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/

 

 

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!

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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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

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/

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/

This is Your Story: 3 Important Truths

Everyone loves a good story. We allow ourselves some vulnerability as we cry or share a good laugh over another person’s tale. However, when confronted with the pages of our own life, we are often discontent, desperately wishing we could re-write a few pages. We might even wish we could completely make over the main character, ourselves. The hardships, sleepless nights, medical conditions, or struggles just weren’t what we had in mind to fill the pages between “Once Upon a Time” and “Happily Ever After”.

Have you ever felt this way? Many of us have. Sometimes the Lord writes on the pages of our lives with permanent marker. Try as we may, we cannot blot out, color over, or erase His pen and are eventually left to embrace the marks of our Savior. It’s at this point of surrender that we discover He is the greatest story teller there ever was. He is the Master Story Writer; fashioning your story for His glory and for your fulfillment in Jesus Christ.

Here are three important truths to keep in mind as you trust the Lord with your story.

Comparison kills contentment. Every time. This is your story! Do not be concerned with the story the Lord is writing for someone else. He has a very specific plan and purpose for your life. One of the fastest ways of discouraging yourself is to compare your story to someone else’s.  Count your blessings, and not theirs. Do not miss the beauty written on the pages of your own life.

“A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” Proverbs 14:30

There is beauty in brokenness. Many times, the very things that you would not have willingly chosen for yourself, are what make your story most beautiful.  Life is not always easy. When you are faced with disability, you learn to rely on the Lord’s ability. When you face trials, you learn to rely on faith and trust. Sometimes tears precede triumphs. You must remember to give Satan no opportunity to discourage you from the purpose the Lord has for you. Have faith that you will be able to one day flip through the pages of your story to find that heartbreak brought hope, struggles produced strengths, and that beauty came from brokenness.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28

There is joy on the journey. Each day you have the opportunity to choose joy. Our God is not the author of gloom and doom. Do not miss out on the joy of this life. Rest in the assurance of the Master Writer’s pen. The Lord longs to reveal Himself to you. Find comfort in His care, strength in His sovereignty, and peace in His presence.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13

God is crafting your story. There is no other story like it. Once you open your heart to the authority of His pen, trusting that He knows best, there is peace in resting between the pages of life. This is your story!

First posted on IrresistibleChurch.org  Blog.

 Thank you, Lord, for our story.

Thank you, Lord, for our story.

When You Feel Guilty For Talking About Your Life's Problems or Praises to The Parent Who Has a Child With Special Needs

You complain to me about work. You share with me about your child’s awards and accomplishments. You gripe about the lady who did your nails. You talk to me about money problems. You tell me about the plans for your next big family vacation. You worry about your kid’s grades. You share a personal prayer request. And then, you feel guilty for saying these things to me because I am the parent of a child who has special needs.

I know it’s true. I know it’s true because you all apologize to me. “I’m so sorry, I know my struggles are nothing compared to yours.” “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t burden you with these things. You have enough on your plate.” “Of course, I know this is nothing like what you are going through.” For as many real conversations I have with friends and family, I have probably received just as many apologies.

So, I am writing you dear friends, to set you free. I want to share with you exactly what I think about my life problems and your life problems, your life praises and my life praises, and why your feeling of guilt is unnecessary. I want you to know that we parents of special needs kiddos need you, and you need us too!

WE’VE GOT ISSUES AND SO DO YOU!

As I’m writing this, an old (revised) cheer is flitting through my head. “We’ve got issues, yes we do! We’ve got issues, how about you!?” But you guys, it’s the truth. We all have struggles.  Sure, some of my family’s struggles look different than other people’s because we have a child with special needs. But please remember this about us Special Needs Parents, we have jobs, some of us have other children, we have bills, we like to watch TV, we like to go shopping, we have interests, we have spouses who we love, we have spouses who sometimes drive us crazy, some of us are single parents, and ALL of us are just regular people like you. And, we’ve got regular-life issues; issues that have nothing to do with Speech Therapy, Disability Insurance, or Autism.

When a friend shares with me about her struggles, I do not feel resentment. The impression I get is that many of you think we Special Needs Parents are listening to you talk while we mentally calculate, “I can’t believe she is talking about this. This is nothing compared to my life and my problems.” Friends, nothing could be farther from the truth. When a friend confides in me, even if it is a struggle that I have not personally faced, it reminds me that others struggle too. There is a human bond of comradery. I so appreciate it when someone is real with me and does not feel that they need to somehow protect me from their life’s issues, because of my own. Yes, our family faces a unique set of hard struggles at times, but I am willing to bet that others of you are facing a unique set of struggles all your own. For lack of a better phrase, the struggle is real for all of us.

My fear is that you are holding back from us. My fear is that little by little we Special Needs Parents will become more and more isolated because others believe we have too much going on or too much on our plate. Believe it or not, in many ways, we are very much like you. We have not gotten so lost in a world of disability that we cannot see life outside of it.

So, let me free you from the guilt of sharing your struggles with us. Your sharing reminds us that we still have friendships. Your sharing reminds us that we are not alone in this thing called life. Your sharing makes us feel valued, because you came to us with a burden.

YOU’VE GOT PRAISES AND SO DO WE!

I would much rather measure life by the praises and not the problems. Wouldn’t you? I hope you have praises. I hope that you are able to see the fingerprints of God all over your life. I hope that you are able to watch the Lord, who gives every good and perfect gift (James 1:17), work in and through the very fabric of your everyday life. I hope you take time to celebrate the many blessings, accomplishments, and praises in your life, even in front of me.

I have actually had friends apologize to me for sharing about their child’s academic accomplishments. They thought they might be hurting my feelings because I have a child who has special needs. Again, nothing could be farther from the truth. In fact, it hurts so much more that anyone would ever feel that they need to hold back from sharing a praise, because we are Special Needs Parents.

You need to know that we Special Needs Parents are not watching you and measuring your many blessings against our “plight in life”. On the contrary, we wish for your success, we are happy for your children, we want you to enjoy your life, and we would love for you to share your praises with us. You also need to know that we Special Needs Parents have many praises of our own. We would love to share with you about our child’s many accomplishments. My son’s accomplishments may be different than your son’s, but the pride of a parent for their child is the same. You see, we are not so different.

The truth is, God has gifted each of us with our own lives and set of blessings. Comparison kills contentment, every time. Because we live in a culture that cultivates comparison, I can see how it would be easy for others to think that we Special Needs Parents feel uncomfortable with others sharing their life praises, particularly when it comes to their children.

So, let me free you from the guilt of sharing your praises with us. We would love to share in your joy with you. Your sharing offers us connection. Your sharing ushers in celebration. We feel blessed by the friendship that recognizes that we all have our own unique, God given blessings. We will praise with you and for you!

WE NEED EACHOTHER!

The cause for community is an important one. We “Special Needs Families” need you. We need your “regular life” to collide with ours. You help us keep our sanity. You keep us connected and help us to feel a part of society. What’s more, you need us too. Those who dare to invest in the lives of a “Special Needs Family” will find that we aren’t too far off the beaten path. Our lives are full of love, laughter, problems and praises, much like yours.

We want to rejoice with you over your child’s accomplishments. We want to cheer your family on as you enjoy a much needed family vacation. We want to intercede in prayer on your behalf. We want you to share your burdens with us so we can be there for you. We hope you will do the same for us!

I hope this helps in freeing you from the guilt of sharing your problems or praises with parents who have a child with special needs. We all need to have authentic relationships. We all need true, meaningful conversation. We want to share in this crazy, wonderful, messy, beautiful thing called life with you all.

 

 

Our Homebound Half-Summer: Special Needs Parenting

Just as my son wraps himself up inside a tunnel of weighted blankets, Autism crept in and wrapped itself around every fabric of his life leaving him trapped inside and overwhelmed. It seemed that every time he tried to overcome the impulses, aggression, and sensory overload, we would catch little glimpses of the boy we know is inside, only to watch this force called Autism overpower him once again.

He had been battling through these struggles common to Autism for a while. As a parent, it is the most heartbreaking thing to watch your child writhe on the floor in pain, want to hide inside a box so as to shut out the world, or to lash out in frustration because he so wants to be understood.

We were working intensively with his therapists, teachers, and doctors to help him through this extraordinarily tough time. We don’t know why this extreme behavior seemed to take over this last year. Some might say it’s the six year old boy hormones clashing with Autism. Other people might just say that Autism is not only a spectrum, but it is also a journey. This journey is full of ups and downs, trials and triumphs. Regardless of why, my child was struggling and we were going to do anything and everything we could think of to help him.

In the midst of this quest to help our son, May came, and then June. That’s the way it works. Before we knew it, we were thrown into summer.

I determined to be brave. I wanted both of my kids to have a wonderful summer. We were going to go walking, swimming, go to the park, and go get ice cream. I made a picture schedule. I made a social story for my son that told him about all the cool things we were going to do.

Without going into too much detail, it didn’t work. Oh, I could share a dozen stories of failed attempts. I could tell you about the morning we attempted to go for a walk through the neighborhood (me walking and my son being pushed in his stroller) and how I had to call someone for help as he had a meltdown that left us sprawled out on the gravel. I could tell you about the Sunday morning that we gathered up our courage and tried to go to church only to come home in tears with broken hearts. With each failed attempt, we retreated further and further into ourselves and our misunderstood reality. Before long, we were homebound.

The Autism journey can be a lonely one. I know this. I have felt this. I know of other families who have a child with special needs who have expressed feelings of isolation and loneliness. But nothing could have prepared my heart and mind for our homebound half-summer.

I wasn’t sad for me. I was brokenhearted that while other six year old little boys were camping, swimming, and biking this summer, my precious son was at home struggling. We continued to work hard with his doctors and therapists to bring him relief. But make no mistake, we were homebound. We did not go out to eat, out to swim, or out for a walk. We had family pick items up for us in town because we could not leave our son and we could not take him with us. We. Were. Home. I did my best to create a world of summer fun from my front door to the backyard gate. It was within the confines of this small area that we laughed, cried, snuggled, had meltdowns, and tried our very hardest to pull our son out of the overwhelming layers that Autism had seemed to wrap so tightly around him.

In the midst of all this, the Lord was gracious to teach me and speak to my heart. I want to take this opportunity to share a few things I learned during our homebound half-summer.

1. Not everyone understands, and that’s ok.

Throughout these six years we have watched friends come and go. Not everyone understands. This still stings a little, but not as much as it used to. There are a hand full, and I mean a tiny handful of people who are still walking through this journey with us. These are the friends who come sit on our living room floor and visit while Ezra drives his train on their leg like a train track. They don’t have to go out, go bowling, go to a movie, or require a fancy meal to spend time with us.  These are the friends who understand that if they come to us, they will experience the very best version of our son in his own surroundings, creating an environment conducive for visiting. These are the friends who pray for us and with us. These are the friends who do not pass judgment and trust that we (a least sort-of) know what we are doing and that we always have our son’s best interest in mind.

During our homebound half-summer, I was reminded of how thankful I am for the few who understand. Those living room talks, checking-up-on-me texts, and phone calls helped to keep me going during a season of great loneliness. I am thankful for their love and friendship even through our darkest times.

I was also reminded during this time that not everyone understands. As the parent of a special needs child, I am learning to let go of the stares, comments, and cold shoulders. I am reminded that our crazy life does not fit into everyone else’s fast pace life. Not everyone understands, and that’s ok.

2. My first ministry is to my family, even if it means letting go of many other things.

This summer, I had to let go. I let go of writing, I let go of blogging, I let go of keeping up with very many people, and I let go of keeping a super orderly house. I let go of many things. These are all things that I love, but I love my son more. He is worth it. Whatever it was going to take to help him through this difficult time was exactly what I was going to do.

 Keeping up with Ezra and his needs while balancing being a momma to our daughter and wife to my husband is a full time job. By the end of each day my body was physically exhausted and I was usually emotionally drained.

My greatest desire for my son during our homebound half-summer was to make sure that no matter what, he felt loved, understood, and that he knew we were not giving up on him.

My greatest desire for my daughter during our homebound half-summer was to make sure that she still had a wonderful summer full of love and laughter. June was hard for her as she watched her brother struggle. She began asking the “why?” questions about Autism and Ezra. She needed extra love and attention as she had a front row seat to the overwhelming force that Autism can be at times.

I had to ask the Lord to help search my heart for all the things that I should let go of in order to not only help my son, but to serve our little family as a whole. It got to the point that letting go was somewhat freeing. I knew each day that my focus was going to rest solely on my children, helping Ezra to overcome, and loving my sweet husband. It was enough, and it was good.

3. There is beauty even in brokenness.

Although I was brokenhearted to watch my son struggle, there were many beautiful moments. Every moment we made eye contact was priceless. Every hug and sweet kiss fueled my fire to keep pressing on. (Oh mamma’s, don’t take those hugs and kisses for granted; some of us wait and pray for such treasures.) Even during our toughest times, it would tug on my heart when my son was able to verbalize and cry out “Momma” in the midst of a severe meltdown; a tiny victory in the midst of a great storm. Every word said, direction followed, toy not thrown, glance in my direction, display of affection, and smile across his precious face made all the gut wrenching struggles worth it. The Lord was gracious to give me exactly what I needed when I needed it. Just when I thought I couldn’t cry another tear, my son would unexpectedly come over to kiss my cheek. There was beauty in the brokenness.

June sluggishly brought July and around this time, we were finally beginning to break free from the tangles that had so tightly bound my son. His doctors had worked with us continuously and we were finally beginning to have our Ezra “back” again. Things were not perfect, but we were able to venture out every once in a while. We took baby steps as we attempted to establish a new normal. We even braved a vacation to the beach that had been scheduled long before we ever knew we would be in the midst of such struggles.

As we began to try to acclimate our family back into society, we moved very slowly. We are still in that process. It feels as though it took all of July just to recover our strength and energy from all that June had to offer. With school just around the corner, we are gearing up for what we hope is a wonderful school year. This has been a long process, full of lessons, longings, and love.

There is something you should know, there are others just like us. There are countless families who have children with special needs and they are homebound. They cannot leave their home and they are lonely. Some have been homebound for much longer than just a half-summer. If you know one of these families, please reach out to them. May times people think we just “want our space.” This could not be farther from the truth.

If you are one of those families, I am sending you a hug. Press on dear parents. This road is a long and bumpy one, but nothing could ever compare to the triumphs (both large and small) along the way. This is a journey worth taking, a battle worth fighting, and a love like no other. Thank goodness God does not forsake us, even in the midst of a homebound half-summer.

To My Son's Special Education Teacher: We Need to Talk

Dear Special Education Teacher,

It’s time. I’ve been holding this back for far too long. We need to talk.

You see, I’ve been waiting. I’ve been waiting to see if you would do what many other teachers have done before. I was waiting to see if you would grow weary, lose hope, or just plain give up. As the parent of a special needs child, we are far too familiar with the disappointment of a discouraged teacher. Now, as the end of the school years is upon us, and as many Special Education classes have simply slipped into survival mode, here you are still pouring yourself out for our little boy.

I want you to know how thankful we are that you have not given up on our son this year.

You know better than anyone else that this has been a hard year. With every milestone crossed, there has been a new mountain to climb. With every behavior overcome, there was a new behavior that seemed to take its place. As it goes sometimes in the world of Autism, this year has been a never ending journey to try to help quench the insatiable need for sensory input and curb the overwhelming impulsivity that seems to try swallow our precious little boy.

It would have been so easy for you to give up. It would have been so easy for you to maintain a survival mode mentality. It is because of your refusal to give into defeat and your determination to not just allow my child to “pass through” your classroom, that we were able to confidently entrust our child to you each day.

So, now it’s time. We need to talk. I want to make sure you understand all the reasons why THIS was my child’s BEST year of school, even though it was the hardest.

Constant Communication

There were very few mornings this year that I did not drop my child off at school without my stomach being in knots or at least a few tears streaming down my cheeks. I knew that my child would be well taken care of, but I was just so burdened for him and for how his day would go. He struggled this year. As a Momma, when our babies are struggling, it’s just so hard not to worry.

Your constant communication was what helped me to get through each day. I knew that I would receive pictures of my child and sometimes even videos.  I knew that you would keep me updated on the good, the bad, and the ugly throughout the day.

Every afternoon when I got home from work, I would go straight to my child’s backpack to check his folder to see what you had written about his day. I knew that if for some reason you were unable to write in his folder that day, you were just a text or phone call away.

Teachers of Special Education Students sometimes lose sight of the fact that our children cannot tell us about their experiences at school. They cannot tell us what made them sad or happy. They cannot tell us about their huge accomplishments or things that made them frustrated. You, the teacher, are the only link between school and home. If you had not told me, I would have never known. Thank you for your constant communication.

Honesty

You’re a straight shooter, and I’m so thankful for that. While you have capitalized on my son’s strengths and celebrated his many accomplishments this year, you also shared his struggles with us.

I’ve heard the almost mechanical, half-hearted answer of “Oh, he did so great” from many caregivers and teachers before. They are afraid they will hurt our feelings. They don’t like yucky conversations. The truth of the matter is that my child’s well-being and future are on the line, and as the parent of a child with special needs, I don’t have time for flowery conversations if, in fact, not everything is “so great”.

 This year, Autism for our child meant struggles with aggression, impulsivity, and sensory integration, among other things. Your honesty helped us to gage what kind of help our son needed. Your honesty helped to shape his Speech and Occupational Therapy sessions at home. Your honesty helped his Neurologist and Psychiatrist to make informed decisions as they worked with us to help our son learn new coping mechanisms and as they worked to develop a plan that would best serve our child.

I truly believe that the open and honest dialogue we have had with each other this year is one of the main reasons that we consider this year to be a success. There is very little progress that can be made in the life of a Special Education Student unless the teacher is willing to honestly give feedback to the child’s parents. Thank you for your honesty.

Care and Compassion

It has occurred to me that no one outside of our home has a better understanding of our life, than you. Loneliness is a common struggle amongst families who have children with special needs. We wonder how on earth anyone could possibly imagine what our day to day is like. But you know. By having my child in your class, you are privy to an understanding of my sweet boy that others just are not able to have. It is what you do with this special understanding that makes all the difference in the lives of families like mine. And what you have done is show an abundance of care and compassion.

When people think of a Special Education Teacher, I’m not sure they envision the multiple times we have sat together in a dark room beside my sweet boy as he laid rolled up in his stretchy blanket on the floor, trying to calm down. I’m not sure people think about the late afternoon phone calls when my son has had a possible seizure and you are the only person I know to call because you’ve seen him have one before. I’m not sure people realize that the only constant with Autism is change, as you have helped my child meet his ever shifting needs by finding weight and then compression, light and then dark, water and sand, walking with the service dog and then sitting in his box. I’m not sure people think about all the many times you have called to check up on my boy, just to make sure he is ok after a hard day.

Teaching my child is more than a job to you. You have invested in my child and have truly cared for him and his success in your classroom. You were not content to just let him be. Each day was a new day and my son knew that you had not given up on him. You have cared, struggled, disciplined, celebrated, cried, pushed, and have poured yourself out for my little boy. You cared enough to challenge my son and you had compassion enough to love him unconditionally. Care and compassion are not things that can be taught when you go to school to become a teacher. You either have them, or you don’t. Thank you for the care and compassion that you have relentlessly shown our little boy, and our family.

It’s true, it’s been a hard year. I am so thankful that the Lord gave us you for this season in our child’s life. I know you must have days that are exhausting and discouraging. Press on dear teacher! You are making a difference and your hard work does not go unnoticed. Because of your constant communication, your honesty covered in love, and your care and compassion, I can say that this has been my child’s BEST year of school, even though it was his hardest. Thank you for loving him enough to not just settle. Thank you for not just surviving. Thank you for being you!

Miscarriage and Mother's Day

Emptiness. That’s the feeling I remember most. In the place of where a heartbeat should have been, there was nothing; leaving my own heart with a feeling of emptiness.

It was Mother’s Day weekend almost seven years ago that I lost this precious child, but time has not made the very real memory of it all fade away. How can you be so absolutely in love with a little life that has only existed for a few short weeks? I’m not sure how to explain it, but you can. 

I remember breaking down in tears at the hospital as they drew my blood and conducted tests to further prove what I already knew to be true, I had experienced a miscarriage. And then, to my surprise, a second heartbeat. I had miscarried a twin.

I have heard of other women miscarrying a twin. I have also heard of the “Vanishing Twin Syndrome”. But I have never personally known another woman who has experienced this. Apparently the people in our community during this time were not familiar with this happening and awkwardly offered up their condolences by saying things like “I’m really sorry, but at least you still have one baby in there!”

The truth is, no matter how thankful we were that the Lord allowed us to carry and deliver our precious son, Ezra, we still grieved over the loss of our other child. I still dream of what it would have been like to have twins. I still wonder how life would have been as “Huggins party of five.” We have never forgotten.

Because we had picked out both a boy name and a girl name for this pregnancy, and because we were able to deliver our boy, we gave our lost baby the remaining name, Abigail. And we have never forgotten her.

For our family, a life is a life no matter how small. Every year as Mother’s Day approaches I can’t help but be so very thankful for the family God has given me. Every day, and especially on Mother’s Day, I also can’t help but remember all of my babies, both here on earth and in heaven.

Going through the experience of having a miscarriage has given me a new perspective and a depth of understanding that I believe some people just do not possess. So, as Mother’s Day approaches, here are just a few things I hope you will keep in mind:

We Never Forget Our Babies:

I can remember the shirt I was wearing, the sterile smell of the doctor’s office, and the nauseating pit in my stomach. I vividly remember the long trip from the doctor’s office to the hospital as my husband and I were clutched hand in hand. I remember my mom driving eight hours to be by my side as I laid crying on my living room couch. I remember the feeling of loss.

It’s not every day that I think about Abigail, but it’s often. Probably more often than you might think. And I would venture to guess that if you know someone who has had a miscarriage, whether early on in pregnancy or further along, they never forget. Our children are a part of us forever, even if they were with us for only a short while.

This Kind of Loss Can Be Lonely:

It was my experience that people did not know exactly what to say, so for the most part, they said nothing at all. Because I was only a few weeks into my pregnancy, I remember feeling as though others might believe I was making too big of a deal about our loss. As if somehow I did not have valid reason to fall apart for a while after this loss of life, especially because I still was carrying the surviving twin.

I will tell you, this kind of loss can be lonely. So, I implore you friends, if you know of someone who has experienced a miscarriage, be there for them. If you worry about what to say, say that you love them through your actions. Sit with them, cook for them, and acknowledge the life that you know they have lost because it is very real to them. It is a different kind of lonely to go through a miscarriage alone.

Our God is a God Who Sees:

To the mother who has lost a child, God sees you. We may never know this side of heaven why the Lord gives and takes away, but I am thankful that He sees us through our pain and grief. I am thankful that He acknowledges the life of our little ones, because He is the giver of life and is infinitely aware of our loss. God sees our sorrow. He sees our broken hearts and is able to mend them. We are never alone. The Lord is good to carry us through those times when we feel others just cannot see or possibly understand. He sees you.

As this Mother’s Day approaches, I hope you will remember those who have babies both here on earth and also in heaven. I promise you, they are remembering all of their babies on this special day. Because a life is a life no matter how small and each child reserves a special place in its mother’s heart, forever.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” 

 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

 

 

 

 

 

 

Is There Room At Your Table For Me?

I watch my son’s eyes constantly. He may be mostly nonverbal, but his eyes speak loudly. Even when he cannot bring himself to look at me, I watch his eyes and often times, they tell me what I need to know.

I watch them dart from one thing to the next in rapid motion: this usually tells me that he is overstimulated. I watch his eyes cut mischievously at me to sneak a quick glance before he does something he knows he is not supposed to do: this reminds me that despite Autism, he is “all boy” and is testing his boundaries. I am crushed as I see the frustration in his eyes: he wants to be understood. I watch his eyes light up in wonder or excitement when he sees something he desires: he notices his environment. I see the sparkle in his eyes when he is able to stare back into mine: I can see his love for me and my heart melts.

Certainly there is impulsivity and many unknown factors on this Autism journey. There are days when I stare into my son’s eyes and all I can find is a lost little boy, trapped in his own reality. But more often than not, I can find him. So I watch. I watch ever so closely. I anticipate. I wonder. I take him in.

Because I naturally watch my son’s eyes, it’s no wonder that I was watching them closely as we entered my parent's house for Thanksgiving dinner. I often take for granted the fact that not everyone understands what all the holiday season entails for a family with a child who has special needs, so let me give you a quick rundown of all the thoughts that were going through our heads as we joined our family for a Thanksgiving feast.

How long do you think we will be able to stay? He is already a little overstimulated today. Oh goodness, there are pretty decorations everywhere. We are going to break something. Or even more, we are going to throw something and then break it! I hope they don’t mind him singing at the top of his lungs- he loves “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” right now. This may be too many people. We may have a meltdown. Will the other kids or adults acknowledge him? Hopefully he will keep his shirt on the whole time. Do you think everyone will mind if we watch “Signing Time” or “The Little Engine that Could” for about fifty times in a row? Maybe this was a bad idea. Stop thinking negatively…Maybe this will be a great Thanksgiving experience! Oh gosh, he just threw his cup into the already decorated Christmas tree…awesome.

It’s true. No matter how cool, calm, and collected I try to act, there are a flood of thoughts filling my mind during large family get- togethers. Thanksgiving was no exception.

So, as my anxious thoughts rose and we walked in the door to this Thanksgiving feast, I watched my little boy’s eyes for a cue.

I watched him as he did his little step, hop around the large living room and on into the dining area. We have a very large family so there were three beautiful tables set to welcome their guests. Ezra noticed these tables and stared. I watched as his eyes inspected every inch of these tables with their beautiful plates and crystal glasses. He nodded his head at each place setting as though he was mentally counting the places in anticipation for all the guests to arrive and be seated. I took him in as he took in the unfamiliar tables.

Ezra finally moved on from inspecting these tables and began playing with his toys on the floor nearby as we waited for other family members to arrive. I noticed that periodically, he would glance up from his toys to see if the tables were still there.

As each family arrived bearing trays of food and hugs for all, my boy was not left out. Our family has embraced Ezra in such a loving way. My momma’s heart swelled as each niece and nephew greeted Ezra with a “Hey Ezra!” or a sweet pat on the back. Although my son hardly glanced up from his busyness with his toy trains, he knew his cousins were there and he knew that they had included him in their greetings.

As our families sat down to eat, I asked where Ezra should sit. Without hesitation the answer was “Right here!” as I looked at a place setting with a glass plate and crystal cup; just like everyone else’s.

It was as if Ezra knew exactly where to go. He walked to the table and once again nodded his head as though he was mentally counting each place setting. When his nodding made its way around the table, he stopped at his own chair and a smile spread across his face. He knew. There was a place at the table for him.

He was not asked to sit at a table off to the side. He was not left to roam around the room and graze from a plate. He was not given a “special” plate in the event that he might break one of the nice ones. There was a place at the table for him, and he knew it.

Was I nervous about the beautifully decorated table? You betcha. Did I have visions of him possibly pulling the table cloth with all of its adornments into a messy heap on the floor? Yep. Was it a possibility that he might break something? Yes. But my parents knew this. It was more important to them that Ezra have a place at their table than for him to be excluded or pushed to the side.

And Ezra knew it. I could see it in his eyes.

We didn’t have some magic dining experience. We still had to help Ezra feed himself. We still had to remind him to “Sit down, Ezra.” We still had to use his i-pad to help calm him while he was in an unusual setting. But our Thanksgiving meal was complete because there was a place at the table for Ezra.

I keep thinking about my little boy as he nodded his head at each place setting when we had first arrived that Thanksgiving day. I just can’t help but imagine that he was mentally counting the chairs and wondering Is there a place for me at the table?

I have heard too many stories of children with special needs being unwelcomed by friends and even family members. I know that many times precious souls just like my Ezra are brushed to the side. They are excluded. 

You know, it was a possibility that Ezra may not have even been able to sit with our family at the table this Thanksgiving. Some days are just not good days. Some days leave him sprawled out on the floor in a sad or even aggressive mess. But even if he had been too overwhelmed to join us at the table, he would have had a place there, saved for him, just in case.  He would have known that there was a place for him at the table.

Could it be that a true reflection of your heart might be revealed by whom you would welcome to your table?

As the Christmas season approaches, I encourage you to make room at your table for everyone. Just because a person can’t speak doesn’t mean that they desire no communication. Just because a person cannot make eye contact doesn’t mean that they wish to not be acknowledged. Just because a person seems to be in a world of their own doesn’t mean that they are unaware of their surroundings and the things being said and done around them.  Just because a person may not comment on your beautifully decorated dinner table does not mean that they do not greatly value being welcomed at it.

As the Christmas season approaches, I encourage you to create an atmosphere of hospitality for everyone. This sounds easy until you take into account that “everyone” may mean that you need to be ok with singing at the table, the possibility of a broken plate, a wheelchair in the place of one of your wooden ones, a feeding tube, an oxygen tank,  or an i-pad on the table. We should search the crevasses of our hearts to see who truly has a place at our table.

It seems to me that the people you welcome to your table are also the people you welcome into your heart.

Won’t you welcome sweet children like mine to your table? Won’t you welcome those who are often cast aside? Won’t you welcome those who are least likely to be welcome at someone else’s table?

They are waiting. They are waiting for you to welcome them. I know. I can see it in Ezra’s eyes.

"Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angles without knowing it." Hebrews 13:2






Why You Should NOT Welcome My Special Needs Child to Your Church

I realize this may be one of the most controversial posts I have ever written. It has taken me months of writing, stopping, coming back, re-writing and I’m still not positive it’s perfect. But it is my heart. Every fiber of my being burns with passion over this topic. I want to share with you why you should NOT welcome my special needs child to your church.

I write this from what I believe is a unique perspective.  You see, I have worked in ministry for over ten years now. I have been on staff as a youth minister and a children’s minister. I have helped to develop a special needs program within a church setting. I have also been a teacher for six years collectively. I have taught classrooms full of children from all kinds of backgrounds, strengths, and weaknesses. Most importantly, I am a mother to two beautiful children, one of whom has Autism. That’s right, I am the parent of a special needs child.  So why on earth would someone with my background write a blog like this? Allow me to share my heart with you.  These are the reasons I believe you should NOT welcome my special needs child to your church.

-YOU SHOULD NOT WELCOME MY SPECIAL NEEDS CHILD IF YOU BELIEVE THE HOLY SPIRIT IS ONLY ABLE TO WORK IN THE HEARTS OF SOME PEOPLE, BUT NOT OTHERS.      Any good church goer would most likely read this and immediately say “Oh no! Not me! I believe the Holy Spirit can work in the hearts of all people! I would never limit what God could do!”  And I would challenge back with this: Many times we (the Church) say such things with our words, but our actions do not hold up.  Does your church offer anything for special needs children? Do you know? Instead of preparing a Bible story for special needs children, does your church place them in a nursery setting and give them a toy and some movies? As the parent of a special needs child, I beg you, please do not pre-determine who is able to be reached by the Holy Spirit.  Church leaders, I want to encourage you that your job as an ambassador for Christ is to prepare to the best of your ability, to teach God’s word, trusting that the Holy Spirit will do exactly what He has promised to do: “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” – John 14:26    You do not have to be a special education teacher to share about Jesus’ love with these children. You do not have to have sensory activity based learning, Bible centers, or offer ABA therapy. Your job is to present a sacrifice of your time and preparation, your love for others, and your love for Jesus…and share it.  Share it with children as best as you can. Tell them a Bible story, tell them about Jesus’ love and sacrifice for them, tell them how God created them with a plan and perfect purpose for their lives! And then trust that the Holy Spirit is going to do what He says He will do.  Yes, some parents of special needs children are just thankful for the respite of having a safe place for their child to stay while the rest of the family goes to worship. But why would the church want to miss out on the great opportunity of sharing Jesus with these special children? These are children who are often times excluded, laughed at, looked at, and pushed aside. For those of you who DO prepare a lesson for these precious children, thank you.  I want to tell you something very important: they are listening. They may not be making eye contact with you, they may be singing, spitting, or spinning, but they are listening. I firmly believe that God’s Word does not return void (Isaiah 55:11). It is not man’s job to determine who is able to be reached by God’s Holy Word. His Word is for everyone and His love is all encompassing.

-YOU SHOULD NOT WELCOME MY SPECIAL NEEDS CHILD TO YOUR CHURCH IF YOU BELIEVE THAT CHURCH IS NOT A PLACE FOR THE “MESSY”. It should always be for the great love of our Lord that we would want to present the Bride of Christ, the church, in the best way we can by taking care of church facilities. I understand this completely. But my heart breaks for the church that has lost sight of the God given mission of the Church. The Church was never meant to be a pristine, social gathering of perfect people sitting in Church bookstores or coffee shops. These outreach tools in and of themselves are fine, but let us never replace the gift of human compassion, connection, and our mission to serve with only tools. This I know: Jesus knew how to get messy. Jesus placed His hands into the wounds of the hurt, He surrounded Himself with the “unclean”, He loved the “least of these”, He cared for the broken, and He washed the dirty feet of the disciples. Jesus knew that ministry is messy. I can promise you this, special needs ministry is messy too. There is nothing very cute about changing a five year old’s poopy diaper. It is not very glamorous to wipe drool or to help change soiled clothes. My special needs son is not going to sit quietly during your Christmas Cantata and he very likely will hurl his sippie cup up on the stage in the middle of your sermon (it’s true, it happened). Welcoming those with special needs into your church will cause you to have to think about wheelchair ramps and points of accessibility.  Welcoming those with special needs into your church might be a little more noisy, might require more volunteers, might cost your church money, and it WILL be messy.  But Oh, dear Church, do not forget that Jesus loves and came to serve the messy. What if the Church began to serve “the least of these”? What if Church was a place where those who cannot care for themselves would be cared for? What if Church was a place where dirty diapers where changed, drool was wiped, and the outcasts were accepted? If Jesus, the Messiah, Lord of all Creation, came to serve the “least of these”, shouldn’t we? What if we have it all wrong? What if Church could be a haven for the “messy”?

-YOU SHOULD NOT WELCOME MY SPECIAL NEEDS CHILD TO YOUR CHURCH IF YOU DO NOT RECOGNIZE THAT “SPECIAL NEEDS” IS A MISSION FIELD. In the book of Matthew, Jesus gives his disciples the “Great Commission” telling them to “Go and make disciples of all nations…” (Matt 28:19). As the church, as Christians, it is our mission to share with others the unconditional love and grace of Jesus Christ.  We send out missionaries all over the world to share the good news of salvation. Praise the Lord! But did you know that there is a mission field, right here in America, that is not being reached? Did you realize it is estimated that nearly 90% of special needs families do not attend church? I can give you a pretty good reason why this statistic is what it is just based on personal experience. It’s so hard.  Did you know that most parents of special needs children who actually make it to church on any given Sunday have probably had much less sleep than you, many have faced several huge obstacles, and are literally hanging on a prayer that “this whole church thing works today”.  It’s hard to take your special needs child into a huge crowd because (usually) it overwhelms them. It’s the look of panic or sheer terror on the church worker’s face when they see your child bounding through the door. It’s worrying if the ministry workers will truly care for your child while you are at worship. It’s wondering if I can truly say “let’s go to church and learn about Jesus!” or if my child will actually just be sitting in a room while the volunteer nervously watches the clock. It’s wondering if anyone would actually be able to relate to you and your family. It’s worrying about the safety of my non-verbal child who cannot tell me how he was treated by those who care for him.  It’s wondering if you’re truly going to be accepted or just tolerated. My husband and I both grew up in church and are quite determined to have our family there each Sunday, but even for us, it can be discouraging at times. Dear Church, there is a mission field of tired, overwhelmed, and often times questioning people who are just waiting to be loved, included, noticed, and accepted. But let me warn you, this is not a mission trip that you can just donate to or visit for one week and walk away. If your church should accept the mission to minister to special needs families like mine, it will be a continuous labor of love. I beg you, Church, to not claim to have a “special needs ministry” unless it is truly the heartbeat and conviction of your church. I have seen what it is to have a church with a “special needs ministry” but it is not the passion of the congregation or the passion of the pastor. I have been the guest of churches who have a “special needs ministry” where there is no heart behind the ministry. Parents of special needs children pick up on this very quickly and for many, it is their first and very last time to “try church”.  I have visited churches that have an undeniable passion for special needs families. I have seen what can be when a congregation embraces this mission as their own. It can be a very beautiful thing! Special needs families just like mine are not welcome very many places. As a whole, public places are not our friend. Special needs families long for community and connection because it is rarely offered to us anywhere else. Would your church please pray about this widely un-reached mission field? If your church will not reach out to a family like mine, who will? We are falling into the cracks, unnoticed.

- YOU SHOULD NOT WELCOME MY SPECIAL NEEDS CHILD TO YOUR CHURCH IF YOU BELIEVE THAT GOD DOES NOT SPECIALLY CALL EVERY MEMBER OF THE BODY OF CHRIST TO SERVE. 1 Corinthians 12:27 says “Now you are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it.” If you are a Christian, then you are a part of the Body of Christ. If you are a part of the Body of Christ, then according to 1 Corinthians 12, you have a “part” or a job to do. You see, God has given all of us gifts and talents to be used for His glory. The Church is supposed to function as one body of believers with all of its different members serving through their gifts and talents for the sole purpose of glorifying God and furthering His kingdom. I am not a super gifted person, but even I have been given “strengths” in some areas.  These strengths or “gifts” as the Bible calls them, were not suddenly zapped out of my system when I birthed a special needs child. On the contrary, I, like many other parents of special needs children, have gifts that God says are important to the Church. What’s more is that I still greatly want to serve. I believe there is a supernatural, wonderful thing that happens when a believer is serving in the very way that God created and called them to serve. It fuels my heart and uplifts my spirit. It’s true, many special needs parents want to serve.  What is also true is that many times we are not able. We are desperately searching for a church that will allow us the opportunity to serve, a church that values us, a church that believes we have something special to offer. We are also desperately searching for a church that will look upon our special needs child as part of the Body of Christ…which means that he too has something very special to bring to the body. In many ways, special needs families are being “cut off” from the Body of Christ. Oh Church, please do not let this be! If the Church does not find a way to include special needs families, it will hinder any possibility of these parents or children being able to contribute to the Body of Christ within the Church. It will make it very hard for these parents and children to do the very thing that God has charged us to do.

The truth is, I wish you would welcome my special needs child to your church, but for many, there is a work to be done first. Please check your heart and the heart of your church. There are families slipping through the cracks…90% of special needs families to be exact. The Church has a great opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Who will take up this cause?  It will take work and preparation, it will be hard, it will be messy, and it is not glamorous. But, dear friends, it will be so worth it.

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” –Matthew 25:40

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