"Face it," she said as I sat on her couch, sharing her empathy and passion, "The only ones that ever end up serving or helping parents like us are usually those who are in some way connected to a child with special needs or a disability."
Sadly, in my 13 years of experience I have to admit, this fellow mother's assessment is pretty accurate. I can count on 1 hand the number of individuals we have had remain as repeat volunteers for our ministry over the years that have no personal connection to special needs. It's DADS with kids who have autism or cerebral palsy that are doing the heavy work of lifting tables when a hall needs to be set up. It's MOMS who have been dealing with their child with RAD or Down Syndrome all day who are there to man the games for a family event. The calls for volunteers from the general population largely go unanswered.
One of our volunteer-staffed respite events comes to mind as I recall some wily kids creating their own version of an abstinence training program, courtesy of their behavior. That makes sense. I'm not sure I would volunteer a second time if I had a child one-third my size continually clenching my hair after I had sacrificed my rare, precious spare time.
What doesn't ever make sense to me is the fact that so few show compassion by directly serving parents like us. It almost seems that those inclined to serve or donate are more drawn towards the power of feeding orphans or building wells in third world nations, or towards the entrenched cool-factor of youth ministry, or towards the Contemporary Christian music industry's efforts to partner with end human trafficking. Hear me when I say that these are ALL worthy pursuits. However, encouraging and supporting parents of challenged children is a greatly under-served mission field right under people's noses. With an estimated 1in 6 children diagnosed with some sort of developmental disability*, this wounded, marginalized mission field is HUGE.
CHARITY BEGINS AT HOME...
So then, as occasion opportunity open up to us, let us do good [morally] to all people [not only being useful or profitable to them, but also doing what is for their spiritual good and advantage]. Be mindful to be a blessing, especially to those of the household of faith [those who belong to God’s family with you, the believers]. (Galatians 6:10, AMP)
Certainly, there is a fear factor in serving parents like us. Will I say something wrong? What if they're too needy? What exactly do they want? It would be nice if people would confront that fear by just coming out and ASKING us questions.
There is definitely a messy-factor in serving parents like us. Our lives are not always well-ordered and beautiful. That makes people uncomfortable. Being around complex families like ours can really stress-out those outside of our daily life. But if they think being around us stresses them out, they should try being us!
Yet, I think the REAL reason all comes down to people's unspoken, subconscious realization that they are but one emergency room visit away from being us. That REALLY makes people uncomfortable. There but for the sake of God go they! It's much easier for people to rationalize that we have done something cosmically wrong to deserve our plight, therefore, making us unworthy of their support. And there may just be a bit of guilt that runs deep inside the typical world as their subconscious thinks, "Thank God it's you and not me with a child like that."
Whatever the reasons, it will ALWAYS be up to other parents who are willing or further down the road in their journey to be the primary servants in this mission field. Because too few seem to "get it" -- to understand the unique challenges that parents like us live with day in and day out -- the ones who have walked this path are the most likely to be motivated by empathy for us. Meanwhile, sharing our difficulties and the acts of kindness that have been helpful to us along the way will fuel a fire under those amazing few in the typical world.
PRAY: God, the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Lord of the harvest, send more workers! Soften hearts and nudge more people towards working side-by-side with weary parents raising complex kids. Help others to know that it takes so little to make a huge difference with mothers and fathers like us.
~ Barb Dittrich