Ezra,  Personal and Spiritual Ramblings,  Special Needs Parenting

Even if we can’t find heaven: cultivating love for my special needs child

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I remember exactly where I was in my car when I first heard Rachel Platten’s song, Stand By You.

Her song is a personal anthem of loving in the hardest of places, not giving up.

Initially, it ran through my head on those hard days of marriage. But most recently, I realized how well it fits in with parenting a difficult child as well.

‘Cause I’m gonna stand by you
Even if we’re breaking down, we can find a way to break through
Even if we can’t find heaven, I’ll walk through hell with you
Love, you’re not alone, ’cause I’m gonna stand by you

“I already hugged and kissed you. Just go.to.sleep!” I said in forced tones and walked out of his room.

It was the eve of our tenth day of no school due to weather, weekends, holidays and teacher work days. The days had become a blur, everyone was frustrated with everyone, and there seemed to be no end in sight.

Our son, five, has a mix of special diagnoses presenting mainly in emotional disturbances and persistently difficult-to-manage behaviors.

I remember the first time he told me, “I hate you.” That was over a year ago now, but it feels more like a lifetime ago. Now I’m used to it. At least that’s what I tell myself.

I had a second child a few months ago, and as he grew into those cute baby phases my heart hurt. Not because I loved him with that love only a mother with a newborn can truly understand, but because the feelings of love came so easily for him and yet not so easily for his older brother. To even think those thoughts overwhelmed me with grief and guilt. Mothers aren’t supposed to have favorites.

But love isn’t a feeling. Love is a choice.

As we neared the New Year, I felt God impressing these words on my mom-heart:

Cultivate love. 

Cultivate love for that little one whose words and actions hurt, grieve and exhaust you. Cultivate love for your firstborn baby-no-longer. Cultivate love, and the feelings will follow.

It was one of the resolutions with which I entered the new year.

Then two weeks into the year the resolution was tested as the days off blurred together, and I was stuck in the house with both of the boys, day-in-day-out, no breaks.

I want to tell you it was a wonderful time of cultivating love over hot chocolate, movies, snowmen, baking cookies and all those glittery craft projects that are supposed to encompass what it means to have the perfect snow day.

But that’s not how it went. I saw red more moments than I care to admit. I lost my temper. I was overwhelmed. I didn’t cope well. We did go sledding and we did drink hot chocolate and we did cuddle. So I tried – but cultivating love didn’t come easy, and those feelings only stayed for fleeting moments.

And tonight you would have seen me with a baby on one hip pointing to the boy, yelling, “GO TO YOUR ROOM AND GET IN BED!” because I had just about had it with love and life and everything in between.

Cultivate love … fail.

I almost gave up writing this post, because this place I’m in is two-steps-forward-four-steps-back and all kinds of messy. But that’s what “Middle Places” is all about.

Arduous, unending work, great sacrifice … an apt depiction of what it means to cultivate love for a difficult, special-needs child.

I’m in the middle place between the decision to cultivate love and being able to see the fruits of those efforts. I’m only beginning to get on my knees and get my hands dirty. To weed out my own grief and resentment and plant seeds of kindness and patience. To keep pouring out love from what feels like an empty vessel and have faith that God will multiply it. To be able to tell him every time I hug and kiss him, every time I coach him through a meltdown, every time I remain calm when he lashes out instead of yelling back, every time I hold him when he falls apart —

Tears make kaleidoscopes in your eyes
And hurt, I know you’re hurting, but so am I
And love, if your wings are broken
Borrow mine so yours can open too
‘Cause I’m gonna stand by you

Even if we’re breaking down, we can find a way to break through
Even if we can’t find heaven, I’ll walk through hell with you
Love, you’re not alone, ’cause I’m gonna stand by you

Rachel Platten – Stand By You Lyrics

Get This Here

This is what it means to be in the middle of cultivating love.

I don’t know who you are working on loving, but I know there’s at least one person in your life who makes you work a little bit harder. Sometimes loving looks a little bit more like walking through hell than finding heaven. Stand in that place and find ways – even if they are small – to cultivate love in the middle, in the mess.

Because, at the risk of sounding trite, that’s what He did for us. That’s what He does for us, every single day. He is the ultimate source of unending, unconditional love. He walked through hell for us. He stands by us through it all.

Dig deep. Cultivate love. Even if you can’t find heaven, this side of heaven.

Even if we can't find heaven


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