We think of people with disabilities as the wheelchair and immediately jump to physical accessibility. This is important! But more important are the attitudinal barriers that people can't get past in their mind.
Some good nuggets from Marie's talk:
- "My little boy was no less a creation of God and a valuable soldier in the kingdom than anyone else. We need to move from being tolerant to being intentional, with arms wide open to receive you, even if I don't know what it will look like. Let's go on this journey together."
- "We aren'y doing this for 'those poor people who have special needs.' It's not a department in your church. They're part of the community. This is the body of Christ."
She shared "Welcome to Holland." (If you're not familiar with it, Google is your friend. You should be able to find it. It's an analogous story of what life is like for families who have a child with disabilities.) It can be hard for parents when their kids don't hit milestones at the same time as other kids. We need to celebrate the milestones that they do meet, whenever that happens!
GREAT TIP FOR CHURCHES (note from Shannon: that I've seen at other churches too and that we're looking into for ours when we redo our parking lot): In addition to handicapped parking, have designated spaces for families with disabilities who might not qualify for a handicapped placard. Have members of your church hospitality team ready to help when they see a family pull up, assisting them with getting kids out of the car and to their classes or to the worship center.
In this session, Marie shared a lot of details about their lives before Nathaniel's "change of address" to heaven. Here's the link to that story at Nathaniel's Hope. She shared another story of a mom who used to come to respite, drop the kids off, and go recline her driver's seat and sleep for three hours because she was a single mom and had no family support - this was the only break she got. (Note from Shannon: I also love a story from Key Ministry's Harmony Hensley's presentation about respite when she shared about a mom who, after respite, told them, "I went to Target. I've never been there before. I was just as beautiful as I had heard." She walked up and down the aisles, crying, so thankful to be out and shopping.)
At the end, a dad with a child with special needs shared how much it means to his family and his daughter when people come to things like her Special Olympics bowling times. He suggested, "Just be there and be incarnational in that way." He also suggested that a great question to find out how to minister to families affected by disability is simply, "Tell me about your family," instead of tell me about your child's disability.
I'll be blogging about my sessions later this week!