Special to God

It’s barely 7 a.m. on Saturday. Unbeknownst to me, it is a special day.

The house is still cold from the morning air outside. It’s semi-quiet, except for the sound of the dryer. The youngest is on her fourth episode of Disney’s Puppy Dog Pals while the oldest is playing games on her tablet, with headphones on to keep my sanity intact. They’re both working on their third pancake of the morning.

All is calm. Everyone is relaxed. I’m just surfing through my social media accounts searching for something that piques my interest.

I become fixated on reading Tim Challies’ “A La Carte” post when I hear it: “Papa, I want some apple juice, please?” As I walk into the kitchen to get the softly and sweetly demanded beverage, it happens…

I break down crying.

It Has Been a Long Road

In the grand scheme of things, seven years isn’t that long of a time. That is the age of our oldest child—the one who wanted the juice. She has been through a lot in that time, however. And to me, this Saturday morning was the culmination of seven years of uncertainty and progress.

Just a few short years ago, the most she would’ve been able to express to me would’ve been the demand for “juice!” I’d then have to spend the next few minutes discerning what kind of juice she wanted (but it was always apple juice). But this morning, clear as anything, she asked in a complete sentence.

There have been countless nights crying for a breakthrough—and here was a small, yet huge glimpse.

Unrealized Expectations

So much of our oldest child’s life has existed in a grey area of unrealized expectations.

Through a premature birth, lots of appointments appointments, speech and occupational therapy, and having to repeat Kindergarten, her life hasn’t gone exactly the way we expected or hoped for. In fact, her first year of kindergarten was so traumatic for us that many times we questioned our parenting.

We felt like bad parents, and I’m sure in many ways we were. We blamed ourselves for everything our child was (and still is) going through. And no matter how hard we try to rely on God, we often feel like we need to be doing more. It sometimes seems like a never-ending cycle of regrets, failures, and fears that drive us.

There are undoubtedly going to be many more unrealized expectations for our daughter in the future. She may never get straight A’s. It’s possible she may never understand things the way her younger sister does. She may not be a doctor, CEO, lawyer, or author. Reading may always be a struggle. Simple mathematics may always be difficult.

Or, in God’s providence, she may surpass all of these things and more. So much of that is uncertain for us, but it isn’t uncertain for God.

Difficult Realities

The term “special needs” gets thrown around a good deal. We’ve heard that term in various forms in the last seven years, all with the best intentions. As a parent, however, that’s not a term you are able to hear comfortably. At least not at first.  

When you realize your child doesn’t speak, learn, or even play like others her age or even those younger, it’s a hard pill to swallow. You slowly begin to realize that her life is going to be drastically different than you imagined.

She just recently repeated Kindergarten. We received report cards and progress is being made, but slowly. There is a decent possibility that she will need to go into a classroom with other children who have “special needs.” That’s a hard thing for us to accept. It would be yet another unrealized expectation.

However, there are some things that new reality wouldn’t mean. It doesn’t mean we are failures as parents. It doesn’t mean we are giving up on our child. And it certainly doesn’t mean that she is any less of a person, or any less loved!

Because Yes, She is Special

And here is where I was on Saturday morning. Standing in the kitchen, fetching apple juice, taking in the overwhelming awesomeness of a complete sentence, realizing an expectation had been realized!

But that feeling was sort-lived. The reminder of the recent report card overshadowed the joy of this moment. I shamefully thought to myself, “it’s great, but it isn’t enough. She may still need to go into Special Ed. That would mean we’ve failed.”

That’s when it happened.

It was one of those moments when you hear it deep inside—the voice of the Holy Spirit. Not an audible voice, but a faint whisper.

“She is special. She is special to me.”

 Then came the tears.

 A Calm Reminder

It was in this moment that I felt shame and peace all at once. Shame for the way I had been thinking, and peace because I was reminded of God’s sovereignty.

It was a calm, steady, loving reminder from a caring father. The kind that tells you that everything is going to be all right. Not that things will be easy or always joyful. The road ahead for our daughter and us will undoubtedly be difficult. But God is in control.

The two most calming words found at any point in Scripture, “But God…” is a reminder for me in this uncertainty. It is a reminder that no matter how much I love my kids, God loves them more.

And, no matter how special they are to me, they are infinitely more special to Him.

 “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

Psalm 73:26

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Drew Temple

Drew is a youth group leader at Mosaic of Winchester in Winchester, Virginia. He is a blogger and podcaster at Courageous Theology and has a Master of Arts in Christian Ministry from Liberty University. Drew is married to Cherry, and they have two daughters. You can follow him on Instagram @CourageousTheology.

Drew Temple