Mindset. It can be the difference between life and death. How we frame things in our heads can determine whether we live joyfully or with total drudgery. Special needs parenting is no exception to this rule.
When we begin this journey, it is a tragedy. No one wants to learn that their child will suffer or that something is not quite right. We grieve. We spend time coming to accept our new reality. Sharing the news with family and friends is one of our first difficult steps. Learning the whole new language of what it is we are dealing with becomes our task at hand. Our brains are on overdrive, attempting to make sense of the information we are receiving, then making our best decisions based upon that information. There are the burdens of doctors, therapists and treatments. There are the burdens of wrestling with the insurance company and/or aid programs for coverage. There are the burdens of advocating for proper education and adaptations in the school system. And there are the burdens of just trying to find some normalcy in family life.
While these challenges confront us in huge ways when our child is first diagnosed, they can revisit us throughout the parenting journey. Any time something new is introduced, we can find ourselves struggling with those same burdens again. When our child goes from elementary to middle school or from middle school to high school, we visit those battles again. If an additional diagnosis or health crisis arises along the journey, we are back to taking in voluminous amounts of information, trying to discern what choices will serve our child best. Losing funding from a program or a spouse changing a new job with new insurance can place us in a stressful situation once again.
But if we are in Christ, we can take heart! Our burdens can be transformed into tremendous blessings. The Lord actually prepared me for this prior to becoming a special needs mother. The friend who was responsible for bringing me to the Lord had introduced me to the book THE HIDING PLACE by Corrie Ten Boom. When I was expecting our second child, we began to meet every so often with our toddlers to discuss that book. One of the most striking stories for me within the book came when Corrie tells of a time she and her sister, Betsy, are ushered to a dormitory room at a concentration camp. They stand at the door and see straw, which serves as their mattresses on the bunk beds, literally moving because it is so filled with flees. While Corrie is repulsed, her sister, ever-focused on the Lord exclaims, "Thank you, God, for fleas." As the story progresses, the reader learns that the burden of fleas becomes a blessing in keeping the vicious guards out of the dormitory room. This allows the Ten Boom sisters to share the gospel message with the other prisoners, and it keeps every one of them free from abuse because the guards did not want to get bitten by fleas.
That story from THE HIDING PLACE never left me. When our second child was diagnosed at birth with severe hemophilia, my husband and I looked at each other through tears saying, "Thank you, God, for hemophilia. We don't know why we're thanking you, but we do." If we only knew then the blessings that would come from our burdened hearts! Life with our son has had its share of burdens. The same is true of our youngest daughter who has a multitude of other diagnoses. But because we have kept our eyes fixed on Jesus and have allowed Him to transform our minds, we are able to see the blessings in the darkness. They are too many to count, but allow me to name a few. We have had the great privilege of meeting some wonderful people and made enduring new friendships since our lives headed down this path. Our ability to handle adversity in our lives has grown. We are more joyful and grateful for even life's smallest gifts. Because of our children's diagnoses, we have traveled places we never would have gone otherwise. Our eternal perspective is enhanced and a unique connection with God developed because of our children's special needs. And, of course, this incredible ministry that the Lord has called us to wouldn't even exist if not for what we have endured. Having a front row seat to watch Him work through this ministry is one of life's greatest joys for us.
As I meet with our Board of Directors each year to cast a fresh vision for the months ahead, we seek to put the correct verbiage to what it is we are trying to accomplish. Our prayer is that every parent of a child with special needs would be able to journey from the place of seeing this as a burden to seeing it as a blessing. The only way that this can occur with any eternal value is to put into practice what we are told in Romans 12:2. Stop conforming to the patterns of this world -- patterns that would tell you that you could have terminated that pregnancy or that devalues your child's life; patterns that kindle bitterness, telling you that the world owes you something because your child has struggles; patterns that stay mad at God because you are convinced He did something rotten to you and your child. Instead, be transformed by the renewing of your mind -- be transformed into a good-finder; be transformed by knowing that God is the ultimate recycler, using bad circumstances to create something beautiful; be transformed by giving the Lord full sway over your thinking. This is how you go from burdens to blessings. I pray that you are on that path today.
PRAY: Father, all I can see is the bad surrounding me. I need You to change my mind. I trust You because I have nowhere else to turn. Show me the blessings in my burdens today.