I traveled with my daughter this past weekend for her to compete in a wheelchair tennis tournament. After years of swimming (and other sports) with able-bodied kids and teens, she’s found a sport that fits with her competitive spirit, keeps her body in strong physical shape, and connects her with others who, like her, live in a world that is not physically made for them.
At these tournaments, my introvert tendencies fall by the wayside; I want to know people’s stories, how they got started with tennis, what their daily lives are like, and so on. I am especially interested in talking to the parents of the other athletes, as it’s rare for me to be able to spend time with people who know what it’s like to be a parent or caregiver of someone with a physical disability. Because rapid-fire conversation with strangers isn’t in my comfort zone, I always leave these events both encouraged and exhausted – happy to have met some kindred spirits, but also fearful that I’ve said or done something inappropriate or insensitive, or that I’ve embarrassed my daughter by being pushy or annoying.
I suspect other moms of special needs kids can relate.
From the time our kids receive a diagnosis, we start talking. We talk to doctors and therapists, asking questions and attempting to clarify. We advocate for our children – at school, at church, in public spaces. We explain in great detail what our child’s challenges are in ways that we hope will teach others without eliciting their pity. We ask for special treatment – not because we feel entitled but because the ordinary way of doing things simply won’t work for our child. And yes, we latch onto people who “get it” in a way that most people don’t. It seems that we are always talking because it’s upon us as caregivers to pave the way for our children in a world that seems always at odds with them and their needs.
In this third week of Advent, we read about Mary visiting Elizabeth, who was pregnant with St. John the Baptist after believing she would never bear children. Her husband Zechariah was a high priest with strong faith – no doubt a man who taught many in his community – but he struggled to believe the news when Gabriel told him he would have a son. Because he protested, he was struck mute until after his son was born. Only when he acknowledged that his son should be named John – the name that God had chosen – did his speech return.
For a long time, I thought Zechariah’s silence was punishment for his doubt, but the truth is probably much more nuanced. It was a correction, yes, but I no longer believe that Zechariah was being made to “pay” for offending God. Perhaps Zechariah was given the gift of his own personal advent – a time to reflect, pray, and contemplate the great honor that he and Elizabeth had been given to bear the prophet who would prepare the way for the Lord.
I know that I am guilty of not knowing how to be silent when it comes to my children – there is always a “but” waiting to enter every conversation, and a tendency to want to control, well…everything. The story of Zechariah shows me that while it is worthwhile at times to teach and to advocate, it’s also important to “Be Still and Know” – to trust in the Lord and to remember that He is in control of our lives. He has a plan that may not make sense – or may even seem impossible! – to us, but in order to live in harmony with His plan, it’s important to listen, not just speak. Perhaps we could learn from Zechariah’s silence to spend more time reflecting, praying, and thanking God for the great honor he has given us in trusting us with these special people.
Andi Sligh is a wife and mother of two children with disabilities and three dogs. She is a lifelong Alabamian, Dr. Pepper addict, Catholic convert, and former engineer who rediscovered a love of writing when she became a mom. You can find more of her writing at https://andisligh.com/