Tag Archives: Ruth

Hope for Healthy Relationships

Special Needs Parenting Cover

Recently I published the first in what I hope to be a series of books offering support to special needs parents. Today I am sharing an excerpt from chapter six. I hope it is a blessing to you.

But Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Ruth 1:16 NLT

Relationships are critically important to personal and family resilience.  Maintaining healthy relationships within the family and developing friendships help create a network of support as well as emotional reserves for current and upcoming challenges. The need for relationships among special needs parents is a large part of my motivation for writing material for use by small groups.  One of the greatest gifts parents who are overwhelmed can receive is the knowledge that they are not alone. The relationships that come through meeting others on the same journey provide meaningful connections and support.

Since healthy relationships are an important part of building resilience in special needs parents, where to begin?

  • Set priorities. Which are the relationships you value most? Which are the relationships most in need of nurture? Spouse? Child? Friends? Set priorities to focus your attention there. A pastor I know shared that he and his wife make an intentional priority to set aside a few evenings each month to nurture relationships with other couples so that they have friendships.
  • Understand the difference between acquaintances and friends. Social media announces our friend count and number of connections. Who can you really count on when needed? Who can hear your disappointments without judgment? Who is willing to work through challenges with you? Do you return the favor? Those are your real friends.
  • Create space for the important relationships. In my household we have “family time” pretty much every weeknight. We read together or watch a show or share a meal. Studies show the simple act of eating together builds family resilience as it engages four relationship building blocks (loving action, time, communication, and healthy boundaries). My husband and I set a priority for a weekly date night. For my most valued friendships I try to keep regular contact and get together as often as possible.
  • Pay attention to the give-and-take of relationships. Are you giving too much and in need of getting something more back? Are you taking too much yourself? Relationships should have a rhythm to them. At times we are in need and at times we are the ones offering support. Relationships that lack a balance of give and take become draining over time for the person who is always in the mode of giving.
  • Enjoy being a parent. Yes, there are therapies to do, medications to administer, schedules to watch, behaviors to observe and modify. Just remember you are a parent and not a caseworker even though it sure can feel that way at times.
  • Set healthy boundaries between you and your child. I often experience among special needs parents a sense of a blurring of that boundary. I have heard the pronoun “we” countless times. “We got a low grade on the math test.” “We had a rough day at school.” “We forgot our medication.” “We had five seizures last night.”

Healthy relationships are an important part of the journey with special needs. In challenging times it is especially important to have a core of support. I opened with a well-known verse from the story of Ruth. Naomi had lost her husband and her two sons, who were also married. In Naomi’s culture, a woman’s status and security resided in her connections with the men in her family. Her worth was tied to fertility. All three of the widows were in a precarious situation, but especially so for Naomi. Unlike Naomi, her daughters-in-law were young and could hold onto hope of another marriage. Yet, in the midst of the darkest of times Naomi had a core relationship with her daughter-in-law Ruth that provided support. The health of her relationship with her daughter-in-law revealed itself in her Ruth’s fierce loyalty. Their mutual support sustained them both through the hardest of times. It may seem difficult to set a high priority to build healthy relationships with so many other pressing needs. However, healthy relationships are a key tool to personal resilience for the journey ahead.

Special Needs Parenting: From Coping to Thriving is available at Huff Publishing.

The Gift of Presence

I receive a devotional through Facebook called “God Wants You to Know.”  They come at random and I find I am always blessed by what they has to say. A recent one said:

On this day, God wants you to know that…

…you are never alone.

As special needs parents, it is easy to feel alone at times. It can be a very isolating experience.  Having a family member, friend, prayer partner or congregation walk with us through that journey is enormously helpful and healing.

Recently, Dr. Steve Grcevich wrote in his blog at Key Ministry, “Give families the gift of presence…Isolation is an unfortunate byproduct of many of the more common mental health conditions we treat. Being present for those who are hurting in difficult times is an immediate expression of the love of Christ.” This gift of presence applies beyond mental health treatment to the isolation we feel as parents of children with chronic conditions, whether they are physical, developmental, intellectual or behavioral. Being present for those who are hurting offers God’s presence lived out in flesh and bone.

One of the most beautiful biblical examples of the gift of presence is seen in the story of Ruth.  Due to a famine in Bethlehem, the family of Elimelech and Naomi moved to the land of Moab and lived there for so long that their sons grew up and married there. Later the family patriarch died, as did the two sons. Having lost their husbands, three widows were living together facing an uncertain future.  In a culture where all f your wealth and status was tied to the men in your life, this was a very precarious position. There is a reason the Bible prompts so often to remember the widow. Namoi urged her daughters-in-law to return to their families where they could be taken in and hope to remarry since they were still young enough to have children.  Naomi, past child-bearing age, chose to travel to her home country alone and into an uncertain future. One daughter-in-law returned to her home:

But Ruth said, “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die– there will I be buried. May the LORD do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!”  (Rut 1:16-17 NRS)

Talk about the gift of presence!  Ruth was all in, despite putting her own future at risk. What an incredible witness to God’s ability to fill the gift of presence! 

That gift of presence pops up in unexpected ways.  A parent recently contacted me looking for a prayer partner.  God brought to her a great prayer partner with a shared life experience and both have contacted me saying they have been blessed with that connection.  Another parent who has been struggling to find time to connect more closely with her husband in the midst of many therapies, extreme medical needs, and three children with hectic schedules, found the gift of presence in a weather make-up day at school when she and her husband were both off work for a holiday. A guilt-free indulgence of a whole day for just the two of them to be fully present with each other was an enormous blessing. Today I just left a meeting with a church planning to start their very first special needs outreach. They are a bit anxious about that future, mainly out of a sense of wanting to meet the need with excellence, but the gift of presence they are providing is enormous to those who need that opportunity to be welcomed, heard and filled with the hope of Christ in connection with each other. 

The gift of presence comes in all kinds of shapes and it is a blessing in the lives of those who give and receive it each and every time. Thinking back to the most challenging times in my life, key people come to mind who walked with me through the darkest of times.  I can also think of times when I tried to pay that gift forward to others.  How have you given the gift of presence?  How have you experienced it when you needed it for yourself?