Posted in Uncategorized

Serve Serve Serve

I just finished watching myself on our television. I will never – ever – reconcile myself to this. It was just a training video that I filmed last October for Standard Publishing’s Jungle Safari VBS. I was honored to be asked to participate not only in shooting this video, but Noah and I were included in the promotional materials because of my work on the team that wrote the materials. It was an honor to help pioneer a “special needs friendly” VBS curriculum for Standard, just as it is my honor to host their blogtalk radio program twice a month and write for Shaping Special Hearts Newsletter. But still, I become anxious just thinking about the implications of being touted as the “special needs expert.”

I’m so uncomfortable with it, in fact, that when asked to contribute Key Ministry’s blog as a guest blogger, my entire post was dedicated to defaming “the expert.” Read “Some Assembly But No Expertise Required” here. I’m still just Noah’s mom. I learned him and the other children with special needs in the ministry I was charged with and just made it work. Now, some years later, “special needs expert” follows my name in programs, videos and on promotional posters. It just doesn’t seem to make sense to me. And next week I’ll be even more perplexed, wandering around Disney’s Coronado Springs Convention Center realizing that people are there to hear me present materials about special needs ministry as “the expert.”

As I continued to take apart my presentation and put it back together for the sixth time (while fighting off an anxiety attack) I frantically opened my desk drawer to find two simple rubber bracelets that brought hope and perspective.

serveThese were issued to us last year at INCM’s Children’s Pastor’s Conference. They were simply a way to identify ourselves and our area of expertise so that if anyone saw us at a networking function they could easily identify what kind of ministry to children we are involved in. For example, my grey band reads “serve by example” designating me as a person in leadership. The blue band, more significantly, reads “serve special needs.”

Even though I received them last winter, I kept them in my desk drawer as a reminder of my greater mission. You may be wondering why I need to remind myself that I am seen as a leader or involved in ministry to people with special needs. But it isn’t that designation that prompted me to keep the bands. It is the first directive that has inspired me throughout the year – serve. This theme for CPC and INCM refreshed me not only during the conferences, but also throughout the year. They simply phrase it “serve  serve  serve.”

When I have been tempted to become completely overwhelmed by any project I am writing, I remind myself that my goal is to serve. Last year as I completed my thesis, I would wrap those bands around my wrist and ask God to use my feeble words to serve his Church. Before my first radio show, first radio show last spring, I donned my bracelets and uttered a prayer. As I have written for PURE Ministries and helped develop resources for our network, I absently run my thumb over the word serve and find peace and solace.

I’m not going to CPC next week to be the expert, I’m going to serve. I’ll serve Standard Publishing at their booth as I answer questions about the curriculum to which I contribute. I’m happy to serve alongside a team of editors, consultants and marketing managers with vision for equipping the church. I’ll serve cmconnect as I talk with fellow leaders about the possibility of interviewing them on the radio show this year. And most of all, I’ll serve the children’s ministry leaders who attend the conference. I don’t have to “wow them” with brilliance or come across as this world-class expert, I’m there to serve.

Once when Jesus’ disciples were arguing about being the greatest (maybe we can read being “experts in the kingdom”) he brought it back to this truth.

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

So I’ll serve gladly and be better for it. And I think it will feel like home.

Posted in Radio

Shaping Special Hearts: Family in Crisis 11/12 by CMConnect | Religion Podcasts

Shaping Special Hearts: Family in Crisis 11/12 by CMConnect | Religion Podcasts.

How can we pratically minister to families of special needs children in the midst of crisis? What kinds of emotional and physical supports can we offer families in times of hospitalization, illness and in the face of everyday challenges? Join Vangie Rodenbeck and her special guests Adeye Salem & Tina Kacirek. Both bloggers and moms of special needs children, Tina and Adeye have layers of rich experience that will empower you in your ministry to families in transition and crisis.

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

Roses Are Red

I have a good friend who has taught me more about empathy and coming alongside someone in the fellowship of suffering than anyone else. Her name is Gillian.


 I’ve written about Gillian before, about how she learned to talk speaking the name of Jesus before any other word and about the honor I had to baptize her. (Maybe I will repost those in the following days so that you can get to know those stories if you don’t already.) If you subscribe to Standard Publishing’s Christian Standard Magazine or HeartShaper Sunday School Curriculum, you can see Gillian featured in an advertisement. She is featured because she is a wonderful, God fearing little girl who happens to be autistic.


Last night Gillian, her parents, my husband and I went to hear Temple Grandin lecture about autism. Dr. Grandin was born in 1947, at a time when it was common for children with autism-like symptoms to be diagnosed as simply “brain damaged.” Gillian wanted to go and see someone who has succeeded and not let autism overcome her strengths. Part of me just wanted to watch Gillian.


I know that she heard every word Dr. Grandin said about autism and strengths and the latent possibilities of this neurologically diverse population. With her usual intensity, she watched and recorded what she heard with her amazing brain. She uses the same concentration on all her passions – horses, animals in general, and Jesus.


Many times Gillian has interrupted my lesson with an insight that left me speechless. Her way of seeing and feeling things is a gift. And she feels deeply. So for me last evening, as much as Temple Grandin was the featured author and lecturer, Gillian was also an instructor. You see, Gillian feels deeply that she has something to offer the world. She isn’t sure what it is yet and she doesn’t know how to accomplish it, but she knows it is there and she knows she doesn’t want autism to prevent her from sharing her gift.


Her tremendous insights in areas of empathy and feeling are what Gillian teaches me. So often I am more than willing to let my weaknesses prompt me to “hide my light under a bushel.” But not Gilly. No, she is determined not to let fear and sensory overload stop her from being who God intends her to be. She has often asked what it means that the publishing company features her picture, wondering if she has some responsibility to fulfill. We keep telling her that she only needs to be herself because that is what has inspired so many people.


As for me, I don’t think I will ever stop learning from Gillian. Last winter when my son was in the hospital, he received this note from her.Image


From deep inside autism, Gillian reached out to another who was struggling against the same condition. There was no part of her that was ashamed of their mutual condition – no part that even felt sorry for Noah. Instead Gillian elected to view it as her responsibility to use her disability as a bridge to reach another saying, “we are disabled together.”


Oh how I wish I had more friends like Gillian! I wish the church was full of Gillians who would reach out from their own condition to another and say “I am more like you than you think.” And I wish I felt the responsibility to reach out in empathy and solidarity as Gillian does.


Some might say that Gillian lacks the social inhibitions that dictate she more appropriately represent the autism that she and my son share. If so, I believe that lack of social grace is truly a grace in itself because it allows her to reach beyond herself with wild abandon.


Last night, she stood in line for almost an hour to have Dr. Grandin sign a book about autism heroes called Different Like Me. She reads this book all the time for inspiration for ways that she can overcome the many difficulties she faces every day. Something in me wanted to have Gillian sign it as well, for she is a hero of mine.




Gillian, I know your Mommy is reading this to you. You want to know what it means that you are my hero. You want to know what you have to do – what your responsibility is. With all my heart I want you to know that all you have to do is be who God made you to be. You are created in his image and he made you perfectly. When I look at you, I see God. And that is a gift to this world.