Special needs parents experience 5 phases as they adjust to their new role and family dynamic. The phases are outlined in my book, Unexpected Blessings: The Joys and Possibilities of Life in a Special Needs Family. They mirror the journey Paul was on in Acts 27 as he sailed for Rome but found himself in unexpected situations. The first phase is recognizing Plan B. Phase 2 is recovering and rebuilding rhythms that work for your family. In phase 3, parents must reinforce their faith foundation. Phase 4 includes renewing relationships with family members and friends. In phase 5, you’re ready to reach out to others.
At this point in our story in Acts, Paul and his shipmates wrecked onto the shores of Malta. What a scary situation! What happened on the island? Acts 28:2a tells us, “The native people showed us unusual kindness …”
It wasn’t an accident that Paul ended up on Malta. He had a purpose for being there. Paul made friends with the locals and performed miracles, blessing the families around him. Once they have moved through all the phases, special-needs parents are ready to look around see who needs help. They are called to bless the families around them.
Special-needs parents will be met with unusual kindness when we find a new network of support. They may seem to speak a different language (Who can keep all these acronyms and medical diagnosis straight when you’re hearing them for the first time?), but as we adjust to a new normal with our families, they will be there to support you. People who start out as strangers will become like family, all because of what you have in common and what God is doing through you. And with them, you will fulfill the purpose God had for you all along!
We have moved from a place of pain to finding our purpose.
One of my favorite ways to encourage special-needs parents is to tell them they are missionaries! We know special-needs families are less likely to attend church than a typical family. But missionaries don’t wait for the lost to come to them. They are on mission wherever they go—the therapy waiting room, the support group, the hospital. You don’t even need to learn another language to be a mission to special-needs families because you already do speak the same language!
God didn’t bring you through the storm and shipwreck for you to stay stuck in a cycle of despair. He wants you to work through your grief, take care of yourself, trust in Him, build relationships with others, and become an advocate for your family members with a disability.
Resources for phase 5, reaching out to others:
Same Lake, Different Boat: Coming Alongside People Touched by Disability by Stephanie O. Hubach