Wednesday, July 20, 2011

As God Views...

Through the lens of Love
As He views the rest of His Creation

As His precious Child
Bearing His Image

As an intentional part of His creation
With a ministry to fulfill on earth

As one who bears unique gifts
Valuable to the faith community

As His beloved
Sent to glorify Him in her life

As a sinner
With a repentant heart

He revels in the beauty of her soul
Washed clean by the Blood of the Lamb

Created for eternity
Just like you and me

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Faith Community - Walking Alongside the Family Living with Special Needs

Families raising and supporting children and/or loved ones with special needs live unique lives – lives filled with many blessings and unexpected joys - but often face greater challenges that those living a so called “typical” life.

Like their loved one with special needs, they are often living on the margins of society. Their first obligation is to family – just like your family but with additional responsibilities which leaves less time for friends and social gatherings.
What can you do to walk alongside families?
Meet them where they are outside of the faith community. We only capture a few moments when we gather together as a church family. They live 24 hours per day with their loved one with special needs. We can be in relationship with them as they deal with the their everyday lives away from the church. A little effort goes a long way!
Acknowledge they are dealing with more than the typical family.
We acknowledge that every child/individual is special but some deal with challenges beyond the typical family which impact their lives, marriages, typically developing children, and relationships in the community. Often times, they work endlessly to find ways to meet the needs of the child/individual with special needs and spend many more hours per day meeting individual’s needs to help him/her reach beyond their challenges.
Do not be afraid to approach the family.
Many people just do not know what to say or do. Let the family or the individual lead the way for you. As you get to know the family, you will probably be surprised by the blessings they know as a parent of a child with special needs or supporting the individual with special needs.
You will discover that their lives are more than the individual with special needs diagnosis. They, as a family, are much like your family. Beyond the challenges they face, they have the same dreams and hopes for their loved one...and share many of the same problems.
Don't be afraid to inquire about the individual’s special needs.

Most families are quite willing to share – they live with those special needs day in and day out. Special needs are normalized over time and quite often easily spoken about.
Do not be afraid of the individual with special needs.
They may look different or act differently but they are always people first. Treat them with the same respect, friendliness that you would show anyone else. A little genuine interest in the life of the individual with special needs and their family are precious to them.
The nonverbal individual will appreciate a smile, a light touch and friendly conversation – just like every other individual. Some will have ‘invisible’ special needs and are also in need of your support and understanding.
Educate your families about people with special needs and encourage friendships.
It is important for individuals with special needs to have friendships with those we view as typical. Individuals with special needs learn a great deal from peer relationships. The peer will learn a great deal about befriending those who really are more like them than different and valuing all of God's creation.
Include the family openly and lovingly in group activities.
Your kindness will be deeply appreciated. Giving exposure to the individual with special needs and their family will promote acceptance into the faith community.
Allow the family the opportunity to educate your congregation on the special needs of their child or loved one.
This may help others feel more comfortable with them. Knowledge will breed compassion and the ability to welcome them fully into congregational life – to help them see beyond the diagnosis and to be valued for who they are.
Mentoring opportunities.
Many opportunities exist in meeting the everyday needs of the individual with special needs and their families. A little companionship for the individual with special needs – perhaps going for a cup of coffee or to a movie which may contribute to their future independence – is quite meaningful to the individual and their family.
Do remember the siblings.
At times, people forget about the devoted siblings/family members. Growing up alongside a child with special needs or supporting a loved one with special needs comes with many blessings but sometimes they need to be acknowledged for who they are individually. No one really wants to be known only as the sibling/relative of an individual with special needs.
Invite the parents/caretaker out or over for an occasional social activity.
They need to just be grownups sometimes and away from the usual daily responsibilities.
If you are so called, offer respite care on occasion.

An hour or two on occasion will provide refreshment for the overwhelmed parent/relative. Perhaps you have a teen willing to be trained in meeting the family’s needs for a short time. Helping with some light household tasks or entertaining a toddler will be huge for a family dealing with an individual with special needs.
Do not feel sorry for them.
Many families will not welcome sympathy. In fact, they might find it condescending. Most families feel abundantly blessed to have the opportunity to have the individual with special needs in their lives. At times, the family may need a friend during crisis or episodic grieving that normally occurs when living with a child or individual with special needs.
Empathy is genuinely needed at times.
Offer your ear and an open heart when we do struggle. Sometimes all that might be needed is someone to listen. Even if you can’t truly understand, a compassionate heart might be all that is needed.
Pray for the family as you feel led.

All need prayer but these families might have different specific needs to be brought before the Throne. Ask how you can pray for them. In asking you show support which brings comfort that they are not dealing with challenging issues alone.
What can the wider community do?

This needs to be a ministry to an often marginalized group of individuals/families. A little extra effort to support families will go a long way.
Don’t expect families with loved ones with special needs to have the time and energy to give to the wider faith community on a regular basis. They are too often overwhelmed by what they have been called to do – especially in the early years where they are dealing with their loved one’s or child’s diagnosis, seeking answers to why the person/child isn’t developing typically, frequent visits to physicians and/or therapists, dealing with behavioral challenges and/or meeting the needs of the rest of their family. This is the time when support is needed most.

I promise you will be blessed in giving a little or a lot. When you reflect God’s love for all of His creation – especially those with special needs – you will discover a heart more inclined to love as Jesus calls us to love. Bless and be blessed!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Image of God

Do you ever wonder how God looks at His children with special needs? No doubt, He looks at them in the same way he looks at all of us. He doesn’t care about our appearance and other worldly trappings. He values what lies inside of all of us. He looks at our hearts – the place where love lives. God is love and wants us to enter into the love of the Father for the Son and the Son for the Father.

Are those with special needs given the same heart? Yes!

C.S. Lewis wrote

"There does seem to be an empty space, a vacuum in the heart of every human….Those who believe in God say that he and he alone is the piece that brings completion to the soul. All people need God."

And what about the soul? Every human is given a soul at conception – created by God and the essence of humankind. Do individuals with special needs have a soul? Of course they do!

God values all His children as those created in His image. Shouldn’t the rest of the world?

It’s not a reality yet but we can bring change about by leading with example. Let’s bring them all into the faith community. Let them know they are a child of God and loved and cherished by God and God’s faithful people.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

An Invitation -

Perhaps you know my family – You see a happily married couple with two kids, 2 cars, a dog and a cat living in a middle class home in a nice subdivision. We go to church and pay our bills. Sounds pretty average doesn’t it?

If you choose to walk closer with me on this earthly journey, you will see one of my children has Down syndrome. You will see me trying my best to treat her as I treat my oldest daughter – as normally as possible but I must make some adjustments in dealing with her uniqueness. It is part of living with her special needs. Still my family is more like yours than not.

Many will shy away from getting closer. Perhaps they think they really know what I deal with. I invite you to walk with me. I invite the Church to walk with me. I want you to know my blessings and my joys. The challenges come and go but the joys and the blessings are constant. I want you to see Reagan’s gifts and the added dimension she brings to our lives and what she can offer to the faith community.

Sadly, a large part of the faith community fails to recognize my daughter’s gifts and talents. They fail to see her as an asset, as one who has something to contribute to the Body of Christ.

There is a growing movement in the Church in meeting the spiritual needs of individuals with special needs and families raising children with special needs. It requires change. It requires opening hearts and minds. It requires you to walk alongside us and all of those living with special needs. Walk alongside us in faith and charity - and in community, Be blessed as we have been blessed in knowing this soul who is our daughter. Her soul not disabled but quite able as she loves and serves God every day. She, along with every other individual with special needs, has gifts and talents to be explored. Gifts and talents to be used to glorify God in bringing others to Him.

Soon to come - what you can do!

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Individual with Special Needs and the Church

In every community you will find individuals with special needs and families supporting loved ones with special needs. You may not many of them in our churches but they do exist. Nineteen percent of the general population lives with special needs and have families impacted by those special needs. Ninety percent have no church home. Do you, like me, find these numbers distressing?

Why don’t we see them?

They have had previous negative experiences with the Church.

They may not feel their child or loved one with special needs is accepted as fully participating members of the community.

They may not be comfortable bringing their child or loved one with special needs to events and gatherings due to social, behavioral and/or physical issues.

They may be using all their available energy to meet the needs of their family and their child with special needs.

Does your faith community have a responsibility to nurture and support those with special needs?

Jesus welcomed – even healed - many people with special needs. He gave them His time and attention. Why should the Christian community be any different?

The Body of Christ is called to live the Gospel in all its fullness. We are they eyes, hands and feet of Jesus on earth – empowered by the Holy Spirit. All God’s children should be welcomed and brought into full congregational life. Their gifts and talents make the Body of Christ whole.

Many families are already a part of the faith community but stopped attending church because of a perceived (and probably real) lack of acceptance. Their children and loved ones with special needs should be welcomed into the community as every other child and individual is welcomed. They should be supported through the additional trials they face and the joys of caring for their loved one with special needs

Individuals with special needs are an often marginalized segment of society. They are often excluded because they look and/or act differently. Most know and feel the discomfort of being excluded.

Much of society doesn’t value those with significant needs and/or cognitive challenges. In fact, many (90+ percent of those with Down syndrome) with known genetic syndromes are aborted in utero. Babies created in Him image disposed of as useless tissue! It is time we took back what is taught in God's Word and live it! Over the years, in the post-modern culture, the Church has become more secularized and some denominations have become part of the popular culture to the extent that they call abortion a blessing

God loves and values all His children - He makes no mistakes...and I'm sure He weeps at the state of parts of His church.

So, let the faith community be different. Embrace those with special needs and their families as Jesus would!

What you, as an individual, can do:

In every community you will find many who would love to support individuals with special needs but aren’t sure what they can do.

1. Invite and welcome them into your church home.

What do you do when you meet someone who is seeking a church home? In the natural course of relationships, we invite them to our church!

When inviting individuals with special needs, remember many cannot drive. They will need a ride to church. Those in institutional settings will, most likely, also not have a ride to church. This is probably the biggest obstacle in bringing individuals with special needs into our churches.

It seems that we may shy away from inviting families dealing with individuals with special needs, Perhaps we see problems vs. opportunities. Perhaps they don’t feel their church is equipped to handle needs beyond what they perceive as "normal."

In truth, we are all equipped by God’s Word and the Holy Spirit to meet those needs. All are created in His Image and should be welcomed and encouraged to participate in the fullness of congregational life.

2. Support and guide them.

It often isn’t easy for any of us to learn our way around a new church and meet new people. Support and guide individuals with special needs, as needed, as they make their way through learning the church layout, the liturgy, the Hymnal, Prayer Book and meeting others. Don’t forget to fade your support as they become independent and get to know people.

3. Treat them with dignity and respect

As an individual created in God’s image! God loves all His children and we should too – giving them the respect they deserve and at all times protect their dignity.

4. Meet them where they are.

Isn’t that what friends do? Meet them where they are emotionally, socially and developmentally and gently guide them forward on their path to spiritual growth. Help them discern their spiritual gifts and how to use them. Remember they have the same spiritual needs as everyone else. They want to know our Lord better and become closer to Him. They desire to worship with a church family. They want to be welcomed in fellowship and be valued for who they are.

5. Teach others how to love and include them.

There may be those in the faith community who harbor unfounded fears and prejudices – or just don’t know what to do or say. They may be need to be taught by example what to do and say.

In keeping it simple, this is all about relationships and living the Gospel. The implementation may seem complex but it is one individual or one family at a time, brought into the fullness of the Body of Christ, supporting and learning from each other, and bringing God the glory!