Micah is not your typical 13-yr-old boy. He has worked very hard to accomplish developmental milestones that come easy for most (e.g., walking, talking, toileting, etc.). He has been diagnosed with multiple disabilities but none of which have kept him from living his life to the fullest! Thank you Micah for not focusing on what you can’t do but focusing on what you can do. As your dad, I couldn’t be more proud of you!
It’s true, you never have a 2nd chance to make a 1st impression. But you can have a 2nd chance to get to know someone. God made us all unique for a purpose. My son has taught me to look at people how God looks at people, according to 1 Samuel 16:7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Over the past 13 years I’ve met quite a few people who’s “inside pages” didn’t match the cover of their book. Thanks to Micah, I’ve learned to look past the cover to get to know the person.
2. Don’t Worry About What Other People Think About You
One of the most difficult things about having a child with special needs, is watching how others misunderstand/mistreat him just because he’s different in how he talks, walks, and/or thinks. Ironically, it bothers my wife and I much more than it bothers Micah. Micah never worries about anything. Whether he’s at home in his room or in public in a crowded room, he acts the same way. He claps, cries, laughs, and hugs when he’s inspired to do so. My teenager has taught me to not let others dictate the way I respond to life.
3. Never be in Too Much of a Hurry to Stop & Talk to Someone
If you know Micah, you know that he’s never in too much of a hurry to stop and talk to someone. He loves people. He will often approach people who others choose to ignore, like the elderly or people who use wheelchairs or canes, or someone with a disability. I’ve met dozens of people because my son started a conversation with them. He’s taught me to slow down and notice people. You never know whom you might meet.
4. Love Unconditionally
Love, without condition, is extremely rare to find. God loves us, his creation, unconditionally. In fact, God says that nothing can separate us from his love. People however, have a difficult time loving unconditionally. Husbands and wives make vows “till death do us part” but often times those vows are broken and hearts are broken in the process. Micah is by no means perfect. He has a rebellious streak in him. He likes to do what he wants to do when he wants to do it. But one thing he is very good at is loving unconditionally. He gives love away without condition, whether you deserve it or not, no matter what. He may be limited cognitively but he is discerning spiritually. He understands that God is love and that if you do not love God (and may I add others) you do not know God (I John 4:8). Micah’s teaching me to love unconditionally.
5. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff
Sometimes I get frustrated over little things, like spilled milk or juice, or some other type of accident. I can make a bigger deal over it than necessary. Micah’s needs are different than a typical 13 year-old (e.g., he still needs help w/dressing, toileting, etc.). In his own way, he’s taught me to not sweat the small stuff, like I just mentioned. So what if he needs help with those things for the rest of his life, he’s well worth it! And, it’s not worth getting frustrated over.
6. Enjoy Each New Day
One of my favorite Switchfoot songs is Dare You to Move. There’s a line in the song that says, “I dare you to move like today never happened, today never happened before.” Those lyrics sum up how Micah lives his life each day. He never gets tired of the mundane. Every time he sees a delivery truck or a tractor-trailer he jumps and waves at the driver, like he’s seeing it for the first time. He notices God’s creation, the animals, sunset, stars and moon. It never gets old to him. He’s taught me to enjoy each new day like it’s the first; like it’s never happened before.
7. Ask Questions
Micah’s taught me that a good way to start a conversation is by asking questions. When Micah was 7, I took him with me to get something at Walmart. It was a quick trip (but remember, Micah is NEVER in a hurry). As we were walking in we passed an employee in a wheelchair, Micah noticed her and asked her, “What happened”? She was talking with a customer and didn’t hear Micah’s question. I quickly reminded Micah that we were in a hurry and took his hand and kept going. I got what I came for and headed to the self-checkout. I let go of Micah’s hand for a brief moment to get my wallet, and he ran back over to where the lady was in the wheelchair. He asked her again, “What happened”? This time she heard him. As I was walking up I heard her tell Micah, “I was hit by a car 17 years ago and I’ve been this way ever since. God must have me here for a reason.” We talked with the lady for about 10 minutes and went on our way. I learned that day that if you ask someone a question, they just might answer you and share their story.
8. Be Yourself
A mentor of mine, when I was in youth ministry, once shared a message about being yourself. The repeating theme throughout the message was, “Be yourself, because everyone else is already taken.” I used to think I wanted a son who played sports and liked the things I liked. There’s nothing wrong with that, if that’s how it turns out. But, I’ve come to realize that I want my son to be the person he was created to be; whether he’s like me or different. Micah is unique; he’s unlike any other 13 year-old boy I’ve ever met. He’s taught me to be who I was meant to be.
If I had a dollar for every time I told my children to “calm down,” I’d have a pretty good nest egg! Children are typically more excitable than adults. Once we reach our 30’s or 40’s, we’ve seen it or heard it all, or so we think. And we tend to “calm down.” Micah’s only 13, but I have a feeling he’s always going to get excited about life. He gets excited to go to church, to see a friend, to watch football (or even golf!), to go swimming, to go for a walk. Just about anything! And when I say, “excited,” I mean he jumps and yells and says, “I’m happy”! According to my Dictionary app, to be excited is to be “stirred emotionally, to be stimulated to activity.” Micah has taught me that excitement and emotions should be evident in our everyday lives.
10. Live Outside Your Comfort Zone
Most people are uncomfortable with the unknown. Instead of going up to and starting a conversation with a person who is blind or in a wheelchair, we avoid them all together. Instead of cheering on our favorite team at the top of our lungs at the game, we wait for someone else to get the cheer started. Instead of clapping, raising our hands, or singing at church, we stay reserved and wonder why God is not evident among us. What would happen if we lived outside of our comfort zone? If we talked to strangers? If we vocalized our worship? If we lived life with no inhibitions? What if we prayed without ceasing and loved unconditionally. Micah has taught me to live outside of my comfort zone. It’s uncomfortable from time to time but it’s also exhilarating.
11. Forgive and (Almost) Forget
Man, am I glad that social media wasn’t around when I was a teenager! I got in enough trouble from the late night phone calls I made and voicemail messages I left. In today’s society, it’s so easy to offend or wrong someone, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Micah, due to his developmental delays, has had a difficult time making friends. He’s been made fun of, laughed at, and left out many times. But he always forgives and always forgets. He doesn’t hold on to hurts, so he doesn’t become bitter and angry. Because of Micah, I have learned to forgive and almost forget.
12. You’re Never Too Old to Tickle
Over the years Micah has become a tickler. He doesn’t tickle everyone, only those he really likes. When you least expect it, he will go for your underarms and into your ribs. His targets are usually laughing and jerking uncontrollably. 13 is not too old to tickle. Heck, Buddy the Elf was never too old to tickle! (If you don’t recognize the movie reference, you really need to watch Elf). As long as I’m alive, Micah and I will have tickle fights.
13. Live Life Without Regret
All of us have said or done something we regret. Once the words are out of your mouth or the email is sent, or the deed is done, it’s too late to take it back. Maybe you have a bucket list that you’ve given up on: a round of golf at Pebble Beach, learning to play a musical instrument, publishing a book. Somehow, Micah has learned to live life without regret. It’s almost as if he’s learned to be content in every situation, whether good or not so good. The apostle Paul learned the secret of being content in every situation as well, “it is through him (Christ Jesus) who gives me strength. At the end of each day, Micah has no regrets, at least none that he’s able to verbalize or communicate. With God’s help (and Micah’s example) I am learning to be content and live life without regret as well.
About the author:
Joe Butler is a husband, father, and missionary. Joe has been married to his wife Jen since February of 1997. They have three children, Hannah (18), Micah (16), and Clara (13). Micah has multiple special needs. Joe and Jen have been Assemblies of God U.S. missionaries to persons with disabilities and their families since April of 2009. Joe and his wife founded Ability Tree as a faith-based nonprofit corporation in June of 2010, to reach out to other families like their own through recreation, education, support & training (R.E.S.T.). Joe holds a B.A. in Bible from Valley Forge Christian College and an M.A. in Disability Studies, with a concentration in Disability Ministry, from California Baptist University. Joe and his family live in Northwest Arkansas.