Sunday, May 31, 2020

The UGLY side of autism

I don’t always talk about all the deep dark negatives that come with living the special needs life. I like to stay positive and think on the things of God...of HIS truth. Ultimately, that’s ALL that matters. But I do live in the world. And it can sure be hurtful. And sometimes it’s beneficial to share those things, right? 

I can’t speak to how it feels to be the target of racism. I never will. My skin color shields me from experiencing racism.  However, I can speak on what I know about discrimination. I know that disability has changed the way I view the world. I thank God for autism and I thank God for how disability has changed my family. I thank God that Jacob’s struggles allowed my eyes to be opened to prejudice. Don’t get me wrong, it hurts me that people don’t look at Jacob as their equal. But I am thankful to have a greater understanding of prejudices in this world. 

No, our situation is not nearly the same as what the black community is experiencing and I would NEVER imply that. But I’ve seen people avert their eyes when Jacob's acting odd more times than I can count. I’ve also seen people stare at us nearly everywhere we go. Ive heard whispers, not just from kids, but from adults. I’ve seen many, many moms pull their kids away from him. Add in the service dog and we are stared at like a freak show. 

It’s hard, y’all. Sometimes people look on us in fear, but usually just because we are odd. I’ve heard the rudest and most hurtful comments. I’ve felt judgements. I can’t imagine what it’ll be like when he is making noises as a large male teen or adult. I’ve read articles of instances of police mistaking individuals with autism for people who are aggressive or non-compliant because they don't understand commands and harming them. I’ve heard of moms terrified about police encounters with their adult male children with autism. 

This is not even remotely compared to the amount of horrific racist encounters, but enough to absolutely terrify me. What if Jacob won’t comply? What’s if Jacob won’t answer questions? I can’t even prep him for that. And all of this pales in comparison to what the black community experiences and the racism they’ve endured for years. But do you know what it has shown me? It's shown me that Jacob is NOT considered equal in the eyes of most. People abort babies just because of disability because they feel they aren’t even worthy of life! It’s horribly sad. This doesn’t even touch on what the black community is experiencing. 

But,  I'm thankful for God opening my eyes to this world. I am thankful for God showing me the incredible value of Jacob's life and every single life of individuals with disabilities. How differences are something to celebrate, not to discriminate against.  I am thankful that is true for every race as well. 

All I have is one tiny voice and our tiny experiences, but I will speak up for those that are marginalized. And a lot of tiny voices add up to one BIG voice. I see how incredibly disgusting and wrong it is. Im thankful to God for opening my eyes to my biases and convicting me to my core. God reveal our racism and help us to love as you do! We are ALL created in Gods image.  

If you haven’t searched your heart yet, if you’re confused about all that is going on or if your heart is hardened to this because of riots or protests, I urge you to pray.  No, violence is NEVER the answer. The riots will end, by the grace of God, but the racism will continue.  

I beg and plead with you to ask God to reveal these biases to you so that you can repent and learn to love like Him! I ask you to share your disgust about racism publicly and stand up for truth in any way you can to be productive and helpful. Please speak with your children about racism, about differences, and about standing up for what's right. It's not an easy subject, but when you say nothing, it says a lot. Do not insight more anger and violence, but encourage people to love, respect, and unify together. 

What I know from my very small life is that God can create something new from something very broken. The old me is gone and I cannot give enough thanks to God for that.  God can give you a new heart, too.  A heart that sees things differently.  A heart that loves all of God's creation the way HE does.

'I once was lost, but now I am found.' To God be the glory. 

"My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory." James 2:1

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Why I Share the Full Easter Story with My Son Who Has a Cognitive Disability

Celebrating Easter should always include sharing the good news of the Gospel with those we love.  The story of God’s perfection, our sinfulness and separation from God, and the saving work of Jesus is the ultimate Easter message. As Christians, our love and value of people go hand in hand with sharing the good news.  But, does the good news of the Gospel apply to those with intellectual disabilities?  Should we share about Jesus’ death and resurrection with them when we don’t know if they can respond?

Since Jacob has autism and speech and language communication disorder, it is often tempting to do everything for him and to simplify life.  For instance, Cret and I can tell that he wants milk when he is looking in the refrigerator, so we get it for him.  We can tell when he is frustrated at the sound of thunder and we quickly grab his headphones for him.  Though his therapists continuously remind us of the hindrance we can cause when we assume instead of having him ask us for things verbally, we still occasionally take over.  Since each word and thought he has is slowly articulated, we often answer for him when we are in a rush or not thinking.

People that teach individuals with special needs can sometimes make this mistake, as well.  The Gospel may not be preached because of the assumption that the learner doesn’t understand right from wrong or the concept of God and His good story.  While merely singing songs and loving on students or our children is good intended and may well be appropriate for some, often the most growth comes from not placing limits on them and raising expectations for them in a reasonable way. I love to watch Jacob and observe for potential opportunities to teach him about God in a deeper and meaningful way.  Most importantly, we should never assume that God cannot work amazing things in and through people with cognitive differences.  Colossians 1:16 says, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” 

Just like when I share the Gospel with neurotypical individuals, I describe God, man, sin, Jesus, and ask if they want to make a decision to place their trust in God.  However, sharing the Gospel to someone with a cognitive disability can be more challenging if there are language barriers.  My son, for instance, thinks in a very concrete and literal way.  Therefore, I try to share the Gospel in a way that he can understand.  Just as we have Gospel tracts for children, I believe it is valuable to try and discover ways to share the Gospel to thinkers like my son. 

I like to keep a few helpful things in mind. First, I try not to overcomplicate things.  Just like when I modify curriculum for individuals with communication disorders, I make sure I use language that is easy to understand and direct. Next, I don’t discriminate based on cognitive ability.  Many people are under the assumption that individuals that are nonverbal or that have cognitive impairments can’t understand the Gospel, but that is absolutely not that case for everyone.  It is incredibly dangerous to assume someone is incapable of making the decision to live for Christ and the consequences of assuming are far too great.  I have seen many accounts where parents or caretakers are amazed to realize their children understand so much more than they ever thought possible.  Mark 16:15 says, “And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” I trust the Lord’s goodness and grace with those that can’t comprehend, and I believe sharing the Gospel with all of God’s people acknowledges their value and dignity.  Last, I ask them if they want to make that decision to trust in Jesus and make Jesus the boss of their lives.  I continue to share the Gospel again and again and I pray for them before and after I share that God will open their eyes to His truth.
Sharing the Gospel doesn’t have to be a 30-minute conversation and it doesn’t have to be in a perfect ‘tract’ format.  I like to have a conversation.  Here is one example of how I would share the Gospel with a child like my son:

God is our creator.  Here look at your windchime.  Someone created this windchime.  That means they made it.  Just like you make silly videos on your iPad.  Well, God made us! But God is different than the person that made this windchime.  Do you know how?  God has never done anything bad ever.
Can you think of something that you have done that is bad?  What about when you hit your brother or when you threw a fit?  Those were bad things. The Bible says that everyone does bad things or things that God doesn’t want us to do.  You do, the person that made your beautiful wind chime does, and even Mommy does bad things!  Everyone does! But not God.
God has a rule about those bad things.  Those bad things mean that we can’t be with God now and we go to a very bad place forever after we die.  It means we are in trouble.  Mommy’s punishment for bad things is time out.  God’s punishment means not being with God forever.
But guess what? God did a very good thing for you.  He sent his son, Jesus, to take the punishment for the bad things we do so that we don’t have to get that punishment!
Jesus died on a cross and then rose up from the dead and that was the full punishment.  If you believe that and make Jesus the boss of your life and you can be with Jesus forever.  You don’t have to go to the bad place when you die, you get to be with God.  Making Jesus the boss of your life means listening to God.  Mommy can help you to learn about God by reading the Bible to you.

I want to encourage you not to underestimate your child’s/student’s ability to learn, understand, or accept God’s truth.  I believe God is capable of opening anyone’s eyes.  As we embark upon an Easter Sunday like no other due to the Coronavirus quarantine, wont’ you be faithful to share the Gospel with all people. I pray this Easter many individuals with cognitive impairment will come to a saving faith in Christ.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Night to Shine

On February 7th Woodridge hosted Night to Shine (NTS), Sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation.  NTS is a prom for individuals with special needs centered around God’s love for all people.  What makes NTS unique is that it is run by volunteers from all over, not just church members.  We had teens and adults from Humble, Kingwood, Atascocita, and even as far as Conroe come out to help.  There were volunteers from local auto companies, charity organizations, and even therapists/nurses came out to dance and karaoke the night away!

God tells us to love like Him and to share the good news with all and of course that includes individuals with special needs, but the world often forgets or neglects this population.  I see it as a special needs mom often.  Our kids, teens, and adults with special needs aren’t typically valued and honored in the way others are, and that simply isn’t God’s truth or desire.

 As the Special Needs Ministry Director, I was in charge of training the buddies for NTS.  Each buddy was assigned to hang out with an honored guest for the evening.  I noticed how some of the buddies were a bit uneasy at first.   I certainly didn’t blame them…differences can be scary, can’t they?  They wanted to do a good job, but were curious if they were trained enough, had enough gifts or talents, or if they were going to say the right things. Some had never interacted with individuals with special needs and were apprehensive. 

The night started out with people without disabilities talking to individuals with special needs, but it ended with barriers and walls being torn down and people simply talking to people. Everyone was dancing, singing, eating and laughing. That is God’s love-breaking the barriers of differences, abilities, backgrounds, and anything else that may be getting in the way to simply show people that they are loved and valuable to God.  Each is so valuable that while God is perfectly without sin and our sin separates us from Him, He sent his only son, Jesus, to live a perfect life so that He could take the punishment of our sin for us. When Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead on the third day, He paid our punishment in full! He died for every single person, and that includes individuals with special needs.  Because He loves us, we love.  Because He gave His best for every single person, we gave our honored guests the royal treatment.  It doesn’t take anything special in and of ourselves to love and value individuals with special needs, it doesn’t even take a prom.  It simply takes a willing heart and God’s love.  

I know that our world isn’t where it should be when it comes to disability acceptance, but I saw bridges being built and barriers being broken down little by little that evening and it was truly beautiful.  Seeing God’s love being poured out simply took my breath away.  Thank you to all that came and displayed for me and for our honored guests this kind of love.