Every August for many years, I have prayed the St. Monica novena. She was the mother of St. Augustine, a philosopher and theologian and one of the Catholic Church’s most highly revered saints, but it took seventeen years of her prayers for him to convert to Christianity (she also worked to convert her husband and mother-in-law). She’s one of my favorites and I believe that I owe her intercession to my husband’s conversion to the Catholic church.
I don’t have a wayward son who causes me grief, an adulterous and explosive pagan husband, or a difficult mother-in-law living in my home like St. Monica did, but she still appeals to me for her persistent prayers in the face of what must have seemed to be insurmountable obstacles. It’s that whole “insurmountable obstacles” thing that I understand.
My daughter was born with cerebral palsy and my son has Down syndrome, so I’ve spent almost two decades now navigating obstacles on behalf of my children - insurance, inaccessibility, exclusion, ignorance, condescension, and ableism. We leave in an era where accessibility and inclusivity in our society are better than ever - though still woefully deficient. Advances in healthcare, equipment to make lives easier, and ongoing research are beyond anything even imagined a few decades ago - yet those of us who wrestle with disability every day know that we still have so much farther to go.
Because my oldest who has cerebral palsy is in college now and my youngest with Down syndrome is in seventh grade (well, seven-ish because I homeschool him), I’m long past the early years of asking people to show me what life will be like for them. I’m not looking for a “cure” or a “fix” because God made them - and I like them - just the way they are. And here’s a secret no one knows about families like ours: how people react to disability shines a light on their true natures. We can usually spot a faker a mile away, and that’s a gift. But I do still struggle at times with wanting things to be different for both of them.
I want them to be more easily integrated into society, more welcomed and valued by other people, and (goshdarnit!) to get the equipment, therapy, and healthcare they need without a fight. After many years of fighting, there are days when I’m so, so tired.
I’ve always prayed for my children, but as they have gotten older I’ve begun to realize - truly feel and believe in the depths of my soul - that while it may be good for me to work for them and serve them like I do, the most important thing I can do now, and always, is to pray for them. St. Monica prayed without ceasing, and a bishop once told her, “The child of those tears shall never perish.”
So I trust that any tears I shed on behalf of my children - and the tears you shed on behalf of yours - if offered to God, have meaning and purpose and will never be shed in vain.
Andi Sligh is a wife and mother of two children with disabilities and three dogs. She is a lifelong Alabamian, Dr. Pepper addict, Catholic convert, and former engineer who rediscovered a love of writing when she became a mom. You can find more of her writing at https://andisligh.com/