Tag Archives: Special needs

A Place Where Everybody is Welcome!



God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day. Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. (Gen 1:31-2:1 NRSV)

A sign I have lived in Texas for a long time: Yesterday my husband came home from work and found me relaxing on the back patio. “My car says it’s 95 degrees!  Aren’t you hot?” I was sure he was wrong.  It felt lovely! I checked the temperature on a weather app.  96 degrees.  Well, he was wrong…

Being around creation recharges my batteries. I simply have to get outside and enjoy the beauty of what God made.  A perfect respite for me is time with my cat Coco, my furry and feathered friends who come to my backyard feeder, and a splashing fountain to provide just the right background music. Bliss!

God made it all and called it good.

We have a highly inclusive bird feeder, which doubles as a squirrel feeder.  I keep it on the ground for more convenience to me and the squirrel. We take everybody who comes and everybody gets what they want.  I think about their needs. Blue Jays? More peanuts! Cardinals? More safflower and sunflower seeds! Mockingbirds? Sliced apples and fresh berries hit the pan.  Our garden is planted to attract bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.  Water, food, shade.  My yard is haven for all and I make sure it is inviting and inclusive to everyone.

Years ago I watched a man feeding doves. He only liked a certain variety.  When ones showed up he didn’t like he shooed them away, kicking sand toward them.  I wonder to this day what he had against those particular birds. Why weren’t welcome?  Granted, they were not as cute, not as agile, not as delicate as the ones he favored, but they were special in their own way. Besides, God made them all and called them good.

Inclusion means making a place for everyone, welcoming whoever comes.  Jesus said, “Let the children come to me.”  He didn’t kick sand at the ones who weren’t “cute and agile.” He made space for them.  All of them. It’s no coincidence that many of the stories of Jesus were about people with special needs. Those were his people. Jesus was inclusive.

All means all.

This past June I met a pastor who leads a worship service where truly “all means all.” Leslie Neugent at Wayzata Community Church in Wayzata, Minnesota thinks outside the box about how to do inclusive worship.  Her service, Parables, is led by and for families with special needs, attracting over 100 worshipers on a typical Sunday. How do they attract so many?  The key is the right invitation.  I don’t mean one they print and hand out, though they likely do that too. I mean Leslie and her team are intentional about thinking about what families need.  A safe place where noises are allowed? Not a problem! A child who wants to be in the center of the action? Fantastic!  The more volunteers the better! Pattern and predictability work best for your family? You got it!  Familiar songs, short sermons, lots of activity for all levels. Check out more Parables worship here for ideas to share with your church: http://www.wayzatacommunitychurch.org/pages/page.asp?page_id=229208

Attraction and inclusion come through thinking about who we care to welcome and then providing a welcoming environment, whether it is a backyard or a church.  God made us all and calls us good, too. I am so grateful to serve our God of inclusion.

Photo: Backyard Friends by Lorna Bradley


Run, Run, Run


“Later you get pie!” Words to live by shouted to me by a cheering spectator as I ran mile after mile in a recent half marathon. Seriously, spending my calorie bank after a race makes me very happy. One of my favorite parts of running races is the motivational signs. Okay, that and the finish line.

I enjoy reading the funny signs along the course:
Better hurry! People are chasing you!
Worst parade ever!
Free bananas ahead!
The end is near! (Held by a person dressed like the grim reaper).

When I am starting to feel a little tired around mile 8 or 10, inspiration is a fine thing:
Never, never, never, give up
Focus on how far you’ve come, not how far you have to go
The voice in your head that says “you can’t” is a liar

Wouldn’t it be great for us special needs parents if we had motivational signs to encourage us with the task of parenting?

To the parent on the start of a quest for a diagnosis: Never, never, never give up!
It took our family 17 years to move through ADHD, OCD, Tourettes, and anxiety diagnoses finally to have a name for all those behaviors. Asperger’s. Someone out there has the answer.

To the parent of a middle-schooler dealing with hormones coming into play and new sets of challenges: Focus on how far you’ve come, not how far you have to go! Infancy gave way to the preschool and elementary years. Those are all behind you now and you have raised a remarkable child. Job well done! Stretch your arm high in the air, bend it, and give yourself a good pat on the back for the awesome job you have done. Look how far you have come!

To the parent who has reached the limit: The voice in your head that says “you can’t” is a liar! Are you taking time to care for yourself? How can you make that a priority? All those folks who say, “Call me if you need anything.” Call them. Really. They want you to because they care. It doesn’t mean you are weak. It means you are human. Even Jesus took a break from time to time to go away for respite so he could return to his work in ministry refreshed and renewed. Plus, he didn’t go it alone. He depended on his friends. If it worked for Jesus, it’s worth trying.

The Bible is full of motivation for special needs parents.

“Run with perseverance the race set before us.” (Hebrews 12:1b, NRSV)
“I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13, NRSV)
“Do not worry about anything…” (Philippians 4:3a, NRSV)
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28 NRSV)

Parenting is a sacred duty and the most important thing we get to do with our lives. As special needs parents, we have a heaping big portion of parenting. Fortunately, we have a heaping big God helping us, cheering us on for the road ahead.

Image “Racetrack” courtesy of Photokanok / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Please Hear Me

Bend down, O LORD, and hear my prayer; answer me, for I need your help. Protect me, for I am devoted to you. Save me, for I serve you and trust you. You are my God. Be merciful to me, O Lord, for I am calling on you constantly. Give me happiness, O Lord, for I give myself to you. (Psalms 86:1-4 NLT)

My husband and I have the good fortune of commuting together and we enjoy listening to TED Talks to fill the time in the carpool on mornings when the caffeine has not yet gotten on board to create energy for conversations. Recently we heard Afghan war veteran Wes Moore talking about the experiences of veterans returning from war. He said he used to say to soldiers, “Thank you for your service,” because he thought it sounded right. He heard others saying it and so he did too.  He came to realize as a veteran himself that what veterans really need is for someone to hear their story, to understand their experience. Per Wes, often veterans feel ignored and the message they get is that their service didn’t matter.

They feel invisible.

Sound familiar? I never thought before of the connection between veterans and special needs parents, but it is most certainly there. People say things meaning well, “What a blessing!” or “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” To them it sounds right and they feel the need to say something, but to my ears it is not all that helpful to hear.  What is more helpful is the person who sees beyond behaviors to the family, sees beyond diagnosis to the people, and then takes the time hear the story. The simple request of, “Tell me about your week,” sure is much more helpful and meaningful.  We don’t need a knight in shining armor to ride in and fix it.  We just want someone to listen and care that what we do is hard and what we do matters.

I’ve learned in years of ministry with special needs families that when a parent asks, “Do you have some time?” that means they have a story they need to share. I used to feel the need to “fix it.” In time I learned that ,mostly, they need me to sit and listen and pray for them.  That’s all. There is healing simply in telling the story and being heard. Every parent needs someone to sit in compassion with them and hear their story.

One of the things I like most about the Psalms is they are filled with reminders that God hears us. God is attentive to our prayers. God is a good listener, even when we lack the words to speak.

Blessings to you this week!

You can watch Wes Moore’s Ted Talk at:

Learning to Be a Wide Receiver


I received some good advice via a devotional the other day.  It asked me if I had been a giver for so long that I had forgotten how to receive.  I needed that reminder. I get caught up at times in doing for others. I actually enjoy helping and doing and supporting. I suppose that is how special needs parents are wired.  It’s written into the job description. It’s the side dish that comes with that great big heaping portion of parenting.  Don’t get me wrong. It’s a role I love. I’m just keeping it real. It’s hard to keep up with everything else in life. It’s easy for days to turn into a list of, “I should have… I need to… I wish there was time for…”

My son comes by his love of animals naturally.  When I was growing up there was a lake across the street from my house.  As a child I spent countless hours there feeding the ducks. I loved tossing out whole slices of bread, setting off a feeding frenzy with ducks devouring in seconds with hungry bills, which eagerly turned my direction for more.  So more I gave, to my delight and theirs. More and more and more, until there was nothing left.

There are days when I feel like that slice of bread. Gobbled up and not enough. Not nearly enough.

That’s the time to remind myself about the receiving.  I’m a lousy receiver. I don’t like asking for help.  I once spent over an hour in a library looking a children’s book to use for a children’s sermon illustration.  The librarian was right there.  She even asked if I needed help.  My answer? “No, but thanks for offering.”

Do you catch yourself doing that?  Turning down help that is freely offered, even when you need it?

It’s okay to be a receiver. It is not a sign a weakness. It’s a gift to the givers in the world who need someone to receive their gift.  By not being willing to receive, I take away someone else’s blessing, as well as my own.

In the Gospel of John, the resurrected Jesus appeared to the disciples.

Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:21-22 NRSV)

How wise of them not to say, “No, but thanks for offering.”


photo credit:


by Torsten Bolten

Papa, Patience and Power


“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10 NRSV)

Throughout my father’s life I saw him change and grow.  He wasn’t always the most patient person, but really, who is?  I can be at the head of the line myself some days. In hindsight ,I think my dad dealt with a lot of stress that he kept to himself.  I was shielded from it, but I think that just made his load heavier at times.  Through the gift of a life well-lived and experiences taken to heart, he mellowed over the years. I remember one time riding in the car with him when he was in his sixties and he missed a stop light.  As he stopped the car, he turned to me and winked, “Now I’m first!  Looking at it that way, it has no control over me. I took its power away.”

That has always stayed with me.  There have been times I have felt powerless in the midst of a situation, especially when watching my child struggle.  I think of my dad’s wise words at times like that. When worry, frustration, grief, etc. get a toehold (or a death grip!), I use my dad’s wisdom of trying to see it from a different perspective. How can I take away the power of something that has negative control and needs to be weeded from my life?

In Psalm 51, the psalmist writes, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:10 NRS)

This is a psalm of returning to God and turning away from sin.  I think that same idea applies here.  Asking God for a clean heart, a fresh start, a new attitude creates a new perspective. It gives the power and glory to God in all things.

Prayer:    Patient God, Thank you for the power to renew and refresh and put our hearts in the right place. Give us a fresh view of the world full of wonderful possibilities. Amen.

Photo: “Driving In Car In Fall” by digidreamgrafix

What’s in a Name?

When my husband and I were anticipating the birth of our son, one of the most important, exciting and challenging decisions we faced as soon-to-be parents was choosing a name.  Finding just the right name for a person is no small task.  We wanted a name that resonated with our family heritage, one that was easy to recognize and spell, yet not too common. For some reason it was important to me that he not have a name that could not be shortened. I know a Michael or two who do not like being called Mike.  That was a lot to consider. Then family members wanted to jump in with their two cents.  Opinions were not welcome! My feelings were that if they wanted to name a baby, they could go birth one themselves.  Inquiries to know the names that made it to the “short list” were not satisfied either.  We didn’t want our choice slanted by outside influence.  What our child would be called was up to us alone.  Bothered by constant inquiries we finally made up a couple of names.  “If it’s a boy, Rufus. If it’s a girl, Babette.” Those names have stuck with us.  We recently attended a murder mystery dinner theater and needed fake names, so my husband and I were Rufus and Babette for the night.

Finally, after much time and consideration, and the foreknowledge that we were having a boy, we chose the name Craig.  Familiar, but not common. Easy to spell. Cannot be shortened. (Ironically, we lengthen it and call him Craiggers or Craigerkins. Go figure!)  It’s also a name that reflects who he is, celebrating his Scottish heritage.  I had a concern that his name, which means “one who dwells in a crag,” would be bothersome to him. A valid concern from a mom whose name means “one who is lonely.”  No worries there for Craig.  The meaning of his name actually turned into a great bonus from Craig’s perspective since he has a profound love of all things dragon.

Names are important.  What we call ourselves matters. What we are called by others matters.  This week I am at the Summer Institute on Theology and Disability in Dallas.  It is a great blend of theological debate as well as practical application workshops shared by 150 participants from around the world.  People with special needs are one of the most diverse segments of the population.  Typically, when referring to any group of people, you want to use the language with which they refer to themselves.  For some, they prefer the term “disabled,” while others cringed.  “Special needs” resonates with some, while others prefer “special abilities.” One person said she preferred to apply the term “handicapped” to herself. My son refers to what I used to call his “learning differences” as his “learning disability.” For those whose bodies function more typically, I was introduced by Dr. Amos Yong to the concept of being “temporarily able-bodied.” Point well made!  In whatever capacity our bodies are functioning today, there is a good likelihood that given time they will come to function differently. Thinking of myself as temporarily able-bodied offers a new lens that increases my awareness of my own vulnerability.

Hearing the various perspectives around the room, I wonder if a person who experiences a difference in the function of their body puts as much care into how they name that for themselves as Mark and I put into naming our son Craig.  Given the strength of opinions, I will say that many do. It’s a naming that needs to be honored for each individual. There is no “one-size-fits-all.” As a parent I would not accept a name for my child that was imposed by the outside.  Nor did I let my child’s life be defined by the names (labels) that come with the journey of special needs.

Names matter and I apply that in my prayer life praying to Loving God, Gracious God, Healing God, Leading God, Nurturing God, God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. In an endless number of names I call on God and trust in God’s attentive presence to my prayers. God is so much more than just one name.  When Moses asked God his name so that he could tell the slaves in Egypt who sent him to free them from captivity, God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” (Exodus 3:14 NRSV).

God is all things and cannot be defined by one name. In that we are made in the image of God, that is an important facet in the quality of God that is empowering to take on for ourselves and for our children.  We are wonderfully made, even in the midst of our many unique expressions and differences.  We are who we are, transcending the labels with which others may seek to define us.

Fathers: The Unsung Heroes

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.” When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; (Matthew 1:18-24 NRSV)

It’s hard to find much in the Bible about Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father.  He’s sort of the unsung hero, missing entirely from Mark, mentioned in passing twice in John and only a bit more often in Luke.  His star shines the brightest in Matthew with the story of his dream about Mary’s pregnancy, and later a story about another dream to flee to Egypt for the safety of his family. I’ve heard it said that Joseph could be missing from a nativity set entirely and it would be just fine.  You have to have Jesus. You have to have Mary. But Joseph… I think it must have been hard to be Jesus’ earthly father. Where does a father fit in with a child like that?

I see parallels with many special needs fathers I know.  Where does the father fit? I think they are often the unsung heroes in the midst of special needs.  A friend of mine who is an occupational therapist says he encounters fathers at school IEPs and the dads are often omitted from the conversation.  He started wondering what the dads had to say and began a gathering for special needs dads. Turns out they have plenty to say, but the system the way it stands does not give them a voice in the process. There is a strong bias toward the mom.  I know an amazing stay at home dad who has four children, one of whom has a history of extreme health issues as well as autism. He is the one scheduling therapies, doing medical interventions as needed and doing the day to day running of the house. Yet, in the special needs world, he also wonders where the father fits. When trying to get medical information from a nurse he was told the nurse was only willing to talk to his wife. That has happened many times. While trying to attend play groups with his children he is constantly asked, “Are you babysitting today?” Again, where does the father fit?

Looking back at my early journey with our son with Asperger’s, I am so grateful for what an amazing father my husband was, and is still, to our son.  We brought different skills to the table.  When I decided to leave work in order to meet Craig’s needs, I was the one running the after school therapy schedule and helping with homework.  I was wiped out by the end of the day, especially in the summer months.  Mark would get home, offer a perky toot of the car horn from the driveway signaling Craig to come steer the car into the garage from his father’s lap.  After dinner they were off to the community pool, where Mark was the “cool dad”, happily launching child after child into a barrage of mid-pool cannonballs.  And let us not forget the super-soaker wars the summers of the early 2000s. Epic! He’d had a long day too, but he craved time with Craig. I brought structure, he brought fun. I prepared the meals, he provided a paycheck to pay for them. When I thought there is no way to get this child to go to sleep, he had the magic formula that worked every time.

Mark is a great father, but not one who wants a fuss made about it.  For Mother’s Day I am typically combing reviews for the latest place for brunch and making reservations weeks in advance.  I can easily rattle off a short list of items I might enjoy as a gift if he asks.  For Father’s Day, my husband prefers ribs at Chili’s. Finding the “just right” gift?  That’s a challenge!  Of course, he has no list of suggestion, even when threatened with receiving a shirt.  Father’s Day is very quiet and simple, per his preferences.

Maybe Joseph set the mold by parenting without accolades, yet offering loving dedication to mother and child, fierce protection of family and great faith.  Perhaps men like that don’t want an over-the-top celebration once a year. It’s not their style.  Perhaps regular appreciation to match their tireless dedication is the key to celebrating these unsung heroes who fit into our lives and hearts beautifully.

Prayer: Loving God, I thank you for fathers who lead by example, love without measure, and do their best to be the fathers you have called them to be. Amen.

The Gift of Presence

I receive a devotional through Facebook called “God Wants You to Know.”  They come at random and I find I am always blessed by what they has to say. A recent one said:

On this day, God wants you to know that…

…you are never alone.

As special needs parents, it is easy to feel alone at times. It can be a very isolating experience.  Having a family member, friend, prayer partner or congregation walk with us through that journey is enormously helpful and healing.

Recently, Dr. Steve Grcevich wrote in his blog at Key Ministry, “Give families the gift of presence…Isolation is an unfortunate byproduct of many of the more common mental health conditions we treat. Being present for those who are hurting in difficult times is an immediate expression of the love of Christ.” This gift of presence applies beyond mental health treatment to the isolation we feel as parents of children with chronic conditions, whether they are physical, developmental, intellectual or behavioral. Being present for those who are hurting offers God’s presence lived out in flesh and bone.

One of the most beautiful biblical examples of the gift of presence is seen in the story of Ruth.  Due to a famine in Bethlehem, the family of Elimelech and Naomi moved to the land of Moab and lived there for so long that their sons grew up and married there. Later the family patriarch died, as did the two sons. Having lost their husbands, three widows were living together facing an uncertain future.  In a culture where all f your wealth and status was tied to the men in your life, this was a very precarious position. There is a reason the Bible prompts so often to remember the widow. Namoi urged her daughters-in-law to return to their families where they could be taken in and hope to remarry since they were still young enough to have children.  Naomi, past child-bearing age, chose to travel to her home country alone and into an uncertain future. One daughter-in-law returned to her home:

But Ruth said, “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die– there will I be buried. May the LORD do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!”  (Rut 1:16-17 NRS)

Talk about the gift of presence!  Ruth was all in, despite putting her own future at risk. What an incredible witness to God’s ability to fill the gift of presence! 

That gift of presence pops up in unexpected ways.  A parent recently contacted me looking for a prayer partner.  God brought to her a great prayer partner with a shared life experience and both have contacted me saying they have been blessed with that connection.  Another parent who has been struggling to find time to connect more closely with her husband in the midst of many therapies, extreme medical needs, and three children with hectic schedules, found the gift of presence in a weather make-up day at school when she and her husband were both off work for a holiday. A guilt-free indulgence of a whole day for just the two of them to be fully present with each other was an enormous blessing. Today I just left a meeting with a church planning to start their very first special needs outreach. They are a bit anxious about that future, mainly out of a sense of wanting to meet the need with excellence, but the gift of presence they are providing is enormous to those who need that opportunity to be welcomed, heard and filled with the hope of Christ in connection with each other. 

The gift of presence comes in all kinds of shapes and it is a blessing in the lives of those who give and receive it each and every time. Thinking back to the most challenging times in my life, key people come to mind who walked with me through the darkest of times.  I can also think of times when I tried to pay that gift forward to others.  How have you given the gift of presence?  How have you experienced it when you needed it for yourself?

Mile Markers


I enjoy running and regularly log about 15-20 miles a week.  Yes, I’m one of “those” people who sets an alarm for 4 a.m. to get in a run before the sun comes up, but I live in Texas so I have a good excuse for my personal kind of crazy. I need a regular dose of endorphins and time outdoors enjoying God’s creation when the only sounds are my feet on the pavement, air moving in and out of my lungs, and the stir of the breeze through the trees. Of course, sometimes creation welcomes me with mosquitos and the special brand of “air that you wear” unique to the humid gulf coast. It’s kind of a mixed blessing!

Being a bit competitive by nature, I enter four or so half marathons a year. I find that I prefer the challenge of longer distance races.  Maybe that has to do with being a mother to a child with special needs.  I’ve learned as a parent to set long term goals and plot the incremental steps in getting there. One step at a time, one therapy at a time.  I always start out on race day with a plan: pace, nutrition, hydration, all plotted out based on the mile markers.  Those mile markers are so important, reminders of how far I’ve come and how far I still have to go. I also use them as reminders to take an inventory. Am I hurting? Am I tired? Do I need to do some self-care?

Mile markers are HUGE!

I’m thinking of mile markers because a dear friend has a son who is turning two today. That is a huge mile marker.  I look back at how far he has come and look ahead at how far he has to go.  So do his parents.   At this particular mile marker, his mom is hurting today and I hurt for her.  Mile markers are tough when where we are doesn’t match the plan we had back at the start line.  As parents, we can’t help but take stock at certain times, looking for developmental mile markers that should have been reached, but remain ahead (we hope!) in a future we cannot see.

When faced with what we do not know, there is comfort in going back to what we do know.  Where Is God in the life of my friend’s family today? Over 2,500 years ago the prophet Jeremiah wrote to the people of God who were living in exile with an uncertain future that they could not see.  They longed to be in a place miles away, yet could not see a way to get there.  Jeremiah shared this message with the people.

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Jeremiah 29:11 (NRSV)

God’s plan is not for anxiety and worry.  Rather, God’s plan is for their welfare and a future with hope. God doesn’t promise us perfect, but God does promise that he is for us and with us at every single mile marker. When we are hurting, and not where we thought we would be in our lives, God’s message is one of comfort and hope. I pray that for my friend today.

I am not negating my friend’s very real feelings.  It’s painful.  I get it. I’ve lived it with my own child, as has every parent of a child with differences. Maybe my lesson learned in running applies back to parenting.  Mile markers are a good time to check in with ourselves as parents and ask, “Am I hurting? Am I tired? Do I need to do some self-care?” When we pay attention to what we are experiencing within ourselves, then we can take care of those needs, helping us to refocus on God’s promised future waiting for us just around the corner.

Happy Mother’s Day

Especially today, I am thinking of all the amazing moms I know who are raising children with special needs. Our kids have all variety of gifts and abilities, but some lack the capacity to use words to tell their moms how wonderful they are. How do we receive love when there are no words?

The truth is, we feel it easily and often. Love is sometimes best expressed without words.

I often experience God’s love in wordless wonder. A glorious sunrise brightens my drive to the office each morning.  I am greeted by a host of songbirds as I wind through the prayer garden from my car to the door. I sit outside to write when I can, blessed by the gentle breeze that stirs the scent of flowers blooming in my neighbor’s yard. In the evenings, I enjoy the vastness of the night sky and realize how very small I am and yet how God cares for me and for each and every person throughout time.  In the midst of all the glory of creation we are each wonderfully made, a unique fingerprint of God expressed in flesh rather than words.

The love God has for us transcends words, as does the love between a mother and child. This Mother’s Day, I pray for you to feel deeply rooted in your child’s love and moved beyond words by God’s love for you.