“Prove yourselves to be blameless, . . . children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world.” Philippians 2:15
Multiple wheelchairs, forearm crutches, a leg prosthesis designed to draw attention, a white cane, a special walker, a precious little girl with a very misshapen body, multiple skin colors, various eye shapes . . . We are never an invisible group when we go out in public, at least twenty of us stretching half a city block as we parade across wide intersections and along winding sidewalks.
A closer look will also reveal scars from repaired cleft lips and the fact that one of those wheelchair occupants has severe CP and cognitive disabilities. The beginning of a conversation will gradually alert one to the fact that one of the seemingly “normal” adults, actually has severe developmental disabilities. Awkward for the adult “child” and for the person suddenly trapped in a conversation he can’t find a graceful way out of.
I’ve read so many posts lately from parents of children who have special needs or have been adopted (or have special needs and have been adopted.) These protective, hurting parents share stories of ignorant people in grocery store check-out lines, distracted baristas at coffee shops, or bullies on the playground — all of them staring at their children, asking personal and insensitive questions, or using the wrong terminology when trying to converse about the child’s disability or adoption.
I understand the protectiveness. I understand the hurt. I understand the tedium that comes from never being free of the bug-under-glass feeling. I understand the need to teach our children how to stand up for themselves and answer these people on their own someday. But are we really doing that when we respond militantly, smugly, sarcastically?
There seems to be an awful lot of chest thumping among some parents who take pride in the fact that they “put people in their place” when they feel that their child has been violated in some way. These are parents who claim to follow the Christ who commissioned them to be lights in a broken world.
Are we really being lights?
We get all the questions, too. We get plenty of stares. We get comments that could be interpreted as cruel. We have even been on the receiving end of comments that were hurled with a genuine desire to be cruel, to hurt, as they pierced a Rosenow heart.
The typical questions go something like this:
Are they real sisters?
What happened to his leg (which isn’t even there)? (Our favorite sarcastic response is, “Backorder.” or “Oh my GOSH! Where’s your leg, son?” But this post is about not answering militantly or sarcastically, so . . .)
How many of those children are your own?
You must be rich and live in a huge house to have so many kids! (Why do people, instead of thinking, “Wow, it must be tough to provide all those shoes and diapers and groceries for that many people!” almost always think, “They must be rich!”? I never understand this.)
What made you decide to do this?
“Their real mothers didn’t want them??”
“How did you pay for all those adoptions?!”
“You homeschool?! How do you ever plan to go to college? How do you learn to talk to other people? (You mean, like the way I’m talking to you right now?)
There are also the people who just stare and avoid saying anything. They’re just too uncomfortable to even engage in conversation at all.
Is it ever wearying to be the show-and-tell family? Do we ever wish we could just drift out into the world like a “normal” family and not have to answer any questions? I would be lying if I didn’t say yes.
Sometimes I let myself slip into places of self-pity and dream of just being an anonymous, invisible, normal American family. Sometimes we all would like to just take a family outing to the park or to the mall or shoe store and not be noticed (a little hard when we walk out of the store with twenty-plus pairs of shoes and the kids have to stand in a long line as they wait for their turn to get into one of our vans).
And sometimes, it is healthy to go as a family to a very private place where we can have a break – for just awhile. Sometimes we do just that. But we can’t stay there. This is the life God has given us. This is where we live.
“Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.” ~ C. S. Lewis
One of the toughest things for me is when people stare at our little Lilyan’s very deformed body. Her personality is so incredibly winsome, and she has zero embarrassment at this point about how she looks. She just believes that the whole world loves her to death, and she typically greets everyone who crosses her path with a wave of her little hand, eyes full of light and love, a hearty “Hello!,” and a smile that’s beautiful beyond description. Most of the time, this overshadows their initial shock about her body, and they are won over, heart and soul, seeing nothing past that smiling face.
But sometimes we meet people who are so terribly shaken when they first see her. They get stuck at, “Oh my! What’s wrong with that little girl’s body? What could cause something like that?!” Sometimes we see even more than shock or curiosity. Sometimes we see disgust.
Lilyan doesn’t appear to even notice these people yet. But she will eventually.
What do I want her to know by the time that happens? What do I want to teach her about how to handle these situations when they come. When she’s hurt? When none of her family is there to run interference for her? What do I want all of my children to know by the time they face the world on their own?
I want them to know in the deepest places of their souls that they are beautiful and created in the image of God; that God made them perfectly and designed them for His own noble and good purposes; that He wants to use them—just the way they are—to reach a lost, hurting, confused, mean, broken world.
I want them to know that they are loved forever by the God who made them, and by the family who fought, cried, prayed, and worked hard to come and bring them home.
I want them to know that they are priceless jewels shining like the sun in the midst of this dark, twisted, temporary place we all call home.
I want them to exude love; shine like the children of the King that they are; be living examples of the Jesus that they represent here in this world.
But if I teach them, by my own reactions, to be sarcastic, hurtful, caustic when they respond to these people, am I really reaching for my above-mentioned goals?
Many years of experience in the public has taught us that, truthfully, most of these people are not intentionally being mean. Most of them are just ignorant about disabilities, adoption, homeschooling, and how to word their questions, as they try bumblingly to express interest. Some are honestly touched by what they see and fumble a bit as they look for a way to tell us that. And there are so very many times when an encounter that could’ve ended with angry words and hurt feelings becomes an opportunity for us to tell what God has done in our lives — an opportunity that leaves us feeling like the ones who walked away with a special blessing. Other people are only trying to satisfy their curiosity and not really interested in hearing much past the answers to their blunt questions.
Either way, we believe that we have a God-ordained responsibility because of the platform on which He has placed us, to be a light for Him. Part of our calling, and part of our children’s calling, is to help people understand the world of special needs and orphans and how God fits into that picture.
We should be teaching our children to listen! They have to learn to get past their own insecurities and self-focus, and even their hurt, and really hear what people are saying. Why did that person use the words he used to ask that question?
We have to learn to, and teach our children to, look at people with compassion — trying to understand where they are coming from and recognizing that there might be many reasons why they don’t have the education or knowledge needed to ask a question appropriately, using the currently accepted “politically correct” terms (don’t even get me started on that soapbox – so sick of the PC terms topic!).
Why do we so quickly assume that the intention is to hurt? Where is our respect for other people—even if they may not be addressing us in a way that we feel is respectful?
Our kids, for the most part, have great attitudes about who they are, as well as grace, compassion, and confidence in responding to other people. And even though we may all chuckle together in the family room in the evening as they relate conversations to us that took place at Target (or science class, or in the neighborhood) that day, they have almost never been hurt by the questions they hear. Usually, they are amused.
Colin can explain, when people ask why he has a cane, that he needs it because he is blind. Why is he blind? Because he was born too early and developed ROP (Retinopathy of Prematurity).
Nathan has always been pretty natural about sharing the in’s and out’s of living with a prosthetic leg and loves designing them alongside his creative and gifted prosthetist.
Even Kathryn has learned to tell people that she has “CP.”
However, there are some people out there whose intentions really are to hurt. The world is full of people who don’t know their Maker and don’t care for the feelings of others — people who try to build themselves up by tearing others down. Our children need to know this and be prepared to experience this someday. But if we can teach them to be confident about who they are in God, they will be better able to move through painful times like this without any real damage; and even be able to feel compassion for people who have never experienced the love of their Father and therefore don’t know how to pass this love on to others. There will be times when we do need to stand up to people like this. Even then, though, it should be done firmly but in love, asking God to help us choose the words He would have us say to best illuminate truth, glorify Him, and maybe open up some minds that were previously very closed — doing all without sarcasm and a militant stance.
Also, I believe that it’s critical that we handle, and teach our children to handle, deliberate maliciousness differently than we handle well-meaning people who just don’t think through their words before speaking. Have you never felt your cheeks burn with embarrassment and shaken your head in disbelief at your own stupidity in blurting out something that you suddenly realized was insensitive, or worded badly, or just ridiculous? I certainly have! More times than I care to remember! A compassionate, understanding heart that is confident about God’s sovereign plans for us — one that responds in love — will be a better educator to the world than one whose goal is to put another notch on it’s belt for blasting one more person who, in ignorance or a moment of inconsiderateness, chose their words badly.
We must be lights to a watching world and teach our children to do the same — for their sakes, and for the world’s sake. Our children are beautiful and have so much to offer. What a travesty it would be if we should stunt their ability to do that because of our “momma bear” protectiveness or a desire to win a one-upmanship battle of words.
“Let your light shine before men; let your good works be such, that when men look upon you, they shall know that you have been with Jesus.” ~ Charles Spurgeon