Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The Unspoken Reality of Raising a Child with Special Needs

I needed our son Luke. Our family needed a Luke.  Our close and extended community needed a Luke. I don't use the word "need" very often, as you often find me helping our kids distinguish between the words "want" and "need".  Most always it turns out to be a want, not essential for life.  so when I confidently use the word "need" in describing the birth and presence of our son with down syndrome, be assured I mean it.  Much thought and reflection has been put into that word.  

When I was 18 weeks pregnant with Luke, we got his diagnosis, along with being informed that he would need heart surgery. We were asked if we wanted more information on raising a child with "special needs".  I read every book that was available on Amazon, so that we could fully be prepared and embrace what our new life would look like. We would now be a "special needs family".   Life would never be the same. I envisioned giving up vacations, being ostracized by potential future friendships, and giving up all of the norms that we knew with "typical kids".  I foresaw all of our energy going towards filling his "special needs", whatever those were.   

Glance ahead to today, and my view of a "special needs family" is completely different.  Luke constantly makes us laugh, and every little accomplishment he reaches, is a celebration for our entire family.  And we actually go on vacations, and do all the other "normal things" that families do.  I have yet to meet one of these special needs families that would have things any different, including parents whose children are now adults.  I have yet to meet a family that does not completely love their child, "special needs" and all. I have yet to meet a family that has not been completely changed by perspective, virtue, compassion, dedication and love.  I see it in the words, thoughts, and actions of our children. I see how already his short presence on this earth will impact their paths.  When I say that we needed a Luke, I'm applying this to our entire society. Sometimes we need to be saved from ourselves. Sometimes we take the gifts and talents that are God given, and do not apply them for good, for humanity. Often times we choose the lower Road, or go the opposite direction. We sometimes obsessively shoot high, and lose sight of what is important to get there. But these children and adults who are born with challenges present us with amazing opportunity to shine, to offer of ourselves, and to give up a piece of ourselves that would often times lead to selfishness.  They help us to recognize and apply what God has given us as strengths. They remind us to not lose perspective of what really is important.  We need more Luke's in our society, to save us from the obsession of filling our wants.

I went to my sons high school soccer game yesterday, and witnessed a beautiful story of love being played out on the field.  The story did not begin yesterday however, but moreso over several seasons leading up to yesterday.  Our soccer coach's daughter has "special needs", and during every season, he takes the good and life lessons he has learned from his daughter, and shares them with the teams. And the students listen. They have had an incredible "team cheerleader/manager", who himself does not have the ability to play at that level, and also has some "special needs".  He is an incredible fan, support, and cheerleader for each of those boys. This high school is known for being an academically progressive, set-the-bar-high, overachieving school, and yet I have never witnessed a moment where they didn't treat their team manager with love, respect, and dignity. And when they suited him up last night for the kick off, and had everyone in the bleachers screaming and clapping, with blow horns in the background...the amount of joy I saw on that boy's face brought many of us to tears.  Witnessing the beauty of his joy was moving, but seeing how he has positively affected the lives of all of these other boys during their high school soccer careers, is equally important.  You see, God's purpose for this young man was orchestrated and played out beautifully in our school...his purpose was to fill the bigger need.    

When I say that our "need" for these kids in our families and communities is greater than the "special needs" that they were born with, I mean it. God always provides balance. God always allows good to come from struggles, and as I have many times mentioned before, the resulting good and spread of love is always bigger than any disability.  Support the choice of life for these children. Support the families that are blessed to care for these children. And I challenge you to volunteer and expose your children to this incredible population.  You may just find that many of your own "needs" may just get filled.