It’s easy to hear about Obie and applaud him for his progress. To see his hard work paying off. But so much of the progress wouldn’t be possible without a team that reaches into the various areas of our lives.
Buddies are the willing workers and volunteers who help us attend church.
Church was tough. Owen didn’t keep up with his peers, and for a long time he was ok hanging out with the younger kids. We were okay, too because he seemed happy, and I felt it was my pride that wanted to see him dropped off in age appropriate settings. He wasn’t a toddler, so leaving him with toddlers hurt my ego. It never hurt his! When things changed last summer, God was working on a solution well before we knew that this type of a solution was possible.
I’ve written on this topic before, but let me reiterate here: if you go to church, have a special needs kid in church, and things just aren’t going the way you think they should, speak up!!!!!
It is ok to expect your special needs child to be included. It’s normal to feel hurt if that doesn’t happen. But please, don’t turn tail and run! Offer suggestions, solutions, research special needs ministries, find churches and leaders willing to hear your hopes, willing to help guide the situation, and keep pressing for change. You may not be the first, and you certainly won’t be the last parent of a special needs child to walk through those doors. So it’s your fight to educate today. This is for your journey, but also to pave the way for a smoother ride for the kiddo who isn’t there yet, isn’t diagnosed yet, or hasn’t been born yet!
Let me tell you about our buddies!
I had the boys set up at a VBS. The first day was a disaster. Hands over ears, crying, screaming, “we need to talk about Obie” kind of disaster. Because it wasn’t the first time that “we need to talk” had been used I politely nodded, ran to my car as quickly as possible, and sobbed- ugly cry- sobbed.
I contacted the director, explained we wouldn’t be back (I was not angry, I just didn’t want to be a burden- side note: you and your child are NOT burdens), I explained what we knew of Obie’s diagnosis (which at the time was still a big question mark) and her reaction was, “Please come back! Let us make this right.” They decided to buddy Obie with an older girl, 12-year-old, Ms. Chariot. They also introduced me to a mom of a boy who has similar needs; I marvel at each encounter God has orchestrated. They cared for Obie in this week of VBS. This church didn’t have a special needs ministry, but they did have a heart for all of God’s children. Even the ones who need earmuffs when things get to be too much. 😉
Our home church didn’t have an established special needs ministry, but they had Obie. So Mr. David, Ms. Tammy, Ms. Melinda and Ms. Sarah became that ministry. Ms. Melinda and Ms. Sarah walked alongside Obie during class; because they were there, he could be in an age appropriate setting with his peers, and wouldn’t you know it?!?! He thrived!!! I will never forget the pride he showed the first Sunday I picked him up and he declared “TADAAAAAA” and placed a craft into my hands that he had made!
Six months into an every Sunday “buddy” program, B and I moved across town. Our move led us to change churches, and we moved into a church that has an established special needs ministry in addition to a sensory classroom. I knew to prepare Ms. Jessie ahead of time, to be open and honest about his abilities and his strengths; doing so led to the pairing of two buddies, Ms. Erika and Ms. Shayla, who walk alongside him in order for him to maintain the dignity of being with his peers.
Pastors and church leadership- hear me when I say that I know the prospect of a special needs ministry is intimidating. I know it poses special complications on already complicated and strained resources. But hear this, too. Our attendance before buddies was spotty at best. We made all kinds of excuses to not go, and it’s not because we didn’t want to be there. We desperately did! But we didn’t know if any given Sunday would be a good one for Obie and by extension for us. We didn’t know if one or both, or all of us would have to leave because Obie couldn’t stay, so it became easier to just stay home. It became easier for me to go with one or two kids and B to stay home with Obie. It became easier to remain isolated. It became easier to be withdrawn from the community. I thank God for providing us with a leader who asked the tough questions about our attendance so we could come to the realization that our marriage, our parenting, and our personal walks with Christ could not be what was intended if we continued to cope in this way. Please never assume a family isn’t engaged in the community because they don’t want to be! Ask the tough questions and be prepared to hear the tough answers.
I can empathize with the hurt and confusion that Sunday’s can bring when you’re a mom to a special friend. The place you expect to be easiest or the most accommodating sometimes isn’t. I have never felt like churches, vbs, or BSF meant anything but love towards Obie. It just took open and honest communication, education, some solutions, and willing members of the church -oh, and a God who works all things for His glory- even and especially the messy things!