Tuesday, April 26, 2011

IF WE ARE THE BODY

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”  On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unrepresentable are treated with special modesty, while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. (1 Corinthians 12:21-26, NIV)



As churches, we are really good at doing momentary random acts of kindness.  We'll schedule a program or a day to feed the hungry, bring clothes to the poor or visit a nursing home.  But unfortunately, I'm not convinced that these expressions of Christian charity have actually become the way of life for us that Jesus intended.

These are interesting times in which we live.  State and Federal budgets are broken and strained to say the least.  This is particularly troubling to those in the special needs community who rely on essential services.  I recently attended a number of "listening sessions" on these government programs, not only to share how they might be improved in money-saving ways, but also to hear what was on the heart of those I serve.

Sitting in these sessions, it occurred to me, "Why isn't the church doing more to stand in the gap?"  In fact, I was aghast at one meeting where an inner city charity touted what it's doing, begged not to have funding cut, but was emphatic that it didn't want to do any more to help than what it was already doing.  I thought, are we really trying to help or just window dressing?  Is this how God intended for us to live?

The fact is that if you look at the entire word of God, there is NO government mandate to serve the hurting and less fortunate.  That charge is given to US, the Body of Christ.  We are to be the hands and feet of Jesus, providing financial aid, helping those confused with what their options are, plugging people in to resources, and just spending time listening.  It's laughable that in the United States churches and charities are given a tax-exempt status, but we squander it on more beautiful buildings, huge church staff and fancier worship services.  Our real mission should be equipping every person in the pew to go forth and make a shining difference in the community on an ongoing basis.

What would this look like if we actually arose to the calling?  Volunteers would deliver people to church, activities or shopping on a regular basis without having to be begged.  Programming for families with a member who has special needs would be as common as the church choir.  Having people over to dinner without any expectation of reciprocation would be our delight.  And rolling up our sleeves to get dirty in another person's home or yard would become second nature.  We would more readily see a need and fill it or connect others to people who can.

Our entire ministry is built around supporting at least a small portion of the less fortunate in our culture.  Still, I never feel like we can do enough.  It is hard not to judge our fellow church-attending friends who drop in to help a cause only when it's occasionally convenient.  I am disgusted by the phrase, "But I'm just too busy."  In a society where we are more worried about buying our pets a winter coat or taking them to a massage parlor than delivering food to those living under bridges because of mental illness, it's difficult not to become overwhelmed with frustration.

Yet, if each of us just did a little part of the work, starting today, then the size of the job wouldn't be so insurmountable.  We are each an essential part of the Body of Christ.  God has fit us each with unique gifts, experiences and abilities to strengthen the whole.  When an arm is broken, it's inconvenient, and the rest of the body has to work a little harder to compensate for the injury.  Our lives as Christians are no different.  Are you willing to do your part?

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Day Special Needs Came to Town





Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.~ Romans 12:2, NIV


Our son's birthday (He turns 11 on 4/11/11.) always brings to mind our introduction to a life with special needs.  You see, having had two cousins with hemophilia, a genetic disorder that can run in families, his umbilical cord blood was tested at birth.  The day after his birth we received the serious news that our son had Severe Hemophilia A.  And it turned our world upside down.  While this bleeding disorder will remain with him the rest of his life, most notable in the early days was the way it changed us.

 As with all of my children, our son had jaundice right after birth, so we underwent "baptism by fire" with his uncontrolled bleeding from the heel pricks of testing bilirubin.  In a flash we were in the neonatal ICU with him receiving his first infusion of clotting factor.  My heart just broke as I saw him and all of the other newborn babies fighting these medical battles just out of the womb.

Since I had volunteered and been on the Board of Directors for our state's hemophilia foundation for over a decade prior to our son's birth, I was well-connected when we received the diagnosis.  A mere month after his birth, we found ourselves at a regional conference for hemophilia.  I reeled in shock seeing children with deep, large bruises in unusual places and adults on crutches.  Reviewing information handed out I saw photos of toddlers with badly bruised behinds from falling while learning to walk.  I went back to our hotel room and sobbed in disbelief that this is what our life would be like.  "We can't be one of these!", was all I could think.

Only months after his birth, my husband found himself "downsized" in a corporate merger.  In order to qualify for the extended COBRA carryover insurance that our family would surely need with our son's expensive diagnosis, I had to fill out paperwork to get him deemed "disabled" by the Social Security Administration.  Having the letter of determination arrived with that label placed on our son was another time of great sadness and disbelief.  Even though we needed the help it would provide, the pain of our new reality was a great heaviness to bear.

Fast forward two years after his birth, and God had called us to minister to other parents just like ourselves.  Since we had a calling but no education, we attended a disability ministry conference in another state for further training.  Much to my surprise, I found myself in another phase of denial.  The wheelchairs, walkers, sign language and unusual behaviors all brought me back to the feeling, We can't be one of these!

I share these emotions not to offend, but to share how God transformed us.  He moved us from repulsion to acceptance, from grief to joy.  He helped us redefine "normal" in our lives.  When special needs came to town an moved in with us, it made us new people.  It increased our wisdom, understanding and compassion.  Ironically, special needs decreased our level of worry and increased our level of flexibility.  We became stronger, not by our own strength, but by the power of the Holy Spirit taking over in our lives.

Had it not been for special needs we would not have entered into this ministry.  We would not have touched other lives with a message of hope.  We would not have a powerful story to share to encourage others.  We would be more self-centered and less concerned for others.  We would not be focused on the important things in life the way we are now.

The day our son was diagnosed, my husband and I held hands and tearfully prayed together, "Thank you, God, for hemophilia.  We don't know why we are thanking you for this, but we know you will do something good with this."  While our lives are difficult and often heartbreaking, we have the gift of perspective.  And we can now smile in hindsight as we say that we became truly blessed the day special needs came to town.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Get Out The Word!

"Learn to do good.  Seek justice.  Help the oppressed.  Defend the cause of orphans.  Fight for the rights of widows."  (Isaiah 1:17, NLT)

Working in the arena of disability ministry, I can assure you that each month of the year is dedicated to awareness of a variety of different causes.  March was Hemophilia Awareness Month.  April is Autism Awareness Month.  And so it goes.  People advocating for these groups are called to give extra attention to getting out the word about these diagnoses to everyone around them.

It is interesting to note during these months that our secular life is not and should not be separate from our religious life.  We can be helping those less fortunate as God calls us to do by making others aware of their situation.  People often make judgments out of ignorance to a family's plight.  Parents of kids with bipolar disorder or other "invisible disabilities" may be accused of being "bad parents".  Kids with cerebral palsy may be thought to be cognitively delayed merely because of their unusual motion or speech.  I myself have been regarded as a child abuser because my son with hemophilia had "angry" bruises in strange places.

God has equipped people like us for such a time as this!  We can rise up to build understanding and compassion for families just like ours by educating the general public.  When a critical remark is made because of ignorance, a good response can begin with, "Yeah, I used to think that too...."  Grouped together, our individual voices can make a huge impact.  Whether it be a lapel pin, a bumper sticker, a t-shirt or a walk-a-thon, your engagement can make all the difference in the lives of both those who are hurting and those who don't know any better.

What are YOU doing to change the world around you?  I'd love to hear!