Special: How the Gospel Shapes the Unique Journey of Special Needs Parenting

This is a guest post by Katie Blackburn.


“See miss, he’s not even looking up at me,” the doctor bluntly observed. It was a warm day in early October, and while the room we found ourselves in had no windows, I remember it being strikingly beautiful outside. “And the way he is playing with the truck, it’s all function, no imagination. Spinning wheels, opening doors, no sound effects or play-races.”

I sat in the increasingly uncomfortable chair and said nothing in return, only offering a slight shake of my head to signal that I saw what he saw, despite my silent and desperate prayers for my son to show us something different.

“All the signs of autism, and that is my diagnosis. I will go write this up.”

He shut the door behind him, and the numbness set in. I was not surprised at his words—they were confirming something we had been fairly sure of for the better part of a year. But I also knew in the moment they left his mouth that everything was changing, and changing for the long haul. I picked up my two-and-a-half-year-old and kissed his forehead while we waited in the quiet, on the uncomfortable chair, for the doctor to return.

So many mothers know this moment, when the paradoxes of walking with a perfect Savior in a far-from-perfect world set in. Everything changes and nothing changes. Your dreamed of future fades quickly out of sight for one that is impossible to picture, but your day-to-day life goes on as it always has—changing diapers and making dinners and folding clothes.

And then the hard questions really come, sometimes slowly and other times all at once: how will we afford this therapy? Will the other children in the family resent our different life? Will he ever be able to go to school? Can our marriage survive this? And perhaps the most difficult one of all, the question that has become an impasse for so many since the fall of man: If God only does what is right, why would he allow something so wrong?

Rest assured, mamas, that we are not the first to ask the hard questions.

David cries out in his season of sorrow, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far…?” And Jesus’ disciples, when they are looking at a disability in a young man right in front of them, blatantly ask Him: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

This is our bent as humans: we want the answers. We want to know why God would allow us to carry hard things; we want the reason he feels far away, and we want someone or something to blame. But God does not always answer us with why.

He does, however, always remind us Who.

Jesus’ response to the limited perspective of his disciples introduces an entire new paradigm when it comes to disability: “It was not that this man sinned, nor his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” It’s as if Jesus is telling us to think about the circumstance differently. “Don’t look for the cause,” he implies, “look for the future purpose.”

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As I drove away from the hospital that fall day, with my little boy and a stack of papers that would re-define normal in our home, I felt like I was leaving behind the life I wanted—one that had family vacations, happy pictures with everyone looking at the camera, and peaceful dinners around the table with each child sitting in a chair and eating the food in front of them. But in the hours and days that followed, God mercifully reminded me of the gospel, which tells us that we, as mothers who want good and noble things for our children, are more flawed and sinful than we ever dared believe, but more accepted and loved than we ever dared hope. In the most profound way, the gospel reminded me that I cannot always trust my own longings, because my sinful heart would take children who make me look like a good mom over children who make Jesus look like a big God ten out of ten times.

When the Holy Spirit is shaping our desires and causing our hearts to truly want what God wants, we remember that for any mama, the one thing we hope for our children more than any other thing is really very simple: that the works of God might be displayed in them. So when autism began to make it so difficult for my little guy to look at anyone in the eye, much less a camera; when sitting at the table was replaced for standing and troubling sensory issues made any meal a test of wills and patience; and when going to the park became such a risky game of running away into parking lots that we stopped even thinking about places like Disneyland, we needed the gospel to remind us of our ultimate hope, which is the same thing David reminded himself of in the middle of his lament to God: “Yet He is holy.”

For a special needs mama, the parenting journey does look different, and in so many ways it is uniquely challenging. But for every mama, our goal is the same and the promises we rest on do not change: “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life… the Lord will fulfill his purpose for me: your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.” The Hebrew word for ‘will fulfill’ is gamar, which means to bring to an end, complete, or perfect. That is what God is doing on this special journey we have been given: completing his work for his perfect purposes so that his glory might be displayed in the broken vessels of an unqualified mom and a differently-abled child. The most beautiful and honoring thing we can offer to a perfect Savior is not well-performing children but simply the acknowledgment that apart from Jesus, we can do nothing. When we are at the end of ourselves, which is easily where special needs parenting—well, all parenting—can bring us, we are right where God wants us.


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Katie Blackburn is a mama of three who is still very much learning how to be a mama at all. She is saved by grace and runs on cold brew coffee and quiet mornings at her desk. She is also a regular writer at Coffee + Crumbs and a contributor to The Magic of Motherhood (Zondervan, 2017). You can find more of her writing on faith, motherhood, special needs, and other life lessons on her blog or on instagram.