Learning to Lean In and Love Those With Special Needs

Anne Harrison   |   April 6, 2018 

Can I tell you a secret? I know we’ve only just met but you seem trustworthy. This is hard for me to say but I need to be honest with you . . . I used to be uncomfortable around people with special needs.

Phew! That was not easy to say. By the grace of God, I’m not anymore. But there was a time where I didn’t know what to say, or where to look, or how to engage. It was embarrassing to me and I wasn’t really sure how to make it better. But then, God did something really good in my life. He gave me a nephew with Autism.

Don’t get me wrong. It was hard at first. I’m sure my sister-in-law can attest . . . there was a big learning curve for how to show love and respect to my nephew. But God in His mercy showed me how to do what we like to call “lean in and love.” Little did I know, my nephew was a seed He was planting into my dry and crusty heart. Over the course of 14 years, God watered and cultivated that seed until He would decide to harvest and would call our family to adopt children with special needs. Not just one child. But 4 children over the course of 4 years with needs that range from physical to mental to emotional.

We often get a variety of responses to our family. People say to us, “Oh! How lucky these children are to have you as parents!” One person followed us around asking, "Why would you want an ugly child like this?" I had someone in a tire store once ask, "Why I would you want to take on a child who was not perfect?" So many people have said, "Why would you go all that way and spend all that money when there are so many children right here for free?"

I understand. These are people who are like I once was. Just afraid. Leaning in and loving is scary. It’s hard. It means sacrifice. It means unanswered prayers. Tending to the needs of someone who can’t care for themselves means dying to self over and over and over and over again. I truly understand that it doesn’t make sense to choose to do this. But one thing the Lord has taught me on this journey is how much He loves me -- by learning just how much I love my children.

Let me explain. I did not have the capacity to understand I could love my children with the passion I do. It would take all the steps of fighting for them to be mine to understand I would do anything for them. I am doing anything for them! I fight and advocate for them Every. Single. Day. I knew I would love them at a surface level. That’s easy. Just look at their cute little faces -- of course I would think they were cute! No, I’m talking about the gut-wrenching, throat-choking, 100% all-in kind of love I have for them. I would sacrifice everything for them.

You see, it is because that is exactly what God has done for me. I, too, have been adopted. I was a sheep that was lost and He gave everything just to save me. I rejected him and yet he laid down his life for me so that I might belong and be loved. He fights for me when I can’t fight for myself. And then He keeps on giving and keeps on sacrificing everything. Just because I am saved doesn’t mean I am perfected. He continues to sanctify me because He loves me. And one of the best ways God has done that is to bless me with my children! I have no choice but to depend on my Heavenly Father for all my daily needs as I serve my family by meeting theirs.

I can honestly say this has been the hardest thing I have ever done. In that same breath, I can honestly say it is one of the best things I have ever done. Learning to lean in and love has taken away the fear and replaced it with courage. It has shown me exactly what it means to be loved by God, even when I don’t deserve it. Especially because I don’t deserve it.

It’s ok to be afraid. It’s not ok to stay there. Because of God’s love for us, we can move out of fear and into the place of hope. To lean in and to love means leaning into Christ and the love He has for us. It’s how we can love at all . . . because He loved us first.

See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish. (Matthew 18:10-14)


Photo Credit : Unsplash

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Anne Harrison

Anne has been married 19 years to Kris and together they have 7 children. She loves tea, books and cotton candy. She loves to cook, hates doing dishes and her door is always open to guests. So please stop by anytime but be warned...there will be dishes in the sink.

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4 comments on “Learning to Lean In and Love Those With Special Needs”

  1. Dear Anne, thank you so much for sharing something that is so deeply personal. Your honesty, vulnerability, and courage has challenged me. Your story has helped me grapple with questions that have been on my mind recently. I needed to read this. Thank you.

  2. I LOVE your heart, Anne! And I’m so glad others get to see it here too. I appreciate that you didn’t even have to list your kids’ special needs. Like God’s love, your love for these kids hasn’t depended on how many struggles they’ve had but on the Lord’s work in you and the unconditional love He has given you for them. I’m proud of you for putting yourself out there to be stretched and grown even when it’s harder than you could’ve imagined. And of course it’s encouraging to know that it’s all worth it because you and your precious family are right where God wants you to be. Beautifully written and wonderfully lived, Anne!!

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