BOOSTING FAMILY MORALE SERIES (Part 3): Seven Ways to Energize & Refresh Your Special Needs Family

This is the final installment in a three-part BOOSTING FAMILY MORALE SERIES for special needs families. I hope you’ll have a chance to go back and readPart 1 and Part 2.

I also discussed this subject of Managing Morale in special needs families during a 60-minute interview with Stephen “Doc” Hunsley MD, founder of SOAR Special Needs. You can watch that episode of “Talk with Doc” here.

You can read all kinds of books and blog articles about boosting morale. You could invest a lot of time in trial-and-error mode, testing ideas but feeling a mounting pressure or disappointment when some things don’t work as well as you hoped.

I want to help you skip past as much of that exertion and discouragement as possible. As I’ve said several times in this series, responding to the real root of what is undermining morale will give your family the most positive traction much more quickly and effectively.

So, as you prayerfully ponder these seven ways to energize and refresh your special needs family, I want to ask you to keep the unique and individualized needs of your family at the front of your mind. Home in on an area below that most closely addresses the roots of anxiety or discouragement. Here are some examples:

If someone is struggling with all the things out of their control, it should help to review the scriptures and tips under “Anchor Your Worth and Competence in Christ.”

If someone is struggling mentally, their mood is quite likely to begin shifting when they “Saturate Your Mind with Truth.”

If someone is feeling isolation fatigue, they will benefit from a strategic look at “Connect in Community.”

For those who tend to be more emotionally oriented, look closely at “Change Your Scenery.”

If things just don’t feel fair, read the noted scriptures carefully under “Remember that God is Just.”

If you’re feeling stuck or trapped, there is potential for great refreshment within the whole family when you “Take a Step of Faith” together!

If you’re simply exhausted, you’ll find a creative and collaborative effort to “Rest” pays off generously.

Now let’s really dig in to where the rubber hits the road!

Saturate Your Mind with Truth

PROVERBS 23:7 | 2 CORINTHIANS 10:5 | PHILLIPIANS 4:8

This is critical area of opportunity for people who spend a lot of time thinking or who tend to be deep thinkers. Renewing your mind with truth is a powerful mood shifter when you are vulnerable to things like fear, doubt, confusion, shame, guilt, discouragement and burnout. The scriptures (especially those listed above) will help keep your mind focused on God’s Kingdom meaning and purpose in things like suffering and waiting. When thoughts are spiraling, God’s Word is a calming anchor.

Connect in Community

HEBREWS 10:25 | 2 CORINTHIANS 1:3-5 | ROMANS 3:10,23 | JAMES 5:16

This one is BIG! No matter who we are, we all need relationships. But we don’t all need them to the same degree. Be careful about lumping people into categories like “introverts” and “extroverts.” Those labels can mislead. It is usually more helpful to think specifically about the kinds of connections different people need. Do you enjoy casual connections, want mostly deeper relationships — or both? (I’ll elaborate on these below.) It’s also important to factor in what is needed compared to what is actually expressed. For example, some people actually have a great need for relationships but don’t really show it. They may rarely initiate connections. And since they don’t express their need, people get confused or pull away.

There are very generally two kinds of connections and we don’t all need both.

  • Casual Connections — If someone in your household is missing being out and about during quarantine or needs to feel connected in the broader community, they could be the best person to do the grocery shopping. Encourage them to turn on LIVE radio and TV shows. Invite them to sit with a group around a socially distanced bonfire or play virtual games. It has helped our daughter Carly to be part of Zoom dance parties. And she’s been learning to throw dice while playing Zoom Farkle with her friend and cousins.
  • Deep Relationships — Some people need relationships where they can connect on a more intimate or emotional level. These are the kinds of relationships where there is an exchange of love, affection and appreciation. Whether it involves several or just a few people, these are the people in your household who look to close friends, family members, their church fellowship and a counsellor for a warm sense of belonging. When something like caregiving or the quarantine limits these deeper connections, it’s absolutely essential to find ways of adapting and accommodating the need. People with higher needs in this area may find it helpful to snuggle with a pet, cuddle with loved one, get creative about how to have a date, go for a walk holding hands with your partner, watch shows about relationships or read character-driven stories. They will want to play the kinds of games that rely on conversation. It should not be surprising that this person will run from a game of Chess but (all irony intended) thoroughly enjoy the game Pandemic! This type of person may even enjoy hanging out with a friend on Zoom while they both do a puzzle or craft and sip a cold beverage. You may want to give these family members permission to sit out on the driveway for social distancing conversations or spend more time on the phone.  

Change Your Scenery

HEBREWS 11:8 | ACTS 22:7 | PSALM 40:2

This is a helpful tip for shifting anyone’s mood but especially people who tend to be more creative or connected to their emotions. Those who “feel everything” or who feel things more intensely will benefit greatly from moving their body or moving the furniture! Back in April, we rearranged our family room and we love it. A couple weeks later, we we changed around our deck furniture and added new plants. All of that was so simple and has been like a breath of fresh air that keeps paying daily dividends.

When you need to boost mom’s morale, let her go take a shower. Some dads love and teenagers love to mow the lawn to get some alone time or listen to their music. It could be the change of atmosphere that is lifting their spirits. Try using paper plates, eating outside or sitting at a different table. You can invite your most creative child to build a fancy table setting. The point is to switch up the routine. Light a candle, read a different kind of book (choose a different genre), change your clothes, cut your hair, buy new sheets for your bed or bring some flowers in from outside.

Anchor Your Worth & Competence In Christ

ISAIAH 54:10 | PHILLIPIANS 4:13 | 2 CORINTHIANS 3:5

It is not at all unusual for caregivers and parents to struggle with feeling like they are doing enough for their loved one with special needs. They lament not having bandwidth to balance the needs of multiple children. Children perceive pressure to measure up too. We’re all tempted to measure our own worth in this world by what we contribute or some privately created standard of “quality.” Ultimately, our confidence can only grow from having our identity firmly rooted in Christ not in what role we play in our family, church, workplace or community. Our value to God isn’t based in our efforts. We’re saved by our faith alone. If you struggle with feeling like you don’t measure up or worry about what others think of you, remember that perceptions can be far from reality.

Remember God is Just

ACTS 17:31 | 1 JOHN 1:9 | PSALM 58:10-11

God’s word speaks loudly about His promise of justice. Ask God to reassure you by showing you meaning and purpose in your challenges as well as your future hope. If someone is really struggling in this area, a good devotional on biblical justice or the sovereignty of God is likely to be very encouraging.

Take A Step in Faith

PROVERBS 3:5-6 | 1 CORINTHIANS 2:5 | 2 CORINTHIANS 5:7 | EPHESIANS 2:10

Do you want to see your encouragement to grow, enthusiasm about life to be restored in your family or faith to blossom in someone you love? Start with one simple response to a sense of godly prompting.

Pray together asking God to show you one way He wants you to take action, then walk it out as a family. Few things create as much excitement as seeing God reveal his presence, power and goodness in response to our faith and obedience. Our circumstances are complicated and when we look too far ahead, we get overwhelmed.

Our special needs families will find encouragement in taking one step at a time while holding plans loosely and anticipating the surprises of God’s love.

Rest

EXODUS 14:14 | EPHESIANS 3:20-21

Oh, how often morale in our family wanes because we are plain bone tired and simply don’t listen to our body. I think special needs families can run on fumes so often they start to forget how exhausted they are. Overwhelm starts to feel normal.

We underestimate the transformative effects of a power nap or a shower. Or we resist resting because we’re afraid that once we stop, we’ll never be able to go again. We see complex needs and circumstances in front of us and assume full responsibility for fixing problems, finding cures, optimizing developmental potential and finding comfort for pain while also doing all the same things the neighbors do like maintaining the house and cars.

May I suggest, quit trying harder and just draw nearer to God. Give yourself a “time out” with Jesus. It sounds simplistic and super spiritual. But what if God really does love your family even more than you do? What if he really is sovereign and trustworthy? What if “taking a Sabbath rest” was really an option? Maybe it won’t be a whole day or look like the kind of rest your neighbor gets, but your family needs to cooperate with each other to get some breaks.

Take some deep breaths. It could literally help to go blow bubbles with the kids. Assign some things to a routine (e.g., Taco Tuesday, Friday Pizza night, Saturday take-out). Set a schedule so rest can be anticipated. Burdens are eased by knowing when a break is coming, even if it’s a short one or a couple of weeks away. Collaborate about decisions as much as possible.

You’ll probably have to ask for help more often. Open up your “closed system.” It is quite possible that step of faith God is whispering to you is, “ask for help, My child.” You don’t need to feel guilty about teaching siblings ways of helping either. Teamwork is not just about disability but about being part of a family. Don’t abuse anyone but learn to cooperate and complement each other. Don’t rob God of opportunity to create blessing through your community.

Do you hear in all of this an invitation to experience freedom?
I sure hope so!

The process of learning about each other and how to love each other better is the grand adventure of life, after all. Be patient with yourselves and enjoy the freedom you have to make new discoveries. No one needs to make comparisons or shame themselves for not being “that parent” who does all the fanciest, funnest things either. When it comes to building morale, a little goes a long way — and it goes a long way fast — when we hit the root needs in a targeted way.

These are powerful tools you can give your children, friends. As parents cooperate in marriage and learn to lead their dynamic family in ways that celebrate individuality, they model healthy and godly relationships. This is the essence of self-care that simultaneously complements how we care for others. Our children will thrive in future life and relationships when they learn this kind of self-care and servant-hearted relationship with others.


LISA JAMIESON is a licensed pastoral counsellor, certified Christian temperament therapist and caregiver coach. She is co-founder of Walk Right In Ministries where she serves as a special needs family advocate. Lisa and her husband, Larry, live in Minnesota with the youngest of their three grown daughters, Carly, who has Angelman Syndrome. Her books and Bible studies include “Finding Glory in the Thorns” and the picture book “Jesus, Let’s Talk.”

BOOSTING FAMILY MORALE SERIES (Part 2): Developing A Complementary System

In Part 1 of this series, we looked at five ways to “keep the Light on” in special needs families. We explored things that drain energy and tend to trigger discouragement or conflict in a special needs household. In that article, we looked at spiritual fundamentals for a robust and positive family system. I hope you’ll have a chance to go back and read BOOSTING FAMILY MORALE (Part 1 of 2): Five Ways to Keep the Light On for background that leads into this second part in the series.

I also discussed this subject of Managing Morale in special needs families during a 60-minute interview with Stephen “Doc” Hunsley MD, founder of SOAR Special Needs. You can watch that episode of “Talk with Doc” here.

Now let’s dig in to Part 2 of the series.


Do you know how incredibly unique and valuable you are? God’s imprint on each of us is vastly different. And you are quite a masterpiece, according to your Creator! Here’s how David tells it:

Psalm 139:16-18
You made the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
Your workmanship is marvelous — how well I know it.
You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.

We are not just delicately woven in our physical body. We are also complex in mind and spirit. The COVID-19 quarantine has made many of us more aware of needs like these:

  • Longing for connection with other people
  • Craving time alone to recharge
  • Missing a fuller schedule
  • Wishing we could sleep more or read another book
  • Thinking deeply and spending a lot of time doing it
  • Feeling deeply (but not always expressing it well)
  • Dissatisfied until we get stuff checked off our to-do list
  • Wanting to give or receive expressions of affection, attention, appreciation, affirmation

In fact, I’ve been embarrassed and ashamed by how needy and self-centered I am at times, especially during this COVID season! In some ways though, this quarantine-induced understanding and awareness could prove very helpful. It reveals areas where we tend to be vulnerable. It can give us clues about what we need to do in order to stay healthy and satisfied. For example, isolation intensifies anxiety for someone who needs a lot of connection with people. If that person stays attentive to their need for certain kinds of connection and finds healthy, satisfying ways to do it, they will stay energized and maintain a more positive outlook.

Darkening moods and interpersonal conflict are typically a response to inadequately met needs. Whatever your unique needs and degrees of expressing them are, that is where you’ll find powerful clues about what keeps your batteries charged or what will re-energize you and build positive momentum within your mind, body and spirit. The same is true for each person in your home — uniquely so.

We all have strengths, weaknesses and vulnerabilities to sin. Each of us is a work in progress. We are not perfect humans but we hope to be generally be headed in the direction of personal growth. Thanks be to God, there is no condemnation for those who belong to Jesus. But there certainly is opportunity and responsibility to grow as a disciple and representative of the Kingdom. Learning how to be attentive to our needs and other’s (by staying in tune with the Holy Spirit) and asking God to help us complement each other’s uniqueness (with a servant’s heart) makes us more like Jesus. It also builds morale in our homes.

Psalm 139:23-24
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

There are seven areas of opportunity to boost energy levels, encouragement and refreshment in your special needs family.

I’ll be writing in more detail about each of these areas in Part 3 of this series.

In the meantime, it’s important to know that you’ll get the most efficient and powerful morale boost by focusing your attention in one of these areas for each person. Pray about which area is most likely to address the true root need they have. For example, if you’ve noticed that your husband’s spirits have become low, consider what his root need may be then explore ways to cooperate with each other to meet mutual needs in a balanced way. Sometimes that means sacrificially taking turns. Ideally, this is a very cooperative process.

The other day at my house, we encountered an opportunity just like this. There was growing friction between me and my husband, Larry. The tension was getting expressed by one of us (who I won’t implicate here) as impatience and a critical tone. The other (who I won’t throw under the bus) was retreating from communication and resisting expressions of affection.

We could argue all day long about who started it and who was “right.” But the truth is, each of us had some core needs that weren’t getting adequately met. The quarantine was wreaking havoc that week. We were in a valley needing the ebb to meet the flow in a more positive way. By re-examining the list below, we recognized an opportunity to collaborate that would re-energize and encourage both of us. Larry watched a TV show with Carly that didn’t interest me while I gave myself a pedicure. Ninety minutes later, the momentum had already begun to shift to a more positive tone. In this case, he sacrificed more because he was on duty with Carly and had faced a couple of interruptions. But later that night, I gave him a neck and shoulder massage.

Balance. Compromise. Cooperation. Teamwork.

Morale is highest when we are a complementary system!


LISA JAMIESON is a licensed pastoral counsellor, certified Christian temperament therapist and caregiver coach. She is co-founder of Walk Right In Ministries where she serves as a special needs family advocate. Lisa and her husband, Larry, live in Minnesota with the youngest of their three grown daughters, Carly, who has Angelman Syndrome. Her books and Bible studies include “Finding Glory in the Thorns” and the picture book “Jesus, Let’s Talk.”

BOOSTING FAMILY MORALE SERIES (Part 1): Five Ways to Keep the Light On

Families affected by special needs are well acquainted with the ebb and flow of discouragement, conflict and fatigue. Quarantine and current events are adding further stress to our family dynamics, including mental and emotional health. Just like our immune systems needs a boost of vitamin C when illness threatens, we need both proactive and responsive help for threats to our family’s morale.

In this series, we’re exploring targeted ways to bring a speedy delivery of fun, energy and hope to your doorstep! Our hope is to show the way to experience an extra strength, extended-release dose of spiritual and practical encouragement.

First off, I just want to acknowledge that families impacted by disability and other special needs can find life intense and rather complicated. Thankfully, there is a richness to life and relationships that comes through the way God has uniquely woven us into our families as well. Still, we encounter many days and situations that feel very heavy. We never know when a crisis may arise and plans are regularly thwarted. Each person in the family has times when their mood darkens. And when they do, one person’s mood can ripple through the entire household.

What are the things that seem to trigger heaviness in your heart or home?

Perhaps you’ll relate to some of these examples:
The repetitive and tedious nature of daily cares (e.g., bowel regimen, housekeeping issues created by disability such as laundry)
Seeing our child self harm
Medical crisis
Comparison to others
Feelings of isolation or being invisible
Reminders of lost dreams
Battles for a better IEP or other rights (e.g., health insurance)
Seeing areas where our child is falling behind
Feeling inadequate as a caregiver or parent
Feeling trapped, stuck or hopeless
Disappointment from a sibling who can’t play or demands attention
Resentment of a spouse who gets to go to work and escape
Guilt within a spouse who needs to work and isn’t able to help more at home
Disconnection from spouse, community or others
Pressure to make decisions
Grieving (a diagnosis or lack of diagnosis)

People use various words to describe the dark moods or conflict that creep in on the heels of such triggers.

anger, hurt feelings, defensiveness or hyper-sensitivity, discouragement/hopelessness, anxiety, grief, depression, exhaustion, lack of motivation, loneliness

Families who tend to be resilient within the ups and downs of the household atmosphere are those who are proactive in caring for each other and also responsive to clues that stress is mounting. They learn to be attentive to each other, communicate often and recognize areas of vulnerability to shifting moods. They make an effort to understand each other’s most typical triggers and cooperate with each other in making sure root needs get met — before the valley of the shadow looms large.

It’s a process and no family is going to handle the ebbs and flows perfectly. But we can learn to find a balanced family system that softens the shadows and reduces their frequency.

Proverbs 27:12
A prudent person foresees danger and takes precautions.
The simpleton goes blindly on and suffers the consequences.

5 Ways to Keep the Light On

John 8:12
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world.
Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

What can help keep the Light on within your special needs family?

  1. Pay Attention to Where Your Identity Rests
    If you are someone who loves and follows Jesus, you are a child of God (John 1:12-13). That is who you are first and that is where your identity is anchored. Disability doesn’t define you. The beginning and end of your calling and your empowerment comes from your Creator. You are part of a special needs family but that is secondary to being part of God’s family.

    Children who grow up with solid reassurance about where they stand in that broader spiritual family will have their most powerful tool for thriving through their teens and early adulthood. As each person matures, wrestles and lives through ages and seasons of self-discovery, there is delightful freedom in knowing that their core place of “home” rests safely with God. Within that anchoring identity, each person has God’s permission and encouragement to explore their roles, opportunities and contributions in the big wide world. Resist giving disability, complex medical needs or mental health difficulties all the power over the tone of the household or mindset of the family system. You are more — individually and together — than any diagnosis.
  2. Maintain Safe, Open & Positive Communication
    Make your home and family a safe space for ongoing and proactive conversations about what is creating dissatisfaction, restlessness or grief. Resist the spirit of criticism (1 Corinthians 13:1 and Philippians 4:8). Most special needs families also benefit by seeking counseling.

  3. Give & Receive Forgiveness
    Do some regular self-examination. Not a single one of us is perfect (Romans 3:10 & Romans 3:23). Confess weakness, repent of sins and become more aware of God’s unique imprint on your soul. God will help you see yourself realistically and as His masterpiece (Psalm 139:23-24) and he promises to bring a refreshing into your life when you humble yourself and repent (Acts 3:19-20, James 5:16).

  4. Appreciate that Each and Every Individual is God’s Work of Art
    God masterfully designed every person in your family with unique needs, ways of thinking, ways of feeling, ways of relating to others, passions, talents and spiritual gifts (Ephesians 2:10). Prayerfully study your family members to develop understanding, appreciation, compassion and respect for their precious value. Aim to identify ways you can live together that are complementary and show a balanced, servant-hearted regard for each person in the family.

  5. Rest On the One Constant in Your Chaos—God
    God’s character and promises never to change. He remainsthe same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). His nearness, faithfulness, sufficiency and perspective are completely dependable for us.

In Part 2 we’ll be exploring ways to cooperate with each other to meet mutual needs in a balanced and complementary way. We each have our own strengths, weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Learning how to be attentive to each person’s needs and honor each other’s uniqueness builds morale in our homes. Read BOOSTING FAMILY MORALE SERIES (Part 2): Developing a Complementary System.

Then in Part 3, we will look at seven practical and biblical ways to get energized and refreshed. Read BOOSTING FAMILY MORALE SERIES (Part 3): Seven Ways to Energize & Refresh Your Special Needs Family.

I discussed this subject of Managing Morale in special needs families during a 60-minute interview with Stephen “Doc” Hunsley MD, founder of SOAR Special Needs. You can watch that episode of “Talk with Doc” here.


LISA JAMIESON is a licensed pastoral counsellor, certified Christian temperament therapist and caregiver coach. She is co-founder of Walk Right In Ministries where she serves as a special needs family advocate. Lisa and her husband, Larry, live in Minnesota with the youngest of their three grown daughters, Carly, who has Angelman Syndrome. Her books and Bible studies include “Finding Glory in the Thorns” and the picture book “Jesus, Let’s Talk.”

Sometimes I Beg, “Make It Stop!”

How bad is the morale at your house these days? If people are going a little nutty behind your front door, then they are much like the folks here at my house. We’re restless from quarantine. We’re overwhelmed by news and social media. Like most of you, we’re trying to learn new things and make the best of circumstances. But it sure can be exhausting.

My own heart cries out for relief. But this season has been especially hard on our daughter Carly. She is 22 years old with Angelman Syndrome. The last few months have brought her great confusion, boredom, loneliness and frustration. Bless her heart, she is learning to adapt. But she continues to have episodes of negative behavior and her sleep has been more irregular than usual. That means mom, dad and respite staff are tired too and frequently finding ourselves at the end of a rope.

Trying to manage Carly’s anxiety and keep her caregivers content can feel like another full-time job for me. I’ll admit to great impatience in this area because I’m a mom who needs a lot of independence and solitude. I believe I may even be inclined to take on more projects than I should sometimes because they feel like justifiable excuses to escape the weight of certain responsibilities. I confess to sometimes avoiding my role as caregiver and consistently pulling my weight in managing morale at my house. Because I have a servant-hearted husband, I can inadvertently take advantage.

Of course, each of us has our own strengths and weaknesses. So it’s always a good idea to shape roles and tag-team responsibilities according to what best fits each person’s strengths. Still, we have to pay close attention to honoring each other’s needs and energy levels with partnership and grace. Larry and I work at being a complement to each other. But when tensions start to rise, we have to go back to the basics — understanding and cooperating with the unique needs that each person has in this caregiving family.

The road to relief and carrying lighter burdens starts with having a clear and accurate diagnosis of our own unique needs. Each of us needs to recognize, “What is the root of my longing?”

It’s tempting to blame the quarantine for everything. No doubt, we all want it to be over! Yet, in truth, it’s not necessarily that we’re longing so much for the end of quarantine but that we have deep inner hungers for things like:

  • More freedom, control or space
  • More “real” connections to people
  • More interesting things to do
  • Times for quiet and times rich with activity

With or without a quarantine, Carly needs these kinds of things in varying degrees. We all do. Now, the isolation and limitations have heightened our existing sensitivities. This season can actually be an opportunity to become more self aware — as well as more aware of the core needs of others.

Proverbs 13:12
Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.

At our house, we are regularly seeking ways to help each other tend to their soul’s longings. It requires more creativity but we are discovering that it is often possible to find reasonably satisfying ways of feeding our soul cravings despite the limitations.

Moms and dads can help kids develop awareness of their true longings too. What a powerful life skill we give them when we do this! These two things lie at the heart of effective self care:

  • Learn to take the longings of your soul to Jesus and experience His presence, power and goodness.
  • Identify healthy ways to meet your deepest needs so you don’t start seeking harmful/sinful ways of “medicating” those longings.

My husband and I keep learning how helpful it is to study our family and learn what uniquely energizes each of us. Here are some examples that God has opened our eyes to see:

  • Carly calms considerably when she can crawl into her dad’s lap and listen to a specific music playlist he created for her.
  • Carly likes to be busy with frequently changing activities so we’re finding ways to keep her schedule satisfying and we’ve updated her visual calendar to show new images we didn’t feature on her calendar prior to quarantine (Zoom meetings, Farkle games, Dance parties, car wash, etc.)
  • Larry feels more valued and confident when we speak words of appreciation and affection into him.
  • I recharge when I have permission and opportunity to retreat by myself to read a book, take a bath or watch tv for about 90 minutes.
  • Our sense of isolation or tendencies to feel invisible are best fought through serving others, connecting with friends and family on Zoom or FaceTime, playing games together (even virtually with friends), going for a walk or weeding the garden while on the phone with a friend, worshipping via livestream with our church family.
  • Friction between Larry and I is often defused by creating adequate opportunities for intimacy.

Friends, our families are well led when mom and dad are well fed. When we work together in creating an environment that adequately complements each person’s deepest needs, we all thrive.

Be encouraged. It’s a process. My family is not perfect but we’re making progress. More and more often, I feel like the wind is at my back spurring us forward rather than blowing hard on my face and chest. Instead of feeling heartsick from leaning into the pressures of quarantine, heavy news and caregiving, I’m becoming a more intentional and creative caregiver. Honestly, this season is finally making me more reliant on Jesus than on myself.

This season is giving me a more realistic view of my limitations, boundaries, needs and dreams while growing me into the person I’ve always wanted to be — someone who is more trusting of Jesus’ power and concern for us.

2 Corinthians 3:16-18
But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.


LISA JAMIESON is a special needs family advocate and co-founder of Walk Right In Ministries where she serves as a caregiver coach and licensed pastoral counsellor. Lisa and her husband, Larry, live in Minnesota with the youngest of their three grown daughters, Carly, who has Angelman Syndrome. Lisa’s books and Bible studies include “Finding Glory in the Thorns” and the picture book “Jesus, Let’s Talk.”

Special Siblings Needs Safe Places to Process Life

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how important open communication is for growing children, especially those who grow up as siblings of someone with disabilities, chronic health conditions or other special needs. The stress, chronic grief and complex logistics of their lives warrant heightened intentionality about keeping lines of communication wide open. Our kids need more than adequate opportunity to process their complicated lives with all the associated emotions, pressures, challenges and even the intense joys.

My husband, Larry, and I tried to provide this kind of safe zone for our kids when they were growing up at home. We also encouraged their relationships with mentors at church and with our adult friends. We deeply appreciated that grandparents, aunts and uncles served in this way too. And we sought out counselling for them when it seemed appropriate (at school and with Christian professionals). As they have come into adulthood, our children are now passionate about helping other special-needs siblings to communicate and connect in relationships that keep them thriving too.

“Our kids need more than adequate opportunity to process their complicated lives with all the associated emotions, pressures, challenges and even the intense joys.”

No matter how old our children are—very young, teenaged or adult—I think parents owe it to their children to be among their safest places to land. Don’t we all want our kids to be emotionally and spiritually healthy and confident? I expect they’ll be most socially satisfied when they can be transparent in relationships. And they’ll be most emotionally grounded when those relationships are based on biblical values. So, when they need to ask questions or just process their thoughts and feelings, I want to be the kind of parent who is available, compassionate and wise. I want to listen with genuine curiosity and very little judgement. Especially when our kids were young, I also wanted to recognize when it was necessary to initiate certain conversations knowing that my children wouldn’t always recognize when they needed to talk something out. As one of our daughters was growing up, Larry was particularly good (much better than me) at drawing out her deeper or unrecognized (but necessary) feelings.

To this day, Larry and I tend to be conversation starters who seek to know what’s going on in our children’s hearts and minds. I want to be a better listener though. I tend to ask questions well but interject my own perspectives too often. Time and time again, I keep learning from what my children have to say.

Over the years, I have had countless conversations with my children about what it is like for them growing up in a family with special needs. Sometimes these conversations were welcomed and sometimes they were met with an eyeroll. “There goes mom again,” they seemed to say. “I don’t feel like talking about this subject right now,” was the message I got loud and clear. I had to get creative and as casual as possible about how I slipped questions into our conversations in the car or around the dinner table, for example. Yes, these are often hard conversations that nobody really wants to have. And so, we tend to avoid or under value the benefits. Still, I try to respect their space and give them a pass when I sense the eyeroll while conveying a simple reminder that my door is always open if they want to talk. Really, don’t all kids need that, even if they aren’t part of a special needs family? They need our accessibility and our respect. Now that my own children are adults, they admit that it was good for me to urge their openness now and then.

“No matter how old our children are
—very young, teenaged or adult—
I think parents owe it to their children to be among their safest places to land.”

Here’s another thing I noticed as our children were growing up. They ebbed and flowed through different stages of need for information and understanding about our situation as a family with special needs. Just like when they were learning about sex, I responded to their questions with increasing details as they grew in maturity. Similarly, I watched their questions, feelings and perspectives about being part of a special needs family change through different seasons of life. Now that they are meeting more and more peers who are also special-needs siblings, they are discovering how valuable it has been for them to have safe places to ask questions, express frustrations and disappointments, share ideas and have their perspectives valued. They see that not all special-needs siblings have adequate opportunities for that kind of processing.

A couple of years ago when my daughters and I started speaking around the country about parenting special siblings, I created a list of “Conversation Starters for Parents.” And along with that, there was a “Guide for Parents’ Reflection.” Click here to download these resources.

It can be a challenge knowing how to check in with our kids often enough but not so frequently that we irritate them. I have to remind myself sometimes that I’m asking primarily for their benefit, not my own. I also have to be careful about how frequently or intensely I share about my own grief with them. To some extent, I need to model healthy grief processing and stress management. I want them to see that I understand and resonate with them. But I know they need to understand my experience without mine superseding theirs.

“MY KIDS NEED TO UNDERSTAND MY EXPERIENCE WITHOUT MINE SUPERSEDING THEIRS.”

I’m thankful that none of us is ever too old to begin processing questions, feelings and perspectives along with our children. I’m coming to see this as one of the most precious rewards of having adult children. By raising them in an atmosphere of safe communication, we now enjoy treasured friendships with each of them.


To read more about great communication with special-needs siblings, check out this article from Church4EveryChild.com.

Click here for my full series of articles about ministering to people who are siblings of someone with special needs.

There are some common questions siblings may be asking themselves or others through the different life seasons. 
Click here to download the “Sibling Season Questions” file.



This post by Lisa Jamieson first appeared June 2018 at LisaJamieson.org.

Remembering Well: Good Friday 2020

You can watch Lisa’s Real Talk livestream above. The article below highlights the spirit of her message on caring for each other by remembering well.


National leaders have been talking a lot about caring for each other these days.We’ve talked about things we can do to help protect each other during the coronavirus pandemic:

Wash hands
Cover your mouth
Keep physical distance
Stay home

Today I was listening to the news and hearing compassionate guidance for families grieving the death of loved ones during this time exceptional time of loss. My own aunt passed away last weekend. My heart aches for her siblings (including my dad), my uncle and cousins who couldn’t be present with each other through her last weeks and hours. Nor can they say remember her within the fellowship of loving community the way people typically grieve (at least for now). My cousin’s wife is a funeral director. Like so many working in funeral homes, she is wrestling to help families when there are so many new protocols and limitations on our rituals.

It got me thinking about what we’ll remember most about this pandemic thing.

I hope we remember this season in ways that are honorable.

honorable to people who lived through it or died during it

    helpful to those who come after it

         and pleasing to the God who walked through far worse for us.  

How do we do this? How do we honor those who are lost or the ones who are sacrificing so much in during this time?

I think we might best honor this season by how we remember it. And how we remember this time starts with what we do with it now.

What kind of memories are we creating during this shelter-in-place experience? I’ve been thinking about this. I’ve been praying that God would show me how to be attentive to Him in how I spend this opportunity. Yes, something is getting spent here in this surreal way of living. I’m not trying to lay a guilt trip. I’m hoping to cast a vision. Because I’ve caught a vision. I believe God starting planting it in Larry and me years before this isolation season was thrust on the rest of the world. Because, you see, special needs families like ours already know some things about the shelter-in-place lifestyle that the rest of the world is just starting to learn.

We raised our family trying to be intentional about creating good memories. Disability was so consuming of our life. And the risk was great that Carly’s needs would flavor our life in such a significant way. Larry and I didn’t want our challenges with Carly to be what our other children remembered most about growing up a Jamieson. We understood that the challenges would bring them some helpful lessons and memories too. We just didn’t want those challenges to have inappropriate or disproportional weight or influence. So, now and then we tried to dream up some remarkable things that would stand out in their memories alongside the blessings and challenges of being a special needs family. For example, our vacations opportunities were rare and challenging but we did what we could to make some happen. Sometimes that even meant planning an epic staycation. But we also tried to make special things out of everday stuff. The phrase “power fold” is packed with nostalgic meaning for our family. That story is for another day.

In a similar way, I think we have a need and opportunity to be intentional about creating memories of this time too. I’m been thinking: how can we honor and care for each other beyond the handwashing and social distancing — especially to honor those who will live on and those who gave everything for us?

We can work with great intention NOW to make sure that the lasting message of this season — the legacy of this time — is a helpful one. We can do this for the sake of those who gave so much, for the sake of our children and for the sake of future generations. We can work with intention to care well for each other — not just in protecting each other’s physical bodies from harm of the virus but also by caring for each other’s souls (our minds and spirits). We can remember God. We can share hope. We can lead in faith. As special needs parents, we can feed our own souls and find others who will lead us well so that we can, in turn, lead our families well.

I’m been thinking: how can we honor and care for each other beyond the handwashing and social distancing — especially to honor those who will live on and those who gave everything for us?

God has been telling us to “remember well” since the earliest days of mankind. He showed us how to throw feasts and gave specific instructions about what to celebrate at those feasts. God knows our need to focus our minds rightly. The Old Testament feasts helped our ancestors do that. Practicing things like communion and Christian holiday worship services help us remember and enjoy God’s presence and power among us. When people looked back on their memories with a focus on regret or longing for the former times, God warned them. He said there was a better way.

God knows our need to focus our minds rightly.

At Walk Right In Ministries, one of our favorite examples of God showing his people how to remember well happened at the Jordan River at the brink of the Promised Land. The story is told in Joshua, chapters 3 and 4. That experience inspired the name of this ministry. You can read about it here.

Now, because it is Good Friday, I got thinking about Jesus’ sacrifice and how we remember that. Do you see the “rabbit trail” I’m on here?

What does it look like for me to remember and honor Jesus’ sacrifice well?

  • Today especially, I want to acknowledge my depravity and self-centeredness
  • I’m trying to express deeper and more frequent gratitude for what He gave up for me
  • I want to own my faith story and live it well so that others will see that God is faithful

1 Peter 3:15
Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it.

So what do you think the legacy of this pandemic will be? There are a lot of people speculating about that.

  • Today, I want to suggest that we NOT PASSIVELY WONDER.
  • I want to suggest that we start today BEING INTENTIONAL about creating memories.

We can work with intention to care well for each other — not just in protecting each other’s physical bodies from harm of the virus but also by caring for each other’s souls (our minds and spirits).

This doesn’t need to be a big or complicated master plan. I think the power lies in a combination of two things:

  • Being attentive to God’s prompting in simple moments during the day or week.
  • Thinking creatively about a few grand gestures.

Some of my most treasured simple moments so far have been learning how to sign the message of “Happy Easter” with Carly, baking cookies six times more often than usual, playing Family Farkle on Zoom with extended family, sharing goofy Marco Polo chats with our daughter across the country and having daily conversations with my husband about our fears, frustrations or hopes. When it comes to the grander gestures that will likely flavor the way we remember this time, a couple of things that come to my mind are two birthdays we celebrated during the pandemic, the tremendous sacrifice Carly’s caregivers made to help us through (and that are allowing me to share with you like this right now) and a special Easter egg hunt we created for a couple of neighbor kids.

What I want to help others remember most about this pandemic experience is three things:

  • This was a time when we learned to enjoy each other much more meaningfully.
  • This was a time when we learned to experience God more intimately.
  • This was a time when we learned to share God’s love with others in ways that were both profoundly satisfying for their souls and highly honoring to God.

Joshua 4:21-22, 24
Then Joshua said to the Israelites, “in the future, your children will ask, “What do these stones mean?” Then you can tell them…”He did this so that all the nations of the earth might know the power of the Lord, and that you might fear the Lord your God forever.”

Psalm 27:13-14
Yet I am confident that I will see the Lord’s goodness while I am here in the land of the living.
Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous.
Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.

John 14: 12
“I (Jesus) tell you the truth, anyone who believes in me will do the same works I have done, and even greater works, because I am going to be with the Father.”


Would you like to connect in a private small group setting to dig deeper into God’s word and grow with others who are caring for a loved one with disabilities?

I’m so excited to invite you to join me and other special needs family members for a new weekly Zoom video conference called Real Talk Multiply! We love shared stories at Walk Right In Ministries — especially when they bring encouragement and/or Christ-pointing insight within community.

Here’s the link but you’ll need to write to us at info@walkrightin.org to officially register and get the Meeting Password.
“Real Talk Multiply” Virtual Gathering on Zoom: https://zoom.us/j/918676626

Real Talk Multiply also offers a private Facebook group for ongoing discussion outside of the video conference gatherings. We simply ask that you keep those conversations confidential, respectful and spam free.

The Real Talk Multiply community begins April 14th, 2020 and will continue every Tuesday from 2:00 pm until 3:00 pm (Central). Holiday and vacation exceptions will be announced in the private “Real Talk Multiply” Facebook group.

Join us whenever you can!


Lisa Jamieson is an international speaker, author, caregiver advocate and licensed pastoral counsellor. Her passion is spurring special needs families toward growing intimacy with Jesus and thriving relationships with each other. She is co-founder and executive director of Walk Right In Ministries and leads the Minnesota Disability Ministry Connection. Lisa is a member of the Sarasota Academy of Christian Counseling certified in Christian temperament therapy. Her books and Bible studies include Jesus, Let’s Talk which was inspired by her daughter, Carly, who has Angelman Syndrome. Lisa and her husband, Larry, have been married for 31 years and have three grown daughters.