Catch Your Breath

Truth for the Trenches

For parents of kids who need more and give more than the world will ever know.

Note: This article was written in 2002, but republished many times. As the Covid-19 crisis rages, I am on my knees for every parent who is doing 24/7 with a high-needs child, teen, or young adult. Asking God to make a way. I am still “doing life” with two very high-needs adult children. I am with you in the trenches. My “secret hiding places” take place at 5 AM (as long as I am in bed by 9:00 PM), 10 minute walks, or hiding in the bathroom. Search the site. I hope you can find additional support for life in the trenches.

With the relentless sobbing of three preschoolers ringing in my ears, I succumbed to a full-blown mommy meltdown. “Arghhhhh!” I cried. Burying my face in my hands, I pounded my feet on the floor mimicking the antics of a tantruming two year-old. Little eyes, wide with disbelief, watched as cascading tears soaked the front of my shirt. I sank into the nearest chair shaking. For months and months I had been running ragged on the fumes of an empty tank.

I had nothing left to give and my three little boys had so much more they needed that day, and the next, and the next, and the next. The reality of this truth threatened every fiber of my being. I adored my diaper-clad crew, but two of our three have significant special needs and the job of loving and caring for our children demanded more than I had left to give.

Friends helped, but our extended family lived four and eight hours away. They came to our rescue during extended hospitalizations, but were not able to help with daily demands. The year was 1999 and Joshua was 3 ½, Samuel—2 ½ and Joseph was 9 months old. Our three little musketeers took up residence in our hearts and home in the span of 30 months—after years of infertility. Two came home through the miracle of adoption, one through the miracle of birth. Our oldest, Joshua, was born with Sickle-Cell Anemia. Our son, Samuel, came home to us after experiencing significant neglect for the first seven months of his life. Our youngest was born to us. Joseph has Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus.

This particular mommy meltdown (this was not the first, nor the last) occurred on a Saturday afternoon when my husband was home for his first day-off in weeks. While my sobs mingled with those of our 3 sons, Tim came back into the house after completing an outside project. What a sight! Joseph was in my arms, back arched, face red, and hollering. Josh was fastened to my leg, sobbing. Sam, flat on the floor and belly up, was kicking and screaming for all he was worth.

Unaware of Tim’s presence, I felt his touch on my arm. I looked up to find him holding out my purse, my Bible, and the car keys.

“Brenda, you need a break. You’re tired. Go.” His eyes were kind and his voice was gentle. “We’ll be OK.”

 Laced with love and no condemnation, Tim added, “Don’t come back until the boys are in bed for the night.”

Guilt threatened my next move. Tim was more than a competent dad, but this was a mess. With a hefty dose of persuasion and the work of the Holy Spirit, sanity won out. “OK,” I said. It was a moment of victory. I slipped through the door, ignoring the heightened wailing that ensued.

Only a mile from home, I had to pull over. Blinded by tears, I was unfit to drive. The avalanche of emotion bottled up from the past twelve months was enormous: fear, fatigue, hope and heartache, all interspersed with a joy and gratitude beyond compare. These daunting emotions vied for my attention, yet were never dealt with in the wake of daily demands, hospital trips, and sleepless nights.

This was my first “day away” in years. I took a deep breath and let the tears fall freely. I was weary and winded. It was good to cry. With a natural inclination toward guilt, I knew I could sabotage these quiet hours away. Convinced the well-being of my family was at stake, I committed myself to enjoy this gift of rest—guilt free.

“Lord, help me. I need this day to be a blessing.”

I spent the next six hours relishing the silence and delighting in the freedom to do as my heart desired. The beauty of that day echoed into the days that followed. Fifteen years later, I don’t remember exactly what I did, but I can tell you what I didn’t do. For  six hours I did not attend to anyone or accomplish a single thing. I did not produce, poke, prod or provide anything for anyone. It was a taste of heaven, a welcome oasis.

That six-hour “getaway” was life-giving. It was a day of healing and hope. The ingredients were simple, the time frame—manageable, the results—profound.

Those simple, solitary, quiet hours were worth their weight in gold. Over time, I’ve come to understand that the restorative nature of rest nourishes and revives the deepest places of my heart—the musty, dusty places that are long forgotten in the wake of my children’s needs. Those inner chambers are the source and center of who I am. When they are neglected, I care for my children at best, with a self-imposed limp. At my worst, I crash and burn, taking my family down with me.

My passion in life? There are two. First, I desire to care for my family in God-honoring ways that allow each of us to thrive. There are days I buckle, and life is more about surviving than thriving. But I have tasted a better way, and for me it involves a constant and consistent commitment to personal retreat—a quiet day (or few hours) carved out of the daily chaos to be intentional about rest and renewal.

Secondly, I desire to extend God’s remarkable invitation of rest and renewal to people of all ages and stages of life. I have a particularly tender place in my heart for those who face long days and short nights – for those whose love runs deep for some of God’s finest people – children and teens who need more and give more than the world will ever know.

We need to cheer each other on. Relentless parenting challenges, guilt, and overload hold many of us hostage to exhaustion. There’s a better way.

Empowered by the Giver of Life may we heed Jesus’ invitation:

Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.

Mark 6:31b

If you have a child of any age with special-needs, check out the remarkable support of Hope Anew. It’s a breath of fresh air to connect with people who “get it.”

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