In this final letter of the Vital Mercy series, Dr. Brenda Murphy shares letters to help calm the fears, answer the questions and steer parents on a path to successful teaching and learning with struggling learners at home.

It’s taken me a long time to write this letter, the twelfth and final one in this Vital Mercy series for families with children with special needs. My feet-dragging partly stems from a life-long aversion to endings of any kind; I prefer to see them as a temporary pause that will start up again at some point, maybe. The other is my heartfelt desire to impart some last poignant word to carry you through all your times ahead, a final word of profound wisdom to help guide you through the lofty heights and wrenching lows of parenting a child who struggles in big and small ways. I even tried to shirk the task completely, delegating it to SailAway’s Home School Director, Laura Bailey. Laura, whose godly, common sense approach to life and learning steered her own successful home education journey with children with special needs, contributed Anthony’s story. It goes like this:

Just the other day, I met with Anthony’s parents.  They came into my office looking for help. It seems their son is operating below grade level in the classroom, and they don’t know what to do. Home school, maybe? In relating his son’s problems to me, the father described what happened.  

“Last night I was reading with Anthony, trying to help him with a homework assignment. Well, it was so hard for him to get those words out. It was like he’d never seen them before but I know he had. We struggled to get a few sentences read. When we finished, he was so proud of himself for getting through reading those few sentences, so I asked him what he learned from them. And, he just stared at me. So, I thought we’d re-read them again right now. It should be so much easier. But, no, they seemed to be Greek to him as if he’d never seen them before. What are we going to do?”

I silently sighed; it was like he was telling my story. Sound familiar?

Laura knows that it does sound familiar or you wouldn’t be reading these letters. You’ve been Anthony’s father or mother. You’ve experienced the sinking emptiness of being an actor in the scene above or one like it. If you substitute math, or writing, or literature, or social situations for reading, you’ve been there, like Laura and I have. You know the what-am-I-going-to-do question all too well.

The answer to that question comes in infinite forms, many of which we’ve already discussed and you’ve tried: evaluations, educational consultants, the latest and greatest therapies and curricula. You’ve been pleased with much of it. Some of what you’ve done has helped your child make learning and life leaps you never dreamed would happen. Others haven’t, but you picked yourself up and kept going. There’s been progress; there’ve been victories; there’s been and still is…hope.

Hope. That four-letter word that keeps us going. As the late Christopher Reeve wrote, “Once you choose hope, anything’s possible.” After a life-altering fall during a steeplechase horse race, Reeve exemplified hope in action, turning his own massive disabilities into help and hope for others like him. 

Closer to our Tennessee home, Cory Bennett, former president and leader of the Smoky Mountain Home Educators Association, chooses hope on an hourly basis. The visionary who approached me to develop this series for families with special needs, Cory sustained a massive stroke in April 2011. The stroke claimed his body but not his mind and soul, a mind, soul and spirit stayed on Christ Jesus. While the stroke robbed him of the ability to carry out the day-to-day demands of leadership, his desire to serve home educators in new ways remains as alive and vibrant as ever, despite daily struggles with ever-changing medical concerns. Now that he is one of the crowd that lives life constrained by a disability, Cory even more passionately advocates for families facing special needs. His research-focused mind is as active as ever, compelling him to push ever deeper into the technology he knows is the power tool to new horizons for anyone with a special need or disability. Always technologically savvy, he now surfs the web on his iPad discovering the latest advances in digital media. That is hope personified. 

Most of us have not faced the debilitating extent of Christopher Reeve’s or Cory Bennett’s special needs nor will we. Yet, there are the legions of unsung families with children just like yours whose efforts to help their children are no less valiant. Usually I meet them in their darkest hours when they have been given a hopeless diagnosis or their child still cannot read or achieve academically after years of trying. Yet, those parents chose hope and pursued it; today many of their children are successful, productive members of society against all odds. More than you’d imagine attend and graduate from well-recognized colleges often with substantial, competitive scholarships. It is possible. 

In all of these situations, hope was and is requisite, because hope is the only space to occupy when everything contradicts the possibility of a glorious, triumphant outcome. Hope spits in the face of defeat and difficulty and disavows them both with resolute purpose and determination. Hope defies the bad report and says just watch what will happen now. Hope is the bumper car that bounces off any obstacle and never stops. Hope is real; hope never disappoints (Romans 5:5). Always hold fast to hope.

Together with you in The Hope that never ends,