Love & Advocacy: Everyone’s Holiday Opportunity

Halloween is done. And that means some people are already dreaming about Thanksgiving pie, fireside card games with family, lunch and shopping with friends, high-fiving across the couch during a football game, delightful music and white Christmases. It also means that some people are already on the slide toward holiday season melancholy. 

And that gets me excited. “Weird and twisted,” you say? Well, it would be except for the fact that there is a very real opportunity to share the life-changing love of Jesus where there the “soil is soft” and hearts are ripe and receptive to receiving love. But seriously, so many of us walk around wondering about our purpose and wanting to be “significant for the Kingdom” when there are opportunities everywhere we look to love someone who is struggling and loneliness may be among the easiest problems to solve. That’s what Jesus would be doing. Plain and simple. Makes me wonder why we complicate it so much.

The subject of isolation and loneliness was up for discussion at a recent meeting of the Twin Cities Disability Ministry Connection. Although we weren’t discussing it in the context of holidays, I thought it would be worthwhile to highlight some of that reflection here because it could help ALL of us capture this opportunity during a season when loneliness is epidemic. Isolation is especially pronounced during the holidays but an opportunity that is always there. 

For many people in the midst of challenges, the sense of loneliness and isolation can feel more overwhelming than the crisis itself. Some even feel like they are being persecuted by God and/or others. For example, things like sleep deprivation, attrition of friendships, stigmas about mental health, lack of accessibility and rejection from Christians/churches can cause suffering that feels like oppression. 

Jesus would not turn too quickly to the feasts and festivities. Jesus would devote time, compassion, affection, prayer, eye contact, conversation. He would sit down and play trucks with a non-verbal boy, hang out with the bullied teen who isn’t invited to the New Year’s Eve parties and patiently re-teach King’s Corner to the older woman whose memory is fading. Jesus’ primary activity was pouring the practical power of His love into people (and so often in the form of healing mercies).

The conversation among church leaders during the Disability Ministry Connection meeting began looking at verses that speak directly to people who experience real or perceived isolation. For example, here are two verses that have brought comfort and encouragement to me personally during seasons when I have felt alone, apart or invisible and frustrated because caregiving makes me feel imprisoned sometimes.

PSALM 68:5-6A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing; but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.

1 PETER 5:8-10Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lionlooking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings. And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. [emphasis mine]  

Jesus was regularly found reaching out to people who felt lonely, isolated or discouraged. 

Are we regularly doing this? 

Since disability ministry leaders, not much unlike any of us really, have a unique opportunity to be a voice for caregivers and people who are struggling with physical or intellectual challenges. They can educate others and advocate for those whose needs can get lost in the shuffle of things like busy lives and holiday festivities.

Ministry leaders asked this question: 
Where are we supposed to be on the spectrum of being program developer-implementers vs. educator/advocate/facilitator/culture influencers?  Both are needed and can influence our churches and culture to step out and step up when it comes to engaging with those who struggle. Each of us will lean a little more in one direction than the other depending on things like the season of circumstances/needs in our church, the particular resources available to us, our own personality and passions, or our unique gifting. But the need for us to educate our faith communities is strong and should not get forgotten in the midst of running programs.

Anyone who is not leading a ministry could ask a similar question: 
In what ways am I supposed to be reaching out in practical ways to someone who is struggling versus filling an advocate role in speaking up on behalf of those who need my voice and praying with intention? The reality is that we are all to do all of these things. 

“I’m not one of those advocate kind of people,” you say?

Consider this. Jesus told everyone to “go and make disciples.” No one was excused from sharing the Good News. Sure, some were better at it than others. Some were more passionate about it or comfortable with it than others. But Jesus didn’t put any qualifiers on it. He just said, “go.” It’s the same thing as it relates to engaging with people who are struggling. We’re all supposed to go and get engaged, even if it might get messy or we don’t feel particularly good at it.

I’ve been one of those “high maintenance messes” who has needed too much from others at times because I’m a full time caregiver to my daughter who has profound disabilities. I’ve also been in ministry long enough to have encountered more than a few people who stretched me a long way out of my comfort zone with their weighty needs. But when God puts an opportunity in front of us, we know it, don’t we? And He equips us to engage. If we stay attentive to Him, He also shows us when some boundaries may need to be established. (That’s part of what He means when He promises a light burden. He never wants us to overstep Him or His power at work within us. He never told us strive on our own part.) But God also beautifully affirms our inclusive choices. 

Living like Jesus means, in part, that we extend compassion, attention, time and care towards others. It also means speaking up for “the least of these.” Jesus specifically draws our attention to the needy, orphans and widows while also insisting we throw banquets (real or metaphorical) for the poor, crippled and lame (Luke 14, Matthew 6). These folks need extra care during the holidays and the rest of us tend to be paying a little more attention at this time of year. (It makes us feel good, and less guilty about all of our holiday indulgences, when we try to pour into others.) But what about the rest of the year?

I’m praying that we would all grow increasingly aware of the struggling people around us and become more lovingly engaged with each other. Let’s just be more like Jesus and quit getting distracted by busy work, popular/fancy programs and even well-intentioned church outreaches that take our eyes off of the needs right in front of us.

What can you do right now?

  • Pray. Ask the Lord to increase your awareness of people in your church, neighborhood, workplace, school or circle of influence who may be feeling socially and/or logistically limited by their circumstances (e.g., injury, illness, disability, aging, broken marriage). Consider a way you could connect with this person(s) during the holidays and even a few times a year thereafter. Practical helps like bringing a meal, doing some chores and giving a gift card are wonderful but a simple phone call, email, card game, cup of tea and hug can make a world of difference. Explore scripture and learn together with anyone who may be asking tough questions about the sovereignty of God in their situation. Ask for God’s help to move toward others as Jesus would.
  • Explore scripture and learn together with anyone who may be asking tough questions about the sovereignty of God in their situation. Ask for God’s help to move toward others as Jesus would and make discoveries with them. (There are some fantastic books available to help also. Contact Walk Right In Ministries or check out our Lending Library if you want ideas.)
  • Share this post with your friends on Facebook or via email to help stir appreciation for the needs and opportunities around us.
  • Share this post with leaders and pastors in your church. Let them know there are tremendously helpful ways of connecting right here in Minnesota to help us better understand and grow into the kinds of communities that delight God.  
  • Visit one of the monthly meetings of the Twin Cities Disability Ministry Connection if you are a leader or volunteer in a church. No matter where your church is on the spectrum of serving one family at a time or having an official disability program, these gatherings offer great inspiration and insight. Download the 2016-17 schedule here.
  • Join the Facebook discussion forum for leaders and volunteers wanting to learn about ministering as a church to people with special needs. The page is specifically designed to connect, encourage and grow churches ministering to special needs throughout the state of Minnesota. All group members are welcome to post about ideas, questions and resources to expand opportunities for collective support. The Facebook page is also a great opportunity for those in rural/outstate areas to connect when they can’t easily attend the monthly gatherings in the metro area. You can find us at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/DisabilityMinistryCONNECTION



On Loving Each Other

Loving and praying for each other is not optional and scripture doesn’t leave room for anything but whole-hearted engagement with people who are suffering. True, it’s overwhelming, scary and messy for us as individuals and as the church trying to meet a wide array of complex needs (e.g., disability, mental illness, aging, chronic illness). But people with atypical lives are not a liability to the community or the church. They enrich our lives, communities and churches! 

No situation is too big or too complicated for God.

LORD, forgive us for showing partiality with our love and compassion. You call us to love our neighbors and pray for our enemies. Move people into our circles of influence that give us opportunity to stretch our love muscles and prove ourselves faithful to YOUR ways! This is one of our spiritual acts of worship.  AMEN


One Father’s Desperation Holds Urgent Lesson for Us All

These comments from July 25, 2015 warrant reposting today.

The Angelman Syndrome community worldwide has been reeling this week — experiencing a horrifying, heartbreaking loss. Never before has my passion been greater that caregivers need support, encouragement, a place for resonance, an adequate rhythm of respite and the kind of hope and strength that only Jesus Christ can give. 

Take a moment to read/watch the full news story (July 23, 2015). Click here: Facing changes to the respite care situation for his 16 year old son, a father took his son to an area park and killed him” and then killed himself.

I’ll never be able to thank enough the many people that have poured into our family so that we can thrive amidst the 24/7 weight of “extreme caregiving.” Some seasons have been better than others but there’s no denying that the way people have come alongside to support us is remarkable. (It should not be remarkable. It should be commonplace for all of us to have enough compassion and margin in our lives to reach out to others who are so stretched.) 

While I can’t fathom taking the kind of action this dad took, Larry and I (as well as our oldest children Alex and Erin) all know too well the kind of desperation that can be felt behind closed doors when things like difficult behaviors, seizures, diaper catastrophes, cyclic reflux vomiting or sleep deprivation have taken us to our wits end. My heart aches and a sense of nausea wells in me when I consider so many friends who struggle daily with deep depression and/or sense of overwhelming loneliness/isolation caring for a loved one. 

Our culture doesn’t value caregivers enough, doesn’t pay respite staff enough (it’s extraordinarily difficult even to find people willing to work this type of job at ANY rate of pay), doesn’t encourage enough. Yet there are shining examples of progress. For example, the heart behind Caroline’s Cart and practical value it is bringing to families is like a hug from God. 

We must pray for the reality of this need for community and outreach to sink in and fast. May all of us to value more highly our opportunities to encourage one another, lead lifestyles that prioritize time to support a weary friend and have courage to ask for help when we’re struggling. May we create churches that go beyond just being welcoming places to becoming places that truly ENGAGE with these families, do more than just “be nice” and actually figure out how to carry another’s burden. 

Lord, help us all. 


When Graduation SHRINKS Rather than EXPANDS a Young Person’s World

Spring is here in all it’s glory and the greens seem more vibrant to me than ever before. I hope you’re seeing opportunities to soak up the refreshment of this new season!

Our daughter Carly turned 18 years old this past weekend. And she’ll graduate from high school in just three weeks. For Carly this is a dramatically new ‘season’ and you might be surprised that there are some very unsettling things about this for her dad and me—things that are causing us some grief. I hope you won’t mind that I share some personal reflections about it here because I believe God has something to say about this to each and every one who is reading today. 

As other students head off to college, explore new jobs or take a ‘gap’ year to discover their true passions, Carly will begin a transition program a few miles from home in a building filled with several other young adults who, like her, experience significant developmental disabilities. While there will be plenty of important and enjoyable activities, a skilled and caring staff, and new friends among her classmates, there will be no typical students in that building. None. Unlike high school where Carly participated in the mainstream choir class and walked halls with typical teens, she will now be more isolated from ‘normal’ society than she has ever been before. Occasional school outings to places like the grocery store (to learn money skills), some family activities and church attendance will be the extent of her exposure the ‘outside’ world.


Typical high school graduates are seeing the world open up before them; opportunities and relationships are blossoming. But for Carly, becoming an adult and finishing high school means that life will be changing in very different ways. In contrast to Carly’s peer experiences, her world is in high risk of shrinking. Unless somebody thinks creatively and takes initiative on her behalf, Carly’s opportunities and relationships will immediately start narrowing after her last day of high school.

Carly is highly social. Yet she is fully dependent on others to bring her places and help translate her efforts to communicate and engage with others. Her social connections will continue to narrow unless her caregivers, church and community are intentional about optimizing connectedness for her. Carly also has gifts to share with her church and community. Yet she is fully dependent on others to make room for her and assist her in plugging in. Unfortunately, I see a world that is too naïve to notice and too busy to join us in exploring and embracing the possibilities. So I’m praying for a culture change. I’m also praying that God would give me fresh energy and vision to see the opportunities for Carly (and others like her) and show me how to facilitate connections and belonging for her in a world that doesn’t really understand what God has said:

“Those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and the parts we think are less honorable we treat with special honor.” 1 Corinthians 12:22-23  

“God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another.” 1 Peter 4:10  

“Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these'” Matthew 19:14

How about you?

Have you noticed any adults in your congregation who have disabilities? If you have, you might praise God for the caregiver or group home staff who have been willing and energized enough to initiate that outing! You can greet these friends — BOTH the caregiver and the resident. You can thank group home staff for their supportiveness. You can greet these friends and ask questions about their day as you would with any other friend. The few moments you spend chatting with them may be among the very few ‘outside world’ interactions they have all week.

How can you help adults with special needs in your congregation find ways to serve and increase their sense of belonging in the community? The church is not complete without these friends. More than just being friendly with each other, we must think of each other as ministry partners and invest in helping each other share in the life of the church and in life with Christ.

Does it cross your mind that there are numerous adults in your community who are invisible to you? Perhaps they are there and you just aren’t paying attention. Perhaps they are not there because nobody has made a place for them. There are a range of obstacles that keep people with special needs from attending church. Although building accessibility and transportation can be challenges, the more frequent issue is emotional. None of us wants to keep going where we aren’t noticed, cared about or feel like we belong.


Inclusion at Church Makes News in Minnesota

A news story aired last week under the headline: “St. Paul church designed to welcome those with disabilities.”  This was a very important story that Walk Right In Ministries had the privilege to participate in along with the Twin Cities Disability Ministry Connection. FOX9 News dedicated just shy of 6 minutes for this feature story reported by Amy Hockert. Folks, SIX MINUTES of air time is a huge investment and this was not a simple story to tell. 
If you haven’t seen it yet, please watch now then share this link on Facebook and Twitter: http://www.fox9.com/news/99791845-story 

This story has stirred conversation and passion. Over the last week since it aired, I’ve watched Facebook and my email light up about the tremendous needs, opportunities, failures and successes of the Church as it relates to special needs ministry. It is tremendously gratifying to see progress! Nonetheless, typical churches struggle to serve those leading atypical lives. Typical churches are scared, intimidated or apathetic and making very little effort at all. Though some churches try to be kind to people with special needs, the typical church today is still not engagingly inclusive. As our friend John Knight of Desiring God exhorted the church in his blog last week, “Let’s not be typical!”  
What can YOU do?
Watch this news story.
SEE with new eyes and ENGAGE with the people around you who live with challenges.
PRAY that the heart and response of God’s Church will radically change — embracing and including all those who have disabilities.
TALK to your pastors; help others see how very highly God values the “weaker” parts of his Body and expects us to engage their gifts in the life of the church just as we do with any other member.
POST this video link on Facebook with your personal note of encouragement to watch it: http://www.fox9.com/news/99791845-story 
WRITE to Amy Hockert at programming9@foxtv.com and thank her for telling stories that help people with disabilities!

Let our enduring message be hope. Let our eyes remain fixed on Christ. Let us not grow weary doing good.
Thank you for letting your own life speak and display the Gospel today.

Will you be “growing up” in 2015?

When 2015 ends, I want to look back and see a woman that was stretched and nurtured into someone even more beautiful than I was when the year started.  I already have a few Bible verses, themes and ideas running around in my mind about how God may be trying to shape and refine me for a new year. I hope you do also.  

Today I’m sharing one of those themes rattling around in my busy brain. Writing it down gives me a greater sense of accountability but I also hope it spurs you on to see how someone else is wrestling with and enjoying the process of discovering God and relationship with Him in deepening ways. I know this kind of conversation is one way God uses community to encourage and inspire us all.

The word CONSECRATED has been sticking out to me (along with ANOINTED) in scriptures since late fall. I’ve been planning to sit down early in the new year and prayerfully consider how the Lord would want me to consecrate my life in fresh ways. I’ve been thinking about my roles as wife, mom, daughter, sister, friend and servant of God but also looking at my lifestyle and disciplines to see how God might be prompting me to new and better ways.

I believe it’s a good thing to be both content and aspiring as a Christian. I am content and confident that I am a child of God who is adored by Him just as I already am. I am also aspiring to be changed — to be more like Jesus. The older I get, the more aware I am of by brokenness, my sinful nature and my utter dependence on God. I find greater delight being in His presence than ever before.  


Here are three passages that are inspiring me: 

Leviticus 8:10  “Then Moses took the anointing oil and anointed the tabernacle and everything in it, and so consecrated them.” 

Joshua 3:5 “Joshua told the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.’” 

1 Timothy 4:4-6 “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer. If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed.” 

SO HOW ABOUT YOU? Any themes, words or verses popping out for you lately or inspiring you into 2015? 

Let’s encourage one another in how we’re feeling prompted by the Lord to keep GROWING UP IN HIM.