Posted in Living Peacefully, The Autism Gospel

Healed on the Sabbath

10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath. 11 And there was a woman who had had a spirit of infirmity for eighteen years; she was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. 12 And when Jesus saw her, he called her and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your infirmity.” 13 And he laid his hands upon her, and immediately she was made straight, and she praised God. 14 But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be healed, and not on the sabbath day.” 15 Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his ass from the manger, and lead it away to water it?16 And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?”17 As he said this, all his adversaries were put to shame; and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him. [1]

 

Part of my son’s diagnostic story is that I was once told he would never read, write, or speak. When I report this at IEP meetings, educators often have one of two reactions. Often they smirk and comment on the fallacy of shortsighted clinicians who shut doors too quickly. Others smile sympathetically in realization of just how much work it must have taken to get where we are today.

Today he reads. He writes. He speaks.

For as long as we have been doing it now, it still never gets old to hear him read aloud, or better still to hear him read something that he himself has written. I think this is a small gift I receive for all the tough nights along the way. But nothing – absolutely nothing – thrills my soul like hearing him read God’s Word during our Sunday worship services.

sabbath1
Printing his scripture out in a dyslexic friendly font makes him feel more comfortable.

Our church customarily invites Noah to be a part of our worship in this way. This week his text seemed particularly poignant. Luke records an encounter on the Sabbath Day between Jesus and a woman with a long-term illness. While the thrust of the passage is Jesus’ defense of healing this woman on the Sabbath, it was other wording in this passage that caught my ear when read in my son’s voice.

“Woman, you are freed from your infirmity.”

Other interpretations of the Greek ἀπολέλυσαι (apolelysai) read “removed,” instead of healed or freed. In the place of infirmity of illness, a near definition of ἀσθενείας (astheneias) is “weakness” or “limitation.” This could easily read “you are removed from your limitation.”

You are removed from your limitation. And in that there is healing.

20160821_102818
Noah starts his Sundays with a walk around the farm where he greets the animals – especially Smudge the Pig.

I feel that we are removed from our limitations each time our church seeks to include Noah in leading our service. Because the truth of it is, his reading isn’t polished at all. His fluency is so choppy that you can’t really follow along. His speech impediment makes understanding him difficult as well. Our limitations – disability, illness, weakness – are still present. But for just a little while, he is removed from them.

And we are healed on the Sabbath.

 

[1] The Revised Standard Version (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1971), Lk 13:10–17.

French sociologist Jacques Ellul wrote, “One thing, however, is sure: unless Christians fulfill their prophetic role, unless they become the advocates and defenders of the truly poor, witness to their misery, then, infallibly, violence will suddenly break out. In one way or other ‘their blood cries to heaven,’ and violence will seem the only way out. It will be too late to try to calm them and create harmony.”

Prophetic Witness

Posted in Living Peacefully, The Autism Gospel

Going Forth

Everyone asks, “So aren’t you thrilled to be back in Atlanta?” I know the expected answer is a resounding “YES!” This is, after all, my hometown. No one is asking for an interpreter when I speak in public, and I can buy Dukes Mayonnaise at my local grocery store instead of having it “imported” by friends. But re-integrating ourselves has been challenging. Everything is comfortingly the same and disconcertingly different all at once. As our little family has healed, this is one of the things we have had to come to terms with.

I have been comforted by how present and faithful God has been to Noah during this transition. I can’t imagine how absurdly difficult the past nine months have been for him. Autism makes us far less portable than the typical family. There is just no escaping this fact. His entire life is one amalgamation of sensory experiences that provide anxiety on some level. To one degree or another, he spends most of his day working to cope with his environment. At times, it is clearly painful for him yet the disquiet of reorientation is part of his daily experience.

We’re at a new church home that we are very excited about. I’m sure I’ll be sharing more about them, but know that this kingdom outpost has already embraced Noah with enthusiasm. But that didn’t stop me from reverting to old habits a few Sundays ago when we entered only to find rhythm instruments placed throughout our worship room. I immediately began an exit strategy for Noah’s eventual meltdown due to the over-stimulation during worship.

Soon, our worship leader encouraged us to pick up an instrument and join in a song. Jason and I didn’t move, afraid to set off panic in Noah. I don’t know if we were hoping he wouldn’t notice what was happening, or if we were just too tired at the moment to do anything but rest and hope that everyone would understand when Noah became distressed. Much to our surprise, neither thing happened. Instead, Noah began to search for the nearest instrument he could find and, grabbing a tambourine, played along in perfect rhythm.

Astonishment doesn’t begin to describe our reaction. Even though we are new there, everyone who stood as witness to Noah’s act of praise was surprised.

We have come out of a wilderness not of our own making. Some of you may understand better than others. More than ever before, I feel enveloped by an everlasting love that has been faithful to us. Maybe Noah does too, and he just had to rattle a tambourine – despite the discomfort the noise causes his brain.

And me, well, I wanted to dance along.

 Thus says the Lord:

“The people who survived the sword

found grace in the wilderness; when Israel sought for rest, the Lord appeared to him from afar. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.

Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel!

Again you shall adorn yourself with timbrels,

and shall go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.” [1]

 

[1] The Revised Standard Version (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1971), Je 31:2–4.

Posted in PURE Ministry

Inviting Them to the Conversation

newman-review-680x468

I’ve been having the same conversation with parent after parent for ten long years now. Since my son’s diagnosis and the inauguration of my journey as minister to children with special needs, this paralyzing question has been sent to me via email, whispered through tears, and even shouted in anger by many terrified parents. They all want to know the same thing:

Will my child ever really understand the gospel message?

Can they ever grasp the love of God?

Is it possible that they could ever know Jesus?

At some point during their pregnancy, and perhaps even their child’s infancy, these questions may not have frightened them so much. But then the day came when they realized that their child wouldn’t be learning the way others would learn. It doesn’t Accessible-Gospel_webtake long for Christian families to come to the place where they want to access their child’s capacity to learn, know and understand the greatest story ever told – the Gospel message. In her new book, Accessible Gospel, Inclusive Worship, a new resource from Barbara J. Newman and CLC Network answers this question unequivocally with a resounding “Yes!” While her credentials give her a voice to speak to any number of topics from specific disability interventions (such as Autism or Down Syndrome) to classroom strategies for general behavior management, she says this topic is “the reason for every other topic on my speaking list.” The underlying assumption of this book is that everything is about making it possible for people to connect with Christ – regardless of their ability or disability. Newman walks readers step-by-step through a process that begins with finding common ground with every learner. From this point, she explains the importance of identifying how a person takes in information in order to most clearly communicate the gospel message to them personally. Filled with examples of real life stories from Newman’s ministry experiences, the pages come to life as the message the gospel is told over and over again in many different ways. Perhaps one of the greatest contributions Accessible Gospel, Inclusive Worship makes is its re-framing of our concept of worship as a whole. Newman makes the point that creating an accessible worship environment is about so much more than wheelchair ramps and bathrooms that are handicap accessible. Newman writes Most of our worship settings can be described as a conversation. While some of them are corporate and others are individual, we enter into a place where we speak to God and allow God to speak to our lives. For some individuals with disabilities, the tools we use as part of that conversation might be a bit different from some of the traditional tools. For example, if we use only spoken words set to music for the part of the conversation that says “I love you, God,” then we have left someone out who has no spoken words. How can we make that part of our conversation with God inclusive each worshiper? Using the concept of Vertical Habits, developed by the Calvin Institute of Christian Worship, Newman goes on to examine worship as expressions by which we tell God “I love you,” “I’m sorry,” and “I’m listening,” just to name a few. By reframing worship in this light, Newman is able to invite people of all abilities into a conversation with the God who made them in his image. Inclusive worship affects so much more than just the person with different abilities. This person is usually attached to a family or caregivers who are also thirsty for an opportunity to worship. Accessible Gospel, Inclusive Worship gives churches the tools to  invite everyone to worship. Hear me interview Barbara J. Newman on Shaping Special Hearts here. welcome everyone into the house of God. Barbara Newman given us the tools to invite everyone to worship.

Posted in PURE Ministry

Pure Post: Happy Trails to You

Happy Trails to You

 

How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity![1]

 

 

The invitation to attend came quite unexpectedly. “Oh, you don’t want to miss this!” they exclaimed. Unable to resist, I arranged to make my way to First Baptist Church of Tucker for their annual “Special Needs Ministry Sunday.” Each year on this designated Sunday, the ministry devoted to people with differing abilities leads the congregation in songs of worship, offering and prayer.

 

I have been to all kinds of worship services. From High-Church liturgy to church camp vespers, I have had the opportunity to worship in many settings representative of many styles of sermon and song. But I have never encountered any worship setting quite as rapturous as what I would participate in on that day.

 

The excitement was palpable upon entering the beautiful sanctuary of this church that was celebrating its 120th year. When the ushers who greeted me at the door learned that I had come especially to attend this service because of its leadership, I was personally escorted to a pew of honor where I could have an unobstructed view. The choir loft was already filled with PURE people and their caregivers, who were eagerly awaiting the start of the day’s service.

 

After a brief welcome and responsive reading, ending with the instruction from Psalm 133:1, we sang a few songs of praise in rapid succession. Appropriately, we confirmed “How Good and Pleasant” it is when God’s people can dwell together in unity. As if to answer how this can be among a people so diverse, the opening strains of “Jesus Messiah” began to play.

 

I gazed from the screen where the words were being projected to see many members of this PURE choir using American Sign Language to tell the story in song of a messiah who was the “…name above all names…Lord of all.” By the time we reached the bridge, each PURE person was intoning with all his or her might “…all our hope in you, all our hope is in you. All the glory to you God, the Light of the World!” Tears began to course down my cheeks that would not stop until the Benediction.

Read more about this PURE worship experience here.


[1] The Holy Bible: Today’s New International Version. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005), Ps 133:1.

Posted in PURE Ministry

PURE Post – Soon and Very Soon

I wanted to highlight another piece that I wrote for PURE Ministries about how respite ministry looks a lot like “kingdom come.” I hope you enjoy it.

 

After 3-hour night of respite ministry, I realize I hadn’t really known what to expect. That night, I had seen amazing relationships being forged between typical people and those we cherish as PURE. I had personally witnessed a schedule and format that was complete genius as it allowed everyone to focus on their strengths and abilities rather than their deficits. Meeting and speaking with servants of this incredible ministry had left my fingers itching to write. But we were instructed to assemble in a large group meeting room for some kind of benedictory activity, so I slowly navigated toward a seat in the back of the room.

The last thing I expected, knowing how much energy this night had cost me personally, was a worship service. I don’t think I had ever considered what it would be like to worship with so many PURE people. Because my son’s primary anxiety trigger is auditory input, worship is very difficult for us. Noah simply cannot handle all the sensory information in the form of music, voices, clapping hands and moving bodies. His typical posture is to sit, shoulders hunched-over in a protective posture, with his hands over his ears.

This has perhaps been one of my greatest sorrows as the mother of my PURE child. Worship through music has been a life-long love of mine. I learned not only to sing harmony in church at my grandmother’s side, but also to sight-read music.  As a matter of fact, the first book I probably every “read” was a hymnal. As I grew I joined choirs and, eventually, became a children’s choir director and worship leader. Not being able to share my love of worship with Noah has been difficult. I suppose it is natural to want to take that which brings me so close to God and impart it to my son. But for Noah, it is anything but “natural.” It is painful.

As we took our seats in the meeting room, I double-checked Noah’s noise reducing headphones to insure that they would help him endure a time of worship. I was comforted to see other PURE people entering the room taking similar precautions.  So I settled us in as Miss Lorie began a few preliminary announcements. Then the completely unexpected happened.

After calling into the audience for the worship leader, she handed the microphone over to a young PURE man who was about 14 years of age. It was clear that he had done this before, for everyone began clapping in preparation for a song that I would never forget.

Read the rest of the story by following this link: Soon and Very Soon

Posted in PURE Ministry

PURE Post…Will There Be Buddies?

a story about kingdom friendship that I wrote for PURE Ministries

 

There was a buzz in the air as volunteers received their assignments for the evening. As a visitor, I was observing from a safe distance when I heard a child ask a question that would re-frame my thinking for many days to come. In a loud and breathless voice she asked, “Will there be lots of ‘Buddies’ here tonight?”

She was a PURE child coming to participate in the monthly respite ministry at Blackshear Place Baptist Church in Flowery Branch, Georgia. While I listened to a volunteer greet her and assure her that, yes, there would be plenty of “Buddies” here this evening, I couldn’t help but marvel at her question.

At first, her question didn’t make sense to me. Because this was my first visit to a respite event, I was intent on seeing the schedule and organization of such an occasion. My mind was readied to make a list of administrative tasks required to accomplish such an event. I was ready to do the mental gymnastics necessary to generate a simple budget for this kind of ministry. My notebook and pen were prepared to record basic supplies essential for an event that I was sure would be overwhelming in scope.

Still, her simple question took me by surprise. I assumed she would want to talk about the activities she would be doing.  But, she didn’t.  Her primary interest wasn’t which activities she would encounter that evening or whether or not her favorite interest would be represented. She simply wanted to know who was coming to serve that evening. My task-oriented mind had immediately jumped to the issue of recruiting for such a ministry emphasis. Focusing on all the special training this must require, I was sure that would be the crux of the information that would fill my notebook and calm my questioning mind. Little did I know that at the end of the night, I would leave with scarcely a half page of notes yet with every question I could possibly have answered in full.

Read more about this amazing ministry by following this link the PURE Ministries blog.

Posted in Uncategorized

Shaping Special Hearts: Respite Ministry 09/17 by CMConnect | Religion Podcasts

Ever wondered how to be make a HUGE difference in the life of a special needs family in just one night? Do you wish you could find a way to connect your church to this special area of service in a manageable way? Please listen to this episode of Shaping Special Hearts to be blessed by Lori Millwood from Blackshear Place Baptist Church in Flowery Branch, GA.

 

 

Shaping Special Hearts: Respite Ministry 09/17 by CMConnect | Religion Podcasts.

Posted in Uncategorized

Fishers of Friends: a Membership story

What follows is a parable from real life about friendship and one becoming a member of the fellowship of another despite great differences. I am ever thankful for the man and the boy who made the story real, and to God for allowing me to witness it and tell  it.

 

We attend a small church full of fun-loving, kindhearted Christ followers. Were I to tell you about each of them I would begin each introduction with, “Now there is Cathy…she is my favorite.” So will be no surprise to any of them to hear me begin “There is a man at my church named Ned and he is my favorite.”

It isn’t uncommon for Ned to call to check in on me every once in a while. He takes a personal interest in if my car is in fine operating condition and often inquires to my health and that of my husband. He is a builder of many things by trade. Often I am privileged to view of a picture on his phone of something he has built. We are friends.

Knowing Ned the way I do, it really didn’t shock me when he expressed a desire to take Noah fishing. Since we moved so close to the lake a year ago, Noah has constantly expressed a desire to go fishing. Were my father alive, nothing would have made him happier than spend a day on the banks of Lake Lanier with Noah. But I fear I have forgotten most of what I learned by his side.

When Ned heard of this need, he immediately saw an opportunity to share something. It should be said that he doesn’t have any formal training in special education. But Ned heard that Noah had an interest in something he was interested in and offered to spend the day with him.

Ned took this opportunity very seriously and called me several times to work through both our schedules to find a time for their outing. We worked for about a week until we could move around this and that to find an open morning. It took purposeful planning on his part to make a space for Noah during his busy week.

And they fished.

IMG_8206

 It should be said that Noah’s difficulty in large and fine motor movement make certain elements of fishing more complicated than others. For instance, Noah still lacks the fine motor skills to tie shoelaces. I wasn’t sure how he was going to bait a hook. Additionally, Noah is left-handed so standing behind him to model hand-over-hand is impossible (for me at least.) But I was sure if worst came to worst, Ned would just it for him. As for large motor skills, casting takes more large motor planning than you might think. I knew if Noah became frustrated by these two things before he even got his hook in the water all would be lost.

It was how these complex obstacles were completed seamlessly that began my reflection of this parable. Noah became proficient at baiting his hook. How? Well, Ned might not be instructed in occupational therapy principles to enable him to teach the correct over-under method, but as it turns out Ned is even more capable than that for you see, Ned is left-handed. It was much more natural for Ned to instruct Noah than it would have been for the best right-handed therapist. It seem that Ned had been especially equipped for this task without any preparation. (Maybe I’ll ask him to teach him to tie his shoes next.) I assume that observing Ned cast in all his left-handed glory allowed Noah the exact view he needed to calculate his motions and then imitate them.

Noah caught ten fish that day.

Allow me a moment to breakdown what may appear to be sweet story into teaching on accepting the other as a member.

  1. Ned heard… This hearing was possible only through Ned’s placing himself in proximity to our family. He has a taken an interest in our family and its needs. He placed himself in proximity to know us and to know Noah. His nearness has been a blessing to my son’s life. How often do we place ourselves in proximity, in nearness, to someone other than us?
  2. He followed through…The intentionality of this simple, peaceful appointment cannot be overlooked. It was just one morning of his life, but it required a purposeful following through of his best intentions. How many times do we genuinely mean to get around to spending time with someone but let other things gain importance before it ever happens?
  3. And they fished…Fishing is, in general, a peaceful and relaxing activity. My father always declared he would be a “better man” if he lived on the water because of its relaxing and peace-giving properties. But the lack of busyness perhaps required even more of Ned. Noah is no brilliant conversationalist. Many people are uncomfortable around the silence. It also placed Ned in strange environs with someone who clings to familiarity and routine. In short, it could have been disastrous. Ned, however, did not seek a proactive solution to every eventuality. He was simply open to Noah. Openness requires we let go of any preconceived expectation and just enjoy someone for themselves. In this way we may become full members of one another in a community formed by love. Henri Nouwen wrote concerning what constitutes a community in The Genessee Diary. He reflected

The uniqueness of our neighbors is not related to those idiosyncratic qualities that only they and nobody else have, but it is related to the fact that God’s eternal beauty and love become visible in these unique, irreplaceable, finite human beings. It is exactly in the preciousness of the individual person that the eternal love of God is refracted and becomes the basis of a community of love.

Ned was able to, in openness, look beyond Noah’s idiosyncrasies and oddities to see him in the image of God – unique, irreplaceable, and precious.

4. Left-handedness…What makes me smile most is that Noah and Ned share something that Noah and I do not – left-handedness. They could instantly identify with one another. They probably have little else in common, but this simple identification made all the difference. The willingness to identify with another is a gift to them. Because of that willing identification, Noah sought to imitate the person before him.

 

PROXIMITY + INTENTIONALITY + OPENNESS + IDENTIFICATION = MEMBERSHIP

 

I have no doubt this will be the first of many outings for the” Left-Handed, Para-Autistic Fishing Club of Cumming.” And each will be a parable to itself testifying to membership.