Have you ever read a book that made you want to jump out of your seat and shout, “Me too!”? The beauty of good books is that so often they can penetrate the walls of your mind and heart and speak to the parts that needed a good talking to. For me that has been the book Different by Sally and Nathan Clarkson. The sub-title is The Story of an Outside-the-Box Kid and the Mom who Loved Him. I happen to have a kid who is so far outside of the box that he is out in left field somewhere lighting the box on fire. I needed to read this book.
Last week I wrote about my family’s resolve to get help for my son who struggles with Oppositional Defiance Disorder. I am diving into research and making appointments. But I think the best thing I’ve done so far has been to read Different. A good friend of mine introduced me to Sally Clarkson’s books last year and, like a starving child, I consumed as many of them as I could get my hands on. She and her husband, Clay, committed themselves to cultivating a haven of beauty, art, and safety in their home. As a result, all of their children are free-thinkers and deeply creative people. As I read her books, however, I unfairly assumed that Sally was blessed with particularly obedient, good-natured kids. So when I picked up the book Different, I was stunned to see that nothing could be further from the truth. I was genuinely surprised that this woman who, for me and many others, embodied the quintessential homeschool supermom, struggled every day with a little boy who had troubling mental handicaps. I have been embarrassed and ashamed because of things my son has done so many times that I assumed that I’ve lost all credibility as a parent. And yet here is a woman who was writing beautiful books about mothering all while rearing a boy who was prone to the same wild, upsetting and socially unacceptable outbursts. To further my surprise, the book was co-authored by that boy who is now a man.
In the back of my mind, I often wonder if my son will wind up living with my husband and I as an adult because functioning outside of the home will be too much for him. Reading a book co-authored by a man who still struggles with ODD in addition to other mental disorders gave me hope. But possibly more important than that it gave me an insight into the heart and mind of a boy who is really trying to be “good” and perpetually disappointing himself. Reading about how Nathan could see himself behaving a certain way and wanting to stop but being unable to struck a chord of compassion. I can see my son trying so hard to stem his outbursts and failing. His failures make him feel so small and he despises himself as a result. I’m not the only one who has struggled with hopelessness regarding his condition. All day, it seems, he is looking for a fight (and finding one) and we are all anything but sympathetic toward him by about noon. Even the toddler is pretty much fed up with him by then. But I forget that he is pretty much fed up with himself by that time, too. Reading this book has refreshed my ability to see things how he sees them. He feels penned in my his own anger and impulses.
Sally and Nathan write this book, tackling tough issues each from their own perspective. Nathan writes about an episode of defiance in a church setting during which he sees himself pushing the limits and making a spectacle of himself and yet feeling unable to stop. Sally then writes about the same incident from her perspective and the social ramifications of having a very disruptive child. Seeing things from two angles is sometimes the only way to get a full idea of a thing. Reading this book has realigned myself to the reality that I am not the only one hurting here and that there is a hurting person behind the mask of bad behavior.
I see the inner workings of my boy who is constantly at war with himself and that war leaks out onto every passing person. And I see myself, struggling and wrestling with his behavior trying so hard to get to the person behind the outbursts. I am so tempted to take up my sword and fight back when he jabs at me, but I have to lay it aside and use God’s sword of truth. I am sorely tempted to look at the external behavior and throw my hands in the air loudly despairing, “What have I done wrong?!” But then I remember that God judges the heart of a person. I fail miserably on a daily basis but the more I remember to try to put on my God goggles and look inside of my son’s heart the more we all win.
This book wasn’t meant only to teach empathy. Another very important message this book communicates is that, in spite of what our cultures communicates, “this is just the way I am” is not an acceptable excuse. Empathizing is so important but only as a means toward action. We need outside help. I see that now. Reading about how Sally and Nathan visited many professionals to get help with their troubles has answered a nagging question I’ve had. What if I disagree with what the health professional/counselor says? The answer? Don’t go back. Nothing binds me to continue getting care from a faulty source. Thinking of this as a journey with forks in the road has helped me to see that there are going to be many people with opinions that don’t align with what I know to be true and I am not married to those people or their opinions. We can drop them like a bad habit and hit the drawing board again. One fear eliminated. Check.
If you have an outside-of-the-box (“different”) kid and need some solid Biblical encouragement I would really encourage you to read this book. It’s not meant to treat symptoms or communicate opinions about medications or treatments. It tackles heart issues about being and having a child with special needs. It encourages sympathy and then a call to action. What that action is, is really between you, God and your child.
I would love more families to get their hands on this encouraging book, let’s get the word out. Just hit the share button below this post. You can also subscribe for updates on what’s going on here at the Marquis household and remember to #dohardthings .