He stomped his foot and looked at me with arms crossed in displeasure. This behavior is a recent development that I have mixed feelings about. Obviously defiance is not okay and needs loving correction. But on the other hand, I see his behavioral development as crossing a threshold, and it makes me jump with excitement on the inside.
Noticing little changes like this even when the result isn’t so great is a step towards thriving. And he is, we just go at a slower pace than most. That’s okay.
Sometimes I get stuck on a merry-go-round of sadness noticing all the ways my son isn’t like his peers. It can quickly plummet into a downward spiral if I don’t get off that circus ride. Most days we operate in our own world without the comparison of typical children since my son is an only child.
The days we are around other kids can feel like a bucket of ice water dumped over me. A cold reminder. I hate being blindsided by my feelings like that. It’s not just because my son has special needs. He’s amazing and I know that. The isolation Jason and I experience as parents is what can make me bitter. We get pushed aside in those casual conversations parents have about their typical kids, concerned their child will fall behind in school, soccer practices take over all their free time, or fill in the blank. It’s hard to not inwardly roll my eyes – because I’m mature like that.
It can feel like we are speaking a completely different language. Hello Holland, hello Italy.
What I am learning on this journey of special needs parenting is that pain is universal, but not divided equally. It doesn’t matter the size of your problem, we all have feelings that matter and should be validated. I never want to minimize what a friend is going through just because I can’t understand it.
If I am going to practice grace toward others, I first need to learn the secret of contentment in my own circumstances. I have failed to do this in my own strength, but have had victories in the Spirit’s power too. I want to learn how to honor someone else’s struggle so that I can come alongside them, not dismiss their trials.
Here are 3 things I know to be true in cultivating grace and gratitude:
1. Comparison is the thief of joy.
It breeds discontentment. Comparing ourselves with people we know or people we’ve never actually met (Instagram influencers, celebrities, etc.) manifests quietly in our hearts, as our thoughts lash out toward that person, usually without them ever knowing. We end up in envy and self-pity that eats away at our spirits if we don’t change direction.
2. Competing over our trials leads to bitterness.
I know it sounds crazy, but sometimes we rank the severity of our trials with one another. We use our pain as a measuring stick of “how bad we have it” instead of seeking to comfort a hurting friend. I know I’ve done it. But the different kinds of suffering we experience isn’t an indication of how spiritually mature we are. How we respond in those trials, big or small, is the factor.
Do I run to the Lord for refuge? Do I lick my own wounds and try to patch them up? Do I just get angry?
3. A thankful heart guides us back to the Father.
The reason God commands us to be thankful people is that its good for us. Our outlook is brighter and our hearts lighter when we see how much we are blessed. Count the ways, big and small, that God has shown you grace upon grace. It doesn’t come natural for us, but living out this God-honoring principle will be a blessing in itself. Grateful people are happy people. So I start to notice how he is currently laughing, clasping both hands over his mouth as if to contain the giggles bubbling out. The way he is super polite, always making sure to say “Excuse me” in the right context or “thank you” and “please”. We celebrate the small accomplishments, not taking them for granted.
I see how God is using our present circumstances in a new school to help his speech sky rocket. His teachers and therapists are amazing. Not only that, we have been tremendously blessed with a church family that loves him and supports us. Our families live nearby and help any way they can and often.
These are things the Lord has reminded me of lately. He is faithful to turn my heart back to Him with gentle reminders of His love for me, for my son. More importantly, the temporary blessings point toward the greatest blessing I have forever: Christ. They’re like arrows that lead me back to Him, because of what Jesus did at the cross. For me, for you. It all circles back to Christ. Preaching the Gospel to ourselves each day realigns our ungratefulness to His grace-filled heart.
Grace upon grace,