Living in the special needs world for over a decade has changed me. Like much of the typical world, I used to only see symptoms and behaviors without seeing what is behind such things. I once saw kids with various diagnoses and thought they were "naughty" or had "bad parents". I watched families who had kids with physical maladies and wondered why they didn't push their child a bit more rather than acquiescing to the child's demands. God forbid, I probably even spoke about non-verbal children right in front of them without any thought that they might understand what I was saying.
As I look back, I see how God has increasingly melted my heart over the years. Frankly, I already saw change when I attended my first disability ministry conference in 2003. I was more than a bit unsettled by the crowd I found myself in. It was there that I met the Hukills, who have been friends ever since. Graciously sharing their story, humor and ministry experience helped me to understand that they were much like every other person. Jim was just a warm, wacky guy who had a body that wouldn't cooperate for him. By the end of that conference, God had changed my heart, impressing upon me, "The LORD is close to the brokenhearted..." (Psalm 34:18). So often, the disabled and their families are brokenhearted. If I was looking to be close to God, I need look no further than the disabled.
Fast forward through the past nine years of ministry, and I've seen kids with diagnoses of every kind who are held captive by what besets them. My own son may will for his blood to clot or for an injury not to take place, but much of it is out of his control. My own daughter may wish to sit still, be unaffected by sensory triggers or even get to sleep at night, but finds herself victim to her own body. And a busy, ignorant world whizzes past these innocents expecting what can't be given and ostracizing those in need of compassion.
How amazing that our Heavenly Father calls parents like us to the high purpose of being an interpreter for not only our own children, but others just like them! We, through our deep and constant experience with these children, are given a unique ability to translate behaviors into words that cannot be expressed. Extreme, wild frenzy may be a symptom of an allergic reaction. Avoidance might be translated as an extreme anxiety rather than childish obstinance. And passing up the birthday cake at the party may be the sign of a child learning to manage his own diabetes. There are countless subtleties we are gifted at interpreting to those around us who would not know otherwise. And because of the gift we have been uniquely given, we must be prepared to tell the special needs story again and again.
In the daily grind of a life affected by special needs, don't lose sight of the high purpose you hold in God's economy! You are a bridge-builder, every bit as much as those who share the Good News in foreign lands. The Holy Spirit reigns within you enabling that keen sense of discernment that He has fostered over the years. And your training in "the school of hard knocks" renders much value to every life you touch.
Pray: God, this is never a place I thought I would find myself or a language I would be equipped to interpret. But I know that You use all things for the good of those who love You. Help me to be a lifeline to both those who have special needs and to those who so desperately need to understand them.