Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Lonely Holiday Gatherings?

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry...” 
James 1:19

Can you believe that this week is the end of October? Thanksgiving and Christmas are right around the corner. First we get to enjoy Thanksgiving — a time of thanking the Lord for the many blessings that he has given to us. We get to follow this with Christmas celebrating Jesus — the greatest blessing that God has ever given to his world. We can enjoy lights, decorations, special foods, treats, gifts and social gatherings. What could ever overshadow such a joyous season of holidays? The excitement of it all makes it difficult for children to wait.  For us, parents, though the holiday season can be difficult.

There are so many challenges for special needs families when it comes to social gatherings. There are physical obstacles for families whose children have difficulty with mobility, but more difficult than that are misunderstandings and the general feeling that we don’t fit in at social gatherings. 

Sometimes our children cannot play or follow directions the way that peers of a similar age can. Many of our children (especially ones with sensory sensitivities) are not at their best in unfamiliar situations and their discomfort can show in so many ways. Friends and relatives might make comments assessing our child. After Liam’s diagnosis we knew that he would have orthopedic and communication disabilities along with a host of medical complexities. Yet when in social settings people often made comments similar to, “He looks just fine. Are you sure the doctors are right?” As much a I wished that the doctors were wrong, having that conversation repeatedly was difficult for me on so many levels. Today if I share something about our life — like Liam’s utter obsession with his iPad and Thomas the train — friends will often say that it is the same with their own (typical) child. This leaves me feeling so misunderstood because the kind of obsession that my son has is ABSOLUTELY nothing like that of any typical child. REALLY. No comparison.  When Liam is in an uncomfortable situation he will usually sit watching his iPad and refuse to engage with those around him. This LOOKS to the general public like a perfectly behaved child. So when others comment on what an easy guy he is, that is hard for me. A big boy with total care needs is not easy, even if he has a wonderfully easygoing, gentle personality. Sometimes our friends and relatives say all the right things. They make us feel so welcome, but the utter work to be there and care for our loved one is just too much. Instead of feeling celebratory, these experiences can leave us feeling more isolated and alone in our journey than we did before we came.

Jesus knows exactly what it is like to feel alone in the midst of those who love you. During his last week alive on earth, he took his three best friends with him to the garden to pray. He was in agony knowing that he would face the cross. As he prayed, the disciples fell asleep. They weren’t with him in his difficult time. They were snoring! Later that same night, Peter went on to deny him three times. Yet Jesus loved them and forgave them.

To make things easier for our loved ones, we can be clear with them about our child’s needs. If there are accommodations that will make a gathering easier, call ahead to be sure that the hosts know about them. Being realistic helps as well. We often let friends know that if Liam seems overwhelmed, our visit will be short. Sometimes we bring a second car so that one of us can take him home and the other can keep the rest of the family at the gathering.

To make gatherings easier for me, I have begun praying that God would help me to make a conscious effort to take the words and actions of others in the kindest possible way. “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry...” (James 1:19, NIV)

I also ask him to remind me that His words are the only ones that matter. “Pay attention and turn your ear to the sayings of the wise; apply your heart to what I teach...” (Proverbs 22:17, NIV) 

I pray that God would soothe my heart as I read his word and pray. I pray that he would give me his love and forgiveness to apply to those around me. I ask him to make me captive to his word and to remind me that I am not alone in this journey. He is with me. The same is true for you.

May he give you his peace and true joy as you celebrate the holiday season to come.

Dear Jesus, Please soothe my heart as I read your word. Give me your  love and forgiveness to share with everyone around me. Make me captive to your word and to remind me that I am not alone in this journey. You are with me. Help me to feel your presence in the arms and presence of my loved ones.  Amen.

~Wendy Heyn


  1. Oh yes!! Great reminders :-) holidays here we come....with extra grace and peace.