As my three big boys get older, I find myself contemplating with more frequency how I will define success for them.  My definition seems to be morphing, as I continue to think about it…daily.

So what is it that matters most?  Is it the type of job my child obtains?  Is it the paycheck they bring home?  Is it the amount of money they save?  Is it the house they live in?  Is it their ability to be independent from Les and myself?  What is it that we’re striving for with them?

It always came back to one thing – their salvation.  In the grand scheme of things, nothing else matters.  Our job title, our bank statements, our savings accounts, our homes, whether they forever live in my basement or not…doesn’t matter.  Sure, on a practical level, those would all be great – but when we die, what is it about our life that really matters?

God bless the people who do so many of the jobs that most of us would rather not do in our communities – collect the trash from our homes, do regular maintenance on our sewage systems…for each of us, we could list out dozens of jobs we would happily let others do.  On top of it, we pray that our children can go to college so they don’t have to do those jobs.  None of us want to see our children struggle.  But the reality is, I think one of my sons will have a minimum wage, non-complicated job where he’s specifically trained to do one task as his “career” for the rest of his life.  I simply can’t change his IQ and I can’t undo neurological damage.  It’s because of (predominantly) this child that I think about how I will define success for my children.  Do I just admit to myself that he can never be successful because he will never be able to obtain our society’s current standard of success despite the fact that in the context of his own life story – he’s successfully achieved much more than I think he ever would have otherwise?  Or is success and each person’s ability to contribute to society need to be seen in a drastically different light?

I’ve been wrestling with this for months.  I find myself comparing my children to other children.  Blaming myself for not being able to get my big boys on grade level and overcome all the things we’ve struggled to overcome for the past 11 years.  It’s a dangerous game – comparing.  One that should never be played, but unfortunately is.  I’ve consciously turned my eyes towards my own family and have put up blinders for everyone else’s families until I can have better control over not comparing my children with others.  The thing is, I firmly believe that everyone contributes to his/her community in some way.  So what are my big boys going to be able to contribute?  Time will tell.  But in the mean time, I’ve been thinking –  we all joke about the fact that every family has that one “crazy” person in their family.  (You can define that however you want, but the reality is that it’s a special needs person in their family with varying degrees of severity.)  But the question remains, how do they contribute to our families and the community as a whole?  What do they have to offer?

What if their contribution to our families and communities is greater than our own?  What if their contribution is helping us obtain salvation?  I learned a long time ago from Bishop Anthony Bloom that God does not grant patience and bestow it upon us as a gift, but rather provides opportunities for us to learn patience.  What if that one person in each of our families that drives us nuts or requires extensively more work for us has a much greater calling than any of us – to provide opportunities for us to grow in kindness, patience, and love?

But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.

Luke 6:32-33

What if their life is a sacrifice for the sake of all of us so that we can have eternal life together?  What if their life is a gift to all of us to provide us opportunities for growth?  When it comes down to it, oftentimes, these people are the way they are because they can’t help it.  Something happened where they cannot function within the scale of what is considered normal.  Will a loving and merciful God hold these special needs individuals accountable for something they ultimately could not control?  I don’t know, but I doubt it.  I doubt God has a standard judgement checklist that’s black and white which determines whether or not you get to spend eternity with him or not.  I think he’ll take each of our individual situations into consideration.  But…what about those of us that do know better?  How will we be judged when we know we should treat others with kindness, patience, and love even if they do drive us nuts but we don’t…because it’s extra work for us that’s frustrating?  I find that rather scary because we’re told we have to love those people anyway.  (See above)

God placed a gift within each of our families.  A special gift.  Are we going to embrace these individuals or turn away from them?

Stay where you are. Find your own Calcutta. Find the sick, the suffering, and the lonely right there where you are — in your own homes and in your own families, in your workplaces and in your schools. You can find Calcutta all over the world, if you have the eyes to see. Everywhere, wherever you go, you find people who are unwanted, unloved, uncared for, just rejected by society — completely forgotten, completely left alone.  – Saint Teresa

Then it got me thinking even more.  I have three special needs children in my home.  I must need a lot of help.  Lord, have mercy.  Quite humbling.  Quite humbling indeed.