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not alone

One thing that I treasure about this life we live is the many amazing people we meet along the way. Many years ago, when the Lord started to grow our family beyond what was considered an average size, Anthony and I made a few decisions in how we would raise our children. Some of those decisions have ebbed and flowed over the years as life changed and children grew older. But one thing we have embraced with unwavering conviction is that our children with special needs would go where we go. We have always been mindful to ensure that they are never left behind. Obviously, there are times and situations that don’t make that practical, and we have needed to bend our rule, but whenever possible, where we go, they go too. 

Choosing to live a lifestyle where our children are often enjoying swimming pools, parks and public places has opened up so many interesting conversations from people we meet on our outings. I will say that people have been so very kind to us. I cannot actually think of one time when we ever encountered a rude or distasteful comment. Most people who observe us getting out of our big white van or swimming at our favorite pool either smile to acknowledge us or stop to say hello and start a conversation. Our community has been kind, thoughtful and genuinely loving toward our family. For that, we are ridiculously thankful. 

Anthony and I love to take the time to introduce our children to people who ask us questions. We love to talk about adoption and share our story with anyone who takes the time to ask us. I have learned along this journey that most people genuinely want to know. They want to know how these precious blessings ended up in our family. They wantto know how we function as a family (once we move beyond the inevitable “Are you a daycare center?” question). They want to know what this life we live looks like to someone who has never raised a child with special needs. Most people are extremely gracious. 

Recently I met a mother who is raising a child who has special needs. Clearly struggling with her current reality, she asked me a question that is probably in the top three questions we get asked about our family. 

“I only have one child who has special needs.  How and why do you do this?”

I get it! I really do. My heart broke for her and all I wanted to do was give her a hug and reassure her that I was on her side, that I understood. Because honestly? There is no way that I could do what I do without God giving me such undeserved, unmerited grace and an eternal perspective for each new day. 

I understand because it’s so easy to have a hard day and look at the children the Lord has given us and see them as hard work, not a blessing. It’s more common than this community talks about to fall into a pattern of exhaustion and even depression. The human heart is tender and prone to weariness and despair. Long days and sleepless nights can turn even the most resilient soul into a tender, weepy mess. 

I understand because raising even one child who struggles a little more than others is more than likely one of the loneliest jobs in the entire world. I see it. I hear it so often from parents deep in the trenches. Feeling isolated and lonely is such a hard place to be. Parents turn to online, like-minded communities for support—desperate for someone—anyone—who can understand and come alongside them offering hope and encouragement. For the first few years of parenting our children who have special needs, my online community became a lifeline for me. 

With all my heart, I get it. My journey in raising our children has certainly been just that—an unfolding, fully-dependent-on-amazing-grace journey. I will never proclaim to have all the answers, and I’m the last person on the planet who will come to this tiny space on the world wide web and tell you that we have it together all the time. Because that’s just not the real world. We have had so many times when the valley has felt like a constant companion. 

I’m right there with every warrior mother who has gone before me and those precious moms who have walked behind me on this journey. 

Over the years of walking out this broken, lonely road, I have made so many mistakes (still do!) in how I parent and in how I choose to see my children every day. 

Because each and every day, in all things, we have a choice.

God is so very kind and gracious, isn’t He? Many years ago, as I began to yield my heart and change my thoughts to align with what HE thought, my whole world changed. As God changed me from the inside out, I began to see things through the eyes of faith. I began to see the trials we went through for what they really are—just hard days that do pass. Not seasons that would last forever. Not situations that we could not work to improve. Not circumstances that were too far from the Father’s loving grasp…

…just earthly hardships that none of us is immune too.

And on those days when everything in me feels stretched, I am always reminded of something that Chuck Swindoll said. 

Nothing reaches us before first passing through the hands of a loving Father.” 

There is so much comfort in knowing that everything—every single thing—we ever go through in this life is allowed by a God in heaven who loves us so infinitely. And if He allows the seasons of stretching and challenging, and if He allowsthe tides to rise and the sea to become unpredictable, I know this to be true with everything that is within me…

…it is for my good!

Nothing will ever grow my faith more than seeing the LORD fight my battles (and the battles of my children!). 

Nothing will ever shape my character, my resilience, and my heart and mold me into the woman whom He has created me to be more than walking through the fire. 

Recently, as I was thanking God for allowing me to raise my family, I remembered something that I so often forget in the busyness of daily life. Yes, Anthony and I chose this life we live through the blessing of adoption. But so much more than that, before the foundation of the world, the Father chose us first—destined, called, and set apart to parent these most precious children. Each one hand-picked to be a Salem. To think that the God of the universe looked down from heaven and chose ordinary, unlikely, unequipped little me to parent His children…that just makes me tearful with gratitude and is a privilege that I do not take lightly or for granted.

In 2014 I shared this on Facebook and it popped up as a memory last week. It’s a quote by one of my heroes of the faith—missionary to China Gladys Aylward. “I wasn’t God’s first choice for what I’ve done in China. I don’t know who was. It must have been a man—a well-educated man. I don’t know what happened. Perhaps he died. Perhaps he wasn’t willing, and God looked down and saw Gladys Aylward and He said, “Well, she’s willing.” 

What a beautiful reminder to my heart on those days when the storms blow our way, when we’re in a season of battling for our children and weariness sets in, when life feels hard…

…we are chosen for such a time as this. 

When we take our eyes off of our earthy hardships and focus on the things of eternity, everything changes. 

How do we raise children who have special needs? My answer is always the same. We choose to see every day that we have with them as a gift from God. We choose to live for today—not tomorrow and not for next week. 

We choose to believe that God will give us manna for today. 

And we choose, by faith, to believe that no matter what we walk through with our children…

Jesus will be always be enough for us.

Do we always—every day in every way—get it right? Absolutely not! We’re flawed and we’re human and for the rest of our days we’ll be praying for wisdom in how to walk out this calling faithfully. May my heart forever be willing to be used by Him.

Right here in my home. 

“Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 9-10