What is Life as Normal, Anyway?

3rocks

As I write this, we are a matter of hours away from one week since my Father In Law passed.  When we got the news that his cancer was back, that there was nothing they could do for it… it was January 29th.  The surgeon said we would have a few months.  The oncologist, a few weeks.  Hospice, even less than that.  I knew that the best thing to do for my husband, was to put aside as much as I could to be there for him.  I was going to take a break from school work, cancel all of my obligations that I could, and set aside as much as possible.  My husband took some time off of work in that first week, so that he could spend time with him.

It was decided that he would spend out his remaining days at home, and we were there when the hospice transport picked him up from the hospital and followed to his house.  At that point, we believed that we were already on limited time.  We couldn’t have imagined that six weeks would go by.  We are thankful for the time we were able to spend with him.  As a wife the greatest gift I could have given my husband is the support he needed at that time.

As we approach the one week mark, it is time for us to return to life as normal.  My husband has to go back to work as his family leave time is over, I need to plug back in to my classes…  life goes on, right?  I know that my Father in Law would not want us wallowing in sadness and stop our lives in light of his passing.  However, after taking so much time off to cleave together as a family… what is “life as normal” anyway?  And, how much do we want to go back to it?

It’s been nice spending time together as a family, prioritizing our time with each other over all of the distractions that pull us apart.   It was nice not having an overwhelmed schedule, trying to fit too much stuff into too little time.

They say that death can bring out the worst in families, but I think it can also bring out the best.  It becomes an opportunity to die to our self and put others as priority.  When it becomes less about what I want to do, and more about what you need for me to do.  But this shouldn’t be something that is brought about by death, or illness.  Yes these are specific occasions where we SHOULD drop anything and do whatever we can to make those last memories with someone we love.  However, we shouldn’t wait for someone to get sick or become terminal, or pass away before we recognize what our priorities in life are.

Pick up the phone and call the people you love, the ones that are your family or the ones you consider family.  Don’t let too much time pass before connecting with those who are important to you.  Visit when you can, and don’t make a million excuses for why you can’t.  Whatever obstacles may get in your way, are just that… obstacles.  Obstacles don’t have to stop you, they just may delay you.  Or, they may require creative thinking or humbling yourself to ask for help.

The road goes in both directions.  Phones make and take calls.  Relationships are not one sided, but are built when both parties make the effort.

I’m not sure what “life as normal” will look like for us, but I am certain it will not look the same.

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Standing in the Gap

brokenangel

I am an optimist.  Most days, regardless of what the world throws at me, I see the good.  I don’t even try hard.  I give the benefit of doubt, more than I should.  I forgive things that  others would hold onto.  I choose to focus on the good in the world, instead of the bad. 

Occasionally though, that bubble of optimism is burst by the harsh stings of reality.  It comes when real tragedy comes too close to home.  I arrives when I hear something on the news that goes beyond what I can comprehend.  When my optimism is challenged in such a way, it is quite honestly hard to shake.  It is where I find myself as I write this, my head spinning in circles.  I am unable to wrap my head around the things that happen in the world, and when I look to God’s word for answer… logically, I get it.  In my head I can understand why the world is what it is.  However, my heart doesn’t and seems completely incapable of understanding. 

I spent several hours on a phone with a mother who is in crisis, and it isn’t a crisis that can be counseled away.  I could hear the the desperation in her voice.  I believed every word that came out of her mouth about the recent events in her life.  She was scared, and she felt hopeless.  The tone in her voice was not something I have ever heard in my life.  She is angry at the system, specific people, and even God.  She is walking a road few understand.

Since our phone call, I find myself in a place where my heart breaks for this woman, and those who are impacted by this situation.  Something that never should have happened in the first place, let alone affect her family in such a way.  I am blown away by the lack of support she has gotten from those whom she felt closest too.  People who were at one time her biggest cheerleaders, became her greatest critics.  So, not only are people like her walking roads that others can’t understand… they find themselves walking them alone.

The reality of her situation isn’t something that can change without some sort of miracle.  People are praying for this miracle to happen, but to day… things are just getting worse.  Things are becoming more difficult.  She is becoming more broken.  She feels more hopeless.

And here is the clincher, there is literally nothing you and I can tangibly do to help in some of these extreme circumstances.  Our encouragement and advice sounds great, but we truly have no clue what we are talking about.  We can rely on the Bible verses that we cling to during times of trial, but these verse seem so very far from her right now.  We can have faith that God is working out something good, but for her things are getting worse.   We feel like we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, when she feels like the tunnel is closing up on her.

It is truly heartbreaking.  When I asked her how people could support her, she said:

Listen.

Believe me.

And if you can, relieve me or the family.

When people are in true crisis, they tend to keep things close to the chest.  They find themselves confiding in those who are closest to them.  But, and I know I am guilty of this, we often attempt to problem solve instead of just listening to them.  I once read that the biggest problem with communication today is that people are listening to respond, they are not listening to learn.  When that person in your life is in crisis calls and they just need to unload, let them.  Shut your mouth, open your ears and listen.

People who are living in incomprehensible situations are often accused of making things up, exaggerating how bad things are, or treated as if they don’t know what they are talking about.  Good intentioned people give advice or guidance over a situation they truly have no experience in.  I too am guilty of this, but nothing in my life can even remotely compare to what this woman is dealing with.  Who am I to even think that solutions I have to my everyday common life issues would even touch the extraordinary situation she is facing?  Instead, what we need to ask is “What can I do?” or “How can I help”?  We can ask the person what their options are, and then evaluate if we are in a position to help them.

There are some situations where the person in crisis is in desperate need of relief.  Relief can be something as simple as coming in and doing her household chores or preparing some meals for her freezer (so she has one less thing to deal with that day).  Relief can be taking her kids for the weekend, and giving her some peace and quiet.  It could be sending her and her husband on a weekend getaway to a local bed and breakfast, and keeping her kids.  Or, it may be finances.  Maybe you have been financially blessed were you can reach out and offer a financial relief to medical bills that have added up, or that unexpected expense that popped up at the worst possible time.

For those we love, who are going through the trials that test their faith… when their loss and grief becomes so much more than they can bear, that their pain turns to anger toward God…

Stand in the Gap.

When she cannot pray, we will pray for her.

When the Throne seems so distant to her, we will stand before the Lord on her behalf.

Please, right now, take a moment and pray.  Pray for the men, women, and children who are walking through crisis.  The Lord knows their names, He knows their situation.  God knows their prayers, their needs, their wants, and their desires.  Pray for His hand to intervene.  Stand in the gap for those who’s voices have gone silent from all of the screaming and crying out.  Be the voice.  Be the intercessor.

Whenever I write, I take a break to read before I come back to proof.  It’s a way to freshen my eyes to my work.  Like when you sniff coffee beans between smelling perfume samples.  I’m not the only one writing on this subject today, and it reminds me that there is MORE hurt out there than we realize. 

Article from A Holy Experience

#Write31Days – Post 13 – When the Church Says No

tgcarticle

I was reading the above article, on the website for The Gospel Coalition.  The gist of the article was that members of the body with artistic talents are often discouraged in using their gifts within the church.  It could be an art form that is not really understood, or that the church staff don’t know how to actually include it into the service of the church.  It isn’t always that they don’t want to, they just may not know how to.

But I would challenge that is discouragement isn’t just for those who have artistic gifts, but any gift or talent that isn’t being utilized.  I have been in churches that were welcoming of gifts and talents & would utilize them if the person was willing to commit.  I’ve also been in churches that will dismiss the gifts they don’t understand or can’t seem to figure out how that gift fits in to the vision of the church.

From an artistic standpoint, I can totally understand.  As a professionally trained actress, who also has ample back stage experience,  I have offered my gift to churches in the past.  Some embraced it with open arms, others dismissed it as something not relevant.  Dismissed so quickly that I never even had the opportunity to explain that expertise.  In 2005, I directed a Christmas musical for the church we were attending at the time.  It just so happened that at one showing there was a television producer in the audience.  He loved the show, and they came back and filmed it.  They ran it every few days, where they had an empty slot, all the way through Christmas Day.

That was an exciting day for me.  Yet, too often, when I share with a church or ministry that I have a theater background they instantly want to put me in charge of a children’s production.  That is NOT my specialty, it is not my gift.  They do not understand the impact that LIVE performance can have on a group of people.  Perhaps this is because too few churches have trained professionals, maybe they haven’t enough trust in the quality or commitment.  What saddens me is to be shot down before you even get a chance to try.  The Lord blessed me with a gift, specifically a talent, one that I want to use for HIS glory.   It is sad to see it get brushed aside because someone else doesn’t “get it”.

Being dismissed and discouraged is not only an issue with the arts, but can come about in many different forms.  I watched my husband’s spirit get completely squashed by a men’s ministry leader because he made an assumption about my husband without even getting to know him.  What most don’t know about my husband is that he has the ability to talk to anyone about God.  It’s really amazing.  I envy his boldness at times.  Every day he is out among the community, doing his job, and sharing the gospel where he can.  He has prayed with people, give them encouragement, and even his own Bible if they didn’t have one.

He can do this because God gifted him in that manner.  My husband also went through Evangelism Explosion training to learn how to present the gospel to every day people in a way that they would understand.  Bringing them through the steps from accepting Christ, to getting plugged into a church, and more.  When we were married and our family was growing, a huge burden was on my husband’s shoulders.  He became lukewarm, going through the motions.  One weekend he went with a men’s ministry to a conference, and my husband was ON FIRE.  He was ready to get back on the horse.

The leader of the ministry didn’t know my husband that well.  He assumed that my husband was caught up in emotions.  Since he didn’t take the time to really listen to my husband, to ask any questions about his experience… the man quickly extinguished that fire.  My husband said “I’m ready to serve.  Where can I plug in????”

The ministry leader patted him on the shoulder and said:  “No brother, where can we serve you.”   My husband wasn’t even given the chance to share who he was, or the gift that God has given him.  To this day, my husband has not stepped forward since.  He was rejected.  Instead, he has become my biggest supporter and advocate.    Instead, he has continued to share the gospel in his every day encounters.

One church damaged my husband, and he just hasn’t recovered.  Over the years, he has had ideas for ministries where he could serve people in our church or community.  However, that inspiration is fleeting.

I believe that we have to be very cautious as a church to NOT allow our vision for the church become tunnel vision.  We must be open to see how the different gifts and talents of the body can be used in that vision.  It is easy to see things our way, within our own understanding and abilities.  It is easy to see how things ought to go and progress, and make a list of what gifts and talents are needed to move that vision forward.  It isn’t always easy to see how the gifts of others can fit into that vision, or be molded into that vision.   If we see things too black and white, we miss the many gifts that fall in the middle.

As leaders we need to be careful with the gifts and offers of service from others.  We need to not just immediately dismiss a person because at first we can’t see how their gift fits the vision.  We need to not dismiss a person as a capable kingdom worker without taking the time to get to know them.  We may be throwing away the most amazing gifts… and affecting people in ways we never realize.

This doesn’t mean we throw caution to the wind, accepting any and everything.  We can be judicious and gracious at the same time.

  •  Thank the person for offering their gift or talent to the church/ministry.
  • Ask them questions about their experience or training.
  • Get an idea of how they think their gift or talent could fit within the vision of the church, or help the ministry/community.
  • Take some time to really think about the conversation, pray about it.  Is there room for this ministry idea?  If not, is there an existing ministry that we can plug this person into that fulfills their desire to serve with their gift.
  • Follow up with the person, and be honest.  If you are not sure how it fits the vision, talk to them about it.  They may see something you don’t.  If now isn’t the right time, agree to revisit it in 3 – 6 months.  If you require more information, ask for it and take the time to review it.
  • If this is a brand new member of the church, and you are uncertain of commitment, have them go through the new members class and plug into a small group.  Let them know you want to get to know them better, and let them get acquainted with the church first.  Then you can talk ministry work.

 

For the Love of Women’s Ministry

biblestudy

This has been a very interesting summer, as I have been developing a Women’s Ministry college course.  I’ve been entrenched in books on every topic from Women’s Ministry leader books, to deeper books on the biblical stance on women as leaders in the church.  I’ve been digging into the scriptures, looking at historical evidence, and frankly…. my head is going to explode.  There is a lot of information rolling around in my head, and much of it has challenged and even changed the way I viewed certain topics.

It has also increased my passion for women’s ministry, but a different women’s ministry from what I have ever known.  It has also opened my eyes to some of the glaring holes we have in resources, as well as lifted my spirit as I have uncovered things in the works across the country that are going to turn women’s ministry on it’s head.

Women play a huge part in the life of their church, most recent surveys estimate women make up 55-65% of most congregations, additionally they make up about 80% of the volunteer force of the church.  This volunteer force are the ones responsible for teaching and leading other women, teaching our children in Sunday School, leading Kids Clubs, volunteering for VBS, and this is in addition to service like preparing meals for new moms, taking care of hospitality for Sunday morning, rocking babies in the nursery, volunteering for secretarial duties in the church, cleaning up the church, etc.

Yet, it is becoming more apparent, that the majority of these women who are volunteering to teach and lead are not being discipled for those positions.  Are we ensuring that our women are qualified to teach or lead, or thankful for the warm body willing to volunteer?  Are we encouraging our volunteers by equipping them with mentors?

Women’s Ministry has lost focus in recent years, becoming unbalanced in what they offer to the women in the church.  There are more social events, fewer study groups.  Study groups are focused on content from books, versus content from the scriptures.  We are studying books about the bible, instead of the bible itself.  We have lost our ability to interpret scripture on our own.  We come together for social events to foster community, which is important, but at the cost of spiritual growth.

Why has this happened? 

In part, it is because Women’s Ministry has no real support at the moment.

Women’s Minsitries are often independent ministries within the church, that exist in their own sphere.  Pastors, sort of leave the women to fend for themselves.  They lack invested guidance, and many are not truly clear about the church’s vision.  The goal of a women’s ministry should be to use their calender of events and studies to support the vision of the church.  But in order to do so, the leader team really needs to understand what that is.  We need our Pastors to not only allow women’s ministry to exist in the church, but also to step in and help mold it.  We need a Shepherd.

When it comes to resource materials on Women’s Ministry, much of what is available is very outdated.  There are books and websites that lean more toward party planning, and less about making sure our ministry is gospel centered.   Additionally, many of these books are out of touch with the current obstacles and difficulties women face TODAY.    We are lacking books of substance, that train us on how to be effective leaders, run effective and gospel centered ministries, how to minister to the women in our church, and with changes in societal norms…. these subjects are just going to get more confusing.

Women’s Ministries are being led off the cuff, wading the waters and uncertain of what to do.  We begin to mimic other ministries, or do age old activities because “that is what women’s ministry does”.  We are afraid to break those molds, because women won’t come.  Or, we want to… but we can’t get the support of church leadership because of the stereotype of women’s ministry in the past.

I spent the last week speaking to women’s ministry leaders across the country.  I wanted to understand what the greatest obstacles women’s ministry leaders face.  I received the same answers, state to state…. east coast to west coast.

1)  We don’t know how to reach the 20 year old women in our church.

2)  We don’t have a budget to work with, to get the materials we need.

3)  We don’t have support from our Pastors.

I reached out to a woman who wrote her doctorate thesis on Women’s Ministry, and sadly… she didn’t have an answer to these questions.  She confirmed that these are indeed real problems, on a board scale, but there hasn’t been an answer in the church.  She surmised in her thesis paper, the best way to address it was to step outside of the church and start a parachurch organization.

I was saddened that this was her conclusion.

Then I looked at the statistics on the number of women leaving the church, and began to wonder.

I dug a bit deeper…. why are women leaving the church?  Why are women not committing to bible studies?  What are we missing???

Spiritual Gifts.

We are missing the fact that we have a church made up of mostly women, where God has bestowed gifts upon them to use for His purposes.  We are not identifying them in the church, we are not developing them in the church, and we really are not using them in the church.  Women feel as if they have more to offer than child care and making coffee.  They have gifts of teaching and mentoring, that are being unused.  So they leave, looking for a place where these gifts will be embraced.

Spiritual Growth.

Women want to grow spiritually, they want to dig deeper in to the word, and they don’t know how.  We have failed in bible literacy for women, underestimating what they can and cannot do (or understand).  We offer them cake, but eventually they get tired of cake and then they stop showing up for study groups.  It’s because their spirit wants something more substantial…. they may not even realize that is what they are missing.  They do know the group is not meeting a need.  We need to create programs that address this need.   Not just asking for volunteers to lead studies, but identifying and training study leaders.  Give those without confidence, confidence.

Spiritual Community.

Something that really breaks your heart, is when you hear a woman from your church tell you that she is lonely.  Recently a well known author posed a question on her facebook page, she asked what was the one thing women felt they were lacking in their church.  The answer, community.  Women want to not just have a church family on Sunday, or bible study nights.  They want to go back to the earlier church days where we were a community who “did life together”.  Older women responded that they missed having lunch with the church on Sundays after services.  Another commented that in 10 years of being in her church, she had only been invited to dinner with another family ONE TIME, and that her invitations were going unanswered.   She lamented that she had a closer relationship with her “non-Christian friends” than those she worships with.

A women’s ministry needs balance, and needs to be Christ focused.

Have social gatherings, like brunches and ladies night out events.  This is where we begin to form community.  It is the place where we start getting to know each other, establishing trust, and building relationships.  Use these social gatherings as an avenue to tap into the spiritual gifts of the women attending.  As you learn of their spiritual gifts, funnel them toward study groups that will help develop their spiritual growth and maturity, and build closer tight knit community. It is here that women will begin to have deeper bonds and are given the ability to serve each other with compassion and love, counsel and guide, mentor and disciple.  Then, as we wrap it all together, we have built up women to serve the church.  Women who are committed to serving in ways that support the over all vision of the church.

As our Pastors begin to recognize this shift in ministry, where we are intentional about every event & study pointing toward Christ and supporting the church’s vision… I believe we will see greater support for the ministry.

The change must start with us. 

The great news is that there is a widespread recognition amongst women’s ministry leaders that there is a shift coming in women’s ministry.  The are organizations that are developing to train women’s ministry leaders, and provide support and encouragement.  Several are focusing on the Pastors, and getting them on board with effective women’s ministry.  Three books are currently on the market that should be in your Women’s Ministry library.

  empty  wordfilledwomenoftheword

As these various organizations and ministries complete their programs for Women’s Ministry trainings, and more support resources come available, I will definitely be sharing them here.

It’s time to look at our women’s ministry with new eyes.  There are many men and women who see a revival on the horizon, within women’s ministry, or at least with women’s ministry a contributing factor.  Churches can’t afford to lose their women because they feel unrecognized, under appreciated, and under valued.  And women, we can’t take a posture that we will just leave the church and do it on our own.  Let’s not divide our churches any further, but restore unity within the body.  Be a part of the solution.

I SOLEMNLY SWEAR I AM UP TO REAL GOOD….

When I started blogging, one of the things that really excited me was becoming a blogger with Family Christian.  So far, I have gotten to review some really great books… AND was a guest blogger on their site on ministering to children and families with special needs.  VERY COOL.

A bit ago they presented us with an opportunity to be apart of their giving back campaign.   We simply had to submit how we’d use $50 to give back to our church or community.

I was thrilled that I was selected.  Now, off to Family Christian to order some goodies…..  Keep an eye out to see what I bought, who is getting it, and why they need it.

nogood

#FCblogger #Easter #GivingBack

 

When Your Child Doesn’t Look Special Needs

MBA

I will guarantee that many of you have said, overheard or seen sentiments like those pictured above.  I know I did.  I was one of those moms who had a perfect first child, and therefore thought I knew everything.  I had no problem blaming the parents, blaming the doctors, blaming society for allowing “brats” who try to solve the problem by medicating them vs. discipline.

Then, I had to eat my own words.

I now find myself one of the first people to defend the child with the invisible disabilities.  My second daughter was entirely different from my first.  She was far more exuberant, and head strong.  She had quirks about her that would make me question, from a very early age, if she suffered from some sort of disorder.  I would find myself searching the internet, taking those “how to know if your child has _____” quizzes.  My daughter was always the square peg in a world of round holes.  Even within the scope of various disabilities, she didn’t quite fit the profile.  I would think briefly that she must be fine, but then with each developmental milestone we would (or should) hit … I was searching again.

When she was just around two years old, we got our first diagnosis.  “Speech Delayed”.  We attended a few assessments, and had our sit down meeting to talk about her treatment plan.  This was the first time someone referred to my daughter as disabled.  It rocked me to my core.  It doesn’t matter what the diagnosis is, hearing that your child is disabled … it takes your breath away. I cried the whole ride home.  Someone actually put words to something I suspected all along.  But, clearly, it wasn’t just a speech delay.   Many of the behaviors she was exhibiting, it was assumed, would correct themselves as she became more verbal.

Her speech cleared up, but the quirks didn’t.  In some respects, it got worse.

I remember, time and time again, telling people THERE IS SOMETHING WRONG WITH HER.  I actually wanted to  know what it was, so I could help her.  Answers evaded me.  It was her second grade teacher that first mentioned autism, but my daughter didn’t fit that profile either.  Our next diagnosis was a positive one, GIFTED.

I knew my daughter was exceptionally smart, which I think was part of what frustrated me about her behaviors.  I couldn’t wrap my head around why someone SO smart, couldn’t see or correct her behaviors.

It would not come until 5th grade that we would get another diagnosis.  ADHD.  You know the “brat disease”, “excuse for parents who don’t want to discipline their children disease”, the “too lazy to parent their children disease”…. yeah, that one.  We would work our way through figuring out medications and dosage.  What I couldn’t be prepared for, was the response of others.

“She is just being a kid, she doesn’t need medication.”

“Have you tried changing her diet?  I have read that _____ causes ADHD”

“You don’t have to give her medication.  Mountain Dew or strong coffee will work just as well.”

“She is just head strong.  You need to set firmer boundaries.”

They have no clue what it is like to live with a child that has ADHD.   Let alone a GIFTED child, with ADHD.  They live in a world, where their brains NEVER shut down.  They are constantly on the go, on the move.  They talk non stop, about everything, to the point of parental exhaustion.  They are extreme about how they respond to everything.  She is loud.  She is intense.  She is extreme.  She is, exactly how God made her.  And, she will happily tell you that.

When you talk to someone about your child being disabled, and they say “She doesn’t look disabled…. it hurts.  They do not know what it is like to get a letter home EVERY DAY about your child’s behavior, and the calls to the doctor that it may be time to increase her medication.  Again.  The same medication you were hoping to wean her off of in time, with the grand hope that you can help her learn to control her behavior.

It is devastating to hear members of your own family speak about her disability.  The one who calls her a “zombie” when she is on her medication.  And the one, who says they can’t handle her off her medication.  When people who are her own blood won’t babysit her because she is “too much” for them.   She will spend the rest of her life unaware of the number of times she was rejected by her own family members.  A burden my heart bears, to spare her.

They also do not know what it is like to open your child’s planner at the end of the school year… to find a note taped in the back.  In her handwriting you see the words “Read Every Day”.    And, as any mom would, you open up the note to see these words written on a cheap valentines day class swap card….

“I know some people think you are weird,

But I think you are awesome.”

It is great to see that someone sees the AMAZING side of your child.  It is heart wrenching to know that your child needed that affirmation so much, she would put it into her planner… making sure to read it every day.  She needed to know someone other than her parents (and God) liked her.  She was alone, lonely.

Everything changed when she started her medication.  The notes stopped coming home.  She started making friends.  She was able to focus, and her behaviors stopped or at least were minimized.  She has best friends now.

In the church, it is easy for us to know how to respond to the child with a visible disability.  We not only see it, but we are prepared for (or at least expecting) that we are going to need to be more patient, more hands on, more helpful and more understanding.   We would be more cautious about what we said to the parents.  Those parents hear things like “He had a hard day today, but we got through it” or “He did so well today!”.

When you are a parent of a child with an invisible disability, you hear things like…. “Wow, that one… she’s a handful”, usually accompanied by a look of complete exasperation on their face.  When well meaning people off up a litany of suggestions on how to raise this child, you feel defeated.  You feel judged.  You feel like you are failing as a parent. 

We are now in the middle school years, and our daughter sits with us during Saturday night service.  We do not give her medication on days when there is no school, we still hold out hope that she’ll learn the coping skills to live off medication one day.  Sitting with her, un-medicated, at Saturday night service is the equivalent to sitting with a toddler.

She fidgets.  She talks.  She interrupts.  She draws.  She goes through the papers in the pew pockets.  She touches people, gently.  She asks a million questions.  She hangs on you, pulls on you, sits on you.  She sits up, she lays down.

She can’t help herself.

She also sings with all her might.  She raises her hands to the Lord, as she praises.  She smiles bigger, and has a twinkle in her eye … that melts your heart.  She laughs with every muscle in her body.  She is the embodiment of 1 Corinthians 13:4-7.   She may ask a LOT of questions, but they are good questions.  Pastor, despite her fidgeting… SHE HEARD EVERY WORD YOU SAID.  With certainty, we will be discussing it later.  You deposited that information into a vault, a bank she will pull from one day.

How does the church minister to people like me, to my daughter?

1) Recognize that unseen disorders are still REAL.  These families need support too, they need help… they parent the child no one wants to babysit.  When mom walks into the church late (again), looking like she just went through WWIII…. Smile at her, hug her, and connect to that child.  The more you make the child feel welcome at the church, the easier it is for us to get them motivated to come.

2) Be mindful of the words you speak, and the assumptions you make.  You have no idea how hard it is to parent these children, every day choosing which battles you are going to fight.  While yes, there may be parents who abuse the system, most of us do not.  We love our children.  We are doing everything we can for them to be successful now & in their future.  We need your words of encouragement.   When people make comments like the one in the picture above, they have no clue WHO they are saying it to.  I’ve heard it.  It makes me cringe.  I’m that parent you are calling lazy, and unwilling to discipline.  You don’t even realize it.

3)  When you see the parent trying to wrangle them in, understand that THIS child REQUIRES different techniques and parenting.  We are not being harsh, we are holding firm boundaries.  We are still teaching them, and we appreciate your willingness to teach them as well.  We appreciate your patience, and that you see the best in our kids.  Don’t let them get away with something, just because they have a disorder or disability.  Just keep it in mind, as you choose how to handle it, that you are not dealing with an average kid.  When in doubt, ask the parents.

I know there are times when my daughter will be a distraction, and you will look.  I expect the look.  I appreciate the smile.

For those of you reading this, who may have a child like mine sitting in your Sunday Service, there is HOPE.

When the pressure is removed from the parents, when they understand that you love their kids… imperfections, quirks, and all… there is an enormous release.  We can engage in your message, without worry about what our kid is doing every second.  And you set the tone for others, when you (especially as Pastors and Elders) say it is ok… the body will follow.  Your smiles, become their smiles.  Your acceptance, becomes their acceptance.

Use your knowledge of members in the body to connect us families together, but also with people in the body that have the skills.  Tell us about that occupational therapist that can give us suggestions on getting through the service, or help train the Sunday School workers on how to deal with kids that have disabilities and disorders, particularly the invisible ones.

And, consider having some of the following:

juniorshieldGIVE THEM JOBS!!!! – Just because a child or teen has a disability or disorder, doesn’t mean they don’t have gifts and talents.  Giving them a job as part of the service will allow them to plug in, feel important, and something to focus on.  Many would love to be a greeter, pass out welcome packets, help pass out the offering baskets, etc.  Even something as simple as having a few kids restock the pens and response cards in the pews between services, it can mean a lot.  Be sure to speak with the parents first, to help identify the best area to serve.

actionbible  Have a few copies of The Action Bible tucked sporadically under pews or available as the kids come in the door.  They are easy to follow, and can help capture the child’s attention during the service.  Mom and Dad will get to enjoy the message, and their child has something appropriate to keep them engaged.

worshipbulletins  Take a lesson from the Pros!  Any restaurant that serves kids has special menus and packs of crayons for kids.  Why?  Because, they know that kids have a short attention span & patience is not one of their strong points.  Children who are disabled will often find these same activities helpful, regardless of their age.  Have something like, Worship Bulletins for Kids, available at the pews, in a basket near the door, or being distributed by greeters; they are cost effective and won’t take up much space.  You can choose to provide crayons, or just let the kids use the pens/pencils already in the pews.

stickersEven something as simple as stickers is HUGE for kids, it’s positive reinforcement & fun.   The stickers can be kept at your Information Desk, and after service Mom, or Dad, can bring their child to pick up a sticker for sitting well through service.  The parents can come up with a reward system for at home (certain # of stickers collected = reward).  For many special needs kids, the sticker is enough.  Parents will appreciate that it is not candy too!  These Very Veggie Values stickers are perfect because they are fun, but also are learning tools.

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The great news is that you can find these resources all in one location, http://www.FamilyChristian.com , they also have an entire section of books for Families with Special Needs Kids  including:  autism, add, adhd, overeating, fragile x, downs syndrome, and more.

These books not only are helpful to parents who have children that are special needs, but are great resources to children’s ministry leaders and church staff.  When you take the time to make an investment to understanding these kids in your church… you minister to our hearts in ways you never will truly understand.  There are times when you will treat our kids better, kinder and more lovingly than some of their own relatives.  You matter in their lives.

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Matthew 25:40 “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me.”

Matthew 18:10  “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven.”

Mark 10:14    He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”