Lessons from Max

Seven and a half years ago I had the privilege and honor of becoming a grandmother to a special needs grandson. Just this past December, I had the sorrowful experience of saying goodbye to that special little boy as he passed away from respiratory issues.

Maxwell (Max) came into the world in a difficult way. Birth complications related to a damaged umbilical cord prevented oxygen flow to his brain for several minutes. As a result, our little Max experienced seizures that began at birth and continued throughout his life. His little brain was like “swiss cheese,” with pockets of emptiness.

Needless to say, Max was an extremely compromised little boy. He couldn’t see well, talk, roll over, sit up for any prolonged period of time, walk, run, or chew and swallow food. He was limited in so many ways. Cerebral Palsy and Epilepsy were the medical labels that followed him into the doctor’s office, the therapy room, the classroom, and the community.

Yet with all of his limitations, Max had contributions to make to the world around him. We quickly began to realize this soon after his birth and continued to see that until his death this past Christmas season.

Here are some of the rich lessons that God, through our little, compromised Max, taught us. (Look up the accompanying verses for deeper insights.)

  1. Brokenness can be beautiful. Immediately after Max’s birth our family went through a period of grief. Dreams of a “normal” child and what he might do and become were exchanged for accepting the “new normal.” Yet as the days passed, we began to see the beauty in this new plan that God had for us all. Obviously, Max meant a lot to God- he spared his life, stabilized his system, and brought Max to a place of thriving. Every life is a creation of God’s, and because of that, Max’s life had great value. Disabilities may seemingly have limited his contributions, but in his seven short years, God used him, brokenness and all, in beautiful ways to impact many. To God, Max was a treasure! (Psalm 139:13-14)

2. Dependence can build trust. Max was so limited and so dependent upon his parents and caregivers. He couldn’t dress himself, change his own diapers, bathe or feed himself, keep himself cool or warm, or vocalize needs and requests. He was totally dependent, AND he learned to trust his caregivers as a result. Max didn’t seem to worry or have a lot of anxiety; he had a peaceful way about him that communicated “I trust you to care for me, and by the way, thanks for doing that!” I wonder … Do you suppose our Heavenly Father spoke into his heart and reassured him that He would take care of things? (Might we learn such trust!) Max was trusting. (Matthew 6: 25-27)

3. Patience is a virtue! When you can’t “do it” you have to wait. Max waited quietly and patiently! Oh, there were definite times when Max was uncomfortable and would arch his body or curl up or make a noise of discomfort to get your attention. But so often, Max would sit in his wheelchair or lie and quietly wait for his caregiver to change his diaper, or warm up his pureed food administered through his g-tube into his tummy-port. Little siblings born a few years after Max took time and attention away from him, and Max seemed to understand and flex with that as well. Max learned to wait on others; Max was patient! (1 Corinthians 13:4)

4. Even small gifts of giving matter! Max gave what he could in small but meaningful deposits. Life was serious and sober for Max in his early months of life. I remember asking God to help Max learn to smile. God knew Max and the rest of us needed his sweet little smiles and answered in a big way. Max’s early smiles developed into toothy grins and even “laughter noise” over the years. Oh how we loved those smiles that communicated, “I am happy right now. I enjoy life. I love being with you!” Other small and simple gifts from Max included a “cock of the head” to tell you he was listening and paying attention, a smirk to let you know he got that joke or goofy moment as well, and stretching his legs or arms out in response to offered leg and foot rubs … little things that yielded big dividends in the hearts of the receivers. Simple, small gifts can go far! Max was a giver. (John 6:5-13)

5. Teamwork is tops! Max needed others as I’ve already stated. Max’s life consisted of teams of people- from his own family, to therapists, to caregivers at school. Max learned that to make things happen, you need to cooperate. The caregivers’ assistance went only so far if Max didn’t try to lift his drooping head, or sit up straight on the therapy pommel swing, or permit a spoon to slide into his mouth. Trying and cooperating produced results. Surrounded with his own personal “cheer squad,” Max was motivated to try. Max was about team! (Romans 12:4-5)

6. Perseverance pays off! With doing team, Max also learned to persevere. Many things that come quickly and easily for most children, were an uphill battle for Max. But Max persevered and did learn how to hold himself more erectly, lift his head, push a switch, and even shoot a nerf gun! Max made progress because Max persevered. (Romans 5:3)

7. It is good to quiet the soul! Max had a quietness about him- like a peaceful river. Maxwell means “dweller by the spring.” Even in his compromised state, he seemed to draw from God’s springs of life and peace, and that quietness pervaded the space around him. Max was the one person who could get me to sit down and stay peacefully sitting as I massaged his feet and legs, fed him, or read stories to him. There was no sense of hurry, like I needed to do other things. Right now I was with Max, and there was peacefulness in that moment. Max shared peace. (Psalm 131: 2-3)

8. Suffering points to redemption. Max’s life was compromised but powerful. He impacted many people in many ways. Max slipped quietly away to Jesus just before Christmas, a little reminder that our “gift” was now sharing THE ultimate gift of eternal life in heaven. All his obstacles and handicaps are now behind him. He is free, and with that freedom we all are reminded that joy indeed will come in the morning! One day I will see Max again in a new and whole way, and together we will worship our Lord and Savior. Max points me to redemption in Jesus forever. (2 Corinthians 5:1-5)