Fifteen years ago, it was just a huge, fallow farmer’s field, streets cut in and lots subdivided. Still, it was a little piece of heaven on earth to young families like us, longing for a new place to call our own. We were one of the first families on the block, buying a “spec home” where we hoped to raise our 4-year-old and 1-year-old. Everything was new with promise. How would we landscape? How would we paint the rooms? Dreams of the future were filled with joyful anticipation, and spilled into all of the conversations in our fledgling neighborhood.
Months after we had moved in, a new couple completed their home in the subdivision. Their beautiful children were the same ages as ours. They were a delightful, hardworking family we enjoyed spending time with. We found we had much in common.
Several years after moving in, the father found himself in a job crisis. When the nation’s mortgage crisis hit, it became more than this dear family could manage. Despite all their effort and hard work, they had to walk away from the dream home they built together. With wisdom, dignity, and prudence, they rented a smaller home, took a Dave Ramsey course, and changed their spending habits forever.
Recently, they announced that they had been resurrected from their lean years and were moving into a newly purchased home of their own. The wife shared that she had learned in these years that they could live in a shed or in a mansion and it didn’t matter, as long as they were together as a family.
This struck me and touched my heart so deeply, because of an epiphany I recently had in regards to my own children – OUR TIME TOGETHER AS A FAMILY IS OH-SO-SHORT!
It is way too easy for parents like us to spend a disproportionate amount of our time waging battles with doctors over appropriate treatments, with schools over IEPs, and with insurance companies over coverage. Because we are so busy trying to advocate for our children, we can forget to cherish the time we have together with our children.
Time spent together as a family creating memories, building traditions, and fostering values are all habits encouraged by God. When we look back at the past, we can remember the Lord’s faithfulness to us through every season of life. Traditions become “standing stones”, testimonies to what God has been doing in our family. Values shape the character of Christ that accompanies our children into adulthood.
Being a family who lives with special needs, chronic illness, or disability doesn’t mean that these family connections should be any less important than a typical family. It means we must be more deliberate in our efforts! Even if our children are non-verbal or cognitively delayed, it is crucial that we introduce them to Jesus, and shape godly values in them. The wider world gets it wrong when they assume that certain children “don’t get it” because they operate in this world differently from the average person. But amidst the intimacy of family, we know better. We can grow together, support one another, and spur one another on to our greatest potential. Those things are all built incrementally, moment by moment, in cherished experiences together.
This Christmas, as I sit and enjoy putting together our traditional winter puzzle with three children battling various chronic illnesses and special needs, my prayer for each parent like me is that we resist the pressure to conform to the culture’s expectations of what success looks like. It is not in the big beautiful home, the expensive car, or the honor roll student that matter in the final analysis. True accomplishment comes from being a good steward of the precious lives that have been entrusted to our care. And our greatest gift after salvation is the shelter of each other.