We’re an anxious bunch here. Anxiety runs red through our veins and upon closer inspection of the family trees, it’s apparent, that it has for generations. Some of us walk around with our shoulders near-permanently affixed just beneath our ears because that’s one way anxiety grabs hold and doesn’t let go. We forget to breathe. We struggle for perspective. We think the same irrational thoughts on repeat. It’s like a cage that won’t release you unless you obey the irritable “voice” that tells you to check that lock one more time, or wash your hands again, again, again, again.
The therapist points us back to the Word: Take every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5). It’s solid advice, those words are a rescue rock on sand that constantly shifts, leaving us staggering, stumbling, falling down.
But anxiety’s a bully with no mind or care for those who live drug around by her unruly insistence that nothing is ever going to be ok. Don’t let your guard down, she warns. Don’t you dare relax. Faith is a knock-down-drag-out brawl in the heart of an anxious child. Somedays, we all forget to breathe.
When I imagined becoming a parent, I didn’t envision difficult diagnoses or DSM classifications for any of my children. But ideals don’t equal reality, and when something seems different, it’s worth a closer look. Not just because we need to name the thing, but because we need to know how to live with our differences in a world structured for “same”.
“The process of living with a child who creates conflict daily and often affects the family atmosphere is challenging to each person in the family…our family will always be all for one and one for all.” Sally Clarkson
We’ve been living a new normal for nearly 3 years now, learning new ways to extend grace, to help, to pray, to breathe when the air grows thick. Our commitment is to each other. To the building up of our hearts, to steeping ourselves in the Word, because there’s no life-line like grabbing onto the long-stretched arm of the suffering Servant who knows the depths of the anxious waters threatening to drown us all. Together we read, we pray, we fight to love when voices get loud and feet pound the floor.
We learn what makes us tick, what ticks us off and what stirs the churning boil of OCD. We work to make peace however we can–and somedays this is our highest goal. We lean hard into Christ because He knows us intimately, He knows the unruliness that fights to reign in us, the chaos of different that threatens the peace of our home.
God can travel the same worn-out pathways of our brains that fight to re-route our thoughts towards the anxious. The obsessive. The angry.
“I believe there’s a place where we can always find the warmth and peace of knowing there’s a place for us to exist. We can find it in the presence of our Creator, the one who designed us in the first place, who knows even better than we do who we were made to be, and invites us to participate with Him in bringing His kingdom to earth. We can bring to Him all of our flaws and failures and frustrations…In Him we find our truest and most welcoming home.” Nathan Clarkson
Facing anxiety in our family continues to teach us how to parent well. We study each other. We learn how to communicate love and truth in ways that make sense, in the concrete. We fail a hundred times a day, and win nearly as much. Nothing is as refining as parenting those who push all of your buttons at once, and all before 8AM.
“It’s humbling to be the parent of a child who brings out all of your weaknesses repetitively.” Sally Clarkson
But God gives us exactly what and who we need. I couldn’t have imagine that this would be the best journey for us. I didn’t. I pictured something else. Something less stressful, less realistic. The images I had drawn for our family before we built it were only flat, one-dimensional outlines. Without the struggle, we wouldn’t get to experience the depths of God’s grace–for us individually, and as a family. Without the anxiety, we might not grasp the imperative reasons for working daily to plant God’s Word in our hearts, as a fertilizer and as amor, something that grows us, and something that protects us when anxiety shouts in our ears.
Parenting different kids is a path straight into the heart of God, who calls us, equips us, restores us, sustains us, forgives us, resurrects us. Anxiety teaches us again and again to cling to the promised “new mercies”not only every morning–but every hour.
Parenting different kids teaches us what it means to surrender.
“Grace became the oxygen of life to me, and breathed in the everyday joy of being fully at home in my life…” Sally Clarkson
With the days of diagnosis behind us (for now), we accept each day for what it is. We learn again and again how to navigate the choppy seas of irrationality, fear, obsessive thoughts and anxiety. We put our oars in the Holy Spirit sea and pray with every paddle. We follow the current, we work with what we’ve been given. We accept the things we cannot change and learn to trust the One who made the world and everything in it.
Despite our imperfections, despite our differences, we are His offspring (Acts 17:28).
Sally Clarkson and Nathan Clarkson have written a tremendous book for those of us whose families may look a a little different than others. If you have a child who lives with anxiety or OCD, I can’t recommend this book enough. Sally offers the wisdom of long-tested parenting and learning, while Nathan shares his perspective as a young man learning to navigate the challenges of living with with these challenges. Different: The Story of an Outside-The-Box Kid And The Mom Who Loved Him is a beautiful, honest resource.