Let’s face it, if you are in full-time (and often part-time) ministry to those with special needs, your family is in the ministry with you. Even if they don’t serve as the extra, last-minute volunteers you need to serve at an event, your work in this area of the mission field affects your family deeply.
I was aware of this notion when I said “yes” to God’s call upon my own life. I knew I could not serve to the neglect of my own spouse and children. I realized that when I was stressed putting an event together, the whole family was stressed. Sharing my family’s journey with special needs meant that everyone’s privacy would be encroached upon. I also knew that if I didn’t set boundaries quickly and with clarity, the need of the people I serve could literally consume me.
Although I realized all of these things, I never deliberately stopped to ask my children what they thought of the special needs ministry to which God had called me. When we were getting started, my husband and I agreed together that the Lord was calling us to this area to serve. The children, however, were just carried along. So you can imagine my surprise when my kids offered up their opinions at various points in time.
As all of us do, I was going through a time of frustration, wanting to throw in the towel at one point. When my children heard me thinking out loud about this, they were notably upset. “Mom! No way! You CAN’T give up the ministry! It’s too important!” I was floored. Not only did my kids realize the wider implications of what our organization does, they also strongly felt that it redeemed their own trials. They each told me how much it meant to them to be able to help others because of what they had endured. They were grateful that this type of service gave their suffering meaning. That’s a pretty complex thought process for kids who were all under 13 years of age when this happened!
Another time, my 10-year-old with an “alphabet soup” set of diagnoses told me that she had been on Google Images to check out my name. Smart, socially inappropriate individual that she is, she pronounced to me in the car, “Mom, there are hundreds of images that come up when I type your name in. That scares me! What if someone wants to hurt you?” Wow! Besides making me aware that we had to increase the filtering on our computer, she also drew me into a fascinating conversation on public exposure. We pursued a discussion on whether or not it was okay having your parent publicly known by a large number of people. While I have never thought of myself in this context, in this era of social media, all of us who use these tools are exposed.
Over the years my children have served others at respite and in adaptive programs in the secular arena. They have taught their peers what appropriate language and behavior is when it comes to those with challenges. Special needs ministry has expanded their hearts. But if there were ever a time where I sensed that I needed to walk away from it all for their sake, I certainly would do it.
The purpose of the post is this — We must never, ever forget that our families are our first mission field. While it may not seem that they have any trouble with what we are doing, their private thoughts can run deep. We are well advised to get the family’s point of view, to ask for their feedback on the ministry, and to welcome their participation or abstinence if they wish. Don’t wait until they are frustrated or searching you on Google Images to do so!
What has your experience with family been when it comes to ministering in this field? Have you ever asked them about their views? We would love to hear…