Last month you heard my (hopefully) graced-filled reasons for declining the opportunity to head up a special needs ministry in my church. But parent to a child(ren) with special needs: YOU ARE NOT OFF THE HOOK! And neither are others in the church. There are things YOU can do to help families in this challenging place of life!
Let me explain: While you are most likely not THE one to head up the ministry at your church, you must learn to have a mindset of serving others outside of your home, and outside of the one you care for daily. And let me explain why.
As a young mom, I reached out to two women a generation ahead of me who each had an adult child with special needs. I came to them looking for some gems of advice to keep me going day to day in what seems like a slippery slope to doom (many days). I admired these women for their strength and dignity, and how I saw them raising their adult children; but when I asked for advice and wisdom I got somewhat similar answers, “Oh, just trust God and it will all work out fine.” I didn’t dismiss that advice, but I was even having trouble trusting in the God I so loved. Many days I was:
- Sometime mad
- Sometimes angry
- Often needing encouragement
- Often wanting a break
- Upset when day after day little progress was made by our son
- Sad when I put for much effort toward therapies and saw little to no results
- And what could YOU add? ___________
I promised myself as I grew more mature in the Lord and in life, that I would do my very best to make myself available to younger moms as a mentor, friend, confidant, and listener. I did all I could along the way, but today, with a son who is (fairly) well adjusted (age 35), I feel I can make and take the time to do all those things I’d promised I’d do. Here is how it looks as I speak around the country to younger moms, to couples in the church, and as I spend time with my local circle of younger special needs families:
- I let younger moms (and Joe does the same for the dads) know they can call me to “air” their frustrations and share their concerns.
- I promise I’ll not tell others of our conversation without their permission. (Thus when speaking I don’t share THEIR stories, only mine, unless I’m given the OK!)
- A few moms that I’ve gotten close to have my personal cell number and the personal invitation to call me any day, at any time, and for any reason. They do. Some situations have been interrupted by their call(s) but I know the urgency and to the best of my ability, I take their call immediately. (None have abused this.)
- If I can help them get somewhere, watch their child until someone else gets there, etc. I try to say yes. (There are times I can’t, but I try my best to say yes)
- I never tell them they can’t feel “that” way (mad, frustrated, angry, sad, etc.).
- I never tell them they shouldn’t cry about it.
- I never judge them, how they say things, or words they use. They are free to express to me exactly how they feel. I’d have loved someone like that!
- I never tell them “it’ll be OK”….because, well, this “need” isn’t going away.
- I reach out to them when I can by calling.
- I try to write notes of encouragement or drop a simple little gift off occasionally to let them know I’m thinking of them.
- I pray for them and their marriage and their family
So many of these things can be done by ANYONE in the church. It doesn’t have to be a mom or dad with a child with special needs. Even if someone isn’t directly a part of the special needs ministry they can do many of these thing on their own, and in their own time. (But certainly being a part of the ministry is a big help, too!) It takes a heart of compassion coupled with the willingness to serve. I can’t think of a time any of these “efforts” have been refused or not appreciated; so reach out, and lend a hand, a listening ear, or make some other offer you’re comfortable making.
You’re NOT OFF THE HOOK to help care for others just because you are caring for one with special needs, and you’re NOT OFF THE HOOK if you aren’t.