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Friday, December 21, 2012

Hope In The Midst of Hopelessness

“To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable. Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless.” - G. K. Chesterton

Tears streamed down my face as I drove my Suburban up the dark hilly, snow-dusted driveway at our Tahoe rental home. I listened to an eloquent prayer on the radio written for the victims of the Newtown, CT shooting. It was my first time alone on our vacation, and I felt weary, maybe even depressed. It had been a hard week, full of some of the biggest challenges with T that I have seen. And then there was the news of the Sandy Hook shooting. The prayer described the devastation of losing a child, and went on to describe the lost children living in the unending loving embrace of God, bathed in light and love. A beautiful picture. But then I imagined my children leaving me in such a horrific way, and my stomach rolled. I leaned over my steering wheel as I crept up the dark driveway of our rental, wet snow hitting my windshield, teary eyes. I rounded a second hairpin curve, started up the final hill. My wheels spun. 

The prayer continued on the radio. I felt a need to hug my children.

"No need to take a risk," I thought. "Nothing to prove." So I stopped attempting to go up the hill. I turned my wheels in the direction that appeared safest, although there were cliffs on both sides. The car came to a rest. I turned off the engine, removing the key, the prayer on the radio cut short. I opened the door,  thinking that Lynn and I would salt the driveway in the morning, and the car would get up the hill then. No reason to takes chances. 

My left foot secured the emergency brake and then reached for cold ground. Halfway out of the car, I took my right foot off of the brake. The car started moving backward. I jerked back inside, re-checking the emergency brake, but saw that it was engaged. Confused, I mentally spun the fact that the engine was off and the car was in park, but still moving! It was gaining momentum, backward toward a cliff. I pressed urgently on the brake, and felt no response...the car was not stopping. 

Leaping from the car, I looked over my shoulder to see headlights disappearing off of the cliff and out of sight. I heard a sickening crunch sound. I screamed and screamed and screamed with a deep terror I cannot remember ever expressing. But the dark sky, glittery stars, and cold snow did not respond. More screaming sounds were erupting and bellowing from me, as I ran up the slippery driveway to the front door of our warmly lit rental home. 

I half expected to hear an explosion from the car below. But there was only deep, wintry silence. No one could hear me. The door was locked. I pounded, and slammed my body against the door, yelling some more. I felt locked out of my family's warmth and security. I felt alone. 

Then I remembered God. 

"Help". I wailed to the dark sky and big wooden door, "Thank you thank you thank you that my children were not with me. Thank youuuuuuu God." I screamed some more. I could not stop. 

I pounded with my whole body.Then the door cracked open and there were my 6-year-old boy (I call N) and my 4-year-old girl (I call A), both in underwear, staring up at me. Sparkly, confused eyes. Kind of like the stars. I sank to my knees coughing out love words for them. This love felt so big, overwhelming, and so distressing at the same time. I was shaking, wet and disturbing to look at. They tugged off my boots, and covered me with A's soft pink blanket. My children have never seen me truly crying, at least not much more than a few tears, much less incoherent and traumatized. 

Lynn had been bathing the children and finally emerged with T whom he had to get out of the bath before coming to the door. After seeing that I was safe, he went to find that the car thankfully had not rolled all the way down the cliff, into the street. It had hit a tree, which had kept it upright, spinning around and landing in a shallow ditch. Only half of the car was damaged.

This story may not sound like it is about being a special needs mom, or about blessings, but it is not at all separate from my life as a special needs parent. Nothing seems to be anymore. You see, I was so distressed anyway that evening. We had not left the house much more than an hour or two on our "vacation" for two days because Thomas had been in such emotionally difficult condition. We felt he was in mental pain. He could barely talk, and when he did, it was not kind. He was extremely agitated, defiant, didn't want to go anywhere, and he almost seemed to have become a different person. Because of his pain and difficult behavior, our whole family was suffering. We were miserable. Meanwhile, I was reading news clips about a child raised to age twenty, only to express his pain by taking countless, precious lives. Probably a child who was depressed and mentally ill. Likely a mom who struggled in many of the ways that I struggle. She may have felt alone and lost and out of control. I was feeling lost all week. I was feeling that I had very little control.

Looking back on it, "no control" looks like a giant SUV in "Park" with its engine turned off, sliding off of a cliff. "No control" looks like a car that happened to not have my children in it. This accident about summarized the size of the grief, fear and pain that I was already feeling-- and how little control I have over much of what happens around me. How little control we all have. God is so much bigger than the dark, starry, silent sky. He can hold a child in his embrace for eternity. He can stop a car from rolling. Keep my children home while I grocery shop. He can save me from despair.

We are all powerless, to a degree. But wait. There is something we can do. We can hope. We can love our children better. We can dance, laugh, sing carols and rejoice in life. We can celebrate when kids have good days, or good hours, or even just a good moment. We can reach out, and show interest in every single child whom we encounter. Love them. 

My middle son asked me the other night why he needs to love the child who is mean to him at school. I thought for a moment and then explained that God does not ask us to love only those who are easy to love-- that is easy! God wants us to love those who are the hardest to love. They need us the very, very most. My boy asked, "but what if the person is a bad guy, mom?" and I paused, then answered, "We are all bad guys, N. But any minute of any and every day we can make a choice to be different, to do something good. We can always be forgiven and we can always decide to love.

The blessing? I might not really get this unconditional love concept like I do today, if I were not a mom with a (very challenging) boy with special needs. I might not get why I should get out of the car rather than trying to get up a steep icy hill. Why I should jump. I might not get how fragile and precious life is. What gifts my boy's life has given me. He is not "a bad guy." He is suffering. He has had a life of suffering. Open heart surgery, arrhythmia, but the hardest part is that he does not fit here. Because of his suffering. His stress. Every day is hard for him. 

And what perpetuates the suffering for guys like my boy are the many adults who treat him without love. Annoyance. Displeasure. Irritation. Or with a "love" that is expectant of something that he can't deliver-- yet.  A love, withheld. Adults in roles that would surprise you-- where you would expect more. Adults who want some behavior or attitude from my child that he just can't deliver -- yet. I have also seen those special adults who authentically know and love T, unconditionally. When I see that interaction, I feel like I'm seeing the face of God. 

If you have read this far, and you know a "bad guy" or a child who is hurting-- I pray that you get to know him or her better. Just love, unconditionally. You will be blessed if you do. You will find gifts that you didn't know you could possess.

I am blessed to have hope, in the midst of hopelessness. I believe that one day I will celebrate with my child and our family. There will be friends. There will be peace. If not here, then in heaven. It will be warm. And my special needs boy will not suffer any longer. br/>

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