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special needs dad chronicles

honesty, hope and healing for Special Needs Dads and those on their journey

HONESTY: Lessons from Lazarus, Part I

One of the strangest passages in the New Testament is about Lazarus, one of Jesus’s good friends John 11: 1-44. Christ waits until after Lazarus dies to visit his family and, then, bring him back to life. I see the miracle aspect as I see many of Christ’s miracles – he was empathetic and if He had the ability to heal, by God, he was going to do so.

He healed the blind man. The sick child. But, the key point of this story I want to focus on is piece is the authenticity of the situation. When Jesus arrives at Lazarus’s home, he was greeted by many, but, according to most interpretations, he had to summon Mary. One can imagine Mary feeling angry, or forlorn. After all, where was this miracle worker, this savior, this one she had honored when her brother was sick? Why didn’t He come when they sent messengers for him? 

And what did Mary say when she saw him?

Did she praise him with hollow phrases or memorized salutations?

Did she say, “Great one, I have faith in you! From my brother’s death, your will is done!”

Did she say, “Our God is an awesome God! You are the best!”

No, she said, and one can imagine quite flatly or accusingly: “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Wow. Period.

How did Jesus react? Did he strike her down? Did he admonish her? Did he tell her to be quiet or not to question him, his motives, his timing?

No, he cried.

There is something in that when it comes to truth-telling. Christ can handle our honesty. Our sadness. Even our accusations. That is stated throughout the Bible in different ways, but I find here it resounds with me on a matter-of-fact level. This is not David weaving poetry in anguish or Job questioning the very nature of the cosmos. This is a simple, almost stoic, accusation as Mary, in essence, says, “Where were you?”

And then the reaction. What did Jesus do? He cried. He did not preach a sermon at that moment. He did not tell her to rejoice. He cried. The truth is He cries with us. He is empathetic. He loves us. Even though there are mysteries that the finite mind cannot grasp, even though His Ways are not always Our Ways, He cares. And He is willing to listen. He does not strike us down for our honesty. We can tell the truth.

 

Brave New World

 

I have mentioned before, everything has changed. Don’t despair. You will make it. Everything is not lost, but everything has changed. How you eat. When you sleep. If you sleep. How you vacation. Your job. Your priorities. Everything.

An example is the familiar cookout. Old friends coming together over drinks. The jokes used and reused are still funny, but comfortable and comforting, like a pair of old slippers. The thick plumes of charcoal smoke shooting from grills. Children laughing and splashing in the pool. You can find yourself sinking back into your old life.

And you might try it once, but, ultimately you can’t go again without taking your new self with you.

You can’t go, because you can’t enjoy yourself. You find it harder to relate. The base of sharing is nil.

When your 8-year-old is not toilet trained. When you have to keep him strapped in a wheelchair so he won’t strike out or flail at another kid. When you have to constantly monitor him so he won’t hit his brother for the 1,000th time and you have to counsel that brother when he says he hates his brother because he has special needs, well, that makes it hard to hold your solo cup and nibble at your burger and engage in talk on football, or work or join in the last discussion on technology or pop culture.

Your world is not completely centered around your special needs child, but it is affected. Easy jocularity, complaints of having to change a one-year-old diapers and hearing about how someone loves Ricky Gervais (despite his disdain and condescension of the special needs population), makes it hard to engage or relax. You feel the ebb and flow of the conversation float over you and see yourself stuck on a sand spit watching it all. You can still fake a laugh, extend a hand and grab a cold one, but it is all a joke. And not a funny one. Because the joke is the event when everything with your child seems so terrible and out of place and the joke is how you feel inside which has the capacity to make you feel like a joke.

Only at the end of the night, when you are home on the couch and your family is in bed and the house is quiet can you relax. With the sound of stale laughter still in your ears, you swear to never do that again as you reach for solace in the bottom of a bottle.

 

True friends

You will learn who your true friends are. People will drop you like a bad habit when you have a special needs child. It is painful when they vanish, when their facade of an iron bond becomes nothing but a wraith-like illusion and their once-promising words of ‘always’ become empty . You will feel betrayed, sold out and hurt. You will learn deeper than you have ever before the raw meaning of the phrase, “Fair Weather Friend.”

But you will find new support in other places. Places you would not expect. And people you would never expect, or seek out or think about in a million years. Maybe not new “friends,” – bonds built on your past, shared experiences – but new allies, sympathizers, comrades and – dare I say? – selfless Christians. You will find them in church. In the grocery store. In the eyes of other special needs parents and one evening you find yourself having a conversation and a drink with another special needs dad of whom you have almost nothing in common with, except the strange alternative reality you both have inherited and live in. And, when that tends to define most of your paradigms, your time, your physical and mental boundaries, that is enough.

In the meantime, it can be overwhelming when someone reaches out with kindness. And beautifully, stupefying overwhelming. With that honest act of nothing to gain, just a desire to show you and your family love and comfort. When the neighbor you barely knows offers – though tentatively – to watch after your special needs child so you and your wife can go on a date. When a church member always make a point to kiss him on the head. When the couple you see strolling the aisles of the hardware store, stop you, ask about your child and – even with your defenses high and your tongue ready to unleash a torrent of insults – you become diffused as they relate about a grandson they have with special needs. They leave you with a smile, a prayer and bit of understanding. You find this person who doesn’t dress like you, talk like you, listen to your music or live in your world, loves you and loves your son unconditionally. And you realize and re-realize, bonds made over drinks and jokes are fun. But, bonds made through shared pain and hope and understanding and love supersede all.

You can read more about hope and healing here.

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