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TOOLS YOU CAN USE: TakeThemAMeal.com

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Men, don’t tune out!  You may want to roll your eyes and write this entry off to the “church ladies” responsible for coordinating potlucks, but this is for YOU too.  When looking at the overall strategy of our special needs ministries, aid and comfort to those we serve is of paramount importance.  That’s why you or those you lead should be finding some way to connect your adherents to help with meals in times of extra difficulty.  Surgeries, hospital stays or other challenges such as moving or loss of a job are times where this simple act of kindness can be a big blessing.

TakeThemAMeal.com is the perfect tool for these times.  It never ceases to amaze me that there are people out there who still don’t know about this terrific, free, web based means to coordinate a food schedule.  A speedy, user-friendly platform, the person coordinating meals merely sets up the schedule for the recipient, listing the duration and frequency of the need.  Any food sensitivities, dislikes, allergies or preferences can be detailed.  Once the page is set up for the recipient, it can be shared with anyone in their circle of family, friends, coworkers, fellow church members or neighbors by e-mail, Facebook or even on their Caringbridge page.  Take Them A Meal does all the coordinating, reminding and contacting from that point on.  People choose a date on the calendar that hasn’t already been taken.  Once they sign up for a date, they are reminded by the platform of their commitment.  The recipient can also look online to see if a meal is coming that day, what the meal is, and who is bringing it.  There is a connected blog that provides etiquette tips, as well as a page with links for recipes.  The entire system is pure genius in my humble opinion.

Recently, we had a family that has multiple children with special needs find themselves in a precarious position.  The father was undergoing serious surgery that would require the mother to be away with him at the hospital for a stretch of time.  People of good will wanted to step up and provide them with meals for their large family.  With children on the autism spectrum that are challenged eaters and others who have food allergies, carry out gift cards where the family could make their own food choices were a much better option.  Yet, the wife was concerned about offending any of the well-intentioned who wanted to cook a meal.  We set up a Take Them A Meal page for the family and circumvented the worries about etiquette by specifying on the page that all meals should be provided only in the form of a gift card.  It was the perfect way to get them the help that they needed, the way that they needed it, without the family having to be put in an awkward position.

If your ministry or your church has not yet tapped into this easy, helpful tool, add it to your war chest today!

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Will This Battle Ever Be Won This Side of Heaven?

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Leadership in special needs ministry has a much broader implication in the church at large than we might first think.  While the “us/them” mentality may persist when a church or ministry decides to become more inclusive or offer disability programming, it should come as no surprise to those of us who have served in this arena for any length of time that this vulnerable part of the population can bring the rest of the world face-to-face with some of life’s most profound issues.  What constitutes a life worth living?  How does God view those whom the rest of the world treats as outcasts?  What hope does the Church Universal have to offer?  These are only the beginning of a stream of complex, soul searching thoughts Christians encounter in living life alongside those with unique cognition and physical abilities.

Our current secular culture has excelled at the movement and sharing of information, which brings us more starkly and decisively into confrontation with these issues.  Without exception, the sanctity of life for those who are “diff-abled” comes into question.  Most recently exposed by controversies such as the trial of Dr. Kermit Gosnell and parents pursuing legal actions like wrongful birth lawsuits, individuals perceived to be less-than-perfect by culture are at great peril of either being aborted or euthanized because of their differences.  This has already proved a persistent threat to children prenatally diagnosed with Down Syndrome.

The endlessly emerging revelations of such abhorrent practices in a culture that claims to be both civilized and tolerant ought to remove the element of surprise when we read new articles published on the topic.  Instead, I personally find myself growing more upset and indignant at this pervasive disregard for the lives of people just like two of the three incredible children I parent.  I treasure my children, and see them rife with possibility as they grow closer to their adulthood each day.  Yet, I fear for my offspring and others like them as I read these stories of our disintegrating societal bioethics.  Andrée Seu Peterson, eloquent writer for WORLD MAGAZINE just revealed the heinous practice of leaving individuals to die in her article, Beware of ‘comfort care’.   On the same day, Michael Cook of LifeNews.com published his shocking report, Netherlands, Belgium Racing to Okay Euthanasia for Disabled Children.  He notably states in the article, “The genie is out of the bottle. Today it is severely disabled babies; tomorrow it could be brain-damaged teenagers; the day after it could be the demented elderly. You would have no heart if you didn’t suffer because of these cases; you would have a heart of stone if you killed them to stop your own pain.”

We, in the area of disability ministry, are uniquely equipped to sound the alarm and advocate, making the general population aware that

  • Those with special needs have far more to offer us than we ever have to offer them.
  • EVERY human is “defective” or “imperfect” because of the sin that is part of this world.
  • EVERY family is only one emergency room visit away from becoming a “special needs” family.
  • Jesus demonstrated God’s value for each and every human life.  If each life bears the fingerprints of God, we honor Him when we honor that life.
  • If the Church does not make a difference regarding these issues, we will all be in peril of being subject to euthanasia, forced abortion, and forced sterilization.

Lest we be overcome by the false belief that this destruction of children is something new, allow me to remind you that the Old Testament has numerous reports of worshiping false gods by sacrificing children in the fire.  The Bible also has stories throughout of the “weak” and “lame” that were left to struggle, beg and more than likely, die a premature death because of their imperfection.  To think we currently live in a culture that has evolved morally and socially is to deceive ourselves.

It begs the question, “Will this battle ever be won this side of heaven?”.  Will humans ever cease this “detestable” and wide practice of snuffing out lives considered less worthy?  My answer to that would be, No, if we, the leaders on the cutting edge of these issues fail to shine the light, then the darkness in this world will prevail.  What will you choose to do?

Image courtesy of:  FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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HOT TOPICS: Bioethics and Current Events

Not too long ago it was a little girl in England who was denied a surgery because she is disabled.  Most recently, it is a 10 year old girl who is fighting for a lung transplant denied because of red tape and an age policy.  These are the worst nightmares of the families we serve.

Not every one of us in special needs ministry lives with a diagnosis under our own roof.  While we may have specialized schooling, have credentials or have even grown into our role, we had better be certain we have a strong sense of compassion and empathy.  Those we minister to desperately need someone to come alongside them and help them push through the angst of identifying with such current events.  Imagine facing the reality that you may have to fight against the powerful forces of government or other systems just to get your loved one the basic, life-saving care that they need!

Despite the fact that our current culture likes to window dress in the compassion of telethons or fundraisers for hurting children, the current struggle of Sarah Murnaghan shows us that life’s realities are something quite a bit darker.  Not every policymaker or executive is moved to action by watching a child with special needs battle for life.  In fact, listening to the increasing number of esteemed speakers like Peter Singer of Princeton would show us quite the opposite.  There are a frightening number of individuals who strongly push the case that the weakest and most vulnerable among us do not even have value or a right to exist.

I bring this to your attention, dear colleague, because you and I had better know what God’s word has to say about such things, and we had better be prepared to do some serious hand-holding.  “Comfort, comfort my people,says your God.” (Isaiah 40:1, NIV)  As in the times of Isaiah, we need to be pointing God’s people to a hope that lays beyond the sin and dysfunction of this broken world.  We need to assure those we serve that the Lord is still loving and good even when a depraved humanity is not.  And if need be, we must be prepared to fight with these families as well as walk them through the deepest darkness to the gates of heaven with those they love.

Friend, stay on top of current cultural events.  Saturate your understanding with good writing by people like Randy Alcorn, Philip Yancey, and Ann Graham Lotz.  Watch fellow leaders like Joni Eareckson Tada and how organizations like theirs stand on core values.  This will equip you for the inevitable wave of events that have stunned and shaken humans since the dawn of time.

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The View from the Summit – Part I

When it comes to disability ministry conferences, The McLean Bible Church Accessibility Summit is the gold standard.  Celebrating its 13th year, this years summit with 30 workshops and over 60 disability-related exhibitors, did not disappoint.  Jackie Mills-Fernald held a lovely pre-pre-conference luncheon for those of us speaking.  It was such a treat to hug and meet in person others whom we only seem to connect with in virtual ways throughout the remainder of the year.

005(Pictured above at Jackie’s luncheon [l to r] sitting Barbara Dittrich, Katie Wetherbee, standing Jolene Philo, Cindi Ferrini, and Rebecca Hamilton)

Afterward, tours of the remarkable, cutting edge Jill’s House respite center were given, with updates by Director Cameron Doolittle on their national outreach to replicate this model.

Arriving at the Summit with my own head barely attached, I discovered that I had failed to print out the most important of our session’s handouts.  As I approached Jackie Mills-Fernald in a panic, she assisted me in her unflappable, characteristically humorous way.  We journeyed through the church with Jolene’s flash drive on a quest to print the hand-outs.  Unable to find a stapler upstairs, Jackie led me through the Beautiful Blessings area searching for one.  Initially unable to locate a stapler, we did find some nifty sheriff’s badges, one of which I was able to sport for the remainder of the evening.  Sensing that I was drunk with power, announcing that I was the Sheriff of the Accessibility Summit, Jackie graced my other colleagues with their own badges later in the evening.  (Note: Shared humor makes for great camaraderie during a conference.)

Prior to the main session, 3 pre-conference workshops were offered.  Jackie Mills-Fernald and her outstanding team from McLean brought participants up to speed on the inclusion and special programming they do so well in their presentation “Access UNplugged”.  A tour of McLean’s Access Ministry facilities was included, and seeing what they have really helps visitors imagine how they could adapt these things in their own church.  “Reaching Out to Special Families” was another of the concurrent workshops with an excellent panel of some of my favorite people including Jolene Philo, Karen Jackson, Lisa Jamieson, and Cindi & Joe Ferrini.  Each of these parents of children with special needs were able to share from their heart the needs and challenges facing families that churches should be addressing.  The final workshop, which I attended, “Soaring Toward Greater Independence” offered a parent/educator/doctor panel including Emily Colson, Barbara Newman & Dr. Jane Barbin.  What struck me most about this presentation was the creative problem-solving discussed when it came to seemingly impossible life-skills training.

010(Pictured above Emily Colson, Barbara Newman & Dr. Jane Barbin)

After the pre-conference workshops were completed, participants had an opportunity to visit the many exhibitors on display.  That’s where I was able to catch up with the fun-loving and innovative, Matt Mooney of 99 Balloons.  I was able to tell him that our ministry had accidentally plagiarized the name of his respite program rEcess.  Ever the gentleman, Matt embodied the nature of the mutually supportive leadership we share at the conference, stating he didn’t care that we had unintentionally copied his name, he was just glad to see us providing respite.

As dinner was provided, relationships continued to blossom both with other leaders and families seeking information.  I not only had fun connecting with my colleagues from Key Ministry and Saddleback Church, but I was also able to chat with a parent we serve who was there from Oregon, another leader there from Colorado, and a local sibling attending the conference.  Needless to say, this creates a great incubator of thought.

If people were getting drowsy after the dinner, speaker Clay Dyer certainly woke them up!  Opening up the Summit’s general session, Dyer motivated attendees with his personal story.  Born with no legs, no left arm, and only a partial right arm, Dyer will kick most people’s tail.  He approaches life with humor, sass, and no tolerance for copping out.  If you weren’t able to attend the conference, you would do yourself a great favor by checking out his videos on his website, especially on a day where you’re feeling sorry for yourself.

019(Pictured above Clay Dyer whose motto is “If I can, you can.”)

As the rain poured down, Summit attendees concluded the night by making their way to their first workshop.  I had the great privilege of presenting on the topic of Parent to Parent Mentoring with my colleague and fellow Board member, Jolene Philo.  We found participants to be fully engaged as we discussed best practices in mentoring and made recommendations based on the program our organization had spent two years developing.  A colleague had to finally extract me from the classroom as people had lined up to speak with me at length after the session, a good problem indeed.

019c Barb speaking(Pictured above Barb Dittrich, Executive Director of SNAPPIN’ MINISTRIES answers questions on parent mentoring)

While I was obviously not able to attend the other 11 concurrent workshops at that time, I did run into people who were raving about Harmony Hensley’s barefoot insights on recruiting volunteers, Katie Wetherbee & Amy Kendall’s wisdom on the culture of the classroom, and the Ferrini’s reassurance regarding siblings of children with special needs.

Once back at the hotel, a number of us enjoyed some time together debriefing and getting better acquainted over a soda, water or tea.  Our waiter may have been cranky, but that didn’t dampen our joy in connecting with one another.  Blissfully exhausted, we didn’t make it a very late night, knowing that we needed to get an early start in the morning.

Check back Thursday for Part II discussing Day 2 of McLean’s terrific Accessibility Summit.  And feel free to share your Summit stories in the comment section of these posts!

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It’s International Rare Disease Day!

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SNAPPIN’ MINISTRIES is once again a proud partner in the observance of international Rare Disease Day.  Before you tune out, perhaps you need to learn more about how common “rare” is!  Do you know how many of the families you serve are dealing with disorders or diseases considered “rare”?  It’s a greater number than you think.

Families living with a loved one who has a disorder that is considered rare often face the most adverse of conditions.  These rare diagnoses are typically expensive to treat.  Isolation can often be greater because it is more challenging to connect to others with that diagnosis given the smaller pool of individuals living with it.  Treatment options are far more limited.  And without widespread research, fear of the unknown with rare diseases can be especially taxing on the family.

This is where the church can make a tremendous difference.  Loving on these families, providing emotional and spiritual support, as well as practical help is our calling.  Ministries without an awareness of the unique challenges involved with rare disease are missing out on making an impact on an entire segment of the wider special needs community.

In an effort to inform, activate, and encourage those of us working in disability ministry, we conclude today’s blog post by connecting you to great resources on this topic.  Why not start by taking 15 minutes to listen to SNAPPIN’s Podcast 4 Rare Disease Day?  You can also visit our Facebook Event in honor of today’s observance.

Other essential resources include:

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Anointed

Image: FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord.   And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective. ~ James 5:14-16, NIV

It’s the BIG elephant in the room when it comes to disability – HEALING.  And I don’t see us as leaders necessarily doing a good job of addressing it.  Perhaps it is because we know that God does not always choose to heal, and explaining that to others is more than difficult.  Perhaps it is because there is a wide range of passionate feeling on the topic.  That also is uncomfortable.

Nevertheless, because we are commanded (YES, commanded) to anoint the sick, we need to have a solid perspective on this topic.  We can begin by addressing within ourselves the question, Does God always heal?  You might be surprised to find that I have resolved that the answer to that is a resounding “YES”.  But we need to deal with our preconceived notions of what healing looks like in order to come up with such a conclusion.  No doubt, there are times where a person receives a complete, otherwise inexplicable cure.  Dear friends of mine returned from serving a month on mission in Kenya with such stories.  They persisted in prayer and literally had people leaving hospital beds who hadn’t been able to in years.  God does bring about such healings.

At the same time, God does not always bring about healing in this same manner.  For instance, we had been ministering to a family who was raising their visually impaired granddaughter.  This grandmother felt strongly in her spirit that it was not God’s will for this young girl to be blind.  She sensed that the Lord was assuring her that sight would be regained.  In fact, the child did begin gradually receiving some sight.  At the same time, the grandmother was telling me that our son was going to be cured of his hemophilia, that it was not God’s will that he have this disorder.  I never sensed the Lord in any way telling me that in my spirit.  Instead, I have always lived with the Father’s confirmation that our son’s disorder is being used for His greater glory.

Even so, there is somewhere in between those two scenarios — all or nothing — where healing continues to complete its perfect work.  Being made well might mean that there is a sudden calm and peace in our hearts about our circumstances.  Our total change of disposition towards what we are facing can not only improve our lives in a practical way, it can cause others to take notice of the change within us.  Another type of restoration might come through resolution of a specific medical episode.

When our son was about 6 years old, he went through an endless series of serious nosebleeds.  Despite repeated cauterization and increased infusions of clotting factor, the episodes would not relent.  Life was completely overwhelming.  It was difficult to even be out in public because he might just start spontaneously bleeding from his nose in a grocery store, at church or in the car.  One night, we were even awoken to him in our kitchen with a bleed so severe that he was in tears with our kitchen floor looking like a bad crime scene.

Elders at our church suggested we anoint both our son and the entire family.  We had never done this before, but felt we had nothing lose by doing so.  We believed in prayer and appreciated the support from our church family.  One Sunday, after services, a small group of us gathered around in the sanctuary and prayed, anointing both our son and the entire family with oil, just as mandated in James 5.  The immediate comfort of inviting the Lord so resoundingly into the midst of the situation was remarkable.  We were putting our stake in the ground, and no matter what the outcome, we had the confidence of knowing we were in the palm of God’s hand.  We departed from that time together with no further expectations other than the peace that satisfied our anguished hearts.  But GOD…!  Yes, God had another plan.  That stretch of repeated bleeding episodes came to a startling halt.  We found ourselves cautiously waiting for something that did not begin again for quite a long time.  We know the Origin of that break in the situation.  To this day, it is one of my favorite “God stories” to share with other people.

The point of me sharing this anecdote with you, my peers, is to remind you that we are completely unable to put the Almighty Sovereign of the Universe in a little box.  There are as many ways to heal as there are situations and circumstances.  One thing we can know for sure is that He has it handled, if only we will trust and pry our own dirty fingers off of things.  We need to encourage one another with the understanding that if healing doesn’t come in the way we thought, the Father is not necessarily punishing, and He is still there with us in the midst of it.  He is not being cruel.  He is love.  He wants us to have our hopes hung on Him not on a cure.  He is the Lifter of our heads.  And He carries us when we are unable to carry ourselves.

How is your ministry approaching healing?  What would you say to a family that is struggling with issues of healing?  Would you be dismissive?  Would you guarantee being made well?  Would you tell them that, if only they would repent, they would be cured?  Study this more deeply, friends.  This is a serious issue we in leadership need to be prepared to face with all compassion.

* Watch for SNAPPIN’ MINISTRIES’ third volume in the Special Studies for Special Parents Series, EXAMINING OUR FEELINGS ABOUT HEALING, coming in Fall of 2013.

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