On the night before my first IEP meeting, I realized that while I had read a million articles, consulted a handful of people, printed worksheets and records, and even picked out my wardrobe, I had failed to pray about it. It had never even ocurred to me until that moment, likely because the whole process of the IEP felt like traveling to a foreign country: I didn’t speak the language, I only had a basic handle of the laws and customs, and I didn’t know the locals. Thankfully, God gave me that gentle reminder that He was with me in this too. I may have been traveling to an unfamiliar land, but I wasn’t going alone.
Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how to invite God into this unusual situation. From my limited experience, most parents approach IEP meetings with at least some dread, anger or fear. It’s in the very nature of being a parent of a child with special needs that you’ll find youself doing things you never expected, planned or prepared for. Thankfully there are many resources that offer practical guidance on “how to IEP.” Those are so valuable and important, but I felt a tug to invite God into the process as well. If He is in the “pots and pans,” as St. Teresa of Avila said, then surely He can be in the goals and accomodations too! But what does that look like?
Pray about it. No, actually pray.
Don’t make my mistake! In this busy, distracting life, I’m ashamed at how many times I think or even say, “I will pray about that,” and never do. Of course, God can help us without us asking Him, but He can and will do so much more for us if we consciously give Him the rooom to do it. Set aside some time to intentionally offer up this process to God. A friend of mine even brings her child’s IEP binder to adoration to literally lay it before God.
Ask for prayers.
Ask your prayer group, your mom or your best friend to pray for you, but don’t forget to ask the saints for prayers too! One of my favorite things about our Catholic faith is the gift of the communion of saints. We literally have crowds of saints happy to intercede for us the moment we ask. You can ask your child’s patron saint for prayers, or you can ask for the prayers of saints who have experienced challenges similar to your child’s. If you are unsure where to start, a google search is honestly a good place to start!
Consider wearing a cross or other sacramental.
During one particular IEP meeting, I started to get discouraged at how little I actually knew anyone in the room. They were helping to make huge decisions for my child, but what did I actually know about them? I think one of the reasons the IEP process is so difficult is because it can feel so impersonal. We don’t have time or freedom to build real trust with the people who work so closely with our children. I was turning this over in my mind, when a woman with a crucifix necklace sat down across from me. I immediately thanked God for answering an unspoken prayer. I now knew something real about someone in the room. She believed in Jesus, and she brought Him to the meeting. I decided that I would try to remember to bring Him to meetings in the future! Our Church has given us the gift of sacramentals which can be a tangible reminder of God’s love and protection. Holy water, a medal or a rosary in your pocket can all be a welcome reminder that God goes with you.
Ask your child’s guardian angel to attend the meeting.
Though I have often thanked my children’s guardian angel for keeping them safe from physical harm, I have only recently begun realizing the extent of their protection. The Cathechism has this to say about guardian angels:
From its beginning until death, human life is surrounded by their watchful care and intercession. Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life. Already here on earth the Christian life shares by faith in the blessed company of angels and men united in God [CCC 336].
Now when I go over the list of attendees on the IEP, I mentally invite my child’s guardian angel!
God is speaking to you, wherever you are at.
Even my short experience with IEPs has taught me that there are many different kinds of situations you might find yourself in. You might come into the meeting feeling nervous and jittery or calm and prepared. You might leave feeling infuriated, disappointed, grateful, confused, or just plain sad. Or you might feel all of those things at once! God is with us in all of those situations and feelings. If you have any doubts, turn to Scripture. Here are just a few verses that have comforted me in the IEP process.
When you’re nervous
Fear not, for I am with you,
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.
When you’re tired of fighting
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
When you don’t feel like you’re enough
I can do all things in him who strengthens me.
When you’re discouraged about what your child has or hasn’t “achieved”
For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
When you need a reminder that you were born to do this:
Blessed be the Lord, my rock,
who trains my hands for war,
and my fingers for battle;
Jane Stanley is a mother to five children. She reads, writes, and homeschools in Central Virginia.