Long before I had four special needs children (That’s right. Four. Another just got an ASD diagnosis.), I loved to read about wonderworkers. I had been the recipient of miracles, and gratitude led me to look into the lives of these people whose lives were sacred spaces that let other people connect with God.
Think of Abraham sitting across a table from the three angels. Abraham and Sarah’s household was filled with the kind of hospitality where someone could sit at the table with God.
Think of St. Mary Magdalene, holding out an egg to an emperor in a hand that didn’t tremble because she had already seen everything that could be seen of sorrow. To sit at table with her was to sit in the midst of witness where even the food might alter before your eyes to proclaim the glory of God.
Think of St. Panteleimon, mixing prayers into his ointments and making soul medicine along with his elixirs. He had found the true theriac, the antidote for all poisons, in the love of Christ, and he shared it freely with all the sick he came across.
Think of St. Seraphim of Sarov, striving in the wildnerness for years until his heart was so warm and soft with love of God that he was no longer troubled by the cold, hard stone on which he slept. “Acquire peace within yourself, and thousands around you will be saved.” “Acquire the Holy Spirit.”
I noticed that when I tried to imitate these saints that I was very bad at it.
Even my A game was riddled with mixed motives and inadequacies of faith and execution.
I learned to ask God for help despite my weaknesses. The saints helped.
“Lord, even if I have not done anything good before Thee, do Thou help me in Thy grace to make a good beginning.” -St. John Chrysostom “Late have I loved Thee, beauty so ancient and so new, Late have I loved Thee.” -St. Augustine of Hippo “Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum.” -Theotokos In gratitude, I named my children after them and filled my home and mind with their prayers and images to point me along the way to Christ.
I wondered what a wonderworker would look like who was in my shoes. Could a no-account, low-born, uninteresting and flawed middle-aged American woman become holy enough to have God show up at her table or pour out of her teapot or keep company with her guests?
I decided the answer to that question would be an interesting book. I started to outline it several times, but it kept going wrong. I went to my priest to talk to him about it, which I probably should have done first anyhow. (I have a tendency to like to show up with an outline in hand so there’s something to edit. That’s not always helpful.) Why did the wonderworkers work wonders? If we grow in faith, will we also work wonders?
It’s probably obvious to everyone holier than me that his answer was simple.
The wonderworkers loved God.
The gifts of God look different in every life, but the kenosis is the same. Everyone seeking God pours herself or himself out again and again in order to be filled with the love of God.
I’m a teacher. I don’t know if I’m very good at it, but then, I don’t know if Peter, James, and John were very good fishermen, either.
I opened my hand to God and gave Him what I had: a little faith, a little talent, a little learning and discipline, and the muchness of my love.
My life isn’t the sort that will be bound by university presses and shelved in reference libraries for the edification of generations. But even in my cracked little corner of the world, I have begun to see miracles.
Special needs parenting is exhausting and hard and isolating and financially draining. We could always use more money for therapies or home modifications – I mean LOTS more money, ridiculous sums that might make my saint friends smile and nod. We could always use more help – LOTS more help. Do you know how little sleep we get compared to what we’re supposed to get? I’m guessing it’s a 2:3 ratio at best. (My FitBit tells me I average 5.5 hours sleep a night, and I’m one of the lucky ones whose kids sleep pretty well.) Do you know how long it takes to design and laminate interventions? The ratio of available time to the time I need to help my children is roughly 1:12. We have a list of necessaries that are outright weird. (I have an Amazon subscribe & save for velcro. Velcro!)
If we tell any of these things to people who don’t have special needs kids, the incomprehension adds to the isolation. But we don’t talk to people without special needs kids about it much, because we aren’t trying to complain.
We love our kids and are happy, despite their needs. It’s just that their needs have made our needs much more profound, much more visible to us.
Holiness is always particular, always embodied in a person, place, and time. As I struggled to address my children’s needs and my own needs and to pour them out in love, I came to see that holiness can look like needing God.
I’m never going to be good at this mom/life/Christian thing. But I’m getting better at knowing that I need help. I’m getting better at grabbing hold to the human chain of saints pulling me back toward the center of life in love with God.
I’m getting better at being God’s needy kid. And I’m starting to see wonders.