Parenting may be one of the most rewarding jobs on earth, but it is also one of the most difficult. Parenting a child with a disability is especially demanding, requiring surpluses of energy, patience and perseverance beyond, at times, the humanly possible. My son Joel has autism. As Joel’s mom, I need God’s supernatural power to summon up that kind of energy on a daily basis. I’ve come up with what I call “Fuel for the Journey”—concrete ways to make sure my gas tank is filled, every day, so that I can go the extra mile it takes to be the best mom possible for Joel:
• Read the Scriptures on a daily basis. Soak in how wide and high and deep God’s love is for you and for your child.
• Ask yourself what feeds your spirit—reading an inspirational book? Listening to Christian or classical music? Worship? Creating art? Fly-fishing? Writing? Do it!
• Schedule time for yourself each week—a cup of coffee with a friend, a movie, a trip to the library by yourself, time at the gym—whatever energizes you.
• Schedule get-away time for you and your spouse on a regular basis. Find a friend or family member to trade childcare if necessary. Re-fuel your marriage!
• Pamper yourself for at least five minutes every day—lock the bathroom door and smooth a fragrant lotion on your feet (better yet, ask your spouse to give you a foot rub after the kids go to bed!), listen to your favorite song on your iPod, take a quick walk around the block.
• Keep a journal—you’ll be amazed when you read back over the year how God is working in your life, and how much you have grown and matured.
• Write down God-sightings in your journal—once you start looking for God in your daily life, you’ll be amazed at how often God shows up.
• Practice gratitude. One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are (Ann Voskamp) is a beautiful book that will open your eyes to the astounding gifts hiding in plain sight in the day-to-day fabric of your life.
• Spend more time outside. It’s impossible not to have faith and hope when you’re surrounded by God’s glorious creation. Chase a sunset. Look for rainbows. Lie down in the grass and watch the clouds. Count the stars.
• Parents of children with disabilities grieve. Find ways to externalize that grief:
Write about it in your journal
Share it with a friend
Speak it to a counselor or a pastor
Pray out loud
Yell at God if you have to—believe it or not, He can take it! (Don’t believe it? Read the Psalms!)
• Pray throughout the day—when you wake up, when you’re doing the dishes, when you’re falling asleep. Your prayers don’t have to be long, or theological, or complicated. Sometimes “Help, God!” or “Thank you, Lord!” is enough.
• Learn to meditate—we tend to forget prayer is a two-way street. Meditation helps us learn to listen to God. There are many books available on Christian meditation.
• Practice mindfulness—this is a gift my son with autism teaches me on a daily basis—how to block out all the external stimuli and simply “be” in the present moment. The classic devotional book, Practicing the Presence of God, is a wonderful resource.
Parents don’t come equipped with a bottomless well of energy. But the good news is, God does! As we drink from the cup of living water held out to us by Jesus, we find ourselves refreshed, refueled, and transformed.