This week one of my good friends accompanied his eighteen-year-old son off to join the Marines. Another friend sent his eighteen-year-old child off to college.
My son turns eighteen in two weeks.
Last night he peed in the bathtub.
The gap between our life and the life of a typical family is sometimes so vast that it’s difficult to comprehend. As my wife likes to say, “Sometimes my reality is just too real.”
I remember in the early years desperately clinging to the words, “developmental delay” because they somehow implied a time would come where his development would catch up.
Those words were the anchor of my hope.
But as my son got older the gap widened instead of narrowing. Our new normal was constantly being modified and adjusted.
I never dreamed that my son would remain non-verbal his whole life. I never imagined that I would never hear the words, “I love you,” much less hear him call me dad.
I never dreamed that he would never be able to walk independently without physical assistance.
I never dreamed we would have to feed him all of his meals hand by hand, bite by bite.
I never dreamed that I would never be able to get a good night’s sleep ever again.
I never dreamed he would always need our help with bathing, getting dressed, shaving, and all of the other basic needs.
I never dreamed he would never drive, marry, or give us grandchildren.
I never dreamed he would watch the same Wiggly Safari DVD every day before supper for fourteen years.
I never dreamed we would never go camping, fishing, or travel to ballgames like my dad and I had done when I was a kid.
I never imagined he would never learn to read or write.
I never dreamed he would live with us even after becoming an adult.
All along this journey as a dad of son with profound special needs, so many expectations were surrendered, and so many dreams died.
And then one day I realized that the burdens often provide the biggest blessings in our lives. For every dream that is dashed by the new normal as a dad of a child with special needs, a window is cracked into new insights and revelations from God.
I never dreamed I could love so unconditionally until God gave me son with special needs.
I never dreamed I would see the essence of the Gospel lived out in my own house every day.
I never dreamed I could find joy in the simplest of things until I had a son with special needs.
I never dreamed I could find such contentment in daily laying my life down for my son’s needs.
I never dreamed I would treasure having a teenage boy fall asleep on my shoulders at night.
I never imagined the gratitude I could feel just sitting beside him on a swing at night, speaking blessings over him.
I never imagined the sheer happiness I could have in just making him smile and laugh.
I never dreamed that God would use the life of my son so much to completely change me, inspire me, and draw me closer to Him.
I never imagined that my life would have so many tears and so many moments of despair. But I also can’t imagine it any other way.
No my life didn’t turn out at all like I imagined or dreamed. But I also never imagined that I would want to go back and do it all over again like I do now.
Who knew that I could hear “I love you Dad “every day, despite him not saying a word?
For every dream that died, God replaced it with a blessing. I never imagined that life could be so hard, and yet so good, all at the same time. And I never dreamed that the things that created the most challenges would also bring the greatest blessings.
You never get to experience a rainbow until you’ve endured the storm. I’m living for the rainbows.