Why are you here? No, I don’t mean for what purpose do you exist. What brought you to reading this post? This blog exists for the primary purpose of encouraging special-needs parents. Special-needs parents walk a very different path from that of others with more typical children. We often feel isolated from the world, and from each other. Here, through this blog and that of many others, we find community. Across the country, special-needs moms and dads are logging into their e-mail and Facebook and finding their daily, weekly or monthly digest of the most current blog posts from this website designed to encourage their heart for the day. As one of these special-needs mothers who’s heart beats for those parents searching for comfort and encouragement, I often wonder if they – if you – realize that there is encouragement to be had in being an encourager yourself. Maybe you never thought of yourself that way. Maybe you think that only people with a certain kind of personality can do what it is I am doing right now – writing words on a page. This post is a different kind of post. It’s not about a special story of my son to warm your heart in order to move you to tears or action. I hope it does move you to action, but in a different kind of way. It’s about encouraging you to consider that you have something to offer, regardless of where you are in your special-needs journey.
If you are just beginning your journey into the world of special-needs, you might be in a season of life that requires you receive more comfort than you are able to give right now. That’s okay. Maybe you’re a couple years in, or maybe you are a seasoned special-needs parent. Even if you haven’t “been there and done that” though, you still have valuable words of encouragement and comfort to offer others who were in your shoes five years ago – or just yesterday morning.
Maybe you don’t have a problem agreeing with me here. Maybe you have been thinking to yourself that you would love to be a listening ear to another mom who just heard the words, “Your child has autism” for the first time. Or maybe you’ve seen the other parents at church struggling with their child’s physical disabilities but you’re unsure of how or what to say.
Perhaps you’re on the other side of that. Do you think you have nothing to offer? That you don’t have the personality to encourage someone else? From one special-needs parent to another, here are some simple ways to reach out to others to build them up.
- You don’t need a big platform. You don’t have to have a speaking ministry, a blog, or a Facebook page in order to make a difference in someone else’s life. You just need to have open eyes. See the tired mom in MOPS, or in the church pew that you know has a special-needs child? Maybe she just needs a hug and someone to sit with her for two minutes, or the length of time it takes to grab a cup of coffee together and talk through some things that will help her breathe a little easier.
- You don’t need eloquent words. Think of someone you talked to recently about your own struggles. Did they talk a lot? Did they say a lot of highfaluting’ words that made you feel small? Think about what it is you are usually seeking when you seek comfort. Most likely, all you want is someone to listen and validate what you’re saying – someone else who knows. God bless the friends and family who don’t have special-needs kids who try to comfort us. We need them. But there’s something different about talking to a person who knows. Hebrews says of Jesus, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses…” He was tempted just like we are, and he experienced pain and isolation and judgment and dirty looks just like we have experienced, in order to comfort us. Sometimes you just need a friend who can listen to all your stuff and simply respond, “I know.” You can be that friend.
- You don’t need a big personality or a loud mouth. Let me be the first to tell you, those things can really work against a person sometimes! Sometimes I envy the more quiet people – even if it’s because they don’t know what to say – because having someone talk over you often ends up leaving you feeling unheard and un-encouraged. Your presence is the most important thing. Just show you care by being there. Your ears are the most attractive thing about you if you are comforting a friend.
- You don’t need to have all the answers. When a special-needs parent wants to talk through their challenges du jour, they usually aren’t looking for answers. Once again, they are probably desiring someone to just listen to what’s going on in their life and tell them they’re not crazy. Occasionally, you might get asked questions about how you handled sleepless nights, medication, vaccination, therapy and insurance fights. All you can offer is your own experience and things that have been helpful to you. It’s not up to you to make sure they follow your advice. But if they ask you for your opinion or advice on things, offer it gently without pressure to follow in your exact footsteps.
- In all things, point them to Jesus Christ. In this whole special-needs journey, we definitely need each other. But we need each other in order to point us to our ultimate Encourager. Jesus is the One who can truly comfort their heart and bring peace to their soul. Pray for them – right then. In person, over the phone, in an e-mail, through text. You don’t have to be a walking Bible in order to point them to Jesus. I have a friend who tells me often, “I get it. I know. But I don’t know what else to tell you except to pray about it, and the Holy Spirit will lead you.”
These are just a few things to consider. Sometimes we get wrapped up in our own world and we forget that just as we have various forms of encouragement to help keep us going, we ourselves can be that encouragement to someone else too.
Who can you encourage today?
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Thank you for these words, Sarah. I agree that there is encouragement that comes from being an encourager. Sometimes we are the ones who need the help, and sometimes we have something to give that can help someone else. As an introvert mom of 2 spec-needs kids, I found your post very encouraging to ME — thanks!