Have you ever heard this phrase before? — “God only gives special children to special people.” I have. Too many times, actually. That seemed to be a “go to” response when we broke the news of Everett’s diagnosis to friends and family after he was born. And while the statement was well-intended, it always irked me a little. You see, I am in no way “special” because I’m the mother of a child with some unique abilities and concerns. Quite the opposite. I’m just an ordinary person, doing my best to raise my children to the best of my ability while pushing a merry-go-round of personal and professional responsibilities. Some days the merry-go-round spins as planned, but on other days I have to really dig in and run alongside the merry-go-round until it reaches a “doable” speed. On these occasions, I really start to question my endurance, patience, and ability…like so many other mamas out there. Which brings me to the primary theme of this blog post — ability. You see, I don’t believe I inherently have any special abilities and as such, God chose me to raise a “special child.” I tend to gravitate to another statement I’ve seen posted on social media by several other Rockin’ mamas:
God doesn’t give special children to special parents. He takes ordinary, imperfect people, and gifts them with his greatest treasures. And therein, he creates special parents.
Here’s a story that demonstrates this exact quote. It’s a true story, verbatim and uncut (in typical mamability.com fashion) from those tough “early days” I so often write about.
In the weeks after Everett was born, I found myself inundated with appointments related
to his health and well-being. There were appointments with ECI (early childhood intervention), occupational therapists, speech therapists, and physical therapists, and quite a few appointments with pediatricians and medical specialists. Appointments with doctors and specialists tapered off after a while, but the meetings with various therapists skyrocketed as he grew and began tackling developmental milestones. I was informed immediately after Everett was diagnosed with Trisomy 21, that “early intervention” was crucial for his growth & development. Meaning, the more of these early intervention therapies he’s exposed to and the more we work with him to help him meet his milestones (e.g. crawling, cruising, pincer grasp, etc.), the more likely he was to keep up with his typically developing peers. It became very obvious to me in these early therapy appointments, that every little minute behavior and action that Everett demonstrated would be documented and measured. I received checklist after checklist and homework assignment after homework assignment at these therapy appointments, that instructed me how to teach him to meet crucial developmental milestones such as crossing his “midline” and reaching for objects in different directions (while lying on his tummy), how to get him to grasp an object at midline while lying on his back, how to run my finger across his gums and the roof of his mouth to make his palate more amenable to future speech patterns, how to teach him to point at objects with his pointer finger, how to mimic creeping movements to teach him to creep & crawl, etc., etc., etc. I’m not gonna lie…at times it was very overwhelming. It seemed like in a matter of months I had evolved into Everett’s physical therapist, speech therapist, occupational therapist, health specialist, and advocate. And it oftentimes felt like these new roles had overshadowed the most important role I had recently assumed – his mama. Not to mention the many other roles I was juggling in an average week (Christian, wife, family member, professor, graduate student, etc.). I remember sitting on a little mat at one of Everett’s speech therapy sessions when Everett was around 8 weeks old. His speech therapist was showing me some very useful apps I could download and I accidentally caught a glimpse of the many appointments and responsibilities I had scheduled on my iPhone calendar. And then my eyes darted across my email account, where I saw over 1,000 unanswered emails. I almost completely lost it while downloading the “bubble pop” app, right there in front of the speech therapist. There was just so much information to take in about Everett’s gross motor, fine motor, and speech skills. And I was a brand new mother, with a brand new full-time teaching job, an unfinished dissertation, and a baby who was apparently going to need a lot of help from me and specialists, just to learn how to eat, walk, cruise, pick up objects, and so forth….basically….how to live! The weight of the world was on my shoulders, and never once…not once….did I ever question whether Everett was going to be able to accomplish the weekly or monthly goals his therapists set for him. But daily, sometimes even hourly, I questioned my ability to get him there, while trying to accomplish the many professional and personal goals of my own that needed to GET DONE.
A few months went by, we hit a few milestones, but the homework continued to roll in. And as we began to tackle bigger and bigger milestones (e.g. crawling, creeping, cruising, signing, walking, pointing)….the homework began to really pile up. Along with this pile of homework, we were also attending regularly scheduled medical checkups (the extra checkups and tests that babies with DS require) and I was gearing up to start my first semester at a new job, with a new commute, teaching 4 courses, 3 of which were brand new (which required a great deal of course preparation). Oh…and there was that dissertation thing too….LOOMING over my head. Every morning of that summer, I would wake up, begin thinking about all the appointments on the books and everything else I needed to accomplish that week both professionally and personally….and I would stress myself into a frenzy worrying about how I would do it all. When I was younger (and child-free) and I would encounter a busy semester schedule, I would create daily checklists to keep me on point. One by one, I’d check off each activity or goal I needed to accomplish in a given day, as I completed them. And 7 out of 7 days, I would wipe the checklist clean. In the early days with Everett, with the appointments stacking up, the homework piling on, and the work responsibilities adding up, I learned very quickly that to function, the exact opposite would have to occur. Instead of accomplishing everything I set out to accomplish in those days, and checking tasks and responsibilities off the checklist, one by one….I began striking everything off the checklist that didn’t absolutely “have” to be accomplished, and I would move those items to another day. In other words, my little checklist turned into a hot mess and became really difficult to keep up with. But somehow…with a lot of help from my outlook calendar…we pulled through.
During this time period, I recall one Sunday morning, we were leaving our morning church service and thoughts about my little checklist were swirling around in my head until I heard an interruption – Victor speaking to one of our church leaders. And then I tuned in and heard the word “baby dedication” in reference to Everett. My heart sank. With all of the other tasks I’d been working through as a new parent, I hadn’t even thought about a baby dedication. A side note, a lot of churches do different things to honor the birth of a new baby. Our church does what is called a “baby dedication,” where the parents stand in front of the church and introduce their new baby and a prayer is led on behalf of the parents and their new infant. I’ve seen many a “baby dedication,” and I thoroughly enjoy watching new parents and their little babies, all dressed up, ready to dedicate their lives to making sure their new little bundle will be raised to serve God. I always planned on doing a baby dedication for our new baby. I even bought a cute little Janie & Jack outfit (including shoes and a cap) specifically for Everett’s baby dedication before he was even born! So…here I am with all of this other stuff to worry about, and I completely forgot about the most important thing of all – dedicating my life to raising Everett to serve God! Total #momfail. What kind of a parent was I? So we immediately scheduled Everett’s baby dedication for late August…a week before the college semester would begin for me. Genius. Except now….I’ve got all of Everett’s appointments to work through, daily homework assignments from these appointments, course prep for 3 new courses, an unfinished dissertation, a new commute to a new town and campus, AND a baby dedication that needed to be planned and organized. Pretty sure my little mental checklist imploded at that point.
Let me be clear for a second. All of these little worries I had, these “checklist” items so to speak, were very secondary to the burning worry I had about Everett. Honestly, I think I probably took on way too much at this stage in my life as a coping mechanism to deal with the questions I had about Everett’s future. Where was he going to live someday? Will he be able to go to college? Will he have friends in high school? Will he ever drive a car and be as independent as he wants to be? Will he have a girlfriend? Questions like these popped into my head daily, sometimes hourly….oh who am I kidding….these questions and more, seared through me, every minute of every day. They were literally eating me up from the inside out.
But with Everett’s baby dedication, several things became clearer to me. In the past when organizing large family events, such as a baby dedication and après lunch, I would create and send out invitations, plan a menu, buy all the ingredients and party supplies, and put on quite a spread/gathering! This time, everyone got a text about a week before the event. Vic and I ordered BBQ, sides, and cobbler ahead of time. Plastic plates, cups, utensils, and paper napkins kept us from having to do a ton of dishes. And we decided that whoever came, came…we weren’t going to stress over the guest list. With this event, the baby dedication, I began to learn that perhaps, just perhaps, tasks and events will organically come together as they should. Not based on the amount of worry I dedicated to them, but based on faith, prayer, and me doing the best I can with the resources I have. Sometimes a text, a less than homemade menu, and disposable party goods will do.
And you know what? That morning, nearly every member of our family showed up….to our church….in support of little Everett. I bet our family alone constituted at least 1/8 of attendance that morning. At most baby dedications, the Elder conducting the dedication will hold the new baby, introduce the family and the baby to the congregation, tell some cute stories about the family and baby (that usually includes adorable photos up on the big screen), and then asks the congregation if they are willing to help the family raise the new baby to serve God. Since our family attendance was so huge that morning, our attending Elder asked our family to stand up and answer “yes” to his question about raising Everett to serve God and then the rest of the congregation stood and did the same. It was a really beautiful moment that touched my heart at a very opportune time. I remember as I was standing there, in front of hundreds of people…those questions were still there. But in a church context, they were questions about Everett’s relationship with God and his fellow church-goers. And these questions were, once again, weighing on me that morning…heavily, given the circumstances. I had seen so many baby dedications at our church. But Everett was different. Would his dedication be different? Would he really cognitively and spiritually be able to form a strong relationship with God someday? Would he have meaningful relationships with his fellow Sunday school classmates? Would he be involved in the youth group? Would he go to church camp someday? This was just the tip of the iceberg…there were hundreds of questions like these that I was carrying in my heart that morning, and like all of the other burning questions I had, they were eating me up. Until I saw my family rise, and verbally commit to raising Everett in the church. And then I saw the entire congregation rise and make the same commitment. And then our Elder led the sweetest prayer I’ve ever heard, about doing whatever it takes to make sure Everett has a heart like that of King David’s. And when the prayer was over….we were swarmed. And it was pretty clear to me in that moment, that Everett was going to be okay. God was going take care of him by strategically placing incredible people in his pathway including his family members, friends, church leaders, bible class teachers, congregation members, etc. And if it weren’t clear enough…as I was hugging and shaking hands with Everett’s spiritual fan club…a member of our congregation tapped my shoulder and said, “I’d like for you to meet someone. She’s a visitor this morning and she’s thinking about placing membership here.” I turned around, and there was a lovely young woman with dark eyes, beautiful, dark, curly hair, and an extra chromosome. She was striking. She stretched her hand out to greet me and with perfect articulation, said, “It’s nice to meet you. My name is Angel.” I was immediately overcome with an unexplainable sense of peace in that moment. If Angel could find her way to God’s house and seamlessly fit in with both abled and differently-abled church-goers…so could Everett. All of that worry about what I could or could not do as a new mom thrust into the world of juggling pediatric therapies, medical appointments, new course preps, unfinished research projects, etc. – didn’t matter. Everett’s abilities or lack thereof didn’t even matter. In that moment, it was all about God’s abilities and Angel’s presence was proof of what He can do with any of His children, with the abilities He blesses us with. Ultimately, it’s not about what I can do or what Everett can do. It’s about what God can do through us – which is anything. Some may think my brush with Angel on that particular August morning was a mere coincidence. I do not. With all of my heart, I believe God sent me an Angel to teach me to trust not in my own understanding and abilities, but His. And it worked.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6
Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:2