A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

What I am slowly learning–because of my son’s learning disorders, Part I

learning disorder

My son was five. The six of us were headed to Uganda in about three months. And there were so many reasons I did not want to encounter the realities uncovered by the Vanderbilt Assessment, or my child’s pediatrician, or our family tree: ADHD, and eventually, accompanying (and profound) dysgraphia.

But by the grace of God, I had time to sort through our new normal (my son had not changed, but our methods thankfully did!) before “normal” got an African makeover. His disorders are one of the specific reasons we’ve decided to homeschool him—but that also ratchets this game to a whole new level.

Thanks to a lot of hours up to my frontal lobe in books, podcasts, articles, prayer, and real conversation, this is what I understood: My son’s disorders are not only part of his story God is writing: They are part of mine. God continues to make beautiful things where before I saw (or foresaw) ashes.

Why is this important to me? Paul David Tripp writes,

In some ways, everyone fears judgment. She fears the hammer will come down on her because she has failed to measure up and she will spend her life paying for her crimes. That’s why mercy and forgiveness stories quickly get our attention and hit us so deeply. In some way, everyone is afraid of being poor.

You see, I see a disorder as on a spectrum of our imperfections–weaknesses we all have, with labels or not, some perpetually and with biological contributors. Some of mine surpass those imposed by a disorder. We’ve all got junk. All of us find ourselves in dire need of grace.

I have grown in my gratitude for my son’s disorders. They’ve changed our family. They’ve changed me. And here are just a few of the ways.

  • To detach my value from achievement—my son’s included. I’ve been a high achiever all my life; so many things are relatively easy for me. The irony of my being a writer with copyediting experience and having a son who physically cannot write or spell is not lost on me. Along with increasing my compassion and understanding of our own innate gifting (or lack thereof), my understanding of grace has catapulted to a new plane: My value and my son’s aren’t touched by our abilities or performance. Our value lies in God’s creation of us in His image, and in Jesus’ ability to perform on our behalf. End of story.
  • To detach my value from my child’s social skills. My ability to please people is at times, I confess, almost inseparable from my identity, though God continues to pry this from my clutching fingers. Having a son who greets his friend at the pool with “Guess what? I didn’t brush my teeth today!” (insert noxious breath in face), speaks entirely too loudly in a restaurant, knocks over Candy Land in frustration, or sirens “That’s not faaaaaair!” over the entire neighborhood when friends are over is occasionally quite embarrassing. My husband and I work diligently at the behavioral level (here and here are just a few of the many methods that do work), though my son’s level of maturity statistically will be 30% behind because of his motor skills maturing before his impulse control. Still: Popular opinion in not where his, or our, value lies. God determines my faithfulness as a mother—which still doesn’t…or at least shouldn’t…touch where my identity lies.

  • Bonus: Kids with more obvious weaknesses do change their friends and siblings…for the better. My other children are more patient, more enduring, and more gracious because there’s a kid around who requires a little extra energy to love. And I was just thanking God the other day for the graciousness of my son’s friends. That spontaneous, out-of-the-box brain does think of some great ideas when they’re playing around!
  • That loving him well means fighting tenaciously for him to find his gifts. It means bearing his burdens as if they were mine. It means advocating his strengths, and working with him in honesty about his weaknesses. I’ve gleaned so much about endurance in loving! There is something about getting your hands dirty with someone in their weakness—especially those that make our lives incredibly challenging—that shows me so much of God’s enduring love; how He delves into the nitty-gritty and stays there, day after day.
  • He wants to be a zoologist when he grows up, you know. So my shelves are stacked with children’s animal encyclopedias, with his nature journal (in which I write what he dictates), bird guides. When we brought home guppies from the creek, he peered in the jar; this nine-year-old noted, “You know, many of these are in different phases. Some are still in the yolk phase…” His knowledge of Scripture and its application floor me, too; his natural math aptitude will always outpace mine–partially because, with the dysgraphia, he would much rather fluidly solve problems in his mind. His disorders certainly mean no shortage of tremendous strengths.
  • Humility–and patience. And more patience. Let me count the ways–! It’s hard to be “mother of the year” when all the other moms at playdate hear the earsplitting meltdown your son is erupting forth outside, or when his impulsivity breaks something in your mother’s house (again), or when your son’s toilet habits gross out the whole family. Particularly when your child looks normal and acts…almost normal, the expectation is that your son will be normal. Many of my blog posts when my children were young were frothing with idealism, with all I wanted for my children. And I’m still a dreamer—with God’s dreams, I hope. But this disorder helped me step further into grace: into what I cannot do for my children, but He can. It increased my dependence, decreased my boisterousness and self-absorption, cemented my parenting efforts more on the One who held their hearts and my dreams.


Find the second part of this post here!

Tell us: How has your child’s story changed you?

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  1. Janel, this is an AWESOME post…..God has given you a special gift; not just one, but many; thru your children. This has to be a humbling experience….I DO pray that penning this experience is helpful to many. I do find it amazing that you find his strengths and are able to channel his energy…May this post be a Blessing to many and may you: Continue to BLESS AND BE BLESSED. Love you, Gma

    • God’s been so gracious to me to expose my own sin through this. I’m sure you encountered some of this with a daughter who had hearing loss. Thanks so much for your encouragement and for hearing my heart!

  2. Amen to “…To detach my value from achievement—my son’s included. I’ve been a high achiever all my life; so many things are relatively easy for me. The irony of my being a writer with copyediting experience and having a son who physically cannot write or spell is not lost on me.”

    I don’t know why I am so continually surprised by God’s sense of humor intermingled with just the right amount of graceful truth, but I am grateful for it. The moment we let go of our dreams for our kids and start looking for God’s vision is when the enjoyment of who God created them to be begins. Many blessings to you, John and the clan.

    • I can’t agree with you more. I’m amazed at how God perfectly orchestrates our families for our holiness! Thanks for hearing my heart on this. So great to hear from you, Bret.

  3. Cindy Blunier

    July 28, 2015 at 3:07 am

    This was a really good post, Janel. It was honest, vulnerable and informative. I’m really proud of the way that you have researched and diligently tried to meet Will’s needs. He is very blessed to have a family that loves him so well and looks out for his well-being. He’s a great kid.

    Love Mom

    • Compiling this has increased my gratitude for relatives who “see” who he is and really love him well. He is a great kid, and with so much to love–and so much potential. Thanks for loving him as he is and for advocating for all of us. I’m so grateful that God orchestrates families like He does.

  4. God has certainly created each of us very specially. I love that you are embracing how we all have junk and finding positives. thank you for the encouraging post!

  5. Janel, thank you so much for this. It is almost a year old post but I am just now finding your blog. Our daughter has a genetic disorder from her birth mom and we are waiting on more testing to be done to determine what else needs to be addressed.

    She has been my biggest challenge in life. It is causing me to step back and look for the good instead of seeing things I can’t fix. So many of these truths resonated with this mama heart that constantly breaks at the things I can’t fix, the things that I don’t want her to have to go through and experience.

    However, God is good and is reconditioning my eyes to see her and her quirks through His eyes. Thank you so much for sharing!

    • My heart breaks—and yet thanks God with you!—over your e-mail and your story. I’m humbled by your vulnerability in something that would break this mama’s heart, too. Wow.

      I am so thankful for the courage of adoptive women like you whose hearts are willing to press on day after day, seeking God in lifelong battles for their kids. And I’m so uplifted God would use what He’s been slooooowly revealing over here to encourage such strong women like you toward even greater courage and joy.

      I am praying right this minute that He would fill you with everything you need—the wisdom, stamina, perseverance, joy, practical insight—for this to continue as a beautiful offering in His sight. Wish I could tell you how grateful I am for your heart to fight for your daughter and God’s glory. Press on!

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