Over the past 3 months, I have frequently pondered what others may or may not be thinking about our family. Should I care? In a way, no. In other ways, yes. Our family should be living witnesses to the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Some days we may visibly be bearing the fruit of the Spirit (A reminder of that is tattooed on my ankle and even then I still fail. Ok, tattoos? I'm not even going to go down that road. I have two. But that's beside the point. Another post for another day.) At the same time, dwelling on what others think of us is not constructive when it's done because you want to be impressing people.
I used to be the kind of person who would watch other people with their children and think in my head things like, "If I was their mom, I'd _____", or "They just need a good spanking", or other similar comments. All in my head, of course, not verbalized, because that's my personality. But I was thinking them. Other people have personalities like Alan, where they automatically speak out loud the first thing that comes into their brain. Neither is excused, because I would think rude comments, just not say them. Yes, there is a benefit to that, and it's Biblical to think before you speak, but I was still judging people for no reason. Let me give you a very long example........
Two of my biological children have special needs. Not in the sense of the word as it is commonly used. These two children have learning disabilities. Yes, full blown diagnosed-with-documentation-from-a-psychologist kind of learning disabilities. The fact that we educate at home lets me tailor the curriculum to their learning style and they attend "therapy" as well during the week. People don't know that, because I don't go around with a sign posted on them, "Please know that I have a learning disability and don't make fun of me." They have received harsh, hurtful comments because of their learning disabilities. Things like people making fun of them because they were called on to read out loud in a classroom setting, and they have trouble with that because of their processing disorders. But then they come home bawling because they have been made fun of when they have no control over their disability. If it was up to them, they wouldn't have it!
Here's the sad point: I did that. That's right. Many years ago, after I had just graduated college with a degree in Education (You read that correctly. It just adds to the sadness.) I was teaching Wednesday night classes at my church to Elementary school students. There was one boy in particular that I thought negative comments about over and over. He did not read at the level of the other students when I called on him and had trouble writing down answers. He was home schooled. I assumed his mother was to blame and wasn't teaching him well enough. And each week I judged him in my head and heart, along with his mother. I never stopped to think that maybe this child had a learning disability. I should never have asked him to read aloud (Note to people like Sunday School teachers: if you have a child that struggles to read aloud, chances are that student suffers from some kind of processing disorder, and should not be asked to read aloud. Just skip them if they are okay with it. Please don't embarrass them.) Still, to this day, many years later, I remember that sweet child, and I am so remorseful. I was not educated, in spite of my "degree". I was ignorant and immature.
Now I am also the parent of two boys with special needs, sensory disorders, and traumatic pasts that manifest themselves in different ways. While we have a few limited friends who we have somewhat shared the extent of their needs, most people are oblivious. Our boys look like everyone else, just like their siblings blend in with the other children around them. Their unique circumstances are not visible to the naked eye. Certainly people can see we are a blended family, but that would be all that most adults could determine from looking at our family across the aisle at the grocery store.
What I have found is that there are more people in the world that are ignorant about other's needs than not. More people that are judgemental than not. More people that are just plain mean than not. We live in a sinful world and we all fall short every single day. It's especially hurtful when those of us who make up the body of Christ are doing the judging.
I'd like to take a minute and share some things you may not know about special needs children and their families.
1) We love our children and want the best for them. Are we able to parent the same way as others? No. That's okay. If you would like to read the why's and how's of that different parenting, I have books I can recommend to you. Just ask.
2) We can not always go out without our children. Sometimes the people you see in the store/doctor's office/church/bank could not hire a babysitter. They could not get their husband to watch the kids. Please don't condemn them for bringing children to an establishment when those children end up annoying you.
3) When our children act out in public, it doesn't necessarily mean we are not disciplining at home.
4) Lots of days have us on the verge of tears as we witness the harsh glances or listen to rude remarks from others, whether it's an acquaintance or a stranger.
5) Our families and our children definitely did not choose to have a special need. We're working with what we have been dealt.
Maybe this next part should be a second post, but I'm going to include it here, because I think they connect.
Encouragement is defined as.. "To inspire with hope, courage, or confidence;
hearten." or "To give support to; foster."
"Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing." 1 Thessalonians 5:11
Please try to encourage someone today and tomorrow and the next day. The cashier that helped you today and was rough and snapped at you may be taking care of an elderly parent and had a bad day. Maybe her husband left her. Maybe her kids screamed at her before she came to work. We ALL need to realize that we can not see behind the mask of each other's faces. Every person you come in contact with today was made in the image of Christ.
I am so guilty of judging when I have had no right to do so. I'm not talking about Biblical discernment, I'm talking about judgement rooted in jealousy or pride.
"So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, ...Philippians 2:1-15"
Today I'd like to encourage you to give people grace. Show mercy.
Grace looks like:
1) Smiling at the cashier who is being snippy and telling her to have a nice day. Maybe someone was rude to her earlier and she is feeling hurt and tired.
2) Leaving your flustered waiter a little extra tip and saying, "thank you". Maybe his manager has taken out his anger on him in the back kitchen.
3) Talking to or playing with those kids in the doctor's office who are annoying you when you are wondering why mom's not doing anything about it. She may be at her wit's end and you are a welcome relief.
4) Opening the door for the man pushing an elderly woman in a wheelchair who butted in front of you earlier in line. Maybe he is in a hurry, thinking of the person he's taking care of, and never meant to make you upset. He's just in his "own little world".
5) Using a nice tone of voice with the woman on the phone who is just an employee doing her job. She may be a single mom who dreads coming to work each day but has to keep this job to put food on the table.
6) Bringing someone a meal who you know has been particularly short with you even if they haven't asked for help. If they are short with you, I bet there's a reason and it's probably not that they don't like you. Maybe an act of kindness would open the door to a much needed friendship.
7) Discreetly asking the waiter to move you to a different table if the family next to you is bothering you, instead of making rude comments loudly in the hopes it will curb whatever behavior is making you upset. Maybe they haven't been out to eat in months because of their circumstances and they just want to spend this 30 minutes in a restaurant being served instead of serving others. (Dude, this comment is made from experience.)
People with special circumstances and special needs are all around you. Be conscious about what you say. Be conscious about your behavior toward others. If they don't show the same courtesy, please, please do not automatically let anger and agitation get the best of you. If you really have a question, ask. But do it in a nice way and not in front of their children. They may need help or prayer and are afraid to admit it. Unless you share a home with someone, you probably do not know the details about what they are dealing with. Don't assume that you do.
Our Associate Pastor, Scott, defined grace in the following way two weeks ago: "Grace is receiving what you don't deserve."
Show grace. Pass out mercy. Be slow to speak. Be quick to deliver help.
One of my prayers for my children is that they will remember that one day they were a "special needs child". They will treat others accordingly. They will walk as Christ walked. Above all they will LOVE.