It’s the big day. You’ve been waiting nine months for this precious bundle of joy to be gently placed in your arms. You just know you’re going to be overrun with emotions but you’re ready. Before the baby is even placed in your arms, you’ve allowed your mind to travel ahead one year to that precious baby taking his first step, five years to that day when he enters kindergarten, 18 years to high school graduation … even all the way to their wedding day. You know your life is going to be full of memories, and this is just the beginning.
Most of us spend countless hours daydreaming about who our child will be as they grow and develop. We all have expectations for our little ones long before they know what the word “expectation” means. Even as infants, we start influencing them with the ideas of success we have in mind for them. My son had a nursery decorated in the school colors of the college most of my family attended. As we joked about his destiny as a Red Raider, secretly we hoped he would follow in our footsteps and attend our Alma Matter. For many families, however, these dreams can soon be dashed with a special needs diagnosis. The particular diagnosis isn’t important. The fact is that any special needs diagnosis will alter the plan you thought you had mapped out for your child.
The families I work with know this full well. In visiting with moms and dads, I’ve heard over and over that the hardest thing for them was changing all of the dreams they had for their child. Notice I didn’t say the crushing of dreams was hard; it was the changing of dreams. At the moment of diagnosis, they were suddenly asked to take all the dreams they’d spent months or even years replaying in their mind and create another set. Their precious child might not walk at the end of year one. He might not walk by the end of year two. He might not walk at all. How is the dream of him strolling across the stage to accept his high school diploma going to change?
In walking through these changes with families, I’ve noticed one common denominator that seems to make them a little easier … community. When moms and dads are a part of something bigger than themselves, a community of special needs parents who are either experiencing similar things or much worse things, they often find that these changes might be a little bit easier to handle. Will they say that they are completely easy and don’t affect them at all? No, not normally, but they might say that they found comfort in knowing others have been down the same road or are travelling down the same road, too.
So many times when a diagnosis is given the church will want to run in and help at the beginning, but then they tend to back off much too soon. We forget that this isn’t a temporary issue, but it’s a lifelong change to what they’ve known as truth. To expect a mom or dad to move forward and accept their new reality without the help of their church community is like kicking someone in the gut and then asking them to get up and run a marathon by themselves. The church needs to be the ones running beside them, giving them water when they need it, helping them carry the load when things seem too overwhelming, and silently praying for them as another obstacle comes into view.
As a church there are some very practical things you can do.
- Set up a support group.
- Develop a meal program for when families need minor things lifted off their plates.
- Create a buddy system to pair up families within the church to love on, pray for, and care for the families in the Special Needs Ministry.
- Simply be available. Many special needs families just want friends who will hang out when things are going great and when things are a little bit more difficult.
The most important thing is to remember to do something. Don’t make it too hard or you’ll never get around to it. These families just need to know someone cares for them today, tomorrow, and for all the tomorrows to come as their new realities take shape.