One passive mom’s journey toward finding her grit.

Some people are born fighters. They come out swinging and the world takes notice. You know those people – the ones who embody more space in a room and have a gravitational pull toward (or away) from them. Either way, they aren’t afraid to be who they are, no matter whose feathers they ruffle.

I am not one of those people. I hate conflict and always have. I ran cross country and played tennis in high school. I kept to myself. My husband knows this more acutely than most. When we were first married, our disagreements resembled old-school call-and-response songs. He would make a pointed statement, which I would then repeat as a question: “I think we should host our church small group at our house,” he suggested over a late dinner of Thai noodles. I stabbed at a mushroom unnecessarily hard, but said in a quiet voice, “You think we should host church small group at our house?” And then I would let the silence take care of all the impossible things I want to say: How will we fit all those people in our living room that is the size of a closet? Who will cook? Me, obviously. But when?

I let this passivity carry me along like the current in a lazy river. Somewhere, deep down in my bones, I feared that my opinions didn’t matter. Everyone has a default setting and I figured this was mine. It made my life work as well as I thought it could – until my first son, Charlie, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. You can’t be passive when you have a child with special needs. There is no lazy river for that.

Here was the crux of it: Charlie needed so much that I could not give him. He needed therapy to learn how to turn over, to speak, to roll in his wheelchair. He needed therapy to eat. He even had to learn how to breathe. This began my education in advocacy. There I was, a passive person learning how to fight for the first time in my life and it wasn’t for an abstract cause, but for my own flesh and blood.

At first I feared taking up too much space, too loudly. But I prayed over every decision and it was the knowledge that this was a worthy fight that kept me going. I fought insurance for more physical therapy and for a new bather for the tub and for fixes to his wheelchair. When he started school, I sat around a tiny table in a tiny chair and fought for all the accommodations I could get. With each battle I stepped into with God’s guidance, I became more assured, more steady in my steps on this new path.

But here’s the thing – something in me changed beyond my identity as a mother. I began to see what God sees in me. Well into my 30s, I realized I was worth fighting for too. And that knowledge made me brave.

I learned to be my own advocate. It started in the teensiest of ways, as most big changes do. I told my husband I needed time for myself in the mornings, before the chaos of the day ensued, and I began to get up and run in the dark quiet before daybreak. If the kids needed soothing or entertaining, he would have to do it while I ran and breathed and prayed. It was necessary nourishment for my soul. When a friend asked me for coffee on a day filled with doctor’s appointments for Charlie, instead of ghosting her because I didn’t want to share this starker picture of our lives, I said, “Sure, if you can meet me at the hospital downtown,” and you know what, she did. Each time I voiced my needs, I watched as God met them in big and small ways.

It turns out, if you are honest with where your heart is, it opens up an opportunity for everyone else to love you better. Charlie’s vulnerability taught me that and God reminds me of it every day. Motherhood requires grit. So does womanhood. So does humanity. In voicing my needs, I am stronger than I have ever been.