I was sat in church a few Sunday mornings ago, a brief oasis of calm in an otherwise hectic and unpredictable week of additional needs ministry and additional needs parenting. The service was great, which was helpful, as I was tired and in serious danger of dropping off to sleep otherwise… there could have been snoring… #awkward
During a pause in proceedings, as I glanced around the room from my seat towards the back of the church, I noticed someone a few rows ahead of me who was wearing a nice embroidered floral top. What I noticed, however, was that embroidered across the back of the top, between the shoulders, was the brand name… (I won’t mention the brand to protect the wearer!) I didn’t recognise it, however I understand from those who know about these things that this is a ‘posh’ designer label. That got me thinking… why would the brand name be embroidered like that on the back of a garment? The only conclusion I could come to was that it is a status symbol, making a statement to anyone looking at it… “This is a posh brand, a designer label, that I can afford to buy.”
I started looking around a bit more then, and noticed others wearing garments with ‘posh’ brand names and designer labels prominently displayed, some that I didn’t even need to ask about! Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not against people making an effort when they come to church, I just got to wondering about how what we wear, what we look like, might even inadvertently categorise us in some way in the eyes of those who see us, placing us in a particular social group in their eyes?
People have dressed to make a point as long as clothes have existed. One of the greatest human beings ever to grace this earth, Mahatma Gandhi, dressed only in a simple homespun white cotton robe, making a strong political point about injustice as he did so.
As all of these thoughts flew through my mind, I glanced down at what I was wearing. For the first time I noticed the smear of food that James had wiped across my trousers before I went out, and my first thought was that I was glad that it was only food! I got thinking about what the ‘brand identity’, the ‘designer label’ of the additional/special needs parent might be… possibly it’s crumpled smeared clothing, an unusual difficult to place smell, the latest look in the ‘exhausted’ range? We must sometimes look a bit of an unusual sight!
Jesus himself, as he sent the disciples out into the world told them “Don’t take anything for the journey. Do not take a walking stick or a bag. Do not take any bread, money or extra clothes.” (Luke 9:3 NIrV) He also told us “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the wild flowers grow. They don’t work or make clothing. But here is what I tell you. Not even Solomon in all his royal robes was dressed like one of these flowers. If that is how God dresses the wild grass, won’t he dress you even better? Your faith is so small! After all, the grass is here only today. Tomorrow it is thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 6:28-30)
Those words spoke to me, and I hope speak to you as you read this if you too are an additional/special needs parent. It really doesn’t matter that much what we might look like sometimes, just being somewhere (church, work, the school gate, wherever…) might be an achievement in itself. God stands with us in the midst of the chaos and he doesn’t mind what we look like! The ‘brand identity’ and ‘designer labels’ of the additional needs parent do not need apologising for, they speak of our love for our child, our willingness to put them first, our never-ending God given endurance as we strive to do the very best we can for the child that is our first thought as we wake and our final thought as we (eventually!) drop off to sleep. These are the garments that God gives us to wear, and I will happily have that embroidered across the back of my clothing, alongside the smears, any day!
Blessings and love, Mark Arnold
Mark's blog site: www.theadditionalneedsblogfather.com
Mark is Joint Founder of: www.additionalneedsalliance.org.uk
Mark works for: www.urbansaints.org/additionalneeds
To find out more about how Mark and his work can help you, contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or @Mark_J_Arnold