February is the “love” month, right? And when it comes to family (and the church), we believers should be the ones to show that love to all those around us all the time as an example of the love God bestowed upon us!
We have dear friends that ooze the love of Jesus to each other, others, and their children…two beautiful little girls with a rare chromosome anomaly. They are nonverbal, medically fragile, developmentally delayed and require all of their care to be provided in order to survive. We have come to know them because we’ve traveled some similar roads on this Unexpected Journey of special needs. And while we are on different roads of the journey more often than not, our paths often meet along the way on one road or another along the way!
Both Paul and Kathy have come to know and serve the Lord is such unique ways, admitting they started out as caterpillars and have allowed the Lord to use their girls to turn them into butterflies that have learned to fly, bravely and boldly putting one foot in front of the other resting in knowing that Jesus is always before them; never leaving or forsaking them. They have weather the unsteady terrain of special needs and learned to cling to each other and Christ with a new set of glasses and clear vision to see how full of meaning their life is through these precious children who’ve never uttered a word, yet taught them so much about life.
This journey has lead them to become plugged into a church family who loves Jesus, their family, and has a heart for the special needs population. Together along with one of their pastors and his wife, they started a special needs service a few years ago that has bonded them together in praying for one another, encouraging one another, and allowing the children to be who God made them: noisy, quiet, squirrely, still, making shrill noises, and humming lowly or loudly! Their love was like a pebble tossed into the lake, and all around them are ripples of that loved going out. They have family and friends there who have learned to serve these families, even giving Paul and Kathy a weekly night out to enjoy each other alone. They have enjoyed this time for many years because one woman has given them that evening as she cares for the girls.
Though we attend different churches, we support each other as peer mentors. I love that we can cry, laugh, can call at any hour or not talk for months knowing we’re right around the corner from each other and available because we’re in it together. While our initial meetings connected us immediately, over time and through troubles, tears, and triumphs, we have bonded a friendship that is deeply rooted. Do you wonder how that happens? It happens over time and as we travel this journey of life together.
I think there are four levels of help and encouragement we can provide to others.
Level One: From a distance: We can be involved from afar by
- Learning who they are. We might not even know the person personally or have ever spoken to them but we know of them
- Asking about how others are doing who aren’t necessarily in our lives, but we know them and recognize that they are a person or family with needs.
- Praying for others when we know and recognize the specific needs they have.
Level Two: Side to side: We find a way to meet and get to know this person or family to
- Become friends with them (perhaps because we have things in common, or perhaps we simply want to get to better know them).
- Develop a casual relationship with them and begin entry-level conversation about news, weather, sports, and general life.
- Help in simple ways leaving a message through a text, email or phone call…even just saying, “I’m thinking of and praying for you!”
Level Three: I’m happy to help because I see the need: We find ways to help
- To meet the needs we see. Perhaps it’s through a text, email or phone call to check up on them, but it’s not leaving it there.
- Asking what can I do to help (when and where).
- That aren’t always easy, comfortable, or fun, but right…and then we do it.
- That put us “out” because we are going a little “out” of our way (making an extra meal for the person or family because we know life has been tough or busy, running an errand because they are still recovering from surgery, etc.)
- That we are happy to do, even if we are inconvenienced or have to find the time out of our own busy life to make it happen for someone else.
Level Four: I’m in the trenches with you: We are “in” it to do whatever you need:
- Wash windows? Sure (or I’ll find someone to do it!).
- Need a meal? Sure (what days and when can I deliver it?).
- Sit with you at the hospital? (I’m free. I’m there.).
- A call at any hour. (You know it!).
- A shoulder to cry on and an ear to listen. (Absolutely).
- FILL IN YOURS:
As I worked on these levels I realize how very available Paul and Kathy and Joe and I are to each other. I pray we are an encouragement to them as they are to us. My desire in writing this blog to introduce them to you, is to encourage you to find yourself on one of these levels, and seek someone in your church who’s family has children with special needs.
If you’re willing and available, God will direct you to the how, when, and where to serve.
I have no idea how many people might have prayed for us over our nearly 37 years with our son, but I know we needed it! We made it to where we are today because people along the way supported us in prayer for a moment, helping for a day, a time, a season, and some – many years. Both the Zentners and our family are most grateful for those whom the Lord has sent to walk, cry, laugh and serve with us. Discover what your next step might be to show the love of God….and then take it!