Posts Tagged Isolation

Church Absence In The Darkest Hours

Hospital

I spoke with my sister, a Catholic grade school principal in California, and a former assistant Archdiocese superintendent.

“Is this just something that evangelical churches are really bad at?”, I queried.

I was sharing with her the story of one of the families we serve who had a child hospitalized, yet again.  This family had had contact with 3 people from their church, 2 of whom were on staff, as they rushed their daughter for another serious inpatient stay.  Despite these key people knowing of their dilemma, no one from their congregation came to be with them in the hospital or pray with them.  The family never made the church prayer chain or even received a card from their church home.  The family was understandably upset, feeling abandoned in one of their darkest hours.

“No,” my sister assured me, “It’s NOT just an evangelical church problem.  It really depends on the pastor.  Some pastors are great at remembering to make hospital visits, and some avoid it at all costs.  I worked with a pastor who saw the serious need, and was dedicated to making sure his parishioners were seen, but that came to a halt when he retired.  His replacement, who worked side-by-side with him in the years he was there, was horrible.  I often had to do visits or people would be neglected.”
We wrestled with why such an obvious, basic need of the local church would be so recklessly abandoned by Christian churches of every denomination.  After all, Jesus made this one of his main ministries.  Here is what we came up with:

  • When a family has a member with a disability or special need, their hospitalization and medical crises are chronic.  They face challenges over a long period of time.  Pastors can develop “compassion fatigue” like any other human.  In other words, every human, even those in typical ministry, can tire of dealing with another person’s endless health issues.
  • People assume the hospital chaplain will handle ministering to the family.  What local churches may not realize is that there has been a movement away from faith intimacy in hospital chaplains, instead emphasizing a “ministry of presence” with families.  This is done so that a Christian chaplain can minister to a Muslim family or a Jewish rabbi can serve a Christian patient.  While the “ministry of presence” is vitally important, these types of visits from strangers are not as faithfully intimate as those from our own church family.
  • Sick people scare others, including pastors.  People who don’t have the stomach for needles, blood or other bodily fluids, hospital smells, or even psychological institutions have an extremely hard time overcoming those aversions.  They may never be able to handle such things.  This amounts to rendering these particular individuals unavailable for meeting this critical need.
  • Attempts at educating pastors in this area of service are rare and moving at a painfully slow rate.  We, leading in special needs ministry, know of the great void in seminary training for pastoral care.  Yet, there are simply not enough of us to ramp up or execute this part of these would-be church leaders’ education at this time.  This leaves the void unfilled while the need continues to grow.

These are likely only a few of the main reasons this type of neglect occurs in the darkest hours of those living with disability or special needs.  Nevertheless, with what we have identified here as obstacles, we can create an action plan to deal with this deficit in pastoral care.  See if you might add to these suggestions:

  1. Put a recommended protocol in place for churches of every kind to replicate when a member is hospitalized.  This should include having a pastoral care team, not just dumping the task on one pastor or staff member.  It should also include the practice of having people contact the church office if they know of a member or attendee who is hospitalized.  It should not be assumed that a family member has called, because they may likely be too taxed with dealing with the family member in need to make such a call.  Training church members to merely ask, “Can I contact the church for you?”, can be such a tender act of kindness.
  2. Identify church members who have that gift of tenderness, empathy, caring and prayer, who might be willing to make such visits.  A congregation should never stop recruiting or training in this area.  The American Association of Christian Counselors is just one source for solid training of lay leaders in pastoral care.  Many denominations also have their own training programs in place.  These classes are something that should routinely be on the calendar of local congregations, so that pastoral care is never neglected, regardless of who is moving in or out of leadership.
  3. Teach pastors and staff to regularly ask families with a member who has special needs, “How are you all doing?” or “Is there anything we can be doing for you?”.  This acknowledges the chronic struggle of dealing with disability, and renders a great sense of caring to those who are living with such challenges.  While many pastors may not be inclined to ask such questions for fear that they may not be able to meet such needs, they should rest assured that it is not nearly as complicated or demanding as they might think.
  4. Pray.  This work can seem futile if we rely on our own power to accomplish it.  But when we pray, God works.  Ask the Lord of the harvest to send more workers.  Implore the Holy Spirit to soften hearts, open minds, and impart wisdom to local churches.  Pray that no family would feel abandoned or walk away from the church because they were not ministered to in their time of greatest need.  Cry out for a Body of Christ that would be motivated to face their fears head on, get dirty doing the difficult work that Jesus did, and make lasting change in His name.

What would you add to this list?  Please add to this discussion, because families in need of pastoral care amidst a life of unique challenges are desperate for this to change.  Their hope is hanging on evidence that Someone truly cares!

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Loving the Unloved

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Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.”  ~ Mother Teresa

I watched her, alone, as others had parades of relatives visiting, colorful balloons and get well wishes as they faced one of life’s scariest moments for a child.  Nurses fawned over the other kids, littler, cuter, more worthy in their minds of the extra attention they engendered.  Yet, she was treated like she was burdensome, not supposed to be there, annoying.  No one from the church or school visited or initiated contact to see how she was doing.  She sat there in the hospital alone, only to be discharged to the same isolation afterwards at home.

Her sin?  Being on the autism spectrum, having sensory processing issues and social deficits.  Because she’s been treated like a “bad kid” by administrators at school who don’t understand her, she doesn’t garner the same warm kindness that is meted out to other students in her class who are hospitalized.  Her family sits solitary, treated like bad parents by those making wild, inaccurate assumptions.  It’s one of life’s crueler realities in a society banging the drum  of “tolerance”.

How do I know about this little girl?  She’s my 11 year old daughter.

When God brings our family through yet another trial, I always watch for what He is trying to teach or reveal to me in the storm.  With our daughter’s most recent hospitalization, the Lord exposed to me all of the precious little ones like her who are never loved on, never supported by the world around them.  It broke my heart, not just for my own child, but for the thousands of children like her in this nation.

While many, MANY people were generous to us with their prayer support (no small thing in my estimate), I couldn’t help but think of how this sentiment would be received by a non-believer.  If there was 1 kind act for every 100 promises of prayer, that would be a lot.  The Book of James, Chapter 2 talks extensively about acts of kindness being true evidence of a Christian’s faith.  In verses 15-17 James pens, “Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”  When measured against that Word, most Christians would sadly disqualify themselves as true believers.  Busy-ness is usually our excuse.  Yet, we seem to forget the old adage that “Many hands make light work.”  While churches are terrific at preaching, “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”, practicing that level of faith may be quite another thing.

It begs the question, What are churches doing to connect and communicate with hospital chaplains?  How is the Body of Christ supporting those families who are treated like their child is unworthy of love, life or attention?  Children on that Autism Spectrum or behaviorally thought of as “oddballs” by the culture?  How does all of this square with the Gospel?

In the ministry I have the privilege of leading, we have a core focus of compassion.  But we are just one.  It’s a “feel good” photo opportunity for us to have VBS, camps and parties for kids with special needs.  Even secular groups like to get good press doing that.  But what about loving the least of God’s children, affirming life under the radar in situations where no on else shows up?  Rolling up our sleeves and getting dirty in the places others consider ugly?  THIS is where Christ calls His church to serve.  And if we’re not going there, we’re no difference than the godless world we are attempting to evangelize.

What is your ministry doing to reach families in crises like the one described above?  We would love to hear…

Photo Image Courtesy of 123RF

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Left Behind – The Special Needs Edition

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“It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.” ~ Psalm 119:71, NIV

God recently touched me with revelation when I was ill, left behind as the rest of my family attended church on a Sunday.  In the habit of keeping a journal, I thought it might be a blessing to share with you:

Sunday

Oh, how I long to worship in the house of the Lord today, but this awful cold persists.  I’m cranky, whiny and exhausted from unending congestion, coughing and body aches.  I am chilled to the bone despite wearing woolen socks and ample clothing.

As I write these very words, God’s Holy Spirit is revealing to me that He allows this so I might identify with those I serve.  Imagine being unable to be with the wider Body of Christ every week because a physical, mental or psycho-social condition!  Oh, the heartbreaking isolation!  The nagging feeling that I am not where I am supposed to be!

And yet, this is how 80+% of those with some sort of diagnosis, challenge or special need can feel.  It is something the rest of the Body of Christ can blow off and take for granted — church attendance.  It is even something that those without this dilemma might consider a burden, looking to get out of going to church.  Yet, that regular, consistent spiritual edification with others cannot and should not be underestimated.  It fills our spiritual and emotional tanks to go out and face another week of life.  It gives us significance as we connect with others.  It restores our hope and redirects our focus to our ultimate destination beyond the troubles of this world.

This epiphany should add extra fuel to the fire of my passion!  This should motivate me even more to energetically share the exciting news of how we can bring the church to those who are isolated from it.  Our new Mentor Program is such a simple, but effective way to bring that hope of Jesus to parents who might otherwise not hear of it.  Such a strategy is going “out into the highways and byways, compelling them to come” (Luke 14:23).  And likewise, relentlessly sharing this news of the least of God’s children can motivate the local church to become more inclusive in a fresh way.

Oh, Father, if my isolation and suffering are what are needed to bring You all the glory You deserve, let it be so.  I would pray that my church would miss me in my absence as it should the estimated 16% with developmental disabilities.  My heart breaks from what breaks Yours!  May I never flag in spreading this message You have called me to share!  Help our churches to stop being exclusive, holy country clubs and become better reflections of Your love and relentless, humble service.

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A NEW SENSE OF COMMUNITY: THE SPNMIN CHAT

  “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone…’”  (Genesis 2:18, NIV)

From the dawning of time, God has been relational.  He desires a relationship with us, and he made us to have relationship with each other.  Being completely alone, without anyone to turn to has been deemed “not good” by the Creator of the Universe.

Perhaps that is why it’s only natural to feel the absolute pain of isolation that can come from parenting a child with special needs.  Being “alone” can not only mean being by oneself in proximity.  It can mean being alone in ones experience as well.  How awful it can feel when we sense that no one understands us or what we’re going through!  Continually translating or explaining the language of treatment can be exhausting and frustrating when dealing with family and friends who don’t live with our children’s diagnoses.  And finding another parent who has a child with similar challenges can be difficult, especially if our child’s condition is rare.  Add to that the challenges of church and faith, and it’s easy to feel like one big mess!

Thankfully, God still operates in our day and age as He has since the creation of the Earth.  There is a huge blessing in today’s technology that many may overlook.  Our ministry, geared specifically towards the parents of children with special needs, first discovered this blessing when attendance at our local monthly meetings began to wane.  These meetings consisted of local experts in a variety of areas who could equip and strengthen the parents for daily life.  We found that parents were interested in the speakers we had coming, and appreciated the free childcare we provided, but still found it difficult to get out of the house with their child in the evening.  The question arose, If they can’t come to us, how can we come to them?  As a result, we became more and more involved in social media, including our blog, Facebook, Twitter and other social venues specifically meant for those affected by special needs.  But we’re eager to reach even further.

On Thursday, June 23rd, we will venture into a new chapter of this connection with parents.  The SpnMin TweetChat will begin at 7:30 PM CST each week.  Through the use of Twitter and one of its applications, we will provide the opportunity to connect to other parents every Thursday evening to discuss how we wrestle with issues of faith as we parent children with special needs.  While venues like Facebook and Twitter can be great for posting links for parents to reference, the TweetChat is wonderful in a number of different ways.  Parents can meet other parents in a live setting.  A nationwide conversation can be held in real time without having to wait for an e-mailed response.  Discussions can flow back and forth about experiences as we walk through an issue together.  Most of all, the isolation ends!  A welcoming community begins to form where parents can find the sense of belonging that God intended for us.

We pray that you will join us for this important opportunity!  It costs you nothing but time.  You merely set up a profile on Twitter.  Once that profile is established and you are signed in to Twitter, go to the web address http://tweetchat.com/room/spnmin.  You are there and able to chat while I guide our group through a theme question for the evening.  At the top left of the page, you will see a spot to adjust the timing down to only a 5 second delay for messages to appear, so you’ll want to do that to stay current with the conversation.  It is truly a wonderful way to connect with other parents in your same position!  And thusfar, there’s been no chat group specifically directed at the interweaving of our Christian faith and special needs parenting, so this is truly unique.  Isn’t it just like our God to make a way for you to end your isolation when there seems to be no way?!

*Barb Dittrich is the Executive Director of Snappin Ministries and mother of three children, two of whom have special needs.  You can visit their website at http://snappin.org.  Feel free to e-mail any difficulties you may be having with setting up a Twitter profile or accessing the chat room to barb@snappin.org.  We will be glad to assist you with joining in the online community!

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