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. 

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!

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/

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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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.