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Forgiveness on our special needs journey

Forgiveness on our special needs and adoption journey

by: Elizabeth Thorndike

When Shelby was about 3 years old, I took the girls to an indoor play place. It was new, and we were excited to explore. We checked in, put our shoes in a cubby and off we went. Within minutes, the cutest blonde hair, blue eyed 5 year old ran up to us. After exchanging “hellos” this sweet thing pointed to Shelby and blurted out “ She looks funny. Why does she look like that? Her eyes are funny.”

My heart immediately sank whilst my mind pictured a praying mantis eating its young, instead of its mate…don’t judge! All of me wanted to respond without grace, but I suddenly felt a pair of 5 year old eyes on me. I looked down and my precious Savannah was looking at me. In an instant, I knew that this was a pivotal moment. One that would form language and grace for her future in other scenarios with her sister. I gently looked at our blonde hair, blue eyed playmate and softly answered, “That is the way God made her and she is beautiful, just like God made you beautiful too.” She skipped off, but the sweet smile that was on Savannah’s face stayed for a while. It was a mixture of mama bear and sister bear.  It became a sweet moment.

sav and shelby forgiveness 3 1

Savannah and Shelby have always had a sweet relationship, and it was Savannah that set the tone of Love and Celebration at her birth. However it is me and Dan that need to model grace and forgiveness if she is to learn these things.

How do we respond with love when we are hurt?

Now I know that the above scenario was about an innocent child, but what do we do when an adult hurts with their words or innuendos?  You know, the side glances at story time, the family member that says the wrong thing, or a teacher assigning a student a project about their birth story. (Geesh! This one is for my adoptive mamas!)

One night, after Shelby was born, we attended a marriage small group. We had taken a break for about a month but were eager to be in fellowship again. The group started as normal, snacks and mingling, as one of the wives in our group approached. She asked how I was, but then proceeded to go down a hurtful path. She told me that she did not know how I was doing it. She added that we were better than her and that she didn’t think she could love a childlike Shelby as much as her other typical kiddos. The pain was instant, and I could not breathe. She was talking about my child. How could I love her any less? I left the room but carried that pain the rest of the night. Our friendship was never the same. It was heavy.

Years later, I saw her on Facebook and that same pain resurfaced. I realized I needed to forgive her, so I did so quietly, in my own heart.  However, I realized in that moment that I have always focused my attention on the big hurts in my life.  (Sadly, I have not always handled those well.) But, what about the glances and hurtful labels mentioned above? Those, over time, can build in our heart and weigh us down on our journey.

In an earlier post, I mentioned having grace with others and letting it be an opportunity for connection. What I am learning about forgiveness is that it is a lot like having grace. We need to use it often instead of letting it disconnect us. That older lady in Target that utters “well, you have your hands full!” (You know the lady I am talking about)…forgive her. If you don’t realize in the moment you need to, but the comment lingers well past 3 more errands, forgive her then. Sweet people, our lives are busy enough! We don’t need to carry everyone’s choices, especially if they sting.

As I look back now, I should have had more grace with my friend at small group. It was all so new to me, and her words were so honest, but they hurt me. I know, deep in my heart, if that friend were to have a child born with special needs, she would have a fierce love for that child, just like we do for our Shelby girl. I wished that that day I would have just walked through forgiveness for her.

On our journey with our special needs and adopted kiddos, we have had to forgive a lot. I am sure you have too. We have had family hurt us as well as strangers. We have had therapists say dumb things and teachers hurt us at IEP meetings. It took me a few years to realize that forgiveness was so important to the health of my journey as a mama. Sometimes it was needed immediately! In other cases, it crept up slowly and only over time did I realize I needed to forgive. To this day, I still forget to forgive in the moment, but I am a work in progress. When I do remember, I can honestly say that the situation, including the hurt, is diffused. Then, there is room for growth and connection. God is faithful!

Forgiving Family can be tender

I had to chat with some family members one time about an uneasy situation. Dan and I felt not heard in several scenarios and the hurt was building. Before I approached them at Thanksgiving (don’t recommend) I had to forgive them but also had to forgive myself for judging them. The conversation was not easy, but love was at the center, and I realized they wanted the best for us.

Family can be the most tender to forgive because we feel they should know better. However, it is so important to do so. We feel family should have our back, and when they hurt us because they don’t understand our journey, it can really sting. Set appropriate boundaries if necessary but forgive them and allow them time to grow. No one understands your situation as well as you do, so having grace with family is so important. Educate when the opportunity arises, but don’t harbor unforgiveness. It only hurts both parties.

Friends, we are doing this journey one precious step at a time. I pray that if you have been hurt, forgive. I also hope that you are encouraged to start practicing forgiveness not only for the big hurts, but also for the little ones. It takes practice. I am learning, but we need a village. Encourage someone you know that is harboring the weight of hurt to forgive. It will be the most amazing gift.

Love you my village!

about us

Meet the Thorndikes - Moment to Moment Family

Hi there! We are the crazy cool parents to 5 amazing and crazy cool kiddos. But, first, we are Dan and Elizabeth Thorndike – married 15 years and living this life one moment at a time. We have a full and blessed life, but we are clumsily tackling a journey we never foresaw ourselves living.

Read our story of how this journey all started in our blog post titled:
“The Beginning. Our Special Needs Journey”


Elizabeth Thorndike

Introverted extrovert – that’s how I describe myself. I absolutely love being a mama but never knew how hard it would be, nor how deeply I could love.



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