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Don't lose hope if your son or daughter has special needs. God has a great plan for both of you.

When a child is diagnosed with special needs, it can be an overwhelming, even devastating event in a parent's life. My husband, Jack, and I know because our son Nicholas was diagnosed with autism in January 2001.

If you are the parent of a special-needs child, you've experienced the agonizing pain, shock and even hopelessness that can grip your soul with such a diagnosis. In the midst of what seems to be a "dark night," one question may be burning in your spirit: Where is God?

Within that question lies many others we are often left to ponder: Does God have a plan for those afflicted with autism, ADHD, Down's syndrome or any other disorder? What destiny could they possibly have? Can God, will God heal them?

And what of the families? You may be wondering, as we were: Will we ever get our lives back? Will our marriage survive? Will we survive?

God has given all of us a promise we can hold on to: "'For I know the thoughts that I think toward you,'" says the Lord, "'thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart'" (Jer. 29:11-13).

As you face one of life's greatest trials, know that God is there for you. Despite numerous challenges, there is good news: You can still experience the joy of the Lord.

Joy and Sorrow I remember the first time our son Nicholas said the word shoe. Though that may not be a big deal for most parents, it was one of the most joyful moments of my entire life.

For months we had gone through the same ritual every day: I showed him the shoe, said the word over and over and then said, "This is a sh..." I always paused hopefully, and yet many days I felt the tears well up as I finished the sentence myself.

I felt lonely, confused and unheard by God. "Please," I pleaded, "just let him say one word!" And yet, day after day, nothing. The well of disappointment in my heart became deeper and deeper.

Then came that miraculous day when I said, "This is a sh..." and heard our son, diagnosed with nonverbal autism, say "shoe." Everything within me jumped! I laughed, wept and shouted. I hugged him and thanked God over and over.

The joy I felt that day was intense. It was easily as intense as all the pain I had felt each day that he had not responded.

Almost every parent of a special needs child can relate to this story. There has been some breakthrough somewhere that they struggled to see. When it finally came, the joy could not be described.

And yet, even though there can be moments of intense joy and victory, more often than not there is grief and sorrow.

So here's the big question: Can you live a life of joy and victory even if you have a child with special needs? I believe the answer is yes.

Sorrow and joy are firmly linked. Perhaps it is because the deeper we experience sorrow, the more capacity we have for joy.

That is why I felt such a deep sense of joy the first time Nicholas said "shoe": because I had felt such deep sorrow each time he did not.

Although right now we may see only the sorrow and tears of the night, God has planned a bright and beautiful morning full of joy. The Bible tells us this over and over:

"Weeping may go on all night, but joy comes with the morning" (Ps. 30:5, NLT).

"You have turned my mourning into joyful dancing. You have taken away my clothes of mourning and clothed me with joy" (v.11).

"'Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy'" (John 16: 22, NIV).

There are seasons in our lives when we will mourn and have sorrow. But there also are times that are meant for joy.

God sends times of refreshing to us. But regardless of the season, He is always at work to strengthen us and bring purpose and meaning to our lives.

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