How Special-Needs Families Can Overcome the Challenges We’re Facing During This Pandemic and Emerge Even Stronger Than Before

This article is a guest post from Million Praying Moms contributor, Sandra Peoples. She’s the author of Unexpected Blessings: The Joys and Possibilities of Life in a Special-Needs Familyand a force within the special needs parenting community. Today (4/23/20) at 1PM EST I’ll be hosting her inside of our Million Praying Moms Community FB group to talk about Quarantine Survival Tips for Moms of Special Needs Children, and I would love for you to join us. If you see this post after the fact, no worries. Just click here to watch the recording!

Serving Together,
Brooke

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We woke up this morning like we’ve woken up every day since the coronavirus restrictions went into place in our suburb outside of Houston—asking how our son with autism will handle today’s challenges and how will we be able to help him. No school, no church, no time at his grandparents’ house, no Saturday morning grocery store trip to practice those important life skills. Our usual support system that includes his teacher, aides, occupational therapist, speech-language therapist, and behavioral therapist isn’t available to us. There’s just us and our faith that God is with us during this new challenging season. How do we remember to hold on to that hope in God? How do we know He is faithful? Because this isn’t our first tough time.

Like you, this challenging season isn’t our family’s first time to suffer. James was diagnosed with autism soon after this third birthday. I have a sister with Down syndrome, so the special-needs world wasn’t totally new to me, but those first days and months were overwhelming. I had to repeat, “God loves me, God loves James” over and over until I believed it.  

Surviving seasons of suffering is a lot like working out.

Each time you do it, you get stronger and you’re better equipped to face the next challenge. That’s one of the reasons I think special-needs parents are uniquely equipped to face this season. We have found God faithful before! But as the weeks go on and on, we all need reminders of God’s love and plan for us. I found one especially encouraging reminder as I was reading through the life of Joseph in Genesis. Here’s a quick overview, starting in chapter 37.

  • Joseph was the son of Jacob and Rebekah, one of twelve sons born to four women
  • When he was seventeen, he told his brothers about a dream that they would one day bow down to him
  • They planned to kill him, but instead put him in a pit and then sold him into slavery
  • He was taken to Egypt, where it says God was with Joseph as he served as an overseer in Potiphar’s house
  • But Potiphar’s wife accused Joseph of trying to seduce her, so he was thrown into prison 
  • The keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners
  • While in prison, Joseph interpreted the dreams of the pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker
  • His interpretations came true (the cupbearer was restored, and the baker was hanged), but the cupbearer did not do as he promised to tell Pharaoh about Joseph 
  • After two years, Pharaoh had a dream. The cupbearer then remembered Joseph, and he was called upon to interpret. He predicted seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. 
  • He also gave Pharaoh a plan so the kingdom would remain strong during the famine years 
  • Pharaoh put Joseph in charge, and again God was with Joseph. Everything he did prospered. 

That is quite the roller coaster of events for Joseph! His own siblings acted against him, he was falsely accused of a crime, he was forgotten in prison for two years! Yet through it all, God was with him. That brings us to our focus verse for today: “The name of the second [son] he called Ephraim, ‘For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction’” (Gen. 41:52).

Friends, we are in a land of affliction right now—a season of suffering, anxiety, worry, stress, and the temptation to doubt God’s promises.

But what did Joseph find in his land of affliction? He found God faithful to make him fruitful. If we can remember God’s power to make us fruitful in this season of suffering, we can overcome the challenges we’re facing and emerge even stronger than before. Let me share some very practical ways you can focus on this in your home: 

First, stay consistent with your time in the Word and in prayer.

Do you remember when Jesus visited His friends Mary and Martha? Mary sat at His feet while Martha was busy preparing food and being a good hostess. She asked Jesus to tell Mary to help her. But Jesus replied, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41 & 42). We too must choose the good portion each day, no matter what threatens to steal away our time and attention. Your routine may be different, but God will be faithful to help you find time to read and pray.  

Second, take steps to decrease decision fatigue.

The average person makes 35,000 decisions a day, but special-needs parents make even more than that, putting us at risk of burnout and exhaustion. It’s such an important topic that it’s the #1 most downloaded episode of my podcast, Self-Care and Soul Care for the Caregiver. What’s the solution? We can take steps to eliminate some of the decisions we make. I wear the same shirt every Monday so I don’t have to think about what I’m going to wear. On Sunday nights I meal plan for the week so I don’t have to think about it at 4:30 pm on Tuesday when I’m experiencing the fatigue that comes from making decisions all day long. At 9:00 pm I get off my phone and read a book so I don’t have to decide when to stop scrolling. I put as many decisions as possible on autopilot so I have the brain power I need to make the really important ones. 

Third, have honest communication with our spouses about expectations and not keep a record of wrongs.

We live in a small house, with an especially small kitchen. It just has three drawers. With all this extra time at home, we’ve bumping into each other more often (literally and figuratively), and it is certainly challenging. But what I’ve found in my marriage is that a lot of my frustration comes down to expectations—I have an expectation in mind (that I usually don’t communicate with my husband), and when it doesn’t get met, I get mad or mopey. After this happening way too many times the first week of living under coronavirus restrictions, we decided it was much better to openly communicate our expectations so we can work with each other. Since then, it’s been much better. We’ve also learned it helps to ask for forgiveness often, forgive quickly, and not keep a record of wrongs.  

Fourth, connect with friends.

I know this can feel hard. There are many days I think, Why isn’t anyone checking on me? They should know this season is hard for our family! But I try to be the kind of friend to others that I want them to be toward me. So I text a different friend each day to check in. I also connect with friends in my Facebook groups. There are so many great ones specifically for parents of kids with disabilities. One of my favorites is my group Self-Care for the Special-Needs Mom. Having friends who can empathize with your struggles and who can point you to Christ is really important during this season.    

Putting these steps in place will help us emerge from this season even stronger than we were when it began—stronger in our faith and stronger as a family. Just like Joseph, we’ll be able to say, “God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen. 50:20b). Is that the goal for us too? Let’s ask God to work out this season for our good and keep us alive, all for His glory!

Sandra Peoples (M. Div) is a special-needs mom and sibling. She and her family live outside of Houston, TX where she serves her church as the director of special-needs ministry. She’s the author of Unexpected Blessings: The Joys and Possibilities of Life in a Special-Needs Family and the host of the podcast, Self-Care and Soul Care for the Caregiver. You can connect with her at sandrapeoples.com.

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