Seeing God in the faces of families of children with special needs


By Jenna Ebener

“[You] may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18-19).

I have a picture in my office with a scene from the movie “Finding Dory.” It is an image of lines of shells spiraling out from a central point. (Spoiler alert) The shells were laid out by Dory’s parents after she got separated from them as a child. They knew she liked to follow shells, so they made a new path of shells every day until Dory finally found her way back to them. That image of shells, I feel, captures parents’ love for their children and how much they will automatically do for them.

I especially connect that mindset with our students’ families. As a social worker, I interact with numerous families and get to know them well during interviews I do for special education purposes. These families often have unique situations. They have children with intense medical needs who often require constant supervision and care. Their children are dependent on them for such things as tube feeding to toileting to getting dressed. These families often do not get to see their children develop milestones at a typical pace and are taking care of them even more when they are 20 years old than when they were 1.


As their children get older, these families are performing the same tasks, trying to get their now heavier children out of wheelchairs or carry them upstairs. Instead of sending their children off to college, these families continue to be awakened multiple times throughout the night to take care of their children’s needs. Families with children with intense self-injurious and aggressive behaviors are getting hit on a daily basis by their children who are growing bigger and stronger every day.

Our families are faced with these daily struggles that I cannot fathom. I may experience a sample of what they go through, but at school I have other staff to rely on. I can go home at the end of the day and unwind. Our families do not have that option. Yet, many of them possess a joy and love that is so heartwarming. They struggle with their challenges but many accept them because they are so utterly in love with their children. So many of them see their children as heroes; these beautiful children of God who cannot express their needs or wants. They see their children as incredible gifts of God who are an inspiration for all who meet them. They believe that their children can continue to grow and learn, even if not at a typical pace. These families are in love with every aspect of their children and rejoice with the school team at every baby step. Their love of their children is so palpable that it is difficult to be in a meeting with them and not tear up.

Our school has regular meetings in the evenings to review our students’ Individualized Edu­cation Plans (IEPs). I was originally disappointed when one of those nights landed on a monthly praise and worship night that I cherish attending. Afterwards, I realized I did not miss out on spending time with God. I had just spent an entire evening looking into the tender eyes of God through our parents. What greater image of God is there than parents completely in love with their children?

(Editor’s note: Jenna Ebener, a graduate of St. Ambrose University in Davenport, is a social worker at a school in Colorado for students with a combination of medical, cognitive and behavior disabilities. She relies on God every day to aid her on this wonderful, yet intense journey.)

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