This is a short excerpt from a book I recently contributed to called Special Children, Blessed Fathers: Encouragement for fathers of children with special needs.
My wife is usually the one sharing about our amazing daughter Kate, but I was honored to take a turn this time for this special book. Randy Hain put it together, Archbishop Chaput wrote the forward and it has a lot of other outstanding fathers who contributed (and whom you may know).
Here’s the beginning part of my contribution:
Many decisions in life are made based simply on what everyone else is doing. We subconsciously conform to the norm or what we think we’re supposed to do, whether it’s the careers we pursue, the lifestyle we are working toward or simply the kinds of things we do on a Saturday night or a Sunday morning. But every once in awhile we get nudged in a different direction. We have some kind of unexpected event that forces upon us a new perspective and a different kind of life.
For our family, that nudge came one otherwise normal November day four years ago.
She was wrapped in a blanket, looking up at us through tiny, half-moon eyes. My wife cried and I stood steady as we listened to the Neonatologist on staff tell us — only minutes after she was born — that she had Down syndrome.
We knew we loved our daughter regardless of any diagnosis, but it was the sudden onset of uncertainty that shocked us most. What did all this mean? For her life? For our life? For our other children? This wasn’t the child we had planned for or expected.
The doctor said it meant she had an extra chromosome. That she had an increased risk of heart defects, childhood leukemia, thyroid conditions and a host of other health problems that we needed to test for right away. He said she would have low muscle tone, learning delays and many other unique challenges in life.
My head was whizzing and overwhelmed, but hyper-focused. We had a wonderful outpouring of emotional support at that time, but I was focused on the task at hand: taking care of our daughter. Those first few days were spent learning a lot about numerous medical tests and conditions, asking continuous questions and Googling everything “Down syndrome” until the wee hours of the morning.
I rushed to fill that sudden onset of uncertainty with the certainty of every “fact” I could find. We analyzed and worried over every challenge our daughter may potentially experience throughout the course of her entire life as a result of this particular condition — all before she even left the hospital.
Those first months were tough. My wife and I had been asleep at the wheel, nudged off the wide road — and awoke to find ourselves down the road less traveled. Naturally, it took some time to figure out what had just happened to us. And we were desperate to cure the uncertainty of this “different kind of life” that had been thrust upon us. I needed to regain firm control of the plan for our life.
But in my efforts, as I searched and searched to learn more about Kate’s special needs, I gradually realized God was actually teaching me about my own. And the more I worked to provide for her needs, the more God was providing for mine. Eventually it became clear to me that this unexpected adventure was not so much about how much Kate needed from the world, but how much the world needed her.
You can read the rest and many other great encouragements in the book here.