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

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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.