Last Updated on December 10, 2018

“Jake says he isn’t completing his schoolwork because he doesn’t know the alphabet.”

I couldn’t believe what my son’s kindergarten teacher said. Six-year-old Jake could sing the alphabet song, loved books, and after three years of preschool, he surely knew his letters. No doubt, he was being hard-headed (like his dad) and refusing to do his schoolwork.

That evening as I read to him, I pointed to the letter “B” and asked, “Jake, what letter is that?”

“I don’t know.”

Thinking he was teasing, I asked again, “What letter is that?”

“I don’t know.”

“Yes, you do,” I insisted. “What letter is that?”

“Mommy, I don’t know!”

Certain he was being stubborn, I snapped, “You do too know! Quit fooling around and tell me what letter that is!”

Silence…and then with tears of hot shame in his eyes, Jake whispered, “Mommy, I really don’t know that letter.”

Now it was my turn to feel ashamed—and afraid. How could Jake not know the alphabet?

Extensive testing revealed that our intellectually bright son was learning disabled (LD)—in reading, writing, and arithmetic—and at severe risk of complete reading failure. Then, an additional diagnosis—attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Was this too much for one little boy to overcome? It sure felt like too much for one worried mom to overcome.

Trying to feel more in control, I read stacks of LD and ADHD books, but only the bad news registered in my overloaded, anxious mind. Like a paint-by-numbers canvas, I had Jake’s life planned out—a bright and beautiful masterpiece that would include the honor roll and college scholarships—and nowhere was there room for special education teachers, tutors, medications, etc. Now I was seeing only a grey, dismal mess where Jake would be lucky to graduate high school, let alone go to college. I felt angry at God for the unfairness of it all.

Resentment, fear, and guilt gnawed at me. Jake’s problems had to be my fault somehow. I racked my brain for what I could have done wrong during my pregnancy with him. Did I forget to take my prenatal vitamin too many times? How could I be so careless? And even though Jake was diagnosed relatively early, why didn’t I catch it earlier? As a clinical psychologist, I evaluated children for these problems—how could I miss this in my own child? Or maybe God, recognizing my lifelong struggle with pride and perfectionism, wanted to teach me a lesson in humility by giving me a less-than-perfect child. Was my child being punished because of my sin?

Finally, I put away the depressing books, resigned myself and Jake to a disappointing future, and opened my Bible. I wasn’t expecting God to speak—actually, I just wanted to complete that week’s Bible study lesson so I could check it off my list—so I turned to John 9 with a “let’s-get-this-over-with” attitude.

[verse reference=”John 9:1-3″]As Jesus went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.[/verse]  

Sometimes God’s grace just comes out of nowhere like a surprisingly welcome two by four wallop to our spirit. The crushing guilt and hopelessness lifted as God said, “Jennifer, you are not to blame for Jake’s disabilities. All of this has happened to him so that everyone will see My power and glorify Me when I work a miracle in Jake’s life. His life will be a canvas for my best work.”

I saw a mess; God saw a potential masterpiece. Like many works of art, Jake’s miracle took years of effort, but how my faith has grown in the process! God repeatedly provided loving teachers who resisted labels and brought out the best in Jake. God supplied funds for specialized tutoring. Why did I ever worry that God would provide the materials necessary for His own work in progress?

At Jake’s fifth grade graduation ceremony, tears of joy filled my eyes as I watched the boy who “might never read” being honored as the Outstanding Student in his classroom. The boy who “can’t sit still” received the Outstanding Physical Education student award (how ironic!). He even made the Honor Roll, doing the same work as his peers. A bright and beautiful masterpiece, unveiled for all to see God’s best work displayed. It was all I could do to not stand up on my chair and shout “Who has seen the strong arm of the Lord? I have seen the strong arm of the Lord!”

Jake is now a senior in college on an academic scholarship, and routinely makes the Dean’s List. It hasn’t been all rosy since 5th grade—I wanted to wring his neck in 9th and 10th grade when he decided grades didn’t really matter and turning in homework was optional. However, God was still at work even when it appeared Jake was not!

Truly, the work of God has been displayed in Jake’s life, but if you are raising a child with challenges, please know that God is not only at work in your child’s life, He is also at work in your life. You are becoming a less judgmental and more empathetic person because of who you are raising. You are becoming more resourceful and assertive as you learn to advocate for a child with special needs. And look how resilient you’ve become as you’ve had to overcome more frustrating situations than the average parent ever dreams of.

Mom, God is at work on the canvas of your life too!  He’s making you a masterpiece, not in spite of your child, but through your child’s challenges. You and your child—the one whose neck you sometimes want to hug and sometimes want to wring—you two are together becoming God’s best work on display.