I guess the upside is not obvious. Raising a child with special needs might look pretty awful from the outside. Not long ago, a family friend asked my parents, "Wouldn't it have been better if they had just aborted her?"
You might be shocked right now. You might be thinking, "I agree with that." I'm not shocked either way anymore. I realize if one person has the guts to say it, there are many more who are thinking it. Truth be told, that comment shattered my heart, and every time I remember it, my heart breaks all over again. Caring for a child with complicated medical issues can be very difficult. But there is an upside, there really is. I'd love to tell you about it, if you're willing to stick with me.
I really. really. really needed to hear about it when Reese was born. But nobody was telling me. So I think I need to tell you about it. "You," being those who think like this family friend, and "you," the mom of the child with the diagnosis that is spinning your world out of control.
Yes, difficult days happen. We all know that, right? But as with anything that has a big payoff, there will be some gut-wrenching moments. I want you to know there will be beauty. You have to look for it, you need to expect it. It comes to those who are looking. Here is the upside, in my own experience, from my rearview mirror:
1. You will get strong. You will look back after a few years and not recognize the woman you used to be. You will be confident and sure, you will care less about what others think. You will be an expert on your child's condition and you won't be afraid to challenge the doctors. Be careful though. You have a choice. It sounds cliche, but you can get better or bitter. Sometimes it is a daily decision. The choice is yours, so check your attitude as you get stronger and be a source of strength for others who need it.
2. You will love deep. Every mom knows the overwhelming love I'm describing, when you first lay eyes on your tiny newborn. But there is another level of love that comes with fighting for your child's life, for her acceptance, for her happiness, every day. Praying all night and begging God for more time. Fighting for your child will grow in you a depth of love like nothing you have ever felt before. And it will make you love everyone more. It may really hurt sometimes, but that pain is your heart is growing in size.
3. You will know God like you've never known Him. You will want to know the Creator in a way you may not have needed to in the past. You may be mad at Him for awhile, but I hope that leads you into a relationship with Him. You will pray a lot and you will see God move. You will cry out for help. You will sit in silence with Him. And if you seek him with all your heart, you will find Him. I wouldn't trade what I have found in Him for the world. If you hear anything I am saying, hear this. There is a great treasure waiting for you. Don't miss it.
4. You will meet incredibly loving people and will be on the receiving end of sacrifice and care. You will need help at times and wonderful people will step in and blow your mind. You will be grateful and then you will want to be that incredibly loving person for someone else.
5. You will not care about meaninglessness anymore. The things that used to take up a big part of your day just won't seem that important anymore. All the clutter will fall away. You will be more grateful and will appreciate the little things. Gratefulness breeds happiness. So you have the potential for loads of happiness.
6. You will think about heaven a lot. When a doctor told me my child would live a short life, I spent a lot of time reading about heaven. I remember the day this verse jumped off the page at me, "Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth." Colossians 3:2. It was then I realized what a GIFT God had given me; a daily reminder to keep my mind set on heaven. This is where he wants my mind. Because when it is set on eternal, meaningful things, there is no room for things that aren't important to God. This is a gift that has reined me in from pursuing frivolity.
7. You will bring hope to people when you don't even know it. I'll never forget the man in the Neurosurgeon's waiting room. He held is son close. They smiled and loved each other. The boy's head was deformed, and although he couldn't talk back to his dad, I could see and feel the love between them. They were loving life together. They weren't sad or scared. It changed my life. They never knew I was watching. But I knew it was God's way of letting me know there would be beautiful love amidst the struggle.
8. Your other children will develop compassion and selflessness. They won't be the center of the world anymore. Because they can't be. It's a good thing and you will see beauty emerge from them. They will naturally love the underdog and will look out for those who need it.
9. Your family will be very close. You might spend a lot of time at home. Don't bemoan the fact that you can't do what other families are doing. Enjoy the fact that you will have a tight knit family because you spend so much time together. And on that note…be sure to nurture your marriage. You need each other and this has the ability to break it…or bond you together so tightly that nothing will ever rip you apart.
10. You will love people better. You will love more people. You will allow them to be imperfect and you will widen your group as your heart gets bigger. You will be friends with people you may not have before, because they also have children with special needs. And you have an instant bond.
Those are my 10. What are yours?
As with every single thing in life, I believe attitude is everything. How will you see this little person? Is she a gift or a burden?
I remember I cried every single day for the first 8 months of Reese's life. Then one day, while waiting in the ER for the Neurosurgeon, I read "The Power of the Powerless". It was a book written by the sibling of one very special boy. 5 hours later, through a deluge of tears, I finished that book. I can't tell you too much about it except that the author always referred to his brother as "the angel living with me."
My attitude changed that day. I shifted my attitude to see Reese as the angel in our house and chose to see all the beauty that is afforded to those living with an "angel." She is the light in our home and everyone here agrees.
She is a gift. A bright light. A source of peace and calm. Pure love. Joy. A blessing to everyone in this house.
So to our family friend, the kindest way I can answer your question is, "No, sir. You are sorely mistaken."