Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Disrupted, Resilient, Vulnerable, Broken, Loving


One of the things that is guaranteed about parenting a child or young person with additional needs or disability, is that life is never predictable… Just when you think that everything is going along quite well, out of nowhere something will happen that turns everything upside down and breaks it apart again. That this might happen on a fairly regular basis doesn’t necessarily prepare you for the next time, or give you all the answers that you may need. It might, however, make you look ahead at what might be the light at the end of the tunnel and cause you to wonder if instead it’s a train just about to run you over!

Being disrupted is normal for additional needs parents; it comes with the territory and even if it catches us out the one certainty to add to ‘death and taxes’ is that it will happen again… and again… and again…

Over the years, we’ve entered into, gone through, and emerged from many disruptive periods with our son James (age 15, who has autism, epilepsy and learning disability)…  Some of them have been because of big changes in his routine such as changes at school; some of them have been due to big changes in James himself as he has developed and grown. Hitting puberty was a very disruptive time for us all! Sometimes the causes of the disruptive periods can be less obvious to spot, such as the current one where James is refusing to go out of the house during the day… although night-time trips he will often accept.

As James is non-verbal and struggles to communicate his feelings, it is important that we don’t ignore these disruptions, but try to work with him to understand what he is trying to communicate to us through them. It might just be that as a 15-year-old teenager he finds mornings hard and prefers to stay at home with Dad (I largely work from home) than to go to school. Or there may be some other underlying anxiety or mental health issue that we are as yet unaware of, but is big and scary for James. As far as we can tell there has been no trigger incident, but we need to consider all possibilities… What matters most is that James feels safe, cared for, and is able to communicate his feelings in a way that we can understand and respond to.

While sometimes these disruptive periods can be hard for us as parents, with the recent episode involving lots of juggling of work responsibilities etc, one thing that this does build in us is resilience…

‘Resilient’… I remember the first time I saw that on a Social Services form, describing us as a ‘resilient family’; and yes, our experiences over the years have built resilience in us. Our lived experiences have also enabled us to be able to help others, especially through the additional needs ministry work I do at Urban Saints www.urbansaints.org/additionalneeds and the Additional Needs Alliance www.facebook.com/groups/additionalneedsalliance. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t times when it’s hard, when we feel like we’ve been run over by that train, or when like this morning I was stood by the window looking out over the garden and longing, just once, to know that the day would all go to plan (shortly afterwards it all broke apart, but thankfully came back together again by mid-morning! A typical day!).

Just because we’re busily serving God by growing an additional needs ministry doesn’t mean we’ve got it all together and have all the answers. It doesn’t mean that we’re bullet proof… We are as vulnerable and broken as anyone else; in fact our vulnerability can increase because of the work we do, as the enemy prowls around looking to find ways to cause harm to God’s work. But God knows this, and teaches us that it is in our vulnerability and our brokenness that he can use us to serve him and to serve others. It is because we are vulnerable, because we are broken, that what God does in us and through us can have authenticity and integrity. If we felt that we had all the answers but had no lived experience, no scars, no stories of disruption, resilience, vulnerability and brokenness to offer then we would have very little of real value to give.

Paul writes that “If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn't love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” I Corinthians 13:1 (NLT) I know what he means, as the experiences, scars, disruption, resilience, vulnerability, and brokenness I speak of are united in love. Love for James, love for our family, love for those we serve and support, and love for God who is there with us through it all.

Kintsugi "golden joinery", also known as Kintsukuroi "golden repair", is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum, a method similar to the maki-e technique. As a philosophy, it treats breakage and repair as part of the history of an object, rather than something to disguise. What emerges afterwards is often more beautiful that what was there before.

This reminds us of what we read in Ecclesiastes 3:11 “He has made everything beautiful in its time,” and in Revelation 21:5 “Behold, I am making all things new.” (both NIV).

My favourite worship song is ‘Cornerstone’. There are many reasons that it speaks to me, but this part touches me the most, “Christ alone, Cornerstone, weak made strong in the Saviours love. Through the storm, He is Lord, Lord of all.”

It is Christ, our Saviour and Lord, alive in us and working through us, that binds the disruption, resilience, vulnerability and brokenness together, and makes something new, something beautiful out of it all… Love. We can therefore be encouraged and inspired by what Paul wrote to the Corinthian church, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away, the new has come.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 (NIV).  Amen!

Prayer:  Father, you show us through your word the Bible, and through our lived experience and faith journey, that you love us and care about us. You are with us always, but in those times when we face disruption, vulnerability and brokenness, then we will find you with us most. It is then that you use those things to make us resilient, useful, beautiful… better, more loving, than we were before. For in Christ you know all about disruption, vulnerability and brokenness, and through his suffering and his love you created the most beautiful thing of all out of ours… our salvation. Thank you in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Mark Arnold
theadditionalneedsblogfather
19th December 2017

Image rights: ‘Broken Beautiful’ © Teresa Shields Parker

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