Running The (Special Needs) Race

Posted on May 24, 2011 
Filed Under Fathering, Life, Parenting, Personal, Spiritual Life

In God’s wisdom He thought it would be good for me to run a couple of marathons. That’s all I can conclude. Let me explain by way of a personal illustration.

Almost 15 years ago I took on a challenge of immense proportions: to run a marathon. Coaxed on by a friend, I finally decided that I could do it, I could learn to run more than 26 miles in a stretch! After a rigorous training schedule, I put my feet to the test, and ran the Steamboat Springs Marathon.

I was absolutely exhausted by the end. In fact, a co-worker who was there – and finished well before me – snapped a photograph of me as I crossed the finish line. About that picture, someone observed about, “You don’t look so good.”

Of course I didn’t look so good – I had just spent more than three and a half hours running my legs off!

The next year I ran the Chicago Marathon. Once again, it wasn’t a pretty ending. Dragging myself across the finish line, I declined the offer for food and drink, preferring instead to lay down on a stack of discarded boxes. A race worker approached me and with good intentions asked if I was okay?

“I’m alright,” I wheezed as I closed my eyes and caught my breath.

Those were good days, although hard. I’m grateful for my friend’s urging. Not many people get to run distance races. I’m also glad for my wife’s patience as I trained, because sometimes I went out for a three-hour run on Saturday mornings. She would have preferred I stayed home!

Today my knees creak and squeak, and I’ve given up running for exercise that is easier on the joints. Still, I’ve reflected often on lessons  learned as I trained and ran.

Among those lessons was this little nugget: A steady pace can help me finish even a long distance run. It is all about pacing.  Start off too fast, and you’re likely to burn out halfway through, or even before.

That’s a principle I need to keep in mind as we parent a child with special needs. Pace. Keep the end in mind. Persevere through the pain and press on toward the end.

I’ve needed that principle for the past six years now, since we first learned our youngest son has autism. Our first reaction was numbness, then we sprung into action. The pace since then has been rather relentless. The many on-going therapies, medical visits, special trips to bring home a troubled child, social outbursts, strains on our other children, expenditures, insurance calls, piles of paperwork, explanations (apologies, really) to other parents…have left us tired. In fact, to this point the race has drained us, particularly emotionally, although we have not given up.

Along this journey we’ve seen God’s remarkable, sustaining presence and power. He has touched our boy in some significant ways, and there has been tremendous progress on all fronts.

In this “race” God has used Zane to pull us to Himself, to show us His grace, to say things I would not have otherwise heard.

And so we’ll continue on in this parenting journey, step by step, mile after mile. We’ll keep at it with our eyes on the finish line, endeavoring to help our son grow and gain the tools he needs to thrive.

So: pace. We’ll do our best to maintain a steady pace as we run, so we can go the distance. A steady pace that keeps the legs moving, keeps the face forward, keeps the goal in mind.

It hasn’t been easy, this “special needs race.”  It has taken everything we’ve got. We’ve gone further down this path than we could have ever envisioned. We’ve been stretched beyond anything we thought possible. And through it all, God has been close. He’s been the One we’ve leaned upon, and Who has provided the needed grace.

I suspect one day we’ll push past the finish line and collapse in a heap, exhausted totally out of breath. And it’ll be worth every bit of the effort, focus, discipline, sweat and even the pain.

I also suspect Zane would agree.