I had a conversation with a very good friend the other day. She is also a parent of a child with special needs. We were sharing stories, encouraging each other just by the common bond that is special needs.
There are things that only caregivers of people with special needs can know. We mourn the loss of “normalcy” on and off throughout the years. Sometimes comments from those on the outside can sting.
I spoke with my husband later, telling him of an especially stinging remark my friend had encountered. He shook his head sadly, agreeing that people didn’t get it. “They’re in a whole different place. We can’t expect them to get it like we do. They’ve never been here.”
That stuck with me. Despite a world where inclusion and tolerance and acceptance are pushed, it does feel like a completely different world since I joined the special needs community. And it’s not always someone’s fault, it is just different. As different as a woman knows and feels different than a man, or a teenager feels different from a grandparent. Of course there are similarities, but they won’t ever take away the differences.
In an ideal world, we should all understand each other perfectly, but we do not live in the ideal, we live in a fallen world. We don’t understand, not completely. Each of us walks down our own path, gleaning our own experiences and being shaped by them. Paths that once converged alongside safe and familiar faces will branch off and separate. We will walk along paths that are unfamiliar, remote.
But we keep walking. Eventually, we meet others along this new path, others on this pilgrimage to this new place, this new way of living.
And we accept. We accept our new reality, and we must also accept those who didn’t come with us. We accept them. We simply cannot have the same expectations of those from our former life. They don’t live here. It’s just different. It would be unfair.
But this difference, although undeniable, does not have to divide us. We can be different-from and yet grace-full. For who can say one person is more deserving of grace than another? Which of us is more in need of grace than another? My path is different. I have children with special needs. Yes, I need grace on so many levels. You may have neurotypical children; however, your marriage is in shambles. You too crave grace.
We naturally align with those with whom we feel connected. That’s okay. We were made for community. Lean on each other, support each other, encourage each other. But be watchful, be ready to extend that support and encouragement to those on the fringes. Do they have people? Do they need community?
It is very easy for me to fall into the us vs. them mentality. Advocacy and well-meaning education can quickly morph into anger, entitlement, and a mad desire to make everyone understand. But why? It is reasonable to expect kindness from others, but not to expect absolute conformity to my own perspectives. That’s not how God created us to be, and that’s not the example that Jesus set while he lived on this earth. His closest friends were polar opposites on the political spectrum, of varying degrees of wealth or lack thereof.
And yet, they were unified in purpose. They were followers of Jesus.
To expect everyone to have the same line of thinking as ME is setting myself up as my own idol. And if I am following me and my way, I am not following Jesus.
So I am different. We, as a family unit, are different. We, the community of special needs caregivers have a different perspective, just as you, cancer survivor do. Or just as you, divorcee, do. And you, survivor of abuse, or recovering addict, or lonely single woman, or frustrated teacher.
Our experiences shape us, make us different shades and forms of the same beautiful human stuff. And all made by the same Creator. We are all equally redeemable, if we just ask.
And just as we can all be recipients of His great Grace, we can all be givers of it, too.
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed; 2 Corinthians 9:8
If we believe in God, we can be recipients of His grace. And no matter what remote path we find ourselves on, we can be full of grace and ready to share it with others. Let’s not give cause for further division by ruminating on how others can never understand us. Let’s be thankful for this journey, for the abundance of mercy and grace He has given us, and find ways to share His grace.