previously published in Christian Courier and reposted here:
After the births of our two medically-fragile daughters, Rachel (2006) and Janneke (2009), our family tried to find a new rhythm of normalcy. In those first few years, juggling four little girls, two typically developing and two with severe disabilities, was complicated; the joy was often overshadowed by anxiety. I wanted to help our older daughters, Emily and Sophia, find a way to articulate how they felt about being big sisters to little sisters with special needs. Both girls were emerging readers and writers, so we started a family journal.
We would initiate the process by asking, “What makes you (insert emotion)?” Looking back now on those entries, it is both funny and fascinating to read the girls’ thoughts.
One particular thankful note stands out: "I like my sisters with special needs because they can’t walk around and grab stuff off my shelves". Spoken like a true sibling.
scripting our thanks
Now, it’s that time of year when Canadians and Americans celebrate Thanksgiving, and I think back to my childhood crafts, the “I am thankful for…” cards we made in school. It was so simple to sit and list things like mom, dad, my dog Buddy, and food.
As an adult, I probably spend more time asking and less time thanking, frustrated over the things or circumstances I’ve received but don’t appreciate. I do want to live thankfully, even when I am in a place not of my choosing, but it is not easy. Giving thanks seems tiresome when much of the day is spent giving up time, sleep, energy, and plans. Yet, with the smallest details in my day, I want to see and be grateful for the threads in God’s tapestry of grace and mercy.
(This sounds poetic, the tapestry part. Maybe I’m trying too hard to dress up my gratitude? Maybe I ought to consider my kid’s perspective and be a bit more direct.)
lessons in thanksgiving
I am thankful I am needed. As much as Rachel and Janneke appear powerless, their dependency on me empowers me to do what I can to help them. I am also reminded of how I can’t do life on my own. When I clean up their bodies and dress them each day, I am discouraged they require so much care, but at the same time, I am conscious of how we need each other and ought to provide for each other. Caring for others and living in community is messy but necessary.
I am thankful to be introduced to many unique people through Rachel and Janneke. Over the years, our many appointments have introduced us to different care providers. We’ve met some strange people, like the specialist who said our girls would be like the Munchkins from the Wizard of Oz. I’ve also met a doctor who cares so much for our girls that if I find myself washing my hands in the sink next to her in a public bathroom, she will lean against the hand dryer and start a conversation about the girls.
Having girls who don’t fit a well-known diagnosis or developmental pattern puts them (and our family as their advocate) on the periphery of normal. It’s in this space we’ve met others who also want to be welcomed and accepted. I am thankful for those sometimes awkward but incredible conversations in elevators and waiting rooms.
I don’t want to wrap up my gratitude with an orange harvest ribbon and sprinkle some pumpkin spice. I am learning that some of the most incredible growth in my heart and mind comes after some of the darkest and difficult feels-like-forever experiences. My hope is to see thankfulness as deeper feeling of appreciation for God’s handiwork, for the small things I didn’t ask for but need everyday, for the tough stuff that is life-changing, and the surprises that cultivate a greater perspective of community.
Wishing you a grace-filled season of gratitude.