We love our children fiercely. Like Maya says in the second episode of Speechless, when told to not worry about her son JJ, who has cerebral palsy, she said "I can't. He's my whole world." I totally get what she's saying. Both of my sons have special needs and they feel like a large portion of my world, my time, my energy, my love, and my worries.
Our schedules revolve around their therapies and appointments and meeting their needs. There are times we compare our children to other children and wish things came easier. We worry about milestones and every single inch in-between. So with all these extra challenges, how do we strive to embrace our children who are "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14), just as they are?
It's so easy to see how far our child has to go to catch up with their peers. To see how little progress they've made. But we have to be intentional to focus on the positive. To focus on each and every victory, no matter how small it may seem. In the Genesis account of God creating the world, He said "it was good," after everything He created. He didn't just say "it was good," when it was all done. We must do that too. Celebrate the little victories as well as the big. Philippians 4:8 says "Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things." It takes an intentional mindset to focus on the positive about your children's development. Celebrate every hard-earned milestone and every single inch in-between and with that positive mindset shift, you'll find lots more things to celebrate, rather than feeling like there is so much to work on.
It's so easy to focus on our children's development, their behaviors, how far they are behind their peers, their appearance, etc. "But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7). We are told in Proverbs 4:23 to "guard your heart, for from it flow the wellspring of life." As parents, we are to look into our child's heart to understand the motives of their behaviors. If your child is non-verbal it is especially important to focus on your child's heart, to learn what makes them angry, what brings them joy, what makes them feel most loved and supported. When focusing on their heart you'll see how God uniquely crafted our children.
In Exodus 31:1-6 God tells Moses about how He designed and gifted Bezalei. God says "I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts-to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship." You can sense the pride in God's voice as he brags about Bezalei and how he is using his gifts and skills. When you have a child with special needs, it's easy for us to focus on helping our children in their areas of weakness. But our children have gifts and passions that God wants us to help nurture and steward in our children.
Kristine Barnett wrote a fascinating memoir about her son who was diagnosed with autism, called "The Spark: A Mother's Story of Nurturing, Genius, and Autism." She decided to focus not on her son's multiple areas of weaknesses with his severe autism diagnosis, but instead focus on what he was interested in, which was space. She took him to see the stars at night, to the planetarium, to lectures on astronomy and she watched her son come alive. He became more interested in the things of the world when he was fed with what interested him. He began to talk. And before long he was studying physics and astronomy on his own. Taking college classes at age 11. He still couldn't tie his own shoelaces, or understand how to interact appropriately with everyone, but he could write mathematical equations I will never be able to understand. Now I'm not saying focusing like this on your child's strengths will completely transform our children. But think about when you get an opportunity to do something you love, it makes you feel alive, right? Wouldn't that also be true for our children?
It's easy to focus on the outward appearance and skills like we mentioned before. But what ultimately matters in the Kingdom perspective is that we enter into relationship with Him and bring Him glory. Matthew 19:13-15 says "Then little children were brought to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked those who brought them. Jesus said, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these." Oh, how I felt so convicted one day when I read this. I realized I had simply assumed my older son wasn't cognitively ready for Bible stories, so I focused on teaching him how to read and work on his speech and gross motor skills and dressing himself. Those were more foundational skills to life, right? I felt convicted that I was hindering my children from knowing about Jesus and their Bible stories because I thought they were too delayed to get it yet. Or that there were more important things for them to learn. What could be more important than learning about and loving God?
Whether your child is cognitively aware of the Gospel or not, we are commanded in Deuteronomy 11:19 to teach God's Word "..to your children, speaking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." It's our job to teach our children about God, plant that seed in their hearts and their minds, and God will take care of the rest. After all, He loves our children even more than we ever can.