Monday, August 26, 2013

Of Hate Mail and Loving Children: Part 1

I pulled into her driveway 30 minutes late.  It was a heavenly Wisconsin summer day, not too hot, not too cold.  The dog next door barked his greeting at my arrival.  My mentoree's assignment had been to pick out the devotional we would study together this week from Jolene Philo's A Different Dream for My Child: Meditations  for Parents of Critically or Chronically Ill Children.  After her kids blessed me with their smiley greetings and coffee was poured, we read and discussed the entry "Children Are a Gift From the Lord, Period"*, and found ourselves deeply convicted.  In this passage, Jolene confronts the negative emotions we parents struggle with in sometimes feeling that our child is a burden rather than a blessing.  Which of us walking this journey hasn't crumbled in frustration at times, feeling weighed down? 

In pondering God's word in light of the passage, my sweet, smart mentoree made the point that it is virtually impossible to properly advocate for our children when we perceive them to be a burden.  How can we help others to see the miracle God has blessed us with when we are viewing them in a negative fashion ourselves?  If we are to convince a dark world of our children's value, perhaps we must first convince ourselves.

Our discussion predictably wandered from this wise insight to the recent news of an anonymous hate letter a mother in Canada had received regarding her child on the Autism Spectrum.  I spare you the toxic post here because it has been published and republished enough in cyberspace to make plenty of us sick.  However, I will tell you that my precious friend and I could so closely identify with the horror and heartbreak of receiving a letter like this from a neighbor.  I shared with her that I had opened an anonymous message addressed to my husband and I 10 years ago, casting aspersions on our parenting, condemning my role in ministry, telling me I should be paying more attention to my children.  When I called the lead pastors at my church in upset tears, explaining I had received this awful letter, they told me 2 things: first, everyone who serves in ministry for any length of time receives scathing notes like this; second, they have a policy of not reading unsigned letters because they originate from "the accuser", not God.  (See Matthew 18:15-17 for the correct way to address your concerns with another person.)  They quickly helped me shake the letter off, and realize that it was nothing but garbage.

Nevertheless, shaking off hate mail is often easier said than done.  This is where growth comes in.  It is uncomfortable feeling like anonymous eyes are always on you, assessing both you and your child.  You wonder who you can trust.  Yet, if we keep in regular communication with God through prayer and His word, we can have a certain, secure discernment that stands up to the critics.  We can find ourselves more surefooted when we are working for an audience of One versus trying to live up to the expectations of 
those who don't even have the decency or personal character to sign their name to a letter.

In addition, what others may mean for evil, God can use for good.  (See Genesis 50:19-21)  Only 2 days after the hate letter story from Canada surfaced, another story of a a similar experience confronting a couple in Virginia came to light.  Beginning an online fundraiser to offset the huge costs of adopting 2 girls with special needs from China, the couple were subjected to one neighbor accusing them of burdening the whole town with the cost of "importing" the girls.  As it turns out, the family homeschools, and the mother has experience working with children who have special needs, so the financial burdens this neighbor thought they were exposing the community to were nonexistent.  It took a local news station's coverage to expose the accuser for the ignoramus he is.  

Nonetheless, stories like these can bring about good on so many different levels.  First, they can't help but educate an ignorant public about many nuances of special needs.  People get to see the really tough parts we endure in raising a child with challenges.  Assumptions are dispelled.  Inclusion and acceptance of our kids is promoted.  Hatred is exposed.  Second, we tend to rise to the occasion when someone begins attacking that child we love.  In other words, our own perception of our child being a burden is challenged and turned on its head.  We rise up to declare the value of our precious child and suddenly see the blessings rather than the burdens.  And whether we realize it or not, sometimes that just may be what we need to reframe our thinking and persevere.

Until Jesus returns, there will always be nasty people on the face of this earth, treating our children disrespectfully.  But until we begin confronting those negative thoughts of this child as a burden, we will never be the discerning advocate for them that God has called us to be.  

PRAY:  Lord, open my eyes to my foolishness when I am feeling that my child is a burden.  I would never tolerate that sort of perception from others.  Holy Spirit, root it out when it tries to set up residence in me.  Thank You for my precious child.  What a privilege it is to be a parent!

*Philo, Jolene (2009), A Different Dream for My Child: Meditations for Parents of Critically or Chronically Ill Children, Discovery House Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI 49501, p. 149

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