One of my favorite things is to sit down with a friend, ask them questions and learn from their experiences. Today I want to introduce you to a dear friend I’ve known for 5 years, Michelle Cooper. She has been a consistent blessing and encouragement in my life. I love her honesty in this interview and how she testifies to God’s goodness in her life. I am sure reading her story today will encourage you as you read about God’s faithfulness in her parenting.
Worthy Hope: Can you share a little bit about who you are, how far apart your kids are and what are your circumstances in parenting?
Michelle Cooper: My name is Michelle. My husband and I have four children: Henry (9), Wyatt (7), Myles (5), and Tessa (3) – three boys and a girl. I am very thankful that I have been able to stay at home with my kids. My kids attend a local public school, and
my husband works in public education. He has a very demanding job, and we have learned to embrace his work as a family. We try to attend as many events as we can with him, but there are many evenings when we do life without him home. We have always talked to our older boys about this so they understand where Dad is and what he is doing. They love when we get to join him at work! But this also means that I tend to family life a lot as a wife on my own. Our third child has Down syndrome. He is five years old. We did not know he had Down syndrome until he was born. We didn’t even realize it when he was born as he didn’t have a lot of strong physical markers; however, by time we were released, our pediatrician was certain. Three days later, it was confirmed through bloodwork. This definitely changes our family picture in how we ‘do life’ together. There are a lot of unique challenges and opportunities that having an individual with special needs in a family brings.
WH: Did you initially have a theological framework with which to think about Myles’ disability? What was it?
MC: I have seven older siblings, and disability joined my family much earlier than Myles. I have a niece who has Cerebral Palsy who is now 16. She is in a wheelchair and is nonverbal, but she is not cognitively delayed. I have another niece who is 12 and severely autistic. So I already had two siblings and their spouses walking the road of ‘special needs.’ At that point, my theological framework was definitely there. I had seen my parents struggle with how God could let things like this happen. And try to constantly ‘fix’ situations that are just earthly unfixable. Even as a teenager, I remember thinking — “Geesh, why can’t they just accept this?” I knew that God cared, and I also knew that God was sovereign. I believed this, and I knew that praying for healing was fine, but at some point, you have to accept the journey and stop trying to change the course. I was young, and not married, but I remember always thinking that someday I just might have a kid with special needs. I just wasn’t sure what my situation would look like. That may sound strange, but it’s true. In fact, on the way to the hospital to deliver Myles, I called a friend and she was encouraging me, and my parting words were, “You know my fear is that one day I’ll have a baby and find out something is not right…” So, a theological framework? I’m not sure how sound it was, but yes, I was confident in the Lord’s plan for all people and understood that nothing is a mistake.
WH: How has the Lord grown your perspective over the years? How has he sharpened your theology of suffering?
MC: It’s easy to become discouraged with the difficulties of life in general… even when nothing is going wrong. But when you are faced with a daily challenge that does not go away or get better, you are confronted with whether or not you trust in God’s goodness and kindness. Disability, or special needs, can tend to feel like a relentless gnawing at you. It doesn’t go away, and there’s no end in sight, and there’s no getting better, meaning there is no cure. Sure, there are therapies, etc., but there is no taking it away. And while there can be much reward and blessing, there can also be a lot of tiredness of spirit.
The first two years of Myles’ life were really pretty calm. He was healthy and did not need any heart surgeries like many other babies with DS do. He was very quiet and never made a squeak, was exceptionally sleepy, and didn’t walk until he was over two. Life was simple because I’d put him down and he wouldn’t go anywhere. When he was just two, our 4th child was born. She was practically walking and talking out of the womb, and by time she was one, she had caught up to him in all ways.
By that time, Myles was three and now could walk. He was not verbal, but had started yelling and grunting for everything he wanted or needed. We had been signing but it took so long for him to even pick up on a few signs, and he would just resign to yelling or grunting loudly for me to get my attention. It was wearing and between him and her, I felt tired not just physically, but emotionally and mentally. It was a different kind of tired than with my older two. It was a frustrated, impatient, discouraged, weary tiredness–the kind where you just wonder a lot what others are doing because surely no one else’s life is this challenging. I’d find myself thinking about what a ‘normal’ home would look like. I let myself wallow in pity and despair forgetting that God cares for me and sees me in my neediest moments.
Over these past five years, I have prayed more, asked for forgiveness more, and yearned more for heaven because I see the despair of my sin and how relentlessly I HOLD onto my earthly treasures–my time, my energy, my rest, my space, my everything.
Being a parent reveals your own heart the most. I know we have all read that over and over so it can sound trite. But it’s the hard core truth! Through all of this hardship in our home, God has blessed my husband and I both with an endurance that we didn’t have ten years ago.
Sometimes with special needs, you feel like you’re living in a twilight zone. And it can be very isolating at times because you can’t always do what it seems like a lot of other moms/families are doing. Before we had Myles, I felt very prideful in my parenting and physical strength/control I had over my kids. I took what God had blessed me with as though it was something I had accomplished on my own. When He allowed Myles into our lives, I began to see my weaknesses more clearly and my inability to make everything happen how I wanted, including my child’s behavior. The Lord revealed my judgmental spirit by humbling me over and over again. I see God’s goodness in this because I have grown in my heart to serve Him. I see that it has been in those many times of tears, anger, frustration, feelings of loneliness, feelings of ‘this is too much responsibility,’ that He has drawn near to me most.
A real tangible/practical way my perspective has grown is in the way I now deal with a long bout we have had with Myles pooping in his diaper and then smearing it everywhere. It always happens when we’re not around. I cannot tell you how ANGRY and UPSET I would be when I discovered his mess. On the carpet, on the chair, smeared down a wall… you name it, it’s happened. It was just awful, and gross, and discouraging, and frustrating. Especially when he would look at you like he had done nothing wrong. To see my faith grow even in times like these, wow, how does the Lord do that? The last time this happened, I had a really good cry. The despair doesn’t always go away. But I quickly wiped my tears away and got to work cleaning and disciplined my mind to focus on heaven– what it would be like, when He will come, and how this life is not forever!!! I yearn for my Savior more even through small sufferings like these. And I crave the day when He will come to make all things right.
Stay tuned tomorrow, friends, for part 2 of this interview!