We are all special needs people.
Second, we all have needs, whether we’re the Pope or a panhandler. We require food, water, shelter. We need human touch, love, and acceptance. On a more actualized plane, we have a deep need to exercise our God-given gifts.
But there are those whose needs are greater. Born with mental and/or physical limitations, they require specialized attention. My son, Kristoffer, is one of them. What the geneticists call a “chromosomal translocation” has capped his mental abilities. His mother and I will be his guardians as long as we live.
As a “special needs” father, I often reflect on the lessons Kristoffer teaches me. Here are three that (thank God!) have changed me forever.
1) “Every Person Matters” is a lifestyle, not a slogan: Through decades of ministry, I’ve championed compassion for the marginalized. However, it’s one thing to live out this mission in the world at large; it’s quite another to serve “the least” at home on an hourly basis. As I invest my life in Kristoffer, it humbles me, showing me the trivialities of my ego. I see more clearly our culture’s idolatry of success and notoriety. As a Christian, Kristoffer has taught me the path of downward mobility. In celebrating how much his life matters, I have found new freedom.
2) Gentleness is everything: I reject the Forest Gump stereotype: special needs people blithely living out Edenic states of innocence. Kristoffer, like all human beings, has his moods, his ups and downs. And at levels I may never fully realize, he’s aware of his condition. He sees how he compares to others. Because of this, gentleness is crucial. Even when I use tough discipline, I try to temper it with mildness. If I don’t, my instruction gets lost in translation; I undermine his foundation of esteem. Recently he returned from a visit with his older brother. It had been a phase when my tongue was sharper than usual. Kristoffer looked at me and said, “Keenan is so patient with me, Dad.” My heart melted.
3) God will open a pathway through difficulty: I have friends who consider this a superficial “meme.” They say it withers under scrutiny, pointing to tragic endings of individuals “God” seemed to abandon. I respect their viewpoint; mine is radically different. You see, Kristoffer’s initial diagnosis was dismal. We were told he might never communicate. From that ground zero, we have gone forward with prayer and trust, finding that our son defied the odds against him. Recently he received his cap and gown and accompanied his friend, Amber to the prom – two milestones we had only hoped would materialize. At those precious rites of passage, I tearfully remembered one of the promises of The 12 Steps: “We will realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.”
I submit that these three lessons are valuable for ALL of us, not just this thick-skulled, special needs Dad.
Let’s pray for each other.