The envelope sat on my desk for three weeks before I opened it. I had seen the return address right when I pulled it out of the mailbox, The Department of Health and Social Services logo with the name of our assigned social worker from the Developmental Disabilities Administration.
Why I still flinch just a little bit when I see that logo in the mail, I do not know.
She had called me the week before to remind me of our son’s upcoming fourth birthday, and that his status with Early Intervention Services through DDA would officially be terminated unless I reapplied for eligibility.
“Was he ever officially diagnosed or were his delays compensated through services?” she asked.
“No ma’am, he was diagnosed with Autism-II in October of 2016.”
“Ok, he will remain eligible for DDA services then, as long as his diagnosis came from an appropriate specialist.”
“Yes, it did.” I responded. (He was also not very kind, that specialist, but I leave that part out).
“I will need a copy of all of his paperwork, and I am sending you the application packet for ages 4-21 today. I’ll need it back no later than 90 days before your son’s fourth birthday.”
“Thank you.” I said. I think I meant it as a question though.
“You’re welcome, Mrs. Blackburn. Happy Holidays!”
Three weeks later, with a post-it note on the refrigerator daily reminding me to “Renew DDA for Cannon!” I was still ignoring it. The truth is, I don’t like going back. The diagnosis paperwork is 11 pages of hard for me, line after line of quantification and qualification of a sweet little boy that I think falls far short of capturing him, but to any objective observer is frustratingly accurate.
But I don’t love looking forward too much, either, and getting mail from the Developmental Disabilities Administration with flyers reminding me of our legal rights, tips for starting school, and programs around our city for those with developmental disabilities is exactly that – a monthly notice that will not let us forget Cannon’s future will be unchartered territory for all of us.
None of this is what I pictured four years ago, when we opened a gift on Christmas day and saw a little blue blanket inside. “It’s a boy!” we all yelled, followed by tears of joy and an immediate image of a big sister squeezing her little brother on the next Christmas card. And when life gives us a story that we’re not prepared to live out, our immediate reaction is to resist it. I think maybe that is why I cried for most of that first year, because when reality keeps running head first into a hard heart, it hurts. Reality needs a soft place to land and I would not, could not, give it one.
So God had to completely change what I couldn’t.
There is a popular tale among special needs parents called ‘Welcome to Holland’ – a metaphoric story about planning a trip to Italy, learning the Italian language and studying the maps of the cities you’ll visit, even getting on the flight to meet all of your friends there and then hearing upon arrival, “Welcome to Holland.”
Holland? But you’ve been planning to go to Italy. You got familiar with Italy. All of your friends are sharing beautiful pictures from Italy and you really want to be in Italy.
You want to hear your little boy sing in the preschool Christmas program with other three year olds, not fill out DDA paperwork.
You want to sign him up for Tiny Tots soccer, not a one-to-one aide for group settings.
There is a list 100 items long that you would rather be doing than the work in front of you, and I think it is ok to acknowledge that. It’s not, however, ok to stay there.
God’s story of his chosen people is one story after another of someone not getting what they want, but getting something only God could do. Sarah wanted children in her youth, God gave her Isaac when she was 100 years old. Jeremiah wanted anything but the work of a prophet, God gave him words that would be cherished and studied by believers for the rest of earthly history. Paul wanted to go with Silas to Asia to share the gospel, God re-directed him to Greece and brought the gospel to Europe for the first time.
If I am learning anything from God’s narrative and history of redeeming a broken people in a broken world, it is that what we want is not always a great indicator of God’s perfect plan, for our lives and for His glory. And at some point we have to decide what gets our time, our energy, and our prayers: what we want, or what God is actually doing. How we answer that with our lives will change everything – perhaps most importantly it will change how you see what must be done. To borrow from Goethe, you’ll learn to love it. It may be impossible to see right now, but one day at a time, regardless of what you are carrying and even when it is so hard the tears far outweigh hope, you’ll still be so thankful God chose you for something you could never do on your own.