Raising a Child with Special Needs (Part 2)

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In Part 1 of this post, I shared a little about our experience. Re-reading the post, I realized that there is so much more I could have said. Part of the reason I didn’t say more was that I wanted to keep it short. Mostly, I just didn’t want to risk being vulnerable. I want to attempt to do just that in this post.

There’s a question with which I’ve wrestled frequently in the last 12 years: How do you keep your soul afloat when you’re being tossed in the stormy sea of parenting a child with special needs?

Kelly and I have experienced storms that, if we’re being honest, have nearly caused us to give up hope. Waves of sadness, loneliness, jealousy, anger, and fear have threatened to capsize our little ship. However, behind every wave, we have experienced the reality of God’s grace. His grace has kept us from drowning and it has kept our eyes fixed on the horizon as we’ve moved closer to what He has in store for us. I want to focus on one ominous, threatening wave that we have encountered all too often: the wave of doubt.


Waves Of Doubt

I’ve asked each of these questions: “Where are you, God?” “Why did you allow this to happen to our son?” “Don’t you hear my prayers?”

Maybe you’ve asked these questions too. In the midst of intense emotions, it can feel like you are in the eye of a raging storm of chaos, randomness, and cruelty. It is impossible to see the horizon when you’re in a deep trough between four-story waves. We cannot often see his plans when we’re lost in a churning sea. Regardless of our vantage point at any given time, God remains in control.

One day, a man brought his son, a boy who had special needs, to Jesus (see Mark 9:14-29). The little boy had a crippling seizure disorder that threatened to end his life. The father pleaded with Jesus, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” Notice he didn’t say, “Help my son.” He said, “Help us.” He and his wife were suffering, too. Jesus replied, “Everything is possible for one who believes.” Then, in desperation, the father confessed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”

That’s me. I want to believe, but my own doubt looms over me, threatening to swallow me up. All I can do is plead for God to supply the faith I so often lack.

Many parents of kids with special needs can relate. Doubt can overwhelm, especially when storms continue to rage despite your prayers for help. Like the concerned father in Mark 9, cry out to God with all the faith you can muster. But, understand this: He won’t respond by condemning your imperfect belief, your half-hearted trust. Not at all; he will supply what you lack.


Memories Of Grace

As I reflect on all that has happened since we received word of our son’s diagnosis during the 18th week of my wife’s pregnancy, I realize that what has rescued me from my own seasons of unbelief are my memories. These memories come from my whole life, both before and since Owen entered into the picture. They’re memories of the countless occasions when God has answered prayers, intervened, wrought miracles, accomplished healing, and shown up powerfully. These memories are like lifeboats. Because I know He has intervened in the past, I am reminded that He is good, that He is present, and that He is working in ways I’m too finite to see. Even if the ship threatens to break apart, He’s still going to keep us afloat.

If you’re raising a child with special needs, you have probably experienced the same kind of doubt. You may feel like you’re in the midst of the storm at this very moment. Take heart. You serve a God who is doing something in you and through you (and in and through your child) that you wouldn’t be able to believe if He told you. He is using the very waves that threaten to send you to the bottom to make you more like His Son and to bring Him great glory. Fight the doubt you experience with the memories you’ve accumulated. And, hold on for dear life!

Remember, God’s own Son is in the boat with you. Depending upon His will for you and your child, Jesus will either continue to navigate the waves with you or He will cause the waves and the storm to pass (see Mark 4:35-41). Either way, the best place to be is with Him. He will never leave nor forsake you.