During the month of November, we are reminded about the importance of coming together and celebrating gratitude. In a few weeks, families and friends all over the U.S. will gather around tables full of food and take turns saying what they are thankful for. For families of children with special needs, it can sometimes be difficult to find anything to be grateful about. For me this is especially true. There have been times when I have scoffed (rolled my eyes) at the “Autism Is Awesome” memes on Facebook and grumbled in jealousy over my friends’ neurotypical kids’ achievements. For years I had no joy in my heart and was probably not a joy to be around.
A few years ago, I heard a story on the radio about a woman with cancer. Her doctor gave her the news that she needed to get her affairs in order. Instead of feeling sorry for herself and wallowing in the “why me” self-talk, she prayed that God would allow her to find and share joy with others during her last days on earth. At the time my own situation, while not life-threatening, had me asking quite frequently, “Why me?” This woman’s courage and joy-filled attitude inspired me.
I went out that day and bought flowers for the teachers, support staff, and administration at my child’s school. I brought in a bag of quarters and taped it to the teachers’ soda vending machine, with the request that they “pay it forward.” I participated in and started a few pay-it-forward lines at Starbucks. I thanked the people that were always there for me. It’s hard to be negative and wallow in misery when you are focusing on the good in the world and doing your part to add to the joy. This giving of gratitude and joy turned my life around.
Choosing joy in the face of adversity is never easy, and I am still learning to do it every day. When I first got the idea for this article, I had many reasons to be joyful. Then a setback happened and I found myself starting all over again, searching for small moments of joy. Of hope. You know the kind of days when everything turns upside down and all you want to do is give up? Today, choosing joy is hard, but I still try. So here is my list of joy. Maybe we have some similar ones or maybe it will help you to think of ones for yourself.
I am grateful for:
- That first teacher who looked past the diagnosis and saw the sweet, loving boy I saw. You helped me fight for the services and care that we both knew he needed. I never stop being grateful for you and wishing you all the amazing blessings that life can offer you.
- The friend who brought me flowers and chocolate and hugged me while I cried in my driveway.
- The friend who always helps me put everything into perspective. The one I feel safe to tell everything to; who provides a judgement-free space, filled with love and acceptance.
- The women in my life who close ranks around me when everything around me is falling apart. Your support means the world to me—the offers of help, the offers to take me out, and the offers to give me a break. Seriously, I love you all.
- The perfectly timed sermon in church that helped me see things from a different perspective.
- The acquaintance who pulled me aside and hugged me because she knew something was wrong.
- The other mothers and fathers who get it, because they are going through the same stuff. Your words of understanding, and the stories and experiences you share with me, help me feel not so alone.
- My readers who send me amazing emails about their experiences with raising special needs children or caretaking for special needs adults. I cherish each one of your emails.
- The teacher with a special needs child who supported and loved on my child. You will always have a place in my heart. You were, and continue to be, such a blessing in our lives.
- The children who took a chance and made friends with my sweet boy. Thank you for loving him for who he is.
Please share your gratitude below, but more importantly, tell the people around you. I challenge everyone who reads this to spread joy this season by doing acts of kindness for the important people in your life. I promise you: It will change your life.