Seven years ago this June, my family’s special needs journey began. Sophie was four months old, and while she was meeting milestones like smiling, babbling, and rolling, her doctor discovered that her muscle tone was incredibly low. This, I now know, is a big, big red flag for developmental disabilities. Over the course of that first year in our special needs journey, as we waited and watched to see what Sophie would do, and as we began the barrage of tests and doctors, a never ending rabbit hole, searching for answers, God’s question to me resounded loudly: “Do you trust me? Do you trust that I have chosen the best plan for Sophie?” My answer was and continues to be, “Yes.” But in the past several months, I have begun to see the big-picture puzzle pieces clicking in to place. This is not just God’s best plan for the life of one child. This is God’s best plan for my family. This is God’s best plan for our church. This is God’s best plan for our community. This is God’s best plan for me. Because I have a child with special needs, God has opened my eyes to a great need in our community, which I would be blind to, if not for my sweet Sophie.
We can’t come to church because our child has special needs.
This breaks my heart! Of all the families, special needs families are ones who perhaps need church ministry the most. The statistics about stress, anxiety, illness, fatigue, financial strain, and divorce are staggering in these families. There is a whole community of people who we as a church should be ministering to. God has brought this into my view over and over again these past few months. I can’t escape it. Everywhere I turn, he’s bringing people across my path to draw my heart and mind back to special needs ministry. I’ve been having one of those megaphone experiences with God. You can’t not hear it. You can’t look away, because like a focused parent, he keeps turning my chin right back to look where he wants. From every angle these past few months, God is bringing before me a special needs ministry at Life Church. This is not something I ever envisioned for myself, and yet I find it is something that I HAVE to do, because it is something that God envisions.
Last week, I received a text from a friend, Debbie, about a friend of hers whose 5 year old son has autism. Their family has been unable to attend church because of his needs. She wanted me to reach out to them, and gave me her friend Ginger’s number. She was excited to hear about my desire to have special needs ministry at Life Church.
Fast-forward to that evening: I took the youth group to see the new movie Breakthrough. I arrived early and stood near the door to pass out our tickets. As I stood there waiting, a young family came in, and their little boy, about 5 years old, politely said, “excuse me, are you in the line for tickets?” I explained that I was not, and the family moved on. But this little guy took a shine to me, and he kept coming back to see me over the course of the next 20 minutes as he waited with his family. He introduced himself, he asked my name, he invited me to his house. He wanted to know what movie I was seeing, and what snacks I was buying, and he shared what he was seeing and buying as well. Over the course of these four or five exchanges, his mom apologetically called to me, “I’m sorry he’s bothering you!” To which I responded, “that’s ok, I work with children! He’s fine.” I truly could not have been more pleased to be passing the time with this cutie! When I told her he had invited me over and shared their address, she chuckled and mentioned, “He has autism, so he doesn’t really understand some social boundaries.” I quickly reassured her that I understood, because my daughter has autism too. We went our separate ways and saw our movies. Twice in one day, I thought, God has brought special needs kids back to my mind. Wow.
After the movie let out, I stood talking with our church family. I turned around and saw this same young family coming towards me with my very excited friend Debbie. She was exclaiming, “Catherine, this is the family I was texting you about earlier today! This is Ginger and her son who has autism.” I stood dumbfounded. I know God crossed our paths that night for a reason. His eye is on these families. His heart is for them!
As I prepared to share this message with my church family this past weekend, I was overwhelmed with the realization that this is why I’ve been on this journey. Many people search for a why when difficult things happen in life. Honestly, I’ve long since given up on that quest, and I’ve made my peace with our life, because I trust my God. I wouldn’t change Sophie in any way. I wasn’t looking for why anymore, and yet suddenly I found a big piece of that answer. God will always use any difficulty in your life if you give it to him and walk in obedience. He wastes nothing. Opportunities will arise out of those trials, but it is our job to stand up and grasp them. To do something with the opportunity. To act. To obey. To find MORE in this life than our own happiness or self-service. So I am saying, “Yes.” Yes, to whatever God has for this ministry. I hope you can make your peace with your own why’s, and I hope that in some way God opens a door of opportunity for you to use your experiences for his kingdom. And I invite you to join me in this new ministry, whether you go to my church or not. I am happy to help other churches launch similar ministries so that we can reach more and more families. In whatever way you need to today, say “Yes” and embrace his opportunities for you.