Autism at Church, Part 2

“In God’s economy, the weak, the marginalized, the disenfranchised, the overlooked, the voiceless, the vulnerable, the sick, the oppressed, the grieving, the bullied, the exhausted, and those at the end of their rope are the ones who get into the VIP section. They are the ones who gain the attention and compassion of the God of the Universe.”

~Ginger Taylor, Adventures In Autism

A few weeks ago, I spoke to a gathering of women on the topic “How the Church Can Help Families of Special Needs Children.” It had been a difficult week, and I felt unprepared. In fact, I had to leave my house in the middle of cleaning Poop Art just to make the luncheon on time. I was able to speak with Brandon on the phone just before giving my speech and I told him I had absolutely no idea what to say.

He said simply,

“Tell them about Rhema. Tell them what a day is like trying to care for her and teach her and love her the best we can. Tell them about the pica, the sensory integration issues, the hyperactivity, the medications, the stubborn seizure activity, the bolting… even the poop art. Tell them. Tell them that some days everything seems hard – eating, sleeping, dressing, toileting. Tell them about the financial burdens, the endless hours of therapy. But be sure to tell them about the joys and the victories, too. Tell them that it’s only by God’s grace we’re still standing. Tell them there are others like us who often feel isolated and afraid… who want and need to bring our families to church, but it just seems too hard.”

And so I told them.

I read a parable from Matthew 25:31-46 in which Jesus describes what it means to serve him. He condemns people for not caring for Him while they lived on earth. He says, “For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.” The people respond with “Lord, we never saw you in such a place of need.” And Jesus answers, “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”

I have heard this “least of these” passage associated with the special needs community more than once. I want to be clear that we in no way think of Rhema as “least” in terms of worth. Although some in society may deem her as less productive and therefore less valuable, God, in fact, views her in the exact opposite way. Brandon always says, “People may not see her worth automatically. It takes “Kingdom eyes.”” We have been blessed with friends and teachers who see her as God sees her… His workmanship, fearfully and wonderfully made.

It does not matter how many speeches we give or blogs we write, or knowledge we acquire or money we make, in the end, what matters to God is the help we have given. He is literally challenging us to think of everyone we come in contact with as Christ. Any help given is given to Him. Any help withheld is withheld from Him. In loving a child who appears difficult or rude or strange or hard to reach – in loving the “least of these” – we are loving God Himself.

In one of the first autism blogs I ever read, Ginger Taylor wrote that in God’s economy, friends, families, churches and communities would receive the following notice upon a child’s diagnosis:
“Congratulations! Some one you love has autism!

You have just been given a chance to serve The Creator God, up close and personally! Run… do not walk… to your loved one and seize the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of the little life that is on the fast track to stardom in God’s Universe!”

That is the spirit in which I shared some of the following ideas at the women’s luncheon:

Churches: Set up a buddy program in which teen volunteers from the youth group befriend and shadow a kid with special needs in church.

We have a small team of helpers at our church that rotate in taking care of Rhema on Sundays so that I can attend service. They walk with her, play with her, assist her in the Children’s program, etc. It’s a huge blessing.

Churches: Host a prayer gathering for families, teachers, therapists, bus drivers… anyone who cares about someone with special needs as Andrea’s church community has done.

Churches: Offer a free babysitting night to parents of special needs children in your community. (I LOVE this one).

Parents: Educate. Ask to give a brief talk/presentation on your child and their particular needs as JoyMama did.

Sometimes the issues are easily resolved. For example, Rhema used to always have trouble with circle time in the Children’s Program. It’s always circle time first, followed by craft time. Upon entering the room, Rhema would instantly see the scissors, markers, paper and play-doh out on the table and wild horses couldn’t keep her from it. I asked the volunteers to wait until after the circle time to set out the craft supplies. Something as simple as that made a world of difference.

One last thing to say: don’t let fear or your child’s challenges deter you from finding a church home. In the months since Brandon has been deployed, I have learned that the church needs our children, our families. She has few words and many, many needs, but God speaks to me so much through my curly-haired girl. And whether it’s her “song” in the sanctuary or the comic relief she brings, I’m beginning to see her touch the lives of people around her in her own Rhema way.

As my sister-friend Andrea so beautifully wrote, “In the name of self-preservation, I have robbed our friends and community of powerful, life-changing interactions that God may have intended for their personal growth. Biblically speaking, my son (and everyone of us) is indispensable to the body of Christ. For a time– in my exhaustion, isolation, and vulnerability –I bought the lie that it was selfish for me to ask for extra staff, a buddy, or modifications in order for Reid to participate in church events. I am beginning to see that without realizing it, I may have denied others the opportunity “to receive the gift of Reid”…”

Thank God for the gift of the “least of these” and for the churches willing to serve.

*Some resources:
http://www.logansfriends.org/churches.html
http://www.nathhan.com/church.htm
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21 thoughts on “Autism at Church, Part 2

  1. with tears streaming down my face, i thank you for this.

    i wish i could explain how timely this is or why it matters so much. for now, i hope a heart felt thank you can suffice.

  2. This post is fantastic. So right in so many ways.

    “In the name of self-preservation, I have robbed our friends and community of powerful, life-changing interactions that God may have intended for their personal growth.” Wow.

  3. Oh Jeneil, that was beautiful…trust me when I say the word WOW goes a very long way…thank you thank you for this blessing of reading your thoughts!!

  4. Your voice is so strong and Rhema’s story so powerful. You are truly serving God. Thanks for the help and support you give to everyone-including our small group.

  5. Amen and amen! I need to hear my own words written back to me every Sunday (or Monday morning) for the journey continues in fits and starts. The fog of our daily realities can quickly fog the truth you proclaim. Preach it sister friend! I love how Brandon is part of your ministry from afar.

  6. Please join us for our book tour for Autism & Alleluias by Kathy Bolduc. Kathy shares several stories about her experiences with her son Joel in church. I know you’ll love this book and we’d love to have you take part with a review of the book, or a Q & A with the author. Please email me so I can send you more info. Thanks!

  7. It was an amazing and much needing meeting. You did incredible job. And what a blessing Rhema is to all of us. And what a blessing to have an opportunity to help.
    About a month ago, Josslen suggested doing a babysitting night at the church for families as a fundraiser, but what an opportunity to shine for Christ to do it for free! We will work on one within the next few months.
    Also, I’ve been doing some research here in Fitchburg on workshops on Autism or even support groups just so that I’m more equipped to help you and to help others at the church be more equipped as well, especially working with the Toddlers and youth.

    I have always felt that God speaks so profoundly through those with special needs and will bless anyone who takes the time to listen tremendously.

    Your courage and heart was poured at that meeting and it encourages and blessed so many. Thank you!
    You rock and I love you!

  8. You are amazing!
    I have stumbled onto your blog by chance and I am loving reading all about your family and your beautiful girls.
    I have 2 of my 3 children also with autism and the part about having a chance to serve up close and personally with our Saviour literally blew me away!
    What a brilliant way to put it. God is such a loving and merciful God who I believe has given me the greatest blessing in these children.
    You have inspired me.
    Bless you much
    Fi :D

  9. Pingback: Autism at Church, Part 1 « Autism In a Word

  10. Wow, I just happened to find your blog and I’m really glad I did. These two posts about autism at church are exceptionally meaningful to me. Our little guy is 3- the age where he’s not supposed to be in nursery anymore, but there’s no way he could even make it through 2 minutes of church. Maybe we can convince some volunteers to hang out with him so that we can go to church together again. Anyway, thanks so much!

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