Editor’s note: Here’s the third post in Jeff Davidson’s series… Facing the Elephants in the Room, in which he looks at the overwhelming, but unspoken challenges confronting parents of kids with special needs. The first two posts in the series may be found here and here.
Do you ever feel like you’ve been robbed of the life you had dreamed of or anticipated? It’s so easy to feel discouraged and bitter over how much different our lives are as special-needs dads.
Editor’s note: Here’s the second post in Jeff Davidson’s series… Facing the Elephants in the Room, in which he looks at the overwhelming, but unspoken challenges confronting parents of kids with special needs.
When we start listing the things that we feel special-needs have robbed us of or deprived from us, the list can get pretty lengthy. But we have a choice in how we look at this. We can wallow in the despair, discouragement, and frustration over our circumstances, or we can choose the flip side.
Thievery and Discouragement Elephants:
When I decided to choose the flip side, it changed my perspective completely. I wasted so much time early on feeling like I had been cheated.
“Don’t you feel cheated about the life you imagined for you and your son?”
“Don’t you feel like you have been robbed of so many blessings by having a child who can’t talk, can’t walk, and can’t really do any of the things a typical child can do?”
“Don’t you feel robbed of all the activities a dad and a typical child get to do together?”
The questions come often. Every time the question is raised, I have to make a choice.
Everything in life has a flip side. And with every emotion, every circumstance, every trial, and every situation, a choice has to be made. Choose the flip side.
Every night, the last words my son will hear will be my prayers of God’s blessings over him. Every night he will hear my words of affirmation and love spoken over him. Every night the last two words he will hear from me will be, “Goodnight Superman.”
Every morning, the first words he will hear will be from his mother, who lays down her life every day in sacrifice for him. She will open the door to his room and greet him affectionately with pride saying, “There’s my buddy boy!”
We will never have to worry about who is influencing him. We will never have to worry about who he is with or what is he doing.
I used to dread the thought that my son may have to live with me all of my life. Now, I am choosing to embrace that thought. I choose the flip side. I will have an opportunity to make new memories every day. I will have an opportunity to express my love for my son every day.
Even though he is completely non-verbal, I will get a chance to talk to him and engage with him every day. I get to see, feel, and experience the essence of God in my house every day.
I have been denied a life of never grasping God’s mercy, God’s strength, God’s power, God’s grace, and God’s plan for our lives.
So I have a new answer now to the question of “Do you feel cheated?”
Yes, I do.
My walk with a profoundly handicapped child has indeed cheated me of so many things.
I have been cheated out of having to worry about my son walking away from God. I have been cheated out of never comprehending God’s unconditional love. I have been robbed of worrying that my son will make wrong decisions in his life.
Cheated? Oh, yea. But who’s cheating whom?
Everything in this journey, every struggle, every challenge, and every trial will present you with a choice. Every choice will present you with a chance to choose the flip side and change your perspective.
After I learned that the power over every circumstance depended upon my choice in perspective, I decided to write my son’s disabilities the following letter.
Dear autism and cerebral palsy,
I’ve been meaning to write to you for quite some time but thanks to you two, I’ve been pretty busy as you can imagine.
Over the years I have cursed at you, yelled at you, cried about you, and tried my best to understand you. The more I have learned about you, the more I realize how little I know.
But there is one thing I haven’t done. I have never stopped to thank you.
That’s right. I need to stop and thank you for a few things today.
You probably don’t get a lot of thank you notes mixed in with all your hate mail, so let me try to explain why I’m writing.
You see you robbed my son of his speech. Because of you he is non-verbal and has no language, even though he is seventeen years old.
But when you robbed my son of his speech, God decided to give him a voice and a platform.
He may not speak, but God used his life to inspire, bless, and teach others around him.
Hey autism, do you remember that cave you tried to lure us and other autistic families into for the rest of their lives? You know, the isolated dreary cave where you want all autistic families to live in without hope?
We tried it. It just wasn’t for us. So now we do search and rescue, returning to the cave over and over to show others the way out of the cave and to a better place.
Guys, there are so many other things you’ve robbed me from for which I need to thank you.
You’ve robbed me from my own pride, selfishness, and greed.
You’ve robbed me from my tendency to put my work above my family.
You’ve robbed me from living for myself instead of in service to others.
You’ve robbed me of only caring about those who are just like me.
You’ve robbed me of believing there are some struggles just too big for us.
You’ve robbed me of never finding out what God’s plan and purpose is for my life.
Since you came into my life, I have met some amazing people because of our common association with you.
Therapists, teachers, assistants, service providers—dedicated and passionate people who have crossed our path and have become part of our story—people I might never have met if it weren’t for you. Thanks to you two, I’ve also met some amazing parents raising their own heroes with special needs who inspire and encourage me.
What you don’t know, autism and cerebral palsy, is that God didn’t take away the struggles, the pain, or the challenges. He just simply used them in ways I never dreamed and you never expected.
He has used them to teach me unconditional love
He has used them to teach me the essence of grace.
He has used them to teach me to find joy in all things.
He has used them to show me how to be content in the little things.
Really, you can say He has simply used them to draw me closer to Him, help me understand Him, and make me stronger through Him.
In trying to destroy us, all you did was prepare a stage for God to show His glory.
You really helped me take my relationship with God to a much higher and deeper level, so thank you so much! I’m so grateful! Now I rely and lean on Him more than ever.
I also want to thank you for drawing my wife and me closer together in our relationship. We have learned to cry together, laugh together, grieve together, and stand strong together because of you.
So you see autism and cerebral palsy, I have quite a bit of gratitude for you. Of all the things I’ve said to you and about you, I’ve never thanked you.
Who knew that out of my seeds of hate for you, could grow such love for my son!
So consider this my thanks to you.
But let’s be clear, just so you know. I still loathe and despise you with everything in me.
Jeff Davidson is an author and pastor who enjoys speaking at churches, conferences, events and to groups, ministering to special needs families and individuals. Jeff and his wife Becky started Rising Above Ministries when they realized the incredible gift and blessing their own son with special needs (Jon Alex) was to them. Jeff’s book, No More Peanut Butter Sandwiches, is available through Crosslink Publishing, Barnes and Noble and Amazon.
You don’t know me but today I needed this. I didn’t realize it but I have felt cheated for awhile. I am a mother of a 17 year old daughter with Rett Syndrome. I don’t have to tell you but she has changed our lives forever. I simply want to say thank you for your story. Today, I’m choosing the flip side.