Thursday, May 27, 2010
"Sons are a heritage from the LORD, children a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are sons born in one's youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them..." (Psalm 127:3-5, NIV)
Summer is upon us. The weather is warm and the excitement is high. Our children shift from the structured and demanding schedule of the school year to the footloose fun of the vacation months.
While this is the time of year every child lives for, it is often stressful for parents. Our routines are derailed. This is often the season where we've scheduled copious numbers of doctor's appointments, dentist's appointments and surgeries. There are the scheduled camps, weddings and family obligations. Anxiety can escalate for parents as we attempt to juggle the topsy-turvy days of kids being home 24/7.
It's exactly at a time like this when we need to lift our noses from the grindstone and look up to behold the beauty around us. We have a wise, old pastor at our church who likes to say, "Come apart before you come apart!" What if our personal routine can wait? What if our homes aren't as clean as we think they should be? I often remind my husband, The dirt isn't gonna grow legs and walk away -- Cleaning can wait for a little bit. Summertime provides us with a gift right under our noses that we can often be too agitated to take note of!
God tells us in His word that our children are a gift from the Lord. Why not make summer our season to delight fully in that gift? We can exchange our plans for merely enjoying these kids before it's too late. They don't stay little or remain at home forever, in most circumstances. We need to relish these days while we still can. If not, we may look back when the house is quiet and the demands of parenting have waned with regret for the time lost.
Children are notorious for bringing attention to the small things in life, those things that adults are often too busy to notice. Here are some ways that you might take advantage of that natural curiosity to make the most of the season together:
- Go on a nature hike together. Whether it be in a city park, your own backyard or out on an official trail, the time together can be precious. Equipped with a notebook and a cheap magnifying glass you can share discoveries with your growing explorer.
- Plant a "sensory garden" together. (Check out the posts from our friends Lorna & Pierette at http://kidcompanions.blogspot.com/2010/04/sensory-gardens-for-kids.html and http://kidcompanions.blogspot.com/2010_05_23_archive.html) Not only can it be a real treasure to see your child thrill in the simple act of digging dirt or planting tiny seeds, the after-effect is incredibly rewarding. It is a true learning experience for your child. And there is a sense of soothing as you listen to the gentle gong of wind chimes, witness the whirring of a pinwheel, feel the different textures of plant leafs, and smell the scent of herbs, vegetables and flowers together.
- Get down on their level with water, sand or coloring. De-stress yourself as you remember the simple gifts of childhood that come from enjoying building a sand castle, splashing in water or drawing from imagination.
- Cuddle your child, really taking in their soft skin and big eyes while you read to them. I had an educator tell me that children need to hear us read to them even into high school. And if your child is not neuro-typical, how much more do they need to hear the lilt of your voice as you share a book with them. As you do, you can also be blessed by holding them close while you are still able to. Let their warmth, the outline of their precious face be burned into your memory to treasure forever.
- Take the time to do things in the morning or evening that you wouldn't otherwise do during the school year. Dawdling over breakfast together or catching fireflies in a jar are pleasures that elude us during the rush of the school schedule.
- Take time to write down for yourself the favorite memories of the summer months. Even if you're not one who keeps a journal, writing down a brief sentence, collecting a favorite snapshot or clipping a relevant article from an event you attended can leave you with lasting fondness when reflecting on these days.
These are the ways that we fill our cups and build endurance for the tough demands of our lives. I think we can all safely say that on the last day of our lives, we'd rather count up more good days than bad. If we truly desire that, then we must work at it. The effort we put into enjoying and building happy memories with our children are surely a worthwhile pursuit!
Sunday, May 23, 2010
Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load. (Galatians 6:2-5, NIV)
An acquaintance of mine shared a hilarious encounter she recently had that sounded like something out of a sitcom episode! She was helping her elderly father with some yard work, and her aunt and uncle suddenly appear on the scene. The acquaintance shared that there has been a long-standing rivalry between her father and these visitors. The aunt and uncle have persistently bragged about their eldest daughter since nearly the day she was born. Anything this friend does can NEVER match the super-human accomplishments of this couple's daughter of the same age! She sews her own clothing, starts all of her garden plants from seed, and dances better than Ginger Rogers! The part that really got us laughing is that the parents are in their 80's and the daughters of notoriety are nearly 60! Needless to say, the competition continued in full view of my friend during their surprise visit.
While this little anecdote was laughable in light of the confidence of adulthood, all too many of us experience that same sense of competition with our own children. The fact that our offspring have special needs often brings an extra layer of hurt to the prideful behavior of others. This can be beyond one's ability to handle, especially when a child has an "invisible disability" such as learning disabilities, autism or mental illness. Those haughty types look even more condescendingly as they lack the understanding to realize that there is an unseen component to your child's level of progress. Parents are often judged as incompetent by neighbors, church members and those at the school when behaviors or lack of self-control have an underlying causality that others fail to recognize.
So, how do we get through these tough times of being belittled when already carrying a heavy burden? Here are some thoughts:
- Realize that your child is "fearfully & wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14) While it's hard to avoid, don't compare your child to others. Trust in the fact that your child is uniquely equipped with their own abilities and talents.
- Since your child IS equipped with those abilities and talents, spend some quiet time apart from the chaos of life, and reflect on the unique things about your child. Relish those qualities that make your heart full. Whether it be their precious smile or their ability to notice the little things in life, each child is a gift to be treasured. Let your own heart swell with the love you have for your child.
- Walk through life fully aware that each parent is only one emergency room visit away from having a child with a special need. God warns us that pride comes before a fall (Proverbs 16:18), and what a precipitous drop it can be for those who are walking around with their nose in the air! These parents don't know what they don't know, and are ultimately making fools of themselves!
- Be confident that you are gaining new skills and making sound decisions because of the trials you face. You are a walking encyclopedia on issues that affect your child. This makes you inordinately useful to the lives you touch every day! Don't allow someone who is arrogant and ignorant to shake your confidence!
- Support others who are struggling! God surely made us for community. We all need help when we are feeling frustrated or isolated. Because of your journey, the understanding nod or a listening ear you provide can be such a blessing to others. Make it your mission in life to grow in compassion to ALL because of what you've witnessed over the years.
- DO NOT belittle others! Too often parents who have a child with special needs think that what worked for their child should work for every other child out there. And the perception can be that others are fools if they don't use the same approach. Be wise enough to know that one size does not fit all in any given situation. Instead, use a "take it or leave it" approach when sharing with others what worked for you. Be tender when sharing your child's progress knowing that others who have not come as far may feel a bit deflated when hearing your story.
Face it, without the grace of God, none of us would have a thing to be proud of! Walking with that humble and grateful attitude takes us through life much more happily than those who need to use their children's progress in order to build up their own ego!
Friday, May 21, 2010
"For I am already being poured out like a drink offering..." (2 Timothy 4:6, NIV)
I am having a very rough day. I have recently undergone yet another surgery. I daily live a poured-out life, sacrificing for others as my spiritual act of worship. But now I'm the one in need, and the silence is deafening. What do I do? I'm the one who holds things together, makes and keeps the doctors appointments, cooks and cleans, does the home therapies. Who's there for me when I can't manage?
You've been there. I KNOW you have! Mom is the one who is the anchor of the home, especially the special needs home! If there is an IEP to prepare for, mom is on top of it. If there's a treatment to explore or a situation to advocate for her child in, mom's all over it! But what happens when Mom is the one who is in need?
Here are my few weak attempts at pointing you in the right direction as I limp down the same path with you:
- Fill your cup regularly, so that you have reserves to draw from when the going gets tough. Taking one evening a week to leave your spouse or a child care worker in charge of your children is key. Do anything you like from hobbies to exercise. I used to grab a favorite book, a small mocha and hide at the neighborhood coffee house for 90 minutes.
- Set up a good web of care to fall back on. God may not fill the void the way you think He should, but take the help where you can get it. Got girlfriends you need to call in favors from? Make sure they're at the ready. Have a group of church ladies that regularly prepare meals for "shut ins"? Get on their list.
- When life is at it's darkest, walk by faith and not by sight. Remember, that even when life doesn't make sense and you're not "feelin' the love", He's right there with you in that hopeless valley (Psalm 23:4). Sometimes, just doing the next thing, putting one foot in front of the other and going through the motions has to be good enough. We're all in survival mode sometimes.
- Be gentle with yourself. It's alright to be in a place of need. Realize that none of us are perfect, and yet, we're awesomely loved by our Maker. You may be really angry at not getting the help that you need. And it's okay to be angry. Know that this too shall pass, even it it's miserable for now.
To those who don't contend with such things, roll up your sleeves and be the Christian that you profess to be when you see a mom with a special needs child in such a position. Their daily living is difficult enough without struggling through their own personal times of need. Take the lead in helping them and make your faith real with how you act (James 1:22). God may just be providing YOU with the opportunity to BE Jesus to a family in need!
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Want to get a group of parents who have kids with special needs going? Engage them in a conversation about relatives! There are the blaming in-laws; the judgmental, unsupportive siblings; the avoidant, ignorant family members who fear being around your child. Each thinks they hold the magic bullet as to why something as tragic as a child with special needs would come into your lives. They're going to tell you like it is, set you straight, because somebody has to say something. You know it's time to take cover when they start a sentence with, "You may not want to hear this, but..."!
I've had a situation like this recently. If I had to listen to a relative of mine tell my child with ADHD one more time to "go play out in traffic," I'm not sure I could've held my tongue. This particular relative is well aware that our child has this and other diagnoses, others, yet never ceases to join with their spouse in making snide remarks about our ill-behaved child and our poor parenting skills. Thankfully, I've learned to roll with this nonsense in God-honoring ways.
In my years of leading this ministry, I've seen countless tears shed over situations just like the one I describe. The wounds of family cut deeper than any others, especially because we anticipate relatives to rally around us when we're in life's toughest situations. The truth is that family members often respond to special needs in much the same way the rest of culture does. So how do we respond to their painful behavior in a way that pleases God?
- Realize that when family leaves a void, God loves you enough to stand in that gap and send someone to bless your life with the tenderness that you need.
- Remember that you once may have been ignorant too about special needs and said insensitive things. Give others mercy, knowing that someone probably granted you the same when you were speaking foolishness.
- Be confident in your own knowledge and capabilities. "He who began a good work in you is faithful to see it to completion." (Philippians 1:6) God gave that child to you, not the one making the hurtful statements. They don't know what they don't know. And you have the primary responsibility of deciding what is best when caring for your own child. You make those decisions based on your best filtering of available information.
- Be willing to educate. Responding to comments with something like, "I used to think that too, but..." may build common ground between you and the offender. They obviously have something to learn from you.
- Take seriously Romans 12:17's warning, "Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody." Even if it means taking a "grown-up time-out", walking out to take a deep breath, do everything in your power not to hurt back those who hurt you. This is one of the most difficult calls of Christianity, yet it is one that most powerfully exhibits the difference a life of faith makes.
Please know that you're not alone in dealing with family frustrations. While there are those who have wonderful, kind, supportive relatives, many, many of us deal with quite the opposite. Fall in to the One who is "closer than a brother" and know that He will walk you through any family challenges you may face.
Friday, May 14, 2010
Monday, May 10, 2010
In this politically correct age, there is a pervasive struggle going on in Christian communities across this nation. People who believe in Jesus as the saving Son of God are feeling inhibited when it comes to sharing their faith. They wonder how they can tell others about what they hold as true without being brash or offensive. Christians walk in such fear of telling others about the Gospel, that complete series and volumes have been written on the topic, attempting to break through such barriers.
Yet, this is the one area where life is far simpler for those of us who have children with special needs than it is for the typical world. If our faith in Jesus has been our strength, our encouragement, our hope, then we have a unique opportunity to share it with other people because of our children's special needs. In fact, when our son was smaller, we used to tell him that his diagnosis was his "secret super power to tell others about Jesus"!
How is this so? Well, when bystanders see us going through incredible heartache, physical demands, and financial woes in living with a serious diagnosis, we stick out. And when they see us in what would be considered by most to be one of the darkest situations of life, but still shining with the hope of Jesus, they really take note. It is hard for others to ignore a person who is filled with an unspoken peace, joy, love and hope, despite their grave circumstances. Witnesses to such grace when there should be bitterness are left wondering. They can't help but be attracted and desire the same goodness in their own lives. This is the personification of St. Francis of Assisi's admonition to, "Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words."
When we do need to use words, our situation gives us amazing credibility. You see, our suffering turns the guidance of the Bible from mere cheap talk into tested faith. People, seeing our persistence in the midst of our circumstances will often comment, "I don't know how you do it!" That presents the gentle opportunity for us to exclaim, "But by God," and to share our own story of hope. And no one can argue with your personal experience. Belonging to you alone, no words can negate what you've lived.
Does this mean that we never fall apart, do everything perfectly or have no concerns? Absolutely not! What it does mean is that we keep putting one foot in front of the other and by faith, continue to believe in that which we do not always see or feel. We live out that wordless hope, pressing on, knowing that we have One who gets us through the worst of times on this earth and who has prepared a perfect place for us in eternity. Our experiences increase our mercy, compassion and understanding towards the world around us, and makes us a source of wisdom to those who lack such knowledge.
Our suffering should sand off the rough edges of sharing our faith and open doors that are closed to others. My son never fails to ask me to pray with him right in front of medical personnel before he will ever let them near him with a needle. We parents are all imbued with those same secret super powers. What an awesome chance we miss when we fail to exercise those powers uniquely granted to us! May we always be prepared to gently and respectfully use that tool that God has so graciously equipped us with.
Thursday, May 6, 2010
It may sound crazy (and those who know me would expect nothing less), but from little on, I have had a mindset with my kids of, "What would I want to have left them with if I get hit by a Mack Truck and die tomorrow?" With every day they are entrusted to my care, I am ever mindful that their time here with me is temporary and a sacred responsibility. So when they have left my care, what fingerprint will I have left on each of their lives that can be evidenced without them even thinking twice about it? Good or bad, those things will rise to the surface.
- Loved the Lord and followed Him with all her heart.
- Spent daily time in God's word and prayer, depending upon that to guide her life.
- Extended love, kindness and mercy to everyone around her.
The rest is just rubbish. Anyone can teach my kids basic life skills, hobbies or help them develop their talents. But I am given the unique opportunity, with them under my roof, to impart that lived out faith in precious ways. I pray that in the end, I might be found faithful to that calling!