Open Letter to The Treatment and Learning Center for Autism, Tyler, Texas

Do you have any idea what it’s like to feel as though there’s absolutely no place in the world for your child? No place safe enough. No one who desires to take enough time to truly get to know your child and understand him. No one that truly believes in his potential. No place that would assign value to him. 

A few years ago, that is the exact place we found ourselves in. We felt hopeless and helpless. During one of our darkest seasons, God allowed our paths to cross with The Treatment and Learning Center for Autism.

Over the course of the last several years, the staff at TLC have breathed new life into our family. It is all because they chose to believe in my child when no one else would.They challenged him academically because they could see his potential. They challenged him behaviorally because they believed he was capable of overcoming. They didn’t allow him to settle, even though it was the harder road to take. They pushed him to reach his full potential. Things that many others said he would never be able to do, he has surpassed. Our son has overcome so much in the last several years and we believe this is greatly due to the fact that the staff at TLC have given their all on behalf of our child.

They have built relationships with our son. They have gotten to know him: His likes, dislikes, personality, and character. Once they got to know our son, they fell in love with him and in turn, he fell in love with them. Once you capture the heart of a child, you can then capture their mind. That is exactly what the staff at TLC has done. 

The TLC staff have gone above and beyond the call of duty. The extra time they have put in to offer support, help us to implement strategies within our own home, to assist during melt-downs, to help our child integrate into social settings, and to encourage us to press on could only have been done out of the overflow of their hearts. We will never forget and will always be grateful for their selflessness and willingness to be a support to our family. 

For the very first time in the life of my child, have I been able to drop my son off at school and leave without a pit in the bottom of my stomach. I haven’t had to wonder or worry if he would be safe and handled with care. I haven’t had to wonder if he was truly learning or being challenged to reach his full potential. For the first time in his entire life, we have been able to breathe deep and rest assured that he has received the upmost treatment and care. For the first time, our son has known what it is like to have true relationships with people outside of family. He has had a community built around him to love him, challenge him, and guide him. 

These are the things that are priceless. These are the things that every Special Needs Parent longs for in the life of their child. These are the things that, sadly, are not offered to families like ours in most places. 

The Lord is leading our family to a new city and a new season of life. We are leaving the comfort and safety that TLC has offered. And while we are super nervous and extremely sad to leave behind our TLC family, we know that we could never have made this move if it had not been for their constant help and support over these last few years. Our son would not be in the place where he is today. I believe he would’ve never developed the skills that he has now without the help of the TLC staff. 

I know it must be a great undertaking to keep programs like The Treatment and Learning Center going. If you have ever wondered if it’s truly worth it, our family is living proof that TLC is in the business of changing lives. It’s not just a behavioral therapy center. TLC is impacting the lives of those who are often times cast aside or never given a chance anywhere else. For our child, TLC has been a symbol of hope and promise of a future filled with bright possibilities. 

We will forever consider The Treatment and Learning Center home. We will always be grateful for the impact they have had on our family. Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, for the difference you have made in the life of our child. It is our prayer that God would continue to pour out His blessings on TLC and its staff as they continue to change the world, one child at a time. 

Blessings,

Jake and Nichole Huggins

 

So many special friends throughout the years…wish we had pictures of them all. TLC staff, you know who you are! THANK YOU!!!

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!

When Comparison Kills Contentment

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

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

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

Comparison is the silent killer of joy and contentment. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

 

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

ezra field.jpg



Nothing Wasted

It was his shoes that first caught my eye. They were the light-up-when-you-walk kind of shoes and they looked very similar to a pair of shoes that my own little boy has.  Except, this little boy’s shoes weren’t lighting up. Both of his feet were fixed in a special kind of stroller and I quickly noted the braces coming up from his shoes and wrapping around his little legs. He was sort of laid back in his special chair and his momma was very busy about making sure he was positioned correctly and that he was comfortable.

I noticed how she very rarely looked up to make eye contact with the many people staring at her son. Instead, she just busied herself with him, though he seemed pretty content and comfortable. I felt a tug at my heart. I knew this scenario all too well. I wasn’t sure exactly what their story was, but I know what it is like to have a child with a disability and to have strangers stare and make comments.

The announcement was made for all pre-boarding passengers to begin boarding the plane.  This momma very carefully moved forward with her son in tow, and the rest of us pre-boarding passengers followed behind.  

I had prayed very specific prayers for my trip. If I was going to be traveling and giving up time with my precious family, then I wanted to be sure to make every moment count and for nothing to be wasted.  I had prayed specifically for whoever I might sit beside on the plane…not just because they had to sit beside me, but I prayed that there would be purpose in our meeting. I had prayed that I would sit beside others who I could learn something from or maybe others that I could pour into, encourage, or pray for.  Nothing wasted.

As I boarded the plane, I saw this mom and her son situated in their seats. I knew. I just knew that I was supposed to sit next to them.  I took my seat on the aisle and almost simultaneously, the momma shifted in her seat so as to block me from her son who was propped up next to the window. Protection: I recognized this gesture very well.

I wanted so badly to put her at ease. I wanted so badly to let her know that I was no stranger to this. I was so excited, literally bubbling over because all I could think was “Thank you Lord! Nothing wasted!” At the same time, I knew I couldn’t push. I knew I needed to give it some time. I knew that if I came out with “I am so excited to sit with you! Don’t you worry! I have a special needs child too! Did you know that I asked God for the opportunity to sit with you?! Nothing wasted!” …well, she would just think I was plumb crazy. So I waited.

About ten minutes into the flight the little boy began to whimper ever so slightly. His momma struggled to get his bag from the overhead compartment to get him a snack out. About this time, our stewardess whirled by and fussed at her harshly because passengers were not to be out of their seats. The momma began to explain that her son had just had spinal surgery, they were headed home, and he needed something to eat. The stewardess shrugged and walked off in a huff.  Frazzled. This momma became frazzled and understandably so. She fumbled with the snack trying to calm her son and get him something to eat…but she just didn’t have enough hands to do it all.

“Can I help?” I asked.  The momma politely said “no” but when the snack began falling on the floor and the little boy kept sliding down in his seat, she handed me his cup. Her eyes were misting as she said “some people are not very understanding.”  “No, they’re not. I’m so sorry,” I replied.

Finally, we began to talk. I learned that the little boy’s name was Peter. He was four years old, just like my little boy. Peter has a disease that is quickly causing his body to deteriorate.

I was also able to share with this momma about my two children and about the fact that my son, Ezra, has Autism. I literally watched this women transform from protective to relieved as we shared some common ground with one another.

We talked therapy, disability insurance, schools, and surgeries. (This is what we special needs parents do.) We talked every-day life, what it is like for the siblings of a special needs child, and we even talked about our dream vacation destinations.  My new friend had let down her guard. She was warm and easy to talk to.  She was very real and it was refreshing to visit with someone who understood “life” as we know it.

Then, I asked a question. I knew this question might shake things up a bit to ask, but I was willing to try.  “Does your family go to church anywhere?” I asked. I instantly watched the warmth be sucked right out of this momma and sadness was left in its place. “Our family isn’t welcome at any of the churches we’ve been to,” she said in a quivering voice. She went on to explain that many churches in their small community aren’t even wheelchair accessible, which immediately rules them out as options for her son to be able to attend church with his family. She continued explaining that the other churches their family of four had attempted to visit, met Peter with sharp glances, stressed out nursery workers, and even declarations of “we just can’t help your son here.” As this precious momma shared, I could watch a bitterness rise up in her; understandably so.

I wanted her story to not be true.  But I knew better. As she shared about one bad experience after another of all their family’s attempts to find a church that would accept them and their special needs child, memories of my own family’s experience visiting churches flashed through my mind.

I remember the dirty looks and stares. I remember the inconvenienced attitude of the nursery workers. I remember the panicked look on one of the volunteers face when she saw my child struggling into church one Sunday morning and she worriedly declared “Oh, Ezra’s here.” And I even remember the church-going man who was sure to let my husband know that he believes our son’s Autism is a result of sin in our (Ezra’s parents) life. No, many churches are not kind or welcoming to families like ours. I know this to be a very harsh and true reality.

Peter’s momma went on to explain that, although they very much would like to go to church, when they are having to fight for Peter to get a good education, fight for the doctors to give him the attention he needs, and fight for the insurance companies to cover all of his surgeries, the desire to fight for a church to welcome him had been long since lost.

Fighting is a way of life for special needs parents. How sad that (many times) we must fight for a place for our children in God’s house. The fact of the matter is, not too many parents of special needs children have enough fight left in them to try to find a church that might welcome the needs of their precious family.

Peter’s momma and I visited more. I was able to pray for Peter’s little body to heal and for his family. His momma prayed for me as well. It was a sweet time. I was so thankful to have met Peter and Peter’s momma. I hope that in some way she felt encouraged and not so alone on our big plane. I know I did.  Thank you, Lord. Nothing wasted. When our plane touched down, we went our separate ways. Peter was ready to be home where his daddy and little sister were waiting for him.

As I waited in the airport for my connecting flight, I thought about my visit with Peter’s momma. I thought about the sad fall in her countenance at the mere mention of church. It wasn’t that she had had a look of anger or hate, but rather a look of defeat. This should not be.

Church, we have an opportunity. Not a little opportunity, but a huge opportunity that beats in step with the very heart of God. We have an opportunity to welcome those who are often times cast aside by society. We have an opportunity to love those who are not always shown love by the rest of the world. We have an opportunity to take the fight out of life for just a moment, for those who must fight every single day of their life.

It all boils down to this: What kind of church are you? Are you a church that has fallen into the belief that everything must look pristine, rehearsed, and without flaw? Do you only welcome those who might bring something to the table? Are you more excited about a doctor joining your attendance than a person from the homeless shelter or maybe someone in a wheelchair? May I challenge you that church was never meant to be this way?

God’s love is all encompassing. He loves all of His children regardless of ability, disability, social status, or size of our wallets. He welcomes all of His children with open arms. Oh Church, that we would imitate the heart of Christ! Oh, that we would desire to do real-life with one another. When we do real-life, things get messy.  So, I pray for messy churches. I pray for churches that are willing to get into the trenches of life with the children of God. All of His children.

Our family is so thankful to have found a church that welcomes us and our son with open arms. Such churches do exist. Our church doesn’t have the latest and greatest equipment for special needs; it has a lot of opportunities for growth in this area. What it does have is a heart and developing awareness for special needs children. For a family like mine, this means the world to us.

Somewhere out there is a little boy named Peter.  Peter’s body is frail and his family has a lot on their plates. This family has a need. They have a need to be loved and accepted. They have a need to not be so very alone. There are countless others who may look different, act different, smell different, or even dress different, but they all have one thing in common: Their Creator, God the Father, loves them. He believes they have great value. He created them exactly the way they are for a purpose.

We have an opportunity, Church, to try our hardest to create a place of refuge for ALL to learn about the great love of our Heavenly Father. We have an opportunity, Church, to love deeply and to be the Bride of Christ we are called to be. We have an opportunity, Church, to leave nothing wasted. Nothing Wasted.

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”        

John 15:12

Perspective from 20,000 feet off the ground. Nothing wasted.

Perspective from 20,000 feet off the ground. Nothing wasted.

Autism Awareness: More Than Pennies in a Jar

Cashier: “Mrs. Huggins, would you like to make a donation to “Autism Speaks” today?”

Me: “No thank you, not today.”

Cashier: “Are you sure Mrs. Huggins? Every dollar donated goes to help a family affected by Autism!”

Me: (Smiling) “Oh, thank you for that. Actually, I am one of those families! My little boy has Autism. So, I guess you could say I make a pretty big donation every day!” (Insert awkward smile and laugh)

Cashier: (Responding in blank facial expression and harsh tone) “So, do you want to make a donation or not?”

Me:  “Nope.”

Please don’t judge me. If I had had some change or a few extra dollar bills that day, I might have donated to the cause. It’s a great one!

And as for my cashier compatriot, he was just doing his job. Maybe he needed to meet a quota. Maybe he doesn't even really know what Autism is.  But the irony of the whole situation struck me as sort of funny. Judging by the body language and harsh tone of my cashier compatriot, I believe it’s safe to say that although his store was helping to promote “Autism Awareness”, he just doesn't get it.

In case you were not aware, April is “Autism Awareness” month. You have probably seen collection jars at cash registers, heard a little more about Autism and statistics on the news, seen t-shirts with the Autism symbol (a puzzle piece), there have been  “Buddy Runs”, and possibly you have seen blue light bulbs (the slogan is “Light it Up Blue for Autism Awareness”). This is all so wonderful! I am so thankful for Autism Awareness month. I am so thankful that there is a month dedicated to helping others understand and support families who walk this Autism journey on a daily basis.

While all of this lends itself to great publicity and the raising of funds, my prayer as the parent of an Autistic child is that for every person who gives and listens that it would not just end there.

Autism Awareness is so much more than pennies in a jar, a puzzle piece t-shirt, or a blue light bulb. True Awareness is a change of heart. It’s the realization that not everyone is the same, and that’s a beautiful thing. Autism Awareness is not passing judgment, it’s acceptance and understanding that some are “different but equal”, it’s the true belief that everyone has been “fearfully and wonderfully made”. True Autism Awareness is thinking outside of our “Cookie Cutter Culture”, and embracing those who may live and act differently than what has been considered “normal”. It’s the understanding that every life has purpose and value. Autism Awareness is the knowledge that some people are facing some very large battles on a daily basis-and doing something about it. It’s digging deep, a shift in perspective, and the ultimate display of unconditional love.

Giving to organizations and institutions that help families affected by Autism is wonderful. We need these organizations and institutions. They are so very critical to families just like mine. But please don’t let that be the extent of your “Awareness”. Can I plead with you for a “heart-change”? Because I can tell you, as the parent of a special needs child, a “heart-change” is what our culture needs.

Love deeply. Be accepting. Be willing to shift your perspective. And be ready for your heart to swell with a new kind of love and “Awareness”.  True Autism Awareness could be a very beautiful thing!

Lighting it up Blue for Autism Awareness!!

Lighting it up Blue for Autism Awareness!!



Love in a Different Language

Love is…

Love is expressed in many different ways in our home. One of the very most important things to me is for both of our children to know how much we love them. It has not taken us long to realize that having a child with Autism means you have to think outside of the box sometimes…even when showing love. Sometimes you truly do have to learn Love in a Different Language.

Here are just a few ways we have learned to show love to our sweet boy…

1.      Love is- acknowledging his presence. We talk to Ezra just as if he were answering us back in complete sentences. We ask him how is day was at school and tell him how much we missed him while he was gone. He may not even be able to make eye contact…but I think he hears us and he knows when we don’t acknowledge him.

2.      Love is- spending hours sitting in the bathtub…with no water…in your clothes….just sitting…..just because. For some reason the bathtub is one of Ezra’s happy places. I think he likes it because it is an enclosed “snug” place. For whatever reason, Ezra is quite content to sit in the tub for long periods of time and instead of just letting him to it- we sit right there with him. I figure we might as well join in on some of the “quirky” things he likes to do instead of just leaving him in his own little world.

3.      Love is- singing the same songs or watching the same shows over and over and over again. If that’s what will bring a smile to my little man’s face, we are gonna rock that Veggie Tales CD till it won’t play anymore!

4.      Love is- accepting him and loving him for who he is right now…not who or what he may become later. There will always be a new great therapy that makes great promises for my child and his future. While I do strive to get Ezra all the help he might need, I want to always be sure to love him right where he is at. He may or may not develop some great talent or strength in a certain area, and that’s ok. I think he is pretty great just the way he is!

5.      Love is- displaying patience even when patience is running thin. There are days that are just hard. Very hard. I never want Ezra to feel as though I have lost my patience and am throwing in the towel for the moment. I firmly believe he can tell when I have started to lose my cool. When patience runs low, dig a little deeper.

6.      Love is- big bear hugs and letting Ezra run his fingers through my hair (even Oreo fingers J ).  Ezra shows love by unusually tight hugs and loves. He also loves for me to place my head in his lap while he runs his little fingers through my hair. I usually end up with punk-rocker style hair but it makes my boy happy and it fills my heart!

7.      Love is- driving around in the car just because your usually non-verbal child said “let’s go!”  So, you drive…and drive…and drive…and….

8.      Love is- Singing “The Ants Go Marching” at the top of your lungs, no matter where you are or who is watching, just to bring a smile to your child’s face. Really, you should try it! You will get some great looks from people!

9.      Love is- Ezra’s big sister driving him in her Power wheel’s car until the battery dies…because it make her baby brother smile. Even though she does not fully grasp Ezra’s disability, it is so important to her to make him feel included and to make him happy.

10.  Love is- never giving up. Ever. No matter what.

I am so very thankful the Lord has entrusted Ezra to me. I am so very thankful for the opportunity to learn how to Love in a Different Language!