Barb Dittrich is a passionate advocate for the needs of families impacted by disabilities in the church. She’s faithfully served as a member of the Program Committee responsible for putting together Inclusion Fusion, and serves as Executive Director of SNAPPIN’ Ministries. She’s recently joined our Key Ministry team as our Social Community Director. Here’s a wonderful testimony from Barb about the challenges faced by parents of kids with “hidden disabilities.”
“Maybe a little less sugar would help her,” the grocery store clerk suggested as my daughter chattered and bounced. “No,” I grimaced, holding my tongue painfully until we could complete our transaction. My Little Miss was her usual loud, energetic, socially awkward, but friendly self as we passed through the check-out line that day. I hurriedly shoved my mountainous cart of groceries out of the store after the exchange, head held low, not wishing to disturb any more customers or employees. My spirit drooped as those old lying voices of inadequacy haunted me. This wasn’t an unusual occurrence in public… or with relatives… or with friends… or with fellow church members. No matter what the occasion, and usually when I felt least equipped to handle it, the comments about my youngest daughter’s behavior would fly.
Having a middle child who is more medically fragile and who struggles with anxiety disorder, you would think our youngest would be the “easier” of our two children with special needs. However, since the day this child was born, something has been different about her. When she was a toddler, I can remember one incident where I went to use the toilet and came out to find her gone. Rather than helping me rescue her, one neighbor called another and said, “Look out your back window to see who is running through the yards!” Sure enough, it was my missing toddler. Smart as a whip, she has long been misunderstood, not getting compassion or help until she was eventually diagnosed with multiple severe allergies, asthma, severe ADHD (of course, her allergies include all ADHD medications), social deficits and sensory processing disorder.
Over the past decade, I have learned to treasure all the unique parts of my daughter. I sit and imagine what God will do with all her traits and gifts when she is grown. Before we got her the diagnoses with the accompanying help that she needs, I used to worry that I would be visiting her in jail. Thank God, with the blessings of some wonderful teachers, therapists and doctors, we have been able to help her with reading and writing as well as channel her imagination and energy in positive directions. Rather than endlessly apologizing for who she is, I know that God has made her “fearfully and wonderfully.” (See Psalm 139:14) I am proud of this incredibly unique little treasure that the Lord has seen fit to entrust to our care. I watch her when she doesn’t realize it, and I giggle witnessing her silly quirks. Now my job as a parent is to get others to view my child with that same warmth.
This thought really sprang up in me over this past week as another parent of an older child with special needs had an occurrence at a restaurant where he ran from the mother and created some chaos in an area where he should not be. The mother called me, crying in shame, feeling she couldn’t apologize enough for her son. Sadly, the restaurant owners are family with the special young man. He had never before behaved in such a way in their establishment. Yet, the extended family had never made an attempt to understand the boy’s challenges in any meaningful way. The result is that a mother now sits feeling that she can never show her face in the restaurant again and that she is a horrible person because of her son’s behavior.
I have to wonder, looking at this mother’s situation, looking at my own situation, if we should really be the ones apologizing. Don’t get me wrong. There are dangerous circumstances that our children can create or get involved in that we must act upon. And when we are negligent, we must repent. Nevertheless, I would hazard to say that those types of situations are the exception rather than the rule with parents like us. Instead, I would say that those around us are more likely to move through daily life with disregard for God’s mandate to bind up the brokenhearted, to love the least of God’s children, to laugh with those who laugh and mourn with those who mourn.
Instead of tiptoeing through this life sheepishly, we as parents need to fill our tanks enough so that we have energy both to parent these children and to educate the world around us. Building acceptance is part of our high calling. That means that we need to be unapologetic for who God made our precious children to be. Yes, these children of ours have imperfections, but so does every human in this fallen world. Showing others how to adapt and include our loved ones is something for which we parents are uniquely equipped.
Parents, let’s resolve to move through as many days as the Lord grants us, loving our children, taking in their beautiful and unique qualities, being unapologetic for who they are, and enlightening those around us in the special way He has given us. After all, we don’t know if our child might be the very tool that God uses to change others in some unforeseen way. And that makes every life, even the quirky, chaotic or unusual, extremely worthwhile.
PRAY: Father, may I never lose sight of the remarkable creation of my child. Thank You for giving me eyes of love to see the unique, worthwhile person inside. Only by Your power can I go forward to awaken an uncaring and critical world. Put the right words in my mouth to build acceptance of those with special needs.
Check out Barb’s blog…Comfort in the Midst of Chaos
Updated July 19, 2014
We’re featuring videos of past Inclusion Fusion presentations on Key Ministry’s new YouTube channel! Viewers can access EVERY VIDEO from past Inclusion Fusion Web Summits ON DEMAND. The videos from past Web Summits have been viewed over 20,000 times…we hope you’ll find them as helpful as many others have!