“If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.”
My husband texted me this yesterday after I retold him the story of working with Eli on riding his bike. I remember the days when going to the park was ‘work’ for Eli. It was a challenge, it was therapy to learn how to navigate the stairs and muster the courage to slide down the slide. For many years there was very little fun about going to the park for Eli. But eventually, after tons of hard work and persistence, he learned the joy of squealing with the wind in his face on the swings and now the park is fun for him.
So, on to the challenge of riding his bike. This also is very hard for him. Often he says he wants to stop trying. So more than giving him pointers on balance and pedaling, I find myself needing to encourage his heart as we ‘work’ on this together. We have so many conversations about what it’s like to be a stroke survivor and live with a traumatic brain injury - how it’s not fair that everything is harder for him than his little brother and sister. But this means he just has to be stronger, he has what it takes to do it too and we can do it together.
Eli is a fighter and has overcome so much. I have to retell him his story often and remind him of how he is a miracle. It’s easy to lose sight of all the victories when you are still staring so many obstacles in the face. But often where we’ve been gives us fuel for where we’re going.
Whether we have special needs or not, we all have these seemingly insurmountable challenges in front of us. The challenges don’t define us. Our success in meeting the challenges don’t define us. But I believe it’s how we embrace the challenge, it’s the character we allow it to form in us that shapes our hearts. This is where the growth matters most.
Sometimes for me the all-encompassing challenge is simply getting the laundry done or figuring out what to make for dinner. Other times it figuring out how to promote a new record or book concerts for a tour or write a catchy chorus. And most often, it's figuring out the best way to love other's well - whether parenting our kids, caring for my husband or being a good friend.
As I love and parent Eli through challenges like learning to ride a bike or putting on his socks, I have to see past the tangible and realize that what’s really growing is his heart and character. He is one special boy and I try to remind him of this as often as possible.
Just like Eli gets frustrated and wants to toss up his hands, sometimes I do too. We put in so much effort and sometimes have little to show for it. But we must press on, and we do. I have hope that just as I eventually came to relish in the joy on Eli’s face as he went down the slide, we will see that same sense of accomplishment and confidence as he learns to do the next tasks before him.
It’s not only his heart and character being forged in this - it’s mine too as his mom, it’s everyone who knows Eli. He inspires all of us towards gratitude and fortitude. I’m so grateful for him, for all he’s learned to do even though I was told he might not ever be able to do much of anything. I’m grateful for his heart and pervasive joy - his smile and laugh that brightens any room. Everything is harder for him, but he keeps going and keeps trying. And this inspires me greatly.
There is so much more ahead of him and I’m choosing to not see the challenges as problems but rather as invitations. They can be invitations towards greatness and becoming more of who we are made to be.
Whatever is overwhelming you today. Be encouraged. Embrace not what the challenge is doing ‘to’ you but rather what the challenge is doing ‘for’ you. You are loved and have an army cheering you on, and I’m proud to be in that number.
Eli is riding his bike here in the moment I took this picture. It didn’t last long, he was wobbly and it wasn’t very pretty - but for this moment he’s doing it and I couldn’t be more proud of him for sticking with it. We celebrate every single victory over here! Everyday is a miracle waiting to be embraced.
Keep sticking with whatever ‘it’ is for you too my friend. We are all proud of you!