The Gift of No

We sat in the office of the private high school’s principal. She was compassionate and apologetic, but unequivocal.

We had a spot for her and wanted it to work out. We really like her. But it’s not a good fit.

…can’t accommodate her needs…

…more severe than our other students with ADHD…

…so sorry…

We knew something was different about our first daughter from the time she was only a few weeks old. She was extremely sensitive to temperature, light, and noise; she would wake up even if the phone rang in another room. By 18 months, her lack of impulse control was evident. In chaotic places like the church nursery, she became aggressive towards other kids, and while we were potty training she once dove head-first into the toilet. She couldn’t explain why. At age three she was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), and at five she began treatment for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), one of the most pronounced cases her doctor had ever seen.

Before my daughter was born, I honestly wasn’t sure I believed in ADHD. Turns out I didn’t need to believe in it for it to become a reality for our family.

Looking back on those early years, my heart aches as I think about how angry I was that God would do this to my beautiful little girl. I knew there would be ways she would struggle, even with medication, that I could do nothing about. I begged God to heal the wiring in her brain, begged Him to take away the ADHD and SPD.

And I’m so glad His answer was no.

I didn’t yet understand the gift of atypical neurology.

Yes, she struggles. Peer relationships can be tough. She’s brilliant, but high school is a challenge. She always feels like she’s playing catch-up in some area. It takes work to accomplish tasks, sometimes a lot of work.

But I can’t imagine my firstborn without her ADHD. It’s impossible to trace where ADHD ends and where her explosively colorful, tons-of-fun personality begins.

If she lost her unique brain wiring, what parts of her would I have to say goodbye to? Her ability to wrap story lines around her rich inner world and capture truth in narrative form? Her love of Star Wars and C.S. Lewis and all things geeky? Her complete lack of concern over what people might think of her collection of ridiculous t-shirts, her corny jokes, and her loud laughter? Her eager, open welcoming of people regardless of background or social status? Her deep sensitivity to spiritual things and the ways she feels the suffering of others in her bones?

I’m not willing to let any of this go.

Something I would have protected my child from if I could have has become a vibrant part of the fiber of our family.

Which makes me stop and think, what other hard things have I asked God to remove from my children’s lives?

When I follow the thread of my own story through the golden seasons and the winters of suffering, it’s easy to see a pattern emerge. It’s been the times when pain cut deep and cold that my roots pushed down and anchored me solid. The day we laid my mom’s ashes in the warm Kentucky clay, I wasn’t sure how to keep breathing. But I woke up the next morning, and the next, and the next, until one miracle sunrise I realized that the letting go of my mom left my hands open to receive the gifts of all the new days ahead. And then a few years later when we stumbled jetlagged into the muggy air of the South Pacific, I would have begged God to shield my family from the ways we would be broken, if I had seen what was coming.

If I had seen.

I’m glad I didn’t, because I know I would have begged, and I’m not sure I could have coped with God’s no.

But here, where hope spreads like green shoots over the ashes of old dreams, where the surrender that used to feel like death now looks more like a doorway into life, I’m grateful for all the prayers God loves us too much to say yes to.

For us AND our kids.

Because maybe the things we would save them from are the very things that will teach them to lean into eternity, craving the good God who opens and closes doors.

But, oh, the ache of that kind of surrender for a mama’s heart…

When it comes to our kids and the ways they hurt, we mamas are laid low in ways we’ve never been before. Everything in us wants to gather them close and shelter them from the storm.

From the things that twist and pull and leave them breathless.

And drive their roots down deep into the soil of God’s marvelous love.


God forbid that I ever cheat my children out of really knowing You.

Knowing that one no from the God who loves them is worth more than millions of cheap yeses.

And that’s where this mama is choosing to let her heart rest.


  1. Becky casella
    May 10, 2017

    Oh my gosh Beth this is beautiful and so open. You have such an awesome way of getting to the real feelings. Love ya

  2. Gwen
    May 10, 2017

    Beautifully written, Beth. This is exactly what I needed to read tonight. Thank you for being real!

  3. Mary Ellen
    May 11, 2017

    Thank you for sharing…and thank you Leigh for allowing you to share her story as well as yours. You both have touched my heart!

  4. Gayle Mills
    May 11, 2017

    Isn’t it reassuring to know that we can just be held by Him, the One who holds the sun and the stars? We can trust His heart, when ours is treacherous and mutinous. And when we’re utterly broken, we can submit to the One who has the power to heal us and turn even our pain into triumphant joy.

    Blessings on you and your family, Beth.

  5. Dana Carrier
    Jun 5, 2017

    OMGoodness. Your writing is so very moving. I am glad a friend recommended you. I had some stuff rattling around in my head, that I just couldn’t express. Plus maybe a little anger at God for some of those painful moments in my life. So thank you for putting into words what I couldn’t, so that I could understand my thoughts. And thank you for the words that sent me on a journey to seek out my own “No” moments. So I could take them out and dust them off and see them as gifts instead of burdens. Thank you.

    • beth
      Jun 7, 2017

      Dana, I’m so glad God is in the process of showing you the redemption of your own “no” moments! Thank you for sharing that with me. And sorry it took me so long to approve your comment! I was out of town with my husband for our anniversary until today. 🙂

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *