I recently heard a mother of a child with special needs say, “This child has kept me in His presence.” I sat there and soaked in those words. As hard as it was, I really don’t think that a child could give a better gift to a parent. Her experience of raising an exceptional child brought with it the beautiful gift of her dependence on the Savior. I later read these words of special-needs parent, Greg Lucas, “When people ask me how I became a follower of Jesus, I always tell them a two-year-old, non-verbal, mentally disabled, autistic boy led me straight to the cross and since then has been used to display God’s grace in the most amazing ways.”
Whether a fitful visit to another specialist or sleepless nights or a fifth food allergy or even during a tantrum in the sanctuary, special needs children can be the catalyst that causes their parents to be more reliant on God.
The birth of Jesus was a perfect gift that allowed us to be brought into God’s presence, and these children are the precious gift that has allowed these parents to daily remain aware of that.
Author: Tonya Cherry, Director of Chapelgate’s Keystone Kids
I usually look forward to that November email from Steve asking us to write a blog for Advent. I’m a talker, so I don’t struggle to find stories to share or thoughts to express. Give me 30 minutes and you’ve got a blog post. Now I must admit, it is full of grammatical errors and lacks polish, but it gets done rather easily. For some reason though, this year when I got the email, there was no eagerness. I felt like I didn’t really have anything I wanted to share and instead it felt like just one more thing I had to do.
To be honest, this was not a great year. It was a long year. It was a tear-filled year. It was a very heavy year. This was the year that every counselor dreads. This was the year that I experienced the thing that I had spent the last 25 years trying to prevent. This was the year that I lost a client. This was the year that a young person that I had known and loved and invested in took their own life. This was the year I had never wanted to come.
This year I had to actually believe the words I so often say, “I can not be your Savior.” I always knew these words were true but then when it happened, all I felt was my immense failure to save a life. When that young adult had been a teen, I had spent hours walking alongside them. I had offered countless messages of hope. I had listened to each heartache. But I had obviously never said whatever words they needed to hear so that as the years passed, they would chose life. This was the year that I truly learned that I couldn’t save them all.
“No matter what we say or what we do, sometimes people are going to die,” is what Mike told me that day. I will never forget it, words so obvious and familiar but so unexpected. He looked me right in the eyes and in that moment I was forced to not just hear the words, but to trust the words and accept the proof. Kind Mike, he helped me recognize that I would grieve two losses, one was a beautiful young woman and the other was the knowledge that I could not save.
This year, may these words, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord,” be engraved upon my heart.
For Christmas this year, I would like to put many presents under your tree. There is so much that you deserve.
I would give you a box wrapped in bright red paper and tied with the big gold bow. In that box there would be strength. Strength so that you could continue advocating for your child to have the same opportunities as other children. Strength to sit through one more doctors appointment where the doctors are just not quite sure what the appropriate diagnosis is.
There would also be a big box adorned with silver bells and filled with patience. Patience for all those evenings when your other children want you to help them with homework but you can’t stop what you’re doing. Patience that allows you to listen when other moms tell you how hard it is to carpool their child to so many different sports and birthday parties as you seek to find just one playmate for your child.
Another box would be tightly bound with shimmering emerald paper and inside that box would be hope. Hope that would see you through another day of watching other children on the playground run and jump and skip while longing for a time that your child will walk. Hope that enables you to wait for a teacher who will hopefully understand what your child CAN do.
A large gift bag tied with scarlet strings would be filled to the brim with wisdom. Wisdom for you to understand how the new diet or medicine works in your child’s system. Wisdom to respond to the ridiculous questions that people ask you about why your child seems different.
Wisdom to complete forms and look at research. Wisdom to budget an already stretched bank account.
The biggest box would be decorated with snowflakes and inside you would find an XL portion of resilience. Resilience to bounce back after setbacks. Resilience to smile after stares. Resilience to do the same thing over and over, day after day.
You would find an enormous red and white stocking hanging by your chimney stuffed with joy. Joy for little steps that are really huge milestones. Joy for moments that allow you to feel cared for and understood. Joy in knowing that you have truly been blessed by the love of a very special child.
I had a long day at work and when I walked in the house and saw that my husband had put the lights and decorations on the tree that we had chosen with the kids this past weekend, I was overcome with thankfulness. There was so much that I needed to do before Friday when Han would be bringing her college friends home for a Christmas sleepover and Joe had just done a huge job on my list! It was an enormous surprise and relief.
His help in getting the decorations up inspired me to set up our nativity later that evening. Once again, he surprised me by jumping up to help me unpack the big box that held our nativity. The nativity meant a lot to me. My wonderful mother-in-law had bought it for me years ago when I had told her that I thought it was important to have a “very nice” nativity displayed in a home. It is my favorite Christmas decoration. As we unpacked the pieces I saw that the angel’s arm had broken off. I was devastated. My perfect, expensive, big, NICE NATIVITY was ruined and I ran for the superglue. When I returned and began gluing the angel’s arm back on, Joe tried to calm me down and reminded me that we had used it for many years and that it was not the end of the world. I ignored him and fumed that my nice nativity was now damaged.
Then something even worse happened. Joe
unrolled the bubble wrap and tissue from around Joseph and we saw that his face was broken. JOSEPH HAD A BROKEN FACE!!! “This is not acceptable! At all! Not at all! My nativity Joseph, my very nice treasured Joseph… can NOT have a broken face!” I yelled. Then, I literally threw the tissue paper in the air and proclaimed, “Christmas is ruined! We cannot have a freakin eighty five dollar perfect tree next to a freakin broken nativity!!! Priorities Joe!!! Jesus before Santa!” We needed to show that the nativity mattered more than the gifts.
Joe just kept on tending to my nativity as I loudly lamented and he put my Joseph front and center facing the child in the manger. He then turned all the others so that their backs were to the room and their faces were towards Jesus. He changed the way we had always set up my very nice nativity. We could no longer see the carefully hand-painted front details but the angel’s missing arm was now hidden and Joseph’s broken face was out of view. Even the cracked donkey ear could not be seen, for he was facing away from us and looking at the newborn. As my husband finished creating the scene he said, “Tonya. It is ok. When you have them all look at Jesus you can’t see their cracks. Just like us, if we just face Jesus, our brokenness doesn’t matter. It’s really ok.”
I smiled at my husband and ran upstairs to take a picture of my VERY NICE nativity.