Loving From Afar: A New Perspective on Christmas

I sat on my couch, just inches away from my little boy who was playing with his trains on the coffee table. We had been home from school for at least four hours and he had yet to make eye contact with me, touch me, or acknowledge my presence in any way. So there I sat, just inches apart from my little one. I so wanted to scoop him up and snuggle him, to kiss his precious face all over, or to tell him how much I had missed him while he had been at school that day. But I know better.  I know that in moments like these, he needs silence and to not be touched. That’s just the nature of this thing called Autism.

So, I sat. I watched him play with loving pride swelling up inside of me. He’s so beautiful, such a precious soul, a most wonderful blessing, and treasured gift. It takes an unbelievable amount of self-control for the mother of a child with Autism to learn to love from afar. Often times, that’s exactly what I must do.  

I began to think of another of another parent who had to love from afar. The thought had never crossed my mind before.

I have heard beautiful songs and sermons written about Mary and the beautiful perspective of the young virgin mother of Jesus Christ. What a huge responsibility. What fear and excitement she must have felt. What joy must have flooded her soul as she cradled her baby boy in her arms knowing that He was the Messiah, the Son of God.

I have listened to stories about Joseph, the young carpenter man.  What an exercise of faith it must have been to take Mary at her word and to take her as his bride. What must it have felt like to have been chosen to father the Savior of the world? I’m certain he found his heart overwhelmed at times as he found himself plunged into the very middle of God’s story of redemption.

I have even listened to accounts of the spiritual battle between heaven and hell on that not-so-silent-night. While angels sang “Glory”, all of hell shuddered at the birth of the New Born King. Never before had the birth of a child brought forth such a commotion as the countdown to the cross and Christ’s victory over death came rushing into the world on that starry night in Bethlehem.

But what about God the Father? Certainly, it is His gift, the gift of His son Jesus that we celebrate each year. But I just wonder how He must have felt as He watched Jesus, His one and only Son, be birthed into this world. I wonder how His heart must have raced as He beheld that tiny babe lying in the manger. How His soul must have swelled with all the joy, love, admiration, and awe that a parent feels at the sight of their newborn child. Was there a collision of emotion as He watched Immanuel, knowing what the birth of His child meant for the world and what this sin cursed world meant for the life of His child?

As God the Father watched from His heavenly throne, with all the delight that fills a new parent, did He long to hold His precious Son? To kiss His soft cheeks? To hold His tiny hand? Friends, the Lord is capable of the most complete and unconditional love. Therefore, I can only imagine the love He felt for His Son, Jesus. As God the Father shared His Son with the rest of the world, as He made the ultimate sacrifice for you and for me, He chose to love His baby boy from afar as Jesus was wrapped in clothes and placed in a manger.

This thought struck me as I sat watching my own sweet boy who was busy playing with his trains; as I was loving him from afar.

 How thankful I am that Christ does not ask us to conquer temptations without having been tempted Himself. How thankful I am that we do not experience the shame of sin and guilt without Jesus having borne the sins of the world and fully understanding the weight of which it carries. How thankful I am that we do not experience the deep pain of losing a loved one without God the Father knowing what it is like to have His one and only Son sacrificed for all of mankind.  He has walked our roads, feels our pains, knows our joys, and understands our struggles. God has never withheld Himself from our everyday circumstances but rather He willingly thrusts Himself into our world with all understanding and compassion.

As I sat there loving my child from afar, I felt a peace come over me. I am so thankful that I can come to God with the longings of my heart. When I long to touch my son, long to hold him, long to kiss him, long to hold his tiny hand, but instead must muster up all the strength that is within me to withhold these gifts that are so precious for a mother to bestow upon her child, I turn to Christ.  And in a way, I wondered if just maybe the Lord understands what it must be like to love your child from afar.

Whatever your Christmas may look like this year, whatever you are facing, whatever turn your life has taken this year, may I encourage you that God is so very near. He is Immanuel, God with Us and He cares for you!

Merry Christmas!

 Merry Christmas from our family to yours!

Merry Christmas from our family to yours!

Because I am a Special Needs Parent

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You see me in the office and wouldn’t know I run on three hours of sleep every night. Because I am a special needs parent.

By the time I get to work in the morning I have fought battles, cried, laughed, overcome, and failed. My day started hours ago. Because I am a special needs parent.   

I strive to ensure schedules, order, and consistency for my child who thrives on such things, while embracing the chaos of an ever changing and unpredictable disability. Because I am a special needs parent.

I have learned of a deeper kind of love than I could have ever imagined. Because I am a special needs parent.

I bear scares down my arms from my child’s aggressive meltdowns but they do not compare to the pain inside my heart as I’ve had to restrain him from hurting himself or others. Because I am a special needs parent.

There is an incomprehensible joy that floods my soul when my child takes me by the hand or looks me in the eyes. Just one touch from his hand gives me hope that one day a touch will turn into a look, a look into a gesture, a gesture into a word, and a word into the ability to communicate. This burst of joy is strong enough to give hope that presses on until the next time. Because I am a special needs parent. 

Exhaustion sets in as I fight for the rights of my child. He is worth believing in. He is worth being given an education. He is worth being given every opportunity to reach his full potential. It is my daily task to ensure this happens. Because I am a special needs parent.

I long for connection with others yet feel so alone and wonder who could ever understand this beautiful, crazy life we live. Because I am a special needs parent.

There is no achievement too small. I have learned to celebrate even the smallest of things: One word spoken, an independent bite of food taken, a hug given...these are monumental in our world. Because I am a special needs parent.

I know his facial expressions by heart and can most often predict their meaning. I understand the “gibberish” that many hear when he speaks. I know what songs bring him peace and what sounds set him off. I know when it’s time to go and when we can stay a little longer. Because I am a special needs parent.

I fight for my marriage as the stresses of disability and all that it entails wedges its way into our time for one another. Tensions are high and patience is low. We learn to be extremely intentional in our pursuit of each other. I know how extremely blessed I am to have a husband to walk this journey with me. Because I am a special needs parent.

Just his smile is enough. It lights up my world and fills my heart. Because I am a special needs parent.

There is a balance I’m constantly struggling to find as I strive to give time, attention, and affection to my little girl who is not disabled. Because I am a special needs parent.

I fail at being a good friend, keeping up with family members, remembering birthdays, and finding time to socialize. Because I am a special needs parent.

I plead with the Lord on behalf of my son. Every night I present my requests to Him knowing that He is fully capable of healing my son, but also trusting Him if His answer is “no” or “not yet”. Because I am a special needs parent.

Considering all these things, I would do it all over again. This precious child the Lord has entrusted to me has taught me more about life, love, and what matters most. Because I am a special needs parent.

Though many times I feel so very ill equipped, I know that God has specifically chosen me to be the momma of this precious little boy. God is not in the business of making mistakes. So I trust Him and lean on Him for the strength to press on. Because I am a special needs parent. 

When we are Broken and Poured Out

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I had to restrain my child today. This is the part of severe autism that no one likes to talk about. As well as he is doing and as much as he has overcome, everyone has a bad day. This was his.

He had stubbed his toe on the corner of the wall hard enough that it bent back the nail inside his sock. It must have been very painful. How frustrating it must have been to have been hurt and not be able to tell anyone about it. How terribly painful it must have been when I was asking him to put his shoe on so we could go to school. How was I supposed to know his nail was bent back inside his sock? And he couldn’t tell me. Not with words anyway.

Do you know what it feels like to have to move in such a way to keep your child from hurting themselves or others? Can you possibly imagine what it’s like to have to set up a barrier of mats between yourself and your child so as to protect yourself (and him) until he is able to harness his rage?

I can tell you, in that moment, all hope seems to be sucked right out of you. As the parent of a special needs child, you are left feeling drained, defeated, and depleted as a darkness sets in like no other. All the good, everything your child is working so hard to overcome, all the strengths, all the victories and accomplishments seem to fade in the gravity of the mere sixty seconds of rage that feels like an eternity.

I was finally able to figure out why he was so upset. Once he calmed, I helped him with his toe nail and we were able to get his sock and shoe on. He pulled me in and gave me a big hug and kiss as if to say “Thank you, Mom. That’s exactly what I was trying to show you but didn’t know how. I’m so sorry.” But by the time we got in the car and he walked into the school building with his little happy-go-lucky, step-hop that he does, I was worn out.

Just that morning I had spent time alone with the Lord. I had asked him to fill me up! And now I already felt like any “filling” that had been done had been spilled out. I was done with my day. And it was only 8:30 in the morning.

How quickly we allow our circumstances to dictate our perception of reality and steal our joy.

The Lord gently reminded me of the verse I had studied earlier that morning. “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him,” –John 7:37-38.

Whether you’re a special needs parent or not, there’s such a good reminder in these verses.

“Come to me and drink” – God never forces Himself on us. In the midst of life’s chaos, we must seek Him to fill us and quench our thirst. The world will throw those things at us which are sure to leave us feeling parched and worn. All of the “positive thinking” can fill us with a temporary and counterfeit hope, but it is a weak alternative to the living water God offers to sustain us with.

“Whoever believes in me” – Is your trust in Jesus Christ? Friends, our joy and hope will never be found in our circumstance. When our focus is taken off of the Lord, when our lives reflect that we are functioning in our own strength, when we have allowed ourselves to settle into a faltering faith, we will surely be overcome.

“Streams of living water will flow from within him.” – Water is powerful. Get enough water with a large enough current, and a river can overcome barriers with little effort. Do not forget that the river of the Spirit of God can overcome all obstacles. When we depend on the Lord for our strength, the matters of this world pale in comparison. Keep your eyes fixed on the source of the river of life within you.

My son’s occasional aggression is heartbreaking. We all have real, very sharp cutting struggles in our lives. God does not ask us to brush off our battles. He does, however, ask us to come to Him. Our hurts are His hurts. He longs to fill us up and sustain us with His joy, grace, and peace that surpasses all understanding. When the waves of life crash around you, keep your eyes fixed on the source of living water. He will get us through.

First Published for my partners at Joni & Friends and Irresistible Church

https://irresistiblechurch.org/broken-poured/

When They Say, "I Don't Know How You Do It."

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“I just don’t know how you do it.”

I get this a lot. It is usually accompanied by a very sympathetic shake of the head with wrinkled brow. Or “I couldn’t do what you do.” Insert here an overwhelmed and far off look.

These things are frequently shared with me by friends and family who know our story and who have a front row seat to our autism journey. But before you offer up these familiar phrases, here are three things you should know…

1. I can’t do this on my own. We parents of high needs children don’t have some sort of hidden superhero cape. There is no extra dose of strength or stamina that the Lord has measured out to us. I have to daily depend on the Lord and ask for His strength.

There are times when I become so completely overwhelmed as a special needs parent. I have had my own meltdowns and breaking points. There are times when my heart feels so completely broken for the struggles of our child that I just cry and feel helpless…and that’s when I usually realize I’ve been doing life on my own, in my own strength. I’ve been forgetting to give each day, thought, and moment to God. Once I remember that God is in control and completely sovereign and that He has a perfect plan and purpose for my life and the life of my child, I can operate out of a much more confident and peace-filled place. It doesn’t mean life becomes easier, but it does mean that I don’t have to face struggles alone. So, the next time you see me rocking along on this journey of having a child with severe autism and you think, I just don’t know how you do it…I don’t. I don’t do it. It’s a me and Jesus thing and without Him, I’m a mess. Thankfully, we were never meant to shoulder the weight of this world on our own. 

2. Others make all the difference. Parenting a child with autism is never a one-person job. I am not equipped to meet my autistic child’s every need. I am, however, equipped to do my very best to diligently seek out those who can help me meet his needs in the best way possible.

Ever since our son was two years old and received his diagnosis, he has had a team, also known to us as “Ezra’s entourage” if you will. There have been therapists and educators all along the way who have partnered with us in helping our son to reach his full potential. When educators crossed our path who did not truly believe in our son, he regressed and it was heartbreaking. When educators crossed our path who believed in him and pushed him to do more, he rose to the occasion every time. There have been therapists in our home for years who have shown Ezra love and care. These people helped us to not feel so alone. Ezra has a team built around him who are there to challenge him and cheer him on. When educators, therapists, and the family work together, it’s a beautiful thing.

There have also been family members and friends who have come alongside of us on this autism journey. A simple meal brought, someone to help you with groceries, or just a text to check in can brighten a special needs parent’s day. For those who have poured themselves out to support and love our family, you have made all the difference.

3. You can and would do what I do. Many times people say, “I couldn’t do what you do.” But the truth is, yes, you would. There is no manual for this special needs parenting life. I didn’t go to college for this, wasn’t prepped or prepared for this. But every day the sun rises and we make sure to the best of our ability that we do the very best we can. We love and care, we fight for our child’s rights, we push him to do his best, we surround him with those who believe in him, and we pray. We pray big, God sized prayers. You just never know what you are capable of doing until it’s the very thing you are given to do.

We don’t operate out of some sort of special needs expertise, but rather out of a place of unconditional love. We depend heavily on the Lord to see us through and others to encourage and support us along the way. It is because of these things that we are able to walk this autism journey. We are not alone.

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” –Isaiah 41:10

First published for my partners at Joni &Friends and Irresistible Church at

https://irresistiblechurch.org/say-dont-know/

The Importance of Breaking Through Roofs

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Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.”
–Luke 5: 18,19 NIV

Special needs parents, when it comes to church and your child, I want to encourage you to break through roofs. I know how easy it is to stay under the comfort of your own roof. It’s safe here. We can do “home church.” We aren’t accepted by the crowd. Home is best.

Boy, do I understand where you are coming from. Taking our son who has severe autism to church can be quite a challenge. We’ve not always been welcomed at churches. Even at our church now, we are welcomed with open arms, but that does not mean that it’s easy. We have successful times at church and we also have meltdown disasters. It’s a toss-up each week! …but we will keep trying. Why? Because our child’s faith journey is worth breaking through roofs.

“To lay him before Jesus…”
We can learn a thing or two from these men Luke writes about. These men knew the importance of being in the presence of Jesus. They obviously had determined in their hearts that this disabled friend of theirs needed to be in the presence of Jesus as well. Not only is it important to be in the presence of Jesus, but Hebrews 10:25 reminds us that it’s also important to be around other believers “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” We need each other! You need the encouragement and love of a church family and they desperately need to learn what it is to embrace the beauty of the disabled. How can this ever be unless we determine in our hearts the importance of functioning within the Body of Christ?

“Could not find a way to do this because of the crowd…”
Crowds don’t always seem to understand disability. We watch as our son is overlooked, pushed to the side, or excluded. This man was no exception. Parents, I know how hard it is to constantly fight to make a way for your child. I want to encourage you not to give up. I find more and more that it’s not that the crowd is always hateful or discriminatory, but rather it’s just that they do not know or understand disability. Misunderstanding can lead to uncomfortableness. Make a way through the crowd for your child, lend understanding where there is none, share your life with others so that they can embrace the unfamiliar.

“They went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles…”
Desperation. That’s what this was. This was a won’t-stop-at-anything, climbing-up-the-roof, breaking-through-roof-tiles kind of desperation. I can only imagine that this kind of determination was birthed out of a tremendous love for the disabled man. They knew he needed an encounter with Jesus. When was the last time you were this desperate to make sure you found a way for your child to join in worship, to be a part of a Faith Family, to bask in the presence of Jesus? It’s not easy. It takes desperation. It might take breaking through roofs one tile at a time. It may look like just only making it through the door of church the first Sunday, maybe the next Sunday you make it down the hallway, maybe the next Sunday your child loudly makes their presence known during the middle of the worship service…and there might be looks and there might be misunderstanding. Because ministry to those with disabilities is messy. But parents, do not give up on making a way for your child in the church. The Body of Christ is disabled itself when not ALL members are represented and a part of its work.

“Into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.” 
I want to encourage you that after a little over a year at our church, my son now asks “Church Please?” “Church?” “Sunday Please?” It doesn’t always look perfect. Some Sundays are a flop. But I trust that God’s Holy Spirit is going to meet him right where he is at. Our son knows that there is something special about church. It’s taken a long time to get to this point but I encourage you parents, don’t give up. Your child’s faith journey is worth making a way for…one roof tile at a time.

First written for my partners at Joni and Friends and Irresistible Church at https://irresistiblechurch.org/importance-breaking-roofs/

 

 Ezra and his daddy praying together during Vacation Bible School at church. 

Ezra and his daddy praying together during Vacation Bible School at church. 

Families in Hiding

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The CDC recently reported that 1 in 59 children are living with autism.* For some, this may seem like a surprisingly staggering result. This news may even seem far removed; these children must not be here, in this town, where we live. But families like ours know better.

It’s true, children living with autism actually live near you. However, it’s also true that you may not have seen them. Because for many families of children “on the spectrum,” we are families in hiding.

We try to come out and join your ranks. We muster up our courage and attempt a store from time to time. Some days our children are successful with the stimuli of town and we are able to enjoy a taste of what it is like to take part in a family outing. Other times, we are less successful resulting in behaviors that cause others to stare as our courage quickly diminishes with every sideways glance and comments muttered under breath from people who simply do not understand.

One disastrous attempt to be a part of society can cause a special needs family to give up for a while. It’s all so real and all so raw. It’s just easier to stay home and find our normal and our happy away from the masses who are less than forgiving.

There are families in hiding in your community. They have almost forgotten what it is to be a part of a group of friends. Their children aren’t invited to parties. They cannot eat at restaurants. And with every failed attempt at finding a place within society, they shrink back and begin to wonder if it’s worth the heartache to try to belong.

Please understand, it’s not that we are trying to hide our special needs child away from the world. Our children are incredible and we would so love for you to see them as we do. It’s that often times, the world hides itself away from us. The world offers us glimpses of what it might be like to join in and even offers an obligatory invitation, but the world does not stand ready or equipped for families like ours.

So with every joke made at the expense of our child, with every parent who nudges their child to “go play with someone else,” with every school administrator who isn’t willing to believe in our child, with every church who has to apologize because they just “don’t have anywhere for your child to go,” and every store employee who stares and shows frustration when our children struggle in public…we shrink back into the safety of our homes.

What is the average person to do? How can you possibly reach out to special needs families who are in hiding?

When we can’t come to you, come to us.Our children are most successful in their own environment. They thrive on schedule, routine, and familiarity. You must understand that disability ebbs and flows. There have been times over the last eight years that our son is doing extremely well and there have been times where for his safety and the safety of others, we cannot leave the house. Trust us as parents to know these limitations.

It is because of this “ebb and flow” that our dearest friends come to us. We have bible study, we fellowship, we eat together, we laugh, and we cry together. It’s not flashy, but it’s so very fulfilling. They meet us right where we are at. They get down in the trenches of life with us.

Family members, don’t allow your feelings to be hurt when we cannot come to your family dinner or if we do not visit often. We would love for you to come join the beautiful mess that is often our home. It’s not that we don’t care or that we don’t desire connection, it’s that we can’t. Please come to us.

A little means more than you will ever know.You have no idea what an encouraging note, text message, phone call, or dinner made will mean to a family of a special needs child. Let them know that you are thinking of them. Share something about your day with them. Give us a connection to the outside world. Let us know we have not been left behind in your mind.

We have a nephew who periodically will draw a picture or write a letter to our son who has autism. Every time this happens I get choked up. They remembered us. They remembered our son. Our son proudly places the letter next to him while he plays with his trains. He knows and it’s important to him.

Let a special needs family know that you care, you notice them, and that their family has value.

It’s our job as special needs parents to never give up. We must keep trying to make a way for our children in the world. But the truth is, we could use your encouragement, understanding, and your friendship. That is what gives us the courage to come out of hiding to try again and again, until the world is ready to accept us.

*CDC Data: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html

 

First Written for My Partners at Joni and Friends and Irresistible Church http://irresistiblechurch.org/families-in-hiding/

 

 

To the Warrior Parents

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You get tired of the fight, don’t you? The constant that is our lives. For all the articles written about how special needs parents should make time and care for themselves, you’d think the world would realize that these are luxuries we special needs parents often cannot afford. We are set to the tumultuous beat of the world’s drum that dictates a never-ending battle for our children. And if we skip a beat, it feels as if the system is poised so that everything you’ve worked so hard to put in place for your child comes tumbling down; then we must start over again. Fighting. Pushing. Trying. Praying. It is not a fight for the “extra” in life, for privilege or preference. On the contrary, we are in a fight for our child’s basic needs: equal education, the ability to communicate, medical equipment, health coverage, to become functioning members of society, and on and on the list goes.

To the warrior parents who have children with special needs… Don’t allow the fight to consume you. Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” The fight can be exhausting can’t it? The battle of the mind is as real as the physical battles we special needs parents face day to day. Discouragement sets in. We begin to wonder if anyone else cares about these giants we daily face on behalf of our children, who are oftentimes unable to fight for themselves. In the midst of it all, dear parents, do not forget that God sees you and that “his compassions never fail.” Great is His faithfulness to never leave us. When we find ourselves overwhelmed from the fight, we must fix our eye on Jesus.

To the warrior parents who have children with special needs… Don’t lose your fight. There is a careful balance we must find between ensuring our child is given every opportunity to reach their greatest potential (whatever level that may be), and just being so battle weary that we allow the fight to overtake us. Psalm 127:3 says, “Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring are a reward from him.” Parents, do not forget that our children are a reward from God, entrusted to us. In our weakest, most exasperated moments, we must remember this and continue to persevere in making a way for them. I know how easy it is to become worn. Don’t give up. Fill out the paperwork for the one hundredth time, reapply for services again, meet with the teacher, ask the questions, and speak up for the child who has no voice. Our children are worth it; they are our greatest treasures.

To the warrior parents who have children with special needs… Don’t lose your hope. As a parent of a child who has special needs, we must have a double dose of hope; hope enough for ourselves and hope enough for our children. In a world where “awareness” is lacking in action and our children may seem to be falling through the cracks, a hope big enough to sustain can only be found in Jesus Christ. Psalm 121 says, “I lift my eyes to the mountains- where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Parents, lift your weary heads and set your sights on Jesus. He is where our strength comes from as we daily fight to make a place for our children. He is the maker of heaven and earth and is fully able to see us through – to give us hope for ourselves, hope for our children, and hope for the future. Even more, he loves us and our children with a love far greater than we could ever comprehend. We can trust Him.

First posted by my partners at Joni and Friends and Irresistible Church

http://irresistiblechurch.org/warrior-parents/

Sharing Jesus With My Autistic Son

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How do you share the Gospel with someone who has a disability? How do you know if they understand? What strategies should be used? These questions can overwhelm or intimidate people. For those considering starting a special needs ministry at their church, it can seem like a daunting task. 

I understand. For many, this is uncharted territory. It was uncharted territory for me too until the Lord blessed us with our son, Ezra, who has severe autism. Just like many of you, my greatest desire is for my children to know the Lord. Ezra was no exception. 

As the parent of a child who has a disability, I have found three simple rules of thumb to keep in mind as I share Jesus with my child. 

1. Don’t Discriminate: 

The Gospel is for everyone. We should never elevate ourselves to the position of being able to discern who the Holy Spirit can or cannot reach. Because God’s love and the story of His Son is for everyone, we should share it with all people regardless of background, color, ability, or disability. 

We try to attend church even when it’s hard. We do not hide our son away with the misconception that church is not for him. It’s possible that the church may not learn to accept or minister to those with a disability until those with a disability join their ranks. As parents, we sometimes need to have thick skin so the petty comments or misunderstanding others have for our disabled son don’t get in our way of finding a place for him in the church. We love the church. We believe our son needs the church, and the church needs him. He is a part of the Body of Christ. 

2. Don’t Overcomplicate: 

Our mostly nonverbal son loves music. The lyrics to one of his favorite songs go like this: “You want me. Somehow you want me. The King of Heaven wants me.” He may not be able to clearly sing every word, but he knows this part by heart. With bright eyes and a wide smile, he sings of how the King of Heaven wants him, and it seems to resonate deep within him. Simple truths of God’s love and desire for his children is not lost on my son. 

Many times we overcomplicate the Gospel; we have this plan, that book, this diagram, that program. We overcomplicate and try to overcompensate. However, the Gospel of Christ is simple: Through Jesus, God offers forgiveness and unconditional love. Simple truths of the Bible are used by the Holy Spirit to crack wide the hardest of hearts as He calls out to the souls of the deeply broken. God’s Word does not escape the understanding of the disabled. 

3. Don’t Underestimate: 

One of the greatest mistakes we could ever make is to underestimate a person’s ability to comprehend the Gospel which is equal to that of underestimating the ability of the Holy Spirit to work in someone’s heart and mind. 

Every day our son amazes us with his demonstration of comprehension and the information he retains. It may look different from you and I, but those who have a disability understand so much more than they are often given credit for. 

So every day we share. We share with our son that Jesus loves him. We let him know that God has a perfect plan and purpose for his life. We share simple truths covered in love, and we trust that God will allow these truths to seep deep into the heart of our child. I believe without a doubt that God is bigger than any disability and His Word is all powerful. 

How unfortunate would it be to miss out on the incredible opportunity to share Christ with my child because I underestimated his cognitive ability and even more, the ability of the Holy Spirit to reach all people? 

So dear parent, dear church leader, dear family member longing to touch the life of someone who has a disability, don’t give up! Continue to share the good news of Jesus Christ. You never know the true impact you might be making in the heart and life of a person who has a disability. If you won’t tell them, who will?

First published by my partners at Joni and Friends and Irresistible Church

http://irresistiblechurch.org/sharing-jesus-autistic-son/

 Ezra loves for me to read to him the Plan of Salvation each Sunday at Church!

Ezra loves for me to read to him the Plan of Salvation each Sunday at Church!

How You Have Blessed Our Special Needs Family

Do you know what a blessing you are? There you have been, standing in the gap, spurring our special needs family on. When it feels as though there is no place in the world for our children, you have been that glimmer of hope saying it might still be possible. It is because of people like you and the blessing you have been that we press on. 

To the friend who is always there for us, you are a blessing. You have blessed us by recognizing that you won’t always understand. You trust us as the parents of our special needs child and are never quick to pass judgement. Because you aren’t personally walking this special-needs journey, you are not quick to offer up advice, but rather you are a willing sounding board and prayer partner. Instead of reminding me to “take care of yourself,” you put words into action and lighten my load by picking up groceries for me or bringing our family a meal. You have blessed us with a friendship that is not dependent upon flashy vacations or the newest restaurant (because these are not our family’s reality), but rather a friendship that is deepened by prayers, tears, truth, and heart talks. You have blessed us. 

To the family member who wants to connect with our child, you are a blessing. You have blessed us by your willingness to listen instead of taking it personally when we try to explain the way our child “works.” You have included and not excluded. You understand that no two kids are alike (especially when it comes to special needs), and therefore you ask questions about our child. You have gotten on his level to play with him and made an effort to enter his world. You have been patient, and you have cheered him on as he grows and changes. Your thoughtfulness, consideration, love, and desire to connect with our son feeds our souls and fills our hearts. You have blessed us. 

To the church leader who welcomes my special needs child, you are a blessing. You have helped create a community of faith for my child who is often excluded by others. You have assigned him value, and by your example you show others what a blessing it can be to include those who are “different.” You believe the gospel is for everyone and walk this out in how you teach our child. Our son’s noises, singing, and loud laughter do not give you pause. You welcome imperfection because you know that God does his most beautiful work in the midst of the imperfect. Your heart for sharing Jesus with ALL children and your efforts to include our child allow us to come and worship. You have blessed us. 

To the teacher who believes in my special needs child, you are a blessing. There is a difference in being a teacher and teaching with belief. You believe. You look past our child’s weaknesses and capitalize on his strengths. Even on the weary days, you push him and never give up. You are in the fight with us: the fight for knowledge, the fight for inclusion, the fight for a better tomorrow. You have taken the time to see the heart of our child. And once you saw his heart, you refused to give up. We have watched the beauty of your love pour over our child as we have cried and planned and worked together to help him achieve his personal best. You have blessed us. 

Being a special needs parent can be lonely. Each of you have been there at just the right time, when God knew we needed you most. There are days in the life of a special needs parent that seem too hard and too big for us to handle in our own strength. Your presence has helped us through those days. My plea to you is this: keep doing you. The world needs your example of unconditional and selfless love.

First published by my partners at Joni and Friends and Irresistible Church  http://irresistiblechurch.org/blessed-special-needs-family/

 Thank you to those of you who truly believe. You have made all the difference in our life and in the life of our child!

Thank you to those of you who truly believe. You have made all the difference in our life and in the life of our child!

When Comparison Kills Contentment

Comparison. We all struggle with it. And how could we not? Flashing before our eyes every day on social media are pictures of everyone’s best moment, best self, and best “story.” We know these images are momentary and do not always represent real-life, and yet we somehow permit them to seep into the crevasses of our heart and allow them to make us feel as though our lives just don’t quite measure up. None of us are exempt from the pitfall of comparison. 

We compare occupations, vehicles, vacations, and schools. We compare our accomplishments and the accomplishments of our children. We see a picture of Susie and Bob, and based on this one picture we assume that they must have the greatest marriage on earth. Perhaps we are even tempted to wonder what we could to differently to gain what they have. We compare our homes. We compare our clothes. We compare our bank accounts (or at least what we think might be in someone else’s). And really, there is no end to this game of comparison. 

I am no stranger to this snare. I willingly admit to you that as the parent of a child who has special needs, I sometimes allow comparison to creep into my heart. I see other children, the same age as my son, laughing and playing with one another, and my heart breaks for my little boy who is unable to do the same. I see families frequent restaurants with ease and go on elaborate vacations while our special needs family struggles to venture into public some days. And even though it’s been our choice and honor to trade a fancy home or other luxuries for the ability to provide our child with the therapies and special services he needs, I sometimes find myself comparing our “stuff” with the “stuff” of others. As a special needs parent, there is no quicker way to lose hope and lose heart than to begin the game of comparison. 

Comparison is the silent killer of joy and contentment. 

When we find ourselves sinking in the quicksand of comparison, we must quickly begin working to dig ourselves out before being overcome. 

First, we must remember that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood” (Eph. 6:12, NIV). Satan is actively seeking to steal our joy. The enemy loves to kill our contentment by keeping us busy comparing rather than counting the many blessings God has placed in our lives. Make no mistake, if Satan can keep you focused on the muddy waters of comparison then he knows you will have little time to realize the provision of grace that God has so wonderfully blessed you with. 

Second, we must find beauty in the life God has given to us. There is no perfection here. We are all so beautifully broken, and each of us are fighting our own private battles. If we traded our life for another, we would only find a new set of struggles and joys, hopes and hardships. Let’s not forget that God has specifically designed each of us with purpose. Why would we ever compare our life to someone else’s when their life is void of the unique purpose God intended specifically for us? God knows the plans he has for you. They are plans “to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11, NIV). Let us never be so preoccupied with the lives of others that we miss out on the hope and future God intends for us! 

Dear friends, comparison kills contentment. Don’t let the enemy rob you of your joy and your purpose. Let us each press on in our God-given purpose, throw off the shackles of comparison, and cheer each other on as we pursue the hope and future God has gifted us!

First Published by my partners at Joni and Friends and Irresistible Church

http://irresistiblechurch.org/comparison-kills-contentment/

 Ezra and I at church! It doesn't look the same as everyone else, but he loves to go to church to see his friends, sing along with the music, and hear about Jesus...and look at that happy face!

Ezra and I at church! It doesn't look the same as everyone else, but he loves to go to church to see his friends, sing along with the music, and hear about Jesus...and look at that happy face!

A New Year and a New Thing!

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Do you dare to trust that God is going to do a new thing in 2018? Now is the time of year when everyone makes resolutions, new promises, and sets their expectations on the future. But what about us? What about the parents of a special needs child? Many times, we grow stagnant in our hope that God might have new and exciting things planned for our child with special needs. The world beats us down, and we find ourselves barely crawling into the new year. Our day-to-day life can be so tedious that somehow, we miss the reality that God wants to do a new thing in our lives and in the life of our special needs child as well. Dear parent, do not lose your hope. 

Trust that God Can Reveal a New Thing: Our God is a God who pursues a relationship with His people. He so desires a personal relationship with us and wants us to experience His power in our lives. He wants us to allow His Holy Spirit to fall fresh on us and for us to grow in our knowledge of Him. Our special needs children are not excluded from Gods desire to meet with His children. Let us pray and trust that God will pursue the heart of our child and will reveal Himself in ways that only He can. 

Trust that God Will Allow New Things: Sometimes, we grow weary in our never-ending attempt to help our special needs child achieve new things. The extremely exhausting road of fighting for your child’s needs and trying to find those who just might give your child a chance can leave you feeling very lonely. This year, let’s commit to not losing hope. Let’s keep pushing, keep trying, keep cheering, and keep believing that God will allow new strengths to be developed. 

Trust that God Wants a New Thing: Our God is not a past-tense God. He is ever present and always working. As you begin a new year, trust that God wants to use you and your special needs child in new ways. It’s time to be transparent—help others to understand this journey you’re on. It’s time to be daring—do not become so overwhelmed by the limitations the world has placed on your child that you give up. It’s time to press on—set new goals for yourself and your child. Many special needs parents feel so bogged down by the “can’t” that we lose sight of the “could.” Please don’t quit, let’s believe that God can do a new thing in the life of our children. 

As you look forward to this new year, I pray you find peace in knowing that God can make “a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” No situation is without hope. No child escapes His view. No disability is too great. He sees each of us in our struggles and declares that He can do a new thing! 

“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43:19 (NIV)

First Published by my partners at Joni and Friends and Irresistible Church http://irresistiblechurch.org/new-year-new-thing/

Keep My Running Shoes On

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I love to walk around my house barefoot. I like the feeling of soft carpet on my toes and feel more “at home” without the restriction of wearing shoes. But more and more it seems that I forgo this comfort for the functionality of keeping my running shoes on.

You see, our home is different than many people’s homes. Because our son has autism, our home is louder; he is always singing, making noises, or quoting movies (in the world of autism it’s called “scripting”). Our house is in interesting order; you will find trains lined up on the kitchen table and strategically placed books open to strategically chosen pages. Currently our back door is always open. Our son loves to run outside and play, but it is also his current belief that the back door should remain open at all times—even if he is playing in a different part of the house. Living in this world of autism has caused our home to be a sometimes chaotic, but always beautiful haven for our family. And for now, living in the world of autism has caused me to keep my running shoes on.

For many, running and autism go hand in hand. People who are “on the spectrum” are often runners. Our kiddo is no exception to this pattern. Although he frequently overcomes his urge to run, our son’s current impulsivity requires me to jump up and move quickly at any moment. I have to be ready, so I keep my running shoes on.  

I love how the Lord uses my son’s autism to gently sharpen me in my personal relationship with Him. The Lord has recently reminded me that just as I have to keep my running shoes on, the same applies in my walk with the Lord. I need to keep my spiritual running shoes on.

In 1 Peter 3:15, the Bible reminds us to sanctify our hearts and “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you…” We need to keep our spiritual running shoes on! It is easy for us to slip our shoes off and run our toes through the carpet of comfortability in life, but that is not the calling of Christians. Life was never meant to be about our comfort, but rather exalting our Creator.

It’s my prayer that people around me will be able to see that my hope is in Christ. May I be quick to help and show love to others. May I be a reflection of Christ in all that I say and do. I pray that I am sharp and “ready to run” this great race called life. Sometimes it’s easy to let our spiritual shoelaces come untied. We become comfortable Christians, and it’s easy for us to get tripped up. I am thankful the Lord can use my precious son to remind me that I need to lace up my spiritual running shoes and be prepared for this sometimes chaotic, but always beautiful life. So, what condition are your running shoes in?

1 Peter 3: 15 (NKJV)— “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you…”

First Published for my Partners at Irresistible Church

 http://irresistiblechurch.org/keep-running-shoes/

 

 

 

What the World Does Not Yet Know...

There are things the world does not yet know about you, but we do… 

We know the joyful heart you have; how you love to smile and make others smile. Jokes are not lost on you, you are fully aware and very capable of sly humor in your own way. Your belly-laughs and wide grins are gracious blessings on this journey of autism. One day the world will understand that children who have autism feel deeply too. 

We know you have unique intelligence. We watch you absorb every detail of life through hungry eyes of exploration. We find it incredible that you play trains in your room to the movie script on the TV three rooms away; you hear everything. We are baffled by the fact that you can listen to a song once and match the melody and pitch perfectly. You seem to memorize people by their smell. You can read a heart from a mile away; you know if someone wants to be around you or has to be around you. And quite frankly, you don’t have time for the naysayers. You know roads and routes, and you are quick to let us know if the upcoming destination is pleasing to you. You are detail oriented in every way, and you are so aware of the conversations, noises, and activities going on around you. One day the world will recognize that children with autism have an incredibly and uniquely wired intelligence. 

We know your behavior is communication. Contrary to many people’s beliefs, behavior “for no reason” does not exist when it comes to you. We watch the battle rage inside of you between impulse and control; it’s so visibly real. And we have learned that every, tiny impulse has a cause. It is our prayer that one day you will be able to explain with your own words what you think and feel, but until then, we must listen to your actions. What if the world began to look at behavior as more than just a problem or discipline issue? What if we began asking WHY? If every behavior was considered to be a conversation, perhaps we could look past ourselves and help unlock the mystery of what you are so desperately trying to communicate. When the world begins to understand this significant key, true acceptance might become possible. 

We know that purpose does not pass over you. We believe that God has a very special plan and purpose for each and every individual. Just because you have been given the worldly label of “autistic,” does not mean that God’s purpose has passed over you. Therefore, we will press on. We will continue to help make a way for you and try to give voice to your life and who you are. With every trial and triumph, we will hold true to this belief. There is nothing wasted in your struggles and nothing wasted in your victories. You are perfectly made. When the world also begins to assign purpose to children living with autism, there just might be a chance of a cultural heart change. 

“Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.’”—John 9:3

First Published at IrresistibleChurch.org  

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When it All Goes Wrong

I know your heart, dear parent of a special needs child. I know how it feels when it all goes wrong. I understand those moments that make you hit your knees to plead with the Lord on behalf of your child. I know the cry of the parent who feels they have tried it all and yet frantically searches for anything that might provide a new breakthrough.

I’ve been there when it all goes wrong. When this year’s obstacle was last year’s victory.  When one step forward seems to make everything else take three steps back. You find yourself scrambling to hold it together. We want to fix it, try this, and try that. We collect our tired bodies and heave ourselves into bed just to try it all over again tomorrow—cleaning up the brokenness when it all goes wrong.

Dear parent of a special needs child, we can find ourselves on a slippery slope, you and I. Dark moments can lead to discouragement and despair. There are two things we must establish in our hearts and minds early so that when it all goes wrong, we stay strong.

1 Flaws today do not determine failure in the future.

As my son struggled to the ground in an aggressive meltdown, my heart sank. In that moment, I was consumed with worry for his future. My head began to spin with all the what ifs. We often believe the lie that our child’s rough moment equals a rough day, that his rough day means he had a rough week, and one rough week ruins our entire month. We fret about the future as we evaluate the flaws. When it all goes wrong, one moment turns into an eternity. When it all goes wrong, we must pick ourselves up and remember that this was just one moment. We must press on. We must spur our children on and help them overcome. We must remind ourselves that God holds the future of our children in His sovereign hands, and we need to trust Him with that. Flaws today do not determine failure in the future, instead they cause us to readjust and trust.

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” Isaiah 41:10 (NIV)

2.God’s got a bigger plan than you.

When everything goes wrong, it’s easy to try and grasp at ways to get a handle on things; to control them. It seems reasonable that if I just try hard enough, challenge my child to overcome, search for all the best “ways,” that we should end up as one of those success stories you hear about on the news. But what if God is writing our stories differently than what we expected? What if His blessings lie in the burdens? What if the story He has planned for you looks much more like unconditional love than any success story on the news? We must be willing to accept His perfect plan, even when everything seems to be going wrong. We must be willing to trust God with the pages of our lives. Even in our weakest moments, God is not taken by surprise nor is His sovereign plan shaken.

“‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’”  Isaiah 55:8-9 (NIV)

I know your heart dear parent, do not be discouraged. Even when it all goes wrong and everything seems to be falling to pieces, the Lord is holding everything in place. He is the one in control of the future, and His plan is bigger than ours. And because I know your heart, I know you probably need that reminder as much as I do.

First Published for my partners at Joni & Friends and Irresistible Church  http://irresistiblechurch.org/goes-wrong/

 Some days are just meant for play. No cleaning, no working, no demands. Just breathe deep. Breathe in the closeness. Savior the small things. After it all goes wrong, playing trains for a day is exactly where we need to be. 

Some days are just meant for play. No cleaning, no working, no demands. Just breathe deep. Breathe in the closeness. Savior the small things. After it all goes wrong, playing trains for a day is exactly where we need to be. 

The Smile in My Pocket: Special Needs Siblings

“Nichole, do you need the smile in my pocket?” As a little girl, my momma would offer me her “extra” smile when I was feeling sad. I had forgotten she used to say this until just the other day, as we all eventually turn into a version of our parents, I looked at my own daughter’s downcast face and offered, “Grace, do you need the smile in my pocket?” It was without thought that these words tumbled out of my mouth, and I couldn’t help but smile at the realization of what I had just said. But my little girl was not smiling. Not even close. 

It was not a look of discontentment or boredom that covered her face. There was no trace of selfishness. Instead, it was a look of deep sorrow—an emotion that flooded her heart and reflected in her eyes. I knew this look. I had seen it before. 

My sweet girl buried her face in her hands and wept. She wept for her baby brother. She was burdened for him as the new school year approached. She prayed that he would make new friends and that his teachers would love him; because it’s hard watching her baby brother try to find acceptance in a world where autism is still very misunderstood. 

This was the cry of a special needs sibling. 

We know that parents of special needs children sometimes need extra support and encouragement, but we often forget that special needs siblings also daily give of themselves, their time, attention, and love. They need support and encouragement too. 

Here are just a few things we have learned from our precious daughter. 

Special Needs Siblings Feel Deeply

Special needs siblings are exposed at a very early age to the lack of understanding our society has for people with disabilities; many times, they feel responsible to make a way for their sibling. Special needs siblings want so much to have a connection with their brother or sister; toys, movie preference, and activities take a backseat to the possible opportunity of simply winning a glance, a smile, or even a touch from them. Just as my husband and I sit and pour out our hearts to one another about the future and well-being of our special needs son, our daughter also loves her baby brother and is concerned for him, praying desperately for him to succeed. We should always keep in mind the deep heart aches of a special needs sibling. 

Special Needs Siblings Sacrifice Greatly

Therapy sessions, doctor appointments, procedures, and tests ... this is the life of a special needs family. We try to remind our daughter that she doesn’t have to be the doctor, the therapist, or the teacher. “Just be his big sister” we say as she prompts her baby brother with verbal cues before she will allow him to have another pretzel bite. Disability becomes a family affair. Our homes are not like everyone else’s. Our lives have a unique ebb and flow. In the midst of all this, we desperately try to make special time for our daughter. Time that is only for her. Because many special needs siblings, by nature, give of themselves relentlessly. 

Special Needs Siblings Need Encouragement

If you know a child who is a special needs sibling, please encourage them. They carry burdens heavier than many their age. They have also acquired beautiful gifts that take many of us a lifetime to learn. They recognize that love requires no words. They know the significance of being a friend to all people regardless of ability. They have learned to find the beauty in life amidst the struggle. They have learned to choose relationship over possessions. It’s true that special needs siblings carry a perspective of life that is weighty at times and yet equally as beautiful. The weight of these gifts should be matched by as much encouragement as we can give. 

Special needs siblings feel deeply, sacrifice greatly, and need our encouragement. Maybe you could offer them the smile in your pocket?

First Published at Irresistible Church

 http://irresistiblechurch.org/smile-pocket-special-needs-siblings/

 

 First Day of School

First Day of School

Parenting with Grace

I have a confession to make. I parent with a tremendous amount of grace. Not in a “oh-look-how-gracefully-she-parents-her-children” type of way. No, I mean I am constantly asking the Lord for grace to try again, thanking Him that tomorrow is another day, and full of gratefulness that my children are also generally forgiving and fairly resilient. 

This parenting gig is no joke. The older I get and the more life throws our direction I realize that most of us parents don’t really know exactly what we are doing. We can arm ourselves with God’s Word, stand on His promises, ask for wisdom and discernment… and yet, many times it still feels like we are shooting from the hip. These tiny little humans that the Lord entrusted to us didn’t come with manuals. So sometimes in our weaker moments we are left feeling ill-equipped and do a whole lot of praying that we don’t mess this whole thing up. Can I tell you something? You can multiply this feeling by a thousand for the parent of a child with special needs. 

We’ve got one shot at parenting, and we don’t want to mess it up. As parents of a child with special needs, we find ourselves in the very unique position of being our child’s medical coordinator, educational advocate, therapy coordinator, records keeper, and insurance protector. We work hard to make a way for our children and to try to give them every opportunity to reach their highest potential. In a world where “raising awareness” has become more about the t-shirt, ice bucket, or bumper sticker than about true heart change and acceptance, we find ourselves grasping for ways to make a place for our children. Compile this with everyday things like having a job, being a wife and mother, and parenting other children besides your child with special needs, and shooting from the hip quickly becomes an understatement. There. Is. No. Manual. For. This. 

Having a child with disabilities is a tricky little dance. It’s two steps forward and two steps back. Many times, as we delight in our son’s newfound accomplishments, we see an old one slip away. It’s easy to get caught up in the daunting task of grappling with what has been gained and what has been lost. We are trying desperately just to communicate with our child and to make sure he knows he is loved. Most parents of children with special needs function on about three to four hours of sleep because disabilities like autism have no time zone. Our emotions run high and our energy low. This is the perfect recipe for imperfect parenting and the need for grace. 

Dear Parents, I hope you will remember that we can parent with grace. I’m finding more and more in this role of a special needs parent, that if I just offer up all I have and as much as I can, the Lord will cover all my imperfections with His grace. 

I’m willing to bet that we all get a little snippy, lose our cool, throw patience out the window, burn dinner, miss the appointment, and wonder what-in-the-world we are doing. I’m also willing to bet that the deeper issues we occasionally struggle with are not foreign to fellow parents who walk this journey with us. So, breathe deep and let yourself rest just a little knowing that you are not alone and that in all our inadequacies, God’s grace is sufficient. 

There is such a thing as imperfect progress. Thank the Lord! 

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” 2 Corinthians 12:9 (ESV)

First published at Irresistible Church

http://irresistiblechurch.org/parenting-grace/

 

The Power of a Positive Word: Children with Special Needs

I’m sure I stared at her with a deer-in-the-headlights sort of look as she spoke. “Your son is just awesome! He is talking so much and is so smart!” Of course, these are all things that I know to be true about my son, but hearing these words from another human being about my son who has autism is definitely rare. I fought back tears as the therapist helped my son into the car after a long day at the clinic—I’m not even sure I responded appropriately to her kind words.

You see, I’m not used to these comments. I have seen frustrated glances and shoulder shrugs. I have had multiple conversations with educators about all the things my son can’t do. The most cutting remark was a therapist who blankly said, “I just can’t do anything else with your son until you medicate him.”

Unfortunately, these are the things that most parents who have a child with special needs are used to hearing. There is a constant dialogue between parents and caretakers regarding their children with special needs, and sadly, the conversation is often centered on areas of difficulty.  Parents become beaten down and discouraged. That’s why I was so shocked when my son’s new therapist complimented him. She saw his strengths and made sure to let me know—it meant the world to me.

This is such an important thing to keep in mind for anyone working with those who have special needs. You need to understand what families like mine are used to. Most of all, you need to understand the power of a positive word.

Positivity is Powerful: If you are working in a special needs ministry or just happen to have the joy of knowing a child who has special needs, you need never underestimate the power of positivity. Every child has a set of God-given gifts and strengths. Look for ways to delight in the wonderful things they can do! In a world of negativity, this will fuel the hearts of both the child and their parents. In a case such as ours, it gives hope that others see glimpses of what we see when we look at our son.

“Anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.” Proverbs 12:25

Positivity is Contagious: This summer my son began therapy at a new school where he is surrounded by people who cheer him on and celebrate his strengths. And guess what? He rises to the occasion. Certainly, he still has struggles, but in an atmosphere of encouragement he works hard to overcome the obstacles of autism. We must remember that children who have special needs, although they may not verbally acknowledge other’s comments, still understand what others say about them and even how they feel about working with them. Your positivity will greatly influence the trust and relationship you build with a special needs child and their family. Positivity is contagious; spreading from child to family with your ministry as its source!

“Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.” 1 Thess. 5:11

Positivity Does Not Mean Masking the Truth: When working with those who have special needs, truth and trust go hand in hand. Just because you encourage and focus on the positive aspects of a child, it does not mean that you should neglect to share with a parent any problems that arise. Often, parents are trying to work on medication changes or therapy changes for their child. Your input is important if there is an area of trouble. Sharing hard truths in love, covered by the positive things you see in their child, will make all the difference.

“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.” Ephesians 4:25

Positivity is powerful and can be one of your greatest tools when working with those who have special needs. It makes a difference in the life of a child. It makes a difference to families just like mine!

 

First Published at http://irresistiblechurch.org/power-positive-word-children-special-needs/

When Words Are Few And Tears Are Many: The Heart Cries Of A Special Needs Parent

The ache was so deep and the pain so raw, that I could not utter a word. There I was, on my knees in desperation, poised to cry out to Jesus. But trying to sift through the emotions that flooded my heart only rendered me more speechless.

It was too much. I had no words.

There in our tiny living room I knelt, eyes closed, as I imagined myself at the feet of Jesus. And even though I had no words, even though the hurt of our circumstance had overwhelmed me, I continued to kneel there weeping.

I was doing business with Jesus. No words necessary.

In our culture, we place a great deal of value on words. Sometimes our palms begin to sweat as we are asked to offer up a prayer in front of a crowd. We try so hard to say the right things. Sometimes we worry about sounding “spiritual” enough.

But God has never been a God of many words. He is a God of the heart. He has the sovereign ability to look past our inadequate words, and even past our weeping, as He peels back the curtains of our heart to reveal our true selves.

So, when words are few and tears are many, He sees your heart.

As I knelt on my living room floor, pouring out the heart cries of a special needs parent at the foot of my Savior on behalf of my son, no words were necessary. The Lord promises that even when our words fail us, His Holy Spirit intercedes for us.

“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”  Romans 8:26 NIV

The truth is, I was feeling helpless. I was trying so hard to make a way for my son.  I was overwhelmed by the lack of understanding the world seems to have for a little boy like mine. It seemed as though even the very people who were supposed to be advocating for the success of our child just didn’t quite get it. Is there really no place for a seven-year-old, blue-eyed, wide-smiled, precious little boy who happens to have autism? I was hurt for him. And there is no other hurt like a momma’s hurt for her baby.

Although I can now quite accurately articulate the thoughts and feelings I was having that day, at the time I was left with nothing more than sobs. Sobs at the feet of Jesus. But there was no need to articulate anything because the Lord already knew.  

Dear friend, is there something burdening your heart? Maybe your words are few and your tears are many as you carry the weight of your child’s disability, or fight for your marriage, or strive to make ends meet.

Whatever the circumstance, run to the Father. No words are necessary. His Holy Spirit intercedes for you. You need only come to Jesus with your heart, He will refresh and restore your soul. He longs to exchange our grief for His grace, our burdens for His blessings, and our tears for His triumphant plan.

First Published at Irresistible Church http://irresistiblechurch.org/words-tears-many-heart-cries-special-needs-parent/

 

3 Questions The Church Should Be Asking This Month

The month of April is Autism Awareness Month. What does this mean for the Church? It’s time for the Body of Christ to evaluate how we reach out to those with special needs.

Here are three things the Church should be asking during Autism Awareness Month:

  1. Who are we reaching?

    I hope your church has a true passion for people. I pray you are a group of people who desire nothing more than to love God and share His love with others. I would expect to find that “Missions” is part of the heartbeat of the congregation. However, when the pew meets the pavement, what does this look like?

    I fear that it has become too easy for Christians to donate to a worthy cause, get the t-shirt, and walk away. It’s easier for us to open our wallets to help dig a well on the other side of the world than it is to give our time, change the diaper of a 10-year-old with special needs, or cry alongside the family who has just received a diagnosis. Donating to a cause demands very little from us. The latter is messy, it makes us uncomfortable, and it might take some commitment. But I can tell you this, there is a huge, unreached mission field right here in America.

    In 2012, the CDC conducted a study that estimated 1 in 68 children were affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). [1]  It is also estimated that very few families who have a child with ASD attend church on a regular basis. So, whether we realize it or not, the autism community is affected by the Church. They are either embraced, loved, and accepted, or they are falling through the cracks. Dear Church, who are you reaching?

  2. Do we have a willing heart?

    Churches often ask how they can start a program for special needs children. They feel ill-equipped, have no budget, and honestly, they’re scared. Training, security, and activities are all essential elements of creating a program, but there is one thing you must have first: a willing heart. Church, you must develop a heart for ministering to those with special needs.

    I have visited churches with my own child who has autism. Some churches had state-of-the-art equipment, but the members did not have a heart for those with special needs. It was evident the moment we walked in. It made us uncomfortable to leave our child, so we didn’t.

    I have visited churches who had little more than a room of bean bag chairs and a teacher who fumbled through reading the Bible to the special needs children in her class. But the church had a heart for those with special needs, and they sought to include them in all that they did. They cared, so we stayed.  

    There are families out there who long to be accepted and loved. They want their child to belong, to be a part of a community. All we need is a willing heart.

  3. What happens if we do nothing?

    Simply put, nothing. The Church will continue being the Church. We are a beautifully broken group of people who gather under the banner of Christ’s grace and unconditional love. We will keep loving people, feeding people, worshipping, and growing. We will keep donating to missions. We will continue in our comfortable Christianity.

    But, we must also know that in our communities, perhaps in one of the very houses that line the street of our Church, there is a child who has autism. This child struggles to feel understood and accepted. This child’s mom cries herself to sleep as she fears for the future of her child. This child’s father is grasping to find peace in the midst of a life no one could have prepared him for. This family is searching. They are looking to be loved, and they are lonely. They are falling through the cracks. They are part of an unreached mission field, right under our noses.

    Dear Church, if not us, then who? We have a grand opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Let us embrace disability ministry and ultimately those who are hurting!  

[1] https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/addm.html

First Posted at Irresistible Church Blog  http://irresistiblechurch.org/3-questions-church-asking-month/

From One Special Needs Parent To Another: Don't Give Up

Dear Parent,

I know how easy it is to feel like you are all alone in this, but you’re not. While your child’s special needs may be different from mine, we are on a very similar journey. I want to encourage you with three words. Simple though they may be, these three words are so important for the task the Lord has given to us. The Lord has entrusted you and I with the life of a child who has special needs. So, no matter how ill-equipped you may feel, no matter the severity of the disability, no matter how weary you have become, let these three words spur you on as you care for your child. From one special needs parent to another: Don’t Give Up.

I know your weariness. I know how you sleep with one eye open and one ear listening throughout the night, just in case. I know how you wake in the wee hours of the morning to change soiled bedsheets and to wash your precious child. I know that often times coffee and a prayer is what keeps you going all day. Don’t Give Up.

I know your discouragement. I know that no matter how many times you give yourself a pep talk, you will find yourself comparing your child’s development to other children their age. I know that for every milestone achieved, it seems there are a million more standing in the wings. Don’t Give Up.

I know your fears. I know you fear for the future of your child; wondering what level of independence they will have, their wellbeing, and what will happen to them when you are no longer around to make a way for them. I know you fear for your child’s education and whether the school budget or politics will limit their chance at having every opportunity for personal growth and success. Don’t Give Up.

I know your joys. I know that overwhelming sense of excitement when you watch your child achieve something for the first time. These are moments of pure joy that others might find hard to understand like when you feel as though you have just conquered the world because your child made eye contact with you for the first time. I know how one touch from your child can make all the days of struggle melt away in an instant. I know that little things are not so little in this life of ours. I know that those moments and milestones that bring us such joy are almost puzzling to the rest of the world. Don’t Give Up.

I know sometimes you might feel like giving up. As you fight and you push and you try your hardest to make a way for your child in this world, sometimes you become weary. Sometimes it seems like an uphill battle. Don’t Give Up. No matter how battle-weary you become, you must hold tight to this task the Lord has entrusted to you. Because no matter how ill-equipped you may feel at times, the Lord specifically chose and gifted you with this special child.

Let us pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and continue making a way for our children. Giving up should never be an option. Continue praying over your child, the Lord hears you. Continue those late nights and early mornings, the Lord is with you. Continue those therapy sessions and treatments, the Lord will provide. But most importantly, protect this gift that the Lord has entrusted to you and Don’t Give Up.

Psalm 127:3 “Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from him.”

First posted at www.IrresistibleChurch.org