“The road is narrow. He who wishes to travel it more easily must cast off all things and use the cross as his cane. In other words, he must be truly resolved to suffer willingly for the love of God in all things.” – St. John of the Cross
We all have crosses to bear. Whether it is a child with a learning disability, finances, or a medical condition, the cross can weigh us down until we fear being crushed under its weight.
But, with faith in God, community support, and love, a cross can become not only bearable but also an avenue for spiritual growth.
A Cross Our Family Shares
When our son was three, he began limping and eventually reverted back to crawling. We knew something was wrong. After many x-rays and doctor appointments, an orthopedic doctor took one look at Alex and told us that he has Perthes disease.
While physical therapy provides some improvement in mobility with this hip disorder, we have to restrict his movement while the disease progresses, and God willing, heals properly. Unfortunately, this means no running with his siblings, no jumping, and no sports until the hip heals.
Our job as parents was to take hold of his cross and help him to bear the load. For us, it took compassion, patience and creativity to find activities that he could participate in. It also meant learning which activities to avoid which would lead to his frustration. Our life and our travels had to adapt. It is a cross that our family shares.
The Cross Gets Heavier
Pushing Alex around in a stroller wasn’t a big deal at first since there are many 3 year olds in strollers. At this age, he was small enough that we could carry him up the stairs when needed. But when he turned 4, we started to get ‘the look’ because he does not appear to be disabled.
People would raise their eyebrows and make casual comments about how he should be walking. Now that he understands some of these comments, we have plenty of opportunities to teach him and his sisters the importance of not judging others, even when they judge us.
Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Matthew 7: 1-2
As a stout 5 year old, Alex barely fits in the stroller anymore, and since they are built for younger kids, the strollers break quickly. On trips, Jason has had to tie the stroller together to keep going until we can find another.
As he gets bigger, pushing him only gets harder, and someday we may have to succumb and get a wheelchair. Meanwhile, Alex’s desire to be stroller free is stronger than ever. The cross gets heavier. But, despite these difficulties, traveling with a disabled child has brought us and our son immense joy and spiritual growth in some unexpected ways.
For example, we often find that strangers will go out of their way to help us when we least expect it. One such experience happened after Ash Wednesday Mass at the Church of Our Lady Victorious in Prague.
With Alex bundled up in the stroller, Jason began to slowly roll the stroller down the old stairs, one step at a time. A young man with a walker saw him struggling, threw the walker against the wall, and despite Jason’s protests that we were fine, lifted the front of the stroller and limped down the stairs.
After they got to the bottom of the stairs, he knelt down in front of Alex and made the Sign of the Cross. I instantly knew this man was acting out Matthew 25:40.
“The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.’
What an amazing young man! Despite his own disability, he saw our need and came to our rescue. He was not defined by his cross, but by his faith, his actions and his great love. This was a powerful message of hope for our son and for us. By helping Alex, he was helping God.
Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help
Having a disability or a child with a disability can be a very humbling experience as we rely on others for help. At times, our own cross may seem too heavy to bear, and we may need help along the way. Even Jesus had help—Simon of Cyrene literally carried Jesus’ cross, Veronica wiped his face, and his Mother Mary stood by his side providing love and support.
So, don’t be afraid to ask for help. But also, just like the man from Prague, help others regardless of how your own cross weighs you down. By helping others, your own cross will grow lighter and easier to bear.
If you seek patience, you will find no better example than the cross. –St. Thomas Aquinas
Most people think of a cross as a heavy load, a burden, and something that must be carried against their will. But, if you pick it up with an open heart and faith in God’s will, a cross will keep you grounded, focused, and on the right path. Instead of rushing through a list of the top 10 sights for a city, we now prioritize and focus on what really matters.
For our family, traveling is an extension of school, and we all know that kids learn best when they can take their time, enjoy, and become immersed in their surroundings. In this way, our cross has helped us to slow down and enjoy learning with our kids.
The road is long and the cross is heavy, but with the help of many loving hands it becomes easier to bear.
Love one another, ask for help and always trust that your cross will draw you closer to God.