Tag Archives: autism

Rhythms of Grace

Rhythms of Grace

When a mom came up to me after worship with tears in her eyes, my first reaction was, “Oh no! What happened?” Far too often I hear stories of worship failures for kids with special needs, but this was different.  We were at Rhythms of Grace, a worship service for families with special needs.  I expected that day to be a big success for everyone and I was not disappointed.

“My son just took Communion for the first time! I never felt I could take him before, but he did it. I’m so proud of him!”

Wow! The tangible presence of God’s grace in the elements of bread and wine with no barriers or road blocks. What a gift!

Celebrating First Communion

Mabel 2 (1)

Rhythms of Grace is an inclusive service that is the shared vision of Lisa Puccio, Coordinator for Special Needs Worship and Rector Jimmy Grace. The two launched the service in November of 2010 at Christ Cathedral Episcopal Church with the vision that it would move among four churches on alternating Sundays. As partner churches left over time, the service was simply held monthly. With a vision for a weekly service in one location, when Rector Jimmy Grace was appointed to St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in The Heights in Houston, that vision became a reality. With a strategic mission grant from the archdiocese and enthusiastic support by the local congregation, Lisa made the move to St. Andrew’s as well and the Rhythms of Grace launched weekly on February 1, 2015.

I enjoyed attending on a Sunday afternoon with parents and children from a support group that I lead. Numbers vary from ten up into the forties, with a strong volunteer base to help direct the energy of participants. As worship began with music and story time, one boy got up and pounded on the stair rail. Another felt overwhelmed and moved to the back of the room wearing his ear defenders to reduce sensory input, another got the giggles and scooted in spiraling circles in the middle of the floor among the other worshipers.  No one was bothered by behavior. No one was shushed.  We’d all been there. There was space for all of that energy without sideways glances. How refreshing!

The service flowed from our time gathered in a circle on the floor to a variety of activity stations set up around the room. Painting, coloring, sorting were among several activities that children could choose, selecting activities that matched their strengths and interests.  Each activity tied to the scripture lesson of the day. At the end of the time of exploration we gathered again for music and Communion. Watching Rev. Jimmy Grace go around to each family one by one and offer Communion was a visible reminder that God’s grace is freely given and open to all. We do nothing to earn it, but rather we simply need to accept it.

Rhythms of grace 3

Rhythms of Grace is well-named, matching the worship style to the rhythms of the lives of the participants, all the while celebrating God’s unconditional love for all people. While a few participants are members of St. Andrew’s, this unique style of worship has brought in many people from outside the congregation. It has created an outreach opportunity for what is the most basic of gifts a congregation has to offer, a place to belong while experience God’s unconditional  love in connection with others.

If you would like to learn more about this unique service, visit their website here and get in touch with Lisa Puccio for more information.

Gracious God, thank you for the vision of Lisa and Rev. Grace for offering this unique worship opportunity. Continue to guide their vision for opening the church to families with unique circumstances so that all can be part of a nurturing and supporting community. Thank you for surprising gift of a first Communion that was uniquely times to your rhythm of grace. I pray that all families looking to know you and be part of a faith community find a home as full of blessing as St. Andrew’s. Amen

Rev Doc Lorna

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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

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

When Every Day is Autism Awareness Day

Autism Awareness Day

Is it already World Autism Awareness Day? The year just flew by, but then again it is autism awareness day everyday at my house. Last year my grand experiment in building awareness got me a little more than I bargained for…

On Wednesday, April 2 2014, I joined in with celebrating World Autism Awareness Day. The tagline of the day was “Light it up blue!” and so I did.  I updated Facebook with a blue cover photo and profile pic, all promoting autism awareness. I also dressed in blue, celebrating the many people in my life impacted by autism, including my son.

Figuring out what to wear was a bit of a challenge.  I discovered at the last minute that I do not have much blue in my professional wardrobe, but one royal blue cardigan peeked out among a rack of long sleeves. Putting it on, I recalled something else I own that went perfectly with that royal blue sweater, a magnificent fascinator filled with feathers and tulle. I bought it for a trip to the Kentucky Derby that never happened. Just the perfect thing to add a bit of whimsy to a day of celebration for friends whose lives could use to be celebrated publicly much more often. Upon arrival at the office, I clipped on the fascinator at the oh-so-perfect, jaunty angle (no small task that!), snapped a selfie, posted it and tagged my many friends whose lives are touched by ASD.

Originally, I meant to remove my hat after the selfie. I felt a bit self-conscious in the office.  I thought, “If I wear this hat, I’m going to get funny looks and have to explain it all day long.” Then again, isn’t that what an AWARENESS day is for? Creating awareness?  If I just wore blue, I reasoned no one would think that was out of the ordinary. But sporting a headful of feathers and tulle? That’s a whole other matter!

What started as my grand social experiment in creating awareness became something else entirely by the end of the day. At first, it was kind of novel. I encountered the anticipated funny looks and immediately explained to each person why I was wearing a hat. By the time I had done it, five times, ten times, the novelty faded.  It got to the point that I skipped over a few opportunities for explanation and just walked on by, accepting the funny looks and occasional humorous comment.  By noon I found myself almost hiding in my office, knowing that another trip down the hall would be another encounter.  It grew old getting odd stares.  I debated removing my hat. It would have been so easy to just take it off and be “normal.”

I wonder how often people with autism wish they could simply take it off. Wouldn’t it be nice not to get the quizzical looks for behavior that isn’t what others expect? Even just for a while? As a parent of a son with Asperger’s, I’ve felt those stares weighing on me and on my son, especially when he was younger. That repeated question from those who don’t understand, “Why can’t he just (fill in the blank – behave, be quiet, eat what everyone else is eating, etc.)? Well, the answer is he can’t, at least not on that day.  It’s not a choice.  Asperger’s, like other special needs, is not something that can be taken off. My hiding in the office and avoiding the break room reminded me of times when my son was young and I longed to take him to the playground, but knew that was not a place where he met with much success. I would gaze out my dining room window toward the playground. If there were other children and parents there, and it had been a challenging day, I knew we just couldn’t go that day.

In the parent support groups that I lead, we’ve all experienced times when we get tired of receiving “the look” and choose to withdraw. It’s easier to be alone, or so we tell ourselves.  It is really isn’t. We are made for community. It reminds me of the story in the Gospel of John.  Jesus was walking through Samaritan territory and he stopped at a well in the middle of the day while it was hot and no one else was around.  Soon a woman came, one who chose to isolate herself from stares and whispers, coming to the well in the hot afternoon sun when others were at home. It was easier for her to be alone, too. But it really wasn’t. And Jesus knew it. By the end of her conversation with Jesus, she was restored to community. So eager was she to get back to her people, that she left her water jug by the well and ran all the way back to her village, inviting others to come and see Jesus for themselves. That is what Christ does for us. He restores us and calls us out of isolation and into community.  Yes, even us with lives touched by special needs.

This reminds me of the amazing story of a church that embraced Max and Emily Colson. Emily posted a blog that went viral sharing her experience of a cruel movie audience that heckled, jeered and mocked, driving Emily and her son Max out of the theater due to Max’s autism. Their church stood beside them and rented out an entire theater so that 500 people could attend Movie with Max.  Their church celebrated autism awareness, not with a splash of blue, but by embracing and including.

Our need for inclusion and understanding is part of the fabric of our beings of which we are wonderfully woven by God. Living into inclusion involves creating awareness in whatever way we can, whether at a movie theater with 500 of our closest friends, or wearing a silly hat to the office. When we stay engaged, even when it is hard, it is one more chance to shine the light of Christ for the ones in our lives who put the “awesome” in autism.

 Lorna Bradley

A Bag of Leaves and 13.1 Miles: Piece of Cake!

1024px-Leaf_rake_and_leaves

“Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1 NRSV)

Leaves drop late here in Texas and raking under the red oak on my front lawn is a regular Saturday activity for me lately.  Recently my neighbor called to me from across the street as I worked, “Lorna, did you run that half marathon downtown today?”

Rake. Rake. Rake. “Yes.”

“And you are out here raking leaves?”

Rake. Rake. Rake. “Seems like as good a time as any.”

“Aren’t you tired?”

Rake. Rake. Rake. “Kind of, but it needs to be done.”

Shaking his head as he walks away, “I wish I could find that motivation.”

Running 13.1 miles and raking a bag of leaves isn’t hard.  Coping with autism induced emotional meltdowns in public, now that is hard.  Teaching handwriting to a child with dysgraphia, now that is hard. Getting wheelchairs in and out of stores, now that is hard. Facing a long summer without a single playdate or birthday invitation, now that is hard. Enduring the unwelcome stares of strangers, now that is hard.

As parents, of course we get tired.  Yet we find the motivation because it needs to be done.  In comparison, a bag of leaves and 13.1 miles is a piece of cake!

Enduring God, Give us strength when we are tired, motivation when we want to stop, and hope in you in all things. Amen

Photo: By David Goehring (Flickr: Fall Labors) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I Have A Dream, Too

Martin_Luther_King_-_March_on_Washington

Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.(Joel 2:28 NRS)

Four iconic words ring the air today. They are woven into the fabric of our nation even as they help us celebrate the life, vision and ministry of a man gone too soon.

“I have a dream …”

Standing up for justice and creating social change is hard.  It takes vision and determination. It takes breaking down walls and stereotypes and creating in their place dialogue and relationships. It takes embracing a dream and working diligently with others to make it a reality. It also takes time. Lots of time.

Thinking of Dr. King, he has inspired a nation and set in motion a movement that continues beyond his years.  He alsp left as his legacy a model for change.

Listening to his speech once more makes me realize that I have a dream, too.

I have a dream that all children, on or off the spectrum, with or without a genetic difference, with or without typical body, will have friends. I have a dream that bullying will end and understanding will take its place. I have a dream that child and adult alike will be accommodated for their differences out of a sense of equality and compassion. I have a dream that everyone who wants to be part of a church will find ministries ready to receive them.  I have a dream that no parent will feel alone on the journey with special needs.  I have a dream that all families, whatever their shape and size, will grow in resilience rather than being torn apart by disability. I have a dream that communities full of understanding will offer refuge, hope and healing for the heart and soul.

My dream keeps me up late at night and prompts me out of bed early in the morning. My dream makes “good enough” not an option. My dream leaves me exhausted and stretched too thin at times, but filled with joy and hope as well. My dream connects me with others who share my vision for social change in the area of special needs and work toward it diligently. My dream keeps me grounded in God’s path for me and guides what I do every day.

I will never be the leader Dr. King was, but he inspires me with what is possible. I too have a role to play in making the collective dreams of many families living with disability become reality. We all do.

When you dream of the future, what do you see?  How are you helping that dream come a step closer day by day?

God of our visions, thank you for directing us to better live as your people. Help us to always strive for your justice. Create for us a dream for the world as you would have it and inspire us to follow your vision. Amen.

 

“Martin Luther King – March on Washington” by Unknown? – This media is available in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration, cataloged under the ARC Identifier (National Archives Identifier) 542069. Public Domain.

Confusion About Inclusion

Help And Care For Disabled Person by Teerapun

People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. (Mark 10:13-14 NRSV)

I wish Jesus had been more specific in his command, “Let the little children come to me.” For some reason it seems to cause a lot of confusion.

That’s right. There is confusion about inclusion.

For some, inclusion means there is a space and activity offered that is appropriate to a particular person’s needs.  For others, inclusion means being in the same room with everyone else doing what they are doing alongside them. The way that individual participates may be different from everyone else, but they are still part of the bigger group.  To my way of thinking, those are both examples of inclusion.  It all depends on the perspective of the individual.

Inclusion is whatever feels welcoming and comfortable to the person who wishes to be included. For some, that means having  a separate space and activities geared to their unique needs.  For others it means jumping in with everyone else and feeling welcomed to do so. If they don’t feel welcome and wanted, then it isn’t inclusive.

Surprisingly, folks can be rather divided on this topic, which I find puzzling. Thinking of my own experiences raising a child with special needs there were times when what others decided was inclusive didn’t feel at all inclusive to us. My son is greatly bothered by loud noise due to life on the autism spectrum. His time in student ministry when they gathered and listened to loud praise music for fifteen minutes prior to breaking into small groups was stimulatory torture.  In his case, being inclusive by saying “just come be part of the group, you are welcome to join us,” didn’t work.  From his perspective, it was like a weekly invitation to listen to fingernails on a chalkboard.  It also triggered obsessive thoughts about hearing damage that were only relieved by taking him for hearing screening. Following the example of Jesus each Sunday morning he went away to a quiet place alone, though in his case it had more to do with sanity than piety. He was welcome as part of the group, but he couldn’t tolerate being there. It really didn’t feel very welcoming despite good intentions. This was a great group of folks. I know they meant well, but…

Wouldn’t it have been nice for him to have company when he left the gathering? Wouldn’t it have been nice to have an alternate activity planned for him and others who share the same spectrum? Wouldn’t it have been nice to have a “non-loud” Sunday every once in a while so that everyone could be welcome as part of the larger group?  Any of those things would have felt much more inclusive and welcoming.

The best way to know what feels inclusive to those we wish to include in the church is to have a conversation and ask them. Then actually takes steps to make the needed modifications so that everyone feels welcomed and included.

This week Key Ministry is hosting Inclusion Fusion. It’s a chance to learn more from leaders in special needs ministry about how to offer inclusive ministries.  Check out this link to get the schedule of free webinars and to register:  www.inclusionfusion.tv. I’m looking forward to this opportunity to get fresh ideas and connect with others who love kids like ours.

Holy God, help us to hear those who ask for change and truly make a place for everyone. Amen.

“Help and Care for Diasbled Person”  Image courtesy of Teerapun at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Boundary-Breaking Worship, REALLY!!!

Parables_April_Landing

Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.   (Joel 2:28 NRSV)

Knowing about something and experiencing it, seeing it for yourself, are two entirely different things. Hospitality and welcoming in worship are things we all know about.  Hopefully we’ve all experienced both. Sadly, as parents of children with special needs that hospitality is often lacking, so when we truly receive it we know how precious a gift it is.

I recently attended worship at Parables, one of the worship services offered at Wayzata Community Church. I knew about the service.  I read about it, watched a video, and talked at length with the founding pastor, Leslie Neugent. KNOWING about Parables and EXPERIENCING Parables were different matters entirely.  It was boundary-breaking, joy-filled worship with surprises and the in-breaking of God at every turn.  If you live anywhere near Wayzata, MN you must experience this worship for yourself.  Even if you don’t live near, it’s worth the trip!  I flew all the way from Texas and know without a doubt it will not be my only experience of Parables. If your church could use an infusion of radical hospitality to the special needs community in worship, go to Parables!

What’s so different about this service?  It is worship created for and led by people with special needs.  I wrote in my blog recently a prayer, “Please God, let something happen in worship today that isn’t printed in the bulletin.” That prayer was answered.  Big time! Picture a parade of whoever cares to participate processing down the aisle, singing, shaking tambourines, hand in hand with the pastor.  A young man with sensory issues held his hands over his ears even as he marched in joyously, and then decided to go sit on the chancel steps for the rest of the service.  A fine plan! It has the best view!  And really, why should it matter?  During a break in the action a young lady who was late to church gave the pastor a seemingly never-ending hug, marching onto the stage to do so. Again, why should it matter? A young man who was until very recently non-verbal went around the room during the time of greeting saying, “Hello. How are you?” When was the last time you got truly excited about being greeted in worship? It made me cry tears of joy. I was seated by a young man who is learning to say hello by shaking hands.  We shook hands about 10 times during worship, including when I got up to talk about my upcoming book for special needs parent support groups.  He gave me the cue so I stepped out of the pulpit to shake hands.  I can walk and talk at the same time.  Why should it matter that he wanted to shake hands right then?

I saw the hands and feet of Jesus at work in the participants.  They know each other’s strengths and where they need a little help.  A young lady with challenged mobility had several of her peers help her up the steps to the altar to serve Communion. That’s right. Not just to receive, but to serve.  A request from the pulpit for a volunteer to lead the Lord’s Prayer received a round of applause as a teen stepped up to lead.  When was the last time the Lord’s Prayer brought you to tears? The same was true for a young lady who did a wonderful job reading the scripture of John 4, Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well. How often are people with differences celebrated in worship?  How often do they get to offer their gifts and let them shine?

There was a purity and innocence to worship.  Parents were at ease.  They knew their whole family was welcome.  No one was shushed. No one was made to sit if they didn’t want to. Noises? Who cares!  Again, why should it matter?  The sermon challenged me to think about hard things as a special needs parent. Where is the line between advocating for my child’s future and giving over to God and accepting? Yet, simultaneously the message was at a child’s level so there was learning for everyone in the room. It was the most genuine, unscripted, open-hearted worship I’ve experienced in a long time, and I go to church a lot so that is saying something!

I met a church member who retired from teaching a few years ago.  “I go to the big service too, but this is really my service. I see God here.”  Well, I did too and I want more. I wonder if my husband would agree to move from Texas to Minnesota…

Prayer: Boundary-breaking God, Open our eyes to see those who feel excluded, open our hands to reach out to them, open our hearts to form us to better be your people. Amen.

Photo courtesy of Parables: Red Fish Theology

To learn more about Parables worship, click here:

http://www.wayzatacommunitychurch.org/pages/page.asp?page_id=229208

You can order a “how-to” guide here:

http://www.uccresources.com/products/red-fish-theology-parables-a-how-to-guide-for-offering-a-radically-inclusive-worship-service-with-the-special-needs-community

 

 

Just the Right Teacher

Back to School

We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching … (Romans 12:6-7 NRS)

Meet-the-teacher night is always exciting, nerve-wracking, and hope-filled. Thinking back to when my son was young, at the start of a new school year, I would get anxious butterflies thinking about whether or not a teacher would “get” my son.  His behaviors could be challenging. He took up a lot of extra time due to his learning differences.  I would try to fill the gap a bit for his teachers each year by taking things off their plate where I could.  I figured teaching my son ought to come with some perks. I volunteered to help in the workroom, moving my teacher’s requests to the top the pile and doing them first. Every month I’d leave a small appreciation gift in their mailbox just to let them know how much it meant to me that they were helping my son learn despite his challenges.  A small packet of home-baked cookies, a giant chocolate bar, a gift card to a coffee shop or movie theater were just simple ways of saying thanks. My gifts were so small in comparison to the gifts they gave to Craig.

Teaching children is not a gift I have.  You know how some folks can walk into a room, snap the lights off and on and everyone gets quiet and pays attention?  When I try that I have five kids racing to the light switch, “Let me do it!” Math facts? Forget it! Oh I know them.  I just can’t teach them without someone ending up in tears. Often it’s me! Teaching truly is a gift and some have it and some don’t.  Since I don’t, I really appreciate those who do.

One of the greatest gifts I ever received came from my son’s helping teacher in first grade.  She had a great heart for special needs and could see past diagnosis to my son as a child of God, loving what she saw there. Toward the end of first grade we were talking after school one day when I picked up Craig. She was hoping for a child of her own, which was not coming as easily as it does for some.  She told me that she wished she had a boy just like mine.  I commented something about raising a boy is a lot of fun.  She said, “No. You aren’t hearing me.” Choking back tears, “I want a boy exactly like him. He’s amazing!” It was a healing balm for a hurting mother’s heart to know this woman who spent all day every day with my child was undaunted by behaviors and learning differences. Of all the kids she knew and helped she wanted one just like mine. In a way, her acceptance helped me with my acceptance.  I always accepted my child, but autism? It takes a while to make peace with that.  Having just the right teacher taught me a thing or two.

Prayer: Teaching God, We thank you for those who have the gift of teaching. They bless our families in powerful ways. Each child has a teacher who can unlock their abilities.  We pray your blessings on them as they prepare for a new school year. Amen.

Photo: Back to School by nuttakit from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Just One Friend Part 2

Calhan_Colorado_High_School_Cafeteria_by_David_Shankbone

Some friends play at friendship but a true friend sticks closer than one’s nearest kin. (Proverbs 18:24 NRSV)

Everyone wants and needs relationships. We are hard-wired for it. One of the biggest hurts I have felt as a parent is wanting my child to feel accepted and connected to others. In the support groups I lead it is a common issue that resurfaces again and again. I talk to parents about nurturing the relationships they do have and they switch to talking about relationships their children don’t have. I have been mulling around an idea that has not really taken shape yet, but it goes something like this. Wouldn’t it be great if churches could host a “Just One Friend” night. Invite the special needs community and anyone else who is looking for friendships. Set up games and activities. Parents stay and help foster connections. This in’t a respite night. It’s a relationship building night. Kids build relationships with kids.  Parents build relationships with each other. The general premise is that folks are coming to have fun and meet new people that they may want to connect with after game night is over. That’s kind of a bare bones snap shot, but I think it could be a way churches could offer important relief from isolation, which is a big part of healing on the journey with special needs.

Here are a couple of practical strategies I used for nurturing friendships when my son was younger. I recognize that this is not a universal list for all the various differences amongst our children. Hopefully it will at least provide some fertile ground for other ideas to spring up as well:

  • Remind your child that everyone will be looking to meet new people. They are not alone in that feeling of being in a class with new people.
  • Have your child talk to kids who are friendly and suggest they ask them questions. Kids love to talk about what they did over the summer. Be an interested listener.
  • Have them look for others who look lonely and talk to them. My son can spot a kid on autism spectrum in heartbeat. Like matches with like sometimes.  They get him in a way others don’t.
  • Have them make friends with grownups at school. The cafeteria monitor can be a great ally in finding friends and avoiding bullying.
  • Dress like everyone else. This sounds basic, but it is amazing what an impact it can have if a child is “over-dressed” for school, especially boys. If they look like they came from a fashion shoot for children’s resort wear change their clothes!
  • If you feed them they will come. If Craig had a friend over in elementary school (not an everyday occurrence!) I’d ask his guest what was his or her favorite cookie and then bake them while the kids played. Over the years Craig’s friends started calling our house Craig’s Pub. As teens, I started calling them the herd that comes to graze. BTW – 5 grazers coming for a half day video game birthday bonanza this weekend. (Number of gamers times number of pizza slices I think they want plus an extra two per person because they are boys divided by the number of slices in a large pizza…) Prayers appreciated that I don’t get trampled in the kitchen!
  • In keeping with the above strategy, drop by once or twice a month to the school cafeteria with a couple of pizzas or one of those giant cookie cakes. Some folks grab a slice and run. Others grab a slice and stay.
  • If you typically pack a treat in your child’s lunch, pack two so that they have an extra to share.
  • Invite others. Waiting around for a playdate invitation that doesn’t come feels lousy. Make the effort to extend yourself. Sometimes there will be rejection, but other times you get a winner.
  • Be intentional about fostering relationships. Even small acts of kindness are nurturing.

What are some friendship strategies that have worked in your household? Please comment and share ideas.  You never know what may help another parent spark a friendship.

Prayer: Loving God, We are wonderfully made to be in connection with others.  Please help those connections to grow among our children. Calm nervous feelings about meeting new people and open pathways for meaningful relationships to flourish. Amen.

Photo: “Calahan Colorado High School Cafeteria” by David Shankbone