Wednesday, April 16, 2014

three reasons why this blog has been quiet for the past two years

reason 1: i became a special needs mom

Back when I started this blog, I was a mom and a disability ministry leader and a former special ed teacher... but I had the luxury of choosing the special needs world. When you choose to enter that world, you can also choose to leave. It's more of a visit. Perhaps it's a long-term visit, but it's a visit nonetheless.

For families who live with significant, life-impacting disabilities, they don't just visit the special needs world. It's their permanent residence. 

When we adopted our youngest child, who has cerebral palsy, I became a special needs mom. The change from being a visitor to being a resident of special needs world made me lose my voice for a bit. As a visitor, I knew how I wrote, encouraged, prodded, and exhorted the church to throw open the door to people of all abilities. Something shifted with our Zoe's arrival, and I didn't know where I fit for a time.

Then the shift became more pronounced when our Robbie had his first seizure, ushering us into an unexpected diagnosis of epilepsy and fixing us firmly in special needs world.

I didn't feel like I fit any longer with the special needs ministry leaders whose lives weren't directly affected by disability, because now mine was. But I didn't feel like I fit with the other leaders, because I was about five minutes into the life that they had walked for months or years or decades or more. 

Instead of just sharing what God was doing in our lives, I thought I had to fit one of two molds. I was wrong, but my mistake held my tongue for a while.

reason 2: i was caught up with a different God-led adventure

My husband and I always planned to adopt someday. 

We thought someday would be around 2014ish. 

Someday turned out two special needs adoptions much sooner than planned, one child in 2012 and three more in 2013. Our family blog shares a lot more about those stories, but suffice it to say that God's plan was immeasurably better than the one we had.

But the time involved in His glorious plan meant less time spent writing here, a trade-off I'd gladly make all over again.

reason 3: i was grieving 

Christian died one year ago today. 

He was 7.

My two oldest children are 7 this year, and today I'm thinking of them and thinking of him. I'd like to say something mature about this being his heaven-iversary or something that reiterates the post I shared about Christian one year ago. But you know what? I'm going to say something honest instead: I'm mad that I got to see my girls turn 7 but I didn't get to see Christian turn 8. 

Grief is hard.

Somehow, I miss Christian more now than I did last year. 

I miss him every time I do the laundry, washing shirts that used to be his. I miss him every time I help my boys pick out clothes, because they often wear shirts that he used to wear. His mama - a dear friend - blessed us with the gift of the clothes I wish her son was wearing instead of mine. 

Sometimes grief just takes the words away for a time. 

Those are three reasons this blog was quiet for a time...

...but they are also three reasons why this blog is back, with 30 posts already scheduled and more to come. I'm even more passionate about special needs ministry than I was when I last posted regularly, because:
  1. I'm a special needs mom now, so it's more personal.
  2. Our adoptions have made us much more familiar with the special needs of foster and adoptive families in churches around this country.
  3. Special needs ministry involves grief sometimes. And we all need each other to walk through that and other hard stuff.
If you're reading this, then you didn't give up on me in the quiet times. Thank you for that.

And thank you for joining me in a conversation worth having. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Many Parts, One Body: 1. Sharing Christ, yet differing in gifts.

This is part of a series of follow-up posts from my session at the Bifrost Arts Cry of the Poor conference in April. 
  • Yesterday: Introduction
  • Today: Sharing Christ, yet differing in gifts.
  • Monday: Communing, not condescending.
  • Tuesday: Ministering WITH, not ministering TO.
  • Wednesday: Valuing differences, not ignoring them.
  • Thursday: Exalting God's design, not insisting on our own.

In Acts 2:42-47, we see the early church sharing in all things. Specifically, in verse 44, we read, "And all who believed were together and had all things in common."

Really? All things in common?

I don't think, given the whole of Scripture, that this means that they all liked the same foods and favored the same colors and preferred the same bedtimes and waking hours.

If we read on, verse 45 explains the previous verse: "And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need." You see, they had Christ in common, and that freed them to share all other things among the community.

Likewise, in 1 Corinthians 12:4-7, we see that same commonality in community:
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
These verses lead into the passage I focused on at the Bifrost Arts conference, the one I often use to illustrate God's design for the church as being many parts but one body: 1 Corinthians 12:12-27.

Unity in diversity, according to God's plan.

When we demand all things in common in the church - all members behaving the same manner, all understanding the same concepts at the same pace, all handling life's stresses in the same ways, all liking the same routines or lack of routine or sensory inputs, and so on - we're not following God's plan for the church. We're saying the God we worship isn't big enough for us to unite us in spite of differences. We're saying, "Sure, we have Christ in common, but He isn't enough."

We handicap the church when we focused on His created diversity in a way that destroys His design for unity among His people. 

Likewise, we handicap the body of God when we define gifts from a worldly perspective instead of a godly one, valuing the role of one body part over the role of others. 

We can learn from 1 Corinthians 12 that the church was designed to share Christ while differing in gifts. It helps no one when we let our differences overshadow what we share in common in Christ. (On Wednesday, I'll explore the flip side of that: it also doesn't help to pretend those differences don't exist. We can't expect the unity part without respecting the diversity element.)

So what are our practical takeaways?
  1. Draw together around what you have in common. Isn't God a big enough commonality for you? If not, then the differences and disabilities present aren't your problem; your lack of belief is; if so, pray, "Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief."
  2. Know the essential aim/message/purpose that doesn't change. This applies to your overall vision and mission as a church, as well as to every lesson and sermon. What's the key point you want to drive home, and what are the secondary messages? Recently, I was serving as a one-on-one helper for a child who has a cognitive impairment. As he and I were working on a craft, I could continue to stress the key point to help him hone in on it during the lesson; because of that, he could engage without getting distracted by the secondary details. 
  3. Open the Word together, and you may be surprised. Our church's Joy class is a group of adults with developmental disabilities who join together weekly to study the Bible, serve the church, and do life together. One gentleman in particular has difficulty sustaining a conversation with me if we try to talk about the weather or recent events or any other topic we've tried. However, when we talk about the Bible, something beautiful happens. This man who can't sustain a conversation on other topics is able to wax eloquently about God's words, particularly the book of Romans. He is gifted in this way. I could have disregarded his ability to talk about the Bible because of his difficulty talking about other topics, and I would have missed out on the richness of discussing Romans with him.
  4. Open the Word together, and you may not be surprised. On the other hand, I've taught the Word to others with disabilities (and without) from whom I've never seen that sort of response. This tests my belief in the transforming power of God's Word. Do I only think it has power in my life? No. If the Bible does have power in the lives of others - including those with disabilities - then I have to understand that I might not see the results. I'm not called to produce growth, just to plant or water.
What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. {1 Corinthians 3:6-7}

leading my second session at the Bifrost Arts Cry of the Poor conference

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Many Parts, One Body: Introduction

On Tuesday, I posted my personal and ministry testimony from the opening worship of the Bifrost Arts Cry of the Poor conference. It was truly a unique gathering, as worship leaders and pastors and others brought our minds and hearts together to explore the intersection of worship, community, and mercy. 

Here is the way that the director of Bifrost Arts described it:
Conversations about worship in the church often focus on the style of our music, or on the formality of our aesthetics, or on the content of our lyrics. In many churches, conversations about worship can become completely centered around the congregation’s priorities, so much so that they can even lose sight of God’s priorities for our worship.

Throughout the Bible, God tells His people time and time again that if they are disobedient to His Word that He will not accept their worship. In His Word, He commands His people to worship Him alone and to obey His commands to serve the poor and needy. In fact, God specifically admonishes His people “whoever closes His ear to the cry of the poor will himself cry out and not be answered” (Proverbs 21:13).

This April, Bifrost Arts presents a worship conference entitled “The Cry of the Poor: worship, mercy, and community.” At this event we will focus on two things: First, we will make a theological case, specifically from Isaiah 55-61 for the connection between worship and obedience. Secondly, we will have a series of practical workshops about how local congregations can better serve the least of these in our midst and in our communities. We will have conversations about worshiping with those with disabilities, worshiping in a multilingual context, worship and the elderly, forming our children for mercy, and the formation of communities through the arts.
See what I mean? I am so thankful to have been part of such an amazing conference. If I didn't worship a sovereign God, I would say it happened by accident.

You see, I had decided to take a break from speaking engagements as we adjusted to life with Zoe and life with Robbie's epilepsy. If I hadn't, I would have submitted a presentation proposal for the Accessibility Summit, which ended just a couple days before Cry of the Poor. If I had been planning to attend the Accessibility Summit, I wouldn't have been free to say yes when Isaac called from Bifrost Arts. 

Below is my session title and description, and over the next several days, I'll share the five major points I made:
Many Parts, One Body

1 Corinthians 12:12-27 lays out God's intent for diversity in the body of Christ and in the gifts of her members. In this session, we'll talk through 5 practical ways to live out God's design for the church, specifically considering ways that people with and without disabilities can engage together in worship and Christian community.
Many thanks to the Bifrost Arts team for their hospitality and exceptional event vision and planning. It was a privilege to take part in it. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Dr. Floyd on mental illness to the Southern Baptist Convention

Yesterday, Dr. Ronnie Floyd of Arkansas made a passionate - and needed - plea from the floor of the Southern Baptist Convention in Houston, Texas. I am thankful for his leadership. 

Here is the text of his statement:

Mr. President and Messengers of the Southern Baptist Convention, I wanted to appeal to you for your overwhelming support of this motion. Jesus called us to care for the suffering, “the least of these.”

We often overlook them. At times, their lives are so disrupted and severe they require intervention. These people and their families are often isolated, stigmatized, and rejected. They are referred to as “the mentally ill.”

Our churches and communities are filled with people who need us to minister to them and their families. 58 million Americans and 450 million people globally meet criteria for a mental disorder. These are often chronic conditions that must be managed, not cured. One million of these individuals around the world die as the result of suicide annually.

In recent years and days, we have seen mass shootings and disturbing events that have left us stunned. Even some of our well-known Southern Baptist families have lost loved ones due to mental health challenges. Southern Baptist Pastor, Rick Warren tweeted recently: “Why is it...if any other organ in your body breaks you get sympathy, but if your brain breaks, you get secrecy and shame?”

The church must answer this question. We can no longer be silent about this issue and we must cease with stigmatizing those with mental health challenges. Pastors, church leaders, and all of our churches must become equipped to care for the least of these.

When that horrific EF5 tornado hit Moore, Oklahoma, our Southern Baptist Disaster Relief volunteers were on the scene immediately. Baptist Press reported a powerful testimony of a woman who was led to Christ by one of our chaplains. She stated, “I was going to take my life today. But now I know God cares for me and people care.”

When disasters occur, we do a phenomenal job as Southern Baptists in the middle of material and physical rubble.

Now it is time that we do as great of a job in our churches and our communities, demonstrating compassion in the emotional rubble that can be piled high in the people and their families who deal with mental health challenges. It is time NOW that the Southern Baptist Convention is on the FRONT LINES of the mental health challenges.

Therefore, I call upon the Southern Baptist Convention to rise up with compassion, letting America and the world know, that we will be there to walk with them, minister to them, and encourage them in the mental health challenge that plagues their lives and traps their families from the needed love and support they long for from the body of Christ.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

My name is Shannon, but I want to tell you about Christian.

I shared this as part of the opening worship at Bifrost Arts' Cry of the Poor conference on April 22, 2013. I'll be sharing more later this week from the notes used in my April 23 session, but this? This demands a post of its own. 

My name is Shannon, but I want to tell you about Christian. 

Christian was seven years old, had autism, and was diagnosed in the fall of 2012 with an aggressive brain tumor. On April 16, 2013, God brought Christian’s earthly life to an end.

I miss him.

While I have comfort in knowing that Christian’s bodily function is no longer being choked by his tumor and he is no longer limited by an inability to communicate in a typical way or by any of those other things about autism that made him a visitor and stranger in this world, I loved him and, selfishly, I miss him.

Christian was so much more than his diagnoses. Christian exuded joy. He loved music, and he shared gifts of authenticity and love and laughter and lack of pretense and so much more. He was as whole and complete and beautiful as I am, and now by God’s glory he is more whole and complete and beautiful than any of us. 

How I long for the day when I will worship with Christian before the King!

You see, I love Christian and my other friends with and without disabilities who I've met through my church’s inclusive ministry because I, too, am a visitor here. I may not have autism or a brain tumor, but I am handicapped daily by my sin. As God calls me not to conform to this world, He sets me apart as a stranger and sojourner in this land. Since my husband and I began leading our church’s inclusive special needs ministry, our youngest daughter Zoe joined our family via special needs adoption from Taiwan due to cerebral palsy; then our son Robbie was diagnosed with epilepsy; and now we’re in the process of adopting again.

I love being a part of a church that welcomes Christians and Shannons and Zoes and Robbies and Philips and all the hard questions our lives pose, especially in the face of trite or clich̩ theology. I cherish the church that includes all its parts, as laid out in 1 Corinthians 12, and allows, in the words of John 9:3, the works of God to be displayed in disability. I am thankful for the community God has created in my midst, a community that Рalong with me Рloves God and misses Christian.

Monday, June 10, 2013

overexposed in public,
underdeveloped in private

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness.
{Matthew 23:27}

In ministry, we can look great on the outside. Sometimes we have the faith inside to back that up.

Sometimes? Well, we don't.

That's why this blog has been quiet. 

In our family, we've had a lot of change in the past year and a half (which, not coincidentally, is the same period of time that the blog has been neglected): the start of an unexpected adoption of a baby girl with cerebral palsy, the sale of one house, the purchase of another house, the move to the new house, the trip to Taiwan to bring Zoe home, her celebrated arrival, the start of kindergarten for our oldest, the surprise seizure the night before Thanksgiving and subsequent diagnosis of epilepsy for our middle child, my own struggles with depression, and now?

Yes, we're adopting again, this time a sibling group of three from Uganda, one of whom is HIV+.

Through all of our lives' recent transitions, we've been blessed to continue leading our church's special needs ministry. 

In order to keep myself accountable to the commitments I have in our family and home church, something had to give in the midst of it all. 

Thus, the quiet here.

I needed to decrease my exposure publicly to allow God to develop places in my heart privately.

I needed bones and uncleanliness swept away by Him, lest this blog be nothing more than the beautiful whitewashed tomb appearances put on by the Pharisees and called out by Christ in Matthew 23.

I've missed it, though. As I've been immersed in the Christian adoption community, I've become more and more convicted that churches can do a better job including people with disabilities, both those who arrive via adoption and those who make their entrance in other ways.

So regular posts begin again today, my friends.