Christmas has come and gone, with all of its celebration, joys, and maybe some trials and tribulations thrown in for good measure… Racing up next we say goodbye to the old year and cheer in the new; but how that makes you feel might well depend on the kind of year you’ve had, and any expectations you may have for the year ahead.
In the world of additional needs parenting, unpredictability comes as standard. As Tom Hanks’ character reminds us in the film Forest Gump, “My mom always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Well, what did you get in 2018?
You may have had a year filled with blessings, with delightful and positive steps forward as you have cared for your child or young person. Maybe they have coped really well with difficult situations, adapted well to change, or made a breakthrough in a previously difficult area for them. Perhaps you look back on the year with relief, with tears of joy, with deep thanks for all that it has brought.
Or maybe you’ve had a hard year; a year of setbacks. A year where it seems to have been a constant battle; one step forward, two steps back. Maybe you’ve seen regression, challenge and struggle. Perhaps you look back on the year just thankful to see the back of it; your tears are tears of grief as you think of all that has changed for the worse.
In reality, like me, you will probably look back on the year that is ending with a mixture of both of these feelings… recognising the good things that the year has brought, while touched with sadness for the things that have changed for the worse. In our case, we’ve seen a year where James has developed his personality, we’ve seen joyful times together, seen successes, and enjoyed seeing James growing up (he celebrated his 16th birthday in June). This joy was tinged with sadness as James spent much of the year struggling to leave the house, including for school, although the last few months of the year have brought significant breakthrough with this.
With all of the emotions that looking back on the year stirs, it is easy to look at things only through our own eyes, in our own strength, from our own perspective… And if we do that, we can be crushed by the hard things that have happened, overwhelmed by the challenges we have faced, allowing the good and wonderful things that have happened to be blotted out, erased by the pain of the difficulties we and our children experienced. But let’s listen to what others might be saying to us, even through the pain, and be encouraged by the affirming words that they share; often it is others that see the positives that we can miss.
It is through the storms of life that we can see friends and family working in our lives the most, if we have a faith we may lean on that too, and it is through the challenges that life brings that we are moulded into the person we need to be for our child. Are we willing to be moulded? Or do we resist, wallowing in our self-pity and being defined by the difficulties we and our children face, rather than thinking about how they might shape us positively to serve and help our child and others?
And we can see God at work in our lives too… He is there with us, in the hard times and the good. If we seek him, he is there cheering us on and encouraging us:
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4
So, with these thoughts in mind, what will we take with us into the new year ahead? Will we drag the chains of the struggles and trials of the old year with us into the new? Will we allow the failures, regressions and setbacks of the last year define us and our child? Or will we use these experiences to shape us positively for the year ahead; to bear our scars as symbols of where we have been, what we have endured together, the experience we have acquired together, to take into the future to help us, our child, and others, to navigate through another year.
As the new year resolution slogan goes… “Be more awesome than last year.” You were awesome last year, you are awesome now, you will be awesome in the year ahead… and you don’t have to create all of this amazing awesomeness on your own, you journey with others on the same road as you too!
Of course, there will be tough times in the year ahead, there will be times of rejoicing too. But whether we are crying tears of grief or joy, if we share it with each other, if we trust in each other, there are people who will be there with us, fighting for us, in our corner, that have got our back.
And that, for me, means that whether next year is a Happy New Year or not, I know that me and my family will make it…
How about you?
Mark Arnold is the Additional Needs Ministry Director at leading national Christian children’s and youth organisation Urban Saints and is Co-Founder of the Additional Needs Alliance, a vibrant and fast-growing online community. He is an enthusiastic national and international advocate for children and young people with additional (special) needs or disabilities and is passionate about enabling everyone engaging with them to be inspired, trained and well resourced. Mark is a Churches for All and Living Fully Network partner, as well as being a member of the Council for Disabled Children. He blogs as the national award winning ‘The Additional Needs Blogfather’, and is father to James, who has Autism Spectrum Condition and associated Learning Disability. To find out more about how Mark and his work can help you, contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or @Mark_J_Arnold