Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Jake the Encourager

When I requested guest bloggers for my website, Living the Body of Christ, on the ACFW writer's loop, Harry responded with the story below. I loved it so much I asked him if I could reprint it for the Homesteaders Special Needs blog. He agreed. It is a wonderful picture of a boy who is seen by his gifts and not his deficits. Just how his Father created him.

We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage... (Romans 12:6-8 NIV)

 Jake's Gift

 Jake was born in far less than ideal circumstances. But from the beginning, he was loved dearly by his mother and grandparents. By the time he was two, it became obvious that Jake was different. Was his hearing impaired? Did he have learning disabilities? What did the future hold for him?

One day the verdict came in ... Jake was autistic. He began to display some annoying behaviors, especially when he got excited. But through his formative years, the love of those closest to him became the one constant in his life that gave him peace and security.

From the time he was a toddler, his grandparents took Jake to church and Sunday school without fail. Through the music at church and his fascination with the Gaither Homecoming videos, it became apparent to everyone that Jake loved music. He can imitate all of the regulars who sing with the Gaithers. While he can't read or write, he remembers everything he sees and hears. He can imitate anyone, but he limits this ability to people he admires. If Jake imitates you, he has paid you the highest compliment he can give.

Jake's grandparents bring him to every family reunion. I noticed he would approach every person present, one at a time, and ask how people were doing. He wants to know that every one is doing well physically, relationally, and spiritually. A typical conversation with Jake goes something like this:

Jake steps close and makes eye contact. "How is Julie? Is she going okay?"

"Julie is doing pretty good, Jake. But she's been sick lately. That's why she's not at the reunion this year."

A look of concern appears in Jake's eyes. "We need to pray for her. Does she love Jesus?"

"Yes, Julie loves Jesus."

"I do too. I love my church. Have you heard our choir? They sing so beautifully ..."

As Jake became a teenager, he was allowed into a special education program at the local high school. It's a large school having a student body of about 2,000. Word about Jake's love of music spread, and the band director allowed him to sit in on band classes. He can’t play an instrument, but he listened to the music, watched the director, and began to blossom.

At school, Jake circulated among the students with his one-on-one encouragement. Over his years at the high school, most of the students came to know him. At the conclusion of his senior year, the student body and faculty assembled for an awards ceremony. Jake prefers one-on-one interaction, so when his name was called to receive the Most Inspirational Student award, no one knew for sure what to expect.

Jake stood when they called his name. He walked the aisle to the front of the assembly, but he didn't go directly to receive his reward. Instead, he positioned himself in front of the band and turned to face the audience. He raised his hands for them to rise. After the entire student body stood, he turned to the band and directed them flawlessly through a rousing rendition of the school fight song. When the song ended and Jake received his reward, the applause was long and loud.

Before a church service, Jake greets everyone, and he knows them by name. He sits in the front row during services. When he is moved by a hymn or praise song, he turns, brings the congregation to their feet, and then turns to direct the praise band and choir. He does it flawlessly. The pastor understands. The people love it. The worship time is never boring with Jake in attendance.

Jake will always have the heart, mind, and innocence of a five or six year old, though he is now in his early twenties. Some hear about his autism and are saddened. They don't know Jake. But when God allowed him to be born with autism, He gave Jake a compensation for his disability, the gift of encouragement. I don't think Jake is even conscious of his gift. It's just who he is.

By the way, do you love Jesus?

H L Wegley

Author Bio
H. L. Wegley published in the scientific community for several years before turning his attention to fiction. If you Google H L Wegley, you will see some of his publications floating around in cyber space. He has a BS in Meteorology from Texas A&M University, an MS in Computer Science from Washington State University and is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers, Northwest Christian Writers, and Oregon Christian Writers.

In the military he served as an Intelligence Analyst and a Weather Officer. After transitioning to civilian life, he served as a Research Scientist in Atmospheric Physics at a national lab for many years. After getting an advanced degree in Computer Science, he developed computing systems for Boeing until he retired in 2008.

He published his childhood adventure stories, Colby and Me, in 2009. But his work experience provided an abundance of material for writing romantic-suspense novels and thrillers. He is currently finishing the third book of a romantic-suspense series and is planning the first book in a new series.

He and his wife live in the Seattle area where he writes, leads a Bible-study group, spends time with grand kids, and tries to snorkel in Maui at least once a year.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Would Jesus Create a Special Needs Committee?

            A few years ago, we Christians were on a little kick after reading an inspiring book. It had suddenly become the vogue to ask the question, “What would Jesus do?” (WWJD). And still, as Christians, we know this is a good question to ask. So when I was invited to be part of a committee to develop a Special Needs Ministry for a church, I asked that question myself. However, I kept coming to the answer, there would be no need for a Special Needs Ministry in a church run by Jesus.

            What? You say. Of course the Man who said “Come to me all you who are weary …” would tend to the challenges of those we label Special Needs. And I agree. Only He wouldn’t need a committee to do it. It would just be done. The need would be seen and the answer would be undertaken. No one would be singled out to join a special group because it was the only way to tend to that need. The Body would just take care of its members.

            So why did I join that committee? And even more relevant, why did I suggest we have a Special Needs Committee here at Homesteaders? Honestly, the answer is not so my special-needs child will be tended to. I have yet to receive assistance from the committee (my own doing) and do not currently have plans to make a fuss over it. My reasoning is twofold: 1) To help those who do NOT have special needs issues continue to serve the Body by helping them understand the issues of those who do; 2) To assist Homesteaders in being an attractive organization to those families who are struggling and have learned not to reach out because they feel unheard. This is not just about serving those who are here, but those who SHOULD be here.

            Let me address number two first. Sounds backwards, but those with dyslexia may relate ;o). As my son’s issues became increasingly apparent to the world around us (school, neighbors, church groups), I found myself more and more isolated. I no longer shared the same parenting issues with my neighbors. Neither could relate to the other’s. I needed to spend more time helping my son overcome what to others may be the smallest of challenges, making it hard for me to participate in social activities. And I often had to endure the looks of those who obviously believed his delays were due to my coddling him, never imagining it to be the other way around. It was more difficult to find babysitters who were willing to deal with the bathroom hygiene issues of a growing boy, so I did not often go out.

One day, I wondered why all the kids in the neighborhood no longer played in the front yard (as they always had) … and they weren’t answering the doorbell when we rang. Up until this point, I had been the one to host outdoor playdates with the neighborhood boys on my lawn. I would bring out the sandbox, the Jump-o-lene and the slip-n-slide, and all the kids would come over. Then one day that stopped. It was shortly after I bought a slip-n-slide for one child on his birthday. I figured it would be a great toy since he loved ours so much. Only I didn’t realize, now that he had his own, he no longer needed mine … and all the other children were going to HIS house to play … in his BACKyard. And we weren’t invited.

            I say WE because, not only was my son isolated from this activity, but I was also not invited to hang out with the moms to watch. We spent lots more time inside that summer. A few months later one of the boys from my neighborhood asked if my children were going to the birthday party of another. I told him I hadn’t received an invitation. He didn’t understand and brought it up to the other boys while we were all outside. The boys whose party it was wondered why we weren’t invited, so they asked their mom. In front of me. Of course, we were invited on the spot, but let’s just say the whole party was a bit awkward.

            Why am I bringing this up? Do I want your pity? Absolutely not. That and $5 might get me a Mocha Latte at Starbucks :o). Yes, I feel isolated at times, but I have been richly blessed to work for a Christian organization with lots of colleagues who love me, and love the Lord. I also have good Christian friends who understand what I go through, because they go through it, too. And most of all, I have the love of Jesus to bolster me in my time of need. Though, He has heard my cries and been drenched from my tears on His shoulder, I am grateful to have that shoulder to cry on. Many, many, many (did I yet say “many?”) Special Needs Moms do NOT.

            After having left my church to find one with a Children’s Ministry that fit the needs of my son, I went on a personal search. I became increasingly discouraged by the new trend of churches to focus so much on athletic outreach programs that their other programs were being discontinued. I thought not only about my son (who couldn’t play regular basketball to save his life), but I thought about the little boy who hung out with me during the athletic programs at Vacation Bible School because he didn’t like sports. Children like him are not being reached out to either when non-athletic programs are not offered.

Then I attended several different churches to see what they offered. Though few had varying types of special needs ministries, they were often set apart in such a way that they were not even visible to the rest of the Body. Though I applaud their efforts, and know they serve many families who would otherwise have nothing, I don’t believe that’s what Jesus would do. At other churches, there were NO Special Needs services at all. And you know what? The church could have easily said, “Well, we don’t really have a Special Needs population here anyway.” And they’d be correct. They didn’t. I went to very large churches with huge memberships and saw not one wheelchair. I had discussions with teachers in the children’s program where I introduced my son’s issues to them and they said. “Oh, we had another autistic boy here once.” I wanted to shout, “ONCE?! You had one ONCE?!” With that size membership, they should have been flooded with autistic children … and children with cerebral palsy … downs syndrome … fragile X … etc., etc. In fact, as people who are trying to live as Jesus, we should be especially inviting these families to our churches. After all, who did Jesus mean when He asked the weary to come?

            So why aren’t our churches filled with these tired souls? Why do our memberships not even mirror the proportions of the secular community? In fact, why do we not have a greater percentage of special needs families in our churches than what the public school system serves? And given that these children often require more one-on-one attention than the average child, why are there not more in the homeschool groups?

            Could it be they do not feel welcome? Could it be they know their constant neediness scares the regular folk a little too much? Could it be they are scared to reach out and yet again, be rejected? Could it be they are sick of being seen only as a burden?


            Of course, you can look around and see special needs families in our midst and say, “Oh yes, we serve these families.” But why aren’t there more? What makes those other families shy away? Most of the families we serve today, were Christian long before they were Special Needs. A blessing indeed! But what about those who are newly seeking an answer to their pain? They would like to go to church, but don’t know what to do with their child who could be a problem. Or would like to join a homeschool group, but don’t see how it can offer anything to them, and they weren’t already connected to a Christian community. They need to be REACHED OUT TO.

            Thus the need for a Special Needs Committee. Not as a means to set these families apart, but as a means to assist “normal folk” in unburdening them. The Bible says we all fall short of the glory of God. And part of that is we sometimes find ourselves so mired in our own troubles it’s hard to see that of the truly needy. I am just as at fault here. I could tell you countless stories of how I neglected the needs of an individual because I did not fully understand the particular plight with which the family struggled. I need this committee to help me serve the needs of others, as much as I hope it will help others do the same.

Some of these issues are complicated and unusual and carry so many little burdens we can’t even comprehend its full effect. But these little things, when combined, keep these families from fully entering into the Body of Christ. This does not only hamper their efforts in communing with their creator, but it also isolates US from the potential of their giftedness as well. Among these families are those with great talents, no longer shared, because all their efforts are focused on the challenge of just getting through the day. We are losing teachers, singers, artists, encouragers, prophets, servers, etc. to the burden of isolation. This is not a Body as Paul defined it, until those “weaker members” are treated with special care (Corinthians 12:22).

I hope to devote the remainder of this year to enlightening our membership to the challenges of those families dealing with special needs. Maybe one day we will all become so familiar with these, that we won’t need a committee to remind us anymore. But until that happens, I hope you will all tolerate our human, and sometimes inefficient, efforts at making these issues known.

Before I end my diatribe on Special Needs in the Christian Community, I would like to point anyone who is also concerned with this issue to the ministry created by McLean Bible Church in McLean, Virginia. This is the one church I visited that truly was flooded with families dealing with special needs. When I attended, I encountered the blind, the deaf, the wheelchair-bound and the developmentally disabled. Unfortunately, this church cannot serve people who live too far on a weekly basis. But they DO provide a learning opportunity for any Christians who are interested to design programs of their own. These usually occur in April. I hope many of you will urge your church to send someone.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Field Tripping for Special Needs Families

            Field trips are great opportunities for kids to do something fun, have hands-on experiences with learning environments and get together with friends … right?
            Though all these things are true, for the family with “special issues,” they can be very limited at best, to danger zones at worst. They can create great anxiety for many families and be another opportunity for some kids to feel even more different.
            The average family signs up for a field trip, knowing the educational experience has been mostly taken care of by the field trip site. The audio material will be heard, the visual material seen and the reading material deciphered. Not so for families challenged by handicaps and learning differences. These families need to know how the material is presented and how that may create a problem for their student. And if it does, Mom or Dad will need to either supplement the activity or just be content with the lesser learning experience.
            Additionally, the setting of the field trip can pose potential risks for some and inconveniences for others. Lack of wheelchair accessibility, crowded spaces with excessive sensory stimuli, deadly allergens floating in the air or trace amounts on furniture, can all cause problems. For others, they may require access to bathrooms within a reasonable space or just ones that allow women to take their disabled son’s in to without receiving dirty looks.
            That’s why the Special Needs Committee of Homesteaders has taken on the task of calling field trip sites, asking pertinent questions to help our families better prepare so the learning experience will be its utmost, while not creating undue stress.
            Between this year and last year, I have had the pleasure of interviewing various sites, and I must say, the experience has been illuminating. Not only have I interacted with representatives who were willing to bend over backwards to accommodate our needs where possible, but I’ve learned that many sites provide alternative activities and supplemental equipment to improve the learning experience for those with special needs. All they need is a little advanced notice.
            There is special seating and listening devices for theatres and performances. There are Family bathrooms in many locations. And though, I have yet to ask the outdoor sites to cut down their pollen-producing trees, I may have had to stay the hand holding the chainsaw on more than one occasion--they were almost that willing to adjust.
            It has been a wonderful experience to chat with these organizers. Especially in a time period most known for its “me-first” attitude, it’s been great to see something more reminiscent of Christ’s love. And though this is not the case everywhere, and some things are just unavoidable, at least we can now have some sense of how to prepare.
            So with this in mind, please let us know if you have questions you’d like asked of a field trip site to help you manage your family’s special needs. Also, let us know of any experiences you have on a field trip site that may hinder someone like you in the future. We will try to keep notes to prepare others.
            The following are the questions we currently ask a field trip site:

  • Will food be part of the event? If so, will allergy-free foods be available?
  • Is the facility peanut free? Is a peanut-free table available? (of course this is only for facilities providing food or eating areas)
  • Could there be concerns about air quality (strong odors, chemicals, smoke)? Excessive pollens or molds? Allergen food particles in the air (ie. Flour)?
  • Are there rooms/exhibits with excessive heat or moisture? (there are shows where water is sprayed on kids and exhibits with high humidity)
  • Could there be problems with physical accessibility (wheelchair access)?
  • What is the level of physical activity required (excessive walking, stair climbing, other)?
  • Could there be problems with excessive sensory stimulation (ie. Loud noises, high volume audio or flashing lights)? (These can be problematic for some children with autism and others with Sensory Integration Disorder)
  • Will there be any confined spaces? (Autism/ Sensory Integration/ phobias)
  • Is there access to bathrooms throughout the activity? How often will they have access and how close at other times?
  • Is there a Family Bathroom? (single stall, unisex).
  • How is the material presented (visual, manipulatives, speaking, reading)?
  • Could there be problems for the visual or hearing impaired? If so, do you have alternatives?
  • In what way are children expected to participate?
  • Will there be games/competitions that may pose difficulty for children with special needs? If so, are there alternative activities for these children?
So there they are. If you have any questions, comments or additions you’d like to make, please contact me, Connie Almony, and I will adjust the list as needed. Cbalmony<at>yahoo<dot>com. Happy field tripping!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


     Welcome, Homesteaders, to our new website where we hope to share the ins and outs of what it is like to be a Special Needs Family, as well as how God can and does show Himself through our challenges--thus the title, "Challenges and Celebrations." We also hope to better equip the membership, and any other individuals who consider themselves part of the Body of Christ, to understand and help those with special needs.
     We invite you, of the Homesteader Membership, to contact us if you would like to share the journey God has placed you on. If you would like to be one of the families highlighted on this site, please contact me at cbalmony<at>yahoo<dot>com. Because this site is available to the World Wide Web, we will take any and all precautions to maintain the level of privacy you require, only sharing names where given specific release to do so.
     Thank you all for joining in this ministry