This blog post has been a long time in coming….because it’s such a sensitive subject to my soul in every way. But after pondering and praying about this for a long time, it seems that today is the day to pour out my heart.
We actually began the journey to special needs treasures just about 30 years ago. It’s a long story, but yes, it was 30 years ago that we said “yes” to the possibility of special needs. Over the years we have added a total of 11 treasures and most do have special needs. Not all of our treasures needs are visible, not all are complicated and some although thought to be special needs turned out not to be needs at all (as was the case 30 years ago).
In the midst of all this we maintain passionately that the only true special need any orphan has is for a family – a family to love them, protect them, go to bat for them, tell them about Jesus, have their back and always care that they exist!
We have some kids which we call “lifers” – meaning they will likely be with us for the rest of their lives. Jubilee falls in that category, as does Ruby and Birdie.
Of course, most know that when we brought Ruby home five years ago, the words “special needs” took on an entirely different perspective. She is what is termed ‘medically fragile’ and every day of her life is a beautiful testimony to the healing power of our miraculous God!! Birdie is also considered ‘medically fragile’ as well.
Dw resigned his job as a senior pastor in Colorado, the kids helped him pack up our beautiful home (with the help of two precious friends – thank you Danica and Megan!!) and moved our big family to Phoenix to allow Ruby to be near our now-friend and world-renowned neurosurgeon, Dr. Shafron, who had just completed three of Ruby’s five (so far) brain surgeries.
We hadn’t dreamed that bringing her home would mean resigning our pastorate and moving, but we intentionally and happily embraced God’s direct plan for our family’s life and joyfully settled into living in this beautiful desert!!
Having senior pastored for 20 years we had not had a need to ‘find’ a church for a really long time! It was a weird transition.
We didn’t think anything really about a special needs ministry at any potential church. Ruby was very frail and spent her days in our arms or in my sling. Not long after bringing her home, she had her first seizure. It was life-threatening. Her neurologist has told me, “I do seizures every day, Ruby’s are life-threatening and truthfully, they freak me out.” So suddenly thrust into epilepsy, as well, and the very real possibility of having a life-threatening seizure at any time, day or night, we knew holding her close was best for all of us!
But as the Lord began to heal Ruby, Ruby began to be very exuberant at church. She would squeal loudly! She love, love, loves to worship!!
We found that not everyone is fond of a little girl squealing loudly in a wheelchair – and I’m not talking during the preaching time, I’m just talking walking the halls.
We have basically found three types of people at churches:
1. People who love Ruby and genuinely get excited when they see her. The first church we attended when we moved here had a senior pastor who did this! She would squeal with delight when we told her we were going to see her friend! We have had other people do this as well in some of the churches we have attended.
2. People who don’t know what to do about a special needs little girl in a wheelchair and don’t even acknowledge that she exists. They can stand talking to us, her joyfully humming directly next to them and they choose to ignore her completely. Truthfully that person is
extremely annoying to me. Enough said.
3. Sadly we have found that some people actually frown and move away from us, as though Ruby’s fragile, joyfully-squealing-or-humming-self in a wheelchair is somehow contagious.
At one place, I had been asked to speak to a women’s bible study. I had brought Liberty with me who would watch Ruby for me. Ruby was not her squealing, healed self at this point. She was still very frail. Anyway, a woman on staff was standing nearby and I said, “I’m going to keep Ruby with us.” The woman responded, “Good! They don’t want her in there anyway!”
It was difficult to choke back the tears. I was grieved by her hurtful rejection of my beautiful, precious, broken-bodied gift.
And sadly, over the years, we have seen a combo of all of the above when we have attended/visited churches.
Now on the flip side, we did senior pastor for 20 years and we regretfully admit that we did not know what to do with special needs kids. We embraced each one, but did not have a program for them. And friends, we’ve come to realize it’s actually the church’s calling and responsibility to care for the broken-bodied and their families of this world. It’s not a special calling it’s a privilege.
And so it brings me to today.
After bringing Birdie home we found that most Sundays we walked the halls with both of our littlest girls: Ruby and Birdie
And each week it got to be more and more of a struggle to go to church. Dw and I had not sat together for the better part of the last 5 years, since bringing Ruby home. Add to that the 20 years we senior pastored – and we have had 25 years of not being together when we worship our Savior!
Dw and I talked and decided that one of us would stay home with the girls and the other would go and we would flip-flop the next week.
I began to feel extremely sad thinking that for the rest of my life we would not be together on Sunday. Of course, I joyfully would do anything I need for my little ones, but this felt wrong on so many levels.
And what actually began to really trouble me was that we had not attended (at length) any church that embraced special needs treasures wholeheartedly, which meant they didn’t really embrace their family either. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the church was unintentionally sending a loud and clear message to my two youngest daughters:
“There is no place for you here.”
And that made me sob!!
In all that I suddenly remembered that Jesus rebuked his own disciples for trying to keep children away from him!!
In Luke 18: 15,16 the story is told:
15 Now people were even bringing their babies to Jesus for Him to place His hands on them. And when the disciples saw this, they rebuked them.
16 But Jesus called the children to Him and said, “Let the little children come to Me and do not hinder them! For the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.
So I talked to Dw and said, “We are sending our two little girls the wrong message. They think that there is no place for them at church. We have to find a place where special needs are not just accepted, but wanted, loved and embraced!!”
We began to pray that God would direct our steps, because we didn’t even know where to begin. A google search immediately had a church pop up: Highlands Church and their special needs ministry In His Image.
I opened the page that says, Special Needs and after reading the page, I found the video at the bottom.
It was the middle of the night and I literally wept big, ugly tears as I watched it over and over and over.
Showing Dw the next morning he agreed, we needed to visit that following Sunday. He went and told our pastor that we needed to find a church where we could worship as a family and where Birdie and Ruby were a part.
I wrote to Missy, the Director of In His Image and explained our family, told her we would like to visit and asked if it would be okay to come the following Sunday. I sobbed even more as I read her response. She used words like, “what a blessing and privilege it would be to have Birdie and Ruby come!!”
I will never forget our first Sunday. Missy, along with a crew of smiling adults, joyfully and warmly greeted Ruby and Birdie! It was an incredible feeling. And it was so genuine!! I stood in awe, actually it was complete amazement! I felt like the girls were wanted, safe, loved and any potential need would be tended to without any begrudging thoughts!
It was crazy-wonderful to sit next to my hubby of 38 years as we listened to a pastor who preached expository-style from the inerrant word of God – the Bible! The message was so uplifting! (With so many pastors glossing over scripture in favor of stories, current culture and political correctness, his strongly Biblical message was a wonderful relief!)
I still start to cry as I think of going to pick the girls up when service was over. I found Ruby “singing” with bubbly delight with Miss Kelsey…and Birdie playing happily nearby!
photo courtesy of KPHO/KTVK
We have found Highlands Church to authentically embrace our entire family.
It has been beyond refreshing to our souls. Our little girls love going!! They know there is a place for them – a place where people love them, accept them and want them!! Our bigger kids are loving it as well!!
So what’s the background behind In His Image ministries of Highlands Church? About 11 years ago a family came to the then-Pastor and said, “We won’t be attending together anymore. It’s gotten too hard with our son. One of us will stay home and we will rotate weeks.” The Pastor responded, “That’s not okay! And if your family is feeling this, there has to be families in our community who are struggling also with this!”
What an incredible pastoral response – sounds like something Jesus would say!!
Now imagine how God was orchestrating all this at Highlands because Missy attended Highlands and from the time she was a little girl she just always wanted to minister to those with special needs!! (She is an amazing woman! Seriously, I feel so honored to call her friend!! Her husband is our kids Children’s Pastor. Doug is just as genuine as Missy. Their family has been to dinner at our home and we had a blast! This family has quickly become very precious to us!)
All 8 of our youngest treasures were part of the Christmas program. Yes, even Ruby and Birdie. If Ruby squealed, it would have been okay. Elijah and Isaiah each had a speaking part and Elizabeth had a solo and was part of a duet!
Missy has the privilege and joy of directing In His Image which was born 11 years ago!! In His Image ministers to little ones as well as adults with special needs. They have respite nights every quarter!! They have moms-night-out regularly as well as other events throughout the year. It’s amazing. Truly amazing and an incredible answer to prayer!
Now I realize as I type this out that our Place Called Simplicity ministers to many. Some actually pastor and this post could potentially give them opportunity to be offended or defensive. But that absolutely would not be what the Lord would want! He would desire that each person’s heart be soft to special needs…so maybe this post would be the catalyst for a change of heart toward those with special needs? Maybe it would include a time of heartfelt reflection to each one’s heart toward special needs treasures? Maybe it would even initiate a time of fasting and praying for God to begin a special needs ministry at your church?
I actually dream of Missy doing training conferences for people to come and learn how to serve families with special needs treasures! She is more than willing to talk with anyone wanting to start such a ministry!!
Lastly, maybe your church doesn’t have any families with special needs children/adults in it. Then I would urge you to prepare to start a ministry…and as you prepare for the ministry, fast and pray that God would bring special needs families from around your community to be part of your church! I guarantee there are families in your own community (maybe even right across the street!) who desperately need to know Jesus but won’t ever go to church because they have a child with special needs!! Can you imagine the joy of ministering to their children while introducing the whole family to the love of Jesus?? Win/Win/Win!! *big tears!*
Recently Missy asked our family to come to the church and be interviewed for a news special. It aired last night and today. Be warned, I get very emotional speaking…I have been so overwhelmed with how gracious God is to have brought us to In His Image and how it has changed our family’s life!
Click here to see the story/interview: In His Image – Channel 5 Phoenix