Category Archives: Special Needs Parenting

Eight Ways to Reduce Back to School Anxiety

Back to School

I’m sharing with my readers a guest blog I wrote for Ellen Stumbo.  You can read the original post here.

When I was a child, back to school came with lots of excitement and the good kind of anticipation. For my son on the autism spectrum, it was a very different experience.   Early on, we didn’t have anything close to a smooth transition when the school doors flung wide, welcoming all the little people who had become somewhat bigger people over the summer. As the first few years got off to bumpy starts, I found my son who is on the autism spectrum grew anxious about the start of the school year. I started to worry too. Would my son have a teacher who was a good fit for his needs?  Would he be able to cope with the social strain? Would he handle all the new material he needed to learn? Would he be safe from bullies? Would he make just one friend that year?

Dear God, is it asking too much for the answer to all of those questions to be “yes?”

For both of us, the sense of anxiety about back to school had much to do with the unknown. What happened to the “fun” part of back-to-school that I had known?  I was determined to help him have some happy memories by making what felt unknown become familiar instead.  Here are a few strategies that worked well for my family:

  • Brush up on academic skills. Math skills were always a challenge and hard-won gains eroded quickly over the summer. We found a math tutor who did a two-week intensive, meeting one-on-one an hour a day.
  • Review lists of back to school supplies with your child’s therapists. Check for alternate suggestions that best suit your child’s needs and motor skill abilities. Also, schedule ongoing after school therapy appointments. Therapist’s schedules fill quickly in those coveted afterschool hours. Booking early will help reserve the time slot that best fits the rhythm of your family and minimize disruption.
  • Make a “First Day Plan.” Navigating crowded hallways can be overwhelming to children with sensory issues, especially if he or she already has anxiety about a new routine. Introduce your child to their “go to” people, such as the school nurse, cafeteria monitor, and so forth. We used to arrange a time before school began, apart from the hectic “meet your teacher” night, and find the route to classroom, library, cafeteria, nurse’s office, and restrooms.
  • Avoid unnecessary embarrassment by having a spare change of clothes and underwear tucked away at school, just in case.
  • Help your child connect with other children he or she already knows who will be in the classroom. A familiar face on the first day of school can help alleviate anxiety.
  • Get in the groove ahead of time. Adjust bedtime and waking time to match the back-to-school schedule during the week before school. Experiment with lunch. The first day goes so much better if a picky eater is willing to eat what is packed in their lunchbox. What they ate happily a few months ago may suddenly be less appealing. Try doing a full dress rehearsal of getting ready for the first day and keep it fun rather than rushed.
  • Plan to something simple, but special to your child after the first day. It may take a few weeks to get into a settled routine and that is alright. Celebrate even small victories along the way.
  • Pray for your child each day and give over to God all that is outside of your control.

These are a few ways that my family made back-to-school fun again.  I’d love to hear what works for your family.

Rev Doc Lorna

Photo “Back to School” by Nuttakit at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Peace, Be Still

Poppy by Dan from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Be still, and know that I am God! (Psalm 46:10 NRS)

“Where did the summer go? Two months ago I had all of these great intentions. Now it’s almost time for back to school!”

My friend’s frustration certainly mirrored my own at times.  How often have I lamented, “If I just had the time I would…” But then the much-needed gift of time was wasted.

Or was it?

Engaging life at a different and slower pace is a gift.  Give yourself permission not to have to produce every moment. There is a saying, “We are human beings, not human doings.”

Simply ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’ is a gift in itself.

A scripture meditation to help you relax and enjoy that difference.

Sit comfortably in a place free from distractions for just three minutes.

Breathe deeply and focus on one line for each minute

“Be still and know that I am God.”

“Be still.”

“Be.”

May the peace that surpasses all understanding be with you now and forever more. Amen

Rev Doc Lorna

Image “Poppy” by Dan courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Twelve Tips for Special Needs and the Long, Long Summer

“Blank Calendar Shows Plan Appointment Schedule Or Event” by Stuart Miles from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I told a lie. I didn’t mean to, but it just happened. I suppose I wanted to fit in with the other moms. Peer pressure is a powerful force, even for parents.

I was picking my son up from school toward the end of the year in second grade.  He walked home with me each day.  The school bus was too frustrating. The carpool line was long and caused anxiety as he waited to see my car.  So day after day I sweated in the late afternoon Texas heat with a handful of other moms outside the second grade hallway.

One mom gushed about her upcoming summer. “I can’t wait for school to get out. We’ve got swim team coming up. Then a trip to see grandparents. Then the kids are heading to my sister’s with their cousins so my husband and I can get away. After that we have vacation Bible school and then I’m sending them off to a week of camp for the first time.  We are going to try to fit in a trip to Disney if we can, but our summer is so packed it may have to wait until next year.”

Another piped up, “Same here.  I think we signed up for every single activity at the YMCA. Family is coming for a visit. It’s just crazy-busy all summer long.”

That’s when I lied. “Us too!” The second part wasn’t a lie, “It will be a relief when summer is over.”

All I could think of was the painfully blank calendar of non-existent summer activities.  Play dates? Kind of hard when your child has no friends.  Swim team? Ha! The noise, the chaos, that blaring horn and shrill whistle – not for my son on the autism spectrum. Vacation Bible school? I tried that once and, honestly, there were parents in that program who stopped speaking to me because I dared to enroll my son after the lead pastor encouraged me to do so. No way was I trying that again! The team activities at the YMCA? Those were a real challenge and more frustrating than fun to my son. He could have a full-blown meltdown playing BINGO. Siblings extending invitations to give us respite? Nope. We did have a couple weeks planned to go visit grandparents, but two weeks out of twelve is a drop in the bucket.

This magical and marvelous summer the other moms described was not my world, though I desperately wished that it could be. So I lied and said, “Us too!” and set about erasing that lie by finding things to fill the days.

If you’ve reached the mid-pont of summer and have run out of activities, here are a few strategies that worked for me:

  • Support groups. Other parents are likely to have kids in need of friends too. Ours was not the only family staring down the barrel of a long and boring summer.
  • “Special needs friendly” events. These were non-existent back when my son was young, but are becoming more and more popular. Check with local children museums, movie theaters, sports stadiums and performing arts venues.  For example, the Houston Ballet Company recently offered their first autism friendly performance, complete with interaction between performers and children afterwards.
  • Congregations with special needs ministries. Faith communities are much more aware and inclusive in summer camp and vacation Bible school. Find a program that fits your family and talk to the staff ahead of time so that they are prepared with volunteers who match the needs of your child. If budget is tight, volunteer your own time to help defray cost.
  • Summer camp for special needs children. There are more and more opportunities for children with special needs to experience summer camp. Some are child specific and some accommodate the whole family.  These often fill early so research registration dates and mark them on your calendar.
  • Check the calendar at local disability friendly non-profits. For example, in the Houston area, Family to Family Network and Easter Seals offer or have information about a variety activities and respite care. There is also Mikey’s Guide, a local publication to a broad variety of local disability friendly services and events.
  • Keep a routine. For many of our kids, structure is key. Set a routine for meals, errands, play time, family chores. Routine helps remove boredom.
  • Focus on therapy and acquiring new skills. Fitting in therapies during the school year can be a real challenge. Take advantage of available time to focus on areas for growth. Consider finding a tutor for challenging subjects to help keep your child from losing hard-won skills in math and reading.
  • Enjoy a less hectic pace for a while. While we live in a culture that glorifies “busy,” it is okay to step off the merry-go-round and enjoy a pace that is slower than the world around you.
  • Explore the outdoors. Children are inside for hours each day at school. Take advantage of summer as a time to get outside and explore parks, beaches, and walking trails. State and local parks in your area may have summer programs, such as guided trail tours, that suit a child’s interest and focus. If mobility is a challenge consider a tagalong trailer for a bike. Check your own yard for bird nests and enjoy watching the new family grow.
  • Check out programs at the local library. Libraries are a treasure trove of child friendly activities and resources. The best part? They are free!
  • Water is wonderful in the summer heat. If the community pool is overwhelming, go at off times. No pool in your area? Create your own backyard water fun with sprinklers or an inexpensive wading pool.
  • Remember self-care. Parenting becomes 24/7 when children are home from school. With high needs children this can be especially tiring to the caregiver. Tag team with your spouse or other adult when you need a break. Schedule a night out as often as you can in order to nurture your most important relationships. Take time to do things you enjoy.

I learned that filling the summer isn’t about keeping up with what everyone else is doing.  Rather, it is about finding the pace and activities that best suits my family and flourishing there. I’d love to hear from parents other ideas for family fun.

You have fixed all the bounds of the earth; you made summer and winter. (Psalm 74:17 NRS)

Renewing God, Thank you or the change of pace over the summer. Help us find refreshment and renewal rather than boredom in the midst of the gift of time. Amen

Rev Doc Lorna

“Blank Calendar Shows Plan Appointment Schedule Or Event” by Stuart Miles from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Celebrating Freedom

“Fireworks” by satit_srihin from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As America celebrates the anniversary of freedom as a sovereign nation, may God bless families raising children with special needs with their own much-needed freedom.

Freedom from anxiety and worry about the unknown.

Freedom from fatigue and frustration.

Freedom from fear of the unseen future.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28 NRS)

In giving to Christ the burdens that we cannot control, there is true freedom.  Now, that is something to celebrate!

Loving God, Thank you for your offer to carry our burdens.  We accept! Amen

Rev Doc Lorna

“Fireworks” by satit_srihin from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

One Motivation

Special Needs Parenting Cover

There is one motivation behind my ministry at Hope and Healing Institute.  That’s it.  Just one. Equipping families with special needs to remain resilient. That happens through providing tools and support to individuals facing any number of challenges that come with parenting a child with special needs. Mine is just one of many support programs offered here in fulfilling our mission of building and restoring lives to health and wholeness. I am blessed to be part of this amazing non-profit that is changing lives for the better.

After writing Special Needs Parenting: From Coping to Thriving, the Hope and Healing Institute equipped me to pilot the material with five small groups. I led three of them in the Houston area, another online,  and another was led by Rev. Leslie Neugent at Wayzata Community Church in Minnesota. Leslie and I both experienced a sense of community, friendship and healing within our groups.

The most rewarding part? Hearing from people about how their lives have been enriched and changed for the better in the process. Mimi Patman, a participant in one of the groups that I led, shares insight into her parenting experience.From the shock of diagnosis to the power of hope found in scripture and community, Mimi opens a window into her private family life in hopes that it will encourage others as well through this brief video.

My prayer is that other parents looking for emotional and spiritual nurture will also be blessed through the book and that an increasing number of faith communities will offer support groups and pastoral care to families wishing to be included within the life of the congregation.

Rev Doc Lorna

Anger: The Elephant in the Room

On June 9 I shared the article below at Not Alone Parenting.  You can find the original post here: http://specialneedsparenting.net/anger-the-elephant-in-the-room/

CastingoutMoneyChangers

 “Each morning when I would drop off my neuro-typical daughter at pre-school I found I felt so angry. Every single day I was irritable for no reason.  It made no sense. I loved her school.”

“I’ve been in such a bad mood lately and I don’t know why. I get annoyed with traffic, with standing in line, with everything really. I was even mad that the weather was cold the other day when I was on carpool duty at school.”

“When I hear other parents talking about their vacation plans it just irritates me. I wish they would keep their “perfect world” to themselves.”

These three experiences of anger are just a few of many that have been shared by special needs parents in interviews and support groups I’ve led over the years.  It’s an uncomfortable topic for many, and so it not often discussed.  Anger and resentment can be the elephant in the room of the special needs parenting experience. Yet, like all emotions, these feelings are valid and need reflection and healthy expression in order to be processed.

I brilliantly decided one year for Lent to give up feelings of anger and impatience. It seemed to me more “Christian” at the time.  It did not go well. Pretending that I didn’t feel something didn’t make it go away, rather it came out in unexpected ways similar to the stories above.

There is a popular phrase making the rounds on social media.

If anyone ever asks you, “What would Jesus do?” Remind them that flipping over tables and chasing people with a whip is within the realm of possibilities.”

Humorous, and a good reminder that anger is a valid emotion. Jesus acted on his anger in an unjust situation:

Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? But you have made it a den of robbers.” (Mark 11:15-17 NRS)

Why was Jesus angry? People who came to the temple needed to offer sacrifices.  For some who had traveled great distances it was easier to purchase a sacrifice at the temple rather than bring one from home. Roman coins of the day had images of the emperor who claimed he was divine.  Jews wishing to give money as tribute at the temple needed to change their coins for currency appropriate to be given at the temple.  The moneychangers made a nice profit in the exchange, as did those selling animals for sacrifice.  The temple and its courtyard dominated a large portion of the city.  It was a long walk to go around it, especially if carrying something heavy from one side of the city to the other. It became a custom for some to take a shortcut through the courtyard rather than go around. All of these things were disrespectful to the holiest place in the land. Jesus clearly knew why he was angry and he directed his anger toward the appropriate source, albeit in a way that was disruptive and shocking. Then again, much of what Jesus did was disruptive and shocking, including walking out of a tomb.

For special needs parents, finding the source of anger can be more challenging. The reason isn’t always obvious. When a sense of irritation shadows every step of the day, it is worthwhile dig through to the root cause. Anger can sometimes be a mask disguising other more deeply held feelings of embarrassment, insecurity, vulnerability, or pain.

For the first parent I mentioned above, she found she was processing resentment about how easy it was to drop off her youngest child relative to how challenging it was to deal with a van and a wheelchair with her oldest. Suddenly experiencing “easy” made her realize anew that many parts of her everyday life were difficult.  The second parent found she was resentful of how restricted her time was. She was over-scheduled and every delay proved an annoyance, including cold weather that made the carpool line extra-long. The third parent realized she felt lonely and excluded, rather than “sour grapes” jealousy as it seemed at first. Once each parent took the time to dig more deeply into the cause of their anger they found they could resolve it effectively, targeting the true source.

There is a simple yet effective strategy to help dig to the bottom for the source of anger.

  • Is your anger illogical or disproportional to its source? As with the parents above, it made no sense to be irritated at the cold weather or during preschool drop off.  Anger that is illogical or disproportional deserves some deeper reflection to get to the real root cause.
  • Take time to reflect on the “what” and “why.” It may take digging through layers of “why” to get to the underlying answer. With the second parent above, that process went like this: What is making me angry? Everything! Traffic, lines, just everything! Why does that make me angry? I’m in a hurry and I don’t have time to waste. Why am I always in a hurry? I have too much to do. Why do I have too much to do? I need help and I don’t ask for it. Why? I feel I need to do everything myself.
  • Once the “why” is uncovered, is there something that can change to address final “why?” For the third parent, her why was that she felt lonely and excluded. Anger was her mask for these other more vulnerable feelings. She was able to address feeling lonely and excluded by intentionally making time to nurture relationships with friends and family. Once she felt more supported and secure in her relationships, seeing others enjoying their relationships no longer upset her.

While anger is a valid emotion and deserves appropriate expression, truly understanding the source is the key to finding resolution and forgiveness of self and others.

Healing God, we thank you for all of our emotions, even anger which shows us when something is wrong. Help us to understand and express anger in healthy ways. Lead us toward peace and reconciliation within ourselves and with those around us. Amen

Rev Doc Lorna

Carl Heinrich Bloch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Navigating the Mine Field of, “Don’t!”

https://i0.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8c/Jacob_van_Oost_%28II%29_-_Christ_and_the_Samaritan_Woman_at_the_Well.jpg

I try to be sensitive to the differences and needs of others.  Truly I do!  Yet it is seemingly so easy to say or do the wrong thing.  As I read various articles pretty much daily about how best to be in ministry with my community, it feels as though I am constantly told, “Don’t.”  Is it just me?

  • Five Things You Should Never Say
  • Four Things People Need to Stop Doing
  • Ten Assumptions that are Plain Wrong!

I get the point.  These article create awareness and help break bad habits that are sometimes hurtful to others.  I would like to think after exposure to the barrage of directions I could get it right.  Truthfully, it just makes me anxious that I will cause offense because of their negative perspectives.  Sure enough, the very thing I try not to do, I do.

I was helping out at the registration area for a recent conference and was asked to take on the task of escorting people from the housing area, to the dining area, to the conference center and back again.  Simple enough.  I made my way through the lobby inviting folks to come and see where we would be meeting the next day.

A man called to me as I went by, “Where is everyone going?”

I called back, “I’m taking folks on a tour of the campus. Would you like to come and see it?”

There was a pause.  I turned to look, checking if he had heard me. That’s when I noticed I was addressing a person with a visual impairment.  And I’d just invited him to “come and see.” Every “don’t” list I’d ever read overwhelmed me with instant embarrassment.

He just laughed, “I’d love to see it!”

His graciousness stopped me from becoming a blundering fool of tangled, backtracking words. No offense was intended. He knew that. Thankfully none was taken.

I know I’m not alone in the anxiety of “don’t.” A colleague this past week called me feeling “mortified” by something she had said, worried it had caused offense. Again, it was clear none was intended and none was taken! When we experience a world other than our own, there is a steep learning curve. It’s best to let others guide us positively rather than treading on the eggshells of “don’t.”

I once carefully guided a person with visual impairment through a complex series of stairs, connecting rooms and elevators, always trying explain what I thought she needed to know: changes in flooring, impediments, and elevation.  Her request at the end of the journey? It had nothing to do with safety. “Tell me about the room we are in. I like the way it sounds.”

“We are in a very traditional chapel with massive stone walls held up by high, beautifully carved arches.  There are stained glass windows all along the sides and the light pouring in from the windows at the west has painted the room in a kaleidoscope of colors. The swaying tree branches outside create movement in a tapestry of light dancing on the walls.  The altar in the front is a heavy mahogany piece with an embroidered white altar cloth that reads, ‘Do this in remembrance of me.’ Communion elements are waiting for us there.”

“I see it now.  Thank you.”

In helping her see the room, I saw it myself for the first time and truly appreciated where I was. After the service, our journey back to where we started had an entirely different dialogue.

I think at times the long lists of “don’ts” keep people from connecting in meaningful ways. Twice in the Gospel of John Jesus’ disciples invite others to “Come and see.”  Nathanael is skeptical of what he can learn from Jesus based on where Jesus is from:

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” (John 1:45-46 NRS)

After a long talk next to a well in the hot afternoon sun a Samaritan woman abandoned her water jug and ran to invite the very people who ostracized her, “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” (John 4:29 NRS)

Both Nathanael and the woman at the well had to get past a list of “don’ts” to talk with Jesus.  Nathaneal assumed there was nothing he could learn from someone from a tiny, backwoods town. The woman at the well fought cultural biases about interactions between men and women, Jews and Samaritans.

Just as these two people of the Bible discovered, we lose out when we give too much power to the word “don’t.”  It is so much more enlightening to accept the invitation to step into the world of another and be blessed by the opportunity to “come and see.”

Living God, Help us encounter each other with open hearts and learn from others who are far better guides than we can ever be. Amen

Rev Doc Lorna

Photo: Jacob van Oost (II) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Strong and Able-bodied?

“Weak Or Strong Directions” by Stuart Miles from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

With flood waters rising in my hometown of Houston, the need for help was inevitable.  For a colleague in ministry, many homes in her neighborhood flooded and help was needed urgently from her church. The social media plea asked for a “good number of folks who are strong and able-bodied” to assist.

Disaster Early Response

When I read the request I was out of town at a conference, the Summer Institute on Theology and Disability, with people from all around the world. I looked around the conference center and wondered, who is strong? Who is able-bodied? Who decides?

I’m strong enough, but temporarily not able-bodied due to an over-zealous workout that badly strained several tendons in my ankle and left me hobbling with mincing steps. I’d slowed my steps earlier in the week for friends with wheelchairs and canes. On that day, I struggled to keep up with them. Our conference host introduced to the concept of “no wasted movements” to help my days run more smoothly. One presenter spoke of people being “temporarily able-bodied.” So true! Whatever our capacity is on any given day it is likely to change, perhaps in an instant.

I looked across the room at a person in a manual wheelchair. I’d seen her push herself down long carpeted hallways. Which of us is stronger? I sure wouldn’t want to arm-wrestle her! I looked at another friend in a motorized wheelchair whose words I struggle to understand. She is very patient, letting me respond with what I catch and then filling in the rest until I have it right. She has a brilliant theological mind and writes poignantly about God and faith. She is remarkably able-bodied in some ways, less so in others.

As the psalmist writes, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalms 139:14 NRS). We are all strong and able-bodied. We simply express it in a broad variety of ways. I am not criticizing the wording in in my friend’s message of outreach for neighbors in need. She and her church have done a remarkable job in ministry! Rather, I’m suggesting each of us look at ourselves and our own families and celebrate how each person is strong and able-bodied. Celebrate the ways in which each is gifted.

Paul wrote to a divided church in Corinth:

As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.  (1Corinthians 12:20-22a NRS)

A young mother of two children was struggling with the early effects of multiple sclerosis when her church put out a call for volunteers to help build a home for Habitat for Humanity. Sitting on the sidelines was not an option for this young mom, but neither was lifting drywall nor swinging a hammer. Their contribution? Sack lunches with a prayer of encouragement tucked inside, beverages, and home-baked treats. The family celebrates the house they helped build each time the drive by.

In choosing for ourselves to share with others the ways in which we are strong and able-bodied, everybody wins.

Gracious God, we thank you that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. The true strength humanity comes in its diversity, a kaleidoscope of gifts and graces that celebrate your glory. Amen

Rev Doc Lorna

Photos: “Weak or Strong” by Stuart Miles from FreeDigitalPhotos.net  “UMC Early Responders” by Hannah Terry

Cords That Cannot Be Broken

 Strand by TCJ2020 from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“I tried to connect with another parent raising a child with special needs, but she compared her child to mine. She said I can’t understand what she goes through. My situation isn’t as challenging as hers because my child ‘just has …’.”

Q&A time after a presentation is always interesting, but this recent statement… Wow!  I spoke at a Mother’s retreat and this mom’s comment caught me by surprise in some ways, but also resonated in others.

I’ve led support groups for years and find parents connect on a variety of levels.  Though their journeys and diagnoses of special needs may be very different, parents have a variety of common experiences: grief and guilt, anxiety about the future, coping with school plans, and more. As parents bond and connect, they can see past the differences in diagnoses to their shared challenges in parenting.   Time and again I’ve heard parents marvel at how connected they feel despite the fact that the diagnosis within their families are so varied.

Yet I have also heard comments like the one the mom shared at the retreat.  My son is on the autism spectrum and when he was entering high school another parent of a child with autism told me that I didn’t know what it was like for her because my son was older then and didn’t have the same expression of autism as hers. True, on some levels. Though my son was not born “older,” one can never know the exact experience of another person.    There is a saying, “If you’ve met one person with autism, you have met one person with autism.” It is a spectrum with a variety of expressions as unique and individual as fingerprints.  But it doesn’t mean that the differences in the expression of that spectrum renders parents incapable of hearing each other’s stories and helping each other in the midst of hard times. If we limit ourselves to only connecting with parents on exactly the same path as our own, it is going to be a very small circle of understanding and support.

It is possible to care and connect even if our life circumstances are different.  We do that all of the time.  Recently we’ve experienced torrential rain in my hometown.  I’ve received phone calls, text messages, and social media connections from across the country from friends checking in to see if my family is okay.  I suppose I could respond by saying, “If you’ve not had multiple inches of rain in a short period of time day after day you can be no help to me.” The truth is that you don’t have to experience a flood of epic proportion in your home town to be able to understand that it is frightening, creating rising anxiety to match the rising waters.

Genuine empathy and compassion are not necessarily born of having lived the exact circumstance, rather they are born of caring and friendship. One of the healthiest things parents can do for themselves is to connect with others in mutually supportive relationships.  In the book of Ecclesiastes, the author writes poignantly of the importance of relationships.

And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one.  A threefold cord is not quickly broken. Ecclesiastes 4:12 NRSV

Sure, we can stand against adversity and challenges on our own, but it is so much easier to share the journey. Community and support are a gift, even when they come from unexpected places.

Holy God, bind us together, Lord, bind us together with cords that cannot be broken. Bind us together, Lord, bind us together with love. Amen

Rev Doc Lorna

Prayer by Bob Gillman

Image “Strand” by TCJ2020 from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The Unforgettable Gift

“Knowledge Concept” by Supertrooper from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. (Psalms 63:1-3 NRS)

I was not raised in the church, yet I found God drew me toward the church throughout my life.  It remained for me a place of holy mystery and peace, a place with answers, and a place with people who had something that I needed in my life too. The church was a beacon, drawing me to find what I was missing.

That can pose a challenge when you show up on Sunday with a child with differences.

When we moved to Texas twenty years ago the church we attended was growing quickly.  There were tons of children, but no special needs ministry. Frankly, I was not even aware that a special needs ministry was something  my family needed.  I just knew that we had a child with way too much energy, a child with behavioral challenges, a child who frustrated easily and needed order and structure. I felt overwhelmed at times, looking for answers that remained elusive.

I needed sanctuary in the true sense of the word. I needed a holy dwelling place and a place of refuge. I needed respite and spiritual nurture.

I received all of those week after week, attending the worship service that corresponded with children’s Sunday school. Our son had activities and lessons suited to his age, attention and energy. My husband and I received the spiritual nurture that we craved. The service we attended was the smallest one.  Most other adults went to Sunday school at the same time as their children and then attended worship as a family. There was no way our energetic wiggle worm could hold it together for two hours. Maybe someday, but not then.

No one ever complained about our son and his challenges. At the end of the school year I found out why as the Sunday school teachers prepared the students for “promotion Sunday” to the next grade level.

I was in conversation with one of his teachers, Kathy. “I’ve so enjoyed being with your son this year.  He is such a charming boy and so curious about everything. I’m going to miss him when he moves up a grade, but it will be nice getting back to my own Sunday school class.”

A few more questions revealed the whole story.  Kathy normally volunteered one Sunday a month with the preschool children, maybe a bit extra if a substitute was needed. She gave up her own time with her Sunday school class of ten years to be with our son. She never said a word about it, she just did it because she sensed that was what our family needed.

“He’s a child that does better working one on one with the same person each week. He likes consistency. Sometimes we take a break and go out in the hall where it is quiet. He likes that better than the busy classroom.”

Kathy was the one who offered the gift of sanctuary to me and my family. She gave me the opportunity to be formed spiritually while in worship. She also gave me a true example of Christian caring.

The discernment process within churches creating and equipping special needs ministries often include many steps: prayer, task force formation, focus groups and surveys, recruiting and training volunteers, and more. All doable. All necessary in the long run.  However, we find the true heart of special needs ministry in people like Kathy who are welcoming, who focus on what a child can do rather than what they can’t do, and who use their gifts and graces in a way that brings glory to God and creates disciples by example. In this season of teacher appreciation, I am especially grateful to Kathy and her unforgettable gift.

Nurturing God, Thank you for Kathy and all the teachers who nurture and welcome and make a place for all of your children. Amen

Rev Doc Lorna

Image: “Knowledge Concept” by Supertrooper from FreeDigitalPhotos.net