Thanks for Noticing!

Melancholy, gloomy Eeyore (of the Winnie the Pooh stories) has a line I use quite often, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, and sometimes with a bit of my own pessimism and cynicism: “Thanks for noticing!” Throughout my life, I have often felt unnoticed and unappreciated (perhaps largely due to my ISFJ personality, which is described as “the hard-working unsung hero who gets the background jobs done”), but now that I am the parent of a child with special needs, I feel that “invisibleness” and “aloneness” even more keenly.

My wife and I just returned from a week at Mt Hermon Family Camp, together with our younger two children (one of whom is our daughter with special needs). Though the staff of the conference center do a wonderful job of accommodating and caring for children with special needs, the reality is that our child’s limitations become our limitations that keep us from experiencing camp in the same way as families without special needs. And though we were surrounded by wonderful friends and families who love God and love us, we can still feel terribly alone because everyone is so busy doing all the things they can do that they don’t notice the few on the sidelines who would love to enter in but can’t.

Thus I was deeply touched and tremendously grateful for a little girl named Sophia, who throughout the week of camp, showed genuine interest in getting to know our Anah. Sophia’s kindness to my daughter was an even greater kindness to me, though I’m sure she had no idea how much it ministered to me. At mealtimes Sophia’s smiling face would appear, just to say hi to Anah, and she would linger long enough for Anah to get a slow, stilted reply out. One mealtime, as we sat at the table alone, Sophia even asked if she could join us, and we got to know her a bit over lunch. Another afternoon, after all the kids who competed in the 3-on-3 basketball tournament had cleared out and Anah was granny-shooting a beat-up volleyball on the hoop that the gracious staff person had lowered for her, guess who showed up? The few other people in the gym hadn’t bothered to say hi at all, but when Sophia arrived she came right over and cheered for Anah’s uncoordinated attempts to get the ball in the hoop.

On our last full day of camp, my son wanted to go on the canoes and then swim in the pool with his new friend, and at the last minute I decided to bring Anah along, knowing that she loves the water, but also knowing that she would hate the hike down to the pool and back. Well, it just so happened that my son’s new friend (and his dad) go to the same church as Sophia and her family, and they decided to come along too, so it ended up to be three dads and five kids. I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that a girl like Sophia would have a dad who is also patient and kind, but no one complained or even commented about Anah’s painstaking slowness down the steep trail, and for one time during the week, I didn’t feel so alone.

So thank you, Sophia–thanks for noticing a little girl (and her dad) who would have otherwise been very alone in a place that is meant for relationships and fun. I know you weren’t trying to do anything heroic or special, but that is what made your genuine kindness so wonderful. May God bear much more fruit from your compassionate heart as you love others like Jesus does!

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The Gift of Humble Listening

A few days ago, I received a valuable gift. It was not anything with monetary value. Nor was it a tangible possession. But it was tremendously valuable to me. It was the gift of truly and humbly listening to my need.

As a father of an adopted special-needs daughter, I sometimes feel very alone. Some people understand the struggles associated with foreign adoption. Some people can relate to the difficulties in parenting a child with Down Syndrome. Fewer understand the different struggles associated with adopting an older child. And fewer still understand the complexities of trying to care for a child that fits all of these categories together.

Because these are struggles that few can easily understand or relate to, people around me tend to either avoid the topic or skim the surface. And because I know that they can’t relate, I usually don’t share very deeply. But the net result of that is a sense of being alone in the struggles.

So the other day, when a friend took the time not only to ask me how things were going, but then to really listen, that was a tremendous gift. It was a gift that cost her something, because it wasn’t just a 20-second conversation. But what was even more valuable in that gift that she gave was the humility to not assume she knew the answer to my troubles. Others will listen briefly, and acknowledge that it must be hard, and then say something to the effect of “Have you tried ____ ?” or “Maybe ____ would help.” I know that when people offer advice or assistance, it is done with a heart that truly cares and desires to help, but sometimes that quickness to “find a solution” actually ends up making me feel even less understood.

For me, and I’m sure for many others who are dealing with suffering or troubles of various kinds, there is not an immediate solution to be found. In fact, there may never be a “solution” at all. And so what I long for is for someone to acknowledge that it is hard, and then stop there. Rather than feeling compelled to offer a solution, let the solution be simply to acknowledge that there may not be a solution. That is what it means to listen humbly. And humble listening is a tremendous gift.