabilities and challenges. Some are physically exhausting, while others zap your mental energy. Some disabilities are visible, while others are only apparent to those who get close enough to notice. Some children are high-functioning with the potential to be more independent, while others will likely need assistance for the rest of their lives. We can find hope, encouragement, and inspiration from each other’s stories, but it makes no sense to compare our children’s progress. Their successes will occur at different times and to different degrees, and we will celebrate them all.

Because God Works in a Variety of Ways

It had been a while since I checked my social media feed, but something gripped me, pierced me right in the center of the most tender part of my emotions. Not at all prepared for the sudden outpouring of tears, I strained to hold them back until I relocated to another room, away from any possible inquiry from my children.

What I read was a brief account of a child with special needs, who had made leaps and bounds beyond what others expected. The post was full of hope and rejoicing and did not warrant the sorrowful reaction I gave it. But for that moment, I grieved. I grieved for the mountains that my own child had not scaled, the doors that were not opened for him, and the obstacles that remained in his path.

But my husband wouldn’t let me dwell too long on the comparisons, knowing it’s an exercise in futility. He reminded me that God is working in that family as He is in ours. It won’t look exactly the same.

We are different.

Our children are different.

But we have the same God, working in a variety of ways to bring about the same glorious outcome.

“On earth, the underside of the tapestry was tangled and unclear; but in heaven, we will stand amazed to see the topside of the tapestry and how God beautifully embroidered each circumstance into a pattern for our good and His glory.”
~ Joni Erickson Tada

Community, Coping with the Challenges

The Needs of the Special Needs Mom

When we found out that our child had some severe developmental delays, it was the beginning of a very long and tearful journey. Is this your reality? Or perhaps you know someone whose dreams for their child have taken an unexpected turn.

Though the world may applaud her for her sacrifices and dedication, in reality the mother of this child has some special needs of her own.

The Needs of the Special Needs Mom

She needs a break.

After homeschooling a child with special needs for the past 7 years, one thing has remained consistent: this kid requires A LOT of breaks. But the mother needs breaks as well. Tension can rise quickly even during the most simple conversations. Hitting the pause button or even switching activities can prove invaluable.

She needs time away from her child.

Sometimes a short break is not enough. Because I spend almost every waking moment with my child, I am physically and mentally exhausted before day’s end. I’m thankful when my husband will sometimes take our son out before we both become completely unglued. On a more extreme case, my husband recently whisked me away to the beach for a couple of days because he knew stress levels were high in the home. Even though I resisted the idea (not because I hate beaches, but because the control freak in me didn’t want to leave my son for that long), it was a necessary time to recharge. If you have a friend in this situation, you can offer to take her kid out or, perhaps, she would appreciate it more if you took her out.

Want to know the story behind this photo? Click here.

She needs a listening, sympathetic, and compassionate ear.

Sometimes this mom needs to let it out, vent if you will. She wants to talk about how daily tasks are a common battleground, how she feels like she’s not doing enough to help her child, how it’s hard to join play groups, and how the frequent meltdowns are enough to keep her from leaving the house. She wants to talk freely without judgment. Though there is a place for a timely word of encouragement, sometimes she just needs a friend who will listen and weep with her.

She needs encouragement.

I’m going to be honest with you. Encouraging words for someone struggling in this are not the easiest things to come by. Should you tell her you can relate even though you don’t have a child with special needs? Should you go the practical route and suggest something from a parenting book you just read? Should you tell her everything will be ok or things aren’t that bad? Though meant well, sometimes these responses can sting the open wounds of an already hurting mother.

But don’t shrink back from reaching out to this mom. She needs you to be a true friend, even if you are not in the same situation as she is. The best encouragement I have received have come in the form of a prayer, a Bible verse, or simply “I love you.”

Do you have a child with special needs? What do you need right now?

Community

To the Ones Who Reached Out to My Child

My son was just trying to make conversation, but it was very one-sided. If he’s passionate about something, he will talk your ear off, regardless of your opinions on the subject. Clearly, the other child on the receiving end of this information overload just didn’t get my son. “There’s something wrong with his brain,” I overheard him say to someone else, and I realized he was talking about my child.

At that moment, I wanted to cry but controlled it to spare myself from being the center of attention at a public place. I wanted to scoop up my child, put my arms around him, and shield him from any hurt, intentional or unintentional, that will come from this world.

But I know putting him in a protective bubble is not what’s best. As cruel as the world can sometimes be, there are people God has placed in my child’s path to reach out to him, and you are one of them. You may be thinking, “Me? What did I do?”

You greeted him.

A simple “hello” goes a long way. Far too many of us are preoccupied with our own world or the world being displayed on the tiny screen in our hands, that we fail to look up and notice the person right in front of us, who could use a simple smile to brighten his day.

You listened to him.

Not only did you say “hi”, but you asked the loaded question, “How are you?” Perhaps, you were not expecting a detailed catalog of all the Minions and their unique characteristics or a list of voice actors from The Lego Movie, but you looked at him and listened to it all.

You hugged him.

I think this assures him of acceptance by you. Isolation is his fear, as is the case with many of us, so a handshake, a hug, or a high-five allow him to experience the human connection that any person seeks after.

You invited him.

He seemed content to be alone, but you went out of your way to invite him to sit with you. Honestly, social situations are still challenging for him, so he probably felt awkward about accepting the invitation. Nonetheless, you took a courageous step with a seemingly simple kind gesture.

You became his friend.

He doesn’t have very many friends. In fact, if you asked him who they are, he would list names of family members … brothers, sisters, mom, and dad. But you … he mentioned you. You became his friend.

Approaching someone who’s “different” can be intimidating. I understand that. After all, if you’re not crossing paths, why take the detour to intentionally go to that person? Why risk the potential awkwardness of the encounter? Would it even make a difference?

Yes, it does … it certainly does.

Community, Coping with the Challenges

Not Just Another Sunday School Class

The Lord is my shepherdThis past Sunday, we were faced with a challenge. We checked in our children in their respective Sunday School classes and joined the rest of the congregation at the worship service. Just when the sermon began, one of Gabriel’s teachers came in and pulled my husband out. I sat there, quietly praying that whatever the issue was, my husband would be able to handle it by God’s grace. He came back a few minutes later and whispered, “It’s okay. He just needed to go to the bathroom and needed some help.” A few more minutes passed, and my husband was called out again. And once more, I prayed silently at my seat. Another usher came back and motioned for me to come with him. Oh no, I thought. This doesn’t look good. When I walked out into the foyer, a few more ushers pointed in the direction where my husband went. He was standing outside the student center with Gabriel, and as I came closer, I noticed he was struggling to keep him still.

It turns out that while Gabriel was in the bathroom, the rest of the class continued with their activities. By the time Gabriel had finished and joined the class, they were doing something completely different from when he first left the room. This was a difficult transition for him. He wanted the class to be the way it was before. We finally had to pull him out of class. Stuck in that specific point in time, we could tell he would be unable to calm down. One of his teachers gave me a reassuring hug before we left and prayed for us. She and her husband have been truly an encouragement to us these past three years that they have had Gabriel in their class. They have never made us feel bad about Gabriel’s meltdowns, though I know they have created quite a stir in the class. The next day, she called to let me know they are praying for us, and they made themselves available for any help that we may need.

How important it is for us to come alongside one another! A hug, a prayer, a timely Bible verse of encouragement. We need each other. It’s easy for us to just turn the other way, limit our involvement, and move on with our own lives. But, God adopted us into His family. He made each of us a member of the body of Christ.

DSC_8457After we left the classroom that Sunday, the three of us walked back to our car. Our emotions were high, and my husband and I needed some time to calm our hearts as much as Gabriel did. After incidents like this, we are usually so prone to discouragement. But while we were in the car, people were praying … the two teachers as well as the children in his class. God heard and answered their intercessions. In the past, Gabriel would be inconsolable, and my husband would have to spend the remainder of the morning in the car with him. But this was not the case on that Sunday morning. The Lord flooded both my husband and I with peace, and our Gabriel, who had been screaming in his classroom just a few minutes prior, was instantly calm and quiet.

We were able to return to the building with our son and hear God’s Word preached. God is good!

 

(Photo credit 1: Tojosan)
(Photo credit 2: caddy_corner)

Community, Trusting God

The Nearness of God

Two Friends, One Beach

I have a friend, who is going through the most difficult trial of her life. A little over a year ago, her husband abandoned her, their marriage covenant, and The Lord. God has given me the privilege of being with her throughout this trial, listening to her, encouraging her, and praying with her. Recently, she said to me, “I’ve never been as close to God as I am now.”

Another sister in Christ shared with me a different kind of trial. This sister is just beginning her marriage, but she has been facing hostility from her husband’s family. They slander her when she is not present and refuse to acknowledge her when she is. With all this mistreatment, she has no idea why they hate her so much. In an email she sent to me, she wrote, “Although it hurts and I wish they wouldn’t be so cruel, a part of me feels closer to God …”

These two women are living examples of James 1:2.

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds”

I am sure what they are having to endure is difficult. I am sure they desire a resolution to their trial soon. I am sure they hope and pray for a happy ending: that the husband who left would come to his senses and return to The Lord and his wife, and that the strained family relationships would be reconciled for this newly married woman.

Though they would wish to be under different circumstances, I am sure they would want one thing to remain: their nearness to their God.

The Lord has crafted the trial in each woman’s life in such a way that would give Him the most glory. As they draw close to Him and proclaim His steadfast love, His empowering strength, His abundant goodness, and His sufficient grace, He is glorified!

One coffee?So, here I am, trying to be a good friend to these sisters and help them in their time of need. But I am the one who has been encouraged in my own trial. The Lord has shown me by these women’s lives what true joy in the midst of a storm looks like.

I wish that I knew what exactly is going on with my son, Gabriel. I wish that we didn’t clash so much when we try to communicate with one another. I wish he got along better with his siblings. I wish he would stop all the repetition that masters him. I wish my circumstances were different.

But if, through this trial, God is drawing me closer to Himself, then I will wish no more. Instead, I will hope … I will hope in Him.

From this tangled mess of sin, frustration, doubt, and fear, God is weaving a beautiful tapestry. I can’t see it yet; I must wait … and when He has completed His work, people will behold His masterpiece and say, “To God be the glory!”

 

(Photo credit 1: Damian Gadal)
(Photo credit 2: Sheilasan)

Community

Shelter From the Storm

Typhoon Haiyan Devastates the Philippines

Sometimes I get so caught up in my own problems that I fail to notice what is happening around me. A conversation with someone reminded me that the God who is doing mighty things halfway across the world is doing great things in my own life … even in the midst of suffering. This person I spoke to has travelled back and forth from the United States to the Philippines numerous times to provide help to a church on one of the islands, including the construction of a building that now houses worship services and other ministries. I’m sure you’ve heard countless stories of the havoc left by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. This is one story that you probably have not heard. It is a story offering hope in the midst of devastation.

In one of the regions that was in the direct path of the storm, there stands a building. This building is a place where God’s kingdom is advanced. And during this fierce typhoon, it was no different. Many homes in the area were made of lightweight materials, not able to withstand such a powerful force, like Haiyan. About a hundred people, who have never set foot in this building before (perhaps some have never set foot inside any church building), came there seeking shelter from the coming storm.

And while the people were gathered there with no other place to go, the pastor of that church preached the good news of Jesus Christ. He taught them from Ephesians 2. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, Typhoon Haiyan - Tacloban, Philippineseven when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved” (Ephesians 2:4-5)

They thought they found refuge when they entered the building, but they found more than that. There, they were directed to a Person, who is the ultimate refuge and calm in the midst of all the storms of life.

“For You have been a stronghold to the poor,
a stronghold to the needy in his distress,
a shelter from the storm … ” (Isaiah 25:4)

After the typhoon exited the area, three people came back to that building the following Sunday to join the worship service. A seed was planted. May God Almighty cause the growth!

 

(Photo credit 1: UNHCR Photo Download)
(Photo credit 2: Nove foto da Firenze)

Community, Coping with the Challenges

The Pursuit of Peace

Coming home from day 1 of a women’s conference, where the topic was about conflict resolution, it wasn’t long before I was put to the test. Just in my own home, where six sinners reside, conflicts are plentiful. I was giving my son, Gabriel, some instructions for bedtime, the same instructions I give every night.  It’s part of our routine, which is integral for his comfort and assurance. Sometimes, I’ll break off just a little bit from that familiar routine in order to train him to be flexible in situations. But, that little break will often lead to conflict. And, if my mind and heart are not ready to receive and resolve that conflict biblically, sin will multiply.

argument.We live in a sinful idol-worshipping world, where the foremost idol is self. In other words, conflict is inevitable. Every which way you turn, there is a potential for disagreement, quarrels, friction, hostilities, or an all-out feud. And beware … those small conflicts can explode into one chaotic mess or, worse, will often be overlooked and remain unresolved until it has grown into a deep root of bitterness. My conflict with Gabriel was over brushing his teeth! But, within me, I felt the frustration come to a quick boil, and I was tempted to release the steam to quickly resolve that conflict.

How do you resolve conflict? Do you go to The Lord first? Do you consider what His word says about your problem? Do you insist on what you believe to be your rights or do you consider the other person’s interests before your own?

There is so much to share about what I learned during that conference, but it can be summarized into this one amazing truth, which ought to end all disagreements and fights, big or small.

For Christians, our greatest conflict has been settled.

“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners,

Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

Remember what we once were: enemies of God, objects of His wrath, lovers of darkness. What you perceive to be your biggest conflict at the present time would seem to be merely a squabble in light of the former hostility between us and our Creator. Let us not forget what He did for us. Jesus Christ, through His death on the cross, reconciled us to God. Where there was once conflict, there is now peace.

 

(Photo Credit: smile_kerry)

Community

God’s Will and Prayer

*Jan is like many moms I know. She homeschools her 2 boys and is trying to figure out how to best occupy her very active 2-year old girl when school is in session. She is also a follower of Christ. We attend the same local church, but I don’t know her that well and don’t always have an opportunity to talk with her. Today, God put her in my path. She shared with me that for a long time now, she has had a burden for children with special needs. Before she married, she worked with such children in the educational field. She thought that God would one day give her a child with special needs … that perhaps, all the training and experience she received were to be used for her own child. That was not God’s plan.

But, the burden to serve in that very specific way is still there. So, she prays. She told me she has prayed for Gabriel. She was one of the women who reached out to me on that eventful “Picture Day” a few weeks ago (click here for that story). She also prays for the few other families in our church who are going through the challenges of raising a child with special needs. It is no small thing that she prays for us, and perhaps, it is in God’s plan to entrust her with more.

What encouraged me about this woman is that she is praying. She is communing with God about these desires that He has given her. We can often have a thought about helping the prayer continuedsomeone or filling a need, but we don’t proceed further. We don’t inquire of The Lord. We don’t step out in obedience.

Perhaps we don’t know if something is truly God’s will for us. We have desires, but we wonder if those desires are from The Lord. Let me encourage you. Doing nothing accomplishes nothing. Start with prayer.

“When God aims to do a great work, the first thing he harnesses is the power of prayer. He starts by planting the spark of desire in a few hearts. Then through prayer he fans it into a flame. Then the flame of desire and faith spreads to others. Soon large numbers are on their knees imploring the great work. Then God acts. Then he pours down his blessing. God loves to do great works of redemption. But even more he loves to do it in answer to prayer.” — John Piper, “We Have Not Because We Ask Not

 

(Photo credit: ☻☺)
*Note: Names have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

Community, Family Life

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

When I grow up I want to be a scientist.When I was a child, I wanted to become a teacher, an artist, an astronomer, and a marine biologist … just to name a few. It’s funny, with my wide range of interests, what industry I found myself working in full-time (finance) and where I am now (a stay-at-home, homeschooling mom). Currently, my daughter wants to be a “cupcake artist,” and my 4-year-old wants to be a ninja. However, when most children are eager to tell you what they want to be when they grow up, my oldest son, Gabriel, would rather avoid the subject altogether.

When my children and I were casually talking about this topic, Gabriel just shook his head and said, “I don’t want to grow up. I want to stay with you forever.” Awww, a very sweet thing to say. But then again, I’m not sure I would feel that way when he’s in his thirties and won’t leave the house. Honestly, I have a hard time imagining my son in his thirties, even twenties, even as a teenager. The day-to-day can be frustrating, as there seems to be no progress at all. Then, someone comes along and says, “That’s amazing how much he has improved!” Like the growth of a child, you may not notice the incremental upward movements, but someone, who hasn’t seem them in a while, will not fail to notice the change. Gabriel’s path to maturity may be different from others, but he is on that path.

As children of God, our spiritual paths may differ. Some will mature faster than others. Lessons to be learned will not be the same. The circumstances are tailored specifically for each person. Therefore, comparisons are not productive; it can stunt growth. Instead, we ought to spur each other on to maturity, knowing that we are not all growing at the same rate. But, we must seek to grow, to excel still more, and avoid complacency.

Like Gabriel, we may not want to grow up. But we cannot remain as children in our spiritual maturity. There are grave consequences.

” … so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:14-15).

Perhaps we may be comfortable where we are at. Seeking to grow and mature means risk. If I commit to serving in a ministry, I may be called on to do something during inconvenient times. If I study the Bible more, I may have to give an account of the hope I’ve been given. Or worse, I may be persecuted for my beliefs. If I pray, I may have to let go of my independence. If I reach out to someone who is suffering, I may have to bear their burdens. If I seek counsel, I may have to be humbled.

But, in the end, we will find that the perceived risk was not risk at all when it was all done for Christ. Unlike my children, whose career choices change every week, we can remain steadfast and focused in our spiritual growth because our goal and prize in the end will never change. To the praise and glory of Jesus Christ!

 

(Photo Credit: Intrepidteacher)

Community, Homeschool

Picture Day

105 - School Picture Day

School picture day is usually a highlight for most students. I remember standing in front of the bathroom mirror weeks before the anticipated day, practicing my smile. Big or half smile? Open or closed mouth? Which one is my best side? Don’t tell me I’m the only one out there who did this.

Earlier this week, our homeschool group held its annual picture day. Gabriel took his individual shots like a pro. We waited around for everyone else to finish, and then the call to gather all the children for the group picture came. This is when the tides began to turn. The children were told to line up from tallest to shortest. Obviously, the older children knew what to do, but the younger ones, like my kids, looked very lost and confused. The chatter amongst the adults and children grew louder, and when Gabriel tried to call me for help but I didn’t hear him, he started to lose it. Rearranging the students around is to be expected, but when the photographer kept changing the spot where Gabriel was to stand, that put him over the edge. In the middle of a sea of children, there was my Gabriel, frustrated and crying. God, please help me, I silently prayed as I tried to calm him down. When everything was done, the walk back to the car seemed endless. No longer able to hold back my own tears, I found myself wishing things were different.

What good came out of this? I asked God to open my eyes to see His good, the good that He promises to work together (Romans 8:28). My own tears seemed to blur any hint of good, but The Lord wiped the tears away and showed me.

During the incident when Gabriel was crying, a boy his age reached out to him. “It’s okay, Gabriel,” he comforted. Afterwards when the children dispersed, this boy approached Gabriel and gave him a hug. But my son wasn’t the only one who was the recipient of some needed encouragement. Two mothers approached me at the parking lot, hugged me, and prayed with me. This was the good that God intended from a difficult situation: He showed me love through the selfless actions of others.

When we see someone in emotional distress, it’s not always easy to approach that person. We don’t want to get involved. We are at a loss for words. We are fearful of making it more awkward and worse for that person and for us. Often, we find it easier to turn the other way. The boy and the mothers did the harder thing. They came to us. And we were blessed by it.

We turn toward others and move in their direction. That is how the kingdom of heaven works. Sin scatters people; grace draws us toward each other.*

*Quote by Edward T. Welch (biblical counselor and author)
(Photo credit: Holtsman)