Editor’s Note: Today marks the conclusion of 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. Here’s Jeff…
What about my career? What about providing for my family? Shouldn’t that be my first and most important priority? Shouldn’t I have to make sacrifices about my time with my children so I can more effectively provide for their needs?
The Career Elephant:
I wear a lot of hats during a typical day. I feel like I’m wearing one hat and holding two more in my hand ready to switch hats in an instant.
I’m a father, a husband, a son, a friend, a writer, a speaker, a pastor, a leader of an organization, a community advocate, an elder in my church, a business owner, a home owner, and a volunteer.
My day begins in a whirlwind of emails, messages, thoughts, to-do lists, calls, and tasks. Now don’t get me wrong. I like feeling as if my life is teetering at the edge of chaos. I think I’m at my best when my life is just at its tipping point and in danger of slipping out of control. In an odd way, that’s my comfort zone.
Within itself, that is a dangerous place to live. I have another problem though, that when coupled with my hectic life, can sometimes be toxic. I’m really lousy at saying no.
I’m very poor at declining some opportunities or invitations I should probably decline. I’m a self-admitted people pleaser and an approval addict. I struggle to set boundaries and intentionally schedule down time in my life. I often suffer the consequences.
I’m trying to be more proactive and thoughtful about my priorities these days. Before I ever had a ministry, an organization of my own, or the platform God has given me—I had a family. He gave me a family first and I need to do all I can to keep my family first.
Our son with cerebral palsy and autism definitely makes our life interesting. In the evenings I handle feeding Jon Alex his supper and then we are off to swing in his platform swing in his bedroom.
It’s dad’s time. We swing, I sing. Jon Alex is nonverbal. Doesn’t matter what I sing, he just craves that time and listening to me. For his entire life, he has enjoyed the times that we sing to him and over him.
On a typical night, I’ll sing a few children’s classics, some vintage U2 and other 1980s hits from my heyday, a couple of modern worship songs, the Tennessee fight song “Rocky Top” of course, and several made-up goofy songs of ours. Then I speak blessings over him, I recite scriptures over him, and I pray over him.
It’s not what we do together that’s important. It’s that I intentionally set aside a time where I am conveying that nothing else in the world matters right now but giving him my undivided attention, my whole heart, and my sole focus. I check my smartphone at the door.
It’s a holy moment. A God-breathed, God-ordained moment.
It’s my sanctuary where I go to meet the Spirit of God.
Until the other night. The other night I cheated on my son. I cheated on my son and had an affair with my ministry. I was an adulteress father.
Someone who I am helping walk through a difficult personal situation called for me in the middle of our dad time. I had to make the choice. Do I take the call, knowing it probably won’t be a quick one? Or do I continue on interacting with my son?
My friend needed a pastor. My son needed his dad. I made the wrong decision.
That night I sacrificed my son on the altar of ministry. In doing so, I implied to my son that there are other people, other things, and other tasks that are more important to me than he is as my son.
The choices we make every day have life-long lasting implications for our children. I chose poorly. I know what choice I will make next time.
Your job is very important. Your career is extremely important. Your role as a provider is vital to your family. But it’s just one part, one component of the five components of a special-needs dad. We must seek balance. We must learn to balance all five components—warrior, protector, provider, encourager, and equipper.
Once last warning about the elephants in the room. You must face them head-on with determination and strength. Your natural tendency will be to flee from them, to run to somewhere safe and pretend they don’t exist. You will be tempted to run and hide from the elephants. If you are not strong, you will find yourself in the cave of isolation.
Alone, scared, and afraid, you’ll hunker down in the cave. Some people never come out of the same cave I discovered upon our son’s diagnosis. The cave of despair and depression beckons, whispers, and taunts.
You may find yourself wanting to climb into the cave and lay on the cold, damp floor.
As a pastor and disability ministry leader, my faith is supposed to be planted in bed rock and unflappable. But in the real world, my faith can be shaky and sways in the wind like everyone else.
“I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)
There is a moving story in scripture about the prophet Elijah. After a powerful miraculous showing of God’s power, when Elijah’s faith had called down fire from heaven to reveal God’s glory, Elijah found his faith weak and seemingly ineffective.
I get it Elijah. Me too sometimes. So Elijah retreated to a cave. I get that too Elijah. I’ve done a lot of spiritual spelunking myself.
In the midst of his depression and despair, God Himself showed up at the entrance to the cave and said to Elijah, “What are you doing here?” God always shows up in our caves looking for us. He has been doing search and rescue since the beginning of time.
He found Elijah.
He will find me.
He will find you.
He will whisper to your spirit, “What are you doing here?” Then He will light the path, take you by the hand, and show you the way out of the cave.
Because God’s grace is greater than our doubts. God’s grace is greater than our fears. And God’s hand stretches into the deepest recesses of our caves.
Many times throughout this experience as a special needs dad, you will not be able to visibly see God’s hand at work. But when you cannot see God’s hand, you must trust His heart. When you don’t think you can trust His actions, you must learn to trust His character.
God has placed the special needs dad on a mission. He calls you, He chooses you, He equips you, and He will sustain you.
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.