My friend Amanda sent me a message. She said our pastor felt led to have a special Wednesday night service. Everyone would be together in the sanctuary and the kids wouldn’t be going to class. She said the staff had discussed how this night would be hard for me since Brett can’t come with us on Wednesday nights. They knew that it wouldn’t be easy for me to keep Mikayla & Hope corralled and quiet. They wanted to do whatever they could do so that I would be able to come. She asked for my thoughts and feelings. I gave her a few quick thoughts and then I said that I could just stay home so that others didn’t have to miss out on the service. Her loving response didn’t surprise me. “You staying home isn’t an option…sorry but nope”.
The night before the service Amanda messaged me about the plans that had been made. I was amazed that people were going to so much trouble just so that I could come to church. As I crawled into bed that night I was really looking forward to the service the next day. But the moment I woke up the day turned into a struggle. The girls were intense, demanding, and irritable. They kept asking the same questions over and over and over again until my brain felt like a pile of goo. By the time noon rolled around I was exhausted. I didn’t feel like I could handle the long drive to church. It just sounded like too much. But I was determined I was going to go because people had went to a lot of trouble for our family.
As we pulled into the church parking lot I was feeling shaky. It was a bone-tired-I’m-at-the-end-of-my-rope kind of shaky. I pulled open the door and my two little firecrackers entered the building. Becky immediately greeted us with activity bags full of things to keep the girls busy. Amanda had arranged for Joni to sit on the right side of the sanctuary with Hope and for Valissa to sit on the left side with Mikayla. Once the girls were settled with their helpers for the evening I went and sat by myself.
As the worship service began the tears started flowing from my eyes. The tears were partly due to exhaustion and the relief of getting a few moments to myself. But mostly the tears were because I was thinking about statistics that I’ve read that say 80% of special needs families don’t attend church because they don’t feel welcome. And there I stood in my church feeling like a queen. I wasn’t on the outside looking in wishing that I could be a part of what was going on. I was there experiencing what everyone else got to experience. My heart overflowed with gratitude for our church. And yet my heart also hurt for those families who don’t receive this same love and acceptance at their churches.
I’ve left out perhaps the most amazing part of this story. We don’t go to a little church where everyone knows each other. Our church has a regular attendance of 1,000 people. Isn’t that amazing? 1,000 people and our family isn’t lost in the crowd. We are loved consistently on special nights as well as on ordinary days. People are sensitive to our situation and they love like Jesus loves. Jesus said “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them. For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.” (Matthew 19:14). Jesus wants all children (and all adults) to be welcome at church. Those who have autism. Those who have sensory processing disorder. Those who have cerebral palsy. Those who have Down syndrome. Those who have intellectual disability. Those who have ADHD. Those who have a disability should be welcomed as well as those who don’t. Jesus loves them all. The people at our church love them all. And every day I’m thankful to call our church home.
It’s often hard for special needs families to find acceptance in the world. But it shouldn’t be hard for them to find acceptance inside of the church. I wish every family would feel loved like our family feels loved. All it takes is someone who’s willing to be an Amanda. Make activity bags and create an opportunity for people to love a family. And it takes people like Joni and Valissa. People who are willing to miss church and walk the hallways with sweet firecrackers who can’t sit through church. It takes people who are willing to stop their world for just an hour so that a mom can catch her breath.
As we enter our churches this Sunday may we be mindful of the needs of others. If we see a mom or dad struggling with their kids let’s take a moment to help them. Let’s stop and pray with them or give them an encouraging word. Let’s make opportunities for special families to feel special. Let’s make my wish for every special needs parent come true. May they find acceptance as they enter their church this week. May their world be changed just because someone noticed their need and loved them enough to meet it.