I find myself tired today of labels. Those little things that follow us around like our shadow. The things that allow the world to group us together into categories and put us out of their minds as “understood”, checking us off their to do list as taken care of. Whether it is mentally unstable, conservative, red neck, religious, loser, smart, beautiful, perfectionist, or loud mouth…we like to put people into a category thinking that we have figured them out. “Special Needs” is one such label that is riding on my patience and one that is also near and dear to my heart. Can we open up this category for a moment and see what we find stuffed inside?
I was not always open to delving into this label and allowing my heart to be changed by what I found when I let out the people inside. If I am honest, I was terrified of what would be found. I remember days at the ball park when I would walk by the Miracle League field and almost turn my head away as I thought about what it might be like to raise a child with “special needs”. I would thank God for my healthy boys, all the while crossing my fingers that I would never have to venture into this portion of society. My pride was as great as my fear in this area. Hopefully I would never have to sit on a bench with other parents and watch my near adult child struggle to first base. Hopefully I would never have to wait on my child with a limp to catch up. Hopefully I would never have to go home to cabinets full of medicines that kept my child alive or special devices that were needed to assist in daily care. Hopefully my child would never have only one ear or a disfigured face. Hopefully I would never find myself associated with this label… with “special needs” people.
When David and I started our adoption research. He was much more open than I was to the group of children in the adoption world labeled “special needs”. Whereas I limited my research and dreaming and planning to a perfectly healthy child, he jumped at the chance to enter the world of these precious children who had been assigned to this category. When we realized that God was leading in this direction, I completely panicked. I scrambled for control. When I was given the form to fill out choosing which special needs we felt like our family could handle, I hesitated over and over again…box after box…I didn’t want any of these imperfections. I didn’t want any extra issues… I wanted a child who would fit into my perfect vision of life and my perfectly controlled and safe world. I am being completely honest because I know there are people out there like I used to be. I know that you are scared to death of anyone that has been grouped into this category whether infant or old person. You want to put all these people in a box, close it up, wrap it really tight with the ribbon of “let somebody else deal with them”, and hide it in the furthest corner away from your life that you can get it.
And ya’ll, we are ALL special needs to God. EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. OF. US. Some of us have a prettier face to put on than others, and many of us never let our guard down long enough to be cast into the category, but we all have “special needs”.
I visited the doctor on Monday with David to update our physicals for this home study. I haven’t had an xray of my spine in YEARS and I do mean years. I hide from them whenever I can…and it didn’t take my doctor long to find out why. “Candace!” she said. “Do you know what your back looks like?” Yes, I knew. I know the sharp curve in my spine by heart…the one that makes the right side of my rib cage stick out like a hunch back. The one that I see first in every picture of me…that I have become a pro at hiding in my clothes and in the way I stand when I am thinking about it. The one that I am quite sure many people notice, but stay far away from mentioning out of sheer politeness. I was born with scoliosis and we never noticed it until my growth had sealed my plight for life (barring major, major surgery). My doctor practically begged me at this appointment to get it looked at by an orthopedic. On the way home, David mentioned the xrays again and I groaned. “That’s exactly why I hate getting xrays. I don’t want anyone to see that… to mention it… to know that it’s so bad.” And David answered me profoundly and he wasn’t even trying. He said something to the tune of, “I don’t see what the big deal is, Candace. It is no different than the problems that we have to take care of in Kate or will have to in Naomi.” You see, I have always viewed my scoliosis as making me less of a person…weird…different…unacceptable. In that moment it was like Jesus was saying, “If you keep thinking of yourself this way, you are going to have to think the very same thing about your daughters.” If I had been abandoned in China, I would be “special needs”…less adoptable…one of the children that people have to “pray hard” about before they accept or turn down.
Katherine Hope is the furthest thing from the”special needs” label that will undoubtedly follow her around while she walks on this earth. She is healthy and happy and strong. She is light and joy and peace. She is beauty and love and laughter. She is redeemed…just like me. And no physical disability, no mental issues, no label can change that. Yes, we are special, and yes, we are desperately needy…for Him. We have a Creator who formed us and shaped us in the womb for maximum effect and purpose. He knew exactly what He was doing. He made us perfect in every way. EVERY WAY. No, we didn’t ask to be different, but He saw the job we needed to do…He saw the ways that He would get glory…He saw that nothing…none of our tears, our hurt, our pain…NOTHING would be wasted. And He knew the moments that we would need to lean on Him the most…He knew the intricate details that would require a desperate cry for help…He knew that perfection in the eyes of the world was no kind of perfection at all. So He twisted a little piece there and left out a little piece here…He worked His skillful hands into our bodies, our souls, and our hearts and when He was done, He said to Himself, “This. THIS. This is good.”
I no longer look at people the same way. It’s almost as if, through this process of bringing home Kate, God has implanted into me a little bit of His vision. I see the people that we all easily label and cast off as “special needs” and I see their complete beauty… their beauty that surpasses anything a “normal” person could have to offer. I see how they pray longer, how they worship more fully, how they ask for help when they need it… they are free from prideful entanglements and unrealistic expections. They carry an innocence that must be sweet savor to our God. They know the pain of surgeries, of rejections, of chronic illnesses and it shapes them into these admirable people who most walk right past without realizing what they are missing. There is a holiness to their lives and it is a privilege to know them when one lets down their guard and gets close enough. This is what I now seek out and run after…those closest to the heart of the Saviour. The people rejected by the world have an audience immediately with Him…those of us with “special needs”.
Open up this box to which you have assigned certain people in your life… around your life… that need to be in your life. You will find that only fear labels and categorizes and ostracizes. You may not ever understand completely, but you will have more joy in meeting those of us that were created differently. He hides the most magnificent treasures in the plainest packages.