“We’re a mess.” Those three words spilled out of my mouth just as I had rehearsed them in my head for the previous few days. After all, what else was I going to say that felt both authentic and somewhat vague. How could I put into words all that my heart was carrying.
We had just walked through a season of unemployment coupled with the hope of change and possibility only to realize that the road we were traveling had signs that shouted, “STOP. Turn around. Stay.” They were the signs that couldn’t be ignored. They begged for us to slow down, pay attention, and pause. These signs were a warning and the choice was ours to heed the warning or press on with the plan that at one time had felt certain and clear.
My gut began to churn as my thoughts swirled around looking for a safe place to land. I realized that to cultivate that safe place within me, I would have to accept the truth and begin to name my reality. Reality. The world or state of things as they actually exist as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them. The invitation for me to name my reality began one morning over coffee and a power bowl at Panera and culminated in the psychologist’s office as my husband and I began to name all the observations and concerns that had filled our life for the past three years as we talked about our five year old son. There is something both freeing and shameful for me in naming reality sometimes and this day was no exception.
Weeks passed as we waited for the results, results that would answer the questions that ran through my mind and my heart on a daily basis. I found myself alone as I walked into the appointment that day. His smile was kind as he welcomed me into his office and as I sat down in the chair, I placed both of my feet on the floor, grounding myself and preparing for whatever he would share. The packet he handed me was thick and extensive. Although I wanted to read ahead, searching for answers, I talked myself into staying present by looking at him and listening to his spoken words.
Is this really true? Did we make our answers up? Maybe we are over exaggerating. Is this really my life? What am I doing wrong? WHY?
The diagnoses that day did not begin to answer the flood of questions that enter my thoughts on a moment by moment basis but they did validate the truth that my child has special needs. On a recent trip to San Antonio to visit family and loved ones, we visited Morgan’s Wonderland. The park states that it’s vision is to “establish a special place where smiles and laughter make wonderful memories with family members, caregivers, and friends. To build a place where the common element of play creates an atmosphere of inclusion for those with and without disabilities, encouraging and allowing everyone to gain a better understanding of one another.”
As a pediatric physical therapist I had heard of this beautiful place but had never visited until that day. As we walked into the building and up to the counter I was greeted with a young woman who asked if anyone in our party had special needs. I paused, “Yes.” She asked what the primary diagnosis was for their records. My mind sorted through the page with the list of diagnoses and I finally answered with the ones that felt the most appropriate. “Anxiety and sensory, does that count?” The shame washed over me and as the tears fell down my face I realized that this was my first step towards true acceptance. Her gentle response confirmed my reality. “Yes, of course.”
I was reminded of a story I read early in my career about a fable written decades ago by Emily Perl Kingsley about her son with a diagnosis of Down Syndrome. The story describes a couple who ventures off for their dream vacation to Italy, but somehow the plane delivers them in Holland. In the story, Italy represents the typical experience of raising a child. It represents all the knowns that as new parents you have researched and expected with your child raising adventure. Holland, however, is where you find yourself when it feels like everything has gone wrong. A foreign land with all the questions and unknowns that accompany a child with needs that you have not expected. The story goes on to say that although Holland is different, it is still lovely. After finding new books and learning a new language, you realize that you are now connected with a new group of people that you never would have met, had you landed in Italy. Holland has a slower place and a beauty that invites you to slow down and appreciate the scenes that surround you now, The story reminds us that for the rest of life, you will be reminded by those who made the trip to Italy about how amazing it was. The painful reminder that you didn’t go where you planned will never, ever go away, because the loss of dream is a significant loss. But, if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t go to Italy, you may never be able to fully enjoy the very special and lovely things about Holland.
So, Holland is where we have landed and although I am still trying to embrace this reality I am aware that my God knew exactly where He was taking me. He picked me specifically for the needs of this child and although it seems we are all a little messed up at times, we’re all alright.
Bethany Cabell is a Texas transplant, residing in Michigan with her husband and their two young boys. A lover of beauty, she lives life chasing after wide-open spaces: sharing her heart with others, in relationship with Jesus, and through music and photography. She tells her story here. &n