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.

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

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 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 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: 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

“Special…but not in the Bad Way”

It seems that I have landed myself in a somewhat controversial vocation. Initially, I didn’t dream that special needs advocacy could provoke so many disputes. I had assumed that everyone would be on the “same page.” Silly me.

While I knew of (and completely support) a variety of approaches for ministry to children with special needs, I have learned over the past year that many times the waters are murky. Terms like “inclusion” and “self-contained” claim prominence in a debate that I hoped would be about drawing people to Jesus. People who, by the way, desperately need the Story.

The Story I am referring to is the old, old story – that overarching story of reconciliation that we call The Bible. People with and those affected by disability need to hear the unmistakable refrain that echoes through all 66 books: God created humanity in his image, loves us, and went to great lengths to redeem us. All of us – even those that the world considers damaged, broken and disposable.

Last spring I was given an opportunity to do something I never thought I’d be able to do. I was asked not only to edit materials in such a way as to tell that story to children with special needs, but to help design a VBS format to do it in. Beyond the arguments and disputes of “inclusion” and “self-contained” classrooms, I got to write materials that send the message of the Gospel out for all children. Even those who are very different.

Noah was thrilled with my opportunity. When I was in ministry, Vacation Bible School was the bane of his summer. It disturbed his schedule. The decorations disrupted the predictable environment he clung to. Everything from worship to crafts to Bible story was offensive to his delicate nervous system. He even hated the shirts. Over the years, my teaching team found countless ways to integrate Noah into VBS. Those efforts were precious to both of us.

When he heard I was writing to give suggestions that make it possible for kids like him to have an easier time at VBS he said, “This is great. We can do it Mom, if we just have a little help.” That “little help” is what I have been working on for several months now. As I wrote I found it included modifications to story telling techniques and games, as well as instructions on how to make “members” of the disabled.

Offering them places as members in our community, it turns out, has much more to do with making ourselves more open to them than changing them. I will ever be thankful to Standard Publishing for their openness to every suggestion I made. As a matter of fact, in a meeting when we discussed available space for both a special needs amendment and a “regular lesson” the question was asked: What happens if we don’t have space for both? The answer given was: Then the special accommodation BECOMES the lesson for EVERYONE. That, my friends, is inclusion on a level different from any popular dispute about least restrictive environment. It is about membership.

I’ll prove it to you.IMG_8750

On top of the enormous opportunity to write for this project, the team invited Noah and Ito be a partof the video shoot for the VBS video. So, Noah and I, armed with noise reducing headphones and other sensory accommodations trekked to Dayton,Ohio. If you are wondering what Noah thought of this you will be glad to know that he kind of viewed it as a mission trip.

He was determined to show people what a “little help” looked like. So learned the VBS songs and performed them on video – with his noise reducing headphones. He took park in lessons and games using those and other accommodations I had written. For a break in the day we visited Safari Sensory Station, a special space I created for sensory breaks and one-on-one teaching at VBS.

 But here is the proof of membership…

At lunIMG_8747ch on Day 2 of the shoot we were having lunch in the Green Room (which as Noah pointed out was not “green” at all). He and I has gone through the line ahead of time and were sitting alone at a table enjoying lunch. Soon the other kids and adults filed in and started eating. But then something amazing happened.

I looked up from my sandwich to see 5 kids from the group standing with their plates at our table. One of them said, “We didn’t want Noah eatingalone. Can we sit here with him?”

Why did this happen? Why did 5 kids who had never met Noah just 24 hours before not want him to eat alone? Besides, wasn’t I there? What prompted them to include him in their lunch bunch? How did he become a “member” of a group of strangers?

I can tell you how. He had been included, to the best of his capabilities, in worship and lessons and games and crafts. Did he take breaks? Yes. Was he in 100% of every activity? No. But his very presence and participation on some level told these kids that he belonged there. He was a member of them.

At the end of our time there I asked Noah how he felt about the project. He said, “It made me feel really special – but not in the bad way.” Apart from feeling different and apart from the group, I think Noah felt honored for those differences. Still a member of the body, but with a very unique gift to offer.

You know, special…but not in the bad way. That, my friends, is membership.

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.

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?

Posted in Uncategorized

Say “Hi” for Me: A Lesson in Membership

I’ve got a new story to tell you on Monday, but it makes more sense in light of a post I made last Fall so read this first. Enjoy… 

            The words I had hoped for finally reached my ears. Noah proclaimed, “Mom, I did it! I made a friend!” Moving and starting a new school has been a challenge for us both, but the social impairments that accompany Noah’s autism prevent him for making friends easily. I eagerly asked what his name was and he said, “Lauren.” Before I could comment on that bit of information, Noah added this: “And one of the things that makes her so cool is that she gets to carry a stick around all the time! You know why? Because she is TOTALLY blind. Cool huh?”

            I paused at this comment. Inside I already knew that truth, Noah had gravitated toward the special education class once again. We’ve worked hard to pull him out of the self-contained classroom, hoping that exposure to “normal people” (the neurotypical – meaning those with typically functioning brains) would increase his social skills. As it turns out, being around normal kids just amplifies his differences and makes Noah stand out more. Still, I had prayed for maybe a shy, average little boy. Instead, Noah had found the opportunity to seek out a member of the self-contained class at recess. He went on to describe Lauren to me physically. I asked what they did at recess since Lauren couldn’t navigate the playground very well. He said, “We sit and listen.”

            Hypocrite that I am, I was still somewhat disappointed that Noah wasn’t connecting to typically functioning people. But I decided to be glad that Noah had reached out to anyone at all. Its strange how after everything I have studied and written, I still occasionally miss the grander picture that we are not just bodies and minds alone, but being created in the image of God. All of us.

            Flash forward two weeks and Noah races into the living room at seven o’clock one evening to announce that he wants to do something special for his teachers and friends. He proclaimed that it was time for us to bake chocolate chip cookies. Hoping I didn’t have all the ingredients (Drat – they were all there!) I was motivated to get up off the couch by Noah’s persistence.

            He mixed the batter using my Oster hand mixer and the noise reducing headphones my dad used to wear around jet engines in his job at Delta Airlines. Noah happily spooned them on to cookie sheets and we proceeded to make around four-dozen cookies. I got out cellophane bags, markers and tags to address each bag of goodies. Soon, Noah list of four primary teachers had grown to include the paraprofessional that is helping him learn the recorder in music class, the teacher across the hall from his homeroom (who has probably helped him at this locker), the school secretary who has embraced him as a member of the safety patrol, and the principal. Just when I thought we were done he shouted, “Oh! I can’t forget Tony and Lauren!” (Tony is another friend Noah made from Lauren’s class.)

            The next day on the way home from school I asked Noah how everyone liked his gifts. He smiled and showed me a note on a piece of off-white card stock. Closer inspection showed that the note had been carefully hand lettered by an adult just under Braille imprints. The note read, “Thank you for always asking how I am and saying hi.” Still smiling, Noah said, “Its from my friend Lauren.” Choking back tears, I drove home in silence. But inside I was begging for repentance for being disappointed that Noah hadn’t made friends with a normal kid.

Image 

            When I got home I asked to see the note and it was then that I remembered Noah’s comment about their playground activity. He had said that they just “sit and listen.” From Lauren’s perspective, this is a busy and on-going activity. It is one of the primary ways she “sees” the world around her. It was then that I realized that she was thanking Noah for simply slowing down to notice her and for speaking to her. Which implies that Lauren realizes there are a lot of people who don’t notice her – or who do and fail to slow down to speak to her. Of course, she senses these people around her. She can feel them and hear their presence. But Noah, of all people, engaged with her.

            I use the expression “of all people” because Noah is, diagnostically speaking, not very capable at starting and sustaining conversation. He is no brilliant conversationalist. As it turns out, Lauren doesn’t need very much conversation. Just saying “hi” is all she really wanted. And Noah is capable of just about that. Additionally, I think what Lauren really enjoys is someone who will experience the world alongside her. Just sitting and listening on the playground with someone else is a gift to her. Lauren was created for community the same way we are. And Noah is able to participate in community with Lauren in a way that is very full and rich and meaningful for them both.

            I’ve gleaned a few insights from Noah’s recent encounter. First, I must to continue to develop a sense that people are more than traditional ideas about mind (intelligence) and body. I think this will help me see people as God sees them and then classifications like “normal” will be obsolete. Secondly, we are created for community. Sometimes, others help those of us who aren’t as socially adept into community. Noah reached out to Lauren. Ideally, someone else will reach out to Noah. Who will I reach out to?

As we reach out in love to draw others into community, never under-estimate the power of a simple “hello.” Just acknowledging someone’s presence with a friendly gesture can be all it takes to extend God’s love toward him or her. Speaking as the parent of a child with disabilities, I can say that if you want to be the highlight of their entire week, just notice them. Often we’ve been noticed with stares and giggles in a “take-a-look-at-that-freak-show” kind of way. Obviously that isn’t what I am talking about. I mean to resist the urge to ignore they are there. Sometimes we politely ignore their existence as if it is in poor taste to admit disabled people exist. Or maybe we think it is contagious. Or maybe if we get too close, we will realize we aren’t as different from them as we’d like to believe we are.

So next time you encounter the marginalized in society – those broken because of sin, the disabled, people struggling with addiction, welfare moms, or just the down-and-out – do Noah and I a favor. Extend kindness. Acknowledge their existence. Embrace them into God’s community where the word normal doesn’t exist.

And say “hi” for me.