Tuesday, July 24, 2012

An Inconvenient Life

I read that if people with special needs were classified as a race, they would together be the largest unreached peoples in the world.  In my average size city there are at least 6 elementary schools, 3 middle schools and 3 high schools. Each of those public schools have a Life Skills class with approximately 10 kids full-time. That means that at a minimum there are 120 families with special needs and realistically twice that many families if all the kids on IEP’s, at all schools were counted. A low estimate is there are around 200 hundred families with no church loving them or supporting them emotionally…but there are over 81 churches listed in the public directory. Yet, sadly, not one of them is making an effort to reach this “people group”. These local churches are overlooking an enormous market right out their front window: families with special needs.

I know this for a fact because we have contacted many of them and specifically attended 4 of them with the hope they were interested in starting a disability outreach. The disappointment for us, is that they all talked about it from their mission statements and prayers and speeches: they want to embrace diversity and reach all people and be missionaries… yet in their efforts to reach the world they’ve stumbled over us at their doorstep and kept right on walking.

We have been an inconvenience to many churches; they honestly don’t know what to do with families like mine.

Being an inconvenience is something we have experienced in many places such as restaurants, social outings, birthday parties, classrooms, shops… but the church - - really, it just baffles my mind.  This is supposed to be a place of refuge, yet it is where we have experienced our deepest hurts. Over the years there have been two churches which we attended regularly but were eventually told, “unless you sit with your son in sunday school, he cannot come back.” Tears of disappointment mingle with righteous indignation as those words pierce my deepest soul. As acid poured on an open wound, the rawest pain was at both of those churches we counted the pastor and his wife as truly some of our dearest friends. And while it was not the pastor that asked us to leave, he did not make any effort to begin a disability ministry or intercede on our behalf. Pain does not go much deeper as we dishearteningly left those churches.

Hurt swells and rises in my throat when I know that I am not alone in my experience. If I dare to raise the subject to another family with special needs, I am met with tears of empathy. Why? Why must those who are different be an inconvenience?  Is not the church the safe haven, the hospital for the weak?

On Sunday mornings I wake up with dread. Should I take my child to Sunday School? Should I leave him with me in the service? Should we just stay home? Sunday mornings are an enormous hassle; it’s often not worth the frustration. Is it really worth the effort to go church, to sit with our bodies tense, our minds not relaxed for a nanosecond…waiting to hear the squeal of our child from down the hallway…knowing it is a matter of minutes until the flash of the beeper lights red…  cringing as our number is broadcast on the call box… getting an evil eye from those around us…letting out a deep sigh of discouragement as once again we are called upon to go retrieve our child.

My child needs care and attention 24/7. Twenty four hours a day, seven days a week I am called by God to care for and love my child and I do so willingly and without reserve. By the dawn of Sunday morning my soul is craving after God, my emotions are frazzled, I am on the verge of tears, my body is weary. I want to sit in a pew for 90 minutes and breathe in the sweet peace of the Holy Spirit reviving my parched soul. I want my spirit and heart encouraged and refreshed for a week ahead. I want to know that for 90 minutes I can sit calmly and soak in the truth of God, my mind at peace knowing my child is safe and loved in the same building. Why does the church not feel the cry of  families such as mine?

It grieves me deeply that as I interact with families of special needs all across the United States and beyond, I hear firsthand how many of them are angry at the church, how many of them have been rejected by the church, how many of them have been asked to leave a service. It is just so wrong on every level! Oh how the heart of God must be breaking for His precious children who are desperately craving connection, but are being brushed aside.

Clearly scripture says “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress”, and while the “disabled” are not specific in that clause, the heart of Jesus was indeed drawn towards this people group.  Read in the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John how often Jesus healed one with seizures, one possessed in the mind, another broken in body or those overcome by physical disorder.  Where, I humbly ask is the heart of Jesus via the church for my child, for my family?

Oh Church, take off your “WWJD” bracelets and charms and look around you! Look out your rose colored windows and allow your eyes to linger on the hundreds of hurting families right in your neighborhood. Moms, dads, caregivers… craving a simple 90 minutes of peace and reflection and spiritual renewal. 

I promise the local church, if they would open their doors, their hearts, their arms to those with special needs, they would not even need pursue them - - families would flock to your church! Then those who know nothing of the saving grace of God, would see Him alive via the action of the church, and they would be unable to deny His love. And those who already know the One who loves without boundaries, would be encouraged and renewed each week!

Whether you read this as a family seeking 90 minutes of peace, or as a church member needing to offer hope… my prayer is that in my child’s lifetime this inconvenience will soon end and never again will a family leave a church feeling more discouraged than when they entered.

Monday, July 9, 2012

On Being a Lifeline

We floated the river this weekend as temps reached a scorching 91 degrees - which here in the high desert is HOT, HOT, HOT. As such we were joined by hundreds, honestly closer to a thousand or so of other like-minded, over-heated residents of this outdoor adventure community.

There were couples on air mattresses, grandmas in kayaks, rednecks soaking up skin cancer and lung cancer, SUP's a plenty and families on rafts roped to kids in tubes. The latter would include us: 1 large float tied to 2 smaller floats.

About halfway down the river, after being tugged on continually by my son and his rope, I looked at my husband and said ,"Just once in my life I’d like to float this river without having someone tied to me and constantly pulling me. I just want to relax and float free".

He laughed and replied," Ummm, sweetie, that's your life everyday isn't it."

An epiphany! Right there in the river surrounded by water, noise, sun and people.  Yes, that IS my life!

I am tied to my son.
There is no relaxing.  There is no free float.

Today on the float he hung on to my rope and wouldn't relax or let go for one moment. I did loose my cool with him after being tugged the wrong way one too many times: I threatened to untie the rope if he didn't stop.

And so it is in daily life.  He rarely let's me out of his sight without panicking. To go to school, yes. But for me to go on a date or overnight -- the rope just got jerked involuntarily out of his hand and he fights anyone or anything to regain control and reattach to me.

I realize that indeed he does need the rope attached to me for many safety reasons:  like having no judgment. None. Zero discernment. No ability to differentiate between a stranger and a friend. Not being able to learn from a mistake -- YES fire always burns, NO you cannot eat the dog food or drink from the toilet, NO you cannot walk in front of a speeding car or swing or bike.

I try so hard to be his lifeline and give him the security he needs.  But I do loose my cool.  There are days when I just want to yell at him, "what is wrong with you??? Argh!! Why can't you just cooperate for one afternoon? Is that really so much to ask?"

I know the answer even before the thought or words flow from my tongue.  I need to remind myself that he is developmentally 4 or 5 years younger than his chronological age. His disabilities are invisible, yet oh so very, very real!  He is so handsome, he looks so innocent and "normal". He has no outward signs of FASD. Sometimes I think I need to make him wear a t-shirt emblazoned with the message " Be patient with me I have FASD".

Even on long hot summer days it's good that God gave me such a patient and amazing husband to gently make me aware of the importance, the high calling of being a lifeline, the reality of being tied to someone who so desperately needs me to be there for him.

I think I'll go make a rope bracelet as a reminder.