Seven years ago, on a gray winter day in China, my husband and I first met our daughter, Josie. Her pre-adoption pictures showed a tiny six-year-old with a big smile. We were excited and full of anticipation as we added another child to our family. Our excitement, however, turned to dismay and our anticipation to fear as we quickly realized her needs were greater than we expected.
Transforming Josie from orphan to daughter has been the most formidable and complex thing I’ve ever done. I felt pretty confident in my mothering abilities with my first three kids, but when Josie came along, I felt like a blind man trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle. I couldn’t make sense of the jumbled up pieces of Josie and as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t put them together to form a picture of the daughter I thought I’d have. Her early years of neglect caused her to be relationally unattached. Her language difficulties made meaningful conversation impossible. Her developmental delays made connection and correction tough, to put it mildly. Learning how to be the best mother for her is an ongoing process and, many days, I feel like her benevolent caregiver, not her mom.
Josie and I have both come a long way over these last seven years. She’s learned what it means to be in a family. I’ve learned what it means to parent a child with special needs. We are, mercifully, living contentedly together in our new normal. As I’ve grown into my role as “special needs mom,” I have, with God’s help, set Josie up with the services and accommodations she needs to be successful and happy; it’s my job and my privilege to take care of her special needs.
But her special need that is of the utmost importance is her need to know and love God. It’s the special-ist need that each of my children has regardless of their intellect or abilities. Because of the staggering significance, both now and in the future, they need to know and love God.
As Christians, we’re called to make disciples and as moms, it starts at home.  But how exactly do we do that?
I go straight to the mother of all parenting books, the Bible:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates (Deut. 6:5-9).
We Delight in God
So first, we endeavor every day to love God through our speech and thoughts and actions, and we prioritize reading and memorizing his word. You can’t produce what you haven’t prepared. Start each day with your heart and mind set on things above, not on the piles of laundry or on the unfinished math homework, and pray for God’s strength and wisdom to guide you throughout the day. As Christians, this is not our duty but our delight.
But be encouraged: there aren’t time guidelines in these verses. God is not keeping a stopwatch of how long you read your Bible and pray every day. He is with you, and he is for you. He knows when you’ve been up all night with a crying baby, and he knows that sometimes the sink full of dishes really can’t wait or there’ll be no spoons for breakfast. On those days, pray while you rock the baby and meditate on memorized scripture while you scrub the pots and pans.
We Talk and Teach
Secondly, we talk to our kids about it. We moms use a lot of words throughout the day, let’s train ourselves to use the right ones. Notice that these verses aren’t a gentle suggestion to mention God every once in a while if he happens to come up in conversation. Rather, they command moms to be diligent in talking about God throughout the day. We are to make the conversation about God when we’re driving in the car or walking the dog or tucking the kids in or waking them up. We’re to be deliberate in posting verses on the refrigerator or the bathroom mirror. We’re to consistently pray together with the kids and tell them about answers to prayer. It sounds like a lot, because it is. But this is too important to neglect, and that’s why you’ve prepped yourself and prayed for strength and wisdom. God loves you and he loves your children, and he’s going to help you.
You don’t need a degree in theology or a working knowledge of Greek to teach your children about God. Share with them your own stories of God’s faithfulness and goodness in your life. When you feel thankful for something, say it out loud. When you feel anxious, tell your kids you’re going to cast your cares on God, because you know he cares for you…and then do it. When your child comes to you with a problem or worry, pray together before you start problem-solving. When you sin against them or they against you, talk about confession and forgiveness and make things right. Explain to them what God did through Jesus on the cross. Tell them the good news!
It may feel awkward at the beginning but the more you do it, the easier it will become. You know your kids better than anyone else, and you’re their best teacher. Relate things to their unique experiences and personalities. Use words and illustrations you know they’ll understand. Pray often and out loud. Ask them about their God stories, too.
Mothering my Josie is a daily challenge as I seek to meet her physical, emotional and spiritual needs. Some days I knock it out of the park and feel like the home run champ! But most days I feel like I need more time, more patience, more wisdom. It’s difficult to know how much she comprehends about God and his love for her. I take heart in the knowledge that I am not called to save her, that’s God’s job. I’m called to teach and train her, in the way she should go (Prov. 22:6), taking into account her strengths and weaknesses. I am responsible to plant seeds of faith and water them as much as I can, but it’s God who makes them grow (1 Cor.3:7).
God loves you and knows the challenges you face every day with each of your dear children and all their special needs. He has gone before you, and he is with you. Nothing that happens to you is unplanned for him. He takes great delight in you. In him, you have everything you need! Read it. Believe it. Then go tell your kids about it.
Julie Melilli is a flower farmer wannabe who loves her books, her garden and her family. Her happy place is at the big round table in the dining room sharing a meal with her husband and six amazing kids. She is the author of Special God which explains the gospel in a clear, concise way for readers of all abilities.
Matt. 28:16, Prov. 31:27
Col. 3:20, Ps. 68:35, James 1:5
Zeph. 3:17, Ps. 56:9
1 Peter 5:7
1 John 1:9
2 Pet. 1:3