This summer our family embarked upon the grand adventure of multi-generational living. It began in May when our daughter, her husband, and their then 13-month-old son moved into our upstairs as they transition from starving graduate student status to starving artists status. The adventure is going well, everyone is adjusting, and my husband and I love sharing every day life with our grandson.
But sometimes, my joy is dimmed because I know too much.
What I know about special needs, disabilities, and childhood trauma gets in the way. When my grandson, now a robust 16 months old, running around on his tiptoes, a little voice inside me whispers, "That can be a symptom of autism." When life gets very exciting and he flaps his chubby arms in delight, I think, "There's another symptom." When I compare his limited vocabulary to what my son and daughter, his mama, were saying at his age the voice whispers, "Perhaps he'll be non-verbal."
The whispers are a consequence of knowing too much.
Please understand. This little boy is extremely dexterous. His arm flapping doesn't resemble the hand-flapping associated with autism. He speaks more clearly by the day, understands and follows verbal directions, loves interacting with people, and has a highly expressive face. He not only makes eye contact, but also craves it.
I worry anyway, because I know too much.
God has used what I have learned about and experience with special needs and disabilities to great good. He's empowered me to write books to encourage and equip parents, to provide special needs ministry training, to facilitate support groups, and more. But sometimes that same knowledge and experience results in thought patterns that lead to excessive and obsessive worry that steals my joy. The kind of worrying that leads to doubt, to despair, and to sin. The kind of thinking familiar to far too many in the special needs and disabilities community. Maybe you're familiar with it, too.
Because you know too much.
You know the worst that can happen. It has happened and is happening in your family. To your child. But your knowledge doesn't have to lead you down the destructive, joy-sucking path of despair. When I'm tempted to use the knowledge God's provided to wander down the wrong path, He reminds me of these four ways to reclaim joy.
- Pray. Every day, ask the Holy Spirit to make you aware of when your thoughts are wandering toward the wrong path. Then, when He does and you realize your thoughts are going in the wrong direction, ask Him to take every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5). Ask Him to replace your worrying thoughts with the Christlike joy that gives hope.
- Step back from emotion. Respond with faith rather than with emotion about what you know and observe. Speak truth into your worry. God is still God. Your child is still your child. Your love for your child remains. And Christ, who came to earth in human flesh, understands what you are experiencing.
- Trust God's promises for your child. In Scripture, God assures parents of many things about their children. He says they are fearfully and wonderfully made. (Psalm 139:14) He calls children a gift from the Lord. (Psalm 127:3) Jesus welcomed every child without exception into His presence. (Matthew 19:14) Those promises empower parents to view their children within God's grand, eternal story of redemption rather than from the narrow lens of worries that may never come to pass.
- Live in the moment. Not to the expense of ignoring reality or planning for the future. But keep everything in proper balance. Devote the majority of each day to grateful enjoyment of who your children are now. Relish their laughter. Cheer their accomplishments. Show them the world. Create adventures. Listen when they talk to you. Dry their tears. Hug them tight. Read stories together. Sing them to sleep.
Don't let useless worry based on what you know about special needs and disabilities cloud your vision of the gift your child is. Instead, let what you know about Christ fill you with joy and gratitude for the life entrusted to your care, wherever that life leads.
Jolene Philo is the author of the Different Dream series for parents of kids with special needs, as well as 3 other books about caregiving and special needs. Her latest book, Does My Child Have PTSD? was released in October of 2015. She speaks at parenting and special needs conferences across the country and hosts Different Dream Living, a blog for special needs families and other caregivers. You can connect also connect with Jolene via Facebook, Pinterest, or on Twitter at @jolenephilo.