Heartfelt gratitude for special needs blessings may seem like a contradiction of terms for parents grappling with a new diagnosis or the loss of a child. Guest blogger Paul Gallagher describes how he and his wife Valerie cultivated gratitude through the life of their first child, Joshua, and how they use that gratitude to bless others.
My wife Valerie and I were expecting our first child in England, her native country, where I was serving in the United States Air Force (USAF). The nursery was ready, the due date was approaching. We were so excited!
Two weeks before that date, our USAF doctor noticed something that resulted in us being referred to Guys Hospital in London. After a sonogram, the doctor told us our son had a hypoplastic left heart and would not live more than a few hours after birth. We were devastated. Fortunately, the air force quickly whisked us to the United States where doctors were willing to intervene. We arrived after an 11 hour flight in a military cargo aircraft with Valerie on a stretcher. Josh was born at an army hospital and later transferred to Texas Children’s Hospital to await a heart transplant. At 3 months of age, Josh had the transplant.
Organ transplantation isn’t a cure. It is trading an unmanageable problem for a manageable one. As a young couple we learned complex immunosuppressive medicine regimes, placed nasal-gastric feeding tubes, and experienced the worries of having a child with a compromised immune system. Later we learned that Joshua was also autistic. We’ve spent countless days living in ICUs and hospital rooms. On numerous occasions we’ve been pulled into a room and told Josh was not going to make it. We watched him endure procedures, ouchies, yucky meds, and pain. We cared for him in our home until he was almost 18. He passed away in January of 2011.
Josh has a younger brother and sister who also walked this path with us. To be sure, Josh’s good days far outnumbered the bad, but life could be unpredictable and very hard. What did we learn through these experiences?
- A different understanding of blessings. Blessings are often brought to us through the hardest circumstances. In the hardest times, there is something to be thankful for–if we look for it. We can only experience the blessing of God’s comfort when we are broken-hearted.
- We can avoid victimhood and self-pity focusing on what we can do. The quickest way to loose hope is focusing on circumstances we can’t change. But whatever our circumstances, there is always some way to be a blessing to others–if we look for it. Even in impossible situations, we can do something.
- We must accept life on its terms and trust the Lord. If we compare, we step away from blessings because comparing my circumstances with others or with the way I think they should be will make it difficult to be thankful. We can’t bless bless others when we aren’t thankful.
We are thankful because we know God loves Josh even more than we do. We are thankful that when Josh entered God’s presence, all the pain he ever felt was not even a memory. Between now and our joyful reunion, we try to bless others through Josh Tree, a non-profit we recently started. Josh Tree allows us to share our heartfelt gratitude for special needs blessings and keep Josh’s memory alive by helping families with children who have life-changing illness. The long term vision of the organization is to provide those families with resources to stay resilient in the face of incredible challenge as well as helping with their more immediate needs. We invite you to visit the website to learn more about how Joshua taught us to cultivate gratitude for special needs blessings in his life and ours.
Paul Gallagher is a retired United States Air Force (USAF) Chief Master Sergeant with 29 years of service. He and his lovely wife Valerie are now empty nesters and living in New Braunfels, Texas where he works as a business consultant. They enjoy friends and family, along with hiking and camping.
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