Coping with the Challenges

To the Mom of the Child with Special Needs (Part 2)

It was about 5 years ago. I sat in the school’s office with my son, filling out enrollment paperwork. Though I hurried through the process, I wasn’t fast enough to escape an impending meltdown. We weren’t quite done, they told us. He had to take a photo for his school ID card.

What should’ve been a quick point and shoot moment was anything but that. That ID card, with the picture of his tear-stained face, would always remind me that the path ahead would have many obstacles to overcome.

Are you a mother of a child with special needs? Perhaps you can relate well to this story. Maybe you’re just beginning your journey, and you feel paralyzed, afraid to take the next step, not knowing where this road will take you.

In my previous post and in this one, I hope to share some thoughts that will give you courage to press on.

Stay Two Steps Ahead (+ Two More)

Even if you’re the most spontaneous person on the planet, when you become a mom, you will likely become the person, who instinctively prepares ahead.

But if you have a child with special needs, you need to stay two or more steps ahead. There is no such thing as overpreparation. Not only will you have a Plan B, but Plans C, D, and E will also be safely tucked in your mental files. Moreover, you will have to include your child in this preparation, walking him through every step ahead before it happens. Transition from one activity to the next is tough for special needs kids, but it can go more smoothly when you announce what is to come so that he has some time to adjust.

Seek Support From Others

The path you’re on can be a very lonely one. It’s so easy to get into the mindset that no one understands, but that thinking just leads to further isolation. You don’t have to feel alone. I know it can be risky to lay open your heart like that, but God may have prepared that friend to be the one, who will bear this burden with you. And, it doesn’t have to be someone, who has a child with special needs. You can receive great encouragement from those who are willing to listen and be there for you.

Spend Time Reflecting

When faced with the challenges of caring for your child, a number of thoughts spin around in your head … some thoughts are irrational, some depressing, and some even despairing. “Will I ever have a normal life?” That time needed to reflect is not to multiply more thoughts, like these. But rather, it is to intentionally meditate on the complete opposite.

I have spent a lot of time in earnest prayer and reading the Bible, so that I would see my situation, not through the eyes of a tired, frustrated, and inadequate mom, but through the eyes of a powerful, gracious, and all-sufficient God.

“But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”  (2 Corinthians 12:9)

If you missed Part 1 of this, click here.

Coping with the Challenges

To the Mom of the Child with Special Needs (Part 1)

I never thought I would be on this road, being a mother of a child with special needs. Actually, I take that back. A road is probably not the most accurate description because, often, it feels like a roller coaster. Nonetheless, this path that God has put me on has come with many blessed lessons.

If you are a parent, who has just received the news that your child has and will continue to have some specific, special needs, you may feel as though you’re caught in the rapids, trying to stay afloat, while the raging waters of information from doctors, therapists, specialists, and educators surround you and threaten to engulf you. It doesn’t have to be that way. You don’t have to be in despair.

Don’t Compare with Others

Ah, the comparison trap! We all do it, whether or not we have a child with special needs. But this is especially detrimental for the mom with the special needs child. “Special needs” implies they are on a completely different page from most kids their age, so comparing is an exercise in futility.

I used to always feel like I needed to get my child “caught up” and felt discouraged at the thought that he will always be “behind”. But caught up to what? Behind in what? Whose standards anyway? Is it in education? Motor skills? Social skills? It was stressful.

Your child’s milestones will be different from his peers and from his own siblings. An unhealthy preoccupation with the progress of others will keep you from focusing on your own child’s development.

Rejoice in the progress (no matter how small)

Sometimes it may feel like there’s no progress at all. It takes a bit of stepping outside of yourself and seeing your child from another vantage point to notice that there are changes. Perhaps recording them in a journal will help you see them and be intentional about searching for them. Don’t limit yourself to the great leaps and bounds. Progress is often seen in the small baby steps. Remember being overjoyed when your baby took his first steps. That doesn’t have to stop now.

Be Your Child’s Special Friend

Making friends will likely not come easy for your child, especially as he gets older. Party invitations might be rare, and play dates will probably be a challenge to arrange. I have wept over my own child’s lack of friends and wept even more when I realized he had matured enough to notice this too. 

I remember that at his own birthday party a few years ago, my son pulled me into one of the rooms away from all the guests, closed the door, and asked if we could play “I Spy” together. As much as I wanted him to be comfortable with everyone else, I was the one he really wanted to be with. I was his special friend.

You may be going through this difficult and emotional season in your parenting journey. Or perhaps you know someone who is. One of the hardest things for me is feeling alone in this. Will you share this with someone who could use the encouragement?

(Click here for Part 2.)

Coping with the Challenges, Trusting God

Falling

Danger sign: Unprotected fall hazardYou’ve heard the saying, “What goes up must come down.” But what about the opposite of that? When something is down, should it get back up? In life, when my mind fills with thoughts of defeat, I really don’t want to get back up. My erroneous logic says, “Why get back up if I’m going to fall again?” It would seem that staying down is the easier option.

Too many times, I’ve been tempted to give up on my son, Gabriel. Feeling inadequate to homeschool him and, moreover, to parent him brings me such despair that I try to convince myself that staying down in the pit is better than climbing halfway only to fall to the bottom over and over again.

Are there things in your life that are bringing you down? Trials that feel too heavy to bear. Perhaps there are sin issues that have not been dealt with that are a cause for your stumbling. What do you do when, in this walk of life, you stumble and fall hard? Maybe you’re one of those that can quickly get back up. In my middle school, many students would hang out in a large open area during the lunch break. Once in a while, someone would run across, lose his footing, and take an embarrassing fall. If he’s not badly hurt, he would quickly get up and run at the same pace as if nothing happened, hoping not to hear all the snickering behind him. And life moves on. Unfortunately, I’m not one of those, especially when it comes to the spiritual falls. It takes a lot to get me up and what inevitably gets me up and walking again is God’s faithful Word.

“… for the righteous falls seven times and rises again,
but the wicked stumble in times of calamity.” (Proverbs 24:16)

Seven is the number of fullness. The falls can reach the maximum, but the righteous gets back up each time. I’ve fallen a lot. Too many to count. And though it may not be immediately after each fall, I have always risen again. Not on my own, though, for I cannot say I’m righteous apart from Jesus Christ. And this I am assured of: I can be in the deepest pit of despair, but Christ’s power will always enable me to get up and start climbing again.

 

(Photo credit: Johnny Surabaya)

Coping with the Challenges, Trusting God

Talking to Myself

I sat there, waiting for the water to fill up. It took little time for it to reach my shoulders. I reclined my head against the back of the tub, wondering how it had come to this. I hadn’t really put much thought into how to do it, but I was so desperate to find a way out that this seemed like my only option. I wondered how it would feel … if I would struggle or if it would be quick and painless. I tried to empty my mind. I didn’t want to think, didn’t want to feel. With eyes closed, I tried to make my body limp and began to sink into the water. Just when my face was about to be submerged, I felt a kick, a sudden jolt to awaken me from my self-imposed nightmare. It was my baby, kicking from inside me, as if to say, “No, Mommy, don’t do this to us!” That was about 5 years ago, when I was pregnant with our third and wondered why God would entrust another child to me. As a young mother, I was overwhelmed with the task of raising up my children, including a son with special needs, according to God’s Word. I was beyond grief over my tendencies towards rage and anger. I was a mess, and unbelief led me to the conclusion that God could not fix me. This was one of the darkest days of my life.

shore, a womanPraise be to God, who has freed me from the chains of spiritual depression! I have been tempted many times to return to that dark day of my past, but The Lord has been faithful to rescue me every time. It certainly has not always been smooth sailing. I have encountered many moments when I am fighting to stay afloat. But fighting is good. And, part of that fight against spiritual depression means talking to myself. Sadly, I had already wasted a couple of years listening to myself: You’re a horrible mother. God must be tired of you repenting of the same sins. You must not be saved. Your family will better off when you’re dead. Succumbing to these thoughts, I had nearly given up the fight. Like the psalmist, I had to purposefully talk some sense to myself, “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” (Psalm 42:11)

Preacher, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones explained this psalmist’s self-talk so clearly,

“This man was not content just to lie down and commiserate with himself. He does something about it, he takes himself in hand … he talks to himself … I suggest that the main trouble in this whole matter of spiritual depression in a sense is this, that we allow our self to talk to us instead of talking to our self.” (“Spiritual Depression”, p. 20)

So, this is why I’m here, why I blog. It is one of the ways God has given me to talk to myself. I don’t have it all together. I really don’t. In between blog posts, there is a war waging within me, as I struggle to take my thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ, and a war outside of me as those thoughts, unchecked, are released into sinful actions towards those around me. Honestly, there are times I wonder if I’ll make it to the next post. But, God carries me through the difficult times and gives me His Word so that I may use it to talk to myself. And sometimes, those conversations end up here.

This blog is my attempt to keep a sober mind in the midst of a dark world and the result of a desire to bring everything in my life under the lens of God’s Word. Perhaps you are going through some dark days. May I encourage you to go to the Bible and let God speak to your heart? In the midst of your despair, I trust that He will give you something good to say to yourself.

 

(Photo credit: vanz)

Coping with the Challenges, Trusting God

Leaving the Past in the Past

My son, Gabriel, has an interesting memory. He has some challenges with short-term memory. What kid doesn’t, right? Classic example: “Didn’t I just tell you a minute ago to clean your room?” “Oh, I forgot, mom.” But I’m seeing more and more that Gabriel’s trouble with short-term memory goes beyond a lack of desire to do chores. The challenge for me in homeschooling is to find ways to help him retain what goes into his short-term memory long enough to use it.

His long-term memory, on the other hand, is quite fascinating. He recalls events in the past to the exact detail that even I have trouble remembering. However, for Gabriel, his imagination is so active that when he remembers an event, it’s as if he is reliving it at that very moment. The same emotions from the past will overcome him to the same degree as the original experience. This is true for both happy and sad memories. The latter is what worries this already anxious mother.

Closed doorsThe other day, he said to me with tears welling up in his eyes, “Mommy, when I was a little boy, I was in the room with the teacher and you and Daddy went outside and closed the door. Why did you leave me?” My mind had to go on fast rewind to figure out what he was talking about, and then, I remembered. When he was 4 years old, we would take him to a local elementary school to see Mrs. M, the speech therapist. She allowed us to stay in the room to observe. There was one time when Gabriel refused to participate and kept calling out to us to get him out of there. Mrs. M asked us to step out of the room, so that she would be able to calm him down without the distraction of our presence. Eventually, he calmed down and was able to resume the session, but that event was so significant for him that he filed it away in his long-term memory. And now, almost 4 years later, he pulled it out again.

I tried to comfort him by telling him that we didn’t leave him that day, that we were just outside the door. I tried to tell him that was in the past and encouraged him to move forward. I tried to assure him that we love him and would never abandon him. At 4 years old, what kind of thoughts and emotions went through his mind and heart, that only now he is able to express in words? One of my concerns is that for Gabriel, such sad memories will not fade over time. It’s hard enough for us, as adults, to process some of the difficult things that happen to us? What more for a young boy?

I sought The Lord for comfort. I asked God to free my son from the anxieties of yesterday and before. I begged Him to bring Gabriel the blessed hope of His promise, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

The past can plague us in the present. It can have the power to paralyze us from living now and forging ahead to the future. Even in my most despondent state, I have done what Gabriel does … recalling and reliving things in the past that should’ve been left alone. Only Christ can deliver me from such bondage. Only Christ can redeem my child from the hold of the past and enable him to move forward.

“But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)

 

(Photo credit: Bala Sivakumar)

Coping with the Challenges, Trusting God

Struck Down But Not Destroyed

Lonely FlowerI am not new to spiritual depression. It is something I have struggled with in the past, especially after having children and learning about Gabriel’s special needs. But I realize I’m not alone in this. Reading through the psalms, some of the psalmists seemed to have a fair share of despair. I’ve also heard that great preachers, like Charles Spurgeon, was not immune to the touch of spiritual depression. I have found myself questioning my standing before God because of this struggle. Why would a Christian have to fight for joy? Aren’t Christians supposed to be happy all the time?

I’ve had darker days in my past. Perhaps, one day I can write about it in more detail without falling apart in tears, but I don’t think I can do it today. I will tell you, though, that I am grateful to God for His presence during those very difficult years. But, I will still have days, like today, when it seems like those dark clouds are looming over me again, and I feel a strong pull to return to that horrible state of despair and hopelessness. Thanks be to God, who brings me to my senses and reminds me that I can boldly approach His throne of grace, so that I may find help in my time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

Thumbing through my journal, I came across this entry from June 6, 2011 when I was in the middle of a vast ocean of despondency. The Lord spoke to me through His Word then, and re-reading it has lifted up my spirits today.

Write In JournalI read 1 Kings 19 this morning, the account of the prophet Elijah and his dealings with King Ahab and Jezebel. God wanted to show me a picture of depression and how He deals with someone plagued with it.

Elijah had done amazing things, challenging many false prophets and being bold in The Lord. Perhaps he thought this would turn even the hardest of hearts, but Jezebel was unmoved. After putting to death her prophets, Elijah received a death threat from Jezebel. He was overcome with depression for not seeing the results he expected and was fearful for his life. He ran away and asked God Himself to take his life. I have been there … discouraged at the results, especially after my attempts to do God’s will. I have been there … even to the point of asking God to take my life, like Elijah did.

The way God responded to Elijah’s depression is amazing. First, He strengthened him physically by giving him something to eat. I, too, have experienced the physically draining effects of depression. Often, I don’t want to get up. I don’t even want to do the most basic things to sustain life, like eating. But, these are the very things God is telling Elijah to do. [How beautiful to see God’s tender care for his people!]

Then, He spoke to Him in a still, small voice. He wanted Elijah to listen, to be still, to realize that, even in quietness and even when it seems The Lord is not working, He is. Lastly, He continued to use Elijah and gave him a job to do. Despite my weakness, He strengthens me and continues to use me.

He will care for us while in our despondent state, but He will not allow us to remain there. He will tell us to get up and eat. Then, He will tell us to go. He has prepared works for us to do, whether it’s raising a child with special needs, homeschooling different ages of kids, working to support a family, caring for a sick relative, bringing a meal to someone who just suffered loss, praying with someone who has been abandoned by her spouse, or sharing the gospel with friend. Though spiritual depression can seem so paralyzing, we must, by His grace, get up and go, and He promises to be with us.

 

(Photo Credit 1: kaje_yomama)
(Photo Credit 2: Walt Stoneburner)

Trusting God

The Candy Factory Incident

Candy Factory TourThe other day we took a break from our normal routine of homeschool. With four excited children in tow, I drove to a candy factory for a behind-the-scenes tour. Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to use our cameras inside the factory, so I’m unable to share pictures with you, but the point of this post isn’t really about our field trip. It’s about trusting God even without having all the answers. Let me explain.

When we arrived at the factory, it smelled wonderful: sugar, chocolate, and all the sweetness in between. If the scent of a sugary treat has the same effect as the consumption of it, then my children were living proof of that. They were bouncing off the walls with excitement. The tour began, and we were given disposable hats with the instruction that all heads must be covered at all times when inside the factory. We were then led through a long corridor. Gabriel looked left, right, and all around, taking in all the sights and smells. At one point, he looked behind him, and BAM! He hit the corner of the wall. When Gabriel gets hurt–I mean really hurt–he doesn’t react right away. At first, one may even think he is ok. But, soon the pain message reaches his brain, and his screams reach a volume that the human ear can hardly tolerate. But, it’s more than just screaming, he flails his arms and legs that it takes all my strength to hold him tight so as to prevent harm to himself and to others around him. This is what happened at the candy factory. In that narrow hallway, while a number of people were trying to walk through, Gabriel got really hurt. And the hat that was supposed to stay on his head was on the floor, waiting to be trampled on. That made a bad situation worse. “My hat! My hat!” he cried, as he tried to reach down for it, while the crowd hurried past him. When something like this happens in public, I do 4 things: attempt to bring my son down to some level of calm, try not to break down and cry, keep eye contact and my thoughts away from others around us, and PRAY. It took some time, but eventually, he calmed down, and we were able to proceed with the rest of the tour.

At the end of the day, after the kids were asleep, I had time to reflect on what happened that day and discuss it with my husband. It was a conversation we’ve had over and over again and will probably continue to have in the future. We are not satisfied with the diagnosis of a speech and language delay. It doesn’t make sense now. I can see that there are still some delays, considering his chronological age, but he is able to communicate fairly well. I have this nagging feeling that there is something else that I can’t quite put a finger on. Perhaps I’m over-thinking this, but when our other children get hurt physically or even emotionally, they’ll scream and cry, but not to the same degree as Gabriel. We are left with so many unanswered questions. Should we seek another diagnosis? How much would that cost? And if we did get another diagnosis that seems to “fit” better, what then? I’m sure there will still be many unanswered questions.

So, God reminded me of Hannah, mother of Samuel, one of the greatest prophets in Israel. She desperately wanted a child, but The Lord had closed her womb. Not only that, she was being provoked by her rival, Peninnah, about the fact that she was unable to have any children. I’m sure she had many unanswered questions about her lot in life, as we do. In her depression, she would not eat. But, in verse 9 of chapter 1 of the first book of Samuel, there is a significant turning point in the story: “Hannah rose.” She was still discouraged, still could not eat, but she got up. More than that, she got up to pray to The Lord. “She was deeply distressed and prayed to the LORD and wept bitterly. And she vowed a vow and said, ‘O LORD of hosts, if you will indeed look on the affliction of your servant and remember me and not forget your servant, but will give to your servant a son, then I will give him to the LORD all the days of his life, and no razor shall touch his head.'” (1 Samuel 1:10-11)

bible-verses-on-peaceAfter she poured out her heart to the Lord, the Bible says, “Then the woman went her way and ate, and her face was no longer sad.” (v. 18). She was a different person. Did her circumstances change? Did she leave carrying a child in her arms? No, not at all. The unanswered questions were still there. Nothing had changed for Hannah, except her posture before God. She trusted Him. She knew He was aware of her affliction. She believed in His power to grant her request. And, she looked beyond her own prayer request (before it was even granted), when she willingly offered her future son back to God to give glory to Him.

So in the midst of the uncertainty of our circumstances, the “Why God?” questions, and our many petitions before God, can we, like Hannah, say, “My heart exults in The Lord”? (1 Samuel 2:1)

(Photo credit 1: caseorganic)
(Photo credit 2: lifebibleverses)

Trusting God

Strength in Weakness

This afternoon, I was reading Feminine Appeal by Caroline Mahaney*, and she quotes the following story by Pastor Robert D. Jones:

The story is told of a dad who asked his young son to lift a very heavy object, a weight far beyond the little boy’s capacity. The object would not budge. “Try again, son.” The boy tried again with no success. “Son, you’re not using all your strength.” The boy tried again, but still the object would not move. “Son, you’re still not using all your strength.”
“Oh, Daddy, Daddy, I’m trying,” grunted the boy as he strained at the immovable object. “I’m using all my strength.”
“No, you’re not, son,” replied the father. “You haven’t asked me to help!” **

weights [DSC00349]Aren’t we like the boy in the story? We try to carry so many heavy burdens. Our legs feel like they would snap at the sheer weight of it all. Some burdens, we feel, are just too much to bear. We try to muster up the strength, only to crumble and fall flat on our faces. It would seem easier just to stay down. This is how I felt when I went through a period of depression a couple of years ago because I felt like I couldn’t carry the weight of taking care of a child with special needs. Only when I began to lay my burdens on Christ did I begin to look up and see that all things are possible with Him.

This story was just a wonderful reminder that God gives His children abundant riches, and one of those riches is His strength. He gives it freely, and yet, we don’t take it. It is His mercy to allow us to fail, to experience our utter weakness, so that we can discover the strength He is already offering us.

“But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me … when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9,10)

 

* From Caroline Mahaney, Feminine Appeal, Wheaton, Illinois, Crossway, 2004, p. 119-120.

** From Robert D. Jones, “Learning Contentment in All Your Circumstances,” The Journal of Biblical Counseling, Vol. 21, No. 1, Fall 2002, p. 58.

(Photo Credit: the_green_squirrel)