There and Back Again

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How SPECIAL NEEDS SPECIAL JOY Began

I’ve just finished reading the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.  Frodo the unlikely hobbit hero,  with the help of faithful Samwise Gamgee and the unwitting aid of his enemy Gollum,  throws the Ring of Power into Mordor and saves Middle Earth. He returns from his adventure only to find his own village devastated. Too wounded to continue, he eventually  journeys into the next life, leaving behind his friends Merry, Pippin and Sam to carry on. Sam’s last words, a nod to Bilbo’s Tale (from The Hobbit) “There and Back Again” are, “I’m back again.”  The author J.R.R Tolkien, a fervent Roman Catholic believer who led his friend C. S. Lewis to Christ, paints a vivid picture of our Christian journey - we go “there,” sometimes experiencing great adventure, victory, pain and promise through God’s merciful intervention. Then we come “back again,” to be faced with new challenges and opportunities to trust our Savior, Jesus.  Sometimes we come back to the same challenge in a new form, other times, like Frodo, we are sent in a completely new direction. This, I believe, is every Christian’s story.  As our spiritual formation pastor Stephanie Nance so aptly put it, “God gives us a lot more detail about what we’re leaving than where we’re going.”  The unknown is a vital part of our faith story. It’s in those ventures that God meets us most powerfully.

As a parent of a 16-year-old special needs son (the sixth of six sons), my journey has followed turns and twists with a few “about faces.” Jonathan was diagnosed with Down Syndrome at 26 weeks in utero, only to show classic signs of autism between ages 2 and 3, losing his ability to speak and sing.  As to this blog, why did I begin writing about “God meetings” in the hard, messy places of my life? That turn in the road began almost two years ago with a sad little prayer, followed by an answer I wasn’t looking for...typical, huh?:) The sad little prayer: “Lord, please help me to connect with my son.  I feel distant from him, guilty that time spent with him seems monotonous, guilty that I need (or do I need?) so much help from Maria (our helper of 10 years who’s like his grandmother.) A short time later, the unwelcome answer. Maria, due to complications from surgery, is out for six weeks. The rug pulled out from under easy anything -  grocery runs, errands, trips to the swimming pool. Enter 24 hour Jonathan care. No escaping my fear of pitying looks or uncomfortable avoidance from others. Jonathan’s behaviors - repeated verbal noises, impulsive lunging for food, unpredictable pottying skills, lack of eye contact-- can make unassisted routine trips physically and emotionally exhausting. The hard places.  There in the midst of the mess, God started answering my prayer. Giving me strength and toughness I didn’t know I had. Showing me Himself through Jonathan’s sparkling eyes. Rebirthing my understanding of God’s image expressed uniquely through my precious boy. Showing up in ways I simply never would have experienced in a “safe” place.

Recently I realized I’ve spent much of my life avoiding discomfort. Seeking an ever elusive sense of security.  Only to discover the true joy and peace I’d been yearning for on a rougher road. One riddled with potholes. As I’ve shared my stories on Facebook,  friends have urged me to share them with others. Those faced with problems that may not go away. The kind that God walks you through not around. Or perhaps for someone who simply longs to find new joy in the day to day challenges of life. This blog SPECIAL NEEDS SPECIAL JOY is dedicated to you.  I pray you will find encouragement to trust Jesus and discover His joy and presence in the midst of whatever your face. He loves you. And if you don’t know Him, I promise, He loves you and wants to know you!

Blessings and hugs,

Donna Tavani

PS  If this blog lifts you up, please share my site with a friend who needs a hand up. Nothing would make me happier.