Monday, July 29, 2013

Some battles choose us

Psalm 85:7 (NIV)

Show us your unfailing love, Lord,
   and grant us your salvation.
My wife shared with me yesterday the complicated tale of an online acquaintance who is engaged in mortal conflict with her child’s new school over the issues of food allergies and what the district will do in terms of accommodations for her child’s safety. And on Facebook today a college friend shared a link to a story about a 13-year-old girl who died of an anaphylaxic reaction to peanut butter present in a treat at an event she was attending. Her parents were there and three epi-pen injections administered, all to no avail.

We have our own experiences with food and environmental allergies, which I’ve written about before. Two sons have to be careful about what they eat, one also must be concerned about what he touches and has started getting shots to make his body more tolerant of the world around him. We’ve been to the emergency room a few times, but never with anything that stumped doctors or defied initial treatment. I’d much prefer to avoid dealing with these complications, but I consider us lucky because I know how other families struggle with much more severe challenges.

In the context of my conversation with my wife, she shared some of the blowback her friend was getting simply for advocating for the safety of her child. Whether from school officials or strangers weighing in online, one theme was clear: people who don’t understand the severity of the situation were quick to brand the parents as overprotective or rich with a sense of entitlement. Show me a person who thinks a parent is overreacting, and I’ll show you a person who has never seen a child suffer through an allergic reaction.

But it’s not just allergies, of course. There are dozens of conditions children (and adults) might endure without looking any different from anyone else — so they are not obvious in their need of accommodation. A peanut allergy does not require a wheelchair, for example. Someone who is dyslexic does not need crutches. And a good number of people who don’t know anyone dealing with one of these conditions are not inclined to take them as seriously as the folks for whom the condition looms over every aspect of daily life.

Thankfully this is not universally true, but it is common enough for it to be a source of considerable frustration. It is hard for the people with challenges because in some cases they just want to be normal, and in other cases they require certain accommodations to participate, be present or, worse, survive. It is hard for the people with no experience in these areas because even those with the best intentions don’t know exactly what to do to make the situation as palatable as possible.

Whatever the particular challenge a person faces, let this be clear: they did not choose to take up this battle. Parents who are advocating for a child’s health and safety did not stare longingly at a growing baby bump thinking, “Oh, I hope this child can’t go anywhere near a dog, that would be delightful!” or “If we’re lucky, we’ll get to attend at least two IEP meetings every school year!”

Every child faces challenges in life, physical, mental or otherwise. Even kids deemed “normal” by the medical and academic communities still need love, support and protection from their parents. But just like it is difficult for adults to consider how life looks from another adult’s perspective, or to remember we’re all made of the same material, so too is it tough for parents to be respectful of other parents, to realize we all just want what’s best for our kids and to seek ways to achieve that goal instead of ways to put our kids first at the expense of everyone else.

Walking a mile in another person’s shoes can be hard, especially when it’s such a strain to hike a mile in your own. But parents or not, we all need all the support we can get in this life. So why can’t the people who know they need their own support take the time to realize the importance of providing it to others?

A prayer for July 29:

Lord, thank you for the many people in my life who take the time to truly know me and my family, who offer unquestioned support and who have a high tolerance for our unique qualities. Help me to be the kind of supportive person I benefit from knowing. Grant me the patience and wisdom to offer others comfort, understanding and simply the time to listen. Help me be an advocate for unity, and let me do so in your name. Amen.

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