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.

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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.

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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.

Posted in Uncategorized

The Christmas Bear

PhotoGrid_1386946044501For Angie…with love at Christmas.

Once upon a time there were two Christmas Bears that sat on a shelf in a gift shop. Jointed at both the arms and legs, they were covered in cheerful fabric with a floral pattern of yellow, red and green. Around their neck was tied a simple red ribbon that was more beautiful because of its simplicity. But they were very small (only three inches in height) and didn’t have very much hope in being selected among the bigger and more extravagant gifts in the shop.

And once upon a time, there were also two college freshmen. They had met as strangers in August, but by December had begun what would become a life-long friendship. Neither of these girls had jobs or families able to support them in a comfortable style. That year, neither of them would do holiday shopping. But on a cold Arkansas day the girls blew into a gift shop along with the blustery winter air.

While perusing the many wares and holiday offerings of the gift shop, both girls found themselves staring in delight at the two, little Christmas Bears. Standing hip to hip, the girls reached up to the shelf where the bears were poised. They gently played with their hinged joints and loving fingered the small red bows around the neck of each bear. Without a moment of hesitation, the girls decided to purchase them for one another. Digging the last of their monies from their college i.d. holders, which also doubled as their wallets, they paid for their priceless treasures and exchanged them on the spot.

Each time I see him, I’ll think of you,” said one girl to the other. And so, each Christmas Bear found its own home. That year, those Christmas Bears were the only adornment of the season in their simple dorm rooms.

Soon the girls wouldn’t share the same suite, or even the same state. The next Christmas, as one of the girls unpacked her one, humble shoebox box labeled “Christmas stuff,” she found a small red tissue wrapped bundle in the corner of the box. When she unwrapped it, tears sprang to her eyes as she rediscovered her Christmas Bear. More than just rediscovering an ornament, at that moment she rediscovered her friendship as if it were all happening in that single moment.

In an instant she relived it all. They sat on a white swing on campus having their first heart to heart conversation. In that same moment, they laughed over ridiculous people they encountered, survived Pledge Week, expressed frustration at professors, studied for exam after exam, helped one another dress for dates and formals, ate many cafeteria meals, and cried over broken hearts.

With no long-distance calling plan, she immediately rummaged through a drawer to find an old calling card. She prayed aloud there would be just a few minutes left so that she could hear her friends voice and feel her near.

It only took a few rings for the other girl to answer. Almost in one breath, she told the story of finding her bear and what it meant to her. Hearing the tears in the voice of her dear friend, the other girl replied that she had also experienced the same sensation when she uncovered her Christmas Bear the day before. With time running out on their call, they promised to unwrap their bears each year and rediscover all they had meant to one another.

As years passed, they saw less and less of one another yet still managed to be present for one another’s life. Separated by no less than 600 miles at any given time, they managed to stand at one another’s side when they married. When marriage proved lonelier than they had expected and they were homesick for one another, they managed phone calls and letters. When it wasn’t possible to call one another, they recorded one side of a conversation on cassette tapes and sent them back and forth in the mail, knowing the consolation the voice of the other could provide.

And each year, at Christmas, each would unwrap their Christmas Bear and remember one another.

As one of the girls experienced difficulties conceiving a child, the other girl had a baby. Even though this typically drives a wedge between friends in these circumstances, it was the friend 600 miles away with a newborn that the girl called after each disappointing doctor’s appointment. And when she did finally conceive, the joyful news was received amid the screams of an irate toddler hundreds miles away.

They would experience much of their friendship by telephone, and later, text message, email and Facebook. They would both experience the terminal illness of a parent, calling one another from hospital waiting rooms with updates throughout the weeks. Whereas they once stood beside one another in bridesmaid’s gowns, soon they would stand hip to hip in funeral black.

As each experienced a disappointment or difficulty, they would know it as one. Together they experienced the diagnosis autism, illness, depression, struggles with their faith and the divorce of each girl. There were many dark days, hands curled desperately around a telephone as their only lifeline. For months on end, they may talk only once every two weeks. But during some seasons, they would speak twice a day because the voice of the other reminded them of the Truth and gave them hope to withstand their storms.

While they endured those difficult years, experiencing the holidays seemed especially wretched. But the highlight of decorating for each of them was uncovering the memories of their friendship when they unwrapped their Christmas bear. Indeed, one desperate year, one girl decided not to put away her bear with the decorations but to keep it at her bedside in consolation. And her night table is where it has sat as a reminder of hope and faithfulness all year long to this day.

Just as they saw one another through their grief, they would again celebrate with one another as well. Once again, they would celebrate joyfully as each would marry again. Each went back to college and they found themselves calling one another on “study breaks” despite being in their late 30s. Then they would laugh and remind one another why people should do this when they are young and without children and other jobs.

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And with each passing year, the story rediscovered through the Christmas Bears grows. It seems right that these small gifts were given at a time of year when Christ’s coming to Earth is commemorated. Also arriving in a small, seemingly insignificant package, he would be the hope of mankind. It was, indeed, the faith in that very hope that each girl was able to offer to the other throughout time. Just as the Christmas Story is one of God’s faithfulness to humanity, the story of the Christmas Bears is one of faithfulness and consolation. A faithfulness that we could one give one another through the example of that baby in the Christmas Story.

It has been more than twenty years since these Christmas Bears were first given in love. But for my part, I experience the hope of Christmas every morning and evening when I see it there on my nightstand.

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: What to Train For 10/29 by CMConnect | Religion Podcasts

Join Vangie as she and special guest Harmony Hensley continue this month’s theme of Training for Special Needs Ministry. Listen along as they unpack strategies for training your volunteers that will empower them to step out in faith and shape a special heart!

Harmony Hensley has a background in vocational ministry, as well as a dual degree in Ministry Leadership and Biblical Studies from Cincinnati Christian University.  She has trained churches across the country and continues to consult today.  Her passion is helping churches to engage families affected by disability.

 

Shaping Special Hearts: What to Train For 10/29 by CMConnect | Religion Podcasts.

Posted in Uncategorized

Shaping Special Hearts: Special Needs & Training 10/03 by CMConnect | Religion Podcasts

Join host Vangie Rodenbeck, and special guest Rebecca Hamilton, as they unpack issues related to Training Volunteers in Special Needs Ministry.  Listen as they debunk popular “myths” related to training volunteers for disability-related ministries and learn about two amazing resources you can use to train and organize volunteers today.

Rebecca Hamilton is Director of Ministry Operations at Key Ministry.  Since joining Key Ministry in 2006, Rebecca has enjoyed blending her Christianity and love for children with the training and experience she has had in the non-profit sector.

 

Shaping Special Hearts: Special Needs & Training 10/03 by CMConnect | Religion Podcasts.

Posted in Uncategorized

The Autism Gospel – Members as Friends

The school year was almost complete and I was at our last IEP meeting. While these events once struck terror in my heart, this year we have been blessed with a wonderful team. Before we began, one of his teachers said, “Oh, wait! I have to tell you what happened at recess! I’ve never seen anything like it.” This is the story she told.

 

One of Noah’s best friends is a little girl who is blind. Each morning Lauren greets him in their homeroom by running her hands over his face, being gentle around his glasses. Then she quickly moves her hands to tickle his stomach and announces, “That is a Noah!” They play together at recess. She mostly sits and listens to the other children play or enjoys walking hand-in-hand with friends on the playground.

During the last week of school, his teacher looked up to see Lauren and Noah having a conversation. Noah, standing in front of her, had her cane in his hand and seemed to be asking her a question. The teacher observed Lauren smile and laugh, then nod at Noah. But what happened next was described as his teacher as something she has never seen before.

Taking his friend’s cane in his left hand, Noah placed his hand over his eyes with his other hand. Using only the noise of his friend’s voice, Noah began navigating the playground. The teacher said the girl would laugh as Noah would stop and call out something he had run into. This went on for ten minutes or so. Then Noah went back to her and took his place at her side.

When asked about what happened, here is what Noah said: “I just needed to know what it is like to be Lauren. If I am really going to be her friend, I think I have to understand her. Pretending to be blind helps me be her friend.” 

I believe this reveals something crucial to us about how to include people “other” than us in our membership. Many times the first reply to involvement in a disability ministry is that the training of volunteers is problematic. We feel that there is no way that a volunteer can be appropriately trained to handle every potential situation that might occur when encountering someone with a disability. After all, they are so different an other than me. How can I prepare myself for such a task? 

I think the answer lies in that very assumption – that it is a task. Yes, tasks require preparation and training. Friendship, however, does not. How much training have you undergone before beginning a friendship? Think of a particular friend. Did you read books to prepare yourself to have a relationship? Did you attend a seminar? Was there a training to undergo to plan for every eventuality and potential circumstance that a friendship might endure? 

The answer is no. To be a friend, you do what Noah did. You take an interest in that person. You learn that person. What is it like to be them? What do they enjoy doing? You make an effort to identify with them. You spend time with them.

Benjamin T. Conner, in Amplifying Our Witness, writes

“Friendship shows a way of relating to a person with developmental disabilities beyond the medical model of care – an etiology, signs and symptoms, or a technical solution to the ‘problem’ of disability. In the medical model, disability is often characterized in a way similar to an illness; a specific, definable pathology and an individual problem to be eliminated – this model does not address the human, as such….Christian friendship – the affirming presence of another – transcends relational boundaries of likeness, instrumentality, or social exchange.”

Noah has no qualifications to be friends with Lauren. She is merely a friend. Are their exchanges atypical? Yes. But reviewing many of my friendships, I imagine our exchanges could also be described as atypical. Additionally, those social exchanges we define as critical to friendships vary from relationship to relationship. Honestly, there are some of my friends with whom I discuss my passions of theology or disability ministry in detail and others with whom I do not. That kind of social exchange is not necessary for me to consider one a “friend.”

Noah did not attend special training to acquire his friendship. Instead, he merely observed Lauren and learned her. He took this learning so far as to position himself in an environment where he might fully identify with her. Anyone who has sat by a friend in a hospital waiting room or funeral home has done the same. We can’t be prepared ahead of time for these situations; we learn as we become members of one another.

Memberships that are built on friendship are long lasting. They endure. When you become a member of another in this way, there are fewer ways this person is “other” than you. There are fewer opportunities for fear or misunderstanding based on differences and more room for a grace that flows from brotherly love.

Noah is a member of Lauren. He is her friend. Who will we extend the hand of membership to?